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 

145. The Shadows – Dance On! (1963)

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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 Shadows singles 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.

As the first wintry month of 1963 drew to a close, 29 January saw President of France Charles de Gaulle veto 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.

Written by: Valerie Murtagh, Elaine Murtagh & Ray Adams

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 1 (24-30 January)

Births

Wham! singer Andrew Ridgeley – 26 January
Journalist George Monbiot – 27 January 

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 

92. Cliff Richard and the Shadows – Travellin’ Light (1959)

On 30 October, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club opened in Soho, London. One of the most renowned venues of its kind, some of the artists who later played there include Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Curtis Mayfield, Prince and Jimi Hendrix, in his final public performance. Two days later, the first section of the M1 opened, between Watford and Rugby. London Transport. 17 November saw Prestwick and Renfrew become the first UK airports to feature duty free shops.

During this period, and beyond, Cliff Richard enjoyed his second lengthy stay at number 1 of the year, after Living Doll had become the biggest-selling single of 1959. Since Living Doll, his backing band, the Drifters, had run into trouble. Unlike most backing bands at the time, they had signed a separate contract to Cliff, meaning they could release material on their own. Their first single, Feelin’ Fine, had to be withdrawn in the US when the manager of the famous soul group with the same name threatened legal action. The second single, Jet Black, was credited to The Four Jets, but manager Norrie Paramor suggested they needed to find a name and stick to it. That July while in a pub in Ruslip, bassist Jet Harris suggested to guitarist Hank Marvin they should be called The Shadows, and thus the name of one of the most famous bands of the next few years was finally settled. Ironically, Bobby Vee’s backing group were also called the Shadows, but Marvin and co didn’t know this, so tough. Travellin’ Light, written by Sid Tepper & Roy C Bennett, became their first single with their new name. Tepper and Bennett became two of Richards’ most frequent collaborators, and they also wrote many songs for Elvis Presley, particularly for his films.

Travellin’ Light is pretty much a rewrite of Living Doll, as close as you can get to following up a number 1 with a repeat of the same formula. It’s also quite similar to Roger Miller’s 1965 number 1, King of the Road – had he been listening to this? The production is also similar to before, but this time Cliff’s voice has been treated with a strong echo effect, and there’s some welcome twangy guitar flourishes from Marvin, that could have done to be louder in the mix. Cliff is on his way to see his girl, and he’s so excited he’s taken nothing with him. He can’t even be bothered with a comb or toothbrush, the dirty beggar. It’s an average country tune that would be better remembered if they’d at least tried to make it sound different to what had come before, but five weeks at number 1 suggests their fans were happy with more of the same.

Written by: Sid Tepper & Roy C Bennett

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 5 (30 October-3 December)

Births:

Actor Peter Mullan – 2 November
Actor Paul McGann – 14 November
Footballer Jimmy Quinn – 18 November
Politician Charles Kennedy – 25 November
Presenter Lorraine Kelly – 30 November
Actress Gwyneth Strong – 2 December

Deaths:

Pianist Albert Ketèlbey – 26 November

88. Cliff Richard and the Drifters – Living Doll (1959)

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‘Look out! Cliff!’ It’s hard to believe now, but when Sir Cliff Richard’s first single Move It narrowly missed out on number 1 to Connie Francis’s Carolina Moon/Stupid Cupid in 1958, he was considered edgy, and the closest we had to our own Elvis Presley. Tommy Steele’s impersonation of ‘the King’ on Singing the Blues was too similar, and he soon began concentrating on his film career. Unlike Elvis, Cliff was and is mainly a British phenomenon, and his cool image soon disappeared, and was forever replaced by that of the wholesome Christian entertainer. Not that it damaged his career of course. Cliff is the third biggest-selling artist in the history of the UK singles chart, behind The Beatles and Elvis, selling over 21 million in this country alone. This is the first of many staggering statistics – 67 UK top ten singles, 14 of which were number 1. Along with Elvis, he is the only act to make the chart in the first six decades, and is the only singer to have had number 1s from the 1950s through to the 90s. This is the story of Living Doll, his first.

Harry Rodger Webb had been born in Lucknow, British India on 14 October 1940. The Webbs had a modest life there, but following Indian Independence in 1948 they moved into a smaller semi-detached house in Carshalton, south London. The teenage Webb became keenly interested in skiffle, like so many future stars, and his father bought him a guitar for his 16th birthday. In 1957 he formed the Quintones, before becoming the singer in the Dick Teague Skiffle Group, and then the Drifters. This was, of course, not the US soul group of the same name. entrepreneur Harry Greatorex became their manager, and suggested Webb needed a name change if they were to get anywhere. He came up with ‘Cliff’– because it sounded like ‘rock’, and band member Ian Samwell thought Richard would make a great surname as a tribute to Little Richard. Together with drummer Terry Smart and guitarist Norman Mitham, they were now Cliff Richard and the Drifters, and Move It, penned by Samwell, stormed the charts. Cliff was a sensation, with his good looks, scowl and rock’n’roll attitude. John Lennon even called it the first British rock record.

Further singles followed, coming and going from the top ten. By the time of Richard’s film debut, in the film Serious Charge (1959), the line-up of the Drifters had become Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch on guitars, bassist Jet Harris and Tony Meeham on drums. Lionel Bart had been approached to write songs for the film. Bart had already won awards for his pop songs, and had helped discover Tommy Steele, before moving into musicals soon after. He was browsing a newspaper when he came across an advert for a child’s doll. Ten minutes later he had written the controversial lyric for Living Doll. Originally planned as a rock’n’roll song (as featured in the film), Richard was not a fan, and was horrified to hear it was going to be their next single. Producer Norrie Paramor told him they could record it any way they wanted as long as it got done. It was Welch that came up with the genius idea of slowing down the tempo and making it a country song. Previously, the Drifters had only accompanied Cliff in live performances. This was their recording debut.

Welch’s change of pace proved to be a masterstroke, and completely made the song, It’s still an ear worm now, as I can’t get it out of my head after relistening. The problem with Living Doll, of course, is Bart’s lyrics. They really haven’t aged well, and it’s hard to match Christian crusader Cliff Richard with words that objectify women so badly. The easy-going charm of the tune cannot disguise the sinister, misogynistic lyrics that Cliff is crooning (and his crooning is really effective here – Living Doll is a great production by Paramor). The words are just plain odd at times, too. For instance, if they are taken literally, then Cliff is chuffed that, although his girl looks like a doll, her hair is in fact real, and what’s more, he’ll let you have a feel if you like. Even worse, Cliff seems to get jealous very easily, and is prepared to lock her in a trunk to keep her away from other men. I wonder if Cliff ever wonders what God thinks of him singing this? Of course, in 1959, nobody gave a toss about comparing women to dolls, and Living Doll became the biggest-selling song of the year. It also marked the beginning of the end of ‘Edgy Cliff’, with his sound becoming more family-oriented. It was 27 years later that Cliff took a decidedly irreverent version of the same song back to the top, and that’s the version I first heard, but we’ll hear about that when we get to 1986.

During Living Doll‘s six-week period at the top, Barclays made history as the first bank to install one of those new-fangled computers (4 August), and on 26 August, the first Mini, an icon of the following decade, went on sale.

Written by: Lionel Bart

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 6 (31 July-10 September) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Journalist Kim Newman – 31 July
Del Leppard singer Joe Elliott – 1 August
Dead or Alive singer Pete Burns – 5 August 

Deaths:

Poet Edgar Guest – 5 August
Sculptor Jacob Epstein – 19 August
Actress Kay Kendall – 6 September