143. Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires – Return to Sender (1962)

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If there’s an inch of snow on the ground these days, the British papers are full of ‘BIG FREEZE’ headlines. But have a read about the winter of 1962/63, and you soon realise most of these wintry spells are nothing compared to what people went through back then. The UK was hit with bitterly cold conditions on 22 December, and it remained so right through until March 1963. In fact, 6 March was the first morning of the year without a frost anywhere in Britain. Snow lay on the ground in the south of England for 62 consecutive days – since then, the record has been 10 in a row in 1987. That Christmas and New Year saw many towns and villages cut off from the outside world, yet steam trains were able to battle on through the snow, and many schools remained open.

Elvis Presley bagged his only Christmas number 1 at this time with one of his more famous singles, Return to Sender. Otis Blackwell, one of his best songwriters, co-wrote the song with Winfield Scott. This was the first time they had worked together, and they had been tasked with writing songs for the King’s next film, Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962). Unusually, they were given song titles and told to come up with tunes around them, (no wonder so many Elvis film songs were crap if this was the setup) but Return to Sender was entirely original, and impressed the filmmakers so much, they went ahead and included it in the film’s nightclub scene.

Opening with a quick blast of sax from Boots Randolph, Return to Sender is one of Presley’s better number 1s from this period. Although the tune itself isn’t too startling, Elvis sounds suitably pissed off, almost spitting the words out at times. He just can’t believe that girl refuses to read his letters, to the extent he’s going to hand deliver it, and give her one hell of a bollocking, it seems. The Jordanaires also sound livelier than usual, and complement Elvis to great effect.

However, Elvis’s best songwriters were starting to desert him now, and the public were finally starting to tire of him. I’m relieved to see it would be a further ten months before he hit the top again. After four number 1s per year in 1961 and 1962, this was quite a drop in fortunes, but the Beatles were now making headway, and soon the charts would be rammed with similar acts. With a few exceptions, 62 had been an average year, but my musical ‘year zero’ is next.

Written by: Winfield Scott & Otis Blackwell

Producers: Steve Sholes & Chet Atkins

Weeks at number 1: 3 (13 December 1962-2 January 1963)

Births:

Actor Ralph Fiennes – 22 December 

Deaths:

Director Charles Laughton – 15 December 

103. Jimmy Jones – Good Timin’ (1960)

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One of my favourite songs by one of my favourite groups, Something Changed by Pulp is quite unlike most of the songs from their era of fame in the mid-1990s. It’s a sweet love song, that ponders on how lives can be changed forever by the timing of random events. ‘What’s this got to do with a number 1 single from 1960?’, you might ask. Well, Jimmy Jones’s Good Timin’ is similarly themed, although it fails to move me in the same way.

Good Timin’ was written by Fred Tobias and Clint Ballard Jr (later to write I’m Alive, a 1965 number 1 for The Hollies) as a follow-up to Jimmy Jones’ smash hit, Handy Man. Jones was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1937. He was a tap dancer before joining the doo-wop group the Berliners in 1954, before they changed their name to the Sparks of Rhythm. The group recorded the song after Jones had left them in 1956. Now a solo artist, Jones decided to rework Handy Man with Otis Blackwell, who wrote two legendary UK number 1s, All Shook Up and Great Balls of Fire. Blackwell could do no wrong back then, and with his memorable whistle featuring on the track, it rocketed to the top 3 in the US and UK.

Good Timin’ has more energy than many of the number 1s of the 60s that precede it, but it’s a minor entry at best, and probably did so well off the back of Handy Man. Jones compares the timing of his relationship with that of the story of David and Goliath, pointing out that if it wasn’t for good timing, David wouldn’t have found the stone that he used to kill Goliath. Hmm, this seems a bit incongruous to me. I can’t help comparing it to Something Changed, which is unfair I know, but:

‘Do you believe that there’s someone up above/And does he have a timetable directing acts of love?’ is far more effective than:

‘If little, little David hadn’t grabbed that stone
Alyin’ there on the ground
Big Goliath might’ve stomped on him
Instead of the other way ’round’.

Ah well, Good Timin’ is more about the feel and sound I guess. Trouble is, that doesn’t do a lot for me either. Jones’s appeal lay in his falsetto, which was to be an influence on Del Shannon (of Runaway fame), but the way he sings ‘A tock, a tock, a tock, a tock’ in the chorus sounds ridiculous to these ears. Nonetheless, it was catchy enough to enjoy a three-week stint at the top.

Jones’s good timing started to run out after this song, with a few more hits troubling the charts before he faded into obscurity. He did however make the news when he sued Boy George, claiming he plagiarised Handy Man for Culture Club’s 1983 number 1 Karma Chameleon, changing ‘Come-a, come-a, come-a, come-a…’ to ‘Karma, karma, karma, karma…’. They settled out of court, with Boy George later claiming it took ’10 pence and an apple’ (according to New York Daily News‘ obituary on Jones). Jones was a fixture on the Northern Soul circuit for the last two decades of his life. He died in 2012, aged 82.

Written by: Fred Tobias & Clint Ballard Jr

Producer: Otis Blackwell

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

Births:

Actress Caroline Quentin – 11 July
Private Eye editor Ian Hislop – 13 July
Journalist Simon Heffer – 18 July 

62. Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires – All Shook Up (1957)

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Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has entered the building. Despite being a superstar for well over a year, and with several of his most famous songs already being available in the UK (Hound Dog, Blue Suede Shoes, Heartbreak Hotel), and selling very well, it took All Shook Up to finally earn him his first UK number 1. Why? In the past I’ve reasoned that perhaps the more conservative record-buyers found him too dangerous to begin with, and considering how safe All Shook Up sounds compared to some of his earlier material, I might have had a point, but there’s also a more practical reason. To try and capitalise on his immense fame, all his previous singles were released very close to each other, and they ‘split the vote’, to steal a phrase. All Shook Up bucked this trend.

The origins of the song vary depending on which story you believe.  It was credited to Otis Blackwell and Elvis though, and was the last time ‘the King’ received a songwriting credit. Allegedly, Blackwell was in Shalimar Music’s offices when Al Stanton, one of the owners, shook a bottle of Pepsi and suggested Blackwell write a song about being all shook up. However, Elvis claimed in an October 1957 interview that he once had a weird dream and woke up ‘all shook up’, and told Blackwell. But then actor David Hess, who used to go by the stage name David Hill, released his first version of the song just before Presley, and he claims he invented the title, Blackwell wrote it, and Elvis demanded a credit from Blackwell in order to get Presley to sing it. So, who knows?

What I do know is that All Shook Up is a pretty unassuming number. Maybe it’s that I’ve never been a huge Elvis fan (despite this song being the earliest number 1 I had in my collection before starting this blog). I get his cultural significance, I can see the charisma and influence, I just don’t always enjoy his songs. Having said that, I’d be an idiot to not appreciate some of his classic material. I guess this serves as an effective introduction to Presley. All the vocal mannerisms are there, and it’s a good showcase for his voice. I find the backing vocals from the Jordanaires a little wet though, and the piano backing is very bland. But it has left me wanting to know what a ‘fuzzy tree’ is.

I’m sure Elvis’s estate will be able to cope with my occasional faint praise, however. He has had more UK number 1s than any other artist – 21 in total. And his next chart-topper was a definite classic.

All Shook Up spent most of the summer on top of the charts. It was during this time that Prime Minister Harold Macmillan coined a phrase that made history. Still less than a year into his new role, he made an optimistic speech to Conervative Party members in Bedford on 20 July, stating that ‘most of our people have never had it so good’. In further good news for the country, and on the same day, Stirling Moss finished the British Grand Prix at Aintree in first position, driving a Vanwall VW5, the first British Car to win a World Championship race. On 5 August, the much-loved cheeky Northern cartoon character Andy Capp appeared in the Daily Mirror for the first time.

Written by: Otis Blackwell & Elvis Presley

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 7 (12 July-29 August)

Births:

Television presenter Fern Britton – 17 July
Figure skater Robin Cousins – 17 August
Snooker player Steve Davis – 22 August
Comedian Stephen Fry – 24 August 

Deaths:

Painter David Bomberg – 19 August