155. The Searchers – Sweets for My Sweet (1963)

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At around 3am on 8 August, a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London was attacked by a gang of 15 robbers. The gang, led by Bruce Reynolds, beat the train driver, Jack Mills, over the head with an iron bar and made off with £2.6million. This crime became known as the Great Train Robbery, and made several of the gang infamous, including Ronnie Biggs, Buster Edwards and Charlie Wilson. Buster Edwards later suffered the indignity of being portrayed by Phil Collins in the 1988 movie Buster. In a strange twist, he later found himself on the other side of theft. He had been released from prison in 1975 and since then had ran a flower stall outside Waterloo station. In 1991, actor Dexter Fletcher scooped up two bunches of flowers from the stall and ran off. Edwards recognised him from the film The Rachel Papers, which he had only seen a few days before. Fletcher was arrested and charged with theft, given a conditional discharge for a year and ordered to pay £30 costs. Fletcher apologised to one of the country’s most famous robbers and claimed the flowers were for his girlfriend, Press Gang co-star Julia Sawalha, but he’d lost his cash card. Silly Dexter.

On the day of the Great Train Robbery, the Searchers became the third Merseybeat group to go to number 1, with their cover of Elvis collaborators Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman’s Sweets for My Sweet, which had previously been a hit for US soul group the Drifters in 1961.

The Searchers had been formed from the ashes of an earlier skiffle group by guitarists John McNally and Mike Pender in 1959, taking their name from the 1956 John Ford western movie. They recruited further members, including Tony Jackson on bass, but he didn’t have a bass, so he built one himself. By 1962, Jackson was also the lead singer and Chris Curtis was the band’s drummer. Like the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers, they were regularly performing at Liverpool clubs like the Cavern, and would head over to perform in Hamburg, Germany. After a successful audition they found themselves signed to Pye Records, with Tony Hatch as their producer. Hatch had assisted on the production of Petula Clark’s first number 1, Sailor, in 1961.

Coming from such a strong songwriting team (Pomus and Shuman had co-written two Elvis number 1 singles, Surrender and (Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame/Little Sister), Sweets for My Sweet was a superior track to some of the other fluffy pop that came out under the Merseybeat banner. I prefer it to the original, with the chiming guitars and chugging drums pushing the song along, whereas the Drifters version swung in a more laidback manner. They misheard one of the lyrics in the chorus, changing ‘Your tasty kiss thrilled me so’ to ‘Your fair sweet kiss thrilled me so’, but I prefer it like that. While it’s all about the chorus, as usual, the backing vocals in the verses are also pretty strong.

With their first single spending a fortnight at the top, the Searchers were quickly established as one of the top groups from Liverpool. Mike Pender became known for his 12-string guitar, with the group later cited as an influence on the sound of the Byrds. Two further number 1s were to follow. Sweets for My Sweet was a number three hit for reggae singer CJ Lewis thirty years later.

Written by: Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman

Producer: Tony Hatch

Weeks at number 1: 2 (8-21 August)

Deaths:

Painter Joan Eardley – 16 August

150. Gerry and the Pacemakers – How Do You Do It? (1963)

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And so the first Merseybeat number 1 was by… hang on, it wasn’t the Beatles? No… at least, not officially speaking. Confused? I was. By this point, there were several weekly singles charts, including those by Record RetailerNew Musical Express, Melody Maker, Disc and Record Mirror. As I’ve mentioned previously, the NME was the first, and the Official Charts Company treat this as canon from the chart’s inception through to 9 March 1960. From that point until the end of the decade, the organisation recognises Record Retailer. This has become a bone of contention for many chart aficionados and Beatles fans alike. There is a belief that Record Retailer’s chart was too much of an outlier to be treated as the official source. The NME‘s chart took it’s information from a much bigger reach of record shops, for example. Hardcore chart fans lay the blame at The Guinness Book of Hit Singles, originally published in 1977. This authoritative publication opted for Record Retailer, mainly because of the fact it was the only chart that covered the best-selling 50 songs for most of the decade.

The Beatles’ second single, Please Please Me, knocked Frank Ifield’s The Wayward Wind from number 1 in March, according to every chart but the Record Retailer one. Therefore, as far as the Official Charts Company are concerned, this didn’t happen. You can understand the annoyance of Beatles fans, and I agree with them. But this blog covers the official charts, and, well, the Beatles have no shortage of number 1 singles, do they? So, the first Merseybeat number 1 is indeed How Do You Do It? by Gerry and the Pacemakers, who were the Beatles main competition in 1963.

Gerry Marsden was born in Toxteth, Liverpool in September 1942. One of his earliest memories involved him standing on top of an air raid shelter and singing to impressed onlookers. He formed the skiffle group Gerry Marsden and the Mars Bars in 1959, with his brother Freddie on percussion. From there they became the Gerry Marsden Trio when bassist Les Chadwick joined, and with the addition of Arthur Mack on piano, Gerry and the Pacemakers began honing their act. They did this at home and in Hamburg, Germany, just like the fledgling Beatles. In 1961, Mack left to be replaced by Les Maguire, and the group became the second act to sign with Brian Epstein. Despite having the same manager, the two groups were rivals, and Gerry and the Pacemakers signed with Columbia Records, meaning both groups were with EMI.

How Do You Do It? had been written by Mitch Murray, who had offered the song to Adam Faith, among others, but he kept being turned down. George Martin thought the song would make a great debut single for the Beatles, but the Fab Four were not keen, and wanted to push their own McCartney and Lennon compositions instead. So they duly recorded How Do You Do It? for Martin, but deliberately put in a lacklustre performance, and so they got their way and Love Me Do was issued instead. Martin still clearly thought the song had worth, and Marsden and his group were happy to make it their own debut single, and were right to do so, as the song went to number 1 and stayed there for three weeks.

In the first half of 1963, there seemed little to distinguish the two groups. Both were happy-go-lucky Scouse four-pieces in suits, permanently beaming away for the cameras. The tunes were catchy, upbeat pop numbers, with a somewhat raw, fast sound, and of course the key element was the Liverpudlian accents, which were accentuated rather than hidden away. Unlike the wave of cockney number 1s a few years back though, the accents didn’t seem exaggerated, they seemed natural, and the music was more natural and earthy than the conservative approach of Cliff Richard and the Shadows.

The Beatles version of How Do You Do It? was released on Anthology 1 in 1995, so their version can be compared with the Pacemakers recording, and sure enough, it’s Gerry and the boys putting the effort in and delivering a more assured performance. They leave out the ‘ooh-la-la’ backing vocals but add an impressively bluesy piano interlude.  Ultimately of course, the Beatles won the war, and were right to go with Love Me DoHow Do You Do It? is a catchy but lightweight tune, and this first Merseybeat number 1 didn’t suggest the seismic shift in pop it ultimately caused. But it was a welcome change to Cliff and Elvis to my ears and must have been the same to many in the spring of 1963.

Written by: Mitch Murray

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (11 April-1 May)

Births:

Scottish footballer Mo Johnston – 13 April