203. The Walker Brothers – Make It Easy on Yourself (1965)

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Long before Scott Walker was ordering a percussionist to punch a side of pork, he was a 1960s pop idol with his pretend siblings. The Walker Brothers first found fame with this first of two number 1s, Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Make It Easy On Yourself.

John Maus, born in New York in 1943, was a child television star. In the late 50s he was friends with Ritchie Valens, and following the La Bamba hitmaker’s tragic death, he was an honorary pallbearer at his funeral. Later, he befriended future Beach Boys David Marks and Dennis and Carl Wilson, and he helped teach them how to play the guitar. He formed a musical partnership with his sister, and they were known as the acoustic duo John and Judy. In 1961, they met Scott Engel.

Engel, born in Hamilton, Ohio in 1943, had also been a child actor and singer, and in the late 50s he was marketed as a teen idol, with Eddie Fisher (one of the first number 1 stars in the UK) pushing him for stardom. Engel had intellectual tastes from an early age, and loved progressive jazz, Beat poetry and European cinema. When he met John Maus he was in the instrumental group the Routers.

Engel and Maus briefly backed John’s sister and they became Judy and the Gents. Somewhere around this time, the 17-year-old Maus got hold of an ID card for John Walker, enabling him to perform in clubs while underage. The name stuck, and he was sick of people getting his surname wrong anyway. After breaking away from Judy Maus, Engel and Walker were briefly part of the Surfaris, the group that had recorded Wipeout in 1963. At least, they were part of the touring group, none of whom recorded their singles.

In 1964, they decided to work together as the Walker Brothers Trio, with Al ‘Tiny’ Schneider on drums. Walker was lead vocalist and guitarist and Engel was bassist and provided harmony vocals. At some point Schneider left and they continued as a duo before meeting new drummer Gary Leeds. All three were photogenic and soon ended up on TV shows including Shindig. They signed with Mercury Records and recorded their debut single, Pretty Girls Everywhere. It was Maus’ idea they should all take the surname Walker, and I still find it odd that Engel continues to go by the name Scott Walker after all these years. I guess he must still have a soft spot for his time as a pop star.

Gary Walker had recently toured the UK with PJ Proby, and convinced John and Scott that the Walker Brothers should try their luck as pop stars on these shores. It was his father that financed their first trip early in 1965. Their first single barely scraped into the charts, but they had better luck with Love Her. This follow-up featured Scott on lead vocal, and upon its success, Scott began moving into the lead spot in the trio.

They found an ideal producer in Johnny Franz. He was one of the top UK producers of the 50s and 60s, and by this point had produced six UK number 1s, from Winifred Atwell’s Let’s Have Another Party in 1954 to Juliet by the Four Pennies in 1964. Franz was very effective at lavishly orchestrated 60s pop, which made him a natural choice to produce a Bacharach and David song. Make It Easy on Yourself was a decent slab of break-up melodrama from the genius duo, and became the songwriters’ sixth UK number 1. It had first been a hit in 1962 for Jerry Butler, based on a demo from Dionne Warwick.

Make It Easy on Yourself comes out on the losing side when compared to that other big heartbreak song of 1965, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. Nobody does the Wall of Sound better than the creator, Phil Spector. Having said that, the Walker Brothers and Franz put in a decent try. The track opens with a wordless version of the chorus, and that first line, ‘Breaking up is so very hard to do’, set to Scott’s smooth baritone, sets things off nicely. It can’t keep the momentum going though, and the verses don’t have the tension and drama of the Righteous Brothers’ number 1. How many songs do, though? Oh, this song also features legendary session drummer Clem Cattini, who took part in a frankly ridiculously long list of UK number 1s over the years, the most recent of which had been the Bachelors’ snore-fest Diane in 1964.

Scott’s vocal is perhaps a little too polished and mannered to carry off the emotion… unless this is a deliberate ploy to make the protagonist sound in denial. You can easily imagine several other singers’ releasing this, such as Cilla Black, which means the Walker Brothers, in particular Scott, were still too green to put their own stamp on their releases. Their next number 1 was a big improvement.

Written by: Burt Bacharach & Hal David

Producer: Johnny Franz

Weeks at number 1: 1 (23-29 September)

Births:

Olympic athelete Phylis Smith – 29 September 

201. Sonny & Cher – I Got You Babe (1965)

sonny-cher-1965.jpgBands like the Beatles and the Byrds were on the cutting edge of the rise of the hippy movement, but Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe was a very mainstream anthem for the ‘love generation’. Although Cher has hit number 1 several times during her subsequent solo career, this was the duo’s sole chart-topper together.

Salvatore Bono was born 16 February 1935 in Detroit to Italian parents. His mother gave him the nickname ‘Sonny’ that remained for the rest of his life. At the age of seven his family moved to Inglewood, California. He attended high school there, but dropped out to concentrate on music. While trying to break into the business he tried various jobs, including being a waiter and a butcher’s helper. He began his music career at Speciality Records, where he wrote Things You Do to Me for Sam Cooke. By the early 1960s Bono found himself working for Phil Spector as a promotion man, percussionist and gofer at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood. In November 1962 he met 16-year-old Cherilynn Sarkisian in an LA coffee shop.

Sarkisian had been born on 20 May 1946 in El Centro, California. Her father John was a half-Armenian, half-American truck driver with drink and gambling problems, and her mother Jackie Crouch was an occasional model and actress with Irish, English, German and Cherokee ancestry. Their relationship was stormy and they divorced when Cherilynn was only ten months old. Crouch changed her name to Georgia Holt and had several more rocky marriages and divorces while moving her family around the country. They were so poor, Cherilynn’s shoes were held together with rubber bands at one point. By the time she was nine she had devloped an unusually low voice and a love of showbusiness. She fell in love with Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and began developing an outrageous persona. At 16 she dropped out of school, left home and moved to Los Angeles with a friend, and that’s where she met 27-year-old Sonny Bono. They quickly bonded, and Bono introduced her to Spector, who let her become a backing singer on several important records, including the Ronettes’ Be My Baby (and just before hitting the big time, the Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’). Bono got a taste of success in 1963 when he co-wrote Needles and Pins with Jack Nitzsche, which became a UK number 1 for the Searchers in 1964. Also that year, Spector produced her first single, Ringo, I Love You under the name Bonnie Jo Mason. The Beatlemania cash-in flopped.

Bono and Sarkisian became lovers, and wed unofficially in a hotel room in Tijuana, Mexico later in 1964.  Bono wanted her to be a solo star but she suffered stage fright and encouraged him to perform too. They became Caesar & Cleo, but three singles bombed. At the same time, he produced some solo singles for her. The second, released in 1965, was a cover of Bob Dylan’s All I Really Want to Do, and it faced a chart battle with a version by the Byrds. It did well in the US, and by the time of her first solo album she was known as Cher. As a duo, they became Sonny & Cher and worked on their debut album, Look at Us. Among the material was Bono’s upbeat answer to Dylan’s break-up song It Ain’t Me Babe. Members of session musician legends the Wrecking Crew were assembled to provide the backing.

Sonically, the duo’s time working with Spector was clearly an influence on the production of I Got You Babe. It’s a less lavish version of his Wall of Sound, but similar in dynamics with the way it builds to what seems a climax, before falling back on itself. Sonny & Cher are no Righteous Brothers, though. That might be harsh on Cher, who we all know has a powerful set of lungs, but Bono’s fooling nobody with his ‘poor man’s Dylan’ vocals. However, he serves his purpose and gives the song an everyman appeal. It’s easy to see how they charmed audiences, and I Got You Babe is very hard to dislike. A lot of that is down to that hook throughout the song, but what exactly is it? After researching, I still don’t know, but it seems it’s either an ocarina or an oboe. So, at least I’ve narrowed it down to ‘something probably beginning with o’.

This simplistic take on flower power made Sonny & Cher huge stars in the UK. It was the Rolling Stones who suggested they come here, noting that, at the time, being stars in Britain first would give them a better chance in America. Their colourful, proto-hippy outfits turned heads on these shores. Further hits for the duo and Cher alone followed, including The Beat Goes On for the former and Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) for the latter. But despite their bell-bottoms and fluffy vests, they began to look rather square by the end of the 60s. Cher loved the heavier sound of bands like Led Zeppelin, but Sonny was having none of it. Their relationship suffered but they officially married in 1969 after she gave birth to their daughter Chastity.

The duo moved into TV in 1971 and The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour was a hit for three years. They ran into relationship difficulties in 1972 but kept up appearances until they divorced in 1975. Despite reuniting for TV series The Sonny & Cher Show, the duo were effectively no more, certainly musically, as Cher carried on as a solo artist. Sonny Bono went into acting, including appearances in Airplane II: The Sequel (1982) and Hairspray (1988). They performed for the last time on Late Night with David Letterman in 1987, where they sang I Got You Babe.

As Cher became a huge star once more, Bono moved into politics after becoming frustrated with the red tape involved in opening a restaurant in Palm Springs, California. He served four years as their mayor, before running for the United States Senate. He was eventually elected to the House of Representatives in 1994 and managed to get a copywright extension law named after him. At some point, he also became a scientologist, but according to his last wife Mary, he tried to break away but they made life difficult for him. The Church denies this. Bono was killed on 5 January in 1998 when he hit a tree while skiing in California. Although Cher had proved she could be a superstar without him, and there may have still been some ill feeling between the duo over the years, she performed a eulogy at his funeral. Despite Cher’s fame, the baby boomers will always associate her with I Got You Babe. The epitaph on Sonny Bono’s headstone reads ‘AND THE BEAT GOES ON’.

And I Got You Babe goes on too. 20 years after first hitting the top, it went to number 1 in 1985. UB40 recorded it with Chrissie Hynde, and my God, was it dull. The original, memorable enough as it was, became forever immortalised in the romantic comedy Groundhog Day (1993), as the first thing weatherman Phil Connors hears every morning for years on end. He should have been grateful it wasn’t UB40’s version.

Written & produced by: Sonny Bono

Weeks at number 1: 2 (26 August-8 September)

Births:

Boxer Lennox Lewis – 2 September 

Deaths:

Speaker of the House of Commons Harry Hylton-Foster – 2 September

190. The Rolling Stones – The Last Time (1965)

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April Fool’s Day 1965: The Greater London Council came into power, replacing the London County Council. Also, the Finance Act introduced corporation tax, which replaced income tax for corporate institutions.

Three months earlier, fresh off the back of their second number 1, Little Red Rooster, the Rolling Stones had released their second album, The Rolling Stones No. 2, which topped the album charts. Although the majority of the LP was made up of covers, including their classy version of Time Is on My Side, there were three tracks written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. All were average, but a sign of things to come. The following month their first single to feature their name on the credits, The Last Time, was released, and a month after that became their third number 1. Except it wasn’t as straightforward as that.

Yes, the guitar lines, the intro and the verses were original, but the chorus was a steal of gospel group the Staple Singers’ This May Be the Last Time from 1958, which soul supremo James Brown had released as the B-side to Out of Sight in 1964. Luckily for the Stones, that track was a traditional with no songwriting credit. Very crafty.

Nonetheless, the Stones’ elements are strong and complement the chorus well, with Jagger further developing the ‘can’t-be-arsed-love’ persona of their first number 1 It’s All Over Now. Brian Jones’ lead guitar is very memorable and makes for a great intro, and Richards’ solo is much better than that of the aforementioned song. The highlight of the track is the end, where normally cool, calm and collected Jagger begins screaming repeatedly during the fade-out. Here was a strong sign that, with Jagger and Richards continuing development as songwriters, the Rolling Stones had the potential to move beyond blues and R’n’B covers. The main let down, for me, is the production. Andrew Loog Oldham, always a fan of raw production, worked with Phil Spector on this. What worked magnificently on You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ just isn’t as effective on this. The deliberate muddiness just frustrates me. I’d rather hear a cleaner sound. Click on the YouTube video above to see a classic performance on the song on Top of the Pops, with George Best in the audience.

In addition to managing and producing the Rolling Stones, Loog Oldham started a side-project. The Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra wasn’t an orchestra, but a revolving stable of session musicians, and occasionally, members of the Rolling Stones. In 1966 they released their fourth album, The Rolling Stones Songbook. One of the covers on there was a version of The Last Time. 31 years later, alt-rockers rockers The Verve built Bittersweet Symphony around a sample of this. After two albums as a cult psychedelic band, they suddenly became big, thanks to this excellent state-of-the-nation track. Unfortunately for them, the Rolling Stones’ notoriously tough lawyers ABKCO got involved and due to the threat of litigation, Verve singer-songwriter Richard Ashcroft surrendered all royalties to Jagger and Richards, who were added to the songwriting credits of Bittersweet Symphony, adding an extra poignancy to that song’s title. Considering the sample sounds hardly anything like The Last Time, which Jagger and Richards clearly stole from the Staple Singers… Very crafty.

To further kick dirt in the Verve’s faces, Loog Oldham then sued the Verve over the same sample. He had little to do with the sample either, it was written and arranged by David Whitaker! Said strings are also alleged to be featured on Tinchy Stryder featuring N-Dubz’s 2009 number 1, called, appropriately, Number 1. Having just listened to that, I don’t think it’s true. They’re very similar, but surely if they were the same, Jagger and Richards wouldn’t miss a chance to get royalties from that too? Hmm.

Written by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Producer: Andrew Loog Oldham

Weeks at number 1: 3 (18 March-7 April)

Births:

Footballer Steve Bull – 28 March
Journalist Piers Morgan – 30 March
Composer Robert Steadman – 1 April 
Actor Sean Wilson – 4 April 

Deaths:

Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood – 28 March
Olympian rower Richard Beesly – 28 March

189. Tom Jones – It’s Not Unusual (1965)

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It’s not unusual to have a strong opinion on Sir Tom Jones. Most people either love him or hate him. As for me, well, it depends on my mood. I recall going to see him while nursing a diabolical hangover at Glastonbury and his over-the-top bellowing made me want to put my head under the cider bus and plead for someone to run me over and put me out of my misery. But at the right time, and on the right song, Jones is a lot of fun, and there’s perhaps no better example of this then on his first number 1, It’s Not Unusual.

Before he was a sir, and before he was Tom Jones, he was Thomas John Woodward. He was born in 1940 in Pontypridd, Glamorgan, South Wales. He loved to sing from a very young age, and would perform at family events and in the school choir. Woodward’s world was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of 12. He spent two years recovering in bed, with little to do other than listen to music and draw. He loved US soul and R’n’B singers including Little Richard and Jackie Wilson plus rock’n’roll stars like Elvis Presley. Despite his reputation as a ladies’ man, he married his pregnant girlfriend Linda Trenchard when they were still in high school in 1957, and they stayed together until her death in 2016. To support his new family he began work in a glove factory, and later took on construction jobs.

In 1963 he was the singer in beat group Tommy Scott and the Senators and gathered somewhat of a following in South Wales. The following year they recorded tracks with eccentric producer Joe Meek (the genius behind Johnny Remember Me (1961), Telstar (1962) and Have I the Right? (1964), but had little luck. However, one night while performing, he was spotted by Gordon Mills. Mills had once been in the Viscounts, who had a minor hit with their version of Barry Mann’s Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp Bomp Bomp) (see my blog on You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’). Mills was from South Wales but was now aiming to be a pop manager in London. He took the singer under his wing and renamed him ‘Tom Jones’ as an attempt to cash in on the 1963 Academy Award-winning movie of the same name.

Mills helped Jones bag a recording contract with Decca, but his first single in 1964, Chills and Fever, didn’t do great. Soon after he recorded a demo of It’s Not Unusual, a new track by Mills and Les Reed. Reed had been in the John Barry Seven and played piano on Adam Faith’s two number 1s, What Do You Want? (1959) and Poor Me (1960). Sandie Shaw was supposed to record it as a follow-up to her chart-topper (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me (1964), but was so impressed by Jones’s delivery, she suggested he make it his second single. The BBC weren’t so keen, and despite the fact society was becoming more liberal, they could still be far too stuffy, and they reckoned Jones was too sexy, so it didn’t get much airplay. Luckily for the singer, pirate radio stations were growing in popularity, and Radio Caroline loved it.

Reed arranged the recording session for It’s Not Unusual, and there were some notable names involved. Possibly. There have long been rumours that among the session musicians was Jimmy Page (this isn’t the first time this has been mentioned on this site). Reed however insists the only guitarist was Joe Moretti, who contributed to Johnny Kidd & the Pirates’ classic Shakin’ All Over in 1960. Several people claim to have been the drummer, but the most likely person is Andy White, who famously played on the version of Love Me Do that made it onto the Beatles debut LP, Please Please Me. Also on the session, due to the unavailability of Jones’s usual keyboard player, was Reginald Dwight. Did Dwight take notes on how to be a flamboyant showman, a few years before he became Elton John?

Shaw was so right about this song, you can’t really imagine anyone other than Jones pulling it off. Despite me saying I have to be in the right mood for Tom Jones, hearing It’s Not Unusual immediately puts me in that mood. Jones’s complete lack of subtlety, raw power and pomposity works a treat and the band make heartbreak a joyous sound. You could call it his signature song, and there’s no wonder it became the theme tune to his musical variety series This Is Tom Jones later that decade. My memory of that Glastonbury experience in 2009 is very foggy, but a quick search of his setlist reveals he ended his initial set with It’s Not Unusual. I’d put money on me smiling at that point.

Written by: Les Reed & Gordon Mills

Producer: Peter Sullivan

Weeks at number 1: 1 (11-17 March)

Births:

TV presenter Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen – 11 March 
Butterfly swimer Caroline Foot – 14 March
Boxer Michael Watson – 15 March 

186. The Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (1965)

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Widely regarded, and for good reason, as one of the greatest songs of the last century, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ is probably mad genius producer Phil Spector’s finest work.

Spector had begun his career as co-founder of the Teddy Bears, and was responsible for their 1958 US number 1 To Know Him Is to Love Him. They split the following year and he moved into production, becoming the apprentice of Lieber and Stoller. He co-wrote Ben E King’s Spanish Harlem with Lieber and produced the original version of Twist and Shout by the Top Notes. In 1961 he formed a record label with Lester Sill. Acts including the Crystals and Darlene Love began having hits on the new Philes Records, and in 1963 he used them all, along with the hitmaking session group known as the Wrecking Crew, to produce the classic Christmas album A Christmas Gift for You from Philes Records. The LP hit record shops on 22 November, the day President Kennedy was assasinated.

The hits kept coming, and Spector was on top of his game. In 1964 he was conducting the band for a show featuring one of his best acts, the Ronettes. Also on the bill were the Righteous Brothers, Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley. Previously, Hatfield had been in a group called the Variations, while Medley sang in the Paramours. Barry Rillera was in both groups and suggested that the duo would work well together. Hatfield and Medley formed a new version of the Paramours and signed to the small label Moonglow Records in 1962. However the following year the group split, but Hatfield and Medley decided to continue as a duo. They would perform for Marines at the El Toro base, where black Marines began calling them ‘righteous brothers’. And so, the name stuck. As they searched for fame they wound up supporting both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones on their US tours.

Spector worked out a deal with Moonglow and took the duo under his wing. He commissioned Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Mann had previously been a performer, co-writing Who Put the Bomp with Gerry Goffin and recording it. Mann and lyricist Weil fell in love, married and began a career together as brilliant songwriters. Hits included We Gotta Get Out of This Place by the Animals. Mann came up with a new melody and the opening line was inspired by reversing a lyric he had used in I Love How You Love Me, namely: ‘I love how you close your eyes when you kiss me’. The duo came up with the majority of a song, including the placeholder line ‘You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’ Spector came up with some elements, including ‘Now it’s gone, gone, gone, whoa, whoa, whoa’, which Weil disliked. But she and Mann were pleased with an idea for the bridge he came up with, which was a piano riff similar to Hang On Sloopy.

The trio took the song to the Righteous Brothers, who thought it had potential – but not for them, for the Everly Brothers. Spector, Mann and Weil slowed the song right down so it could fit with Medley’s deep baritone, and the duo started to think they might have something they could work with, but they were used to equal status on records, and Hatfield was unhappy at waiting until the chorus to join in. When he asked Spector what he was supposed to do in the meantime, the producer said ‘You can go directly to the bank!’

The Righteous Brothers weren’t needed for a few weeks until the instruments were all recorded. As usual, Spector used his trademark technique of building up layer upon layer of music, with the Wrecking Crew as his band. Eventually the perfectionist Spector was pleased with the epic, delibarately blurry sound he had created. Medley and Hatfield were brought in and spent 39 takes in two days recording the vocal. The Blossoms, which featured Darlene Love, provided backing vocals, and also involved at the song’s climax was Cher, who had helped out on the Ronettes’ Be My Baby.

You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ is truly majestic and few songs capture the heartbreak and sense of loss in a failing relationship better. It starts so slow and quietly, to the point that many (including Mann) believed they were playing it at the wrong speed to begin with, so deep is Medley’s baritone. The opening line is just genius. And thanks to Spector’s knack of timing, the build-up is done perfectly. By the end, Medley and Hatfield are raging to return to the love lives they knew, but to no avail. It’s gone, gone, gone. Grand, lush arrangments in sad songs were nothing new to the charts – the UK charts were full of them until the advent of rock’n’roll, but none had the Spector sound. He might have been a paranoid control freak (and eventually, a murdering psychopath), but like Joe Meek, he was one clever bastard too.

With the recording over, the Righteous Brothers wondered if they’d made the right choice. This style of song was hardly in fashion at the height of the British Invasion, after all, and at three minutes and forty seconds length, it was also longer than most tracks. Spector refused to cut it back, but he was sneaky and requested the vinyl label would say ‘3.05’ to trick DJs into playing it. Despite his cockiness, the producer began to have serious doubts himself. His publisher Don Kirshner thought it should have been called Bring Back That Lovin’ Feelin’, for instance. He devloped a spastic colon and didn’t sleep for a week.

All the work and stress paid off, and then some. By and large, critics loved it from the get-go, and understandably wondered if we’d reached the pinnacle of pop. Released in the UK in January, it took four weeks to climb to the top. In that time, Cilla Black, then at the top of her game, rush-released a verison of her own, and the two versions were nearly neck-and-neck at one point. The difference in the two versions was gaping. Black’s was not only clearly a cheap knock-off, but her chorus was bloody horrible and offensive to the ears. Fair play to the Rolling Stones producer, Andrew Loog Oldham, who was so disgusted he decided to take out a full-page advert in Melody Maker, extolling the beauty of the original. It was in fact Oldham that first coined the term ‘Wall of Sound’ to sum-up the Spector sound. The public saw sense, and for the first time, Spector had a UK number 1. He later said this song was his greatest achievment at Philes Records.

Its legend has only grown over the years. It regularly appears in the lists of greatest songs of all time, and in 2015 the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress chose it as one of the 25 songs that has ‘cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation’s audio legacy’. But it was in the UK that the ultimate tribute took place, when in 1996 the comedy actor Paul Shane performed You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ on the BBC1 daytime show Pebble Mill. Ever since, ‘BABEH BABEH!’ has become the ultimate expression of the beauty of music.

Written by: Phil Spector, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil

Producer: Phil Spector

Weeks at number 1: 2 (4-17 February)

Births:

Director Martha Fiennes – 5 February