262. The Scaffold – Lily the Pink (1968)

1968-the-scaffold-lily-the-pink-1353318874-view-0.jpg

Just prior to Christmas 1968, a case with tragic similarities to the murder of James Bulger in 1993 came to a close with the sentencing of 11-year-old girl Mary Bell from Newcastle upon Tyne on 17 December. In May and July that year she had murdered two young boys, one with her friend Norma Bell, who was acquitted. Bell recieved a life sentence for manslaughter. She was initially sent to the same secure unit as Jon Venables, one of Bulger’s killers. Bell was released in 1980 into anonymity.

It’s a sad irony that the number 1 of the time, and eventual Christmas number 1, was a children’s song. Lily the Pink, by Scouse comedy, poetry and music act the Scaffold, was the first novelty song to become Christmas number 1, but as detailed in Every Christmas Number 1, it was certainly not the last instance of this very British phenomenon.

The Scaffold began with the friendship of entertainer John Gorman, and musical performer Mike McCartney (younger brother of Paul). Together with poets Roger McCough and Adrian Henri they formed the revue known as the Liverpool One Fat Lady All Electric Show back in 1962.

By 1964 Henri had left and they had become the Scaffold. As they rose in popularity, McCartney changed his stage name to Mike McGear, to avoid accusations of using his brother’s name to become famous during Beatlemania. However, considering the rise in popularity of anything from Liverpool, it’s fair to say the link won’t have harmed the trio.

In 1966 they signed to Parlophone (label of the Beatles) and released their debut single 2 Days Monday, but it was their third 7″, Thank U Very Much, that first troubled the top ten. Its popularity endured into the 1980s thanks to a long-running adveritsing campaign by Cadbury’s Roses, usually at Christmas.

McGough and McGear released an eponymous album without Gorman, featuring cameos from Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell, Paul McCartney and Graham Nash, in May 1968. The Scaffold’s eponymous debut LP was released only two months later and was a live recording of mostly McGough’s poetry and McGear and Gorman’s sketches. And then came Lily the Pink.

The 1968 Christmas number 1’s origins lay in a drinking song called The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham. Pinkham was a real person, and in the 19th century she invented and marketed a herbal-alcoholic women’s tonic for menstrual and menopausal issues. She was ridiculed at the time, but the drink still exists in an altered form to this day. Versions of the ballad were doing the rounds as far back as World War 1, with lyrics poking fun at Pinkham’s drink and its alleged uses.

The Scaffold’s version had completely rewritten lyrics by McGough, Gorman and McGear, adding a cast of unusual characters to make it more child-friendly, and also in-keeping with psychedelia, with the tune sounding reminscent of the Victorian music hall. The characters they described were largely in-jokes – ‘Mr Frears has sticky out ears’ refers to Stephen Frears, who had once worked with the trio and is now one of the most highly regarded film directors in the UK. ‘Jennifer Eccles had terrible freckles’ came from the song Jennifer Eccles by the Hollies.

Speaking of which, Graham Nash provided backing vocals, along with Elton John (still Reg Dwight at the time) and Tim Rice, and that’s Jack Bruce from Cream on bass.

I remember Lily the Pink from childhood, and I enjoyed it back then. It’s bloody irritating now, though, and the in-jokes, probably only funny to the Scaffold and a few others at the time, are not funny at all now. The chorus will, sadly, stay with you forever. And ever. And then just when you think Lily has died and gone to heaven, she comes back to haunt you forevermore. The bit where the chorus comes back after she’s died is good fun though, I’ll give them that. Incidentally, it was produced by Norrie Paramor, formerly responsible for Cliff Richard and Frank Ifield. This was his 27th, and (I think) final number 1.

In 1969 the Scaffold recorded their memorable theme tune to Carla Lane’s long-running BBC sitcom The Liver Birds. The following year they were given their own children’s series, Score with the Scaffold. With the advent of decimalisation, the trio were responsible for providing tunes for a series of five-minute programmes to explain how the system would work. That same year, they teamed up with collaborator Andy Roberts (I’ve had a drink with Roberts, and he’s a bloody nice bloke with some great stories, he’s also in one of my favourite sketches of all time, here.) Vivian Stanshall and Neil Innes of the defunct Bonzo Dog Band and various waifs and strays to form Grimms.

As Grimms toured up and down the country the Scaffold continued. They had their first hit since Lily the Pink with Liverpool Lou, recorded with Wings, in 1974. Although there may have been tension after McGear left Grimms due to a bust-up with Brian Patten, the Scaffold parted amicably in 1977, although there have been brief reunions here and there since.

Following a few more singles in the early 80s, McGear retired from music, reverted to his family name and became a photographer and author. Gorman was a regular on Tiswas and the adult version OTT until the early 80s, when he moved into theatre. McGough has remained in the public eye, and is considered a national treasure thanks to his children’s poetry.

After three weeks at number 1, Lily the Pink was overtaken by the Marmalade’s cover of the Beatles’ Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, but only a week later it returned to the top of the hit parade again for a further week.

On its last day, 14 January, Sir Matt Busby, legendary manager of Manchester United FC for 24 years, through good times and tragic times, announced his retirement.

1968 had been a particularly unusual and random year for number 1s. The decade was nearly over, and by the time we get to the end of 1969, the Beatles and Rolling Stones will have had their last number 1s.

Written by: John Gorman, Mike McGear & Roger McGough

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 4 (11-31 December 1968, 8-14 January 1969)

Births:

Race car driver Phil Andrews – 20 December
Scottish field hockey player Pauline Robertson – 28 December
Author David Mitchell – 12 January
Scottish snooker player Stephen Hendry – 13 January 

Deaths:

Welsh poet David James Jones – 14 December
Athlete Albert Hill – 8 January
Writer Richmal Crompton – 11 January 

153. Frank Ifield – Confessin’ (That I Love You) (1963)

825520568.jpg

The 1963 Merseybeat marathon at the top of the charts took a brief pause that summer to allow two huge-selling artists return stints. The first was Australian yodelling country singer Frank Ifield, who prior to Merseybeat was the top music sensation. He’d had three number 1s, I Remember You and Lovesick Blues in 1962, and The Wayward Wind earlier this year, making him the first UK-based act to score three in a row.

Ifield’s schtick was to take an old song (usually a country one), make it sound (slightly) more modern, yodel as and when he saw fit, and then stick some harmonica over the top. Confessin’ (That I Love You) was more of the same, but this time Ifield was covering a jazz standard. Originally credited to Chris Smith and Sterling Grant, the song was called Lookin’ For Another Sweetie and was first recorded by Thomas ‘Fats’ Waller & His Babies in 1929. The following year it was rewritten as Confessin’, with new lyrics from Al J Neiburg and the music credited to Doc Daugherty and Ellis Reynolds.

By now, you’d think this formula would have looked stale, but Confessin’ (That I Love You) was popular enough to keep Ifield at the top one last time, for a month. It’s the least listenable of a mixed, occasionally bizarre bunch of tunes. It sounds very old-fashioned… but it’s not terrible. I’m always a sucker for some harmonica, and I love the unusual, which is probably the best way to describe Ifield’s yodelling on this song. A strange part of me enjoyed it, but I doubt I’ll be listening to it again.

By and large, the record buyers out there at the time were thinking the same thing, and Ifield became the first (and most recent) star to feel the effects of the sea change in the pop world.  Which was kind of ironic, as John Lennon admitted the Beatles used harmonica so much at the time because of Ifield. Bizarrely, both acts featured together on a cheap US compilation from Vee-Jay Records called Jolly What! England’s Greatest Recording Stars: The Beatles and Frank Ifield on Stage. The ‘copulation’, as it was accidentally called in the sleeve notes, featured Ifield hits alongside the second and third Beatles singles, plus their B-sides. Needless to say, the title was misleading, and the acts were not performing together.

Ifield’s singles started to perform badly by the middle of the decade, and he began appearing in pantomimes and faded into obscurity, eventually returning to Australia. In 1991, a bizarre dance remix of She Taught Me How to Yodel was released and credited to Frank Ifield and the Backroom Boys. I’m not sure I’ve heard the correct version, but several remixes are on YouTube, and they’re all predictably odd. Nowadays he tours Australia with  performances of his hits and memories of his years as a pop star.

This song also marked the end of an era for his producer Norrie Paramor. He had first produced a number 1 back in 1954 – Eddie Calvert’s Oh Mein Papa. Back then, the term ‘producer’ didn’t even exist. Paramor had been behind over 20 number 1s at this point. His story wasn’t over yet, but his peak years now came to an end, with George Martin taking over as the most important producer in the UK.

Written by: Al J Neiburg, Doc Daugherty & Ellis Reynolds

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 2 (18-31 July)

Births:

Chess player Julian Hodgson – 25 July
Norman Cook, aka DJ Fatboy Slim – 31 July

147. Frank Ifield – The Wayward Wind (1963)

481013835.jpg

Aussie-born yodelling superstar Frank Ifield’s third and penultimate number 1 was a step back from the unrestrained lunacy of Lovesick Blues. Unlike that and I Remember You, The Wayward Wind was a cover of a more recent track. Written by Stanley Lebowsky and Herb Newman, it was first recorded in 1956 by US singer Gogi Grant, who took it to number 1 in the US. The Beatles had recently featured it in their live sets of 1960 and 61, but no versions survive. By reaching number 1 once more, Ifield became the first UK-based act to have three chart-toppers in a row, and he momentarily broke up the seemingly endless Shadows-related number 1s of early 1963.

You can see why the Beatles would cover this, as you’d be forgiven for thinking it was one of their early singles at the start thanks to the earthy harmonica refrain. It’s catchy and easily the best element of the song. Then the swirling strings begin and you know this must be produced by Norrie Paramor. I’ve lost count of how many number 1s he’s been responsible for by now but it’ll be by far the most to date. However, he would soon be overtaken by George Martin. Then Ifield starts singing… I enjoyed his barmy performance of Lovesick Blues, but he misjudged this one. His overly-mannered performance is reminiscent of something ten years previous. He sounds like Frankie Laine, or Jimmy Young on his awful The Man from Laramie. It’s no surprise to see he released a version of his own in 1956.

With a title like The Wayward Wind, it’s tempting to make a joke about Ifield having some sort of stomach issue, which would possibly explain his yodelling too, but I wouldn’t do that… no, this song is about a roamer who’s left a broken heart behind. It may be Ifield’s worst number 1 yet, but you’ll be humming that harmonica part for a while afterwards.

Written by: Stanley Lebowsky & Herb Newman

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 3 (21 February-13 March)

Births:

Politician Baron Andrew Adonis – 22 February
Actress Alex Kingston – 11 March 

142. Frank Ifield – Lovesick Blues (1962)

5caec6d0d326897bf854068e51ab9c80.jpg

Seaham lifeboat made the news on 17 November when it capsized as it entered harbour. Sadly, all five crew members and four of the five survivors were killed. A week later saw the first episode of the influential BBC satirical show That Was the Week That Was. TW3, as it was also known, broke new ground with its lack of deference towards establishment figures. Although it only ran for two series, it remains one of the most important shows of all time, and a list of its stars and writers reads like a who’s who of 1960s comedy. On 29 November, an agreement was signed between Britain and France to develop the supersonic airliner that became famously known as Concorde. The week beginning 2 December saw a severe outbreak of smog in the capital, causing numerous deaths. This was the last time it caused such damage, as clean air legislation and a reduction in coal fires helped prevent it in future. Meanwhile, in the singles chart, Australian yodeller repeated the huge success of 1962’s biggest-selling single I Remember You with his manic cover of Lovesick Blues.

The music to this 1922 song came from Tin Pan Alley songwriter Cliff Friend, with lyrics from Irving Mills, and the tune, originally called I’ve Got the Lovesick Blues, was debuted in the musical Oh, Ernest. Friend had been a fighter pilot in World War One and had plenty of conversations with lovesick young men who were longing to see their sweethearts when the war was over. The first version was recorded by Elsie Clark, but one of the more notable covers came from country star Hank Williams. Williams’ producer and band thought it was a bad idea, but he gained a huge reaction whenever he performed the song live. Lovesick Blues became his first number 1, and a signature song for him. It was Northern Irish singer Ronnie Carroll who suggested Ifield should make it his follow-up to I Remember You.

Despite I Remember You being more famous, I prefer Lovesick Blues. Primarily because Ifield’s performance is a bit mad. Producer Norrie Paramor seems to have decided Ifield’s yodel had made him the star he had become, and so gave him free rein to break out into it wherever he saw fit. And he does it a lot. Ifield doesn’t sound lovesick, but he definitely doesn’t sound well. Paramor’s arrangement also echews any element of melancholy, and he ramps up the arrangement to the point it sounds like a brassy, bawdy sitcom theme. The whole thing is reminiscent of Frankie Vaughn’s unhinged Tower of Strength. I can’t imagine I’ll ever listen to it again, but I enjoyed its weirdness nonetheless.

Written by: Cliff Friend & Irving Mills

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 5 (8 November-12 December)

Births:

Journalist Mariella Frostrup – 12 November 
Actress Maggie O’Neill – 15 November 
Footballer Alan Smith – 21 November 
Actress Samantha Bond – 27 November
Actor Colin Salmon – 6 December

139. Frank Ifield – I Remember You (1962)

b4175c3ca062cf3e8268932f3c8a22c0.jpg

The brightest new star in 1962 was English-born Australian easy listening and country singer Frank Ifield. He was famous for incorporating yodelling into his songs, and was the last pre-Beatles chart sensation, scoring four number 1s in 62 and 63, and becoming the first UK-based performer to score three number 1s in a row. His first chart-topper, I Remember You, was also 62’s biggest-selling single, in a year of huge-sellers. By the middle of the decade he had already been largely forgotten.

Ifield was born in 1937 in Coundon, Warwickshire. His parents were Australian, and his father had created the Ifield pump, a device used in fuel systems for jet aircraft. In the mid-1940s they emigrated to rural Dural (now there’s a rhyme), near Sydney. Young Frank became a fan of country music, in particular Hank Snow, who was nicknamed the Yodelling Ranger. In his teens he decided to drop out of school to concentrate on a full-time singing career, and he quickly became popular through radio appearances. He signed to EMI Australia in 1953 and had a few hits, and then progressed to presenting his own television show, Campfire Favourites. With Australia sort-of conquered, he returned to the UK in 1959, and hit the top 30 the following year with Lucky Star (not the Madonna song).

Ifield released more singles, but Lucky Star was beginning to look like a one-off success, until I Remember You became massive. It dated back to 1941, with music by victor Shertzinger and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, who had written 1961’s Christmas number 1 Moon River. The original singer was Dorothy Lamour in the 1942 musical The Fleet’s In, which Schertzinger directed. The lyrics apparently spoke of Mercer’s love for Judy Garland, and he gave it to her the day after she married David Rose, which adds a bittersweet edge to the happy-go-lucky Ifield version.

So why did Ifield become so successful? I’m afraid this is another one of those mysteries lost in the midst of time.Perhaps Brits just used to like a bit of yodelling. After all, Slim Whitman’s Rose Marie was both yodel-packed and enjoyed 11 weeks at the top in 1955. I Remember You is actually quite charming in an endearingly quaint way. Unlike Britain’s other superstar Cliff, who’s songs are often plain dull, Ifield relishes his chance to shine, and I’m a sucker for a harmonica – as were the Fab Four – Lennon later claimed this song was the inspiration for including one on their early tracks. But if the Beatles hadn’t happened, is this really the direction music would have gone in?

I Remember You got settled in nicely at number 1 and didn’t budge for seven weeks. During that time, Jamaica became independent on 6 August, with Trinidad and Tobago close behind on the 31st. 17 August was the release date for the Tornados’ innovative future number 1 Telstar. The following day, the Beatles played their first gig with the line-up that changed everything. Pete Best had been usurped and Ringo Starr was now behind the drums. Five days later, Lennon married Cynthia Powell at a register office in Mount Pleasant, Liverpool. 1 September saw Channel Television, the ITV franchise for the Channel Islands, go on air; and the next day, Glasgow’s trams ran for the last time, leaving Blackpool tramway the only one left in Britain.

Written by: Victor Scherzinger & Johnny Mercer

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 7 (26 July-12 September) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Journalist John Micklethwait – 11 August 
Actress Sophie Aldred – 20 August 
Actor Peter Wingfield – 5 September

Deaths:

Poet Richard Aldington – 27 July

134. The Shadows – Wonderful Land (1962)

 

harris1_1851935b.jpg

1962 featured far fewer number 1s than the previous year due to several huge sellers. The first three number 1s alone took up close to half the year, and Wonderful Land by the Shadows was the longest-serving, notching up an impressive eight weeks at the peak of the charts. This hadn’t happened since Perry Como’s Magic Moments in 1958, and wouldn’t happen again until Sugar Sugar by the Archies in 1969. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the best-selling single of 1962 though – that honour went to Frank Ifield’s I Remember You.

Other than Apache, Wonderful Land has become the song most people identify with the classic Shadows sound. Both tracks came from the pen of singer-songwriter Jerry Lordan. Lordan clearly knew how to write a hit, but by his own admission was terrible at coming up with song titles. He played the unnamed instrumental to the group, and guitarist Hank Marvin wisely thought it conjured up images of America, suggesting Wonderful Land as its title. Lordan wasn’t keen, but in lieu of a better option, the name stuck.

Marvin was right, Wonderful Land does conjure up images of the epic, grandiose vastness of America. However, the Shadows were not only tipping the hat to America, they were also soundtracking the optimism of 1960s Britain. Although no group captured this feeling better than the Beatles, the Shadows were an important step in this direction. Despite referencing the US, the group never achieved any lasting success stateside.

As I said in my blog for The Young Ones, Norrie Paramor often throws everything he can at a tune, to its detriment, but here he lets the song breathe, and it’s effective, helping to make the song feel much more epic than its two-minute running time.  I can understand why Wonderful Land did so well in 1962, but do I enjoy it? It doesn’t compare to Apache in my opinion – it’s just a little too nice, and the more I hear of the Shadows work, the more I realise that Apache was perhaps an exception. Nonetheless, Wonderful Land is a rather charming souvenir of the pre-Beatles era, and certainly more memorable than Kon-Tiki.

Wonderful Land marked another period of transition within the band. Although Tony Meehan had left to become a session drummer when Kon-Tiki was at number 1, he was still in the line-up when Wonderful Land had been recorded. This time, it was bassist Jet Harris’s turn to leave. Whether he was sacked due to his drink problem or he left of his own accord depends on whose story you believed, but Harris later claimed his alcoholism came about due to separating from his wife, who subsequently had a relationship with Cliff Richard. If true, this certainly casts a shadow (sorry) on Cliff’s saintly image, and potentially rumours about his sexuality, but I digress. Harris had been an important member of the band – he came up with their name, and he is believed to have been the first musician in the UK to play an electric bass. Harris was quite surly, an image at odds with the friendliness the group usually projected, and his bass playing was occasionally aggressive. When he was replaced by Brian ‘Licorice’ Locking, the Shadows lost what little element of danger they might have had. And despite the controversy Harris’s drinking would cause, he went on to have one more number 1 – Diamonds, with Meehan, and written by Lordan once again.

In the news during these months… 2 April saw the introduction of panda crossings to the UK. Rather than make crossing the roads safer, the flashing lights managed to confuse drivers and pedestrians alike, and the system was replaced in 1967 by the X-ray, which evolved into the pelican crossing. On 4 April, James Hanratty was hanged at Bedford Prison after being found guilty of the A6 murders. Many believed him to be innocent, and witnesses had even claimed to have seen him in Rhyl at the time of the murders of Michael Gregsten and his mistress, Valerie Storie. Hanratty’s family and supporters still protest his innocence to this day. A fortnight later the government announced that from 1 July, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act would remove free immigration from citizens of member states of the Commonwealth of Nations. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s popularity was plummeting at that point, and on 27 April an opinion poll revealed less than half of all voters approved of him as leader.

Meanwhile, in the world of football, Ipswich Town won the Football League First Division title on 28 April, in their first season playing at such a level, and Tottenham Hotspur retained the FA Cup with a 3-1 win over Burnley at Wembley Stadium on 5 May.

And although it wasn’t a newsworthy event at the time, original bassist with the Beatles Stuart Sutcliffe died aged 21 of a brain aneurysm on 10 April. Never a confident musician, he had stayed on in Hamburg to study painting.

Written by: Jerry Lordan

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 8 (22 March-16 May)

Births:

Rower Steve Redgrave – 23 March 
Author John O’Farrell – 27 March 
Presenter Phillip Schofield – 1 April 
Scottish actor John Hannah – 23 April 
Writer Polly Samson -29 April
Snooker player Jimmy White – 2 May 

Depeche Mode singer Dave Gahan – 9 May 
The Cult singer Ian Astbury – 14 May

Deaths:

Welsh politician Clement Davies – 23 March 
Original Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe – 10 April 
Cricketer Ernest Tyldesley – 5 May