Here’s a record I’d never heard before; and a rockin’ little record it is too. A hidden ‘gem’ (gettit?) of a record. Not to rag on the previous #1, ‘Dance On!’, too much, but this is how you do instrumental rock ‘n’ roll!
Diamonds, by Jet Harris & Tony Meehan (their 1st and only #1s)
3 weeks, from 31st January – 21st February 1963
We start with a cool drum intro, and then a riff straight from the spaghetti-est of spaghetti westerns. Imagine the villain of the piece striding over a sun-baked hill, heat-haze rising around him. He stops and fixes the camera with a thousand-yard stare, spitting his tobacco over the dusty ground…
Then we get horns – Ba! Babababa-Ba! – and it feels as if the sixties, the ‘Swinging Sixties’ ™ are born. It goes from menacing to groovy in 0.5 seconds. First ‘Lovesick Blues’, and now this, have had what I would call a quintessentially ‘sixties’ sound – the sound that will define the next three or four years. And it’s great, the call and response from the brass section, but it’s not the best thing about this record. Because next we get…
A. Drum. Solo. In a number one hit single. I kid you not. What I thought the reserve of eighties hair metal bands and Phil Collins were around as early as 1963! I wish I could somehow describe it; but how on earth can you describe a drum solo? It lasts a good twenty seconds – one-tenth of the whole record! – and is great. That’s my official line on it. ‘Great.’
This whole song sounds familiar. But not. Like The Shadows… But not. It almost sounds as if it’s been recorded by The Shadows alter-egos, as if Hank, Bruce and the boys were moonlighting as darker, less clean-cut, slightly more evil versions of themselves…
Which may be a fitting description, as the two men playing on this record – Jet Harris and Tony Meehan – were (dun dun dun!) ex-Shadows. Harris, who we’ve heard playing bass on all but one Shadows chart-topper, had left the group in 1962 because of his drinking habits. Meehan, he of drum solo fame, had left a few months before that to go into producing. Thus, in the space of a few weeks we’ve had The Shadows supporting Cliff at #1 with ‘The Next Time / Bachelor Boy’, then going it alone with ‘Dance On!’, and now two former band members taking their turn at the top. Utter Shadows domination of the UK charts!
I’m not sure if Harris and Meehan were on good terms with the other band members after their departures, but I do like the image of the pair celebrating their revenge in knocking their former band off the top of the charts. Interestingly (perhaps…) is the fact that Meehan left in October 1961, when ‘Kon-Tiki’ was at #1, and Harris left in April ’62, when ‘Wonderful Land’ was in the middle of its run at the top. Going out on a high, I suppose. The pair never re-joined The Shadows; but did occasionally collaborate during the eighties and nineties. Meehan died in 2005, Harris in 2011.
If we were to make this into a contest – Shadows Vs Ex-Shadows – then the latter win, hands down. ‘Diamonds’ is a clearly superior record to ‘Dance On!’. But… Harris and Meehan’s solo careers were short lived; almost at a one-hit-wonder level. While The Shadows are one of the most successful British groups of all time. ‘Diamonds’, though, stays with you: that riff and those horns running through your head long after the record has stopped.
Two interesting tit-bits before I finish. In 1962, Tony Meehan had the chance to sign The Beatles for Decca Records. He turned them down… And, the rhythm guitar on ‘Diamonds’ was played by one Jimmy Page, in one of his first session musician, pre-Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin gigs. Which is as close as one of the most famous guitarists in the history of rock ‘n’ roll will ever get to a #1 single!