203. The Walker Brothers – Make It Easy on Yourself (1965)

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Long before Scott Walker was ordering a percussionist to punch a side of pork, he was a 1960s pop idol with his pretend siblings. The Walker Brothers first found fame with this first of two number 1s, Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Make It Easy On Yourself.

John Maus, born in New York in 1943, was a child television star. In the late 50s he was friends with Ritchie Valens, and following the La Bamba hitmaker’s tragic death, he was an honorary pallbearer at his funeral. Later, he befriended future Beach Boys David Marks and Dennis and Carl Wilson, and he helped teach them how to play the guitar. He formed a musical partnership with his sister, and they were known as the acoustic duo John and Judy. In 1961, they met Scott Engel.

Engel, born in Hamilton, Ohio in 1943, had also been a child actor and singer, and in the late 50s he was marketed as a teen idol, with Eddie Fisher (one of the first number 1 stars in the UK) pushing him for stardom. Engel had intellectual tastes from an early age, and loved progressive jazz, Beat poetry and European cinema. When he met John Maus he was in the instrumental group the Routers.

Engel and Maus briefly backed John’s sister and they became Judy and the Gents. Somewhere around this time, the 17-year-old Maus got hold of an ID card for John Walker, enabling him to perform in clubs while underage. The name stuck, and he was sick of people getting his surname wrong anyway. After breaking away from Judy Maus, Engel and Walker were briefly part of the Surfaris, the group that had recorded Wipeout in 1963. At least, they were part of the touring group, none of whom recorded their singles.

In 1964, they decided to work together as the Walker Brothers Trio, with Al ‘Tiny’ Schneider on drums. Walker was lead vocalist and guitarist and Engel was bassist and provided harmony vocals. At some point Schneider left and they continued as a duo before meeting new drummer Gary Leeds. All three were photogenic and soon ended up on TV shows including Shindig. They signed with Mercury Records and recorded their debut single, Pretty Girls Everywhere. It was Maus’ idea they should all take the surname Walker, and I still find it odd that Engel continues to go by the name Scott Walker after all these years. I guess he must still have a soft spot for his time as a pop star.

Gary Walker had recently toured the UK with PJ Proby, and convinced John and Scott that the Walker Brothers should try their luck as pop stars on these shores. It was his father that financed their first trip early in 1965. Their first single barely scraped into the charts, but they had better luck with Love Her. This follow-up featured Scott on lead vocal, and upon its success, Scott began moving into the lead spot in the trio.

They found an ideal producer in Johnny Franz. He was one of the top UK producers of the 50s and 60s, and by this point had produced six UK number 1s, from Winifred Atwell’s Let’s Have Another Party in 1954 to Juliet by the Four Pennies in 1964. Franz was very effective at lavishly orchestrated 60s pop, which made him a natural choice to produce a Bacharach and David song. Make It Easy on Yourself was a decent slab of break-up melodrama from the genius duo, and became the songwriters’ sixth UK number 1. It had first been a hit in 1962 for Jerry Butler, based on a demo from Dionne Warwick.

Make It Easy on Yourself comes out on the losing side when compared to that other big heartbreak song of 1965, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. Nobody does the Wall of Sound better than the creator, Phil Spector. Having said that, the Walker Brothers and Franz put in a decent try. The track opens with a wordless version of the chorus, and that first line, ‘Breaking up is so very hard to do’, set to Scott’s smooth baritone, sets things off nicely. It can’t keep the momentum going though, and the verses don’t have the tension and drama of the Righteous Brothers’ number 1. How many songs do, though? Oh, this song also features legendary session drummer Clem Cattini, who took part in a frankly ridiculously long list of UK number 1s over the years, the most recent of which had been the Bachelors’ snore-fest Diane in 1964.

Scott’s vocal is perhaps a little too polished and mannered to carry off the emotion… unless this is a deliberate ploy to make the protagonist sound in denial. You can easily imagine several other singers’ releasing this, such as Cilla Black, which means the Walker Brothers, in particular Scott, were still too green to put their own stamp on their releases. Their next number 1 was a big improvement.

Written by: Burt Bacharach & Hal David

Producer: Johnny Franz

Weeks at number 1: 1 (23-29 September)

Births:

Olympic athelete Phylis Smith – 29 September 

201. Sonny & Cher – I Got You Babe (1965)

sonny-cher-1965.jpgBands like the Beatles and the Byrds were on the cutting edge of the rise of the hippy movement, but Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe was a very mainstream anthem for the ‘love generation’. Although Cher has hit number 1 several times during her subsequent solo career, this was the duo’s sole chart-topper together.

Salvatore Bono was born 16 February 1935 in Detroit to Italian parents. His mother gave him the nickname ‘Sonny’ that remained for the rest of his life. At the age of seven his family moved to Inglewood, California. He attended high school there, but dropped out to concentrate on music. While trying to break into the business he tried various jobs, including being a waiter and a butcher’s helper. He began his music career at Speciality Records, where he wrote Things You Do to Me for Sam Cooke. By the early 1960s Bono found himself working for Phil Spector as a promotion man, percussionist and gofer at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood. In November 1962 he met 16-year-old Cherilynn Sarkisian in an LA coffee shop.

Sarkisian had been born on 20 May 1946 in El Centro, California. Her father John was a half-Armenian, half-American truck driver with drink and gambling problems, and her mother Jackie Crouch was an occasional model and actress with Irish, English, German and Cherokee ancestry. Their relationship was stormy and they divorced when Cherilynn was only ten months old. Crouch changed her name to Georgia Holt and had several more rocky marriages and divorces while moving her family around the country. They were so poor, Cherilynn’s shoes were held together with rubber bands at one point. By the time she was nine she had devloped an unusually low voice and a love of showbusiness. She fell in love with Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and began developing an outrageous persona. At 16 she dropped out of school, left home and moved to Los Angeles with a friend, and that’s where she met 27-year-old Sonny Bono. They quickly bonded, and Bono introduced her to Spector, who let her become a backing singer on several important records, including the Ronettes’ Be My Baby (and just before hitting the big time, the Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’). Bono got a taste of success in 1963 when he co-wrote Needles and Pins with Jack Nitzsche, which became a UK number 1 for the Searchers in 1964. Also that year, Spector produced her first single, Ringo, I Love You under the name Bonnie Jo Mason. The Beatlemania cash-in flopped.

Bono and Sarkisian became lovers, and wed unofficially in a hotel room in Tijuana, Mexico later in 1964.  Bono wanted her to be a solo star but she suffered stage fright and encouraged him to perform too. They became Caesar & Cleo, but three singles bombed. At the same time, he produced some solo singles for her. The second, released in 1965, was a cover of Bob Dylan’s All I Really Want to Do, and it faced a chart battle with a version by the Byrds. It did well in the US, and by the time of her first solo album she was known as Cher. As a duo, they became Sonny & Cher and worked on their debut album, Look at Us. Among the material was Bono’s upbeat answer to Dylan’s break-up song It Ain’t Me Babe. Members of session musician legends the Wrecking Crew were assembled to provide the backing.

Sonically, the duo’s time working with Spector was clearly an influence on the production of I Got You Babe. It’s a less lavish version of his Wall of Sound, but similar in dynamics with the way it builds to what seems a climax, before falling back on itself. Sonny & Cher are no Righteous Brothers, though. That might be harsh on Cher, who we all know has a powerful set of lungs, but Bono’s fooling nobody with his ‘poor man’s Dylan’ vocals. However, he serves his purpose and gives the song an everyman appeal. It’s easy to see how they charmed audiences, and I Got You Babe is very hard to dislike. A lot of that is down to that hook throughout the song, but what exactly is it? After researching, I still don’t know, but it seems it’s either an ocarina or an oboe. So, at least I’ve narrowed it down to ‘something probably beginning with o’.

This simplistic take on flower power made Sonny & Cher huge stars in the UK. It was the Rolling Stones who suggested they come here, noting that, at the time, being stars in Britain first would give them a better chance in America. Their colourful, proto-hippy outfits turned heads on these shores. Further hits for the duo and Cher alone followed, including The Beat Goes On for the former and Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) for the latter. But despite their bell-bottoms and fluffy vests, they began to look rather square by the end of the 60s. Cher loved the heavier sound of bands like Led Zeppelin, but Sonny was having none of it. Their relationship suffered but they officially married in 1969 after she gave birth to their daughter Chastity.

The duo moved into TV in 1971 and The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour was a hit for three years. They ran into relationship difficulties in 1972 but kept up appearances until they divorced in 1975. Despite reuniting for TV series The Sonny & Cher Show, the duo were effectively no more, certainly musically, as Cher carried on as a solo artist. Sonny Bono went into acting, including appearances in Airplane II: The Sequel (1982) and Hairspray (1988). They performed for the last time on Late Night with David Letterman in 1987, where they sang I Got You Babe.

As Cher became a huge star once more, Bono moved into politics after becoming frustrated with the red tape involved in opening a restaurant in Palm Springs, California. He served four years as their mayor, before running for the United States Senate. He was eventually elected to the House of Representatives in 1994 and managed to get a copywright extension law named after him. At some point, he also became a scientologist, but according to his last wife Mary, he tried to break away but they made life difficult for him. The Church denies this. Bono was killed on 5 January in 1998 when he hit a tree while skiing in California. Although Cher had proved she could be a superstar without him, and there may have still been some ill feeling between the duo over the years, she performed a eulogy at his funeral. Despite Cher’s fame, the baby boomers will always associate her with I Got You Babe. The epitaph on Sonny Bono’s headstone reads ‘AND THE BEAT GOES ON’.

And I Got You Babe goes on too. 20 years after first hitting the top, it went to number 1 in 1985. UB40 recorded it with Chrissie Hynde, and my God, was it dull. The original, memorable enough as it was, became forever immortalised in the romantic comedy Groundhog Day (1993), as the first thing weatherman Phil Connors hears every morning for years on end. He should have been grateful it wasn’t UB40’s version.

Written & produced by: Sonny Bono

Weeks at number 1: 2 (26 August-8 September)

Births:

Boxer Lennox Lewis – 2 September 

Deaths:

Speaker of the House of Commons Harry Hylton-Foster – 2 September

186. The Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (1965)

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Widely regarded, and for good reason, as one of the greatest songs of the last century, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ is probably mad genius producer Phil Spector’s finest work.

Spector had begun his career as co-founder of the Teddy Bears, and was responsible for their 1958 US number 1 To Know Him Is to Love Him. They split the following year and he moved into production, becoming the apprentice of Lieber and Stoller. He co-wrote Ben E King’s Spanish Harlem with Lieber and produced the original version of Twist and Shout by the Top Notes. In 1961 he formed a record label with Lester Sill. Acts including the Crystals and Darlene Love began having hits on the new Philes Records, and in 1963 he used them all, along with the hitmaking session group known as the Wrecking Crew, to produce the classic Christmas album A Christmas Gift for You from Philes Records. The LP hit record shops on 22 November, the day President Kennedy was assasinated.

The hits kept coming, and Spector was on top of his game. In 1964 he was conducting the band for a show featuring one of his best acts, the Ronettes. Also on the bill were the Righteous Brothers, Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley. Previously, Hatfield had been in a group called the Variations, while Medley sang in the Paramours. Barry Rillera was in both groups and suggested that the duo would work well together. Hatfield and Medley formed a new version of the Paramours and signed to the small label Moonglow Records in 1962. However the following year the group split, but Hatfield and Medley decided to continue as a duo. They would perform for Marines at the El Toro base, where black Marines began calling them ‘righteous brothers’. And so, the name stuck. As they searched for fame they wound up supporting both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones on their US tours.

Spector worked out a deal with Moonglow and took the duo under his wing. He commissioned Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Mann had previously been a performer, co-writing Who Put the Bomp with Gerry Goffin and recording it. Mann and lyricist Weil fell in love, married and began a career together as brilliant songwriters. Hits included We Gotta Get Out of This Place by the Animals. Mann came up with a new melody and the opening line was inspired by reversing a lyric he had used in I Love How You Love Me, namely: ‘I love how you close your eyes when you kiss me’. The duo came up with the majority of a song, including the placeholder line ‘You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’ Spector came up with some elements, including ‘Now it’s gone, gone, gone, whoa, whoa, whoa’, which Weil disliked. But she and Mann were pleased with an idea for the bridge he came up with, which was a piano riff similar to Hang On Sloopy.

The trio took the song to the Righteous Brothers, who thought it had potential – but not for them, for the Everly Brothers. Spector, Mann and Weil slowed the song right down so it could fit with Medley’s deep baritone, and the duo started to think they might have something they could work with, but they were used to equal status on records, and Hatfield was unhappy at waiting until the chorus to join in. When he asked Spector what he was supposed to do in the meantime, the producer said ‘You can go directly to the bank!’

The Righteous Brothers weren’t needed for a few weeks until the instruments were all recorded. As usual, Spector used his trademark technique of building up layer upon layer of music, with the Wrecking Crew as his band. Eventually the perfectionist Spector was pleased with the epic, delibarately blurry sound he had created. Medley and Hatfield were brought in and spent 39 takes in two days recording the vocal. The Blossoms, which featured Darlene Love, provided backing vocals, and also involved at the song’s climax was Cher, who had helped out on the Ronettes’ Be My Baby.

You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ is truly majestic and few songs capture the heartbreak and sense of loss in a failing relationship better. It starts so slow and quietly, to the point that many (including Mann) believed they were playing it at the wrong speed to begin with, so deep is Medley’s baritone. The opening line is just genius. And thanks to Spector’s knack of timing, the build-up is done perfectly. By the end, Medley and Hatfield are raging to return to the love lives they knew, but to no avail. It’s gone, gone, gone. Grand, lush arrangments in sad songs were nothing new to the charts – the UK charts were full of them until the advent of rock’n’roll, but none had the Spector sound. He might have been a paranoid control freak (and eventually, a murdering psychopath), but like Joe Meek, he was one clever bastard too.

With the recording over, the Righteous Brothers wondered if they’d made the right choice. This style of song was hardly in fashion at the height of the British Invasion, after all, and at three minutes and forty seconds length, it was also longer than most tracks. Spector refused to cut it back, but he was sneaky and requested the vinyl label would say ‘3.05’ to trick DJs into playing it. Despite his cockiness, the producer began to have serious doubts himself. His publisher Don Kirshner thought it should have been called Bring Back That Lovin’ Feelin’, for instance. He devloped a spastic colon and didn’t sleep for a week.

All the work and stress paid off, and then some. By and large, critics loved it from the get-go, and understandably wondered if we’d reached the pinnacle of pop. Released in the UK in January, it took four weeks to climb to the top. In that time, Cilla Black, then at the top of her game, rush-released a verison of her own, and the two versions were nearly neck-and-neck at one point. The difference in the two versions was gaping. Black’s was not only clearly a cheap knock-off, but her chorus was bloody horrible and offensive to the ears. Fair play to the Rolling Stones producer, Andrew Loog Oldham, who was so disgusted he decided to take out a full-page advert in Melody Maker, extolling the beauty of the original. It was in fact Oldham that first coined the term ‘Wall of Sound’ to sum-up the Spector sound. The public saw sense, and for the first time, Spector had a UK number 1. He later said this song was his greatest achievment at Philes Records.

Its legend has only grown over the years. It regularly appears in the lists of greatest songs of all time, and in 2015 the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress chose it as one of the 25 songs that has ‘cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation’s audio legacy’. But it was in the UK that the ultimate tribute took place, when in 1996 the comedy actor Paul Shane performed You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ on the BBC1 daytime show Pebble Mill. Ever since, ‘BABEH BABEH!’ has become the ultimate expression of the beauty of music.

Written by: Phil Spector, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil

Producer: Phil Spector

Weeks at number 1: 2 (4-17 February)

Births:

Director Martha Fiennes – 5 February 

34. Jimmy Young with Bob Sharples & His Music – Unchained Melody (1955)

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Summer 1955 brought a heatwave to many parts of the country, particularly Yorkshire, a modern record of low unemployment (barely 1% of the workforce), and three aircraft accidents in one day. On 30 June, a Gloster Meteor jet fighter crashed on takeoff in Kent, killing all crew members and two fruit-pickers. Later that day, two Hawker Sea Hawk jets crash into the North Sea in two separate incidents, leaving one pilot dead.

It was also the summer of Unchained Melody. Written for a little-known prison movie called Unchained, also released that year, the music came from Alex North, and lyrics were by Hy Zaret. The film centred on a prisoner deciding whether to go on the run or finish his sentence and live in peace with his family. Zaret only agreed to write the lyrics if he could keep out the film’s name, which might have helped with its longevity, ultimately. As we all know, the song is now a standard, and one of the most covered in history, with well over a thousand recorded versions in various languages. In the summer of 1955 alone, four versions existed in the chart at one time – by Al Hibbler, Les Baxter, Liberace and future Radio 2 DJ, Jimmy Young.

Jimmy Young had been an electrician and physical training instructor for the RAF before becoming a singer in 1950. His cover of Nat ‘King’ Cole’s Too Young was a big sheet music seller in 1951, but it was 1955 that proved his most successful year recording music, with two number 1s to his name.

Ah, Jimmy, this is awkward. I feel bad speaking ill of the (fairly) recently deceased, especially when by all accounts he was a radio legend and a thoroughly nice person to boot. However, his version of Unchained Melody is a strange mess. It makes Robson and Jerome sound like the Righteous Brothers. Whilst I admit I’m not much of a personal fan of crooners and opera-style singers like Al Martino and David Whitfield, I can appreciate the slickness of the production of their hits and their ability to sing. Young’s Unchained Melody sounds amateurish, with strings and guitar backing that seems ill-matched and uneven, and poor Young is either putting no effort in or bellowing, as if the producer is prodding him every now and then to display some passion. In spite of all this, record buyers loved it for some reason, and he enjoyed three weeks at the top that summer.

On 13 July, Ruth Ellis became the last woman to be hanged in the UK before the death penalty was abolished. She had shot dead her lover, racing driver David Blakely on Easter Sunday (10 April).

Written by: Alex North & Hy Zaret 

Producer: Dick Rowea

Weeks at number 1: 3 (24 June-14 July)

Births:

The Clash guitarist Mick Jones – 26 June

Deaths

Criminal Ruth Ellis – 13 July