260. Joe Cocker – With a Little Help from My Friends (1968)

b2179939fe180fec7f230cc599944231.jpg

Following six weeks at number 1, Mary Hopkin’s Those Were the Days was finally forced down the charts by the third chart-topper in a row with a Beatles connection. There are millions of covers of Beatles songs, but Sheffield singer Joe Cocker’s take on With a Little Help from My Friends still ranks as one of the more famous ones.

John Cocker was born in Crookes, a town in the South Yorkshire city, in May 1944. The origins of his nickname and future stage name are unclear due to differing family stories – Joe was either a local window cleaner or it stemmed from a childhood game he would play called Cowboy Joe.

As a boy he loved soul and skiffle, with Ray Charles and Lonnie Donegan among his heroes. He got the bug for performing when he made his stage debut aged just 12, after being invited up by his older brother Victor to perform with his skiffle group. At the age of 16 in 1960 he formed his first group, the Cavaliers, with three friends. A year later they split up and Cocker left school to become an apprentice gasfitter for the East Midlands Gas Board. But he wasn’t going to give up on his music dreams.

In 1961 he took on the stage name Vance Arnold and with the Avengers as his backing group, they would perform soul and blues covers in the pubs of Sheffield. In 1963 they supported the Rolling Stones at the City Hall, but with the big time beckoning, they split up and he decided to venture forth solo as Joe Cocker.

Cocker’s first single was released in 1964, and with Beatlemania in full effect, he hoped his cover of I’ll Cry Instead, with Jimmy Page and Big Jim Sullivan on guitars, would get him attention, but despite a pretty decent stab at it, it wasn’t that different from the original, which wasn’t one of Lennon and McCartney’s better songs, and it flopped. The raw vocal theatrics were in their formative stages, listening back. He showed promise, but was disheartened by the setback. Other than a short-lived new group, Joe Cocker’s Blues Band, he disappeared from music for a while.

In 1966 he returned with his new group, the Grease Band. Performing once more in local pubs, he got the attention of Denny Cordell, producer for Procol Harum, the Moody Blues and Georgie Fame. The singer went down to London and recorded a new single, Marjorine. The Grease Band was quickly dissolved. When it came to recording his next Beatles cover, somebody took the decision to adopt a very different approach, and it paid off big time.

As the whole world knows, the original With a Little Help from My Friends was track two on the Beatles’ psychedelic opus, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Ringo Starr, never the world’s greatest singer, would often get a country-western or novelty track on their albums in which to showcase his vocal talent… but Lennon and McCartney were clever this time around, using Starr’s charm and his poor singing skills to their advantage. Originally it was called Bad Finger Boogie, as Lennon composed the basic tune with his middle finger after damaging his forefinger (the band Badfinger took their name from this). The finished product, a (by 1967) rare joint effort between its songwriters, was a charming pop ditty that captured the spirit of the times. When it came to recording his version, this time Cocker took the Beatles into a different realm.

For me, if you’re going to cover a song, you should try and add something different, otherwise, why bother? It’s clear from the solemn opening organ that this is a very different beast. We then get some stinging guitar from future Led Zeppelin member Jimmy Page. Before starting this blog, I had no idea how many number 1s Page had featured on during his time as a session musician. It then settles down before star of the show Cocker starts showcasing his raspy, guttural singing, with backing vocals from Sue and Sunny, who later became members of Brotherhood of Man. Stretching out for just over five minutes, it’s the third lengthy number 1 in a row, and ends with the band and singer in an intense display of passion.

Cocker’s soul-rock version seems to divide opinion. I can understand critics who dislike this number 1, who don’t like the histrionics and earnestness and prefer the original. It’s horses for courses really, and I’ve room in my heart for both, they’re so different.

With a Little Help from My Friends catapulted Cocker to stardom. Although it was only number 1 for a week, it was a strong chart presence for much longer. Cocker put together a new version of the Grease Band to back him, which featured Henry McCullogh from Spooky Tooth, later to briefly be a member of Wings. 1969 began with Cocker’s first tour of the US, with his debut album, also called With a Little Help from My Friends released at the same time. He made his mark with his appearance at Woodstock Festival that August. The image of him swaying spasmodically, lost in the music in his tie-dye t-shirt and playing air guitar, is truly iconic.

Straight after Woodstock his second album, Joe Cocker! featured further Beatles covers Something and She Came in Through the Bathroom Window. As the 1970s began he broke up the Grease Band and formed a much larger group. More than 20 musicians became known as Mad Dogs & Englishmen, and adopted a heavier, bluesier sound. As they toured the US, the riotous parties that ensued took their toll, and despite his first US top ten success with a cover of The Letter, Cocker became an alcoholic. Knowing things were getting out of hand, he took a few years off.

Unfortunately his hellraising ways returned in 1972. He was arrested for marijuana possession in Adelaide and only a day later in Melbourne he recieved assault charges for a hotel brawl. Cocker was given 48 hours to leave the country. He added heroin to his list of vices, and although he was able to quit it, his alcohol intake worsened and by 1974 he was throwing up on stage. And yet he was still drawing crowds, and his cover of Billy Preston’s You Are So Beautiful became one of his most famous hits. Drink and money problems would be constant thorns in his side for the rest of the decade. He ended the 70s on a ‘Woodstock in Europe’ tour to celebrate its tenth anniversary.

The early 80s saw a comeback, however, thanks in large part to Up Where We Belong, his power ballad duet with Jennifer Warnes for the romantic drama An Officer and a Gentleman (1982). It was his first UK top ten hit in 13 years, a number 1 in the US, and it also garnered Academy and Grammy Awards. Cocker continued to succeed with movie soundtrack work – his cover of You Can Leave Your Hat On, used in the striptease scene of 1986 adult drama 9½ Weeks, earned him another Grammy nomination. The title track of his 1987 album, Unchain My Heart, was also a hit.

In the 90s he featured on the hit soundtrack to romantic drama The Bodyguard (1992) and was one of the few acts from the Woodstock Festival to perform at Woodstock ’94.

At the Golden Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace in 2002 he performed his number 1 with Phil Collins on drums and Brian May playing guitar. Cocker then starred in minor roles in the Beatles-inspired musical Across the Universe in 2007. His last album, Fire It Up, was released in 2012. Sadly, years of drinking and heavy smoking finally caught up with the Sheffield star in 2014, and Cocker died from lung cancer on 22 December, aged 70.

To children growing up in the 80s and 90s like me, With a Little Help from My Friends may have a special place in their hearts because of its use as the theme tune to US coming-of-age TV series The Wonder Years. The song has been number 1 twice since, with versions by Wet Wet Wet in 1988 and Sam & Mark in 2004. Both adopted the Beatles approach, and neither are a patch on Cocker’s vocal tour-de-force.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: Denny Cordell

Weeks at number 1: 1 (6-12 November)

Births:

Singer Steve Brookstein – 10 November

251. The Rolling Stones – Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1968)

large.jpg

On 25 June 1968, comic legend Tony Hancock was found dead. He had long struggled with bouts of depression, and since moving to Sydney, Australia, his career hadn’t gone as well as he hoped. Hancock committed suicide with a cocktail of vodka and tablets, leaving a note which said ‘Things just seemed to go wrong too many times.”

Not so long ago, the Rolling Stones were a pretty regular occurrence on this blog, but following one of their finest number 1s, Paint It, Black in 1966, the band suffered some dark times over the next two years.

Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow? reached the top five, which was an impressive feat for such a ragged, messy production. 1967 also got Jagger and co off to a great start, with the double A-side Let’s Spend the Night Together/Ruby Tuesday hitting number three in January, and their album Between the Buttons was also released. It saw the group delve deeper into studio experimentation, and has become somewhat forgotten over the years, which is a shame. It was to be the last time they worked on a full album with producer Andrew Loog Oldham.

1967 saw the biggest bands of the time embracing drugs, but because the Rolling Stones had a reputation as the bad boys of pop, the press and police decided they were the group to pick on. Over the next few months, members of the Stones would be raided by police, while newspapers ran exposes on their alleged sordid activity. Oldham was so freaked out by all the attention, he fled to the US. Tensions within the Stones were also growing, with Brian Jones’s girlfriend Anita Pallenberg ditching him for Keith Richards.

That spring, Jagger, Richards and Jones all faced prison sentences for drugs. Jagger and Richards were imprisoned but released on bail the following day. Surprisingly, The Times stuck up for them, running the famous editorial ‘Who breaks a buttterfly upon a wheel?”. While they awaited their appeal hearings, the group recorded the single We Love You as a thank-you to their loyal fans. Much underrated, the song features John Lennon and Paul McCartney on backing vocals. Oasis should have covered this, back in the day.

With all three free in December, the band released their answer to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Sadly, the mostly self-produced Their Satanic Majesties Request fell flat. It sounded rather forced by comparison. It turned off fans and critics alike. Having said that, it’s not as bad as the reputation it has gathered over the years suggests. The bad acid trip 2000 Light Years from Home is excellent and She’s a Rainbow is a lovely slice of flower power.

With the band smarting from the unusually negative feedback of their recent work, they were clever and lucky enough to know that a change was in the air, and like many of the top artists, they went back to basics as they set to work on what would become one of their best albums, Beggars Banquet.  They knew they had struck gold with Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and decided to release it long before the album was ready. The Rolling Stones were serving notice. They were back, and then some.

The lyrics to Jumpin’ Jack Flash came about while Jagger and Richards were staying at Richards’ country house. They were woken one morning by gardener Jack Dyer trudging past a window. A startled Jagger asked what the noise was and the guitarist replied ‘Oh that’s Jack – that’s jumpin’ Jack.’ Playing around on the guitar, Richards played around with the phrase, with Jagger adding ‘Flash’.

At least, that’s the story the songwriters have given over the years. Bassist Bill Wyman feels he deserves a credit too, claiming he came up with the main riff while messing around on a piano. Jones and Charlie Watts began jamming along, and an impressed Jagger and Richards entered the studio before working on the lyrics.

Whatever the jumping-off (pardon the pun) point, the band came up with something special. Jumpin’ Jack  Flash is a blistering return to form, full of dark imagery, so dark it was actually comical, like much of Jagger’s best material is. And whoever wrote that riff, it’s up there with (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. The reference of being ‘born in a crossfire hurricane’ was a reference to Richards being born during the Blitz. Theories as to what’s exactly going on lyrically are probably delving too deep. What’s clear is the band are shaking off the bad acid trips and negative experiences of 1967, and are ready to let rip once more with their own take on the blues. Jumpin’ Jack Flash is the personification of all the bad shit, and he’s been to hell and back in his life, but ‘it’s alright now’. Personally, I wonder if Jack is actually dead and living it up in hell, but it’s just an idea.

One thing’s for sure, after being in the Beatles’ shadow in 1967, this is a better number 1 than Lady Madonna. Unusually, that’s Richards on the bass, with Wyman on the Hammond organ as the song draws to an end. Their new producer Jimmy Miller created one of the most primitive-sounding Stones singles since Loog Oldham was finding his feet a few years previous. Miller also helps out on the backing vocals at the end.

A month after its release, the Rolling Stones were at number 1 for the seventh time. Up above you can see one of the promos they made, in which they mime the song while wearing lots of make-up. They look as cool as fuck. Jagger also occasionally adds some live interjections to proceedings. By the time they got to number 1 for the last time, Jones was dead.

In a mighty catalogue of classics, Jumpin’ Jack Flash stands out as the song they turn to when performing live most often, and they tend to open most shows with it, even after all those years. They choose wisely, as it’s always going to be guaranteed to set the scene and get any crowd in the mood to witness rock legends.

Richards and Wood joined Aretha Franklin on a cover of the song used on the film bearing its name, starring Whoopie Goldberg in 1986. Other covers range from the surreal (386 DX) to the impressive (Ananda Shankar).

Written by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Producer: Jimmy Miller

Weeks at number 1: 2 (19 June-2 July)

Births:

Welsh footbaler Iwan Roberts – 26 June
Actor Adam Woodyatt – 28 June

Deaths:

Writer WE Johns – 21 June
Comedian Tony Hancock – 25 June

241. The Beatles – Hello, Goodbye (1967)

cw6naqlweaa_h7y

As Christmas approached, the British-French Concorde supersonic aircraft was unveiled in Toulouse, France on 11 December. A day later, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones won his High Court appeal against a nine-month prison sentence for posession and use of cannabis. Jones was instead fined £1000 and put on probation for three years. 22 December saw the first transmission of BBC Radio 4 panel game Just a Minute, hosted by Nicholas Parsons. It’s still one of the most popular programmes on the station, over 51 years later.

And so we round up a rather odd year in the singles chart, as always, with the Christmas number 1. 1967 saw albums take over singles in importance, and that was in large part due to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. A knock-on effect of lots of landmark albums by rising counterculture bands, including The Piper at the Gates of Dawn by Pink Floyd and Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, was that this was the least impressive year for number 1 singles in some time, with ballads back in vogue and lots of lengthy stays at the top.

The last time we heard from the Beatles they were riding high on the popularity and critical acclaim of their new album and Summer of Love anthem All You Need Is Love. But that August, the band suffered the shock of the death of their manager Brian Epstein, who seemingly committed suicide by an overdose while they attended a Transcendental Meditation course in Bangor, Wales. This set into motion the internal problems that would be a large factor in their split before the end of the decade.

Paul McCartney meant well, but with John Lennon largely lost in an acid haze at the time, he decided the best thing for his group was to get stuck into work, and his bossiness began to rankle the other three. It won’t have helped that their first post-Epstein project, Magical Mystery Tour, a film to be shown on the BBC on Boxing Day, was hit by criticism after transmission. Largely directed by McCartney, it was a psychedelic hodge-podge, with a few great moments. Luckily, they were still coming up with the goods musically. While working on Magical Mystery Tour that autumn, they also set to work on what would be their fourth and final Christmas number 1, Hello, Goodbye.

Now that the Fab Four were all influnced by LSD, they had embraced randomness in their songwriting and production. Earlier that year McCartney was visited by Epstein’s assistant Alistair Taylor. Asking the Beatle how he came up with songs, he found himself sat beside him on a harmonium. McCartney asked Taylor to say an opposite word to whatever he sang. A nice little exercise in songwriting, but was it enough for the basis of a single? Not unless there was a decent tune to go along with it, which luckily, there was. Whether McCartney already had the tune ready to go or not is unclear. Some sources claim Hello, Goodbye was in the running to be their choice for the Our World TV special, some say it didn’t come about until September.

The Beatles began recording Hello Hello (the working title) at EMI Studios on 2 October, as they were coming to the end of making Magical Mystery Tour. The line-up on take 14, which was selected as the backing, featured McCartney on piano, Lennon on Hammond organ, George Harrison on maracas and Ringo Starr on drums. Lennon wasn’t too enamoured with the track until they set to work on the coda, which they ad-libbed in the studio. Once engineer Geoff Emerick added reverb to the percussion of this section, the track came alive and they had their rousing finale.

On 19 October, two days after they attended a memorial service for Epstein, Harrison added his lead guitar, McCartney performed the vocal and Lennon joined them both on backing vocals and handclaps. Tensions likely rose over the fact that Harrison originally had a more prominent role. The version featured on Anthology 2 featured more guitar interjections and a solo. McCartney chose to wipe these and perform a scat vocal in place of the solo. McCartney was revelling in his new role as band leader, and to him, Harrison was still like a little brother. Harrison’s resentment would only increase from here on in.

The next day saw two violas added to the mix, scored by producer George Martin, based on a piano line from McCartney, who added his bass five day later. He finished the song with more bass on 2 November after a trip to Nice in France to film his Fool on the Hill segment for Magical Mystery Tour. The mono mix was completed that same day, with the stereo finished four days later.

Despite Lennon warming to Hello, Goodbye, he felt I Am the Walrus was superior and should be the Christmas single, but McCartney and Martin were adamant and Lennon got the B-side instead, causing yet further resentment and resulting in Lennon becoming even more insular.

They were all right, in their ways. I Am the Walrus was a startling artistic statement, and the superior song, but Hello, Goodbye is more commercial. I Am the Walrus, is full of stark, dark, snarling acid-drenched imagery, whereas Hello, Goodbye might be lyrically the weakest single since the group’s early days. However, the nursery-rhyme-style simplicity was entirely in tune with the times too, with so much psychedelia at the time retreating to childhood. Bowie’s first album that year may have been a flop but he was on trend with songs like There Is a Happy Land.

I may sound like I’m damning the Christmas number 1 with faint praise, but I’m a big fan. Despite the weak lyrics, it’s very very catchy indeed, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The backing vocals are sublime, and the coda is one of my favourite endings to any Beatles song. In fact, I picked this as my favourite Christmas number 1 of the 60s here, when I described the coda as ‘life-affirming pop at its best’, and I stand by that now. Alan McGee of Creation Records once described the single in Mojo magazine as ‘the greatest-ever pop song, bar none’.

Released on 24 November, Hello, Goodbye climbed to number 1 and stayed there for seven weeks, the longest stint at the top for any Beatles single. Unusually, they also found themselves holding the number 1 and number two spots for three weeks from 27 December, thanks to the Magical Mystery Tour double EP (see here). The TV broadcast may have caused confusion among many critics and fans, but there was always the music. The coda of their number 1 played out as the credits rolled on the special.

Before its release, the Beatles made three promotional films for the single. The most famous of these featured the group in the outfits they wore on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, performing in front of a multi-coloured backdrop. It’s a fascinating watch, mostly because Harrison is clearly having an absolutely awful time, and the most dour member of Beatles has never looked more pissed off. They also don their mop-top suits and wave, and Lennon and McCartney mug for the cameras, before they round off the clip getting down with sexy hula dancers.

The Beatles’ first Apple-related venture, the ill-fated Apple Boutique, opened the day after they went to number 1. The song held court for most of the first month of 1968 too. While ruling the charts, long-running horticultural series Gardeners’ World debuted on BBC One, featuring Percy Thrower. These days it’s been relegated to BBC Two but still has millions of fans.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 7 (6 December 1967-23 January 1968)

Births:

Politician James Brokenshire – 7 January
Model Heather Mills – 12 January

 

235. The Beatles – All You Need Is Love (1967)

19670615-beatles_1781192i

Halfway into the Summer of Love, and the Beatles were back on top of the world. Since Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine was number 1, the Fab Four had given up touring in August 1966 and worked on separate projects, with John Lennon starring in Richard Lester’s comedy How I Won the War (1967) and Paul McCartney scoring the 1966 comedy drama The Family Way.

Reconvening in November, they began work on Lennon’s dark, psychedelic masterpiece Strawberry Fields Forever, then McCartney’s joyous Penny Lane. It’s believed that McCartney became the last band member to try LSD that December. By this point, Lennon was a heavy user, which resulted in him becoming more emotionally withdrawn and lacking his usual bullishness. McCartney would become unofficial band leader over the next year.

These tracks were originally intended for their next album, which could have been based around the Beatles’ childhood, but after pressure from EMI, they were released as a double A-side single in February 1967. Famously, despite perhaps being their finest ever 7-inch release, not even the biggest band in the world were able to stop Engelbert Humperdinck’s Release Me, and for the first time since 1963, they didn’t get to number 1.

It wasn’t a big deal for the Beatles, who knew they were taking giant steps away from their cuddly moptop image of old. They were now working on their next album. The idea of a concept album based around a concert by Sgt. Pepper’s band came from McCartney. It would give them the freedom to create a wildly different type of album, and indulge themselves like never before. They knew they would not have to perform live anymore, so were able to experiment in ways previously thought impossible. Their magnum opus, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was finished in April, and released on 1 June.

The Beatles had changed forever, but the world still needed them, and so it changed with them too. Like Procul Harum, they captured the zeitgeist, and next they released a single that would be the unofficial anthem of the Summer of Love.

In May the band agreed to represent Great Britain on the live TV special Our World. Scheduled to be broadcast around the world on 25 June, the show would feature artists representing each country across the globe. The Beatles were working on giving tracks to the forthcoming animated movie Yellow Submarine, and at first they weren’t sure what track to choose for the show. The only instructions they were given was that it needed to contain a message that could be understood anywhere in the world. When manager Brian Epstein told them, they originally bristled at the idea. One track they considered was McCartney’s Your Mother Should Know.

Opinion is divided over whether All You Need Is Love was then written specifically for Our World, or whether it was a track Lennon had in mind for them anyway. Perhaps lyrically inspired by The Word from 1965’s Rubber Soul, and George Harrison’s Within You Without You from their new album, Lennon liked the concept of making an advertisement for love, and turning the song into an advert for the concept. Turning it into a catchy slogan fitted with the idea of Our World perfectly.

The producers of the show wanted the track to be performed entirely live, but producer George Martin insisted the group performed to a backing track. Work began on 14 June at Olympic Sound Studios, and with the Beatles now fully engrossed in the idea of embracing random elements into their methods, they decided to play instruments they weren’t used to (with the exception of Ringo Starr). Lennon was on harpsichord, McCartney on double bass and Harrison played the violin. With unusual sloppiness, they bounced this performance on to one of four available tracks. Five days later they overdubbed piano from Martin, plus banjo, guitar and vocal parts including Lennon on the chorus and the ‘Love, love love’ harmonies.

Two days before the show, they rehearsed with an orchestra, which they added to the backing track. It was only the day before the performance that they announced it would be their next single. Around this time their was a minor furore over McCartney revealing on television that he had taken LSD. Despite being the last to do so, the other three had never revealed their drug use to the media.

On the day of the broadcast, Martin  and engineer Geoff Emerick drank scotch whiskey to calm their nerves. After all, Our World was to be shown to millions upon millions of viewers. The Beatles sat nonchalantly on high stools, surrounded by a 13-piece orchestra and celebrity friends sat beneath them (how symbolic!), including members of the Rolling Stones, the Who, Small Faces and Cream, plus Marianne Faithfull, Pattie Boyd and Jane Asher. It’s a shame the broadcast was in black and white, as the studio was awash with colour. With much of the track already in the bag, Starr’s drums, McCartney’s bass and Harrison’s guitar solo were performed live, as well as the lead vocal from Lennon and backing vocals from the group and their assorted friends.

The Beatles’ music normally transcends time and place, and you rarely find yourself saying ‘I guess you had to be there’, but I feel that does apply to All You Need Is Love. Back in 1995 when I was 16 and obsessed with them, I wanted to be a hippy and this single was up there with my favourites. Now I’ve grown up and become more tired and cynical, I find it somewhat… I’m not sure if ‘hollow’ is the right word or not… it seems harsh. But for me in 2019, its their least creatively impressive single for several years.

Then again, it was intended as a celebration of the spirit of the times, and in that sense it certainly achieved what it set out to do. The orchestral elements help add flavour to proceedings, and I like the trumpet elements that interject after every line of the chorus, creating a lazy, drunken feel. The brief snatch of the French national anthem, La Marseeillaise at the start makes for a great introduction. However it’s unusual for a Beatles song to quote so many old songs. Was this to go along with the party atmosphere or a sign they were creatively lacking. I don’t know, but it does make for a rousing finale, mixing in In the Mood, Greensleeves, and even Beatles classics Yesterday and most memorably of all, She Loves You. Using the latter two works in a similar way to the usage of waxwork dummies of the Beatles in their earlier days on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Hearts Club Band. It’s as if they’re saying goodbye to their younger, fresh-faced selves. To get the most out of the song’s finale, listen to the mono mix – the fade-out is slightly longer.

Brian Epstein, who was only two months away from his early death, called All You Need Is Love the finest moment of the Beatles. It’s far from it, but its nice that he felt that way towards the group that had transformed his life. Whatever your opinion on the song, it’s a great sentiment, it was right for the time, and Lennon’s slogan stuck, and showed the way forward for his eventual solo career.

The single would find its way on to the Magical Mystery Tour US album – which, since the CD releases in 1987, is a UK album too. It also made a memorable appearance in Yellow Submarine (1968) and features on the movie’s soundtrack too.

In the news that summer: the British steel industry was nationalised on 28 July. On 3 August, the inquiry into the Aberfan disaster (see Distant Drums) blamed the National Coal Board for the deaths of 164 people in South Wales in October 1966. And on 5 August, psychedelic pop group Pink Floyd released their classic debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (19 July-18 August) 

Births:

Broadcaster Rageh Omaar – 19 July
Journalist Lauren Booth – 22 July 
Tennis player Monique Javier – 22 July
Cricketer Darren Bicknell – 24 July
Actor Jason Statham – 26 July

Deaths:

Actor Basil Rathbone – 21 July 

234. Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967)

8e71278a9668608a2c28a7deebf1a9c5.jpg

We’re now into the Summer of Love, and in the final, stormy week of June 1967 a landmark event happened, involving, erm, Reg Varney from On the Buses. The comedy actor became the first person to use a cash machine in the world, at Barclays Bank in Enfield. Trippy, man. Two days later Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones was jailed for a year for possession of drugs, and Mick Jagger was sentenced to three months for the same offence.

July began with BBC Two transmitting the first colour TV broadcasts in Britain, during live coverage of the Wimbledon Championships.  It was the final year in which the competition was amateur, and Australian John Newcombe won the men’s tournament, with American Billie Jean King winning the women’s. During Wimbledon, on 7 July, Parliament decriminalised private acts of consensual adult male homosexuality in England and Wales with the Sexual Offences Act.

In the singles chart, after months of rather lightweight pop ruling the charts, Procul Harum went to number 1 with their woozy, hazy classic debut single A Whiter Shade of Pale, on 8 June – the same day the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band topped the album charts for the first time. For the counterculture, it must have felt like the future was theirs for the taking.

Procul Harum formed from the ashes of the Paramounts, a beat group from Southend-on-Sea in Essex. They had reached number 35 in 1964 with their cover of Lieber and Stoller’s Poison Ivy, but split in 1966. Their singer, Gary Brooker, formed his new group in April 1967, and the line-up featured Keith Reid, a poet who would write their lyrics, Matthew Fisher on Hammond organ, guitarist Ray Royer and bassist David Knights. Their manager, Guy Stevens (later to come up with Mott the Hoople’s name and co-produce the Clash’s album London Calling) said they should name themselves after producer Gus Dudgeon’s cat. Dudgeon produced classic work from the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, David Bowie and Elton John. His Burmese pet’s ‘cat fancy’ name was Procul Harun, so they just switched the last letter.

A Whiter Shade of Pale originated at a party Brooker attended. He heard someone say to a woman’ you’ve turned a whiter shade of pale’, and the phrase stuck in his mind. Although the lyrics are full of Bob Dylan-style, mysterious imagery, it’s clear the song is about a man, a woman, and sex. Brooker admitted in the February 2008 issue of Uncut that it was a ‘girl-leaves-boy story’, wrapped up in evocative imagery. He also said that although he may have been smoking at the time, the song was inspired by books, not drugs. Reid must have also had a say in the words though, as he recieved co-credit at the time and didn’t play an instrument.

Matthew Fisher didn’t receive a credit for his integral organ contribution until 2009 in a court ruling. As interesting as the lyrics are, it’s fair to say the song wouldn’t be as famous as it was without his playing, inspired by Bach’s Air on the G string.

Procul Harum convened to record their first single at Olympic Sound Studios in London soon after formation. So soon, they hadn’t yet found a drummer, so session musician Bill Eyden took up the sticks. Produced by Denny Cordell, it was quickly wrapped up in two takes. A few days later they had a drummer, Bobby Harrison, and tried a new version, but opted to release one of their earlier takes in mono only. Cordell was worried about the single’s length and slightly muddy recording, until he sent an acetate to Radio London. John Peel was working for the station at the time, and fell immediately in love with it.

WIth its stately pace, dreamlike feel and surreal lyrics, A Whiter Shade of Pale is a perfect example of a song capturing the zeitgeist. It’s a great song, but it could only have been number 1 for six weeks at that moment in time. The fact it was there at the start of the Summer of Love has elevated its status, possibly making it a touch overrated, but it’s a very impressive debut and a great time capsule of flower power.

Much of British psychedelia harked back to an earlier time, to childhood memories, or even further back to Victorian and Edwardian styles. But the chorus of A Whiter Shade of Pale goes even further back, to Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale from the 14th century. Critics may complain the words are meaningless, but frankly, they need to get out more. It’s about the feeling they create, rather than a story being told. There’s some excellent acid-laced lines, including the introductory ‘We skipped the light fandango’ and ‘One of sixteen vestal virgins’. When performed live, the song sometimes featured a further two verses, which I’d be interested to hear.

Brooker’s vocal is also great, with his soulful, mournful tones adding to the elegiac tone. In fact, if you ignore the lyrics and just listen to the sound, there are some similarities to Percy Sledge’s beautiful When a Man Loves a Woman.

Procul Harum shot several promotional videos for the single, and if you click above you can see the first, which the band minus Harrison shot in the ruins of Witley Court in Worcestershire. Peter Clifton’s film was banned by Top of the Pops due to the splicing in of footage of the Vietnam war.

Following A Whiter Shade of Pale‘s immense success, Procul Harum were one of the bands of 1967. The single was loved by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, with Lennon in particular becoming obsessed that summer. Their first gig saw them supporting the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The line-up soon changed, with Harrison and Royer leaving to form Freedom. They were replaced by former Paramounts BJ Wilson and Robin Trower respectively. Follow-up single Homburg, released that September, reached number six, despite Peel preferring it to their previous 7-inch. They finished the year with their eponymous debut album in December.

It wasn’t until September 1968 that their second album came out. Shine On Brightly is considered one of the earliest examples of a progressive rock album, with the album closer, In Held ‘Twas in I, lasting over 17 minutes. 1969’s A Salty Dog went further down that route, and Fisher, who produced it, departed soon after. and was replaced by another former Paramount, Chris Copping.

In the 1970s, they fell into a pattern of further line-up changes and ever decreasing album sales, embarking on a full-on symphonic progressive rock sound. Their final top 20 hit was Pandora’s Box in 1975. They split up in 1977, but two months later they were performing at the BRIT Awards, when A Whiter Shade of Pale was named Best British Pop Single 1952-1977, along with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

Procul Harum reformed in 1991, and have remained together ever since, with Brooker the only constant throughout. In 2017 they released their 13th album, Novum. While they were unable to continue with their initial popularity, A Whiter Shade of Pale is still considered one of the best songs of that heady summer, when music branched out and for a while it seemed as though anything was possible.

Written by: Gary Brooker, Keith Reid & Matthew Fisher

Producer: Denny Cordell

Weeks at number 1: 6 (8 June-18 July) 

Births:

Darts player Kevin Painter -2 July
Television writer Paul Cornell – 18 July

Deaths:

Actress Vivien Leigh – 7 July
Cyclist Tom Simpson – 13 July 

233. The Tremeloes – Silence Is Golden (1967)

3134137-1024x1018

May 1967, and much had changed since Brian Poole and the Tremeloes were at number 1 with Do You Love Me? four years previous. Beatlemania had just begun, and with Poole and co toppling the mighty She Loves You, the future bode well for the beat group from Dagenham. However, they simply couldn’t compete with the Fab Four, and as fashions changed, their fortunes were mixed. In 1964 they had two top ten hits with covers of Roy Orbison’s Candy Man and the Crickets’ Someone Someone, but sales dropped the following year for I Want Candy and Good Lovin.

In 1966, singer Brian Poole left the group to try out a solo career. This didn’t work out, and he went on to form a label called Outlook Records. By the 1970s he was working in his brother’s butchers. He would later have career in cabaret though, and his daughters Karen and Shelly made it to the charts in 1996 as Alisha’s Attic.

In addition to Poole’s departure, bassist Alan Howard left, so only rhythm guitarist and keyboardist Alan Blakley and drummer Dave Munden remained from the original line-up. They regrouped as a four-piece with new bass player Len ‘Chip’ Hawkes (father of 90s one-hit wonder Chesney Hawkes), and were now known as simply the Tremeloes. Making a conscious decision to cover more ‘hip’ material, their first two singles were versions of Paul Simon’s Blessed and the Beatles’ Good Day Sunshine. Neither charted, but a cover of Cat Stevens’ Here Comes My Baby reached number six.

For reasons unknown, they decided to follow this with Silence Is Golden. Previously a B-side for the Four Seasons, it had been written by their producer Bob Crewe and group member Bob Gaudio, the duo responsible for The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore. The Tremeloes version closely followed the sound and arrangement of the original, with the band apeing the Four Seasons’ distinctive harmonies.

It had been three years since the original version of Silence Is Golden, and tastes had changed, so what were the Tremeloes thinking? Actually, scratch that, what were the British public thinking to take it to number 1 and make me look stupid?

It’s not that it’s a terrible song (although certainly no classic like The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore), it’s just an unusual chart-topper as tastes had changed since 1964 and we’re here at the start of the Summer of Love, such an exciting time for music, and somehow, this single was at number 1 for five whole weeks.

What makes it worse is the lyrics suggest the singer is feeling sorry for themselves because a girl they care for is being mistreated by their lover, and they daren’t do anything about it, so ‘Silence is golden, but my eyes still see’. Well, forgive me for not thinking you should have a word with yourself and do something about the situation… A rather mediocre number 1, and the harmonies make me slightly nauseous.

The rest of the 60s were a mixed bag for the Tremeloes, with singles failures like Bob Dylan’s I Shall Be Released in 1968, and big hits such as (Call Me) Number One in 1969, which ironically went to number two.

In 1970 they were set to release a song called Yellow River by Jeff Christie as their follow-up. However when they changed their minds, producer Mike Smith removed their vocals and replaced them with Christie’s lead. It was a number 1 that June, while the Tremeloes’ By the Way bombed.

From 1972 onwards the group went through several line-up changes, with Munden the only constant throughout. Hawkes left to record solo albums but returned in 1979. In 1983 the original quartet reformed briefly. Hawkes left again in 1988 to manage his son, whose The One and Only was a big number 1 in 1991. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the band, Brian Poole, Chip Hawkes and the Tremeloes toured together in 2006. Poole is to briefly appear with them again this year, before retiring from touring.

While Silence Is Golden reigned, Tottenham Hotspur defeated Chelsea 2-1 in the first all-London FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium (20 May). On 25 May, Celtic FC became the first British and Northern European team to reach a European Cup final and also to win it, beating Inter Milan 2-1. That same day, Conservative MP Enoch Powell attacked the Labour government, calling Britain the ‘sick man of Europe’.

28 May saw Sir Francis Chichester arrived in Plymouth after completing a single-handed sailing voyage around the world in his yacht Gipsy Moth IV. It had taken him nine months and one day. A day later, the first Spring Bank Holiday occurred on the last Monday of the month, replacing the former Whitsun holiday in England and Wales. The Tulip Bulb Auction Hall hosted music festival Barbeque 67, featuring up-and-coming rock acts the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream and Pink Floyd.

The first day of June heralded the release of the Beatles’ landmark album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, as well as the eponymous debut of a singer called David Bowie.

Three days later, the Stockport Air Disaster was all over the papers when British Midland flight G-ALHG crashed in Hopes Carr, Stockport, killing 72 people.

Written by: Bob Crewe & Bob Gaudio

Producer: Mike Smith

Weeks at number 1: 5 (18 May-7 June) 

Births:

Politician Graham Brady – 20 May 
Footballer Paul Gascoigne – 27 May 
Oasis singer-songwriter Noel Gallagher – 29 May 

Deaths:

Poet John Masefield – 12 May
Children’s presenter Derek McCulloch – 1 June 
Author Arthur Ransome – 3 June