By the time Honky Tonk Women was knocked off its lofty perch after five weeks, the second Isle of Wight Festival was in full swing. 150,000 people witnessed Bob Dylan’s comeback, and the Who put on a memorable show. Other acts included Free, the Bonzo Dog Band and the Moody Blues.
Number 1 at the time were the folk duo Zager and Evans with their one and only hit In theYear 2525 (Exordium and Terminus), a kitschy sci-fi doom-laden track proved a timely release in the aftermath of the Apollo 11 moon landing. But it’s certainly no Space Oddity.
Denny Zager and Rick Evans were both born in Nebraska, in 1944 and 1943 respectively. They met at Nebraska Welseyan University in 1962. While there they joined the band the Eccentrics, along with drummer Danny Schindler (who later joined the Benders… stop laughing). In 1965 Schindler left for Vietnam, and Evans then also left the group. At some point in the previous year, he had written the original, unheard version of In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus), which was likely more in keeping with the fashionable folk-rock scene of the period.
They went into the studio to record their hit after becoming a duo in 1968, by which point they had backing from Mark Dalton on bass and Dave Trupp on drums, who both also played with the Liberation Blues Band.
I don’t think I’ve ever got over the fact that In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus) doesn’t live up to its name. It should be cosmic psychedelic rock, like Funkadelic, but it’s musically dull, repetitive and dated – it doesn’t even stand up to scrutiny when you try and excuse it by saying ‘well it was written in 1964 originally’. Folk music was already in much more adventurous territory back then.
Zager and Evans think they are smarter than us and want us to know that humans are doomed. Now, I happen to agree with them, especially with the current state of our politics, and reading recently that we have 18 months left to save the planet from climate change, but many artists have made this point way, way better than Zager and Evans. The lyrics are awful. Sixth-form standard, if that. Some of their predictions are prescient, such as the rise of automation, but their time scales are stupidly huge. Every verse jumps up from 2525 to 6565, with various nightmare scenarios. Some genuinely horrible, such as ‘Ain’t gonna need your teeth, won’t need your eyes’, but some which are pure pulp fiction, like taking a pill every day that controls your thoughts. Sounds like an episode of Star Trek, which never did much for me.
Then we suddenly jump to talk of judgement day in 7510, purely because they want a number that rhymes with the dire line ‘If God’s-a-coming, he ought to make it by then.’ Well, you’d hope so, wouldn’t you?! But no, we shoot all the way up to 9595, and Zager and Evans are ‘kinda wondering if mankind is still alive’. All over the same boring rhythm. And then, we’re back in the year 2525, and it starts all over again! God, please don’t wait, put us out of our misery now!
I’m all for a bit of melodrama, but the pompous vocals lay it on so thick, it goes from laughable to just really grating. I kept this song in my collection for years, as I found it comically bad for a while, then after listening to it for this blog, I realised I don’t ever want to hear it again, and deleted it. It all also sounds like I imagine a no-deal Brexit could wind up, and we’re getting dangerously close to that.
Much more enjoyable is Flight of the Conchords’ spoof of this sort of thing, The Distant Future.
With the decade drawing to a close, and man landing on the moon, thoughts were turning to what the future held, and if we even had one. And purely for these reasons, Zager and Evans found themselves at number one in the US and the UK. They seized the moment and recorded an album, 2525 (Exordium and Terminus) with Trupp and Dalton plus other musicians.
And how did they follow up their number 1 single? With Mr Turnkey, a song in which they expected the listener to feel sympathy for a convicted rapist as he kills himself in prison. Poptastic! Needless to say, they this sank without trace. I’m almost curious to hear such a terrible idea for a single. Almost, but not quite.
Zager and Evans released an eponymous album in 1970, before splitting up after 1971’s Food for the Mind. The one-hit wonders disappeared, though Evans later recorded with Pam Herbert and formed his own label, Fun Records in the late 70s, on which he released new material and re-recorded Zager and Evans songs.
Evans died in April 2018, to no media attention whatsoever, which makes me feel rather sad. I may be highly critical of the song, but he had his time in the spotlight and it should have been noted, however short it may have been. In spring this year, his recordings made it on to eBay after relatives disposed of his estate.
Zager is still alive and builds custom guitars at Zager Guitars in Lincoln, Nebraska.
In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus) remained at number 1 in the UK until 19 September. Also that month, housing charity Shelter released a report on 11 September that claimed up to 3,000,000 people were in need of rehousing due to poor living conditions. And on 16 September, iconic 60s fashion store Biba reopened on Kensington High Street.
No sooner have we reached the end of the Beatles’ 17 number 1s, than it’s now time to say goodbye to the Rolling Stones. But before we look at the backstory to their eighth and last number 1, it’s time to see what was in the news during their five-week run with Honky Tonk Women.
The day the single usurped Something in the Air, 23 July, saw the debut of BBC Two’s long-running snooker tournament Pot Black. The Beeb had been looking for programmes that could exploit its new colour transmissions, and they struck gold by turning snooker from a minority sport into one of the most popular in the UK. The show ran until 1986, but returned for many specials well into the 21st century.
On 1 August, the pre-decimal halfpenny ceased to be legal tender. The rest of the first half of August’s news was mostly taken up by the start of one of the late-20th-century’s biggest conflicts – The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The Battle of the Bogside began on 12 August in Derry. The Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, Jack Lynch, made a speech the day after the ruins began requesting a United Nations peacekeeping force for Northern Ireland. On 14 August, British troops were deployed to restore order, and by the time they had, eight people had been shot dead, over 750 were injured, and over 400 homes and businesses had been destroyed. It was only the beginning.
Since the Rolling Stones’ triumphant comeback in 1968 with Jumpin’ Jack Flash, they hadn’t released any UK singles, but the album it came from, Beggars Banquet, was a real return to form, and the start of a run of classic LPs. Some of the tracks, including epic opener Sympathy for the Devil, are among the finest rock songs of the late 60s.
In December 1968 they filmed the concert special The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus for the BBC. The line-up included Taj Mahal, the Who, Jethro Tull, Marianne Faithfull and a one-off appearance by supergroup the Dirty Mac, consisting of John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Mitch Mitchell. The Stones withheld the show, believing their appearance to be substandard, though some claim they felt the Who outshone them. It eventually surfaced in 1996, and is worth a watch.
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards holidayed together that Christmas in a ranch in rural Brazil, and while there they became inspired to write their next single. There is not an ounce of Brasilia in either version, but it did bring to mind Americana, country and roots. Originally they had in mind the version that surfaced on next album Let It Bleed. Country Honk was, as the name implies, a country version of Honky Tonk Women, with slightly different lyrics (the first verse is set in Jackson, Mississippi rather than Memphis, Tennessee) and Byron Berline on fiddle.
Multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones featured on the demos for this track, recorded that March. It would be the last material he performed on. By the time the band regrouped in June, they had met with Jones at his home. Increasingly paranoid and drug-addled, the former bandleader had been contributing less and less, and couldn’t compete with Jagger and Richards’ growing control any more. He left the band.
Seeking a replacement, their keyboardist Ian Stewart and bluesmith John Mayall recommended a 20-year-old guitarist called Mick Taylor to Jagger. He had replaced Peter Green in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in 1967 when he left to form Fleetwood Mac. The Stones invited Taylor to a session, and he believed he was only wanted as a session musician, but they were impressed and he was asked to continue. He overdubbed guitar on to Country Honk and the new electric version they were planning to release as a single, called Honky Tonk Women.
Richards later claimed that Taylor had transformed the single, but the newest member of the group insisted his contribution was minimal. Whatever he actually did, he’s listed with Richards as lead guitarist. Richards also provided the rowdy backing vocals and rhythm guitar. Along with the usual roles for the rest of the band, the single featured backing vocals from Reparata and the Deltrons, who had a hit in 1968 with Captain of Your Ship, Nanette Workman (slyly credited as ‘Nanette Newman’) and Doris Troy, later to be best known for her orgasmic wailing on Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig in the Sky. Steve Gregory and Bud Beadle duetted on saxophones, and producer Jimmy Miller was the man behind the cowbell.
The Rolling Stones really know how to write brilliant intros, and Honky Tonk Women is one of their most memorable, thanks to the cowbell, and Watts’ raunchy drumbeat. Jagger begins to tell his tales of sexual conquest in a louche drawl, boasting about picking up a ‘gin soaked bar-room queen in Memphis.’ They’re pretty risqué lyrics for the day, with references to ‘a ride’ and laying divorcees, but Jagger gets around it by ramping up the accent to a comical degree, making some of the words almost intelligible. I love the lyric ‘she blew my nose and then she blew my mind’.
Musically, it’s not too adventurous, throwaway even. It’s not up to the standard of most of their number 1s, and sees the start of the Rolling Stones settling into their role as the ultimate good-time rock’n’roll band. Only two verses and it’s over in under three minutes, but it’s still a lot of fun.
But just before its release, the fun stopped for Brian Jones. He was found dead in his swimming pool on 3 July. Death by misadventure was the official reason, but his liver and heart were both enlarged from his pursuit of drink and drugs. He was 27, that infamous age that many rock stars have died at.
The Stones were scheduled to perform a free televised concert at Hyde Park on 5 July. Planned in part to unveil their new guitarist, it became a wake for Jones. In an example of pure black comedy, butterflies were let out into the crowd, but many had died, so they were simply banged out of boxes onto the floor as the band got started. It’s what Jones probably wouldn’t have wanted.
The Rolling Stones were the last British band to have a number 1 in the 60s. They have never topped the singles charts since, and it’s unlikely they will until perhaps Jagger or Richards die… so, some time in the 31st century, perhaps. The classic albums kept coming for a while though, with Let It Bleed their final LP of the 60s, released 5 December, featuring Gimme Shelter and You Can’t Always Get What You Want.
Unfortunately the 60s came to a tragic end for the Stones. A day after its release they headlined the Altamont Free Concert. It was a bad idea to have the Hells Angels providing security, and several scuffles between them and the crowd ended with armed fan Meredith Hunter stabbed and beaten to death, during, of all songs, Sympathy for the Devil.
The 70s began with the band having left Decca records to set up Rolling Stones Records. The first material released, Sticky Fingers (1971), contained Brown Sugar and Wild Horses. They became tax exiles, moved to France and recorded the double album Exile on Main Street. Raw and ragged, it’s considered by many to be their last classic, as the rest of the 70s saw commercial success but lukewarm reviews from critics, starting with Goat Head’s Soup in 1973.
Miller departed as producer, and then Taylor left after the release of the Glimmer Twins-produced It’s Only Rock’n’Roll in 1974. Faces guitarist Ronnie Wood had contributed to the title track, but his group were still taken by surprise when he took up an offer to join the Rolling Stones. But frustrations over numerous drug offences affecting the group’s abilities to tour meant this wasn’t the best period for Wood to be joining them.
Fortunately things picked up again in 1978 with the release of Some Girls, which featured their last classic, the disco-influenced Miss You. Despite the Stones being on top again, a rift developed between Jagger and Richards. Nevertheless, 1981’s album of outtakes contained Start Me Up, another huge hit.
Jagger became too busy with a solo album to concentrate much on the Rolling Stones, and their output suffered, like many 60s/70s legends, from substandard material recorded with bombastic production techniques.
In 1985 Jagger had a number 1 single with David Bowie for Live Aid, featuring one of the stupidest, most unintentionally hilarious videos of all time. I am of course referring to Dancing in the Street. That same year saw the death of the Stones’ keyboardist Ian Stewart, who had been there from the start. With both of the Glimmer Twins releasing solo albums, these were lean years for the Rolling Stones.
They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, along with Jones, Stewart and Taylor, and this helped thaw the frosty relationship of Jagger and Richard, who put aside their differences and began work on their first album in three years, Steel Wheels. It was the best they’d made in a while, though nowhere near their best, which was now a distant memory.
Bassist Bill Wyman decided to leave in 1991, but the news was kept secret until 1993. He went on to form Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings. We won’t go into his love life, because as we all know, he’s on extremely dodgy ground there. Darryl Jones has been their bassist ever since, yet for some reason he isn’t given recognition as a ‘full’ member of the band. I just hope it has nothing to do with the colour of his skin. And that isn’t an insinuation, just a genuine hope.
The Stones took a break after touring and then released Voodoo Lounge in 1994, which was their most critically acclaimed in years, followed in quick succession by the half-decent Stripped (1995). They brought the 90s to a close with Bridges to Babylon (1997).
Their last album of original material to date, A Bigger Bang, was released in 2005. 2012 marked the 50th anniversary of the band’s formation, so the Stones embarked on yet another mammoth tour off the back of their 1000th greatest hits compilation.
In 2013 Michael Eavis finally got his wish and they headlined the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I was lucky enough to be there, and they surpassed my expectations, playing a set of classic material. What really stood out was how much they seemed to relish the opportunity. They didn’t phone their set home, they attacked it with all the energy of a band more than half their age. It’s truly incredible how they can still have so much passion, really.
It’s a long, long time since the Rolling Stones were known as the most dangerous band in the world. You could argue they are just a money-spinning brand now, and to be fair, I’ve made that argument before. But seeing them at Glastonbury changed my opinion. Granted, we haven’t needed most of their recorded output since the early 80s, but it became clear to me that they actually get a kick out of still performing, even after all this time. Jagger recently had heart surgery, and is back on stage after a few months. The man is 75. He must have sold his soul to the devil to carry on the way he is. Look at Keith. He definitely has.
Their tally for number 1 singles may not match the Beatles or Elvis Presley , but the Rolling Stones outlasted them, through drug addictions, prison and deaths. They will come to an end one day though, and it may take that for people to realise not only that the Glimmer Twins were once one of the most talented songwriting teams of all time, but that we have lived through a true musical phenomenon, the like of which we’ll never see again.
Written by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
Producer: Jimmy Miller
Weeks at number 1: 5 (23 July-29 August)
Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson – 26 July Bounty hunter Domino Harvey – 7 August Joe Swail – Northern Irish snooker player – 29 August
Physicist Cecil Frank Powell – 9 August Novelist Ivy Compton-Burnett – 27 August
While I only usually mention UK events within this blog, 50 years ago to the day I am typing this, man first set foot on the moon. The reason I mention news from another planet? Because it seems very appropriate that the number 1 at the time was Something in the Air, by one-hit wonders Thunderclap Newman.
But before I probe deeper, what was happening closer to home? Well, fans of the Rolling Stones, and the band themselves, were shocked to hear on 3 July that recently departed band member Brian Jones had died (more on that next time).
A week later, the trimaran Teignmouth Electron sailing vessel was found empty and drifting in the mid-Atlantic. It belonged to Donald Crowhurst, British businessman and amateur sailor. He had been taking part in the Sunday Times Golden Globe round-the-world race, in an attempt to save his failing business. Nothing had been heard from him since 1 July, and up to that point, he had been falsifying his position in the race. Once his vessel had been investigated, it began to look as though Crowhurst had suffered a breakdown due to his guilt, and quite likely had committed suicide by jumping into the sea.
In lighter news, Tony Jacklin, the most successful British golfer of his generation, won the Open Championship on 12 July.
So there was indeed something in the air in July 1969, but it wasn’t just Apollo 11. The peace and love espoused by hippies in the mid-60s had mutated into frustration over Vietnam and the old world order. 1968 had seen protests taking place in the UK, the US, and France, among other countries. Groups such as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin’s Yippies in the US would talk of revolution, and in the UK, left-wingers wanted reforms on drugs, abortion, gender roles… they wanted change. John Lennon, before going solo and becoming a full-blown ‘working class hero’, had written of his indecision over these matters in the 1968 B-side to Hey Jude, Revolution.
At around the same time, a man named John ‘Speedy’ Keen had been turning his thoughts into a call-to-arms, also called Revolution. Keen shared a flat with the Who guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend, and he worked as their chauffeur. He had been in a few bands before then, was adept at several instruments, and dabbled in songwriting, most famously at that point by writing one of my favourite songs by the Who, the psychedelic rocker Armenia City in the Sky, which became the opening track of their classic LP, The Who Sell Out (1967). This was the only song written for the Who by a non-member, so the band, particularly Townshend, clearly thought he had potential. He also had a pretty big nose, like him, so they were kindred spirits.
Townshend had been branching out from the Who at the time (he had already helped the Crazy World of Arthur Brown with their debut LP and number 1 single, Fire), and was looking for a way to showcase Keen’s songs. He contacted a teenage guitarist called Jimmy McCulloch, whose band One in a Million supported the Who in 1967 (he was only 14 at the time), and an eccentric keyboard player called Andy ‘Thunderclap’ Newman, who had earned his nickname due to his idiosyncratic playing style. Newman was still working for the General Post Office as a telephone engineer when the trio met at Townshend’s home studio for the first time around Christmas 1968. They became Thunderclap Newman, with Keen on vocals and drums, McCulloch on guitar, Newman on piano and Townshend producing and performing bass under the pseudonym Bijou Drains. Among the material they worked on was Keen’s song of revolution, now renamed to avoid confusion.
You could argue that the power of Something in the Air has been reduced over the years due to its overuse in TV and films. Yet despite its lazy use as the soundtrack to vintage footage of hippies and protests, and particularly its appearances in several advertising campaigns, I have never once tired of it. Even when it was on practically every advert break when used by TalkTalk, sponsors of Big Brother on Channel 4 one summer, I still loved it.
Keen’s lyrics, and vocal performance signal a very British type of revolution. He isn’t blessed with the best voice, but its the perfect fit for his reticent lyrics. Close inspection reveals its actually quite critical of the hippy movement. ‘The revolution’s here’, but they’re not ready yet (‘We’ve got to get together, sooner or later’)… is everyone too stoned to sort their shit out? Sounds likely, especially when he sings ‘We have got to get it together’ in the refrain.
Then after another attempt to rouse the troops, things get weird. In a very Beatlesque move, the mood changes completely, and we’re treated to a long heavy-handed piano solo from Newman. Only fair, when the band is named after him, really. Although this section breaks the mood, I consider it a good thing. Nothing wrong with a taste of the unexpected in pop music. And only a fool could not be moved by the way the song moves up a gear as it reaches the rousing finale, returning to Keen singing ‘Hand out the arms and ammo, we’re going to blast our way through here’ and the appearance of stirring strings.
Becoming the last act to knock the Beatles from number 1, and topping the charts while Neil Armstrong made one giant leap for humankind… what a time to be alive. The Who never had a number 1 single, so it must have been a proud moment for Townshend.
The popularity of their debut single took Thunderclap Newman by surprise. Having had no plans to tour, they now needed to augment their line-up for live shows supporting rock band Deep Purple, and they couldn’t rely on Bijou Drains to play the bass. Jim Pitman-Avery replaced him, and McCulloch’s older brother Jack became their drummer so Keen could concentrate on singing and rhythm guitar.
Following the tour they recorded their sole album, the critically acclaimed but long-forgotten Hollywood Dream, which closed with a slightly different version of Something in the Air. Released in October 1970, they had left it too late to capitalise on their success, and none of its singles charted.
In January 1971 the band found a new line-up with Australian musicians Ronnie Peel on bass and Roger Felice on drums – but not for long. The core trio simply didn’t gel personally, and Thunderclap Newman split up on April 10.
Keen tried his hand at solo stardom and released a couple of albums in the 70s. By 1976 he realised it wasn’t going to happen and he moved into production, working with Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. He then produced Motörhead’s eponymous debut album in 1977, and even performed with them, before leaving music altogether. In 2002 he was attempting to record a third solo album when he unexpectedly died of a heart attack, aged 56.
McCulloch was even younger when he died. He played with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers following the split, then helped Harry Nilsson, among others, as a session musician. After a stint with Stone the Crows and contributing to Keen’s first solo album, Previous Convictions in 1973, he joined Wings in 1974, making his debut on the single Junior’s Farm.
McCulloch left Paul McCartney’s band in September 1977, before their mammoth-selling Christmas number 1, Mull of Kintyre, to join the reformed Small Faces, but they soon split and he and their drummer Kenney Jones formed a new, short-lived band, Wild Horses, then in 1979 he joined the Dukes. That September, his body was discovered in his flat by his brother. He had died of heart failure due to morphine and alcohol poisoning, aged only 26.
Which leaves only Newman. In 1971 he recorded a solo album, Rainbow, and worked with ex-Bonzo Dog Band member Roger Ruskin Spear. Then he left music and worked as an electrician, until he decided to begin a new version of Thunderclap Newman in 2010. Featuring Townshend’s nephew Josh and Big Country’s drummer Mark Brzezicki, they recorded a new album, Beyond Hollywood, and played at the Isle of Wight Festival in 2012. Newman died in 2016, aged 73.
There’s a pretty good version of Something in the Air out there, by Elbow, recorded in 2002 for War Child, but it’s not a patch on the original. This one-hit wonder is a rock classic and one of my favourite songs of 1969.
Midsummer, 1969: Burmese the horse was ridden by the Queen for the first time at Trooping the Colour on 14 June, a role she held until 1986. It was a busy time for the Royal family – a week later, BBC One transmitted a fly-on-the-wall documentary devoted to them. The Royal Family had been made by the BBC and ITV to celebrate the investiture of Prince Charles on 1 July, and gave an insight into the Windsors that could only have been imagined previously. Viewing figures topped 30,600,500, but some worried that the overexposure could damage the throne, and the Queen pulled it off air in 1972. Only clips have been seen on TV since then.
Earlier that day, Patrick Troughton made his last regular appearance in Doctor Who. Banished to Earth by the Time Lords in the final episode of The War Games, it was also the final black and white episode of the sci-fi series.
After the referendum in Rhodesia had voted in favour of becoming a Republic, the Governor of Southern Rhodesia, Sir Humphrey Gibbs, left Government House on 24 June. This severed the last diplomatic relationship with the UK.
All these events have one momentous historical event in common: they took place when the Beatles were at number 1 for the 17th and final time, with John Lennon’s The Ballad of John and Yoko. It was a sure a sign as any that the Fab Four were about to split up, and yet it proved that Lennon and McCartney were still able to put aside their differences and work together.
Lennon and Yoko Ono had married in Gibraltar, Spain on 20 March that year. Soon after Lennon wrote The Ballad of John and Yoko as a kind of travelogue set to a Chuck Berry sound, covering the wedding, the honeymoon in Paris, and their first bed-in a few days later at the Amsterdam Hilton.
An excited and impatient Lennon visited McCartney at home on 14 April, three days after Get Back had been released, in the hope of getting the song finished. Surprisingly, not only did they finish writing it, they went to Abbey Road that afternoon with producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick (for the first time since he’d walked out of sessions for The Beatles) and recorded it, without George Harrison (who was on holiday) or Ringo Starr (he was filming The Magic Christian). The Ballad of John and Yoko was done and dusted by 9.30pm. Lennon sang lead, played lead and rhythm guitar, and made percussion sounds by slapping the back of an acoustic guitar. McCartney provided some excellent harmony vocals, bass, drums, piano and maracas. Appreciating the irony of being the only two band members involved, Barry Miles noted in Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now (1997) the following exchange: Lennon (on guitar): ‘Go a bit faster, Ringo!’ McCartney (on drums): ‘OK, George!’
After months of torturous misery during the Get Back sessions, how come the duo were able to knock up a single so quickly? The fact they were two down simplified matters obviously, but McCartney was probably so relieved that Lennon was enthusiastic for the first time in a fair while, he was bound to jump at the chance, even if the lyrics made it plain that Lennon was growing apart from the Beatles. He may also have known that Lennon was likely to go ahead and record it anyway with somebody else, and he was determined to keep the band together despite the tensions.
The Ballad of John and Yoko is a real oddity in the Beatles catalogue. With it’s self-centered lyrics, you could easily call this the start of Lennon’s solo career really. I find it a real shame that, after all my blogs on such classic material, this is the final Beatles song I get to write about for this blog. I mean, it’s only half the band! Let It Be would have been a far more appropriate way to end the number 1s of the greatest band of all time.
Unlike many though, I’m not here to bury it. It’s not a bad song, and it’s not my least favourite Beatles single. I think I prefer it to Get Back, because it has more energy. Ironically, it’s McCartney who shines here. His rhythm track has real punch to it, and I’ve always enjoyed his drumming (I’m certainly not knocking Starr though). And I really like the final verse when he joins Lennon to sing. I admire the chutzpah of Lennon to write a chorus which mocks the whole ‘Bigger than Jesus’ scandal of 1966 too. It showed how far music had come in three years, and the Beatles led the way for most of that time (having said that, many radio stations would either censor the song or refuse to even play it).
Maybe in a way it is an appropriate song to end on, with the Fab Four’s chief songwriters working together so closely again. Those days had been few and far between for some time, and sadly, there weren’t any more to come.
This single, backed with George Harrison’s superior Old Brown Shoe, was rush-released on 30 May, and was their first single to be in stereo only. Due to Lennon wanting the song to be topical, this meant the unusual approach of releasing it while previous single Get Back was still at number 1. Tommy Roe’s Dizzyknocked that from the top, but was only there for a week before The Ballad of John and Yoko hit number 1.
And here’s where the story of the world’s greatest band ends. Except obviously, it wasn’t over yet. The group had already agreed on McCartney’s suggestion to make another album, and sessions were under way. The Ballad of John and Yoko‘s success proved there was still fuel in the tank, and George Martin was glad to be back on board providing they went back to earlier methods of recording. In other words, stop the bickering of the past year. And they all got on much better… for a while, anyway. McCartney and Martin were keen on a long medley and Lennon wasn’t. Lennon didn’t bother turning up for sessions for Harrison songs either.
Before Abbey Road had been completed he released his first ‘solo’ single (as the Plastic Ono Band), the famous anti-war anthem Give Peace a Chance. Nothing was ever said, but there was a general feeling among all involved that Abbey Road would be their final work together.
McCartney had become the odd man out earlier that year after the other three had voted tough American businessman Allen Klein as their new manager, which put a huge strain on the band in addition to their other issues. On 20 September, six days before the release of one of their best albums, Lennon announced he was leaving and John, Paul, George and Ringo never recorded as a unit again.
Something/Come Together would have been a perfect number 1 single in October, but demand had been so high for its parent album, it missed out. One last song, Harrison’s I Me Mine, was completed minus Lennon in January 1970. This was done to make it part of the salvaged Get Back sessions, now to feature in a film and LP called Let It Be. Klein handed over the tapes to Phil Spector, who had recently produced Instant Karma! for Lennon. Smothering many of the songs with lush orchestral sounds, including Let It Be and The Long and Winding Road, McCartney was not amused, and beat Lennon to the punch by publicly announcing he had quit, the week before the release of McCartney, his first solo album, on 10 April.
The full story of the demise of the Beatles makes for a riveting but depressing read, and I recommend Pete Doggett’s You Never Give Me Your Money: The Battle for the Soul of The Beatles (2009) if you want to know more.
Despite many highly lucrative offers over the years, the Beatles never did reform. It’s likely they would have had Lennon not been murdered in 1980, with relations between he and McCartney thawing. The closest we got was the Anthology project of the mid-90s, and the singles Free As a Bird (1995) and Real Love (1996), where the remaining trio worked on Lennon demos provided by Ono. Although not up to the standard of their previous work, they’re decent enough tunes, and I still can’t believe neither made it to number 1. I guess the world had moved on. A bit.
A new romantic comedy, Yesterday, imagines a world in which they never existed. Pop would probably still have moved on from the doldrums of the early-60s, but it could never have become quite so innovative, so witty, so joyous and so magical without them. Nobody had, has, or ever will have the alchemy of the Fab Four.
The Beatles. 17 number 1 singles. They changed everything.
By 1969 the kids that were caught up in Beatlemania were outgrowing pop singles. Thanks to the Fab Four, and their contemporaries, albums had replaced singles as the music art form for young adults. Record labels recognised this and pumped money into LPs.
All this left something of a void, and you only have to look at some of the number 1s from the last two years to see that. One genre making waves in the singles chart was ‘bubblegum pop’, largely an invention by labels eager to fill a void. If the teenagers and beyond were mainly buying albums now, then that left a whole new generation to be persuaded into buying pop singles. Bubblegum pop songs tended to be short and upbeat. Gone were overt drug references. Producers were often in charge, churning out material by an assembly line of acts backed by session musicians. One of the most successful of 1969 was an American whose first hit was back in 1962.
Thomas Roe was born in May 1942 in Atlanta, Georgia. Upon graduating, he went to work for General Electric, where he soldered wires. By 1960 he had become Tommy Roe, and unusually, his first album was split between him and another singer, hence the name Whirling with Tommy Roe and Al Tornello. On the album were his first two singles, Caveman and Sheila, in which Roe mimicked the vocal stylings of Buddy Holly. Neither charted.
However, two years later, the latter was re-recorded, made the title track of his first full album, and became a resounding success. It topped the charts in the US, Canada and Australia, and reached number three in the UK. ABC-Paramount asked him to go on tour to promote it, but he was reluctant to give up his day job until they gave him an advance.
The Beatles were fans of Sheila, and began covering it. In early 1963, they supported Roe and Chris Montez on their joint headlining tour. The New Musical Express reported that both singers were being upstaged by John, Paul, George and Ringo. He had two further UK hits later that year – Everybody and The Folk Singer. Roe decided to move to London, but the Beat boom was happening so fast, he couldn’t keep up, and there were no further chart appearances on these shores, even though Sweet Pea and Hooray for Hazel did well elsewhere in 1966.
Then came Dizzy. Roe had co-written this pop tune about budding love with Freddy Weller, guitarist with US rock band Paul Revere & the Raiders. Weller had ambitions to be a solo artist, and around this time he released his debut single, a cover of Joe South’s Games People Play. Top US session musicians the Wrecking Crew provided the backing on Dizzy, including the late, great Hal Blaine on drums.
I adore Dizzy. But not this version. The first single I ever bought on cassette was the number 1 cover in 1991 by my favourite comedian at the time, Vic Reeves, with Brummie indie outfit the Wonder Stuff.
Roe’s Dizzy is a rare instance of an original being worse than a cover. I was so disappointed to hear a slight, awkward attempt at psychedelic pop, that is, by comparison, terribly leaden. Very odd for the Wrecking Crew to sound so dull. It has a slightly sickly feeling to it, making the title rather appropriate. Everything is slightly off, apart from Jimmie Haskell’s string arrangement, which was neatly copied in 1991.
Amazingly, six years after being upstaged, Roe got his revenge, and he knocked the Beatles from the top spot, and Dizzy went to pole position in the US and Canada too. Despite its weirdness, it was catchy enough to capture the public’s imagination after all. And yet, after one week, he was knocked off his perch by… the bloody Beatles.
Although Roe continued to have hits elsewhere, his chart action in the UK was soon over once more. Eventually he ended up on the nostalgia circuit with acts like Bobby Vee. In the late-1970s and 80s he moved into releasing country material.
Roe’s final album, Confectioner’s, was released in 2017. He announced his retirement on his Facebook page in 2018.
British Leyland Motor Corporation launched Britain’s first hatchback car on 24 April. The Austin Maxi was designed to compete with family saloons like the Ford Cortina. It was also the day on which the final episode of the long-running BBC Radio drama Mrs Dales Diary was broadcast.
It was also a big week in football, as Manchester City won the FA Cup on 26 April with a 1-0 win over Leicester City at Wembley. Two days later, Leeds United won the Football league First Division title for the first time.
The famed ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II embarked on its maiden voyage, from Southampton to New York, on 2 May. And 29 May saw the release of one of my favourite movies of all time (I’m not even kidding) – Carry On Camping. It became the biggest film at the box office of 1969.
All these events transpired during the six-week run at the top for Get Back. Hard to believe it but I’m nearly at the end of the Beatles’ career. This 16th number 1 was the last to feature John, Paul, George and Ringo together – plus one extra. For the first time, they gave equal billing to another musician – keyboardist Billy Preston.
The Beatles’ eponymous double LP hadn’t made the same cultural impact as Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band upon its release, but it was a wonder it had even been finished, as the sessions had been tense, with Harrison and Starr walking out at separate points. McCartney searched for a new project to keep them afloat.
In January 1969, the same month that the Yellow Submarine album was released, they regrouped. Macca suggested they continue down the back-to-basics road they started on the previous year, but with a twist. They would record an album of new material, rehearse it, then perform it in front of a live audience. The results would be made into an album and TV special called Beatles at Work. They hired Michael Lindsay-Hogg to film them rehearsing at Twickenham Studios that month.
What followed did nothing for inter-band relations. Lennon and Harrison later described the rehearsals as the lowest point the band ever experienced. Harrison, irritated by both Lennon and McCartney in particular, who was captured on camera patronising the guitarist, walked out. He returned five days later, but issued an ultimatum. They must abandon the idea of a live performance, and concentrate on getting the album, by that point known as Get Back, finished, and then use the songs for the TV show. He also wanted out of Twickenham, a cold location that did nothing for the frosty atmosphere amongst the Fab Four (and of course Yoko Ono). The Beatles decided they would relocate to the newly completed Apple Studios and use Lindsay-Hogg’s footage to make a new documentary film.
Among the many songs rehearsed that January was Get Back, intended to be the project’s title track. It originated from a jam session during rehearsals on 7 January. McCartney played with the lyric to a George Harrison tune from 1968. Sour Milk Sea was originally planned for The Beatles but surfaced as a single by Jackie Lomax on Apple Records instead, with bass from McCartney. It featured the lyric ‘Get back to where you should be’.
Two days later McCartney brought a more developed version of Get Back to rehearsals, with the ‘Sweet Loretta Martin’ wordplay pretty much complete. He had also come up with some controversial lyrics that would surface on bootlegs over the years. Paul decided to use the song to satirise the views of people like right-wing politician Enoch Powell’s views on immigration.
While ‘Don’t dig no Pakistanis taking all the people’s jobs’ may fit the tune of Get Back perfectly, the Beatles were wise in scrapping this approach. It’s likely not everybody would have got where they were coming from… It also didn’t help that McCartney would look at Ono whenever he sang ‘Get back to where you once belong’, according to Lennon.
Immigration was clearly on their minds, as they also worked on another right-wing satire at the same time, usually referred to as Commonwealth. Again, it’s a good thing this was dropped, and it was musically inferior to Get Back.
Bootleg recordings dating from 23 January reveal a conversation between McCartney and Harrison inbetween trying to whip their next single into shape. McCartney explains it was supposed to be a protest song, but the group then decide that the third verse, featuring the ‘Pakistani’ line, should be dropped.
Instead, the song evolved from an angry rock song to a softer, bluesy sound, no doubt helped along by the ‘fifth Beatle’, who had joined the group the previous day. Enter Billy Preston, who Harrison had invited to proceedings to try and bring an end to the bickering. He wisely assumed a relative stranger among them would put everyone on their best behaviour and give them a kick up the arse. He was right.
Billy Preston, born in September 1946 in Houston, Texas, had been a child prodigy. Self-taught, he never recieved a single piano lesson. He first met the Beatles aged 16 in 1962, when he was playing in the singer’s backing band at a Liverpool show that the Fab Four opened. When Harrison had left the January rehearsals, he had gone to a Ray Charles gig, in which Preston performed on the organ.
On 27 January the Beatles and Preston made a concerted effort to finish the song, which now featured a false ending and a coda. Take 11 was picked, but it had come to an abrupt end, so they returned to the studio the next day to work on the ending. When McCartney and Glyn Johns came to turn the performances into a single, they opted to go against the ‘as nature intended’ vibe of the project, and tacked on a coda from 28 January to Take 11. But they were right to do so, and did it so well, you’d never know, really. Unusually, the single features Lennon on lead guitar over Harrison on rhythm, as Lennon stepped up during Harrison’s absence.
Before it had even been released, Get Back had earned its place in Beatles folklore, for it was the last song they ever played together live. After much toing and froing about how the project would end, they finally agreed to be filmed performing on the roof of Apple Studios with Billy Preston. They opened the short concert with two takes, and then closed the set with one last version, featuring ad-libs from McCartney referring to the police ascending to the roof to shut the gig down (available on Anthology 3). The set ended with Lennon’s famous, ironic quote ‘I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.’ Phil Spector would add this to the end of the version that made it to Let It Be.
Although it was a wise decision to remove that third verse of Get Back, it does rob the song of any bite it had. Reduced to two verses that don’t really mean anything, it needs to be musically interesting, and it’s not too good at that really. It chugs along pleasantly enough, and Preston’s solo adds some soul to proceedings, but it’s far from their greatest single and none of the actual band get to do anything very exciting.
It’s not a return to the Beatles’ roots either, which was how it was marketed. Get Back is the sound of the Beatles following the curve, rather than being ahead of it. It is in fact, the boogie sound of US blues rockers Canned Heat, with McCartney even stealing the distinctive vocal stylings of Alan Wilson. But before I make it sound like I hate Get Back, I don’t. As a throwaway bit of fun, it’s perfectly fine. The single version does a good job of sounding both rough and ready and polished at the same time, thanks to the reverb added to the mix. It’s superior to the Let It Be version. But it’s clear to see that at this point, the Beatles were struggling to keep the magic going.
Released with Lennon’s Don’t Le Me Down as its B-side (which is better if you ask me), also featuring Preston, Get Back was Paul McCartney’s fourth A-side in a row. It was also the last of their singles to be released in mono.
And what became of Billy Preston? Quite a lot. He worked with the Beatles again, playing uncredited on superior tracks I Want You (She’s So Heavy) and Something. In the same year he signed with Apple Records and released his fourth album, That’s the Way God Planned It. Produced by Harrison, the title track was also a hit.
Following the split of the Beatles in 1970, Preston continued to work with his friend, and became the first person to release a version of Harrison’s solo number 1, My Sweet Lord. He also featured on Harrison’s triple album All Things Must Pass that year. Not only that… remember Stephen Still’s excellent single Love the One You’re With? That title came from a saying of Preston’s.
In 1971 he left Apple to join A&M Records, and in addition to his own work selling well, he worked on many Rolling Stones albums, including Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St. and was their primary touring keyboardist from 1973 to 1977. In 1974 he co-wrote and released the first version of You Are So Beautiful, a soul classic later made famous by Joe Cocker.
Preston worked with Motown in the early 80s, then concentrated on session work for artists including Luther Vandross and Whitney Houston. Drug issues curtailed his career but he resurfaced in the 90s, playing with, among others, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and the Band.
Following Harrison’s death in 2001, his friend performed three songs at the 2002 Concert for George at the Royal Albert Hall. Also in 2002, Preston played piano on Johnny Cash’s album American IV: The Man Comes Around. Towards the end of his life he appeared on American Idol and worked with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Neil Diamond. His last live performance saw him promote the re-release of the 1972 documentary The Concert for Bangladesh. On his last song on stage he performed Harrison’s Isn’t It a Pity with Harrison’s son Dhani and Starr.
Soon after, Preston suffered pericarditis and fell into a coma. He had been struggling with kidney disease and his drug issues (which many feel stemmed from problems due to being abused as a child and later hiding his sexuality) had returned. He died in June 2006, aged 59.
Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Producer: George Martin
Weeks at number 1: 6 (23 April-3 June)
Actress Kate Hardie – 26 April Television presenter Tess Daly – 27 April Actor Cy Chadwick – 2 June
Writer Sir Osbert Sitwell – 4 May Civil Engineer Sir Owen Williams -23 May
The Representation of the People Act was voted in on 17 April, which would lower the voting age from 21 to 18 with effect from February 1970. It also allowed candidates to include a party label on the ballot paper, and removed the right to allow convicted prisoners to vote.
In other electoral news that day, Bernadette Devlin became the youngest ever female MP when she won the Mid Ulster by-election at the age of 21.
Three days later, British troops arrived in Northern Ireland to reinforce the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Two days from then, Robin Knox-Johnston finished his solo non-stop circumnavigation of the globe via sailing. He was the first person to achieve this feat.
That week, Marvin Gaye had been knocked from the top of the pops by Jamaican reggae and ska pioneers Desmond Dekker & the Aces. Two black acts at number 1 in a row… clearly, far from the Rivers of Blood that Enoch Powell had predicted, the immigration to the UK in the 60s was opening the UK charts up like never before. The bestselling act of the week didn’t always have to be four white men with guitars.
Desmond Adolphis Dacres was born in Saint Andrew Parish, Jamaica on 16 July 1941. He spent his formative years in Kingston, regularly attending the local church with his grandmother and aunt.
As a young adult, after his mother died, Dacres was working as a welder there, and would impress his colleagues with his singing skills. They encouraged him to go into music. After several failed auditions, he signed with Lesley Kong’s Beverley’s label, but it would be two more years before his first fruits were released.
In the meantime, he had spotted another talented singing welder, and took him to meet Kong, who duly signed him up. In 1962, that singer, Bob Marley, released his debut single. Marley never forgot what his workmate did for him.
Dacres’ first single Honour Your Mother and Father was released in 1963, and he chose the stage name Desmond Dekker at the same time. Fourth single King of Ska established him as one of the island’s biggest stars. His backing band on this were the Cherrypies, better known now as the Maytals. Dekker then picked four singing brothers – Carl, Patrick, Clive and Barry Howard – to become his permanent backing vocalists, and named them the Four Aces, then the Aces.
Desmond Dekker & the Aces’ music at this time was the more respectable end of Jamaican culture, extolling the virtues of going to church, education and respecting your parents. However in 1967 he began recording material that commented on the rude boy subculture, where money was hard to come by and ways to get ahead in life were limited. That year they released the rude boy rocksteady anthem 007 (Shanty Town), the title track of their debut album. Its success reached the UK, where it went to number 15.
Around this time, Dekker became inspired to write Poor Me Israelites, as it was known in Jamaica. In The Metro newspaper on 18 April 2005, he recalled, ‘It all happened so quickly. I didn’t write that song sitting around a piano or playing a guitar. I was walking in the park, eating corn. I heard a couple arguing about money. She was saying she needed money and he was saying the work he was doing was not giving him enough. I relate to those things and began to sing a little song – “You get up in the morning and you slaving for bread.” By the time I got home it was complete. And it was so funny, that song never got out of my mind. It stayed fresh in my head. The following day I got my little tape and I just sang that song and that’s how it all started.’
Although reggae and ska were making inroads, and elements of both were in the Equals’ Baby, Come Back, Israelites became the first full reggae UK number 1, climbing the charts following its release the previous year. This pure form of a fast-rising form of music, with its syncopated vocal melody and offbeat sound, was a taste of another way of life for mainstream record buyers. It helped that the melody was incredibly catchy, because the vocals, sang in thick Jamaican patois, were at times inpenetrable to white audiences. It didn’t matter, though, when the music was this good.
I have to confess that I have only just begun to grasp the meaning of Israelites. It doesn’t help that my introduction to the song came from a television advert for the margarine Vitalite. As a boy I loved it whenever the animated sun and accompanying sunflowers came on our TV. And then I became confused by an advert for Maxell cassettes, in the late 80s, in which Dekker (I’ve literally just found out it was him) holds up incorrect lyrics to the song in the style of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues video. So for a while, I thought it was called My Ears Are Alight. I was only young, to be fair.
No, Israelites is not about a margarine that’s high in polyunsaturates and low in saturates, and it’s not about your ears being on fire. It’s about, as Dekker described above, a poor guy struggling to feed his family, but the title stems from the Jamaican Rastafarian Movement’s association with the Twelve Tribes of Israel from the Hebrew Bible. Rastafarians were ostracized from the more conservative traditional church of Jamaica in the 60s.
So, Israelites is Jamaica’s version of the blues. Its their answer toSixteen Tons. Dekker is slaving away to put bread on the table, yet his wife and kids ‘pack up and leave’ him. Despite reading that this is the lyric, I remain certain he’s actually singing that they ‘fuck off and leave’ him. ‘Darling she said, I was yours to be seen’ suggests he hasn’t been as appreciative of her as he could have been. He doesn’t want to end up like ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, I’m assuming, is a reference to robbing and stealing, and not wanting to be shot dead like the infamous duo, back in the public eye after the blockbuster film.
Israelites was not only a success in the US, it made him a name in the US too, reaching the top ten. Dekker decided to leave Jamiaca and took up permanent residency in the UK. It Mek went into the top ten, and then he dropped the Aces, signed with the legendary Trojan Records and very nearly achieved a solo number 1 with his cover of Jimmy Cliff’s You Can Get It If You Really Want in 1970. Dekker was initially reluctant, but was persuaded by Kong.
Unfortunately, his producer and co-writer died in 1971, and some say Dekker never really recovered, but 1972 saw 007 (Shanty Town) featured on the soundtrack to classic rude boy film The Harder They Come, which increased reggae’s exposure and may have helped pave the way for the success of Bob Marley. In 1975 Israelites was re-released and entered the top ten in the UK once more. His last hit here was Sing a Little Song in 1975.
Dekker signed with cult UK ska/punk label Stiff and released the album Black & Dekker. I don’t know whose idea it was to make a pun on the Black & Decker power tool company, but they have earned my eternal respect. His backing band on the LP was Graham Parker’s backing band the Rumour (featuring Roland Gift, later the singer in Fine Young Cannibals), and they ran through his hits, including Israelites. His next album Compass Point (1981) was produced by Robert Palmer, but he was struggling, and in 1984 he declared bankruptcy.
The Maxell advert brought Dekker recognition once more, and in 1993 he recorded the album King of Kings with the Specials, featuring material by Dekker’s heroes. It sounds like a great idea, but apparently it was a disappointment. His final album was 1999’s Halfway to Paradise.
Dekker continued to perform live right until the end. He was preparing to headline a world music festival in Prague when he died of a heart attack in 2006, aged 64.