282. Lee Marvin (Orchestra Conducted by Nelson Riddle) – Wand’rin’ Star (1970)

Here’s a strange one. Taking up the top spot for most of March was Academy Award-winning Hollywood actor Lee Marvin – definitely not a professional singer – and Wand’rin’ Star, from the 1969 western musical film Paint Your Wagon, based on the 1951 stage show.

Set in a mining camp during the Gold Rush in California, the film also starred Clint Eastwood in a singing role. Despite its notoriety now, it was panned upon its release. Not much of a fan of westerns or musicals, I’ve never seen it, and likely never will.

The song Wand’rin’ Star, like the rest of the music in the film/show, came from Frederick Loewe, with the lyrics by Alan J Lerner. Together, the duo wrote some of the most famous musicals of all time, including My Fair Lady (Vic Damone had a UK number 1 in 1958 with On the Street Where You Live).

The makers of the movie had a problem when it cames to filming. Prematurely white-haired, gruff-voiced Marvin, one of the top actors of the era, was no singer, yet he had top billing in his role as prospector Ben Rumson. And he refused to mime.

Marvin was born 19 February 1924 in New York City. The son of an advertising executive and fashion editor, he struggled from authority from an early age – running away from home for two days at the age of four, and expelled from a succession of boarding schools. However when he was 18 he dropped out of a Florida prep school to join the Marines in 1942, determined to prove how tough he was. Marvin was wounded in action in 1944 and spent a year in hospital.

Upon his discharge he took up various menial jobs and stumbled upon acting almost by accident. Soon, he was in a Broadway production of Billy Budd, before the 50s beckoned, and he garnered many small TV roles.

Next, came Hollywood, and a role as a murderer in an episode of crime drama Dragnet got him noticed, leading to him being typecast as the bad guy in films. Two such roles came in The Big Heat and The Wild One (both 1953) – the latter of which may be where The Beatles got their name from (Marvin’s gang were called The Beetles). He finally got to be leading man in the TV crime drama The M Squad, which ran from 1957-60.

Once the series ended, he went up a notch in film roles, starring in The Comancheros (1961), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and Donovan’s Reef (1963). But it was 1965 surprise-hit comedy Cat Ballou that really shot him to the big time, and he won the Best Actor Oscar that year.

The Dirty Dozen was a commercial success, and Point Blank adored by critics, both in 1967. Hell in the Pacific was also acclaimed a year later, and in 1969 Marvin was set to star in The Wild Bunch, but he fell out with director Sam Peckinpah and opted for Paint Your Wagon instead.

Wand’rin’ Star finds Marvin’s character fending for himself and contemplating his hobo lifestyle. The song was orchestrated and arranged by Nelson Riddle, who had been working with some of the most legendary singers since the 40s – including Frank Sinatra on his first number 1, Three Coins in the Fountain.

The first time I listened to this, I thought Siri had accidentally picked an instrumental version, perhaps used as incidental music in the film. It’s quite some time before Marvin’s gravelly vocal begins. And you know what, yes, it’s out of tune and his timing is also off at times, but I’d take his voice over the dated backing singers.

It’s all about the mood, and Marvin’s baritone fits perfectly. His off-key rasp puts across that this is someone that’s been damaged, that’s gone through some shit, but is proud of the lifestyle he has.

Also, there’s some really great lyrics here, particularly:
I’ve never seen a sight that didn’t look better looking back
And especially:
Do I know where hell is?
Hell is in hello
Heaven is goodbye for ever, it’s time for me to go

No wonder this was played at Joe Strummer’s funeral, and covered by Shane MacGowan and the Popes. There’s real depth here. I can do without the backing singers taking over at one point, and I probably won’t be listening to it much in the future, but it’s surprisingly good. And the public clearly thought so too. This even kept Let It Be off the top spot!

Marvin remained active in films throughout the 70s, but despite his roles becoming diverse, nothing matched the 60s for him, commercially or critically. He was offered the role of Quint in Jaws (1975) but turned it down.

He was embroiled in a high-profile lawsuit in 1979 when his old live-in girlfriend, Michelle Triola, who had changed her surname to Marvin, claimed he had promised her half his income while they were still together. This was the first time the US Supreme Court has allowed such a case between unmarried couples. The judge only awarded her enough money to get back on her feet.

Marvin claimed to spend much of the remainder of his years living in the desert, which makes him sound very similar to the character Ben – no wonder he sang it with such conviction. He starred in Gorky Park in 1983, and his final film was The Delta Force alongside Chuck Norris in 1986.

Marvin fell ill that December, and after a number of issues he died of a heart attack on 29 August 1987, aged 63.

Written by: Alan J Lerner & Frederick Loewe

Producer: Tom Mack

Weeks at number 1: 3 (7-27 March)

Meanwhile…

12 March: The government’s anti-rabies measures following an outbreak in Newmarket, Suffolk meant that the quarantine period for cats and dogs was increased to one year.

13 March: The Bridgwater by-election became the first in which 18-year-olds could vote. Tom King of the Conservatives was the victor.

17 March: Martin Peters, who scored for England in the 1966 World Cup final, became the first footballer in the country worth £200,000 after transferring from West Ham United to Tottenham Hotspur.

23 March: – 18 victims of the thalidomide scandal were awarded nearly £370,000 in compensation.

261. Hugo Montenegro – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1968)

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1968, particularly the first half, had seen some unusual number 1s. As the year drew to a close, things got weird again. Enjoying a full month at the pole position of the singles chart was American orchestra leader and soundtrack composer Hugo Montenegro, with his remake of the theme to Sergio Leone’s 1966 Spaghetti Western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

This film was the final part of Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, following A Fistful of Dollars and A Few Dollars More, and starred Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name once more. Despite initial scepticism from the critics, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly is now considered one of the greatest examples of the genre of all time. I have to confess I haven’t seen any of the trilogy. Westerns aren’t really my bag. But of course, I know the theme to this movie.

As with the other two parts of the trilogy, the score came from Italian composer Ennio Morricone. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (main title) was conducted by Bruno Nicolai. Simply put, it’s one of the most iconic pieces of film music ever, and features at the start of the movie. Largely in part to the theme, Morricone’s soundtrack album was a bestseller. But how did a remake become a number 1 single, two years after the film’s release, and who was Hugo Montenegro?

Montenegro had been born in New York City on 2 September 1925. He served in the US Navy for two years, but was mostly arranging the Newport Naval Base band in Newport, Rhode Island. When World War Two ended he studied composition at Manhattan College.

By the mid-50s he was directing, conducting and arranging orchestras for record labels, and he directed the Glen-Spice Orchestra on the first release by future pop star hearthrob Dion in 1957.

In the early 60s he found work with RCA Victor producing albums of cover versions of themes from films and TV series, including spy themes and westerns, which is what led to his version of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It might sound quaint now, but these kind of albums were popular for decades. I can remember several in our family well into the 80s, featuring the themes of Superman, Star Wars, all the blockbusters of the time.

Montenegro’s version of Morricone’s classic was very similar to the classic original. It was recorded live in one day and featured, among others, Art Smith on ocarina, Art Morgan on harmonica, Elliot Fisher on electric violin, Manny Klein on piccolo trumpet and Muzzy Marcellino provided the whistling.

Despite the popularity of the soundtrack remake back then, it’s still an odd choice for a number 1 single. Having said that, you can’t deny the brilliance of the original, all that ominous forboding, the danger, the intrigue, wrapped up in a brilliant melody and sounding so unusual.

I realise I stated in my previous blog for With a Little Help from My Friends that if you’re going to make a cover, you need to make it different. And yet I enjoyed this facsimile. There’s very little difference, it’s just been made slightly more pop friendly, with light acoustic guitar and the danger slightly turned down. But it doesn’t sound tacky like many of these remakes used to do (ever heard anything from those Top of the Pops albums of the 70s?).

Montegro was understandably taken aback at the success of this single in the US and the UK. By making it to number 1 here it became the first instrumental to do so since Foot Tapper by The Shadows in 1963. It’s not strictly speaking an instrumental though – in this version, the random shouts you hear are actually members of the band shouting ‘HU-GO-MONT-EN-EGRO!’.

The composer continued to record remakes, and also composed original scores for films, including the Elvis Presley western Charro! in 1969. He’s also achieved a cult audience in recent years due to his albums that featured the Moog synthesiser, with the kitsch retro-space-age sounds proving influential on a new generation of musicians. On TV, he was famous for his TV themes for US sitcoms I Dream of Jeannie and The Partridge Family.

In the late 70s he was forced to put his career on hold due to his battle with severe emphysema. He died of the disease on 6 February 1981.

Written by: Ennio Morricone

Producer: Hugh Montenegro

Weeks at number 1: 4 (13 November-10 December)

Births:

Footballer Barry Hunter – 18 November
Journalist Andrew Gilligan – 22 November

Deaths:

Writer Mervyn Peake – 17 November
Children’s writer – Enid Blyton – 28 November

Meanwhile…

18 November: A warehouse fire on James Watt Street in Glasgow kills 22 office workers in the offices of upholstery factory B Stern Ltd. Only four people in the building managed to escape.

26 November: The Race Relations Act passed, which made it illegal to refuse housing, employment or public services to people in Britain due to their ethnic background.

30 November: The Trade Descriptions Act came into force, bringing an end (officially anyway) to shops and traders describing goods in a misleading way.

246. Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich (Accompaniment directed by John Gregory) – The Legend of Xanadu (1968)

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Somewhat lost almong the crowd of well-remembered 60s groups, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich were, despite their silly name, one very popular outfit, with many top ten hits in the latter half of the decade. After three years of hits they finally reached number 1 on 20 March with The Legend of Xanadu, knocking Cinderella Rockefeller from the top, which must have been a relief to anyone with any sense.

The quintet formed in 1961 in Salisbury, Wiltshire from the ashes of Ronnie Blonde and the Beatnicks. David John Harman had been a policeman after leaving school, and was the first on the scene in April 1960 when Eddie Cochran was killed in a car crash (see Three Steps to Heaven). Cochran’s Gretsch guitar was impounded at his police station, and he started learning to play guitar on it over several nights. He had been friends with bassist Trevor Davies, and rhythm guitarist John Dymond and lead guitarist Ian Amey since school. Harman teamed up with them in the Beatnicks and when Blonde missed a gig, he filled in on vocals. Eventually he took over permanently and the group became Dave Dee & the Bostons. By this time Michael Wilson had become their drummer and the line-up was complete.

Struggling to make ends meet, they began performing in Hamburg at the same clubs as The Beatles, and lengthy (sometimes 12-hour) sets turned the boys into a tight unit, playing rock’n’roll with intricate four-part harmonies. In 1964 they returned to England and took on a summer season at Butlins in Clacton-on-Sea.

One night they supported The Honeycombs in Swindon. The Honeycombs had just been at number 1 with the proto-punk Have I the Right?, written by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley and produced by Joe Meek. Howard and Blaikley managed the Honeycombs and Blaikley watched the support act that night. Suitably impressed, he and Howard took them under their wing and arranged a session with Meek.

It was they that changed the group’s name. They wanted their new group to stand out from all the other beat groups storming the charts, and so decided to simply name them after each member’s nickname. Harman was already Dave Dee. Davies became Dozy (apparently because he once ate the wrapper of a chocolate bar instead of the chocolate, after throwing the bar away…), Dymond was Beaky, Wilson was Mick and Amey became Tich.

The band clashed with Meek and his unusual recording techniques, and the sessions ended with the volatile producer throwing coffee all over his studio and storming off to his room. Although dejected, they soon signed with Fontana Records, and Howard and Blaikely chose to continue to write their material.

It was a slow start, with their initial two singles failing to chart, but third 7-inch You Make It Move reached number 26, and then Hold Tight!, from their eponymous debut album in 1966, climbed all the way to number four. Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich were now pop stars, and later that year, they narrowly missed out on the top spot with their most memorable hit, Bend It! ( they were very fond of exclamation marks in their song titles). Racy for its time, its notoriety helped it sell extremely well, but it couldn’t stop Jim Reeves’ Distant Drums and stalled at number two.

It wasn’t just their name that made Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich unique among the throng. They were, dare I say it, rather zany, and took the pop game less seriously then many of their peers. Want an example? The name of their second album in 1966 was If Music Be the Food of Love… Then Prepare for Indigestion.

Their fame continued, and not just in the UK. Over the years they scored three number 1s in New Zealand, and were also big in Canada and Australia. 1967 wasn’t quite as successful a year, but third album What’s in a Name and singles Okay! and Zabadak! reached the upper echelons of the charts.

And then came The Legend of Xanadu in 1968. At the time there was a fashion for bubblegum, eccentric songs (you’ve only got to look in the Archive to glance at the number 1s for this year), and the timing was right.

The Legend of Xanadu is regarded as rather a lost classic these days, but I was a little disappointed. It could be due to the misleading title, which led me to expect a psychedelic pop tune. And no, it’s got nothing to do with Xanadu by Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra either. It’s actually a novelty western love song, featuring flamenco guitar, the sound of a whip cracking and a brass refrain reminiscent of the theme from The Magnificent Seven (1960). Dave Dee and co play it straight however, and there’s even a spoken word section near the end. I do admire the energy in the production and performance (recorded in half an hour apparently), but it didn’t leave too much of an impression on me.

Later that year they released fourth album If No One Sang, which featured their number 1 single. Their last 7-inch in 1968 was the ambitious The Wreck of the Antoinette, where the band aped The Beach Boys singing about a sunken vessel and Dozy recited Shakespeare in the intro. However, they were starting to feel like their sound was becoming too complex and that they were merely a vehicle for Howard and Blaiklely’s wild ideas and producer Steve Rowland’s glossy experiments.

By 1969 Dave Dee felt like the public were tiring of the quintet, and he was right, as their chart positions became steadily lower. That summer he chose to go solo. The rest of the band continued, under the less unweildy but also less memorable name D,B,M and T. They never reached the heights they had scaled in the 60s (although Mr President was a decent track and also a hit) and split in 1972. Dee went on to become a producer, reuniting with his bandmates in 1974 and 1983.

They reformed the original line-up for the last time in the 90s. By then, Dee was also a Justice of the Peace. Sadly he was diagnosed with prostrate cancer in 2001, and succumbed in 2009 aged 67. In 2014 Tich retired and the band carried on, confusingly with new members assuming the nicknames of past members, with names like Mick III, making them sound like royalty. Dozy died in 2015 after a short illness, leaving Beaky, who had returned in 2013, as sole surviving member.

Written by: Ken Howard & Alan Blaikley

Producer: Steve Rowland

Weeks at number 1: 1 (20-26 March)

Births:

Footballer Paul Merson – 20 March
Actor Jaye Davidson – 21 March
Blur singer Damon Albarn – 23 March
Cricketer Mike Atherton – 23 March
Chess player Chris Ward – 26 March 

224. Jim Reeves – Distant Drums (1966)

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Autumn 1966 saw the singles chart ruled for five weeks by a man who had died two years previous. American country singer-songwriter Jim Reeves ruled over the charts with Distant Drums in the same surprising way that Ken Dodd had a year previous with Tears. Amid all the amazing, pioneering music coming thick and fast, the charts were suddenly owned by the old folk once more.

‘Gentleman Jim’ had been born in Galloway, Texas on 20 August 1923. Known as Travis during his childhood, he loved to play baseball and spent three years in minor leagues before severing his sciatic nerve. As a sufferer of sciatica myself, I can only imagine this must have been really bloody painful.

Reeves avoided World War Two when he failed his physical exam in 1943, and so he began working as a radio announcer. A fan of popular singers like Frank Sinatra, Jimmie Rodgers and Bing Crosby, he would sometimes sing live in-between songs, and began to see a career in it.

By the early 50s Reeves was doing well in the US charts. Bimbo reached number 1 in the country chart in 1954. His first and only album release for Abbott Records, Jim Reeves Sings, came in November 1955. By that point he had signed a ten-year deal with RCA Victor with Steve Sholes. That same year, Sholes signed Elvis Presley.

Like every other country and western performer of the era, Reeves’ earliest recordings had him adopting a loud, rather cliched Texan style, but over time he developed his trademark style, a smooth, warm and gentle baritone, his lips nearly touching the mic as he crooned. RCA executives thought this was a bad idea, but Reeves was lucky to have producer Chet Atkins on his side. The first example of this new approach, Four Walls, was a commercial hit for Reeves in 1957. Soon, other artists were adopting the same approach, and this gentle approach, together with lush arrangements, became known as the Nashville Sound.

As the 60s began Reeves scored big in the pop and country charts with He’ll Have to Go. From here on in his stature grew enormously worldwide, eclipsing his fame in the US, even. He was more popular than label mate Elvis in South Africa. Among his hits in the UK in 1963 was Welcome to My World, used in recent years in adverts for Thomson Holidays.

In an eerie foreshadowing of what was to come, the singer’s final session for RCA resulted in three songs – Make the World Go Away, Missing You and Is It Really Over? With tape left over, they cut one more track – I Can’t Stop Loving You, which had been a number 1 for Ray Charles in 1962.

On 31 July Reeves and his manager Dean Manuel (also the pianist in Reeves’ backing group, the Blue Boys) were flying over Brentwood, Tennessee when they encountered a violent thunderstorm. Two days later, after intense searching by friends including Marty Robbins, the wreckage was found, and by the afternoon, Gentleman Jim’s death was announced publicly.

Material by Reeves continued to be released after his untimely death, aged 40. Distant Drums was a song by country singer and dancer Cindy Walker. It had been recorded by Roy Orbison in 1963, but it is Reeves’ version that is remembered best.

So just how did Distant Drums not only make it to number 1, but hold court for five weeks? It’s really hard to say. It seems RCA had chosen to release it due to creeping anti-war sentiment over the situation in Vietnam, but I’m not sure you could describe it as an explicit protest song. Even if it was, surely there were more commercial examples of such a thing out there? The fact he was two years dead already means it wasn’t due to the strength of feeling after he was gone, either.

To be fair to Reeves, he never intended it as a single – it was merely meant as a demo, and had been tarted up with an orchestral backing. But lord, is it dull. I’m no country fan anyway, but it’s a B-side or album track at best. I’ve read that perhaps so many young bands were jockeying for the top spot at the time, Reeves’ single split the vote, but who knows? It’s another one of those chart mysteries.

Written by: Cindy Walker

Producer: Chet Atkins

Weeks at number 1: 5 (22 September-26 October)

Births:

Prime Minister David Cameron – 9 October 
Footballer Tony Adams – 10 October

Deaths:

Singer Alma Cogan – 26 October (see below)

Meanwhile…

21 October: At 9.15am in the mining village of Aberfan in Glamorgan, South Wales, pupils at Pantglas Junior School were just beginning their lessons. A large colliery spoil tip, high up on a mountain slope behind the village, suddenly turned into a slurry due to a period of heavy rain beforehand. Within five minutes, the slurry had engulfed the school, along with nearby houses and a farm. This tragic event resulted in the horrific deaths of 116 children and 28 adults. The TV footage of the incident makes for surreal, grim viewing.

26 October: Former chart-topper Alma Cogan, whose Dreamboat was number 1 in 1955, died of ovarian cancer aged only 34.

106. The Shadows – Apache (1960)

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On 25 August, Cliff Richard and The Shadows were deposed from the top of the charts by… The Shadows (with a cameo from Cliff). This unusual turn of events came about because The Shadows had a recording contract separate to their one as a backing band for the UK’s most popular artist at the time. Their instrumental, Apache, is of course one of the most memorable and evocative pre-Beatles UK singles, and catapulted them to super-stardom, making Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch, Jet Harris and Tony Meeham the first backing band to step out of the shadows (sorry) and become as popular as their frontman.

As previously stated in my blogs for Living Doll and Travellin’ Light, The Shadows were originally known as The Drifters, and none of the original line-up remained by 1960. When Cliff recorded his first hit, the influential Move It, the band consisted of founder Ken Pavey, Terry Smart, Norman Mitham and Ian Samwell. Samwell had written Move It, but only he and Smart were allowed to play on the recording, and that had taken some persuasion.

By the time of the recording of Living Doll, the famous line-up was in place. Hank Marvin, the guitar wizard and most well-known band member, had been hired partly due to his Buddy Holly-style spectacles. Originally, Tony Sheridan, who later recorded My Bonnie with the Beatles, had been in the frame. Jet Harris had christened the group The Shadows just before their second number 1 with Cliff,  Travellin’ Light. The four-piece had released a few of their own singles, but none made it to the charts, until they struck gold with Apache.

Singer-songwriter Jerry Lordan’s tune I’ve Waited So Long had been a hit for Anthony Newley in 1959, and his biggest solo hit, Who Could Be Bluer?, was produced by George Martin, and performing well when Lordan was supporting The Shadows early in 1960. He had been watching the 1954 western Apache, starring Burt Lancaster, and was inspired to write an instrumental on his ukelele. He presented the tune to The Shadows on the tour bus. The influential guitarist Burt Weedon had recorded a version, yet to be released, but Lordan wasn’t a fan, and figured The Shadows could make a better job of it. He wasn’t wrong.

Apache begins with foreboding beats, achieved by none other than Cliff himself, banging away on a Chinese drum. This was the first time Cliff had sounded dangerous since Move It. And it certainly makes for a more effective sound than the impressions of Indians that feature on Johnny Preston’s Running Bear. That famous, hazy surf guitar sound that then enters and really makes Apache came about when cockney singer Joe Brown gave away his echo chamber to Hank Marvin, who played around with it and the tremolo arm of his Fender Stratocaster.

You can laugh at how nice and polite the Shadows used to look now, with their funny little choreographed walk and beaming faces, but Apache is a hell of a performance, sounding dangerous, modern, and very cool, as well as achieving what Lordan wanted from the track  – namely something that brought to mind the drama, courage and savagery of the Indians in Burt Lancaster’s film. Although the spotlight falls on Marvin, this is a group performance, and the other three really shine too.

Bizarrely, Norrie Paramor, who usually had a great ear for a hit and had produced plenty of chart-toppers, wasn’t that keen at first, and neither were their record label. Paramor preferred The Quatermasster’s Stores, but admitted at 40 he was perhaps growing out-of-touch, and let his teenage daughter decide. She picked ‘the Indian one’, and Apache slowly creeped to number 1 for five weeks, inspiring countless guitarists. Cliff was gracious and found the idea of being usurped by his own band amusing, and no bad blood resulted.

Of course, Apache went further than influencing rock’n’roll. Michael Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band, a project started by MGM executive Viner, released the album Bongo Rock in 1973. The second track was a fantastic cover of Apache, featuring a now legendary drum break by Jim Gordon, formerly of Derek and the Dimons.

That breakbeat became as ubiquitous to hip-hop as James Brown’s Funky Drummer, appearing in early DJ sets by pioneers such as Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash. You’ll recognise it from the Sugarhill Gang’s fun version of Apache, from Grandmaster Flash’s The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel (both 1981), and West Street Mob’s Break Dance (Electric Boogie) (1983), and they’re just the obvious ones. Why is Gordon not recognised for this contribution to modern music? Perhaps because in 1983, he murdered his mother during a psychotic episode. In fact, yes, I’m certain that’s why.

Written by: Jerry Lordan

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 5 (25 August-28 September)

Births:

Actor Hugh Grant – 9 September
Actor Colin Firth – 10 September
Actor Danny John-Jules – 16 September
Race car driver Damon Hill – 17 September 

Deaths:

Actress Amy Veness – 22 September
Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst – 27 September 

Meanwhile…

25 August to 11 September: Great Britain and Northern Ireland competed in the Olympics, held in Rome. It wasn’t a great performance, with only two gold medals, six silver and 12 bronze brought home.

15 September: Traffic wardens began menacing the streets, beginning in London.