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 

154. Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires – (You’re the) Devil in Disguise (1963)

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Elvis’s chart fortunes had been falling in the US for a while, but now the same thing was happening in the UK. In 1960 and 1961 he’d scored four number 1s per year alone, but following his 1962 Christmas number 1, Return to Sender, he’d been unusually absent from the pole position. This may have been in part due to a rare lack of released singles, granted, but he was clearly not the force he had been. Some of his top songwriters had left his camp due to money issues, which was also having a knock-on effect.

(You’re the) Devil in Disguise had been written by one of his most prolific remaining teams, Bill Giant, Bernie Baum and Florence Kaye, who were behind many of the songs in his musicals. It was due to appear on a new album, but RCA chose to issue the material as singles and bonus tracks instead. The usual backing band were in place, as were the Jordanaires, plus Millie Kirkham joining them on backing vocals. Jordanaire bass singer Ray Walker was the man behind the deep ‘oh yes you are’ as the song fades out.

As patchy as Elvis’s songs had become, there’s a lot to like about this one. The switch between sweet and soulful and uptempo rock’n’roll may be an obvious trick, but it works, and of course Elvis has the vocal skills to pull both directions off. The clean, classy production also makes a nice change from the earthy Merseybeat number 1s of late, which is ironic considering how I’ve been longing for Elvis to make way for exactly that. (You’re the) Devil in Disguise is a fine song, and like Return to Sender, one of his better early 60s tunes.

However, Elvis’s 14th UK number 1 spent a mere week at the top – the shortest stint he’d ever had. Not only that, it was his last number 1 for nearly two years, and his 15th, Crying in the Chapel, was an old recording, meaning his next ‘new’ number 1 wouldn’t happen until 1970. In a true ‘changing of the guard’ moment, when (You’re the) Devil in Disguise featured on Juke Box Jury, John Lennon was one of the guest reviewers. He voted it a ‘miss’ and compared Elvis to Bing Crosby. One of Lennon’s heroes was now nothing more than a corny old has-been to him.

Written by: Bill Giant, Bernie Baum & Florence Kaye

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 1 (1-7 August)

Births:

Reform Judaism rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner – 1 August 
Singer Tasmin Archer – 3 August
Disc jockey Gary King – 4 August

149. The Shadows – Foot Tapper (1963)

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The movie Summer Holiday had been out for months, but its popularity was still very high in March 1963, leading to an unusual chart occurrence. For the second time in three months, Cliff Richard found himself knocked from the top of the charts by his backing band, the Shadows. Summer Holiday had been at number 1 for a fortnight, but Foot Tapper replaced it for a week, only to be overtaken by the film’s title track once more.

Foot Tapper was also from the film’s soundtrack, and Bruce Welch had co-written both. The Shadows final number 1 was also written by its most famous member, bespectacled guitarist Hank Marvin. It’s another uptempo piece of incidental music, in a similar vein to their previous bestseller, Dance On!.

It’s a bit better than Dance On!, but only a bit. Once more, you can imagine it working as incidental music for a film score, after all, that’s what it was. But Foot Tapper jangles along for just over two minutes and leaves little impression – it lives up to its name and that’s it. The best bit is the drum work from Brian Bennett, but compare it to Jet Harris and Tony Meehan’s Diamonds and Foot Tapper just doesn’t stand up. The Shadows had been an inspiration to many aspiring musicians, many of which would ultimately outdo and replace them, but their own well was starting to look very dry, and after backing Cliff Richard on seven number 1s, and achieving five in their own right, the group never topped the charts again.

Bassist Brian Locking left the group that October to concentrate on being a Jehovah’s Witness and was replaced with John Rostill. The hits began to dry up as Beatlemania conquered all in its path, and they starred alongside Cliff in another film, Finders Keepers. This 1966 movie features the bizarre premise of the boys arriving in a Spanish town to perform, only to find that the locals have fled in panic because a small bomb has landed nearby. So Cliff and the Shadows decide to find the bomb and get things back to normal. What a lovely set of lads. The Rolling Stones wouldn’t have done that, would they?

The 1970s began with the group featuring as regular guests on Cliff’s variety show for the BBC, It’s Cliff Richard!. Rostill left the group and sadly committed suicide in 1973, prompting yet another line-up change, and it wouldn’t be the last. The group took part in the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest, coming in second place with Let Me Be the One. Onetime guitarist John Farrar, who came and went in the mid-70s, went on to write You’re the One That I Want for John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, one of the biggest-selling number 1s of all-time. The 80s saw keyboard thrown into the mix but like so many bands from their era, an attempt at sounding contemporary just made them look more old-fashioned. The band reunited with Cliff for live shows several times, and Hank Marvin helped on his collaboration with the Young Ones on a remake of their first number 1, Living Doll in 1986, which was the first Comic Relief single. The band’s most famous rhythm section, Jet Harris and Tony Meehan, joined them on stage in 1989 for a special performance of Move It at Cliff’s The Event show. In 2004 they announced a farewell tour, and each of the band’s line-up at the time received an OBE, but Hank Marvin gave it back (fair play). Despite the tour, they have continued to perform and record, with Singing the Blues, their last collaboration with Cliff, reaching the top 40 in 2009.

It may be easy to sneer at the Shadows in the 21st century, but if you can look past the white-than-white image and the quaint walk they would famously perform together on stage, Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch and various members ably assisted one of rock’n’roll’s biggest ever stars for years, had a hand in making some of his biggest records, became huge stars in their own right, and released Apache, one of the greatest instrumentals of all time, which would go on to influence hip-hop artists decades later. And if it wasn’t for the Shadows, there would perhaps be no Merseybeat. And after lots of teasing, we’ve finally reached that era.

Written by: Hank Marvin & Bruce Welch

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 1 (28 March-3 April) 

 

 

145. The Shadows – Dance On! (1963)

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After three weeks at number 1 with The Next Time/Bachelor Boy, Cliff Richard found himself usurped by his own backing band. The Shadows scored their fourth chart-topper in their own right with Dance On!, a track written by sisters-in-law Valerie and Elaine Murtagh and Ray Adams. This trio were better known to the public as pop vocal group the Avons. By this point, drummer Brian Bennett and bassist Brian ‘Licorice’ Locking were firmly established as the replacements for Tony Meehan and Jet Harris respectively. Bennett had been a regular performer on Jack Good’s TV show Oh Boy! before working with Marty Wilde and then Tommy Steele. Locking performed alongside Bennett in Wilde’s Wildcats, and it was Bennett who suggested him as a replacement for Harris. Bennett and Locking brought some reliability to the Shadows, but as far as their recorded output goes, it seems they lost two vital sparks in Meehan and Harris, who were more musically adventurous. And let’s face it, you’d never consider the Shadows the most ‘dangerous’ of bands to begin with.

Dance On! is simply not in the same league as Apache or Wonderful Land, or even Kon-Tiki. It’s only two minutes long, but is so boring it feels longer. As a piece of incidental music in a 60s rock’n’roll film, it would be serviceable enough, but as a number 1 single? I can only imagine that many of Cliff’s fans would buy Shadows singles after snapping up those of their hero out of a sense of loyalty. It’s missing a killer guitar line from Hank Marvin, really. If it wasn’t ironic enough that the Shadows replaced themselves (in part) at number 1, only a week later they found themselves overtaken by their two former member, who had released a superior instrumental. Singer Kathy Kirby later released a vocal version of Dance On!, which reached number 11 in September.

As the first wintry month of 1963 drew to a close, 29 January saw President of France Charles de Gaulle veto the UK’s entry into the European Economic Community, along with Denmark, Norway and Ireland. De Gaulle was concerned that the membership of the UK would see US influence creep in.

Written by: Valerie Murtagh, Elaine Murtagh & Ray Adams

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 1 (24-30 January)

Births

Wham! singer Andrew Ridgeley – 26 January
Journalist George Monbiot – 27 January 

143. Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires – Return to Sender (1962)

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If there’s an inch of snow on the ground these days, the British papers are full of ‘BIG FREEZE’ headlines. But have a read about the winter of 1962/63, and you soon realise most of these wintry spells are nothing compared to what people went through back then. The UK was hit with bitterly cold conditions on 22 December, and it remained so right through until March 1963. In fact, 6 March was the first morning of the year without a frost anywhere in Britain. Snow lay on the ground in the south of England for 62 consecutive days – since then, the record has been 10 in a row in 1987. That Christmas and New Year saw many towns and villages cut off from the outside world, yet steam trains were able to battle on through the snow, and many schools remained open.

Elvis Presley bagged his only Christmas number 1 at this time with one of his more famous singles, Return to Sender. Otis Blackwell, one of his best songwriters, co-wrote the song with Winfield Scott. This was the first time they had worked together, and they had been tasked with writing songs for the King’s next film, Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962). Unusually, they were given song titles and told to come up with tunes around them, (no wonder so many Elvis film songs were crap if this was the setup) but Return to Sender was entirely original, and impressed the filmmakers so much, they went ahead and included it in the film’s nightclub scene.

Opening with a quick blast of sax from Boots Randolph, Return to Sender is one of Presley’s better number 1s from this period. Although the tune itself isn’t too startling, Elvis sounds suitably pissed off, almost spitting the words out at times. He just can’t believe that girl refuses to read his letters, to the extent he’s going to hand deliver it, and give her one hell of a bollocking, it seems. The Jordanaires also sound livelier than usual, and complement Elvis to great effect.

However, Elvis’s best songwriters were starting to desert him now, and the public were finally starting to tire of him. I’m relieved to see it would be a further ten months before he hit the top again. After four number 1s per year in 1961 and 1962, this was quite a drop in fortunes, but the Beatles were now making headway, and soon the charts would be rammed with similar acts. With a few exceptions, 62 had been an average year, but my musical ‘year zero’ is next.

Written by: Winfield Scott & Otis Blackwell

Producers: Steve Sholes & Chet Atkins

Weeks at number 1: 3 (13 December 1962-2 January 1963)

Births:

Actor Ralph Fiennes – 22 December 

Deaths:

Director Charles Laughton – 15 December 

140. Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires – She’s Not You (1962)

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14 September saw Teledu Cymru begin transmissions to the North and West Wales region, which meant that ITV was now available anywhere in the UK. Six days later, Ford launched one of its most famous cars, the Cortina, which would have then set you back £573. Although it later became a much-mocked vehicle, it was one of the most popular cars of the 1970s, and even into the 80s, when poor families like mine could still be seen driving around in one. The following day, long-running student quiz University Challenge made its debut on ITV. This original incarnation ran until New Year’s Eve 1987, with Bamber Gascoigne presenting.

Meanwhile, Frank Ifield’s million-selling yodelling superhit I Remember You was finally usurped by, well, guess? That’s right, it’s Elvis again, for the 12th time! At this point he’s still making music that is nearly always a pale imitation of his previous classics (Can’t Help Falling in Love excepted, of course), he’s still starring in bad films, and he’s basically muddling through, yet still the UK are buying everything he releases and sending him to the top. This was soon to change, as we know. Previous number 1, Good Luck Charm, saw one of his top songwriters depart from the team due to a financial dispute, and other great creative talents were soon to leave too. She’s Not You was a rare collaboration between Doc Pomus, who co-wrote Surrender, and Lieber and Stoller, the duo behind Presley’s best number 1, Jailhouse Rock. Unusually, Chet Atkins is also credited as producer alongside Steve Sholes.

She’s Not You is a step up from Good Luck Charm, although that’s not saying a great deal. Once again, the music is a plodding boogie-woogie, but at least this time Elvis sings with some presence. The lyrics are also an improvement. The idea of Elvis settling for second best and comparing her to his true love is a good idea. But come on now, this stuff is starting to sound really dated – even the sexist Come Outside sounded more progressive than this, and record buyers were perhaps finally feeling the same, as it only remained at number 1 for three weeks – Elvis’s shortest stint since 1959’s I Got Stung/One Night. The next number 1 would be the sound of the future.

Written by: Jerry Lieber, Mike Stoller & Doc Pomus

Producer: Steve Sholes & Chet Atkins

Weeks at number 1: 3 (13 September-3 October)

Births:

Comedian Steve Punt – 15 September
Comedian Jack Dee – 24 September
Scottish footballer Ally McCoist, – 24 September
Everything But the Girl singer Tracey Thorn – 26 September

Deaths:

Dramatist Patrick Hamilton – 23 September

136. Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires – Good Luck Charm (1962)

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On 6 June, the Beatles set foot in Abbey Road Studios for their first session there. John, Paul, George and Pete ran through and recorded four songs – Besame Mucho and three originals – Love Me Do, PS I Love You and Ask Me Why. They didn’t leave much of an impression – their equipment was in a poor state, but George Martin and engineer Norman Smith thought Love Me Do had potential. Afterwards, Martin gave the band a long lecture about what they must do if they wanted to get anywhere in the business, and the Beatles stayed silent. According to Mark Lewisohn’s The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Smith recalled that Martin said ‘Look, I’ve laid into you for quite a time, you haven’t responded. Is there anything you don’t like?’. After a long, awkward silence, Harrison replied ‘Yeah, I don’t like your tie!’. This broke the ice, and the Beatles had Martin and the others in fits of laughter. Martin knew this group had potential, but before they returned to Abbey Road, something needed to be done about Pete Best’s drumming.

Meanwhile, Elvis was back at number 1 yet again. While four young men from Liverpool were learning about recording, the icon they soon replaced seemed to be growing increasingly content in coasting on by, safe in the knowledge that his fans would lap up anything he released.

Good Luck Charm was written by Aaron Schroeder and Wally Gold, the duo who came up with 1960’s biggest seller, It’s Now or Never. Elvis must have known this was a middling song that would still do well, as reports suggest he spent most of the recording session trying to crack up his band members. He’d tried to move into serious acting, but audiences wanted more light-hearted romantic musicals – had he now given up on taking music seriously too?

There had been an article in The Guardian last year claiming Presley’s legacy was in danger. The passing of so much time had blunted his appeal to young people, there were no truly great albums for music fans to get into, and your average Elvis impersonator was now more representative of the singer than the young rebel that had changed music so much in the 1950s. Good Luck Charm is a forgettable song that brings to mind that average Elvis impersonator. He’d had plenty of average material in the past, but often he’d raise his game vocally to salvage such shoddy stuff. Not this time. He sticks to a half-arsed croon. featuring plenty of trademark ‘uh-huh-huhs’. Very forgetful. It’s songs like this that do his reputation damage.

Good Luck Charm was not among Aaron Schroeder’s best work, but he had been one of Elvis’s top songwriters over the years, and this was the last song he donated to the King. He understandably refused to surrender rights to Elvis’s publishing company, and a court battle ensued. The publicity was such that soon after, other top songwriters rarely worked with him, or stopped altogether, including Otis Blackwell, Lieber and Stoller and Pomus and Shuman. Elvis’s songs inevitably deteriorated further.

Nonetheless, it was another long-lasting number 1, spending five weeks there. During that time, the new Coventry Cathedral was consecrated on 25 May, 2 June saw the first legal casino in the UK open in Brighton, Sussex, and on 14 June, the BBC broadcast the first episode of Galton and Simpson’s classic sitcom Steptoe and Son.

Written by: Aaron Schroeder & Wally Gold

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 5 (24 May-27 June)

Births:

Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes – 8 June 
Comedian Phil Jupitus – 25 June
Singer Michael Ball – 27 June 

Deaths:

Writer Vita Sackville-West – 2 June
Composer John Ireland – 12 June
Composer Sir Eugene Goossens – 13 June