165. Billy J Kramer with The Dakotas – Little Children (1964)

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Riding high at the top of the charts after toppling Cilla Black, were yet another act connected to The Beatles. Billy J Kramer with The Dakotas had scored three hits penned by Lennon and McCartney, the most popular being their 1963 number 1, Bad to Me.

Understandably, they decided if they wanted to secure a long-term future, they needed to step out of the shadow of the Fab Four. The fact The Dakotas had also scored a hit with their self-penned instrumental, The Cruel Sea, only backed this belief up. And so the group found themselves doing the unthinkable when they turned down another Lennon and McCartney original, One and One is Two, and opted to record Little Children instead.

You have to admire the boldness of Kramer and co, but unfortunately it was as unwise a move as it was brave. If you’re going to try something new in 1964, don’t pick a song by former Elvis collaborators, whose best days were now behind them.

Little Children is a rickety, sickly sweet slice of old-fashioned pop that not even George Martin could turn to gold. In recent years it has received criticism for its sub-paedophilic undertones. If you ask me, this is harsh. It’s a song written in more innocent times, and is actually about a teenager or young man who’s desperate to cop off with his girlfriend, but her siblings are getting in the way, so he tries to win them over and silence them by offering sweets and money. What I won’t excuse, though, is the fact this is a crap, irritating song, and Bad to Me was much better.

But in the short term, the group’s move proved to be a wise one, as following this final number 1, they released another Lennon and McCartney track, From a Window, which only made it to number 10.

In July, bassist Ray Jones left following an argument with Brian Epstein, which was the first in a series of line-up changes. Music was getting heavier and weirder in the next few years, and Kramer’s softer style, plus a drink problem, meant declining fortunes, so in September 1967, Kramer and The Dakotas went their separate ways.

The Dakotas split a year later, with several members joining Cliff Bennet’s band. They reformed in the 80s, with Eddie Mooney on vocals, and in addition to many appearances on the nostalgia circuit, they worked with comedian Peter Kay on the excellent Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights (2001) and the dire spin-off Max and Paddy’s Road to Nowhere (2004), with new member Toni Baker co-writing all the music to both series with Kay. Kramer is also a regular on package tours of yesteryear, and in 2016 released his autobiography, Do You Want to Know a Secret?

Written by: Mort Shuman & John Leslie McFarland

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 2 (19 March-1 April)

Births:

Northern Irish racing driver Martin Donnelly – 26 March

Meanwhile…

19 March: The winter of 1964 dragged on into a cold, dull and wet March. Electric power workers were threatening industrial action, which had raised fears of power cuts. Fears intensified on this day when talks broke down. Minster of Labour Joseph Godber appointed Lord Justice Pearson to chair a court of enquiry into the dispute.
On the same day, the government announced plans to build three new towns to act as overspill for the overpopulation problems in London.

28 March: The first famous pirate radio station, Radio Caroline, began broadcasting from a ship anchored outside of UK territorial waters off Felixstowe. It started as an attempt to break the monopoly of the BBC on the airwaves.

30 March: Reports of violent disturbances between mods and rockers at Clacton beach hit the news for the first time.

156. Billy J Kramer with The Dakotas – Bad to Me (1963)

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One of the many ways The Beatles changed popular music was by writing their own singles. They wanted to become one of the great songwriting duos, and were also very generous in giving their material away to other artists to record. Much is made of the supposed Beatles-Rolling Stones rivalry, but it’s often forgotten that the Stones’ second single was a cover of Lennon and McCartney’s I Wanna Be Your Man. Another great example is Billy J Kramer, who (with The Dakotas) took Bad to Me to number 1.

Born William Howard Ashton in Bootle, Lancashire on 19 August 1943, Kramer had been an engineering apprentice for British Railways, who played rhythm guitar in a band part-time, before switching to vocals. His stage surname came about by a random search in a phone book, but it was Lennon who suggested adding the ‘J’, simply to add some toughness.

With his charisma and good looks, Kramer soon got noticed by Brian Epstein, and he was added to his ever-expanding stable of acts. His then-backing group, The Coasters (not to be confused with the US soul group – what is it with UK bands stealing the names of US soul acts? See the Drifters/the Shadows) weren’t as keen to turn professional, so Epstein matched Kramer with Manchester foursome The Dakotas, who were then backing Pete MacLaine.

The band had formed in 1960, and took their name from their manager’s unusual request to appear at a booking dressed as American Indians. By 1963 they consisted of rhythm guitarist Robin MacDonald, drummer Tony Bookbinder (Elkie Brooks’ brother), bassist Ian Fraser and lead guitarist Mike Maxfield.

The Dakotas were canny lads, and in the hope of emulating The Shadows, they refused to assist Kramer unless they were also given a recording contract to release instrumentals, and this is why it’s ‘Billy J Kramer with The Dakotas’ not ‘Billy J Kramer and The Dakotas’.

Kramer and co had an immediate hit on their hands with their debut single, a cover of McCartney and Lennon’s Do You Want to Know a Secret? which they had given to George Harrison to sing on their debut album (it had been turned down by Shane Fenton, later to become Alvin Stardust). This new cover actually mirrored The Beatles’ second single, Please Please Me, in that it went to number 1 on the NME chart, but narrowly missed out on the Record Retailer‘s version due to From Me to You. Therefore it was this second single, Bad to Me, which officially became their first number 1.

Depending on which John Lennon interview you believe, he either wrote this song on his own for Kramer while holidaying in Spain, or he and McCartney did so in the back of a van. The Beatles never released a version of their own, but they did demo and record it, and the demo surfaced on the 2013 compilation The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963. Paul was on hand for the recording that made it to number 1. The B-side, I Call Your Name, was another McCartney/Lennon composition, that the Beatles did eventually release a version of, on the Long Tall Sally EP in 1964.

Bad to Me has that classic early Beatles sound, with the only difference being Kramer’s comparatively smooth vocal. No offence to Kramer, but it is missing those raw harmonies of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. The band do a perfectly respectable job, though, with a gentle acoustic opening turning into a Merseybeat catchy chorus with chiming guitar and pretty clever wordplay. Pretty good, all in all. Kramer wisely continued to live in the shadow of The Beatles and soak up some of their fame for a while longer.

Written by: Paul McCartney & John Lennon

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (22 August-11 September)

Births:

DJ Paul Oakenfold – 30 August
Actor Mark Strong – 30 August 

Deaths:

Poet Louis MacNeice – 3 September

Meanwhile…

5 September: The Profumo affair took another turn during Bad to Me‘s three-week reign, with model and showgirl Christine Keeler arrested for perjury. On 6 December she found herself sentenced to nine months in prison.