188. The Seekers – I’ll Never Find Another You (1965)

1965_music_seekers_main.jpg

As winter turned to spring in 1965, one of the biggest-selling singles of the year came from Australian pop and folk quartet The Seekers, who were the first act from that country to have success in the UK and US with I’ll Never Find Another You.

The Seekers had formed in Melbourne in 1962 as The Escorts. They consisted of Athol Guy on double bass, Keith Potger on 12-string guitar, Bruce Woodley on guitar and Ken Ray on vocals. After changing their name to The Seekers, Ray left the group when he got married. He was replaced by Judith Durham, a traditional jazz singer whose strong vocals made the quartet stand out from the crowd. Gathering a following in Melbourne, The Seekers signed a recording deal with W&G Records. Their debut album, Introducing the Seekers, was released in 1963, and their first single was a version of Waltzing Matilda.

The group were offered a 12-month stint as entertainers on a cruise ship in March 1964. In May they visited the UK, and intended to stay for ten weeks before returning to their homeland, but media mogul Lew Grade’s Grade Organisation offered them work. They signed a new contract with World Record Club and became regulars on the entertainment series Call in on Carroll.

Fortune favoured The Seekers when they appeared on a bill headlined by a singer who went by the name Dusty Springfield. Dusty had been part of a pop and folk trio called The Springfields with her brother Tom and Tim Fielld (who was replaced by Mike Hurst). The Springfields had been doing well in the UK and the US in the early 60s, but Dusty was keen to break free of the folk sound and chose to go it alone. Tom (whose real name is Dionysius P. A. O’Brien!) was keen to continue writing material in ther same vein, and after meeting The Seekers at the gig he became their writer and producer. Among his first songs was I’ll Never Find Another You.

Following several number 1s chronicling relationship issues or break-ups while the nation mourned the loss of Sir Winston Churchill, it seems the UK were ready for a good old-fashioned pop song.  It has a lovely opening courtesy of Potger’s guitar, but then you hear the reference to the ‘promised land’ in the first verse and wonder if we’re in ‘happy clappy’ territory. It’s very likely that the ‘you’ in the song’s title is God or Jesus rather than a lover, and that this is in fact a song of faith, but once you get past that, it’s not bad really, and Durham’s tough, forthright voice is a nice counterpoint to the sweet backing harmonies. It’s unlikely I’d ever listen again, though.

Written & produced by: Tom Springfield

Weeks at number 1: 5 (25 February-10 March)

Births:

Actress Alison Armitage – 26 February
Wrestler Norman Smiley – 28 February
Filmmaker Paul WS Anderson – 4 March
Radio DJ Andrew Collins – 4 March

167. Peter and Gordon – A World Without Love (1964)

58bfa37d8eaf0ae2d93ba7b268e959f1.jpg

Despite being the year’s biggest seller, Can’t Buy Me Love only stayed at number 1 for three weeks. However, such was Beatlemania’s power at the time, it was replaced with yet another song with links to the group.

World Without Love was credited to Lennon and McCartney, but had in fact been written by McCartney alone when he was 16, and he had never considered it good enough for his band. He was more than happy though, to help out his lover’s brother, and his schoolmate.

Peter and Gordon were pop duo Peter Asher and Gordon Waller. Redheaded Peter was Jane Asher’s brother, and both were child actors. Born on 22 January 1944 into a wealthy family in Park Royal, London, his father was a consultant in blood and mental diseases at Central Middlesex Hospital, and his mother a professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. By coincidence, George Martin was a student there. He first met Gordon at Westminster School.

Gordon was born 4 June 1945 in Braemar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. His father was a prominent surgeon. The family moved to Middlesex while Gordon was a child. They began performing professionally together as Peter and Gordon in 1962 in coffee bars, and aspired to be the UK’s answer to The Everly Brothers. So when McCartney began dating Jane, he probably thought World Without Love would be the perfect for the duo. The adolescent McCartney was a keen Everlys fan, and he was bound to have had them in mind when writing this.

Back in those first few years of fame, Lennon and McCartney understandably didn’t know how long their fame would last, and McCartney once said in an early TV interview that when the hits dried up they’d like to write for others. If this was the case, it’s probably fair to say they’d have had to try better than World Without Love if they were to continue to score number 1 hits.

It’s not that it’s a bad song, it’s pretty pleasant, but the lyrics are melodramatic and clearly written by an adolescent. (The rest of the Beatles used to laugh at the opening ‘Please lock me away’ line). Peter and Gordon’s harmonies are nice, but they’re no match for Phil and Don. The jangly guitar sound is a winner, but this is negated by an awful Hammond organ instrumental section. All in all, it’s doubtful this would have got to number 1 in 1964 without the Beatlemania link, but it does prove that McCartney had an uncanny ear for a nice melody at a young age.

It was downhill after this debut single for Peter and Gordon. McCartney penned several follow-ups specifically for them, but only second single Nobody I Know troubled the charts.

In 1966 McCartney wrote Woman for them but used the pseudonym Bernard Webb to see whether he could give them a hit without his reputation helping. The truth soon came out though, and it only reached 28, regardless.

After the duo split, Asher continued to be associated with the Beatles, becoming the head of A&R at Apple Records. He later became a recording executive in California. Gordon Waller fared less well as a solo artist (although hats off to him for naming his album ...and Gordon in 1972).

In 2008 Peter and Gordon reunited for live performances, but sadly Waller died of a heart attack on 17 July 2009, aged 64. Asher, who was appointed a CBE in 2015 for services to the British music industry, occasionally plays live shows with guitarist Albert Lee.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: Dave Dexter Jr

Weeks at number 1: 2 (23 April-6 May)

Births:

Erasure singer-songwriter Andy Bell – 25 April
Lady Sarah Chatto – 1 May

Meanwhile…

29 April: All schools in Aberdeen were closed following reports of 136 cases of typhoid.

1 May: Princess Margaret gave birth to a baby girl, Lady Sarah Chatto.

2 May: The Queen’s seven-week-old son was christened Edward.
That same day, West Ham United won the FA Cup for the first time, defeating Preston North End 3-2 at Wembley Stadium.

5 May: The start of a milestone in TV history, as Granada Television broadcast Seven Up! as part of its World in Action strand. Originally conceived as an attempt to examine the differences between social class in the 60s, Michael Apted, researcher on Seven Up! and director from 7 Plus 7 onwards, has returned to the lives of many of the children from the original documentary every seven years. One of the greatest documentary series of all time, it has offered a fascinating look at age and the changes in British society over the years. 63 Up was transmitted in 2019.

127. The Highwaymen – Michael (1961)

bd1085327da63fd5064146c180a48668.jpg

One of the more unexpected number 1s (at least, to modern ears) of 1961 was the result of the folk revival of the late 50s and early 60s. Acts such as The Kingston Trio offered a clean-cut, collegiate take on historical folk songs and presented them to mainstream audiences, and for a time, did very well. One such group were the Highwaymen, who went all the way to number 1 in the UK, US and Germany with Michael, their version of the African-American spiritual, Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.

Michael, Row the Boat Ashore was first recognised during the American Civil War at St Helena Island, one of South Carolina’s Sea Islands. It was sang by former slaves, known as freedmen, whose owners abandoned the island when the Union navy came to enforce a blockade. Abolitionist Charles Pickard Ware had come to supervise plantations on St Helena Island in 1862, and it was he that first wrote the song down in music notation.  It was first published in the influential collection Slave Songs of the United States in 1867, by Ware, his cousin William Francis Allen and Lucy McKim Garrison. According to Allen, the song refers to the River Jordan and the Archangel Michael, who is often referred to as a psychopomp. A psychopomp is an entity whose job it is to guide newly deceased souls to the afterlife.

The lyrics have changed many times over the years, but the most widely known version today came from Tony Saletan, who taught it to folk legend Pete Seeger in 1954, who in turn taught it to The Weavers. The success of this influential quartet, based in Greenwich City, was largely responsible for the folk revival.

The Highwaymen were first formed at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. The five-piece consisted of lead singer and arranger Dave Fisher, who had sang in a doo-wop group at high school, plus Bob Burnett, Steve Butts, Chan Daniels and Steve Trott. I’m not sure the decision on the group’s name was a wise move, because pictures of the freshman quintet suggest the least scary bunch of highwaymen you’d ever be likely to meet.

These Highwaymen do produce a rather sweet, homely sound, though. Beginning and ending with a lonesome whistle from banjo player Butts, it’s a polite, faithful rendition, with some nice harmonies, as well as solo spots for each singer. Some voices pull these bits off better than others, though. I suspect some people who sent this to number 1 may not have been aware of the song’s origins, and may have just bought it because it sounded religious and has a memorable tune. Mandolin player and guitarist Trott, who later became a federal appeals court judge, believed the success of their version came down to the fact that Fisher had added some minor chords that weren’t in the song before.

Other versions of Michael were also around at the time, with Lonnie Donegan reaching number six, also in 1961, and Harry Belafonte in 1962, but it was The Highwaymen’s cover that sold millions. They followed it up with a cover of Lead Belly’s Cotton Fields, which also performed well.

However, most of the group wanted to continue to pursue academic achievements. Trott was the first to depart in 1962, and was replaced by Gil Robbins, the father of actor Tim Robbins. That line-up split in 1964, with only Fisher continuing with music and putting together a new version of the group, before moving to Hollywood to compose and arrange for film and television.

The original line-up, minus Daniels, who had died of pneumonia on 2 August 1975, reunited in 1987 to celebrate their 25th college reunion. In 1990 they threatened legal action against the country music supergroup of  Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson, who were also calling themselves The Highwaymen. The suit was dropped when wily old Nelson offered them a slot on stage as a warm-up act.

The group disbanded for good when Fisher died of bone marrow disease in 2010, aged 69. Burnett died a year later, leaving Trott and Butts as the only surviving members. The team behind This is Spinal Tap (1982) made an affectionate spoof of the collegiate folk scene in 2004. A Mighty Wind is well worth a watch.

Written by: Traditional

Producer: Dave Fisher

Weeks at number 1: 1 (12-18 October)

115. Elvis Presley – Wooden Heart (1961)

ELVIS+doctor+macro.jpg

It came as no surprise that the best-selling single of 1961 was by Elvis Presley. However, I would have hoped it would be one of his better tracks, something of similar quality to Are You Lonesome Tonight?. As history has proven time and time again in the charts though, it’s that some artists can release any old tat, and that often, there’s no accounting for taste when it comes to the number 1 single.

Here is a prime example. Wooden Heart is probably Elvis’ recording nadir, and yet it stayed at the top for a ridiculous six weeks.

The song was based on the German folk song Muss i denn by Friedrich Silcher. It’s possible that, as with It’s Now Or Never, Elvis heard the original while based in West Germany and fancied recording it, but if so, he never admitted to it. This is understandable. It took four people to adapt this song, and the guilty party are Elvis soundtrack collaborators Fred Wise, Ben Wiseman and Kay Twomey, along with German bandleader Bert Kaempfert. A year later, Kaempfert hired The Beatles to back Tony Sheridan on his album, My Bonnie, released in 1962.

It featured in Elvis’s new movie, GI Blues, in which he played the magnificently-named Tulsa McLean, a solider serving in West Germany who also has a music career. Wherever did they draw the inspiration for this particular plot? I haven’t seen the film, and definitely have no intention of doing so, but he sings Wooden Heart to a puppet. Let that sink in for a minute. It would seem that Elvis’s transformation from dangerous heart-throb to family entertainer was complete.

Is there anything good to say about Wooden Heart? I suppose you could argue it was a brave decision for Presley to turn his hand to something so different from his standard fare. And, annoyingly, it is rather catchy. But so catchy it deserved to be number 1 for six weeks? No. The lyrics are trite, too, and half way through, Elvis starts singing the words to Muss i den, then a translation of the new lyrics at the end. Maybe this was his weird way of paying tribute to the country he lived in for two years? I really don’t know.

Wooden Heart didn’t even get released as a single in the US, so the people behind him may have known it might cause his reputation some damage. However, a cover by Joe Dowell later made it to number 1, so there’s the proof that US audiences were as bad as British. Eventually, Elvis’s version was sneaked out as the B-side to Blue Christmas in 1964.

Written by: Fred Wise, Ben Weisman, Kay Twomey & Bert Kaempfert 

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 6 (23 March-3 May) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Conservative leader William Hague – 26 March
Rugby league player Ellery Hanley – 27 March
Filmmaker Michael Winterbottom – 29 March
Actor Robert Caryle – 14 April
Fashion designer Bella Freud – 17 April
Actor Nicholas Lyndhurst – 20 April
Chef Phil Vickery – 2 May

Deaths:

Artist Vanessa Bell – 7 April 

Meanwhile…

17 April: Tottenham Hotspur won the Football League First Division title for the second time, defeating Sheffield Wednesday 2-1. They have failed to win it since.

27 April: Sierra Leone became the latest country to gain independence from the UK – perhaps they discovered we had picked Wooden Heart as the best single available?

1 May: Betting shops become legal under the terms of the Betting and Gaming Act 1960, and 19 people died in a fire at the Top Storey Club, a nightclub in Bolton. This tragedy resulted in the swift passing of a new Licensing Act to improve fire safety.