238. Bee Gees – Massachusetts (1967)

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The Bee Gees. Through thick and thin, in hard times and great times, the iconic Gibb brothers, Barry, Robin and Maurice sang together for 45 years (minor the occasional split) until Maurice’s untimely death in 2003, creating some of the bestselling songs of all time for themselves and other high-profile artists, and yet, seem to me to be strangely underrated. They had five number 1s as Bee Gees, spanning three decades, and this is the story of their early years and first number 1, Massachusetts.

The Gibb brothers were born on the Isle of Man to English parents. Barry was born 1 September 1946, and twins Robin and Maurice on 22 December 1949. They moved back to their father Hugh’s home town of Chorlton-cum-Hardy in Manchester in 1955, where they formed skiffle and rock’n’roll group the Rattlesnakes. The group featured Barry on vocals and guitar, Robin and Maurice on vocals too, and friends Paul frost on drums and Kenny Horrocks on tea-chest bass.

The story goes that some time in December 1957, the Gibbs were on their way to a cinema to mime to a record, as other children had in previous weeks, but the record broke on the way, and so they sang together live and it went down a storm. Whether it’s true or not, it makes for a good tale. The following year the Rattlesnakes disbanded when Frost and Horrocks left, so the Gibbs formed Wee Johny Hayes and the Blue Cats, with Barry as Hayes.

That August the Gibb family emigrated to Queensland, Australia. The trio began singing to earn pocket money. In 1960, speedway promoter and driver Bill Goode dug those harmonies and hired the Gibbs to entertain the crowd at Redcliffe Speedway. During intervals they would be driven around the track and as they sang the audience would throw them money on to the track. Goode introduced them to Brisbane DJ Bill Gates. It was Gates, who, noting that he, Goode and Barry shared the same initials, named the boys the BGs.

Soon they were appearing on Australian television, and in 1962 they supported Chubby Checker. In 1963 the family were living in Sydney, when the star Cal Joye helped get them a record deal with Festival Records under the name the Bee Gees, and they began releasing singles under this name while Barry would also write for other artists. They had a minor hit in 1965 with Wine and Women, which led to their debut album, The Bee Gees Sing and Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs. Talk about ‘it does exactly what it says on the tin’…

The following year they came very close to being dropped when they met their new manager and producer Nat Kipner, who signed them to Spin Records. By getting unlimited access to a recording studio, the Bee Gees skills rapidly grew, but they became increasingly frustrated, and having paid close attention to the UK music scene, they made the decision to return to the UK in January 1967. Before they left, tapes had been sent over to the Beatles manager Brian Epstein, who had passed ther tapes over Robert Stigwood, who had previously worked with Joe Meek and John Leyton, and recently joined NEMS. Ironically, it was on the journey to Blighty that they discovered their last Australian single Spicks and Specks, off an album of the same name, had been named Best Single of the Year by the influential music newspapaer Go-Set.

In February the Bee Gees signed with Stigwood and began work on their first international album, with fellow Australians Colin Petersen and Vince Melouney joining them on drums and lead guitar respectively. Inspired by the Aberfan mining tragedy, they released New York Mining Disaster 1941 as a single, and confusing some DJs who thought this was a new single by the Beatles thanks to some lovely harmonies and considerable charm, the single garnered some attention. They followed it up with To Love Somebody. Originally written for Otis Redding, it didn’t even reach the top 40, yet is now a pop standard. Their third album, The Bee Gees 1st, was released in July. Fitting in perfectly with the sound of the Summer of Love, the gentle psychedia made it into the top ten albums.

While promoting the album in New York, Scott McKenzie was at number 1 in the UK with the mournful hippie folk of San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair). Barry, Robin and Maurice wrote (The Lights Went Out in) Massachusetts as their reply. They knew nothing about Massachusetts, but they liked the sound of the name, and while strumming away to a tune not entirely dissimilar from McKenzie’s song, they decided that the song would specifically reference San Francisco, with the subject of their song having travelled there like so many others. So many others, in fact, that ‘the lights all went out in Massachusetts’

It’s a quirky little song, but lovely with it. Although deliberately similar to McKenzie’s ode to the Moneterey Rock Festival, it outdoes it, and that’s largely due to those gorgeous, idiosyncratic harmonies. Robin’s plaintive lead also works a treat. It’s hard to say from the sparse lyrics whether the Bee Gees were attacking the hippy movement, paying tribute to it, or just taking the piss somewhat, but it has rightly taken up place as another one of those patchouli-flecked psych-folk ballads that summed up the abiding spirit of 1967. Nicely understated and a sign of a future force to be reckoned with.

So it had been a wise move by the Gibbs to release it ASAP, rather than wait until they had finished their next album Horizontal, released in 1968. They were even considering not releasing it at all and were keen on giving it to Australian folk stars the Seekers. Massachusetts helped make Bee Gees one of the brightest new acts of the era, and of course, there was much more to come.

Massachusetts spent for weeks at number 1 that autumn. On 11 October, Prime Minister Harold Wilson won a libel action against Birmingham psych-rockers the Move after they depicted him nude in promotional material for their record Flowers in the Rain. A fortnight later, Parliament passed The Abortion Act, legalising abortion on a number of grounds from the following year onwards.

2 November saw Winnie Ewing of the Scottish National Party win the Hamilton by-election. Having formed in 1934, this was the first time the party had won a by-election. The single’s final week at number 1 was marred by two tragic accidents., with Iberia Airlines Flight 062 from Málaga Airport, Spain hitting Blackdown Hill in West Sussex. All 37 on board were killed. The very next day, an express train from Hastings to London derailed in the Hither Green rail crash, which killed 49 people. Amongst the passengers was Robin Gibb, who recalled in The Mail on Sunday on 1 November 2009, ‘Luckily I didn’t get injured. I remember sitting at the side of the carriage, watching the rain pour down, fireworks go off and blue lights of the ambulances whirring. It was like something out of a Spielberg film.’

Written by: Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb & Maurice Gibb

Producer: Robert Stigwood & Bee Gees

Weeks at number 1: 4 (11 October-7 November) 

Births:

Presenter Davina McCall – 16 October
Novelist Monica Ali – 20 October 
Footballer Paul Ince – 21 October 
Politician Douglas Alexander – 26 October
Bush singer Gavin Rossdale – 30 October

213. Dusty Springfield – You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me (1966)

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30 April saw a regular hovercraft service begin over the English Channel. It was ended in 2000 due to competition from the Channel Tunnel. Also that day, Liverpool won the Football League First Division title for the second time in three seasons.

Two days previous, Dusty Springfield went to number 1 with You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. Despite being one of the biggest stars of the 1960s, and still regarded as one of the country’s finest vocal talents of all time, this was her sole chart-topper.

Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien was born on 16 April 1939 in West Hampstead. She was brought up in High Wycome in Buckinghamshire until the early 50s, when the O’Brien’s moved to Ealing. She earned the nickname ‘Dusty’ from being rather a tomboy and playing football with the boys down her street. Mary and her older brother Dionysius had a comfy, middle-class upbringing, and their parents loved music, in particular their perfectionist father. This passion would be instilled in both siblings, and Mary grew to love singers like Peggy Lee and Jo Stafford (the latter was the first female number 1 artist back in 1953). By the time she left school, Mary and Dion were singing in folk clubs and holiday camps.

In 1958 Mary joined the Lana Sisters, who weren’t sisters. She became known as Shan, stopped wearing glasses and began glamming up for the first time. As a member of the trio she learnt the ropes of pop stardom, even appearing on television and at the Royal Albert Hall. In 1960 she decided to take a different path, forming the Springfields with Dion and Reshad Feild, who had both been in the Kensington Squares. They changed their names to Dusty, Tim and Tom, respectively, and decided on the surname after rehearsing during spring in a field in Somerset. The Springfields successfully melded folk, country, pop and rhythm’n’blues, becoming so big that they were voted Top British Vocal Group in the New Musical Express in 1961 and 1962 (by which point Tom had left to be replaced by Mike Hurst. The Springfields disbanded in October 1963, with Tom becoming top songwriter for The Seekers (number 1 twice in 1965 – I’ll Never Find Another You and The Carnival is Over.)

That November, with Beatlemania rising, Dusty Springfield released her memorable debut, I Only Want to Be With You. With Johnny Franz on production, the song succeeded in capturing the Spector-style girl groups from the US that Springfield admired. It climbed to number four in the UK, and even got her known in the US. Her debut album A Girl Called Dusty was released in April 1964 and also reached the top ten. Springfield’s version of Bacharach and David’s I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself hit the number three spot. With her trademark big, blonde beehive, she was becoming one of the country’s brightest talents, topping the New Musical Express poll for Top Female British Artist for the next four years in a row.

In January 1965 she took part in the Sanremo Festival (the Italian inspiration for the Eurovision Song Contest), where she reached the semi-final. During the competition, she saw Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te) being performed by co-composer Pino Donaggio and singer Jody Miller, and was moved to tears despite not knowing the meaning of the lyrics. She obtained an acetate but took a year to decide to do anything with it. In March 1966 an instrumental track was recorded, but Springfield still didn’t have any English lyrics to put to it. One night, Dusty’s friend Vicki Wickham (producer of Ready, Steady, Go!) was dining with Simon Napier-Bell (manager of the Yardbirds), and the song came up in conversation. With no songwriting experience, and no undertanding of the Italian lyrics, they began writing an anti-love song called I Don’t Love You, which then became You Don’t Love Me, then You Don’t Have to Love Me, before settling on its final version, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. Not bad going, for two mates on a night out.

Despite this being Springfield’s only number 1, opinion has become somewhat divided over the years. It only lasted a week at the top, yet has been covered many times, and I have to confess I assumed it was a Bacharach and David track, such is its fame. But to fans of Springfield who are better acquainted with her ouevre, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me isn’t regarded as up there with her best material. There’s no doubting her singing, which as always is top-notch – it’s the lyrics which have proved problematic in the main. Springfield was such a tough character on the surface, the character in this song is considered to be too weak. I admit I hadn’t really taken notice of the words before, and when you do, they are pretty unpleasant. Springfield is basically telling her ex-lover he can treat her as shit as long as he doesn’t walk out of her life.

Fans also seem divided on Franz’s production. His overblown orchestration worked wonders on the Walker Brothers, but some find it too much for a bitter song like this. Personally I think the music is fine. Some also wonder if the song had special meaning due to Springfield’s sexuality. I can’t see it myself – the lyrics don’t really reflect the subject if you ask me.

Springfield continued to shine throughout the decade with hits such as the sultry The Look of Love for James Bond-spoof Casino Royale (1967). She was instrumental in bringing Motown to a wider audience in the UK, and also had her own series on ITV, called It Must Be Dusty in 1968. That year, with her popularity beginning to decline, she signed with Atlantic Records and recorded the soul-influenced Dusty in Memphis. Its lead single, Son of a Preacher Man is rightly considered among her best and climbed to number ten in the UK. In 1994 its appearance in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction made it popular all over again. While in Memphis, she also persuaded Atlantic to sign Led Zeppelin, as John Paul Jones had performed session work for her. She concluded the 60s with her final series for the BBC, Decidedly Dusty.

Springfield’s sales went into decline further as the 70s began, and Dusty’s dependency on drugs and alcohol worsened. Many biographers see there being two sides to her, with the character of Dusty Springfield allowing the shy Mary O’Brien to indulge in the wilder side of her personality and mask her insecurities, including the worry that her sexuality would ruin her career. She was known for indulging in food fights – something she learnt from her eccentric father growing up, but behind the scenes she would self harm, and she was diagnosed as bieng bipolar. By the mid-70s she had become a recluse and was recording backing vocals for Elton John under her pseudonym Gladys Thong. By the end of the decade though she was releasing her own material once more. She tried several times in the 80s to revive her career, without much look, releasing the new wave-influenced 1982 album White Heat, and appeared on chat show Wogan in 1985.

In 1987 the Pet Shop Boys were searching for a vocalist for What Have I Done to Deserve This?, and someone suggested they use Dusty. Singer Neil Tennant was a fan and the move paid off, with Springfield elevating the tune and also appearing in the video. The single made it to number two, and the trio worked together again, with Tennant and Chros Lowe producing Nothing Has Been Proved for the soundtrack to the 1989 movie chronicling the Profumo affair, Scandal. She was back in the album charts in 1990 with Reputation, again, produced by Pet Shop Boys.

In January 1994, Springfield was recording her album A Very Fine Love when she fell ill. A few months later she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Following months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment her cancer was in remission and she was able to promote her album, but sadly the cancer returned and she died on 2 March 1999. Two weeks later her friend Elton John introduced her to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Despite her demons, or maybe in part, because of them, Dusty Springfield remains one of the UK’s highest-regarded soul singers of all time.

Written by: Vicki Wickham & Simon Napier-Bell/Pino Donaggio & Vito Pallavicini (Io che non vivo (senza te))

Producer: Johnny Franz

Weeks at number 1: 1 (28 April-4 May)

Births:

Cricketer Phil Tufnell – 29 April 

 

188. The Seekers – I’ll Never Find Another You (1965)

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As winter turned to spring in 1965, one of the biggest-selling singles of the year came from Australian pop and folk quartet the Seekers, who were the first act from that country to have success in the UK and US with I’ll Never Find Another You.

The Seekers had formed in Melbourne in 1962 as the Escorts. they consisted of Athol Guy on double bass, Keith Potger on 12-string guitar, Bruce Woodley on guitar and Ken Ray on vocals. After changing their name to the Seekers, Ray left the group when he got married. He was replaced by Judith Durham, a traditional jazz singer whose strong vocals made the quartet stand out from the crowd. Gathering a following in Melbourne, the Seekers signed a recording deal with W&G Records. Their debut album, Introducing the Seekers, was released in 1963, and their first single was a version of Waltzing Matilda.

The group were offered a 12-month stint as entertainers on a cruise ship in March 1964. In May they visited the UK, and intended to stay for ten weeks before returning to their homeland, but media mogul Lew Grade’s Grade Organisation offered them work. They signed a new contract with World Record Club and became regulars on the entertainment series Call in on Carroll.

Fortune favoured the Seekers when they appeared on a bill headlined by a singer who went by the name Dusty Springfield. Dusty had been part of a pop and folk trio called the Springfields with her brother Tom and Tim Fielld (who was replaced by Mike Hurst). The Springfields had been doing well in the UK and the US in the early 1960s, but Dusty was keen to break free of the folk sound and chose to go it alone. Tom (whose real name is Dionysius P. A. O’Brien!) was keen to continue writing material in ther same vein, and after meeting the Seekers at the gig he became their writer and producer. Among his first songs was I’ll Never Find Another You.

Following several number 1s chronicling relationship issues or break-ups while the nation mourned the loss of Sir Winston Churchill, it seems the UK were ready for a good old-fashioned pop song.  It has a lovely opening courtesy of Potger’s guitar, but then you hear the reference to the ‘promised land’ in the first verse and wonder if we’re in ‘happy clappy’ territory. It’s very likely that the ‘you’ in the song’s title is God or Jesus rather than a lover, and that this is in fact a song of faith, but once you get past that, it’s not bad really, and Durham’s tough, forthright voice is a nice counterpoint to the sweet backing harmonies. It’s unlikely I’d ever listen again, though.

Written & produced by: Tom Springfield

Weeks at number 1: 5 (25 February-10 March)

Births:

Actress Alison Armitage – 26 February
Wrestler Norman Smiley – 28 February
Filmmaker Paul WS Anderson – 4 March
Radio DJ Andrew Collins – 4 March