189. Tom Jones – It’s Not Unusual (1965)

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It’s not unusual to have a strong opinion on Sir Tom Jones. Most people either love him or hate him. As for me, well, it depends on my mood. I recall going to see him while nursing a diabolical hangover at Glastonbury and his over-the-top bellowing made me want to put my head under the cider bus and plead for someone to run me over and put me out of my misery. But at the right time, and with the right song, Jones is a lot of fun, and there’s perhaps no better example of this then on his first number 1, It’s Not Unusual.

Before he was a sir, and before he was Tom Jones, he was Thomas John Woodward. He was born on 7 June 1940 in Pontypridd, Glamorgan, South Wales. He loved to sing from a very young age, and would perform at family events and in the school choir. Woodward’s world was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of 12. He spent two years recovering in bed, with little to do other than listen to music and draw. He loved US soul and R’n’B singers including Little Richard and Jackie Wilson plus rock’n’roll stars like Elvis Presley.

Despite his reputation as a ladies’ man, he married his pregnant girlfriend Linda Trenchard when they were still in high school in 1957, and they stayed together until her death in 2016. To support his new family Woodward began work in a glove factory, and later took on construction jobs.

In 1963 he was the singer in beat group Tommy Scott and the Senators and gathered somewhat of a following in South Wales. The following year they recorded tracks with eccentric producer Joe Meek (the genius behind Johnny Remember Me (1961), Telstar (1962) and Have I the Right? (1964), but had little luck.

However, one night while performing, he was spotted by Gordon Mills. Mills had once been in The Viscounts, who had a minor hit with their version of Barry Mann’s Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp Bomp Bomp) (see my blog on You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’). Mills was from South Wales but was now aiming to be a pop manager in London. He took the singer under his wing and renamed him ‘Tom Jones’ as an attempt to cash in on the 1963 Academy Award-winning movie of the same name.

Mills helped Jones bag a recording contract with Decca, but his first single in 1964, Chills and Fever, didn’t do great. Soon after he recorded a demo of It’s Not Unusual, a new track by Mills and Les Reed. Reed had been in the John Barry Seven and played piano on Adam Faith’s two number 1s, What Do You Want? (1959) and Poor Me (1960).

Sandie Shaw was supposed to record it as a follow-up to her chart-topper (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me (1964), but was so impressed by Jones’s delivery, she suggested he make it his second single. The BBC weren’t so keen, and despite the fact society was becoming more liberal, they could still be far too stuffy, and they reckoned Jones was too sexy, so it didn’t get much airplay. Luckily for the singer, pirate radio stations were growing in popularity, and Radio Caroline loved it.

Reed arranged the recording session for It’s Not Unusual, and there were some notable names involved. Possibly. There have long been rumours that among the session musicians was Jimmy Page (this isn’t the first time this has been mentioned on this site). Reed however insists the only guitarist was Joe Moretti, who contributed to Johnny Kidd & The Pirates’ classic Shakin’ All Over in 1960. Several people claim to have been the drummer, but the most likely person is Andy White, who famously played on the version of Love Me Do that made it on to the Beatles debut LP, Please Please Me. Also on the session, due to the unavailability of Jones’s usual keyboard player, was Reginald Dwight. Did Dwight take notes on how to be a flamboyant showman, a few years before he became Elton John?

Shaw was so right about this song, you can’t really imagine anyone other than Jones pulling it off. Despite me saying I have to be in the right mood for Tom Jones, hearing It’s Not Unusual immediately puts me in that mood. Jones’s complete lack of subtlety, raw power and pomposity works a treat and the band make heartbreak a joyous sound. You could call it his signature song, and there’s no wonder it became the theme tune to his musical variety series This Is Tom Jones later that decade. My memory of that Glastonbury experience in 2009 is very foggy, but a quick search of his setlist reveals he ended his initial set with It’s Not Unusual. I’d put money on me smiling at that point.

Written by: Les Reed & Gordon Mills

Producer: Peter Sullivan

Weeks at number 1: 1 (11-17 March)

Births:

TV presenter Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen – 11 March 
Butterfly swimer Caroline Foot – 14 March
Boxer Michael Watson – 15 March 

129. Elvis Presley – (Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame/Little Sister (1961)

Before the Beatles, Elvis was untouchable when it came to chart domination in the UK, but by this point his record sales had dipped somewhat in the US. Despite this, (Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame/Little Sister (both written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, and recorded during another marathon session in June), was one of his better number 1 releases.

After several attempts at various European sounds, (Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame is a throwback to Presley’s early years, and is all the better for it. You can’t really go wrong when using a Bo Diddley beat, and Elvis doesn’t dominate the track, letting the musicians really shine. The lyrics contain a twist, as it turns out Marie was Elvis’s woman, but she’s ran off with ‘a very old friend’, only a day after saying she’d be his for eternity. Poor Elvis. The lack of vocal showboating also helps suggest that, for a change, he’s a loser this time around.

This is one of my favourite Elvis number 1s, although this may be, in part, down to my love of The Smiths. The band lifted the rhythm and used it on Morrissey’s ode to fairgrounds, Rusholme Ruffians on 1985’s Meat is Murder. Morrissey and Marr shared a love of 50s pop, and Elvis was one of the most famous people to feature on the sleeve of a Smiths record – namely 1987’s Shoplifters of the World Unite. Choosing not to hide his influence, the band would play live performances of Rusholme Ruffians as a medley with (Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame, as you can hear on posthumous live album Rank (1988)

Flip side Little Sister showcases a more raw Elvis sound than we’ve heard for some time. Okay, it’s a complete rip-off of Johnny Kidd & The Pirates’ groundbreaking Shakin’ All Over, but I’d rather hear that than another Wooden Heart. We’re on potentially dodgy ground lyrically, as Elvis is so hurt by his lover this time (she’s only gone and ran off with Jim Dandy), he’s decided to chance his arm with her little sister. We’re not made aware of how young she is, but this verse is questionable:

‘Well, I used to pull your pigtails
And pinch your turned-up nose
But you been a growin’
And baby, it’s been showin’
From your head down to your toes’

Hmm. Nonetheless, it’s great to hear the rock’n’roll side of Elvis once more. The booming bass vocal of Jordanaire Ray Walker is superfluous, however.

Unlike so many singles in 1961 that came and went at number 1 after a week, Presley’s usually stuck around a while longer, and this was no exception, spending four weeks at the top during the 10th anniversary of the birth of the UK charts.

Written by: Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 4 (9 November-6 December)

Births:

Presenter Jill Dando – 9 November 
Boxer Frank Bruno – 16 November 
Actor Martin Clunes – 28 November

Meanwhile…

9 November: Miss United Kingdom, the Welsh-born Rosemarie Frankland became the first British winner of the Miss World beauty contest. The competition had been running for 11 years at this point, and had taken place at the Lyceum Theatre in London.

4 December: A sexual revolution began when birth control pills became available on the National Health Service. The move would have a far-reaching effect on society, and you could argue the swinging 60s began on this day.

105. Johnny Kidd and The Pirates – Shakin’ All Over (1960)

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When I first saw that Shakin’ All Over was a number 1 in 1960, I was surprised. I’ve always admired the song, but I’d never looked into it and assumed it was recorded around the height of Beatlemania, sometime between 1963-65.

I also thought that Johnny Kidd and The Pirates could perhaps be American, as the song has an attitude and energy that British artists often struggled to achieve back then. So I was even more surprised and impressed to discover that an English group was capable of such a great song upon working my way through every UK number 1. Finally, a homegrown group that could achieve a rock’n’roll sound without sounding like a pale imitation of Elvis Presley, or the polite pop sound that was prevalent at the time. Shakin’ All Over is a brilliant achievement, and the best number 1 by a UK act up to this point.

Johnny Kidd and The Pirates also put some effort into their look – their pirate regalia giving them a unique, distinct appearance. These rough and ready rockers were exploring unchartered waters.

Johnny Kidd was born Frederick Albert Heath in Willesden, North London on 23 December 1935. He began playing guitar in the skiffle group The Frantic Four. Heath quickly established himself as a prolific songwriter, crossing over genres such as skiffle, rock’n’roll and rockabilly.

In 1959, Freddie Heath and The Nutters, as they were then known (unfortunately) signed with HMV and recorded their first single, Please Don’t Touch. This slice of dirty rock’n’roll ultimately proved influential – Lemmy was a fan, and later chose to cover it in a collaboration between Motörhead and Girlschool (under the name Headgirl), but at the time only made the top 30. Record buyers in the late 50s simply weren’t ready for a noise like this is seems.

Before its release, HMV understandably insisted on a name change, and it seems they bestowed the name Johnny Kidd and The Pirates upon them. They struggled through another couple of singles, adding and losing members along the way.

By May 1960, the group consisted of Johnny Kidd, with Alan Caddy on guitar, Clem Cattini on drums and bassist Brian Gregg. They were scheduled to record a cover of Ricky Nelson’s Yes, Sir That’s My Baby, but were told they could come up with the B-side. The day before the session, Kidd, Caddy and Gregg decided to write ‘any old rubbish’. Kidd later claimed that if he and his mates saw a stunning girl in the street, they would say she gave them ‘quivers down the membranes’. They got up early the next morning and created the song in Gregg’s living room before hitting the studio.

Somewhere along the way, Caddy called session guitarist Joe Moretti in to perform lead guitar, and it was he that came up with that brilliant chiming guitar sound, sliding a cigarette lighter up and down the fretboard. Needless to say, Shakin’ All Over was soon promoted over Yes, Sir That’s My Baby.

What an inspired piece of music Shakin’ All Over is. It’s seedy, raunchy, dangerous and heavy, like nothing that had ever come before from England. The guitar work is perfect and innovative, but the bass is also turned up louder than anything I’d heard up to this point, so credit must also go to producer Wally Ridley. And Kidd wipes the floor with other British vocalists, proving rock’n’roll didn’t have to sound like a poor man’s imitation of other artists.

Shakin’ All Over deserved a long run at the top, but was perhaps too much too soon for most record buyers, and Please Don’t Tease returned to number 1 a week later – but which track is now considered a classic? Kidd & The Pirates developed a stage act that had a big effect on audiences, with Kidd donning an eye patch and waving a cutlass around. Watching the band on stage was enough to persuade guitarists Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Detours to sack their singer so Daltrey could become a showboating singer. The Who later returned the favour by covering Shakin’ All Over on their seminal live album, Live at Leeds. Kidd also used an echo unit to process his live vocals, a rare occurrence at the time.

The Pirates soon splintered, with several members jumping ship and creating so many spin-off groups it’s hard to keep track. Several years went by and a debut album was being worked on, but The Beatles had changed the pop landscape, and Kidd couldn’t regain momentum. On 7 October 1966, he and new bassist (and future Deep Purple member) Nick Simper were returning from a cancelled gig in Bolton when they were involved in a car accident. Kidd was killed, aged only 30. He remains sadly a one-hit wonder, but what a hit it was.

Surprisingly, Shakin’ All Over was only a UK hit, until Canadian group Chad Allen and The Expressions decided to cover it. Their version, extremely similar to the original, was hyped by their record label, who had decided to create some intrigue. Was this by one of those British bands that had become so famous around the world? They credited the single to ‘Guess Who?’. Disc jockeys mistakenly thought that was the name of the group, and so they became the Guess Who. Allen and co hated their name, as it got them mixed up with another act that were on the rise, who also performed Shakin’ All Over. Guess Who?

Written by: Johnny Kidd & Guy Robinson

Producer: Wally Ridley

Weeks at number 1: 1 (4-10 August)