Every 60s Number 1

The Intro 

I’ve done it. 186 blogs in 17 months and I’ve now reviewed all the chart-toppers in that most incredible decade of transformation in pop culture. It’s been fascinating, exciting, dreary and terrifying at times, and sometimes, while listening to songs such as Cinderella Rockefeller, it’s been all those things at once.

The 60s, pre-Beatles, is an era I knew little about, so I suspected this could prove as enlightening as my reviews of the 50s, but I was surprised to learn so much once The Beatles invaded the charts too. Their impact in 1963 and 64 was even bigger than I’d ever imagined, and their move into a more ‘mature’ sound would effect the singles charts of their later years too, but detrimentally.

To commemorate reaching the end, it’s only right that I repeat what I did with Every 50s Number 1, and relisten to them all once more, before deciding on the best and worst of each year, and whittling them down even more to the best and worst of the whole decade.

Despite knowing and loving much of this music so much, I admit to being a bit nervous. How do I choose between some of the greatest bands and songs the world has ever seen? Only one way to find out…

1960

They say that it takes a few years for a decade to get started, and it’s certainly true in the case of the swinging 60s. The music from the dawn of the decade is mostly a hangover from the fag ends of the initial burst of rock’n’roll. There’s a strange short-lived fad at the start of the year for cockney pop by Adam Faith and Anthony Newley (a big influence on early David Bowie). Things don’t really get going until May when the Everly Brothers return to the top with The pioneering drum sound of Cathy’s Clown. This was followed by the first posthumous chart-topper – Eddie Cochrane’s Three Steps to Heaven. Legendary singer-songwriter Roy Orbison makes his number 1 debut with the classic melancholy of Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel). There’s also a great comeback from Elvis Presley with It’s Now or Never. Less impressive were Cliff Richard and The Shadows’ two number 1s together. Weirdest? That can only be Johnny Preston’s bizarre tail of the love between a cowboy and indian, Running Bear.

The Best:

Johnny Kidd & The Pirates – Shakin’ All Over: This could and arguably should have been The Shadows’ surprisingly edgy and menacing Apache, which is a true pre-Beatles classic and hugely influential on pop, rock and even hip-hop. But just pipping it for me was this raunchy, dangerous slice of British rock’n’roll. The band brought theatrics into their live shows and inspired The Who, among others, plus it features number 1 session drumming legend Clem Cattini.

The Worst:

Lonnie Donegan – My Old Man’s a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer): How quickly the mighty can fall. In Every 50s Number 1, the ‘King of Skiffle’ Lonnie Donegan’s incendiary performance of Cumberland Gap was my runner-up for number 1 of the decade. Three years after inspiring some of the future decade’s brightest talents, he was performing this music-hall rubbish in a live recording from Doncaster. Terrible, terrible jokes littered throughout. Shame.

1961

A bumper crop and a real mixed bag. The women finally get a look in, featuring a young Petula Clark, Shirley Bassey and Helen Shapiro, but I have to say none of these tracks impressed. Elvis had started his ‘will this do?’ era, but Are You Lonesome Tonight? still hits the spot and (Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame deserves a mention. Wooden Heart does not. His sometime pianist Floyd Cramer’s On the Rebound is still full of vim and vigour. The Everlys bow out with Temptation, a nice atmospheric number. There’s a lot of oddities about, and they’re mostly good, particularly the gothic melancholic pomp of Johnny Remember Me. Blue Moon is a lot of fun, as is the demented wailing of Frankie Vaughan on Tower of Strength.

The Best:

Danny Williams – Moon River: Not for the last time I found myself torn between a song that pushes the boundaries of pop and a simple, much-loved standard. This time the former, Del Shannon’s still-popular Runaway fell behind the timeless beauty of the South African singer’s take on Moon River, number 1 that Christmas.

The Worst:

Shirley Bassey – Climb Ev’ry Mountain: The veteran Welsh singer is loved for her powerful voice, but it not only leaves me cold most of the time, I find it painful, and this is her at her wailiest (it’s a word, now) over a very boring track. I was very tempted to throw my headphones across the garden when I got to the final note.

1962

The first sighting of what may have been had The Beatles not arrived. Frank Ifield was the year’s biggest star, with his penchant for amusing yodelling over two number 1s, and was still going strong until the rise of Merseybeat. Elvis’s bestsellers range from the dire to classics – even within a single release. Cliff Richard and The Shadows return with strong material, The Young Ones and Wonderful Land respectively. The country-soul of I Can’t Stop Loving You is far from Ray Charles’s best work, but I confess it’s grown on me a little. Nut Rocker is ace, and is fully deserving of its ubiquitous usage in TV and film.

The Best:

Elvis Presley with The Jordanaires – Can’t Help Falling in Love: Like 1961, this was tough. I very nearly picked the quirky space race euphoria of The Tornados’ Telstar. Joe Meek was innovating pop before The Beatles, and despite Telstar being famous, I can’t help but think it’s still a little underrated. However, once more, the timeless pop ballad wins out – am I getting soft in my old age? Perhaps, but how can I deny the brilliance of one of the finest love songs ever written? There are many versions, but none compare to Elvis’s. I’m far from his biggest fan at times but this is pure gold. That the flip side of this is the awful Rock-A-Hula Baby (“Twist” Special) makes it all the more remarkable.

The Worst:

Mike Sarne with Wendy Richard – Come Outside: Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a bit of Carry On humour, and it’s wrong to expect a song from 1962 to live up to the political correctness of the #metoo era, but Come Outside is woeful. Sarne’s flat vocal irritates, Richard is charmless, and it’s all a bit, well, rapey. The rhythm track isn’t bad, though.

1963

Never has a year in pop seen such a seismic shift. For the first third it’s very similar to the year before with appearances from Cliff (Summer Holiday is still a lovely blast of pop), The Shadows and Frank Ifield, and then Merseybeat happens, and things change forever. It’s nearly always The Beatles, acts performing Lennon-McCartney tunes (Billy J Kramer with The Dakotas) or inferior copycats (Brian Poole and The Tremeloes). Bar one good single from Elvis, (You’re the) Devil in Disguise, US artists don’t get a look in. None of these other groups can match The Beatles, although Gerry and the Pacemakers have some decent material with their hat trick of bestsellers. A lot of Merseybeat is too twee for me to really get into, but some of the greatest pop songs of all time are right around the corner now. Exciting times!

The Best:

The Beatles – She Loves You: The Fab Four shook things up like no act before or since in 1963, and that’s largely due to this, the decade’s biggest-selling 7″. The chorus of She Loves You is lightning in a bottle, pure unbridled joy and ecstacy, and it sparked a thousand imitations. From Me to You is nice enough, and I Want to Hold Your Hand showed new maturity in their songwriting, but this is easily their finest early song. And the lyrics are smart too, moving away from the template of ‘I love you’ and introducing a third party. I’ve always loved She Loves You, but hearing it arrive in the context of this blog increases my respect for it even more.

The Worst:

The Shadows – Dance On!: Cliff Richards’ sometime backing band’s impressive run of number 1s with him and alone came to an end this year, with tracks ranging from the great (Apache) and the good (Wonderful Land) to this, which isn’t awful, it’s just incredibly boring and leaves no mark on me whatsoever. Adding an exclamation mark to the end of the title doesn’t make me any more enthusiastic, either.

1964

An incredible year of number 1s. I envy anyone who lived through this. In fact, listening to them all in one stint, I’d say there’s a very strong argument that this is the high watermark for number 1s. Merseybeat mutates and expands in strange and exciting ways, most notably the momentous folk-rock classic The House of the Rising Sun by The Animals, meaning that the legendary Bob Dylan’s influence was now being felt on these shores. Then The Rolling Stones made their debut (It’s All Over Now), and became so popular, they got a blues cover to the top (Little Red Rooster)! Roy Orbison bows out by getting the girl at last with the brilliant Oh, Pretty Woman. Joe Meek had his third and final chart-topper too, producing The Honeycombs’ insanely underrated Have I the Right?. Women make their belated return, with Sandie Shaw and Cilla Black both topping the charts with two songs by the masterly Burt Bacharach and Hal David – ((There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me and Anyone Who Had a Heart), and The Supremes had their sole UK number 1. As for the Fab Four, well, there’s three classics from them, in particular A Hard Day’s Night. But they don’t win this time.

The Best:

The Kinks – You Really Got Me: Facing incredibly strong competition, Muswell Hill’s finest were my choice, because despite all the other great tunes in 64, it was this primal expression of pure animal lust that pretty much kickstarted rock and heavy metal. Ray Davies may have become one of our wittiest, most quintessentially English songwriters, but The Kinks perhaps never bettered this scorching slab of raunch.

The Worst:

The Bachelors – Diane: A staid, old-fashioned, boring ballad from Ireland’s original boy band. Wouldn’t have sounded out of place 10 years previous (it actually dates back to 1927. That’s right, it’s even worse than Billy J Kramer with The Dakotas’ Little Children, because at least that had a tune.

1965

Tons of pop gold again, but stylistically more varied than the previous year. More strong material from The Kinks and the Stones, and one of the finest epic break-up songs of all time – namely The Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. On a similar note, I’ve always loved The Moody Blues’ version of Go Now that preceded it. We’re starting to see the rise of the hippy movement – hair is getting longer, and the lush jangle of Mr Tambourine Man marks another sea change. Cynics may balk at Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe, but I think it holds up well, as does the debut of Tom Jones with his anthem It’s Not Unusual. Four songs from The Beatles, all of them – Ticket to Ride, Help! and Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out, among their finest work, in particular Ticket to Ride. The latter, and Day Tripper, are built around some of the finest riffs in existence. And yet, and yet… Ticket to Ride is just trumped by perhaps the greatest riff there has ever been.

The Best:

The Rolling Stones – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction: It was as close a call as it’s possible to have, but for once in my life, I’m choosing the Stones over The Beatles. Keith Richards’ legendary riff, allegedly created in his sleep and intended for horns, never dates and combined with Mick Jagger’s frustrated world view make for a dream combination. After paying homage to the blues time and again, this saw the birth of Jagger and Richards as songwriters to rival Lennon and McCartney.

The Worst:

Cliff Richard – The Minute You’re Gone: Oh Cliff. Behind the times as early as 1965. And what does he do, to counteract Beatlemania? He abandons The Shadows, perhaps a shrewd move to appear ahead of the curve? Oh, he’s gone and recorded an old-fashioned country song from 1963. Never the genre’s biggest fan, this sounds like a pale imitation of I Can’t Stop Loving You. Ken Dodd’s huge-selling Tears may have also sounded like a relic, but at least the chorus was catchy.

1966

The last of the peak years of the decade, before albums began to overtake singles in importance. In general, a superlative blend of pop and the rise of drugs and psychedelia in music. British pop now striding into a bold, experimental future, and combined with England winning the World Cup, there was an overwhelming sense of optimism and pride in the UK. The Beatles were approaching the peak of their abilities in the studio, and minds must have been blown by their dark ode to the lonely, Eleanor Rigby. As startling a song as it is, I’ve always found it easier to admire than to enjoy. I’d take previous single Paperback Writer over that, and wish their jangly guitar era had lasted a bit longer. 66 got off to a blistering start with the Spencer Davis Group’s still storming Keep on Running, and Nancy Sinatra helped shape modern female pop with the sassy cool of These Boots Are Made for Walkin’… yet Dusty Springfield’s only number 1, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is uncharacteristically pleading. By and large, 1966 is another embarrassment of riches, particularly The Rolling Stones’ apocalyptic Paint It, Black, almost their best song ever. The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore, Sunny Afternoon, Reach Out, I’ll Be There… all classics. It would take a very special song to shine above all these.

The Best:

The Beach Boys – Good Vibrations: And a very special song this is. That’s right, Brian Wilson’s ‘pocket symphony’ means that I haven’t picked any number 1s by The Beatles during their peak years, which is probably the biggest surprise I’ve had since starting this blog. What it does prove is that the Fab Four inspired their contemporaries to do better than them. Had they not released their landmark album Revolver, we may never have had the finest three-plus minutes of The Beach Boys’ career, which in turn spurred the Beatles on to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But anyway… in a year of great tunes and studio innovation, The Beach Boys combined both beautifully, devoting as much time to Good Vibrations as lesser bands would to entire albums. The peak of Brian Wilson’s creativity. The only downside being the burn-out that followed recording their next LP.

The Worst:

Jim Reeves – Distant Drums: Released two years after the US country star’s untimely death, this was a bizarre number 1 to have in 1966, particularly for five weeks. It’s unclear why it was considered single-worthy, as it’s more B-side material, and it’s completely out-of-step with prevailing trends. But the anti-war message may have resonated with Vietnam in mind, and it probably gave succour to old folk baffled by yellow submarines et al. Not awful, like some of the other dire material I’ve mentioned, just out of place.

1967

The tectonic plates of British music and culture shifted once more this year, only not as much as you might imagine in the singles chart. As some of the most famous acts concentrated on complex psychedelic LPs influenced by the rise in LSD, the 7″ chart was largely dominated by light entertainment acts – the most since 1962. Top of the pops was smoother-than-smooth balladeer Engelbert Humperdinck, who enjoyed 11 weeks at number 1 and famously, criminally, prevented Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever with Release Me. Other than the pop brilliance of The Monkees’ I’m a Believer, nothing remotely hippy-like gets a look in until the Summer of Love finally gets underway that June with Procul Harum’s earnest and excellent lysergic standard A Whiter Shade of Pale. Only two other, wholly appropriate chart-toppers followed – The Beatles anthem All You Need Is Love and Scott McKenzie’s dreamy San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair), before Humperdinck brought everything down to earth again. We say hello to the Bee Gees for the first time with the lovely Massachusetts, and goodbye to Nancy and Frank Sinatra, with their ‘incest anthem’ Somethin’ Stupid. All in all, 1967 was a surprising letdown.

The Best:

The Beatles – Hello, Goodbye: This isn’t even the best Beatles single of 1967, but thanks to Humperdinck, I can’t rate Strawberry Fields Forever. So I’m settling for this instead, which may seem controversial when lined up against A Whiter Shade of Pale, but personally I love Hello, Goodbye. I rated it the best Christmas number 1 of the 60s here, and I stand by it. It’s infectious, upbeat and catchy, and the finale is as joyous as the chorus to She Loves You if you’re in the right mood. The B-side, I Am the Walrus, is better, though.

The Worst:

Sandie Shaw – Puppet on a String: The famously barefooted singer hated this song, which was our first ever Eurovision winner – and I don’t blame her, because it’s awful and I’m betting it did her career lasting damage. The lyrics are awful, the tune is demented and it makes me want to pull my teeth out and feed them to sparrows.

1968

Stylistically speaking, 1968 is all over the place when it comes to number 1s. The main trend among the bigger bands this year was to adopt a back-to-basics approach as a reaction to flower power. The Beatles led the way, as usual, but Lady Madonna doesn’t match up to The Rolling Stones’ rocking, witty comeback single Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and Do It Again is a bit of a letdown after Good Vibrations, even if the drumbeat proved pioneering. There’s still room for psychedelia in the charming theatrical demonic pomp of Fire by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, but then there are some number 1s that are downright odd more than anything, such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and particularly Cinderella Rockefeller, with its deranged yodelling and godawful rickety tune. I loved the Bee Gees’ I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You and Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, an evergreen classic which gave Satchmo a chart-topper shortly before his death. Cliff finally remembered how to record a catchy tune and whatever you think of Eurovision runner-up Congratulations, you can’t deny its popularity.

The Best:

The Beatles – Hey Jude: In much the same way John Lennon’s Imagine is now considered uncool, it seems to be the done thing to slate McCartney’s lengthy classic, but I’m having none of it. It’s soulful and poignant, written for Julian Lennon when his parents were splitting, and its universal message of the power and importance of love speaks more to me than the simplistic sloganeering of All You Need Is Love. The Beatles may have been already splitting at this point, but there was still plenty of magic in the tank.

The Worst:

Des O’Connor – I Pretend: This could so easily have been the profoundly irritating Cinderella Rockefeller, but that at least had a memorable hook, albeit a very irritating one. No, this is as bland as they get, sang with no soul or meaning whatsoever. He’s supposed to be broken-hearted, but he sounds like he’s having a great time. I like Des, but I get why Morecambe and Wise ripped the piss so much now.

1969

The end of an era in more ways than one as we say farewell to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Despite the fact Abbey Road is one of their finest albums, The Beatles’ singles before its release weren’t them at their best, leaving The Ballad of John and Yoko a rather odd way to bow out of the blog. Honky Tonk Women was more appropriate, showing the future for the Stones as the archetypal good-time rock band of the 70s and beyond that they became. For the first time, album sales outpaced singles, as the teens of the mid-60s grew up and moved on to LPs. This left a gap, to be filled by inferior bubblegum pop, resulting in Sugar Sugar by The Archies becoming the year’s biggest seller. Other than that, it’s another mixed bag, like 1968. Some of the highlights include the tranquil Albatross by the original incarnation of Fleetwood Mac and Something in the Air by Thunderclap Newman. Lots of great tracks from overseas acts too, particularly the horny Je t’aime… moi non plus by Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, plus the apocalyptic boogie of Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival and ska pioneer Desmond Dekker’s Israelites.

The Best:

Marvin Gaye – I Heard it Through the Grapevine: Originally recorded in 1967, Motown boss Berry Gordy Jr was uncharacteristically blind to the greatness of Gaye’s version of this track. Slowing things down, adding an incredibly cool bass line for the intro, and singing with the kind of feeling that was completely alien to the likes of Engelbert Humperdinck and Des O’Connor, this is soul music at its finest, and peak Motown. To hear just how stunning Gaye is here, check out this clip that’s currently doing the rounds online, which isolates the vocal. Spine-tingling.

The Worst:

Rolf Harris – Two Little Boys: Had I been deciding this before Harris was outed as a paedophile, I’d have said Zager & Evans deserved it, because I, like so many others, had a soft spot for Two Little Boys. Now obviously it just leaves a very sour taste, and it’s a downbeat way to end the decade.

The Best 60s Number 1 Ever is…

The Beatles – She Loves You: It was always going to be the Fab Four, wasn’t it? They’re the greatest group of all time, so it’s a no-brainer. However, I’d be lying if I said She Loves You has always been my favourite Beatles single. I’d probably say Strawberry Fields Forever or Something, but of course neither went to number 1. But it would be wrong to make my choices for best and worst chart-toppers of each decade simply my favourite. I also look at the impact of each song, ine innovation and the influence it had, as well as the catchiness of the chorus. She Loves You easily covers all three bases. It’s modern music’s ‘big bang’ moment, and as I’ve said before about this and other legendary number 1s, it’s listening to them in the context of this blog that really separates the wheat from the chaff, and Every UK Number 1 has truly brought home what a monumental few minutes of pop music The Beatles conjured up here. What alchemy.

But also, what competition, what an often astounding selection of songs I was honoured to listen to and choose from. It could just as easily been You Really Got Me or (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, but in the end She Loves You got there first and laid the groundwork that allowed all the other classics to be made in the first place.

The Worst 60s Number 1 Ever is…

The Bachelors – Diane: You could argue it’s unfair to single out Diane because it was number 1 in a year full of brilliance. I’d argue that’s exactly why I’ve given it this dubious honour. It spoiled my listening experience and stuck out like a sore thumb! Its dull tweeness would have earned it a slating if it had been released in 1954. 10 years later, it’s unforgivable really. And if they were the first Irish boyband, well, that’s nothing to be proud of, is it?

The 60s were the decade in which pop came of age and became an integral part of the youth movement. From the dreariness of post-rock’n’roll, to Merseybeat, to the British Invasion, to psychedelia, to bubblegum pop and rock, music mutated rapidly, thanks in large to The Beatles, but also The Beach Boys, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and more. Reviewing each number 1 in turn was really fascinating, and has increased my knowledge of the decade greatly, and for me the most interesting parts were just how much Merseybeat completely upturned the charts, and how little impact psychedelia actually had in 1967, due to the rise in popularity of albums.

So obviously it’s the 70s next. The decade in which I was born, albeit very late in the decade (1979). Pop changed and changed again here too, many times, and it was an often dark and turbulent decade in the news, so I can’t wait to get stuck in once more.

Blogs on every 60s number 1 are available to view via the Archive section.

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-anticipated 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 their next 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 Lennon and McCartney’s 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 on 19 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.

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

Meanwhile…

5 September: 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.

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 Gerry and co’s follow-up, I Like It.

Like their debut, their 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 to sing.

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.

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 

Meanwhile…

12 July: 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 this night, but 16-year-old Pauline Reade never made it there. Just after 8pm, 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.

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.

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 

Meanwhile…

7-13 May: National Service ended, with the last servicemen released from conscription.

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.

11 May: Everton won the Football League First Division title.

15 May:  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.

25 May: Manchester 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.

120. Del Shannon – Runaway (1961)

mainDEL.jpgAt number 1 for a three-week period during the cool, cloudy summer of 1961, 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 on 30 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 

Meanwhile…

4 July: Barclays become the first bank in Britain with an in-house computing centre. The ‘No. 1 Computing Centre’ opened on Drummond Street, London. The ‘white heat’ of technology was a few years away, but it was a start.

8 July: The Wimbledon women’s final was an all-British affair, when Angela Mortimer defeated Christine Truman.