146. Jet Harris and Tony Meehan – Diamonds (1963)

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Just under a month after Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell’s shock death, the party elected 46-year-old Huyton MP Harold Wilson as its new leader. Gaitskell had moved the party to the right, but Wilson was more left wing, and had made an unsuccessful challenge for leadership in November 1960. He defeated George Brown and James Callaghan to become Leader of the Opposition just as the Government was weakening, and things would soon become even worse for Macmillan.

In the music world, the Shadows suffered the embarrassment of being knocked from number 1 by their old rhythm section, when Dance On! was replaced after a week by Jet Harris and Tony Meehan’s Diamonds. This instrumental was written by Jerry Lordan, the man behind the two best Shadows number 1s, Apache and Wonderful Land.

Harris, born Terence Harris in Willesden, North West London in July 1939, earned the nickname ‘Jet’ due to his sprinting prowess at school. He went on to play skiffle in the Vipers before joining the Drifters, and it was Harris that suggested they become the Shadows to avoid legal issues with the soul group. As well as being one of the first UK musicians to play an electric bass, he also provided vocals for the group on their own songs and those of Cliff Richard. Harris married in 1959, but they separated within years, and he later attributed the start of his depression and alcohol problems to his ex-wife’s affair with Cliff. His waywardness and arguments with rhythm guitarist Bruce Welch led to him leaving the group. Other than Hank Marvin, Harris was the only real Shadow with frontman material due to his moody charisma and good looks, so Decca took him on as a solo artist, and he had success with covers of Besame Mucho and The Man with the Golden Arm. From there, he crossed paths once more with Tony Meehan.

Meehan, known in the music business as ‘The Baron’, was born Daniel Meehan in March 1943, and was also raised in Willesden. He became interested in drums aged ten, and was in a band at 13, first meeting Harris in the Vipers. Meehan had his own unique style that proved influential to many. Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac was inspired to become a drummer after seeing him perform in The Young Ones (1961). Depending on who you believe, in October 1961 Meehan either left the Shadows of his own accord to work with Joe Meek, or was sacked for tardiness. Only a few months later he had moved on to Decca, and during this time was involved in the Beatles auditioning for the label. He was unconvinced they were going to get anywhere.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, replacing Harris and Meehan with two men called Brian seemed to take away what little element of surprise and danger there was in the Shadows, and this theory is borne out by comparing Dance On! to Diamonds. There’s a lot crammed into the Harris and Meehan track, from Harris’s signature moody bass, to an outbreak of brass, and best of all Meehan’s scattershot drums – the most exciting and loudest drums we’ve heard on a number 1 yet (no doubt due to the drummer also being the producer). While you could argue it doesn’t all hang together so well, there’s no shortage of ideas, and Diamonds winds up sounding like the theme to some early-60s gangster drama.

Harris and Meehan, buoyed by their number 1 achievement, released further top ten hits Scarlett O’Hara and Applejack. and future Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones joined them for some live shows (it’s also heavily rumoured that Jimmy Page plays acoustic guitar on Diamonds). However, the duo split following Harris and girlfriend Billie Davis’s car crash. The injured Harris refused to promote Applejack, leaving poor Meehan to mime. He attempted a comeback with the Jet Harris Band in 1966, and was briefly in the Jeff Beck Group in 1967, but it was downhill from there, and the only time he made it into the newspapers was in reports of his drunken behaviour or misdemeanours. In 1988 he was declared bankrupt, and his old friend Cliff (Christian guilt for supposedly contributing to Harris’s alcoholism all those years ago?) helped him out by letting him and Meehan on stage to help perform Move It at his big concert at Wembley, The Event in 1989. He gave up drink and joined the nostalgia circuit, finding some peace with himself. Unfortunately he couldn’t give up smoking heavily, and he died of cancer in March 2011.

Meehan remained on good terms with the Shadows, and briefly returned to the group when Brian Bennett was in hospital. He quit music in the 90s and became a psychology lecturer. Sadly he died after falling down the stairs to his flat in November 2005.

Written by: Jerry Lordan

Producer: Tony Meehan

Weeks at number 1: 3 (31 January-20 February)

Births:

Actor Phillip Glenister – 10 February 
Long jumper John King – 13 February
Mountain climber Alison Hargreaves – 17 February 
Singer Seal – 19 February 

144. Cliff Richard and the Shadows – The Next Time/Bachelor Boy (1963)

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1963 may have been a landmark year for the charts, but it started like any other. Elvis had been 62’s Christmas number 1 with Return to Sender, but was replaced on 3 January by the UK’s very own Elvis, Cliff. A year since he and the Shadows had ruled the charts with a film soundtrack (The Young Ones), they were at it again. The musical Summer Holiday was about to be released, and as the UK was still in the early stages of one of the longest, coldest winters of all time, it’s easy to see why this cheesy tale of escapism was about to become so huge.

Summer Holiday is the story of Don (Cliff) and his friends, who are London bus mechanics. One typically miserable summer’s day, Don tells his mates that London Transport will let them borrow a double-decker bus, to convert into a caravan and drive across Europe. This sounds like such a preposterous film, I’m almost tempted to watch it. Almost. Along the way, Don and co are joined by a runaway female singer, who initially pretends to be a man, and they are pursued by her mother and her agent. They end up in Greece, for some reason, and I assume they all live happily ever after. I’d like to see a post-Brexit version, where Don and his pals never get out of the UK due to the feared customs gridlock. Cliff and the Shadows first release of 1963 was a double A-side of tracks from the film, which was released on 11 January, a week into their time at the top.

The Next Time is an average unlucky-in-love ballad by US songwriters Buddy Kaye (who co-wrote Dickie Valentine’s 1955 Christmas number 1, Christmas Alphabet) and Phillip Springer. In the film, Cliff sings this as he wanders around Greece in a string vest, like a young, depressed Rab C Nesbitt. I’m assuming he’s just had a fight or split up with his love interest, as his friends have advised him he’ll love again some day. The problem is, Cliff’s not sure there will be a next time as he’s still in love. It seems primarily designed for Cliff to look all doe-eyed and for his female fans to swoon at, but as far as this sort of thing goes, it’s okay, and Cliff puts in a good performance.

Bachelor Boy is the more famous of the two, and became one of the singer’s signature tunes, yet it was only an afterthought for inclusion in the film. Shadows guitarist Bruce Welch wrote the bulk of it, with help on a verse from Cliff, earning him his only number 1 songwriting credit. The chorus is fairly memorable, but what terrible lyrics. According to the song, Cliff’s father told him when he was young that he’d be a bachelor boy until his dying days. Cliff remembered this ‘advice’ when he fell in love at 16, and swiftly ditched his partner. Bit over the top, no? But the worst lyric (and I’m sorry but I can’t help wonder if this is the singer’s work) contains this dire rhyme:

‘As time goes by I probably will
Meet a girl and fall in love
Then I’ll get married have a wife and a child
And they’ll be my turtle doves’

‘Turtle doves’? He then goes on to sing the chorus again, smug in the knowledge he’s not actually bothered if this doesn’t happen, because he’ll die happy if he remains a bachelor anyway. Of course, Bachelor Boy has become so identifiable with Cliff because that’s exactly what he is, and despite a number of high-profile romances in the past (and an affair with former Shadow Jet Harris’s ex-wife), the rumours over his sexuality have never gone away, and this song is often brought up ironically. It doesn’t help that in Summer Holiday, the song is performed by Cliff, the Shadows and Melvyn Hayes via the most camp skipping dance you’re ever likely to see. Take a look at the clip above, and try not to laugh…

While Cliff Richard enjoyed his sixth run at the top, the political world was stunned at the news of the sudden death of Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell, aged 56. In December 1962 he was recovering from flu when he visited the Soviet Union for talks with leader Nikita Kruschev. He contracted another illness while there, and was admitted to hospital after returning home on 4 January. Two weeks later, he died from complications following a bout of lupus. Labour had been doing well in the polls and it was thought that Gaitskell had a very good chance of being the next Prime Minister, in much the same way that John Smith was considered to be the next PM before his shock death in 1994. Gaitskell’s death was so unexpected and sudden, conspiracy theories regarding his demise have remained ever since. The most popular involves an alleged Soviet KGB plot to ensure that Harold Wilson (supposedly a KGB agent) became Prime Minister. The claim returned to make news upon the publishing of the controversial book Spycatcher in 1987.

Written by:
The Next Time: Buddy Kaye & Phillip Springer/Bachelor Boy: Bruce Welch & Cliff Richard 

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 3 (3-23 January)

Births:

Presenter James May – 16 January 
Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow – 19 January
Journalist Martin Bashir – 19 January 

Deaths:

Mathematician Edward Charles Titchmarsh – 18 January
Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell – 18 January

89. Craig Douglas – Only Sixteen (1959)

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On 8 October the Conservatives won their third successive General Election, and are to date the only party since World War Two to do so while increasing their majority. The election was perfect timing for Harold Macmillan’s party, due to an economic boom. Labour suffered due to Hugh Gaitskell’s claim that Labour would not raise taxes, despite their manifesto stating otherwise. It was Jo Grimond’s first election as leader of the Liberals, and the election saw future Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe and Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher enter parliament for the first time.

Craig Douglas was at number 1 at the time with Only Sixteen, which had finally ended Living Doll‘s six weeks at pole position. Douglas was born Terence Perkins, a twin in Newport, Isle of Wight in August 1941. Before he became a singer he was known as the ‘Singing Milkman’ while doing his rounds. Winning a local talent contest at 16, he became managed by Bunny Lewis, who had co-written 1954 number 1 Cara Mia under the pseudonym Lee Lange. Perkins changed his name to Craig Douglas on Lewis’s suggestion (not the most of exciting of stage names anyone has ever come up with), and, still 16, began singing lessons for his move into professional singing. He made his television debut on the BBC’s Six-Five Special alongside Cliff Richard and Joe Brown. At such a young age, he specialised in songs about teenagers. His first single was A Teenager in Love, earlier in 1959, and second single Only Sixteen made him one of the youngest number 1 acts up to that point – he was 17 at the time. It was US soul singer-songwriter Sam Cooke’s song, but Douglas’s version eclipsed it in this country.

The most surprising aspect of this song is Douglas’s vocals. Had I not read about him beforehand, I’d have thought he was twice the age he was. He doesn’t look that young on pictures from the time either. In fact, there’s little youthful exuberance to be found here, unfortunately. It sounds leaden, safe and old-fashioned – not living up to the now risqué title. The fact the singer is only a year older than the song’s subject matter makes the record safer than originally suspected anyway. The highlight is the whistling from Mike Sammes. You’d think the singing milkman would be the whistler, but it wasn’t meant to be.

For the next few years Douglas troubled the lower reaches of the top ten, but the writing was on the wall when the Beatles started their chart domination. He still tours internationally to this day on the nostalgia circuit.

Also in the news while while Only Sixteen was number 1: 47 miners died in the Auchengeich mining disaster in Lanarkshire, Scotland on 18 September, and 300 people needed rescuing when fire broke out on Southend Pier on 7 October.

Written by: Sam Cooke

Producer: Bunny Lewis

Weeks at number 1: 4 (11 September-8 October)

Births:

Music producer Simon Cowell – 7 October 

Deaths:

Soprano Agnes Nicholls – 21 September 

48. The Teenagers Featuring Frankie Lymon – Why Do Fools Fall in Love

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On 22 July, music newspaper Record Mirror published the first ever UK Albums Chart. They had their own version of the singles chart, but it is the New Musical Express charts that I use for this blog, as these are the ones recognised by the Official Charts Company as canon until 1960. The first album at number 1 was Frank Sinatra’s classic Songs for Swingin’ Lovers!. 26 July saw the beginning of the Suez crisis, when Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser shocked the British government by announcing the nationalisation of the Suez Canal. Initially, Anthony Eden believed he had the country’s support in taking military action, and Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell agreed, but in the following weeks he took a more cautious tone.

Meanwhile, the number 1 single in the UK was a breath of fresh air following a few lacklustre affairs. The Teenagers with Frankie Lymon became the youngest act to date to rule the roost, with the classic rock’n’roll and doo-wop number Why Do Fools Fall in Love. At the tender age of 12, New Yorker Frankie Lymon was working as a grocery boy to help his struggling family. He became friends with a doo-wop group known as the Coup de Villes – lead singer Herman Santiago, Joe Negroni, Jimmy Merchant and Sherman Games. There are several versions of who came up with the song, and indeed several court battles have ensued over publishing rights, but a neighbour of the Premiers, as they were known in 1955, handed the group some love letters written by his girlfriend, to use as inspiration. By the time they had their audition with tough producer George Goldner, they were known as The Teenagers. Santiago was either ill, or late, but whatever the reason, Frankie Lymon had a crack at the lead, and the group recorded trheir biggest single and one of rock’n’roll’s most memorable hits. Why Do Fools Fall in Love influenced the Jackson 5 and spawned the girl-group sound, as well as hundreds of imitators. And Lymon was barely a teenager.

For a song recorded such a long time ago, Why Do Fools Fall in Love still sounds fresh. It’s bursting with youthful energy, and a large part of that is down to Lymon’s lead vocal. This was pure rock’n’roll but filtered through the innocence of such a young group with little experience of the world. And the saxophone break is a blast. The song charted highly in the US, but performed even better in the UK. And then, before their career had barely begun, things began to fall apart.

Tensions understandably began to surface when the next single was credited to Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. Early in 1957, Goldner began pushing Lymon as a solo act, and his departure was made official by September. The Teenagers went through a string of replacement singers, to little success, and Lymon’s career went into freefall. They reunited briefly in 1965 but it didn’t last. He had become addicted to heroin at the age of 15, and died of an overdose in 1968 at his grandma’s house, aged only 25. A tragic victim of the often cruel music industry.

Written by: Frankie Lymon & Morris Levy

Producer: Richard Barrett

Weeks at number 1: 3 (20 July-9 August)

Births:

Sculptor Andy Goldsworthy – 26 July
Madness guitarist Chris Foreman – 8 August

41. Tennessee Ernie Ford with Orchestra conducted by Jack Fascinato – Sixteen Tons (1956)

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As 1956 began, it became apparent that the Prime Minister Anthony Eden had plunged in the polls, which seemed surprising following the Conservatives’ solid victory in the election the previous year. Whether Labour had received a bounce off the back of electing their new leader, Hugh Gaitskell, remained to be seen. On 24 January, plans were announced for the building of thousands of new homes in the Barbican area of London, which had been devastated by Luftwaffe bombings in World War Two. In the charts, interest in Dickie Valentine’s Christmas Alphabet understandably died down after the holidays, and the first new number one of the year was Rock Around the Clock, enjoying its second run at the top, before being usurped by a truly unique single.

Sixteen Tons had originally been written and recorded by country singer-songwriter Merle Travis back in 1946. Travis’s songs often spoke of the hardships of workers in the US as he came from a mining family in Kentucky. His brother once wrote him a letter with the line ‘You load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt’. His father was also fond of saying ‘I can’t afford to die. I owe my soul to the company store.’. Back then, miners were paid with credit vouchers that they could use to buy goods at the company store. Travis had the beginnings of a very catchy chorus . He came up with a song whose humour is as black as the dirt in the miners’ fingernails, and Tennessee Ernie Ford was listening. Ten years later, his cover became his second UK number 1 single in less than a year.

Sixteen Tons is so much better than Give Me Your Word. His previous number 1 was a mediocre ballad that anyone could have recorded. It’s hard to think who could perform Sixteen Tons as well as Ford. Featuring a sparse arrangement that features his deep, booming voice and finger-clicking to begin with, followed by a clarinet backing him up, Ford speaks not only for US workers, but any slave to the man. In the gloomy winter months of 1956, no doubt UK miners could find solace in such a song. Although the mining references root the song firmly in the past, anyone who finds themselves slaving away just to get by can identify.  And it helps that it’s as catchy as hell.

Selling millions upon millions, Sixteen Tons became Ford’s signature song, and earned him his own TV show, which ran for five years. Unfortunately, he and his first wife Betty had alcohol problems, and while he managed during his career peak, by the 70s his love of whiskey was taking its toll. Betty died in 1989 but even this couldn’t curtail his drinking. He died of liver failure on 17 October 1991 – 36 years to the day of the first release of Sixteen Tons. However, he left behind the definitive version of a song that truly resonates.

Written by: Merle Travis

Producer: Lee Gillette

Weeks at number 1: 2 (20 January-16 February)

Births:

Sex Pistols Singer John Lydon – 31 January
Actor Philip Franks – 2 January
New Order bassist Peter Hook – 13 February

Deaths:

Author AA Milne – 31 January 

39. Bill Haley & His Comets – Rock Around the Clock (1955)

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Finally! After nearly 40 blogs, rock’n’roll has arrived. Although not the first song of the genre (nobody really knows if such a song actually exists, although Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats is often credited as such), and not the best either, Rock Around the Clock is understandably credited as the tune that brought it to a wider audience, and influenced millions, including many youngsters who were taking note and went on to become star musicians themselves. Rock’n’roll was about feeling rather than form, about stripping away such soppy, sappy lyrics over flowery, string-packed instruments. There’s no wonder it helped bring about the dawn of the teenager. Why should young adults grow from children to instant adulthood? Why not have some fun first, before life gets too dull and dreary? Bill may have been way too old to be a teenager, but it didn’t matter. Rock Around the Clock represented the new young energy that would help sweep the country out of the post-war doldrums. It’s just a shame it had taken so long to get there.

The song is believed to have been first written in 1952. Credited to Max C. Freedman and Jimmy De Knight (a pseudonym belonging to James E. Myers), it was first recorded by Sonny Day and His Knights, although apparently they’d always had Haley’s group in mind. They had previously been a country music act known as Bill Haley and the Saddlemen, but changed their name and adopted an early rock’n’roll sound after covering Rocket 88. They had their first hit with Crazy Man, Crazy, which is perhaps the first song of the genre to be shown on television, used on the soundtrack to a play starring James Dean.

They recorded Rock Around the Clock as a last minute B-side to Thirteen Women And Only One Man In Town, a track about the survivors of a nuclear bomb. Luckily for Haley and co, the son of a famous actor had become quite the fan of that B-side. Ten-year-old Peter Ford was Glenn Ford’s son, and Glenn was due to co-star alongside Sidney Poitier in a film about teenage delinquents called Blackboard Jungle. He suggested to director Richard Brooks to stick the song over the opening credits. Swiftly capitalising on the attention, the song was re-released and spent two months at number 1 in the US. It was only a matter of time before their success was repeated in the UK, a nation starving for the return of the good times.

I’m stating the obvious by saying it sounds quaint compared with the songs it later influenced, but there’s more raw energy packed into the opening of Rock Around the Clock than any UK number 1 up to that point. Haley’s voice commands you to take note and to have a good time, and the Comets ably assist, in particular guitarist Danny Cedrone, who couldn’t think of a new solo and simply redid his performance on earlier track Rock This Joint. It didn’t matter, it’s blistering and easily the highlight of the song. In a genre full of tragedy, Cedrone was one of the first victims. He never had chance to enjoy the group’s fame as a month after they had recorded Rock Around the Clock, he fell down some stairs and broke his neck, dying at the age of 33. By the time they became number one, the Comets were a different group to the ones that recorded the song. In addition to Cedrone’s death, three other members left the group over money issues.

Before long, the younger acts they had helped influence suddenly made Bill Haley & His Comets look old and staid by comparison. They had become victims of the youth movement they helped usher in. Stardom lasted longer in Europe, where they enjoyed a few more years of being mobbed by fans. But rock’n’roll came and went many times over the years, with several revivals, and Rock Around the Clock was re-recorded several times and often reissued. Bill Haley died in 1981 of a heart attack, aged 55, but hopefully he knew the impact he had in his heyday was permanent. Rock Around the Clock‘s influence makes it immortal, and it will always be respected for this reason.

During its initial run at number one (Dickie Valentine’s festive Christmas Alphabet took the top spot over the holiday season), several newsworthy events took place. Yet another rail crash happened on 2 December in Barnes, South London, leaving 13 dead and 35 injured. And as well as the changes in music, politics was moving on, too. Long-running Labour leader Clement Attlee resigned on 7 December, recognising that, for all the positive changes he helped bring about after the war, it was time for to pass on the torch if the party was to usurp new Tory Prime Minister Anthony Eden. On 14 December, Hugh Gaitskell, a right-wing politician by many Labour members’ standards, defeated Nye Bevan and was named as the new leader.

Written by: Max C Freedman & Jimmy De Knight

Producer: Milt Gabler

Weeks at number 1: 5 (25 November-15 December 1955, 6-19 January 1956) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE DECADE*

Births:

Singer Billy Idol – 30 November
Politician Philip Hammond – 4 December
The Clash bassist Paul Simonon – 15 December
Presenter Angus Deayton – 6 January
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby – 6 January
Actress Imelda Staunton – 9 January
Singer Paul Young – 17 January 

Deaths:

Ecologist Sir Arthur Tansley – 25 November