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 

 

218. The Kinks – Sunny Afternoon (1966)

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11 July saw the FIFA World Cup begin in England with the home team drawing against Uruguay 0-0. However by the time the 20 July came, they were top of their group, with wins against Mexico and France, both 2-0 up. And the best was yet to come.

The day after the tournament began, the Rhodesia saga continued with Zambia threatening to leave the Commonwealth over British peace overtures. On 14 July, Gwynfor Evans was elected as Member of Parliament for Carmarthen, becoming the first ever Plaid Cymru MP. Two days later, Prime Minister Harold Wilson flew to Moscow in order to begin peace negotiations over the Vietnam War, but the Soviet Government refused to help. And although life in the UK that summer is remembered as being a prosperous, positive time, 20 July saw the start of a six-month wage and price freeze.

That day marked the end of the Kinks’ third and final stint at number 1, with the classic Sunny Afternoon. Since Tired of Waiting for You had ruled the charts, the group had released singles of varying quality. The best of the bunch was the droning, proto-psychedelic See My Friends in the summer of 1965. Released four months before Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), it is considered to be one of the first pop songs to incorporate an Indian raga sound.

Tensions were emerging within the group in a very public way, and it wasn’t just Ray and Dave Davies that were known to scrap. Drummer Mick Avory and Dave fought on stage that May in Cardiff, with Avory fleeing the scene after knocking out Davies with his hi-hat stand, in fear he had murdered the guitarist. The drummer later told the police it was just a new part of their live show where the Kinks would throw instruments at each other.

The foursome’s chances of making an impact in the US were given a severe knockback when the American Federation of Musicians refused to allow the band permits for the next four years. Ray Davies believed this to have stemmed from him throwing a punch at a TV crew member who had launched into a tirade of anti-British comments at him. But it wasn’t just in the US that Davies was treated with condescension. He was treated with disdain by upper-class fellow guests at a luxury resort. Those guests helped bring about a marked shift in the direction of the Kinks, and the one which marked out Davies as one of the country’s greatest songwriters.

Well Respected Man, released that September, was the first instance of the band taking inspiration from music hall for their sound, with Davies satirising the British class system. From here on in, nobody could write barbed lyrics about life in England quite like Ray Davies. In February 1966 they released one of their best singles, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, taking aim at London’s fashion scene. The power-chord rock of You Really Got Me that originally brought them fame must have seemed a long time ago.

Despite their developing sound bringing them success, Ray Davies was not a happy man. The squabbling within the group and pressures of recording and touring had brought about a breakdown while working on their third album in late-1965, The Kink Kontroversy. Before writing Sunny Afternoon, Davies had bought a white, upright piano but in his depressed state he was struggling to come up with any new songs. He would listen to Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan over and over for inspiration, but was getting nowhere.

Eventually, like the Beatles on Taxman, released later that summer as the opening track to Revolver, Davies began by complaining about the state of the Labour government’s tax system. As good an opening line as ‘The tax man’s taken all my dough, and left me in my stately home, lazing on a sunny afternoon’ was, Davies wisely realised the public might not feel much sympathy for a rich rock star like him, and so the song evolved into the complaining of a loaded aristocrat who had inherited his money but fallen on hard times. He tried to make the character unloveable, adding that his girlfriend claimed he was cruel when drunk to help make record buyers dislike the protagonist.

You could argue that Davies failed in this however, because Sunny Afternoon is so damn charming. A lot of that is down to his brilliant delivery of the lyrics, which conjure up a tipsy, loaded n’er-do-well. It’s one of their most memorable tunes, and one of the best songs of the mid-60s.

Over the years though, I feel that perhaps the message of the song has become somewhat lost in translation in mainstream culture, and is now often used simply to portray the ‘great British summer’. Never mind the fact this guy was probably beating up his partner, lets just have a drink, enjoy the sun and sing along, yeah? That’s not the fault of the Kinks, however. It actually shows the genius of Davies, to be able to hide such biting lyrics within a catchy pop classic.

Although Sunny Afternoon was their last number 1, his genius would continue through the 1960s and early 70s, with albums like The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968) and particularly singles like Waterloo Sunset and Days. Dave Davies would also prove himself to be a great songwriter with solo singles Death of a Clown (co-written with his brother) and Susannah’s Still Alive. Such great work didn’t always equate to hits at the time, though, and much of their best material has only grown in popularity long after release.

In early 1969 bassist Pete Quaife told the rest of the band he was leaving, despite Ray’s pleas for him to stay. He was replaced with John Dalton, who had filled in for him in the past. Their ban in the US was finally lifted, and they added John Gosling as a permanent keyboardist (Nicky Hopkins had filled this role on their recordings previously) when recording Lola. Their last true great single, this tale of an encounter with a transvestite was a top ten hit here and in the US.

The mid-70s were a tough time for the band, with Ray’s family problems causing him to collapse from a drug overdose after announcing he was retiring on stage in 1973. He focused on writing rock opera rather than pop instead, which was poorly recieved. Dalton claims that Ray has never been the same since this breakdown, and he left the group in 1976. Their fortunes improved over the next few years, helped along by the Jam citing them as a major influence and releasing their version of David Watts as a single.

In 1983 their single Come Dancing performed better than anything they had released in years, and they were back on Top of the Pops with a number 12 single, but personal problems came to the fore once more. Ray fell out with Dave over solo projects, Ray’s relationship with Pretenders’ singer Chrissie Hynde ended badly, and Dave finally refused to work with Avory any longer. He was replaced by Argent member Bob Henrit, but thanks to Ray he would contribute occasionally. Line-up changes continued, but Avory and Quaife did show up when the Kinks were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Despite their public profile improving considerably in the mid-90s thanks to Britpop, one of the best UK groups in music finally chose to call it a day. They played together to celebrate Dave’s 50th at the Clissold Arms pub, where the Davies brothers musical journey had begun years ago.

A year later I saw Ray Davies for the first time at a sodden Glastonbury Festival, where he performed a mostly acoustic set of the classics. One of the few times I felt summery that weekend. When I next saw him there, during a blazing hot festival with my wife in 2010, Quaife had just died, and the highlight of another great show was a very emotional Davies dedicating Days to his former bassist and friend. He broke down several times while performing it. It was a very different show to 1997, his voice not as effective, but he was bolstered by a choir and both shows were great for different reasons.

Rumours of a Kinks reunion have never gone away, and baby boomers the world over were delighted to hear that the feuding brothers appeared to have finally buried the hatchet and a reformation was announced, with Avory also returning. Unfortunately, nothing seems truly concrete yet, but it is believed they will be working on a new album. No doubt it won’t match the glory days (few groups can), but I’d love to see Davies one last time at Glastonbury, this time with his brother and Avory alongside him.

Written by: Ray Davies

Producer: Shel Talmy

Weeks at number 1: 2 (7-20 July)

Births:

Actress Tamsin Grieg – 12 July
Presenter Johnny Vaughan – 16 July

205. The Rolling Stones – Get Off of My Cloud (1965)

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In the autumn of 1965 the situation in Rhodesia degenerated so much that martial law was announced on 5 November. The UN General Assembly accepted British intent to use force if neccessary. Six days later, Ian Smith’s white majority regime unilaterally declared independence, and so on 20 November the UN Security Council recommended that all states should cease trading with Rhodesia.

Meanwhile in the pop world, Ken Dodd’s Tears was finally usurped after five weeks at the top, with a song that couldn’t be more different. The Rolling Stones were at number 1 for the third time that year with the racucous Get Off of My Cloud.

Adored by young people and critics and feared by the older generation, the Stones were now on a par with the Beatles, but rather than make the move into establishment acceptance, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards decided to write a sequel to their previous number 1, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. The alienation felt by Jagger was the theme once more, and it seems his band’s superstardom hadn’t improved the singer’s general mood. Richards based the tune on the Kingsmen’s classic Louie Louie and later expressed regret that Get Off of My Cloud hadn’t been slowed down. He also said it was one of Andrew Loog Oldham’s worst productions.

I’ve said before that I think a lot of early Stones recordings would have benefitted from cleaner production, but I’m not sure I agree with Richards in this instance. I think Oldham’s work around the time of Aftermath (1966) suits the darker, early-psychedelic material the Stones were coming out with, particuarly on tracks like this and Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadow? Although it would be nice to actually be able to work out what Jagger is shouting about. And I realise by typing that sentence I sound like the sort of person who would have been furious in 1965 that the Rolling Stones had knocked Ken Dodd from number 1…

Jagger is living high up on the 99th floor of an apartment block, and the first verse follows right on from (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, with the singer complaining about commercialism through advertising. However, he wrongfoots everyone by spending the next verse complaining about the noise coming from his neighbours until the early hours. Jagger isn’t on anybody’s side here other than his own. And what’s more, he’s so bloody rich, he can afford to go for some peace and quiet and end up with loads of parking tickets. Couldn’t give a shit as long as he’s left alone. And so we have the most mean-spirited chart-topper so far, and you’ve got to admire the Rolling Stones for their chutzpah. Their stand-offishness only made them more admired.

Also in the news that November… The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act suspended capital punishment for murder in England, Scotland and Wales, for five years in the first instance, replacing it with a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. And on 13 November the word ‘fuck’ was believed to have been spoken on British television for the first time by theatre critich Kenneth Tynan. He was taking part in a live debate on censorship on BBC Two satirical series BBC-3. No recording exists of the occurence, but despite general opinion that it was Tynan, three other moments could also be considered the first: a drunken Brendan Brehan on Panorama in 1956 (barely intelligible muttering), a man who painted railings describing his job as ‘fucking boring’ on Ulster TV’s magazine Roundabout in 1959, or actress Miriam Margolyes, who claims to have said it in frustration while taking part in ITV’s University Challenge in 1963. But really, who gives a fuck?

Written by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Producer: Andrew Loog Oldham

Weeks at number 1: 3 (4-24 November)

Births:

Actor Shaun Williamson – 4 November
Comedian Sean Hughes – 10 November Sean Hughes, comedian (died 2017)
Northern Irish racecar driver Eddie Irvine – 10 November
Presenter Eddie Mair – 12 November

Deaths:

Academic Ifor Williams – 4 November
Politician George Henry Hall – 8 November

204. Ken Dodd – Tears (1965)

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7 October 1965. A 27-year-old stock clerk named Ian Brady was charged with the murder of 17-year-old apprentice electrician Edward Evans the night before. Myra Hindley’s brother-in-law David Smith had witnessed Brady striking Evans with the flat of an axe and then strangling him with electrical cord. Smith had been friends with Brady for a while, but when he told his wife Maureen Hindley what he had seen, she told him to ring the police. The arrest led British Transport Police to discover suitcases belonging to Brady at Manchester Central railway station. Inside one of them were incriminating, disturbing photos of a young girl, as well as a tape of her voice pleading for help. Myra Hindley was arrested on 11 October and both she and Brady were charged with Evans’ murder. Police searches led them to believe that the duo were responsible for the murders of several children reported missing in the Manchester area over the last few years, and on 16 October, the body of ten-year-old Lesley Ann Downey was found on Saddleworth Moor.

As news reports pieced together the horrific story of the Moors Murderers, Brady and Hindley were charged with Downey’s murder on 21 October. Three days later police found the decomposed body of 12-year-old John Kilbride, who had been missing since November 1963. Brady and Hindley were charged in court with the murders of Evans, Downey and Kilbride on 29 October.

As this terrible story unfolded that October, an unlikely chart star was at number 1. Comedian Ken Dodd’s Tears’ reign of the singles chart lasted a mind-boggling five weeks. Not only that, it was the best-selling single of 1965 – a year featuring some of the greatest number 1s there has ever been. How did this happen?

Kenneth Arthur Dodd was born 8 November 1927 in Knotty Ash, Liverpool. He sang in the local church choir, and at 14 he left school to work for his father as a coal merchant. Despite this, he was in love with the idea of being an entertainer, and his father bought him a ventriloquist’s dummy, which he named Charlie Brown. Dodd began his showbiz career performing at the local orphanage. His trademark bucked teeth came about as a result of Dodd being dared by his friends to ride his bike with his eyes closed.

His big break came in 1954 when he turned professional at the age of 26. He performed as Professor Yaffle Chucklebutty, Operatic Tenor and Sausage Knotter at the Nottingham Empire. It’s fair to say his eccentric humour was already well in place by this point. He gained top billing for the first time in Blackpool in 1958. With his unusual appearance, quickfire one-liners, and lengthy performances, he became a big star. Over the years his tales of the Diddy Men, jam butty mines and Knotty Ash (where he lived all his life) made him a true family entertainer. His shows became so long he even entered the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s longest joke-telling session – 1,500 jokes in three-and-a-half hours.

His sets would also feature songs. Dodd was no great shakes as a singer, but he wasn’t bad either, and off the back of his fame he started releasing singles, his first being Love is Like a Violin in 1960. It went to number eight, but for the next few years his records only made it into the top 30, including Happiness, which became his signature song. Which makes it unlikely that anyone including Dodd would have expected Tears to do as well it did. Originally called Tears for Souvenirs, the words were by Frank Capano and music by Frank Uhr. Recorded by Rudy Vallee in 1929, it was based on Delilah’s aria Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix (Softly awakes my heart) from Act II of Camille Saint-Saëns’s opera 1877 opera Samson and Delilah.

Dodd’s performance on Tears, like most of his singles, is played straight, and yes, he sings it well enough, although it’s a very mannered performance, with every line pronounced to perfection. But it’s not even Dodd’s best single – Happiness is more memorable (it’s the only other one I’ve heard and I can’t say I’m in a hurry to hear any others). It’s a throwback to the pop singles of the early-to-mid-1950s. As the crimes of the Moors Murderers came to light, I’d imagine that the British public, whether subconsciously or not, chose to a very safe song to listen to that was reminiscent of more innocent times. This can’t be proved though, and it still doesn’t explain exactly how big this song was. In addition to being the best seller of 1965, Tears was the third biggest single of the 60s and the only one in the top five that wasn’t by fellow scousers, the Beatles. In 2017 it was revealed as the 39th biggest single of all time. Incredible statistics for such a random, average track. Basically, I don’t know why it was so popular. It’s yet another example of the weird and wonderful world of the UK singles chart. My only prior knowledge of it came from a snippet being sang in the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s I’m Bored in 1967.

Dodd’s music career peaked in the mid-60s, with further top ten entries for The River (Le Colline Sono In Fioro) and Promises. Occasionally he branched out into straight acting, in theatre (a production of Twelfth Night in 1971), TV (Doctor Who in 1987) and cinema (Kenneth Branagh’s version of Hamlet in 1996). I remember finding Dodd funny as a child and wondering what the tax evasion case of 1989 was all about. I didn’t like the idea of such an odd man as Dodd behind bars, but he was acquitted and the media spotlight didn’t hurt his career.

Dodd was a national treasure and one of the last great British eccentrics. Over the years he recieved an OBE, was knighted and received award after award. Behind the laughter, like with so many comics, there was sadness. Dodd was in a relationship with Anita Boutin from 1955 until she died of a brain tumour in 1977. A year later he fell in love with Anne Jones, and they married on 9 March 2018, two days before he died. They had wanted children but were unable, and the details of his tax evasion had included failed rounds of IVF. When they wed, Dodd had just been released from hopsital, where he had been for six weeks due to a chest infection.

Ken Dodd died in his childhood home in Knotty Ash on 11 March this year, aged 90. The showbiz world mourned the loss of a beloved figure.

Although the Moors Murders were the biggest story in the autumn of 1965, the news wasn’t all so horrific. On 30 September the first episode of ATV’s much-loved puppet series Thunderbirds aired on ITV, and 18 October saw The Magic Roundabout premiered on BBC One. On 8 October the iconic Post Office Tower opened in Londond, remaining the capital’s tallest building until 1980.

The drama in Rhodesia continued, with African countries demanding on 22 October that the UK use force to prevent it from declaring unilateral independence. Two days later, Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations Arthur Bottomley travelled there to negotiate with their Prime Minster Ian Smith.

Written by: Billy Uhr & Frank Capano

Producer: Norman Newell

Weeks at number 1: 5 (30 September-3 November) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Comedian Steve Coogan – 14 October
Actor Stephen Tompkinson – 15 October
Disc jockey Steve Lamacq – 16 October
Bush singer Gavin Rossdale – 30 October