272. The Beatles – The Ballad of John and Yoko (1969)

Midsummer, 1969: Burmese the horse was ridden by the Queen for the first time at Trooping the Colour on 14 June, a role she held until 1986. It was a busy time for the Royal family – a week later, BBC One transmitted a fly-on-the-wall documentary devoted to them. The Royal Family had been made by the BBC and ITV to celebrate the investiture of Prince Charles on 1 July, and gave an insight into the Windsors that could only have been imagined previously. Viewing figures topped 30,600,500, but some worried that the overexposure could damage the throne, and the Queen pulled it off air in 1972. Only clips have been seen on TV since then.

Earlier that day, Patrick Troughton made his last regular appearance in Doctor Who. Banished to Earth by the Time Lords in the final episode of The War Games, it was also the final black and white episode of the sci-fi series.

After the referendum in Rhodesia had voted in favour of becoming a Republic, the Governor of Southern Rhodesia, Sir Humphrey Gibbs, left Government House on 24 June. This severed the last diplomatic relationship with the UK.

All these events have one momentous historical event in common: they took place when the Beatles were at number 1 for the 17th and final time, with John Lennon’s The Ballad of John and Yoko. It was a sure a sign as any that the Fab Four were about to split up, and yet it proved that Lennon and McCartney were still able to put aside their differences and work together.

Lennon and Yoko Ono had married in Gibraltar, Spain on 20 March that year. Soon after Lennon wrote The Ballad of John and Yoko as a kind of travelogue set to a Chuck Berry sound, covering the wedding, the honeymoon in Paris, and their first bed-in a few days later at the Amsterdam Hilton.

An excited and impatient Lennon visited McCartney at home on 14 April, three days after Get Back had been released, in the hope of getting the song finished. Surprisingly, not only did they finish writing it, they went to Abbey Road that afternoon with producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick (for the first time since he’d walked out of sessions for The Beatles) and recorded it, without George Harrison (who was on holiday) or Ringo Starr (he was filming The Magic Christian). The Ballad of John and Yoko was done and dusted by 9.30pm. Lennon sang lead, played lead and rhythm guitar, and made percussion sounds by slapping the back of an acoustic guitar. McCartney provided some excellent harmony vocals, bass, drums, piano and maracas. Appreciating the irony of being the only two band members involved, Barry Miles noted in Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now (1997) the following exchange: Lennon (on guitar): ‘Go a bit faster, Ringo!’ McCartney (on drums): ‘OK, George!’

After months of torturous misery during the Get Back sessions, how come the duo were able to knock up a single so quickly? The fact they were two down simplified matters obviously, but McCartney was probably so relieved that Lennon was enthusiastic for the first time in a fair while, he was bound to jump at the chance, even if the lyrics made it plain that Lennon was growing apart from the Beatles. He may also have known that Lennon was likely to go ahead and record it anyway with somebody else, and he was determined to keep the band together despite the tensions.

The Ballad of John and Yoko is a real oddity in the Beatles catalogue. With it’s self-centered lyrics, you could easily call this the start of Lennon’s solo career really. I find it a real shame that, after all my blogs on such classic material, this is the final Beatles song I get to write about for this blog. I mean, it’s only half the band! Let It Be would have been a far more appropriate way to end the number 1s of the greatest band of all time.

Unlike many though, I’m not here to bury it. It’s not a bad song, and it’s not my least favourite Beatles single. I think I prefer it to Get Back, because it has more energy. Ironically, it’s McCartney who shines here. His rhythm track has real punch to it, and I’ve always enjoyed his drumming (I’m certainly not knocking Starr though). And I really like the final verse when he joins Lennon to sing. I admire the chutzpah of Lennon to write a chorus which mocks the whole ‘Bigger than Jesus’ scandal of 1966 too. It showed how far music had come in three years, and the Beatles led the way for most of that time (having said that, many radio stations would either censor the song or refuse to even play it).

Maybe in a way it is an appropriate song to end on, with the Fab Four’s chief songwriters working together so closely again. Those days had been few and far between for some time, and sadly, there weren’t any more to come.

This single, backed with George Harrison’s superior Old Brown Shoe, was rush-released on 30 May, and was their first single to be in stereo only. Due to Lennon wanting the song to be topical, this meant the unusual approach of releasing it while previous single Get Back was still at number 1. Tommy Roe’s Dizzy knocked that from the top, but was only there for a week before The Ballad of John and Yoko hit number 1.

And here’s where the story of the world’s greatest band ends. Except obviously, it wasn’t over yet. The group had already agreed on McCartney’s suggestion to make another album, and sessions were under way. The Ballad of John and Yoko‘s success proved there was still fuel in the tank, and George Martin was glad to be back on board providing they went back to earlier methods of recording. In other words, stop the bickering of the past year. And they all got on much better… for a while, anyway. McCartney and Martin were keen on a long medley and Lennon wasn’t. Lennon didn’t bother turning up for sessions for Harrison songs either.

Before Abbey Road had been completed he released his first ‘solo’ single (as the Plastic Ono Band), the famous anti-war anthem Give Peace a Chance. Nothing was ever said, but there was a general feeling among all involved that Abbey Road would be their final work together.

McCartney had become the odd man out earlier that year after the other three had voted tough American businessman Allen Klein as their new manager, which put a huge strain on the band in addition to their other issues. On 20 September, six days before the release of one of their best albums, Lennon announced he was leaving and John, Paul, George and Ringo never recorded as a unit again.

Something/Come Together would have been a perfect number 1 single in October, but demand had been so high for its parent album, it missed out. One last song, Harrison’s I Me Mine, was completed minus Lennon in January 1970. This was done to make it part of the salvaged Get Back sessions, now to feature in a film and LP called Let It Be. Klein handed over the tapes to Phil Spector, who had recently produced Instant Karma! for Lennon. Smothering many of the songs with lush orchestral sounds, including Let It Be and The Long and Winding Road, McCartney was not amused, and beat Lennon to the punch by publicly announcing he had quit, the week before the release of McCartney, his first solo album, on 10 April.

The full story of the demise of the Beatles makes for a riveting but depressing read, and I recommend Pete Doggett’s You Never Give Me Your Money: The Battle for the Soul of The Beatles (2009) if you want to know more.

Despite many highly lucrative offers over the years, the Beatles never did reform. It’s likely they would have had Lennon not been murdered in 1980, with relations between he and McCartney thawing. The closest we got was the Anthology project of the mid-90s, and the singles Free As a Bird (1995) and Real Love (1996), where the remaining trio worked on Lennon demos provided by Ono. Although not up to the standard of their previous work, they’re decent enough tunes, and I still can’t believe neither made it to number 1. I guess the world had moved on. A bit.

A new romantic comedy, Yesterday, imagines a world in which they never existed. Pop would probably still have moved on from the doldrums of the early-60s, but it could never have become quite so innovative, so witty, so joyous and so magical without them. Nobody had, has, or ever will have the alchemy of the Fab Four.

The Beatles. 17 number 1 singles. They changed everything.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (11 June-1 July)

Births:

Graphic artist Simon Taylor – 22 June

270. The Beatles with Billy Preston – Get Back (1969)

British Leyland Motor Corporation launched Britain’s first hatchback car on 24 April. The Austin Maxi was designed to compete with family saloons like the Ford Cortina. It was also the day on which the final episode of the long-running BBC Radio drama Mrs Dales Diary was broadcast.

It was also a big week in football, as Manchester City won the FA Cup on 26 April with a 1-0 win over Leicester City at Wembley. Two days later, Leeds United won the Football league First Division title for the first time.

The famed ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II embarked on its maiden voyage, from Southampton to New York, on 2 May. And 29 May saw the release of one of my favourite movies of all time (I’m not even kidding) – Carry On Camping. It became the biggest film at the box office of 1969.

All these events transpired during the six-week run at the top for Get Back. Hard to believe it but I’m nearly at the end of the Beatles’ career. This 16th number 1 was the last to feature John, Paul, George and Ringo together – plus one extra. For the first time, they gave equal billing to another musician – keyboardist Billy Preston.

The Beatles’ eponymous double LP hadn’t made the same cultural impact as Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band upon its release, but it was a wonder it had even been finished, as the sessions had been tense, with Harrison and Starr walking out at separate points. McCartney searched for a new project to keep them afloat.

In January 1969, the same month that the Yellow Submarine album was released, they regrouped. Macca suggested they continue down the back-to-basics road they started on the previous year, but with a twist. They would record an album of new material, rehearse it, then perform it in front of a live audience. The results would be made into an album and TV special called Beatles at Work. They hired Michael Lindsay-Hogg to film them rehearsing at Twickenham Studios that month.

What followed did nothing for inter-band relations. Lennon and Harrison later described the rehearsals as the lowest point the band ever experienced. Harrison, irritated by both Lennon and McCartney in particular, who was captured on camera patronising the guitarist, walked out. He returned five days later, but issued an ultimatum. They must abandon the idea of a live performance, and concentrate on getting the album, by that point known as Get Back, finished, and then use the songs for the TV show. He also wanted out of Twickenham, a cold location that did nothing for the frosty atmosphere amongst the Fab Four (and of course Yoko Ono). The Beatles decided they would relocate to the newly completed Apple Studios and use Lindsay-Hogg’s footage to make a new documentary film.

Among the many songs rehearsed that January was Get Back, intended to be the project’s title track. It originated from a jam session during rehearsals on 7 January. McCartney played with the lyric to a George Harrison tune from 1968. Sour Milk Sea was originally planned for The Beatles but surfaced as a single by Jackie Lomax on Apple Records instead, with bass from McCartney. It featured the lyric ‘Get back to where you should be’.

Two days later McCartney brought a more developed version of Get Back to rehearsals, with the ‘Sweet Loretta Martin’ wordplay pretty much complete. He had also come up with some controversial lyrics that would surface on bootlegs over the years. Paul decided to use the song to satirise the views of people like right-wing politician Enoch Powell’s views on immigration.

While ‘Don’t dig no Pakistanis taking all the people’s jobs’ may fit the tune of Get Back perfectly, the Beatles were wise in scrapping this approach. It’s likely not everybody would have got where they were coming from… It also didn’t help that McCartney would look at Ono whenever he sang ‘Get back to where you once belong’, according to Lennon.

Immigration was clearly on their minds, as they also worked on another right-wing satire at the same time, usually referred to as Commonwealth. Again, it’s a good thing this was dropped, and it was musically inferior to Get Back.

Bootleg recordings dating from 23 January reveal a conversation between McCartney and Harrison inbetween trying to whip their next single into shape. McCartney explains it was supposed to be a protest song, but the group then decide that the third verse, featuring the ‘Pakistani’ line, should be dropped.

Instead, the song evolved from an angry rock song to a softer, bluesy sound, no doubt helped along by the ‘fifth Beatle’, who had joined the group the previous day. Enter Billy Preston, who Harrison had invited to proceedings to try and bring an end to the bickering. He wisely assumed a relative stranger among them would put everyone on their best behaviour and give them a kick up the arse. He was right.

Billy Preston, born in September 1946 in Houston, Texas, had been a child prodigy. Self-taught, he never recieved a single piano lesson. He first met the Beatles aged 16 in 1962, when he was playing in the singer’s backing band at a Liverpool show that the Fab Four opened. When Harrison had left the January rehearsals, he had gone to a Ray Charles gig, in which Preston performed on the organ.

On 27 January the Beatles and Preston made a concerted effort to finish the song, which now featured a false ending and a coda. Take 11 was picked, but it had come to an abrupt end, so they returned to the studio the next day to work on the ending. When McCartney and Glyn Johns came to turn the performances into a single, they opted to go against the ‘as nature intended’ vibe of the project, and tacked on a coda from 28 January to Take 11. But they were right to do so, and did it so well, you’d never know, really. Unusually, the single features Lennon on lead guitar over Harrison on rhythm, as Lennon stepped up during Harrison’s absence.

Before it had even been released, Get Back had earned its place in Beatles folklore, for it was the last song they ever played together live. After much toing and froing about how the project would end, they finally agreed to be filmed performing on the roof of Apple Studios with Billy Preston. They opened the short concert with two takes, and then closed the set with one last version, featuring ad-libs from McCartney referring to the police ascending to the roof to shut the gig down (available on Anthology 3). The set ended with Lennon’s famous, ironic quote ‘I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.’ Phil Spector would add this to the end of the version that made it to Let It Be.

Although it was a wise decision to remove that third verse of Get Back, it does rob the song of any bite it had. Reduced to two verses that don’t really mean anything, it needs to be musically interesting, and it’s not too good at that really. It chugs along pleasantly enough, and Preston’s solo adds some soul to proceedings, but it’s far from their greatest single and none of the actual band get to do anything very exciting.

It’s not a return to the Beatles’ roots either, which was how it was marketed. Get Back is the sound of the Beatles following the curve, rather than being ahead of it. It is in fact, the boogie sound of US blues rockers Canned Heat, with McCartney even stealing the distinctive vocal stylings of Alan Wilson. But before I make it sound like I hate Get Back, I don’t. As a throwaway bit of fun, it’s perfectly fine. The single version does a good job of sounding both rough and ready and polished at the same time, thanks to the reverb added to the mix. It’s superior to the Let It Be version. But it’s clear to see that at this point, the Beatles were struggling to keep the magic going.

Released with Lennon’s Don’t Le Me Down as its B-side (which is better if you ask me), also featuring Preston, Get Back was Paul McCartney’s fourth A-side in a row. It was also the last of their singles to be released in mono.

And what became of Billy Preston? Quite a lot. He worked with the Beatles again, playing uncredited on superior tracks I Want You (She’s So Heavy) and Something. In the same year he signed with Apple Records and released his fourth album, That’s the Way God Planned It. Produced by Harrison, the title track was also a hit.

Following the split of the Beatles in 1970, Preston continued to work with his friend, and became the first person to release a version of Harrison’s solo number 1, My Sweet Lord. He also featured on Harrison’s triple album All Things Must Pass that year. Not only that… remember Stephen Still’s excellent single Love the One You’re With? That title came from a saying of Preston’s.

In 1971 he left Apple to join A&M Records, and in addition to his own work selling well, he worked on many Rolling Stones albums, including Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St. and was their primary touring keyboardist from 1973 to 1977. In 1974 he co-wrote and released the first version of You Are So Beautiful, a soul classic later made famous by Joe Cocker.

Preston worked with Motown in the early 80s, then concentrated on session work for artists including Luther Vandross and Whitney Houston. Drug issues curtailed his career but he resurfaced in the 90s, playing with, among others, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and the Band.

Following Harrison’s death in 2001, his friend performed three songs at the 2002 Concert for George at the Royal Albert Hall. Also in 2002, Preston played piano on Johnny Cash’s album American IV: The Man Comes Around. Towards the end of his life he appeared on American Idol and worked with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Neil Diamond. His last live performance saw him promote the re-release of the 1972 documentary The Concert for Bangladesh. On his last song on stage he performed Harrison’s Isn’t It a Pity with Harrison’s son Dhani and Starr.

Soon after, Preston suffered pericarditis and fell into a coma. He had been struggling with kidney disease and his drug issues (which many feel stemmed from problems due to being abused as a child and later hiding his sexuality) had returned. He died in June 2006, aged 59.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 6 (23 April-3 June)

Births:

Actress Kate Hardie – 26 April
Television presenter Tess Daly – 27 April
Actor Cy Chadwick – 2 June

Deaths:

Writer Sir Osbert Sitwell – 4 May
Civil Engineer Sir Owen Williams -23 May

201. Sonny & Cher – I Got You Babe (1965)

sonny-cher-1965.jpgBands like the Beatles and the Byrds were on the cutting edge of the rise of the hippy movement, but Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe was a very mainstream anthem for the ‘love generation’. Although Cher has hit number 1 several times during her subsequent solo career, this was the duo’s sole chart-topper together.

Salvatore Bono was born 16 February 1935 in Detroit to Italian parents. His mother gave him the nickname ‘Sonny’ that remained for the rest of his life. At the age of seven his family moved to Inglewood, California. He attended high school there, but dropped out to concentrate on music. While trying to break into the business he tried various jobs, including being a waiter and a butcher’s helper. He began his music career at Speciality Records, where he wrote Things You Do to Me for Sam Cooke. By the early 1960s Bono found himself working for Phil Spector as a promotion man, percussionist and gofer at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood. In November 1962 he met 16-year-old Cherilynn Sarkisian in an LA coffee shop.

Sarkisian had been born on 20 May 1946 in El Centro, California. Her father John was a half-Armenian, half-American truck driver with drink and gambling problems, and her mother Jackie Crouch was an occasional model and actress with Irish, English, German and Cherokee ancestry. Their relationship was stormy and they divorced when Cherilynn was only ten months old. Crouch changed her name to Georgia Holt and had several more rocky marriages and divorces while moving her family around the country. They were so poor, Cherilynn’s shoes were held together with rubber bands at one point. By the time she was nine she had devloped an unusually low voice and a love of showbusiness. She fell in love with Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and began developing an outrageous persona. At 16 she dropped out of school, left home and moved to Los Angeles with a friend, and that’s where she met 27-year-old Sonny Bono. They quickly bonded, and Bono introduced her to Spector, who let her become a backing singer on several important records, including the Ronettes’ Be My Baby (and just before hitting the big time, the Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’). Bono got a taste of success in 1963 when he co-wrote Needles and Pins with Jack Nitzsche, which became a UK number 1 for the Searchers in 1964. Also that year, Spector produced her first single, Ringo, I Love You under the name Bonnie Jo Mason. The Beatlemania cash-in flopped.

Bono and Sarkisian became lovers, and wed unofficially in a hotel room in Tijuana, Mexico later in 1964.  Bono wanted her to be a solo star but she suffered stage fright and encouraged him to perform too. They became Caesar & Cleo, but three singles bombed. At the same time, he produced some solo singles for her. The second, released in 1965, was a cover of Bob Dylan’s All I Really Want to Do, and it faced a chart battle with a version by the Byrds. It did well in the US, and by the time of her first solo album she was known as Cher. As a duo, they became Sonny & Cher and worked on their debut album, Look at Us. Among the material was Bono’s upbeat answer to Dylan’s break-up song It Ain’t Me Babe. Members of session musician legends the Wrecking Crew were assembled to provide the backing.

Sonically, the duo’s time working with Spector was clearly an influence on the production of I Got You Babe. It’s a less lavish version of his Wall of Sound, but similar in dynamics with the way it builds to what seems a climax, before falling back on itself. Sonny & Cher are no Righteous Brothers, though. That might be harsh on Cher, who we all know has a powerful set of lungs, but Bono’s fooling nobody with his ‘poor man’s Dylan’ vocals. However, he serves his purpose and gives the song an everyman appeal. It’s easy to see how they charmed audiences, and I Got You Babe is very hard to dislike. A lot of that is down to that hook throughout the song, but what exactly is it? After researching, I still don’t know, but it seems it’s either an ocarina or an oboe. So, at least I’ve narrowed it down to ‘something probably beginning with o’.

This simplistic take on flower power made Sonny & Cher huge stars in the UK. It was the Rolling Stones who suggested they come here, noting that, at the time, being stars in Britain first would give them a better chance in America. Their colourful, proto-hippy outfits turned heads on these shores. Further hits for the duo and Cher alone followed, including The Beat Goes On for the former and Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) for the latter. But despite their bell-bottoms and fluffy vests, they began to look rather square by the end of the 60s. Cher loved the heavier sound of bands like Led Zeppelin, but Sonny was having none of it. Their relationship suffered but they officially married in 1969 after she gave birth to their daughter Chastity.

The duo moved into TV in 1971 and The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour was a hit for three years. They ran into relationship difficulties in 1972 but kept up appearances until they divorced in 1975. Despite reuniting for TV series The Sonny & Cher Show, the duo were effectively no more, certainly musically, as Cher carried on as a solo artist. Sonny Bono went into acting, including appearances in Airplane II: The Sequel (1982) and Hairspray (1988). They performed for the last time on Late Night with David Letterman in 1987, where they sang I Got You Babe.

As Cher became a huge star once more, Bono moved into politics after becoming frustrated with the red tape involved in opening a restaurant in Palm Springs, California. He served four years as their mayor, before running for the United States Senate. He was eventually elected to the House of Representatives in 1994 and managed to get a copywright extension law named after him. At some point, he also became a scientologist, but according to his last wife Mary, he tried to break away but they made life difficult for him. The Church denies this. Bono was killed on 5 January in 1998 when he hit a tree while skiing in California. Although Cher had proved she could be a superstar without him, and there may have still been some ill feeling between the duo over the years, she performed a eulogy at his funeral. Despite Cher’s fame, the baby boomers will always associate her with I Got You Babe. The epitaph on Sonny Bono’s headstone reads ‘AND THE BEAT GOES ON’.

And I Got You Babe goes on too. 20 years after first hitting the top, it went to number 1 in 1985. UB40 recorded it with Chrissie Hynde, and my God, was it dull. The original, memorable enough as it was, became forever immortalised in the romantic comedy Groundhog Day (1993), as the first thing weatherman Phil Connors hears every morning for years on end. He should have been grateful it wasn’t UB40’s version.

Written & produced by: Sonny Bono

Weeks at number 1: 2 (26 August-8 September)

Births:

Boxer Lennox Lewis – 2 September 

Deaths:

Speaker of the House of Commons Harry Hylton-Foster – 2 September

190. The Rolling Stones – The Last Time (1965)

Stones Masons Yard colour 1965.jpg

April Fool’s Day 1965: The Greater London Council came into power, replacing the London County Council. Also, the Finance Act introduced corporation tax, which replaced income tax for corporate institutions.

Three months earlier, fresh off the back of their second number 1, Little Red Rooster, the Rolling Stones had released their second album, The Rolling Stones No. 2, which topped the album charts. Although the majority of the LP was made up of covers, including their classy version of Time Is on My Side, there were three tracks written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. All were average, but a sign of things to come. The following month their first single to feature their name on the credits, The Last Time, was released, and a month after that became their third number 1. Except it wasn’t as straightforward as that.

Yes, the guitar lines, the intro and the verses were original, but the chorus was a steal of gospel group the Staple Singers’ This May Be the Last Time from 1958, which soul supremo James Brown had released as the B-side to Out of Sight in 1964. Luckily for the Stones, that track was a traditional with no songwriting credit. Very crafty.

Nonetheless, the Stones’ elements are strong and complement the chorus well, with Jagger further developing the ‘can’t-be-arsed-love’ persona of their first number 1 It’s All Over Now. Brian Jones’ lead guitar is very memorable and makes for a great intro, and Richards’ solo is much better than that of the aforementioned song. The highlight of the track is the end, where normally cool, calm and collected Jagger begins screaming repeatedly during the fade-out. Here was a strong sign that, with Jagger and Richards continuing development as songwriters, the Rolling Stones had the potential to move beyond blues and R’n’B covers. The main let down, for me, is the production. Andrew Loog Oldham, always a fan of raw production, worked with Phil Spector on this. What worked magnificently on You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ just isn’t as effective on this. The deliberate muddiness just frustrates me. I’d rather hear a cleaner sound. Click on the YouTube video above to see a classic performance on the song on Top of the Pops, with George Best in the audience.

In addition to managing and producing the Rolling Stones, Loog Oldham started a side-project. The Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra wasn’t an orchestra, but a revolving stable of session musicians, and occasionally, members of the Rolling Stones. In 1966 they released their fourth album, The Rolling Stones Songbook. One of the covers on there was a version of The Last Time. 31 years later, alt-rockers rockers The Verve built Bittersweet Symphony around a sample of this. After two albums as a cult psychedelic band, they suddenly became big, thanks to this excellent state-of-the-nation track. Unfortunately for them, the Rolling Stones’ notoriously tough lawyers ABKCO got involved and due to the threat of litigation, Verve singer-songwriter Richard Ashcroft surrendered all royalties to Jagger and Richards, who were added to the songwriting credits of Bittersweet Symphony, adding an extra poignancy to that song’s title. Considering the sample sounds hardly anything like The Last Time, which Jagger and Richards clearly stole from the Staple Singers… Very crafty.

To further kick dirt in the Verve’s faces, Loog Oldham then sued the Verve over the same sample. He had little to do with the sample either, it was written and arranged by David Whitaker! Said strings are also alleged to be featured on Tinchy Stryder featuring N-Dubz’s 2009 number 1, called, appropriately, Number 1. Having just listened to that, I don’t think it’s true. They’re very similar, but surely if they were the same, Jagger and Richards wouldn’t miss a chance to get royalties from that too? Hmm.

Written by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Producer: Andrew Loog Oldham

Weeks at number 1: 3 (18 March-7 April)

Births:

Footballer Steve Bull – 28 March
Journalist Piers Morgan – 30 March
Composer Robert Steadman – 1 April 
Actor Sean Wilson – 4 April 

Deaths:

Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood – 28 March
Olympian rower Richard Beesly – 28 March

186. The Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (1965)

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Widely regarded, and for good reason, as one of the greatest songs of the last century, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ is probably mad genius producer Phil Spector’s finest work.

Spector had begun his career as co-founder of the Teddy Bears, and was responsible for their 1958 US number 1 To Know Him Is to Love Him. They split the following year and he moved into production, becoming the apprentice of Lieber and Stoller. He co-wrote Ben E King’s Spanish Harlem with Lieber and produced the original version of Twist and Shout by the Top Notes. In 1961 he formed a record label with Lester Sill. Acts including the Crystals and Darlene Love began having hits on the new Philes Records, and in 1963 he used them all, along with the hitmaking session group known as the Wrecking Crew, to produce the classic Christmas album A Christmas Gift for You from Philes Records. The LP hit record shops on 22 November, the day President Kennedy was assasinated.

The hits kept coming, and Spector was on top of his game. In 1964 he was conducting the band for a show featuring one of his best acts, the Ronettes. Also on the bill were the Righteous Brothers, Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley. Previously, Hatfield had been in a group called the Variations, while Medley sang in the Paramours. Barry Rillera was in both groups and suggested that the duo would work well together. Hatfield and Medley formed a new version of the Paramours and signed to the small label Moonglow Records in 1962. However the following year the group split, but Hatfield and Medley decided to continue as a duo. They would perform for Marines at the El Toro base, where black Marines began calling them ‘righteous brothers’. And so, the name stuck. As they searched for fame they wound up supporting both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones on their US tours.

Spector worked out a deal with Moonglow and took the duo under his wing. He commissioned Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Mann had previously been a performer, co-writing Who Put the Bomp with Gerry Goffin and recording it. Mann and lyricist Weil fell in love, married and began a career together as brilliant songwriters. Hits included We Gotta Get Out of This Place by the Animals. Mann came up with a new melody and the opening line was inspired by reversing a lyric he had used in I Love How You Love Me, namely: ‘I love how you close your eyes when you kiss me’. The duo came up with the majority of a song, including the placeholder line ‘You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’ Spector came up with some elements, including ‘Now it’s gone, gone, gone, whoa, whoa, whoa’, which Weil disliked. But she and Mann were pleased with an idea for the bridge he came up with, which was a piano riff similar to Hang On Sloopy.

The trio took the song to the Righteous Brothers, who thought it had potential – but not for them, for the Everly Brothers. Spector, Mann and Weil slowed the song right down so it could fit with Medley’s deep baritone, and the duo started to think they might have something they could work with, but they were used to equal status on records, and Hatfield was unhappy at waiting until the chorus to join in. When he asked Spector what he was supposed to do in the meantime, the producer said ‘You can go directly to the bank!’

The Righteous Brothers weren’t needed for a few weeks until the instruments were all recorded. As usual, Spector used his trademark technique of building up layer upon layer of music, with the Wrecking Crew as his band. Eventually the perfectionist Spector was pleased with the epic, delibarately blurry sound he had created. Medley and Hatfield were brought in and spent 39 takes in two days recording the vocal. The Blossoms, which featured Darlene Love, provided backing vocals, and also involved at the song’s climax was Cher, who had helped out on the Ronettes’ Be My Baby.

You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ is truly majestic and few songs capture the heartbreak and sense of loss in a failing relationship better. It starts so slow and quietly, to the point that many (including Mann) believed they were playing it at the wrong speed to begin with, so deep is Medley’s baritone. The opening line is just genius. And thanks to Spector’s knack of timing, the build-up is done perfectly. By the end, Medley and Hatfield are raging to return to the love lives they knew, but to no avail. It’s gone, gone, gone. Grand, lush arrangments in sad songs were nothing new to the charts – the UK charts were full of them until the advent of rock’n’roll, but none had the Spector sound. He might have been a paranoid control freak (and eventually, a murdering psychopath), but like Joe Meek, he was one clever bastard too.

With the recording over, the Righteous Brothers wondered if they’d made the right choice. This style of song was hardly in fashion at the height of the British Invasion, after all, and at three minutes and forty seconds length, it was also longer than most tracks. Spector refused to cut it back, but he was sneaky and requested the vinyl label would say ‘3.05’ to trick DJs into playing it. Despite his cockiness, the producer began to have serious doubts himself. His publisher Don Kirshner thought it should have been called Bring Back That Lovin’ Feelin’, for instance. He devloped a spastic colon and didn’t sleep for a week.

All the work and stress paid off, and then some. By and large, critics loved it from the get-go, and understandably wondered if we’d reached the pinnacle of pop. Released in the UK in January, it took four weeks to climb to the top. In that time, Cilla Black, then at the top of her game, rush-released a verison of her own, and the two versions were nearly neck-and-neck at one point. The difference in the two versions was gaping. Black’s was not only clearly a cheap knock-off, but her chorus was bloody horrible and offensive to the ears. Fair play to the Rolling Stones producer, Andrew Loog Oldham, who was so disgusted he decided to take out a full-page advert in Melody Maker, extolling the beauty of the original. It was in fact Oldham that first coined the term ‘Wall of Sound’ to sum-up the Spector sound. The public saw sense, and for the first time, Spector had a UK number 1. He later said this song was his greatest achievment at Philes Records.

Its legend has only grown over the years. It regularly appears in the lists of greatest songs of all time, and in 2015 the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress chose it as one of the 25 songs that has ‘cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation’s audio legacy’. But it was in the UK that the ultimate tribute took place, when in 1996 the comedy actor Paul Shane performed You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ on the BBC1 daytime show Pebble Mill. Ever since, ‘BABEH BABEH!’ has become the ultimate expression of the beauty of music.

Written by: Phil Spector, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil

Producer: Phil Spector

Weeks at number 1: 2 (4-17 February)

Births:

Director Martha Fiennes – 5 February