171. Roy Orbison – It’s Over (1964)

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The pop world had changed massively since Roy Orbison’s first number 1, Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel), in October 1960. Nonetheless, during this period Orbison had plenty of hits, including Running Scared and Crying in 1961 (Don McLean’s cover of the latter went to the top of the charts in June 1980). It was while he toured Australia in 1962 that he was first referred to as ‘The Big O’ by a DJ, and in 1963 he developed the onstage persona that was as idiosyncratic as his voice. While touring with the Beatles he left his thick glasses on a plane and was forced to wear his prescription Wayfarer sunglasses instead. Not only did this help such a shy performer cope with his stagefright, they also made him cool – a word that was unlikely to have been associated with him before then.

The tour with the Beatles was supposed to be a joint headliner, with Orbison replacing injured guitarist Duane Eddy. The Big O was bemused by the level of fame the Beatles were enjoying, and allegedly asked with some degree of annoyance ‘What’s a Beatle anyway?’, at which point John Lennon tapped him on the shoulder and said ‘I am’. On the opening night of the tour, probably in a bid to get his bit over with, Orbison volunteered to go on first, and the Fab Four were left awestruck at his ability to work a crowd by barely moving throughout his set. For a band who would do their utmost to win over their audiences with charm, this must have been quite a shock to them. The two acts became firm friends, and of course Harrison would later join Orbison in the Travelling Wilburys.

Orbison’s constant touring took its toll on his private life, unfortunately, and his wife Claudette, who he adored and paid tribute to in a song named after her (the Everly Brothers had took it to number 1 in 1957), got sick of being alone and began an affair with the man who had built their home. He was also now working with a new co-writer, as Joe Melson was frustrated at not becoming a star in his own right. Orbison’s new collaborator was Bill Dees, and it was very likely that they had Claudette’s waywardness in mind as they began writing It’s Over, considering they were divorced by the end of the year.

Of course, so much of Orbison’s work concerned heartbreak, but It’s Over is the most stark example of such in his oeuvre that I’m aware of. It’s certainly the most successful, and I doubt there could be more bleak song in his back catalogue. Over a heavy, ominous drumbeat, Orbison brings on the misery like a gravedigger shovelling soil onto a coffin. ‘It breaks your heart in two, to know she’s been untrue’… if there’s any doubt that Orbison is in as much pain as the lyrics suggest, just listen to that final 20 seconds in which he sings ‘It’s over’ with emotion so raw it’s almost hard to listen to.

That a song so dark and operatic could make it to the top of the pop charts, at any point in time, let alone during peak Beatlemania (the film A Hard Day’s Night had just been released) is astounding. Elvis was the only other US act that could get a sniff of a number 1 spot at this point. Yet Orbison still had another number 1 in store for him before the end of 1964.

Tip: If It’s Over doesn’t grab you first time around (and it’s not exactly catchy, so don’t be surprised), listen again, preferably through earphones. It worked for me.

Written by: Roy Orbison & Bill Dees

Producer: Wesley Rose

Weeks at number 1: 2 (25 June-8 July)

Births:

Novelist Joanne Harris – 3 July 
Comedian Robert Newman – 7 July 

110. Cliff Richard and the Shadows – I Love You (1960)

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New Year’s Eve 1960 was the final day that the farthing, a coin that had been in use since the 13th century, could be used as legal tender. It was also the day that conscription ended in the UK. The times, they were a-changing.

Unfortunately, they weren’t changing quickly enough in the music world. 1960 had proven to be a rather staid year as far as number 1s went, with only a few highlights (Cathy’s Clown, Shakin’ All Over, Apache and Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel)). And so it seems appropriate that the Christmas number 1 that year was also pretty dull. Elvis Presley’s It’s Now or Never had been unstoppable for two months, but the UK’s other biggest-selling artist of the era managed to topple it during Christmas week. Not for the last time, Cliff Richard was the festive chart-topper, but this wasn’t considered such an honour back then.

In my review of Every Christmas Number 1, I decided Cliff Richard and the Shadows’ I Love You was the worst Christmas best-seller of the 1960s, describing it as ‘generic’, ‘tepid’ and ‘very forgettable’. Since then I’ve discovered that the singer’s father fell ill during I Love You‘s fortnight at the top, and died a few months later. This track was his favourite number 1 by his son, so I feel a bit guilty. Not enough to change my opinion, though. If you’re going to call a song I Love You, you should be pulling out al the stops to make it interesting, in my opinion. Like their previous number 1, Please Don’t Tease, the writer is rhythm guitarist Bruce Welch, and once again, it’s a very bland and polite track, but it got the job done, I guess. There were better number 1s to come for Cliff and the Shadows, but not for a while.

The first week of 1961 saw the debut of a classic television series. The Avengers premiered on ITV on 7 January. The original episodes focused on Dr David Keel, played by Ian Hendry, with John Steed (Patrick Macnee) growing in popularity throughout the series, before eventually becoming the central character. Two days later, British authorities announced a large Soviet spy ring had been uncovered in London.

Written by: Bruce Welch

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 2 (29 December 1960-11 January 1961)

Births:

Footballer Steve Bruce – 31 December
Actor Mark Wingett – 1 January 

109. Elvis Presley – It’s Now or Never (1960)

elvis_presley-its_now_or_never_s.jpgAfter two years military service, Elvis Presley was discharged from the US army in March 1960. The story goes that Elvis’s time in Friedberg, West Germany involved mainly parties, girls and drugs. While there, he met Priscilla Beaulieu for the first time, at a party at Elvis’s house. Then only 14, the pair agreed to stay in touch when he left West Germany, but she was convinced they would never meet again.

Elvis had been worried about his music career losing momentum during his time as a GI, but a steady stream of singles had been put aside beforehand, and the number 1s kept coming. However, he was itching to get back to recording, and before the month was out he was back in the studio, rush-releasing a new single, Stuck on You, which hit number 1 in the US (surprisingly, it stalled at number three over here). He then began work on the comeback album, Elvis Is Back! at RCA’s Nashville studio. While stationed in West Germany, he had heard Tony Martin’s 1949 hit There’s No Tomorrow, which was based on the famous Italian tune, O Sole Mio, which had once been recorded by one of Elvis’s heroes, the crooner Mario Lanza. Before Elvis had returned from the army, he told his music publisher Freddy Bienstock he was keen to record a new song based on the melody. Tasked with finding the right songwriters, he returned to his office in New York to find Aaron Schroeder (who had co-written Elvis’s 1959 number 1, I Got Stung) and Wally Gold, who had previously had hit singles while in the group the Four Esquires. The duo made quick work of the task, coming up with It’s Now or Never in half an hour. As usual, Steve Sholes produced, and Bill Porter was the sound engineer. Porter was having a particularly busy but successful time of it, having worked on music by the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison’s Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel), which was usurped from the top by It’s Now or Never. Listening to the two back-to-back, there’s a definite similarity.

It’s Now or Never found Elvis reverting to crooner mode, with his vocal performance closely resembling Mario Lanza’s almost-operatic method of intonation. Elvis is issuing an ultimatum to his lover – act now or lose him for good. He struggled to lift his voice to hit that impressive final note, recording it over and over. Porter told Presley he could easily just splice two takes together, but he insisted on his vocal being all one take, and pulled it off on the next run-through. It’s Now or Never really impressed at the time and was a huge hit, but rights issues in the UK meant its release was delayed for four months. This was no setback however, as the single racked up lots of advance orders. When finally released on 3 November, it went straight to number 1, where it remained for two months, becoming the biggest-selling single of 1960. It is also one of the biggest-selling singles of all time, selling over 25 million worldwide. And it meant the King had now achieved five number 1s – overtaking Frankie Laine and Guy Mitchell, who had four each.

Unfortunately for me and I expect many people of a certain age, It’s Now or Never means only one thing – ice-cream. Walls’ Ice Cream used O Sole Mio for many years on their famous adverts for Cornetto. So for me it’s impossible to hear this Elvis track without picturing a man on a gondolier trying to steal a woman’s ice-cream. It’s also a disturbing irony that disgraced sexual predator and DJ Jimmy Savile selected It’s Now or Never when he appeared on Desert Island Discs.

To celebrate 50 years of his music, It’s Now or Never was among the batch of re-releases of his most popular singles, and it went to number 1 once more for a week on 5 February 2005. In 2017, Priscilla Presley revealed online that this song was Elvis’s favourite among his huge catalogue. Wonder if he liked Cornettos?

On 9 December, the first episode of legendary soap opera Coronation Street aired on ITV. Among the characters introduced in that first show were Ena Sharples, Elsie Tanner and Annie Walker, all of whom became mainstays, alongside Ken Barlow, played by William Roache, who is still in the soap to this day.

Written by: Wally Gold & Aaron Schroeder/Eduardo di Capua (O Sole Mio)

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 8 (3 November-28 December) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Actress Tilda Swinton – 5 November
Presenter Jonathan Ross – 17 November
Singer Kim Wilde – 18 November
Fashion designer John Galliano – 28 November
Footballer Gary Lineker – 30 November
Def Leppard bassist Rick Savage – 2 December
Actor Kenneth Branagh – 10 December – Kenneth Branagh
Footballer John Lukic – 11 December
Footballer Chris Waddle – 14 December
Presenter Carol Vorderman – 24 December
Historian Andrew Graham-Dixon – 26 December

Deaths:

Architect Sir Nina Cooper – 22 December 

108. Roy Orbison – Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel) (1960)

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Autumn 1960: On 25 October, heavy fog causes two barges to collide with the Severn Railway Bridge. Two bridge spans collapsed, causing the barges to catch fire. Five people died in the incident, and the bridge was never repaired, eventually being demolished. Two days later, the British drama adaptation of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, starring Albert Finney, was released. It’s still considered one of the best British films of all time. Three days after its release, Michael Woodruff performed the first successful kidney transplant in the UK at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. And on 2 November, a landmark ruling saw Penguin Books found not guilty of obscenity for publishing DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The book quickly sold 3 million copies, and was a watershed moment for future publishing freedoms.

During this eventful fortnight, US singer-songwriter Roy Orbison enjoyed his first of three stints at number 1 with Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel). With his unique image, and distinct, at times astounding voice, Orbison’s life was sometimes tragic, but he is also rightly remembered as one of the greatest talents of his generation. So much so, as I write this a tour is imminent in which thousands of people have paid to see a hologram of ‘The Big O’ ‘performing’ alongside the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. Bruce Springsteen also name-checked this very song in his excellent Thunder Road.

Roy Kelton Orbison was born on 23 April 1936 in Vernon, Texas. His family struggled to find employment during the Great Depression, and eventually settled in Wink. He was a shy child, with poor eyesight and little confidence, but he loved to sing, and at the age of seven, his father bought him a guitar. He adored the country music of Hank Williams and Jimmy Rodgers, and was singing on a local radio show a year later. By the late 1940s, he was the presenter of the show. Orbison and some friends formed the Wink Westerners while he was in high school. After graduating he enrolled at North Texas State College, and heard his fellow schoolmate Pat Boone had signed a recording contract. Boone would later have a UK number 1 with I’ll Be Home in 1956. Orbison became determined to make his name in the music business, and like everybody was wowed upon seeing Elvis Presley on television for the first time. The Wink Westerners appeared on TV alongside Johnny Cash, who suggested that Orbison contact Sun Records owner Sam Phillips. A phone call between the two got nowhere, but later, the Wink Westerners changed their name to the Teen Kings, and their recording of Ooby Dooby changed Phillips’s mind. Signing to Sun, the band toured plenty but eventually split, with Orbison staying at Phillips’s house with his girlfriend, Claudette Frady. 1957 saw the couple wed, and Orbison paid tribute to is wife with the song Claudette, which as a double A-side with the more famous All I Have to Do Is Dream, became the first number 1 for the Everly Brothers, and the biggest-selling UK single of 1958.

This was the step up Orbison needed, and the royalties meant he was able to buy his own Cadillac, but he was very different to your typical rock’n’roll star of the same time, and was just as shy as the child he had been growing up, causing many to wonder if he was cut out for showbusiness. His hair was already going white, causing him to dye his hair earlier than most, and in 1960, he didn’t always wear his famous glasses. While researching this blog, the picture above surprised me, as he hadn’t yet developed his famous persona. He looks older in 1960 than he did before his death in 1988.

In 1958, Orbison was strumming his guitar in his car, as he often did, when songwriter Joe Melson tapped on the window. The duo decided to try writing songs together. Eventually Orbison signed with Monument Records, and he and Melson began working with producer Fred Foster. The trio, along with sound engineer Bill Porter, began work on new songs with sophisticated production techniques, involving string sections and backing singers that were close-miked. The first release, Uptown, got nowhere, however, and Orbison began considering performing in nightclubs instead. They had worked on another song using the same sound, Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel), and had tried selling it to Elvis and the Everlys, but both acts declined. Orbison decided to have a go himself, and once more they adopted a new method of production, by building the song around the vocals, with the band performing quietly in the background. The part of the title in brackets was added to differentiate the song from a tune Frank Sinatra had sang.

Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel) begins in a style very reminiscent of an Everly Brothers track, with the backing vocalists singing over a gentle strum, until that unmistakable voice of Orbison’s enters. I’ve always admired Orbison’s singing, ever since hearing it from a young age. Nobody has ever sounded quite so distinct, before or since. This track is a perfect introduction to the Orbison sound. Here’s a song for the unlucky-in-love, for the shy, for the broken-hearted. Here was a new type of musical hero, a sensitive soul that could help you get through trying times. Rather than yet another rock’n’roll star to be envious of, the Big O would have been much more identifiable to your more sensitive teenager. And although Roy Orbison would come up with better songs over the next few years, Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel) may be the best encapsulation of the Roy Orbison sound. Like his friends the Everly Brothers, this was a new, more sophisticated form of pop, that would influence future musical idols. And that falsetto at the end is probably the most impressive vocal performance I’ve heard from a UK number 1 between 1952 and 1960.

Suddenly this shy singer-songwriter was a big star in the US and UK, and other musicians were wondering if this powerful voice had really come from their unassuming friend. Elvis regretted turning the song down (you can imagine him singing it, but could he sing about being a loser in love with such conviction?) and bought copies of the single for his friends. By the time Orbison next had a UK number 1, the musical landscape had changed dramatically.

Written by: Roy Orbison & Joe Melson

Producer: Fred Foster

Weeks at number 1: 2 (20 October-2 November)

Births:

Actress Finola Hughes – 29 October