179. Roy Orbison – Oh, Pretty Woman (1964)

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The 1964 general election took place on 15 October, and after 13 years of Conservative rule, Labour were back in power with a slim majority of five seats, and Harold Wilson was the new prime minster. Two days later he announced his cabinet, which included James Callaghan, Denis Healey, Barbara Castle and Roy Jenkins. He also created the Welsh Office and made Jim Griffiths the first Secretary of State for Wales. The Conservatives had become mired in controversy following the Profumo affair, and Douglas-Home seemed decidedly old-fashioned and too posh against Wilson, who played up his working class image with a pipe and seemed hip by comparison, as the Beatles’ fame had helped begin the breaking down of social barriers.

Meanwhile, a suitably upbeat track was at number 1, courtesy of… Roy Orbison? Yes, the Big O was third-time lucky at number 1, and he finally got the girl on the classic Oh, Pretty Woman. The song was inspired by Orbison’s wayward wife Claudette, who was often his muse. Orbison and co-writer Bill Dees were working one day when she walked in to tell them she was going to Nashville. When Orbison asked if she needed any money, Dees interjected with ‘A pretty woman never needs any money’. As usual Orbison assigned Fred Foster for production, Bill Porter as the engineer, and assembled a top team of musicians, including Elvis Presley collaborator and number 1 artist Floyd Cramer on piano, plus three other guitarists in addition to himself on 12-string.

The second half of 1964’s number 1s are an embarrassment of riches as far as intros go, and Oh, Pretty Woman is among the best. Gone is the doom and gloom of It’s Over, replaced by that brilliant circular riff leading into the first ‘Pretty woman’. Anyone who’s ever been in awe of someone will identify with the lyrics, in which Orbison admires the pretty woman from a distance (I’d like to believe this was in a perfectly innocent way; I refuse to believe Orbison was a stalker). Anyone who was aware of his work must have assumed this was yet another great track by the balladeer in which the protagonist is doomed to be unlucky in love, but when he sings ‘What do I see?/Is she walkin’ back to me?/Yeah, she’s walkin’ back to me/Oh, oh, pretty woman.’, you almost want to punch the air for him in triumph. I love Orbison’s interjections too, namely ‘Mercy’, and a bit of growling thrown in for good measure. Way to go, Big O!

It was no mean feat for a US act to gain a UK number 1 in 1964, let alone two. Oh, Pretty Woman also went back to the top the following month for another week, toppling Sandie Shaw’s (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me. Unfortunately, this was no happy ending for Orbison. That November, he and Claudette divorced over her affair, and although they remarried in December 1965, they were involved in a tragic accident in June 1966. The couple shared a love of motorbikes, and were riding home one day when a pickup truck pulled out. Claudette hit the door and died instantly. He threw himself into his music, co-writing the music for his debut film appearance, The Fastest Guitar Alive (1967). It had originally been planned as a Western, but became a comedy. Apparently Orbison’s role as a spy proved he wasn’t anywhere near as good an actor as he was a musician, and the film flopped, ending the movie enthusiast’s career in one stroke.

Orbison had done well to withstand changing musical fashions up to this point, but suffered badly with the blossoming of psychedelia. His life was upended once more after a gig in Bournemouth in September 1968, when he was told over the phone that his house had burned down, killing his two eldest sons. He sold the land to Johnny Cash, who planted an orchard where the house was stood.

The following year he married German teenager Barabra Jakobs, and in the 1970s they had two sons together, but his musical fortunes did not improve. It was a lost decade, commercially. other than a compilation of greatest hits making it to number 1 in the album charts, and featuring as the opening act for the Eagles on live dates, both in 1976.

The 80s opened promisingly for the Big O when Don McLean unexpectedly went to number 1 with his version of Crying. He and Emmylou Harris won a Grammy in 1981 for their duet That Lovin’ You Feelin’ Again, but it was a request from auteur filmmaker David Lynch that really reignited his career. Lynch was refused permission to use the track In Dreams in his disturbing film noir Blue Velvet (1986), but he went ahead anyway. Apparently while making the film he asked for the track to be played repeatedly to add to the disturbing atmosphere of the movie. Orbison was said to be shocked when he watched the film in the cinema, and it was only later that he appreciated his song’s place in it.

1987 was Orbison’s best year for decades. He released an album of re-recordings, won a Grammy with kd Lang for their new version of Crying, and he was initiated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bruce Springsteen, who had referenced his first number 1 in the memorable Thunder Road (‘Roy Orbison’s singing for the lonely’). In 1988 he began working with Electric Light Orchestra frontman Jeff Lynne on a new album. Lynne had just finished producing George Harrison’s Cloud Nine. The trio met up for a meal and an idea formed. They rang Bob Dylan, paid a visit to Tom Petty, and before you know it the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys were formed. That evening they wrote hit single Handle with Care.

Unlike a lot of comebacks by 60s legends, it helped that Orbison’s material was pretty good, particularly You Got It, which was to be the first single from his new album, Mystery Girl. Around this time he complained to Johnny Cash of chest pains, and said he should do something about his health. After years of getting nowhere, the world was at his feet again, and he didn’t want to stop in case his luck ran out yet again. On 6 December he spent the day flying model aeroplanes with his sons and had dinner at his mother’s house. He died of a heart attack later that day, aged only 52. The world had yet again been robbed of an astounding musical talent, blessed with an incredible voice and an uncanny knack of making misery sound compelling. Oh, Pretty Woman enjoyed a new lease of life thanks to the romantic comedy Pretty Woman in 1990. Roy himself is kind of doing the same, thanks to the ongoing tour in which he features as a hologram, backed by a full live orchestra. It’s good to know that his songs live on, but whether this is ethical or not is another matter.

Also in the news during Orbison’s final number 1 stint… Great Britain competed in the Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, where they won four gold, 12 silver and two bronze medals. The Games had been scheduled deliberately late in the year to avoid Tokyo’s midsummer heat.

Written by: Roy Orbison & Bill Dees

Producer: Fred Foster

Weeks at number 1: 3 (8-21 October, 12-18 November)

106. The Shadows – Apache (1960)

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From 25 August to 11 September 1960, Great Britain and Northern Ireland competed in the Olympics, held in Rome. It wasn’t a great performance, with only two gold medals, six silver and 12 bronze brought home. On the same day, Cliff Richard and the Shadows were deposed from the top of the charts by… the Shadows (with a cameo from Cliff). This unusual turn of events came about because the Shadows had a recording contract separate to their one as a backing band for the UK’s most popular artist at the time. Their instrumental, Apache, is of course one of the most memorable and evocative pre-Beatles UK singles, and catapulted them to super-stardom, making Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch, Jet Harris and Tony Meeham the first backing band to step out of the shadows (sorry) and become as popular as their frontman.

As previously stated in my blogs for Living Doll and Travellin’ Light, the Shadows were originally known as the Drifters, and none of the original line-up remained by 1960. When Cliff recorded his first hit, the influential Move It, the band consisted of founder Ken Pavey, Terry Smart, Norman Mitham and Ian Samwell. Samwell had written Move It, but only he and Smart were allowed to play on the recording, and that had taken some persuasion. By the time of the recording of Living Doll, the famous line-up was in place. Hank Marvin, the guitar wizard and most well-known band member, had been hired partly due to his Buddy Holly-style spectacles. Originally, Tony Sheridan, who later recorded My Bonnie with the Beatles, had been in the frame. Jet Harris had christened the group the Shadows just before their second number 1,  Travellin’ Light. The four-piece had released a few of their own singles, but none made it to the charts, until they struck gold with Apache.

Singer-songwriter Jerry Lordan’s tune I’ve Waited So Long had been a hit for Anthony Newley in 1959, and his biggest solo hit, Who Could Be Bluer?, was produced by George Martin, and performing well when Lordan was supporting the Shadows early in 1960. He had been watching the 1954 western Apache, starring Burt Lancaster, and was inspired to write an instrumental on his ukelele. He presented the tune to the Shadows on the tour bus. The influential guitarist Burt Weedon had recorded a version, yet to be released, but Lordan wasn’t a fan, and figured the Shadows could make a better job of it. He wasn’t wrong.

Apache begins with foreboding beats, achieved by none other than Cliff himself, banging away on a Chinese drum. This was the first time Cliff had sounded dangerous since Move It. And it certainly makes for a more effective sound than the impressions of Indians that feature on Johnny Preston’s Running Bear. That famous, hazy surf guitar sound that then enters and really makes Apache came about when cockney singer Joe Brown gave away his echo chamber to Hank Marvin, who played around with it and the tremolo arm of his Fender Stratocaster. You can laugh at how nice and polite the Shadows used to look now, with their funny little choreographed walk and beaming faces, but Apache is a hell of a performance, sounding dangerous, modern, and very cool, as well as achieving what Lordan wanted from the track  – namely something that brought to mind the drama, courage and savagery of the Indians in Burt Lancaster’s film. Although the spotlight falls on Marvin, this is a group performance, and the other three really shine too.

Bizarrely, Norrie Paramor, who usually had a great ear for a hit and had produced plenty of chart-toppers, wasn’t that keen at first, and neither were their record label. Paramor preferred The Quatermasster’s Stores, but admitted at 40 he was perhaps growing out-of-touch, and let his teenage daughter decide. She picked ‘the Indian one’, and Apache slowly creeped to number 1 for five weeks, inspiring countless guitarists. Cliff was gracious and found the idea of being usurped by his own band amusing, and no bad blood resulted.

Of course, Apache went further than influencing rock’n’roll. Michael Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band, a project started by MGM executive Viner, released the album Bongo Rock in 1973. The second track was a fantastic cover of Apache, featuring a now legendary drum break by Jim Gordon, formerly of Derek and the Dimons. That breakbeat became as ubiquitous to hip-hop as James Brown’s Funky Drummer, appearing in early DJ sets by pioneers such as Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash. You’ll recognise it from the Sugarhill Gang’s fun version of Apache, from Grandmaster Flash’s The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel (both 1981), and the West Street Mob’s Break Dance (Electric Boogie) (1983), and they’re just the obvious ones. Why is Gordon not recognised for this contribution to modern music? Perhaps because in 1983, he murdered his mother during a psychotic episode. In fact, yes, I’m certain that’s why.

On 15 September, while Apache was still chopping down all competition, an evil scourge began stalking the streets of London, and life for motorists was never the same again. The dreaded traffic wardens were here, for good.

Written by: Jerry Lordan

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 5 (25 August-28 September)

Births:

Actor Hugh Grant – 9 September
Actor Colin Firth – 10 September
Actor Danny John-Jules – 16 September
Race car driver Damon Hill – 17 September 

Deaths:

Actress Amy Veness – 22 September
Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst – 27 September 

52. Johnnie Ray – Just Walkin’ in the Rain (1956)

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Between 22 November and 8 December, 1956, the Olympics took place in Melbourne, Australia.  Great Britain and Northern Ireland won six gold, seven silver and 11 bronze medals. Meanwhile, petrol rationing became introduced on 29 November due to petrol blockades caused by the disastrous Suez Crisis, and on 23 December, the British and French troops withdrew from Suez after pressure from the UN and US. On 19 December, Dr John Bodkin Adams was arrested for the murder of patient Edith Alice Morrell. On a lighter note, Christmas Day marked the start of PG Tips long-running advertising campaign starring talking chimps, with the voices provided by Peter Sellers.

The best-selling single in the UK during this period was Johnnie Ray’s memorable Just Walkin’ in the Rain. This was his second number 1, after the lusty Such a Night in 1954. The song had an interesting genesis: it had been written in 1952 by Johnny Bragg and Robert Riley. They weren’t a songwriting duo – they were prisoners at Tennessee State Prison in Nashville. The pair were walking across the prison courtyard on a miserable rainy day, when allegedly Bragg remarked, ‘Here we are just walking in the rain, and wondering what the girls are doing’. Riley suggested this wold be the good basis for a song, and within minutes Bragg composed a couple of verses. However, he couldn’t read or write, so he asked Riley to write down the lyrics in exchange for a songwriting credit.

One of the better number 1s of the era, at first Ray wasn’t keen on Just Walkin’ in the Rain, but producer extraordinaire Mitch Miller persuaded him to give it a go. With his reputation for songs of heartbreak, Ray was an ideal candidate for a cover, and Miller was proven right. Backed by the Ray Conniff Singers and a mystery whistler (one of the most memorable aspects of the tune), Ray’s version perfectly captures the almost cosy melancholy at the heart of the song. Yes, he’s forlorn and lovesick, but you get the feeling he’s kind-of enjoying feeling sorry for himself. No wonder Morrissey became such a fan – was this track the source of inspiration for Well I Wonder by the Smiths? Well, I wonder. Ray is in fine voice too, and makes the song so much more effective than your average crooner would. It reminds me of the infamous ‘You’re Never Alone with a Strand’ ad campaign of 1959, in which a solitary man walks the wet streets, lighting a Strand cigarette to cheer himself up. The ads were soon dropped due to creating an association of Strand with sad, lonely men. Just Walkin’ in the Rain would have provided a fitting soundtrack.

Despite the cultural shift that rock’n’roll brought about, the number 1s of 1956 were still on the conservative side. Music’s popularity was increasing with the rise of the teenager – the top 20 had expanded to a top 30, and singles by Elvis Presley and Lonnie Donegan threatened to hold the top spot, but were kept away by safer choices by the older generation. Come 1957, however, several big names finally made it to pole position, in a year that was made up of entirely male number 1 singles.

Written by: Johnny Bragg & Robert Riley

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 7 (16 November 1956-3 January 1957)

Births:

The KLF member Jimmy Caughty – 19 December
Iron Maiden guitarist Dave Murray – 23 December
Violinist Nigel Kennedy – 28 December 

Deaths:

Artist Nina Hamnett – 16 December