Today sees the release of my first book! Every UK Number 1: The 50s is available on Amazon’s Kindle Store at £3.99 here. Members of Kindle Unlimited are able to read for free via their monthly subscriptions. If you’re into vintage music, pop culture and social history, it would make for great lockdown reading. Hope you enjoy!
The UK singles chart is the soundtrack to our lives and a barometer of the nation’s mood and tastes. And ever since 1952, the battle for the number one spot has had us all talking as well as dancing.
In this fascinating spin-off from everyuknumber1.com, as seen in the Daily Mirror, music journalist Rob Barker comprehensively reviews all the best-sellers of the Fifties, delving into the wild lives of the artists and the real stories and secrets behind the hits. He also counts down the influential events that shaped them, as we moved from rations to never having it so good.
Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Cliff Richard were among those who transformed the lives of young people throughout Britain, and taught a country battered by war how to have fun again.
Find out which chart topper was written by an illiterate rapist who formed his own prison band. Learn about the strange early days of the charts, which led to the number one spot being held by two acts at the same time, with different versions of the same banned song. Who was the first woman to top the charts? And which hitmaker lives on as Cockney rhyming slang?
Every UK Number 1: The 50s has all the answers on the decade in which pop took its first steps, before rock’n’roll shouldered in and left the baby boomers all shook up.
Fleetwood Mac are one of the biggest-selling acts of all time. Like Pink Floyd, they started out in the 60s and overcame losing their chief songwriters to become hugely successful in the 70s with a very different sound, selling millions of records.
Also like Pink Floyd, they’ve only ever had one UK number 1 single. Peter Green’s classic balmy instrumental Albatross, which conjures up images of waves lapping against a sun-kissed beach, must have come as welcome relief during the winter of 1968/69.
Green had been Eric Clapton’s replacement as guitarist in John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. Early in 1967, drummer Aynsley Dunbar announced he was leaving the group, and Green suggested to Mayall a former bandmate of his called Mick Fleetwood. The new version of the band consisted of Mayall on vocals, Green, Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. During their next recording session they named an instrumental after their new rhythm section, Fleetwood Mac.
Soon afterwards saw the debut of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, consisting of Green, Fleetwood, slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer and temporary bassist Bob Brunning, who was only there until McVie could be tempted away from The Bluesbreakers. It didn’t take long. No matter what has happened within the band since, Fleetwood and McVie have always remained.
Fleetwood Mac’s eponymous debut LP, a no-frills, bluesy affair, was released in February 1968. Not long after they entered the singles chart for the first time with Black Magic Woman, which became more famous via Santana’s version in 1970. Second album Mr Wonderful swiftly followed, featuring Christine Perfect on keyboards.
Around this time, Green had become impressed with a young guitarist called Danny Kirwan, and when his band Boilerhouse split, he invited him to join Fleetwood Mac. Green was unhappy with Spencer’s lack of willingness to help contribute to original material, but Kirwan was keen.
Among the material Green asked Kirwan for help with was Albatross. The song was said to have been inspired by Santo & Johnny’s Sleep Walk in 1959, though there is a more close resemblance rhythmically to Chuck Berry’s 1957 track Deep Feeling.
I love the lush sound of Albatross. This simple composition is for me one of the most atmospheric chart-toppers so far. From Fleetwood’s deep, muted drumming, played on timpani mallets to sound like rolling waves, to the languid guitar work of Green and Kirwan (Spencer is absent), there’s no wonder this gorgeous, tranquil tune has been used on TV and films so much over the years whenever a gorgeous scene of paradise is needing an appropriate piece of music. Apparently, the reason this single topped the charts is because it was used by the BBC on a nature documentary, and captured the public’s imagination.
The success of Albatross marked the first change in Fleetwood Mac’s sound, as they began to move away from pure blues during 1969. They signed with Immediate Records and Man of the World was a hit. Oh Well was a heavy rock classic, particuarly the first part, featuring a riff Led Zeppelin would be proud of.
Unfortunately, by the time of the dark psychedelia of The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Prong Crown) in 1970, Green’s mental health was rapidly dimishing. He had taken LSD at a hippy commune in Munich and had become erratic. Following an argument in which Green announced he wanted to give all the band’s money to charity, he left Fleetwood Mac in May. After an uncredited appearance on their 1973 album Penguin, he disappeared into obscurity. When he did resurface in the 90s, he was a shadow of his former self. I wonder what he made of his old band’s enormous success?
Fleetwood Mac struggled once their principle songwriter had gone. Perfect, now married to McVie, became a full-time member that August. In February 1971 Spencer went out to buy a magazine. He never returned. After several days searching they discovered he had joined a cult known as the Children of God. Kirwan was the next to leave, in 1972, having become a full-blown alcoholic. After his last solo album in 1979 he left the music industry for good. Their was to be no comeback for Green’s protégé. He spent much of the 80s and 90s homeless, and divorced, and had an estranged son. He died in June 2018, aged 68.
After numerous line-up changes, success finally beckoned when guitarist Lindsay Buckingham and his partner Stevie Nicks joined up in 1975. They released their second eponymous LP, which sold millions. Despite their new-found commercial success, the new line-up was mired in personal problems. The McVies and Buckingham and Nicks all split up, and the relationship turmoil resulted in one of their most famous albums. Rumours is one of the most famous pop-rock albums of the 70s. They ended the decade with the more experimental Tusk.
For much of the 80s, Fleetwood Mac were on sabbatical, with solo careers taking up most of the time. This most famous line-up regrouped in 1987 for another huge-selling album. Tango in the Night was their biggest since Rumours, and featured the hit singles Little Lies and Everywhere.
I have to confess to not really getting the massive fame of the soft-rock 70s and 80s incarnation of Fleetwood Mac. I like Rumours, and Little Lies transports me back to my childhood, but they’re a bit too safe for me. Albatross is in my opinion their best single. Even the Beatles loved it, and would pinch the sound on their similarly gorgeous Sun King from Abbey Road (1969). Its soothing tones would also drift in and out of The KLF’s influential ambient Chill Out album from 1990.
Buckingham and Nicks left after a fight in 1987, and the next Fleetwood Mac album, 1990’s Behind the Mask, recieved mixed reviews. The 70s/80s era line-up reformed to perform at Bill Clinton’s inauguration as US President in 1993 to perform his campaign’s theme song, Don’t Stop. In 1997 they reformed again, and a year later Fleetwood Mac were entered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As well as the current line-up, Green, Spencer and Kirwan were also inducted.
Fleetwood Mac’s last studio album to date was Say You Will in 2003. Buckingham left for (to date) the last time in 2018, and was replaced by Neil Finn from Crowded House and Mike Campbell from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The current line-up still perform Albatross, and their sole number 1 always appears on any greatest hits compilations.
1968, particularly the first half, had seen some unusual number 1s. As the year drew to a close, things got weird again. Enjoying a full month at the pole position of the singles chart was American orchestra leader and soundtrack composer Hugo Montenegro, with his remake of the theme to Sergio Leone’s 1966 Spaghetti Western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
This film was the final part of Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, following A Fistful of Dollars and A Few Dollars More, and starred Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name once more. Despite initial scepticism from the critics, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly is now considered one of the greatest examples of the genre of all time. I have to confess I haven’t seen any of the trilogy. Westerns aren’t really my bag. But of course, I know the theme to this movie.
As with the other two parts of the trilogy, the score came from Italian composer Ennio Morricone. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (main title) was conducted by Bruno Nicolai. Simply put, it’s one of the most iconic pieces of film music ever, and features at the start of the movie. Largely in part to the theme, Morricone’s soundtrack album was a bestseller. But how did a remake become a number 1 single, two years after the film’s release, and who was Hugo Montenegro?
Montenegro had been born in New York City on 2 September 1925. He served in the US Navy for two years, but was mostly arranging the Newport Naval Base band in Newport, Rhode Island. When World War Two ended he studied composition at Manhattan College.
By the mid-50s he was directing, conducting and arranging orchestras for record labels, and he directed the Glen-Spice Orchestra on the first release by future pop star hearthrob Dion in 1957.
In the early 60s he found work with RCA Victor producing albums of cover versions of themes from films and TV series, including spy themes and westerns, which is what led to his version of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It might sound quaint now, but these kind of albums were popular for decades. I can remember several in our family well into the 80s, featuring the themes of Superman, Star Wars, all the blockbusters of the time.
Montenegro’s version of Morricone’s classic was very similar to the classic original. It was recorded live in one day and featured, among others, Art Smith on ocarina, Art Morgan on harmonica, Elliot Fisher on electric violin, Manny Klein on piccolo trumpet and Muzzy Marcellino provided the whistling.
Despite the popularity of the soundtrack remake back then, it’s still an odd choice for a number 1 single. Having said that, you can’t deny the brilliance of the original, all that ominous forboding, the danger, the intrigue, wrapped up in a brilliant melody and sounding so unusual.
I realise I stated in my previous blog for With a Little Help from My Friends that if you’re going to make a cover, you need to make it different. And yet I enjoyed this facsimile. There’s very little difference, it’s just been made slightly more pop friendly, with light acoustic guitar and the danger slightly turned down. But it doesn’t sound tacky like many of these remakes used to do (ever heard anything from those Top of the Pops albums of the 70s?).
Montegro was understandably taken aback at the success of this single in the US and the UK. By making it to number 1 here it became the first instrumental to do so since Foot Tapper by The Shadows in 1963. It’s not strictly speaking an instrumental though – in this version, the random shouts you hear are actually members of the band shouting ‘HU-GO-MONT-EN-EGRO!’.
The composer continued to record remakes, and also composed original scores for films, including the Elvis Presley western Charro! in 1969. He’s also achieved a cult audience in recent years due to his albums that featured the Moog synthesiser, with the kitsch retro-space-age sounds proving influential on a new generation of musicians. On TV, he was famous for his TV themes for US sitcoms I Dream of Jeannie and The Partridge Family.
In the late 70s he was forced to put his career on hold due to his battle with severe emphysema. He died of the disease on 6 February 1981.
Written by: Ennio Morricone
Producer: Hugh Montenegro
Weeks at number 1: 4 (13 November-10 December)
Footballer Barry Hunter – 18 November
Journalist Andrew Gilligan – 22 November
Writer Mervyn Peake – 17 November
Children’s writer – Enid Blyton – 28 November
18 November: A warehouse fire on James Watt Street in Glasgow kills 22 office workers in the offices of upholstery factory B Stern Ltd. Only four people in the building managed to escape.
26 November: The Race Relations Act passed, which made it illegal to refuse housing, employment or public services to people in Britain due to their ethnic background.
30 November: The Trade Descriptions Act came into force, bringing an end (officially anyway) to shops and traders describing goods in a misleading way.
The movie Summer Holiday had been out for months, but its popularity was still very high in March 1963, leading to an unusual chart occurrence. For the second time in three months, Cliff Richard found himself knocked from the top of the charts by his backing band, The Shadows. Summer Holiday had been at number 1 for a fortnight, but Foot Tapper replaced it for a week, only to be overtaken by the film’s title track once more.
Foot Tapper was also from the film’s soundtrack, and Bruce Welch had co-written both. The Shadows final number 1 was also written by its most famous member, bespectacled guitarist Hank Marvin. It’s another uptempo piece of incidental music, in a similar vein to their previous bestseller, Dance On!.
It’s a bit better than Dance On!, but only a bit. Once more, you can imagine it working as incidental music for a film score, after all, that’s what it was. But Foot Tapper jangles along for just over two minutes and leaves little impression – it lives up to its name and that’s it. The best bit is the drum work from Brian Bennett, but compare it to Jet Harris and Tony Meehan’s Diamonds and Foot Tapper just doesn’t stand up. The Shadows had been an inspiration to many aspiring musicians, many of which would ultimately outdo and replace them, but their own well was starting to look very dry, and after backing Cliff Richard on seven number 1s, and achieving five in their own right, the group never topped the charts again.
Bassist Brian Locking left the group that October to concentrate on being a Jehovah’s Witness and was replaced with John Rostill. The hits began to dry up as Beatlemania conquered all in its path, and they starred alongside Cliff in another film, Finders Keepers. This 1966 movie features the bizarre premise of the boys arriving in a Spanish town to perform, only to find that the locals have fled in panic because a small bomb has landed nearby. So Cliff and The Shadows decide to find the bomb and get things back to normal. What a lovely set of lads. The Rolling Stones wouldn’t have done that, would they?
The 70s began with the group featuring as regular guests on Cliff’s variety show for the BBC, It’s Cliff Richard!. Rostill left the group and sadly committed suicide in 1973, prompting yet another line-up change, and it wouldn’t be the last. The group took part in the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest, coming in second place with Let Me Be the One. Onetime guitarist John Farrar, who came and went in the mid-70s, went on to write You’re the One That I Want for John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, one of the biggest-selling number 1s of all-time.
The 80s saw keyboard thrown into the mix but like so many bands from their era, an attempt at sounding contemporary just made them look more old-fashioned. The band reunited with Cliff for live shows several times, and Hank Marvin helped on his collaboration with The Young Ones on a remake of their first number 1, Living Doll in 1986, which was the first Comic Relief single. The band’s most famous rhythm section, Jet Harris and Tony Meehan, joined them on stage in 1989 for a special performance of Move It at Cliff’s The Event show. In 2004 they announced a farewell tour, and each of the band’s line-up at the time received an OBE, but Hank Marvin gave it back (fair play). Despite the tour, they have continued to perform and record, with Singing the Blues, their last collaboration with Cliff, reaching the top 40 in 2009.
It may be easy to sneer at The Shadows in the 21st century, but if you can look past the white-than-white image and the quaint walk they would famously perform together on stage, Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch and various members ably assisted one of rock’n’roll’s biggest ever stars for years, had a hand in making some of his biggest records, became huge stars in their own right, and released Apache, one of the greatest instrumentals of all time, which would go on to influence hip-hop artists decades later. And if it wasn’t for The Shadows, there would perhaps be no Merseybeat. And after lots of teasing, we’ve finally reached that era.
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 on 6 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 US 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 on 2 March 1943, and was also raised in Willesden. He became interested in drums aged 10, 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 10 hits Scarlett O’Hara and Applejack. and future Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones joined them for some live shows (it’s also 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. Harris 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 on 18 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 on 28 November 2005.
Written by: Jerry Lordan
Producer: Tony Meehan
Weeks at number 1: 3 (31 January-20 February)
Actor Phillip Glenister – 10 February Long jumper John King – 13 February Mountain climber Alison Hargreaves – 17 February Singer Seal – 19 February
14 February: 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.
After three weeks at number 1 with The Next Time/Bachelor Boy, Cliff Richard found himself usurped by his own backing band. The Shadows scored their fourth chart-topper in their own right with Dance On!, a track written by sisters-in-law Valerie and Elaine Murtagh and Ray Adams. This trio were better known to the public as pop vocal group the Avons.
By this point, drummer Brian Bennett and bassist Brian ‘Licorice’ Locking were firmly established as the replacements for Tony Meehan and Jet Harris respectively. Bennett had been a regular performer on Jack Good’s TV show Oh Boy! before working with Marty Wilde and then Tommy Steele. Locking performed alongside Bennett in Wilde’s Wildcats, and it was Bennett who suggested him as a replacement for Harris. Bennett and Locking brought some reliability to The Shadows, but as far as their recorded output goes, it seems they lost two vital sparks in Meehan and Harris, who were more musically adventurous. And let’s face it, you’d never consider The Shadows the most ‘dangerous’ of bands to begin with.
Dance On! is simply not in the same league as Apache or Wonderful Land, or even Kon-Tiki. It’s only two minutes long, but is so boring it feels longer. As a piece of incidental music in a 60s rock’n’roll film, it would be serviceable enough, but as a number 1 single? I can only imagine that many of Cliff’s fans would buy singles by The Shadows after snapping up those of their hero out of a sense of loyalty. It’s missing a killer guitar line from Hank Marvin, really. If it wasn’t ironic enough that The Shadows replaced themselves (in part) at number 1, only a week later they found themselves overtaken by their two former member, who had released a superior instrumental. Singer Kathy Kirby later released a vocal version of Dance On!, which reached number 11 in September.
Written by: Valerie Murtagh, Elaine Murtagh & Ray Adams
Producer: Norrie Paramor
Weeks at number 1: 1 (24-30 January)
Wham! singer Andrew Ridgeley – 26 January
Journalist George Monbiot – 27 January
29 January: As the first wintry month of 1963 drew to a close, President of France Charles de Gaulle vetoed the UK’s entry into the European Economic Community, along with Denmark, Norway and Ireland. De Gaulle was concerned that the membership of the UK would see US influence creep in.
It must have sounded to many like their record players or radios were malfunctioning at first. Telstar slowly fades in like no number 1 had ever done, to the sound of white noise, conjuring up images of the satellite the song was named after, before the clavioline begins and the tune gallops into life. Joe Meek’s imaginative masterpiece was a futuristic, optimistic anthem promising (like popular culture did so much at the time) a bright space-age future. But for its creator, it ultimately resulted in his life spiralling out of control, leading to murder and suicide.
Meek was obsessed with technology, so the launch of the Telstar communications satellite was a natural source of inspiration for him. He had become intrigued by the sound of the clavioline on the Dave Cortez hit The Happy Organ, and must have felt the instrument would help his new instrumental sound suitably space age. He gave the song to his group The Tornados, who formed in 1960, before providing backing for rock’n’roller Billy Fury. Like The Shadows with Cliff Richard, they also recorded instrumentals under their own name. In 1962 the group consisted of Clem Cattini on drums, who had already recorded several number 1s and would go on to perform more than anyone else, George Bellamy on rhythm guitar (father of Muse frontman Matt Bellamy, and very possibly an influence on that band), bassist Heinz Burt, lead guitarist Alan Caddy and Norman Hale on keyboards.
Meek produced Telstar in his usual (or unusual) way, recording the bulk of the track with the band in his flat. After laying down the main instruments, his associate Geoff Goddard, who had written Meek’s previous number 1, Johnny Remember Me added the clavioline that made the tune so unique, Meek was then in his element, adding the effects that were his signature. That sound of a spacecraft taking off at the beginning is in fact his toilet flushing, in reverse. Meek was achieving backwards effects four years before George Martin and The Beatles were experimenting along similar lines. Deciding that this new song needed something to help bring it to a climax, he hit upon the idea of adding a wordless vocal to mirror the clavioline, which Goddard also provided. The Tornados thought this was a bad idea, and you can’t blame them, as such a technique wasn’t well known at the time. Who’d heard of an instrumental with singing on it? At some point, the group also filmed a primitive video, with film clips of astronauts interspersed with the Tornados playing along. So much for Bohemian Rhapsody being the first music video.
Ever since Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in 1961, the US became obsessed with the space age, and sure enough the UK followed suit. Telstar tapped into this feeling like no other song had even attempted at that point. Listening to this joyous sound, record buyers must have felt the future was now, and that it would only be a matter of time before they or their children would be living on the moon. 56 years later, it’s truly remarkable that such a song could come from the troubled mind of a schizophrenic in his independent home studio. The charts had come a long way since Al Martino’s Here in My Heart, nearly 10 years previous.
Telstar was one of the biggest-selling singles of the year and became the first US number 1 to come from a UK group. Capitalising on its success, Meek produced a new version, with lyrics, entitled Magic Star, sung by Kenny Hollywood, but the lyrics took away some of the song’s mystery.
Sadly, the original single was caught up in a legal battle when French composer Jean Ledrut accused Meek of plagiarising La Marche d’Austerlitz, a part of a score he had composed for the 1960 film Auschwitz. Meek claimed to have never seen the film (it hadn’t been released in the UK at this point), but the lawsuit prevented him from receiving any royalties for his biggest hit. Come 1967, this would have fatal repercussions.
In 1963, with Beatlemania on the rise (Meek had turned down the chance to work with the Fab Four), instrumental groups were losing ground, and The Tornados began to fall apart. This was in part due to Meek’s growing obsession with the bassist Heinz, who he had convinced he could make a solo star. Unfortunately, Heinz couldn’t sing, and the vocals on his solo debut were over-dubbed. Audiences weren’t keen, and poor Heinz would be attacked on stage, with beans thrown over him (Heinz Baked Beans, y’see). Eventually Heinz and Meek fell out, with Heinz leaving behind a shotgun…
In 1965 Clem Cattini left The Tornados to go on to a safer and hugely successful career as a session drummer, and the band were left with no original members. In 66, the band made history again, releasing the first openly gay song, Do You Come Here Often? as a B-side The organ-led instrumental featured a casual conversation between two seemingly-homosexual men. The Tornados would do what countless 60s bands went on to do, namely reforming in a million different line-ups, and recorded various versions of Telstar. The original will always be the best. It was also one of Margaret Thatcher’s favourite songs, but don’t let that put you off.
Written & produced by: Joe Meek
Weeks at number 1: 5 (4 October-7 November)
Presenter Caron Keating – 5 October Actress Nicola Bryant – 11 October Artist Naive John – 18 October Comedian Boothby Graffoe – 20 October – t Presenter Nick Hancock – 25 October Actor Cary Elwes – 26 October
Activist Hugh Franklin – 21 October
Journalist Percy Cudlipp – 5 November
5 October: The day after Telstar reached number 1, the public were served notice that soon the worlds of music and cinema would be changed dramatically, heralding the start of the 60s, two years after they’d actually began. The first James Bond film, Dr No, starring Sean Connery, and The Beatles’ Love Me Do, were released.
Wonderful Land by The Shadows stayed at number 1 for a very impressive eight weeks, and is considered one of the most memorable songs of the era. Although Nut Rocker only managed one week at the top, and the group behind it, B Bumble and The Stingers, weren’t heard of again, their instrumental has also proven to have some staying power over the years.
B Bumble and The Stingers were the house band of session musicians at Rendezvous Records in Los Angeles. The line-up included guitarist René Hall (who had come up with the name) and drummer Earl Palmer, and they had already had US hit with a rock’n’roll version of In the Mood (credited to the Ernie Fields Orchestra) and Bumble Boogie.
In early 1962 Kim Fowley secured the copyright to record an arrangement of March from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite. Fowley was a producer and singer who had secured a US number 1 in 1960 with Alley Oop (credited to the Hollywood Argyles). He took the song to local pianist HB Barnum, who recorded it as Jack B Nimble and The Quicks for the tiny label Del Rio. However, Rod Pierce of Rendezvous Records was convinced his label could do better, and he persuaded Fowley to produce a new recording.
A session was swiftly arranged, but the pianist from Bumble Boogie, Ernie Freeman, was a no-show due to a particularly intense bout of partying the night before. Luckily, Hall recalled a pianist called Al Hazan that would be up to the task. Hazan was whisked into the Rendezvous office, which had been turned into a studio. He was still rehearsing with the others when it was decided to record the first take. Hazan was not happy with his performance, but Pierce said it was fine and the song was ready to go.
Rendezvous Records were clearly keen to get this track out there, and I’d side with Pierce on this. That first take of Nut Rocker sounds great to these ears, and captures the fun, sprightly spontaneity that the label were looking for. Going on the band name and song title, I came to this with some trepidation, expecting a self-consciously zany number that would grate. I was pleased to discover that it doesn’t outstay its welcome and doesn’t go overboard with wackiness. And of course, from that first bash of keys, I realised I already knew it – Nut Rocker has been used on film and TV countless times.
Eager to capitalise on their number 1 achievement in the UK (it only reached 23 in the US), Rendezvous put together a touring group. This was often the way in the 50s and 60s – if session musicians had a hit, a different group would look after the live shows.
The new group was led by RC Gamble, who became ‘Billy Bumble’. Hazan was also on board, so clearly he can’t have been too annoyed with the label after all. The group hit the UK in October to help promote their follow-up, Apple Knocker, which was based on Rossini’s William Tell Overture. However, despite this and several other singles, they never had any further success.
By mid-1963, Hall was busy working with Sam Cooke and Fowley was keen to move on. He went on to become a cult figure in the music industry. His 1965 song The Trip was one of the first to explicitly refer to LSD, and from there he worked with Frank Zappa, helped a nervous John Lennon on stage at Plastic Ono Band’s debut gig, and remained a presence in music until his death in 2015.
Hall had become a collaborator with Marvin Gaye before dying of heart disease in 1988. Gamble retired from music in 1965 and went on to become an economic professor. He died in 2008.
Nut Rocker was rereleased several times, and a cover, known as Nutrocker, was released by prog rock giants Emerson, Lake and Palmer in 1972.
Written by: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky & Kim Fowley
Producer: Kim Fowley
Weeks at number 1: 1 (17-23 May)
Scottish presenter Craig Ferguson – 17 May Journalist Alan Johnston – 17 May
1962 featured far fewer number 1s than the previous year due to several huge sellers. The first three number 1s alone took up close to half the year, and Wonderful Land by The Shadows was the longest-serving, notching up an impressive eight weeks at the peak of the charts. This hadn’t happened since Perry Como’s Magic Moments in 1958, and wouldn’t happen again until Sugar Sugar by The Archies in 1969. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the best-selling single of 1962 though – that honour went to Frank Ifield’s I Remember You.
Other than Apache, Wonderful Land has become the song most people identify with the classic Shadows sound. Both tracks came from the pen of singer-songwriter Jerry Lordan. Lordan clearly knew how to write a hit, but by his own admission was terrible at coming up with song titles. He played the unnamed instrumental to the group, and guitarist Hank Marvin wisely thought it conjured up images of America, suggesting Wonderful Land as its title. Lordan wasn’t keen, but in lieu of a better option, the name stuck.
Marvin was right, Wonderful Land does conjure up images of the epic, grandiose vastness of America. However, The Shadows weren’t only tipping the hat to America, they were also soundtracking the optimism of 60s Britain. Although no group captured this feeling better than The Beatles, The Shadows were an important step in this direction. Despite referencing the US, the group never achieved any lasting success stateside.
As I said in my blog for The Young Ones, Norrie Paramor often throws everything he can at a tune, to its detriment, but here he lets the song breathe, and it’s effective, helping to make the song feel much more epic than its two-minute running time. I can understand why Wonderful Land did so well in 1962, but do I enjoy it? It doesn’t compare to Apache in my opinion – it’s just a little too nice, and the more I hear of The Shadows work, the more I realise that Apache was perhaps an exception. Nonetheless, Wonderful Land is a rather charming souvenir of the pre-Beatles era, and certainly more memorable than Kon-Tiki.
Wonderful Land marked another period of transition within the band. Although Tony Meehan had left to become a session drummer when Kon-Tiki was at number 1, he was still in the line-up when Wonderful Land had been recorded. This time, it was bassist Jet Harris’s turn to leave.
Whether he was sacked due to his drink problem or he left of his own accord depends on whose story you believed, but Harris later claimed his alcoholism came about due to separating from his wife, who subsequently had a relationship with Cliff Richard. If true, this certainly casts a shadow (sorry) on Cliff’s saintly image, and potentially rumours about his sexuality, but I digress. Harris had been an important member of the band – he came up with their name, and he is believed to have been the first musician in the UK to play an electric bass. Harris was quite surly, an image at odds with the friendliness the group usually projected, and his bass playing was occasionally aggressive. When he was replaced by Brian ‘Licorice’ Locking, The Shadows lost what little element of danger they might have had. And despite the controversy Harris’s drinking would cause, he went on to have one more number 1 – Diamonds, with Meehan, and written by Lordan once again.
Written by: Jerry Lordan
Producer: Norrie Paramor
Weeks at number 1: 8 (22 March-16 May)
Rower Steve Redgrave – 23 March Author John O’Farrell – 27 March Presenter Phillip Schofield – 1 April Scottish actor John Hannah – 23 April Writer Polly Samson -29 April Snooker player Jimmy White – 2 May Depeche Mode singer Dave Gahan – 9 May The Cult singer Ian Astbury – 14 May
Welsh politician Clement Davies – 23 March Original Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe – 10 April Cricketer Ernest Tyldesley – 5 May
2 April: Panda crossings were introduced to the UK. Rather than make crossing the roads safer, the flashing lights managed to confuse drivers and pedestrians alike, and the system was replaced in 1967 by the X-ray, which evolved into the pelican crossing.
4 April: James Hanratty was hanged at Bedford Prison after being found guilty of the A6 murders. Many believed him to be innocent, and witnesses had even claimed to have seen him in Rhyl at the time of the murders of Michael Gregsten and his mistress, Valerie Storie. Hanratty’s family and supporters still protest his innocence to this day.
10 April: Stuart Sutcliffe, the original bassist with The Beatles, died aged 21 of a brain aneurysm. Never a confident musician, he had stayed on in Hamburg to study painting.
18 April: The government announced that from 1 July, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act would remove free immigration from citizens of member states of the Commonwealth of Nations.
27 April: Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s popularity was plummeting, and an opinion poll revealed less than half of all voters approved of him as leader.
28 April: Ipswich Town won the Football League First Division title, in their first season playing at such a level.
5 May: Tottenham Hotspur retained the FA Cup with a 3-1 win over Burnley at Wembley Stadium.
Although Cliff Richard and The Shadows were still a firm fixture in the charts, and these were the years in which they couldn’t put a foot wrong, 1961 was a surprisingly quiet year for number 1s from either act.
Together they released four singles, all of which reached the top five, and The Shadows had also had plenty of top 10 success since the influential Apache in 1960.
The first week of October saw the instrumental four-piece back at the top with a track by Michael Carr. Carr had co-written We’re Going to Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line with Jimmy Kennedy in 1939, which became very popular during the early stages of World War Two. 21 years later he had written Man of Mystery for the Shadows, which had reached number five in December 1960.
This latest instrumental, Kon-Tiki, was named after the famous hand-built raft used by Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl in 1947 to cross the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Tuamotu Islands. A 1950 documentary film about Heyerdahl’s dangerous mission, also named Kon-Tiki, won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature the following year.
You would think a song named after such an adventure would be full of tension and danger, but Kon-Tiki is no Apache. It’s a fast-paced showcase for Hank Marvin’s surf guitar sound, but there aren’t many hooks to speak of and it’s too polite to leave much of an impact.
During Kon-Tiki‘s brief stint at number 1, drummer Tony Meehan left the group to become a session drummer and arranger for eccentric genius Joe Meek, who had produced John Leyton’s Johnny Remember Me. He was replaced by Brian Bennett, who stayed with The Shadows for the rest of their active years.
Written by: Michael Carr
Producer: Norrie Paramor
Weeks at number 1: 1 (5-11 October)
Formula 1 driver Julian Bailey – 9 October Spandau Ballet bassist Martin Kemp – 10 October Children’s TV presenter Neil Buchanan – 11 October
10 October: The entire island of Tristan da Cunha was evacuated to Surrey when a volcano erupted. There they remained until 1963, bizarrely.