311. Nilsson – Without You (1972)

One of the earliest, finest power ballads, reaching number 1 in the 70s and 90s, Without You is a tune surrounded by tragedy. This version, by maverick singer-songwriter Nilsson, is the best.

Harry Edward Nilsson III, born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn on 15 June 1941, came from a family of circus performers on his father’s side, who were known for their aerial ballet. His father walked out on the family when he was only three – which had a profound effect on Nilsson, becoming the subject matter of his songs 1941 and Daddy’s Song.

He grew up with his mother and younger half-sister. They were so poor, he took on a number of jobs from a young age, including a job at the Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles. Nilsson grew more and more interested in music, and it was his mechanic uncle that helped him on the way to becoming such a great singer. He formed an Everly Brothers-style duo with a friend. When the Paramount closed in 1960, he lied his way into a job working for a bank on their new computer system.

In 1962, Nilsson also got a job singing the demos of budding songwriter Scott Turner. He’d also started writing tunes himself, and in 1963 he co-wrote for Little Richard. Reportedly, upon hearing Nilsson sing, he exclaimed ‘My! You sing good for a white boy!’ the following year, he wrote three songs with Phil Spector.

Thanks to publisher Perry Botkin Jr, who invested his life savings into getting Nilsson the means to record four songs for Tower Records (a subsidiary of Capitol). This material was compiled into his debut album, Spotlight on Nilsson, released in 1966. That same year, he signed with RCA Victor and recorded Pandemonium Shadow Show (1967). This LP really showcased the potential of his voice and ability to cover other artists as well as his own material. His cover of The Beatles’ You Can’t Do That, in which he quoted 17 other songs by the Fab Four, caught the attention of their press officer Derek Taylor. Thanks to a major label behind him, and his songwriting duties for hot acts like The Monkees, Nilsson finally quit the bank.

Nilsson’s career went from strength to strength over the next few years critically and then commercially. His cover of Fred Neil’s Everybody’s Talkin’ first featured on 1968 album Aerial Ballet, before becoming a deserved hit a year later thanks to its inclusion in the film Midnight Cowboy. At the press conference in which The Beatles announced the formation of Apple Corp, John Lennon was asked the name of his favourite American singer, and Paul McCartney was asked his favourite American group. Both replied ‘Harry Nilsson’. Aerial Ballet also contained his original version of the melancholy One, later covered by Three Dog Night.

In 1970, Nilsson had become aware of a then-little-known songwriter called Randy Newman. He was so impressed, he made a whole album of his material, Nilsson Sings Newman, which helped get Newman recognised despite selling poorly. The following year Nilsson travelled to the UK to record Nilsson Schmilsson, his most famous work, which featured Without You by Badfinger.

The sad story of Badfinger is a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of the mercenary music business. One of the first signings to Apple Records, with the help of The Beatles they scored several hits. Without You, written by band members Pete Ham and Tom Evans. Their version had featured on 1970 album No Dice. It’s a decent stab, but a little unsure of itself, like a demo when compared to the covers that were to come, but then, Ham and Evans hadn’t realised the potential it had.

It had originally been two separate songs. Ham had written one called If It’s Love. He thought one of the verses had potential.

‘Well I can’t forget tomorrow
When I think of all my sorrow
I had you there but then I let you go
And now it’s only fair that I should let you know… if it’s love’

Meanwhile, Evans had a chorus for a song called I Can’t Live, which fitted well with Ham’s song. Combined, they finished Without You.

Recorded in London’s Trident Studios, Nilsson was backed by Apple alumni and Beatles collaborators. The man behind the haunting, plaintive piano was Gary Wright, who had appeared on George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord, Klaus Voorman of Plastic Ono Band took up bass, leading session drummer Jim Keltner was on drums and John Uribe played acoustic guitar. Strings and horns were arranged by Paul Buckmaster.

Although this sounds timeless now, nobody was producing power ballads quite like this in 1972, and although as a genre I’m more likely to laugh at them than truly appreciate them, Without You is a classic. You could argue these days that Nilsson is in effect using emotional blackmail to get his love to stay, but to argue that, you’d be ignoring such an impressively bleak, tortured performance. He sounds so tender at the start, his voice almost feminine as he remembers how she left him. It’s still an awe-inspiring performance, the way his voice shifts halfway through that first chorus. He’s a broken man, and by the final chorus… you just know that Nilsson knows how it feels to be so bereft. This is the difference between his version and Mariah Carey’s number 1 in 1994. Yes, she hits all the notes and it’s technically great, but hard to believe in. It’s also a great production by Perry, classy, and not too overblown. Unlike many power ballads, it’s succinct. It doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Nilsson quickly followed up his hit album with Son of Schmilsson, but he had begun to ignore Perry’s advice and lost fans with the use of swearing in his songs. He did however write another UK number 1 – David Cassidy topped the charts with his cover of The Puppy Song in 1973.

Nilsson was going through a divorce at the time, which made him the perfect drinking companion for Lennon, separated from Yoko Ono and in the midst of his ‘lost weekend’ with May Pang. They became close friends, raising hell and gaining the wrong kind of press for incidents like being thrown out of a Smothers Brothers show. They managed to get it together enough to make an uneven album together, Pussy Cats in 1974, featuring a killer cover of Many Rivers to Cross.

Three years later, Nilsson readied what he considered his best work Knnillssonn. RCA agreed and promised a big promo campaign, but the death of Elvis Presley threw a spanner in the works. However they did release a greatest hits without his permission, so he left the label.

In 1978, Nilsson, along with the world, was shocked to discover The Who’s Keith Moon was found dead in the London flat he rented out. This in itself was terrible news, but the fact that Cass Elliott of The Mamas & the Papas had died in the very same room in 1974, was too much to take. He sold the flat to Pete Townshend and spent all his time in LA from then on.

Nilsson’s output grew more sporadic as the 80s began. His soundtrack for Robert Altman’s Popeye (1980) did as well as the disappointing film, and he was left reeling from the murder of his friend Lennon in December. Nilsson never toured or performed at big concerts, but the death caused him to make more public appearances to give his opinions on gun control in the US. In the mid-80s he returned to the studio, becoming mainly involved in writing music for film and TV through his new production company Hawkeye. Sadly, the project floundered and it was discovered his financial adviser had embezzled Nilsson of all his earnings. He was left close to bankruptcy, while she served less than two years in prison.

Nilsson was born with congenital heart problems, and when he suffered a heart attack in 1993, he knew the writing was on the wall. Years of heavy boozing and smoking will also have taken its toll. He pressed RCA to release a box set of his work, and tried to make one last album, but had only recorded vocal tracks when he died of heart failure on 15 January 1994, aged only 52. The album was finally released in November 2019 as Losst and Founnd. A gifted singer and songwriter, who did things the way he wanted (and one could argue he created the first remix album with 1971’s Aerial Pandemonium Ballet) Nilsson is remembered fondly.

One of the most famous stories attached to Without You is of course the horrible fate of both its songwriters. Following Nilsson’s cover, the future looked bright for Ham and Evans, who were awarded the 1972 Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically. However, it was to be their last hit. When Apple folded in 1973, the group became mired in legal disputes thanks to manager Stan Polley. They were left in limbo and without money coming in, and Ham was showing signs of mental illness. On 23 April 1975, Ham’s body was found hanging in his garage studio, with a suicide note that ended ‘P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard’.

After this tragedy, Evans and guitarist Joey Molland spent years trying in vain to recapture Badfinger’s magic, often amid blazing rows. The money issues only got worse, and Evans then became caught up in royalty rows with Molland, drummer Mike Gibbins and their first manager Bill Collins. Following a particularly nasty argument between Molland and Evans, the songwriter’s body was found at his home on 19 November 1983. He too had hung himself.

If you like your cover versions twisted and harrowing, and if any song deserves that, it’s this one, I’d suggest cult singer-songwriter Bobby Conn’s from 2000, which you can enjoy here.

Written by: Pete Ham & Tom Evans

Producer: Richard Perry

Weeks at number 1: 5 (11 March-14 April)

Births:

Franz Ferdinand singer Alexander Kapranos – 20 March
Actor Nick Frost – 28 March

Deaths:

Photographer Tony Ray-Jones – 13 March
Violinist David McCallum Sr – 21 March
Film producer J Arthur Rank – 29 March

Meanwhile…

21 March: Chancellor Anthony Barber announced a £1,200,000,000 tax reduction in the Budget.

26 March: The UK’s last trolleybus system, in Bradford, was closed.

30 March: The Parliament of Northern Ireland was suspended.

31 March: A large CND demonstration was held protesting against the nuclear base at Aldermaston.

1 April : William Whitelaw was appointed as the first Northern Ireland Secretary.

6 April: Motoring giant Ford launched new flagship saloon model, the Granada, which replaced the Zephyr, to be produced in Dagenham.

11 April: BBC Radio 4 launched long-running parodic panel show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. The ‘antidote to panel games’ still entertains to this day.

293. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Voodoo Chile (1970)

30 years on, I can still remember the first time I saw Jimi Hendrix. I can pinpoint the date reds because it was a clip on Good Morning Britain in which the presenters were talking about the 20th anniversary of his death, so I was 11. I’d never seen anything like this otherworldly flamboyant peacock, tearing away at his guitar with supernatural abandon, on stage in darkness. It was mesmerising, exciting, and even scary.

Jimi Hendrix was the greatest guitarist of his generation, perhaps ever, but he never had a number 1 in his lifetime. Voodoo Chile, from the final album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience Electric Ladyland in 1968, was released posthumously. Not a pop single, but what a riproaring way to call time on Hendrix and the 60s.

He may have seemed like he’d arrived on Earth from outer space, but Johnny Allen Hendrix was born 27 November 1942 in Seattle, Washington, the eldest of five children. Four years later his parents changed his name to James Marshall Hendrix in honour of his father Al and his late brother Leon Marshall. Al was in the army, and absent for much of his eldest’s childhood. His mither Lucille struggled and James would often be sent to female family members and friends of Lucille.

When Al returned from service, he and Lucille would argue violently, and the shy James would hide in a closet. Many years later, he revealed to a girlfriend that he was once abused by a man in uniform. At the age of nine, his parents divorced and Al was granted custody.

In 1957, father and son were clearing an old woman’s home when the young Hendrix found a ukelele with one string left, which she said he could keep. He learnt to play by ear, and would particularly enjoy doing so to Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog.

By mid-1958, a few months after his mother’s early death, he bought his first acoustic guitar. He would play for hours, learning the blues licks of Robert Johnson, BB King and Muddy Waters, but the first tune he learned to play in full was the theme to Peter Gunn.

Soon after his purchase he formed his first group, called The Velvetones. but struggled to be heard above the din, and in 1959, Al bought him one. Hendrix joined The Rocking Kings, and began playing professionally.

Aged 18, Hendrix was caught riding in stolen cars more than once, and police offered him a choice between prison or the army, and he chose the latter and enlisted in 1961. Hendrix struggled and missed his beloved guitar, but when Al sent him it his peers would tease him and hide it from him. Fellow serviceman Billy Cox was impressed with his playing though and they soon joined other servicemen in a band called The Casuals.

After they had both been discharged in 1963 the duo formed new band The King Kasuals. Their second guitarist Alphonso ‘Baby Boo’ Young could play with his teeth, and before long Hendrix could too. As well as The King Kasuals, Hendrix began performing as a backing musician for soul stars including Sam Cooke, Ike & Tina Turner and Jackie Wilson.

In 1964 Hendrix joined The Isley Brothers’ backing band The IB Specials and made his first recording on their two part single Testify. But he got bored of being restricted to the same set every night and left in October to join Little Richard’s touring group The Upsetters. He would make his TV debut appearing alongside the rock’n’roll legend in 1965

There would be further performances with artists including saxophonist King Curtis, but Hendrix couldn’t stand the restrictions of not getting the spotlight to himself, so in 1966 he moved to New York’s happening Greenwich Village and would begin a residency fronting his new band Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, and it is here that he really developed his incredible style.

That May, while performing with Curtis Knight and the Squires he found an important fan in Linda Keith, the girlfriend of Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones. Their producer Andrew Loog Oldham was somehow blind to the potential of this virtuoso axeman, so Keith told Chas Chandler about him. Chandler was about to leave The Animals and was looking to move into managing and producing talent. He saw Hendrix performing Hey Joe in Greenwich Village, and was blown away. Hendrix signed with him and moved to London in September.

Hendrix and Chandler were on the lookout for members of a new band to showcase the former’s talent. They asked guitarist Noel Redding to play bass for him after seeing him at an audition for The New Animals, and drummer Mitch Mitchell had recently been fired from Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames. Chandler suggested Jimmy change the spelling of his name, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience had arrived.

The trio performed for the first time in France, supporting Johnny Holliday, that October. A month later they signed to Track Records, a new label set up by Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, managers of The Who. A performance at the ultra-hip Bag O’Nails in front of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and Pete Townshend set tongues wagging. Debut single Hey Joe shot to number six in December.

If ever there was a case of right time, right place, it was The Jimi Hendrix Experience, in Swinging London, in 1966 and 67. And 1967 was truly their year. Purple Haze and The Wind Cries Mary were top 10 hits in March and May respectively. These first three singles displayed the versatility of these firebrands. They could do soulful covers, write their own psychedelic rock and tender ballads. Debut album Are You Experienced, also released in May, went even further, with the blues of Red House and experimental rock like the title track. It’s rightly considered one of the greatest debut albums of all time, and climbed the charts in the Summer of Love alongside landmark LPs by The Beatles and Pink Floyd.

That summer saw Hendrix blow McCartney’s mind with a live performance of the title track to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and one of the most memorable rock performances of all time at the Monterey Pop Festival. As if Hendrix’s guitar-playing wasn’t impressive enough, he ended their show by setting his instrument on fire. After Monterey they briefly toured as support for The Monkees, quitting after a fortnight due to the audience’s general bafflement.

The trio ended an incredible year with the release of second album Axis: Bold as Love. While the least impressive of their three LPs, it was still sterling work. On 20 December they set to work on the opus that would be the group’s swansong – the double album Electric Ladyland.

Tensions rose during recording, with Hendrix taking more of an interest in the production, which annoyed Chandler, as did his increasing perfectionism. Not only that, the sessions were getting more and more chaotic thanks to fellow musicians dropping by, and also Redding was busy with his new group Fat Mattress, so Hendrix would record his own bass parts. Nonetheless, Electric Ladyland was a masterpiece thanks to songs like Crosstown Traffic and the definitive Bob Dylan cover, All Along the Watchtower. And then there was the album closer.

Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) was a rocked-up, alternative to Voodoo Chile, a 14-minute-plus blues jam featuring Steve Winwood, among others, earlier on the album. The day after that version had been recorded, The Jimi Hendrix Experience returned to the studio to film a documentary, and a session of jamming resulted in Hendrix’s sole number 1 single.

What a track, what a way to pay tribute to one of the greatest musicians ever, and what a full stop on the 60s. Voodoo Chile, as it became confusingly titled upon its posthumous single release (the Slight Return being dropped by Track Records) is no pop single. It’s The Jimi Hendrix Experience at full throttle and saying goodbye. Opening with one of the greatest guitar riffs of all time, the track then explodes.

Hendrix pays tribute to the masters of blues from his youth with some lyrical imagery portraying Hendrix as some kind of superhuman, able to chop down mountains with the edge of his hand. Not that far removed from songs like Bo Diddley’s I’m a Man.

The music is in another dimension to such material, though, a heavy psychedelic onslaught of guitar noodling that, thanks in part to the stereo panning, swirls around your head and never gets boring, unlike perhaps some of Hendrix’s later work. The lyrics don’t last long, but may well be the reason this was picked as a tribute to Hendrix. The second and last verse ends with the guitarist apologising for taking up all the listener’s sweet time (like he has anything to apologise for) and then a promise:

‘If I don’t meet you no more in this world
I’ll meet you in the next one
And don’t be late
Don’t be late!’

Voodoo Chile has probably always been my favourite song by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and I love the fact that for one week, this was number 1. Storming, magnificent and unforgettable.

Electric Ladyland was released in October 1968. 1969 began with the trio caused controversy with their appearance on the BBC’s Happening for Lulu when they abruptly stopped performing Hey Joe to perform Sunshine of Your Love by way of tribute to the recently disbanded Cream. They prevented Lulu performing her closing number, and Hendrix was told they would never work for the BBC again. Around this time, Chandler quit.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s two February gigs at the Royal Albert Hall were their final UK shows, and in June after a performance at the Denver Pop Festival, matters between Hendrix and Redding came to a head, and Redding left.

Hendrix expanded the line-up, adding his old friend Cox on bass, and they headlined the Woodstock Festival as Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, famously blowing the minds of the remaining hippies on the Monday morning with an incendiary version of The Star-Spangled Banner.

To put an end to several years of legal disputes, Hendrix recorded a live album, Band of Gypsys, with Cox and new drummer Buddy Miles. The Band of Gypsys were not to last long as an entity though, and Hendrix’s manager Michael Jeffrey announced in February 1970 that The Jimi Hendrix Experience were to return in their original line-up. This was news to the frontman though, who was reluctant for Redding to return, so he began touring with Mitchell and Cox instead on The Cry of Love Tour.

On 31 August 1970 Hendrix headlined the Isle of Wight Festival, but was beset with technical problems. On 2 September he angered fans in Denmark after three songs announcing ‘I’ve been dead a long time’. After a badly-received set in Germany, Cox was suffering from severe paranoia after a bad LSD trip, and he returned to the US.

Hendrix and Mitchell returned to the UK, and the former spoke to Chandler about being unhappy with Jeffrey’s management. He did an impromptu performance on 16 September with War at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, which was uncharacteristically low-key.

Two days later, his girlfriend Monika Dannemann found him unconscious in bed, and he was pronounced dead soon after. Hendrix had choked on his own vomit on a cocktail of barbiturates and sleeping tablets. He was only 27.

Perhaps Jimi Hendrix was never meant to live a long life. His flame only burned for a few years, but it burned brighter and more colourfully than most can only dream about. Following Redding’s departure, Hendrix had struggled to live up to those first three albums, which suggests The Jimi Hendrix Experience had a very special alchemy. Mitchell was a fantastic drummer in particular, and if Hendrix hadn’t been in the spotlight so much, he may have been better remembered. Redding, sardonic and grounded, was perhaps good at stopping Hendrix from getting too carried away in the studio.

Redding was found dead at home in Ireland on 11 March 2003 after a shock haemorrhage, aged 57, and Mitchell died five years later on 12 November in a hotel in Portland, Oregon of natural causes, aged 62.

Written by: Jimi Hendrix

Producer: Chas Chandler

Weeks at number 1: 1 (21-27 November)

Births:

Novelist Stel Pavlou – 22 November
TV presenter Zoe Ball – 23 November

Meanwhile…

27 November: The Gay Liberation Front organised its first march in London.

279. The Archies – Sugar Sugar (1969)

The slick pop of Sugar Sugar by cartoon band The Archies was the penultimate number 1 of the 60s, sitting pretty in the top spot for close to two whole months, and only narrowly missing out on the Christmas number 1 spot.

Artists like The Beatles and Bob Dylan had made self-penned songs fashionable, and for most of the 60s, it was they and others of their ilk that often reached the top spot. But as the pop audience matured and moved on to buying albums, the gap was starting to be filled by bubblegum pop – squeaky-clean commercial songs, like Dizzy, made to order by hit-making teams, much like in the 50s, and given to singers such as Tommy Roe.

It would be a lie to say this type of thing had ever really gone away though. Motown aped the production-line of the car factories of its hometown Detroit, and The Monkees were a pop phenomenon whose songs were mostly written and recorded by other musicians, until they broke free. And it was Don Kirshner, the man that had been dumped by The Monkees, that came up with the idea of turning a comic into a band in 1968.

From his point of view, it was a no-brainer. All had been going well until The Monkees got too big for their boots – why not start over, only this time, why not remove all pretence that the band is real? And why not use cartoon characters that already had a huge audience to give the project a head start? After all, it had worked in the 50s – Alvin and the Chipmunks had been and still are very successful.

Kirshner was hired by CBS in late 1967 to be musical supervisor on their new Saturday morning cartoon series The Archie Show. Based on popular characters from The Archie Comics, which began in 1941, it followed the adventures of a bunch of all-American teenage friends from Riverdale High School that had formed a band.

17-year-old Archie Andrews was the central figure, lead singer and rhythm guitarist. His best friend Jughead Jones was their drummer, with wisecracking Reggie Mantle on bass. But unusually, this wasn’t just a boy’s own setup, very unusual for that time. Rich girl Veronica Lodge also sang and played keyboards, and tomboy Betty Cooper was lead guitarist and percussionist. Girl power!

The show had a 17-episode run, premiering in the US in September 1968 until January 1969. Kirshner’s job was to hire the songwriters and musicians for the songs The Archies would be performing. He wasted no time in hiring Jeff Barry to co-produce with him. Barry, together with Ellie Greenwich, was responsible for some of the biggest pop hits of the decade, including Da Doo Ron Ron, Then He Kissed Me and Do Wah Diddy Diddy, a number 1 for Manfred Mann in 1964. He had co-written Tell Laura I Love Her with Ben Raleigh, which had been a UK number 1 for Ricky Valance in 1960, and worked with Kirshner on The Monkees’ hits, including producing their UK chart-topper I’m a Believer.

For their eponymous debut album, The Archies music was performed by singer Ron Dante, drummer Gary Chester, guitarist Dave Appell, bassist Joey Macho (great name) and keyboardist Ron Frangipane (even better name). Kirshner had wanted Kenny Karen to be the vocalist, but Barry liked Dante, who had been the singer novelty parody band The Detergents. He was also in the rock group The Cuff Links.

The first single released, Bang-Shang-A-Lang (sounds like a Bay City Rollers song title) did okay, reaching number 22 on the Billboard chart in the US, so the project continued.

For the sessions for second album, Everything’s Archie, Kirshner left Barry to produce alone. Among the material was a song by Barry and Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Kim. Sugar Sugar was catchy as hell, and encapsulated bubblegum pop totally. It was all wide-eyed innocence, as sweet as the title suggested and contained hook upon hook. Kim also plated guitar and joined Dante on the vocals, and Toni Wine performed the female voices. Wine was a songwriter too, and had co-written A Groovy Kind of Love with Carole Bayer Sager for The Mindbenders. Joining them and the line-up of the debut album was guitarist Sal DiTroia and Ray Stevens provided the all-important handclaps.

Sugar Sugar was so strong, they decided to release it before the LP was completed. Allegedly, because previous single Feelin’ So Good (S.K.O.O.B.Y-.D.O.O.) hadn’t performed well, Kirshner decided not to reveal the identity of the band behind Sugar Sugar when DJs got their hands on it in May 1969. Whether this is true or not, it was some time before it became really big. It eventually climbed to the top in the US that September, and the UK a month later.

I totally get the reasons for Sugar Sugar‘s enduring popularity, for all the reasons I’ve given above, and more – mostly the infectious keyboard interjections in the chorus, obviously. It has all the ingredients needed for a pop song. But it’s never done much for me. Even as a child, I found it a bit too sickly-sweet and cloying. I found the lyrics silly and the ‘band’ irritating, having never actually seen the cartoon, just the clips compiled to make a music video.

As an adult, it’s all a bit too cynical and professional for my liking. Don’t get me wrong, I no longer feel, as I did in my 20s, that music is only any good if the artist is ‘4 Real’, but try as I might, Sugar Sugar mostly leaves me cold. The ‘Pour your sugar on me, honey’ line is quite good though, and sung with some much-needed passion.

Sugar Sugar was the best-selling song of 1969 and stayed at number 1 for eight weeks – a feat that was last achieved by The Shadows with Wonderful Land in 1962. I can only assume the TV show was being shown in the UK at the time and doing well too, otherwise, why would it perform even better here than in the US? Whatever the reasons, it was a sign of things to come in the following decade, as bubblegum pop continued to sell hugely, and innocent acts like The Osmonds entrancing children. The idea of cartoon bands surfaces in the charts from time to time – Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz, for example.

Filmation continued to produce various Archies TV shows until 1978, but the musical project had ground to a halt before then. Nothing matched Sugar Sugar, and after follow-up Jingle Jangle (not featuring Jimmy Savile), the band’s success tailed off sharply. Fourth album Sunshine in 1970 (which has great sun-drenched, slightly sinister artwork that wouldn’t look out of place on a Boards of Canada release) was the last to feature Jeff Barry and Andy Kim properly, and was more grown-up than previous releases. 1971’s This Is Love was the final regular release.

Barry became interested in writing music for film and television afterwards, and Kim had a solo hit in 1974 with Rock Me Gently. After a short-lived solo career, Dante moved into production and did very well at it, producing hits for Barry Manilow. In 2008 he returned to the Riverdale teens, singing on The Archies Christmas Album. Kirshner continued to work in music for TV shows. He died of heart failure in 2011, aged 76.

Archie Comics continued to be mined, with Sabrina, the Teenage Witch proving to be the other most popular character. Archie Andrews was killed off in 2014, shot in the stomach while saving the life of his friend, Senator Kevin Keller. Riverdale was renamed Archie Andrews High School in his honour. 2017 saw the debut of TV drama series Riverdale, which turned the premise of the characters on its head, with the lives of Archie and co proving much darker than the original comic-strip could ever have been.

And while we’re on the subject of ‘dark’, if Sugar Sugar had lasted at number 1 a further week, it would have been Christmas number 1 and the final chart-topper of the decade. However, it was pipped by another hugely popular children’s song, now sadly infamous thanks to the singer.

Can you tell what it is yet?

Written by: Andy Kim & Jeff Barry

Producer: Jeff Barry

Weeks at number 1: 8 (25 October-19 December) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Scottish actor Gerard Butler – 13 November
Rock drummer Michael Lee – 19 November
Conservative MP Sajid Javid – 5 December
TV presenter Richard Hammond – 19 December

Deaths:

Bandleader Ted Heath – 18 November
Princess Alice of Battenburg – 5 December

Meanwhile…

15 November: Regular colour TV broadcasts began on both BBC One and ITV.

16 November: The BBC One debut of much-loved children’s stop-motion animated TV series Clangers.

17 November: In a move that had a far-reaching effect on the British press, The Sun newspaper, previously a left-wing broadsheet, was relaunched as a right-wing tabloid. Despite falling circulation, it remains influential and one of the most popular newspapers in the country.

25 November: John Lennon returned his MBE in protest against the British involvement in Biafra, as well as supporting the US in Vietnam. The Beatles as cuddly establishment moptops seemed a long time ago.

10 December: It was announced that organic chemist Derek Barton had jointly won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with the Norwegian Odd Hassel.

15 December: Barclays Bank purchased Martins Bank.

18 December: The abolition of the death penalty was made permanent by Parliament.
Also that day, the sixth James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was released. This was the first and last to feature George Lazenby, after Sean Connery had quit the role.

228. The Monkees – I’m a Believer (1967)

5495292

1967! The Summer of Love! Hippies! And Milton Keynes (see below)! Enjoying a deservedly lengthy month-long stint at the top of the charts were The Monkees with I’m a Believer.

Although I’m a snob when it comes to music, and think the entertainment industry took over the music business to such an extent it stifled creativity and nearly brought about its demise, I have a massive soft spot for The Monkees. In fact it’s not a soft spot – they’re easily one of my favourite groups of the 60s. And their rise and fall is a fascinating subject.

It’s widely acknowledged that The Monkees were an American attempt at apeing (ho ho) The Beatles, but in fact aspiring filmmaker Bob Rafelson first came up with it back in 1962. I wonder how that would have ended up? In 1964 he was working for the film company Screen Gems and had teamed up with Bert Schneider. They had just formed Raybert Productions when they saw A Hard Day’s Night, and Schneider thought the time might be right to revive his idea. He was right, and Screen Gems snapped up the idea.

Fast forward to May 1965, and Raybert Productions wanted folk-rockers The Lovin’ Spoonful to be their band, but as singer John Sebastian had already signed to make recordings, they had to look elsewhere. And as the plan was for the TV show to feature a pretend band, why limit themselves to just musicians?

Mancunian actor Davy Jones was chosen first. He had appeared in Coronation Street and made waves as the Artful Dodger in the Broadway show Oliver! He just needed a big break, was already signed to Screen Gems, and with his baby-face and sweet demeanour, could easily pass for a Paul McCartney-type. One down.

The other three members were all from the US and came from auditions held later that year. Micky Dolenz, from Los Angeles, California, was also an actor, having appeared as a child in the TV series Circus Boy. He did have some experience of being in a band though, and, importantly, he had a great voice.

Mike Nesmith, from Houston Texas, had been working as a musician since 1963, and had featured in a few bands, as well as performing on his own. His audition showcased a laconic humour and bullish personality, so they now had their John Lennon. Maybe they’d even let him write some tunes?

Last to be chosen was fellow musician Peter Tork, who was part of the Greenwich Village folk scene. Stephen Stills suggested he try out after being rejected himself. Poor Tork, despite being gifted and bright, was soon portraying a bumbling but lovable fool – basically, Ringo Starr in A Hard Day’s Night.

While the auditions went on, Don Krishner was hired to sort out the music for the pilot episode. Kirshner had been instrumental in making Bobby Darin famous, and knew the Brill Building team of songwriters, so seemed like a great choice. But he couldn’t get any interest, so he tried Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart instead. They wrote the theme to the series, and offered up another three songs, so things were looking good, apart from the fact The Monkees couldn’t play anything together, and the plan was to release an album to cash in on the series.

Their eponymous debut album was recorded in June 1966, and by and large the formula was to have one Monkee singing per track, with everything else supplied by session musicians The Wrecking Crew. Debut single Last Train to Clarksville, sounding not dissimilar to Paperback Writer, was released before the show had been aired, and still did pretty well. However, Nesmith wasn’t happy that the actual musicians received no credit on the LP.

The series was a smash as soon as it began in the US that September, and a month later the follow-up was recorded. I’m a Believer had been written and originally recorded by Neil Diamond, then still a struggling Brill Building songwriter. The Monkees version featured Dolenz on vocals, along with, among others, Al Gorgoni on guitar (he had played on Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence), Buddy Salzman on drums, and that chirpy organ hook at the start and through the choruses came from Stan Free on a Vox Continental.

Nesmith certainly had a point in wanting The Monkees to be responsible for ‘real music’, but all these years later, people still go mad to I’m a Believer, and they don’t care who did what. It’s such a lovely, warm track, that captures how the joy of love at first sight can melt the hardest of hearts. The success of the TV series was in a large part due to the charm of the group, and somehow, no matter who appeared on their recorded output, that charm shone through too, whether by luck or design, or both, I can’t say. The Monkees at their best put their name to 60s pop at its best, and I’m a Believer is among their finest singles. That’s partly down to producer Jeff Barry, who had written many hit singles before then, including Do Wah Diddy Diddy.

The TV series began in the UK on New Year’s Eve 1966, and Monkeemania began soon after when this single climbed the charts. Tensions soon rose though when the band discovered it had been included on their second album, More of the Monkees. They didn’t even know the album existed until it was too late, and were horrified at the track listing and cover image. Nesmith told Melody Maker it was ‘probably the worst album in the history of the world’. Matters came to a head in an argument with Kirshner that resulted in Nesmith threatening to quit before punching a hole in a wall and shouting ‘that could have been your face!’ to a lawyer. Soon after, Kirshner was let go.

And then things got really interesting. The Monkees wrested control of their output, and in February 1967 they began recording their third album Headquarters. For the first and only time of their original run as a band, they performed the tracks pretty much on their own, and had more of a hand in the songwriting, with Chip Douglas from the Turtles on bass and production duties. Largely country-rock-flavoured, Headquarters is a great achievement for a ‘manufactured’ band. It may not be up there with the classic albums of 1967, but it’s a giant leap forward for the foursome. Highlight for me is Micky Dolenz’s noise-fest closer Randy Scouse Git, named after one of Alf Garnett’s favourite outbursts at his son-in-law (played by Tony Blair’s father-in-law, Tony Booth) on BBC One sitcom Till Death Us Do Part. It nearly became their second number 1 too, but stalled at number two against All You Need Is Love.

It’s a shame The Monkees then chose to rely on session musicians again, as I think it sped up their demise. Having said that, they still had more authority over who they worked with, and fourth album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd, released that November, is just as good, if not better than its predecessor. It featured Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s wonderful and blissful Pleasant Valley Sunday, which had been a single during the Summer of Love. The album featured a Moog synthesizer – Dolenz was one of the first owners of the instrument. Another classic hit single was released as 1967 drew to a close – Daydream Believer, Davy Jones’s finest hour as a singer.

The TV show had been getting weirder, the band were touring as a real unit, alongside The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and they were hanging out with The Beatles. Amazing times for a group who weren’t supposed to be able to play.

1968 wasn’t such a great year, but at least it was interesting. NBC announced they wouldn’t renew the show for a third season in February, and shortly afterwards they released The Birds, the Bees & the Monkees. The band mostly worked alone, with their own team of musicians, making for an eclectic sound. Nesmith fares the best with the low-key psychedelic strum of Tapioca Tundra.

Rafelson and Schneider had it in mind to create a feature film for The Monkees. What the group didn’t know at the start was that their plan was a work of cynical avant-garde genius that would cynically tear apart at the notion of the group. Written by then-unknown actor Jack Nicholson with Rafelson, Head set out to prove that no matter what the band members did to try and break free of their public image, they would always be considered nothing more than a cartoon band, no more real than the Archies, also created in 1968. Head is one of the greatest music films of all time, a technicolour masterpiece with a dark heart. And the soundtrack is just as great. There aren’t many actual songs, but they’re all excellent, especially Goffin and King’s spaced-out Porpoise Song and sweet love song As We Go Along, plus Tork finally gets the spotlight with the fuzzy blast of the marvellously named Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again? Nesmith always contributed great songs to their albums, but Circle Sky, an impressive blast of acid-country-rock, is one of his best.

In 1969, not long after their disappointing TV special 33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee, Tork left, and the downhill slide truly began. There were still some great songs, including both tracks on the single Someday Man/Listen to the Band, but things were never the same again. The Monkees Present, released in October, was the last to feature Nesmith. Dolenz and Jones soldiered on with one more album, Changes, released in 1970. It was a new decade, and time to move on.

In the meantime each member had varying degrees of success. Nesmith became a country-rock pioneer and helped invent MTV.  Dolenz moved into acting and directing, and along the way he made UK children’s series Metal Mickey in the 80s. Incidentally, both he and Nesmith auditioned to be the Fonz in Happy Days. Jones went back to mostly acting, and became a popular choice for cameos in US sitcoms. He also became a jockey. Tork was in the public eye the least, but I get the feeling he liked it that way.

There have been a number of reunions, most notably in 1986 when repeats of the series prompted a revival and new 20th anniversary album, minus Nesmith, called Pool It! It’s shockingly bad. A large factor in Nesmith’s reluctance to tour was money. He inherited $25 million when his mother, the inventor of liquid paper, passed away. This meant there was no financial incentive to reunite, so over the years he only got involved again when he really felt like it.

He returned in 1996 when they celebrated their 30th anniversary with Justus, an album featuring the band writing, performing and producing every song. Another poor collection, bar the Circle Sky remake, but not as bad as Pool It! They also reunited for another TV special, but it wasn’t half as clever as it thought it was. Following a tour of the UK, Nesmith left again and relations became strained. In 2010 they reformed for the final time as a quartet, as Jones died of a heart attack in 2012, aged 66.

In 2015, Dolenz and Tork toured together, and the following year they released a new album, Good Times!, to commemorate their 50th anniversary. Nesmith joined in, and Jones appeared too posthumously. With songs by musicians including Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, XTC’s Andy Partridge and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Good Times! was, against all odds, a great listen. Highlight for me was Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher’s Birth of an Accidental Hipster.

This would have been the perfect way to end the Monkees, but, buoyed by the reception to Good Times!, they released an album this past Christmas. Christmas Party features a similar line-up of songwriters, and once again, Jones is exhumed, but its mostly cheesy and Dolenz’s vocals really grate on me. Tork’s contribution was minimal due to illness, with him contributing only a sweet banjo-led version of the traditional Angels We Have Heard on High. Perhaps he knew he hadn’t long, for this was his final contribution to the Monkees. Tork sadly died aged 77 only last week.

The Monkees were certainly not perfect. They could be corny, and recorded some terrible songs at times, particularly those godawful mawkish ballads sung by Jones on the first two albums. But how many groups, put together by the industry, have been able to do what they did, to take over and create better results? They may have been manufactured, but they can’t be compared to, say, the boy bands of the 90s. My issue with Westlife et al isn’t that somebody is telling them what to do, it’s the quality of the material, the cynicism, and the lack of effort. The people behind The Monkees were often craftsmen, and as I said before, in their best material, the charm of Mike, Davy, Micky and Peter shines through, and they could experiment, be far-out, and savage at times (the Sex Pistols even covered (I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone). I’m a Believer is one of their best. I love The Monkees, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

28 years after it reached number 1, I’m a Believer was nearly a chart-topper for my favourite comedians, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. Attempting to repeat the success of Dizzy, recorded with the Wonder Stuff, they teamed up with indie rockers EMF for a great, beefed-up version, and you can see the video here.

Written by: Neil Diamond

Producer: Jeff Barry

Weeks at number 1: 4 (19 January-15 February) 

Births:

Field hockey player Kathryn Johnson – 21 January 
Swimmer Nick Gillingham – 22 January
Actress Olivia d’Abo – 22 January

Deaths:

Producer Joe Meek – 3 February (read more here)
Publisher Victor Gollancz – 8 February

Meanwhile…

23 January: The village Milton Keynes in northern Buckinghamshire was formally designated as a new town. Over the next few decades it became Britain’s largest of its kind.

26 January: Parliament amounted it would nationalise 90% of the British steel industry.

3 February: Eccentric genius producer Joe Meek killed himself – you can read more about that whole sorry tale here.

6 February: Soviet Union Premier Alexei Kosygin arrived in the UK for an eight-day visit, with a visit the Queen thrown in too.

7 February: The British National Front was founded by South African AK Chesterton.

12 February: 1967 was a turbulent year for The Rolling Stones, with their troubles beginning when police raided the home of Keith Richards. He, Jagger and art dealer Robert Fraser were later charged with possession of drugs.

178. Herman’s Hermits – I’m into Something Good (1964)

592096728.jpg

After a run of groundbreaking singles at number 1 that were often dark, primitive and sexually charged, it was time to have a good old-fashioned love song back at the top of the charts.

I’m into Something Good was the debut single of clean-cut Mancunians Herman’s Hermits. The group formed in 1963 from the ashes of The Heartbeats and originally consisted of Keith Hopwood on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, Karl Green on lead guitar and backing vocals, Alan Wrigley on bass, Steve Titterington on drums and Peter Noone on lead vocals.

Noone was only 15 but already an experienced actor due to his role in Coronation Street. Before long, Derek ‘Lek’ Leckenby and Barry Whitman from another local group, The Wailers (not those Wailers) joined on lead guitar and drums respectively. Titterington and Wrigley left, so Green moved to bass. Their new band name stemmed from a local publican once saying that Noone looked like Sherman from the cartoon series Rocky and Bullwinkle, so they removed the ‘s’ at the start and became Herman and His Hermits, before shortening it to Herman’s Hermits.

Key to the group’s success was producer Mickie Most. He had recently scored his first number 1 production with the Animals’ The House of the Rising Sun, though he always claimed he got lucky and basically just set the tape running and left it to the group. Nonetheless, Most was becoming a name. The Hermits’ manager, Harvey Lisberg, sent Most a return plane ticket from London to come up to Bolton and watch them play live. The Hermits, like The Animals, preferred to play R’n’B numbers, but Most reckoned these boys would work better if they stuck to a lighter pop sound and a squeaky clean image. He was right.

They decided to record I’m into Something Good, by Gerry Goffin and Carole King as their debut single. Goffin and King became one of the best pop songwriting partnerships of the early 60s after their breakthrough Will You Love Me Tomorrow by The Shirelles. John Lennon was once quoted as saying he and Paul McCartney hoped to become England’s answer to Goffin and King, but The Beatles had become so successful, Goffin, King, and other Brill Building songwriters were beginning to suffer commercially. The original I’m into Something Good had been recorded by Earl-Jean from The Cookies, and it had sank. It had been their attempt to ape the songwriting style of Brian Wilson, as The Beach Boys had been riding high in the US charts since 1963.

You can clearly hear the influence on The Beach Boys in the Herman’s Hermits recording. Leckenby and Hopwood’s vocal interjections sound so close to the type of backing vocals The Beach Boys use, it’s almost plagiarism. No bad thing though.

This single suffers by comparison to some of the stone-cold classic number 1s I’ve reviewed of late, but it’s hard to dislike this bright and breezy track. It’s just the right side of cheesy, and Goffin and King really knew how to write a tune, going on to write some of my favourite tracks by The Monkees, including Pleasant Valley Sunday and The Porpoise Song.

Herman’s Hermits’ messy split has caused confusion over the years over how many songs the group actually recorded in the studio. Jimmy Page’s name appears yet again as the rumoured guitarist, due to his popularity as a session player at the time. However Whitwam has always refuted Noone and Most’s claim, and believes these rumours have been spread by the singer and producer due to the bad blood over them losing the rights to the band’s name. Whitman and other band members insist the only addition to the group here was a session pianist.

Whoever played on it, it established the young five-piece as popular hitmakers. Lots of hits followed, including Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter, I’m Henry VIII, I Am and No Milk Today, written by Graham Gouldman, a future 10cc founder.

Noone left the group in 1971 to become a solo artist, and his first solo hit was a cover of David Bowie’s Oh! You Pretty Things, featuring the man himself on piano. I’m into Something Good became a hit for him once more in 1989 when a solo version memorably featured in the brilliant comedy film The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988) during the montage sequence featuring Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley.

The Hermits soldiered on with new singer Pete Cowap. Getting nowhere, they briefly reunited with Noone before he left again and Green took over as singer until he retired in 1980. Leckenby died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1994, which left Whitwam as the only original member.

Due to all the legal wranglings, his band are entitled to be called Herman’s Hermits, apart from when they play in North America, when they have to call themselves Herman’s Hermits starring Barry Whitman. Noone performs solo gigs as Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone. Like I said, messy.

Written by: Gerry Goffin & Carole King

Producer: Mickie Most

Weeks at number 1: 2 (24 September-7 October)

Actor Clive Owen – 3 October 
Footballer Paul Stewart – 7 October