282. Lee Marvin (Orchestra Conducted by Nelson Riddle) – Wand’rin’ Star (1970)

Here’s a strange one. Taking up the top spot for most of March was Academy Award-winning Hollywood actor Lee Marvin – definitely not a professional singer – and Wand’rin’ Star, from the 1969 western musical film Paint Your Wagon, based on the 1951 stage show.

Set in a mining camp during the Gold Rush in California, the film also starred Clint Eastwood in a singing role. Despite its notoriety now, it was panned upon its release. Not much of a fan of westerns or musicals, I’ve never seen it, and likely never will.

The song Wand’rin’ Star, like the rest of the music in the film/show, came from Frederick Loewe, with the lyrics by Alan J Lerner. Together, the duo wrote some of the most famous musicals of all time, including My Fair Lady (Vic Damone had a UK number 1 in 1958 with On the Street Where You Live).

The makers of the movie had a problem when it cames to filming. Prematurely white-haired, gruff-voiced Marvin, one of the top actors of the era, was no singer, yet he had top billing in his role as prospector Ben Rumson. And he refused to mime.

Marvin was born 19 February 1924 in New York City. The son of an advertising executive and fashion editor, he struggled from authority from an early age – running away from home for two days at the age of four, and expelled from a succession of boarding schools. However when he was 18 he dropped out of a Florida prep school to join the Marines in 1942, determined to prove how tough he was. Marvin was wounded in action in 1944 and spent a year in hospital.

Upon his discharge he took up various menial jobs and stumbled upon acting almost by accident. Soon, he was in a Broadway production of Billy Budd, before the 50s beckoned, and he garnered many small TV roles.

Next, came Hollywood, and a role as a murderer in an episode of crime drama Dragnet got him noticed, leading to him being typecast as the bad guy in films. Two such roles came in The Big Heat and The Wild One (both 1953) – the latter of which may be where The Beatles got their name from (Marvin’s gang were called The Beetles). He finally got to be leading man in the TV crime drama The M Squad, which ran from 1957-60.

Once the series ended, he went up a notch in film roles, starring in The Comancheros (1961), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and Donovan’s Reef (1963). But it was 1965 surprise-hit comedy Cat Ballou that really shot him to the big time, and he won the Best Actor Oscar that year.

The Dirty Dozen was a commercial success, and Point Blank adored by critics, both in 1967. Hell in the Pacific was also acclaimed a year later, and in 1969 Marvin was set to star in The Wild Bunch, but he fell out with director Sam Peckinpah and opted for Paint Your Wagon instead.

Wand’rin’ Star finds Marvin’s character fending for himself and contemplating his hobo lifestyle. The song was orchestrated and arranged by Nelson Riddle, who had been working with some of the most legendary singers since the 40s – including Frank Sinatra on his first number 1, Three Coins in the Fountain.

The first time I listened to this, I thought Siri had accidentally picked an instrumental version, perhaps used as incidental music in the film. It’s quite some time before Marvin’s gravelly vocal begins. And you know what, yes, it’s out of tune and his timing is also off at times, but I’d take his voice over the dated backing singers.

It’s all about the mood, and Marvin’s baritone fits perfectly. His off-key rasp puts across that this is someone that’s been damaged, that’s gone through some shit, but is proud of the lifestyle he has.

Also, there’s some really great lyrics here, particularly:
I’ve never seen a sight that didn’t look better looking back
And especially:
Do I know where hell is?
Hell is in hello
Heaven is goodbye for ever, it’s time for me to go

No wonder this was played at Joe Strummer’s funeral, and covered by Shane MacGowan and the Popes. There’s real depth here. I can do without the backing singers taking over at one point, and I probably won’t be listening to it much in the future, but it’s surprisingly good. And the public clearly thought so too. This even kept Let It Be off the top spot!

Marvin remained active in films throughout the 70s, but despite his roles becoming diverse, nothing matched the 60s for him, commercially or critically. He was offered the role of Quint in Jaws (1975) but turned it down.

He was embroiled in a high-profile lawsuit in 1979 when his old live-in girlfriend, Michelle Triola, who had changed her surname to Marvin, claimed he had promised her half his income while they were still together. This was the first time the US Supreme Court has allowed such a case between unmarried couples. The judge only awarded her enough money to get back on her feet.

Marvin claimed to spend much of the remainder of his years living in the desert, which makes him sound very similar to the character Ben – no wonder he sang it with such conviction. He starred in Gorky Park in 1983, and his final film was The Delta Force alongside Chuck Norris in 1986.

Marvin fell ill that December, and after a number of issues he died of a heart attack on 29 August 1987, aged 63.

Written by: Alan J Lerner & Frederick Loewe

Producer: Tom Mack

Weeks at number 1: 3 (7-27 March)

Meanwhile…

12 March: The government’s anti-rabies measures following an outbreak in Newmarket, Suffolk meant that the quarantine period for cats and dogs was increased to one year.

13 March: The Bridgwater by-election became the first in which 18-year-olds could vote. Tom King of the Conservatives was the victor.

17 March: Martin Peters, who scored for England in the 1966 World Cup final, became the first footballer in the country worth £200,000 after transferring from West Ham United to Tottenham Hotspur.

23 March: – 18 victims of the thalidomide scandal were awarded nearly £370,000 in compensation.

159. Gerry and the Pacemakers with Orchestra conducted by George Martin – You’ll Never Walk Alone (1963)

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When Gerry and the Pacemakers chose to record You’ll Never Walk Alone from the musical Carousel as their third single, manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin couldn’t understand why they’d want to mess with the uptempo pop formula that had scored them two number 1s. Not only did Gerry Marsden prove them wrong, making his group the first act in the UK to reach the top with their first three singles, he also helped turn the song into Liverpool FC’s anthem, and one the city has turned to at times of tragedy.

Originally written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, the song first appeared in the second act of the 1945 musical. The character Nettie Fowler sings it to her cousin Julie Jordan to comfort her following the suicide of her husband, Billy. It is later reprised by the cast at her daughter Louise’s graduation. The emotional lyrics of this torch song made it perfect for those who had lost family members during World War Two, and Frank Sinatra was the first star to take it into the US charts that year. During the 50s, rock’n’rollers such as Gene Vincent and Johnny Preston also released versions.

Marsden had always admired the song, and he and the Pacemakers had featured it in their live shows for several years. He had noted how popular ballads had become for The Beatles in their shows, and wanted to do the same. He did however want to make the song sound less like a showtune and more contemporary, and with Martin’s help did just that.

This version starts shakily, and, having not heard this version in a long time, I wondered if Marsden was going to be up to the task. His voice doesn’t sound capable initially, but by the end, he’s knocked it out of the park, to use a tired old football analogy. I’m not sure about Martin’s strings – his arrangements for The Beatles were always perfect but I feel like they sound slightly tacky at the start, but they do make for a great finale. It’s also interesting to hear Marsden moving away from the cheeky chappie of the first two singles – he sounds suitably sincere.

The story goes that before a match at the Kop, Liverpool FC (who weren’t yet one of the most dominant teams in club football) treated the fans to a rundown of the top 10. When it was announced that a local act had reached number 1 (again), the crowd went wild and sang along. It subsequently went on to be played before every home game, and the rest was history. Eventually the song was adopted by other teams too.

Many covers continued to be released, perhaps the best coming from Elvis Presley. Pink Floyd tacked a field recording of the Kop choir performing it on the end of their track Fearless from their 1971 album Meddle. I’m not sure why they chose to do so, but it makes for an intriguing and powerful finish.

Gerry and the Pacemakers narrowly missed out on four consecutive number 1s with I’m the One, which had been written by Marsden. He and the band began writing more original material, and they became part of the ‘British Invasion’ in the US. Future singles included Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying and another signature tune that became important to Liverpool – Ferry Cross the Mersey.

In 1965 they starred in their own feature film, with the same name, which was their attempt at making their own A Hard Day’s Night. But that year saw sales decline in both the UK and US. They were unable to move with the times, and the band split in 1966, just as The Beatles began to increase their experimentation. They held on to the record of ‘first three singles hitting number 1’ record until fellow Liverpudlians Frankie Goes to Hollywood repeated the hat trick in 1984.

Marsden went into light entertainment, taking on TV and theatre work. The 80s saw him return to number 1 twice with football-related charity singles. After Band Aid in 1984, such songs were all the rage, and the following year he assembled The Crowd to record a new version of You’ll Never Walk Alone, which raised money in the aftermath of the terrible Bradford Football Club stadium tragedy.

Then in 1989, the even more shocking events at Hillsborough led to a quick recording of Ferry Cross the Mersey. For this, Marsden teamed up with other Liverpool figures the Christians, Holly Johnson, Paul McCartney and Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Since then, Gerry and the Pacemakers have reformed and can be found on the nostalgia circuit.

Written by: Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 4 (31 October-27 November)

Births:

Comic actor Sanjeev Bhaskar – 31 October 
Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen – 1 November
Welsh footballer Mark Hughes – 1 November 
Footballer Ian Wright – 3 November 
Entertainer Lena Zavaroni – 4 November
Actor Hugh Bonneville – 10 November
Field hockey player Jon Potter – 
19 November
Mathematician William Timothy Gowers – 20 November 

Actress Nicollette Sheridan – 21 November
International Rugby League player Joe Lydon – 26 November

Deaths:

Writer Aldous Huxley – 22 November
Irish-born author CS Lewis – 22 November

Meanwhile…

22 November: You’ll Never Walk Alone held on to number 1 for most of November in 1963, making it an appropriately moving number 1 while the world mourned the assassination of US President John F Kennedy. The same day saw the deaths of two important English authors, namely 65-year-old CS Lewis, the author of the Narnia series of books, and Aldous Huxley, writer of Brave New World and the essay The Doors of Perception, which is where The Doors took their name from.

23 November: The first episode of long-running BBC children’s science-fiction series Doctor Who was transmitted. At around that time, 12-year-old John Kilbride should have been at home watching, but he was out at a market in Ashton-under-Lyne when he was approached by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. They offered him a lift home, telling him his parents would be worried about him being out so late, and coaxed him with the promise of a bottle of sherry. On the way, Brady suggested they visit the moor to look for a glove Hindley had lost.  Later that night, police began a missing persons investigation for the child.

125. Shirley Bassey with Geoff Love and His Orchestra – Reach for the Stars/Climb Ev’ry Mountain (1961)

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It had been over two years since Shirley Bassey became the first Welsh singer to score a number 1 with As I Love You, but her career was still going strong.

A few months later she had signed with EMI’s Columbia. She narrowly missed out on the top spot in 1960 with her recording of As Long As He Needs Me from Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, and in November of that year she made her US television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. 1961 single You’ll Never Know also did well, but it was a double-bill of ballads that took her back to the top for the second and (to date) final time.

Although largely forgotten about now, one has to wonder if Cathy Dennis and Andrew Todd, co-writers of S Club 7’s Reach, were fans of these tracks. Have another look at the titles…

Reach for the Stars had been written by Austrian singer-songwriter Udo Jürgens, with English lyrics from Bassey’s producer, Norman Newell. Jürgens went on to win the Eurovision Song Contest on his third attempt in 1966 with Merci, Chérie.

As I stated in my previous Blassey blog, I’m really not a fan of her voice, so she has to be performing a strong song for me to be able to enjoy her. This is not a strong song. It’s turgid, soppy and completely forgettable. Bassey has not only put her lover on a pedestal, she’s turned him into a God-like figure. And that bellow at the end really hurt my ears, as is usually the case with Bassey. Ah well, maybe things will improve with Climb Ev’ry Mountain.

Things didn’t improve with Climb Ev’ry Mountain. If anything, it’s more forgettable and drawn out than Reach for the Stars. It could be that this single did so well because this track came from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music. It is sung by the character Mother Abbess at the end of the first act, and is intended to encourage people to follow their dreams. As I like The Sound of Music about as much as I enjoy Bassey’s bellow, I only felt encouraged to take my earphones out early.

Reach for the Stars/Climb Ev’ry Mountain only had a week at number 1 before previous number 1, Johnny Remember Me returned to the top. Obviously, Bassey remained a big star, and is now considered a living legend.

Her first James Bond theme, 1965’s Goldfinger (with lyrics co-written by previous number 1 artist Anthony Newley), is rightly considered one of the best, and even I can appreciate that one. Despite her fame in the UK, this track has been her only recorded hit in the US, despite her sell-out live shows.

Around this time, her UK hits started to drop too. Big Spender is considered one of her best tracks (especially by me), yet didn’t even make the top 20 in 1967. Her cover of Something by The Beatles marked a resurgence as the 70s began, and she recorded two further Bond themes, Diamonds are Forever (1971) and Moonraker (1979).

Bassey semi-retired in the 80s, but did wonders for her image when she worked with big beat duo the Propellerheads on their retro 60s-styled single History Repeating in 1997. This track was everywhere at the time, and might actually be where my dislike of her voice originated! She turned 60 that year, and a series of high-profile concerts followed. Beloved by the Royal family, she performed at the Duke of Edinburgh’s 80th birthday in 2001 and the Queen’s 50th Jubilee a year later (and again at her 60th in 2012).

2006 saw the Welsh songstress cover Pink’s Get the Party Started for Marks & Spencer’s Christmas ad campaign. This proved to be highly irritating for me. In 2007 her single The Living Tree entered the charts, meaning that Bassey held the record for the longest span of top 40 hits in the history of the UK charts. Stars including Manic Street Preachers, Pet Shop Boys and Gary Barlow wrote tracks for her 2009 album, The Performance. Comedian David Walliams presented an hour-long special devoted to her in December 2016.

Whatever my opinions on Shirley Bassey’s singing, there’s a lot to like about her. From humble beginnings, she fought against poverty, racism and sexism to become a national treasure, and has maintained her down-to-earth character. There didn’t seem to be much room in the charts back then for strong, sexy women, but Bassey was one of the exceptions.

Written by:
Reach for the Stars: Udo Jürgens/Climb Ev’ry Mountain: Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II

Producer: Norman Newell

Weeks at number 1: 1 (21-27 September)

Births:

Conservative MP Liam Fox – 22 September 
Novelist Will Self – 26 September

100. Anthony Newley (Accompaniment directed by Johnny Gregory) – Do You Mind (1960)

When Anthony Newley scored his second and final number 1, Do You Mind became the 100th chart-topping single. It was the second number 1 to be written by Lionel Bart, following the best-selling single of 1959, Cliff Richard and The Drifters’ Living Doll.

Bart was only a month away from the opening of his musical, Oliver!, which premiered at the New Theatre in the West End on 30 June. The original cast featured Australian comedian Barry Humphries, later to be better known as Dame Edna Everage.

Do You Mind is superior to Newley’s first number 1, Why, but that’s not saying much. Featuring finger clicking and a style that’s not dissimilar from Living Doll, it’s better suited to the cheeky cockney stylings of Newley than the sickly previous single, and once more, you can’t help but imagine the young David Bowie having a go at it. Which is probably what Bowie was trying to achieve with Love You Till Tuesday (and that’s certainly superior to this track).

It’s another love song, basically Newley telling his love  how he’s going to shower her with kisses, make an idol of her etc, but with the added bonus of actually checking she’s alright with all that first. So at least he’s more of a gentleman than Cliff Richard, who prefers to lock his girl up in a trunk so no big hunk can steal her away from him.

These two number 1s were only early stages in the start of a very successful career for Newley. This was the last in a series of chart-toppers by cockneys in early 1960, but Newley began working with several figures from this brief ‘scene’. He formed a very successful songwriting partnership Leslie Bricusse, who had helped write Lonnie Donegan’s awful My Old Man’s a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer). The material the duo came up with far surpasses anything they had made up to this point.

Their first musical, Stop the World – I Want to Get Off (1961) featured the multi-award-winning What Kind of Fool Am I? and they became the first British duo to win the Grammy for Song of the Year. In 1964 they wrote the lyrics for Goldfinger, sang by Shirley Bassey for the James Bond film of the same name. John Barry, who had arranged Adam Faith’s two number 1s, What Do You Want? and Poor Me, composed the music. The same year, they also wrote Feeling Good, which became legendary thanks to Nina Simone in 1965.

In 1963 he had married Joan Collins, having already had two wives. They had a son together but split in 1970, remaining friends, and he married again a year later.

In 1971, Newley and Bricusse wrote the music for Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, starring the brilliant Gene Wilder. As I’ve stated here before, I’m not much of a fan of musicals, but I’ve always loved this, and if I’m feeling particularly sentimental and I’m watching it with my daughters, Pure Imagination can almost move me to tears, particularly since the death of Gene Wilder. The Candy Man was also later a big hit for Sammy Davis Jr.

Newley had already married twice before his wedding to Joan Collins. A distinctly British character, he couldn’t quite repeat his success abroad, but he did appear on game shows and chat shows in the 70s. Always versatile, he continued to do well with music, film, TV and theatre, but his star did begin to wane.

In 1992 he took the title role in Scrooge: The Musical. This was a stage version of the 1970 film featuring Albert Finney as the miser, with the music by Bricusse. Say what you like but I won’t have anyone tell me that this isn’t the definitive version of A Christmas Carol. There you go, that’s two musicals I’ve admitted loving in one blog. The show ran until 1997, with fellow 50s cockney star Tommy Steele (who had a 1957 number 1 with Singing the Blues) later taking his place.

In 1998 he featured in BBC1’s flagship soap opera EastEnders. He was to become a regular, but ill health took hold. He finally succumbed to cancer on 14 April 1999, aged 67.

Newley’s two number 1s are a poor yardstick to measure him by, really, and there was much more to him than the David Bowie comparison. Hopefully though, not as much as Newley’s own son, Sacha, recently claimed. He made news headlines in late 2017 when he said that his father loved young girls and this is what caused the split between him and Joan Collins. But how young? Sacha called his father a paedophile, causing Collins to issue a public statement strongly denying he ever had any involvement with underage girls.

Written by: Lionel Bart

Producer: Ray Horricks

Weeks at number 1: 1 (28 April-4 May)

Births:

Author Ian Rankin – 28 April

Deaths:

Architect Charles Holden – 1 May

Meanwhile…

3 May: Burnley FC won the Football League First Division title. They defeated Manchester City 2-1, meaning that FA Cup finalists Wolverhampton Wanderers missed out on becoming the first team of the 20th century to win both the league title and the FA Cup.