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 on 9 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. 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-70s 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.
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 on 2 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 Stills’ 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 on 6 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
24 April: British Leyland Motor Corporation launched Britain’s first hatchback car. The Austin Maxi was designed to compete with family saloons like the Ford Cortina. Also that day, the final episode of the long-running BBC Radio drama Mrs Dales Diary was broadcast.
26 April: Manchester City won the FA Cup with a 1-0 win over Leicester City at Wembley.
28 April: Leeds United won the Football league First Division title for the first time.
2 May: The famed ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II embarked on its maiden voyage, from Southampton to New York.
29 May: 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.
After a topsy-turvy 1968, we reach the final year of the decade. And for the first time since the inception of the charts, there’s a new number 1 on New Year’s Day. Psych-pop and rock five-piece The Marmalade became the first Scottish band at the top of the charts with their version of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da by The Beatles.
The band’s history began in 1961 in east Glasgow. Originally known as The Gaylords (stop sniggering, they took the name from the street gang Chicago Gaylords), the inaugural line-up featured guitarists Pat Fairley and Billy Johnston, lead guitarist Pat McGovern, drummer Tommy Frew and singer Wattie Rodgers.
Several line-up changes ensued, most importantly the arrival of William ‘Junior’ Campbell on guitar later that year. By 1963 they were known as Dean Ford and the Gaylords, with Thomas McAleese assuming the name of the ‘star’, aping Cliff Richard and The Shadows. They signed with Columbia Records in 1964, and their first single was a cover of Chubby Checker’s Twenty Miles. They were getting lots of attention in Scotland, and following a stint in Germany in 1965, they returned with ambitions to make it big in England.
After befriending The Tremeloes they signed with their manager Peter Walsh. Performing in the clubs of swinging London in 1966, they tightened up their act and Walsh suggested they became The Marmalade, and they signed with CBS and gained hitmaking Mike Smith as their producer. Debut single, It’s All Leading Up to Saturday Night, failed to chart.
Third single, I See the Rain, featuring a nice pop-psych sound, was lauded by Jimi Hendrix as the best single of 1967. By this point, the line-up had settled down to Ford on lead vocals, Patrick Fairley on six-string bass, Campbell on guitar and keyboards, Raymond Duffy on drums and Graham Knight on bass. The Marmalade were now making waves, supporting The Pink Floyd and performing at festivals during the Summer of Love. But they still weren’t charting, and CBS were beginning to get impatient.
The Marmalade rejected Everlasting Love, which became a number 1 for Love Affair in 1968. Eventually, to get CBS off their backs, they recorded Lovin’ Things, and reached number six in the charts. Also that year they released their debut album, There’s a Lot of It About.
In late 1968 they were offered Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da by publisher Dick James. Allegedly, the band had no idea it was by Paul McCartney when they agreed. It had yet to be released on The Beatles’ eponymous double album.
McCartney wrote this bright and breezy ska-influenced ditty during the Beatles time in Rishikesh, India, earlier that year. The song’s title and chorus came from Nigerian musician Jimmy Scott. Apparently his backing band were called Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, and in live shows he would call out ‘Ob la di’, to which the audience would respond ‘Ob la da’, and he would then conclude ‘Life goes on.’ The ‘Desmond’ of the song was inspired by rising ska star Desmond Dekker.
The fact McCartney would steal the phrase for his own means caused some consternation between he and Scott, and Scott threatened legal action until he came to an agreement with Macca to drop the case if the Beatle would pay his legal bills to get him out of Brixton Prison (he had failed to pay maintenance to his ex-wife).
John Lennon hated Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, so it was ironic he came up with the best part of the Beatles version when he banged away on the piano in the intro in pure frustration. McCartney had planned to release their version as a single, but Lennon was having none of it. George Harrison wasn’t a fan of either, and he wasn’t singing its praises when he namechecked it on SavoyTruffle.
The Marmalade’s version is inferior from the start, ditching that piano intro and any ska influence, preferring to turn it into a jolly, soft knees-up. They even replace ‘Bra’ with ‘Woah’. You could never call The Beatles recording edgy, yet it is by comparison to this. Not different enough to be interesting in any way, it’s reminiscent of the Overlanders’ number 1 version of Michelle. The most noteworthy bit is right at the end, where, instead of singing ‘If you want some fun, take Ob-La-Di-Bla-Da’, they replace ‘fun’ with ‘jam’. Marmalade, y’see.
Like that cover, Beatles fans flocked to the record anyway, and The Marmalade were at number 1 for the first week of January, before being overtaken by 1968’s Christmas number 1, Lily the Pink, by The Scaffold, once more. The Marmalade eventually won out, with a further fortnight as top of the pops.
In November of that year they signed a lucrative deal with Decca, which meant they could write and produce their own material with no time restraints in the studio. This resulted in their biggest hit worldwide, Reflections of My Life, an unusual early prog-rock-sounding ballad, which is superior to their number 1 single.
The beginning of the end of the group’s fame came when Campbell chose to leave in 1971. The hits carried on for a while longer, including Cousin Norman and Radancer, but line-up changes came thick and fast. In 1973 they signed with EMI, and dropped the ‘The’ from their name. Apart from a hit with Falling Apart at the Seams in 1976, none of their singles charted.
During the 80s an incarnation of Marmalade toured the nostalgia circuit, with Knight as the sole member from their heyday. Dave Dee began occasionally performing with them from 1987 until his death in 2009. Knight departed the following year. Dean Ford passed away on New Year’s Eve last year due to complications from Parkinson’s. Despite no original members, Marmalade continue to jam. Sorry.
Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Producer: Mike Smith
Weeks at number 1: 3 (1-7, 15-28 January)
Lawyer Mary Macleod – 4 January
Conjoined twin actresses Violet and Daisy Hilton – 4 January
2 January: Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch purchased best-selling Sunday newspaper The News of the World.
5 January: Riots in Derry left over a hundred people injured.
18 January: Former drummer with The Beatles, Pete Best, won his defamation lawsuit against the band.
24 January: Violent protests by students resulted in the closure of the London School of Econoics for three weeks. This resulted in the students occupying the University of London Union three days later.
Lily the Pink, by Scouse comedy, poetry and music act the Scaffold, was the first novelty song to become Christmas number 1, but as detailed in Every Christmas Number 1, it was certainly not the last instance of this very British phenomenon.
The Scaffold began with the friendship of entertainer John Gorman, and musical performer Mike McCartney (younger brother of Paul). Together with poets Roger McCough and Adrian Henri they formed the revue known as The Liverpool One Fat Lady All Electric Show back in 1962.
By 1964 Henri had left and they had become The Scaffold. As they rose in popularity, McCartney changed his stage name to Mike McGear, to avoid accusations of using his brother’s name to become famous during Beatlemania. However, considering the rise in popularity of anything from Liverpool, it’s fair to say the link won’t have harmed the trio.
In 1966 they signed to Parlophone (label of The Beatles) and released their debut single 2 Days Monday, but it was their third 7″, Thank U Very Much, that first troubled the top 10. Its popularity endured into the 80s thanks to a long-running adveritsing campaign by Cadbury’s Roses, usually at Christmas.
McGough and McGear released an eponymous album without Gorman, featuring cameos from Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell, Paul McCartney and Graham Nash, in May 1968. The Scaffold’s eponymous debut LP was released only two months later and was a live recording of mostly McGough’s poetry and McGear and Gorman’s sketches. And then came Lily the Pink.
The 1968 Christmas number 1’s origins lay in a drinking song called The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham. Pinkham was a real person, and in the 19th century she invented and marketed a herbal-alcoholic women’s tonic for menstrual and menopausal issues. She was ridiculed at the time, but the drink still exists in an altered form to this day. Versions of the ballad were doing the rounds as far back as World War One, with lyrics poking fun at Pinkham’s drink and its alleged uses.
The Scaffold’s version had completely rewritten lyrics by McGough, Gorman and McGear, adding a cast of unusual characters to make it more child-friendly, and also in-keeping with psychedelia, with the tune sounding reminscent of the Victorian music hall. The characters they described were largely in-jokes – ‘Mr Frears has sticky out ears’ refers to Stephen Frears, who had once worked with the trio and is now one of the most highly regarded film directors in the UK. ‘Jennifer Eccles had terrible freckles’ came from the song Jennifer Eccles by The Hollies.
Speaking of which, Graham Nash provided backing vocals, along with Elton John (still Reg Dwight at the time) and Tim Rice, and that’s Jack Bruce from Cream on bass.
I remember Lily the Pink from childhood, and I enjoyed it back then. It’s bloody irritating now, though, and the in-jokes, probably only funny to The Scaffold and a few others at the time, are not funny at all now. The chorus will, sadly, stay with you forever. And ever. And then just when you think Lily has died and gone to heaven, she comes back to haunt you forevermore. The bit where the chorus comes back after she’s died is good fun though, I’ll give them that. Incidentally, it was produced by Norrie Paramor, formerly responsible for Cliff Richard and Frank Ifield. This was his 27th, and (I think) final number 1.
In 1969 The Scaffold recorded their memorable theme tune to Carla Lane’s long-running BBC sitcom The Liver Birds. The following year they were given their own children’s series, Score with the Scaffold. With the advent of decimalisation, the trio were responsible for providing tunes for a series of five-minute programmes to explain how the system would work. That same year, they teamed up with collaborator Andy Roberts (I’ve had a drink with Roberts, and he’s a bloody nice bloke with some great stories, he’s also in one of my favourite sketches of all time, here.) Vivian Stanshall and Neil Innes of the defunct Bonzo Dog Band and various waifs and strays to form Grimms.
As Grimms toured up and down the country The Scaffold continued. They had their first hit since Lily the Pink with Liverpool Lou, recorded with Wings, in 1974. Although there may have been tension after McGear left Grimms due to a bust-up with Brian Patten, The Scaffold parted amicably in 1977, although there have been brief reunions here and there since.
Following a few more singles in the early 80s, McGear retired from music, reverted to his family name and became a photographer and author. Gorman was a regular on Tiswas and the adult version OTT until the early 80s, when he moved into theatre. McGough has remained in the public eye, and is considered a national treasure thanks to his children’s poetry.
After three weeks at number 1, Lily the Pink was overtaken by The Marmalade’s cover of The Beatles’ Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, but only a week later it returned to the top of the hit parade again for a further week.
1968 had been a particularly unusual and random year for number 1s. The decade was nearly over, and by the time we get to the end of 1969, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones will have had their last number 1s.
Written by: John Gorman, Mike McGear & Roger McGough
Producer: Norrie Paramor
Weeks at number 1: 4 (11-31 December 1968, 8-14 January 1969)
Race car driver Phil Andrews – 20 December
Scottish field hockey player Pauline Robertson – 28 December
Author David Mitchell – 12 January
Scottish snooker player Stephen Hendry – 13 January
Welsh poet David James Jones – 14 December
Athlete Albert Hill – 8 January
Writer Richmal Crompton – 11 January
17 December 1968: A case with tragic similarities to the murder of James Bulger in 1993 came to a close with the sentencing of 11-year-old girl Mary Bell from Newcastle upon Tyne. In May and July that year she had murdered two young boys, one with her friend Norma Bell, who was acquitted. Bell recieved a life sentence for manslaughter. She was initially sent to the same secure unit as Jon Venables, one of Bulger’s killers. Bell was released in 1980 into anonymity.
14 January 1969: Sir Matt Busby, legendary manager of Manchester United FC for 24 years, through good times and tragic times, announced his retirement.
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, on 20 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 70s 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 10 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.
Mary Hopkin enjoyed a six-week run (the lengthiest that year) at number 1. The pretty young Welsh folk singer with a powerful voice was the first solo female artist to top the charts since Sandie Shaw in April 1967 with Puppet on a String.
It’s interesting to note that with the exception of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, no number 1 artist for the rest of the decade was able to repeat the feat.
Born in Pontardawe on 3 May 1950, Hopkin took singing lessons as a child and joined a local folk-rock group that became The Selby Set and Mary, who released a Welsh-language EP on their local label Cambrian. They split up after six months and Hopkin decided to go it alone.
She was initially horrified to learn her agent had booked her an audition for the ITV talent show Opportunity Knocks, as she wasn’t interested in becoming a light entertainment star. The 17-year-old was picked for the show and her reluctant appearance on 5 May 1968 was noticed by the model Twiggy. The following weekend she told Paul McCartney about Hopkin after he had mentioned the Beatles were scouting for talent for their new label Apple Records.
A telegram went to the family home, with a number to ring. Hopkin didn’t realise she was speaking to McCartney when he invited her to London to sign a contract. Her mother nearly dropped the phone when he revealed who they were speaking to. Understandably in awe, she recorded a few nervous demos for him, and a few days later became one of the first signings to the fledgling label.
Meeting with McCartney, he told her he knew just the song for her debut single, and that Donovan and The Moody Blues had been offered it but it hadn’t worked out. Paul then strummed Those Were the Days.
This nostalgic, bittersweet tune was originally a Russian song called Dorogoi dlinnoyu, meaning ‘By the road’. It had been written by Boris Fomin, with lyrics by Konstantin Podrevsky. The earliest recording is believed to date back to 1925, performed by Georgian singer Tamara Tsereteli. However, the Hopkin version featured a different set of lyrics. American musician Gene Raskin, who had loved the song when growing up, wrote new words with his wife Francesca in the early 60s and copyrighted them in his name only. The Raskins played in London once a year, and would always close their sets with Those Were the Days. McCartney saw a performance and fell in love with the track.
He produced Hopkin’s version that July, with an arrangement by Richard Hewson that adopted a Russian feel, featuring a balalaika, cimbalom and tenor banjo. The singer and Beatles star both featured on acoustic guitar, and it’s also highly likely that Macca is on the banjo. After recording was completed, they recorded several foreign language versions, including Spanish, Italian, German and French.
It’s an unusual idea, getting an 18-year-old to sing a song that deals in the loss of youth, but not when you hear Hopkin’s performance. Her impressive, weathered vocal sounds like it belongs to someone entirely different. It’s a great production, sounding very distinct from any other number 1 really, and it’s surprising to find out it stayed at number 1 for so long. But then again, the chorus is catchy as hell, and it’s because of it that I feel I’ve known the song all my life. I’ve never taken notice of the verses before though, and I was impressed.
We can all relate to that feeling of the best days being behind us, of mourning that feeling of invincibility that disspates as youth dies over the years. I particularly liked the last verse, where the singer returns to the tavern she used to frequent: ‘Just tonight I stood before the tavern/Nothing seemed the way it used to be/In the glass I saw a strange reflection/Was that lonely woman really me?’
However, it’s a little on the long side, and could probably have done with losing a minute or two. There was obviously an appetite for lengthier singles though, with Those Were the Days toppling the seven-minute-plus Hey Jude, by her own producer.
Those Were the Days was promoted as one of Apple’s ‘First Four’ and is officially the first proper single on the label, as ‘APPLE 1’ was a one-off for Ringo Starr’s wife, and Hey Jude was given a Parlophone Records catalogue number.
Around the same time, Sandie Shaw also recorded a version, but her star was on the wane, and without the backing of The Beatles, it failed to match the success of the Hopkin version.
Hopkin released her debut album, Postcard, in February 1969. Also produced by McCartney, it featured covers of songs by Donovan and Harry Nilsson. Her next single, Goodbye, credited to Lennon/McCartney but written by the latter, reached number two – ironically, it couldn’t repeat Hopkin’s earlier success, and she failed to knock Get Back from the top spot.
In 1970 she took part in the Eurovision Song Contest, and very nearly won with Knock. Knock Who’s There? But despite being the pre-contest favourite, she came second to Irish singer Dana’s All Kinds of Everything. It also reached number two in the singles chart. Hopkin was now working with Mickie Most, but her fame began to recede soon afterwards.
1971 saw her marry her new producer, Tony Visconti, and release her second album, Earth Song, Ocean Song. She was unhappy with showbusiness, and felt she achieved all she had wanted with this album, so she withdrew from the pop scene to start a family. She did however release a few songs here and there (there was another version of her number 1 among them), and would guest on her husband’s productions – most famously, it’s her you can hear singing at the start of David Bowie’s Sound and Vision from 1976.
The early 80s saw Hopkin briefly sing lead with the group Sundance. In 1981 she and Visconti divorced, and a year later she provided vocals on Vangelis’s soundtrack to sci-fi classic Blade Runner. She then joined Peter Skellern and Julian Lloyd Webber in a group called Oasis, but again, this was short-lived. Hopkin moved into acting, and in 1988 she appeared in Beatles producer George Martin’s production of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood.
In the 90s she occasionally performed with the Chieftains, sang the theme song to Billy Connolly’s TV show World Tour of England, and re-recorded Those Were the Days with Robbie Williams rapping, apparently. I hope I never have to hear that.
Hopkin continued to release new music and archive tracks throughout the 00s, and she appeared on her daughter Jessica Lee Morgan’s album in 2010. She also collaborated with her son Morgan Visconti that year. In August 2018 she released another version of Those Were the Days to celebrate its 50th anniversary, with its lyrics taking on an extra layer of poignancy.
Written by: Boris Fomin & Gene Raskin
Producer: Paul McCartney
Weeks at number 1: 6 (25 September-5 November)
Actress Naomi Watts – 28 September
Bros singer Matt and drummer Luke Goss – 29 September
TV presenter Mark Durden-Smith – 1 October
Radio presenter Victoria Derbyshire – 2 October
Serial killer Beverley Allitt – 4 October
Radiohead singer Thom Yorke – 7 October
Footballer Matthew Le Tissier – 14 October
Publisher Stanley Unwin – 13 October
Comedian Bud Flanagan – 20 October
26 September: The Theatres Act 1968 ended Draconian censorship in theatre, which enabled the famous US hippy musical Hair open in London the following day. Nevertheless, the nude scene still shocked stuffy English critics.
2 October: A woman from Birmingham gave birth to the first recorded instance of live sextuplets in the UK.
5 October: A civil rights march in Derry, Northern Ireland was batoned off the streets by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and a day later Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill and John Surtees took the first three places at the United States Grand Prix.
12-27 October: Great Britain and Northern Ireland won five gold medals in the Olympic Games in Mexico City.
27 October: Police clashed with protestors in an anti-Vietnam War protest outside the Embassy of the United States in London.
February 1968: The Beatles travelled to Rishikesh in northern India to take part in a Transcendental Meditation course under the guidance of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Without Epstein to keep them under control, John, Paul, George and Ringo were struggling to stay together since McCartney had attempted to take the reins. Drugs were also having an impact. Perhaps spirituality could help?
It did and it didn’t. They were supposed to stay for three months, but Starr was the first to leave, after 10 days. He likened it to Butlin’s. McCartney left after a month. Lennon and Harrison, who had been the first to try acid, were more open-minded, and of course Harrison was deeply interested in India. However, they both left a month later upon hearing the Maharishi was trying it on with female members of their entourage. Lennon, desperate for a father figure, was particularly hurt, immortalising the experience in Sexy Sadie.
But India had helped unlock the group’s creativity, to the extent they started work on their eponymous double album that May. Upon their return, they also announced the creation of Apple Records. Apple Corps Ltd was originally conceived after the death of Epstein, with their film Magical Mystery Tour its initial release under Apple Films. Their shop, Apple Boutique, opened in December 1967, but was gone by the following June. The failure was prophetic. The Beatles were overreaching. They were the greatest band of all time, but they weren’t businessmen. Far from bringing them closer together, Apple Records helped quicken the end, behind the scenes. The press conference implied that the new label would create a utopia, where anyone could send in their music, and although it was by far the most successful part of the empire, this was largely because of the music of the Beatles.
Many believe Hey Jude was the debut release on Apple Records. ‘Apple 1’ was a single pressing of Frank Sinatra singing Maureen Is a Champ to the tune of The Lady Is a Tramp. It was a surprise gift for Starr to his wife Maureen for her 21st, apparently. The confusion arose from Hey Jude‘s marketing as one of the ‘First Four’ singles on the label.
It was clear from the start that Paul McCartney was aware of just how popular his new ballad would be. Originally called Hey Jules, he has always said it was written in sympathy for Julian Lennon. His father had left his mother for the artist Yoko Ono in May, and McCartney thought it could help heal wounds. Cynthia was touched by the gesture when McCartney played it for them in a surprise visit. McCartney had already changed the name from ‘Jules’ to ‘Jude’, but there was no doubt to its meaning.
Macca would perform his latest composition at any given opportunity, including while producing The Bonzo Dog Band’s I’m the Urban Spaceman under the pseudonym Apollo C Vermouth. Lennon, who had often struggled with McCartney’s choices for singles over the past few years, loved the song – in part because he thought it was actually written for him, ironically as a message to move on and stick with Ono. Paul also later said that he felt Hey Jude was perhaps aimed subconsciously at himself – his relationship with Jane Asher was nearly over. He had begun an affair with Linda Eastman, and was also involved with Frankie Schwartz.
That’s the beauty of Hey Jude. It’s essential message, that love hurts, but it’s worth the struggle, so chin-up, can be applied to anyone. It helps to know you’re not alone.
Famously, when the song was first presented to John and Yoko when they visited Paul on 26 July, he told them he would fix the line ‘the movement you need is on your shoulder’, John replied, ‘You won’t you know. That’s the best line in the song’.
The Beatles first rehearsed the song three days later at Abbey Road over two nights. Recordings prove that despite the animosity within the group, they could still get on and produce magic when working on the right material. However the mood did sour when Paul refused to let George play a guitar line as a response to the vocal.
They entered Trident Studios to record the master track on 31 July, after hearing it was equipped with an eight-track console rather than the standard four. The basic track featured McCartney on piano and lead vocal, Lennon on acoustic guitar, Harrison on electric guitar and Starr on drums. On 1 August they overdubbed McCartney’s bass, backing vocals from Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, and tambourine by Starr.
At some point they had decided the song was to feature that legendary lengthy coda that spawned a thousand imitations, and beefed it up with a 36-piece orchestra. All but one member of the orchestra joined in with singing and clapping on the record, which was deliberately faded out slowly until the record was allegedly deliberately made to last one second longer than Richard Harris’s MacArthur Park. For 25 years, Hey Jude was the lengthiest number 1 single. Meat Loaf’s I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That), released in 1993, ran for 7:52. If you simply can’t get enough of Hey Jude, the mono version lasts that little bit longer.
Depending on whether you can hear the accidental swearing in tTe Kinks’ You Really Got Me (I can’t), Hey Jude is also the first number 1 to feature audible swearing. At around 2:57, listen with headphones and you hear a ‘Woah!’ followed by ‘Fucking hell!’. For a few years now I assumed this was Lennon, and some sources claim it was a result of him listening to a playback and the volume being too loud on his headphones. But according to Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, the swearing is from McCartney who had hit a bum note. Lennon persuaded him to keep it in, insisting nobody would ever know but those in the studio. Once you’ve heard the swearing, you’ll never miss it again.
Hey Jude is one of the greatest singles of all time. I won’t be persuaded otherwise by naysayers in recent years, who’ve scoffed at the fact it’s rolled out by McCartney at the Olympics and seemingly every big UK celebration. Overfamilarity hasn’t dulled its beauty for me. As I’ve said above, it’s a beautiful, sincere message from McCartney, and it’s sung with real tenderness until the coda.
Some scoff at the coda, calling it overblown, and laugh at McCartney’s soulful interjections during the chant. They’re wrong. I recall reading somewhere a review of the song that suggested the moment the orchestra represents the moment that Jude realises the singer is right, a sort-of ‘eureka’ moment. I love that idea, and if you go along with that, it makes McCartney’s excited performance perfectly appropriate. He’s chuffed that Jude has got the message, and is thrilled for him.
You can’t blame Hey Jude for all the substandard rip-offs that followed in its wake, either. And to be fair, it was also responsible for some really good rip-offs, eg David Bowie’s Memory of a Free Festival a year later. It has been misused over the years, adopted by other singers/bands as a cheap way of lengthening their set (Robbie Williams at Glastonbury in 1998, for example), but when heard at the right time, in the right atmosphere, it can bring a tear to the eye, or make you feel pure ecstasy (the writer himself at Glastonbury in 2004, for example).
Hey Jude was released on 26 August. As mentioned earlier, it was one of the initial four Apple singles released to the public. The other three were Mary Hopkins’ Those Were the Days (produced by McCartney) which would knock the Beatles from the top spot), Jackie Lomax’s Sour Milk Sea (written and produced by Harrison) and Thingumybob by the Black Dyke Mills Band (produced by McCartney).
Michael Lindsay-Hogg was hired to film videos for the single and the B-side Revolution (for some reason, they were a double-A-side in the US, but not here). Together, they worked on a mock-live performance, where the Beatles performed to a backing track with live orchestra and vocals, as they reached the coda, the audience invade the stage and envelop the group, creating a beautiful image of band and fans as one. An enduring image, but as false as John, Paul, George and Ringo pretending they were still a cohesive unit. The Beatles were growing up and outgrowing each other.
But in September 1968, they were back on top with the best-selling single of 1968, and four out of the next five number 1s were linked to the Fab Four. After the commercial misfire of Magical Mystery Tour the year before, they ruled the world once more.
As for Hey Jude, I predict that unfortunately it’ll take the death of Paul McCartney for popular opinion to turn round and for it to be recognised as the classic it undoubtedly is, and for its writer to be recognised as a true genius alongside John Lennon.
Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Producer: George Martin
Weeks at number 1: 2 (11-24 September) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*
Conservative MP Grant Shapps – 14 September
Television presenter Philippa Forrester – 20 September
Scottish golfer Tommy Armour – 12 September
15 September: The Great Flood of 1968 brought exceptionally heavy rain and thunderstorms to the south east of England.
16 September: The following day, the General Post Office divided post into first-class and second-class services for the first time.