209. The Overlanders – Michelle (1966)

The-Overlanders

On 30 January Palitoy first launched their Action Man figures. The UK version of Hasbro’s GI Joe, created in 1964, went on to delight children (and some adults) for decades to come. The following day, Britain officially ceased all trade with Rhodesia.

That week also saw folk-pop quartet the Overlanders begin a three-week stint at the top with their version of the Beatles’ Michelle. Originally a trio, they formed in the early 1960s and consisted of Paul Arnold on piano and guitar, Laurie Mason on piano and harmonica and Peter Bartholomew on guitar, with all three providing vocals. Originally their repertoire derived mainly from American folk tunes. The Overlanders signed to Pye Records and Tony Hatch became their producer. That July they released their self-penned debut single Summer Skies and Golden Sands to little fanfare. Third single, a cover of Chad & Jeremy’s Yesterday’s Gone briefly entered the Billboard chart during the British Invasion in 1964. After that, every release was a failure, so the Overlanders decided to beef up their sound, adding Terry Widlake on bass and David Walsh on drums during 1965. As that year came to a close, the Beatles released their sixth album Rubber Soul, and among the most popular tracks was Paul McCartney’s folk-flecked Michelle.

This song originated as a joke from years earlier. McCartney had been to a party of art students, one of whom was a French bohemian who entertained the guests with songs. Paul wrote the tune to Michelle as a spoof of that night, with comedy-French-style groaning in lieu of any lyrics. While making Rubber Soul the Beatles were considering comic songs as a potential new direction, and John Lennon suggested McCartney put some proper lyrics to his party piece.

McCartney turned to Jan Vaughan, French teacher and the wife of Ivan Vaughan, his former bandmate in the Quarrymen. It was she that came up with ‘Michelle, ma belle’, and a few days later he asked her for a French translation of ‘these are words that go together well’ . McCartney then took Michelle to Lennon, who completed the song with the ‘I love you, I love you, I love you’ bridge.

Such was the strength of the Lennon and McCartney catalogue, their album tracks were often released as singles by other artists, knowing that covering Beatles originals gave them a very good chance of scoring a hit. Although released as a single in some countries, the Beatles chose not to do so in the UK or US. At the same time as the Overlanders decided to give it a go, George Martin produced a version by David and Jonathan. However, apparently the Beatles gave their blessing to the Overlanders version, because their label Pye had agreed to Brian Epstein’s request not to release a single by Lennon’s estranged father Alfred. The Overlanders won the UK chart battle, although David and Jonathan hit number 1 in Canada.

Despite being one of the Beatles’ better-known album tracks, I’m not that big a fan. Apart from the catchy chorus, it’s a bit smarmy, fairly throwaway and should have remained a joke between the group. And the Overlanders version is worse, sounding smarmier. Beefing up the production makes the song worse, losing the fragility of George Harrison’s guitar solo (which was George Martin’s idea). Were this not a Beatles song, I’m not sure the Overlanders would have become the one-hit wonders they were.

Upon the release of their version, Paul Russell left the Overlanders to be replaced by Alan Warran. In 1967 Paul Arnold left the group to go solo and he was replaced by Ian Griffiths, and Terry Widlake left in 1968 to be replaced by Mike Wedgwood. These changes were a sure sign they couldn’t last, and soon the group was no more, sounding decidedly out-of-date by this point. Arnold formed the New Overlanders in the 70s.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: Tony Hatch

Weeks at number 1: 3 (27 January-16 February)

Births:

Footballer Keith Dublin – 29 January
Singer Rick Astley – 6 February
Journalist Sarah Montague – 8 February 

Deaths:

Barrister Ronald Armstrong – Jones 27 January 

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

576797262-612x612

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 

180. Sandie Shaw – (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me (1964)

mw111505.jpg

On 24 October, Northern Rhodesia became the independent Republic of Zambia, thus ending 73 years of British rule. Nine days later, ITV broadcast its famously shoddy soap opera Crossroads for the first time. Its original run lasted until 1988. A week after this saw the House of Commons vote to abolish the death penalty before the end of 1965.

What do these three events have in common? They all took place while Sandie Shaw was at number 1 for the first time, with her best chart-topper, (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me. This was yet another classic from Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Dionne Warwick had recorded a demo version in 1963, but it was soul singer Lou Johnson who first charted with it in the US during the summer of 1964. Sandie Shaw made the song her own, and the song helped make her one of the UK’s most famous female stars of the 1960s.

Sandie Shaw was born Sandra Ann Goodrich on 26 February 1947. She was raised in Dagenham, Essex and at the age of six would entertain her aunt with her rendition of Guy Mitchell’s She Wears Red Feathers. She went to work at the local Ford Dagenham factory after leaving school, with some part-time modelling on the side. She came second in a talent show and got to perform at a charity concert in London. Goodrich was spotted by Adam Faith, also on the bill, who had two number 1s under his belt – What Do You Want? (1959) and Poor Me (1960). Afterwards Faith introduced her to his manager, Eve Taylor. She secured Goodrich, then only 17,  a recording contract with Pye Records in 1964, and came up with the name Sandie Shaw. Cheesy, but memorable, unlike Shaw’s debut single, As Long as You’re Happy Baby, which got her nowhere. Taylor went to America to look for a song to save Shaw, and heard Johnson’s version. Knowing she was on to a good thing, she quickly returned home, the single was recorded with Tony Hatch, no stranger to number 1s from female singers, and (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me was rush-released in September.

Shaw premiered the single on Ready, Steady, Go!, and her stunning looks, along with her unique barefooted performance, helped her chances no end. Of course, it’s a bloody good song too – vintage Bacharach and David, in which Shaw is unable to get her ex off her mind. You could argue that the production is far too light-hearted to put across any of the supposed misery this entails, but far better to just enjoy the song for what it is – a prime piece of swinging 60s pop. In fact, you could argue that Shaw is perfectly happy to be reminded of her love, thank you very much. Her voice is unusual in the verses, almost French-like, yet very natural during the brilliant choruses, and a nice counterpoint to the raucousness of Lulu or Cilla Black’s foghorn wailing.

(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me climbed the charts slowly but surely, eventually knocking Roy Orbison’s Oh, Pretty Woman from its perch for three weeks, but then the Big O climbed to number 1 once more. But it didn’t matter as Shaw was now firmly established as a star, with further number 1s and a Eurovision win to come.

Written by: Burt Bacharach & Hal David

Producer: Tony Hatch

Weeks at number 1: 3 (22 October-11 November)

Births:

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

Deaths:

Illustrator Mabel Lucie Attwell – 5 November 

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

546facc9b769476693e3b26a11ef976e.jpg

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)

The_Searchers_1965-resize.jpg

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)

zap_search.jpg

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

113. Petula Clark – Sailor (1961)

Two whole years since a female artist had last got to number 1 (Shirley Bassey, with As I Love You), Petula Clark finally broke the drought with Sailor. Long before her most famous hit, Downtown (which never got to number 1), Clark had been a child star. She was born Sally Olwen Clark on 15 November 1932, at Longsgrove Hospital in Epsom, Surrey. Both her parents were nurses there, and it was her father who later came up with her stage name, Petula. During World War Two, she lived with her sister at her grandparents home in South Wales. It was a small, very modest house, with no electricity or running water. Her grandparents spoke little English, so she learnt Welsh. She became a singer in the chapel choir, and discovered a talent for impersonating artists such as Vera Lynn. She first began performing publicly aged only seven, in 1939.

Clark’s big break came about during World War Two, by accident. In 1942, she attended a BBC radio broadcast with her father, and they intended to post a message to her uncle, serving overseas, but the air raid sirens began and the recording delayed. The producer asked for someone to help calm the attendants, and Clark sang Mighty Lak’ a Rose. It went down so well, she was asked to do so again when the broadcast went out, and suddenly Clark was touring and entertaining the troops, as well as King George VI and Sir Winston Churchill. She even became a mascot for the army, her face plastered on tanks for good luck. Clark garnered a number of film appearances during the rest of the decade, appearing alongside fellow child star and future two-time number 1 artist Anthony Newley in Vice Versa (1948). There was also Petula Clark, her television series for the BBC. As the 1940s wound up, Clark teamed up with producer Alan A Freeman to record a number of international hits, including The Little Shoemaker in 1954. However, she was struggling to shed her image of the child star-turned-adolescent, and wanted to be recognised as a more mature performer. She was able to achieve this away from the UK, becoming popular in France and Belgium. performing alongside Sacha Distel. By the time she came to record Sailor, she was approaching her thirties, and was based in Paris.

The track was an English language version of the 1959 German song, Seemann (Deine Heimat ist das Meer) by Werner Scharfenberger and Fini Busch, which had been a hit for Lolita. In the original, Lolita is aware of her lover’s desire to travel, but Normal Newell (who had produced Russ Conway’s number 1s, Side Saddle and Roulette) had been tasked with writing English lyrics, and he hurriedly turned it into a plea for the sailor to come home, taking only ten minutes to write his version. Sailor had been brought to Clark’s attention by Tony Hatch, who assisted with the production, on this, their first collaboration. It was Hatch that later penned Downtown, and they had many hits together. He also wrote the theme to Crossroads in 1964, and went on to write several other soap opera themes with his wife Jackie Trent, including Emmerdale Farm and Neighbours.

It’s a shame Hatch didn’t get to write something for Clark sooner really, as Sailor is an outdated, old-fashioned ballad playing on people’s memories of World War Two. The orchestra and backing singers make it sound like it could be from the charts of 1953. Also, it certainly shows that Newell knocked off the lyrics so quickly, as there’s not many to comment on (for some reason, Newell was credited as David West) and they’re rather hackneyed and cliched. What it does have going for it, though, is some fine, atmospheric harmonica, courtesy of Harry Pitch.

I can see why Clark was keen to cover Sailor, as it makes her sound older than her years, so it could have helped her shake off her old image – but then again, perhaps not, because of the war connection to the words. It’s no surprise that Clark’s song competed against a version by Anne Shelton, who was also a star during the war, and had scored a number 1 back in 1956 with the awful Lay Down Your Arms. Whatever Petula Clark’s reasons, it worked and her version spent a week at number 1. Shelton’s also made it to the top ten, but it marked the end of her successful career.

It would be six years before Clark’s next number 1, and I’ll talk about her more in depth when we get to 1967, but it’s interesting to note that as I write this, it was 50 years ago this week that Clark made history alongside Harry Belafonte. He was a guest on her US TV special, Petula, and during the show they performed an anti-war duet. At one point, Clark touched Belafonte’s arm, and this marked the ever time a white woman and black man had physical contact on TV. Ridiculously, in some areas this caused a furore, and one of the advertising managers threatened to resign if the moment was transmitted. What a prick.

Written by: Werner Scharfenberger & Fini Busch/David West (English lyrics)

Producer: Alan A Freeman

Weeks at number 1: 1 (23 February-1 March)