247. The Beatles – Lady Madonna (1968)

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April Fool’s Day 1968 saw the formation of Thames Valley Police due to the amalgamation of Berkshire Constabulary, Buckingham Constabulary, Oxford City Police, Oxford Constabulary and Reading Borough Police. Six days later, Scottish Formula One driver Jim Clark shocked the racing world when he was killed in an accident in Hockenheim, West Germany. Still considered one of the greatest drivers in F1, Clark was only 32 when he died.

The Beatles were at number 1 for the 15th time with the back-to-basics sound of Lady Madonna. Still smarting from the poor reception of the Magical Mystery Tour film, which went over the heads of the average television viewer on Boxing Day 1967, the Fab Four began 1968 by filming their cameo appearance at the end of the animated movie Yellow Submarine, released six months later.

Despite the relative failure of Magical Mystery Tour, they were still ruling the charts with Hello, Goodbye when Paul McCartney first unveiled Lady Madonna to some friends he had visited with girlfriend Jane Asher around Christmas time. As usual, the Beatles were ahead of the curve by perhaps sensing that psychedelia could soon be in danger of becoming predictable. Now even the Rolling Stones were ripping off Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Why not replace studio trickery with a blast from the past?

Lady Madonna was McCartney returning to the boogie-woogie rock’n’roll of his youth. The piano lick was inspired (I’d say stolen) from jazzman Humphrey Lyttelton’s Bad Penny Blues. The single, released on Parlophone in 1956, had been the first jazz song to reach the UK top 20, and was produced by Joe Meek. Playing around with his voice, McCartney also found his new song reminiscent of Fats Domino, and so he would make his voice deeper and bluesier by way of tribute. There was a further link back to 1956 here – Domino had a hit in 1956 with a version of Blue Monday (not the New Order classic), in which he sang of the plight of the working man, taking it a day at a time.

McCartney chose a similar lyrical approach, only he chose to do it from a working class, possibly single, mother’s perspective. John Lennon helped out with the lyrics, but it was mainly all McCartney, who years later said the title of the song was inspired by a photograph he saw in National Geographic of a woman breastfeeding, entitled ‘Mountain Madonna’. One lyric however, is unmistakably Lennon – ‘See how they run’ was lifted from I Am the Walrus. The Beatles were going through a phase of referencing earlier songs in newer material, something which would help inspire the ‘Paul Is Dead’ conspiracy. A clever way of using your back catalogue, or a sign of the creative well beginning to dry? Possibly a bit of both.

With little in the way of new material, The Beatles decided they needed to release a single as a stop-gap in the spring, while they attended a Trancendental Meditation course with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India. Lady Madonna’s only competition at the time was Lennon’s whistful Across the Universe. This beautiful version would eventually surface with animal noises overdubbed in December 1969 on the World Wildlife Fund’s compilation No One’s Gonna Change Our World. Often Lennon would put up a fight for his own material to be the A-side, but this time he knew Lady Madonna was a stronger commercial track, even though he felt it didn’t really go anywhere, and he even relented from taking the B-side, giving George Harrison the slot for the first time with the mystic The Inner Light.

The single was completed fast, with John, Paul, George and Ringo finishing up in just two sessions on 3 and 6 February. At the first session McCartney laid down the piano, with advice from producer George Martin on how to replicate the Bad Penny Blues sound, and Starr accompanied him on snare drum, playing with brushes. Lennon and Harrison then added identical distorted guitar riffs. Then, McCartney overdubbed his bass, with Starr on full drumkit, plus McCartney recorded his vocal and Lennon and Harrison joined him on backing vocals. Studio experimentation hadn’t been completely abandoned – for the instrumental break, they decided to impersonate the Mills Brothers, who would replicate brass instruments with their voices, and simply blew into their cupped hands.

The second session was organised at short notice after the Beatles realised they needed something extra. They quickly assembled a four-piece horn section, which included famous jazz musician and club owner Ronnie Scott on tenor saxophone. So hastily arranged was the session, the band neglected to tell the horn section what to play, which explains why Scott’s solo in the break sounds so pissed off.

Lady Madonna is unlikely to rank as anyone’s favourite Beatles single, but it does have vim and vigour. Starr is in fine fettle, laying down a simple but effectively thunderous beat. Lennon had a point in saying it didn’t really go anywhere, and the lyrics seem rather tossed off, and even, when McCartney sings ‘Did you think that money was heaven sent?’, rather patronising. Perhaps it wasn’t the point McCartney was trying to make, as he sounds sympathetic on the whole, but there is an element of ‘will this do?’ again about the lyrics. Whether that’s because Lennon was still too high to be bothered to contribute much and/or rein in Macca’s excesses, or it’s a sign that they were starting to care less about the band, we’ll never know.

Luckily, McCartney still had a bloody good ear for a melody, and Lady Madonna is very easy to enjoy when you hear it. But how often do you deliberately choose to listen to it? I’m not sure I ever have.

Two promos were filmed for Lady Madonna, with Tony Bramwell joining them at Abbey Road on 11 February to record them miming to the track. There was a change of plan though, and instead they were filmed while they recorded Lennon’s bluesy rocker Hey Bulldog, which ended up on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack.

Despite the relative lack of care given to Lady Madonna, their final single for Parlophone quickly climbed to the top within a few weeks of its release in March. However, it didn’t go to number 1 in the US, signalling that perhaps their influence was declining somewhat. Or maybe not – once again, the Beatles were at the forefront of popular culture, and other high-profile acts like the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley all deciding a return to their musical roots was the way forward.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 2 (27 March-9 April)

Births:

Cricketer Nasser Hussain – 28 March
Television presenter Jenny Powell – 8 April

Deaths:

Scottish race car driver Jim Clark – 7 April 

223. Small Faces – All or Nothing (1966)

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As the summer of 1966 drew to a close, Britain’s first Polaris submarine, HMS Revolution, was launched in Barrow-in-Furness, and two days later the Oberon-class submarine HMCS Okanagan was launched at Chatham Dockyard. It was the last ship to be built there. On 19 September, Scotland Yard arrested Ronald ‘Buster’ Edwards for his part in the Great Train Robbery of 1963.

The number 1 at the time was All or Nothing. This was the only chart-topper for east London mod rockers Small Faces, one of the best groups of the period, who had only formed a year previous.

Singer and guitarist Steve Marriott, born in East Ham, London in January 1947, came from a working class background. His father Bill was a dab hand on a pub piano, and he bought Steve a ukelele and harmonica. Marriott joined his first band, the Wheels, in 1959. He was a huge Buddy Holly fan, like so many at the time. In 1960, the 13-year-old joined the cast of Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! as the Artful Dodger. One of his audition songs was Connie Francis’s number 1, Who’s Sorry Now? From 1961 he was gaining lots of work in television, film and radio, often typecast as a cheeky cockney lad. A family rift ensued when he decided to concentrate on music, and he moved away from home.

From 1963 onwards Marriott attempted solo success and fame with several bands, including the Frantiks (later the Moments) and the Checkpoints. By 1965 Marriott was working in a music shop when he first met Ronnie Lane, who came in looking for a bass guitar. The duo bonded and went back to Marriott’s to listen to records. they decided to form a band and Lane’s friends, drummer Kenney Jones and guitarist Jimmy Winston, who switched to the organ, as Marriott wanted to play and sing. Thanks largely to Marriott’s attention-grabbing, powerful vocal prowess and a strong bluesy sound, they quickly progressed from pub gigs to the club circuit and christened themselves Small Faces. Back then, a ‘face’ was a mod term, for special, cool bastards, and the quartet were all small in stature. It was the perfect name.

The Small Faces’ early sets were made up of US soul and R’n’B covers, all mod staples, and early compositions from Marriott and Lane. Singer Elkie Brooks was very impressed with Marriott’s stage presence, and thanks to her recommendation to an agent, the band started finding work outside of London. Their first gig in the north, at a working men’s club in Sheffield, went disastrously. They finished early and offered to play at a nearby mod club, King Mojo Club, owned by Peter Stringfellow. They went down a storm. Soon after they had a residency at Leicester Square’s Cavern Club, and among their support acts at the time were Sonny & Cher.

Around this time, Small Faces signed with the impressario Don Arden, who helped snag them a contract with Decca Records. Debut single, Whatcha Gonna Do About It, featured lyrics by Ian Samwell, a former member of the Drifters (later the Shadows), who was responsible for Cliff Richard’s legendary debut record, Move It. Although it reached the top 20, second release I’ve Got Mine bombed.

Winston chose to leave the group, according to Jones, because he started pushing to replace Marriott as star of the band. He was replaced by Ian MacLagan, another shortarse. They were back on track with their third single. The upbeat pop track Sha-La-La-La-Lee was written by Elvis songwriter Mort Shuman and British entertainer Kenny Lynch. Their debut, eponymous album also did well. They were gaining traction.

Marriott and Lane came up with fifth single All Or Nothing. According to Marriott’s mother Kay, her son’s lyrics were inspired by his split with his fiancee Sue Oliver. However, his first wife Jenny Rylance claimed he told her it was about her split from future Faces singer Rod Stewart.

For such small guys, this band could really make a racket. Opening with a fade-in of Jones’s drums, All Or Nothing is a great slice of mod power-pop, soul and rock. The riff has an appealing, plaintive, elegiac sound, and it’s that and Marriott’s stunning vocal that must have caught the public’s imagination. Some say the lyrics are dated and sexist, but to me it’s either simply a very young man who’s desperate to get his end away, or, digging deeper, the lyrics perhaps hint at the singer trying to persuade his lover to leave their partner for him, for good. However, it’s not Small Faces’ best single, and it surprises me that some of their other tracks couldn’t outdo it commercially.

After All Or Nothing toppled Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine, they were one of the biggest bands in the country, but were unable to tour the US initially due to MacLagan’s recent drug conviction. By the end of 1966, they were still broke, and confronted manager and producer Arden over money. He tried to scare the parents of the band by telling them they were all on drugs. They left Arden and Decca and in 1967 they signed with Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label. Their next single, Here Come the Nice, explicitly referred to drugs, yet performed well, and they released a second, eponymous album. Were they too stoned to come up with a name?

The next two singles are classics. Itchycoo Park, released during the ‘Summer of Love’, was full on lysergic pop, featuring flanging and an ecstatic chorus. Tin Soldier, released at the end of the year, took the sound of All or Nothing and outdid it, with PP Arnold bolstering a superior 60s rock anthem. Although Immediate released Lazy Sunday against their wishes in 1968, and many find it grating, I think it’s great, and Marriott unleashes his full-on cockney to great effect.

Also that year came the album that raises Small Faces reputation above that of a great singles band. Contained in a round replica antique tobacco tin, Ogden’s’ Nut Gone Flake was their psychedelic opus. The opening title track hints at what might have been if they’d stayed together and become a progressive rock act, and Afterglow and Song of a Baker are further great slabs of soul-rock. The second side is a surreal fairytale about Happiness Stan, narrated by Stanley Unwin (Spike Milligan having been the original choice).

Sadly, things began to fall apart, and the increasingly frustrated Marriott recorded most of their final official single, the folk-influenced The Universal, in his back garden, with his dogs barking in the background. He had got bored with pop, and he walked off stage that New year’s Eve, shouting ‘I quit!’.

Soon after, he announced he had formed a new supergroup, Humble Pie, featuring guitarist Peter Frampton, who went on to great success. Meanwhile, the remaining trio teamed up with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Lane from the Jeff Beck Group and became, simply, Faces. Treading further down the ‘lad rock’ path that Marriott wanted no part of, they became one of the biggest acts of the early 70s, thanks to hits such as Stay with Me and Ooh La La, and also made a megastar of Rod Stewart.

Once Faces broke up in 1975, Small Faces resumed with the classic line-up. Sadly they didn’t last long. Lane was beginning to show signs of multiple sclerosis, but the other three thought he had a drink problem. Former Roxy Music bassist Rick Mills soon replaced him. Two albums – Playmates in 1977 and 78 In the Shade a year later, but the magic was gone. This final album also featured Jimmy McCulloch, who had recently left Wings. The following year he sadly died from a heroin overdose.

Upon the Small Faces’ split, Kenney Jones joined the Who to fill the huge hole left after Keith Moon’s death. He stayed with them until the late-80s. In 2001, he worked with Wills once more in his own group, the Jones Gang. MacLagan toured with top artists including Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, now featuring former Faces’ bandmate Ronnie Wood. He died from a stroke in 2014. Lane’s MS curtailed his musical output, but he battled on until 1997. Marriott had reformed Humble Pie in 1980, but went solo in 1982. In 1991 he tragically died in his sleep when a lit cigarette set fire to his house. All or Nothing was played as the requiem at his funeral.

Despite their brief time together, Small Faces burnt bright and went on to influence the Jam in the 70s and many Britpop groups in the mid-90s. It’s a shame they split just as things were getting really interesting. Marriott is much underrated, and is up there with rock giants like Robert Plant. They seem to have fallen out of fashion again since, which is a great shame. I’m sure their time will come again.

Written by: Steve Marriott & Ronnie Lane

Producer: Don Arden

Weeks at number 1: 1 (15-21 September)

 

220. Chris Farlowe – Out of Time (1966)

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Sporting history was made on 30 July 1966 at Wembley Stadium, as we all know, when England defeated West Germany 4-2 to lift the Jules Rimet World Cup for the only time to date, with a hat-trick from Geoff Hurst – the only instance of one in a World Cup final to date, and another goal from Martin Peters. 32.30 million people saw it on television across the country, making it still the most-watched event ever on UK TV.

Appropriately enough for West Germany, the number 1 at the time was Out of Time. It was credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and originally released by the Rolling Stones in April that year on their album Aftermath. This brilliantly bitter and spiteful track aimed at an ex-partner was then covered by blues and soul singer Chris Farlowe, and it was his version that hit the top of the pops that summer.

Farlowe was born John Henry Deighton in October 1940. Raised in Islington, North London, he was a big fan of skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan as a teenager, and formed the John Henry Skiffle Group in 1957. He began the group as their guitarist as well as singer, but gave up the guitar to focus on his vocal talent. A year later he joined the Johnny Burns Rhythm and Blues Quartet, and around this time he took the name Chris Farlowe, in tribute to bop guitarist Tal Farlow. In 1959 he teamed up with a rock’n’roll group called the Thunderbirds and together they built up a reputation as a formidable live act and began to concentrate on an R’n’B sound. Unfortunately they couldn’t translate gig popularity into chart success. Among the members of Farlowe’s backing band were future star guitarist Albert Lee.

Farlowe eventually jumped ship to Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate Records label, which proved a canny move, as in January 1966 he was in the top 40 with Think, a Jagger and Richards track which they later chose to re-record for Aftermath.

Opening with the arch string arrangement of Arthur Greenslade, Farlowe’s version of Out of Time beats the Stones original. Fans of the band may strongly disagree, but to me, the Aftermath recording is too long, and rather empty-sounding. Brian Jones’s marimba is an interesting sound in a pop song, but it’s not enough to hold my interest for over five minutes, and it can’t beat Greenslade’s work. Plus, it’s Jagger at the mixing desk for the production anyway, who clearly thought his song would make for a great pop hit. He was right.

Jagger’s sarcastic, disdainful vocal on Aftermath is excellent, but Farlowe edges it with a gutsy, bluesy performance. There’s an element of glee in the way he encourages the listener to join in with the chorus, which as well as ramping up the pop, makes the nastiness of the lyric that much nastier. This woman must have really treated the protagonist like shit, to be treated so badly afterwards.

There’s an all-star cast at work on Farlowe’s recording. In addition to Jagger and Greenslade (who later did the fantastic arrangement on Je t’aime… moi non plus a year later), there’s session guitarists Joe Moretti and Jimmy Page. Moretti, the man behind the classic guitar sound of Shakin’ All Over, contributes some lovely Spanish-sounding licks. Andy White, who played on the album version of Love Me Do, is the man behind that great aggressive drumming along with the strings.

The Stones-Farlowe connection continued, with further covers of Paint It Black and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. His second most notable single was Handbags and Gladrags in 1968. Written by Manfred Mann’s Mike d’Abo especially for him, it’s now best known as the theme tune to the BBC sitcom The Office.

His time as a pop star came to an end by the time the 1970s began, and Farlowe joined jazz-rock group Colosseum in 1970, recording a couple of albums. In 1972 he became a member of rock group Atomic Rooster, consisting of former members of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, including future prog-rock giant Carl Palmer (although he had left by the time Farlowe joined). Later he provided vocals for the last series of BBC drama Gangsters in 1978. In the 80s, Page, by now a post-Led Zeppelin rock legend, returned the favour of his Out of Time appearance by giving Farlowe appearances on his soundtrack to Death Wish II (1982) and solo album Outrider in 1988. As of 2019, Farlowe still records and performs live.

Out of Time was released as a single by the Rolling Stones in the 70s – but it wasn’t their Aftermath version. Controversial former manager Allen Klein owned their pre-1971 back catalogue, and supervised a bastardised version in which the backing music to Farlowe’s single was married to a vocal that Jagger had recorded as a demo guide for Farlowe. It was included on his 1975 compilation of Rolling Stones outtakes, Metamorphosis, and is better than it deserves to be.

Other covers down the years have come from the Bee Gees in 1966, Del Shannon in 1981, the Ramones in 1994, and the Manic Street Preachers in 2002. This most recent version is particularly good and apes the Farlowe version well, right down to the Beach Boys-esque backing vocal.

Written by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Producer: Mick Jagger

Weeks at number 1: 1 (28 July-3 August)

Births:

Rugby player Paul Loughlin – 28 July

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

217. The Beatles – Paperback Writer (1966)

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On 29 June, Barclays Bank introduced the Barclaycard, which became Britain’s first credit card in November 1967. Four days later, 31 arrests were made outside the US embassy when a protest against the Vietnam War turned violent.

At this point, the Beatles had finally got off the treadmill of one film, two albums and a million tours, when a planned third movie was cancelled. This afforded the Fab Four the chance to finally give album production more care and attention than they were used to. And to say Beatles fans felt the benefit was an understatement. The result was Revolver. John Lennon and George Harrison were now indulging in LSD, and the band entered their peak years of creativity. On April 3 they began the sessions with the album closer, the mind-blowing Tomorrow Never Knows. It had to be the last track, as nothing can follow it.

A week later they set to work on a new single. Paul McCartney’s Paperback Writer was an experiment in writing a pop song that didn’t concern love. There certainly hadn’t been a number 1 about writing a book before. McCartney has said in later years that he was inspired by reading an article in the Daily Mail (name-checked in the song) about an aspiring author. He’d also been considering writing a song based around one chord. He didn’t quite pull it off here, but he did come close. According to Lennon in 1972, he helped with some of the lyrics. He also described it as the ‘son of Day Tripper‘, and considering the similarity of the riff, he had a point.

There’s some dispute over who played what, but either McCartney or Harrison were behind the main riff. What is beyond dispute is Macca’s bass-playing. Lennon had complained about the lack of bass on Beatles records, and wanted to know why they couldn’t make it as loud as it sounded on soul records. They’d even considered recording Revolver at Stax Records’ studio beforehand. According to the late Geoff Emerick, who had just joined the production crew, Paperback Writer became their loudest single to date. They achieved this by using a loudspeaker as a microphone, directly in front of the bass speaker. A new piece of equipment featured in the mastering process too, known as Automatic Transient Overload Control. McCartney clearly decided to go all out, and provided his best bass line to date. It was also a sign of things to come as his bass-playing became busier over the next few years. I do think his bass skills are unsung.

While much more conventional than Tomorrow Never Knows, Paperback Writer is certainly their oddest single up to this point. It may not have the trippy sounds of Revolver‘s closer, or even the pioneering backwards vocals on the B-side, Rain, but few bands did harmonies as well as the Beatles, so to hear them pushed to the foreground so much, with echo laid on top, still sounds exciting. It’s an unusually messy recording by the Beatles’ standards, with Lennon and Harrison laughing their way through ‘Frere Jacques’ in the background. It bears no relation to the theme of the song, but somehow it fits. Apparently it was made up on the spot during recording.

I love this pre-Pepper, jangly era of songs like She Said She Said and And Your Bird Can Sing, and wish there was more of it. If you can, check out the mono version over the stereo, as the extreme separation on the latter spoils the effect, and it’s also missing some of the echo.

Due to the Beatles increasing studio experimentation, live promotion of their singles was becoming increasingly difficult to pull off. Another reason for them to be considering ending touring, no doubt. As with the last few singles, they recorded promotional videos for the A and B-sides. Michael Lindsay-Hogg directed all four, with the most famous being the colour films made around Chiswick House. The Fab Four did attempt a live performance on Top of the Pops that June, but the clip, along with so many, was erased from history.

Also seemingly forgotten about is the fact that EMI used the infamous ‘butcher’ images to promote the single. Later in 1966, Capitol issued a compilation called Yesterday and Today. The original cover was a bizarre photo of John, Paul, George and Ringo in white coats, grinning away with slabs of meat and decapitated baby dolls (an outtake is featured above). It understandably didn’t go down too well, and was quickly replaced. But the image had also been used for Paperback Writer in the UK. What had they been thinking?

Well, they had hired Australian photographer Robert Whitaker for a surreal unfinished project called A Somnanbulant Adventure. McCartney stated on the Anthology television series that they had worked with him before and knew he shared their sense of humour… but he doesn’t know what Whitaker was hoping to achieve. Lennon claimed it was a protest at the Vietnam War, which seems a bold statement for the Fab Four to have made at that point. On Anthology, George Harrison typically got straight to the point and said he found it ‘gross, and stupid’. To be fair to Whitaker, he has since said he agreed with the image being banned in its unfinished state as it wasn’t getting to the point he was trying to make… that the Beatles were ‘flesh and blood’.

No, I’m still no wiser either.

Further controversy was to come for the Beatles. In March, John Lennon had been interviewed by Maureen Cleave for the Evening Standard newspaper. While discussing the decline of Christianity, he said ‘We’re more popular than Jesus now.’ Nothing was said at the time it was published, but it would come back to bite them.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 2 (23 June-6 July)

Deaths:

Writer Margery Allingham – 30 June 

214. Manfred Mann – Pretty Flamingo (1966)

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On 6 May, Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were sentenced to life imprisonment – Brady for the murders of children John Kilbride and Lesley Ann Downey, and teenager Edward Evans between November 1963 and October 1965. Hindley was sentenced for the deaths of Downey and Evans. Upon passing the sentences, the judge rightly described the couple as ‘two sadistic killers of the utmost depravity’. They remain prime examples of the human race at its worst.

Also in the news that month… Everton defeated Sheffield Wednesday 3-2 in the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium. It was a spectacular win, as Everton were losing 2-0 until the final 16 minutes of the match. The National Union of Seamen called a strike on 14 May, which lasted until 16 July.

Number 1 in the singles chart for three weeks at the time were Manfred Mann, with their second of three chart-toppers, Pretty Flamingo. Since their previous number 1, Do Wah Diddy Diddy in August 1964, they were regularly releasing hit pop singles, including Sha La La and Come Tomorrow, alongside albums of more jazz and R’n’B-influenced material. In September 1965 their cover of Bob Dylan’s If You Gotta Go, Go Now was released, climbing all the way to number two. Around this time their guitarist Mike Vickers decided to leave the group to become a conductor. He had big ambitions to become an orchestra conductor, and did exactly that when the Beatles premiered All You Need is Love in June 1967 for the TV special Our World. Bassist Tom McGuinness moved to guitar duties, and their new bassist was Jack Bruce, formerly of the Graham Bond Organisation and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, who later helped form Cream. Their next single, Pretty Flamingo, was written by Mark Barkan, a US songwriter who was later behind the music of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour and wrote for the Monkees.

With its hazy jangle and dreamy, colourful lyrics of a girl whose hair ‘glows like the sun’ and eyes that ‘light the skies’ (what’s that got to do with flamingos anyway?), Pretty Flamingo came along at the right time. Hippy culture and psychedelia was on its way, so in a sense Manfred Mann were ahead of the curve. Despite this it’s a fairly sparse recording, and rather rough too. The most noteworthy elements are McGuiness’s guitar and a nice bit of flute that comes in half way through. It’s been noted by many that Paul Jones’s bluesy vocal didn’t really fit with Do Wah Diddy Diddy, but I think he suited it better than he does Pretty Flamingo. I can’t hear this track without thinking of Flamingo Land, as it was adapted and used on TV adverts for the theme park in the summer holdiays when I was a child.

In July Paul Jones left Manfred Mann. He had wanted to a year previous but hung on until a replacement could be found. Mike d’Abo took over from him, and Jones embarked on a solo career. Two top ten singles followed, High Time and I’ve Been a Bad, Bad Boy, but Jones then moved into acting, notably guest-starring in ITV’s cop drama The Sweeney in 1975. He founded the Blues Band in 1979, which featured previous Manfred Mann members initially and still tours to this day. Jones also presented children’s TV quiz Beat the Teacher in the mid-80s, and in 1986 his long-running Radio 2 series The Blues Show began, lasting until April 2018.

Written by: Mark Barkan

Producer: John Burgess

Weeks at number 1: 3 (5-25 May)

Births:

Athlete Jonathan Edwards – 10 May