157. The Beatles – She Loves You (1963)

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She Loves You. Just over two minutes of guitar-based pop ecstasy, combining innovative lyrics with a simply joyous racket. It may well be the greatest song ever, let alone one of the greatest number 1s of all time. The significance of She Loves You is impossible to measure. From Ringo’s first drum roll, straight into that rapturous chorus, to the final chord, it’s just perfect.

Riding high after their first number 1, From Me to You, John and Paul began writing the follow-up on their tour bus after a concert on 26 June in Newcastle, and continued it back at their hotel, before completing it the following day at McCartney’s home. Paul originally had in mind a call-and-response song, along the lines of Bobby Rydell’s Forget Him. John said it was also Paul’s inspired idea to sing the song from the perspective of a third party. The idea of singing about someone else would eventually become an often effective way of differentiating the author of Lennon-McCartney songs – John tended to write about himself, Paul was interested in characters. The triumphant ‘yeah yeah yeah’ may have come from John, who later wondered if Elvis’s All Shook Up had given him the idea. The Everly Brothers’ Temptation may also have been an influence. The first person to hear She Loves You was McCartney’s father, Jim, when his son and John performed it on acoustic guitars. He liked it, but wasn’t happy with the use of ‘Americanisms’ – wouldn’t they rather change the words to ‘Yes, yes yes’? Understandably, this was laughed off.

Less than a week later, the Beatles assembled at Abbey Road to record this fourth single. Despite its obvious hit potential, there were some issues. Engineer Norman Smith saw the chorus lyrics on paper before hearing it, and wondered what the hell they were playing at, but soon changed his tune during the recording. George Martin thought Harrison’s suggestion to end on a major sixth chord was corny, but again, the proof was in the performance. Mixed on a two-track recording machine, in mono only, She Loves You was a primitive recording, but the instruments were mixed higher than before, creating a beefier sound.

Lyrically, She Loves You was a big step up from previous material. The lyrics detail a go-between in a love split. Some take the view that this person is envious of the girl’s love for his friend, which is an interesting theory, but one I don’t agree with. To me, it’s somebody telling a friend to sort himself out, she’s in love with him, and he should realise how lucky he is, because isn’t love amazing? It’s all there in the thrilling ‘Ooos’, re-used from From Me to You, that roll into the choruses. Obviously, Ringo’s prowess as a drummer is an argument that will never go away, but his thrashing around after that first chorus at the start is just brilliant to my ears.

Before it had even been heard, the highly-anticpiated fourth single by the Beatles was always going to be a hit. Thousands had pre-ordered it way in advance of its release, before even hearing how good it was. She Loves You spent six weeks at number 1, becoming 1963’s best-seller, their biggest single and eventually, the biggest-selling single of the 60s. After four weeks at number 1, it remained in the top three until it returned to number 1 for a fortnight at the end of November, coinciding with the release of second album With the Beatles, that eclipsed Please Please Me at number 1. It was finally toppled by the Beatles following single, I Want to Hold Your Hand. Beatlemania erupted in those last few months of the year, and She Loves You was their signature track. The song left a cultural legacy that few have ever bettered. The Beatles would go on to write better lyrics, and create more sophisticated music, continuously moving the goalposts while doing so, but if you were to try an explain to an alien or an idiot what pop music was in the 20th century, I defy you to find a more appropriate example than She Loves You.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 6 (12 September-9 October, 28 November-11 December) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE DECADE*

Births:

Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker – 19 September
Footballer David Seaman
Actress Lysette Anthony – 26 September
Ski jumper Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards – 5 December

Deaths:
Motorcycle racer Peter Craven – 20 September 

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 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 in 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

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.

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

152. Gerry and the Pacemakers – I Like It (1963)

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Brian Epstein would eventually lose his battle with depression, but in the summer of 1963 he must have felt on top of the world. He was managing the two biggest pop groups in the UK, who were involved in a to-and-fro at the top of the charts. Gerry and the Pacemakers’ How Do You Do It? was usurped by the Beatles’ From Me to You, which in turn was replaced by the Pacemakers’ follow-up, I Like It.

Like their debut, Gerry Marsden and co’s second single was written by Mitch Murray. Buoyed by his previous success, Murray, came up with more of the same. This cheeky, knockabout young love song was tailor-made for the happy-go-lucky Marsden.

Wisely sticking to the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ formula that made Merseybeat such a phenomenon, I Like It is an improvement on How Do You Do It? It’s squeaky-clean pop with a wink – the lyrics may state that the ‘it’ in question is referring to harmless acts such as chin-tickling and tie-straightening, but the teenagers buying the song were probably thinking of something a bit more saucy. The lyric ‘And I like the way you let me come in/When your mama ain’t there’ hints at this too. The chorus is a real earworm – basic but in a very catchy manner. Merseybeat to a tee, all in all.

Murray would have further chart success with similar songs such as You Were Made for Me by Freddie and the Dreamers. His 1964 book, How to Write a Hit Song, inspired Sting, then 12, to begin writing. Nowadays, Sting refers to Murray as his mentor. In 1968 he scored another number 1 with his sometime collaborator Peter Callander, namely Georgie Fame’s The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.

I Like It spent four weeks at number 1, and would no doubt have been played at dances across the country that summer. One such dance was taking place in Gorton, Manchester, on 12 July, but 16-year-old Pauline Reade never made it there. Just after 8pm that night, a van pulled over in front of her. Myra Hindley, her friend Maureen’s big sister, got out and asked Pauline for her help searching for an expensive glove on Saddleworth Moor. She told Hindley she was in no big hurry, and agreed to help. Later that night, Pauline’s mother Joan and brother Paul were searching the streets for her when Hindley’s van drove by. Hindley and Ian Brady were inside. Pauline Reade had become their first victim, and was dead and buried on the moors.

Written by: Mitch Murray

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 4 (20 June-17 July)

Births:

Scottish golfer Colin Montgomerie – 23 June
Singer George Michael – 25 June
Comedian Meera Syal- 27 June
Boxer Errol Christie – 29 June
Film critic Mark Kermode – 2 July 

Artist Tracey Emin – 3 July 

151. The Beatles – From Me to You (1963)

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‘Where are we going, lads?’
 ‘To the toppermost of the poppermost, Johnny!’

When the Beatles were feeling in need of a pep talk, Paul, George and Ringo would ask this question to John, and that would be his answer. The Beatles. The biggest and best-selling band of all time. A gang of four that changed popular music and culture for the better. A rare time for the charts in which the mainstream was a showcase for some of the most inventive, innovative and intelligent pop music the world has ever known, and that’s in large part thanks to John, Paul, George and Ringo. Beatlemania and Merseybeat conquered the number 1 position of the charts like nothing before or since, and in total the Beatles scored 17 number 1s – more than any other group to this date. They also conquered America and changed music there too, something no UK act had yet done. By the time the Fab Four split, pop had grown up and become an art form. Their break-up left a void that took some time to fill.

As a teenager, 1963 was my musical year zero, and as a 16-year-old in 1995, I was envious of anyone that was my age when the Beatles were ruling the charts. Working on this blog has, if anything, made that envy more intense. Up to this point, bar the classics, many of these artists and songs have been new to me. I’ve been looking forward to blogging about the Beatles for so long, and now I’m here – what do you write about a band that’s been written about more than any other?

I’ve already covered many key aspects of the Beatles’ pre-fame years, and the story has been told countless times in books, film and TV, but for those who are unaware, 16-year-old Liverpudlian John Lennon formed a skiffle group with school friends known as the Quarrymen in 1957. That summer, Lennon met Paul McCartney for the first time, and soon after he became their rhythm guitarist. The following year, his friend, George Harrison auditioned for them on a bus and became their lead guitarist. By 1959 the other band members had left, and the trio became known as Johnny and the Moondogs. In January 1960, Lennon persuaded his art school friend Stuart Sutcliffe to buy a bass guitar, and he suggested they become the Beatals, as a tribute to the Crickets. In May they became the Silver Beetles, by July they were the Silver Beatles, and finally in August they settled on the Beatles. That month they hired Pete Best as their drummer and their unofficial manager Allan Williams arranged a residency for them in Hamburg, Germany.

For two years they would return there, and perform through the night, often relying on the drug Preludine to keep them going. Sutcliffe preferred to focus on being an artist and left the group early in 1961, so Paul McCartney became the bassist. Sutcliffe later died of an aneurysm, aged only 21. 

Later that year they made their recording debut as the Beat Brothers, backing Tony Sheridan. That November, Brian Epstein saw the band performing at the Cavern Club. The canny local record store owner saw an inherent star quality in the foursome, and he became their manager in January 1962. He began trying to organise them a UK record deal, but Decca told them guitar groups were ‘on their way out’. Three months later they signed to Parlophone and got lucky in finding a sympathetic producer in George Martin, who, like Epstein, knew there was something special about this group. However, he wasn’t sure about the drummer, and neither was Epstein, or the others, so Best was sacked and replaced with Ringo Starr from Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.

Finally, things fell into place, despite a shaky start between Martin and Ringo on debut single Love Me Do.  On Martin’s advice the band sped up their song Please Please Me and it became their second single, and it was a smash-hit, reaching number 1 on several charts in early 1963 – but not the chart that is now considered to be official (see my blog on How Do You Do It? for further info). Around this time, Epstein encouraged the foursome to clean up their act if they wanted to be really big, and they became more family friendly by dressing in suits, and ceasing swearing on stage. Parlophone wanted to capitalise on Please Please Me‘s success, and they swiftly recorded their debut album with the same name in one long session, climaxing in their raw version of Twist and Shout.

Paul and John had written From Me to You on a coach while they were on tour with Helen Shapiro. They had been inspired by ‘From You to Us’, the name of the letters section in the New Musical Express. Back then, McCartney and Lennon’s songs (this song dates from before they swapped their surnames around in their credits) were often written face to face and From Me to You was no exception. Lennon later recalled coming up with the first line, in the famous Playboy interview shortly before he was murdered in 1980. He also said it was originally much bluesier, and it seems they weren’t too enamoured with it at first. Neither was singer Kenny Lynch, who was also on the coach. When he heard the band performing their falsettos – soon to become one of their trademarks, he allegedly branded them a bunch of ‘fucking fairies’.

Nonetheless, Martin asked the band for a song as strong as Please Please Me, and they presented him with this. He suggested the harmonica, and for the vocal addition to the opening lick, and this achieves something rarely (if ever) achieved by a number 1 up to this point. The recording starts with the entire group performing its raw opening with the catchy refrain presented upfront, almost as if the listener has walked into the song halfway through its performance.

From Me To You is for me their least impressive single. It’s not as effective as the bluesy Love Me Do and deceptively filthy Please Please Me (have another listen if you don’t believe that’s a song about oral sex). Lyrically it’s okay, but pretty basic lightweight pop by their later high standards. However, it is structurally unusual, which is something the Beatles were good at doing without even seemingly trying, and although I’m no musician and am poor on musical terms, it is something recognisable even to idiots like myself. The Everly Brothers-inspired harmonies are in place and a stand-out, and the falsettos add a layer of excitement that teenage girls understood, even if Lynch didn’t. From Me to You became the band’s first officially recognised number 1 single, and stayed there for seven weeks – longer than any other song that year. During its reign, their debut album also went to number 1. They were toppermost of the poppermost, but they were only getting started.

In the news during that spring and summer: National Service ended, with the last servicemen released from conscription on 7-13 May, and on 5 June, John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, admits to misleading Parliament over his affair with the model Christine Keeler. The UK wasn’t used to political scandals like this yet, and it’s believed the Profumo affair caused the Government irreparable damage.

In the world of football, Everton won the Football League First Division title on 11 May, and four days later, Spurs became the first British team to win a European trophy when they defeated Atlético Madrid 5-1 to take the European Cup Winners Cup. Ten days later, Mancehster United beat Leicester City 3-1 in the FA Cup final. An emotional victory for a team which was nearly wiped out in the Munich air disaster five years ago.

Written by: Paul McCartney & John Lennon

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 7 (2 May-19 June)

Births:

Actress Natasha Richardson – 11 May
Actor Jason Isaacs – 6 June

Deaths:

Novelist John Cowper Powys – 17 June 

120. Del Shannon – Runaway (1961)

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The often cool, cloudy summer of 1961 saw Barclays become the first bank in Britain with an in-house computing centre. The ‘No. 1 Computing Centre’ opened on 4 July in Drummond Street, London. The ‘white heat’ of technology was a few years away, but it was a start. Four days later, the Wimbledon women’s final was an all-British affair, and Angela Mortimer defeated Christine Truman.

At number 1 for a three-week period at that point, Del Shannon’s Runaway remains one of the most memorable rock’n’roll and pop songs of the early-60s. Key elements of the track, namely Shannon’s tortured falsetto and the sound of Max Crook’s Musitron, became very influential, which makes the singer-songwriter’s mental issues and eventual suicide all the more tragic.

Del Shannon was born Charles Weedon Westover in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in December 1934. Like many other future rock’n’rollers, he grew up playing the guitar and ukelele, and enjoyed country and western music by artists like Hank Williams. He entered the army in 1954, where he joined his first band, the Cool Flames. Upon his return to Michigan, he became a carpet salesman and truck driver for a furniture factory, and became rhythm guitarist in the Moonlight Ramblers, before replacing singer Doug DeMott, who was fired for drunken behaviour, in 1958. Westover changed his name to Charlie Johnson and renamed the group the Big Little Show Band. In 1959 the groups line-up was bolstered by the addition of keyboardist Max Crook. The keyboard wizard had been working on his own instrument, a primitive synthesiser he dubbed the Musitron. Crook had built this by modifying an old clavioline, adding television tubes, a reel-to-reel tape machine and parts from various household appliances. The group signed to Bigtop Records, but Johnson was urged to make another name change. ‘Del’ came from his favourite car, the Cadillac Coup de Ville, and he stole his surname from local wrestler Mark Shannon.

The origins of Runaway are unclear. Del Shannon once claimed it came about fairly instantly during a jam session on stage, but another version of events tells of unhappy initial recording sessions that resulted in Shannon and Crook being told to remake an earlier track known as Little Runaway, and to give the Musitron a place to shine during the new version.

Runaway starts off like any other rock’n’roll song, but the lyrics go deeper. Shannon’s sadness seems genuine, and his later reported problems suggest he was a tortured soul all his life, rather than one of the stereotypical handsome, clean-cut teen stars of the time. When he hits the falsetto on the chorus (Shannon claimed inspiration from Jimmy Jones, who had hit number 1 with Good Timin’ a year previous), he sounds genuinely pained, but it also adds energy to the song. And then when the Musitron takes over the instrumental break, we’re in uncharted territory. It may sound somewhat weedy now, but there’s an eeriness to it that resonates, as well as a sprightliness. A strange combination, but it’s definitely the highlight, and producers like Joe Meek were listening intently.

Del Shannon had a few more hits, usually containing the same bitter, melancholy lyrics, such as So Long, Baby. In 1963 he became the first American to cover the Beatles, when his version of their first UK number 1, From Me to You, charted before the original in the States. His fame started to slide, so he dipped his toes into other genres, releasing an album of Hank Williams covers, and he worked with Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham on a psychedelic album, Home and Away, which Oldham wanted to become known as the UK’s answer to Pet Sounds, but it didn’t see a release in full until 1978. It does feature a pretty good, strung-out update of this track, in which Shannon sings in a lower register, but the problem with Runaway 67 for me is it doesn’t go far out enough, and where’s the Musitron solo? The 1968 follow-up, The Further Adventures of Charles Westover, was critically-acclaimed, but sold poorly. Alcoholism took its toll during the 70s, but he did work with Tom Petty, and in the 80s he re-recorded Runaway yet again, this time as the theme to the successful TV series Crime Story.

The nostalgia for 50s culture in the 80s did Shannon some good, but not enough, and perhaps he wanted to be considered a contemporary artist, not remembered as a singer from the past who was known for that one big hit.He began taking Prozac for depression, but it was not enough to save him from his personal demons. On 3 February, he performed at a memorial concert for Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, and five days later, he committed suicide with a gunshot wound from his rifle. He was 55. It seems that Shannon may have seen his career as unfulfilled, but Runaway is still considered an exceptional rock’n’roll track, and his falsetto was a big influence on Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees. It’s a tragedy that he felt life hadn’t been kind enough to him.

Written by: Del Shannon & Max Crook

Producers: Harry Balk & Irving Micahnik

Weeks at number 1: 3 (29 June-19 July)

Births:

Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales – 1 July 
Welsh TV presenter Gareth Jones – 5 July 
Comedian Jeremy Hardy – 17 July