159. Gerry and the Pacemakers with Orchestra conducted by George Martin – You’ll Never Walk Alone (1963)

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When Gerry and the Pacemakers chose to record You’ll Never Walk Alone from the musical Carousel as their third single, manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin couldn’t understand why they’d want to mess with the uptempo pop formula that had scored them two number 1s. Not only did Gerry Marsden prove them wrong, making his group the first act in the UK to reach the top with their first three singles, he also helped turn the song into Liverpool FC’s anthem, and one the city has turned to at times of tragedy.

Originally written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, the song first appeared in the second act of the 1945 musical. The character Nettie Fowler sings it to her cousin Julie Jordan to comfort her following the suicide of her husband, Billy. It is later reprised by the cast at her daughter Louise’s graduation. The emotional lyrics of this torch song made it perfect for those who had lost family members during World War Two, and Frank Sinatra was the first star to take it into the US charts that year. During the 50s, rock’n’rollers such as Gene Vincent and Johnny Preston also released versions.

Marsden had always admired the song, and he and the Pacemakers had featured it in their live shows for several years. He had noted how popular ballads had become for The Beatles in their shows, and wanted to do the same. He did however want to make the song sound less like a showtune and more contemporary, and with Martin’s help did just that.

This version starts shakily, and, having not heard this version in a long time, I wondered if Marsden was going to be up to the task. His voice doesn’t sound capable initially, but by the end, he’s knocked it out of the park, to use a tired old football analogy. I’m not sure about Martin’s strings – his arrangements for The Beatles were always perfect but I feel like they sound slightly tacky at the start, but they do make for a great finale. It’s also interesting to hear Marsden moving away from the cheeky chappie of the first two singles – he sounds suitably sincere.

The story goes that before a match at the Kop, Liverpool FC (who weren’t yet one of the most dominant teams in club football) treated the fans to a rundown of the top 10. When it was announced that a local act had reached number 1 (again), the crowd went wild and sang along. It subsequently went on to be played before every home game, and the rest was history. Eventually the song was adopted by other teams too.

Many covers continued to be released, perhaps the best coming from Elvis Presley. Pink Floyd tacked a field recording of the Kop choir performing it on the end of their track Fearless from their 1971 album Meddle. I’m not sure why they chose to do so, but it makes for an intriguing and powerful finish.

Gerry and the Pacemakers narrowly missed out on four consecutive number 1s with I’m the One, which had been written by Marsden. He and the band began writing more original material, and they became part of the ‘British Invasion’ in the US. Future singles included Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying and another signature tune that became important to Liverpool – Ferry Cross the Mersey.

In 1965 they starred in their own feature film, with the same name, which was their attempt at making their own A Hard Day’s Night. But that year saw sales decline in both the UK and US. They were unable to move with the times, and the band split in 1966, just as The Beatles began to increase their experimentation. They held on to the record of ‘first three singles hitting number 1’ record until fellow Liverpudlians Frankie Goes to Hollywood repeated the hat trick in 1984.

Marsden went into light entertainment, taking on TV and theatre work. The 80s saw him return to number 1 twice with football-related charity singles. After Band Aid in 1984, such songs were all the rage, and the following year he assembled The Crowd to record a new version of You’ll Never Walk Alone, which raised money in the aftermath of the terrible Bradford Football Club stadium tragedy.

Then in 1989, the even more shocking events at Hillsborough led to a quick recording of Ferry Cross the Mersey. For this, Marsden teamed up with other Liverpool figures the Christians, Holly Johnson, Paul McCartney and Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Since then, Gerry and the Pacemakers have reformed and can be found on the nostalgia circuit.

Written by: Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 4 (31 October-27 November)

Births:

Comic actor Sanjeev Bhaskar – 31 October 
Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen – 1 November
Welsh footballer Mark Hughes – 1 November 
Footballer Ian Wright – 3 November 
Entertainer Lena Zavaroni – 4 November
Actor Hugh Bonneville – 10 November
Field hockey player Jon Potter – 
19 November
Mathematician William Timothy Gowers – 20 November 

Actress Nicollette Sheridan – 21 November
International Rugby League player Joe Lydon – 26 November

Deaths:

Writer Aldous Huxley – 22 November
Irish-born author CS Lewis – 22 November

Meanwhile…

22 November: You’ll Never Walk Alone held on to number 1 for most of November in 1963, making it an appropriately moving number 1 while the world mourned the assassination of US President John F Kennedy. The same day saw the deaths of two important English authors, namely 65-year-old CS Lewis, the author of the Narnia series of books, and Aldous Huxley, writer of Brave New World and the essay The Doors of Perception, which is where The Doors took their name from.

23 November: The first episode of long-running BBC children’s science-fiction series Doctor Who was transmitted. At around that time, 12-year-old John Kilbride should have been at home watching, but he was out at a market in Ashton-under-Lyne when he was approached by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. They offered him a lift home, telling him his parents would be worried about him being out so late, and coaxed him with the promise of a bottle of sherry. On the way, Brady suggested they visit the moor to look for a glove Hindley had lost.  Later that night, police began a missing persons investigation for the child.

125. Shirley Bassey with Geoff Love and His Orchestra – Reach for the Stars/Climb Ev’ry Mountain (1961)

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It had been over two years since Shirley Bassey became the first Welsh singer to score a number 1 with As I Love You, but her career was still going strong.

A few months later she had signed with EMI’s Columbia. She narrowly missed out on the top spot in 1960 with her recording of As Long As He Needs Me from Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, and in November of that year she made her US television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. 1961 single You’ll Never Know also did well, but it was a double-bill of ballads that took her back to the top for the second and (to date) final time.

Although largely forgotten about now, one has to wonder if Cathy Dennis and Andrew Todd, co-writers of S Club 7’s Reach, were fans of these tracks. Have another look at the titles…

Reach for the Stars had been written by Austrian singer-songwriter Udo Jürgens, with English lyrics from Bassey’s producer, Norman Newell. Jürgens went on to win the Eurovision Song Contest on his third attempt in 1966 with Merci, Chérie.

As I stated in my previous Blassey blog, I’m really not a fan of her voice, so she has to be performing a strong song for me to be able to enjoy her. This is not a strong song. It’s turgid, soppy and completely forgettable. Bassey has not only put her lover on a pedestal, she’s turned him into a God-like figure. And that bellow at the end really hurt my ears, as is usually the case with Bassey. Ah well, maybe things will improve with Climb Ev’ry Mountain.

Things didn’t improve with Climb Ev’ry Mountain. If anything, it’s more forgettable and drawn out than Reach for the Stars. It could be that this single did so well because this track came from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music. It is sung by the character Mother Abbess at the end of the first act, and is intended to encourage people to follow their dreams. As I like The Sound of Music about as much as I enjoy Bassey’s bellow, I only felt encouraged to take my earphones out early.

Reach for the Stars/Climb Ev’ry Mountain only had a week at number 1 before previous number 1, Johnny Remember Me returned to the top. Obviously, Bassey remained a big star, and is now considered a living legend.

Her first James Bond theme, 1965’s Goldfinger (with lyrics co-written by previous number 1 artist Anthony Newley), is rightly considered one of the best, and even I can appreciate that one. Despite her fame in the UK, this track has been her only recorded hit in the US, despite her sell-out live shows.

Around this time, her UK hits started to drop too. Big Spender is considered one of her best tracks (especially by me), yet didn’t even make the top 20 in 1967. Her cover of Something by The Beatles marked a resurgence as the 70s began, and she recorded two further Bond themes, Diamonds are Forever (1971) and Moonraker (1979).

Bassey semi-retired in the 80s, but did wonders for her image when she worked with big beat duo the Propellerheads on their retro 60s-styled single History Repeating in 1997. This track was everywhere at the time, and might actually be where my dislike of her voice originated! She turned 60 that year, and a series of high-profile concerts followed. Beloved by the Royal family, she performed at the Duke of Edinburgh’s 80th birthday in 2001 and the Queen’s 50th Jubilee a year later (and again at her 60th in 2012).

2006 saw the Welsh songstress cover Pink’s Get the Party Started for Marks & Spencer’s Christmas ad campaign. This proved to be highly irritating for me. In 2007 her single The Living Tree entered the charts, meaning that Bassey held the record for the longest span of top 40 hits in the history of the UK charts. Stars including Manic Street Preachers, Pet Shop Boys and Gary Barlow wrote tracks for her 2009 album, The Performance. Comedian David Walliams presented an hour-long special devoted to her in December 2016.

Whatever my opinions on Shirley Bassey’s singing, there’s a lot to like about her. From humble beginnings, she fought against poverty, racism and sexism to become a national treasure, and has maintained her down-to-earth character. There didn’t seem to be much room in the charts back then for strong, sexy women, but Bassey was one of the exceptions.

Written by:
Reach for the Stars: Udo Jürgens/Climb Ev’ry Mountain: Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II

Producer: Norman Newell

Weeks at number 1: 1 (21-27 September)

Births:

Conservative MP Liam Fox – 22 September 
Novelist Will Self – 26 September

116. The Marcels (Vocal) – Blue Moon (1961)

the-marcels-billboard-1548.jpgThe number 1 single in early May 1961 was this fast-paced doo-wop version of the classic ballad Blue Moon. Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart began writing it in 1933 for the movie Hollywood Party, starring Jean Harlow. The main lyrics were:

‘Oh Lord, if you’re not busy up there,
I ask for help with a prayer,
So please don’t give me the air ‘

However, the song didn’t get finished. A year later, Hart rewrote the lyrics to create a track for the Manhattan Melodrama. It was now called It’s Just That Kind of Play, and the words were changed to:

‘Act One:
You gulp your coffee and run,
Into the subway you crowd,
Don’t breathe, it isn’t allowed.’

This time, the song was cut from the film, but MGM asked Rodgers and Hart for a song to be used in a nightclub scene. Hart rewrote the lyrics again and renamed it The Bad in Every Man. This time the lyrics had been changed to:

‘Oh, Lord…
I could be good to a lover,
But then I always discover,
The bad in ev’ry man’

MGM still weren’t happy, and although they could see there was a great tune there, the lyrics weren’t full of hit-making potential. They asked for some more romantic words and a new title, and a (surely exasperated) Hart came up with:

‘Blue moon
You saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own’

Finally, they had completed Blue Moon. Artists including Mel Tormé recorded versions, but it was Elvis Presley that first brought it to the attention of rock’n’rollers. His 1954 recording made it onto his eponymous debut album, released two years later.

Fast forward to 1961, and The Marcels were struggling to finish their debut album. The mixed-race doo-wop group, named after the then-popular marcel wave hairstyle, had formed in 1959, consisting of lead singer Cornelius Harp, Richard Knauss, Fred Johnson, Gene Bricker and Ron Mundy. The Marcels were not a high priority for their label, Colpix Records, and producer Stu Phillips was told not to waste much time on them.

However, one night he sneaked the group into the studio after everyone else had left. They recorded three songs and had time for one more, and one band member said they knew Blue Moon. Phillips told them they had an hour to learn it, and the song was hurriedly recorded in only two takes.

Anyone who bought this version expecting a re-run of the original must have got quite a shock when Fred Johnson’s famous ‘bomp-baba-bomp-ba-bomp-ba-bomp-bomp… vedanga-dang-dang-vadinga-dong-ding’ rang out and bounced straight into a comparatively raucous run-through of the track. To many people, this intro is the best bit of the song, and one of most famous intros in doo-wop and rock’n’roll history, but originally Johnson’s vocal came from their cover of Zoom by the Cadillacs. A shrewd Phillips decided to lift it and stick it at the start of Blue Moon to give it some oomph, and it proved to be an inspired decision. Not that this blog should purely be about the intro, mind – the whole track is fun, and a much-needed antidote to some of the tracks I’ve sat through of late. It stayed respectful to the original, yet at the same time, shook things up enough to make it appeal to both young and old.

Blue Moon was huge in the US and UK, and allegedly famous DJ Murray the K (later to try and lay claim to the title ‘the fifth Beatle’ during the British Invasion) played it 26 times in a single show. The Marcels were unable to sustain this success, although a cover of Heartaches did okay. Unfortunately, the group’s white members, Knauss and Bricker, left due to racial problems when they toured the Deep South.

Members came and went, and although the original group reformed briefly in 1973, the band splintered into various incarnations. Harp died on 4 June 2013, aged 73, and Ron Mundy died on 20 January 2017, aged 76.

This doo-wop classic has popped up in many places over the years, but perhaps the most famous appearance is over the end credits of An American Werewolf in London (1981), with versions by Bobby Vinton and Sam Cooke appearing earlier in the comedy horror.

Written by: Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart

Producer: Stu Phillips

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

Births:

Bucks Fizz singer Jay Aston – 4 May
Actress Janet McTeer – 8 May
The Cult guitarist Billy Duffy – 12 May
Actor Tim Roth – 14 May

Meanwhile…

6 May: Following on from their league title victory, Tottenham Hotspur became the first English football team of the 20th century (and only the third in history), to win the double, after a 2-0 victory over Leicester City in the FA Cup Final.

8 May: George Blake was sentenced to 42 years in prison. He had been found guilty of being a double agent for the Soviet Union.