128. Helen Shapiro – Walkin’ Back to Happiness (1961)

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In a week of stormy weather, young husky-voiced starlet Helen Shapiro achieved her second chart-topper of the year. She had only been 14 when You Don’t Know became her first. As impressive and mature as her voice sounded, I bemoaned the lack of youthful energy on display in that track. Her songwriters, John Schroeder and Mike Hawking rectified this on Walkin’ Back to Happiness, one of the better-known songs of the early 60s.

With a personality to match her voice, the precocious Shapiro didn’t want to record this new single as she found it too corny. Those backing vocals certainly are an acquired taste, and she fell into the ‘good God they’re a bit much’ category. Shapiro was a blues and jazz fan, and preferred the B-side Kiss and Run. Still only 14 when recorded, by the time Walkin’ Back to Happiness was released in September, she had reached the grand old age of 15.

Those backing vocals, arranged by Norrie Paramor, are definitely irritating, and I totally get Shapiro’s point. They’re a step too far in the opposite direction and suggest she is a childish, helium-pitched girly singer, which is far from the truth. Having said that, Walkin’ Back to Happiness is much better than You Don’t Know. It bounces along with an effervescence often sorely lacking in the singles of 1961, and is the kind of pop song the likes of Sandie Shaw would make popular a few years later – I was surprised to see this had been released in 1961. And as annoying as the backing vocals are, they are a memorable hook, and they’re stuck in my head, so they were key to the track’s mass appeal. Getting back together with your love must have been quite an unusual subject matter in 1961, too, and it does a good job of getting that euphoria across. I’d imagine.

Shapiro’s next two singles, Tell Me What He Said and Little Miss Lonely, made the top 10 in 1962. In the same year she also branched out into films, starring as herself alongside Billy Fury in Play it Cool and the female lead in Richard Lester’s It’s Trad, Dad!, which also starred fellow number 1 artist Craig Douglas.

In February 1963 she embarked on a UK tour, and among the support acts were The Beatles. This was the first time they had taken part in a nationwide tour. In between the tour, they broke away to record their debut album, Please Please Me. Among the songs was Misery, which Lennon and McCartney had written with Shapiro in mind. She later claimed her label turned the song down on her behalf, and she would have loved to record it. John, George and Ringo even appeared alongside her on Ready, Steady, Go when she lip-synched to Look Who it Is. It doesn’t show John and George in the best light though…

Despite the connection with the Fab Four though, she was beginning to look old before her time, and was eclipsed by other female singers including Shaw, Cilla Black and Lulu. Had EMI allowed her to record Misery, perhaps things would have turned out different. She was reduced to appearances on the cabaret circuit, before announcing her retirement from touring.

However, she returned to entertainment eventually, with a role in Oliver! and was one of the main characters in the ill-fated ITV soap Albion Market in the 80s. She made her music comeback as a jazz singer, performing with Humphrey Lyttelton and his band, until she retired once more in 2002. She has, however, been known to appear on radio from time to time.

Walkin’ Back to Happiness was the last number 1 by a female singer for a long time. Apart from Wendy Richards’ role in the awful Come Outside in 1962, there wouldn’t be another woman at number 1 until Cilla Black in February 1964. Black, of course, made full use of her connection with The Beatles.

Written by: John Schroeder & Mike Hawker

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 3 (19 October-8 November)

Births:

Footballer Ian Rush – 20 October
Radio DJ Pat Sharp – 25 October 

Meanwhile…

25 October: The first edition of satirical magazine Private Eye went on sale in London, planting the seed of the forthcoming satire boom.

123. Helen Shapiro – You Don’t Know (1961)

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With this single, Helen Shapiro became the youngest female number 1 artist. Aged only 14, but blessed with a smoky, mature voice beyond her years, she enjoyed two chart-toppers in 1961.

Helen Kate Shaipro had been born in London’s Bethnal Green on 28 September 1946, and her pre-fame years were spent growing up in Clapton. She was too poor to own a record player, but learnt to play the ukelele, and her unusually deep voice earned her the nickname ‘Foghorn’. A precocious talent, Shapiro became the singer of Susie and The Hula Hoops at the age of 10. Mark Feld was the group’s guitarist, still years away from changing his name to Marc Bolan.

When she reached 13 she began lessons at The Maurice Burman School of Modern Pop Singing, based in London’s Baker Street. The school was famous for having produced Alma Cogan, who had reached number 1 with Dreamboat in 1955. Burman was so astounded by Shapiro’s voice, he waived his tuition fee, and brought her to the attention of the UK’s top producer of the time, Norrie Paramor. The EMI hit-maker refused to believe she had only turned 14, until she visited his office and sang St Louis Blues at him.

Only a few weeks later she cut her first single, the ironically-named Please Don’t Treat Me Like a Child, which reached number three after her appearance on ITV’s new pop music show Thank Your Lucky Stars. The song’s writers, John Schroeder and Mike Hawker, teamed up again for this follow-up.

Were it not for the novelty of a teenager sounding wise beyond her years, I’m not sure You Don’t Know would have done as well as it did. Shapiro’s voice is very impressive, and you can see why she caused such a fuss at the time, but the song is too stately and rather dull, ultimately going nowhere. It’s all very well to sound mature, but the team behind her would have done better to try and capture her youthful energy at the same time – something they would achieve with her follow-up single later in the year.

Written by: John Schroeder & Mike Hawker

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 3 (10-30 August)

Births:

Felt singer-songwriter Lawrence – 12 August 
Actress Saskia Reeves – 16 August
Tears for Fears singer Roland Orzabal – 22 August 

Meanwhile…

10 August: Britain applied for membership to join the European Economic Community.

16 August: John Harte’s theatrical adaptation of DH Lawrence’s controversial Lady Chatterley’s Lover opened at London’s Arts Theatre. It was the only version to be staged until a second version in 2016.

23 August, police launched a manhunt into the A6 murder. This brutal attack resulted in the murder of scientist Michael Gregsten, who was shot dead, and his mistress, Valerie Storie, was raped and shot five times, leaving her paralysed.

25 August: Birmingham police launched a murder inquiry when the body of missing teenager Jacqueline Thomas was found on an allotment. It was 2007 before Anthony Hall was charged with her murder.