248. Cliff Richard – Congratulations (1968)

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Well well well, if it isn’t comeback Cliff. It had been three years since Cliff Richard’s last number 1, the tepid The Minute You’re Gone. Once Britain’s answer to Elvis Presley, he had been considered an actual danger to the country’s youth when Move It became the first rock’n’roll hit by a Brit. Around the time of his last bestseller he had been struggling with the fact he was now a practising Christian. He relented from quitting music to become a teacher, and was working out a way of being a pop star and spreading the word of the Lord.

Fortunately, he still had a loyal fanbase, who stuck with him through Beatlemania and the hippy movement. Richard was still scoring top ten hits and narrowly missed out on the Christmas number 1 in 1965 to Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out (see Every Christmas Number 2). In 1966 he had a top ten hit with Visions, and another two with the Shadows (Time Drags By, and In the Country, which is in fact ace). In 1967 he had a further three with It’s All Over, The Day I Met Marie and All My Love (Solo Tu).

Despite worries it would ruin her credibility, Sandie Shaw had become the first UK winner of Eurovision that year with Puppet on a String, and it had revistalised her career. Cliff and/or his management must have taken note, and perhaps feeling he had no ‘cool’ image left to ruin, repeating Shaw’s feat could help Richard solidify his new Christian family entertainer stylings. And so he appeared on The Cilla Black Show performing six songs that the public would then vote on, with Cliff performing the winner at the event in the Royal Albert Hall on 6 April. Like Shaw the year previous, he wasn’t best pleased with the nominated song.

Congratulations was written by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter, the duo behind Puppet on a String. Coulter presented Martin with a melody and song title, I Think I Love You. Nice tune, but Martin argued that you either loved someone or you didn’t. He looked for a five-syllable word for a new title, and there and then created a song that would be used to, well, celebrate stuff for years to come.

The ubiquitous Congratulations has been derided over the years, but praise Cliff’s Lord, it’s better than the incessantly crazed Puppet on a String. Not only that, it’s the singer’s best number 1 since he and the Shadows released Summer Holiday in 1963, shortly before the Beatles changed everything. The lyrics may be on the smug side, but nobody actually remembers anything but the song’s title, and Martin and Coulter really struck gold there, creating a memorable chorus with a theme that everyone can relate to. The oompah slow down just before the end is a bit lazy and clearly designed to appeal to European audiences, and like many pop standards, I’d be happy to never hear it again, but I can’t help but like it at the same time. Incidentally, that’s future Led Zeppelin member John Paul Jones you can hear on bass guitar.

Such was Congratulations‘ potential, the British press got fully behind Cliff, and even ran articles asking which country would come second to it at Eurovision. As you can see in the clip above, he performed on the day with gusto, beaming away and doing some unusual strutting while dressed in the outfit that inspired Mike Myers in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). It looked certain to be two years in a row for the United Kingdom, but then Germany had the penultimate vote, and perhaps in revenge for the World Cup final two years before, they gave Spain six points. Congratulations lost out by one measly point to Massiel’s spectacularly named La, La, La.

Cliff Richard had the last laugh. La, La, La has long since been forgotten (understandable, considering the title) but Congratulations was a hit all around the continent, and became the pop star’s ninth chart-topper. It remains one of his most popular songs, and he often pulls it out of the bag for big occasions, such as outside Buckingham Palace after the Royal Wedding in 1981, and at Southampton Docks the following year when British troops returned victorious after the Falklands war, which is pretty poor taste really. It must have been pretty satisfying to knock the Beatles off their lofty perch for a change, too.

But did Cliff really lose Eurovision? In 2008 a documentary was released by Spanish filmmaker Montse Fernandez Vila that claimed Congratulations was the real winner, and there had been foul play from Francoist Spain. Richard made a meal of this in the press, saying he really wasn’t bothered as his song was better and more famous anyway, but maybe there should be a proper investigation, you know, just in case. Nothing ever came of it.

And so we say goodbye to Cliff Richard once more, as it would be another 11 years before he ruled the singles chart again. He may not have eclipsed Elvis or the Beatles, but he would outlast both. The music world would change several times over before we get round to August 1979 and We Don’t Talk Anymore.

While Congratulations held court at the top of the charts, opinion polls revealed on 11 April showed the problems with the pound had caused a dramatic slump in Labour’s popularity, with Edward Heath’s Conservatives racing ahead with more than 20 points difference. It wasn’t all plain sailing for the Tories though, as 20 April was the date of Enoch Powell’s infamous Rivers of Blood speech on immigration. His harsh rhetoric, full of foreboding on the dangers of immigration, was latched onto by racists and the Far Right. He was dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet a day later. Powell had been a popular figure in the Party, and remained so, but many believe his career suffered as a result of his speech, despite the fact many polls at the time suggested the public agreed with him. Years later, Labour’s left-wing leader in the 1980s, Michael Foot, expressed sympathy for Powell, suggesting it was ‘tragic’ that such a colourful figure had been somewhat misconstrued due to his colourful quote (pardon the pun).

Also in the news… 23 April saw the introduction of the new five and 10 pence coins in the run-up to Decimalisation.

Written by: Bill Martin & Phil Coulter

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 2 (10-23 April)

Births:

Actress Amanda Mealing – 22 April 
Actor Ricky Groves – 23 April

 

207. The Beatles – Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out (1965)

PEG6MOB.jpgAs Christmas 1965 approached, tension increased between the UK and Rhodesia, with Britain beginning an oil embargo on 17 December. America soon followed suit. Supporters of Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith attacked three visiting MPs on 12 January 1966.

22 December saw a temporary maximum speed limit of 70mph on the UK’s motorways. The limit became permanent in 1967. On the same day, Prime Minister Harold Wilson shuffled the cabinet and made Roy Jenkins the Home Secretary and the new Minister of Transport was Barbara Castle. Both MPs would be big names within Labour for many years to come.

It will be no surprise to see the Beatles were Christmas number 1 yet again. This was the third time in a row, and they overtook Cliff Richard as the British act with the most chart-toppers – nine at this point. Since their last single Help!, the Fab Four had met with their old hero Elvis Presley, played their famous Shea Stadium concert, and finally slowed down, with the intention of devoting more time than usual to their new album. With LSD added to their drug intake, in addition to their pot smoking, Rubber Soul was a big step forward. The Beatles drew on their favourite musicians of the time, including Bob Dylan and the Byrds, to create a more introspective sound, combining pop, rock and folk with their most thoughtful, insightful lyrics to date. In addition to album highlights such as Drive My Car, Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), In My Life and If I Needed Someone, the band also recorded two non-album tracks to release as a single on the same day. Because there were disagreements over which track to prioritise, Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out became the first ‘proper’ double-A-side single. Any followers of this blog will have seen we’ve had double-A-sides before, but in these instances, the second track listed was actually supposed to be a B-side, it’s just that demand resulted in the flip sides being promoted as strongly as the main track. That’s why you’ll see so many from Elvis earlier in the decade.

Day Tripper was recorded at Abbey Road on 16 October. The killer riff and majority of the song came from John Lennon, with Paul McCartney mainly helping with the verses. Seems to me this was Lennon’s attempt at coming up with a hook as good as the Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, and he came admirably close with this.

At the time, Lennon and McCartney were debating where to go next with their songwriting, having by and large exhausted the well of first-person love songs. One option, that fortunately didn’t last, was to write ‘comedy songs’. Not necessarily silly songs, but humourous tracks, occasionally with punchlines. Although the world can be glad they didn’t stick with that idea, to be fair, when the examples are Day Tripper, Drive My Car and Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), maybe it wouldn’t have been such a bad thing after all.

Lyrically, Day Tripper was their first single to mention drugs, albeit hidden in a not-subtle-at-all manner behind travelling references. The female character, perhaps like the one in Ticket to Ride, is sexually confident (in addition to being a ‘weekend hippy’), with the line ‘she’s a big teaser’ famously a cleaner version of the original ‘she’s a prick teaser’.

Although cleaner and sounding more ‘pop’ than (I Can’t get No) Satisfaction, the stereo mix of Day Tripper is rather sloppy. Of course, in 1965 stereo was considered less important than mono, but that’s no excuse for the brief accidental erasing of the guitar and tambourine tracks at 1.50. Once heard it’s impossible to not notice. Thankfully the error was rectified when the track was included on the 1 compilation in 2000 by taking the sounds from elsewhere in the track. Yet another classic mid-60s track, Day Tripper could easily have been a number 1 on its own.

The origins of We Can Work It Out probably came from McCartney’s now-troubled relationship with Jane Asher. He struggled to finish the song and took it to Lennon, whose ‘Life is very short…’ section was the perfect counterpoint to McCartney’s work. I have to agree with Revolution in the Head author Ian MacDonald that this song doesn’t spotlight the difference between Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting as definitively as some suggest. You can hardly call McCartney’s ‘do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?’ optimistic, for example. Nonetheless, the instances of the duo working together to such an extent shrank rapidly after We Can Work It Out, and this song is a great example of how well the duo complimented each other.

It was recorded four days after Day Tripper, with the rhythm track laid down in two takes. However, a further 11 hours were spent on the recording – the longest they’d ever spent on one song. During the session, George Harrison came up with the idea for Lennon’s section to be recorded as a waltz. The final ingredient, and the best, was the overdubbing of Lennon on a harmonium. This added texture to the single that pointed the way towards the future of the Beatles.

McCartney, Harrison and Starr felt We Can Work It Out was the better track to feature as an A-side, but Lennon felt strongly they should opt for the harder Day Tripper. EMI even originaly announced We Can Work It Out as the Christmas single, but Lennon’s stubbornness resulted in both tracks being joint headliners. Airplay and point-of-sale requests proved Lennon wrong, but I’m on his side on this one. Having said that, for my money one of the best Beatles covers of all time has to be Stevie Wonder’s We Can Work It Out in 1970.

Although they were at number 1 for the ninth time in a row, alarm bells rang within the media that they were starting to lose some of their popularity because the single didn’t shoot straight to the top in the first week of release, which had become the norm for the Fab Four. Despite this, the record was their best seller since Can’t Buy Me Love in 1964.

Before the release, the band recorded promo films with Joe McGrath to avoid having to appear yet again on Top of the Pops etc. The highlight of these videos is Lennon making McCartney laugh while pulling faces on the harmonium. Four days before the single knocked The Carnival Is Over from number 1, the Beatles performed their final UK gigs at the Capitol in Cardiff.

Also in the news that Christmas and New Year… the oil platform Sea Gem collapsed in the North Sea on 27 December, killing 13 of the 32 men on board. 3 January saw the debut of classic children’s TV series Camberwick Green, shown on BBC One as part of the Watch with Mother strand. The following day, over 4,000 people attended the funeral of BBC broadcaster Richard Dimbleby, who had died on 22 December. Such a gathering for the death of any broadcaster seems hard to believe.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 5 (16 December 1965-19 January 1966)

Births:

Northern Irish composer Martin Galway – 3 January 

Deaths:

Broadcaster Richard Dimbleby – 22 December
Politician Edward Davey – 25 December 

193. The Beatles – Ticket to Ride (1965)

23 April saw the opening of the Pennine Way. The National Trail runs 267 miles from Edale in the Derbyshire Peak District, up to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland. Three days later, Manchester United won the Football League First Division title. In other football news, Liverpool won the FA Cup for the first time, defeating Leeds United 2-1 at Wembley Stadium on 1 May. Elsewhere, on 7 May the Rhodesian Front, led by Ian Smith, won a landslide victory in the general election in Rhodesia.

Meanwhile, the Beatles were at number 1 for the seventh time, with their most adventurous single to date.

In February, they 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)

Births:

Actress Anna Chancellor – 27 April 
Television presenter Alice Beer – 1 May 
Wrestler Darren Matthews – 10 May

Deaths:

Welsh novelist Howard Spring – 3 May