Today sees the release of my first book! Every UK Number 1: The 50s is available on Amazon’s Kindle Store at £3.99 here. Members of Kindle Unlimited are able to read for free via their monthly subscriptions. If you’re into vintage music, pop culture and social history, it would make for great lockdown reading. Hope you enjoy!
The UK singles chart is the soundtrack to our lives and a barometer of the nation’s mood and tastes. And ever since 1952, the battle for the number one spot has had us all talking as well as dancing.
In this fascinating spin-off from everyuknumber1.com, as seen in the Daily Mirror, music journalist Rob Barker comprehensively reviews all the best-sellers of the Fifties, delving into the wild lives of the artists and the real stories and secrets behind the hits. He also counts down the influential events that shaped them, as we moved from rations to never having it so good.
Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Cliff Richard were among those who transformed the lives of young people throughout Britain, and taught a country battered by war how to have fun again.
Find out which chart topper was written by an illiterate rapist who formed his own prison band. Learn about the strange early days of the charts, which led to the number one spot being held by two acts at the same time, with different versions of the same banned song. Who was the first woman to top the charts? And which hitmaker lives on as Cockney rhyming slang?
Every UK Number 1: The 50s has all the answers on the decade in which pop took its first steps, before rock’n’roll shouldered in and left the baby boomers all shook up.
For a while, weirdly, it looked like Mungo Jerry may be the heirs to The Beatles’ throne. This rock/pop/skiffle/jug band scored 1970’s biggest-selling number 1, and one of the most memorable summer anthems of all time with their debut single In the Summertime. ‘Mungomania’ was a very real thing.
Mungo Jerry formed from the ashes of 60s rock’n’roll and blues band The Good Earth, featuring, among others, singer-songwriter and guitarist Ray Dorset and keyboardist Colin Earl. The other half of the band were gone by the end of 1968, and with one remaining commitment – the Oxford University Christmas Ball of 1968 – left to go, Dorset hired Joe Rush to play double bass. The Good Earth played again when the night was over, performing folk, skiffle and jug band originals and covers.
This more low-key, acoustic version of the band went down well, and they built a following thanks to regular gigs. Banjoist, guitarist, and blues harp player Paul King made them a quartet. Rush left, to be replaced by Mike Cole, and they changed their name to Mungo Jerry, taking the name from TS Elliot’s poem ‘Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer’, as featured in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.
Mungo Jerry signed with Pye Records, who placed them on their progressive imprint Dawn Records. They set to work recording their eponymous debut album, and the tracks that would make up their first single. This was to be one of, if not the first maxi-single in the UK. Vinyl maxi-singles were played at 33⅓rpm, rather than 45, and featured more than two tracks.
Dorset was still working his day job in a lab for watchmakers Timex when he came up with lead track In the Summertime, which he knocked off in 10 minutes. Clearly he could tell this ditty could make for a great debut for Mungo Jerry, but it’s unlikely he knew the impact this tale of youthful freewheeling would have for the next half a century.
Much like Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky, In the Summertime will be the one track associated with Mungo Jerry (despite a second, long-since-forgotten, number 1), has been used countless times in the media, and is a tune neither I or millions more will ever tire of. It’s all about that loveable, rickety old backing track, really, with a distinctive rhythm created by Dorset stomping and playing an African percussive instrument called the cabasa. I assume it’s also him doing the breathy interjections. Dorset’s an interesting character. His voice has an unusual bleating quality, like a friendly sheep. Footage of him from back in the day though, such as in the video they filmed for the single, above, used to scare me when I was younger. I used to think, with all the teeth and sideburns, he was some kind of hairy villain. Special mention must go to Earl’s piano riff, too.
50 years on, its the lyrics that prove problematic. In the Summertime is a song about being young, about the generational divide of 1970. You could even call it a somewhat passive-aggressive statement of intent: ‘We’re no threat, people, We’re not dirty, we’re not mean, We love everybody but we do as we please’
Dorset and his gang are happy-go-lucky, but in the end, they’ll do what they want, so don’t stop them. And that involves womanising and driving recklessly, possibly while under the influence. The lyric ‘If her daddy’s rich take her out for a meal/If her daddy’s poor just do what you feel’ may have just sounded cheeky back then, but it’s unpleasant to hear these days.
And of course, thanks to a memorable public information film from 1992, it’s ‘Have a drink, have a drive/Go out and see what you can find’ that stands out the most. Anyone that saw this at the time will likely never get the graphic image of the drink-driving accident out of their head whenever they hear this song. But because my mind has unlimited storage for 80s adverts, I also can’t hear it without picturing the curly-haired juggler of oranges in the rewritten version for Outspan. Pretty sure that’s Dorset himself singing ‘Grab an Outspan, the small ones are more juicy naturally’.
Despite the bad vibes of some of Dorset’s lyrics in the 21st century, it’s such an addictive song, it seems it’s never going to go away, and I’m glad about that. In the Summertime stayed at number 1 for seven weeks that summer – the lengthiest run of the 70s until Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody managed nine weeks in 1975/76. The UK’s brief flirtation with Mungomania had begun.
Jamaican-American rapper Shaggy released a version of In the Summertime in 1995, which reached number five that summer. Featuring his mate Rayvon, it eschewed the drink-drive references, but kept the rest of the dodgy bits intact.
Written by: Ray Dorset
Producer: Barry Murray
Weeks at number 1: 7 (13 June-31 July) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*
Singer-songwriter MJ Hibbett – 19 June Field hockey player Russell Garcia – 20 June Field hockey playerChristine Cook – 22 June Footballer David May – 24 June Actress Lucy Benjamin – 25 June Footballer Steve Morrow – 2 July Singer-songwriter Martin Smith – 6 July Boxer Wayne McCullough– 7 July Take That singer Jason Orange – 10 July Actor John Simm – 10 July Conservative MP Saj Karim –11 July Children’s TV presenter Andi Peters – 9 July Director Christopher Nolan – 30 July Actor Ben Chaplin – 31 July
Scottish sociologist Robert Morrison MacIver – 15 June Artist Edwin La Dell – 27 June Dramatist Githa Sowerby – 30 June Publisher Allen Lane – 7 July Conservative MP Iain Macleod – 20 July
13 June: Actor Laurence Olivier was made a life peer in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Olivier was the first actor to be made a lord.
14 June: England’s defence of the FIFA World Cup came to an end when they lost 3-2 to West Germany at the quarter final in Mexico (see here).
17 June: The bodies of two children were discovered in shallow graves in woodland at Waltham Abbey, Essex. The bodies were believed to be those of Susan Blatchford (11) and Gary Hanlon (12). The tow children had last been seen alive near their homes in North London on 31 March. This became known as the “Babes in the wood” case. Also on this day, British Leyland launched its luxury Range Rover.
18 June: The first general election in which 18-year-olds were entitled to vote. Opinion polls pointed towards a record third consecutive victory for the Labour government, led by Harold Wilson.
19 June: Edward Heath’s Conservative Party defied expectations, to win the election with a majority of 30 seats. Notable new MPs included future Labour leaders Neil Kinnock and John Smith for Labour, and Kenneth Clarke, Kenneth Baker, Norman Fowler and Geoffrey Howe, who would all serve in Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Cabinet in the 80s.
21 June: British golfer Tony Jacklin won the U.S. Open.
22 June: The Methodist Church allowed women to become full ministers for the first time.
26 June: Riots broke out in Derry over the arrest of Mid-Ulster MP Bernadette Devlin.
29 June: 32-year-old Caroline Thorpe, wife of Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, died in a car crash.
3 July: British Army soldiers battled with IRA troops in Belfast, leading to the deaths of three civilians. Also on that day, 112 were killed when Dan-Air Flight 1903 from Manchester to Barcelona crashed in the mountains of Northern Spain. There were no survivors.
8 July: Roy Jenkins became Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.
14 July: 5 speedway riders were killed in Lokeren, Belgium when a minibus carrying members of the West Ham speedway team crashed into a petrol tanker after a brief tour. One of the casualties was Phil Bishop, a founding member of the West Ham speedway team from before World War Two.
15 July: Dockers voted to strike, leading to a state of emergency the following day.
16–25 July: The British Commonwealth Games were held in Edinburgh. Australia came first, England second, Scotland fourth and Northern Ireland were 10th on the medal table.
17 July: Lord Pearson proposed a settlement of dockers’ strike.
30 July: The dockers’ strike was settled.
31 July – The last issue of grog in the Royal Navy was distributed.
Here’s a number 1 with an unusual story. Yellow River, Christie’s sole chart-topper, could in a sense also be classed as The Tremeloes’ third number 1, if they hadn’t thrown it away.
Leeds-born singer-songwriter Jeff Christie, born Jeffrey Christie on 12 July 1946, had been a member of rock band The Outer Limits, who had released singles in the late 60s. He had been inspired to write Yellow River after imagining a soldier looking forward to returning home to Yellow River (probably a mythical place) after the American Civil War, and probably thought it would work well with the anti-Vietnam War sentiment of the time.
Christie offered the song to The Tremeloes, who liked it, and recorded it ready to release as a single, but then they went to number two with, ironically, Call Me Number One, and they decided to steer away from pop towards a more progressive sound.
Tremeloes guitarist Alan Blakley’s brother Mike was in a struggling band called The Epics, which also included guitarist Vic Elmes. The story gets muddy here, but someone, possibly Alan, to help Mike, and maybe feeling guilty about ditching Yellow River, suggested its songwriter travel to London to record a new vocal over the track himself, and he did so, forming a new band for its release, called Christie and featuring Elmes and Mike. Their debut single was released on 23 April.
The chorus to Yellow River has existed in my subconscious for years, after I heard a snatch of it on some advert for a compilation album, but also due to the jingle being used in adverts for phone book Yellow Pages when I was a child, before the days of JR Hartley. Bad move by The Tremeloes – it’s a good tune, and way better than their previous number 1s Do You Love Me? and Silence Is Golden.
Apparently, Christie were keen to be considered the British answer to US country rock trio Creedence Clearwater Revival, and they do a great job of living up to that here, except of course, it’s not them behind that speedy finger-picked guitar, effervescent rhythm and top drumming – it’s The Tremeloes. Okay, there’s a fair few number 1s better than this in 1970, but that chorus in particular is a real ear worm. It’s easy to see why it topped the charts, even if it was for only a week. Steer clear of the later remake as it’s leaden by comparison.
Follow-up single San Bernadino, also from their eponymous debut album, was released in October, and reached number seven in the UK, and number 1 in Germany. But the success proved short-lived, and Blakely left before the release of 1971 album For All Mankind. Elmes’s departure in 1973 left Christie as the only remaining original member. No amount of line-up changes (and there were more) could capture that initial momentum though, and in 1976, after Navajo reached number 1 in Mexico, they split up.
Jeff Christie went solo in 1980 for a couple of singles, and then probably did quite well out of the Yellow Pages campaign. He reformed Christie in 1990 with backing from members of the band Tubeless Hearts, and they bid to represent the UK in the 1991 Eurovision Song Contest with Safe in Your Arms, but failed. They have toured and recorded intermittently ever since.
Written by: Jeff Christie
Producer: Mike Smith
Weeks at number 1: 1 (6-12 June)
Novelist EM Forster – 7 June
10 June: Earlier in 1970 the Tories were enjoying a few months after the Conservatives had enjoyed opinion poll leads of more than 20 points, and looked likely to form the next government, but the tide had turned. Labour were now several points ahead of the Conservatives, with eight days to go before the general election. Labour’s win would be a record third-in-a-row, if it happened.
It’s time to delve into the 70s. A fascinating decade, if not always an enjoyable one, when it comes to number 1 singles, but rarely dull.
In 1970, The Beatles were (nearly) gone, and pop scratched its head in search of its next move. There was a year to go until glam rock reared its beautiful glittery sparkly head, and the hippy dream was turning somewhat sour.
The bubblegum pop of the last two years was still going strong as the decade dawned, however, and finally the undercover paedophile Rolf Harris relinquished his grip on the top spot to Edison Lighthouse.
Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) had been written by Tony Macauley and Barry Mason, who between them had plenty of experience at writing number 1s. Macauley had co-written Baby Now That I’ve Found You and Let the Heartaches Begin, and Mason co-wrote The Last Waltz and I Pretend. This first new number 1 of the 70s certainly has Macauley’s joyous pop stamp all over it, Mason’s perhaps less so as he was more used to MOR ballad material.
Originally they gave the song to Jefferson, former guitarist with The Rockin’ Berries. That demo remained unreleased however, and instead they offered it to a session singer called Tony Burrows.
Born Anthony Burrows in Exeter, Devon on 14 April 1942, he had been a member of The Kestrels in the early 60s, and subsequently vocal trio The Ivy League, before they became The Flower Pot Men, who became one-hit wonders with Let’s Go to San Francisco in 1967. Despite their short-lived success, at one point they featured future Deep Purple members Jon Lord and Nick Simper.
In effect, Edison Lighthouse was originally Macauley, Mason, Burrows and session musicians. The writers chose the name as a play on the Eddystone Lighthouse off the coast of Devon. Upon its release in November 1969, the single rapidly gained attention, allegedly becoming the fastest-climbing number 1 up to that point. This meant finding Burrows a backing band for Top of the Pops appearances. They picked Greenfield Hammer for the job following an audition a week before their debut on the show, making the initial line-up of Edison Lighthouse Burrows on vocals, Stuart Edwards on lead guitar, Ray Dorey on guitar, David Taylor on bass and George Weyman on drums.
I’ve been watching lots of off-air recordings of Top of the Pops of late from 1970, so I’ve heard plenty of this track, and that’s no bad thing. Okay, it’s pretty much just a chorus and the verses are afterthoughts, but a chorus so uplifting and catchy is not to be sniffed at. The lyrics are your typical 60s flower power fare, about a dreamlike girl who’s captured the singer’s heart. However, some people believe there’s a filthy meaning behind these words:
‘There’s something about her hand holding mine It’s a feeling that’s fine And I just gotta say She’s really got a magical spell And it’s working so well That I can’t get away’
Yes, they think it might be about getting a handjob. I don’t agree, personally, and I tend to look out for stuff like that. Of course, there’s a chance the writers deliberately left it up to interpretation as a sly joke, who knows? Whatever the meaning, Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) is reminiscent of Love Affair’s Everlasting Love, and a decent start to the 70s number 1s.
Burrows was an incredibly busy bunny during those first few months of 1970. He found himself on Top of the Pops appearing as the singer in Edison Lighthouse, as part of White Plains (performing My Baby Loves Lovin’) and as lead singer in an early incarnation of Brotherhood of Man, performing United We Stand. At the same time, he also had a hit as one half of The Pipkins with Gimme Dat Ding. No wonder he soon quit Edison Lighthouse – he must have thought success was guaranteed no matter who he recorded with.
Macauley owned the name Edison Lighthouse, and replaced Burrows with actor and singer Paul Vigrass. He was the first in a long list of line-up changes over the next few years. Nothing was able to match their debut single’s success. The closest they came was when It’s Up to You, Petula reached number 49 in 1971. Edison Lighthouse called it a day in 1972 after the single Find Mr Zebedee. As is so often the case with bands of this era, the name Edison Lighthouse now belongs to different groups – Brian Huggins in the UK, and Les Fradkin in the US. Original guitarist Edwards died of cancer in 2016.
As for Burrows, he only had one ‘hit’ under his own name – a cover of Melanie Makes Me Smile in the US in 1970. He did however continue as a session singer, helping out both Elton John and Cliff Richard over the years, to name just two.
Written by: Tony Macauley & Barry Mason
Producer: Tony Macauley
Weeks at number 1: 5 (31 January-6 March)
Actress Minnie Driver – 31 January TV and radio scriptwriter Rob Shearman – 10 February Actor Simon Pegg – 14 February Sailboat racer Ian Walker – 25 February Field hockey player Tina Cullen – 1 March
Philosopher Bertrand Russell – 2 February Cricketer Herbert Strudwick – 14 February RAF fighter commander Hugh Dowding – 15 February Painter Arthur Henry Knighton-Hammond – 28 February
13 February: A demonstration at the Garden House Hotel by Cambridge University students against the Greek military junta led to police intervention with eight students receiving custodial sentences for their part. Plus, Brummie rockers Black Sabbath released their self titled landmark debut album in the UK – the first major heavy metal album.
19 February: The Prince of Wales joined the Royal Navy.
23 February: Rolls-Royce asked the government for £50,000,000 towards developing the RB 211-50 Airbus jet engine.
27 February-1 March: The first National Women’s Liberation Conference was held, at Ruskin College in Oxford.
2 March: Four years after independence was declared, Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith declared Rhodesia a republic, breaking all ties with the British Crown. The government refused to recognise the new state for as long as the Rhodesian Government opposed majority rule.
6 March: An outbreak of rabies in Newmarket, Suffolk caused the importation of pets to be banned.
The Beatles went to number 1 for the 17th and final time with John Lennon’s The Ballad of John and Yoko. It was a sure a sign as any that the Fab Four were about to split up, and yet it proved that Lennon and McCartney were still able to put aside their differences and work together.
Lennon and Yoko Ono had married in Gibraltar, Spain on 20 March that year. Soon after Lennon wrote The Ballad of John and Yoko as a kind of travelogue set to a Chuck Berry sound, covering the wedding, the honeymoon in Paris, and their first bed-in a few days later at the Amsterdam Hilton.
An excited and impatient Lennon visited McCartney at home on 14 April, three days after Get Back had been released, in the hope of getting the song finished. Surprisingly, not only did they finish writing it, they went to Abbey Road that afternoon with producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick (for the first time since he’d walked out of sessions for The Beatles) and recorded it, without George Harrison (who was on holiday) or Ringo Starr (he was filming The Magic Christian). The Ballad of John and Yoko was done and dusted by 9.30pm.
Lennon sang lead, played lead and rhythm guitar, and made percussion sounds by slapping the back of an acoustic guitar. McCartney provided some excellent harmony vocals, bass, drums, piano and maracas. Appreciating the irony of being the only two band members involved, Barry Miles noted in Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now (1997) the following exchange: Lennon (on guitar): ‘Go a bit faster, Ringo!’ McCartney (on drums): ‘OK, George!’
After months of torturous misery during the Get Back sessions, how come the duo were able to knock up a single so quickly? The fact they were two down simplified matters obviously, but McCartney was probably so relieved that Lennon was enthusiastic for the first time in a fair while, he was bound to jump at the chance, even if the lyrics made it plain that Lennon was growing apart from The Beatles. He may also have known that Lennon was likely to go ahead and record it anyway with somebody else, and he was determined to keep the band together despite the tensions.
The Ballad of John and Yoko is a real oddity in The Beatles’ catalogue. With it’s self-centered lyrics, you could easily call this the start of Lennon’s solo career really. I find it a real shame that, after all my blogs on such classic material, this is the final Beatles song I get to write about for this blog. I mean, it’s only half the band! Let It Be would have been a far more appropriate way to end the number 1s of the greatest band of all time.
Unlike many though, I’m not here to bury it. It’s not a bad song, and it’s not my least favourite Beatles single. I think I prefer it to Get Back, because it has more energy. Ironically, it’s McCartney who shines here. His rhythm track has real punch to it, and I’ve always enjoyed his drumming (I’m certainly not knocking Starr though). And I really like the final verse when he joins Lennon to sing. I admire the chutzpah of Lennon to write a chorus which mocks the whole ‘Bigger than Jesus’ scandal of 1966 too. It showed how far music had come in three years, and the Beatles led the way for most of that time (having said that, many radio stations would either censor the song or refuse to even play it).
Maybe in a way it is an appropriate song to end on, with the Fab Four’s chief songwriters working together so closely again. Those days had been few and far between for some time, and sadly, there weren’t any more to come.
This single, backed with George Harrison’s superior Old Brown Shoe, was rush-released on 30 May, and was their first single to be in stereo only. Due to Lennon wanting the song to be topical, this meant the unusual approach of releasing it while previous single Get Back was still at number 1. Tommy Roe’s Dizzyknocked that from the top, but was only there for a week before The Ballad of John and Yoko hit number 1.
And here’s where the story of the world’s greatest band ends. Except obviously, it wasn’t over yet. The group had already agreed on McCartney’s suggestion to make another album, and sessions were under way. The Ballad of John and Yoko‘s success proved there was still fuel in the tank, and George Martin was glad to be back on board providing they went back to earlier methods of recording. In other words, stop the bickering of the past year. And they all got on much better… for a while, anyway. McCartney and Martin were keen on a long medley and Lennon wasn’t. Lennon didn’t bother turning up for sessions for Harrison songs either.
Before Abbey Road had been completed he released his first ‘solo’ single (as the Plastic Ono Band), the famous anti-war anthem Give Peace a Chance. Nothing was ever said, but there was a general feeling among all involved that Abbey Road would be their final work together.
McCartney had become the odd man out earlier that year after the other three had voted tough American businessman Allen Klein as their new manager, which put a huge strain on the band in addition to their other issues. On 20 September, six days before the release of one of their best albums, Lennon announced he was leaving and John, Paul, George and Ringo never recorded as a unit again.
Something/Come Together would have been a perfect number 1 single in October, but demand had been so high for its parent album, it missed out. One last song, Harrison’s I Me Mine, was completed minus Lennon in January 1970. This was done to make it part of the salvaged Get Back sessions, now to feature in a film and LP called Let It Be. Klein handed over the tapes to Phil Spector, who had recently produced Instant Karma! for Lennon. Smothering many of the songs with lush orchestral sounds, including Let It Be and The Long and Winding Road, McCartney was not amused, and beat Lennon to the punch by publicly announcing he had quit, the week before the release of McCartney, his first solo album, on 10 April.
The full story of the demise of The Beatles makes for a riveting but depressing read, and I recommend Pete Doggett’s You Never Give Me Your Money: The Battle for the Soul of The Beatles (2009) if you want to know more.
Despite many highly lucrative offers over the years, The Beatles never did reform. It’s likely they would have had Lennon not been murdered in 1980, with relations between he and McCartney thawing. The closest we got was the Anthology project of the mid-90s, and the singles Free As a Bird (1995) and Real Love (1996), where the remaining trio worked on Lennon demos provided by Ono. Although not up to the standard of their previous work, they’re decent enough tunes, and I still can’t believe neither made it to number 1. I guess the world had moved on. A bit.
A new romantic comedy, Yesterday, imagines a world in which they never existed. Pop would probably still have moved on from the doldrums of the early-60s, but it could never have become quite so innovative, so witty, so joyous and so magical without them. Nobody had, has, or ever will have the alchemy of the Fab Four.
The Beatles. 17 number 1 singles. They changed everything.
Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Producer: George Martin
Weeks at number 1: 3 (11 June-1 July)
Graphic artist Simon Taylor – 22 June
14 June: Burmese the horse was ridden by the Queen for the first time at Trooping the Colour, a role she held until 1986.
21 June: BBC One transmitted fly-on-the-wall documentary The Royal Family, made by the BBC and ITV to celebrate the investiture of Prince Charles on 1 July. It gave an insight into the Windsors that could only have been imagined previously. Viewing figures topped 30,600,500, but some worried that the overexposure could damage the throne, and the Queen pulled it off air in 1972. Only clips have been seen on TV since then. Earlier that day, Patrick Troughton made his last regular appearance in Doctor Who. Banished to Earth by the Time Lords in the final episode of The War Games, it was also the final black and white episode of the sci-fi series.
24 June: After the referendum in Rhodesia had voted in favour of becoming a Republic, the Governor of Southern Rhodesia, Sir Humphrey Gibbs, left Government House. This severed the last diplomatic relationship with the UK.
Engelbert Humperdinck was back, pop pickers. The mighty Release Me had been the year’s biggest seller and held even The Beatles at bay, but his follow-up There Goes My Everything couldn’t topple Procul Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale. And so Humperdinck, songwriters Barry Mason and Les Reed, and all the straights who wanted revenge on these drug-taking hippies teamed up to end this run of psychedelic anthems at number 1. Or something like that.
And what dastardly results they conjured up. The Last Waltz was number 1 for five long weeks, and suddenly we’re back in the world of light entertainment ballads that could have been written years previous.
But the problem with The Last Waltz is the singer, not the song. It’s got a nice, Bacharach & David-style piano led tune to begin with. It’s Humperdinck that ruins it, and its made me realise I perhaps went a little easy on him when I reviewed Release Me. Humperdinck is right to bristle at the idea of being called a crooner – he certainly has a hell of a set of lungs on him – but what use are they if you’re going to ignore the emotion of the material and sing every song the same way?
The Last Waltz is a man recalling the day he met an ex-lover, who he danced with at the end of the night. Then it jumps (such a big jump it doesn’t create much of a dramatic effect) to their final waltz together. He sounds exactly the same throughout. And then, to top it all off, he starts a jolly little ‘la la la la la…’ over the melody. Doesn’t exactly create the impression Humperdinck gives a toss about her, to my ears. I’m not saying he needs to be wailing in sheer agony, but it takes more than a great voice to impress me.
Clearly though, in a world that was rapidly changing, the majority of record buyers were ready for the safety net of some easy listening once more. Humperdinck was the pop star of 1967, ratcheting up 11 weeks as top of the pops. 1968 was another great year, with A Man Without Love and Les Bicyclettes de Belsize in the top ten, as did Winter World of Love in 1969.
As the 70s progressed the singles slowly began to chart lower and lower. However his albums still did well, and in 1972 he presented the BBC One variety show Engelbert with The Young Generation, featuring the Goodies as regular guests. With the advent of disco, Humperdinck proved very popular in the US by adopting the ‘Philadelphia Sound’ and would perform his stage show on Broadway.
The 80s saw Humperdinck spend most of his time in the US, either performing in Las Vegas or making cameos on cheesy TV shows such as The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. Album releases continued and he became involved with lots of charities including the Leukemia Research Fund, the American Red Cross and various AIDS relief charities. So say what you like about his music, but he seems a good egg.
He also proved he had a sense of humour in the 90s. During the lounge revival he sang Lesbian Seagull on the excellent Beavis & Butt-head Do America in 1996. His career has continued into the 21st century, with a greatest hits compilation, Engelbert at His Very Best reaching the top five in 2000. He was nominated for a Grammy in 2003 for his gospel album Always Hear the Harmony: The Gospel Sessions.
To mark 40 years since Release Me and The Last Waltz he released an album of songs by British composers called The Winding Road in 2007. He missed out on appearing on the Gorillaz album Plastic Beach, released in 2010 when his management declined on his behalf without him ever hearing what Damon Albarn had in mind. He was said to be gutted by this and would like to work with them one day. Would make for an interesting listen.
In 2012 Humperdinck found himself representing the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest in Baku, Azerbaijan. Unfortunately the appeal of a big-name star held no sway and Love Will Set You Free was voted second to last. But Humperdinck carried on regardless and released a double CD of big-name duets in 2014. Engelbert Calling featured Cliff Richard, Smokey Robinson, Elton John and Il Divo. His 50th anniversary of becoming a star was marked with another best of, and a new album. 2017’s The Man I Want to Be featured covers of tracks by contemporary stars Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars.
Now aged 82, Gerry Dorsey, aka Engelbert Humperdinck, shows no signs of slowing down. Back in the mid-90s, a friend and I wrote a sitcom. Called Life’s a Drag, it was our attempt at an ever weirder version of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. The main character, played by Rodney Bewes, was to be a tired, daydreaming middle-aged man working for a cigarette company (get it?). His boss was to be played by Tom Baker, and Bill Oddie would be a wise old tramp living in his back garden. His son was to be called Engelbert, as his wife would have been a Humperdinck obsessive. One day Bewes was starring in a play in our town, so once it was over we marched into the theatre to present Bewes with our script. He stared at us, totally baffled, and needless to say, we never heard back.
Written by: Barry Mason & Les Reed
Producer: Peter Sullivan
Weeks at number 1: 5 (6 September-10 October)
Actor Toby Jones – 7 September Actress Tara FitzGerald – 18 September Lexicographer Susie Dent – 21 September Businesswoman Denise Coates – 26 September Actor Guy Pearce – 5 October
Physicist John Cockroft – 18 September Conductor Malcolm Sargent – 3 October Labour MP Norman Angell – 7 October Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee – 8 October (see below) Chemist Cyril Norman Hinshelwood – 9 October
6 September: The UK’s first supertanker Myrina was launched in Belfast. It was the largest ever ship built in the country at that point.
9 September: Former Prime Minister Clement Attlee MP was hospitalised with a ‘minor condition’. It turned out to be more serious than that. Attlee died of pneumonia on 8 October, aged 84. Presiding over the most radical government of the 20th century, his legacy is among other things, the welfare state and the NHS. A true legend.
20 September: The launch of RMS Queen Elizabeth II, better known as the QE2.
29 September: Surreal cult TV series The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan was broadcast on ITV for the first time.
30 September: In the wake of the banning of pirate radio stations, the BBC overhauled its radio programming. The Light Programme was split between Radio 1 and Radio 2, the Third Programme became Radio 3, and the Home Service was now Radio 4. Radio 1 was modelled on the pirate station Radio London, and wisely deciding it needed to be hip, picked Flowers in the Rain by The Move as the first ever track to play. Had it used the number 1 at the time, it might not have been seen as rather square.
Halfway into the Summer of Love, and The Beatles were back on top of the world. Since Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine was number 1, the Fab Four had given up touring in August 1966 and worked on separate projects, with John Lennon starring in Richard Lester’s comedy How I Won the War (1967) and Paul McCartney scoring the 1966 comedy drama The Family Way.
Reconvening in November, they began work on Lennon’s dark, psychedelic masterpiece Strawberry Fields Forever, then McCartney’s joyous Penny Lane. It’s believed that McCartney became the last band member to try LSD that December. By this point, Lennon was a heavy user, which resulted in him becoming more emotionally withdrawn and lacking his usual bullishness. McCartney would become unofficial band leader over the next year.
These tracks were originally intended for their next album, which could have been based around The Beatles’ childhood, but after pressure from EMI, they were released as a double A-side single in February 1967. Famously, despite perhaps being their finest ever 7-inch release, not even the biggest band in the world were able to stop Engelbert Humperdinck’sRelease Me, and for the first time since 1963, they didn’t get to number 1.
It wasn’t a big deal for The Beatles, who knew they were taking giant steps away from their cuddly mop-top image of old. They were now working on their next album. The idea of a concept album based around a concert by Sgt. Pepper’s band came from McCartney. It would give them the freedom to create a wildly different type of album, and indulge themselves like never before. They knew they would not have to perform live anymore, so were able to experiment in ways previously thought impossible. Their magnum opus, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was finished in April, and released on 1 June.
The Beatles had changed forever, but the world still needed them, and so it changed with them too. Like Procul Harum, they captured the zeitgeist, and next they released a single that would be the unofficial anthem of the Summer of Love.
In May the band agreed to represent Great Britain on the live TV special Our World. Scheduled to be broadcast around the world on 25 June, the show would feature artists representing each country across the globe. The Beatles were working on giving tracks to the forthcoming animated movie Yellow Submarine, and at first they weren’t sure what track to choose for the show. The only instructions they were given was that it needed to contain a message that could be understood anywhere in the world. When manager Brian Epstein told them, they originally bristled at the idea. One track they considered was McCartney’s Your Mother Should Know.
Opinion is divided over whether All You Need Is Love was then written specifically for Our World, or whether it was a track Lennon had in mind for them anyway. Perhaps lyrically inspired by The Word from 1965’s Rubber Soul, and George Harrison’s Within You Without You from their new album, Lennon liked the concept of making an advertisement for love, and turning the song into an advert for the concept. Turning it into a catchy slogan fitted with the idea of Our World perfectly.
The producers of the show wanted the track to be performed entirely live, but producer George Martin insisted the group performed to a backing track. Work began on 14 June at Olympic Sound Studios, and with the Beatles now fully engrossed in the idea of embracing random elements into their methods, they decided to play instruments they weren’t used to (with the exception of Ringo Starr). Lennon was on harpsichord, McCartney on double bass and Harrison played the violin. With unusual sloppiness, they bounced this performance on to one of four available tracks. Five days later they overdubbed piano from Martin, plus banjo, guitar and vocal parts including Lennon on the chorus and the ‘Love, love love’ harmonies.
Two days before the show, they rehearsed with an orchestra, which they added to the backing track. It was only the day before the performance that they announced it would be their next single. Around this time their was a minor furore over McCartney revealing on television that he had taken LSD. Despite being the last to do so, the other three had never revealed their drug use to the media.
On the day of the broadcast, Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick drank scotch whiskey to calm their nerves. Our World was to be shown to millions upon millions of viewers. The Beatles sat nonchalantly on high stools, surrounded by a 13-piece orchestra and celebrity friends sat beneath them (how symbolic!), including members of The Rolling Stones, The Who, Small Faces and Cream, plus Marianne Faithfull, Pattie Boyd and Jane Asher. It’s a shame the broadcast was in black and white, as the studio was awash with colour. With much of the track already in the bag, Starr’s drums, McCartney’s bass and Harrison’s guitar solo were performed live, as well as the lead vocal from Lennon and backing vocals from the group and their assorted friends.
The Beatles’ music normally transcends time and place, and you rarely find yourself saying ‘I guess you had to be there’, but I feel that does apply to All You Need Is Love. Back in 1995 when I was 16 and obsessed with them, I wanted to be a hippy and this single was up there with my favourites. Now I’ve grown up and become more tired and cynical, I find it somewhat… I’m not sure if ‘hollow’ is the right word or not… it seems harsh. But for me, its their least creatively impressive single for several years.
Then again, it was intended as a celebration of the spirit of the times, and in that sense it certainly achieved what it set out to do. The orchestral elements help add flavour to proceedings, and I like the trumpet elements that interject after every line of the chorus, creating a lazy, drunken feel. The brief snatch of the French national anthem, La Marseeillaise at the start makes for a great introduction. However it’s unusual for a Beatles song to quote so many old songs. Was this to go along with the party atmosphere or a sign they were creatively lacking? I don’t know, but it does make for a rousing finale, mixing in In the Mood, Greensleeves, and even Beatles classics Yesterday and most memorably of all,She Loves You. Using the latter two works in a similar way to the usage of waxwork dummies of the Beatles in their earlier days on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Hearts Club Band. It’s as if they’re saying goodbye to their younger, fresh-faced selves. To get the most out of the song’s finale, listen to the mono mix – the fade-out is slightly longer.
Brian Epstein, who was only two months away from his early death, called All You Need Is Love the finest moment of The Beatles. It’s far from it, but its nice that he felt that way towards the group that had transformed his life. Whatever your opinion on the song, it’s a great sentiment, it was right for the time, and Lennon’s slogan stuck, and showed the way forward for his eventual solo career.
The single would find its way on to the Magical Mystery Tour US album – which, since the CD releases in 1987, is a UK album too. It also made a memorable appearance in Yellow Submarine (1968) and features on the movie’s soundtrack too.
Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Producer: George Martin
Weeks at number 1: 3 (19 July-18 August)
Broadcaster Rageh Omaar – 19 July Journalist Lauren Booth – 22 July Tennis player Monique Javier – 22 July Cricketer Darren Bicknell – 24 July Actor Jason Statham – 26 July
Actor Basil Rathbone – 21 July
28 July: The British steel industry was nationalised.
3 August: The inquiry into the Aberfan disaster (see Distant Drums) blamed the National Coal Board for the deaths of 164 people in South Wales in October 1966.
5 August: Psychedelic pop group Pink Floyd released their classic debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
Returning to number 1 for the first time in 12 years (easily the longest gap up to this point) was Frank Sinatra, with one of his least favourite songs, that is nevertheless one of his most famous, Strangers in the Night.
Since his last chart-topper, Three Coins in the Fountain, he had released some of his most famous LPs – 1955’s In the Wee Small Hours and Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! in 1956. The title track to 1958’s Come Fly with Me became one of his best-known tracks. By the end of the decade the leader of the Rat Pack was so famous he was invited to be Master of Ceremonies at a dinner for Soviet Union President Nikita Krushchev.
In 1960, in order to give himself and other performers more artistic freedom, a discontented Sinatra left Capitol to form Reprise Records and began working with Quincy Jones in addition to his usual collaborator Nelson Riddle. By the time he turned 50 in 1965 he was immensely popular once more, performing with Rat Pack pals Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin at The Frank Sinatra Spectacular, transmitted live to movie theatres across the US. It Was a Very Good Year (which earned him a Grammy Award) and That’s Life, both very popular singles, showcased a reflective side to Ol’ Blue Eyes.
Which brings us to Strangers in the Night. Several men have claimed ownership over the years, but it’s still Bert Kaempfert’s name on the credits. The German conductor had connections to music’s biggest stars, having co-written Elvis Presley’s awful Wooden Heart, and it was he that hired the Beatles to back Tony Sheridan on his album My Bonnie.
The melody to Strangers in the Night was originally called Beddy Bye and was used a part of the instrumental score to the comedy A Man Could Get Killed (1966). English lyrics came from Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder, and one of the film’s stars, Melina Mercouri, was supposed to get first crack at it, but she declined. Sinatra’s version was recorded on 11 April, a month before work began on the rest of the album, and among the personnel were Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine and future star Glenn Campbell on rhythm guitar.
Despite its success, Sinatra not only disliked Strangers in the Night, he seemingly spent the rest of his career running it down. So why record it? Well, he needed a hit single. His albums were selling well, but singles were more important to the industry in 1966. He called it ‘a piece of shit’ when it was first played to him, but then he heard his rival Jack Jones had recorded it, and he was determined to outperform him in the charts. ‘The Voice’ was on cruise control during the recording, and as the track was about to fade, he performed the famous scat ‘dooby dooby doo’ etc. This was probably a sign of how little he regarded the song, but it became famous, and even inspired the name of the crime-fighting dog Scooby-Doo.
My opinion of Strangers in the Night lies somewhere inbetween popular opinion and Frank. It’s a nice melody, and its better than his first number 1, but he also recorded many better songs down the years. I guess a large part of its popularity may lie in the romance of the lyrics. The idea of two strangers falling in love upon first sight in the dark and then staying together all their lives is enduring.
It’s fair enough if Ol’ Blue Eyes didn’t like the song, but the homophobia he displayed at the time can’t help but spoil any enjoyment I might have. He apparently thought it was about ‘two fags in a bar’, and in a concert in Jerusalem in 1975 he changed the lyrics to ‘love was just a glance away, a lonesome pair of pants away’. Not only that, he believed Campbell was giving him the eye during the recording and insulted him. His disdain didn’t fade over the years either. When he introduced it at a concert in the Dominican Republic in 1982 he called it ‘the worst fucking song I’ve ever heard’
Nonetheless, it did the job at the time and spent three weeks at the top, and the album of the same name was one of his biggest sellers. Not bad going for ‘a piece of shit’.
Written by: Bert Kaempfert/Charles Singleton & Eddie Snyder (English lyrics)
Producer: Jimmy Bowen
Weeks at number 1: 3 (2-22 June)
Playwright Mark Ravenhill – 7 June Actor Samuel West – 19 June Rally driver Michael Park – 22 June
6 June: Johnny Speight’s long-running sitcom Till Death Us Do Part was first transmitted on BBC One. Starring Warren Mitchell as the bigoted Alf Garnett, it ran well until 1975, with a spin-off, In Sickness and in Health, transmitted from 1985 to 1992.
The Spencer Davis Group were at number 1 again for the last time. Sticking firmly to the formula that saw them shoot to the top with the classic Keep on Running, they borrowed another song from reggae singer-songwriter Jackie Edwards, who was signed to their producer Chris Blackwell’s Island Records.
Edwards’ original was more like northern soul than reggae, and a decent stab at it. However, The Spencer Davis Group made it sound as similar to their previous number 1 as is possible. Winwood’s voice was as great as ever (hearing him singing ‘When I was just/A little boy of seventeen’ is pretty amusing as he must have been that age roughly at the time), and there’s some occasional interesting guitar sounds from Davis, but there’s no way this would have been top of the pops if it had been released before Keep on Running.
Better songs were to follow. Both Gimme Some Lovin’ and I’m a Man were much more deserving of number 1 status, and they started to make progress in the US. In 1966 the group had also starred in their own film. The Ghost Goes Gear, also starring Nicholas Parsons, saw The Spencer Davis Group staying in the haunted childhood home of their manager. This sounds awfully amazing but seems to have been lost in the mists of time sadly.
In 1967 Steve and Muff Winwood decided to leave the band. Steve formed Traffic, adopting a more psychedelic sound and co-writing the excellent Paper Sun and Hole in My Shoe (later recorded by Neil from The Young Ones). He also played the organ on Voodoo Chile on The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland (1968), before forming the short-lived supergroup Blind Faith with his pal Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech. His singing on the haunting Can’t Find My Way Home is particularly beautiful.
After briefly reforming Traffic, he resurfaced as a solo artist in the late 70s, and found pop fame once more with the hit single Higher Love in 1986. He still occasionally releases new material, and his daughter Lily is now a singer too.
His brother, Muff, went to work as an A&R man for Island Records, before becoming an executive for CBS Records. He produced Sparks’ hit This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us and was also responsible for signing several big names, including Prefab Sprout, Shakin’ Stevens and Sade.
The Spencer Davis Group soldiered on without the Winwoods, and actually briefly worked alongside Traffic on the soundtrack to Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. After several line-up changes, with Davis the only original member left, they split in 1969. They reformed several times over, and confusingly existed in two different formations, one in Europe and one in the US, until Davis died while being treated for pneumonia in hospital in 2020, aged 81.
In 2003 Somebody Help Me found new life when it became the theme tune to the long-running ITV drama The Royal, a medical drama set in the 60s.
Producer: Chris Blackwell
Weeks at number 1: 2 (14-27 April)
Model Samantha Fox – 15 April
Cricketer Tich Freeman – 28 January
15 April: By 1966, London was established as the coolest capital in the world, and it was on this day that Time magazine ran a pop-art cover featuring the city, with the phrase ‘LONDON: The Swinging City’. Inside it stated ‘In a decade dominated by youth, London has burst into bloom. It swings; it is the scene’. With the World Cup soon to take place, this was a great time to be in England.
19 April: The Moors Murders still cast a great shadow over all this positivity though. Ian Brady and Myra Hindley’s trial for three deaths began at Chester Crown Court.
Fresh off the back of their second number 1, Little Red Rooster, the Rolling Stones had released their second album, The Rolling Stones No. 2, which topped the album charts.
Although the majority of the LP was made up of covers, including their classy version of Time Is on My Side, there were three tracks written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. All were average, but a sign of things to come. The following month their first single to feature their name on the credits, The Last Time, was released, and a month after that became their third number 1. Except it wasn’t as straightforward as that.
Yes, the guitar lines, the intro and the verses were original, but the chorus was a steal of gospel group The Staple Singers’ This May Be the Last Time from 1958, which soul supremo James Brown had released as the B-side to Out of Sight in 1964. Luckily for the Stones, that track was a traditional with no songwriting credit. Very crafty.
Nonetheless, the Stones’ elements are strong and complement the chorus well, with Jagger further developing the ‘can’t-be-arsed-love’ persona of their first number 1 It’s All Over Now. Brian Jones’ lead guitar is very memorable and makes for a great intro, and Richards’ solo is much better than that of the aforementioned song. The highlight of the track is the end, where normally cool, calm and collected Jagger begins screaming repeatedly during the fade-out. Here was a strong sign that, with Jagger and Richards continuing development as songwriters, The Rolling Stones had the potential to move beyond blues and R’n’B covers. The main let down, for me, is the production. Andrew Loog Oldham, always a fan of raw production, worked with Phil Spector on this. What worked magnificently on You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ just isn’t as effective here. The deliberate muddiness just frustrates me. I’d rather hear a cleaner sound.
Click on the YouTube video above to see a classic performance on the song on Top of the Pops, with footballing legend George Best in the audience.
In addition to managing and producing The Rolling Stones, Loog Oldham started a side-project. The Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra wasn’t an orchestra, but a revolving stable of session musicians, and occasionally, members of The Rolling Stones. In 1966 they released their fourth album, The Rolling Stones Songbook. One of the covers on there was a version of The Last Time. 31 years later, alt-rockers rockers The Verve built Bitter Sweet Symphony around a sample of this. After two albums as a cult psychedelic band, they suddenly became big, thanks to this excellent state-of-the-nation track. Unfortunately for them, the Rolling Stones’ notoriously tough lawyers ABKCO got involved and due to the threat of litigation, Verve singer-songwriter Richard Ashcroft surrendered all royalties to Jagger and Richards, who were added to the songwriting credits of Bitter Sweet Symphony, adding an extra poignancy to that song’s title. Considering the sample sounds hardly anything like The Last Time, which Jagger and Richards clearly stole from The Staple Singers… Very crafty.
To further kick dirt in the Verve’s faces, Loog Oldham then sued the Verve over the same sample. He had little to do with the sample either, it was written and arranged by David Whitaker! Said strings are also alleged to be featured on Tinchy Stryder featuring N-Dubz’s 2009 number 1, called, appropriately, Number 1. Having just listened to that, I don’t think it’s true. They’re very similar, but surely if they were the same, Jagger and Richards wouldn’t miss a chance to get royalties from that too? Hmm.
It hit the headlines in 2019 that Jagger and Richards had decided to give all future royalties from Bitter Sweet Symphony to Richard Ashcroft. Better late than never.
Written by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
Producer: Andrew Loog Oldham
Weeks at number 1: 3 (18 March-7 April)
Footballer Steve Bull – 28 March Journalist Piers Morgan – 30 March Composer Robert Steadman – 1 April Actor Sean Wilson – 4 April
Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood – 28 March
Olympian rower Richard Beesly – 28 March
April Fool’s Day: The Greater London Council came into power, replacing the London County Council. Also, the Finance Act introduced corporation tax, which replaced income tax for corporate institutions.