200. The Beatles – Help! (1965)

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On 6 August 1965 Elizabeth Lane was appointed as the first female High Court judge. She was assigned to the Family Division. That same day the BBC decided to pull the docu-drama The War Game from transmission as part of its The Wednesday Play strand on BBC1. Directed and produced by Peter Watkins, it portrayed the aftermath of nucelar war. It was deemed too horrifying for public consumption. However, it was publicly screened and shown abroad, and won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1966. It was eventually transmitted on 31 July 1985.

The day before, the Beatles scored their eighth number 1 with the title track to their new film and album, Help!

But a few months before all this, John Lennon and George Harrison had their first encounter with LSD. They were having dinner at the house of Harrison’s dentist John Riley, who spiked their drinks with the mind-altering, life-changing drug. Lennon was understandably terrified, but Harrison enjoyed the experience. They both began to use the drug more often. Later that summer, in fact while Help! was number 1, they dropped acid with Ringo Starr for the first time at Zsa Zsa Gabor’s house during an all-star gathering, featuring David Crosby and Jim McGuinn of the Byrds, who turned Harrison on to Indian music, folk singer Joan Baez and Peter Fonda, who inspired the Revolver (1966) track She Said She Said by freaking the band out, continually saying ‘I know what it’s like to be dead’ because he had once accidentally shot himself. Paul McCartney sat out the acid and was converted in 1966.

Nonetheless, LSD was to change all four Beatles over the next few years, and their music, sometimes beyond all recognition from their early years. Help! was the last single of theirs that sounded like their Merseybeat days, but the lyrics were the most direct they had yet attempted.

Lennon was, as he later stated, going through his ‘Fat Elvis’ stage. This rebellious art student with a tragic childhood was struggling to come to terms with the Fab Four’s stratospheric rise. Learning that the Fab Four’s second film was going to be called Help! rather than Eight Arms to Hold You, Lennon took the opportunity to write his most personal lyrics to date. These lyrics were about him and him only. According to McCartney, Lennon asked him to come up with the countermelody, which he did on 4 April at Lennon’s house. On 13 April they entered the studio to record the song, and did so in 12 takes. The following month they re-recorded the vocals for the film version, which marks the Beatles’ first appearance in the movie.

Lennon remained proud of Help! for the rest of his life, and he considered it one of his best songs. But he did express regret that the Beatles weren’t brave enough to record it as he’d originally intended, in a much slower style, to draw out the sorrow of the emotions expressed. Sonically, you could argue that Help! was a step back after Ticket to Ride, but the fact they went at it with breakneck speed and turned it into a straightforward pop song only adds tension between the music and the words and makes it all the more interesting. It’s a tremendous slice of 60s pop, once again showing the band towered above most of their competition. In a year of classic number 1s, Help! is one of the best. It was also the first time a pop song took a negative look at fame, and while you could argue that these type of songs are too self-obsessed and difficult to draw any sympathy from, the Beatles achieve it by going against the grain and wrapping it up in a pop parcel. Those backing vocals… sublime.

The single was released on 23 July, with the film following six days later. As I stated in my blog for Ticket to Ride, I prefer it to A Hard Day’s Night. It’s a riotous, technicolour piece of surreal fun. On the day the single knocked the Byrds’ Mr Tambourine Man from number 1, the album was released. Featuring original songs by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison on side one, the second side featured covers (for the last time on any Beatles album other than 1970 swansong Let It Be) and of course, Yesterday, featuring McCartney only alongside a string quartet. It remains the most covered song of all time.

Notable covers of Help! include Tina Turner’s in 1984 and Bananarama’s 1988 Comic Relief single alongside Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Kathy Burke, aka Lananeeneenoonoo.

Now the Beatles were hanging out with the counterculture elite, taking psychedelic drugs and listening to Bob Dylan and the Byrds, among others, their rebellious streaks were growing, along with their hair. Despite this, they were also now Members of the Order of the British Empire. That June, Harold Wilson had nominated the foursome, angering many conservative MBE recipients, some of whom returned theirs in protest.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (5-25 August)

Births:

Children’s television presenter Mark Speight – 6 August 

193. The Beatles – Ticket to Ride (1965)

23 April saw the opening of the Pennine Way. The National Trail runs 267 miles from Edale in the Derbyshire Peak District, up to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland. Three days later, Manchester United won the Football League First Division title. In other football news, Liverpool won the FA Cup for the first time, defeating Leeds United 2-1 at Wembley Stadium on 1 May. Elsewhere, on 7 May the Rhodesian Front, led by Ian Smith, won a landslide victory in the general election in Rhodesia.

Meanwhile, the Beatles were at number 1 for the seventh time, with their most adventurous single to date.

In February, they had begun filming, and recording the soundtrack album, for their second movie (their first in colour), provisionally called Eight Arms to Hold You. Just as weird as the title was the film itself. Once again directed by Richard Lester, this was a more surreal, loose, knockabout comedy than A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and with a bigger budget, too. Intended as a spoof of spy films, it essentially became an excuse for the Fab Four to travel to exotic locations. The Beatles spent most of the time stoned out of their minds, and would often struggle to stop themselves laughing while filming. In some scenes, their eyes are bloodshot from all the smoking they indulged in. Lads.

Fortunately for everyone, the Beatles on marijuana didn’t result in self-indulgent dribble. It made for their best film. That’s nothing compared to the impact on their music, though.

Ticket to Ride was the first track worked on for their fifth album. In 1980, Lennon claimed in Playboy that the song was pretty much his own. He also proudly stated it invented heavy metal. The jury’s out on both, but it began one hell of a creative patch. None of their singles had sounded like this, musically or lyrically. He said Paul McCartney was only responsible for Ringo Starr’s drum sound, whereas McCartney later stated they wrote it together in three hours.

Even if Lennon was right, you can’t underestimate the drums on Ticket to Ride, so McCartney clearly made an important contribution. Making Starr play in such a stop-start fashion created an epic, proto-pyschedelic sound, which isn’t that far removed from the still-startling Tomorrow Never Knows, created a year later. George Harrison once said that the drums were also influenced by the equally important jagged guitar riff, which he claimed ownership of, having played it on his Rickenbacker. Whoever came up with what, this track was breaking new ground.

Although the Beatles were innovative with their songwriting from the start, those first few years were often full of basic lyrics about love. Not this time. The combination of an adoration of Bob Dylan and drugs made the words in Ticket to Ride more adult, oblique and interesting. A woman is leaving the narrator, that much we know. So far, so ‘blues’. But where to? Some suggest the woman has become a prostitute. McCartney once claimed she’s simply off to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. I find the former more likely. The prefix of ‘I think’ adds so much to the song, without explaining itself. And although the narrator isn’t sure exactly whether he’s upset or not, he says his baby definitely isn’t. It was rare at the time to allow a woman in a break-up to have the upper hand in a pop song.

Ticket to Ride was also a first for the Beatles for the way in which it was recorded. They were taking an increased interest in the way their songs sounded, and from now on they would tape rehearsals and concentrate on backing tracks, before overdubbing more instruments and the vocals.

Although most of the rest of the album it came from was fairly straightforward, Ticket to Ride marked the start of the band’s psychedelic period, and that’s easily my favourite era of my favourite band. The slow pace of the drumming, combined with the drone of the guitars, gives it an Indian feel. It seems this was a coincidence rather than by design, as it was later, during the making of the film, that Harrison became interested in Indian music (it seems the decidedly un-PC comedy Indian characters in Help! had their uses after all). The middle-eight was your more standard Beatles fare, but I can still find the switch back to the main riff spine-tingling, even after all these years. The ‘My baby don’t care’ refrain in the coda is a thrilling climax, with great guitar licks from McCartney.

Ticket to Ride enjoyed a lengthy (by 1965 standards – most number 1s only lasted a week) three-week stint at the top. It was their longest track to date, running for over three minutes. Singles were getting longer, hair was getting longer, things were getting weirder. They promoted the song on Top of the Pops, and a brief clip of the performance was also shown on Doctor Who in May, as part of the story The Chase.

The most famous performance of the song was in their second movie. By the time of its release it was known as Help!, and Ticket to Ride featured in a sequence in which the band learned to ski in the Austrian Alps while also avoiding the assassins attempting to steal Ringo’s ring. A highly influential part of the film, some say it was a big influence on the idea of music videos and eventually MTV.

As I mentioned in my blog for I Feel Fine though, the Beatles were already making promo films to save them having to be everywhere at once. That November, they made promos for their next single, Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out, and also made one for Ticket to Ride to feature on a festive edition of Top of the Pops. The foursome mimed in front of a backdrop of large tickets, with John, Paul and George sat in director’s chairs.

She Loves You is perhaps the greatest pop song of all time, but I think Ticket to Ride may be my favourite song of the early years of the Beatles. Time will never dull its magnificence.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (22 April-12 May)

Births:

Actress Anna Chancellor – 27 April 
Television presenter Alice Beer – 1 May 
Wrestler Darren Matthews – 10 May

Deaths:

Welsh novelist Howard Spring – 3 May

183. The Beatles – I Feel Fine (1964)

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December, 1964. The 21st of that month saw MPs vote in favour of abolishing the death penalty, with the abolition likely to happen before the end of 1965. Two days later Richard Beeching announced he was to resign as Chairman of the British Railway Board. In his three years he had made enemies thanks to his closure of many small railways. 31 years in the future, a sitcom was made about his era, called Oh, Doctor Beeching! It was shit. Also on 23 December, the pirate radio station Wonderful Radio London began broadcasting from MV Galaxy off Frinton-on-Sea.

During this period, and well into January 1964, the Beatles had a long five-week run at the top with I Feel Fine. This made them the first act to score two concurrent Christmas number 1s. Not that having a number 1 at Christmas was a ‘thing’ back then. But still, it did become a tradition for the Fab Four to rule the airwaves at the end of the year.

1964 had been another phenomenal year for the Beatles. As well as spreading their fame across America, they began to take artistic leaps. This was in part fuelled by drugs. The band had got through long nights in Hamburg on various uppers before they were famous, so it’s not as if they were innocent before they met Bob Dylan that August. He introduced them to cannabis after famously mishearing I Want to Hold Your Hand and assuming they were already using it. The meeting affected everyone involved, with Dylan soon taking the decision to go electric, and Lennon in particular trying to ape Dylan’s songwriting with more introspective lyrics in a more nasally voice. Plus the peaked cap was a dead giveaway.

The band came off an exhausting tour of the US and went straight into the studio to record their fourth album Beatles for Sale. The combination of cannabis and being totally knackered had a big impact, resulting in a more melancholy, downbeat collection of songs. Originally they had planned for it to feature solely original material, but the well was running a little dry, understandably. They still managed to record a new single too, though.

I Feel Fine derived from Lennon’s Eight Days a Week, which was one of the more upbeat album originals. The riff appeared in the backgroud of that song, and had been inspired/stolen from Bobby Parker’s 1961 single Watch Your Step.

So far, so unoriginal. But the Beatles hit upon an introduction which is regarded, of course, as the first known deliberate recording of feedback. McCartney struck a note on his bass at one point, and Lennon’s guitar was leant against an amp, causing the sound to echo around the studio. They loved it, and asked George Martin if they could tack it onto the start of the song. Lennon would often boast about this for the rest of his life in interviews. From here on in, accidents and deliberate manipulation of sound would become more and more importand to the pot-smoking Fab Four.

Introduction aside, I Feel Fine may not be the most revolutionary of Beatles singles, but it’s pretty damn cool. The lyrics are no great shakes, with Lennon singing that, basically, him and his girl are in love. So, er, everything is good. But I love the slinky groove courtesy of Lennon and Harrison, and Starr’s drumming is excellent, and very deliberately reminiscent of the Latin sound of Ray Charles’ influential What’d I Say. Ringo, a poor drummer? He sounds bloody good to me here.

On the day of the single’s release (backed with McCartney’s also great She’s a Woman), they recorded two promotional videos with Joe McGrath. It’s rarely talked about for some reason, but the Beatles were one of the first acts to cotton on to music videos as a great way of promoting their singles when they were too busy to appear everywhere at once. The two videos are surreal, funny, cheap and charming, with Ringo on an exercise bike on the first one, and best of all, the band eating bags of chips in the second.

Following the success of The Beatles Christmas Show the previous year, Brian Epstein decided the group hadn’t worked hard enough this year, and had them work from Christmas Eve until 16 January at the Hammersmith Odeon on Another Beatles Christmas Show. This time the support came from acts including Freddie and the Dreamers, Sounds Incorporated, Elkie Brooks and the Yardbirds. The compere was Jimmy Savile.

On Boxing Day, police launched another missing persons investigation in Ancoats, Manchester, this time for ten-year-old Lesley Ann Downey.  She had been at a fairground on her own when she was approached by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, who pretended to accidentally drop their shopping near her. She agreed to help them carry it to their car, then to their home. The next morning they buried her body in a shallow grave on Saddleworth Moor.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 5 (10 December 1964-13 January 1965)

Births:

Scottish footballer Gary McAllister – 25 December 
Portishead singer Beth Gibbons – 4 January
Pogues bassist Cait O’Riordan – 4 January
Actress Julia Ormond – 4 January
Footballer Vinnie Jones – 5 January
Actress Joely Richardson – 9 January 

Deaths:

Black activist Claudia Jones – 24 December

179. Roy Orbison – Oh, Pretty Woman (1964)

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The 1964 general election took place on 15 October, and after 13 years of Conservative rule, Labour were back in power with a slim majority of five seats, and Harold Wilson was the new prime minster. Two days later he announced his cabinet, which included James Callaghan, Denis Healey, Barbara Castle and Roy Jenkins. He also created the Welsh Office and made Jim Griffiths the first Secretary of State for Wales. The Conservatives had become mired in controversy following the Profumo affair, and Douglas-Home seemed decidedly old-fashioned and too posh against Wilson, who played up his working class image with a pipe and seemed hip by comparison, as the Beatles’ fame had helped begin the breaking down of social barriers.

Meanwhile, a suitably upbeat track was at number 1, courtesy of… Roy Orbison? Yes, the Big O was third-time lucky at number 1, and he finally got the girl on the classic Oh, Pretty Woman. The song was inspired by Orbison’s wayward wife Claudette, who was often his muse. Orbison and co-writer Bill Dees were working one day when she walked in to tell them she was going to Nashville. When Orbison asked if she needed any money, Dees interjected with ‘A pretty woman never needs any money’. As usual Orbison assigned Fred Foster for production, Bill Porter as the engineer, and assembled a top team of musicians, including Elvis Presley collaborator and number 1 artist Floyd Cramer on piano, plus three other guitarists in addition to himself on 12-string.

The second half of 1964’s number 1s are an embarrassment of riches as far as intros go, and Oh, Pretty Woman is among the best. Gone is the doom and gloom of It’s Over, replaced by that brilliant circular riff leading into the first ‘Pretty woman’. Anyone who’s ever been in awe of someone will identify with the lyrics, in which Orbison admires the pretty woman from a distance (I’d like to believe this was in a perfectly innocent way; I refuse to believe Orbison was a stalker). Anyone who was aware of his work must have assumed this was yet another great track by the balladeer in which the protagonist is doomed to be unlucky in love, but when he sings ‘What do I see?/Is she walkin’ back to me?/Yeah, she’s walkin’ back to me/Oh, oh, pretty woman.’, you almost want to punch the air for him in triumph. I love Orbison’s interjections too, namely ‘Mercy’, and a bit of growling thrown in for good measure. Way to go, Big O!

It was no mean feat for a US act to gain a UK number 1 in 1964, let alone two. Oh, Pretty Woman also went back to the top the following month for another week, toppling Sandie Shaw’s (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me. Unfortunately, this was no happy ending for Orbison. That November, he and Claudette divorced over her affair, and although they remarried in December 1965, they were involved in a tragic accident in June 1966. The couple shared a love of motorbikes, and were riding home one day when a pickup truck pulled out. Claudette hit the door and died instantly. He threw himself into his music, co-writing the music for his debut film appearance, The Fastest Guitar Alive (1967). It had originally been planned as a Western, but became a comedy. Apparently Orbison’s role as a spy proved he wasn’t anywhere near as good an actor as he was a musician, and the film flopped, ending the movie enthusiast’s career in one stroke.

Orbison had done well to withstand changing musical fashions up to this point, but suffered badly with the blossoming of psychedelia. His life was upended once more after a gig in Bournemouth in September 1968, when he was told over the phone that his house had burned down, killing his two eldest sons. He sold the land to Johnny Cash, who planted an orchard where the house was stood.

The following year he married German teenager Barabra Jakobs, and in the 1970s they had two sons together, but his musical fortunes did not improve. It was a lost decade, commercially. other than a compilation of greatest hits making it to number 1 in the album charts, and featuring as the opening act for the Eagles on live dates, both in 1976.

The 80s opened promisingly for the Big O when Don McLean unexpectedly went to number 1 with his version of Crying. He and Emmylou Harris won a Grammy in 1981 for their duet That Lovin’ You Feelin’ Again, but it was a request from auteur filmmaker David Lynch that really reignited his career. Lynch was refused permission to use the track In Dreams in his disturbing film noir Blue Velvet (1986), but he went ahead anyway. Apparently while making the film he asked for the track to be played repeatedly to add to the disturbing atmosphere of the movie. Orbison was said to be shocked when he watched the film in the cinema, and it was only later that he appreciated his song’s place in it.

1987 was Orbison’s best year for decades. He released an album of re-recordings, won a Grammy with kd Lang for their new version of Crying, and he was initiated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bruce Springsteen, who had referenced his first number 1 in the memorable Thunder Road (‘Roy Orbison’s singing for the lonely’). In 1988 he began working with Electric Light Orchestra frontman Jeff Lynne on a new album. Lynne had just finished producing George Harrison’s Cloud Nine. The trio met up for a meal and an idea formed. They rang Bob Dylan, paid a visit to Tom Petty, and before you know it the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys were formed. That evening they wrote hit single Handle with Care.

Unlike a lot of comebacks by 60s legends, it helped that Orbison’s material was pretty good, particularly You Got It, which was to be the first single from his new album, Mystery Girl. Around this time he complained to Johnny Cash of chest pains, and said he should do something about his health. After years of getting nowhere, the world was at his feet again, and he didn’t want to stop in case his luck ran out yet again. On 6 December he spent the day flying model aeroplanes with his sons and had dinner at his mother’s house. He died of a heart attack later that day, aged only 52. The world had yet again been robbed of an astounding musical talent, blessed with an incredible voice and an uncanny knack of making misery sound compelling. Oh, Pretty Woman enjoyed a new lease of life thanks to the romantic comedy Pretty Woman in 1990. Roy himself is kind of doing the same, thanks to the ongoing tour in which he features as a hologram, backed by a full live orchestra. It’s good to know that his songs live on, but whether this is ethical or not is another matter.

Also in the news during Orbison’s final number 1 stint… Great Britain competed in the Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, where they won four gold, 12 silver and two bronze medals. The Games had been scheduled deliberately late in the year to avoid Tokyo’s midsummer heat.

Written by: Roy Orbison & Bill Dees

Producer: Fred Foster

Weeks at number 1: 3 (8-21 October, 12-18 November)

174. The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

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Ian MacDonald, in his excellent book Revolution in the Head (1994), stated that the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night and the final chord of A Day in the Life, two of the most famous examples of such in popular music, bookend the peak creative years of the Beatles. While I don’t always agree with his opinions on the Beatles work, it’s a hell of a tome, and he is spot on in this judgement.

The spring of 1964 had seen the Beatles hurriedly filming their parts in their first feature film, still potentially called, appropriately enough, Beatlemania. The idea was to make a low-budget musical movie that saw the Fab Four pretty much being themselves, coping with their new-found fame, plus a surreal plot involving Paul’s grandfather, played by Wilfred Brambell from Steptoe and Son. Hopefully they could achieve this without falling into the same trap as Elvis, ie, getting stuck in an endless rut of ever-poorer cheap romantic comedies with substandard songs. By April they had recorded most of their third album, for the first time featuring nothing but Lennon and McCartney songs. There are several versions of how the title track came about, but they all state the inspiration came from Ringo Starr and his knack of saying things wrong but somehow making them sound poetic. Referring to the fact they’d often work through the night in the studio, Starr ended one session announcing how it’d been a hard day’s night. John Lennon liked the phrase so much he’d already included it in his first book earlier that year, In His Own Write. This passage came from the short story, Sad Michael:

‘There was no reason for Michael to be sad that morning, (the little wretch): everyone liked him, (the scab). He’d had a hard day’s night that day, for Michael was a Cocky Watchtower.’

The film’s producer Walter Shenson loved the phrase, and decided it would be the name of the film. He told Lennon he needed to write a song with the same name, and was startled to be given it the following day. Lennon and McCartney had already begun composing together less and were getting competitive about who got the A-sides on their singles, and Lennon may have been wanting the hit after McCartney had written previous single Can’t Buy Me Love. This period was Lennon’s most dominant within the Beatles, before McCartney considered himself de facto leader upon Epstein’s suicide, and Lennon was often too high to be bothered to compete so much. The group had the song polished in three hours flat on 16 April.

Knowing that A Hard Day’s Night would open the album as well as the film, the Beatles felt they had to come up with a good opening. What they probably didn’t realise is they would come up with one of the most memorable intros to a pop song ever. That famous chord has been subject to enormous amounts of literature over the years. It would seem it came about from all four band members, plus George Martin on a piano, striking their instruments at once. Such a great intro requires a great song, and the Beatles don’t disappoint there either. It’s one of their best singles of this period, and while the lyrics are still rather cliched, they’re a step up from some of their 1963 material, and anyway, it’s such a strong song, it’s effervescence masks any weak points. Naysayers of Starr’s drumming, begone – his performance propels this track brilliantly. Okay, we could have maybe done without the cowbell, though, and I like a good cowbell, when used right. Macca handles the high notes on the middle eight superbly (Lennon felt he couldn’t do these bits justice) and Harrison and Martin’s duet on guitar and piano is another highlight. Almost as brilliant as the song’s opening is the ending, which was Martin’s inspiration. He pointed out to the group that they were recording film music now, and should keep that in mind when considering the fit of each song into the film. Harrison’s chiming arpeggio is beautiful, and a great example of how many ideas the Beatles were now coming up with. Lesser bands would have built an entire song out of that arpeggio. The guitarist had been given a prototype 12-string Rickenbacker, and it’s ringing sound helps make that third album such a delight.

That summer was all about A Hard Day’s Night. The film was released in the UK on 6 July, and was a critical and commercial smash, cementing the Fab Four as loveable mop-tops, but also showcasing each one’s charisma too. The title track made for a perfect introduction to what followed, and it’s hard to hear the song without picturing the quartet running from screaming girls, with Harrison falling over at one point (this was a genuine accident that was left in the sequence).  Unusually, the US got to hear it first, as the soundtrack album was released on 26 June. The single and album were released simultaneously in the UK on 10 July. In August, both releases held the number 1 spot in both the singles and albums chart in the UK and US, a feat that had never before been achieved.

Also that summer, it was the end of an era when Winston Churchill retired from the House of Commons on 28 July at the ripe old age of 89. A week later, the first portable television sets went on sale to the public. 4 August also saw a classic single released, in a year full of them, when You Really Got Me by the Kinks went on sale. More on that in the near future.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (23 July-12 August)

Births:

Actress Matilda Ziegler – 23 July 

Deaths:

Author Ian Fleming – 12 August

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

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 

36. Slim Whitman – Rose Marie (1955)

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Remember how I said I seemed to have a problem with pop’s longest-running number 1 singles? Well here’s one now. Influential country-western singer, guitarist and yodeller Slim Whitman’s Rose Marie, which enjoyed a massive 11-week-long reign in 1955. It stood as the longest-running continuous number 1 until 1991, when Bryan Adams overtook with 16 weeks at the top in 1991 with (Everything I Do) I Do It For You.

Born Otis Dewey Whitman Jr in Tampa, Florida, Slim grew up loving the country songs of Jimmie Rodgers. During World War Two he entertained fellow soldiers with his singing. He was so entertaining, his captain blocked a transfer to another ship. This was a massive stroke of luck as everybody on that ship was killed when it sank. He taught himself to play the guitar with his left hand, despite being right-handed, after losing a finger in an accident. This later had an effect on a young Paul McCartney, who was left-handed and decided to retune his guitar just as Whitman had. George Harrison was also taking note, and once said the first person he ever saw with a guitar was Whitman. The instrument was beginning to become fashionable, thanks in part to Slim. Elvis’s future manager, ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker, had heard Whitman on the radio and took him under his wing, and his first single came out in 1948. A young Elvis Presley even supported him.

Whitman had become very popular by 1955, even more famous in the UK than the US. He avoided standard country fare about drinking and having no money, and became known for his more romantic material. His yodelling became his trademark, and it may sound surprising but even Michael Jackson listed him as one of his ten favourite vocal performers. Rose Marie had been released as a single in 1954. It was taken from the 1924 opera of the same name, with music by Rudolf Friml and Herbert Stothart, and the lyrics by Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II. Eventually it toppled Alma Cogan’s Dreamboat, and it reigned supreme from July to October.

When I say I have a problem with Rose Marie, I’m perhaps being harsh. It’s not bad, especially by the standards of the time. At first I was baffled by its success. As I explained when reviewing Tennessee Ernie Ford’s Give Me Your Word, I’m not a country fan. I found myself more amused by Whitman’s voice than anything. I’m not averse to a bit of yodelling either (see Focus or Mr Trololo), but I just could not see the appeal. Unlike most of the other songs so far though, I went back to it a few times, and it has grown on me. Lew Chudd’s production is effectively haunting, and the lyrics pack more depth into them than the usual hits of the time (of course, it was written 30 years earlier, so that explains that). It’s a love song, but Whitman is powerless against his emotions:

‘Oh Rose Marie, I love you
I´m always dreaming of you
No matter what I do, I can’t forget you
Sometimes I wish that I never met you’

Nonetheless, Whitman has given up. He belongs to her now.

‘Of all the queens that ever lived, I choose you
To rule me, my Rose Marie’

So, yes, fair play to Whitman. But… 11 weeks at number 1? A world record for 36 years? Really? Having said that, when you’ve the likes of Jimmy Young as your competition, perhaps it’s understandable (sorry Jimmy). Whitman enjoyed success for the rest of his long life, with peaks and troughs, but always remembered fondly. He died surrounded by his family in 2013 at the age of 90.

There were a few noteworthy events in Britain during the 11-week-run of Rose Marie. The Guinness Book of Records was first published on 27 August. On 4 September, BBC newsreaders were seen on television reading reports for the first time. The two in question were Richard Baker and Kenneth Kendall, who became celebrities themselves in time. Ten days later, Airfix produced their first scale model aircraft kit. 22 September saw the start of ITV, in London only. The first advert shown is for Gibbs’ SR toothpaste. And most important of all, on 26 September, Clarence Birdseye started selling fish fingers in the UK. Mind-blowing.

Written by: Rudolf Friml, Herbert Stothart, Otto Harbach & Oscar Hammerstein II

Producer: Lew Chudd

Weeks at number 1: 11 (29 July-13 October)

Births:

Actress Gillian Taylforth – 14 August
The Jam bassist Bruce Foxton – 1 September
Sex Pistols guitarist  Steve Jones – 3 September
Children’s television presenter Janet Ellis – 16 September
Actor David Haig – 20 September
Human League singer Phil Oakey – 2 October
Athlete Steve Ovett – 9 October 

Deaths:

Politician Leo Amery – 16 September