124. John Leyton – Johnny Remember Me (1961)

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With the exception of the Everly Brothers’ Cathy’s Clown and Temptation, we’ve yet to have any number 1 singles that showed any sign of evolution in production techniques. Pop had simplified since the inception of the charts, and most producers simply got the act in a studio and recorded live or as close to as possible, in as few takes as they could. Eccentric genius Joe Meek helped to change all that, and broadened pop’s horizons. And all from a flat above a leather goods shop in Islington.

Meek had been interested in electronics most of his life. Growing up in Newent, Gloucestershire, he filled his parents’ shed with old radios, circuitry and random electronic paraphernalia. He worked as a radar technician during his national service, and then in 1953 he worked for the Midlands Electric Board, using their resources to produce his first record. Meek later became an audio engineer, at first for a radio company, before first making his presence felt in the charts in 1956, upsetting jazz musician Humphrey Lyttelton by compressing the sound of his single Bad Penny Blues. Despite this, it became a hit. He was also involved in Anne Shelton’s number 1, Lay Down Your Arms, but I won’t hold that against him too much (I decided this was the worst number 1 single of 1957, here).

Meek co-founded Triumph Records in 1960, and the company had a top 10 hit with Angela Jones by Michael Cox, but Meek’s fiery temperament combined with distribution issues meant the label lasted less than a year. Soon after he conceived and produced concept album I Hear a New World, years before the term even existed. I first heard this around 13 years ago, and didn’t appreciate it anywhere near as much as I should have. I’ve just re-listened to prepare me for writing about Meek, and while the album (that was shelved for decades) is so primitive as to be amusing in places, it’s also astounding to think such a thing was being worked on as early as 1960. At times the album resembles ambient music, again, decades before the term existed. With the help of financial backing from a fellow eccentric, Major Wilfred Alonzo Banks, he set up his own production company, RGM Sound Limited, and ran it from his flat at 304 Holloway Road. One of Meek’s acts, Geoff Goddard, had tried to become famous under the alias Anton Hollywood (!) but fame eluded him. One night, a haunting song came to Goddard in a dream. He woke with a start and immediately sang it into the tape recorder he kept by his bedside. In an era in which teenage tragedy songs were performing so well, Johnny Remember Me could potentially be a huge hit. This gothic tale of a man haunted by his love’s spirit had a memorably eerie chorus. They just needed Meek to work his magic, and find the right singer.

John Leyton was an Essex-born actor who had worked his way up from bit parts on television and in films to becoming well-known due to his part as Ginger in Granada’s adaptation of Biggles. His good looks even earned him a fan club. Leyton’s manager was Australian-born entrepreneur Robert Stigwood, who went on to manage Cream and the Bee Gees. The Robert Stigwood Organisation, or RSO, eventually went into film production and was responsible for Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Grease (1978). But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here… Stigwood thought Leyton should record a cover of Tell Laura I Love Her with Meek, but Ricky Valance reached number 1 in 1960 with his version, and Leyton’s was withdrawn from sale. Clearly thinking that Leyton could portray the camp drama needed for their own death disc, Meek gave Leyton another shot and recorded Johnny Remember Me with him. Charles Blackwell looked after the arrangement. Leyton later recalled that the kitchen sink production involved Meek actually producing from the kitchen, with him in the sitting room, backing singers in the bathroom and string players upstairs.

With its urgent, galloping rhythm, courtesy of backing band the Outlaws, Johnny Remember Me begins like a theme from a western (a clever touch – this genre was still very popular in the UK), but the lyrics suggest a very British drama, with references to mist and the moors bringing to mind Wuthering Heights. When the ghostly wail of Lissa Grey takes over in the chorus, you’re aware you’re listening to a pretty special song. I’m not sure what the sounds are that Meek conjures up in the instrumental break, but I haven’t heard anything that unusual in a number 1 up to this point. Meek’s production is perfect, managing to sound ghostly without sounding cheesy. British pop had just taken a leap forward, and on a shoestring budget.

Stigwood’s idea to promote Johnny Remember Me was a masterstroke, and will have played a key factor in its success. Leyton had just bagged a role in ITV drama Harpers West One. He played rock star Johnny Saint-Cyr, and in one scene he had to perform in front of adoring female fans. Stigwood suggested he perform his new single, and the plan paid off. Leyton took Johnny Remember Me to number 1 for three weeks, before Shirley Bassey took over, but Leyton then went back to the top for a fourth week.

Leyton’s follow-up, Wild Wind, went to number 2, but the following year his association with Meek and Goddard ended. He took on more acting work to stay busy (including a part in 1963’s The Great Escape), but by the 1980s he had retired from showbusiness. However, in the 90s he began performing on the nostalgia circuit, which he still does to this day, with his backing band the Flames. My parents have seen him, and my dad says he looks ridiculously young despite being 82. As we know, Meek didn’t go on to enjoy a long life, but that’s a story for another time…

Although Meek was gay, in 1961 such matters were still considered something to be ashamed of in mainstream culture. But things were slowly changing. On 31 August the movie Victim was released, and made history as the first film to feature the word ‘homosexual’. The subject matter also came up in A Taste of Honey, a cinematic adaptation of Shelagh Delaney’s kitchen sink play, that was released on 14 September. Also that month, a stand collapsed during a match involving Glasgow Rangers at Ibrox Park on 16 September. Three people died and 35 suffered injuries.  The following day, police arrested over 1300 protestors during a CND rally in Trafalgar Square.

Oh, and a brief snatch of Johnny Remember Me made a cameo appearance in Bronski Beat and Marc Almond’s version of I Feel Love in 1985. Quite why they two acts decided to stick the chorus to this in the middle of a medley of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love and Love to Love Your Baby, I do not know, but the video makes for an amusing watch. Enjoy Jimmy Somerville and Marc Almond trying to out-camp each other here.

Written by: Geoff Goddard

Producer: Joe Meek

Weeks at number 1: 4 (31 August-20 September, 28 September-4 October)

Births:

Actor Kevin Kennedy – 7 September
Author Tom Holt – 13 September

Deaths:

Scottish sculptor Sir William Reid Dick – 1 October 

121. The Everly Brothers – Temptation (1961)

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25 July saw the release of one of the more famous British movies of the decade. Whistle Down the Wind, set in Lancashire and based on the 1959 book by Mary Hayley Bell, starred Hayley Mills and Alan Bates, and was produced by Richard Attenborough. During the same week, the Everly Brothers went to number 1 for the fourth and final time, with their cover of Temptation. This was an old song, written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, who had also written Singing in the Rain. Temptation had first been used in the 1933 film Going Hollywood, where it had been performed by superstar crooner Bing Crosby.

The production of the song caused some problems for Don and Phil, as their producer Wesley Rose was unhappy at them choosing to record a song that hadn’t been published by Acuff-Rose, meaning he wouldn’t get royalties. However, Don had dreamt the version he had in mind for the brothers, and insisted they go ahead. Therefore after its production, Rose blocked the Everlys from releasing any song from his team of writers, including Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, who were responsible for many of their hits. Bizarrely, it also barred them from recording self-composed material, as the Everlys were also contracted to Acuff-Rose!

Don was definitely right to push ahead with Temptation, and it’s a shame he didn’t get more creative control, as both this and Cathy’s Clown were in a sense his tracks, and are the best number 1 singles the duo made. However, it’s Rose’s name on the production credits, so it’s difficult to know how much rein he was given. Nonetheless, whoever is responsible, there’s a real sense of the envelope being pushed here, and the reverb-heavy sound is probably the best production I’ve heard in a number 1 single up to this point. The backing vocals rage against the song, sounding unearthly and intense, creating a great dramatic feel. There’s no way out here, and the song’s protagonist is doomed to be led along by the woman in question. As always the harmonies from the brothers are great, but both this and the aforementioned track have made me see that there was more to the Everly Brothers than just great voices.

Rose’s ban on songwriters, plus a stint in the Marines later in 1961, deeply affected the Everly Brothers’ momentum. By the time the dispute with Acuff-Rose had ended in 1964, the world had changed, and the Beatles, who the Everlys had influenced so much, were the new kings. Plus, Don and Phil had become addicted to amphetamines, and Don was eventually hospitalised due to a nervous breakdown. They still had hits, but not to the same extent. They recorded an album in 1966 with the Hollies, Two Yanks in England (wonder how long it took them to come up with that title?) as their backing band, but returned to their country roots by the close of the decade.As the 70s dawned, Don released a solo album, and tensions came to a head in 1973. They announced their final show together at Knotts Berry Farm, but couldn’t even make it through to the end. Phil smashed his guitar and left the stage, leaving Don to finish alone.

For ten years the brothers pursued solo careers to mixed success. On 23 September 1983 they reunited for a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, and no instruments were destroyed. They recorded a new album, EB ’84, and a song from superfan Paul McCartney, On the Wings of a Nightingale, returned them to the charts. Simon & Garfunkel, who had been heavily influenced by the brothers (their harmonies are also sublime, they recorded a version of Bye Bye Love, and they often hate each other) invited them to be their special guests on their Old Friends tour in 2003.

Sadly, weak lungs were an Everly family trait – their father had died of black lung disease, and Phil had stopped smoking in 2001, but the damage he had inflicted on his lungs was permanent. Phil Everly died of lung disease on 3 January 2014, aged 74. Don later admitted that they had become estranged again in the last few years, with their political beliefs causing a rift, but despite the feuding, he was devastated and unable to come to terms with his younger brother’s death. In 2016, he admitted he would wish a good morning to some of Phil’s ashes that he kept in his home, every day.

The Everly Brothers were trailblazers. Their pioneering work in the studio influenced many great acts, and they were one of the first acts to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They were also the first in a long line of warring family members in music, with the Davies brothers of the Kinks and Gallaghers in Oasis, among others, keeping up the tradition in later years. But no matter the tensions within the family, when they sang together they created magic.

Written by: Nacio Herb Brown & Arthur Freed

Producer: Wesley Rose

Weeks at number 1: 2 (20 July-2 August)

114. The Everly Brothers – Walk Right Back/Ebony Eyes (1961)

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March 1961: On the sixth of the month, influential singer-songwriter, actor, comedian and cheeky ukelele maestro George Formby died of a heart attack, aged 56. Two days later, Edwin Bush is arrested in London for stabbing Elsie May Batten with an antique dagger from the shop in which he worked. He became the first British criminal to be identified using the Identikit system. Five days from then, five members of the Portland Spy Ring go on trial at the Old Bailey, accused of passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. A week later, on 20 March, Shakespeare Memorial Theatre changed its name to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and the following day, the Beatles made their first performance at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. The Everly Brothers were occupying the top of the charts for the third time for most of that month, with a double A-side single, Walk Right Back/Ebony Eyes.

Walk Right Back had been written by their friend Sonny Curtis, who had performed with Buddy Holly and joined the Crickets as their vocalist after Holly’s death. He came up with the song while in the army and played it to Don and Phil while on leave. They liked it immediately and said they’d record it, but Curtis had only written one verse so far. He didn’t get the next verse to them in time, so the brothers simply sang the one verse they had, twice. They might have done better to have waited, as Walk Right Back only really works as a neat little guitar lick. It’s far too chirpy for such sad lyrics, and a disappointment after All I Have to Do Is Dream and Cathy’s Clown, but those magic harmonies are still great to hear, and always uplift any song of theirs. Curtis would later do better, when he wrote the classic I Fought the Law.

Ebony Eyes is also a let-down. It was written by the bizarrely-named John D Loudermilk (what does the ‘D’ stand for? Nothing, apparently), who had written for artists including Eddie Cochran. With teenage death songs such as Tell Laura I Love Her all the rage, Ebony Eyes tells the sad story of a young man who lost his fiancée in an airplane crash during stormy conditions. She was on board, Flight 1203, which was lost in skies as dark as his lover’s ebony eyes. It’s a bit hokey and maudlin to my ears, and is made even more so by Don’s ill-advised spoken word performance. The brothers had tried their hand at acting lessons, which he had hated, so why he decided to play the song’s protagonist, I don’t know. Sadly, no version of him bursting into laughter exists as far as I’m aware (see my blog on Elvis Presley’s Are You Lonesome Tonight?). Again, the sublime vocals raise the song above most fare of the time, but this single fails to reach their usual high standards.

Written by:
Walk Right Back: Sonny Curtis/Ebony Eyes: John D Loudermilk

Producer: Wesley Rose

Weeks at number 1: 3 (2-22 March)

Births:

Olympian javelin thrower Fatima Whitbread – 3 March 

Deaths:

Singer George Formby – 6 March
Conductor Thomas Beecham – 8 March 

110. Cliff Richard and the Shadows – I Love You (1960)

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New Year’s Eve 1960 was the final day that the farthing, a coin that had been in use since the 13th century, could be used as legal tender. It was also the day that conscription ended in the UK. The times, they were a-changing.

Unfortunately, they weren’t changing quickly enough in the music world. 1960 had proven to be a rather staid year as far as number 1s went, with only a few highlights (Cathy’s Clown, Shakin’ All Over, Apache and Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel)). And so it seems appropriate that the Christmas number 1 that year was also pretty dull. Elvis Presley’s It’s Now or Never had been unstoppable for two months, but the UK’s other biggest-selling artist of the era managed to topple it during Christmas week. Not for the last time, Cliff Richard was the festive chart-topper, but this wasn’t considered such an honour back then.

In my review of Every Christmas Number 1, I decided Cliff Richard and the Shadows’ I Love You was the worst Christmas best-seller of the 1960s, describing it as ‘generic’, ‘tepid’ and ‘very forgettable’. Since then I’ve discovered that the singer’s father fell ill during I Love You‘s fortnight at the top, and died a few months later. This track was his favourite number 1 by his son, so I feel a bit guilty. Not enough to change my opinion, though. If you’re going to call a song I Love You, you should be pulling out al the stops to make it interesting, in my opinion. Like their previous number 1, Please Don’t Tease, the writer is rhythm guitarist Bruce Welch, and once again, it’s a very bland and polite track, but it got the job done, I guess. There were better number 1s to come for Cliff and the Shadows, but not for a while.

The first week of 1961 saw the debut of a classic television series. The Avengers premiered on ITV on 7 January. The original episodes focused on Dr David Keel, played by Ian Hendry, with John Steed (Patrick Macnee) growing in popularity throughout the series, before eventually becoming the central character. Two days later, British authorities announced a large Soviet spy ring had been uncovered in London.

Written by: Bruce Welch

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 2 (29 December 1960-11 January 1961)

Births:

Footballer Steve Bruce – 31 December
Actor Mark Wingett – 1 January 

101. The Everly Brothers – Cathy’s Clown (1960)

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6 May 1960 saw Princess Margaret marrying photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones at Westminster Abbey. Margaret had been in love with Peter Townsend, and he had proposed to her in 1953. However, Townsend was divorced and the wedding would have caused ructions in Cabinet, and flown in the face of Royal tradition, and in the end she turned him down. However, Margaret allegedly accepted Armstrong-Jones’s proposal the day after learning that Townsend was to marry Marie-Luce Jamagne, a young woman who bore a strong resemblance to Margaret. This was the first Royal wedding to be televised, but by 1978 they had divorced. A day later, Wolverhampton Wanderers won the FA Cup for the fourth time, defeating Blackburn Rovers 3-0 at Wembley Stadium.

Also that week, country, pop and rock’n’roll duo the Everly Brothers went to number 1 for the second time with Cathy’s Clown. Like their previous number 1, All I Have to Do is Dream/Claudette in 1958, it stayed at the top for seven weeks. Earlier in 1960 the duo had left Cadence Records and signed with Warner Bros. Records. Cathy’s Clown bore the UK catalogue number WB1, and was the first single released by the label in this country. Until this point, Warner Bros. Records had been struggling, and urgently needed a hit. The Everlys were reportedly given $1million to come up with one, and did not disappoint. Originally credited to both Don and Phil, in 1980 a deal was struck to make Don the sole songwriter. This song had been inspired by one of his ex-girlfriends, who one can only assume had dumped him, and the music was influenced by Andre Kostelanetz’s version of the orchestral Grand Canyon Suite.

Cathy’s Clown proved to be one of the most influential songs of the early 1960s, and still appears in lists of the greatest songs of all time. Coming after so many average number 1s in 1960, it’s sophistication marks it as head and shoulders above the competition. It’s all about those rolling drums and the chorus that follows. This was the first number 1 to feature a drum loop, created by engineer Bill Porter looping drummer Buddy Harman and getting him to play on top, manually adding the loop at the start of each chorus. And what a chorus. The Everly Brothers really did produce harmonies like nobody that had come before them, and the voices are just perfect on Cathy’s Clown. You can easily see the influence on the Beatles, (who at one point considered calling themselves The Foreverly Brothers), particularly on the second single, Please Please Me. The lyrics have caused confusion over the years, but to me it seems that Cathy’s clown is the singer of the song, and he’s being repeatedly made to look stupid by Cathy, who’s been cheating on him. His friends consider him a clown, but he can’t help going back for more, despite insisting in the chorus that he’s had enough. These lyrics, like the production, are a cut above your average 1960 fare. The fact it’s probably based on what happened to poor Don with his ex makes the song that bit more authentic. The Everlys did heartbreak very well – see also Bye Bye Love.

Cathy’s Clown became the first single to simultaneously hit number 1 in the US and UK, and they more than lived up to Warner Bros. Records’ expectations. Further hits and number 1s followed, making them one of the greatest acts of the early years of the 60s. The credits for the song are still contentious to this day, however. Following Phil’s death, his remaining family reasserted their rights to royalties. Don sued them to get the rights back in November 2017.

Written by: Don Everly & Phil Everly

Producer: Wesley Rose

Weeks at number 1: 7 (5 May-22 June) 

Births:

Actress Roma Downey – 6 May
Dire Straits keyboardist Guy Fletcher – 24 May
Actress Kristin Scott Thomas – 24 May
‘Chaser’ Shaun Wallace – 2 June
Actor Bradley Walsh – 4 June
Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall – 8 June
Duran Duran bassist John Taylor – 20 June 

Deaths:

Mathematician JHC Whitehead – 8 May
Politician Sir Maurice Bonham Carter – 7 June