110. ‘I Love You’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows

Can there have been a more basic title in the history of popular music? This is what pretty much every rock and pop disc ever recorded boils down to – the sediment left at the bottom of the barrel once the distilling process is over… ‘I Love You.’

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I Love You, by Cliff Richard (his 4th of fourteen #1s) & The Shadows (their 5th of twelve #1s)

2 weeks, from 29th December 1960 – 12th January 1961

And it ain’t just the title that’s basic. Everything about this latest chart-topper has a bare-bones, doing-the-bare-minimum, holding-pattern feel. The plodding guitars, the solo that struggles to find a pulse, the lyrics… (*shudder*) Oh, the lyrics…

Your love means more to me than, All the apples hangin’ on a tree, And like those apples, Our love will grow, Because I… I love you… Yup. Then a bunch of similarly trite bletherings about fishes in the sea and how Cliff needs his girl near to him more than she could ever know, and then the piece de resistance: Everyone knows one and one is two, I’ll be the one, And the other one’s you…

I mean, you could moan and nit-pick, but are these lyrics really worth the time or the effort? I think what makes this record sound particularly bland is the fact that Cliff’s last effort ‘Please Don’t Tease’ showed catchy promise, while The Shadows last #1, ‘Apache’ was a bona-fide little masterpiece. What did they make of this record? Their dreamy guitar licks are the highlight of this track, licks that are rapidly becoming both a trademark and the sound of 1960, but they were clearly capable of so much more. Though ‘I Love You’ was actually written by Bruce Welsh, AKA rhythm guitarist for The Shadows, so… Either way, this is the sound of Cliff – who, let us not forget, is fairly tame at the best of times – undergoing a complete castration. It’s music for five-year-olds, the closest we’ve come to having a lullaby at the top of the charts. I’d liken ‘I Love You’ to ‘Living Doll’ – the Cliff track that it has the most in common with – but that at least had creepy sex-doll lyrics to pique the listener’s interest.

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Having put my opening statement through more serious consideration, the ‘I Love You’ sentiment obviously doesn’t cover every pop song ever written. There’s the ‘I Used to Love You’ songs, the ‘I Wish You Loved Me’ songs, the ‘I Still Love You, But You Don’t Love Me’ songs, the ‘I’m Not Sure About Love But I’d Really Like to Bang You’ songs… In fact, there are precious few pop songs in the canon with such a relentlessly optimistic view of love as ‘I Love You’ (after all, only seven songs by this title have ever made the UK charts). I take it all back – this record is nigh on unique! But that doesn’t make it sound any better. Frankly, it could do with a bit of lust, a bit of regret, a bit of SOMETHING just to make it mildly interesting.

It does at least give us a first sighting of the two titans of early sixties pop knocking one another about at the top of the charts: Cliff replacing Elvis just in time for the new year. And this won’t be the last time that these two follow one another in and out of pole position. I’d even go so far as to suggest that the only other artist whose star power could have dragged this silly little ditty to #1 would have been Elvis Aaron. In the hands of any other singer this would have #12 hit written all over it. Too dull to be any good; not bad enough to be of any interest. Next!

 

 

109. ‘It’s Now or Never’, by Elvis Presley

More musical one-upmanship at the top of the charts! The Big ‘O’ has just finished teaching Ricky Valance how to do heartbreak properly; now Elvis has heard Roy’s operatic vocals and clearly thought to himself ‘So, this Orbison thinks he can sing an aria, does he? We’ll show him how it’s done! Uh-huh-huh.”

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It’s Now or Never, by Elvis Presley (his 5th of twenty-one #1s)

8 weeks, from 3rd November – 29th December 1960

If only that’s how the pop charts worked – a never ending attempt to outdo the chart-topper that went before you… At least that’s how the autumn of 1960 is turning out. Hot on the heels of ‘Only the Lonely’, this is more opera-lite. Except, while Orbison kept the operatics to a minimum in what was still a rock ‘n’ roll disc; Elvis really lets fly. The King was never one for understatement.

We open with backing singers – the Jordanaires – and a slice of cheesy Italian guitar… And then boom: some very famous lines indeed. It’s now or never, Come hold me tight, Kiss me my darling, Be mine tonight… Elvis croons the verses and belts out the choruses. It’s a rhumba, or perhaps a bossanova – the kind of rhythm that gets your hips swaying gently. It’s a very sexy record.

Or, at least, it’s trying to be a sexy record. Something, though, is lacking. You can’t fault the voice – Elvis sings it very well, and very properly – but to my modern ears it just sounds a bit… silly. A bit camp? Maybe it’s the flourishes of said Italian guitars. Maybe it’s the lyrics straight from an 8th grader’s poetry collection – When I first saw you, With your smile so tender, My heart was captured, My soul surrendered – plus some of the rhymes: excite me with invite me, a lifetime with the right time

I don’t suppose the song’s cause has been helped by the intervening fifty-eight years since it was released. It’s now a standard of the white jump-suited, microphone twirling Elvis impersonator. Plus anyone who has been to Venice will have heard it mangled by hundreds of gondoliers all high on the fact that they’re getting a hundred euros for twenty minutes work. Plus, anyone who grew up in the UK in the ‘80s and ‘90s will instinctively start singing ‘Just one Cornetto, Give it to me, Delicious ice-cream, From Italy…’ when the intro kicks in. This is a song laden with pop-culture baggage.

Perhaps it’s impossible to view this song as it sounded in 1960. Though it was far from being a ‘new’ song even then. ‘O Sole Mio’, the Neapolitan folk song upon which it is based was written way back in 1898, and people would have known the melody. Whatever this record was – or is – perhaps depends on your age, or on whether you’ve holidayed in Italy, or on whether you’re a fan of cheap, mass produced ice-cream cones…

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One thing that isn’t up for debate is the success of this disc. Eight weeks at the top. Presley’s best-selling single in the UK – with 1.3 million copies sold it is his only British million-seller and was, at the time, the 2nd biggest selling single of all time behind ‘Rock Around the Clock’. A brand new entry at number one, only the 2nd single to ever do so. A monster hit. Some sources claim that its success was down to it being Elvis’s big comeback after a year away in the army. That’s not quite right, however. His first new recording, ‘Stuck on You’ had already hit #3 earlier in the year.

Whatever the reason for this record’s success, it’s what I’d call the beginning of Elvis MKIII – the neutered, granny friendly, chart-humping behemoth. MKI was the rough an’ ready country boy making his Sun Recordings – a version we never saw at the top of the UK charts. MKII was Elvis the Pelvis, singing ‘All Shook Up’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock’, scandalising TV audiences across the globe with his thrusting. The big shock here is that this Elvis sounds so different to that Elvis. He’s dropped all the mumbling, and the growling and the uh-huh-huh-ing, and is singing perfectly, like an angelic choirboy in front of an archbishop. We caught a whiff of it in his last #1 – the cabaret-ish ‘A Fool Such As I’ – but the difference is quite shocking. I’ve mentioned it before, but hearing these famous records in context, surrounded by their contemporaries, really lets you hear them afresh.

One thing I do like about this song, I have to admit, is the ending. And not in an ironic, thank-God-it’s-over kind of way, no, no, no. I like the way Elvis slows it down, the guitars twiddle their way to silence, and we await the big finish. It’s now or never… But… with a great bit of showmanship, and in a way that drags this song well past the three minute mark, Elvis goes round one more time… my love won’t wait. And then he belts the ending out: It’s now or never… MY LOVE WON’T WAIT (chun-chun-chun)!

Before I go, I must mention that – way ahead of schedule – I get to celebrate one of my birthday #1s. ‘It’s Now or Never’ spent another week at the top of the UK charts at the end of January 2005, just in time for my nineteenth birthday. Which kind of annoys me, actually, as it spoils the flow of my ‘Birthday #1s’ playlist by sitting there amongst Limp Bizkit, Enrique Iglesias and Lady Gaga like a big old sore thumb. Anyway. First world problems. You better get used to hearing Elvis over the next few months, as he has the British Singles charts in something of a choke-hold from this point on – hitting the top at least three times per year – until a certain bunch of lads from Liverpool come along and kick him off his perch.

108. ‘Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel)’, by Roy Orbison

Now this is more like it! As we try to wash the memory of that last chart-topper from our minds, a dose of the Big ‘O’ will do nicely.

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Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel), by Roy Orbison (his 1st of three #1s)

2 weeks, from 20th October – 3rd November 1960

Dum-dum-dum-dumbee-doo-wa, Ooooh-yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah, Oh-woa-woa-woa-ahhh… Only the lonely… We haven’t heard many catchier intros in this countdown, have we?

Only the lonely, Know the way I feel tonight, Only the lonely, Know this feelin’ ain’t right… This is how you do heartbreak in a pop song. It feels somehow significant, the fact that this was the song to depose ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’ from the top of the charts. As if Roy Orbison had listened to Ricky Valance and his saccharine mulch and said ‘Hold my beer…’

Everything about this song feels like an upgrade from ‘Tell Laura…’ – the voice (that voice – one of the most unmistakeable in pop history), the lyrics, even the backing singers. But to paint this record solely as the yang to ‘Laura’s yin would be unfair. This is a great track in its own right, deserving of a place in this countdown regardless of the record it knocked from the top spot.

It’s a rock ‘n’ roll record, but with the operatic flourishes that were a trademark of Orbison’s career. There are the fluttering violins that dance around the end of each line, the deep bass drum that marks out the bridge – there goes my baby (dun dun dun dun) – and, of course, that high note at the end. His voice, which has been deep, and fairly manly, up to now, rises with each of the final lines: Maybe tomorrow, A new romance, No more sorrow, But that’s the chance… wait for it… youuuuuu gotta take… As someone who has listened to Roy Orbison for many years this almost passes me by as standard – that’s what he sounded like a lot of the time – but you have to remember that this was his first big, international hit. People in October 1960 didn’t know who he was, and they wouldn’t have heard the high note coming. The chart nerd in me feels compelled to point out that ‘Only the Lonely’ took what was, at the time and until 1985(!), the longest ever climb to #1 in the UK charts (eleven weeks) This was a slow-burner, a word-of-mouth hit that you heard about from your neighbour over the garden fence – ‘Have you heard that new song by the guy with the high-pitched voice…?’

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Turns out that this mix of rock ‘n’ roll rhythms with operatic touches and emotive, melancholy lyrics was Roy Orbison’s new trademark, after an earlier rockabilly phase that had brought him limited success in the US but had failed to register over in Britain, and the record-buying public lapped it up. His next release, for example – the OTT ‘Blue Angel’ – makes ‘Only the Lonely’ sound stripped back and subtle. I bought my first Big ‘O’ Best Of at the same time as I was getting into Buddy, Chuck and co., so we go way back. He can be something of an acquired taste at times, but once you get him; you won’t forget him.

And we’ll hear from him again in a few years’ time – when he’ll stand up to the Merseybeat tsunami with a couple of his best known songs – but until then I’d recommend checking out his early sixties classics: the aforementioned ‘Blue Angel’, ‘Running Scared’, ‘Crying’ (as made super famous by Don McClean), ‘Workin’ for the Man’ and ‘Falling’ (a song that, to this day, I can’t work out if I like or not but which definitely shows off his unique voice).

We seem to be settling back into a nice rock ‘n’ roll groove in the autumn of 1960, this disc following on from the likes of ‘Please Don’t Tease’, ‘Shakin’ All Over’ and ‘Apache’. In fact, ‘Only the Lonely’ is something of an amalgam, of this new, easy goin’ rock ‘n’ roll and the string-laden, percussion-y chart toppers from earlier in the year – ‘Poor Me’, ‘Why’ and so on. A new type of pop song, perhaps? A subtle little game changer? We’ll see. Onwards!

107. ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’, by Ricky Valance

So, you know how I had a bit of a moan about instrumentals in my previous post, about them having no lyrics and being difficult to write about…? Well. How I find myself wishing that this next record was an instrumental…

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Tell Laura I Love Her, by Ricky Valance (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 29th September – 20th October 1960

Laura and Tommy were lovers, He wanted to give her everything, Flowers, Presents, And most of all… A wedding ring… (I’m not summarising here – these are the actual lyrics, verbatim) He saw a sign for a stock-car race, A thousand dollar prize it read…

Musically there is very little going on here. A lilting guitar guides us through the story of Laura and Tommy and, what with Ricky Valance’s stiff and stilted delivery, this could almost qualify as a spoken word track. If it weren’t for the overwrought chorus – Tell Laura I love here (Bum-Bum-Bum), Tell Laura I need her, Tell Laura I may be late, I’ve something to do, That cannot wait – which is caterwauled out like, well, a cat. On heat.

He drove his car to the racing ground… Actually, I will summarise, as I don’t think I can face typing much more of this doggerel out: Tommy gets to the race, finds out that he’s the youngest driver there, drives really fast, his car overturns in flames… As they pulled him from the twisted wreck, With his dying breath, They heard him say… Can you guess? Yep… Tell Laura I love her (Bum-Bum-Bum) etc and so on.

What we have here is an example of a uniquely early-sixties phenomenon: the ‘death disc.’ “Ballads lamenting tragic (and usually teenage) deaths in an extremely melodramatic fashion.” That pretty much sums up this song, with a large emphasis on the ‘MELODRAMATIC’. Often they were banned by the BBC, who felt that their lyrics were too upsetting for public consumption. ‘Running Bear’, which hit the top a few months back, was a death-disc of sorts, and we’ll meet at least another couple such songs over the next year or so, though unfortunately not the one true masterpiece of this genre: The Shangri-La’s ‘Leader of the Pack’.

Anyway, back to the song. We’re now in the chapel. Laura is praying for her beloved… It was just for Laura he lived and died, Alone in the chapel she can hear him cry… What can she hear him cry? But, of course… Tell Laura I love her (Bum-Bum-Bum)

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Boy, oh boy. The voice, the lyrics, the delivery, the weird rhythm… This is an irredeemable record, one of the very worst yet. If I were the BBC, I’d have banned it too. Can we just wrap it up here and move on? This happened, it hit #1 in the UK charts – a national embarrassment up there with Brexit – let’s never mention it again (except for in my next recap, where it will undoubtedly win worst song). Ricky Valance had a few other minor hits and now performs for old folks on the Costa Blanca in Spain.

Actually, to finish, I should mention that I have a friend called Laura, and the first time that this song came to my consciousness was when she named it as the only song she knew with her name in it. Then The Scissor Sisters released their own ‘Laura’, and I remember her being happy. Having now listened to ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’ on repeat for the last half-hour, I can understand her happiness, and would like to thank The Scissor Sisters on behalf of Lauras the world over, for freeing them from the shadow of this song. Now if only someone could do the same for the Mandys…

106. ‘Apache’, by The Shadows

The Shadows are back. But sans-Cliff. Who’s doing the singing then? Nobody! That’s who. Yep, it’s time for another instrumental interlude…

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Apache, by The Shadows (their 4th of twelve #1s)

5 weeks, from 25th August – 29th September 1960

I’ve struggled to place my feelings on the instrumentals featured in this countdown. We’ve veered from the decidedly pleasant Song from ‘The Moulin Rouge’, to the undeniably perky Winifred Atwell, to the Oh-God-Make-It-Stop! of Russ Conway and Eddie Calvert. And then I went and named Perez Prado’s ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’ as one of the very best records we’ve heard thus far… I know that ‘Instrumental’ itself isn’t a genre – you can’t pigeon hole them all together. But still… Where does this latest one fit in the grand scheme of vocals-less chart-toppers?

It’s different, for a start, in that it’s a guitar-led track. I make this the 9th instrumental chart-topper (10th if you count ‘Hoots Mon’ with its sporadic shouting) and the first to use guitars as the lead instrument. Lots of pianos, trumpets and violins thus far; not many guitars. It starts, though, with drums. What might be described as ‘Injun Drums’, which would make sense in a song called ‘Apache’. Which means that this track, alongside Johnny Preston’s ‘Running Bear’, ensures that 1960 will go down as the year of the Native American in Popular Music.

It’s a song with a long and varied history – The Shadows’ version being neither the first nor the last – but it was originally inspired by a 1954 western movie, starring Burt Lancaster and entitled, funnily enough, ‘Apache.’ (A 1973 version of the song, by the Incredible Bongo Band, has become one of the most sampled tracks of all time, earning it the title of ‘hip-hop’s national anthem’, but that’s a story for another day…)

Perhaps one of the reasons that I struggle with instrumentals is that I find them so hard to write about. What are they about, for a start? ‘The Poor People of Paris’ didn’t sound like it was about poor people. ‘Moulin Rouge’ had precious little to do with the can-can. Russ Conway’s efforts were ice-cream van jingles in search of an actual melody. But ‘Apache’  -and this is a big point in its favour – does actually sound as if it’s about a Native American soldier, riding out into the sunset for one final showdown… Close your eyes as you listen and you’ll see him. Plus the bit where the guitars sound like a galloping horse is really cool.

It makes sense as a song, too. There’s a verse, a bridge, and then a chorus. You can kind of sing along to it. Plus, there’s a riff! Make that three from three! Dun-dun-Dun-dan-dun-dun-dan-dun… The guitars sound great, and just as twangy as those used in ‘Shakin’ All Over’. This is a great piece of music, actually. But subtle; its greatness taking time to become apparent.

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I mentioned during my post on ‘Travellin’ Light’ that for their first two #1s The Shadows, or The Drifters as they were for ‘Living Doll’, had little more to do than just turn up and tickle their instruments (so to speak). They did a bit more on ‘Please Don’t Tease’, riffing and soloing and the like, but I half suspect that they went solo just so that they could let loose a little. Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch were too talented to stay as Cliff’s backing band forever. ‘Apache’ was their first ‘solo’ release to chart, and it charted in style: five weeks at the top making it, for now, the second biggest hit of 1960 behind ‘Cathy’s Clown’. And this is only the beginning – for the next three years The Shadows will utterly dominate the UK charts. I make it 33 (thirty-three!) Top 10 hits, both with and without Cliff, before the glory days draw to an end.

Even with this early hit, The Shadows already manage two very impressive feats. Firstly, they become the first ever act in UK chart history to replace themselves at #1. And they draw level with giants such as Elvis, Frankie Laine and Guy Mitchell as the artists with the most UK chart-toppers. All of this with a record that doesn’t have any lyrics! How about that! Maybe from now on I should try harder to appreciate instrumentals… Maybe instrumentals are the way forward… Down with lyrics! Yeah! Put that on a T-shirt…

105. ‘Shakin’ All Over’, by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates

Did someone order a riff? Cause we got a riff goin’ on right here!

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Shakin’ All Over, by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 4th – 11th August 1960

I mentioned – without realising this song was coming up next – that our previous #1, Cliff & The Shadows ‘Please Don’t Tease’, had given us the merest hint of a riff; riffs having been fairly absent from our rundown thus far. However, this record isn’t just giving us a whiff of riff – it’s giving us full-on riffage and then whacking us over the head with it. Repeatedly.

It’s basically impossible to transcribe a riff – to turn notes from a guitar into phonemes on a page – but I will, without fail, try to do so every time one comes along at the top of the charts. Diddle-iddle-iddle-iddle-din… Diddle-iddle-iddle-iddle-din… Trust me – it sounds much cooler than it looks written down…

When you move in right up close to me… That’s when I get the shakes all over me… Johnny Kidd has a girl who is bringing on some pretty drastic symptoms. Then the best bit of the song, one of the best bits from any of the one hundred and five chart-toppers so far: the pause… and TWANG! Quivers down the backbone, I got the shakes in the knee-bone, Ye-eah the tremors in the thigh-bone… Shakin’ all over!

There are plenty of other great things about this record: the little drum fill before the solo, the gritty solo itself, and a fade-out loaded with sexual suggestion – we-ell you make me shake and I like it baby… But nothing can top that pause… and TWANG!

This is rock ‘n’ roll, and I’m feeling so invigorated by listening to this song on repeat that I might go further than that and drop the ‘n roll’. This is rock, plain and simple. Killer riff? Check. Lyrics about sex? Check. Slightly rough-round-the-edges recording? Check. Johnny Kidd & The Pirates also wore outlandish pirate costumes on stage (eye-patches, cutlasses and the like), bringing us glam a good ten years ahead of schedule. And they parted acrimoniously – as any rock ‘n’ roll band worth their salt has done at least once – The Pirates abandoning Kidd when the hits dried up.

But the most momentous thing about ‘Shakin’ All Over’? More momentous than the eye-patches and the TWANG. This is a British rock record (gasp!) – Kidd and The Pirates having formed in London. The elusive coming of age of British rock ‘n’ roll, hinted at by Tommy Steele, promised but not delivered by Cliff… It finally arrives at the top of the charts!

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I knew the importance of this record before embarking on this post – anyone who has a passing interest in the history of rock music will surely know this song. But actually hearing it in context – listening to it arrive amongst all the Cliff hits, next to ‘Three Steps to Heaven’ and ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’ – really hammers home how important this track is. It also consigns my claims about the castration of rock ‘n’ roll to the dust. Rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well; it just isn’t always to be found at the top of the pop charts.

Johnny Kidd even managed to die in a suitably rock ‘n’ roll fashion – in a car crash in 1966, aged just thirty. In truth, he had been struggling for hits long before that. But this one song is more of a legacy than most can hope to leave. The cover versions speak for themselves: check out those by The Who, Wanda Jackson and Rose Hill Drive – who contributed their version to the soundtrack of a mid-00s video game which I picked up second-hand on a whim years ago. Isn’t it weird how some songs find you? In truth, any aspiring rock ‘n’ roll band should be required by law to include ‘Shakin’ All Over’ in their first set-lists. It’s a song that would sound just as great being thrashed out in a garage as it would on an arena tour. And that, folks, is as sure a sign as any that we have a rock and/or roll classic on our hands. Enjoy…

104. ‘Please Don’t Tease’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows

Our third meeting with Sir Clifford. Just the eleven (11!) more to go…

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Please Don’t Tease, by Cliff Richard (his 3rd of fourteen #1s) & The Shadows (their 3rd of twelve #1s)

1 week, from 28th July – 4th August / 2 weeks, from 11th – 25th August 1960 (3 weeks total)

I mentioned during my last post that the opening months of 1960 have seen rock ‘n’ roll undergoing a castration at the top of the charts – all the sounds and stylings of this musical revolution diluted down to a poppy mulch (see Johnny Preston, ‘Three Steps to Heaven’ and all that.) And if this latest #1 isn’t just the blandest, most castrated version of rock ‘n’ roll going. But Goddam don’t I just love it…

You tell me that you love me, baby, Then you say you don’t, You tell me that you’ll come over, Then you say you won’t… Cliff loves a girl, but she’s leading him a merry dance. That’s all you need to know lyric-wise. It’s all something something come on and squeeze me something something your tender touch. Nobody’s coming here to have their thoughts provoked. (The use of ‘doggone’ in the second verse is worthy of note, however, as the one and only time in recorded history that a British person has ever used the term.)

No, this is a record best described as ‘breezy’, bouncing along like a light-hearted summer’s picnic, carried on a chord progression that satisfies our most basic urges and by the fact that – praise be! – The Shadows finally get something to do. Having sat through Cliff’s first two chart-toppers with barely a sniff of the action, they get a rocking little solo here and lend a cool revving sound under the Oh please don’t tease… lines in the bridge.

And, lo! Is that the sound – the merest whiff – of a riff at the beginning and the end of this record? Da-dun-dun-dun-da-da-dun-dun-da-da-da…? We aren’t in the ‘riff era’ yet – the rock songs that have topped the charts thus far have been all about the solos and the rhythm rather than any memorable, 100% guitar-led riffs. But here… It’s no ‘Smoke on the Water’ that’s for sure, but it stands out as something that you could perhaps play air guitar to. I also – and this might be a bit crazy – get a sort of Merseybeat-vibe from said riff, at least three years ahead of The Searchers and Gerry & The Pacemakers, and The Beatles obv., turning it into the dominant musical movement of the mid-sixties. Or maybe that’s just me.

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And… that’s about it for this one: with an artist as successful as Cliff you can take each of his many, many #1s as songs in their own right without needing to go into so much backstory and detail. They are all signposts on our journey through British popular music history, with Cliff at the wheel. ‘Please Don’t Tease’ is definitely one of his more forgotten hits; but one that’s worth rediscovering. And notable in its way, as Cliff and his backing group will soon be going their separate ways. The next time we hear from The Shadows – very shortly, in fact – they will be quite Cliff-less.

103. ‘Good Timin”, by Jimmy Jones

For the first time in our countdown, we have consecutive number ones that directly contradict one another! Scenes!

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Good Timin’, by Jimmy Jones (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 7th – 28th July 1960

The question in question, as it were, is ‘How do you find love?’ In the blue corner: Eddie Cochran, who would have you think that there are three steps, a simple guide to follow. In the red: Jimmy Jones, who believes it’s all just a matter of timing…

Oh you need timin’, A tic-a-tic-a-tic-a good, Timin’… And that’s all it. Timin’ is the thing, It’s true, Good timin’ brought me to you… Not convinced? Well, Jimmy’s been nose-deep in the history books. And he has citations!

If lil, lil David hadn’t grabbed that stone, Lyin’ there on the ground, Big Goliath mighta stomped on him, Instead of the other way ‘round… Good timing! Who in the world would ever have known, What Columbus could do, If Queen Isabella hadn’t hawked her jewels, In 1492… Good timing!

Jones then narrows his focus down on a much more recent example: him and his beau, and their very own ‘sliding doors’ moment. What woulda happened if you and I, Hadn’t just happened to meet? We’d mighta spent the rest of our lives, Walkin down misery street…

And that’s pretty much it. Another two-minute wonder that we don’t have to take particularly seriously. This should perhaps be going down as a ‘novelty’ number one, but I’m feeling generous and will file it under plain old ‘pop’. If we had to choose between our competing #1s – this and ‘Three Steps to Heaven’ – and their conflicting ideas on love, I’d have to plump for the ‘Timing’ theory’ as it’s simply set to a better soundtrack. The song skips along nicely, accompanied by perky guitars and a couple of violins, and Jones sounds like he’s having fun while singing it.

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It’s nice, and cute. But that’s the becoming the problem. We’ve had a lot of nice, cute number ones over past few months – from Anthony Newley’s smarmy ‘Why’ to Johnny Preston’s goofy ‘Running Bear’. The top end of the chart seems to have lost its bite. When, for example, was the last time a sit-up-and-listen record like ‘Great Balls of Fire’ or ‘Jailhouse Rock’ made an appearance? Lonnie Donegan was a snarling, growling presence when he took tracks like ‘Cumberland Gap’ to the top. Now he’s singing ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’, and gurning at the audience as he goes. No, I think we have to admit that the opening months of the 1960s has witnessed a castration of rock ‘n’ roll. Rock’s still there, in the guitar licks and in the song structures, but it’s definitely lost its bite.

Despite their differences in opinion regarding the course of true love; Jimmy Jones and Eddie Cochran do have one thing in common. Their sole chart toppers are far from being their best songs. Admittedly Jones doesn’t have the back-catalogue that Cochran does; in fact he has just one other UK hit – the far superior ‘Handy Man’ which had made #3 back in April. Listen to that and you can hear that he was quite the singer – a sort of Sam Cooke, or Jackie Wilson, with the falsetto that you hear in ‘Good Timin’’ used to much more soulful effect.

But Jones isn’t the first and he won’t be the last star mis-represented at the top of the pop charts. He died not long ago, back in 2012, aged eighty-two. He had his three weeks of fame before his star swiftly faded. Later, he would go on to enjoy a revival in the Northern Soul clubs of the 70s and 80s. In those circles, Jones’s obscurity lent a certain cache to his records, and so his lack of hits proved to be something of a positive in the end. Good timing, you might say.

102. ‘Three Steps to Heaven’, by Eddie Cochran

And we’re back down to earth with a bump, after the era/career/life defining ‘Cathy’s Clown’. Which is ironic, given the title of this next number one…

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Three Steps to Heaven, by Eddie Cochran (his 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 23rd June – 7th July 1960

Now there, Are three, Steps to heaven… Just listen, And you will, Plainly see… The guitars click and twirl and sound for all the world like a Buddy Holly B-side – the sickly little brother of ‘Heartbeat’, perhaps. And as life, Travels on, And things do go wrong… Eddie Cochran is crooning away here in a manner that would make Perry Como proud. Just follow, Steps one, two, and three…

Now, I might not be as familiar with Eddie Cochran as I am with certain other rock ‘n’ rollers; but I do know that he was a rock ‘n’ roller. He was one hell of a rock ‘n’ roller. But if you were to base your impressions of him on his sole UK #1, you might think Eddie C. was a mere pap-peddler, a run-of-the-mill teen idol singing a cutesy ‘How To Guide’ for love. There’s nothing wrong with this song, as such, but there ain’t much that’s great about it either.

What are those three steps to heaven, then? You’re dying to know, aren’t you? Step one, You find a girl you love… Uh-huh… Step two, she falls in love with you… OK… Step three, you kiss and hold her tightly… And that’s it? Yeah that sure, Seems like heaven, To me… Oh Eddie, if only it were that simple.

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I’ve already mentioned that the rolling, clockwork guitars sound very Buddy Holly-lite – and this might have a lot to do with The Crickets acting as Cochran’s backing group here (and scoring their 2nd, albeit uncredited, chart-topper in the process) – but that’s not this record’s only link to ‘The Father of Modern Pop Music’. Eddie Cochran, like Buddy when he scored his only solo #1, was dead by the time this topped the charts. Two months earlier, during a UK tour, the taxi in which he had been travelling blew a tire and smashed into a lamppost. He was thrown from the car, after valiantly covering and saving his fiancé, and died in hospital the following day. He was just twenty-one. Considering that his two previous singles had stalled at #22, I think it’s safe to assume that this record was being bought as a memorial as much as it was for the actual music.

I’m torn… It’s great that a star as influential at the birth of rock and pop as Eddie Cochran got his moment in the record books. But there are so many better ways to remember him than this twee little ditty. There’s the teenage angst of his breakthrough hit ‘Summertime Blues’, the classic riff from ‘C’Mon Everybody’, or the steaming proto-punk of ‘Somethin’ Else’ (which would be turned into a proper-punk hit by Sid Vicious some twenty years later).

It’s comparable, in a way, to the fact that Chuck Berry scored his one and only UK #1 with ‘My Ding-A-Ling’. Which really winds some people up. But – and I’m sticking my neck out here – I think that ‘Three Steps to Heaven’ being Eddie Cochran’s biggest hit is the real travesty. At least my ‘My Ding-A-Ling’ was bawdy, smutty, silly, funny… It is rock ‘n’ roll, for all that it is also a dumb nursery-rhyme. This? Well this song commits a far worse crime in my book. The crime of being bland! And I, donning my judge’s cap for a moment here, order this record to be removed from my sight. Forever. Next!

101. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers

I could write this next post without even listening to the record in question. So well do I know this song, I can play it from start to finish in my head. And yet I will listen to it – not just for completeness’ sake; but because it’s a work of art that I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing for a while.

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Cathy’s Clown, by The Everly Brothers (their 2nd of four #1s)

7 weeks, from 5th May – 23rd June 1960

It’s a song in two, intertwining parts. Two parts that contrast, and yet complement. That link perfectly yet offer the listener something completely different. But before all this, though, there’s the intro. That intro. There are songs without intros, there are songs whose intros pass you by, and there are songs with memorable intros. Like this one. An intro that swaggers in, with a beefy bass and drums straight from a military parade – an intro that makes sure you’re ready and listening for the main event.

And what an event. Don’t want your lo-o-o-o-o-ove anymore, Don’t want your ki-i-i-i-i-ses that’s for sure… I’m sure that entire theses have been written on ‘The Harmonies and Vocal Stylings of The Everly Brothers’ and that I have nothing new to offer. But still. Wow. This is where to look if you’re wondering just what all the fuss is about. Phil holds the note and Don does his thing.

I die each time, I hear this sound… Here he co-o-o-o-o-mes, That’s Cathy’s clown… Those dum-ding-ding-dings (that tinny, oh-so-early sixties guitar again) between the first two lines here always gets me. And then…

I gotta stand tall, You know a man can’t crawl… The harmonies are gone. Now it’s a pure rock ‘n’ roll track. The voice growls and spits, like a boxer psyching himself up. And the piano, straight outta honky-tonk, whips us along. For when he knows you’re tellin’ lies, An’ he hears em’ passin’ by, He’s not a man at all…

Then the drums snap back in and we’re harmonising again. Don’t want your love… End chorus. Then pause. Just the voice: When you see me shed a tear… Add piano. Get swinging. Don’t you think it’s kinda sad, That you’re treatin’ me so bad, Or don’t you even care…? Where the first verse is aggressive, the second is rueful. Maybe she really doesn’t care. Maybe the singer really is Cathy’s clown?

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It’s been two years since we first met the Everlys, with the wistful, boyish, country-tinged ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’. This record is clearly by the same two brothers, with the same honeyed voices – but now they’re all grown up. ‘Cathy’s Clown’ was their first disc with Warner Brothers, and I’d assume that the label would have asked their new act for a big first single. A statement of intent. Boy, did they get one. This, in case the preceding paragraphs haven’t made it clear, is perfection. Time-capsule pop.

Actually, that’s an idea. ‘Time-capsule pop’. Records worthy of being preserved in a titanium container and buried under Big Ben ahead of civilisation’s collapse. Songs that transcend the genre of ‘pop’ – that are catchy without being cheesy, that are cool without trying too hard, clever without going all airy-fairy, sexy without being vulgar… songs that are basically impossible for human beings to dislike. We’ll meet a few more, every so often, but – gazing quickly back down my list – I think ‘Cathy’s Clown’ is the first. (I might make a belated case for ‘Such a Night’, or maybe ‘That’ll Be the Day’, let’s see.)

I’m glad that this is neither the first nor the last time that we hear from The Everly Brothers in this countdown. I’m glad I can just leave it at that, without wandering off into biography or background. Just click the link below and enjoy one of the best songs ever written.