138. Ray Charles (Orchestra & Chorus Conducted by Marty Paich) – I Can’t Stop Loving You (1962)

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Soul pioneer Ray Charles achieved his only solo number 1 single with his cover of singer-songwriter Don Gibson’s I Can’t Stop Loving You. He had already brought jazz, gospel and blues sounds into soul, and here was a successful attempt to draw on elements of country and develop the genre further. The original version had been a hit for Gibson in 1958.

Born into poverty in Greenville, Florida on 23 September 1930, Ray Charles Robinson was blind by the age of seven due to glaucoma, but it didn’t prevent him studying composition and learning to play various instruments, including of course, the piano, at the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind. By the time he became a teenager, both his parents had died, and he used his savings to move to Seattle in 1947, where he performed in two different bands, and adopted his trademark sunglasses. Back then however he modelled himself on Nat ‘King’ Cole, and his early recordings were fair facsimiles of his softer sound. It wasn’t until he joined Atlantic Records in 1952 that he began experimenting with mixing genres, and he began to score his first R&B hits, including Mess Around and the mighty I Got a Woman. In 1959 he reached his pinnacle for the label when he released perhaps his finest song. What’d I Say combined Latin rhythms with soul to create a racy classic that made him a pop star.

By 1962, Charles had moved to ABC-Paramount Records as they offered him greater artistic freedom. He had further pop hits, including Georgia on My Mind and Hit the Road Jack, but following a near-death experience in a plane, he decided to try something new. Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music was the result, and is considered by many his finest album.  I Can’t Stop Loving You became its first single after a version by Tab Hunter, who had previously hit number 1 with Young Love, enraged Charles. ABC-Paramount quickly edited the album version down and had a hit on their hands.

My ears were crying out for something a bit more mature after Come Outside, but I must confess to being disappointed by this. It could be down to my lack of appreciation for most country music, but I don’t feel I Can’t Stop Loving You hits the mark like his aforementioned hits. Charles is in fine voice as always, his weathered tones belying the fact he was only 31 when he recorded it, but the backing vocals from the Randy Van Horne Singers are shrill and date the production. The album version is also overlong, but at least the single edit shaves off some of the excess fat. It’s another number 1 that is perhaps easy to respect, less easy to enjoy, these days. But this single did open the doors to the further blurring of boundaries. They didn’t call him ‘The Genius’ for nothing.And to think he managed to do all this while nursing a heroin addiction!

However, in 1965 he was arrested for possession for a third time, and went into rehab. This time he kicked it for good, even though two subsequent hits sound like statements of defiance – I Don’t Need No Doctor and Let’s Go Get Stoned. By the 70s his star was on the wane.

1980 saw a cameo in much-loved musical comedy The Blues Brothers, and this would definitely have been the first time I became aware of Charles, as I was obsessed with this film for years in my childhood. In 1985 he made another appearance at number 1 when the charity supergroup USA for America topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with the mediocre We Are the World. Charles acted as bandleader, trying his best to coax better performances out of those who couldn’t be arsed (I’m looking at you, Paul Simon). His health declined as the new millennium dawned, but after hip surgery in 2003 he was ready to hit the road once more. Sadly ill health took hold, and at the age of 73 he died of complications from acute liver disease on 10 June 2004. Several months later, the biopic Ray was released, starring an Oscar-winning Jamie Foxx in the title role.

From humble beginnings and personal struggles, Ray Charles went on to not only become one of soul and R&B’s most important figures, whose music was enjoyed by millions, but he was also an inspiration to a diverse range of legendary artists, including Stevie Wonder, Elvis Presley, Steve Winwood and Roger Waters. He also contributed to the civil rights movement, and will be remembered as one of the 20th century’s brightest talents.

Written by: Don Gibson

Producer: Sid Feller

Weeks at number 1: 2 (12-25 July)

Deaths:

Historian GM Trevelyan – 21 July

Meanwhile…

12 July: Blues singer Long John Baldry performs at London’s Marquee Club. His support act for the night are performing their first gig. The Rollin’ Stones consisted of Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ian Stewart and Dick Taylor. They would become the Rolling Stones shortly after, but it would be nearly another year before the first classic line-up fell into place.

13 July: Prime Minister Harold Macmillan sacked a third of his cabinet. Panicking after poor polling results and Liberal gains in by-elections, the speed and scale of the dismissals saw the press refer to it as the Night of the Long Knives, which was the name of a purge in 1934 Nazi Germany.

121. The Everly Brothers – Temptation (1961)

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The Everly Brothers went to number 1 for the fourth and final time, with a 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 10 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)

Meanwhile…

25 July: Whistle Down the Wind was released in cinemas. Set in Lancashire and based on the 1959 book by Mary Hayley Bell, it starred Hayley Mills and Alan Bates, and was produced by Richard Attenborough.

117. Floyd Cramer – On the Rebound (1961)

Floyd-Cramer-Getty-Michael-Ochs-Archives-circa-1961-copy.jpgNumber 1 for a week in May, On the Rebound saw a much-demanded session musician step out into the spotlight and become a star in his own right. Pianist Floyd Cramer was one of the key architects of the ‘Nashville sound’, a sophisticated version of country music that had originated in the mid-50s.

Cramer had been born in Shreveport, Louisiana on 27 October 1933. He grew up in the small town of Huttig, Arkansas, where he taught himself to play the piano after his parents bought him one for his fifth birthday.

After graduating, he returned to Louisiana and found work at radio station KWKH, where he began backing honky tonk stars and even toured with Hank Williams. Despite making his name as a session musician, he actually recorded his first solo single, Dancin’ Diane, in 1953. Two years later, he found himself touring with an up-and-coming singer named Elvis Presley.

1955 proved an important year for Cramer, as he finally moved to Nashville at the instigation of one of the Nashville sound’s figureheads, songwriter and producer Chet Atkins. Over the next few years, Cramer, along with Atkins, Owen Bradley, Harold Bradley, Fred Carter and The Jordanaires, worked with some of American music’s most influential stars, including UK number 1 artists Elvis, Roy Orbison and The Everly Brothers.

Key to Cramer’s success was the ‘slip note’ style of playing he developed, in which he would often hit out-of-key notes before sliding into the right one, which created a kind of slurring sound that fitted perfectly with the country music he was working on. Cramer first used ‘slip note’ at a session for Hank Locklin’s Please Help Me, I’m Falling, when Atkins asked Cramer to copy Don Robertson’s playing on the demo. However, it was Cramer that ran with this style and made it his own.

In 1960 he had a hit with the memorable instrumental Last Date, which peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100. Ironically, he was kept from the top spot by Presley’s Are You Lonesome Tonight?, on which he had also played. Last Date was later covered by REM, among others.

A year later, the self-penned title track of his new album On the Rebound, also narrowly missed out on topping the US charts, but it did the business in the UK.

I was surprised just how much I enjoyed this track. I was half expecting something along the lines of Russ Conway’s number 1s, Side Saddle and Roulette, but On the Rebound really is a cut above. With instrumentals, you either need a really good central riff, or enough elements to keep the listener interested, and this track does both. It’s laden with hooks, punchy, and sounds pretty modern, thanks to Atkins’ production, with Cramer’s skills impressing over stirring string stabs. There’s been a lot of disappointing number 1s so far in 1961. This is one of the better ones.

Cramer continued to release his own work alongside session performances, often covering the hits of the time. From 1965 to 1974 he annually recorded an album of the year’s hits, titled The Class of… As a fan of The Monkees, I wouldn’t mind hearing Floyd Cramer Plays the Monkees, from 1967, or maybe Floyd Cramer and the Keyboard Kick Band from 10years later, in which Cramer played eight different keyboards. His final chart hit was his own version of the theme to US soap opera Dallas in 1980. Cramer died of lung cancer on New Year’s Eve 1997, aged 64.

Written by: Floyd Cramer

Producer: Chet Atkins

Weeks at number 1: 1 (18-24 May)

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

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The Everly Brothers occupied the top of the charts for the third time for most of March 1961, with 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?).

As usual, 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 

Meanwhile…

6 March: Influential singer-songwriter, actor, comedian and cheeky ukelele maestro George Formby died of a heart attack, aged 56.

8 March: 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.

13 March: Five members of the Portland Spy Ring go on trial at the Old Bailey, accused of passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union.

20 March: Shakespeare Memorial Theatre changed its name to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

21 March: The Beatles made their first performance at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.