146. Jet Harris and Tony Meehan – Diamonds (1963)

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Just under a month after Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell’s shock death, the party elected 46-year-old Huyton MP Harold Wilson as its new leader. Gaitskell had moved the party to the right, but Wilson was more left wing, and had made an unsuccessful challenge for leadership in November 1960. He defeated George Brown and James Callaghan to become Leader of the Opposition just as the Government was weakening, and things would soon become even worse for Macmillan.

In the music world, the Shadows suffered the embarrassment of being knocked from number 1 by their old rhythm section, when Dance On! was replaced after a week by Jet Harris and Tony Meehan’s Diamonds. This instrumental was written by Jerry Lordan, the man behind the two best Shadows number 1s, Apache and Wonderful Land.

Harris, born Terence Harris in Willesden, North West London in July 1939, earned the nickname ‘Jet’ due to his sprinting prowess at school. He went on to play skiffle in the Vipers before joining the Drifters, and it was Harris that suggested they become the Shadows to avoid legal issues with the soul group. As well as being one of the first UK musicians to play an electric bass, he also provided vocals for the group on their own songs and those of Cliff Richard. Harris married in 1959, but they separated within years, and he later attributed the start of his depression and alcohol problems to his ex-wife’s affair with Cliff. His waywardness and arguments with rhythm guitarist Bruce Welch led to him leaving the group. Other than Hank Marvin, Harris was the only real Shadow with frontman material due to his moody charisma and good looks, so Decca took him on as a solo artist, and he had success with covers of Besame Mucho and The Man with the Golden Arm. From there, he crossed paths once more with Tony Meehan.

Meehan, known in the music business as ‘The Baron’, was born Daniel Meehan in March 1943, and was also raised in Willesden. He became interested in drums aged ten, and was in a band at 13, first meeting Harris in the Vipers. Meehan had his own unique style that proved influential to many. Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac was inspired to become a drummer after seeing him perform in The Young Ones (1961). Depending on who you believe, in October 1961 Meehan either left the Shadows of his own accord to work with Joe Meek, or was sacked for tardiness. Only a few months later he had moved on to Decca, and during this time was involved in the Beatles auditioning for the label. He was unconvinced they were going to get anywhere.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, replacing Harris and Meehan with two men called Brian seemed to take away what little element of surprise and danger there was in the Shadows, and this theory is borne out by comparing Dance On! to Diamonds. There’s a lot crammed into the Harris and Meehan track, from Harris’s signature moody bass, to an outbreak of brass, and best of all Meehan’s scattershot drums – the most exciting and loudest drums we’ve heard on a number 1 yet (no doubt due to the drummer also being the producer). While you could argue it doesn’t all hang together so well, there’s no shortage of ideas, and Diamonds winds up sounding like the theme to some early-60s gangster drama.

Harris and Meehan, buoyed by their number 1 achievement, released further top ten hits Scarlett O’Hara and Applejack. and future Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones joined them for some live shows (it’s also heavily rumoured that Jimmy Page plays acoustic guitar on Diamonds). However, the duo split following Harris and girlfriend Billie Davis’s car crash. The injured Harris refused to promote Applejack, leaving poor Meehan to mime. He attempted a comeback with the Jet Harris Band in 1966, and was briefly in the Jeff Beck Group in 1967, but it was downhill from there, and the only time he made it into the newspapers was in reports of his drunken behaviour or misdemeanours. In 1988 he was declared bankrupt, and his old friend Cliff (Christian guilt for supposedly contributing to Harris’s alcoholism all those years ago?) helped him out by letting him and Meehan on stage to help perform Move It at his big concert at Wembley, The Event in 1989. He gave up drink and joined the nostalgia circuit, finding some peace with himself. Unfortunately he couldn’t give up smoking heavily, and he died of cancer in March 2011.

Meehan remained on good terms with the Shadows, and briefly returned to the group when Brian Bennett was in hospital. He quit music in the 90s and became a psychology lecturer. Sadly he died after falling down the stairs to his flat in November 2005.

Written by: Jerry Lordan

Producer: Tony Meehan

Weeks at number 1: 3 (31 January-20 February)

Births:

Actor Phillip Glenister – 10 February 
Long jumper John King – 13 February
Mountain climber Alison Hargreaves – 17 February 
Singer Seal – 19 February 

145. The Shadows – Dance On! (1963)

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After three weeks at number 1 with The Next Time/Bachelor Boy, Cliff Richard found himself usurped by his own backing band. The Shadows scored their fourth chart-topper in their own right with Dance On!, a track written by sisters-in-law Valerie and Elaine Murtagh and Ray Adams. This trio were better known to the public as pop vocal group the Avons. By this point, drummer Brian Bennett and bassist Brian ‘Licorice’ Locking were firmly established as the replacements for Tony Meehan and Jet Harris respectively. Bennett had been a regular performer on Jack Good’s TV show Oh Boy! before working with Marty Wilde and then Tommy Steele. Locking performed alongside Bennett in Wilde’s Wildcats, and it was Bennett who suggested him as a replacement for Harris. Bennett and Locking brought some reliability to the Shadows, but as far as their recorded output goes, it seems they lost two vital sparks in Meehan and Harris, who were more musically adventurous. And let’s face it, you’d never consider the Shadows the most ‘dangerous’ of bands to begin with.

Dance On! is simply not in the same league as Apache or Wonderful Land, or even Kon-Tiki. It’s only two minutes long, but is so boring it feels longer. As a piece of incidental music in a 60s rock’n’roll film, it would be serviceable enough, but as a number 1 single? I can only imagine that many of Cliff’s fans would buy Shadows singles after snapping up those of their hero out of a sense of loyalty. It’s missing a killer guitar line from Hank Marvin, really. If it wasn’t ironic enough that the Shadows replaced themselves (in part) at number 1, only a week later they found themselves overtaken by their two former member, who had released a superior instrumental. Singer Kathy Kirby later released a vocal version of Dance On!, which reached number 11 in September.

As the first wintry month of 1963 drew to a close, 29 January saw President of France Charles de Gaulle veto the UK’s entry into the European Economic Community, along with Denmark, Norway and Ireland. De Gaulle was concerned that the membership of the UK would see US influence creep in.

Written by: Valerie Murtagh, Elaine Murtagh & Ray Adams

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 1 (24-30 January)

Births

Wham! singer Andrew Ridgeley – 26 January
Journalist George Monbiot – 27 January 

134. The Shadows – Wonderful Land (1962)

 

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1962 featured far fewer number 1s than the previous year due to several huge sellers. The first three number 1s alone took up close to half the year, and Wonderful Land by the Shadows was the longest-serving, notching up an impressive eight weeks at the peak of the charts. This hadn’t happened since Perry Como’s Magic Moments in 1958, and wouldn’t happen again until Sugar Sugar by the Archies in 1969. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the best-selling single of 1962 though – that honour went to Frank Ifield’s I Remember You.

Other than Apache, Wonderful Land has become the song most people identify with the classic Shadows sound. Both tracks came from the pen of singer-songwriter Jerry Lordan. Lordan clearly knew how to write a hit, but by his own admission was terrible at coming up with song titles. He played the unnamed instrumental to the group, and guitarist Hank Marvin wisely thought it conjured up images of America, suggesting Wonderful Land as its title. Lordan wasn’t keen, but in lieu of a better option, the name stuck.

Marvin was right, Wonderful Land does conjure up images of the epic, grandiose vastness of America. However, the Shadows were not only tipping the hat to America, they were also soundtracking the optimism of 1960s Britain. Although no group captured this feeling better than the Beatles, the Shadows were an important step in this direction. Despite referencing the US, the group never achieved any lasting success stateside.

As I said in my blog for The Young Ones, Norrie Paramor often throws everything he can at a tune, to its detriment, but here he lets the song breathe, and it’s effective, helping to make the song feel much more epic than its two-minute running time.  I can understand why Wonderful Land did so well in 1962, but do I enjoy it? It doesn’t compare to Apache in my opinion – it’s just a little too nice, and the more I hear of the Shadows work, the more I realise that Apache was perhaps an exception. Nonetheless, Wonderful Land is a rather charming souvenir of the pre-Beatles era, and certainly more memorable than Kon-Tiki.

Wonderful Land marked another period of transition within the band. Although Tony Meehan had left to become a session drummer when Kon-Tiki was at number 1, he was still in the line-up when Wonderful Land had been recorded. This time, it was bassist Jet Harris’s turn to leave. Whether he was sacked due to his drink problem or he left of his own accord depends on whose story you believed, but Harris later claimed his alcoholism came about due to separating from his wife, who subsequently had a relationship with Cliff Richard. If true, this certainly casts a shadow (sorry) on Cliff’s saintly image, and potentially rumours about his sexuality, but I digress. Harris had been an important member of the band – he came up with their name, and he is believed to have been the first musician in the UK to play an electric bass. Harris was quite surly, an image at odds with the friendliness the group usually projected, and his bass playing was occasionally aggressive. When he was replaced by Brian ‘Licorice’ Locking, the Shadows lost what little element of danger they might have had. And despite the controversy Harris’s drinking would cause, he went on to have one more number 1 – Diamonds, with Meehan, and written by Lordan once again.

In the news during these months… 2 April saw the introduction of panda crossings to the UK. Rather than make crossing the roads safer, the flashing lights managed to confuse drivers and pedestrians alike, and the system was replaced in 1967 by the X-ray, which evolved into the pelican crossing. On 4 April, James Hanratty was hanged at Bedford Prison after being found guilty of the A6 murders. Many believed him to be innocent, and witnesses had even claimed to have seen him in Rhyl at the time of the murders of Michael Gregsten and his mistress, Valerie Storie. Hanratty’s family and supporters still protest his innocence to this day. A fortnight later the government announced that from 1 July, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act would remove free immigration from citizens of member states of the Commonwealth of Nations. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s popularity was plummeting at that point, and on 27 April an opinion poll revealed less than half of all voters approved of him as leader.

Meanwhile, in the world of football, Ipswich Town won the Football League First Division title on 28 April, in their first season playing at such a level, and Tottenham Hotspur retained the FA Cup with a 3-1 win over Burnley at Wembley Stadium on 5 May.

And although it wasn’t a newsworthy event at the time, original bassist with the Beatles Stuart Sutcliffe died aged 21 of a brain aneurysm on 10 April. Never a confident musician, he had stayed on in Hamburg to study painting.

Written by: Jerry Lordan

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 8 (22 March-16 May)

Births:

Rower Steve Redgrave – 23 March 
Author John O’Farrell – 27 March 
Presenter Phillip Schofield – 1 April 
Scottish actor John Hannah – 23 April 
Writer Polly Samson -29 April
Snooker player Jimmy White – 2 May 

Depeche Mode singer Dave Gahan – 9 May 
The Cult singer Ian Astbury – 14 May

Deaths:

Welsh politician Clement Davies – 23 March 
Original Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe – 10 April 
Cricketer Ernest Tyldesley – 5 May