185. The Moody Blues – Go Now (1965)

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On a typically pale, grey 30 January, the nation bid a final farewell to Sir Winston Churchill, the man who had saved the country from tyranny at the hands of the Nazis. For three days and three nights, over 300,000 mourners had filed past his casket. A million people gathered along the procession route as the gun carriage rode past 10 Downing Street and Trafalgar Square, where 20 years previously the mood had been altogether different as the news of victory in World War Two was celebrated. The service took place in St Paul’s Cathedral, attended by the Royal family and world leaders, before he was buried privately at Bladon, near his family’s ancestral home in Oxfordshire.

And so it was rather appropriate that the number 1 single at the time was a song about being unable to cope with the departure of a loved one. Go Now was very different to the type of songs that the Moody Blues would later be famous for, but then this was a different line-up.

The group first formed in Birmingham in 1964. Multi-instrumentalist Ray Thomas, bass player John Lodge and keyboardist Mike Pinder had been members of El Riot & the Rebels. Thomas and Pinder then joined the Krew Cats, but they disbanded after a spell in Hamburg. They recruited Denny Laine as their guitarist and singer, Graeme Edge as their drummer and Clint Warick as bassist after Lord declined due to still being at college. They hoped for a sponsorship deal from the M&B Brewery and named themselves the M Bs and the M B Five, but it never came off, so they became the Moody Blues as a subtle reference to Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo. That spring they signed with Decca. Getting a beat group a record deal had become much easier once Beatlemania began, but their debut single Steal Your Heart Away failed to chart.

They then decided to record Go Now. This soul ballad had been written by Larry Banks and Milton Bennett for Banks’ wife, Bessie, who had recorded a demo in 1962. Hit-making producers and Elvis Presley collaborators Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller produced a new version with her the following year. Upon hearing Bessie Banks’ version, Laine was entranced and insisted the Moody Blues make it their next single. It was produced by Denny Cordell, who later produced number 1s for Procul Harum and Joe Cocker.

The opening of Go Now is one of my favourite introductions to any song. So much so, I can find myself singing it without warning. It seems to have taken up a special place within my brain over the years. Laine’s vocal throughout is perfect, and although the Moody Blues version is a straightforward copy of the original, his voice has an edge to it that tops Banks’ performance. Critics of the song point out that after the beginning the lyrics don’t really go anywhere, but I think that’s kind of the point. The singer is so broken up, they can’t get it together enough to formulate their thoughts. I’ll always have a soft spot for Go Now.

Unusually, the band filmed a promotional video, produced and directed by co-manager Alex Wharton. The Beatles were one of the only other bands attempting such an idea at the time. Watching Go Now, you have to wonder if this is where Queen got the idea for Bohemian Rhapsody (see above).

And that was just about it for the Moody Blues. Except it wasn’t. Wharton left the stable shortly after their debut album The Magnificient Moodies was released, and they couldn’t capitalise on their early success. In June 1966 Warwick quit to be replaced by Rod Clark. Things got worse when Laine left that October during recording for their second album, with Clark choosing to leave the sinking ship a few days later.

Down, but not out, the remaining three recruited Justin Hayward to replace Laine, and Lodge returned to the fold now his college days were done. Come 1967, the music world was changing once more, and psychedelia was growing in popularity. Wisely, the Moody Blues chose to abandon the R’n’B sound and move towards a more experimental sound. Their contract with Decca was about to expire but they owed the label a lot of money and their second album never surfaced. Luckily for them they found a sympathetic figure in Hugh Mendl, who had just established Deram as a more leftfield offshoot of Decca. He helped throw the Moody Blues a lifeline: make a rock version of Antonín Dvořák’s New World Symphony to promote the label’s Deramic Stereo Sound audio format, and their debt would be written off. The band agreed, but the project fell through, so they set to work on the album that would become Days of Future Passed. Blending classical music with psychedelia, the Moody Blues became purveyors of symphonic rock, and eventually progressive rock giants. Having listened to the album for the first time recently, I have to admit to being disappointed. It takes itself a bit too seriously, but you’d be a fool to not love Nights in White Satin. I prefer their follow-up album, the more out-there In Search of the Lost Chord (1968), particularly Ride My See-Saw, Legend of a Mind and Om.

The Moody Blues split in 1974, but were back together only three years later, and have continued ever since despite further line-up changes. Hawyard, Lodge and Edge have remained, however. Despite the fact they have never been the most fashionable of groups, they were and are hugely successful, and earlier this year they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

And what became of Denny Laine? Oh, not much. He formed the Electric String Band with ex-members of the Move and the Pretty Things, in a set-up similar to that of the Electric Light Orchestra, who came later. He also tried his hand as a solo artist before forming Balls in February 1969 (great name) and also played in Ginger Baker’s Air Force. In 1971, he became a multi-instrumentalist in Paul and Linda McCartney’s new group, Wings. Considering how similar his name is to Penny Lane, it was clearly meant to be. He contributed lead and rhythm guitars, lead and backing vocals, bass and woodwinds. So, no shrinking violet, despite working with an ex-Beatle. Wings were one of the biggest bands of the 1970s, and he co-wrote, among others, Mull of Kintyre, one of the biggest-selling singles of all time and the 1977 Christmas number 1. He decided to leave Wings after McCartney became reluctant to tour in the wake of John Lennon’s death. He did occasionaly continue to collaborate with McCartney, though. He performs with the Denny Laine Band to this day.

Written by: Larry Banks & Milton Bennett

Producer: Denny Cordell

Weeks at number 1: 1 (28 January-3 February)

Births:

Wrestler Norman Smiley – 28 February

Deaths:

Cricketer Tich Freeman – 28 January 

140. Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires – She’s Not You (1962)

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14 September saw Teledu Cymru begin transmissions to the North and West Wales region, which meant that ITV was now available anywhere in the UK. Six days later, Ford launched one of its most famous cars, the Cortina, which would have then set you back £573. Although it later became a much-mocked vehicle, it was one of the most popular cars of the 1970s, and even into the 80s, when poor families like mine could still be seen driving around in one. The following day, long-running student quiz University Challenge made its debut on ITV. This original incarnation ran until New Year’s Eve 1987, with Bamber Gascoigne presenting.

Meanwhile, Frank Ifield’s million-selling yodelling superhit I Remember You was finally usurped by, well, guess? That’s right, it’s Elvis again, for the 12th time! At this point he’s still making music that is nearly always a pale imitation of his previous classics (Can’t Help Falling in Love excepted, of course), he’s still starring in bad films, and he’s basically muddling through, yet still the UK are buying everything he releases and sending him to the top. This was soon to change, as we know. Previous number 1, Good Luck Charm, saw one of his top songwriters depart from the team due to a financial dispute, and other great creative talents were soon to leave too. She’s Not You was a rare collaboration between Doc Pomus, who co-wrote Surrender, and Lieber and Stoller, the duo behind Presley’s best number 1, Jailhouse Rock. Unusually, Chet Atkins is also credited as producer alongside Steve Sholes.

She’s Not You is a step up from Good Luck Charm, although that’s not saying a great deal. Once again, the music is a plodding boogie-woogie, but at least this time Elvis sings with some presence. The lyrics are also an improvement. The idea of Elvis settling for second best and comparing her to his true love is a good idea. But come on now, this stuff is starting to sound really dated – even the sexist Come Outside sounded more progressive than this, and record buyers were perhaps finally feeling the same, as it only remained at number 1 for three weeks – Elvis’s shortest stint since 1959’s I Got Stung/One Night. The next number 1 would be the sound of the future.

Written by: Jerry Lieber, Mike Stoller & Doc Pomus

Producer: Steve Sholes & Chet Atkins

Weeks at number 1: 3 (13 September-3 October)

Births:

Comedian Steve Punt – 15 September
Comedian Jack Dee – 24 September
Scottish footballer Ally McCoist, – 24 September
Everything But the Girl singer Tracey Thorn – 26 September

Deaths:

Dramatist Patrick Hamilton – 23 September

67. Elvis Presley – Jailhouse Rock (1958)

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On 6 February, 1958, British European Airways Flight 609 crashed on its third attempt to take off from Munich-Riem Airport in West Germany. Slush on the runway caused the plane to smash through a fence, and it then hit a house, tearing the left win off. On board the craft were the Manchester United football team, then known as ‘Busby’s Babes’ after their manager, Matt Busby, along with supporters and journalists. The team hadn’t been beaten for 11 matches and were one of the best in the country. 20 people died at the scene of the Munich Air Disaster that day, and one on the way to hospital. Among them were seven of Busby’s Babes. Bobby Charlton and Busby were among the survivors, but the manager and several other players were seriously injured. 

Number 1 at the time of this terrible event was Elvis Presley’s second chart-topper, Jailhouse Rock. It had made history as the first single to do straight in at number 1 (and did so again when it was re-released in 2005 – making it the first single to repeat the feat). It deserved to. Unlike All Shook Up, which I was rather lukewarm about, Jailhouse Rock is certainly a classic, and one of Presley’s best songs.

The title track of Elvis’s latest film, it had been written by one of the most famous songwriting partnerships of all time – Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. They had worked with him before, but it was on this film that they developed a close working relationship. The singer came to regard them as his ‘good-luck charm’, and Lieber and Stoller were impressed by his knowledge of black music after initial reservations about his authenticity.

Like Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire, Jailhouse Rock has an excellent intro that grabs from the get-go. Unlike that song, which rocks immediately, the tension builds, with Elvis starting the story behind that famous beat, before kicking into gear with the chorus. As catchy as the song is, and the band put in a great performance, the key here is Elvis’s delivery. It’s possibly his finest vocal performance, and it’s a damn shame he never let rip quite like this again. Lyrically, it’s a bit of a novelty song – the kind Lieber and Stoller enjoyed writing for The Coasters. Elvis plays it completely straight, and you’re too busy enjoying the performance to take too much notice of the silly lyrics. Notably, it’s the first song to contain homosexual references at number 1:

‘Number forty-seven said to number three
“You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see
I sure would be delighted with your company
Come on and do the Jailhouse Rock with me”‘

In a decade in which previous number 1 Answer Me got into trouble purely for using God’s name, this seems somewhat surprising. You could look at it as progress, but it’s perhaps more likely to have either been considered a joke or was missed by everyone enjoying the song too much at the time. There’s also a reference to real-life mobsters The Purple Gang in there, too.

Jailhouse Rock is the sound of a legendary artist at the top of his game, and I ‘get’ Elvis completely when I hear this. It’s such a shame he became stuck doing so many saccharine ballads for films as the years went by.

Written by: Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 3 (24 January-13 February)

Births:

Musician Jools Holland – 24 January
Comedian Linda Smith – 29 January
British broadcasting executive Michael Jackson – 11 February
Scientist Steve Grand – 12 February 

Deaths:

Manchester United players and associates in the Munich air disaster – 6 February: Roger Byrne (team captain), Geoff Bent, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, Billy Whelan, Frank Swift (journalist and former Manchester City and England goalkeeper)
Suffragette Christabel Pankhurst – 13 February