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 

134. The Shadows – Wonderful Land (1962)

 

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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 were not only tipping the hat to America, they were also soundtracking the optimism of 1960s 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.

In the news during these months… 2 April saw the introduction of panda crossings 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. On 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. A fortnight later 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. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s popularity was plummeting at that point, and on 27 April an opinion poll revealed less than half of all voters approved of him as leader.

Meanwhile, in the world of football, Ipswich Town won the Football League First Division title on 28 April, in their first season playing at such a level, and Tottenham Hotspur retained the FA Cup with a 3-1 win over Burnley at Wembley Stadium on 5 May.

And although it wasn’t a newsworthy event at the time, original bassist with the Beatles Stuart Sutcliffe died aged 21 of a brain aneurysm on 10 April. Never a confident musician, he had stayed on in Hamburg to study painting.

Written by: Jerry Lordan

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 8 (22 March-16 May)

Births:

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

Deaths:

Welsh politician Clement Davies – 23 March 
Original Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe – 10 April 
Cricketer Ernest Tyldesley – 5 May 

106. The Shadows – Apache (1960)

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From 25 August to 11 September 1960, Great Britain and Northern Ireland competed in the Olympics, held in Rome. It wasn’t a great performance, with only two gold medals, six silver and 12 bronze brought home. On the same day, Cliff Richard and the Shadows were deposed from the top of the charts by… the Shadows (with a cameo from Cliff). This unusual turn of events came about because the Shadows had a recording contract separate to their one as a backing band for the UK’s most popular artist at the time. Their instrumental, Apache, is of course one of the most memorable and evocative pre-Beatles UK singles, and catapulted them to super-stardom, making Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch, Jet Harris and Tony Meeham the first backing band to step out of the shadows (sorry) and become as popular as their frontman.

As previously stated in my blogs for Living Doll and Travellin’ Light, the Shadows were originally known as the Drifters, and none of the original line-up remained by 1960. When Cliff recorded his first hit, the influential Move It, the band consisted of founder Ken Pavey, Terry Smart, Norman Mitham and Ian Samwell. Samwell had written Move It, but only he and Smart were allowed to play on the recording, and that had taken some persuasion. By the time of the recording of Living Doll, the famous line-up was in place. Hank Marvin, the guitar wizard and most well-known band member, had been hired partly due to his Buddy Holly-style spectacles. Originally, Tony Sheridan, who later recorded My Bonnie with the Beatles, had been in the frame. Jet Harris had christened the group the Shadows just before their second number 1,  Travellin’ Light. The four-piece had released a few of their own singles, but none made it to the charts, until they struck gold with Apache.

Singer-songwriter Jerry Lordan’s tune I’ve Waited So Long had been a hit for Anthony Newley in 1959, and his biggest solo hit, Who Could Be Bluer?, was produced by George Martin, and performing well when Lordan was supporting the Shadows early in 1960. He had been watching the 1954 western Apache, starring Burt Lancaster, and was inspired to write an instrumental on his ukelele. He presented the tune to the Shadows on the tour bus. The influential guitarist Burt Weedon had recorded a version, yet to be released, but Lordan wasn’t a fan, and figured the Shadows could make a better job of it. He wasn’t wrong.

Apache begins with foreboding beats, achieved by none other than Cliff himself, banging away on a Chinese drum. This was the first time Cliff had sounded dangerous since Move It. And it certainly makes for a more effective sound than the impressions of Indians that feature on Johnny Preston’s Running Bear. That famous, hazy surf guitar sound that then enters and really makes Apache came about when cockney singer Joe Brown gave away his echo chamber to Hank Marvin, who played around with it and the tremolo arm of his Fender Stratocaster. You can laugh at how nice and polite the Shadows used to look now, with their funny little choreographed walk and beaming faces, but Apache is a hell of a performance, sounding dangerous, modern, and very cool, as well as achieving what Lordan wanted from the track  – namely something that brought to mind the drama, courage and savagery of the Indians in Burt Lancaster’s film. Although the spotlight falls on Marvin, this is a group performance, and the other three really shine too.

Bizarrely, Norrie Paramor, who usually had a great ear for a hit and had produced plenty of chart-toppers, wasn’t that keen at first, and neither were their record label. Paramor preferred The Quatermasster’s Stores, but admitted at 40 he was perhaps growing out-of-touch, and let his teenage daughter decide. She picked ‘the Indian one’, and Apache slowly creeped to number 1 for five weeks, inspiring countless guitarists. Cliff was gracious and found the idea of being usurped by his own band amusing, and no bad blood resulted.

Of course, Apache went further than influencing rock’n’roll. Michael Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band, a project started by MGM executive Viner, released the album Bongo Rock in 1973. The second track was a fantastic cover of Apache, featuring a now legendary drum break by Jim Gordon, formerly of Derek and the Dimons. That breakbeat became as ubiquitous to hip-hop as James Brown’s Funky Drummer, appearing in early DJ sets by pioneers such as Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash. You’ll recognise it from the Sugarhill Gang’s fun version of Apache, from Grandmaster Flash’s The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel (both 1981), and the West Street Mob’s Break Dance (Electric Boogie) (1983), and they’re just the obvious ones. Why is Gordon not recognised for this contribution to modern music? Perhaps because in 1983, he murdered his mother during a psychotic episode. In fact, yes, I’m certain that’s why.

On 15 September, while Apache was still chopping down all competition, an evil scourge began stalking the streets of London, and life for motorists was never the same again. The dreaded traffic wardens were here, for good.

Written by: Jerry Lordan

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 5 (25 August-28 September)

Births:

Actor Hugh Grant – 9 September
Actor Colin Firth – 10 September
Actor Danny John-Jules – 16 September
Race car driver Damon Hill – 17 September 

Deaths:

Actress Amy Veness – 22 September
Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst – 27 September