262. The Scaffold – Lily the Pink (1968)

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Just prior to Christmas 1968, a case with tragic similarities to the murder of James Bulger in 1993 came to a close with the sentencing of 11-year-old girl Mary Bell from Newcastle upon Tyne on 17 December. In May and July that year she had murdered two young boys, one with her friend Norma Bell, who was acquitted. Bell recieved a life sentence for manslaughter. She was initially sent to the same secure unit as Jon Venables, one of Bulger’s killers. Bell was released in 1980 into anonymity.

It’s a sad irony that the number 1 of the time, and eventual Christmas number 1, was a children’s song. Lily the Pink, by Scouse comedy, poetry and music act the Scaffold, was the first novelty song to become Christmas number 1, but as detailed in Every Christmas Number 1, it was certainly not the last instance of this very British phenomenon.

The Scaffold began with the friendship of entertainer John Gorman, and musical performer Mike McCartney (younger brother of Paul). Together with poets Roger McCough and Adrian Henri they formed the revue known as the Liverpool One Fat Lady All Electric Show back in 1962.

By 1964 Henri had left and they had become the Scaffold. As they rose in popularity, McCartney changed his stage name to Mike McGear, to avoid accusations of using his brother’s name to become famous during Beatlemania. However, considering the rise in popularity of anything from Liverpool, it’s fair to say the link won’t have harmed the trio.

In 1966 they signed to Parlophone (label of the Beatles) and released their debut single 2 Days Monday, but it was their third 7″, Thank U Very Much, that first troubled the top ten. Its popularity endured into the 1980s thanks to a long-running adveritsing campaign by Cadbury’s Roses, usually at Christmas.

McGough and McGear released an eponymous album without Gorman, featuring cameos from Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell, Paul McCartney and Graham Nash, in May 1968. The Scaffold’s eponymous debut LP was released only two months later and was a live recording of mostly McGough’s poetry and McGear and Gorman’s sketches. And then came Lily the Pink.

The 1968 Christmas number 1’s origins lay in a drinking song called The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham. Pinkham was a real person, and in the 19th century she invented and marketed a herbal-alcoholic women’s tonic for menstrual and menopausal issues. She was ridiculed at the time, but the drink still exists in an altered form to this day. Versions of the ballad were doing the rounds as far back as World War 1, with lyrics poking fun at Pinkham’s drink and its alleged uses.

The Scaffold’s version had completely rewritten lyrics by McGough, Gorman and McGear, adding a cast of unusual characters to make it more child-friendly, and also in-keeping with psychedelia, with the tune sounding reminscent of the Victorian music hall. The characters they described were largely in-jokes – ‘Mr Frears has sticky out ears’ refers to Stephen Frears, who had once worked with the trio and is now one of the most highly regarded film directors in the UK. ‘Jennifer Eccles had terrible freckles’ came from the song Jennifer Eccles by the Hollies.

Speaking of which, Graham Nash provided backing vocals, along with Elton John (still Reg Dwight at the time) and Tim Rice, and that’s Jack Bruce from Cream on bass.

I remember Lily the Pink from childhood, and I enjoyed it back then. It’s bloody irritating now, though, and the in-jokes, probably only funny to the Scaffold and a few others at the time, are not funny at all now. The chorus will, sadly, stay with you forever. And ever. And then just when you think Lily has died and gone to heaven, she comes back to haunt you forevermore. The bit where the chorus comes back after she’s died is good fun though, I’ll give them that. Incidentally, it was produced by Norrie Paramor, formerly responsible for Cliff Richard and Frank Ifield. This was his 27th, and (I think) final number 1.

In 1969 the Scaffold recorded their memorable theme tune to Carla Lane’s long-running BBC sitcom The Liver Birds. The following year they were given their own children’s series, Score with the Scaffold. With the advent of decimalisation, the trio were responsible for providing tunes for a series of five-minute programmes to explain how the system would work. That same year, they teamed up with collaborator Andy Roberts (I’ve had a drink with Roberts, and he’s a bloody nice bloke with some great stories, he’s also in one of my favourite sketches of all time, here.) Vivian Stanshall and Neil Innes of the defunct Bonzo Dog Band and various waifs and strays to form Grimms.

As Grimms toured up and down the country the Scaffold continued. They had their first hit since Lily the Pink with Liverpool Lou, recorded with Wings, in 1974. Although there may have been tension after McGear left Grimms due to a bust-up with Brian Patten, the Scaffold parted amicably in 1977, although there have been brief reunions here and there since.

Following a few more singles in the early 80s, McGear retired from music, reverted to his family name and became a photographer and author. Gorman was a regular on Tiswas and the adult version OTT until the early 80s, when he moved into theatre. McGough has remained in the public eye, and is considered a national treasure thanks to his children’s poetry.

After three weeks at number 1, Lily the Pink was overtaken by the Marmalade’s cover of the Beatles’ Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, but only a week later it returned to the top of the hit parade again for a further week.

On its last day, 14 January, Sir Matt Busby, legendary manager of Manchester United FC for 24 years, through good times and tragic times, announced his retirement.

1968 had been a particularly unusual and random year for number 1s. The decade was nearly over, and by the time we get to the end of 1969, the Beatles and Rolling Stones will have had their last number 1s.

Written by: John Gorman, Mike McGear & Roger McGough

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 4 (11-31 December 1968, 8-14 January 1969)

Births:

Race car driver Phil Andrews – 20 December
Scottish field hockey player Pauline Robertson – 28 December
Author David Mitchell – 12 January
Scottish snooker player Stephen Hendry – 13 January 

Deaths:

Welsh poet David James Jones – 14 December
Athlete Albert Hill – 8 January
Writer Richmal Crompton – 11 January 

250. The Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett – Young Girl (1968)

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29 May saw Manchester United become the first English team to win the European Cup after defeating Benfica 4-1 in extra time at Wembley Stadium.

May then turned to June, as it always tends to do. 7 June saw the start of the Ford sewing machinists strike at the Dagenham assembly plant, as female workers had understandably had enough of earning less than their male co-workers. The strike garnered much publicity, ending three weeks later, and was a key reason for the passing of the Equal Pay Act of 1970. As we know though, this didn’t really change anything unfortunately.

The day after the strike began, James Earl Ray, the killer of civil rights legend Martin Luther King Jr, was arrested as he attempted to leave London at Heathrow Airport. He was then extradited to Tennessee.

Two days after this, the National Health Service reintroduced charges to prescriptions. And in further (bad) health news, Frederick West, Britain’s first heart transplant patient, died 46 days after his operation, on 18 June.

Poor Mr West passed away on the last day of an impressive four-week-long stint at the top of the singles chart for the Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett and their controversial (now, not so much then) Young Girl.

Lead singer Puckett was born in Hibbing, Minnesota in 1942, but grew up in Yakima, Washington, close to Union Gap. Puckett learnt to play guitar in his teens, and dropped out of college in the early 1960s to play in local bands. One of these, the Outcasts, were a hard rock band that made two singles, but got nowhere.

Following their inevitable split, Puckett formed a new group. The amusingly named Gary and the Remarkables featured Kerry Chater on bass, Gary ‘Mutha’ Withem on keyboards, Dwight Bememt on tenor saxophone and Paul Wheatbread on drums.

By 1966 the group were touring the Pacific Northwest. Their manager, Dick Badger (!) renamed them the Union Gap in early 1967. Thanks to the Beatles, it became fashionable to dress in military uniform, so Badger had the Union Gap start wearing Union Army-style Civil War uniforms as their gimmick. Record producer and songwriter Jerry Fuller was impressed with their demo and signed them to CBS Records.

In November 1967 they released their debut single as the Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett. Woman, Woman concerned a man who feared his lover would cheat on him. It was a hit in the US, and they followed it up with Young Girl, written and produced by Fuller. It isn’t clear who in the band played on the single, as members of the Wrecking Crew were involved, but that’s the late, great Hal Blaine playing drums.

Ah, Young Girl. There’s few songs less appropriate to be caught listening to in the #metoo era. Featuring an impressively earnest tenor vocal from Puckett, the protagonist has been fooling around with a girl who it turns out is younger than he thought. At least, that’s his side of the story… And now he knows the truth, he’s telling her to run away. That in itself might sound like he’s trying to do the right thing, at least. But it’s more complicated than that.

Are we to believe that the girl hid her age so well, it wasn’t even an issue worth considering, that the singer should maybe ask her about? Apparently not. This was unfortunately a situation many pop and rock stars found themselves in, and has been oft-excused as ‘a different time’. Indeed, if the media chose to, many of the most iconic musicians of the 20th century could have their legacies destroyed with reports of underage sex. It’s something the general public seem to prefer to turn a blind eye to. Even now, people are struggling to know whether to continue to listen to Michael Jackson’s music, myself included.

But I digress, back to the song. I hadn’t listened too hard to the lyrics before, but the singer’s lament becomes more troublesome as it goes on, with some decidedly iffy lyrics in the last two verses in particular.

I’m talking about: ‘Beneath your perfume and your make-up/You’re just a baby in disguise’ and ‘Get out of here/Before I have the time/To change my mind/’Cause I’m afraid we’ll go too far’

Oh dear. So despite learning she’s ‘much too young’, the singer is still really horny for her, and is going to struggle to rein in his primal urges. There goes any goodwill that may have been left, then. Which is a shame, as it’s a slick piece of pop with a great chorus, and Puckett’s voice really soars. Ah, well, not worth worrying too much about it, there’s thankfully plenty of number 1s which don’t concern suspected paedophiles, luckily. Although sadly, there’s also far too many that do.

After Young Girl performed so well on both sides of the Atlantic, the Union Gap, who changed their billing to Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, decided their purpose was to continue with songs about relationship problems. They had another UK hit with Lady Willpower, but other singles including Over You only did well in the US. Their reputation really isn’t helped by the fact they had a single in 1969 called This Girl Is a Woman Now

By this point, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap had stopped working with Fuller as they had grown tired of the formulaic power ballads. But by ditching them, they also damaged their careers. With ever dwindling chart positions, Chater and Withem departed. Bement became the bassist, with Barry McCoy the new keyboardist and Richard Gabriel playing the horn, but it was too late.

In 1970 Puckett chose to go solo, confusingly, keeping the Union Gap as his backing band, until sacking them in 1971. A year later, he was ditched by his label.

For the rest of the 70s, Puckett studied acting and dance and performed in productions around Las Vegas. From 1981 onwards he returned to music, becoming a permanent fixture on the oldies circuit, with a different backing group, sometimes referred to as the Union Gap. He was support act for the reformed Monkees (minus Nesmith) in 1986… which must have led to some very weird, creepy performances of Young Girl to middle-aged fans. The rest of the original group disappeared into obscurity.

Written & produced by: Jerry Fuller

Weeks at number 1: 4 (22 May-18 June)

Births:

Journalist Rebekah Brooks – 27 May
Journalist Ekow Eshun – 27 May
Scottish peer Torquhil Ian Campbell, 13th Duke of Argyll – 29 May
Politician Jessica Morden – 29 May
Comedian John Culshaw – 2 June
Politician Edward Vaizey – 5 June
Actress Sarah Parish – 7 June
Novelist Marcel Theroux – 13 June
Journalist Samira Ahmed – 15 June

Deaths:

Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service Major General Sir Stewart Menzies – 29 May

232. Sandie Shaw – Puppet on a String (1967)

sandie-shawMay 1967 was exceptionally wet with frequent thunderstorms. On the second day of the month, Prime Minister Harold Wilson announced that the UK would be applying for EEC membership. On the sixth, Manchester United won the Football League First Division title. Five days later, the UK and Republic of Ireland officially applied for the EEC.

The month before, the UK became the first winners of the Eurovision Song Contest with an English language track. Sandie Shaw, a former number 1 artist twice with (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me in 1964 and Long Live Love in 1965, was victorious in Vienna, Austria with Puppet on a String.

Since Long Live Love the hits had continued for Shaw for a time, including Message Understood and Tomorrow, but steadily the sales numbers began to drop and by 1967 she was only scraping into the top 40.

A large factor in this may have been the fact she was involved in a divorce scandal. She had been involved in an affair with Douglas Murdoch, a TV executive on Ready, Steady, Go! Her management decided a move into cabaret, to present a more family-friendly image, may save her. Shaw disagreed and thought it would destroy all her credibility, but she still found herself performing five songs on The Rolf Harris Show, which the public would then vote on to choose the track she would perform in Vienna.

To her horror, Puppet on a String was a runaway success. It nearly didn’t happen though, as the BBC were horrifed by the sex scandal (the judge called her a ‘spoiled child’) and were ready to drop her right up until the day before the show.The barefooted performer, in her 1991 autobiography The World at my Feet (clever title), she said, ‘I hated it from the very first oompah to the final bang on the big bass drum. I was instinctively repelled by its sexist drivel and cuckoo-clock tune.’

 

Shaw has it spot on. What a painful listen. The oompah element is bad enough, but is at a manic speed that makes her wailing sound like a needy woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown. It’s sadly ironic she ended up singing such pathetic lyrics, as she was clearly a strong woman, which was probably sadly unusual in the pop world at the time. The song’s protaganist is likely being used and seems okay with that, despite the ups and downs.

It’s bad enough being subjected to it once. Now, imagine you’re Shaw, a once-respectable star, reduced over the years to performing it over and over. It could send anyone insane. The fact the song will have reminded her of a tough time in her personal life will have only made her hate Puppet on a String all the more.

However, her management were wise to enter the song in Eurovision, as this is precisely the kind of crap its audience lapped up back then, and she was popular in the continent. It won by a huge margin, made her the first female artist to have three number 1s, and was the biggest selling single of the year in Germany. It’s also believed to be the biggest-selling Eurovision song of all time, and potentially the biggest-selling single by a British female singer ever. Let that sink in for a moment.

Her career revitalised, the Dagenham singer was a sensation once more. In 1968 she began her own fashion label and the BBC soon forgot their issues with her, giving her a TV series, The Sandie Shaw Supplement. Her last hit single was Monsieur Dupont in 1969, which reached number six. Also that year she released an album of covers of the hip rock stars of the time. Reviewing the Situation featured her version of Led Zeppelin’s Your Time Is Gonna Come, and ended with a decent version of the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil. The decade came to a close with her single Heaven Knows I’m Missing Him Now – the inspiration for the Smiths’ Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now in 1984.

When her contract with Pye Records ran out in 1972 she chose to retire from music. She had branched out into acting and writing children’s books, but eventually found herself working as a waitress in a London restaurant. She released two singles in 1977 and the following year became a Buddhist, which she still is. She also divorced her first husband, fashion designer Jeff Banks in 1978.

In 1982 she married Nik Powell, co-founder of the Virgin Group with Richard Branson, and she was introudced to the new wave of pop stars, working with BEF (later to become Heaven 17) and duetting with Chrissie Hynde at a Pretenders concert. Her first album in years, Choose Life, was released in 1983.

Later that year she received a letter from ‘two incurable Sandie Shaw fans’. Morrissey and Johnny Marr, singer and guitarist in indie darlings and 60s-pop-star-worshippers the Smiths, told her that, ‘the Sandie Shaw legend isn’t over yet. There is more to be done.’ Powell knew Geoff Travis, owner of the Smiths’ label Rough Trade, and soon she was recording her version of their debut single Hand in Glove. Morrissey was obsessed with the fact their first release hadn’t been a hit, and hoped Shaw would rectify this. Although it only reached number 27, she was back on Top of the Pops, miming with Marr, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce backing her. Two years later she was touring universities with a backing band made up of members of new wave group JoBoxers.

Her life took another turn in the 90s, when she divorced again and met third husband Tony Bedford. She trained to be a psychotherapist and together in 1997 they opened the Arts Clinic with the aim of providing help for those in creative industries. She also battled for control of her archive recordings and made new versions of her 60s and 80s recordings.In the 00s Shaw seems to have come to terms with Puppet on a String, announcing she was proud of her Eurovision past. To celebrate her 60th birthday in 2007 she released a remake, Puppet’s Got a Brand New String, produced by 80s pop star Howard Jones. She wisely ditched the oompah stylings of the original, though.

In 2010 she recorded the theme to the comedy film Made in Dagenham, which dramatised the Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968. Shaw had actually worked there before she was famous. Lyrics came from left-wing singer-songwriter Billy Bragg.

Sandie Shaw was made an MBE in 2017. Now 71, she is well respected as a key figure of the 60s pop scene and a formidable personality who refused to tow the line in a male-dominated industry. We can easily forgive her for Puppet on a String.

Written by: Bill Martin & Phil Coulter

Producer: Ken Woodman

Weeks at number 1: 3 (27 April-17 May) 

Births:

Footballer David Rocastle – 2 May
Journalist Jon Ronson – 10 May

Deaths:

Poet John Masefield – 12 May 

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

151. The Beatles – From Me to You (1963)

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‘Where are we going, lads?’
 ‘To the toppermost of the poppermost, Johnny!’

When the Beatles were feeling in need of a pep talk, Paul, George and Ringo would ask this question to John, and that would be his answer. The Beatles. The biggest and best-selling band of all time. A gang of four that changed popular music and culture for the better. A rare time for the charts in which the mainstream was a showcase for some of the most inventive, innovative and intelligent pop music the world has ever known, and that’s in large part thanks to John, Paul, George and Ringo. Beatlemania and Merseybeat conquered the number 1 position of the charts like nothing before or since, and in total the Beatles scored 17 number 1s – more than any other group to this date. They also conquered America and changed music there too, something no UK act had yet done. By the time the Fab Four split, pop had grown up and become an art form. Their break-up left a void that took some time to fill.

As a teenager, 1963 was my musical year zero, and as a 16-year-old in 1995, I was envious of anyone that was my age when the Beatles were ruling the charts. Working on this blog has, if anything, made that envy more intense. Up to this point, bar the classics, many of these artists and songs have been new to me. I’ve been looking forward to blogging about the Beatles for so long, and now I’m here – what do you write about a band that’s been written about more than any other?

I’ve already covered many key aspects of the Beatles’ pre-fame years, and the story has been told countless times in books, film and TV, but for those who are unaware, 16-year-old Liverpudlian John Lennon formed a skiffle group with school friends known as the Quarrymen in 1957. That summer, Lennon met Paul McCartney for the first time, and soon after he became their rhythm guitarist. The following year, his friend, George Harrison auditioned for them on a bus and became their lead guitarist. By 1959 the other band members had left, and the trio became known as Johnny and the Moondogs. In January 1960, Lennon persuaded his art school friend Stuart Sutcliffe to buy a bass guitar, and he suggested they become the Beatals, as a tribute to the Crickets. In May they became the Silver Beetles, by July they were the Silver Beatles, and finally in August they settled on the Beatles. That month they hired Pete Best as their drummer and their unofficial manager Allan Williams arranged a residency for them in Hamburg, Germany.

For two years they would return there, and perform through the night, often relying on the drug Preludine to keep them going. Sutcliffe preferred to focus on being an artist and left the group early in 1961, so Paul McCartney became the bassist. Sutcliffe later died of an aneurysm, aged only 21. 

Later that year they made their recording debut as the Beat Brothers, backing Tony Sheridan. That November, Brian Epstein saw the band performing at the Cavern Club. The canny local record store owner saw an inherent star quality in the foursome, and he became their manager in January 1962. He began trying to organise them a UK record deal, but Decca told them guitar groups were ‘on their way out’. Three months later they signed to Parlophone and got lucky in finding a sympathetic producer in George Martin, who, like Epstein, knew there was something special about this group. However, he wasn’t sure about the drummer, and neither was Epstein, or the others, so Best was sacked and replaced with Ringo Starr from Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.

Finally, things fell into place, despite a shaky start between Martin and Ringo on debut single Love Me Do.  On Martin’s advice the band sped up their song Please Please Me and it became their second single, and it was a smash-hit, reaching number 1 on several charts in early 1963 – but not the chart that is now considered to be official (see my blog on How Do You Do It? for further info). Around this time, Epstein encouraged the foursome to clean up their act if they wanted to be really big, and they became more family friendly by dressing in suits, and ceasing swearing on stage. Parlophone wanted to capitalise on Please Please Me‘s success, and they swiftly recorded their debut album with the same name in one long session, climaxing in their raw version of Twist and Shout.

Paul and John had written From Me to You on a coach while they were on tour with Helen Shapiro. They had been inspired by ‘From You to Us’, the name of the letters section in the New Musical Express. Back then, McCartney and Lennon’s songs (this song dates from before they swapped their surnames around in their credits) were often written face to face and From Me to You was no exception. Lennon later recalled coming up with the first line, in the famous Playboy interview shortly before he was murdered in 1980. He also said it was originally much bluesier, and it seems they weren’t too enamoured with it at first. Neither was singer Kenny Lynch, who was also on the coach. When he heard the band performing their falsettos – soon to become one of their trademarks, he allegedly branded them a bunch of ‘fucking fairies’.

Nonetheless, Martin asked the band for a song as strong as Please Please Me, and they presented him with this. He suggested the harmonica, and for the vocal addition to the opening lick, and this achieves something rarely (if ever) achieved by a number 1 up to this point. The recording starts with the entire group performing its raw opening with the catchy refrain presented upfront, almost as if the listener has walked into the song halfway through its performance.

From Me To You is for me their least impressive single. It’s not as effective as the bluesy Love Me Do and deceptively filthy Please Please Me (have another listen if you don’t believe that’s a song about oral sex). Lyrically it’s okay, but pretty basic lightweight pop by their later high standards. However, it is structurally unusual, which is something the Beatles were good at doing without even seemingly trying, and although I’m no musician and am poor on musical terms, it is something recognisable even to idiots like myself. The Everly Brothers-inspired harmonies are in place and a stand-out, and the falsettos add a layer of excitement that teenage girls understood, even if Lynch didn’t. From Me to You became the band’s first officially recognised number 1 single, and stayed there for seven weeks – longer than any other song that year. During its reign, their debut album also went to number 1. They were toppermost of the poppermost, but they were only getting started.

In the news during that spring and summer: National Service ended, with the last servicemen released from conscription on 7-13 May, and on 5 June, John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, admits to misleading Parliament over his affair with the model Christine Keeler. The UK wasn’t used to political scandals like this yet, and it’s believed the Profumo affair caused the Government irreparable damage.

In the world of football, Everton won the Football League First Division title on 11 May, and four days later, Spurs became the first British team to win a European trophy when they defeated Atlético Madrid 5-1 to take the European Cup Winners Cup. Ten days later, Mancehster United beat Leicester City 3-1 in the FA Cup final. An emotional victory for a team which was nearly wiped out in the Munich air disaster five years ago.

Written by: Paul McCartney & John Lennon

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 7 (2 May-19 June)

Births:

Actress Natasha Richardson – 11 May
Actor Jason Isaacs – 6 June

Deaths:

Novelist John Cowper Powys – 17 June 

70. Marvin Rainwater – Whole Lotta Woman (1958)

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On 30 April 1958, the Life Peerages Act allowed the creation of life peers who could sit in the House of Lords. As women could become life peers, the act made it possible for women to sit in the House of Lords for the first time. On the same day, the musical My Fair Lady opened at Drury Lane Theatre in London, starring Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. Three days later, Bolton Wanderers won the FA Cup for the fourth time with a 2-0 victory over Manchester United, a club still reeling from the Munich Air Disaster.

Enjoying a three-week stint at number 1 at the time, Marvin Rainwater’s Whole Lotta Woman was a self-penned primitive rockabilly tune. Born in Wichita, Kansas in July 1925, Rainwater had studied classical piano as a child, but he lost part of his right thumb in an accident as a teenager. He trained to be a vet, but after his stint in the Navy during World War Two, he decided to try the guitar. Claiming to be 25 percent Cherokee, he cut a unique figure when he began wearing his trademark buckskin jacket and headband on stage, and writing his own songs. He won the TV talent show Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in 1955, and from there a recording contract with MGM swiftly followed. Combining country and western with the emerging rockabilly sound, and with an imposing physique and unique, craggy good looks, Rainwater had natural star quality, and scored hits with Gonna Find Me a Bluebird and The Majesty of Love, a duet with future number 1 artist Connie Francis.

Whole Lotta Woman is a primitive rocker with simple, sexually-charged lyrics that only just made it past censorship (the BBC let it go, some of the US broadcasters wouldn’t touch it). The most interesting aspect of the recording is probably Rainwater’s raucous, double-tracked vocals, and the duelling electric guitar and piano instrumental break. Not bad, but it suffers coming after a run of interesting, more famous chart-toppers.

Rainwater’s follow-up, I Dig You Baby, made the top 20, but he failed to repeat his early flourish of success. He began recording material with his younger sister, Patty, but around this time he developed ongoing throat problems. His voice suffered, and MGM let him go. He went into semi-retirement to rest his voice, recording sporadically for other labels. Changing tastes and lack of momentum caused his career to stall, and eventually he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He recovered from this, but his career didn’t. Sadly, his final recording sessions remain unissued due to the dire state of his voice, and by then he was living in a caravan with his family on wasteland in Minnesota. He died of heart failure in 2013, aged 88. His guitar-playing had inspired many however – back in Rainwater’s glory days, a teenage guitarist called Brian Rankin was waiting in the shadows to make his mark on rock’n’roll, and he was quite the fan. He even changed his name to Hank Marvin.

Written by: Marvin Rainwater

Producer: Jim Vinneau

Weeks at number 1: 3 (25 April-15 May)

Births:

Singer Fish – 25 April
Presenter Sandi Toksvig – 3 May 

Deaths:

Cricketer Frank Foster – 3 May 

68. Michael Holliday – The Story of My Life (1958)

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Jailhouse Rock ran out of steam after three weeks at the top, and after two barnstormers, the number 1 spot was taken by this pleasant easy listening ditty – the first bestseller from the legendary partnership of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, whose prolific work-rate saw them create many pop classics of the 1950s and particularly the 60s.

Bacharach had spent his teenage years enthralled with jazz, and went on to study music. After a tour of duty he became Vic Damone’s (who had a number 1 later in 1958 with On the Street Where You Live) pianist and conductor. Bacharach later worked with Marlene Dietrich, before meeting lyricist and former journalist Hal David at the Brill Building. US country star Marty Robbins initially recorded The Story of My Life in 1957, but it was Michael Holliday’s cover that became famous on these shores.

Holliday was born Norman Alexander Milne in Liverpool in 1924. His music career began when he won a local talent contest. He joined the navy and won another contest, this time in New York, inspiring him to turn professional. Before leaving the navy, however, he found time to smuggle obscure jazz records back home, where they were sold by Elvis Costello’s mother. Holliday made his TV debut in the summer of 1955, and he soon found himself with a record deal, and with his screen idol looks and voice comparable to Bing Crosby, he enjoyed moderate success, before this, his first of two number 1s. Before it all went wrong for him.

I’ve always admired Bacharach and David’s work, and even though a lot of easy listening music leaves me cold, there’s usually enough in their songs to keep me interested. The Story of My Life is slushy and somewhat of a throwback to earlier number 1s, but I can’t help but enjoy the whistling and sentimental lyrics. And Holliday performs it well. A pretty good start for the duo, with another chart-topper to follow.

Sadly as The Story of My Life‘s fortnight at the top was drawing to a close, another of Busby’s Babes died as a result of the Munich Air Disaster. Manchester United’s Duncan Edwards was only 21, and was considered by many to be the finest footballer in England. He passed away on 21 February. Six days later, the 23rd and final victim was claimed when co-pilot Kenneth Rayment died in hospital.

Written by: Burt Bacharach & Hal David

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 2 (14-27 February)

Births:

Actor James Wilby – 20 February 

Deaths:

Footballer Duncan Edwards – 21 February