200. The Beatles – Help! (1965)

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On 6 August 1965 Elizabeth Lane was appointed as the first female High Court judge. She was assigned to the Family Division. That same day the BBC decided to pull the docu-drama The War Game from transmission as part of its The Wednesday Play strand on BBC1. Directed and produced by Peter Watkins, it portrayed the aftermath of nucelar war. It was deemed too horrifying for public consumption. However, it was publicly screened and shown abroad, and won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1966. It was eventually transmitted on 31 July 1985.

The day before, the Beatles scored their eighth number 1 with the title track to their new film and album, Help!

But a few months before all this, John Lennon and George Harrison had their first encounter with LSD. They were having dinner at the house of Harrison’s dentist John Riley, who spiked their drinks with the mind-altering, life-changing drug. Lennon was understandably terrified, but Harrison enjoyed the experience. They both began to use the drug more often. Later that summer, in fact while Help! was number 1, they dropped acid with Ringo Starr for the first time at Zsa Zsa Gabor’s house during an all-star gathering, featuring David Crosby and Jim McGuinn of the Byrds, who turned Harrison on to Indian music, folk singer Joan Baez and Peter Fonda, who inspired the Revolver (1966) track She Said She Said by freaking the band out, continually saying ‘I know what it’s like to be dead’ because he had once accidentally shot himself. Paul McCartney sat out the acid and was converted in 1966.

Nonetheless, LSD was to change all four Beatles over the next few years, and their music, sometimes beyond all recognition from their early years. Help! was the last single of theirs that sounded like their Merseybeat days, but the lyrics were the most direct they had yet attempted.

Lennon was, as he later stated, going through his ‘Fat Elvis’ stage. This rebellious art student with a tragic childhood was struggling to come to terms with the Fab Four’s stratospheric rise. Learning that the Fab Four’s second film was going to be called Help! rather than Eight Arms to Hold You, Lennon took the opportunity to write his most personal lyrics to date. These lyrics were about him and him only. According to McCartney, Lennon asked him to come up with the countermelody, which he did on 4 April at Lennon’s house. On 13 April they entered the studio to record the song, and did so in 12 takes. The following month they re-recorded the vocals for the film version, which marks the Beatles’ first appearance in the movie.

Lennon remained proud of Help! for the rest of his life, and he considered it one of his best songs. But he did express regret that the Beatles weren’t brave enough to record it as he’d originally intended, in a much slower style, to draw out the sorrow of the emotions expressed. Sonically, you could argue that Help! was a step back after Ticket to Ride, but the fact they went at it with breakneck speed and turned it into a straightforward pop song only adds tension between the music and the words and makes it all the more interesting. It’s a tremendous slice of 60s pop, once again showing the band towered above most of their competition. In a year of classic number 1s, Help! is one of the best. It was also the first time a pop song took a negative look at fame, and while you could argue that these type of songs are too self-obsessed and difficult to draw any sympathy from, the Beatles achieve it by going against the grain and wrapping it up in a pop parcel. Those backing vocals… sublime.

The single was released on 23 July, with the film following six days later. As I stated in my blog for Ticket to Ride, I prefer it to A Hard Day’s Night. It’s a riotous, technicolour piece of surreal fun. On the day the single knocked the Byrds’ Mr Tambourine Man from number 1, the album was released. Featuring original songs by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison on side one, the second side featured covers (for the last time on any Beatles album other than 1970 swansong Let It Be) and of course, Yesterday, featuring McCartney only alongside a string quartet. It remains the most covered song of all time.

Notable covers of Help! include Tina Turner’s in 1984 and Bananarama’s 1988 Comic Relief single alongside Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Kathy Burke, aka Lananeeneenoonoo.

Now the Beatles were hanging out with the counterculture elite, taking psychedelic drugs and listening to Bob Dylan and the Byrds, among others, their rebellious streaks were growing, along with their hair. Despite this, they were also now Members of the Order of the British Empire. That June, Harold Wilson had nominated the foursome, angering many conservative MBE recipients, some of whom returned theirs in protest.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (5-25 August)

Births:

Children’s television presenter Mark Speight – 6 August 

193. The Beatles – Ticket to Ride (1965)

23 April saw the opening of the Pennine Way. The National Trail runs 267 miles from Edale in the Derbyshire Peak District, up to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland. Three days later, Manchester United won the Football League First Division title. In other football news, Liverpool won the FA Cup for the first time, defeating Leeds United 2-1 at Wembley Stadium on 1 May. Elsewhere, on 7 May the Rhodesian Front, led by Ian Smith, won a landslide victory in the general election in Rhodesia.

Meanwhile, the Beatles were at number 1 for the seventh time, with their most adventurous single to date.

In February, they had begun filming, and recording the soundtrack album, for their second movie (their first in colour), provisionally called Eight Arms to Hold You. Just as weird as the title was the film itself. Once again directed by Richard Lester, this was a more surreal, loose, knockabout comedy than A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and with a bigger budget, too. Intended as a spoof of spy films, it essentially became an excuse for the Fab Four to travel to exotic locations. The Beatles spent most of the time stoned out of their minds, and would often struggle to stop themselves laughing while filming. In some scenes, their eyes are bloodshot from all the smoking they indulged in. Lads.

Fortunately for everyone, the Beatles on marijuana didn’t result in self-indulgent dribble. It made for their best film. That’s nothing compared to the impact on their music, though.

Ticket to Ride was the first track worked on for their fifth album. In 1980, Lennon claimed in Playboy that the song was pretty much his own. He also proudly stated it invented heavy metal. The jury’s out on both, but it began one hell of a creative patch. None of their singles had sounded like this, musically or lyrically. He said Paul McCartney was only responsible for Ringo Starr’s drum sound, whereas McCartney later stated they wrote it together in three hours.

Even if Lennon was right, you can’t underestimate the drums on Ticket to Ride, so McCartney clearly made an important contribution. Making Starr play in such a stop-start fashion created an epic, proto-pyschedelic sound, which isn’t that far removed from the still-startling Tomorrow Never Knows, created a year later. George Harrison once said that the drums were also influenced by the equally important jagged guitar riff, which he claimed ownership of, having played it on his Rickenbacker. Whoever came up with what, this track was breaking new ground.

Although the Beatles were innovative with their songwriting from the start, those first few years were often full of basic lyrics about love. Not this time. The combination of an adoration of Bob Dylan and drugs made the words in Ticket to Ride more adult, oblique and interesting. A woman is leaving the narrator, that much we know. So far, so ‘blues’. But where to? Some suggest the woman has become a prostitute. McCartney once claimed she’s simply off to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. I find the former more likely. The prefix of ‘I think’ adds so much to the song, without explaining itself. And although the narrator isn’t sure exactly whether he’s upset or not, he says his baby definitely isn’t. It was rare at the time to allow a woman in a break-up to have the upper hand in a pop song.

Ticket to Ride was also a first for the Beatles for the way in which it was recorded. They were taking an increased interest in the way their songs sounded, and from now on they would tape rehearsals and concentrate on backing tracks, before overdubbing more instruments and the vocals.

Although most of the rest of the album it came from was fairly straightforward, Ticket to Ride marked the start of the band’s psychedelic period, and that’s easily my favourite era of my favourite band. The slow pace of the drumming, combined with the drone of the guitars, gives it an Indian feel. It seems this was a coincidence rather than by design, as it was later, during the making of the film, that Harrison became interested in Indian music (it seems the decidedly un-PC comedy Indian characters in Help! had their uses after all). The middle-eight was your more standard Beatles fare, but I can still find the switch back to the main riff spine-tingling, even after all these years. The ‘My baby don’t care’ refrain in the coda is a thrilling climax, with great guitar licks from McCartney.

Ticket to Ride enjoyed a lengthy (by 1965 standards – most number 1s only lasted a week) three-week stint at the top. It was their longest track to date, running for over three minutes. Singles were getting longer, hair was getting longer, things were getting weirder. They promoted the song on Top of the Pops, and a brief clip of the performance was also shown on Doctor Who in May, as part of the story The Chase.

The most famous performance of the song was in their second movie. By the time of its release it was known as Help!, and Ticket to Ride featured in a sequence in which the band learned to ski in the Austrian Alps while also avoiding the assassins attempting to steal Ringo’s ring. A highly influential part of the film, some say it was a big influence on the idea of music videos and eventually MTV.

As I mentioned in my blog for I Feel Fine though, the Beatles were already making promo films to save them having to be everywhere at once. That November, they made promos for their next single, Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out, and also made one for Ticket to Ride to feature on a festive edition of Top of the Pops. The foursome mimed in front of a backdrop of large tickets, with John, Paul and George sat in director’s chairs.

She Loves You is perhaps the greatest pop song of all time, but I think Ticket to Ride may be my favourite song of the early years of the Beatles. Time will never dull its magnificence.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (22 April-12 May)

Births:

Actress Anna Chancellor – 27 April 
Television presenter Alice Beer – 1 May 
Wrestler Darren Matthews – 10 May

Deaths:

Welsh novelist Howard Spring – 3 May

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 

183. The Beatles – I Feel Fine (1964)

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December, 1964. The 21st of that month saw MPs vote in favour of abolishing the death penalty, with the abolition likely to happen before the end of 1965. Two days later Richard Beeching announced he was to resign as Chairman of the British Railway Board. In his three years he had made enemies thanks to his closure of many small railways. 31 years in the future, a sitcom was made about his era, called Oh, Doctor Beeching! It was shit. Also on 23 December, the pirate radio station Wonderful Radio London began broadcasting from MV Galaxy off Frinton-on-Sea.

During this period, and well into January 1964, the Beatles had a long five-week run at the top with I Feel Fine. This made them the first act to score two concurrent Christmas number 1s. Not that having a number 1 at Christmas was a ‘thing’ back then. But still, it did become a tradition for the Fab Four to rule the airwaves at the end of the year.

1964 had been another phenomenal year for the Beatles. As well as spreading their fame across America, they began to take artistic leaps. This was in part fuelled by drugs. The band had got through long nights in Hamburg on various uppers before they were famous, so it’s not as if they were innocent before they met Bob Dylan that August. He introduced them to cannabis after famously mishearing I Want to Hold Your Hand and assuming they were already using it. The meeting affected everyone involved, with Dylan soon taking the decision to go electric, and Lennon in particular trying to ape Dylan’s songwriting with more introspective lyrics in a more nasally voice. Plus the peaked cap was a dead giveaway.

The band came off an exhausting tour of the US and went straight into the studio to record their fourth album Beatles for Sale. The combination of cannabis and being totally knackered had a big impact, resulting in a more melancholy, downbeat collection of songs. Originally they had planned for it to feature solely original material, but the well was running a little dry, understandably. They still managed to record a new single too, though.

I Feel Fine derived from Lennon’s Eight Days a Week, which was one of the more upbeat album originals. The riff appeared in the backgroud of that song, and had been inspired/stolen from Bobby Parker’s 1961 single Watch Your Step.

So far, so unoriginal. But the Beatles hit upon an introduction which is regarded, of course, as the first known deliberate recording of feedback. McCartney struck a note on his bass at one point, and Lennon’s guitar was leant against an amp, causing the sound to echo around the studio. They loved it, and asked George Martin if they could tack it onto the start of the song. Lennon would often boast about this for the rest of his life in interviews. From here on in, accidents and deliberate manipulation of sound would become more and more importand to the pot-smoking Fab Four.

Introduction aside, I Feel Fine may not be the most revolutionary of Beatles singles, but it’s pretty damn cool. The lyrics are no great shakes, with Lennon singing that, basically, him and his girl are in love. So, er, everything is good. But I love the slinky groove courtesy of Lennon and Harrison, and Starr’s drumming is excellent, and very deliberately reminiscent of the Latin sound of Ray Charles’ influential What’d I Say. Ringo, a poor drummer? He sounds bloody good to me here.

On the day of the single’s release (backed with McCartney’s also great She’s a Woman), they recorded two promotional videos with Joe McGrath. It’s rarely talked about for some reason, but the Beatles were one of the first acts to cotton on to music videos as a great way of promoting their singles when they were too busy to appear everywhere at once. The two videos are surreal, funny, cheap and charming, with Ringo on an exercise bike on the first one, and best of all, the band eating bags of chips in the second.

Following the success of The Beatles Christmas Show the previous year, Brian Epstein decided the group hadn’t worked hard enough this year, and had them work from Christmas Eve until 16 January at the Hammersmith Odeon on Another Beatles Christmas Show. This time the support came from acts including Freddie and the Dreamers, Sounds Incorporated, Elkie Brooks and the Yardbirds. The compere was Jimmy Savile.

On Boxing Day, police launched another missing persons investigation in Ancoats, Manchester, this time for ten-year-old Lesley Ann Downey.  She had been at a fairground on her own when she was approached by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, who pretended to accidentally drop their shopping near her. She agreed to help them carry it to their car, then to their home. The next morning they buried her body in a shallow grave on Saddleworth Moor.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 5 (10 December 1964-13 January 1965)

Births:

Scottish footballer Gary McAllister – 25 December 
Portishead singer Beth Gibbons – 4 January
Pogues bassist Cait O’Riordan – 4 January
Actress Julia Ormond – 4 January
Footballer Vinnie Jones – 5 January
Actress Joely Richardson – 9 January 

Deaths:

Black activist Claudia Jones – 24 December

178. Herman’s Hermits – I’m into Something Good (1964)

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After a run of groundbreaking singles at number 1 that were often dark, primitive and sexually charged, it was time to have a good old-fashioned love song back at the top of the charts. I’m into Something Good was the debut single of clean-cut Mancunians Herman’s Hermits. The group formed in 1963 from the ashes of the Heartbeats and orginally consisted of Keith Hopwood on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, Karl Green on lead guitar and backing vocals, Alan Wrigley on bass, Steve Titterington on drums and Peter Noone on lead vocals. Noone was only 15 but already an experienced actor due to his role in Coronation Street. Before long, Derek ‘Lek’ Leckenby and Barry Whitman from another local group, the Wailers (not those Wailers) joined on lead guitar and drums respectively. Titterington and Wrigley left, so Green moved to bass. Their new band name stemmed from a local publican once saying that Noone looked like Sherman from the cartoon series Rocky and Bullwinkle, so they removed the ‘s’ at the start and became Herman and His Hermits, before shortening it to Herman’s Hermits.

Key to the group’s success was producer Mickie Most. He had recently scored his first number 1 production with the Animals’ The House of the Rising Sun, though he always claimed he got lucky and basically just set the tape running and left it to the group. Nonetheless, Most was becoming a name. The Hermit’s manager, Harvey Lisberg, sent Most a return plane ticket from London to come up to Bolton and watch them play live. The Hermit’s, like the Animals, preferred to play R’n’B numbers, but Most reckoned these boys would work better if they stuck to a lighter pop sound and a squeaky clean image. He was right.

They decided to record I’m into Something Good, by Gerry Goffin and Carole King as their debut single. Goffin and King became one of the best pop songwriting partnerships of the early 1960s after their breakthrough Will You Love Me Tomorrow by the Shirelles. John Lennon was once quoted as saying he and Paul McCartney hoped to become England’s answer to Goffin and King, but the Beatles had become so successful, Goffin, King, and other Brill Building songwriters were beginning to suffer commercially. The original I’m into Something Good had been recorded by Earl-Jean from the Cookies, and it had sank. It had been their attempt to ape the songwriting style of Brian Wilson, as the Beach Boys had been riding high in the US charts since 1963.

You can clearly hear the Beach Boys influence in the Herman’s Hermits recording. Leckenby and Hopwood’s vocal interjections sound so close to the type of backing vocals the Beach Boys use, it’s almost plagiarism. No bad thing though. This single suffers by comparison to some of the stone-cold classic number 1s I’ve reviewed of late, but it’s hard to dislike this bright and breezy track. It’s just the right side of cheesy, and Goffin and King really knew how to write a tune, going on to write some of my favourite tracks by the Monkees, including Pleasant Valley Sunday and The Porpoise Song.

Herman’s Hermits messy split has caused confusion over the years over how many songs the group actually recorded in the studio. Jimmy Page’s name appears yet again as the rumoured guitarist, due to his popularity as a session player at the time. However Whitwam has always refuted Noone and Most’s claim, and believes these rumours have been spread by the singer and producer due to the bad blood over them losing the rights to the band’s name. Whitman and other band members insist the only addition to the group here was a session pianist.

Whoever played on it, it established the young five-piece as popular hitmakers. Lots of hits followed, including Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter, I’m Henry VIII, I Am and No Milk Today, written by Graham Gouldman, a future 10cc founder. Noone left the group in 1971 to become a solo artist, and his first solo hit was a cover of David Bowie’s Oh! You Pretty Things, and featured Bowie on piano. I’m into Something Good became a hit for him once more in 1989 when a solo version memorably featured in the brilliant comedy film The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988) during the montage sequence featuring Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley.

The Hermits soldiered on with new singer Pete Cowap. Getting nowhere, they briefly reunited with Noone before he left agian and Green took over as singer until he retired in 1980. Leckenby died on non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1994, which left Whitwam as the only original member. Due to all the legal wranglings, his band are entitled to be called Herman’s Hermits, apart from when they play in North America, when they have to call themselves Herman’s Hermits starring Barry Whitman. Noone performs solo gigs as Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone. Like I said, messy.

Written by: Gerry Goffin & Carole King

Producer: Mickie Most

Weeks at number 1: 2 (24 September-7 October)

Actor Clive Owen – 3 October 
Footballer Paul Stewart – 7 October

174. The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

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Ian MacDonald, in his excellent book Revolution in the Head (1994), stated that the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night and the final chord of A Day in the Life, two of the most famous examples of such in popular music, bookend the peak creative years of the Beatles. While I don’t always agree with his opinions on the Beatles work, it’s a hell of a tome, and he is spot on in this judgement.

The spring of 1964 had seen the Beatles hurriedly filming their parts in their first feature film, still potentially called, appropriately enough, Beatlemania. The idea was to make a low-budget musical movie that saw the Fab Four pretty much being themselves, coping with their new-found fame, plus a surreal plot involving Paul’s grandfather, played by Wilfred Brambell from Steptoe and Son. Hopefully they could achieve this without falling into the same trap as Elvis, ie, getting stuck in an endless rut of ever-poorer cheap romantic comedies with substandard songs. By April they had recorded most of their third album, for the first time featuring nothing but Lennon and McCartney songs. There are several versions of how the title track came about, but they all state the inspiration came from Ringo Starr and his knack of saying things wrong but somehow making them sound poetic. Referring to the fact they’d often work through the night in the studio, Starr ended one session announcing how it’d been a hard day’s night. John Lennon liked the phrase so much he’d already included it in his first book earlier that year, In His Own Write. This passage came from the short story, Sad Michael:

‘There was no reason for Michael to be sad that morning, (the little wretch): everyone liked him, (the scab). He’d had a hard day’s night that day, for Michael was a Cocky Watchtower.’

The film’s producer Walter Shenson loved the phrase, and decided it would be the name of the film. He told Lennon he needed to write a song with the same name, and was startled to be given it the following day. Lennon and McCartney had already begun composing together less and were getting competitive about who got the A-sides on their singles, and Lennon may have been wanting the hit after McCartney had written previous single Can’t Buy Me Love. This period was Lennon’s most dominant within the Beatles, before McCartney considered himself de facto leader upon Epstein’s suicide, and Lennon was often too high to be bothered to compete so much. The group had the song polished in three hours flat on 16 April.

Knowing that A Hard Day’s Night would open the album as well as the film, the Beatles felt they had to come up with a good opening. What they probably didn’t realise is they would come up with one of the most memorable intros to a pop song ever. That famous chord has been subject to enormous amounts of literature over the years. It would seem it came about from all four band members, plus George Martin on a piano, striking their instruments at once. Such a great intro requires a great song, and the Beatles don’t disappoint there either. It’s one of their best singles of this period, and while the lyrics are still rather cliched, they’re a step up from some of their 1963 material, and anyway, it’s such a strong song, it’s effervescence masks any weak points. Naysayers of Starr’s drumming, begone – his performance propels this track brilliantly. Okay, we could have maybe done without the cowbell, though, and I like a good cowbell, when used right. Macca handles the high notes on the middle eight superbly (Lennon felt he couldn’t do these bits justice) and Harrison and Martin’s duet on guitar and piano is another highlight. Almost as brilliant as the song’s opening is the ending, which was Martin’s inspiration. He pointed out to the group that they were recording film music now, and should keep that in mind when considering the fit of each song into the film. Harrison’s chiming arpeggio is beautiful, and a great example of how many ideas the Beatles were now coming up with. Lesser bands would have built an entire song out of that arpeggio. The guitarist had been given a prototype 12-string Rickenbacker, and it’s ringing sound helps make that third album such a delight.

That summer was all about A Hard Day’s Night. The film was released in the UK on 6 July, and was a critical and commercial smash, cementing the Fab Four as loveable mop-tops, but also showcasing each one’s charisma too. The title track made for a perfect introduction to what followed, and it’s hard to hear the song without picturing the quartet running from screaming girls, with Harrison falling over at one point (this was a genuine accident that was left in the sequence).  Unusually, the US got to hear it first, as the soundtrack album was released on 26 June. The single and album were released simultaneously in the UK on 10 July. In August, both releases held the number 1 spot in both the singles and albums chart in the UK and US, a feat that had never before been achieved.

Also that summer, it was the end of an era when Winston Churchill retired from the House of Commons on 28 July at the ripe old age of 89. A week later, the first portable television sets went on sale to the public. 4 August also saw a classic single released, in a year full of them, when You Really Got Me by the Kinks went on sale. More on that in the near future.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (23 July-12 August)

Births:

Actress Matilda Ziegler – 23 July 

Deaths:

Author Ian Fleming – 12 August

173. The Rolling Stones – It’s All Over Now (1964)

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The Rolling Stones have been old for so long now, it’s hard to imagine how dangerous they must have seemed in 1964. There had been a few rivals to the Beatles’ crown the previous year, but they all followed the same template of charming, always smiling, suit-wearing nice guys. The Animals had been different, and broken the mould with their folk-rock cover of The House of the Rising Sun, but when It’s All Over Now replaced it at number 1, the Rolling Stones became the new biggest threat to the Fab Four, despite the fact they were actually pretty good friends. Here were five long-haired rogues who were in thrall to the blues, who rarely posed for the cameras, who posed a threat to the morals of the older generation.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had been classmates in the early 1950s in Dartford, Kent, but the Jaggers moved five miles away to Wilmington in 1954. Soon after, Jagger formed a garage band with Dick Taylor, and in 1961, Jagger and Richards met again at Dartford railway station. Jagger was carrying Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters records, and the pair got talking about music. Soon after, the duo and Taylor teamed up with Alan Etherington and Bob Beckwith and became the Blues Boys. In March 1962 they read about Ealing Jazz Club and Alexis Korner’s R’n’B band Blues Incorporated. The following month they visited the venue and got to know members of the band, and slide guitarist Brian Jones and keyboardist Ian Stewart decided to form a new band with Jagger, Richards and Taylor. Drummer Tony Chapman is also believed to have been in the line-up for the band’s debut gig at London’s Marquee Club on 12 July. Brian Jones was pressed for a band name by a journalist over the phone beforehand, and he spotted a Muddy Waters LP on the floor. The debut gig saw them billed as the Rollin’ Stones, before they changed their name.

The Rolling Stones toured the UK, performing purely blues and R’n’B tunes by other artists. Bill Wyman replaced Taylor on bass that December, and in January 1963, drummer Charlie Watts jumped ship from Blues Incorporated to replace Chapman. The following month they secured a Sunday residency at the Crawdaddy Club. In May, Andrew Loog Oldham replaced Giorgio Gomelsky as their manager. Oldham had been a publicist for Joe Meek, Bob Dylan’s first UK tour, and even the Beatles. It was they who told him about this hot new blues band. Originally Oldham had the Stones mirror the image of the Beatles, but then wisely decided a contrast would make them stand out of the crowd, and he encouraged them to look threatening and uncouth. He also removed Stewart from the official line-up, deciding he didn’t fit with the image he wanted and that six was one member too many. Stewart remained as road manager and touring keyboardist and would stay with the band until his death in 1985.

Oldham got the Stones signed with Decca Records, who had famously declined the Beatles. Not only that, he arranged for high royalty rates and full artistic control. He appointed himself the band’s producer, despite having no experience, and they would record at Regent Sound Studios, which unlike Abbey Road was mono only. Low booking rates meant longer time in the studio. All this may explain why some of the best Rolling Stones recordings are of a poor fidelity when compared to the Beatles’ works.

Their debut single, a cover of Chuck Berry’s Come On peaked at number 21, despite their refusal to perform it live. The follow-up, I Wanna Be Your Man, was a Lennon and McCartney (mainly McCartney) original. The duo donated it to the Stones and even finished writing it for them while they looked on. It reached number 12. Personally I prefer the Beatles more poppy version, sang by Ringo Starr on With the Beatles, but their first single of 1964 Not Fade Away, originally by the Crickets, was a big improvement and reached number three. Jagger and Richards had begun to write songs together, but unlike Lennon and McCartney, this took time and wasn’t something they found naturally easy at first.

June 1964 saw the band tour the US for the first time. They didn’t exactly win over hearts and minds like the Beatles had done earlier that year. However, they did manage to record at the legendary Chess Studios in Chicago, and met many of their heroes, including Muddy Waters. A week or so earlier, New York DJ Murray the K, fresh from his successful interview with the Beatles, had featured the Stones on his show, and played them a track by the Valentinos called It’s All Over Now. The Valentinos were also known by the Womack Brothers, and were led by gifted singer-songwriter Bobby Womack before he went solo. Their single hadn’t been a hit, but the Stones enjoyed it and decided to have a go at it themselves. Years later, Womack revealed that when his producer Sam Cooke told him about the Rolling Stones’ plans, he had told Jagger to ‘get his own song’.

Some of the Stones’ early recordings are at times a little too raw for my liking, and occasionally they sound surprisingly lacking in confidence. It’s All Over Now, like Not Fade Away, sees the band becoming more assured in the studio. Maybe recording in such a hallowed building gave them the edge they had been searching for. They take the strident bounce of the original and give it a more ragged, menacing sound, and Jagger is really finding his feet in particular, sounding less like a man impersonating his blues heroes, and developing a cockiness. It may all be over now, but Jagger sounds like he really couldn’t give a shit. Richards and Jones’s backing vocals are enjoyable, and so is Richards’ lead guitar line. The only thing I’m not sure of is his guitar solo, and apparently Richards and Lennon felt the same. It sounds a bit messy and rushed, and like it’s been lifted from a completely different song.

The first of eight number 1s, It’s All Over Now established the band as a true 60s phenomenon in the UK, and saw them begin to make inroads in the US. Six months after its release, the tempestuous Womack received a royalty cheque. He told Cooke that Jagger could have any song of his he wanted.

Written by: Bobby & Shirley Womack

Producer: Andrew Loog Oldham

Weeks at number 1: 1 (16-22 July)

Births:

Actor Ross Kemp – 21 July
Actress Bonnie Langford – 22 July

Deaths:

Footballer John White – 21 July

167. Peter and Gordon – A World Without Love (1964)

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Despite being the year’s biggest seller, Can’t Buy Me Love only stayed at number 1 for three weeks. However, such was Beatlemania’s power at the time, it was replaced with yet another song with links to the group. World Without Love was credited to Lennon and McCartney, but had in fact been written by McCartney alone when he was 16, and he had never considered it good enough for his band. He was more than happy though, to help out his lover’s brother, and his schoolmate.

Peter and Gordon were pop duo Peter Asher and Gordon Waller. Redheaded Peter was Jane Asher’s brother, and both were child actors. Born in 1944 into a wealthy family in Park Royal, London, his father was a consultant in blood and mental diseases at Central Middlesex Hospital, and his mother a professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. By coincidence, George Martin was a student there. He first met Gordon at Westminster School. Gordon was born in 1945 in Braemar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. His father was a prominent surgeon. The family moved to Middlesex while Gordon was a child. They began performing professionally together as Peter and Gordon in 1962 in coffee bars, and aspired to be the UK’s answer to the Everly Brothers. So when McCartney began dating Jane, he probably thought World Without Love would be the perfect for the duo. The adolescent McCartney was a keen Everlys fan, and he was bound to have had them in mind when writing this.

Back in those first few years of fame, Lennon and McCartney understandably didn’t know how long their fame would last, and McCartney once said in an early TV interview that when the hits dried up they’d like to write for others. If this was the case, it’s probably fair to say they’d have had to try better than World Without Love if they were to continue to score number 1 hits. It’s not that it’s a bad song, it’s pretty pleasant, but the lyrics are melodramatic and clearly written by an adolescent. (The rest of the Beatles used to laugh at the opening ‘Please lock me away’ line). Peter and Gordon’s harmonies are nice, but they’re no match for Phil and Don. The jangly guitar sound is a winner, but this is negated by an awful Hammond organ instrumental section. All in all, it’s doubtful this would have got to number 1 in 1964 without the Beatles link, but it does prove that McCartney had an uncanny ear for a nice melody at a young age.

It was downhill after this debut single for Peter and Gordon. McCartney penned several follow-ups specifically for them, but only second single Nobody I Know troubled the charts. In 1966 McCartney wrote Woman for them but used the pseudonym Bernard Webb to see whether he could give them a hit without his reputation helping. The truth soon came out though, and it only reached 28, regardless. After the duo split, Asher continued to be associated with the Beatles, becoming the head of A&R at Apple Records. He later became a recording executive in California. Gordon Waller fared less well as a solo artist (although hats off to him for naming his album ...and Gordon in 1972). In 2008 Peter and Gordon reunited for live performances, but sadly Waller died of a heart attack in 2009, aged 64. Asher, who was appointed a CBE in 2015 for services to the British music industry, occasionally plays live shows with guitarist Albert Lee.

In the news during World Without Love‘s fortnight at number 1: All schools in Aberdeen were closed following reports of 136 cases of typhoid. Princess Margaret gave birth to a baby girl, Lady Sarah Chatto, on 1 May, and a day later the Queen’s seven-week-old son was christened Edward. That same day, West Ham United won the FA Cup for the first time, defeating Preston North End 3-2 at Wembley Stadium.

5 May saw the start of a milestone in TV history, when Granada Television broadcast Seven Up! as part of its World in Action strand. Originally conceived as an attempt to examine the differences between social class in the 60s, Michael Apted, researcher on Seven Up! and director from 7 Plus 7 onwards, has returned to the lives of many of the children from the original documentary every seven years. One of the greatest documentary series of all time, it has offered a fascinating look at age and the changes in British society over the years. 63 Up will hopefully be shown in 2019.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: Dave Dexter Jr

Weeks at number 1: 2 (23 April-6 May)

Births:

Erasure singer-songwriter Andy Bell – 25 April
Lady Sarah Chatto – 1 May

166. The Beatles – Can’t Buy Me Love (1964)

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16 April saw sentencing passed on 11 men for their roles in the Great Train Robbery, with seven receiving 30 years each. Two days later, Liverpool, by now considered the musical hotspot of the UK, won the Football League First Division title for the sixth time. On 20 April, the Queen’s new son’s name was officially registered as Edward, and that night was supposed to see BBC Two begin broadcasting. However, the start of Britain’s third television channel was scuppered by power cuts, and actually began a day later, with children’s show Play School becoming its first programme. BBC Television Service became known as BBC One.

Number 1 for three weeks in April, and the best-selling single of 1964, was the Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love. Significantly, other than the backing track for 1968’s The Inner Light, it was their only English-speaking track recorded outside of the UK. The Fab Four were in Paris at the time, performing 18 days of concerts at the Olympia Theatre. The West German branch of EMI, Odeon, were convinced the group would get nowhere in their country unless they re-recorded previous singles in German. The band believed otherwise, but reluctantly agreed to rework She Loves You as Sie Liebt Dich and I Want to Hold Your Hand as Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand. They got through these recordings so quickly, they had time to work on a new Paul McCartney composition (the band had a piano installed in one of their hotel suites so they could continue songwriting). Were the lyrics inspired by Kitty Kallen’s 1954 number 1, Little Things Mean a Lot? It’s a possibility. For the first time, a Beatles single featured just the one singer, and it tended to be that the singer was also the writer of the track. They also did away with their signature harmonies, although the early version featured on Anthology 1 in 1995 revealed they were originally intended. In this version, the bluesy feel is also more apparent. It’s an interesting version, but the finished product has more swagger.

Critics of Can’t Buy Me Love consider it something of a step back in the Beatles swift progression. Possibly so, but it’s as good as any of their early singles to me, and the ditching of the backing vocals, when so many other acts had began copying them, actually suggests a progression of sorts to me. The lyrics may seem somewhat trite, especially coming from a man who was already becoming very wealthy, but there’s a lot to enjoy here, particularly George Harrison’s stinging rockabilly guitar solo. I used to think this had been double-tracked, but it is in fact simply an overdub, recorded when back in England, over the top of the original, that you can hear in the background.

By the time it was released, the British Invasion was in full swing, and Can’t Buy Me Love broke several records in the US chart, including becoming the only time an artist had three number 1s in a row, and the only time one act held the top five positions. This record in particular is unlikely to ever be broken. The song featured on the Beatles’ third album, A Hard Day’s Night, their first LP made up entirely of original songs, and made it onto the film soundtrack side. It featured twice in Richard Lester’s movie, which the band were in the process of filming when the single was released. Most famously, it was used in the surreal scene in which the group break free and run around a field. This was originally to feature I’ll Cry Instead, but it was understandably considered too downbeat. Once filming was complete, and with the UK, France and US conquered, it was time to take over the rest of the world.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (2-22 April) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Politician Nigel Farage – 3 April
Scottish historian Niall Ferguson – 18 April
Actor Andy Serkis – 20 April 

165. Billy J Kramer with the Dakotas – Little Children (1964)

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The winter of 1964 dragged on into a cold, dull and wet March. Electric power workers were threatening industrial action, which had raised fears of power cuts. Fears intensified on 19 March when talks broke down. Minster of Labour Joseph Godber appointed Lord Justice Pearson to chair a court of enquiry into the dispute. Also on 19 March, the government announced plans to build three new towns to act as overspill for the overpopulation problems in London.

28 March saw the first famous pirate radio station, Radio Caroline, begin broadcasting from a ship anchored outside of UK territorial waters off Felixstowe. It began as an attempt to break the monopoly of the BBC on the airwaves. Two days later, reports of violent disturbances between mods and rockers at Clacton beach hit the news for the first time.

Riding high at the top of the charts at the time after toppling Cilla Black, were yet another act connected to the Beatles. Billy J Kramer with the Dakotas had scored three hits penned by Lennon and McCartney, the most popular being their 1963 number 1, Bad to Me. Understandably, they decided if they wanted to secure a long-term future, they needed to step out of the shadow of the Beatles. The fact the Dakotas had also scored a hit with their self-penned instrumental, The Cruel Sea, only backed this belief up. And so the group found themselves doing the unthinkable when they turned down another Lennon and McCartney original, One and One is Two, and opted to record Little Children instead.

You have to admire the boldness of Kramer and co, but unfortunately it was as unwise a move as it was brave. If you’re going to try something new in 1964, don’t pick a song by former Elvis collaborators, whose best days were now behind them. Little Children is a rickety, sickly sweet slice of old-fashioned pop that not even George Martin could turn to gold. In recent years it has received criticism for its sub-paedophilic undertones. If you ask me, this is harsh. It’s a song written in more innocent times, and is actually about a teenager or young man who’s desperate to cop off with his girlfriend, but her siblings are getting in the way, so he tries to win them over and silence them by offering sweets and money. What I won’t excuse, though, is the fact this is a crap, irritating song, and Bad to Me was much better.

In the short term, the group’s move proved to be a wise one, as following this final number 1, they released another Lennon and McCartney track, From a Window, which only made it to number ten. In July, bassist Ray Jones left following an argument with Brian Epstein, which was the first in a series of line-up changes. Music was getting heavier and weirder in the next few years, and Kramer’s softer style, plus a drink problem, meant declining fortunes, and in September 1967, Kramer and the Dakotas went their separate ways. The Dakotas split a year later, with several members joining Cliff Bennet’s band. They reformed in the 80s, with Eddie Mooney on vocals, and in addition to many appearances on the nostalgia circuit, they worked with comedian Peter Kay on the excellent Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights (2001) and the dire spin-off Max and Paddy’s Road to Nowhere (2004), with new member Toni Baker co-writing all the music to both series with Kay. Kramer is also a regular on package tours of yesteryear, and in 2016 released his autobiography, Do You Want to Know a Secret?

Written by: Mort Shuman & John Leslie McFarland

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 2 (19 March-1 April)

Births:

Northern Irish racing driver Martin Donnelly – 26 March