231. Nancy Sinatra and Frank Sinatra – Somethin’ Stupid (1967)

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Following Frank Sinatra’s ‘piece of shit’ hit Strangers in the Night, he collaborated with Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Jobim on the album Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim, and then recorded solo album The World We Knew. Somethin’ Stupid came out as a single just beforehand. This famous duet became known as the ‘incest song’ due to his daughter Nancy taking on the female vocals. She hadn’t maintained the level of success granted by her 1966 number 1, the iconic These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, by her producer Lee Hazelwood.

Somethin’ Stupid started life as a duet between its writer, folk singer C Carson Parks and his wife Gaile Foote, recorded in 1966 as Carson and Gaile. Parks’s younger brother was Van Dyke Parks, who worked on the Beach Boys’ ill-fated SMiLE. It was Ol’ Blue Eyes’ idea for he and Nancy to record it, and he played Carson and Gaile’s version to Hazelwood. The producer later recalled he told Frank that if he didn’t record it with Nancy, he’d have a go himself. Frank told him to book them in.

Recorded on 1 February, Frank had finished Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim earlier that day when it came to recording his vocal. He was joined in the studio by the Wrecking Crew, with the outfit’s Billy Strange making the arrangement. Jimmy Bowen, who had brought Hazlewood and Nancy together, helped Hazelwood on production duties.

It’s a strange beast isn’t it? Had Frank listened to the lyrics before recording? Did he realise by getting his daughter involved it would give the lyrics a seedy meaning? From what little I know of Hazelwood, I imagine he knew how it would look only too well, which made it all the more appealing to him. As for Nancy, well in an interview for The Guardian in 2013, she said she thought it was ‘very sweet’ that people think it’s about incest…?

When you consider how he dominates proceedings over Nancy, who seems so meek by comparison to the strong and sexy image she portrayed on These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, you have to wonder why he didn’t just make it a solo record, considering the whole point of the song is seemingly that a man is friends with a woman but blows it by revealing his feelings go deeper.

It’s not a bad record, it’s pretty cute, and the lyrics are charming enough, but if you’re not in the mood to hear it, you can find yourself rather irritated by how twee it is. Or perhaps this is because I now can’t help but be reminded of the pointless retread by Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman, who made it a Christmas number 1 in 2001. I have mixed feelings about Robbie Williams, but that whole attempt at being a crooner really irked me. His smug face was everywhere. Anyway, I digress, I do like the fact Frank is singing the high notes and Nancy the low, it’s a nice touch.

Neither Sinatra would have a UK number 1 again, but as we know, Frank’s career didn’t exactly dwindle. In 1968 Paul Anka, the man behind Diana, wrote English lyrics to Comme d’habitude and called it My Way. David Bowie tried and failed, but eventually came up with Life on Mars?, so it was a win-win situation.

In 1971, Frank decided to retire, having become bored by performing the same old songs night after night. He returned as soon as 1973 though, with the comeback album Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back. Soon he was back touring the world again. Despite run-ins with the media (he caused uproar by describing Australian journalists as ‘bums, parasites, fags, and buck-and-a-half hookers’), he was as popular as ever.

In 1980 he released his first LP in six years. Trilogy: Past Present Future was a triple album, and it featured New York, New York. I always assumed this came from the 50s or 60s, but there it was, relatively late in his career. He caused controversy the following year by performing in Sun City, breaking the cultural boycott of South Africa during apartheid. Despite this, and some awful racist jokes aimed at fellow Rat Pack mem ber Sammy Davis Jr, Frank was very sympathetic to black Americans. He played a major role in the desegragation of hotels and casinos in Nevada in the 50s and 60s and played a benefit concert for Martin Luther King. It seems he became more conservative the older he got – often the case.

His views on race are a prime example of a complex character – at times he was horribly homophobic and suffered wild mood swings, from elation to crippling depression. He had an awful temper, yet was also extremely generous.

Frank’s voice began to suffer in the early 80s, but his audiences didn’t care. His alternative career in film reached its high point when he starred in Cannonball Run II in 1984. Okay, I’m being sarcastic, but I love those films and won’t have a bad word said about them. 1988 saw him reunite with Davis Jr and Dean Martin to embark on Rat Pack Reunion Tour. But Martin pulled out halfway through, and they never spoke again.

As the 90s arrived he was in his seventies, and the light in Ol’ Blue Eyes was fading, but his best-selling album came in 1993. Duets and its sequel consisted of remakes of his classic songs with artists including Aretha Frankin, Bono, Willie Nelson and his son, Frank Sinatra Jr. In 1995 he turned 80, and the Empire State Building was bathed in blue light in celebration and a star-studded concert took place, with Frank singing New York, New York one final time. Plagued by ill health including dementia and bladder cancer, he died of a heart attack aged 82 on 14 May 1998.

One of the 20th century’s giants of music, film and television, a true larger-than-life character, Frank Sinatra was buried in a blue suit with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a pack of cigarettes. Pretty cool. Reading into his life reveals plenty of examples of him not being so cool, but he was of a different era and had a harsh upbringing. Although easy listening is not up there with my favourite genres, I get the love for Ol’ Blue Eyes, and there truly was no singer quite like him.

And what of his duet partner and daughter? After Somethin’ Stupid, Nancy Sinatra recorded the theme to the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice that same year. She also continued to work with Hazelwood, and they duetted on psychedelic classic Some Velvet Morning. In 2002 it was covered by Primal Scream, with supermodel Kate Moss taking on Nancy’s part.

She left her father’s record label Reprise in 1971, and had a big hit in the UK when she duetted with Hazelwood again on Did You Ever? By the middle of that decade she slowed down her music and acting to concentrate on raising a family.

Nancy caused a stir in 1995 by agreeing to pose for Playboy, aged 54. She said her father was proud – which won’t help with the incest rumours I guess. 2002 saw her perform in the UK for the first time for the BBC. Two years later she released an eponymous album of collaborations with acts including U2, Jarvis Cocker and Sonic Youth. She made a decent cover of Morrissey’s Let Me Kiss You, released as a single (the two were old neighbours). She and Frank Jr also continued the family’s Mob connections by appearing as themselves in separate episodes of one of the greatest TV dramas of all time – HBO’s The Sopranos. Nancy (with the Laughing Face) is 78, and remains one of the coolest members of one of the world’s coolest families.

Written by: C Carson Parks

Producer: Jimmy Bowen & Lee Hazelwood

Weeks at number 1: 2 (13-26 April) 

Births:

The Darkness bassist Frankie Poullain – 5 April
Olympic sprinter Sandra Douglas – 22 April 
Actress Marianne Jean-Baptiste – 26 April

 

227. Tom Jones – Green, Green Grass of Home (1966)

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December 1966: Harry Roberts, John Whitney and John Duddy are sentenced to life for killing three policemen in August on 12 December. Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith were in the news throughout the month as they attempted to negotiate the whole independence saga. On 20 December Wilson withdrew all offers and announced that he will only consider independence when a black majority government is installed in Rhodesia. Two days later, a steadfast Smith announced he already considered the country a republic. New Year’s Eve saw thieves steal millions of pounds worth of paintings from Dulwich Art Gallery in London.

And so, after such a stellar year of chart action, we’re back at the Christmas number 1. For the first time since 1962, it isn’t the Beatles, who were working on Strawberry Fields Forever. Holding court as the top of the pops for the whole month, and most of January, was 1966’s best-selling single – Tom Jones’s cover of Green, Green Grass of Home.

Since his last number 1, the storming It’s Not Unusual in 1965, Jones’s popularity had slipped somewhat. Granted, his theme to What’s New Pussycat?, by Bacharach and David, did well, but his theme to the James Bond movie Thunderball wasn’t so popular. His manager Gordon Mills decided a new approach was needed, and steered Jones towards using that deep voice to become a light entertainment-style crooner.

Green, Green Grass of Home had been written by Claude ‘Curly’ Puttman, Jr, and was first made popular by flamboyant country star Porter Wagoner in 1965. Later that year, controversial rock’n’roller Jerry Lee Lewis recorded a version for his album Country Songs for Country Folks, and it was this version that made Tom Jones decide to give it a crack himself. His producer Peter Sullivan weren’t so sure – country wasn’t what they had in mind for Jones, so Les Reed, who had written It’s Not Unusual, arranged the track and took it in an easy listening direction.

Jones recalled in an interview for The Mail on Sunday in 2011 that Lewis was on a UK tour just before the single’s release, and met with Jones. He was bowled over by this new pop version, and told Jones he had a hit on his hands.

It’s an odd one, really. Green, Green Grass of Home is still considered one of Tom Jones’s best songs, and yet it leaves me rather cold. The arrangement is rather dated now, particularly when compared to the previous number 1, Good Vibrations. I think the Beach Boys classic would have made for a much more appropriate song to round the year off. But there’s no accounting for taste. Which leads me onto my next point.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m against the death penalty, but it’s hard to feel sorry for the singer once you know the twist – that he’s behind bars and reminiscing on his hometown before he is hanged. The likelihood here is that this man has done something terrible. An odd choice for Christmas number 1, all in all. I hate the ‘Mary/cherries’ rhyme as well.

Green, Green Grass of Home is a sign of what happens to the charts in 1967. After all this energy, vigour and innovation, things go somewhat downhill. 1967 was a great year for albums, and I used to think that once we got full-blown into the ‘flower power’ era, there would be some wonderful single number 1s. There’s far fewer than I hoped, and more often than not, the fashion sways back towards MOR.

Also that year, Tom Jones performed in Las Vegas for the first time. Like his friend Elvis Presley in the 1970s, his recording output suffered as his live act grew more flamboyant, and it was here he cultivated the sweaty, open shirt image that would make him a figure of fun over the years. There were still hits from time to time though, such as Delilah in 1968. From 1969 to 1971 he presented his own variety show on ITV called This Is Tom Jones. The year it ended he recorded one of my favourite Jones tracks, She’s a Lady, written by Paul Anka and later used to great effect in Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (1998).

By the mid-70s his career had declined and he tried to get more film and TV work, but by the early 80s he was recording country material that failed to chart. The first of his many comebacks came in 1987 when A Boy From Nowhere made it to number two. Then the following year he teamed up with Art of Noise for a smash-hit cover of Prince’s Kiss. Unfortunately, someone missed the point of the original, and changed the lyrics from ‘Women, not girls rule my world’ to ‘Women and girls rule my world’, which sounds a bit seedy to me.

In 1992 he kickstarted the idea of ‘legends’ appearing at Glastonbury Festival, and had cameos on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Simpsons the following year. Also in 1993 he was back in the charts with If I Only Knew. I personally find this track hilarious for its opening, in which Jones’s bellow is used to headache-inducing levels. It’s hard not to enjoy it though. 1996 saw him cameo in Tim Burton’s sci-fi comedy movie Mars Attacks. He rounded off the millenium with Reload, an enormously successful collection of covers featuring the stars of the time.

It was around then I got a bit sick of Tom Jones. That bellow was everywhere, from the dodgy duet It’s Cold Outside with Matthews (which takes on new levels of meaning when you read he allegedly banged her over the mixing desk during the recording) to the especially irritating version of Mama Told Me Not to Come with Stereophonics. The biggest hit, Sex Bomb, with Mousse T, long outstayed its welcome. But the Queen loved him and he was given an OBE that year, before being knighted in 2006.

He’s never really gone away since the success of Reload, and is now a national treasure. There’s one more number 1 with which he’s involved, from 2009, so I’ll return to his story then.

Next time then, 1967. Until 18 January though, Green, Green Grass of Home reigned at number 1. So what was happening in the news then? On New Year’s Day, the Queen decided to commemorate England’s World Cup achievement by making manager Alf Ramsey a Sir, and also awarded captain Bobby Moore with an OBE.

3 January saw stop-motion children’s TV favourite Trumpton begin on BBC One, and four days later another classic TV series began on BBC Two – The Forstyte Saga.

On 4 January, motorboat racer Donald Campbell was tragically killed while trying to break his own water speed record attempt on Coniston Water in the Lake District. Footage shows his Bluebird K7 and smash into the water. His body wasn’t found until 2001.

And in the world of politics, the UK entered the first round of negotiations for European Economic Community Membership on 15 January. Three days later, the flamboyant Jeremy Thorpe replaced Jo Grimond as leader of the Liberal Party. He was a popular leader and increased the party’s voting stastics, but controversy would end his leadership early.

Written by: Curly Putman

Producer: Peter Sullivan

Weeks at number 1: 7 (1 December 1966-18 January 1967) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Footballer Dennis Wise – 16 December
Rugby player Martin Bayfield – 21 December
Rugby league player Martin Offiah – 29 December
Comedian Mark Lamarr – 7 January
Actress Emily Watson – 14 January

Deaths:

Land and water speed record breaker Donald Campbell – 4 January 

 

84. Buddy Holly – It Doesn’t Matter Anymore (1959)

Investigators-May-Reopen-Buddy-Holly-Plane-Crash-FDRMX.jpgAh. Now, unlike Russ Conway’s Side Saddle, here is a number 1 that I can clearly understand. Buddy Holly’s It Doesn’t Matter Anymore is the first posthumous UK chart-topper. The infamous plane crash that tragically cut short the lives of Holly and fellow stars Ritchie Valens and JP Richardson, aka The Big Bopper, occurred on 3 February.

Before then, Holly was already well on the way to being a musical legend. Since The Crickets had their sole number 1 with That’ll Be the Day in late-1957, Holly had achieved success with the group and under his own name, thanks to Peggy Sue, backed with Everyday, and Rave On.

In early 1958, he joined the rest of The Crickets to tour the UK and Australia. Later that year he met and fell in love with María Elena Santiago. The romance was swift – he asked her out when they first met, and proposed on their first date. Producer and manager Normal Petty didn’t approve, and asked Holly to keep their wedding quiet to avoid upsetting his fans. She pretended to merely be his secretary, but the damage was done – there was dissension in the ranks, not helped by the other Crickets also having their doubts in trusting Petty with all the money they were earning.

Despite money troubles, Holly had various interesting ideas about the direction his career would go, including making an album with Ray Charles and Mahalia Jackson. This suggests the 60s could have been a very different decade for pop had Holly not died.

He and Santiago settled in Greenwich Village, where he recorded acoustic songs including Crying, Waiting, Hoping. That October saw Holly’s final recording session take place. Four songs were recorded with an 18-piece orchestra, including It Doesn’t Matter Anymore and the B-side Raining in My Heart.

It Doesn’t Matter Anymore had been written by Paul Anka, whose Diana had been number 1 directly before That’ll Be the Day. Still a teenager, Anka was, like Holly, prodigiously talented. Obviously the song’s title became eerily prescient, but it actually concerned the end of a romance. Chirpy pizzicato strings belie the singer’s bitterness at the break-up, as do Holly’s occasional trademark vocal stutters (which can be irritating to modern ears, it has to be said), but its lush production hinted at the future direction of pop, and displays Holly’s desire to experiment with his sound. Also, is it just me, or does this sound very similar to John Kongos’s He’s Gonna Step On You Again – later known as Step On by Happy Mondays?

As 1958 drew to a close, Holly parted ways with Petty. Despite the rest of The Crickets’ concerns, they decided to stay with their manager, so Holly left the band.

Due to Petty withholding his royalties, Holly was forced to immediately form a new band (featuring Waylon Jennings) and get out on the road. They began their ‘Winter Dance Party’ tour’, joined by Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, but the tour was beset with problems, with buses breaking down and performers suffering from flu and even frostbite. Tired of being on the road, Holly decided to charter a plane to Fargo, North Dakota.

The story goes that The Big Bopper was suffering with flu, and asked Jennings if he would consider giving up his seat for him. When Holly found out his bassist wasn’t travelling with him, he quipped ‘Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up’. In a response that was to haunt Jennings for the rest of his life, he replied ‘Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes’. Valens used to be terrified of flying, but asked Holly’s guitarist to toss a coin to decide who got to fly, and Valens won. The plane took off safely in light snow, but five minutes later, contact was lost. The plane had somehow cartwheeled across a frozen field, and Holly, Valens and Richardson had been thrown from the craft, with the pilot caught in the wreckage. All four had died instantly.

The incident shocked the music world, and was later immortalised by Don McLean as ‘The Day the Music Died’ in American Pie. Anka kindly gave the royalties of his song to Holly’s widow, who suffered a miscarriage when she was told of her husband’s death.

It Doesn’t Matter Anymore proved posthumous singles offered music fans a way to mourn the heroes they had lost. It also showed record company bosses that it was a great way of making money out of dead artists.

Written by: Paul Anka

Producer: Norman Petty

Weeks at number 1: 3 (24 April-14 May)

Births:

Singer Sheena Easton – 27 April
Comedian Ben Elton – 3 May
Echo & the Bunnymen singer Ian McCulloch – 5 May
Director Deborah Warner – 12 May

64. The Crickets – That’ll Be the Day (1957)

By the autumn, 1957 had proved to be an important year in the music charts, but there was more to come. Future My Way songwriter Paul Anka’s Diana was prevented from a 10th week at the top by a new group known as The Crickets, led by the unassuming bespectacled figure Buddy Holly.

Born Charles Hardin Holley in Lubbock, Texas on 7 September 1936, he was born into a musical family and learned to sing at a young age, drawing from diverse influences including gospel and country. The youngest of the Holleys was known by the nickname ‘Buddy’ from childhood.

When his brother Larry returned from service in World War Two he brought a guitar for his brother, and eventually he switched from piano lessons to learn his new instrument. It soon became apparent he was very talented, and Holly appeared on local television in 1952.

Three years later he was opening for rock’n’roll figureheads Elvis Presley and Bill Haley & His Comets. The following year he recorded an album of rockabilly with his new band, Buddy and The Two Tones, for Decca Records. Upon signing with them, his surname was misspelled, and Buddy Holly was born. The album was unsuccessful and Holly wasn’t happy with the sound he achieved with producer Owen Bradley, so he decided to head to New Mexico to record demos with Norman Petty. To avoid legal problems, a new name was needed for the group. They considered calling themselves The Beetles, but settled on The Crickets.

With Buddy Holly on vocals and lead guitar, rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan, Joe B. Mauldin as bassist and Jerry Allison on drums, their resulting popularity helped define the classic four-piece band line-up.

Much happier with the results under Petty, they decided to release the new version of That’ll Be the Day as a single. Although written by Holly and Allison, Petty insisted on a writing credit too.

It’s perhaps hard now to understand the impact That’ll Be the Day had in 1957. Much like Elvis and skiffle, it proved so influential, but unlike, say, Lonnie Donegan’s Cumberland Gap, it has aged, and is perhaps more comparable to Elvis’s All Shook Up – a little mannered and safe (the stuttering vocals can irritate), but a sign of great promise to come. The final line, ‘That’ll be the day when I die’ is still eerily prescient.

For an all-too-brief time though, the only way was up for Buddy Holly. He began churning out hits, and his name soon got top billing over the rest of The Crickets. His horn-rimmed glasses became hugely popular with teenagers, and future music legends John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, and Mick Jagger, to name but a few, were listening intently. Holly had one more number 1 to come, as a solo artist, but sadly he wasn’t around to enjoy it.

Written by: Jerry Allison, Buddy Holly & Norman Petty

Producer: Norman Petty

Weeks at number 1: 3 (1-21 November)

Deaths:

Architect William Haywood – 4 November

Meanwhile…

15 November: Flying boat City of Sydney crashed into a disused chalk pit on the Isle of Wight. The Aquila Airways Solent crash was at the time the worst ever air disaster to happen on English soil, killing 45 people.

63. Paul Anka – Diana (1957)

All Shook Up ruled the charts for an impressive seven weeks, but its successor went beyond that, enjoying the longest run of 1957 with nine weeks at number 1. What makes this all the more impressive is that the singer wrote his own songs, which was unusual back then, and even more unusual was the singer’s age. A prodigious talent, young Canadian Paul Anka was only 16 when Diana made him a household name and started off a long, very successful career.

Born in Ottawa, Ontario on 30 July 1941, Paul Albert Anka sang in a church choir as a child, also studying the piano and music theory. At high school he sang in a vocal trio called the Bobby Soxers. He recorded his debut single, I Confess at the tender age of 14. In 1957 he went to New York City with $100 from his uncle and recorded Diana. At the time, Anka’s precocious love song was believed to be about his love for his one-time babysitter, but in 2005 he admitted it was about a girl in church.

Diana is a song I can admire rather than enjoy. It gets off to a bad start, with the lyric ‘I’m so young and you’re so old’. I’m not sure that’s going to win Diana over, Paul. It’s hard to take Anka’s earnest begging and pleading seriously because of his age, and I don’t think most 16-year-olds would have the voice to pull this song off. Anka certainly doesn’t manage it. Lovesick teenagers of the 50s could identify with it though, and in its defence, it’s a good stab at the rock’n’roll sound and a signifier that Anka was going to grow to be a name in the music business.

This proved to be true, and Anka matured into a formidable talent. He wrote Buddy Holly’s posthumous number 1, It Doesn’t Matter Anymore, and came up with the theme for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. In 1967, while on holiday in France, he heard Comme d’habitude (As Usual), sang by Claude François. He later described it as ‘a shitty record, but there was something in it’. He flew to Paris and negotiated the rights to adapt it. Some time later, Anka was having dinner with Frank Sinatra and members of the Mob, when Sinatra stated he was sick of the business and wanted out. From this, Anka sat at his piano in the early hours one morning and came up with ‘And now, the end is near…’, and before long, he had written My Way specifically for Frank Sinatra. Of course, Sinatra didn’t retire and this became his signature tune.

In 1968, David Bowie had once been offered the chance to come up with some English lyrics for Comme d’habitude. He wrote Even a Fool Learns to Love, which was rejected, and rightly so, Bowie reasoned later. In 1971 Bowie reworked his version and Life on Mars? was born.

Anka came up with another classic when Tom Jones released his storming version of She’s a Lady in 1971. In 1974 his duet with Odia Coates, (You’re) Having My Baby, became his first UK hit single in 12 years. Although it’s his last to date, he has continued to record and star in television and films.

After a quiet decade during the 80s, his comeback album A Body of Work in 1998 featured artists including Celine Dion. 2009 saw him involved in a dispute over the writing of Michael Jackson’s song This Is It. Anka’s most recent work is Duets, an album released in 2013.

Written by: Paul Anka

Producer: Don Costa

Weeks at number 1: 9 (30 August-31 October) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Squeeze singer Glenn Tilbrook – 31 August
High jumper Mark Naylor – 10 September
Ice skater Jayne Torvill – 7 October
Comedian Dawn French – 11 October
Director Michael Caton-Jones – 15 October

Deaths:

Horn player Dennis Brain – 1 September
Ventriloquist Fred Russell – 14 October

Meanwhile…

4 September: The Wolfenden report was published, and recommended that ‘homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence’. The report was issued after a succession of well-known figures including Lord Montagu were arrested for such ‘offences’.

1 October:  Britain introduced a vaccine against Asian Flu, which had killed thousands worldwide.

2 October: The release of David Lean’s Academy Award-winning movie The Bridge on the River Kwai.

11 October: Jodrell Bank Observatory become operational.

28 October: Topical news show Today was first broadcast on the BBC Home Service.

30 October: The government unveiled plans to stop being so ridiculously sexist and allow women to join the House of Lords. In some ways we’ve moved on so much, in others, we’ve barely moved.