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

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

170. Cilla Black – You’re My World (1964)

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Keith Bennett had turned 12 only four days before he went missing. On 16 June he was on his way to his grandmother’s house in Longsight, Manchester when Myra Hindley pulled over in her Mini and asked Bennett for help with loading some boxes, in return for a lift home. Her friend Ian Brady was sat in the back when he got in. They drove to a lay-by on Saddleworth Moor, where Bennett walked off with Brady. The following day, yet another missing persons investigation for a child opened in Manchester.

Three months since her first number 1, Anyone Who Had a Heart, Cilla Black was at number 1 again, with You’re My World. This ballad was an English language version of the Italian Il Mio Mondo, written by Umberto Bindi and Gino Paoli. The original was not a hit, but George Martin saw enough in it to commission it as Black’s follow-up. The new title and lyrics came from Carl Sigman, who specialised in rewriting lyrics and turning them into UK hits, several of which – Answer Me, It’s All in the Game and The Day the Rains Came – went to number 1.

I think I made my feelings towards Cilla fairly clear in my last blog on her, while at the same time being pretty complimentary about Anyone Who Had a Heart. I couldn’t deny the quality of the song and considered Black’s performance stronger than the Dionne Warwick original. However, You’re My World is inferior, and shows up Black’s weakness as a singer. This actually worked in her favour last time around. My ears weren’t so keen this time. Black starts low, which is manageable, but at about a minute into the track, her voice explodes into what sounds like a impression of a caricature of her voice – the kind you’d get on Spitting Image in the 1980s. Lyrically, You’re My World is nothing to write home about – not compared to a Bacharach and David song, anyway. It’s your average overblown love song in which the singer bigs up her lover to be some sort of godlike figure. As average as it is, it’s saved by an epic George Martin production, which builds from stabbing strings at the beginning (which do suggest Cilla may be some sort of deranged obsessed lover/murderer) into full-blown orchestral loveliness courtesy of Johnny Pearson and female vocal trio the Breakaways. Her future husband and manager, Bobby Willis, also sang on the recording.

You’re My World helped firmly establish Cilla as the country’s biggest female singing superstar, and it was a huge hit in several countries. However, despite the fact she had many other smashes in the UK, and is the country’s biggest-selling female solo artist of the decade, it was her final number 1. She divided opinion even then. In 1965 Randy Newman called her version of I’ve Been Wrong Before the best cover anyone had ever performed of his material. The same year, when her version of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin was beaten to the top by the Righteous Brothers’ cover, the Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham took out an advert in Melody Maker to deride Cilla’s performance. Nonetheless the hits continued, including, among others, her theme song to the film Alfie, written by Bacharach and David. By the end of 1966 she had begun making inroads into television, with her own TV special and an appearance on Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s Not Only But Also. Epstein had arranged for Black to star in her own series for the BBC shortly before his death in August 1967. Prior to his death, relations had become somewhat strained, with Black feeling Epstein had stopped giving her career the attention it needed. Bobby Willis took over as her manager, and her career improved in 1968 with the number eight hit Step Inside Love, written by Paul McCartney as the theme to her series Cilla.

Other than Cilla, and some attempts at comedy (seeing her attempts at being funny on TV when growing up, I can imagine these were pretty bad), the 70s were relatively quiet for Black. Bill Cotton asked her to consider becoming Bruce Forsyth’s replacement on The Generation Game in 1978, but Black declined and Larry Grayson got the job. She may have subsequently regretted doing so, as the early 80s saw her reduced to cabaret shows. However, an appearance on Wogan in 1983 went down so well, she found herself in demand once more. Many of the generation that had grown up buying her music were now parents and in need of Saturday night entertainment in front of the box. It’s the Cilla that presented Surprise Surprise from 1984 and Blind Date from 1985 that I grew up with. Ironically, when Blind Date was in development, camp comedian Duncan Norvelle presented a pilot in 1985, but John Birt had reservations about Norvelle’s humour. He clearly wasn’t as open-minded as Bill Cotton in 1978 when Larry Grayson took on The Generation Game. I was an avid TV viewer as a child, and would watch anything put in front of me, but despite enjoying both shows, I was firmly on my dad’s side in being irritated by her catchphrases and singing, even as a six-year-old. But the fans outweighed the critics and Black became a national treasure and the highest-paid female performer on British television. My mum even appeared in the audience on Surprise Surprise once, and my cousin also featured and won on Blind Date. My main memory of that is of us visiting her house shortly afterwards and discovering her parents had a parrot that liked swearing.

By the turn of the century, both long-running shows were struggling with viewing figures, and Cilla left London Weekend Television. She appeared on many panel shows and had a cameo in ITV comedy Benidorm. 2013 saw ITV celebrate her 50 years in showbiz with a one-off special, The One and Only Cilla Black, hosted by fellow scouser Paul O’Grady. In 2014, Sheridan Smith starred as the singer in the well-received three-part ITV drama Cilla, focusing on her relationship with Willis, who had died in 1999.

In 2014 Black stated she wanted to die when she reached 75, as she couldn’t stand to suffer into old age like her mother did. She was already suffering with rheumatoid arthritis, and her eyesight was failing. She was 72 when she fell and died of a stroke at her holiday home near Estepona, Spain in 2015. Her funeral was a star-studded affair, with Cliff Richard singing at the service and a eulogy from O’Grady. As her coffin left the church, the Beatles song The Long and Winding Road was played. Paul McCartney, who had been instrumental in bringing the girl-next-door-turned-national-treasure to the public eye, believed Cilla’s 1972 version of his song was the definitive one.

Written by: Umberto Bindi & Gino Paoli/Carl Sigman (English lyrics)

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 4 (28 May-24 June)

Births:

Actress Kathy Burke – 13 June 

166. The Beatles – Can’t Buy Me Love (1964)

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16 April saw sentencing passed on 11 men for their roles in the Great Train Robbery, with seven receiving 30 years each. Two days later, Liverpool, by now considered the musical hotspot of the UK, won the Football League First Division title for the sixth time. On 20 April, the Queen’s new son’s name was officially registered as Edward, and that night was supposed to see BBC Two begin broadcasting. However, the start of Britain’s third television channel was scuppered by power cuts, and actually began a day later, with children’s show Play School becoming its first programme. BBC Television Service became known as BBC One.

Number 1 for three weeks in April, and the best-selling single of 1964, was the Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love. Significantly, other than the backing track for 1968’s The Inner Light, it was their only English-speaking track recorded outside of the UK. The Fab Four were in Paris at the time, performing 18 days of concerts at the Olympia Theatre. The West German branch of EMI, Odeon, were convinced the group would get nowhere in their country unless they re-recorded previous singles in German. The band believed otherwise, but reluctantly agreed to rework She Loves You as Sie Liebt Dich and I Want to Hold Your Hand as Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand. They got through these recordings so quickly, they had time to work on a new Paul McCartney composition (the band had a piano installed in one of their hotel suites so they could continue songwriting). Were the lyrics inspired by Kitty Kallen’s 1954 number 1, Little Things Mean a Lot? It’s a possibility. For the first time, a Beatles single featured just the one singer, and it tended to be that the singer was also the writer of the track. They also did away with their signature harmonies, although the early version featured on Anthology 1 in 1995 revealed they were originally intended. In this version, the bluesy feel is also more apparent. It’s an interesting version, but the finished product has more swagger.

Critics of Can’t Buy Me Love consider it something of a step back in the Beatles swift progression. Possibly so, but it’s as good as any of their early singles to me, and the ditching of the backing vocals, when so many other acts had began copying them, actually suggests a progression of sorts to me. The lyrics may seem somewhat trite, especially coming from a man who was already becoming very wealthy, but there’s a lot to enjoy here, particularly George Harrison’s stinging rockabilly guitar solo. I used to think this had been double-tracked, but it is in fact simply an overdub, recorded when back in England, over the top of the original, that you can hear in the background.

By the time it was released, the British Invasion was in full swing, and Can’t Buy Me Love broke several records in the US chart, including becoming the only time an artist had three number 1s in a row, and the only time one act held the top five positions. This record in particular is unlikely to ever be broken. The song featured on the Beatles’ third album, A Hard Day’s Night, their first LP made up entirely of original songs, and made it onto the film soundtrack side. It featured twice in Richard Lester’s movie, which the band were in the process of filming when the single was released. Most famously, it was used in the surreal scene in which the group break free and run around a field. This was originally to feature I’ll Cry Instead, but it was understandably considered too downbeat. Once filming was complete, and with the UK, France and US conquered, it was time to take over the rest of the world.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (2-22 April) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Politician Nigel Farage – 3 April
Scottish historian Niall Ferguson – 18 April
Actor Andy Serkis – 20 April 

165. Billy J Kramer with the Dakotas – Little Children (1964)

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The winter of 1964 dragged on into a cold, dull and wet March. Electric power workers were threatening industrial action, which had raised fears of power cuts. Fears intensified on 19 March when talks broke down. Minster of Labour Joseph Godber appointed Lord Justice Pearson to chair a court of enquiry into the dispute. Also on 19 March, the government announced plans to build three new towns to act as overspill for the overpopulation problems in London.

28 March saw the first famous pirate radio station, Radio Caroline, begin broadcasting from a ship anchored outside of UK territorial waters off Felixstowe. It began as an attempt to break the monopoly of the BBC on the airwaves. Two days later, reports of violent disturbances between mods and rockers at Clacton beach hit the news for the first time.

Riding high at the top of the charts at the time after toppling Cilla Black, were yet another act connected to the Beatles. Billy J Kramer with the Dakotas had scored three hits penned by Lennon and McCartney, the most popular being their 1963 number 1, Bad to Me. Understandably, they decided if they wanted to secure a long-term future, they needed to step out of the shadow of the Beatles. The fact the Dakotas had also scored a hit with their self-penned instrumental, The Cruel Sea, only backed this belief up. And so the group found themselves doing the unthinkable when they turned down another Lennon and McCartney original, One and One is Two, and opted to record Little Children instead.

You have to admire the boldness of Kramer and co, but unfortunately it was as unwise a move as it was brave. If you’re going to try something new in 1964, don’t pick a song by former Elvis collaborators, whose best days were now behind them. Little Children is a rickety, sickly sweet slice of old-fashioned pop that not even George Martin could turn to gold. In recent years it has received criticism for its sub-paedophilic undertones. If you ask me, this is harsh. It’s a song written in more innocent times, and is actually about a teenager or young man who’s desperate to cop off with his girlfriend, but her siblings are getting in the way, so he tries to win them over and silence them by offering sweets and money. What I won’t excuse, though, is the fact this is a crap, irritating song, and Bad to Me was much better.

In the short term, the group’s move proved to be a wise one, as following this final number 1, they released another Lennon and McCartney track, From a Window, which only made it to number ten. In July, bassist Ray Jones left following an argument with Brian Epstein, which was the first in a series of line-up changes. Music was getting heavier and weirder in the next few years, and Kramer’s softer style, plus a drink problem, meant declining fortunes, and in September 1967, Kramer and the Dakotas went their separate ways. The Dakotas split a year later, with several members joining Cliff Bennet’s band. They reformed in the 80s, with Eddie Mooney on vocals, and in addition to many appearances on the nostalgia circuit, they worked with comedian Peter Kay on the excellent Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights (2001) and the dire spin-off Max and Paddy’s Road to Nowhere (2004), with new member Toni Baker co-writing all the music to both series with Kay. Kramer is also a regular on package tours of yesteryear, and in 2016 released his autobiography, Do You Want to Know a Secret?

Written by: Mort Shuman & John Leslie McFarland

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 2 (19 March-1 April)

Births:

Northern Irish racing driver Martin Donnelly – 26 March

164. Cilla Black – Anyone Who Had a Heart (1964)

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Hmm. Cilla Black. I try to come to all these reviews with an open mind, but I was never a fan. I think many people of my age feel the same, too. To us, she was that wailing banshee that ruled over weekend television in the 1980s, presenting Blind Date and Surprise Surprise, wailing the theme tune of the latter at a pitch that could shatter TV screens if you had the volume too high. To my mum, she was a national treasure, to my dad… well, lets just say we felt the same. When she died in 2015, the media mourned, but if you dug deep on the internet, there were countless stories of a puffed-up prima donna, hated by airplane staff primarily. It seems ‘our Cilla’ could be a nasty piece of work. Now obviously I don’t expect every artist out there to be a lovely person, but when that’s the image they make their money from, it can grate.

That’s my touching tribute aside, now on with the facts. Cilla was born Priscilla Maria Veronica White in Liverpool in 1943. She became determined to make it as a singer while in her teens, and tried to get her foot in the door with a part-time job as a cloakroom attendant at the Cavern Club. It was the perfect example of ‘right place, right time’, as the Beatles were residents there, and they were impressed by her impromptu performances. She appeared as a guest singer for local acts including Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, who featured Ringo Starr on drums. The local music publication, Mersey Beat (whose name soon coined a whole musical movement) featured her in its first edition, but accidentally referred to her as Cilla Black. She made it her stage name.

Black was introduced to Brian Epstein by John Lennon. Epstein’s roster was rapidly growing, but initially he showed little interest in her. She was never the most technically-gifted singer, but her initial audition with him was a disaster. The Beatles provided her backing on Summertime, but a lack of rehearsal meant that they played it in the wrong key. However, Epstein saw something in Black, a girl-next-door image that could go down well, and a passion to succeed, and in 1963 he took her under his wing.

As someone who’d always struggled to understand just why Cilla was so popular, I assumed the Beatles connection was the sole reason she became famous in the first place. This no doubt played its part, but her debut single, a Lennon-McCartney original called Love of the Loved, barely scraped the charts. Lennon and McCartney were only just learning the ropes of songwriting, what about a duo with previous number 1 success?

Anyone Who Had a Heart was written by one of the decade’s most famous songwriting partnerships, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, for Dionne Warwick. It had become her first top ten single in the US in January. A scout for George Martin suggested the track could make a strong single for Black. Shirley Bassey had also been mentioned as a possibility, but a canny Bacharach was keen on Black releasing it. He knew that Liverpool was fast becoming one of the most musically important cities in the world, and believed that could only help the song’s chances.

It seems Warwick has never forgiven Black for outperforming her version in the UK, and she has mentioned several times over the years that she considers Black’s version a complete copy. Having compared the two, I surprised myself by siding with Cilla. Not only that, I actually prefer her version. Now that really surprised me. Black’s voice has never done anything for me, unlike Warwick’s, but I find Cilla’s more soulful and passionate. As the song is about heartbreak, this is how it should be. Warwick’s may be classier, but it’s a bit tame by comparison. Yes, Johnny Pearson’s arrangement is very similar, but I’m not sure what Warwick expected could be done to make it so different. The whole thing smacks of sour grapes to me. So, yes, I found myself appreciating a Cilla Black song! It helps of course that it has the Bacharach and David magic touch. This is a great slice of 60s pop.

Due in part to the rise of beat music, primarily consisting of four or five men on guitars and drums, there hadn’t been a female artist at number 1 since Helen Shapiro’s Walkin’ Back to Happiness in November 1961. Cilla Black ended the drought, and helped give rise to a new type of female singer – a working class, distinctive, a girl-next-door type that may not be the most technically gifted singer, but could make their own mark and inspire others to have a go.

There you go, I’ve bigged up Cilla Black. I’ve surprised myself.

Written by: Burt Bacharach & Hal David

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (27 February-18 March)

Births:

Prince Edward – 10 March
Shane Richie – 11 March
Footballer Lee Dixon – 17 March 

160. The Beatles – I Want to Hold Your Hand (1963)

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1963 had been an eventful year in many ways, particularly for pop music, and of course, the impact the Beatles had caused a sea change in the charts that hadn’t been seen since the advent of rock’n’roll. So it is entirely appropriate that the Christmas number 1 that year belonged to them. I Want to Hold Your Hand started a tradition, becoming the first of several festive chart-toppers for John, Paul, George and Ringo. It was also the song that transformed their fortunes in the US, and began the phenomenon known as the British Invasion.

Following the success of She Loves You, the Beatles played abroad for the first time since their Hamburg days, touring Sweden. They returned home to hundreds of screaming fans, and took on another triumphant tour of the UK, and their second album With the Beatles was released on 22 November. It became only the second album to sell over a million copies. In the sleeve notes, press officer Tony Barrow described the boys as ‘the fabulous foursome’, which became adopted by the media and shortened to ‘the Fab Four’. Unusually, EMI chose to keep one track back from the sessions in order to maximise its sales.

Allegedly, manager Brian Epstein was growing increasingly determined that the Beatles crack the US, and pressed Lennon and McCartney to write a single specifically with that in mind. Paul McCartney was now dating Jane Asher, and had moved into her family home at 57 Wimpole Street, London. I Want to Hold Your Hand was another collaborative effort, composed ‘eyeball-to-eyeball’ by John and Paul.  It was often the case at the time that the music took priority and random, almost bland phrases would be called out, and if they fitted, they stayed in the songs. The song’s title was likely in mind as they had recorded I Wanna Be Your Man as a showcase for Ringo on the new album.

The first track to be recorded using four-track technology, I Want to Hold Your Hand has a more subtle intro than She Loves You – it actually has an intro, for a start. All four band members provide the handclaps as the first verse begins. Lyrically, it’s rather bland, and polite, as was the fashion at the time. It’s not as clever as She Loves You, and at first you could be forgiven for finding it as safe and sexless as a track by Cliff Richard and the Shadows. However, musically we’re in more adventurous territory, and the way the whole track lifts when they first sing ‘I wanna hold your hand’ suggests hand-holding is just the start. This is backed up by ‘And when I touch you I feel happy inside’. Famously, ‘I can’t hide’ was misheard by Bob Dylan, who gave the Beatles cannabis after assuming the band were regular users – he thought they were singing ‘I get high’. On the whole, it’s inferior to She Loves You, but then again, most things were, and often still are.

Upon its release, I Want to Hold Your Hand had already had over a million advance orders in the UK. However, it found itself battling it out with the Beatles’ last single – Beatlemania was becoming such a force that She Loves You had returned to number 1 after You’ll Never Walk Alone. On 12 December the Beatles became the first act to knock themselves off the top of the charts, and stayed there until mid-January 1964. During this time, EMI and Brian Epstein convinced Capitol Records in the US to get behind the single. The band were becoming known in the US thanks to small labels like Vee-Jay releasing earlier material. It was released in America on Boxing Day, and eventually hit the top of the Billboard charts in February, where it remained until She Loves You overtook it. Beatlemania had hit the US, and gave the country a much-needed lift following JFK’s assassination.

Brian Epstein refused to let the group relax over Christmas, and so they found themselves headlining The Beatles’ Christmas Show, a variety show that ran for 16 nights over the festive period. A mixture of pantomime (hence the Fab Four’s bizarre outfits in the picture above) and music, the shows also featured Billy J Kramer with the Dakotas, Cilla Black and Rolf Harris. That Christmas also saw them release their first gift for fan club members, The Beatles’ Christmas Record.

Elsewhere that Christmas, Doctor Who introduced the Timelord’s most infamous villains to TV screens. The famous sink plunger stalked assistant Barbara at the end of the first episode of The Daleks on 21 December. And New Year’s Day 1964 saw the start of another television – and musical – milestone, with the very first episode of Top of the Pops. DJ Jimmy Savile introduced the show live from Manchester, and it featured tracks from the Rolling Stones, Manfred Mann, Dusty Springfield, and of course, the Beatles. The show became an institution, and mirrored whatever was happening in the charts every week until that same disgraceful human being, Jimmy Savile, was the last person seen on screen on the final weekly episode in 2005.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 5 (12 December 1963-15 January 1964)

Births:

Comedian Caroline Aherne – 24 December 
Comedian Bill Bailey – 13 January 

159. Gerry and the Pacemakers – You’ll Never Walk Alone (1963)

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When Gerry and the Pacemakers chose to record You’ll Never Walk Alone from the musical Carousel as their third single, manager Brian Epstein and George Martin couldn’t understand why they’d want to mess with the uptempo pop formula that had scored them two number 1s. Not only did Gerry Marsden prove them wrong, making his group the first act in the UK to reach the top with their first three singles, he also helped turn the song into Liverpool FC’s anthem, and one the city has turned to at times of tragedy.

Originally written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, the song first appeared in the second act of the 1945 musical. The character Nettie Fowler sings it to her cousin Julie Jordan to comfort her following the suicide of her husband, Billy. It is later reprised by the cast at her daughter Louise’s graduation. The emotional lyrics of this torch song made it perfect for those who had lost family members during World War 2, and Frank Sinatra was the first star to take it into the US charts that year. During the 1950s, rock’n’rollers such as Gene Vincent and Johnny Preston also released versions.

Marsden had always admired the song, and he and the Pacemakers had featured it in their live shows for several years. He had noted how popular ballads had become for the Beatles in their shows, and wanted to do the same. He did however want to make the song sound less like a showtune and more contemporary, and with Martin’s help did just that.

This version starts shakily, and, having not heard this version in a long time, I wondered if Marsden was going to be up to the task. His voice doesn’t sound up to task, but by the end, he’s knocked it out of the park, to use a tired old football analogy. I’m not sure about Martin’s strings – his arrangements for the Beatles were always perfect but I feel like they sound slightly tacky at the start, but they do make for a great finale. It’s also interesting to hear Marsden moving away from the cheeky chappie of the first two singles, and he sounds suitably sincere.

The story goes that before a match at the Kop, Liverpool FC (who weren’t yet one of the most dominant teams in club football) treated the fans to a rundown of the top ten. When it was announced that a local act had reached number 1 (again), the crowd went wild and sang along. It subsequently went on to be played before every home game, and the rest was history. Eventually the song was adopted by other teams too. Many covers continued to be released, perhaps the best coming from Elvis Presley. Pink Floyd tacked a field recording of the Kop choir performing it on the end of their track Fearless from their 1971 album Meddle. I’m not sure why they chose to do so, but it makes for an intriguing ending.

Gerry and the Pacemakers narrowly missed out on four consecutive number 1s with I’m the One, which had been written by Marsden. He and the band began writing more original material, and they became part of the ‘British invasion’ in the US. Future singles included Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying and another signature tune that became important to Liverpool – Ferry Cross the Mersey. In 1965 they starred in their own feature film, with the same name, which was their attempt at making their own A Hard Day’s Night. But that year saw sales decline in both the UK and US. They were unable to move with the times, and the band split in 1966, just as the Beatles began to increase their experimentation. They held on to the record of ‘first three singles hitting number 1’ record until fellow Liverpudlians Frankie Goes to Hollywood repeated the hat trick in 1984.

Marsden went into light entertainment, taking on TV and theatre work. The 80s saw him return to number 1 twice with football-related charity singles. After Band Aid in 1984, such songs were all the rage, and the following year he assembled The Crowd to record a new version of You’ll Never Walk Alone, which raised money for the aftermath of the terrible Bradford Football Club stadium tragedy. Then in 1989, the even more shocking events at Hillsborough led to a quick recording of Ferry Cross the Mersey. For this, Marsden teamed up with other Liverpool figures the Christians, Holly Johnson, Paul McCartney and Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Since then, Gerry and the Pacemakers have reformed and can be found on the nostalgia circuit.

You’ll Never Walk Alone held on to number 1 for most of November in 1963, making it an appropriately moving number 1 while the world mourned the assassination of US President John F Kennedy. The same day (22 November) saw the deaths of two important English authors, namely 65-year-old CS Lewis, the author of the Narnia series of books, and Aldous Huxley, writer of Brave New World and the essay The Doors of Perception, which is where the Doors took their name from.

A day later, the first episode of long-running BBC children’s science-fiction series Doctor Who was transmitted. At around that time, 12-year-old John Kilbride should have been at home watching, but he was out at a market in Ashton-under-Lyne when he was approached by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. They offered him a lift home, telling him his parents would be worried about him being out so late, and coaxed him with the promise of a bottle of sherry. On the way, Brady suggested they visit the moor to look for a glove Hindley had lost.  Later that night, police began a missing persons investigation for the child.

Written by: Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 4 (31 October-27 November)

Births:

Comic actor Sanjeev Bhaskar – 31 October 
Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen – 1 November
Welsh footballer Mark Hughes – 1 November 
Footballer Ian Wright – 3 November 
Entertainer Lena Zavaroni – 4 November
Actor Hugh Bonneville – 10 November
Field hockey player Jon Potter – 
19 November
Mathematician William Timothy Gowers – 20 November 

Actress Nicollette Sheridan – 21 November
International Rugby League player Joe Lydon – 26 November

Deaths:

Writer Aldous Huxley – 22 November
Irish-born author CS Lewis – 22 November