266. Amen Corner – (If Paradise Is) Half as Nice (1969)

17 years after the New Musical Express began the first singles chart, an official version finally appeared, the week commencing 12 February 1969. The BBC and Record Retailer (the music industry publication whose chart tends to be recognised as ‘official’ from 1960 up to this point) commissioned the British Market Research Bureau to compile it, therefore ending arguments over which chart people should follow. The BMRB’s first chart was compiled from postal returns from sales logs of 250 shops, randomly chosen from a pool of approximately 6,000. The logs were then translated into punch cards which would be translated by a computer. The computer would compile the chart each Monday, and the BBC were informed of the top 50 each Tuesday, in time for it to be announced on Johnnie Walker’s Radio 1 afternoon show.

This means (I think) that the first 100% ‘official’ UK number 1 single was Amen Corner’s (If Paradise Is) Half as Nice. Which is the most interesting thing about this minor blog entry.

This Welsh seven-piece (okay, that’s pretty unusual, too) had formed in Cardiff in late 1966. They consisted of singer Andy Fairweather Low, guitarist Neil Jones, saxophonist Allan Jones, keyboardist Derek ‘Blue’ Weaver and tenor saxophonist Mike Smith, with bassist Clive Taylor and drummer Dennis Byron also performing backing vocals.

They took their name from The Amen Corner, a weekly US soul music night at Cardiff’s Victoria Ballroom each Sunday. Originally Amen Corner performed blues and jazz-influenced tunes, but after signing with Deram Records they were steered towards a more commercial sound. Nevertheless their debut single was a cover of blues track Gin House Blues, which went in at number 12.

It was their third single in 1968 that really caught the public eye. Their version of the Outsiders’ Bend Me, Shape Me became the most popular UK release, getting all the way to number three. That year they also released debut album Round Amen Corner. At the end of 1968 they jumped ship to Immediate Records, and recorded (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice.

Their fifth single was originally written by influential Italian singer-songwriter Lucio Battisti for La Ragazza 77, aka Ambra Borelli. Il paradiso della vita translated as ‘The paradise of the life’. Jack Fishman translated it into English and renamed it to the song we know today. It was originally offered to the Tremeloes, who rejected it, and the Dave Clark Five showed an interest, but Amen Corner took it to number 1.

(If Paradise Is) Half As Nice peaks far too soon. The ‘la la la’ intro is lovely, and jumping into a memorable chorus early on often guarantees success, but it’s downhill after that first blast of brass. At least, I think it is. I can’t really remember, and that’s my point, really. Fairweather Low’s vocal is reedy and rather weak, and gets irritating quickly. He starts so high he’s soon straining and doesn’t know where to go. Also, I take issue with the chorus lyrics. ‘If paradise is half as nice as heaven that you take me to/Who needs paradise, I’d rather have you’. Well, yes, of course you would, it’s a no-brainer isn’t it? Perhaps the kids thought it would make a nice Valentines Day present?

A live album, The National Welsh Coast Live Explosion Company followed, and a single by Roy Wood from the Move, Hello Susie, which reached number four, but Amen Corner wouldn’t make it far into 1970. They recorded one last album, Farewell to the Real Magnificent Seven featuring their final (only their sixth) single, a cover of the Beatles’ Get Back, which failed to chart in 1969.

Saxophonists Jones and Smith left, and the rest of the band became Fair Weather, scoring a hit in 1970 with Natural Sinner. However, Weaver left to replace Rick Wakeman in the Strawbs in 1971, so they soon split.

Fairweather Low had a solo career, and his single Wide Eyed and Legless reached the top ten in 1975. From there, he has featured as a guitarist on live tours for Eric Clapton and Roger Waters.

Weaver went from the Strawbs to Mott the Hoople, and then the Bee Gees, joining Byron who was at that point their drummer. Jones became a photographer, whose work featured in weeklies the New Musical Express and Melody Maker, before becoming Cardiff City Council’s official photographer. He died of cancer in June 2018, aged 70.

Written by: Lucio Battisti/Jack Fishman (English lyrics)

Producer: Shel Talmy

Weeks at number 1: 2 (12-25 February)

Births:

Long jumper Stewart Faulkner – 19 February
Manic Street Preachers singer and guitarist James Dean Bradfield – 21 February

Deaths:

Comedian Kenneth Horne – 14 February

263. The Marmalade – Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (1969)

After a topsy-turvy 1968, we reach the final year of the decade. And for the first time since the inception of the charts, there’s a new number 1 on New Year’s Day. Psych-pop and rock five-piece the Marmalade became the first Scottish band at the top of the charts with their version of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da by the Beatles.

The band’s history began in 1961 in east Glasgow. Originally known as the Gaylords (stop sniggering, they took the name from the street gang Chicago Gaylords), the inaugural line-up featured guitarists Pat Fairley and Billy Johnston, lead guitarist Pat McGovern, drummer Tommy Frew and singer Wattie Rodgers.

Several line-up changes ensued, most importantly the arrival of William ‘Junior’ Campbell on guitar later that year. By 1963 they were known as Dean Ford and the Gaylords, with Thomas McAleese assuming the name of the ‘star’, aping Cliff Richard and the Shadows. They signed with Columbia Records in 1964, and their first single was a cover of Chubby Checker’s Twenty Miles. They were getting lots of attention in Scotland, and following a stint in Germany in 1965, they returned with ambitions to make it big in England.

After befriending the Tremeloes they signed with their manager Peter Walsh. Performing in the clubs of swinging London in 1966, they tightened up their act and Walsh suggested they became the Marmalade, and they signed with CBS and gained hitmaking Mike Smith as their producer. Debut single, It’s All Leading Up to Saturday Night, failed to chart.

Third single, I See the Rain, featuring a nice pop-psych sound, was lauded by Jimi Hendrix as the best single of 1967. By this point, the line-up had settled down to Ford on lead vocals, Patrick Fairley on six-string bass, Campbell on guitar and keyboards, Raymond Duffy on drums and Graham Knight on bass. The Marmalade were now making waves, supporting the Pink Floyd and performing at festivals during the Summer of Love. But they still weren’t charting, and CBS were beginning to get impatient.

The Marmalade rejected Everlasting Love, which became a number 1 for Love Affair in 1968. Eventually, to get CBS off their backs, they recorded Lovin’ Things, and reached number six in the charts. Also that year they released their debut album, There’s a Lot of It About.

In late 1968 they were offered Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da by publisher Dick James. Allegedly, the band had no idea it was by Paul McCartney when they agreed. It had yet to be released on the Beatles’ eponymous double album.

McCartney wrote this bright and breezy ska-influenced ditty during the Beatles time in Rishikesh, India, earlier that year. The song’s title and chorus came from Nigerian musician Jimmy Scott. Apparently his backing band were called Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, and in live shows he would call out ‘Ob la di’, to which the audience would respond ‘Ob la da’, and he would then conclude ‘Life goes on.’ The ‘Desmond’ of the song was inspired by rising ska star Desmond Dekker.

The fact McCartney would steal the phrase for his own means caused some consternation between he and Scott, and Scott threatened legal action until he came to an agreement with Macca to drop the case if the Beatle would pay his legal bills to get him out of Brixton Prison (he had failed to pay maintenance to his ex-wife).

John Lennon hated Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, so it was ironic he came up with the best part of the Beatles version when he banged away on the piano in the intro in pure frustration. McCartney had planned to release their version as a single, but Lennon was having none of it. George Harrison wasn’t a fan of either, and he wasn’t singing its praises when he namechecked it on Savoy Truffle.

The Marmalade’s version is inferior from the start, ditching that piano intro and any ska influence, preferring to turn it into a jolly, soft knees-up. They even replace ‘Bra’ with ‘Woah’. You could never call the Beatles recording edgy, yet it is by comparison to this. Not different enough to be interesting in any way, it’s reminiscent of the Overlanders’ number 1 version of Michelle. The most noteworthy bit is right at the end, where, instead of singing ‘If you want some fun, take Ob-La-Di-Bla-Da’, they replace ‘fun’ with ‘jam’. Marmalade, y’see.

Like that cover, Beatles fans flocked to the record anyway, and the Marmalade were at number 1 for the first week of January, before being overtaken by 1968’s Christmas number 1, Lily the Pink, by the Scaffold, once more. The Marmalade eventually won out, with a further fortnight as top of the pops.

In November of that year they signed a lucrative deal with Decca, which meant they could write and produce their own material with no time restraints in the studio. This resulted in their biggest hit worldwide, Reflections of My Life, an unusual early prog-rock-sounding ballad, which is superior to their number 1 single.

The beginning of the end of the group’s fame came when Campbell chose to leave in 1971. The hits carried on for a while longer, including Cousin Norman and Radancer, but line-up changes came thick and fast. In 1973 they signed with EMI, and dropped the ‘The’ from their name. Apart from a hit with Falling Apart at the Seams in 1976, none of their singles charted.

During the 1980s an incarnation of Marmalade toured the nostalgia circuit, with Knight as the sole member from their heyday. Dave Dee began occasionally performing with them from 1987 until his death in 2009. Knight departed the following year. Dean Ford passed away on New Year’s Eve last year due to complications from Parkinson’s. Despite no original members, Marmalade continue to jam. Sorry.

Also in that first week of 1969, Australian media mogul and all-round nasty piece of work Rupert Murdoch purchased best-selling Sunday newspaper The News of the World on 2 January. Three days later, riots in Derry left over a hundred people injured.

On 18 January, former drummer with the Beatles, Pete Best, won his defamation lawsuit against the band. Six days later there was unrest when violent protests by students resulted in the closure of the London School of Econoics for three weeks. This resulted in the students occupying the University of London Union three days later.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: Mike Smith

Weeks at number 1: 3 (1-7, 15-28 January)

Births:

Lawyer Mary Macleod – 4 January

Deaths:

Conjoined twin actresses Violet and Daisy Hilton – 4 January

233. The Tremeloes – Silence Is Golden (1967)

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May 1967, and much had changed since Brian Poole and the Tremeloes were at number 1 with Do You Love Me? four years previous. Beatlemania had just begun, and with Poole and co toppling the mighty She Loves You, the future bode well for the beat group from Dagenham. However, they simply couldn’t compete with the Fab Four, and as fashions changed, their fortunes were mixed. In 1964 they had two top ten hits with covers of Roy Orbison’s Candy Man and the Crickets’ Someone Someone, but sales dropped the following year for I Want Candy and Good Lovin.

In 1966, singer Brian Poole left the group to try out a solo career. This didn’t work out, and he went on to form a label called Outlook Records. By the 1970s he was working in his brother’s butchers. He would later have career in cabaret though, and his daughters Karen and Shelly made it to the charts in 1996 as Alisha’s Attic.

In addition to Poole’s departure, bassist Alan Howard left, so only rhythm guitarist and keyboardist Alan Blakley and drummer Dave Munden remained from the original line-up. They regrouped as a four-piece with new bass player Len ‘Chip’ Hawkes (father of 90s one-hit wonder Chesney Hawkes), and were now known as simply the Tremeloes. Making a conscious decision to cover more ‘hip’ material, their first two singles were versions of Paul Simon’s Blessed and the Beatles’ Good Day Sunshine. Neither charted, but a cover of Cat Stevens’ Here Comes My Baby reached number six.

For reasons unknown, they decided to follow this with Silence Is Golden. Previously a B-side for the Four Seasons, it had been written by their producer Bob Crewe and group member Bob Gaudio, the duo responsible for The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore. The Tremeloes version closely followed the sound and arrangement of the original, with the band apeing the Four Seasons’ distinctive harmonies.

It had been three years since the original version of Silence Is Golden, and tastes had changed, so what were the Tremeloes thinking? Actually, scratch that, what were the British public thinking to take it to number 1 and make me look stupid?

It’s not that it’s a terrible song (although certainly no classic like The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore), it’s just an unusual chart-topper as tastes had changed since 1964 and we’re here at the start of the Summer of Love, such an exciting time for music, and somehow, this single was at number 1 for five whole weeks.

What makes it worse is the lyrics suggest the singer is feeling sorry for themselves because a girl they care for is being mistreated by their lover, and they daren’t do anything about it, so ‘Silence is golden, but my eyes still see’. Well, forgive me for not thinking you should have a word with yourself and do something about the situation… A rather mediocre number 1, and the harmonies make me slightly nauseous.

The rest of the 60s were a mixed bag for the Tremeloes, with singles failures like Bob Dylan’s I Shall Be Released in 1968, and big hits such as (Call Me) Number One in 1969, which ironically went to number two.

In 1970 they were set to release a song called Yellow River by Jeff Christie as their follow-up. However when they changed their minds, producer Mike Smith removed their vocals and replaced them with Christie’s lead. It was a number 1 that June, while the Tremeloes’ By the Way bombed.

From 1972 onwards the group went through several line-up changes, with Munden the only constant throughout. Hawkes left to record solo albums but returned in 1979. In 1983 the original quartet reformed briefly. Hawkes left again in 1988 to manage his son, whose The One and Only was a big number 1 in 1991. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the band, Brian Poole, Chip Hawkes and the Tremeloes toured together in 2006. Poole is to briefly appear with them again this year, before retiring from touring.

While Silence Is Golden reigned, Tottenham Hotspur defeated Chelsea 2-1 in the first all-London FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium (20 May). On 25 May, Celtic FC became the first British and Northern European team to reach a European Cup final and also to win it, beating Inter Milan 2-1. That same day, Conservative MP Enoch Powell attacked the Labour government, calling Britain the ‘sick man of Europe’.

28 May saw Sir Francis Chichester arrived in Plymouth after completing a single-handed sailing voyage around the world in his yacht Gipsy Moth IV. It had taken him nine months and one day. A day later, the first Spring Bank Holiday occurred on the last Monday of the month, replacing the former Whitsun holiday in England and Wales. The Tulip Bulb Auction Hall hosted music festival Barbeque 67, featuring up-and-coming rock acts the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream and Pink Floyd.

The first day of June heralded the release of the Beatles’ landmark album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, as well as the eponymous debut of a singer called David Bowie.

Three days later, the Stockport Air Disaster was all over the papers when British Midland flight G-ALHG crashed in Hopes Carr, Stockport, killing 72 people.

Written by: Bob Crewe & Bob Gaudio

Producer: Mike Smith

Weeks at number 1: 5 (18 May-7 June) 

Births:

Politician Graham Brady – 20 May 
Footballer Paul Gascoigne – 27 May 
Oasis singer-songwriter Noel Gallagher – 29 May 

Deaths:

Poet John Masefield – 12 May
Children’s presenter Derek McCulloch – 1 June 
Author Arthur Ransome – 3 June