279. The Archies – Sugar Sugar (1969)

The penultimate number 1 of the 60s sat pretty in the top spot for close to two whole months, and only narrowly missed out on the Christmas number 1 spot. Before delving deeper into the slick pop of Sugar Sugar by the cartoon band, the Archies, what else was happening in the UK?

Three weeks into its run, regular colour TV broadcasts, began on both BBC One and ITV on 15 November. The very next day saw the BBC One debut of much-loved children’s stop-motion animated TV series Clangers.

The day after, 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.

On 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.

As a cold late November turned into a mild early December, Sugar Sugar held firm. On 10 December it was announced that organic chemist Derek Barton had jointly won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with the Norwegian Odd Hassel. Barclays Bank purchased Martins Bank on 15 December, and three days later, the abolition of the death penalty was made permanent by Parliament. Whether our new government will bring it back, only time will tell.

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.

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
Politician Sajid Javid – 5 December
TV presenter Richard Hammond – 19 December

Deaths:

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

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

195. Jackie Trent – Where Are You Now (My Love) (1965)

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Jackie Trent is best known for her songwriting partnership with husband Tony Hatch, particularly for their theme tune to Australian soap opera Neighbours. But before that, she was also a number 1 artist. However, Where Are You Now (My Love) is one of the rarer chart-toppers of the 1960s.

Trent was born Yvonne Burgess in Chesterton, a mining village near Newcastle-Under-Lyme in September 1940. Her parents loved music and she quickly got the bug too, and she made her first TV appearance when she won a talent show at the age of 11. Soon, she was performing at working men’s clubs and with big bands, and became known as ‘the Vera Lynn of the Potteries’. She took the name Jackie Trent at the age of 14. After leaving school she moved to London to find fame, and it was there she first met Hatch.

He had left National Service in 1959 and become a producer and recording artist for Top Rank Records, and one of his singles was his own cover of Russ Conway’s Side Saddle. In 1961, now with Pye Records, it was his suggestion that Petula Clark record Sailor, which became her first number 1 in 1961. Occasionally writing under pseudonyms, he wrote the Searchers’ Sugar and Spice as Fred Nightingale. By the time he and Trent first crossed paths, he had become known for composing television themes, his most famous at that point being for ITV soap opera Crossroads in 1964. He was asked to write a song to feature in the Granada drama It’s Dark Outside, a spin-off of The Odd Man. Cast names included Keith Barron, later to be known as a hapless holidaymaker having an affair in the sitcom Duty Free, and Anthony Ainley, who was the Master on Doctor Who during the 80s. Trent had been recording since 1962, but only recently joined Pye. Hatch chose to team up with her, and they came up with Where Are You Now (My Love). The song was quickly arranged and recorded in December 1964, with music by Hatch and lyrics by Trent. It wasn’t originally intended as a single, but its appearance on It’s Dark Outside went down so well, viewers began contacting TV listings magazine TV Times (a magazine I used to work on, fact fans) for more information. Soon enough it went to number 1.

Where Are You Now (My Love) has since disappeared into obscurity, and it certainly doesn’t compare to the many classic number 1 singles of the period. It’s a fairly good attempt at a Bacharach and David ballad though, and very much of its time. You could easily imagine Petula Clark performing it, or other female stars of the period such as Shirley Bassey or Cilla Black. I haven’t seen the footage it was used on, but I picture a rainy, moody scene, with the lead actress searching for her lover. It’s serviceable enough, but I guess you had to be there at the time to truly enjoy it.

The songwriters’ friendship quickly blossomed into a romance, but Hatch was already married. In 1966 they wrote Petula Clark’s hit I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love, which was inspired by their affair. Soon after they went public, and they wed a year later. They continued to write hits for many stars including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Des O’Connor and Scott Walker, but despite continuing to record on her own, Trent couldn’t repeat her number 1 success. They did however top the Australian charts together with The Two of Us, and went on tour together there as Mr and Mrs Music.

Into the 70s, Trent and Hatch moved into musical theatre. 1972 saw Trent’s favourite football team Stoke City reach the Football League Cup final, and to commemorate their achievement, they wrote We’ll Be With You. Performed by the team and supporters, it is still played at the club to this day, helped by the fact that Stoke defeated Chelsea 2-1 to win the trophy.

The couple relocated to Australia in the 80s, and were asked to provide a theme tune to a new soap opera called Ramsay Street. Trent and Hatch agreed to have a go, but weren’t sure about the title due to its similarity to Coronation Street. They worked on a song called Neighbours instead, and within 24 hours they had written it, called Barry Crocker in to sing it, and left it with the show’s producers, who loved it so much, they changed the title to match the song.

Trent and Hatch had two children together, but the relationship dissolved and they separated in 1995 before divorcing in 2002. She remarried three years later, and moved to Menorca, Spain with new husband Colin Gregory. She had been working on her autobiography when she died in 2015 after a long illness, aged 74.

Written by: Tony Hatch & Jackie Trent

Producer: Tony Hatch

Weeks at number 1: 1 (20-26 May)

Deaths:

Aircraft designer Sir Geoffrey de Havilland – 21 May 

169. The Four Pennies – Juliet (1964)

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In a decade full of memorable number 1s, Don’t Throw Your Love Away by the Searchers is often forgotten, but the song that replaced it at the top is even more rare. Blackburn-based four-piece the Four Pennies hold the dubious distinction of being the only UK chart-toppers to fail to chart in the US during the British Invasion.

The Four Pennies formed in 1963, consisting of Lionel Morton on vocals and rhythm guitar, the marvellously-named Fritz Fryer on lead guitar, Mike Wilshaw on bass, keyboards and backing vocals and Alan Buck on drums. Originally known as the Lionel Morton Four, they wisely changed their name after a meeting above a local music shop on Penny Street. Their debut single Do You Want Me To was a flop, but the ballad Juliet, written by Wilshaw, Fryer and Morton, began receiving lots of airplay. It was intended as the B-side for second single Tell Me Girl, but demand meant the sides were flipped. Yet despite this demand, and a week at the top, Juliet is all but forgotten. Why so?

Lack of info on the Four Pennies and this song make Juliet somewhat of an enigma. It’s a haunting ballad, and sounds old-fashioned compared to other 1964 hits. Yet at the same time, it has a vague psychedelic feeling to it, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. It could be that it reminds me of something the Coral would have come up with back in 2005 – and it helps that the two groups look like quite similar too. The similarity should make Juliet appealing to me, but I think it’s been forgotten for two reasons. The first is that it doesn’t fit the narrative of Beatles-era pop that ruled the airwaves in 1964, and the second is that it unfortunately isn’t that much cop. Not bad B-side material, though.

The Four Pennies had a few more hits and released the album Two Sides of Four Pennies (great title), but by 1965 sales figures were already starting to dwindle, so Fryer left the group to form the the folk trio Fritz, Mike and Mo, with Mike Deighan and Maureen Edwards. David Graham replaced him and their fortunes briefly improved, but by the end of 1966, with Graham gone and Fryer back on board, their second album (Mixed Bag) had flopped (the name doesn’t exactly fill you with hope, does it?) and the Four Pennies dissolved. Morton went on to marry actress Julia Foster, who went on to become Ben Fogle’s mum after they split. He was also a children’s TV presenter in the 60s and 70s. Fryer became a producer, with Motörhead among the acts he worked with. He died of pancreatic cancer in Lisbon, Portugal in 2007, aged 62. Buck, who had been in Johnny Kidd & the Pirates before the Four Pennies, died of a heart attack in 1994, aged only 50.

With a few exceptions, the number 1s of 1964 so far have been somewhat of a letdown compared to 1963. It was the second half of the year before things went up a notch.

Written by: Mike Wilshaw, Fritz Fryer & Lionel Morton

Producer: Johnny Franz

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

Births:

Swimmer Adrian Moorhouse – 24 May

168. The Searchers – Don’t Throw Your Love Away (1964)

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The swinging 60s were the decade that, thanks in part to the pill, gave rise to sexual liberation. Promiscuity was all the rage by 1964. So it seems odd and out of step that the Searchers final number 1 urged their fans to stay safe between the sheets.

Don’t Throw Your Love Away, written by Billy Jackson and Jimmy Wisner, was originally a B-side for Philadelphia R’n’B group the Orlons, tucked away as the flip to Bon-Doo-Wah. British groups were still in thrawl to black American acts at the time, but this was an obscurity compared to some of the more obvious choices, including the Searchers’ first number 1, Sweets for My Sweet. Drummer Chris Curtis was in the process of wresting control of the Searchers out of singer and bassist Tony Jackson’s hands. As with their previous number 1, Needles and Pins, Mike Pender and Curtis took over vocals from Jackson.

The track begins with promisingly, and predictably enough, thanks to Pender’s 12-string guitar work, but it soon settles into a song that musically is little more than a chorus, albeit a memorable one. The verses bemoan lovers that ‘Just throw their dreams away/And play at love’, and despite the usual strong vocal harmonies of Pender and Curtis, it strays too close to hectoring to enjoy, and isn’t musically interesting enough to be able to make the lyrics forgivable.

This third number 1 marked the end of the Searchers’ chart-toppers, and Tony Jackson left them shortly after. He wanted the band to continue with the soul and R’n’B material, but Curtis was keen for them to move into a quieter, more folk-flavoured sound. Jackson was replaced by Frank Allen from Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, and he formed a new group, the organ-dominated the Vibrations, but they didn’t emulate the Searchers’ success and were soon dropped. Jackson quit the music business, but returned in 1991 and reformed the Vibrations. However in 1996 he was sentenced to 18 months in prison after threatening a woman with an air pistol after an argument over a phone booth… With a number of health issues and an alcohol problem, Jackson died aged 63 in 2003.

Curtis also had his demons. A manic individual, his desire to cover obscure records found in Brian Epstein’s store may have resulted in their downfall. George Harrison’s nickname for him was ‘Mad Henry’. He left the group in 1966, released a solo track with help from future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, and helped form the concept group Roundabout. The concept was that the line-up would keep changing as members got on and off the ’roundabout’… Curtis’s mental state was further exacerbated by LSD, but he did have the bright idea of auditioning a guitarist called Ritchie Blackmore for the band. Unfortunately for Curtis, he was by now considered too unreliable to continue. Roundabout soon changed their name to Deep Purple. Curtis left the music business to join the Inland Revenue in 1969. In later years he enjoyed performing karaoke at the pub near the home he shared with his mother when the Searchers began. He died in 2005, also aged 63.

The remaining Searchers soldiered on through several line-up changes. Things were looking up at the end of the 70s when they signed with Seymour Stein, head of Sire Records. They released two albums, The Searchers (1979) and Play for Today (1981), that were highly-acclaimed but commercial flops. Mike Pender departed in 1985 and now tours as Mike Pender’s Searchers, while the remaining group (John McNally is the only original member) have announced they will retire on 31 March 2019.

Meanwhile, in the news, designer Terence Conran opened his first Habitat store on Fulham Road on 11 May. The next day, pirate radio station Radio Atlanta began broadcasting off Frinton-on-Sea. By the end of July, it had merged with Radio Caroline. And further violence flared between Mods and rockers, this time in Brighton, between 16 and 18 May.

Written by: Billy Jackson & Jimmy Wisner

Producer: Tony Hatch

Weeks at number 1: 2 (7-20 May)

162. The Searchers – Needles and Pins (1964)

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On 6 February, the British and French governments reached an agreement to construct a Channel Tunnel. It was predicted that the rail link would take five years to build, which was close, but it took a lot longer to begin than was originally expected. Due to many false starts and cancellations, building began in 1988, and the service began operation in 1994. 19 February saw actor and comedian Peter Sellers marry actress Britt Ekland. Sellers was also getting rave reviews for his role in Stanley Kubrick’s satirical film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. During the first three weeks of February, the biggest-selling single was Needles and Pins by the Searchers.

Following on from the group’s first number 1, Sweets for My Sweet, the group had narrowly missed out on the top spot with Sugar and Spice (it was kept at bay by You’ll Never Walk Alone). With Needles and Pins, the group chartered darker territory lyrically (and avoided any links to confectionary for a change). The song was one of the first compositions by Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono, who at the time both worked for mad genius producer Phil Spector. Bono claims in his autobiography that he came up with the lyrics while Nitzsche strummed his guitar, but ownership has also been claimed by Jackie DeShannon, who had first made it a hit in 1963.

The song’s protagonist is full of self-loathing because he has been left so heartbroken by his ex-partner, but he also loathes her too, and thinks her new lover will soon give her a taste of her own medicine, to the point he hopes she’ll one day feel his pain, which manifests as ‘needles and pins’. It’s a clever, sophisticated conceit, in sharp contrast to the simplistic love songs so prevalent at the time. It’s also clever how the misery in the lyrics is somewhat masked by Mike Pender’s sun-kissed 12-string guitar, which had become the Searchers’ trademark and was a precursor to the folk-rock movement that would begin a year later. In fact, Needles and Pins wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the Beatles’ Rubber Soul. Pender also took over from Tony Jackson on lead vocals, with drummer Chris Curtis providing harmonies. Although there was no main singer, and Jackson would perform this live, his role was diminishing.

Sonny Bono would of course go on to form a duo with his wife Cher, and will return to this blog in due course. Nitzsche went on to become one of the best arrangers of the decade, working with Spector on Ike and Tina Turner’s River Deep, Mountain High before contributing some astonishing psychedelic strings to two of my favourite 60s songs, namely the Monkees’ Porpoise Song and Buffalo Springfield’s Expecting to Fly. He later wrote the unusual but memorable film score for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and co-wrote the Oscar-winning Up Where We Belong, performed by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes for An Officer and a Gentleman in 1982.

Written by: Jack Nitzsche & Sony Bono

Producer: Tony Hatch

Weeks at number 1: 3 (30 January-19 February)

155. The Searchers – Sweets for My Sweet (1963)

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At around 3am on 8 August, a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London was attacked by a gang of 15 robbers. The gang, led by Bruce Reynolds, beat the train driver, Jack Mills, over the head with an iron bar and made off with £2.6million. This crime became known as the Great Train Robbery, and made several of the gang infamous, including Ronnie Biggs, Buster Edwards and Charlie Wilson. Buster Edwards later suffered the indignity of being portrayed by Phil Collins in the 1988 movie Buster. In a strange twist, he later found himself on the other side of theft. He had been released from prison in 1975 and since then had ran a flower stall outside Waterloo station. In 1991, actor Dexter Fletcher scooped up two bunches of flowers from the stall and ran off. Edwards recognised him from the film The Rachel Papers, which he had only seen a few days before. Fletcher was arrested and charged with theft, given a conditional discharge for a year and ordered to pay £30 costs. Fletcher apologised to one of the country’s most famous robbers and claimed the flowers were for his girlfriend, Press Gang co-star Julia Sawalha, but he’d lost his cash card. Silly Dexter.

On the day of the Great Train Robbery, the Searchers became the third Merseybeat group to go to number 1, with their cover of Elvis collaborators Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman’s Sweets for My Sweet, which had previously been a hit for US soul group the Drifters in 1961.

The Searchers had been formed from the ashes of an earlier skiffle group by guitarists John McNally and Mike Pender in 1959, taking their name from the 1956 John Ford western movie. They recruited further members, including Tony Jackson on bass, but he didn’t have a bass, so he built one himself. By 1962, Jackson was also the lead singer and Chris Curtis was the band’s drummer. Like the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers, they were regularly performing at Liverpool clubs like the Cavern, and would head over to perform in Hamburg, Germany. After a successful audition they found themselves signed to Pye Records, with Tony Hatch as their producer. Hatch had assisted on the production of Petula Clark’s first number 1, Sailor, in 1961.

Coming from such a strong songwriting team (Pomus and Shuman had co-written two Elvis number 1 singles, Surrender and (Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame/Little Sister), Sweets for My Sweet was a superior track to some of the other fluffy pop that came out under the Merseybeat banner. I prefer it to the original, with the chiming guitars and chugging drums pushing the song along, whereas the Drifters version swung in a more laidback manner. They misheard one of the lyrics in the chorus, changing ‘Your tasty kiss thrilled me so’ to ‘Your fair sweet kiss thrilled me so’, but I prefer it like that. While it’s all about the chorus, as usual, the backing vocals in the verses are also pretty strong.

With their first single spending a fortnight at the top, the Searchers were quickly established as one of the top groups from Liverpool. Mike Pender became known for his 12-string guitar, with the group later cited as an influence on the sound of the Byrds. Two further number 1s were to follow. Sweets for My Sweet was a number three hit for reggae singer CJ Lewis thirty years later.

Written by: Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman

Producer: Tony Hatch

Weeks at number 1: 2 (8-21 August)

Deaths:

Painter Joan Eardley – 16 August