283. Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge over Troubled Water (1970)

The first classic number 1 of the 70s, Bridge over Troubled Water‘s message of the importance of friendship in times of emotional pain made it one of the most famous songs of all time, and yet it did further damage to Simon & Garfunkel’s already strained relationship, and helped quicken their disintegration.

Paul Frederic Simon was born on 13 October 1941 in Newark, New Jersey. Arthur Ira Garfunkel was born 5 November in New York City, also 1941. They grew up three blocks from each other in Queens, New York and attended the same schools and admired The Everly Brothers. They became friends in 1953 when appearing in a sixth grade production of Alice in Wonderland. In addition to forming a street corner doo-wop quintet called The Peptones, Simon and Garfunkel began performing as a duo at school dances. In 1956 they wrote their first song, The Girl for Me and signed with independent label Big Records aged only 15.

As Tom & Jerry (Garfunkel was Tom Graph, Simon was Jerry Landis) the duo had some success with 1957 single Hey Schoolgirl, but were unable to follow it up. While both at university, and still officially a duo, Simon released a single under the name True Taylor. This can be seen as the first crack in their relationship, as it caused some resentment with Garfunkel.

They went their separate ways for some time, recording under a variety of names and working with other acts. Then in 1963, they both graduated from university and began to work together again. By now they had moved on from rock’n’roll and were both enjoying the burgeoning folk scene in Greenwich, and billed themselves as Kane & Garr. One of the songs they would perform was The Sound of Silence. Columbia Records producer Tom Wilson, who later helped Bob Dylan in his transition to electric, was impressed by the duo, and helped get them signed to the label.

In 1964, as Simon & Garfunkel, they recorded their debut LP, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. Featuring compositions by Simon and covers, it bombed, and Simon decided to move to the UK soon after, going solo once more.

Fast forward to 1965, and Simon had released solo album The Paul Simon Songbook, which hadn’t done too well. Garfunkel, who had been to visit his friend in the UK, was at Columbia University. Then everything changed.

The Sound of Silence was gaining in popularity with colleges on the radio, and Wilson decided to make a remix featuring electric instruments and drums, without telling either of them. Simon was horrified when he found out, but then the new folk-rock version hit number 1 in the US in January 1966. He hastily returned to the US, and they reunited to quickly record a new album, Sounds of Silence. Featuring remade versions of tracks from Simon’s solo LP, including I Am a Rock, it was a rush-job, but extremely popular, and they were famous at last.

They decided to take time over their third album, and became more interested in production, while making Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, released that October. With their version of Scarborough Fair/Canticle, and a remade Homeward Bound among the included material, it was one of their best collections.

Simon developed writer’s block while working on the next album, but managed to pen material for Mike Nichols’ smash romantic comedy The Graduate in 1967, including Mrs. Robinson. Fourth album Bookends eventually surfaced in 1968, and included the title track, America and Hazy Shade of Winter.

By now huge recording and touring stars, their partnership began to suffer, thanks in part to Garfunkel’s acting career. Simon was to join him in Nichols’ Catch-22 (1970) but found his part written out. Matters were exacerbated by the filming taking longer than expected. Eventually they began work, with members of The Wrecking Crew and producer Roy Halee on their fifth and final album, turning down an invitation to perform at Woodstock Festival while doing so.

What was to become the title track began originally as a gentle two-verse guitar number that had been inspired in part by a line from 1958 song Mary Don’t You Weep, a gospel track by the Swan Silvertones: ‘I’ll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in me”. Simon later presented singer-songwriter Claude Jetter with a cheque to acknowledge his inspiration. The civil rights unrest and political assassinations in the stormy years leading up to this time also helped Simon come up with a message of hope.

Over the years, the duo have both given different stories over what happened next. Simon claimed he thought it would be perfect as a solo spot for Garfunkel’s angelic voice, but that he didn’t want to do it, and Simon felt hurt. Garfunkel says Simon was gracious when Garfunkel told him politely that he felt Simon should do it as it sounded lovely performed by him. Who knows – but I do know from reading and seeing interviews that both men can be oversensitive and precious.

Simon & Garfunkel, musicians and production crew assembled at CBS studios to work Bridge over Troubled Water out in November 1969. The final track to be recorded for the album, but the first to be completed, it was felt that, as nice as it was, the song should feature an extra verse, and open out to become a real epic in the style of a Phil Spector number. And so Simon wrote the ‘silver girl’ verse at Garfunkel’s suggestion, but wasn’t too keen. While some say it’s a reference to a drug user’s needle, it’s apparently an in-joke – Simon’s wife Peggy Harper had noticed she was turning grey. Simon seems to regret ever adding a third verse, and he’s not alone in that.

Bridge over Troubled Water has been criticised for being calculated and manipulative – a glossy exercise in tugging the heartstrings, and that it’s too epic, too, that it would have been better in its original incarnation. I understand all these points, and it’s certainly been used since in countless covers as the go-to song to make people emotional, but I think it’s simply a beautiful song and that no amount of stories of two stars whose egos were incompatible can spoilt it for me.

Simon is right in that the first verse, in particular, is the most moving. Garfunkel’s always beautiful voice is perfect here, and I admire the technical brilliance of being able to wring every bit of emotion out of each syllable. Garfunkel later claimed this verse took the most amount of takes, whereas the finale was the easiest. Wonderful support on the piano by Larry Knetchel, too. The performance makes me imagine that the person Garfunkel is singing to is so fragile, his almost hushed tones are all they can take.

He/they grow in strength in the second verse, adding meaning to Simon’s already powerful words, and the cymbal crashes from Hal Blaine suggest the message is getting through. Then the strings come in, courtesy of Jimmy Haskell, who had misheard the name of the song and labelled his arrangement Like a Pitcher of Troubled Water. Bass enters the fray, and Blaine gets on the drum kit. Its unclear whether that’s double-tracked singing from Garfunkel or Simon finally getting his voice heard, but I think it’s the former. Yes, the lyrics don’t match what came before, but the music picks up the slack, and then the epic rousing finale, in which Garfunkel gives it his all, leaving the darkness behind, with Blaine creating that unique drum sound by slapping the chains from his snow tyres on to his snare drum (used again on The Boxer). If this track hasn’t at least once made you want to cry when your defences are down (or just very pissed), are you even human?

The song was complete, and despite being over five minutes in length, label boss Clive Davis insisted it was too good to be anything but the first single from the album. He was totally correct, of course. It went to number 1 in the US in February, then the UK a month later, and like Wand’rin’ Star before it, it kept The Beatles’ swansong single, Let It Be, from number 1. Clearly, the mood of the time was for gospel-influenced, big message songs. The Beatles may be the greatest band of all time, but Bridge over Troubled Water was the better song here. It rightfully went on to be one of the biggest-selling singles of all time.

And the album named after the song was also huge. It was the bestseller of 1970, 71 and 72, and until Michael Jackson’s Thriller it was the biggest of all time. But Simon & Garfunkel had had enough of each other for the forseeable. In 1971, the same year their final LP won six awards at the Grammys, they split.

Simon would confess to Bridge over Troubled Water causing him to feel jealous – he resented sitting in the wings watching Garfunkel getting adulation for performing his song. You’d be forgiven for thinking he needed to get over himself. But it’s also proof that you can be an incredible songwriting talent and still be as petty as any other human, I suppose.

The duo got back together in 1972 for a benefit concert for Democrat hopeful George McGovern, but it was another three years before they spoke to each other when they visited a recording session by John Lennon and Harry Nilsson. They collaborated in the studio once more, and came up with a new single, My Little Town, which was a hit. For the rest of the 70s they would occasionally make rare TV and live appearances. Garfunkel would have two UK number 1s, most notably the beautiful Bright Eyes from animated movie Watership Down (1978) – it was number 1 on the day I was born, 19 April 1979.

The 80s began with both Simon and Garfunkel’s solo careers in decline, until they were persuaded to perform at a free concert in Central Park, New York City in 1981. An incredible 500,000 attended the show – the largest ever at the time. They tried to capitalise on the renewed interest with a world tour in 1982, but old tensions rose and they barely spoke to each other throughout. Warner Bros. pushed for a tour extension and reunion album, but after early recording attempts, Simon opted for a new solo LP instead, with Garfunkel’s refusal to give up cannabis among the reasons given. Simon would go on to be very popular for the rest of the decade, particularly for his crossover world music album Graceland in 1986.

Simon & Garfunkel were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and managed to perform three songs together, despite Simon being pretty snide in his speech, and the duo refusing to speak to each other afterwards. A year later Simon did his own Central Park show, pointedly refusing an offer from his former partner to join him there. However in 1993 they were touring once more. Guess what? They fell out again for the rest of the decade.

In 2001 Simon was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a solo artist. He thanked Garfunkel, but ended up saying he wasn’t in a rush to make peace with him, either. Nice. A lifetime achievement Grammy for the old friends/sworn enemies in 2003 resulted in another halt to their Cold War. They toured the US and Europe for a year, and performed at a Hurricane Katrina benefit in 2005. Their final performance as Simon & Garfunkel took place at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2010, with the latter struggling with vocal cord paresis. Further dates were postponed indefinitely, and it would be four years before his voice was back to full strength.

Simon announced his retirement from touring in 2018. Does that mean we’ll never see them on stage ever again? Who knows. They’re both approaching 80, and it seems Simon in particular is unlikely to want to do so, but it would be nice to think they could end their days as friends once more. Hopefully it would be for genuine reasons, rather than the money.

If it doesn’t happen, best to take comfort in the fact the duo were able to produce some brilliant songs, had real alchemy together, and that despite the result it had on their relationship, Bridge over Troubled Water has helped so many people for 50 years.

Among the multitude of covers, it’s been number 1 twice since, for great causes – making up part of A Bridge over You, the 2015 Christmas number 1 by Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Choir, and in its own right in 2017, when stars including Robbie Williams, Rita Ora, Roger Daltrey and Stoemzy united under the banner Artists for Grenfell.

Written by: Paul Simon

Producers: Roy Halee, Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel

Keyboard: Larry Knechtel

Weeks at number 1: 3 (28 March-17 April)

Meanwhile…

April Fool’s Day: Everton won the Football League First Division title.

10 April: Paul McCartney announces that he has left The Beatles, marking the end of the Fab Four.

11 April: Chelsea and Leeds United drew 2–2 in the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium, making it the first to require a replay since 1912.

16 April: The controversial Dr. Ian Paisley entered the Parliament of Northern Ireland after winning the Bannside By-election.

271. Tommy Roe – Dizzy (1969)

By 1969 the kids that were caught up in Beatlemania were outgrowing pop singles. Thanks to the Fab Four, and their contemporaries, albums had replaced singles as the music art form for young adults. Record labels recognised this and pumped money into LPs.

All this left something of a void, and you only have to look at some of the number 1s from the last two years to see that. One genre making waves in the singles chart was ‘bubblegum pop’, largely an invention by labels eager to fill a void. If the teenagers and beyond were mainly buying albums now, then that left a whole new generation to be persuaded into buying pop singles. Bubblegum pop songs tended to be short and upbeat. Gone were overt drug references. Producers were often in charge, churning out material by an assembly line of acts backed by session musicians. One of the most successful of 1969 was an American whose first hit was back in 1962.

Thomas Roe was born on 9 May 1942 in Atlanta, Georgia. Upon graduating, he went to work for General Electric, where he soldered wires. By 1960 he had become Tommy Roe, and unusually, his first album was split between him and another singer, hence the name Whirling with Tommy Roe and Al Tornello. On the album were his first two singles, Caveman and Sheila, in which Roe mimicked the vocal stylings of Buddy Holly. Neither charted.

However, two years later, the latter was re-recorded, made the title track of his first full album, and became a resounding success. It topped the charts in the US, Canada and Australia, and reached number three in the UK. ABC-Paramount asked him to go on tour to promote it, but he was reluctant to give up his day job until they gave him an advance.

The Beatles were fans of Sheila, and began covering it. In early 1963, they supported Roe and Chris Montez on their joint headlining tour. New Musical Express reported that both singers were being upstaged by John, Paul, George and Ringo. He had two further UK hits later that year – Everybody and The Folk Singer. Roe decided to move to London, but the Beat boom was happening so fast, he couldn’t keep up, and there were no further chart appearances on these shores, even though Sweet Pea and Hooray for Hazel did well elsewhere in 1966.

Then came Dizzy. Roe had co-written this pop tune about budding love with Freddy Weller, guitarist with US rock band Paul Revere & the Raiders. Weller had ambitions to be a solo artist, and around this time he released his debut single, a cover of Joe South’s Games People Play. Top US session musicians The Wrecking Crew provided the backing on Dizzy, including the late, great Hal Blaine on drums.

I adore Dizzy. But not this version. The first single I ever bought on cassette was the number 1 cover in 1991 by my favourite comedian at the time, Vic Reeves, with Brummie indie outfit The Wonder Stuff.

Roe’s Dizzy is a rare instance of an original being worse than a cover. I was so disappointed to hear a slight, awkward attempt at psychedelic pop, that is, by comparison, terribly leaden. Very odd for The Wrecking Crew to sound so dull. It has a slightly sickly feeling to it, making the title rather appropriate. Everything is slightly off, apart from Jimmie Haskell’s string arrangement, which was neatly copied in 1991.

Amazingly, six years after being upstaged, Roe got his revenge, and he knocked The Beatles from the top spot, and Dizzy went to pole position in the US and Canada too. Despite its weirdness, it was catchy enough to capture the public’s imagination after all. And yet, after one week, he was knocked off his perch by… the bloody Beatles.

Although Roe continued to have hits elsewhere, his chart action in the UK was soon over once more. Eventually he ended up on the nostalgia circuit with acts like Bobby Vee. In the late-70s and 80s he moved into releasing country material.

Roe’s final album, Confectioner’s, was released in 2017. He announced his retirement on his Facebook page in 2018.

Written by: Tommy Roe & Freddy Weller

Producer: Steve Barri

Strings arranged by: Jimmy Haskell

Weeks at number 1: 1 (4-10 June)

250. The Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett – Young Girl (1968)

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The Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett enjoyed four weeks at number 1 with their controversial (now, not so much then) hit Young Girl.

Lead singer Puckett was born in Hibbing, Minnesota on 17 October 1942, but grew up in Yakima, Washington, close to Union Gap. Puckett learnt to play guitar in his teens, and dropped out of college in the early 60s to play in local bands. One of these, The Outcasts, were a hard rock band that made two singles, but got nowhere.

Following their inevitable split, Puckett formed a new group. The amusingly named Gary and the Remarkables featured Kerry Chater on bass, Gary ‘Mutha’ Withem on keyboards, Dwight Bememt on tenor saxophone and Paul Wheatbread on drums.

By 1966 the group were touring the Pacific Northwest. Their manager, Dick Badger (!) renamed them The Union Gap in early 1967. Thanks to The Beatles, it became fashionable to dress in military uniform, so Badger had the Union Gap start wearing Union Army-style Civil War uniforms as their gimmick. Record producer and songwriter Jerry Fuller was impressed with their demo and signed them to CBS Records.

In November 1967 they released their debut single as The Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett. Woman, Woman concerned a man who feared his lover would cheat on him. It was a hit in the US, and they followed it up with Young Girl, written and produced by Fuller. It isn’t clear who in the band played on the single, as members of The Wrecking Crew were involved, but that’s the late, great Hal Blaine playing drums.

There’s few songs less appropriate to be caught listening to in the #metoo era. Featuring an impressively earnest tenor vocal from Puckett, the protagonist has been fooling around with a girl who it turns out is younger than he thought. At least, that’s his side of the story… And now he knows the truth, he’s telling her to run away. That in itself might sound like he’s trying to do the right thing, at least. But it’s more complicated than that.

Are we to believe that the girl hid her age so well, it wasn’t even an issue worth considering, that the singer should maybe ask her about? Apparently not. This was unfortunately a situation many pop and rock stars found themselves in, and has been oft-excused as ‘a different time’. Indeed, if the media chose to, many of the most iconic musicians of the 20th century could have their legacies destroyed with reports of underage sex. It’s something the general public seem to prefer to turn a blind eye to. Even now, people are struggling to know whether to continue to listen to Michael Jackson’s music, myself included.

But I digress, back to the song. I hadn’t listened too hard to the lyrics before, but the singer’s lament becomes more troublesome as it goes on, with some decidedly iffy lyrics in the last two verses in particular.

I’m talking about: ‘Beneath your perfume and your make-up/You’re just a baby in disguise’ and ‘Get out of here/Before I have the time/To change my mind/’Cause I’m afraid we’ll go too far’

Oh dear. So despite learning she’s ‘much too young’, the singer is still really horny for her, and is going to struggle to rein in his primal urges. There goes any goodwill that may have been left, then. Which is a shame, as it’s a slick piece of pop with a great chorus, and Puckett’s voice really soars. Ah, well, not worth worrying too much about it, there’s thankfully plenty of number 1s which don’t concern suspected paedophiles, luckily. Although sadly, there’s also far too many that do.

After Young Girl performed so well on both sides of the Atlantic, the Union Gap, who changed their billing to Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, decided their purpose was to continue with songs about relationship problems. They had another UK hit with Lady Willpower, but other singles including Over You only did well in the US. Their reputation really isn’t helped by the fact they had a single in 1969 called This Girl Is a Woman Now

By this point, Gary Puckett & The Union Gap had stopped working with Fuller as they had grown tired of the formulaic power ballads. But by ditching them, they also damaged their careers. With ever dwindling chart positions, Chater and Withem departed. Bement became the bassist, with Barry McCoy the new keyboardist and Richard Gabriel playing the horn, but it was too late.

In 1970 Puckett chose to go solo, confusingly, keeping The Union Gap as his backing band, until sacking them in 1971. A year later, he was ditched by his label.

For the rest of the 70s, Puckett studied acting and dance and performed in productions around Las Vegas. From 1981 onwards he returned to music, becoming a permanent fixture on the oldies circuit, with a different backing group, sometimes referred to as the Union Gap. He was support act for the reformed Monkees (minus Nesmith) in 1986… which must have led to some very weird, creepy performances of Young Girl to middle-aged fans. The rest of the original group disappeared into obscurity.

Written & produced by: Jerry Fuller

Weeks at number 1: 4 (22 May-18 June)

Arranged & conducted by: Al Capps

Births:

Journalist Rebekah Brooks – 27 May
Journalist Ekow Eshun – 27 May
Scottish peer Torquhil Ian Campbell, 13th Duke of Argyll – 29 May
Labour MP Jessica Morden – 29 May
Comedian John Culshaw – 2 June
Conservative MP Edward Vaizey – 5 June
Actress Sarah Parish – 7 June
Novelist Marcel Theroux – 13 June
Journalist Samira Ahmed – 15 June

Deaths:

Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service Major General Sir Stewart Menzies – 29 May

Meanwhile…

29 May: Manchester United become the first English team to win the European Cup after defeating Benfica 4-1 in extra time at Wembley Stadium.

7 June: The start of the Ford sewing machinists strike at the Dagenham assembly plant. Female workers had understandably had enough of earning less than their male co-workers. The strike garnered much publicity, ending three weeks later, and was a key reason for the passing of the Equal Pay Act of 1970. As we know though, this didn’t really change anything unfortunately.

8 June: James Earl Ray, the killer of civil rights legend Martin Luther King Jr, was arrested as he attempted to leave London at Heathrow Airport. He was then extradited to Tennessee.

10 June: The National Health Service reintroduced charges to prescriptions.

18 June: Frederick West, Britain’s first heart transplant patient, died 46 days after his operation.

236. Scott McKenzie – San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) (1967)

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‘San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant…’

If a raging, savage cynic like Hunter S Thompson could write so warmly about San Francisco in 1971’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, then it must have indeed been quite a place. After two homegrown Summer of Love anthems from Procul Harum and The Beatles, the third that summer to hit number 1 came from US singer-songwriter Scott McKenzie with his tribute to the hippies of the Golden City.

McKenzie was born with the very un-hippy-like name Philip Wallach Blondheim III in Jacksonville Florida on 10 January 1939. When only six months old the family moved to Asheville, North Carolina. At school he became friends with John Phillips, future member of The Mamas & the Papas and writer of this number 1 you’re reading about. In the mid-50s Blondheim sang with Tim Rose in The Singing Strings at high school, and later formed doo-wop group The Abstracts with Phillips, Mike Boran and Bill Cleary.

The Abstracts soon became The Smoothies and they signed with Decca Records. Around this time, Blondheim decided if he was ever going to be famous he needed to change his name. Comedian Jackie Curtis said he looked like a Scottie dog. He has a point, but I’d say he looks more like a Spaniel. Anyway, from then onwards he became Scott McKenzie (McKenzie was the name of Phillips’s daughter).

During the folk revival of the early-60s, McKenzie and Phillips teamed up with Dick Weissman to form The Journeymen. They recorded three albums for Capitol Records, but failed to ignite the charts and so they disbanded in 1964. McKenzie and Weissman went solo, while Phillips formed The New Journeymen, who eventually morphed into The Mamas & the Papas. McKenzie was offered the chance to join them, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to cope with the pressure and declined. He did however audition to join The Monkees, but was rejected for looking too old at 24.

In the spring of 1967, Phillips, along with music producer Lou Adler, Alan Pariser and Beatles and Beach Boys press spokesman Derek Taylor planned the first major rock festival, inspired by the Monterey Jazz Festival. Celebrating the counterculture, the Monterey International Pop Festival was planned for 16-18 June at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey, California. Phillips may have been a hippy, but he was also a budding businessman. Some of the psychedelic era’s biggest acts agreed to play for free, including Jefferson Airplane, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who, The Grateful Dead, The Mamas & the Papas (of course) and Otis Redding. Documented in a famous film by DA Pennebaker, without Monterey we may have never had the music festival culture we have today.

With Phillips being such a canny businessman, he could see the way the wind was blowing, and decided, why stop there? He wanted a song to promote the festival, and hopefully make him a lot more money in the process. So he wrote San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) in 20 minutes to promote his project. Perhaps deciding it would look too cynical to get his group to record it, he asked McKenzie, who was an unknown by comparison. Members of The Wrecking Crew were hired as backing, with Phillips and Adler co-producing. Phillips also provided guitars and sitar. The song was released that May.

It’s looked down upon these days for not being a cynical marketing tool, but I don’t mind San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair). The lyrics are a little cheesy and bland, but it’s well-produced, with Gary L Coleman’s orchestral bells and chimes making for an atmospheric sound, and together with McKenzie’s wistful vocal, it makes for a strangely downbeat tune, seemingly mourning the passing of the hippy movement while it was at its peak.

It’s an unusual number 1, and it was certainly a case of ‘right place, right time’. Strangely, it didn’t get to number 1 in the US, despite him performing it at the festival, so I’m guessing that San Francisco must have seemed to many Brits to be a mystical, out-of-reach paradise, and buoyed on by the success of Procul Harum and The Beatles, McKenzie’s folk song seemed a suitable way to follow up the mood of hippy celebration that summer. It even inspired the first Bee Gees number 1, Massachusetts.

Scott McKenzie would remain a one-hit wonder. The follow-up, a re-release of his debut single, Look in Your Eyes, failed to chart once more. Phillips co-wrote and co-produced Like an Old Time Movie, but that and debut album The Voice of Scott McKenzie, didn’t capture the public mood. But McKenzie was aware of the fact he just wasn’t a natural pop star, and after his second album Stained Glass Morning in 1970, he retired.

McKenzie resurfaced in the 80s and rode the nostalgia wave of the baby boomers as part of the new version of the Mamas & the Papas, and then in 1988 he co-wrote the risible Beach Boys hit Kokomo with Terry Melcher, Mike Love and Phillips for the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail.

In 1998 McKenzie left The Mamas & the Papas and retired once more. He appeared at the Los Angeles tribute concert for Phillips in 2001. Nine years later he began suffering from Guillain–Barré syndrome, which would eventually claim his life on 18 August 2012 at the age of 73.

Written by: John Phillips

Producer: Lou Adler & John Phillips

Weeks at number 1: 4 (9 August-5 September) 

Births:

Scottish ice hockey player Tony Hand – 15 August 
Footballer Michael Thomas – 24 August
Conservative MP Greg Clark – 28 August
Comedy actor Steve Pemberton – 1 September
Field hockey player Jane Sixsmith – 5 September 

Deaths:

Playwright Joe Orton – 9 August (see below)
The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein – 27 August (see below)

Meanwhile…

9 August: Playwright Joe Orton was battered to death by his lover Kenneth Halliwell at their North London home. Halliwell then committed suicide.

14 August: The Marine & Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967 declared participation in offshore pirate radio in the UK illegal. Wonderful Radio London closed down that afternoon with one last song – A Day in the Life by The Beatles.

17 August: Coventry City, who had been promoted to the Football League First Division for the first time, lost their manager when Jimmy Hill announced he was leaving his position to become a television pundit.

27 August: Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles died of an overdose aged only 32. This comes as a surprise to me now, as I assumed he was a fair bit older.

28 August: The first late summer holiday on the last Monday of the month occurred in England and Wales, replacing the previous holiday, which happened on the first Monday of the month. Bet it rained.

226. The Beach Boys – Good Vibrations (1966)

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We’re nearly at the end of 1966 now, and it’s been great to hear the quality, innovation and strength of so many brilliant number 1 singles. Like 1965, at times it’s been classic after classic. I envy anyone who was young and into pop at the time, it must have been incredible. We may well already be at the peak year of the number 1 singles from 1952 to the present day. And there’s one more classic to cover. One of the best, in fact. There’s certainly an argument that Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys is the high watermark in pop invention. How did they get to this point?

Brian Wilson was born 20 June 1942 in California. Growing up in Hawthorne, by the time he was 16 he was sharing a bedroom with his brothers Dennis (13) and Carl (11). Their father Murry was a pianist, and his appreciation of music rubbed off on his sons, in particular Brian, who would teach his brothers how to sing harmonies.

The elder Wilson’s life changed forever that year when he received a reel-to-reel tape recorder for his birthday. Soon he was recording he, his mother Audree Neva and Carl singing, and overdubbing himself on piano, along with Carl and their neighbour David Marks on guitars. Brian began to write songs and through family gatherings got to know his cousin, Mike Love. While attending Hawthorne High School, the duo got to know Al Jardine, and before long the trio, along with Carl and Dennis (who was always the most reluctant to join in), had formed The Pendletones, with a tough taskmaster in Murry as their manager.

Dennis may not have been too fussed about The Pendletones, but it was he who suggested Brian write songs about surfing, as he was the only avid surfer in the group. Brian came up with Surfin’ and he and Love wrote Surfin’ Safari together. The former became their first single, on Candix Records in November 1961. The label wanted to call them the Surfers, but that name had been taken, so they dubbed them The Beach Boys. The release was so successful, Candix couldn’t cope and were made bankrupt, and that New Year’s Eve, The Beach Boys played their first gig.

Six months later they signed with Capitol Records and Surfin’ Safari was their new single and title track of their debut album, released in October. Jardine left the group to become a dentist, to be replaced by Marks.

1963 may have been the year of Beatlemania in the UK, but The Beach Boys were a US phenomenon once third single Surfin’ USA hit the top 10. The album of the same name swiftly followed and they were away. Brian started to begin showing an interest in the studio, choosing to double track their vocals to beef up the sound. The Beach Boys may have seemed like a one-trick pony at the time with their sun-kissed hymns to the surf, but they were certainly prolific, releasing two more albums that year – Surfer Girl and Little Deuce Coupe, and Christmas single Little Saint Nick. Jardine returned, and Marks left a few months later.

1964 was a transitional year, and the British Invasion was a big reason for this. Suddenly surf music was out of fashion. The fact they were signed to the same label as The Beach Boys in the US won’t have helped either. Brian was rattled, and wasn’t as keen on the Fab Four back then, preferring the complex production skills of Phil Spector. Murry was sacked, and Brian hit back with I Get Around, which became their first US number 1. The album that followed, All Summer Long, was meant as a goodbye to the surf sound of old, and the instrumentation was becoming more exotic. The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album rounded off the year, but Brian’s mental state was deteriorating.

1965 began with Wilson announcing his retirement from touring after an anxiety attack. He was replaced by Glenn Campbell, and instead he would concentrate on songwriting and production. This coincided with him developing an interest in drugs. Next album, The Beach Boys Today! in March, featured uptempo tracks on side one, and ballads on two. Brian’s lyrics were now focusing on his neuroses and insecurities. California Girls and Help Me Rhonda featured on Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!). At the end of the year, their live-in-the-studio album Beach Boys’ Party! featured their hit cover of Barbara Ann, and standalone single The Little Girl I Once Knew showcased where they were headed next – Pet Sounds.

Their most famous album, with words from jingle writer Tony Asher, raised the bar both sonically and lyrically, and contained some of their greatest songs – some of the most beautiful songs of all time in fact – namely Wouldn’t It Be Nice, Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder) and especially God Only Knows. A song so good, some friends and I named our club night after it, and some guy called Paul McCartney called it the greatest song of all time. Pet Sounds was released in May 1966, and Brian Wilson was now being hailed as a genius. What the public didn’t know was that he was already at work on a single like no other.

Good Vibrations was inspired by his mother. Andree would talk to Brian about vibrations when he was a child, and it would both fascinate and frighten him at the same time. He played what became the chorus to Asher on the piano to see if he could add some lyrics, but his ideas were discarded. He did however manage to steer Wilson away from calling it Good Vibes, wisely suggesting that ‘Vibrations’ wouldn’t date. Van Dyke Parks, who worked on the ill-fated SMiLE album, was also asked, but declined. Although the track was still in its formative stages, Brian knew he wanted an Electro-Theremin from its early stages. It’s not a true theremin as such – the instrument is controlled by a knob, rather than hovering your hand over it to produce that brilliant sound.

At the time, Good Vibrations was the most expensive song ever produced. Unusually, Brian Wilson crafted a single song as though he was working on a whole album, recording fragments of the track here and there, without an overall idea of how the song would even finsh up. Work began in February, with a full instrumental version finished in March. But it was very different to the finished version, and sounded like a funky R’n’B version. For instrumentation, The Beach Boys used members of the famed Wrecking Crew session musicians, who had already played on many number 1s, with more to come.

Work was paused for a spell while Wilson finished up producing Pet Sounds, and he returned to the single in April. At times, the nervous, sensitive Brian wondered what he was doing, and considered either letting Wilson Pickett record it or abandoning the song altogether, but was persuaded by his friend David Anderle to commit to it being the band’s next single. Understandably, some other Beach Boys members were reticent too, and worried that Brian’s ditching of accessibility would result in a resounding flop.

Normally I’d have put money on Mike Love being the most ardent critic, because, as we all know, Love has proven himself to be a dick on many occasions. However, Love was spot on in recognising that this ‘pocket symphony’, as their new press spokesman Derek Taylor (who also worked for The Beatles) called it, could have real appeal to the rising hippy movement. The lyrics he crafted were perfect.

Indeed, you can slate Love all you like, but that opening couplet, sung by Carl Wilson (Dennis was supposed to be main vocalist but fell ill with laryngitis so Carl stepped in), is spine-tingling. ‘I, I love the colourful clothes she wears/And the way the sunlight plays upon her hair’ sets the tone and, combined with the organ notes, you just know that you’re going to hear something really special. By playing with psychedelic imagery that matches the sound, yet grounding its theme in a love song, he makes the track appeal to everyone – no mean feat, as the track goes off on weird tangents like no hit single ever had. Also central to the tune’s brilliance is that wonderful, classic Beach Boys chorus. The Electro-Theremin still adds an electricity to the track, but those vocals, led by Love’s bass vocal, hark back to all their early surf songs.

At 1.41 you get the first tape splice. Some say it’s, by today’s standards, rather primitive, but not me. Suddenly, we’re in unchartered territory, and the tune loosens up and trips out as Love sings ‘I don’t know where but she sends me there’ over magical sounds made by cellos, organs, sleigh bells – so much is thrown into the mix it’s hard to really know.

Then, my favourite section. At 2.13, just when you think the track may revert to the chorus or a verse, everything comes to a halt, save for a maraca and low organ. We’re a long, long way from the orchestral ballads of the early 50s, from rock’n’roll, from Beatlemania, from everything. This could have caused the song to completely cave in, but Wilson times everything perfectly. Eventually the vocals kick in again, but it stays low key, with a harmonica joining in. And then, as we approach the three-minute mark, we get a blissful ‘aaaaah!’ and the chorus finally returns. Love the cello sound we hear soon afterwards – I’m a sucker for cellos.

Then, just as we think this symphony could go absolutely anywhere, the song fades out abruptly, and all too soon. That’s my only issue with Good Vibrations, that end fade. Well, that, and I love the extra, wordless vocal you get before the final chorus on some versions, and left in the new version Wilson included on Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE, released in 2004. That remake is an interesting listen, incidentally. I’m not sure if it’s due to the fall-out with Love, but Wilson opted for very different lyrics in the verses. They’re good, and the remake is very good in general, but they don’t beat Love’s.

You could argue that Brian Wilson paid the price with Good Vibrations and the aborted SMiLE, and was never the same again. But his loss was our gain, and how. All pathways were now open. The Beach Boys were on a creative par with the Beatles, and so began a psychedelic friendly war between the two groups that would result in Wilson losing his mind.

Written by: Brian Wilson & Mike Love

Producer: Brian Wilson

Weeks at number 1: 2 (17-30 November)

216. Frank Sinatra – Strangers in the Night (1966)

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Returning to number 1 for the first time in 12 years (easily the longest gap up to this point) was Frank Sinatra, with one of his least favourite songs, that is nevertheless one of his most famous, Strangers in the Night.

Since his last chart-topper, Three Coins in the Fountain, he had released some of his most famous LPs – 1955’s In the Wee Small Hours and Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! in 1956. The title track to 1958’s Come Fly with Me became one of his best-known tracks. By the end of the decade the leader of the Rat Pack was so famous he was invited to be Master of Ceremonies at a dinner for Soviet Union President Nikita Krushchev.

In 1960, in order to give himself and other performers more artistic freedom, a discontented Sinatra left Capitol to form Reprise Records and began working with Quincy Jones in addition to his usual collaborator Nelson Riddle. By the time he turned 50 in 1965 he was immensely popular once more, performing with Rat Pack pals Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin at The Frank Sinatra Spectacular, transmitted live to movie theatres across the US. It Was a Very Good Year (which earned him a Grammy Award) and That’s Life, both very popular singles, showcased a reflective side to Ol’ Blue Eyes.

Which brings us to Strangers in the Night. Several men have claimed ownership over the years, but it’s still Bert Kaempfert’s name on the credits. The German conductor had connections to music’s biggest stars, having co-written Elvis Presley’s awful Wooden Heart, and it was he that hired the Beatles to back Tony Sheridan on his album My Bonnie.

The melody to Strangers in the Night was originally called Beddy Bye and was used a part of the instrumental score to the comedy A Man Could Get Killed (1966). English lyrics came from Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder, and one of the film’s stars, Melina Mercouri, was supposed to get first crack at it, but she declined. Sinatra’s version was recorded on 11 April, a month before work began on the rest of the album, and among the personnel were Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine and future star Glenn Campbell on rhythm guitar.

Despite its success, Sinatra not only disliked Strangers in the Night, he seemingly spent the rest of his career running it down. So why record it? Well, he needed a hit single. His albums were selling well, but singles were more important to the industry in 1966. He called it ‘a piece of shit’ when it was first played to him, but then he heard his rival Jack Jones had recorded it, and he was determined to outperform him in the charts. ‘The Voice’ was on cruise control during the recording, and as the track was about to fade, he performed the famous scat ‘dooby dooby doo’ etc. This was probably a sign of how little he regarded the song, but it became famous, and even inspired the name of the crime-fighting dog Scooby-Doo.

My opinion of Strangers in the Night lies somewhere inbetween popular opinion and Frank. It’s a nice melody, and its better than his first number 1, but he also recorded many better songs down the years. I guess a large part of its popularity may lie in the romance of the lyrics. The idea of two strangers falling in love upon first sight in the dark and then staying together all their lives is enduring.

It’s fair enough if Ol’ Blue Eyes didn’t like the song, but the homophobia he displayed at the time can’t help but spoil any enjoyment I might have. He apparently thought it was about ‘two fags in a bar’, and in a concert in Jerusalem in 1975 he changed the lyrics to ‘love was just a glance away, a lonesome pair of pants away’. Not only that, he believed Campbell was giving him the eye during the recording and insulted him. His disdain didn’t fade over the years either. When he introduced it at a concert in the Dominican Republic in 1982 he called it ‘the worst fucking song I’ve ever heard’

Nonetheless, it did the job at the time and spent three weeks at the top, and the album of the same name was one of his biggest sellers. Not bad going for ‘a piece of shit’.

Written by: Bert Kaempfert/Charles Singleton & Eddie Snyder (English lyrics)

Producer: Jimmy Bowen

Weeks at number 1: 3 (2-22 June)

Births:

Playwright Mark Ravenhill – 7 June
Actor Samuel West – 19 June 
Rally driver Michael Park – 22 June 

Meanwhile…

6 June: Johnny Speight’s long-running sitcom Till Death Us Do Part was first transmitted on BBC One. Starring Warren Mitchell as the bigoted Alf Garnett, it ran well until 1975, with a spin-off, In Sickness and in Health, transmitted from 1985 to 1992.

210. Nancy Sinatra (Arranged by Billy Strange) – These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ (1966)

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On 17 February, Nancy Sinatra began a month at number 1 with Lee Hazelwood’s These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, which finally brought a much-needed dose of feminism to the top of the charts.

The eldest daughter of Frank Sinatra and his first wife Nancy Barbato, Sinatra was born in Jersey City, New Jersey on 8 June 1940. When she was five her legendary father immortalised her in song with Nancy (with the Laughing Face). He clearly wanted her to follow in his footsteps, and she spent much of her childhood having singing, piano, dance and drama lessons.

In the late-50s she was studying music, dancing and voice at the University of California, but she dropped out and in 1960 and appeared on the television special The Frank Sinatra Timex Show: Welcome Home Elvis. She was sent to the airport on behalf of Frank to welcome Presley back from his stint in the army, and performed alongside her father in a rendition of You Make Me Feel So Young/Old (delete as applicable).

In 1961 Sinatra signed to her father’s label, Reprise Records and released her debut single Cuff Links and a Tie Clip. Besides a few chart appearances in Europe and Japan, she was going nowhere, and by 1965 she was on the verge of being dropped. It was around this time that Reprise introduced her to Lee Hazlewood.

Hazelwood was best known up to this point for his work with rockabilly guitarist Duane Eddy, and he produced Peter Gunn and Rebel Rouser, among others. He had written These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ with the intention of recording it himself. It’s more than fair it would have had a fraction of the impact if this had been the case. In an article for Los Angeles Magazine in 2016, Sinatra recalled Hazelwood had come over to her parents’ house to audition songs for her. The minute he played the infamous bass line on his guitar, she was hooked. But ‘he said, “It’s not really a girl’s song. I sing it myself onstage.” I told him that coming from a guy it was harsh and abusive, but was perfect for a little girl to sing. He agreed. When he left, my father, who had been sitting in the living room reading the paper, said, “The song about the boots is best.”’

Sinatra recorded the song on 19 November 1965 in Hollywood, with The Wrecking Crew providing the backing. Hazlewood’s idea to have her sing it in a lower register was a genius move, as was that slinky descending, dare I say, groovy opening. Sinatra’s had enough of her lover’s cheating ways despite his promises to change. What makes it so effective, and revolutionary at the time, is the fact she isn’t angry, or sad. She’s cool, calm, collected and entirely in charge, and it’s for these reasons (along with the boots imagery, obviously) that make These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ so sexy. A sexy number 1 by a female artist – how many times had that happened up to this point? Sinatra’s father famously denounced pop in the 60s, which is ironic, considering his own daughter helped invent modern female pop as we know it. I’m not going to mention ‘girl power’. Oh, I just did.

Sinatra’s image change to help her promote the song also pioneered 60s fashion, and there’s good reason the track is used in spoof spy film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). Her bleached-blonde hair, heavy eye make-up, mini-skirt and boots are the epitomy of 60s glamour, and the film she made for the track, with go-go dancers parading behind her, is truly iconic.

Written & produced by: Lee Hazelwood

Weeks at number 1: 4 (17 February-16 March)

Births:

Comedian Ben Miller – 24 February 
Comedian Alan Davies – 6 March 
Politician Gregory Barker – 8 March 
Author Alastair Reynolds – 13 March 

Deaths:

Conservative MP Viscount Astor – 8 March 

Meanwhile…

17 February: The fall-out from Rhodesia continued through the rest of the winter, with the UK protesting to South Africa over its supplying of petrol to the country.

28 February: Prime Minister Harold Wilson announced a snap general election for 31 March.

2 March: Chancellor James Callaghan announced the decimalisation of the pound, which would come into effect on 15 February 1971.

5 March: BOAC Flight 911 crashed during severe turbulence over Mount Fuji soon after taking off from Tokyo International Airport in Japan. All 124 on board were killed.

9 March: Gangster Ronnie Kray, one half of infamous East End criminal duo the Kray Twins, shot dead George Cornell, an associate of the rival Richardson Gang.

11 March: Chi-Chi, London Zoo’s giant panda, was flown to Moscow to get it on with Moscow Zoo’s An-An. Wonder if they played them the number 1 of the time?

201. Sonny & Cher – I Got You Babe (1965)

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Bands like The Beatles and The Byrds were on the cutting edge of the rise of the hippy movement, but Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe was a very mainstream anthem for the ‘love generation’. Although Cher has hit number 1 several times during her subsequent solo career, this was the duo’s sole chart-topper together.

Salvatore Bono was born 16 February 1935 in Detroit to Italian parents. His mother gave him the nickname ‘Sonny’ that remained for the rest of his life. At the age of seven his family moved to Inglewood, California. He attended high school there, but dropped out to concentrate on music. While trying to break into the business he tried various jobs, including being a waiter and a butcher’s helper. He began his music career at Speciality Records, where he wrote Things You Do to Me for Sam Cooke. By the early 60s Bono found himself working for Phil Spector as a promotion man, percussionist and gofer at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood. In November 1962 he met 16-year-old Cherilynn Sarkisian in an LA coffee shop.

Sarkisian had been born on 20 May 1946 in El Centro, California. Her father John was a half-Armenian, half-American truck driver with drink and gambling problems, and her mother Jackie Crouch was an occasional model and actress with Irish, English, German and Cherokee ancestry. Their relationship was stormy and they divorced when Cherilynn was only 10 months old. Crouch changed her name to Georgia Holt and had several more rocky marriages and divorces while moving her family around the country. They were so poor, Cherilynn’s shoes were held together with rubber bands at one point. By the time she was nine she had devloped an unusually low voice and a love of showbusiness. She fell in love with Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and began developing an outrageous persona.

At 16 she dropped out of school, left home and moved to Los Angeles with a friend, and that’s where she met 27-year-old Sonny Bono. They quickly bonded, and Bono introduced her to Spector, who let her become a backing singer on several important records, including The Ronettes’ Be My Baby (and just before hitting the big time, The Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’). Bono got a taste of success in 1963 when he co-wrote Needles and Pins with Jack Nitzsche, which became a UK number 1 for The Searchers in 1964. Also that year, Spector produced her first single, Ringo, I Love You under the name Bonnie Jo Mason. The Beatlemania cash-in flopped.

Bono and Sarkisian became lovers, and wed unofficially in a hotel room in Tijuana, Mexico later in 1964.  Bono wanted her to be a solo star but she suffered stage fright and encouraged him to perform too. They became Caesar & Cleo, but three singles bombed. At the same time, he produced some solo singles for her. The second, released in 1965, was a cover of Bob Dylan’s All I Really Want to Do, and it faced a chart battle with a version by The Byrds. It did well in the US, and by the time of her first solo album she was known as Cher. As a duo, they became Sonny & Cher and worked on their debut album, Look at Us. Among the material was Bono’s upbeat answer to Dylan’s break-up song It Ain’t Me Babe. Members of session musician legends The Wrecking Crew were assembled to provide the backing.

Sonically, the duo’s time working with Spector was clearly an influence on the production of I Got You Babe. It’s a less lavish version of his Wall of Sound, but similar in dynamics with the way it builds to what seems a climax, before falling back on itself. Sonny & Cher are no Righteous Brothers, though. That might be harsh on Cher, who we all know has a powerful set of lungs, but Bono’s fooling nobody with his ‘poor man’s Dylan’ vocals. However, he serves his purpose and gives the song an everyman appeal. It’s easy to see how they charmed audiences, and I Got You Babe is very hard to dislike. A lot of that is down to that hook throughout the song, but what exactly is it? After researching, I still don’t know, but it seems it’s either an ocarina or an oboe. So, at least I’ve narrowed it down to ‘something probably beginning with o’.

This simplistic take on flower power made Sonny & Cher huge stars in the UK. It was The Rolling Stones who suggested they come here, noting that, at the time, being stars in Britain first would give them a better chance in America. Their colourful, proto-hippy outfits turned heads on these shores.

Further hits for the duo and Cher alone followed, including The Beat Goes On for the former and Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) for the latter. But despite their bell-bottoms and fluffy vests, they began to look rather square by the end of the 60s. Cher loved the heavier sound of bands like Led Zeppelin, but Sonny was having none of it. Their relationship suffered but they officially married in 1969 after she gave birth to their daughter Chastity.

The duo moved into TV in 1971 and The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour was a hit for three years. They ran into relationship difficulties in 1972 but kept up appearances until they divorced in 1975. Despite reuniting for TV series The Sonny & Cher Show, the duo were effectively no more, certainly musically, as Cher carried on as a solo artist. Sonny Bono went into acting, including appearances in Airplane II: The Sequel (1982) and Hairspray (1988). They performed for the last time on Late Night with David Letterman in 1987, where they sang I Got You Babe.

As Cher became a huge star once more, Bono moved into politics after becoming frustrated with the red tape involved in opening a restaurant in Palm Springs, California. He served four years as their mayor, before running for the United States Senate. He was eventually elected to the House of Representatives in 1994 and managed to get a copywright extension law named after him. At some point, he also became a scientologist, but according to his last wife Mary, he tried to break away but they made life difficult for him. The Church denies this.

Bono was killed on 5 January in 1998 when he hit a tree while skiing in California. Although Cher had proved she could be a superstar without him, and there may have still been some ill feeling between the duo over the years, she performed a eulogy at his funeral. Despite Cher’s fame, the baby boomers will always associate her with I Got You Babe. The epitaph on Sonny Bono’s headstone reads ‘AND THE BEAT GOES ON’.

And I Got You Babe goes on too. 20 years after first hitting the top, it went to number 1 in 1985. UB40 recorded it with Chrissie Hynde, and my God, was it dull. The original, memorable enough as it was, became forever immortalised in the romantic comedy Groundhog Day (1993), as the first thing weatherman Phil Connors hears every morning for years on end. He should have been grateful it wasn’t UB40’s version.

Written & produced by: Sonny Bono

Weeks at number 1: 2 (26 August-8 September)

Births:

Boxer Lennox Lewis – 2 September 

Deaths:

Speaker of the House of Commons Harry Hylton-Foster – 2 September

199. The Byrds – Mr Tambourine Man (1965)

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The Animals had kick-started folk rock when they covered The House of the Rising Sun, but this single took folk rock to a whole new level. Californian band The Byrds were also heavily influenced by The Beatles, who in turn would be influenced by them. Music was about to get a lot more colourful.

The origin of The Byrds began in 1964 when Jim McGuinn, Gene Clark and David Crosby first worked together. All three had previously been folk singers on the coffeehouse circuit in the early-1960s. McGuinn had also worked as a professional singwriter at Brill Building, and his tutor was Bobby Darin, a UK number 1 artist twice.

By the time 1964 began, McGuinn had introduced Beatles songs to his repertoire. Clark also loved the moptops, and approached McGuinn after watching him perform at LA’s Troubadour folk club. They decided to become a Peter and Gordon-style duo and also wrote their own material. David Crosby in turn approached them after a concert, and he began harmonising with them on stage. They named themselves The Jet Set due to McGuinn’s love of aeronautics, and began recording demos.

By mid-1964 they had hired a drummer. Michael Clarke certainly looked the part, coming across like Brian Jones, but he could barely play the congas and didn’t own a drumkit, so he played cardboard boxes and a tambourine to begin with. They hired session musicians to record a single, Please Let Me Love You, and briefly changed their name to The Beefeaters to cash in on the British Invasion, but it didn’t chart. That August their manager Jim Dickson had got hold of an acetate of Bob Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man.

Dylan had written the track earlier that year and first recorded it during the sessions for Another Side of Bob Dylan. His version was four verses of beautiful, surrealistic imagery, with lyrics completely different to anything that had topped the charts before. Dylan was fast becoming as hip and influential as The Beatles, and of course Zimmerman and the Fab Four soon crossed paths.

Despite this, The Jet Set weren’t really sure what to make of it at first. They changed the time signature and cut right back to one verse, but still had doubts. In an effort to persuade them, Dickson brought Dylan along to watch them play his song. According to Johnny Rogan in his book The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (1998), an uncharacteristically enthusiastic Dylan said to the Jet Set ‘Wow, man! You can dance to that!’. His postivity rubbed off on them.

Also that summer, they watched A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and decided they needed to have the same gear as John, Paul, George and Ringo. The most important purchase to contribute to their developing sound was McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker. In October, Dickson hired mandolin player Chris Hillman to be their bassist. Hillman brought country influences into the group for the first time. On November 10, thanks to their manager’s connections, and a recommendation from jazz legend Miles Davis, The Jet Set prepared for take-off by signing with Columbia. Over Thanksgiving dinner the four-piece changed their name to The Byrds, another tribute to their heroes.

On 20 January 1965 the Byrds went to record Mr Tambourine Man in Columbia Studios, Hollywood as their debut single, but producer Terry Melcher wasn’t convinced they could pull it off. He decided to be cautious and instead hired the famous session musicians The Wrecking Crew. Other than McGuinn, Clark and Crosby’s vocals, McGuinn’s guitar is the only sound on the single that belongs to the band.

Not that it really matters, as this beautiful recording is all about the vocals and guitar anyway. The Byrds may have gutted the song’s lyrics, but they fleshed out the sound, adding dreamlike, colourful shading to the words. Dare I say these colours were psychedelic? Despite wearing their influences brazenly on their sleeves, The Byrds truly were something new for the pop scene at that point. They may have still been getting their act together musically, but they were certainly moving in the right circles, meaning half the battle was already won. They looked incredibly hip, and the first signs of the US counterculture became keen followers.

The Beatles’ Ticket to Ride had broken the mold for hinting at where pop lyrics could go, but by taking Dylan and melding his abstract writing to their sound, The Byrds were, appropriately, reaching new heights. Ironically, it knocked The Hollies’ I’m Alive from the top spot, meaning David Crosby toppled his future band member Graham Nash in the UK. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Their debut single went to number 1 on both sides of the Atlantic, and they convinced Melcher they were ready to record their debut album, which went by the same name. Listening to it this week, it sounds no different to The Wrecking Crew, so perhaps Melcher was worrying for nothing.  Having said that, their UK tour soon after was poorly-received. They certainly didn’t have the charisma of The Beatles or The Rolling Stones.

The Byrds were soon enveloping religious text, more Dylan songs, even Vera Lynn war anthems with their signature sound. Early the following year they released their groundbreaking single Eight Miles High, one of the first psychedelic classics. Ironically, prior to the release, Clark quit the band due to his fear of flying. He became a critically-acclaimed solo artist with songs including Dark of My Moon but was troubled and unable to eclipse The Byrds, dying in 1991 from heart failure.

Third album Fifth Dimension was released in the summer of 1966, and the band further explored jazz and raga influences. Just as psychedelia went overground, they began adding country to their sound in 1967, and So You Want to Be a Rock’n’Roll Star is believed to be a jibe at the Monkees. That same year saw Jim McGuinn find religion and change his name to Roger, and tensions erupt within the band. They sacked their management and during the sessions for what would become The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968), Michael Clarke quit. McGuinn and Hillman were growing tired of Crosby’s out-there opinions that the press would gleefully report. They drove to his house, told him they were better off without him, and sacked him. Crosby went on to form one of rock’s first supergroups with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, and later on Neil Young. Their first album in particular is a classic, and this lowly writer had the great pleasure of seeing Crosby, Stills & Nash perform at Glastonbury 2009.

Line-ups in The Byrds changed over and over from then on, most notably with the addition and departure of Gram Parsons, who helped the group embrace country to a greater extent and resulted in their acclaimed Sweethearts of the Rodeo album (1968). However, the hippies were annoyed at the lack of psychedelia, and the country establishment were just as annoyed at this hippy band trying their hand at country.

Around this time, the producer of Mr Tambourine Man, Terry Melcher, had a fall-out with a struggling wannabe musician called Charles Manson. The fact the producer refused to work with such an eccentric enraged Manson, and ultimately led to to the murder of Sharon Tate and others at Melcher’s former home.

1969 was a more successful year for The Byrds. Ballad of Easy Rider became the theme to the classic movie Easy Rider (1969) (albeit a solo McGuinn version) and the excellent Wasn’t Born to Follow also featured on the soundtrack. But the 70s saw the law of dimishing returns come into effect, and by 1972, McGuinn broke up the band for a lucrative reunion of the original five-piece. Predictably enough, this didn’t last long as egos had only grown over the years.

Several versions of The Byrds came and went until the original five reformed for the last time to tie-in with being entered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The reunion was timely, as Clark died soon after, and Clarke also died two years later of liver disease.

Despite Crosby and HIllman being publicly in favour of some kind of Byrds reunion, McGuinn always refuses. Earlier in 2018, however, he and Hillman celebrated the 50th anniversary of Sweetheart of the Rodeo with a tour. For as long as these three are still alive, there will always be an audience for a Byrds reunion, though, and money talks, so I wouldn’t rule it out.

Written by: Bob Dylan

Producer: Terry Melcher

Weeks at number 1: 2 (22 July-4 August)

Births:

Author JK Rowling – 31 July
Director Sam Mendes – 1 August 

Deaths:

Boxer Freddie Mills – 25 July 

Meanwhile…

22 July: After failing to win the general election in 1964, Sir Alec Douglas-Home found himself on borrowed time as leader of the Conservatives, yet it was still a surprise when he announced his resignation. During his time as party leader he had set up the means in which the next leader would be voted in, and so five days later Edward Heath won a secret ballot, defeating Enoch Powell and Reginald Maudling to become the new Leader of the Opposition. Heath was something different for the Conservatives, as it was unusual for their leader to be from the lower-middle class. As new Prime Minister Harold Wilson had deliberately played down his posh roots, and it had helped his public image no end, this was probably a canny move by the Conservatives.

24 July: Former world light heavyweight boxing champion Freddie Mills was found in his car after being shot. Mills died the next day. He had gone into light entertainment following his retirement from boxing and the news shocked the country. It is still not known exactly what happened, but the police ruled his death was a suicide. Despite being a family man, Mills was rumoured to be homosexual, and that combined with the fact he owed money to a crime syndicate, meant all kinds of rumours have circulated, including him being a serial killer, being in a relationship with former number 1 artist Michael Halliday, or that he was sexually involved with Ronnie Kray.

29 July: The premiere of the Beatles new film, Help! (more on that next time).

171. Roy Orbison – It’s Over (1964)

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The pop world had changed massively since Roy Orbison’s first number 1, Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel), in October 1960. Nonetheless, during this period Orbison had plenty of hits, including Running Scared and Crying in 1961 (Don McLean’s cover of the latter went to the top of the charts in June 1980).

It was while he toured Australia in 1962 that he was first referred to as ‘The Big O’ by a DJ, and in 1963 he developed the onstage persona that was as idiosyncratic as his voice. While touring with The Beatles he left his thick glasses on a plane and was forced to wear his prescription Wayfarer sunglasses instead. Not only did this help such a shy performer cope with his stagefright, they also made him cool – a word that was unlikely to have been associated with him before then.

The tour with The Beatles was supposed to be a joint headliner, with Orbison replacing injured guitarist Duane Eddy. The Big O was bemused by the level of fame The Beatles were enjoying, and allegedly asked with some degree of annoyance ‘What’s a Beatle anyway?’, at which point John Lennon tapped him on the shoulder and said ‘I am’. On the opening night of the tour, probably in a bid to get his bit over with, Orbison volunteered to go on first, and the Fab Four were left awestruck at his ability to work a crowd by barely moving throughout his set. For a band who would do their utmost to win over their audiences with charm, this must have been quite a shock to them. The two acts became firm friends, and of course Harrison would later join Orbison in the Travelling Wilburys.

Orbison’s constant touring took its toll on his private life, unfortunately, and his wife Claudette, who he adored and paid tribute to in a song named after her (The Everly Brothers had took it to number 1 in 1957), got sick of being alone and began an affair with the man who had built their home. He was also now working with a new co-writer, as Joe Melson was frustrated at not becoming a star in his own right. Orbison’s new collaborator was Bill Dees, and it was very likely that they had Claudette’s waywardness in mind as they began writing It’s Over, considering they were divorced by the end of the year.

Of course, so much of Orbison’s work concerned heartbreak, but It’s Over is the most stark example of such in his oeuvre that I’m aware of. It’s certainly the most successful, and I doubt there could be more bleak song in his back catalogue. Over a heavy, ominous drumbeat, Orbison brings on the misery like a gravedigger shovelling soil onto a coffin. ‘It breaks your heart in two, to know she’s been untrue’… if there’s any doubt that Orbison is in as much pain as the lyrics suggest, just listen to that final 20 seconds in which he sings ‘It’s over’ with emotion so raw it’s almost hard to listen to.

That a song so dark and operatic could make it to the top of the pop charts, at any point in time, let alone during peak Beatlemania (the film A Hard Day’s Night had just been released) is astounding. Elvis was the only other US act that could get a sniff of a number 1 spot at this point. Yet Orbison still had another number 1 in store for him before the end of 1964.

Tip: If It’s Over doesn’t grab you first time around (and it’s not exactly catchy, so don’t be surprised), listen again, preferably through earphones. It worked for me.

Written by: Roy Orbison & Bill Dees

Producer: Wesley Rose

Weeks at number 1: 2 (25 June-8 July)

Births:

Author Joanne Harris – 3 July 
Comedian Robert Newman – 7 July