I first became aware of this unexpected number 1 when watching a vintage edition of Top of the Pops a few years ago, and it really stumped me. How did this old-fashioned minor soul track, performed by a bunch of old men in strange outfits, do so well in 1971? Since then, I’ve discovered Hey Girl, Don’t Bother Me had first been released in the US in 1964. It topped the charts seven years later thanks to its popularity with the northern soul scene. It is in fact the only number 1 linked with the movement.
The phrase ‘northern soul’ first began to be heard in 1968 in journalist Dave Godin’s Covent Garden record shop Soul City. It went public proper in 1970 thanks to his weekly column in Blues & Soul magazine. He had noticed that football fans from the north who visited his shop while following their team weren’t interested in the developing funk sound and instead still loved the more pop side of soul from the mid-60s.
In the late-60s, soul fans from all over the country flocked to the Twisted Wheel in Manchester to attend all-nighters, but in January 1971, its burgeoning reputation as a drug haven resulted in the venue closing down. Fortunately, the movement had grown across the north by this point. By the time of this number 1, the main two northern soul clubs were the Golden Torch in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent (Peter Stringfellow used to DJ there) and Blackpool Mecca.
The Tams originated in Atlanta, Georgia back in 1960, taking their name from their trademark tam o’shanter hats they would wear on stage. Founder members were the Pope brothers, lead singer Joe, and Charles, plus Robert Lee Smith, Horace Key and Floyd Ashton (who left in 1963).
Their first single of note was Untie Me, a Joe South song, which reached the Billboard R&B chart in 1962. Two years later was the high watermark of their original recording career, with modest US hits including What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am) and Hey Girl, Don’t Bother Me, neither of which charted in the UK. Both were written by Ray Whitley.
Hey Girl, Don’t Bother Me is built around the song’s title, sung repeatedly by the backing singers, while Joe (who does have a sweet, distinctive voice) tries and fails to convince the listener that he wants no part of this girl, as he’s been warned she’s bad news. He doesn’t want to be added to ‘her list’ of tossed-aside lovers, but, well, she does ‘look so fine’… you get the drift. The main hook does stick around in your head for a while, but this sounds quite old-fashioned even for 1964, and must be up there with the most unlikely number 1s of all time.
It’s likely The Tams’ popularity among northern soul lovers was originally down to Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy, a much better track, that charted in the US in 1968 and on these shores in 1970. Unlike their number 1, here’s a song you can actually dance to, which is what I thought northern soul was primarily about?
Nobody looks more surprised at The Tams appearing on Top of the Pops to promote Hey Girl, Don’t Bother Me than the group themselves, as you can see in the clip above. It’s quite endearing watching them sticking out like sore thumbs, with Key in the middle actually looking quite scared. In fact, with about a minute of the performance left to go, he disappears, and they carry on without him!
That was it for The Tams and the UK charts, until 1987. They reached number 21 with… wait for it… There Ain’t Nothing Like Shaggin’! There’s no way of knowing if they were aware of what a ‘shag’ is in the UK (it actually refers to a dance called the Carolina shag) but the lyrics are very funny either way. The BBC understandably banned it, but as is often the case, the notoriety probably helped its sales. It also featured in the 1989 comedy Shag, starring Bridget Fonda. Their last charting single in the UK was 1988’s My Baby Sure Can Shag.
The Tams continue to perform to this day. When Joe died in 1996, Charles took over lead vocals, but he passed away in 2013. Key died in 1995, which leaves Smith as the sole original member.
Northern soul grew in popularity throughout the 70s, with Wigan Casino becoming one of the most notable venues from 1973 onwards. Although the movement waned with its closure in the 80s, it still has a healthy following decades later.
Written by: Ray Whitley
Producer: Bill Lowery
Weeks at number 1: 3 (18 September-8 October)
Set designer Es Devlin – 24 September Actress Jessie Wallace – 25 September Actress Liza Walker – 28 September Actor Mackenzie Crook – 29 September Conservative Lord Chancellor David Gauke – 8 October
21 September: BBC Two music series The Old Grey Whistle Test, which ran well into the 80s, was transmitted for the first time.
24 September: Following revelations made by a KGB defector, Britain expelled 90 Russian diplomats for spying. 15 were not allowed to return.
1 October: The CAT scan, invented by Godfrey Hounsfield, was used for the first time on a patient at a hospital in Wimbledon.
In March 1971, singer-songwriter Marc Bolan appeared on Top of the Pops to promote T. Rex’s second single Hot Love, as shown below. His stylist, Chelita Secunda, had suggested he wear glitter under his eyes, and it was this appearance that spearheaded the glam rock movement and gave Bolan the stardom he had strived for. Forget ‘Mungo-mania’ – ‘T. Rextasy’ was the first true pop phenomenon in the UK since ‘Beatlemania’. Pop was rejuvenated.
Bolan was born Mark Feld on 30 September 1947. He was raised in Stoke Newington, East London until the Felds moved to Wimbledon in southwest London when he was a young boy. Around this time he, like so many of his contemporaries, fell in love with rock’n’roll, particularly stars like Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran. He was only nine when he was given his first guitar and he formed a skiffle band, and soon after he was playing guitar for Susie and the Hula Hoops, whose singer was 12-year-old Helen Shapiro, who would have two number 1s in 1961 with You Don’t Know and Walkin’ Back to Happiness.
Feld was expelled from school at 15 and around this time became known as ‘The Face’ due to his good looks. He joined a modelling agency and appeared in catalogues for Littlewoods and John Temple wearing Mod getup just as The Beatles were first making waves.
In 1964 Feld made his first known recording, All at Once, in which he aped Cliff Richard. Next, he changed his name to Toby Tyler when he became interested in the music of Bob Dylan, and he began to dress like him too. His first acetate was a cover of Blowin’ in the Wind.
The following year, he signed with Decca Records and changed his name to Marc Bowland, before his label suggested Marc Bolan. First single, The Wizard, featured Jimmy Page and backing vocalists The Ladybirds, who later collaborated with Benny Hill. None of his solo singles, in which he adopted a US folk sound, made any impact.
Simon Napier-Bell, manager of The Yardbirds and John’s Children, a struggling psychedelic rock act, first met Bolan in 1966 when he showed up at his house with a guitar, proclaiming that he was going to be a big star and wanted Napier-Bell to work with him. Bolan was nearly placed in The Yardbirds but was placed in John’s Children as guitarist and songwriter in March 1967 instead. The group were outrageous, and Bolan proved to be a good fit, writing the single Desdemona, which was banned by the BBC for the lyric ‘lift up your skirt and fly’. Only a month later, they toured as support for The Who but were soon given their marching orders for upstaging the headliners (Bolan would whip his guitar with a chain). John’s Children also performed at The 14-Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexander Palace that month. Yet by June Bolan had left the group after falling out with his manager over their unreleased single A Midsummer Night’s Scene.
Bolan formed his own group, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and after one rushed, disastrous gig, he pared the band down to just himself and their drummer, Steve Peregrin Took, who would play percussion and occasional bass alongside Bolan and his acoustic guitar. For the next few years, Tyrannosaurus Rex amassed a cult following, with Radio 1 DJ John Peel among their biggest fans. Bolan’s fey, whimsical warbling could get a bit much at times, and I speak as a lover of 60s psychedelia, but the signs of a very talented singer-songwriter are there right from their debut single Debora and first album, the brilliantly titled My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (1968), produced by Tony Visconti. Peel even read short stories by Bolan on their albums.
This was the last album to feature Took, who had been growing apart from Bolan, who was working on a book of poetry called The Warlock of Love. Bolan’s ego didn’t take kindly to the thought of Took contributing to songwriting, so he replaced him with Mickey Finn for fourth album Beard of Stars, released in March 1970. David Bowie’s follow-up to Space Oddity, The Prettiest Star also came out that month, with Bolan on guitar. The single tanked.
As the new decade dawned, Bolan was outgrowing Tyrannosaurus Rex, and was simplifying his songwriting while reintroducing an electric band setup to the mix. Visconti had been abbreviating the band’s name to T. Rex for a while on recording tapes, and while Bolan didn’t appreciate it at first, he decided to adopt the name to represent the next stage of development.
While preparing to release their first material in their new incarnation, Bolan replaced The Kinks as headlining act at the Pilton Festival at Worthy Farm, the day after Jimi Hendrix died on 19 September. 50 years on, it’s known as Glastonbury Festival, the king of the UK festival scene.
T. Rex released their first single, Ride a White Swan in October. This, simple, catchy layered guitar track caught on, and finally Bolan had a hit on his hands, narrowly missing out on the number 1 spot due to Clive Dunn’s Grandad in January 1971. T. Rex’s eponymous debut also went top 10 in the album charts. Bolan was now famous, but he needed to capitalise and go one better to avoid being a one-hit wonder.
Hot Love was recorded on 21 and 22 January at Trident Studios – the week Ride a White Swan peaked at number two. Seizing the moment, Bolan decided to flesh out T. Rex’s sound and adopt a classic four-piece line-up. With new bassist Steve Currie making his recording debut, Bolan and Visconti hired Bill Fifield as drummer, leaving Finn relegated to just handclaps. After helping out on T. Rex, this single saw the return of Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman on backing vocals. The duo had been founding members of The Turtles, and as Flo & Eddie had recently been part of Frank Zappa’s group The Mothers of Invention. Kaylan and Volman’s slightly unhinged harmonies became an integral part of the classic T. Rex sound.
Although Ride a White Swan served notice that Bolan was moving on from his old self-limited sonic boundaries, the lyrics were still very much the Tolkien whimsy of your average Tyrannosaurus Rex track. Hot Love featured a more simplistic, direct lyrical approach. Bolan is merely telling you about his lover.
Taken as read, much of T. Rex’s lyrical output can seem childish, sometimes even ridiculous, yet most of the time Bolan pulls it off, and he does so here. I’ve always admired the chutzpah of the lines ‘Well she ain’t no witch and I love the way she twitch – a ha ha’ and the charming camp of ‘I don’t mean to be bold, a-but a-may I hold your hand?’ but I’d never noticed the ludicrous ‘I’m a labourer of love in my persian gloves – a ha ha’ before. My favourite lyric of recent memory, right there.
There’s no point spending too much time dissecting Bolan’s words though, it’s more about the feel they add to his songs, and Hot Love feels sexy, which isn’t a label you could ever give his Tyrannosaurus Rex material. It’s fascinating to me how a voice that’s so fey, singing such daft words, can at the same time be so sensual.
The tune displays a key ingredient of glam rock – 50s rock’n’roll. Bolan has updated a simple bluesy riff and, thanks to the input of Visconti’s glossy studio sheen and string arrangement, updated it for 70s audiences. Kaylan and Volman’s backing vocals keep a certain strangeness in place and stop things getting too smooth, but this is a high definition Bolan that hadn’t been heard before, and Hot Love is just one reason why Visconti is rightly one of the most famous producers of all time.
The second half of Hot Love shifts into a ‘La-la-la-la-la-la-la’ Bolan, Kaylan and Volman singalong, akin to Hey Jude, but faster and weirder. It’s a real earworm, and no doubt helped it to number 1, but I find it goes on a bit too long, and I prefer the first half personally. Having said that, it really does show up the previous number 1, Baby Jump, as lumpen and turgid by comparison. A much-needed breath of fresh air in the charts, to put it mildly.
Released on 12 February on Fly Records, Hot Love rocketed up the charts, in part thanks to those famous Top of the Pops appearances. Bolan displayed star material in spades, and was perhaps the first musician since Elvis Presley to prove that image could be a vital ingredient in pop. Looking every inch the rock star with his glitter and guitar, he made glam rock about appearance as well as the sound, and other acts like Slade and friend/rival Bowie were watching and taking notes.
The 70s were often a drab, moribund decade. Glam rock may have been a peculiarly British phenomenon that didn’t catch on elsewhere in the way Beatlemania did, but in the UK it was sorely needed, and brought about some of the best number 1s of the next four years. Bolan was integral in this.
T. Rex would prove to have a formula that Bolan couldn’t advance much from, and his star burnt out quick, but in the early 70s he gave pop the kick up the arse it needed. There are better T. Rex songs. However, Hot Love is one of the most important number 1s of the decade.
Written by: Marc Bolan
Producer: Tony Visconti
Weeks at number 1: 6 (20 March-30 April)
Scottish actress Kate Dickie – 23 March TV presenter Gail Porter – 23 March Scottish racing driver David Coulthard – 27 March Cricketer Paul Grayson – 31 March Scottish actor Ewan McGregor – 31 March Cricketer Jason Lewry – 2 April Conservative MP Douglas Carswell – 3 April Liberal Democrat MP John Leech – 11 April Actress Belinda Stewart-Wilson – 16 April Scottish actor David Tennant – 18 April
Actor Cecil Parker – 20 April
1 April: All restrictions on gold ownership were lifted in the UK. Since 1966 Britons had been banned from holding more than four gold coins or from buying any new ones, unless they held a licence.
11 April: 10 British Army soldiers were injured in rioting in Derry, Northern Ireland.
15 April: The planned Barbican Centre in London was given the go-ahead.
18 April: A serious fire at Kentish Town West railway station meant that the station remained closed until 5 October 1981.
19 April: Unemployment reached a post-World War Two high of nearly 815,000.
27 April: Eight members of the Welsh Language Society went on trial for destroying English language road signs in Wales. Also on this day, British Leyland launched the Morris Marina, which succeeded the Minor.
After months of rather lightweight pop ruling the charts, Procul Harum went to number 1 with their woozy, hazy classic debut single A Whiter Shade of Pale, on 8 June – the same day the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band topped the album charts for the first time. For the counterculture, it must have felt like the future was theirs for the taking.
Procul Harum formed from the ashes of the Paramounts, a beat group from Southend-on-Sea in Essex. They had reached number 35 in 1964 with their cover of Lieber and Stoller’s Poison Ivy, but split in 1966. Their singer, Gary Brooker, formed his new group in April 1967, and the line-up featured Keith Reid, a poet who would write their lyrics, Matthew Fisher on Hammond organ, guitarist Ray Royer and bassist David Knights.
Their manager, Guy Stevens (later to come up with Mott the Hoople’s name and co-produce the Clash’s album London Calling) said they should name themselves after producer Gus Dudgeon’s cat. Dudgeon produced classic work by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, David Bowie and Elton John. His Burmese pet’s ‘cat fancy’ name was Procul Harun, so they just switched the last letter.
A Whiter Shade of Pale originated at a party Brooker attended. He heard someone say to a woman’ you’ve turned a whiter shade of pale’, and the phrase stuck in his mind. Although the lyrics are full of Bob Dylan-style, mysterious imagery, it’s clear the song is about a man, a woman, and sex. Brooker admitted in the February 2008 issue of Uncut that it was a ‘girl-leaves-boy story’, wrapped up in evocative imagery. He also said that although he may have been smoking at the time, the song was inspired by books, not drugs. Reid must have also had a say in the words though, as he recieved co-credit at the time and didn’t play an instrument.
Matthew Fisher didn’t receive a credit for his integral organ contribution until 2009 in a court ruling. As interesting as the lyrics are, it’s fair to say the song wouldn’t be as famous as it was without his playing, inspired by Bach’s Air on the G string.
Procul Harum convened to record their first single at Olympic Sound Studios in London soon after formation. So soon, they hadn’t yet found a drummer, so session musician Bill Eyden took up the sticks. Produced by Denny Cordell, it was quickly wrapped up in two takes. A few days later they had a drummer, Bobby Harrison, and tried a new version, but opted to release one of their earlier takes in mono only. Cordell was worried about the single’s length and slightly muddy recording, until he sent an acetate to Radio London. John Peel was working for the station at the time, and fell immediately in love with it.
WIth its stately pace, dreamlike feel and surreal lyrics, A Whiter Shade of Pale is a perfect example of a song capturing the zeitgeist. It’s a great song, but it could only have been number 1 for six weeks at that moment in time. The fact it was there at the start of the Summer of Love has elevated its status, possibly making it a touch overrated, but it’s a very impressive debut and a great time capsule of flower power.
Much of British psychedelia harked back to an earlier time, to childhood memories, or even further back to Victorian and Edwardian styles. But the chorus of A Whiter Shade of Pale goes even further back, to Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale from the 14th century. Critics may complain the words are meaningless, but frankly, they need to get out more. It’s about the feeling they create, rather than a story being told. There’s some excellent acid-laced lines, including the introductory ‘We skipped the light fandango’ and ‘One of sixteen vestal virgins’. When performed live, the song sometimes featured a further two verses, which I’d be interested to hear.
Brooker’s vocal is also great, with his soulful, mournful tones adding to the elegiac tone. In fact, if you ignore the lyrics and just listen to the sound, there are some similarities to Percy Sledge’s beautiful When a Man Loves a Woman.
Procul Harum shot several promotional videos for the single, and if you click above you can see the first, which the band minus Harrison shot in the ruins of Witley Court in Worcestershire. Peter Clifton’s film was banned by Top of the Pops due to the splicing in of footage of the Vietnam war.
Following A Whiter Shade of Pale‘s immense success, Procul Harum were one of the bands of 1967. The single was loved by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, with Lennon in particular becoming obsessed that summer. Their first gig saw them supporting the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The line-up soon changed, with Harrison and Royer leaving to form Freedom. They were replaced by former Paramounts BJ Wilson and Robin Trower respectively. Follow-up single Homburg, released that September, reached number six, despite Peel preferring it to their previous 7-inch. They finished the year with their eponymous debut album in December.
It wasn’t until September 1968 that their second album came out. Shine On Brightly is considered one of the earliest examples of a progressive rock album, with the album closer, In Held ‘Twas in I, lasting over 17 minutes. 1969’s A Salty Dog went further down that route, and Fisher, who produced it, departed soon after. and was replaced by another former Paramount, Chris Copping.
In the 1970s, they fell into a pattern of further line-up changes and ever decreasing album sales, embarking on a full-on symphonic progressive rock sound. Their final top 20 hit was Pandora’s Box in 1975. They split up in 1977, but two months later they were performing at the BRIT Awards, when A Whiter Shade of Pale was named Best British Pop Single 1952-1977, along with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
Procul Harum reformed in 1991, and have remained together ever since, with Brooker the only constant throughout. In 2017 they released their 13th album, Novum. While they were unable to continue with their initial popularity, A Whiter Shade of Pale is still considered one of the best songs of that heady summer, when music branched out and for a while it seemed as though anything was possible.
Written by: Gary Brooker, Keith Reid & Matthew Fisher
Producer: Denny Cordell
Weeks at number 1: 6 (8 June-18 July)
Darts player Kevin Painter -2 July Television writer Paul Cornell – 18 July
Actress Vivien Leigh – 7 July Cyclist Tom Simpson – 13 July
27 June: Comedy actor Reg Varney from On the Buses became the first person to use a cash machine in the world, at Barclays Bank in Enfield. Trippy, man.
29 June: Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones was jailed for a year for possession of drugs, and Mick Jagger was sentenced to three months for the same offence.
1 July: BBC Two transmitted the first colour TV broadcasts in Britain, during live coverage of the Wimbledon Championships. It was the final year in which the competition was amateur, and Australian John Newcombe won the men’s tournament on 7 July, with American Billie Jean King winning the women’s the next day.
7 July: Parliament decriminalised private acts of consensual adult male homosexuality in England and Wales with the Sexual Offences Act.
It seems entirely appropriate I find myself writing this blog this week, as it marks the 60th anniversary of the formation of Motown Records. One of the Detroit soul label’s greatest number 1s was Reach Out I’ll Be There by local boys, Four Tops. It was the first time a black male group had been in pole position since The Platters in 1959 with Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.
The quartet began life as friends at a Detroit, Michigan high school. Levi Stubbs, Abdul ‘Duke’ Fakir, Renaldo ‘Obie’ Benson and Lawrence Payton were asked to sing at a friend’s birthday party, and went down so well, they remained together until Payton’s death in 1997. Originally named The Four Aims, they signed with Chess Records in 1956, but changed their name to Four Tops to avoid confusion with pop act The Ames Brothers.
Seven years and several record labels followed, with no hits to their name. But they stuck at it and developed a slick stage presence. Fortune finally smiled on the group when Motown’s Berry Gordy Jr asked them to join the label, which had been steadily growing since its formation in 1959. They joined its Workshop offshoot, mainly covering jazz standards, as well as occasionally singing backing vocals on other group’s records, such as Run, Run, Run by The Supremes.
Their fortunes changed when Motown’s main songwriting team, Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland gave the quartet Baby I Need Your Loving. Climbing the US charts to number 11, the Four Tops now moved away from jazz to the uptempo soul and pop that Motown excelled in, the most notable being I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch), a Billboard number 1 in June 1965.
Lamont-Dozier-Holland were inspired to write Reach Out I’ll Be There after discussing their experiences with women and what they looked for most in a man. It was agreed they wanted someone to always be there for them. They didn’t think at the time that this would become one of their most famous songs. It was just another track on the label’s production line, such was Motown’s approach. Four Tops had no inkling either, they rushed through the recording in two takes and quickly forgot about it.
Reach Out I’ll Be There is a song everyone knows and admires, but when you consider the speed of its recording, the results are that much more impressive. I’m a big soul fan, but sometimes find 60s Motown a little too sweet. This track is different though, and that’s largely down to the lead vocal of Stubbs. Lamont-Dozier-Holland had realised they got the best results out of him by making him sing at the top of his range, creating a raw urgency that added an extra layer of emotion that made him stand out among the crowd.
This effect is perfect for Reach Out I’ll Be There, as he captures the desperation you would feel if your ‘world comes crumbling down’. Stubbs treats the words like punches, stabbing certain words with extra emphasis.
This was suggested by the writers/producers after they heard Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone. The darkness of the verses make the chorus that much more effective. Stubbs shouts ‘Ha!”, the clouds break, and the heavenly sound of the Four Tops as one takes over. It’s beautiful, and could move you to tears. As always, Motown backing group The Funk Brothers put in an exemplary performance.
Topping the UK and US charts, Reach Out I’ll Be There became Four Tops’ signature song and one of the biggest Motown tracks ever. The hits continued for some time, including follow-up Standing in the Shadows of Love, then in 1967 Bernadette. and a cover of Tim Hardin’s If I Were a Carpenter. After their version of the Left Banke’s Walk Away Renée in 1968, the sales started to drop considerably.
Motown were starting to look old fashioned, and the departure of Holland-Dozier-Holland was a big blow. Gordy realised this and began to shine the spotlight on their newer acts like The Jackson 5 and Diana Ross, now a solo artist after leaving The Supremes.
In 1972 it was announced the whole label would move from Detroit to California. Some of the older acts opted to stay in Detroit, including Four Tops, Martha Reeves and The Funk Brothers. The Tops signed with ABC-Dunhill, and didn’t too bad for a while, having hits with Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got) and Are You Man Enough from blaxploitation sequel Shaft in Africa (1973). In 1976 they left the label.
As the 80s began, Four Tops were with Casablanca Records, home to Parliament and KISS. However by the time of Motown’s 25th anniversary they were back with the label and appeared on its TV special in a battle of the bands with The Temptations. Their first album back with Motown was appropriately named Back Where I Belong. The group took part in 1985’s Live Aid, but left the label again in 1986.
The 80s also saw them feature in the movies, with an appearance on the soundtrack to Grease 2 back in 1982, and Stubbs providing the voice of Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors (1986).
In 1988 they returned to the singles chart with Loco in Acapulco from the hit movie Buster, starring Phil Collins, who wrote the track with Lamont Dozier as well as getting behind the drumkit. Fair play to all involved – until I researched this, I assumed the track was from the 60s. That December, Four Tops were scheduled to return to the US for Christmas on Pan Am Flight 103, but a prolonged recording session and appearance on Top of the Pops meant they overslept. To say this was a stroke of luck would be a massive understatement – had they boarded, they would be among the victims of the Lockerbie air disaster when a terrorist bomb detonated the plane.
The 90s started well, with the quarted entered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, but form then on they concentrated on live appearances as their albums and singles couldn’t hit the heights of the past. In 1997, after 44 years together, they suffered their first loss when Peyton succumbed to liver cancer, aged 59.
For a while they continued as a trio known as the Tops, before adding Theo Peoples from The Temptations. From then on, age caught up with the group and line-up changes continued. Benson died of lung cancer in 2005, and Stubbs passed away in his sleep in 2008. The group continues to this day, led by the last remaining surviving member, Fakir.
Four Tops will always be known as one of the finest soul groups ever, and Reach Out I’ll Be There still appears in lists of greatest songs of all time.
Written by: Lamont Dozier & Brian and Eddie Holland
Producer: Brian Holland & Lamont Dozier
Weeks at number 1: 3 (27 October-16 November)
Conservative MP Jeremy Cunt – 1 November Chef Gordon Ramsay – 8 November
Conservative MP Peter Baker – 14 November
14 November: The trial of John Whitney and John Duddy over the Shepherd’s Bush murders (see With a Girl Like You) began at the Old Bailey, but was adjourned only a day later when the third assailant Harry Roberts was captured.
16 November: Cathy Come Home was broadcast on BBC One. This docu-drama about homelessness was watched by a quarter of the population and is considered now to be one of the most influential pieces of television in the 60s. Although slow-paced by today’s standards, it still has the power to shock and depress.
Since Tired of Waiting for You had ruled the charts, The Kinks had released singles of varying quality. The best of the bunch was the droning, proto-psychedelic See My Friends in the summer of 1965. Released four months before Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), it is considered to be one of the first pop songs to incorporate an Indian raga sound.
Tensions were emerging within the group in a very public way, and it wasn’t just Ray and Dave Davies that were known to scrap. Drummer Mick Avory and Dave fought on stage that May in Cardiff, with Avory fleeing the scene after knocking out Davies with his hi-hat stand, in fear he had murdered the guitarist. The drummer later told the police it was just a new part of their live show where the Kinks would throw instruments at each other.
The foursome’s chances of making an impact in the US were given a severe knockback when the American Federation of Musicians refused to allow the band permits for the next four years. Ray Davies believed this to have stemmed from him throwing a punch at a TV crew member who had launched into a tirade of anti-British comments at him. But it wasn’t just in the US that Davies was treated with condescension. He was treated with disdain by upper-class fellow guests at a luxury resort. Those guests helped bring about a marked shift in the direction of the Kinks, and the one which marked out Davies as one of the country’s greatest songwriters.
Well Respected Man, released that September, was the first instance of the band taking inspiration from music hall for their sound, with Davies satirising the British class system. From here on in, nobody could write barbed lyrics about life in England quite like Ray Davies. In February 1966 they released one of their best singles, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, taking aim at London’s fashion scene. The power-chord rock of You Really Got Me that originally brought them fame must have seemed a long time ago.
Despite their developing sound bringing them success, Ray Davies was not a happy man. The squabbling within the group and pressures of recording and touring had brought about a breakdown while working on their third album in late-1965, The Kink Kontroversy. Before writing Sunny Afternoon, Davies had bought a white, upright piano but in his depressed state he was struggling to come up with any new songs. He would listen to Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan over and over for inspiration, but was getting nowhere.
Eventually, like The Beatles on Taxman, released later that summer as the opening track to Revolver, Davies began by complaining about the state of the Labour government’s tax system. As good an opening line as ‘The tax man’s taken all my dough, and left me in my stately home, lazing on a sunny afternoon’ was, Davies wisely realised the public might not feel much sympathy for a rich rock star like him, and so the song evolved into the complaining of a loaded aristocrat who had inherited his money but fallen on hard times. He tried to make the character unloveable, adding that his girlfriend claimed he was cruel when drunk to help make record buyers dislike the protagonist.
You could argue that Davies failed in this however, because Sunny Afternoon is so damn charming. A lot of that is down to his brilliant delivery of the lyrics, which conjure up a tipsy, loaded n’er-do-well. It’s one of their most memorable tunes, and one of the best songs of the mid-60s.
Over the years though, I feel that perhaps the message of the song has become somewhat lost in translation in mainstream culture, and is now often used simply to portray the ‘great British summer’. Never mind the fact this guy was probably beating up his partner, lets just have a drink, enjoy the sun and sing along, yeah? That’s not the fault of The Kinks, though. It actually shows the genius of Davies, to be able to hide such biting lyrics within a catchy pop classic.
Although Sunny Afternoon was their last number 1, his genius would continue through the 60s and early 70s, with albums like The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968) and particularly singles like Waterloo Sunset and Days.
Dave Davies would also prove himself to be a great songwriter with solo singles Death of a Clown (co-written with his brother) and Susannah’s Still Alive.
In early 1969 bassist Pete Quaife told the rest of the band he was leaving, despite Ray’s pleas for him to stay. He was replaced with John Dalton, who had filled in for him in the past. Their ban in the US was finally lifted, and they added John Gosling as a permanent keyboardist (Nicky Hopkins had filled this role on their recordings previously) when recording Lola. Their last true great single, this tale of an encounter with a transvestite was a top 10 hit here and in the US.
The mid-70s were a tough time for the band, with Ray’s family problems causing him to collapse from a drug overdose after announcing he was retiring on stage in 1973. He focused on writing rock opera rather than pop instead, which was poorly recieved. Dalton claims that Ray has never been the same since this breakdown, and he left the group in 1976. Their fortunes improved over the next few years, helped along by The Jam citing them as a major influence and releasing their version of David Watts as a single.
In 1983 their single Come Dancing performed better than anything they had released in years, and they were back on Top of the Pops with a number 12 single, but personal problems came to the fore once more. Ray fell out with Dave over solo projects, Ray’s relationship with Pretenders’ singer Chrissie Hynde ended badly, and Dave finally refused to work with Avory any longer. He was replaced by Argent member Bob Henrit, but thanks to Ray he would contribute occasionally. Line-up changes continued, but Avory and Quaife did show up when The Kinks were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
Despite their public profile improving considerably in the mid-90s thanks to Britpop, one of the best UK groups in music finally chose to call it a day. They played together to celebrate Dave’s 50th at the Clissold Arms pub, where the Davies brothers musical journey had begun years ago.
A year later I saw Ray Davies for the first time at a sodden Glastonbury Festival, where he performed a mostly acoustic set of the classics. One of the few times I felt summery that weekend. When I next saw him there, during a blazing hot festival with my wife in 2010, Quaife had just died, and the highlight of another great show was a very emotional Davies dedicating Days to his former bassist and friend. He broke down several times while performing it. It was a very different show to 1997, his voice not as effective, but he was bolstered by a choir and both shows were great for different reasons.
Rumours of a Kinks reunion have never gone away, and baby boomers the world over were delighted to hear that the feuding brothers appeared to have finally buried the hatchet and a reformation was announced, with Avory also returning. Unfortunately, nothing seems truly concrete yet, but it is believed they will be working on a new album. No doubt it won’t match the glory days (few groups are able to repeat the magic when they reunite), but I’d love to see Davies one last time at Glastonbury, this time with his brother and Avory alongside him.
Written by: Ray Davies
Producer: Shel Talmy
Weeks at number 1: 2 (7-20 July)
Actress Tamsin Grieg – 12 July Presenter Johnny Vaughan – 16 July
11 July: The FIFA World Cup began in England with the home team drawing against Uruguay 0-0. However by the time the 20 July came, they were top of their group, with wins against Mexico and France, both 2-0 up. And the best was yet to come.
12 July: The Rhodesia saga continued with Zambia threatening to leave the Commonwealth over British peace overtures.
14 July: Gwynfor Evans was elected as Member of Parliament for Carmarthen, becoming the first ever Plaid Cymru MP.
16 July: Prime Minister Harold Wilson flew to Moscow in order to begin peace negotiations over the Vietnam War, but the Soviet Government refused to help.
20 July: Although life in the UK that summer is remembered as being a prosperous, positive time, this day saw the start of a six-month wage and price freeze.
At this point, The Beatles had finally got off the treadmill of one film, two albums and a million tours, after a planned third movie was cancelled. This afforded the Fab Four the chance to finally give album production more care and attention than they were used to. And to say Beatles fans felt the benefit was an understatement.
The result was Revolver. John Lennon and George Harrison were now indulging in LSD, and the band entered their peak years of creativity. On April 3 they began the sessions with the album closer, the mind-blowing Tomorrow Never Knows. It had to be the last track, as nothing could follow it.
A week later they set to work on a new single. Paul McCartney’s Paperback Writer was an experiment in writing a pop song that didn’t concern love. There certainly hadn’t been a number 1 about writing a book before. McCartney has said in later years that he was inspired by reading an article in the Daily Mail (name-checked in the song) about an aspiring author. He’d also been considering writing a song based around one chord. He didn’t quite pull it off here, but he did come close. According to Lennon in 1972, he helped with some of the lyrics. He also described it as the ‘son of Day Tripper‘, and considering the similarity of the riff, he had a point.
There’s some dispute over who played what, but either McCartney or Harrison were behind the main riff. What is beyond dispute is Macca’s bass-playing. Lennon had complained about the lack of bass on their records, and wanted to know why they couldn’t make it as loud as it sounded on soul records. They’d even considered recording Revolver at Stax Records’ studio beforehand. According to the late Geoff Emerick, who had just joined the production crew, Paperback Writer became their loudest single to date.
They achieved this by using a loudspeaker as a microphone, directly in front of the bass speaker. A new piece of equipment featured in the mastering process too, known as Automatic Transient Overload Control. McCartney clearly decided to go all out, and provided his best bass line to date. It was also a sign of things to come as his bass-playing became busier over the next few years. I do think his bass skills are unsung.
While much more conventional than Tomorrow Never Knows, Paperback Writer is certainly their oddest single up to this point. It may not have the trippy sounds of Revolver‘s closer, or even the pioneering backwards vocals on the B-side, Rain, but few bands did harmonies as well as the Beatles, so to hear them pushed to the foreground so much, with echo laid on top, still sounds exciting. It’s an unusually messy recording by The Beatles’ standards, with Lennon and Harrison laughing their way through ‘Frere Jacques’ in the background. It bears no relation to the theme of the song, but somehow it fits. Apparently it was made up on the spot during recording.
I love this pre-Pepper, jangly era of songs like She Said She Said and And Your Bird Can Sing, and wish there was more of it. If you can, check out the mono version over the stereo, as the extreme separation on the latter spoils the effect, and it’s also missing some of the echo.
Due to The Beatles increasing studio experimentation, live promotion of their singles was becoming increasingly difficult to pull off. Another reason for them to be considering ending touring, no doubt. As with the last few singles, they recorded promotional videos for the A and B-sides. Michael Lindsay-Hogg directed all four, with the most famous being the colour films made around Chiswick House. The Fab Four did attempt a live performance on Top of the Pops that June, but the clip, like so many, has sadly been erased from history.
Also seemingly forgotten about is the fact that EMI used the infamous ‘butcher’ images to promote the single. Later in 1966, Capitol issued a compilation called Yesterday and Today. The original cover was a bizarre photo of John, Paul, George and Ringo in white coats, grinning away with slabs of meat and decapitated baby dolls (an outtake is featured above). It understandably didn’t go down too well, and was quickly replaced. But the image had also been used for Paperback Writer in the UK. What had they been thinking?
Well, they had hired Australian photographer Robert Whitaker for a surreal unfinished project called A Somnanbulant Adventure. McCartney stated on the Anthology television series that they had worked with him before and knew he shared their sense of humour… but he doesn’t know what Whitaker was hoping to achieve. Lennon claimed it was a protest at the Vietnam War, which seems a bold statement for the Fab Four to have made at that point. On Anthology, George Harrison typically got straight to the point and said he found it ‘gross, and stupid’. To be fair to Whitaker, he has since said he agreed with the image being banned in its unfinished state as it wasn’t getting to the point he was trying to make… that the Beatles were ‘flesh and blood’.
No, I’m still no wiser either.
Further controversy was to come for The Beatles. In March, John Lennon had been interviewed by Maureen Cleave for the Evening Standard newspaper. While discussing the decline of Christianity, he said ‘We’re more popular than Jesus now.’ Nothing was said at the time it was published, but it would come back to bite them.
Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Producer: George Martin
Weeks at number 1: 2 (23 June-6 July)
Writer Margery Allingham – 30 June
29 June: Barclays Bank introduced the Barclaycard, which became Britain’s first credit card in November 1967.
3 July: 31 arrests were made outside the US embassy when a protest against the Vietnam War turned violent.
In February, The Beatles had begun filming, and recording the soundtrack album, for their second movie (their first in colour), provisionally called Eight Arms to Hold You. Just as weird as the title was the film itself. Once again directed by Richard Lester, this was a more surreal, loose, knockabout comedy than A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and with a bigger budget, too. Intended as a spoof of spy films, it essentially became an excuse for the Fab Four to travel to exotic locations.
The Beatles spent most of the time stoned out of their minds, and would often struggle to stop themselves laughing while filming. In some scenes, their eyes are bloodshot from all the smoking they indulged in. Lads.
Fortunately for everyone, The Beatles on marijuana didn’t result in self-indulgent dribble. It made for their best film. That’s nothing compared to the impact on their music, though.
Ticket to Ride was the first track worked on for their fifth album. In 1980, Lennon claimed in Playboy that the song was pretty much his own. He also proudly stated it invented heavy metal. The jury’s out on both, but it began one hell of a creative patch. None of their singles had sounded like this, musically or lyrically. He said Paul McCartney was only responsible for Ringo Starr’s drum sound, whereas McCartney later stated they wrote it together in three hours.
Even if Lennon was right, you can’t underestimate the drums on Ticket to Ride, so McCartney clearly made an important contribution. Making Starr play in such a stop-start fashion created an epic, proto-pyschedelic sound, which isn’t that far removed from the still-startling Tomorrow Never Knows, created a year later. George Harrison once said that the drums were also influenced by the equally important jagged guitar riff, which he claimed ownership of, having played it on his Rickenbacker. Whoever came up with what, this track was breaking new ground.
Although The Beatles were innovative with their songwriting from the start, those first few years were often full of basic lyrics about love. Not this time. The combination of an adoration of Bob Dylan and drugs made the words in Ticket to Ride more adult, oblique and interesting. A woman is leaving the narrator, that much we know. So far, so ‘blues’. But where to? Some suggest the woman has become a prostitute. McCartney once claimed she’s simply off to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. I find the former more likely. The prefix of ‘I think’ adds so much to the song, without explaining itself. And although the narrator isn’t sure exactly whether he’s upset or not, he says his baby definitely isn’t. It was rare at the time to allow a woman in a break-up to have the upper hand in a pop song.
Ticket to Ride was also a first for The Beatles for the way in which it was recorded. They were taking an increased interest in the way their songs sounded, and from now on they would tape rehearsals and concentrate on backing tracks, before overdubbing more instruments and the vocals.
Although most of the rest of the album it came from was fairly straightforward, Ticket to Ride marked the start of the band’s psychedelic period, and that’s easily my favourite era of my favourite band. The slow pace of the drumming, combined with the drone of the guitars, gives it an Indian feel. It seems this was a coincidence rather than by design, as it was later, during the making of the film, that Harrison became interested in Indian music (it seems the decidedly un-PC comedy Indian characters in Help! had their uses after all). The middle-eight was your more standard Beatles fare, but I can still find the switch back to the main riff spine-tingling, even after all these years. The ‘My baby don’t care’ refrain in the coda is a thrilling climax, with great guitar licks from McCartney.
Ticket to Ride enjoyed a lengthy (by 1965 standards – most number 1s only lasted a week) three-week stint at the top. It was their longest track to date, running for over three minutes. Singles were getting longer, hair was getting longer, things were getting weirder. They promoted the song on Top of the Pops, and a brief clip of the performance was also shown on Doctor Who in May, as part of the story The Chase.
The most famous performance of the song was in their second movie. By the time of its release it was known as Help!, and Ticket to Ride featured in a sequence in which the band learned to ski in the Austrian Alps while also avoiding the assassins attempting to steal Ringo’s ring. A highly influential part of the film, some say it was a big influence on the idea of music videos and eventually MTV.
As I mentioned in my blog for I Feel Fine though, The Beatles were already making promo films to save them having to be everywhere at once. That November, they made promos for their next single, Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out, and also made one for Ticket to Ride to feature on a festive edition of Top of the Pops. The foursome mimed in front of a backdrop of large tickets, with John, Paul and George sat in director’s chairs.
She Loves You is perhaps the greatest pop song of all time, but I think Ticket to Ride may be my favourite song of the early years of The Beatles. Time will never dull its magnificence.
Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Producer: George Martin
Weeks at number 1: 3 (22 April-12 May)
Actress Anna Chancellor – 27 April Television presenter Alice Beer – 1 May Wrestler Darren Matthews – 10 May
Welsh novelist Howard Spring – 3 May
23 April: The Pennine Way opened. The National Trail runs 267 miles from Edale in the Derbyshire Peak District, up to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland.
26 April: Manchester United won the Football League First Division title.
1 May: Liverpool won the FA Cup for the first time, defeating Leeds United 2-1 at Wembley Stadium.
7 May: The Rhodesian Front, led by Ian Smith, won a landslide victory in the general election in Rhodesia.