242. Georgie Fame – The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde (1968)

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On with 1968, then, and what a strange year of number 1s it is. We have the good, the bad, and even The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to listen to.

The Beatles were still at number 1 for most of January with their Christmas chart-topper, Hello, Goodbye, before finally running out of steam. They were replaced by Lancashire-born jazz cat Georgie Fame and his third and last number 1, The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.

Before hearing this track I assumed it would be taken from the soundtrack to the 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. I was wrong, but that didn’t surprise me, as not only have I never seen the film, I don’t actually know much about the subject matter either.

Arthur Penn’s multi-Academy Award-winning landmark crime biography detailed the rise and fall of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Burrow. In the Great Depression of the 1930s, the duo captured the imagination of the US on a two-year crime spree. Although the romantic image of the duo as Robin Hood-style characters has endured, the reality is their many bungled robberies resulted in innocent people being killed. The movie is considered one of the first films of the New Hollywood era, prompting more filmmakers to show sex and violence in their work. At the time, the duo’s death was considered a truly shocking end to a Hollywood movie.

Songwriters Mitch Murray (the man behind both Gerry and the Pacemakers number 1s – How Do You Do It? and I Like It) and Peter Callander saw the film and felt inspired to write a 30s-style jazz spoof telling the tale of the duo. Georgie Fame, who had enjoyed two number 1s with his backing band the Blue Flames (Yeh Yeh and Get Away) was the perfect artist to record their new track.

Since Get Away topped the charts, the band had enjoyed two further top 20 hits with Sunny and Sitting in the Park. They released one more album, Sweet Thing in 1966, before Fame chose to sign with CBS Records and go solo. The Blue Flames disbanded, and drummer Mitch Mitchell became a third of the Jimi Hendrix Experience soon after. Fame released his first solo album Sound Venture later that year. His first two solo singles failed to chart, but The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde, released in 1967, became number 1, and was his only top ten hit in the US.

This quirky, rickety little track certainly gets 1968 off to a weird start. It may not have been in the film, but without it, there’s no way Fame would have outsold the Beatles. It’s not without its charm, and I always enjoy a Georgie Fame vocal, but by reducing the story of Bonnie and Clyde to a bit of fun, it’s nothing more than a throwaway novelty track.

It’s quite a sparse recording, featuring mainly Fame and a banjo, but there’s some brass too, plus sound affects, including the sound of gunfire as it reaches its climax. I think we’re supposed to go ‘Awww!’ when Fame sings ‘Bonnie and Clyde/They lived a lot together/And finally together/They died’, which is going a bit easy on bankrobbing murderers really. I’m now trying to imagine other inappropriate tunes, such as The Ballad of Fred and Rose West, or Peter Sutcliffe’a Sad Sad Song.

Fame’s hits began to dry up soon after, but Somebody Stole My Thunder in 1970 is a strong shot of R’n’B. He formed a partnership with organist Alan Price, formerly of the Animals, and they had a hit with Rosetta in 1971, but they split two years later. Much of the early 70s was spent writing jingles for television and radio, and making the soundtrack for the Till Death Us Do Part big-screen spin-off, The Alf Garnett Saga (1972). In 1974 he reformed the Blue Flames, but by the 80s he was back in the advert industry.

In 1989 he began working with cantankerous Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison as his producer and performing in his live band, as well as recording their collaborative LP, How Long Has This Been Going On in 1996. This partnership lasted until 1998, with occasional work together ever since.

Fame suffered tragedy in 1993 when his wife, Nicolette Powell, jumped off the Clifton Suspension Bridge to her death. They had married in 1972 after having a baby while she was still married to Alistair Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 9th Marquess of Londonderry. When tests proved the baby was theirs, the Marchioness had divorced him for Fame. Suffering from depression, Powell had left a suicide note in which she said she had no purpose in life now their children had grown up.

In 1998 Fame also became a founding member of former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, with whom he worked for a couple of years before going it alone again. He has released albums ever since and has performed at Glastonbury Festival. His live band sometimes includes his two sons Tristan and James. What a shame Nicolette didn’t live to enjoy their performances.

Written by: Mitch Murray & Peter Callander

Producer: Mike Smith

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

Births:

Journalist Matthew d’Ancona – 27 January
Rapper Tricky – 27 January

Deaths:

Spymaster Maxwell Knight – 27 January 

152. Gerry and the Pacemakers – I Like It (1963)

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Brian Epstein would eventually lose his battle with depression, but in the summer of 1963 he must have felt on top of the world. He was managing the two biggest pop groups in the UK, who were involved in a to-and-fro at the top of the charts. Gerry and the Pacemakers’ How Do You Do It? was usurped by the Beatles’ From Me to You, which in turn was replaced by the Pacemakers’ follow-up, I Like It.

Like their debut, Gerry Marsden and co’s second single was written by Mitch Murray. Buoyed by his previous success, Murray, came up with more of the same. This cheeky, knockabout young love song was tailor-made for the happy-go-lucky Marsden.

Wisely sticking to the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ formula that made Merseybeat such a phenomenon, I Like It is an improvement on How Do You Do It? It’s squeaky-clean pop with a wink – the lyrics may state that the ‘it’ in question is referring to harmless acts such as chin-tickling and tie-straightening, but the teenagers buying the song were probably thinking of something a bit more saucy. The lyric ‘And I like the way you let me come in/When your mama ain’t there’ hints at this too. The chorus is a real earworm – basic but in a very catchy manner. Merseybeat to a tee, all in all.

Murray would have further chart success with similar songs such as You Were Made for Me by Freddie and the Dreamers. His 1964 book, How to Write a Hit Song, inspired Sting, then 12, to begin writing. Nowadays, Sting refers to Murray as his mentor. In 1968 he scored another number 1 with his sometime collaborator Peter Callander, namely Georgie Fame’s The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.

I Like It spent four weeks at number 1, and would no doubt have been played at dances across the country that summer. One such dance was taking place in Gorton, Manchester, on 12 July, but 16-year-old Pauline Reade never made it there. Just after 8pm that night, a van pulled over in front of her. Myra Hindley, her friend Maureen’s big sister, got out and asked Pauline for her help searching for an expensive glove on Saddleworth Moor. She told Hindley she was in no big hurry, and agreed to help. Later that night, Pauline’s mother Joan and brother Paul were searching the streets for her when Hindley’s van drove by. Hindley and Ian Brady were inside. Pauline Reade had become their first victim, and was dead and buried on the moors.

Written by: Mitch Murray

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 4 (20 June-17 July)

Births:

Scottish golfer Colin Montgomerie – 23 June
Singer George Michael – 25 June
Comedian Meera Syal- 27 June
Boxer Errol Christie – 29 June
Film critic Mark Kermode – 2 July 

Artist Tracey Emin – 3 July 

150. Gerry and the Pacemakers – How Do You Do It? (1963)

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And so the first Merseybeat number 1 was by… hang on, it wasn’t the Beatles? No… at least, not officially speaking. Confused? I was. By this point, there were several weekly singles charts, including those by Record RetailerNew Musical Express, Melody Maker, Disc and Record Mirror. As I’ve mentioned previously, the NME was the first, and the Official Charts Company treat this as canon from the chart’s inception through to 9 March 1960. From that point until the end of the decade, the organisation recognises Record Retailer. This has become a bone of contention for many chart aficionados and Beatles fans alike. There is a belief that Record Retailer’s chart was too much of an outlier to be treated as the official source. The NME‘s chart took it’s information from a much bigger reach of record shops, for example. Hardcore chart fans lay the blame at The Guinness Book of Hit Singles, originally published in 1977. This authoritative publication opted for Record Retailer, mainly because of the fact it was the only chart that covered the best-selling 50 songs for most of the decade.

The Beatles’ second single, Please Please Me, knocked Frank Ifield’s The Wayward Wind from number 1 in March, according to every chart but the Record Retailer one. Therefore, as far as the Official Charts Company are concerned, this didn’t happen. You can understand the annoyance of Beatles fans, and I agree with them. But this blog covers the official charts, and, well, the Beatles have no shortage of number 1 singles, do they? So, the first Merseybeat number 1 is indeed How Do You Do It? by Gerry and the Pacemakers, who were the Beatles main competition in 1963.

Gerry Marsden was born in Toxteth, Liverpool in September 1942. One of his earliest memories involved him standing on top of an air raid shelter and singing to impressed onlookers. He formed the skiffle group Gerry Marsden and the Mars Bars in 1959, with his brother Freddie on percussion. From there they became the Gerry Marsden Trio when bassist Les Chadwick joined, and with the addition of Arthur Mack on piano, Gerry and the Pacemakers began honing their act. They did this at home and in Hamburg, Germany, just like the fledgling Beatles. In 1961, Mack left to be replaced by Les Maguire, and the group became the second act to sign with Brian Epstein. Despite having the same manager, the two groups were rivals, and Gerry and the Pacemakers signed with Columbia Records, meaning both groups were with EMI.

How Do You Do It? had been written by Mitch Murray, who had offered the song to Adam Faith, among others, but he kept being turned down. George Martin thought the song would make a great debut single for the Beatles, but the Fab Four were not keen, and wanted to push their own McCartney and Lennon compositions instead. So they duly recorded How Do You Do It? for Martin, but deliberately put in a lacklustre performance, and so they got their way and Love Me Do was issued instead. Martin still clearly thought the song had worth, and Marsden and his group were happy to make it their own debut single, and were right to do so, as the song went to number 1 and stayed there for three weeks.

In the first half of 1963, there seemed little to distinguish the two groups. Both were happy-go-lucky Scouse four-pieces in suits, permanently beaming away for the cameras. The tunes were catchy, upbeat pop numbers, with a somewhat raw, fast sound, and of course the key element was the Liverpudlian accents, which were accentuated rather than hidden away. Unlike the wave of cockney number 1s a few years back though, the accents didn’t seem exaggerated, they seemed natural, and the music was more natural and earthy than the conservative approach of Cliff Richard and the Shadows.

The Beatles version of How Do You Do It? was released on Anthology 1 in 1995, so their version can be compared with the Pacemakers recording, and sure enough, it’s Gerry and the boys putting the effort in and delivering a more assured performance. They leave out the ‘ooh-la-la’ backing vocals but add an impressively bluesy piano interlude.  Ultimately of course, the Beatles won the war, and were right to go with Love Me DoHow Do You Do It? is a catchy but lightweight tune, and this first Merseybeat number 1 didn’t suggest the seismic shift in pop it ultimately caused. But it was a welcome change to Cliff and Elvis to my ears and must have been the same to many in the spring of 1963.

Written by: Mitch Murray

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (11 April-1 May)

Births:

Scottish footballer Mo Johnston – 13 April