171. Roy Orbison – It’s Over (1964)

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The pop world had changed massively since Roy Orbison’s first number 1, Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel), in October 1960. Nonetheless, during this period Orbison had plenty of hits, including Running Scared and Crying in 1961 (Don McLean’s cover of the latter went to the top of the charts in June 1980). It was while he toured Australia in 1962 that he was first referred to as ‘The Big O’ by a DJ, and in 1963 he developed the onstage persona that was as idiosyncratic as his voice. While touring with the Beatles he left his thick glasses on a plane and was forced to wear his prescription Wayfarer sunglasses instead. Not only did this help such a shy performer cope with his stagefright, they also made him cool – a word that was unlikely to have been associated with him before then.

The tour with the Beatles was supposed to be a joint headliner, with Orbison replacing injured guitarist Duane Eddy. The Big O was bemused by the level of fame the Beatles were enjoying, and allegedly asked with some degree of annoyance ‘What’s a Beatle anyway?’, at which point John Lennon tapped him on the shoulder and said ‘I am’. On the opening night of the tour, probably in a bid to get his bit over with, Orbison volunteered to go on first, and the Fab Four were left awestruck at his ability to work a crowd by barely moving throughout his set. For a band who would do their utmost to win over their audiences with charm, this must have been quite a shock to them. The two acts became firm friends, and of course Harrison would later join Orbison in the Travelling Wilburys.

Orbison’s constant touring took its toll on his private life, unfortunately, and his wife Claudette, who he adored and paid tribute to in a song named after her (the Everly Brothers had took it to number 1 in 1957), got sick of being alone and began an affair with the man who had built their home. He was also now working with a new co-writer, as Joe Melson was frustrated at not becoming a star in his own right. Orbison’s new collaborator was Bill Dees, and it was very likely that they had Claudette’s waywardness in mind as they began writing It’s Over, considering they were divorced by the end of the year.

Of course, so much of Orbison’s work concerned heartbreak, but It’s Over is the most stark example of such in his oeuvre that I’m aware of. It’s certainly the most successful, and I doubt there could be more bleak song in his back catalogue. Over a heavy, ominous drumbeat, Orbison brings on the misery like a gravedigger shovelling soil onto a coffin. ‘It breaks your heart in two, to know she’s been untrue’… if there’s any doubt that Orbison is in as much pain as the lyrics suggest, just listen to that final 20 seconds in which he sings ‘It’s over’ with emotion so raw it’s almost hard to listen to.

That a song so dark and operatic could make it to the top of the pop charts, at any point in time, let alone during peak Beatlemania (the film A Hard Day’s Night had just been released) is astounding. Elvis was the only other US act that could get a sniff of a number 1 spot at this point. Yet Orbison still had another number 1 in store for him before the end of 1964.

Tip: If It’s Over doesn’t grab you first time around (and it’s not exactly catchy, so don’t be surprised), listen again, preferably through earphones. It worked for me.

Written by: Roy Orbison & Bill Dees

Producer: Wesley Rose

Weeks at number 1: 2 (25 June-8 July)

Births:

Novelist Joanne Harris – 3 July 
Comedian Robert Newman – 7 July 

121. The Everly Brothers – Temptation (1961)

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25 July saw the release of one of the more famous British movies of the decade. Whistle Down the Wind, set in Lancashire and based on the 1959 book by Mary Hayley Bell, starred Hayley Mills and Alan Bates, and was produced by Richard Attenborough. During the same week, the Everly Brothers went to number 1 for the fourth and final time, with their cover of Temptation. This was an old song, written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, who had also written Singing in the Rain. Temptation had first been used in the 1933 film Going Hollywood, where it had been performed by superstar crooner Bing Crosby.

The production of the song caused some problems for Don and Phil, as their producer Wesley Rose was unhappy at them choosing to record a song that hadn’t been published by Acuff-Rose, meaning he wouldn’t get royalties. However, Don had dreamt the version he had in mind for the brothers, and insisted they go ahead. Therefore after its production, Rose blocked the Everlys from releasing any song from his team of writers, including Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, who were responsible for many of their hits. Bizarrely, it also barred them from recording self-composed material, as the Everlys were also contracted to Acuff-Rose!

Don was definitely right to push ahead with Temptation, and it’s a shame he didn’t get more creative control, as both this and Cathy’s Clown were in a sense his tracks, and are the best number 1 singles the duo made. However, it’s Rose’s name on the production credits, so it’s difficult to know how much rein he was given. Nonetheless, whoever is responsible, there’s a real sense of the envelope being pushed here, and the reverb-heavy sound is probably the best production I’ve heard in a number 1 single up to this point. The backing vocals rage against the song, sounding unearthly and intense, creating a great dramatic feel. There’s no way out here, and the song’s protagonist is doomed to be led along by the woman in question. As always the harmonies from the brothers are great, but both this and the aforementioned track have made me see that there was more to the Everly Brothers than just great voices.

Rose’s ban on songwriters, plus a stint in the Marines later in 1961, deeply affected the Everly Brothers’ momentum. By the time the dispute with Acuff-Rose had ended in 1964, the world had changed, and the Beatles, who the Everlys had influenced so much, were the new kings. Plus, Don and Phil had become addicted to amphetamines, and Don was eventually hospitalised due to a nervous breakdown. They still had hits, but not to the same extent. They recorded an album in 1966 with the Hollies, Two Yanks in England (wonder how long it took them to come up with that title?) as their backing band, but returned to their country roots by the close of the decade.As the 70s dawned, Don released a solo album, and tensions came to a head in 1973. They announced their final show together at Knotts Berry Farm, but couldn’t even make it through to the end. Phil smashed his guitar and left the stage, leaving Don to finish alone.

For ten years the brothers pursued solo careers to mixed success. On 23 September 1983 they reunited for a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, and no instruments were destroyed. They recorded a new album, EB ’84, and a song from superfan Paul McCartney, On the Wings of a Nightingale, returned them to the charts. Simon & Garfunkel, who had been heavily influenced by the brothers (their harmonies are also sublime, they recorded a version of Bye Bye Love, and they often hate each other) invited them to be their special guests on their Old Friends tour in 2003.

Sadly, weak lungs were an Everly family trait – their father had died of black lung disease, and Phil had stopped smoking in 2001, but the damage he had inflicted on his lungs was permanent. Phil Everly died of lung disease on 3 January 2014, aged 74. Don later admitted that they had become estranged again in the last few years, with their political beliefs causing a rift, but despite the feuding, he was devastated and unable to come to terms with his younger brother’s death. In 2016, he admitted he would wish a good morning to some of Phil’s ashes that he kept in his home, every day.

The Everly Brothers were trailblazers. Their pioneering work in the studio influenced many great acts, and they were one of the first acts to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They were also the first in a long line of warring family members in music, with the Davies brothers of the Kinks and Gallaghers in Oasis, among others, keeping up the tradition in later years. But no matter the tensions within the family, when they sang together they created magic.

Written by: Nacio Herb Brown & Arthur Freed

Producer: Wesley Rose

Weeks at number 1: 2 (20 July-2 August)

101. The Everly Brothers – Cathy’s Clown (1960)

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6 May 1960 saw Princess Margaret marrying photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones at Westminster Abbey. Margaret had been in love with Peter Townsend, and he had proposed to her in 1953. However, Townsend was divorced and the wedding would have caused ructions in Cabinet, and flown in the face of Royal tradition, and in the end she turned him down. However, Margaret allegedly accepted Armstrong-Jones’s proposal the day after learning that Townsend was to marry Marie-Luce Jamagne, a young woman who bore a strong resemblance to Margaret. This was the first Royal wedding to be televised, but by 1978 they had divorced. A day later, Wolverhampton Wanderers won the FA Cup for the fourth time, defeating Blackburn Rovers 3-0 at Wembley Stadium.

Also that week, country, pop and rock’n’roll duo the Everly Brothers went to number 1 for the second time with Cathy’s Clown. Like their previous number 1, All I Have to Do is Dream/Claudette in 1958, it stayed at the top for seven weeks. Earlier in 1960 the duo had left Cadence Records and signed with Warner Bros. Records. Cathy’s Clown bore the UK catalogue number WB1, and was the first single released by the label in this country. Until this point, Warner Bros. Records had been struggling, and urgently needed a hit. The Everlys were reportedly given $1million to come up with one, and did not disappoint. Originally credited to both Don and Phil, in 1980 a deal was struck to make Don the sole songwriter. This song had been inspired by one of his ex-girlfriends, who one can only assume had dumped him, and the music was influenced by Andre Kostelanetz’s version of the orchestral Grand Canyon Suite.

Cathy’s Clown proved to be one of the most influential songs of the early 1960s, and still appears in lists of the greatest songs of all time. Coming after so many average number 1s in 1960, it’s sophistication marks it as head and shoulders above the competition. It’s all about those rolling drums and the chorus that follows. This was the first number 1 to feature a drum loop, created by engineer Bill Porter looping drummer Buddy Harman and getting him to play on top, manually adding the loop at the start of each chorus. And what a chorus. The Everly Brothers really did produce harmonies like nobody that had come before them, and the voices are just perfect on Cathy’s Clown. You can easily see the influence on the Beatles, (who at one point considered calling themselves The Foreverly Brothers), particularly on the second single, Please Please Me. The lyrics have caused confusion over the years, but to me it seems that Cathy’s clown is the singer of the song, and he’s being repeatedly made to look stupid by Cathy, who’s been cheating on him. His friends consider him a clown, but he can’t help going back for more, despite insisting in the chorus that he’s had enough. These lyrics, like the production, are a cut above your average 1960 fare. The fact it’s probably based on what happened to poor Don with his ex makes the song that bit more authentic. The Everlys did heartbreak very well – see also Bye Bye Love.

Cathy’s Clown became the first single to simultaneously hit number 1 in the US and UK, and they more than lived up to Warner Bros. Records’ expectations. Further hits and number 1s followed, making them one of the greatest acts of the early years of the 60s. The credits for the song are still contentious to this day, however. Following Phil’s death, his remaining family reasserted their rights to royalties. Don sued them to get the rights back in November 2017.

Written by: Don Everly & Phil Everly

Producer: Wesley Rose

Weeks at number 1: 7 (5 May-22 June) 

Births:

Actress Roma Downey – 6 May
Dire Straits keyboardist Guy Fletcher – 24 May
Actress Kristin Scott Thomas – 24 May
‘Chaser’ Shaun Wallace – 2 June
Actor Bradley Walsh – 4 June
Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall – 8 June
Duran Duran bassist John Taylor – 20 June 

Deaths:

Mathematician JHC Whitehead – 8 May
Politician Sir Maurice Bonham Carter – 7 June