159. Gerry and the Pacemakers – 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 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 2, and Frank Sinatra was the first star to take it into the US charts that year. During the 1950s, 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 up to task, 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, and 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 ten. 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 ending.

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 for 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.

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 (22 November) 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.

A day later, 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.

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

125. Shirley Bassey with Geoff Love & 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 1970s 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 write 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:

Politician Liam Fox – 22 September 
Novelist Will Self – 26 September

46. Ronnie Hilton with Choir and Orchestra conducted by Frank Cordell – No Other Love (1956)

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May 1956: Manchester City won the FA Cup with a 3-1 victory over Birmingham City at Wembley Stadium on 5 May. Amazingly, their goalkeeper Bert Trautmann played the last 15 minutes of the game with a broken neck. Ouch. Two days later, the Minister of Health Robin Turton showed just as much regard for health by rejecting a call for the government to lead an anti-smoking campaign, arguing that no ill-effects had yet to be proven. The following day, John Osbrne’s play Look Back in Anger was first performed, at the Royal Court Theatre. Actor Alan Bates was described in the theatre’s press release as an ‘angry young man’, a term that would soon become famous.

For most of that month, and into June, Hull-born singer Ronnie Hilton enjoyed a six-week stay at number one with No Other Love. Only two years earlier his name was Adrian Hill and he had been an engineer in a factory in Leeds. Hilton found fame with his covers of popular American songs of the era. No Other Love was taken from the 1953 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Me and Juliet, and had been a US number 1 that year for Perry Como. Hilton’s version contained more ‘oomph’ than Como’s, who, as always, was content to play it cool.

It’s serviceable enough, a standard ballad of the era. Clearly, the older generation still loved these romantic ballads and weren’t going to be swayed by the rogue pelvis of Elvis Presley, whose debut album had been released a few months previous. However, by the time No Other Love had dropped from the charts, Presley had managed three hit singles. Rock’n’roll wasn’t going away. The following year, Hilton failed in his attempt to represent the UK in the inaugural Eurovision Song Contest. In 1959, Hilton’s last chart hit for some time was The Wonder of You, which Presley took to number one in 1970. Hilton later found fame presenting BBC Radio 2’s nostalgic Sounds of the Fifties. He died of a stroke in 2001, aged 75.

Written by: Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II

Producer: Wally Ridley

Weeks at number 1: 6 (4 May-14 June)

Births:

Dramatist John Godber – 18 May 

Deaths:

Magician Austin Osman Spare – 17 May
Theatre critic Max Beerbohm – 20 May

36. Slim Whitman – Rose Marie (1955)

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Remember how I said I seemed to have a problem with pop’s longest-running number 1 singles? Well here’s one now. Influential country-western singer, guitarist and yodeller Slim Whitman’s Rose Marie, which enjoyed a massive 11-week-long reign in 1955. It stood as the longest-running continuous number 1 until 1991, when Bryan Adams overtook with 16 weeks at the top in 1991 with (Everything I Do) I Do It For You.

Born Otis Dewey Whitman Jr in Tampa, Florida, Slim grew up loving the country songs of Jimmie Rodgers. During World War Two he entertained fellow soldiers with his singing. He was so entertaining, his captain blocked a transfer to another ship. This was a massive stroke of luck as everybody on that ship was killed when it sank. He taught himself to play the guitar with his left hand, despite being right-handed, after losing a finger in an accident. This later had an effect on a young Paul McCartney, who was left-handed and decided to retune his guitar just as Whitman had. George Harrison was also taking note, and once said the first person he ever saw with a guitar was Whitman. The instrument was beginning to become fashionable, thanks in part to Slim. Elvis’s future manager, ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker, had heard Whitman on the radio and took him under his wing, and his first single came out in 1948. A young Elvis Presley even supported him.

Whitman had become very popular by 1955, even more famous in the UK than the US. He avoided standard country fare about drinking and having no money, and became known for his more romantic material. His yodelling became his trademark, and it may sound surprising but even Michael Jackson listed him as one of his ten favourite vocal performers. Rose Marie had been released as a single in 1954. It was taken from the 1924 opera of the same name, with music by Rudolf Friml and Herbert Stothart, and the lyrics by Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II. Eventually it toppled Alma Cogan’s Dreamboat, and it reigned supreme from July to October.

When I say I have a problem with Rose Marie, I’m perhaps being harsh. It’s not bad, especially by the standards of the time. At first I was baffled by its success. As I explained when reviewing Tennessee Ernie Ford’s Give Me Your Word, I’m not a country fan. I found myself more amused by Whitman’s voice than anything. I’m not averse to a bit of yodelling either (see Focus or Mr Trololo), but I just could not see the appeal. Unlike most of the other songs so far though, I went back to it a few times, and it has grown on me. Lew Chudd’s production is effectively haunting, and the lyrics pack more depth into them than the usual hits of the time (of course, it was written 30 years earlier, so that explains that). It’s a love song, but Whitman is powerless against his emotions:

‘Oh Rose Marie, I love you
I´m always dreaming of you
No matter what I do, I can’t forget you
Sometimes I wish that I never met you’

Nonetheless, Whitman has given up. He belongs to her now.

‘Of all the queens that ever lived, I choose you
To rule me, my Rose Marie’

So, yes, fair play to Whitman. But… 11 weeks at number 1? A world record for 36 years? Really? Having said that, when you’ve the likes of Jimmy Young as your competition, perhaps it’s understandable (sorry Jimmy). Whitman enjoyed success for the rest of his long life, with peaks and troughs, but always remembered fondly. He died surrounded by his family in 2013 at the age of 90.

There were a few noteworthy events in Britain during the 11-week-run of Rose Marie. The Guinness Book of Records was first published on 27 August. On 4 September, BBC newsreaders were seen on television reading reports for the first time. The two in question were Richard Baker and Kenneth Kendall, who became celebrities themselves in time. Ten days later, Airfix produced their first scale model aircraft kit. 22 September saw the start of ITV, in London only. The first advert shown is for Gibbs’ SR toothpaste. And most important of all, on 26 September, Clarence Birdseye started selling fish fingers in the UK. Mind-blowing.

Written by: Rudolf Friml, Herbert Stothart, Otto Harbach & Oscar Hammerstein II

Producer: Lew Chudd

Weeks at number 1: 11 (29 July-13 October)

Births:

Actress Gillian Taylforth – 14 August
The Jam bassist Bruce Foxton – 1 September
Sex Pistols guitarist  Steve Jones – 3 September
Children’s television presenter Janet Ellis – 16 September
Actor David Haig – 20 September
Human League singer Phil Oakey – 2 October
Athlete Steve Ovett – 9 October 

Deaths:

Politician Leo Amery – 16 September