158. ‘Do You Love Me’, by Brian Poole & The Tremeloes

Our next chart-topper is, perhaps, a bit of a come-down after we scaled such euphoric heights with ‘She Loves You’. I suppose that is a hard act to follow. But The Tremeloes’ debut at the top isn’t without its merits.

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Do You Love Me, by Brian Poole (his 1st and only #1) & The Tremeloes (their 1st of two #1s)

3 weeks, from 10th – 31st October 1963

For the second chart-topper in three we get an intro that builds… You broke my heart, ‘Cos I couldn’t dance, You didn’t even want me around… in a way that strongly signals that this is a song about to explode (imagine a huge sign saying ‘Up-tempo Pop Song Ahead – 10 seconds’)… But now I’m back, To let you know, That I can really shake ‘em down… It might, off the top of my head, be the very first ever spoken intro we’ve heard on this countdown.

Anyway, the singer clearly went off and had some dancing lessons, or at least a shot or two of tequila, and he’s returned to let his girl know that he can, indeed, cut some shapes. The rest of the song’s lyrics are pretty nonsensical – standard dance music catchphrases from the fifties and sixties: do the mashed potato, you can do the twist, shake it up, shake it down, a little bit of soul now, do you like it like this… And of course, the big question, over and over: Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? Now that I can dance….? (Watch me now!)

I used to work in the bar of a bowling alley (as you do), and every Saturday night we’d have a live DJ (hi, DJ Brian) and this was, without fail, one of the last songs he’d play every week. Because there is no better song for yelling along to at the top of your voice, when it’s just past midnight and you’re drunk in a bowling alley, than ‘Do You Love Me’. Take the ‘Now that I can dance’ line, and the layered, ascending ‘Daaaaannnnn Daaaannnnnn Dannnnnnccceeee!’ I will find it impossible to dislike any song that employs this device. They could shove it in the middle of ‘God Save the Queen’ (the national anthem that is; not the Sex Pistols one) and it would work.

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This was, as perhaps you know, originally a Motown record, released one year before by The Contours. It had been a US #1, but hadn’t charted in the UK. I’ve put a link in for comparing and contrasting purposes. For what it’s worth – as with ‘Sweets for my Sweet’ a few posts ago – I like the Motown original a shade better as a song (the tempo is slightly slower, and I think it’s a song that works more effectively with a vocal group rather than with an instrument-playing band). But… The Tremeloes’ version does have an irresistible madcap energy to it – the last chorus, where all the band members yelp and yell over and under one another, is possibly the rawest five seconds of any chart-topper thus far.

The Tremeloes, and Brian Poole, were the first Beat chart-toppers not to come from the North-West of England (they were from Dagenham, just outside London). This was their second hit, and they would go on to score hits – with or without their lead singer Brian Poole – throughout the sixties. We’ll be meeting them one more time, with a record that’s the polar opposite of this. Though, I do have to say, ‘Do You Love Me’ is a record that wins you over by the end. It would have won me over quicker, I suspect, if I’d had a few before writing this post. ‘Do You Love Me’, if you’ll allow me a moment of metaphor, is like a sloppy, untrainable puppy that’s just made a mess of a houseplant. You want to hate it, and maybe get rid of it, but one look at its loveable eyes and everything’s forgiven.

157. ‘She Loves You’, by The Beatles

The record with which The Beatles went stratospheric. Woooosh. That’s them. Off they go. This next song takes everything that was good about their debut chart-topper ‘From Me to You’, everything good about this burgeoning Merseybeat movement, puts it in a rocket, sets engines to warp, and…

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She Loves You, by The Beatles (their 2nd of seventeen #1s)

4 weeks, from 12th September – 10th October / 2 weeks, from 28th November – 12th December 1963 (6 weeks total)

Take the opening drum roll for a start. It takes up less than a second of the song – it is literally a drum roll – but it sets the frantic pace that grips this record and propels it right the way through. And then in thumps the chorus. You’ve heard it, you’ve heard it again, you’ve heard it in German – but it bears repeating: She loves you, Yeah yeah yeah, She loves you, Yeah yeah yeah, She loves you, Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah… That is it. That is all there is to it. But there’s a manic energy in those ‘Yeahs’ that even today gives you goose-bumps.

Lyrically this is step up from songs like ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ and ‘I Like It’ – a little more complex. It’s about a man convincing his friend that his sweetheart still loves him: She said she loves you! And you know that can’t be bad… She said she loves you! And you know you should be glad… While the second verse shows that the friend has actually been a bit of a dick: She said you hurt her so, She almost lost her mind… And the final verse is a bit of a lecture: You know it’s up to you, I think it’s only fair, Pride can hurt you too, Apologise to her… What all this means, most importantly, is that it’s not a traditional ‘Love Song’. This is a ‘Rock Song’, with all the yelling and thrashing that that entails. There’s a strong hint of The Everly Brothers in the way that the ‘Bads…’ and ‘Glads…’ at the end of the lines in the bridge split into a high note and a low note. And then those ‘Ooohs’. Oh those ‘ooohs’.

One thing I’ve noticed about ‘She Loves You’ after repeated listens (I’m up to six as I write this paragraph, and I’m far from sick of it yet) is how melancholy the chord structures are, especially in the verses. It’s something The Beatles were excellent at early in their careers, combining the majors and the minors, from ‘P.S I Love You’, through ‘All My Loving’ to the pinnacle of sad-pop, ‘Help!’ If you stripped away the frantic drums, and the ‘Yeah Yeah Yeahs’, and the ‘Ooooohs’ from ‘She Loves You’ – you’d have a sad old song on your hands.

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But that’s a big ‘If’. The unhinged energy of this song, the madcap beat and tempo, are a huge part of its charm. It’s unsubtle, it’s cheesy, it’s glorious. It’s Sledgehammer Pop! Actually no, we don’t need another sub-category. I am, though, going to add ‘She Loves You’ to my oh-so-select list of ‘Time Capsule Pop’ records – the discs that need buried in the ground for all eternity so that the aliens can see what all the fuss was about, can see exactly why humans went crazy for this thing called ‘popular music.’ I invented the category for The Everly’s ‘Cathy’s Clown’, and then retrospectively added Johnnie Ray’s ‘Such a Night’, The Crickets ‘That’ll Be the Day’ and Jerry Lee’s ‘Great Balls of Fire.’ ‘She Loves You’, then, becomes the fifth disc in the pod. And I’d say that, while they will better this disc with some of their later chart-toppers (fifteen still to come, folks!), they will never sound more like The Beatles than they do here. This is the Beatlest Beatles #1 single.

Some facts and figures, before I go. ‘She Loves You’ is the band’s biggest seller in the UK. It is the 9th biggest selling hit ever. It was also #1 in the US, where it was part of the famous all-Beatles Top 5 on the Billboard 100 in early 1964. This was ‘Beatlemania’ – bigger than Sinatra in the forties and Elvis in the fifties. This was HUGE. Back in the UK, ‘She Loves You’ dipped down from the top-spot for an amazing seven weeks before returning to the top in late-November. Even today, no record has had a longer gap between stays at number one, without being re-released. It knocked ‘Bad to Me’ – another Beatles composition – off the top and was then itself finally knocked off the summit by ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’. The charts of autumn ’63 were well and truly owned by The Fab Four. We are in the presence of greatness, here.

I have one personal story to tell involving ‘She Loves You’. Back fifteen years or so ago, I went to see McFly in concert (another of the best bands ever, fight me!) and midway through they announced that they were going to play a song that they’d just written backstage that very night. The twelve-year-old girls screamed. They then launched into a cover of ‘She Loves You’. The twelve-year-old girls still screamed. To this day I still wonder how many of them didn’t work it out…

Follow, and listen to every #1 so far, with this Spotify playlist:

156. ‘Bad to Me’, by Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas

A crooning little intro has us fearing the worst as the needle drops on our latest chart-topper … If you ever leave me, I’ll be sad and blue… A guitar strums plaintively… Don’t you ever leave me, I’m so in love with you… But it’s an intro that you know is going somewhere – something in that last ‘you…’ just brims with promise – and yes, the guitar, clear as a bell, kicks in and we’re off into another solid Beat #1.

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Bad to Me, by Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas (their 1st of two #1s)

3 weeks, from 22nd August – 12th September 1963

The birds in the sky would be, Sad and lonely, If they knew that I’d lost my, One and only… And if, as this song unfolds, you get the feeling that it all sounds very familiar – something in the chord progressions and the notes that Billy J. Kramer leaves hanging in the air – then you’d be on to something. For the next seven years of the UK pop charts there will be two main categories of number one single: those recorded by The Beatles, and those written by The Beatles (or, rather, by Lennon & McCartney). Hot on the heels of their 1st #1 as performers, ‘Bad to Me’ is their first #1 as writers.

That’s not to say that Billy J. and his Dakotas don’t make this song their own. The band is crisp and tight, and Kramer’s voice is strong too. I like the flip and the little groan as he takes us through the But I know you won’t leave me cos you told me so… line. He treads a fine line between singing properly but not crooning. He doesn’t have as strong an accent as, say, John Lennon or Gerry Marsden; but he doesn’t sound like Perry Como either. In fact, we’re five #1s into the Merseybeat revolution and I don’t think I’ve struggled to make out a single line. We await the deterioration of diction in pop music – possibly the late-twentieth century’s greatest crime, according to my late Grandma – with bated breath. My money’s on Jagger.

Anyway, I like this song. We’ve got piano, some nice harmonies, and some standard Merseybeat drums. We even get my favourite type of guitar solo: one that mimics the verses note for note. It’s lazy; but works every time. And… done. A song that wasn’t completely unfamiliar to me; but one to which I had never really paid much attention. I’ll add it to my playlists.

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With this disc we keep up our run of young whippersnappers topping the charts (Kramer had just turned twenty when this reached the summit.) However we break our run of Liverpudlians! Billy J was from Bootle but the Dakotas were from all the way over in Manchester. (Still, we manage to keep it in the North-West of England, for now.) Their partnership was something of a marriage of convenience: Kramer needed a band and Brian Epstein persuaded The Dakotas to leave their original singer and team up with him. They debuted with another Beatles cover – ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret?’ – which had hit #2 earlier in the year.

Two more things to mention before we wrap up. If you’re thinking “Hey, with a name like Billy J. Kramer there’s no way he wasn’t going to be a rock star!” then you’d be sorely misguided. His real name was William Howard Ashton – a Vicar’s name if ever there was one. And secondly… ‘Bad to Me’, when you think about it, is a very misleading song title when you consider that the whole entire song is about how the girl is not bad to him. It’s as if ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love?’ was just called ‘In Love.’ Something to mull over, as I leave it there for now.

 

155. ‘Sweets For My Sweet’, by The Searchers

Everybody back aboard the Merseybeat bus, for a trip that’s going to take us well into 1964. The initial beat-bands to top the charts – Gerry & The Pacemakers and The Beatles – are now joined by another bunch of Liverpudlians.

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Sweets For My Sweet, by The Searchers (their 1st of three #1s)

2 weeks, from 8th – 22nd August 1963

I can’t imagine another time when one sound monopolised the top of the charts in such a fashion. From now – early August 1963 – to the middle of February 1964, every UK #1 will have a Merseybeat flavour to it. And we kick off with this one, and a chorus that most will know…

Sweets for my sweet, Sugar for my honey, Your first sweet kiss, Thrills me so… It’s a step back from the frenetic tempo of ‘From Me to You’ and ‘How Do You Do It?’, the guitars here chime rather than rattle; the drums roll rather than thump. There’s a hint of a chugging little riff buried in there too. In fact, I’d say that musically this is a step ahead of the earlier beat chart-toppers. I’m getting hints of The Byrds in the guitars and The Beach Boys in the ‘oooh-eeeh-oooh’ backing vocals. In fact, I can hear the foundations of ‘80s indie in that chiming solo that follows the choruses. You tell me that that doesn’t sound like something the Stone Roses might have come out with.

On the flip side… there’s always a flip side… the lyrics here are a step back from the cheeky charms of John Lennon and Gerry Marsden. They were giving us little vignettes about running fingers through hair, and kisses that would keep you satisfied… relatable stuff. The Searchers still sing in scouse accents but are giving us: If you wanted that star that shines so brightly, To match the stardust in your eyes, Darling I would chase that bright star nightly, And try to steal it from the sky… And then there’s some nonsense about the Sandman, like it was still 1954 or something.

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There’s a good reason for this. I said that the chorus should be familiar to all, but to American readers it might be more famous in the form of The Drifters 1961 original. (Yes, I too was slightly surprised to find out that it was a cover, and that in fact all The Searchers’ chart-toppers would be covers.) These lyrics work well in the hands of The Drifters. But 1963 is a long way, musically, from ’61. Times have changed, and if you came out with these lyrics in a playground in Liverpool you’d probably get beaten up.

The Searchers were, like the bands that went immediately before them in establishing this new sound at the top of the charts, a four-piece, young (early twenties) and, of course, from the north-west of England. They will hit the top spot twice more in very short order, and next time it will be with a much better song…!

That’s not to be too harsh on ‘Sweets For My Sweet’, it’s a perfectly good pop song. It’s just a bit… Cheesy? Simplistic? Trite? Maybe it’s a victim of time. If The Drifters had taken it to #1 two years earlier I might have loved it. One thing’s for sure, though, when that perfect little drum roll at the end, which is so mid-sixties, pops up you are just about ready to forgive all the sins that went before.

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154. ‘(You’re the) Devil in Disguise’, by Elvis Presley

Oh hey, Elvis. You still here? You want one more go at the top, before your glory days are well and truly over? Go on then…

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(You’re the) Devil in Disguise, by Elvis Presley (his 14th of twenty-one #1s)

1 week, from 1st – 8th August 1963

I know this song, I love this song, I’ve been playing air guitar to it since I was a nipper. I know it’s a rocker, and I can’t wait to write a blog post about it. But, to hear it coming after Elvis has bored us into submission with his recent #1s: (‘Good Luck Charm’), (‘She’s Not You’), or scared us off completely: (‘Rock-A-Hula Baby). Well, it’s like a real shot of adrenalin.

It starts off sedately: You look like an angel, Walk like an angel, Talk like an angel… But I got wise… I love the filthy, twangy guitar that sounds like a motorbike revving. And then boom! You’re the devil in disguise, Oh yes you are, Devil in disguise…

It’s a song about a girl that just can’t be trusted… You fooled me with your kisses, You cheated and you schemed, Heaven knows how you lied to me, You’re not the way you seemed…

His band are tight, and Elvis really lets loose. It’s good, nay great, to hear him really go for it after his half-arsed recent efforts. I think the fact that this disc wasn’t from a bloated film soundtrack helped here. And, if this is the end of Elvis as a chart-humping global icon (he will only have 2 (two!) further UK #1s in his lifetime!) then what a way to go!

But, the piece de resistance in this record has nothing to do with Elvis himself. Step forward Grady Martin with his swooping, twanging solo, possibly the rocking-est solo to appear at the top of the charts thus far. Back when I was a lad, and harboured (very) short-lived dreams about playing the guitar, this was the first solo that I wanted to learn. Now I know that there are better, more accomplished guitar solos out there but still… There’s something about the rawness and looseness of this one, especially coming from way back in 1963.

Then it’s a pause – You’re the devil in disguise – Ba dum dum dum – and in comes the low-voiced man, Ray Walker, who Elvis saves only for his very best songs, to echo his Oh yes you are… And there we have it. The King’s 10th chart-topper in just over two and a half years. Off the top of my head, I wouldn’t have guessed that Elvis and The Beatles crossed paths at the top of the charts, but they did. Here. Just the once. (Actually twice, but that’s a story for another day…) I like to think he had heard those young upstarts, and that’s what’s pushed him to really give it his all on this disc. It’s not perfect – it’s a bit Vegasy and Elvis’s voice is still in crooner-mode – but I love it. And, at the end of the day, that’s all that matters…

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Just because – he is Elvis F’ing Presley after – let’s go all Buzzfeed and rank his post-army #1s. In ascending order then, with double ‘A’-sides split apart:

‘Wooden Heart’ (ugh) >>>>>>> ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’ (woah) >>>>>>> ‘Good Luck Charm’ (meh) >>>>>>> ‘It’s Now or Never’ (controversially low?) >>>>>>> ‘She’s Not You’ (so-so) >>>>>>> ‘Surrender’ (silly but decent) >>>>>>> ‘Return to Sender’ (soft-spot) >>>>>>> ‘(You’re the) Devil in Disguise’ (yep) >>>>>>> ‘Little Sister’ >>>>>>> ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ >>>>>>> ‘His Latest Flame’ >>>>>>> ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’

There you have it. Let me know in the comments if you agree or think I’ve lost my faculties. For The King, this is over-and-out for a while. Elvis has not quite left the building, but he’s gone for a long walk. It’ll probably do him some good…

153. ‘Confessin’ (That I Love You)’, by Frank Ifield

In my last post, I indulged in a bit of metaphor-making and compared the Merseybeat wave that was sweeping the charts to a meteor – a mop-topped meteor that flattened all the musical dinosaurs who were clogging the charts. Except, as beautiful as that image is, reality gets in the way here. We briefly have to return to the old ways. The corpse, it seems, is still twitching.

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Confessin’ (That I Love You), by Frank Ifield (his 4th and final #1)

2 weeks, from 18th July – 1st August 1963

Frank Ifield, after dominating the latter half of 1962, still had enough in the tank to claim one final #1 single. The three he’s had so far have ranged from dull (‘The Wayward Wind’) to demented (‘Lovesick Blues’), but none have been very good. Can ‘Confessin’’ save the day?

It starts with a smooth rhythm – a bossanova? – and, naturally, a harmonica. And then the syrupy tones of ol’ Frank. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating – for all his many faults, this guy could sing. I’m confessin’ that I love yo-ooou, Tell me do you love me to-ooo, I’m confessin’ that I need you, Honest I do… Need you ev’ry moment…

It’s a lot more understated than his previous chart-toppers, even his trademark yodelling works here, in that it fits in with the lilting rhythm of the song and doesn’t just sound like him showing off. I kind of like it… I mean, I’ve forgotten it pretty much as soon as it’s done, and the lyrics are a kind of nothingy mulch about how much he loves a girl, and how he hopes she returns his feelings: I’m afraid someday you’ll leave me, Saying can we still be friends… To suggest that it has redeemed the chart-topping career of Yodelling Frank, however, would be a step too far.

If I’ve learned anything over my past four Ifield-based posts, it’s that this will be an old song done up to suit modern ears. It’s what Frank did. And in fact, ‘Confessin’ (That I Love You)’ dates further back than any Ifield #1 has done so far. It’s had the treatment from pretty much everyone, many of whom we’ve met before on this countdown: Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day, Perry Como, Frankie Laine, Kay Starr, Dean Martin and Johnnie Ray, as well as others like Judy Garland and the wonderfully named Chester Gaylord, who had the original hit way back in 1930.

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It’s a perfectly nice record, but one that I doubt would have come anywhere near the top of the charts had it been Ifield’s first release. It definitely needed the goodwill and borrowed lustre of his earlier, much bigger hits to drag it to the summit. Way, way back – when I wrote about Frankie Laine’s follow up to the monster-hit ‘I Believe’ – I invented the idea of a shadow-hit, a hit record kind of like those tiny birds that hang out picking the flies off hippos, and this is definitely what’s happening here.

And so ends the chart-topping career of Frank Ifield. He burned brightly but oh-so briefly – his four #1s squeezed into just under a year. I must admit I made a grave error when I got excited about Elvis doing four-in-a-year and struggled to find any other act that had managed it… Our Frank was hiding right here under our very noses. But that kind of sums up his career and his legacy, as I’d say he’s been pretty much forgotten. He was bulldozed from collective memory by The Beatles et al, and now rarely gets mentioned… He had one more Top Ten hit following this, and has been inducted into both the Australian Music Hall of Fame and, more importantly, the Coventry Music Wall of Fame. In the eighties he contracted pneumonia, which left him unable to yodel… He’s still going, though, aged eighty-one.

Frank Ifield, then, ladies and gentlemen. First Australian to top the UK charts, the Great Yodeller, forgotten superstar of the 1960s… A round of applause, please. And onwards.

Follow along, and listen to every #1 covered so far, on my Spotify playlist:

152. ‘I Like It’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers

Act III of the Merseybeat spring offensive sees Gerry and the lads score a quick return to the top. ‘How Do You Do It?’ and ‘I Like It’ acting as the bread; The Beatles’ ‘From Me to You’ as the filling. A sandwich to change pop music as we know it.

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I Like It, by Gerry & The Pacemakers (their 2nd of three #1s)

4 weeks, from 20th June – 18th July 1963

The previous two songs were super perky, ultra-upbeat, and positively dripping in youthful enthusiasm, and the formula isn’t altered very much here. We get a swingin’ little intro, and then: I liiike it, I liiike it…! If you didn’t know that Gerry & The Pacemakers were Liverpudlian, then you do know. This is a great record, but Gerry Marsden’s scouse rasp is possibly the highlight of the whole shebang.

I liiike it…. I liiike itI like the way you run your fingers through my hair… And I like the way you tiddle my chin… I docked ‘From Me to You’ a couple of points for being a little simple, a little gauche. And I suppose I’ll have to do the same thing here… Except. The charm of this song – of this whole embryonic musical movement – is its down-to-earth charm. These are regular blokes singing a regular, catchy song about love; there are no flowery romantic declarations from note-perfect crooners (see: Frank Ifield) or glossy-teethed American superstars (see: Elvis) here.

Look, for example, at the line: And I like the way you straighten my tie, And I like the way you’re winkin’ your eye, And I know I like you…! Or the And I like the way you let me come in, When your mama ain’t there…. (wink wink) It could have been written by a fourteen-year-old, and that’s all part of the allure. I suppose all the big British pop movements had their roots with kids on the streets: punk, Britpop, garage… and Merseybeat is no different. Music for kids; by kids.

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Just like its immediate predecessors, ‘I Like It’ is another short, sharp pop song; another two minute wonder. And like all the best pop songs there’s nothing too sophisticated going on here. In fact, I’ve covered many better-sung and better-performed songs on this countdown. But… this is the glorious sound of four boys jamming away in their garage, and it presses all my buttons. And ‘boys’ they truly were – Gerry, his brother Fred, Les and Arthur were all aged around twenty when their careers went stratospheric. For a while, in the summer of ’63, the smart money might have been on this four-piece going on to be the biggest band on the planet…

But, of course, that didn’t happen. Perhaps the reason I was a bit harsh on ‘From Me to You’ in my last write-up is that it comes loaded with the knowledge of what The Beatles would go on to do. It’s a perfectly decent pop song but, in my opinion, wouldn’t come near a Beatles Top 20. Whereas, ditties like ‘How Do You Do It?’ and ‘I Like It’ were as good as it got for Gerry and the gang. This is all we know them for; and that’s fine.

Before we finish, I’d like to indulge in a bit of a metaphor. Bear with me, and picture if you can these three Merseybeat chart-toppers from April-July 1963 as a huge meteor killing off hundreds of dinosaurs. These dinosaurs being… *clears throat* … Adam Faith, Anthony Newley, Michael Holliday, Frankie Vaughan, Alma Cogan, Helen Shapiro, The Everly Brothers, Tommy Steele and countless other artists who never topped the UK charts and who I can’t therefore link to… Their careers were all pretty much obliterated (or, at least, heavily affected by) this unstoppable Merseybeat fireball. May they rest in peace. Vive la revolution!

151. ‘From Me To You’, by The Beatles

Where to start… How do you introduce the most successful, most influential, most important, so on and so forth, band ever? Um….

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From Me to You, by The Beatles (their 1st of seventeen #1s)

7 weeks, from 2nd May – 20th June 1963

Maybe I don’t need to. Anyone with even a passing interest in pop music will have heard this song. Da da da da da dun dun daaa… chiming harmonica and exuberant vocals – you can just picture two mop-heads leaning in towards the mic… If there’s anything that you want, If there’s anything I can dooooo, Just call on me, And I’ll send it along, With love, From me, To You…

Gerry & The Pacemakers set the Merseybeat pace with ‘How Do You Do It?’, but this takes things up another level again – as if someone has just found the warp button and pressed it twice in quick succession, leaving Cliff Richard and Frank Ifield as specks in the distance. There’s a lot of great stuff here: the rasp in John’s voice, the camp little ‘oohs!’ at the end of each line, and Ringo’s drum-fills (I’ve never subscribed to the ‘Ringo wasn’t that good a drummer’ theory – he’s the main man here.) And the saucy line in the bridge: I’ve got lips that long to kiss you, And keep you satisfied… Ooh!

But… ‘From Me to You’ isn’t an amazing, Grade-A, one-of-a-kind, bury it in a time capsule for future generations kind of record. Not quite. They will certainly come for The Beatles, of course; but this isn’t it. It’s a little too cheesy, for a start – a little too close to a nursery rhyme in some of its lyrics: I got everything that you want, Like a heart that’s oh so true… Meh. Plus, they should have brought a guitar in on the solo, rather than reusing the harmonica. It makes the record harmonica-heavy, which is never a good thing. I’d even go so far as suggesting that ‘Please Please Me’ would have made a better first Beatles #1… (in my humble opinion…) It’s funny: criticising anything about The Beatles seems kind of futile, like suggesting Shakespeare should have made ‘King Lear’ a bit shorter, or that Da Vinci should have painted the ‘Mona Lisa’s eyes a little further apart… Futile, and way too late.

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What ‘From Me to You’ is, then, is a rip-roaring intro to the band that will dominate the sixties and beyond. The band that every other rock ‘n’ roll band from now to eternity will rip off, even if they don’t realise it. And, having listened to this record now five or six times in quick succession, it really does sound like a band that knew they were going to be huge. There’s a self-confidence to this record, a swagger and a wink. Maybe that’s just the hindsight talking; though I’m pretty sure it isn’t.

It feels slightly disrespectful to end my first post on The Beatles – my introductory post on the Biggest Band in the History of Popular Music ™ – so quickly. I do usually try to write a bit about the band in these types of posts, a bit of background to the song and so on… Here goes: The Beatles consisted of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr and you know the rest. Everyone does. I can’t remember the first time I heard them. They were just always there, and I was born fifteen years after they stopped making music, when one of them was already dead and another was narrating ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ (actually, that was probably my first ever exposure to a Beatle, aged three.) My parents love them. My friends love them. I’ve taught English lessons to young kids in Asia using Beatles songs, and they loved them. I have one friend who claims to not like them; but he’s an idiot.

We will hear from them again soon. Then again. And again until the sixties are out. The Beatles have officially landed, and nothing will ever be the same again…

Follow the OFFICIAL playlist to this blog, updated along with every post, here….

150. ‘How Do You Do It?’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers

It comes on like some kind of whirlwind, this new sound. A whip-snapping intro with a jabbing piano riff, tight guitars and machine-gun drums. The revolution is here.

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How Do You Do It?, by Gerry & The Pacemakers (their 1st of three #1s)

3 weeks, from 11th April – 2nd May 1963

It’s kind of like rock ‘n’ roll music has undergone a software update – the way that your laptop updates, say, Skype without you knowing and now it’s still Skype but with new colours and maybe rounded corners… This is clearly rock ‘n’ roll – we’ve got guitars and drums and perky lyrics about being in love – but it sounds so fresh, so new. Same same; but different.

How do you do what you do to me, I wish I knew, If I knew how you do it to me, I’d do it to you… These are pretty relatable lyrics – no flowery pretence here. In fact, they could be interpreted as pretty raunchy: When I do it to you… Do what, sir! And to whom!?

The bridge is my favourite bit here – the Like an arrow, passin’ through it… line really works. And then he yelps the song’s title – desperate and frenzied – How do you do it!? As a song it’s very short, and to the point. Four verse-choruses, two bridges and a solo rattle by in one minute fifty-five. Then it’s done; but pop music has changed.

I think it might all be in the voice. Bear with me. Gerry Marsden has an accent – a scouse, Irish accent – that makes him sound like a bloke from down the pub. All the British singers to have topped the chart, with the exception perhaps of Lonnie Donegan, have sounded ‘proper’. Or, in the case of Tommy Steele, they were putting on an accent. But here, Marsden is just singing like he speaks, with a rasp in his vowels, squeezing ‘suppose’ into ‘spose.

I can think of only one record that we’ve heard so far, that’s sounded like such a leap forward, and that was ‘Rock Around the Clock’. I’ve said it before, but hearing these #1s in context, in the order that they topped the charts, really makes the truly special ones stand out. Listening to ‘How Do You Do It?’ barging in after so much Cliff, mid-career Elvis, and Frank Ifield, really does make it sound like a shot of adrenalin, rather than the mid-level Merseybeat pop that it might come across as on a compilation album. And, to me, the fact that this was Gerry & The Pacemakers debut chart hit makes it all the better – they really are arriving out of nowhere to shake up the charts.

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Of course, it might have been even better if The Beatles had been the first ever Merseybeat #1. They came close (there’s a lot of controversy about ‘Please Please Me’ topping various charts in early-1963, but not the ‘official’ ‘Record Retailer’ chart) but it wasn’t to be. In truth, Gerry and the Pacemakers were The Beatles Mk II. They were from Liverpool, cut their teeth in the same clubs and bars, were discovered by Brian Epstein and produced by George Martin. The Beatles did record ‘How Do You Do It?’, but rejected it as a single. Things might have been so different…

But The Fab Four didn’t have long to wait for their own chart-topping run to begin, and within a year they had surpassed their local rivals, conquered Britain, then the US, then the world. But for most of 1963, Gerry and the gang were every bit as big as John, Paul and co. We’ll be hearing from them again very soon, with what I’d class as an ever better song that this.

When I was eleven or twelve, I started making mix-tapes based on hits from particular decades. Nineties, seventies – I wasn’t big on the eighties back then – and sixties. But my ‘sixties mixes’ always started in 1963, with Merseybeat. Everything before that just sounded really old – very misty and a little bit scary… Like I was listening to ghosts. Then, eventually, I discovered Elvis, then Chuck and Buddy, and realised that this wasn’t true. But, there’s still a feeling – shared by many – that modern pop music started in the spring of ’63. That this is Pop Year Zero. And I can see why. Listen to ‘The Wayward Wind’, by Frank Ifield. That’s an old-fashioned, easy-listening track that could have been a hit ten years back. ‘How Do You Do It?’ sounds so fresh that it mightn’t have been a hit ten weeks back.

It’s been fun, writing about the previous hundred and forty-nine UK number one singles. I’ve discovered some great new songs, and found unexpected layers to what I’d previously thought of as simply ‘Pre-Rock’ and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’. But with this latest chart-topper, we’ve well and truly opened a new chapter… Onwards!

Recap: #121 – #149

To recap, then…

We’ve fallen into a bit of a slump, really, at the top of the UK singles charts. It happens… This is my fifth recap, and it’s another one without a defining theme to it. We’ve had ‘The Pre-Rock Recap’, and we’ve had ‘The Rock ‘n’ Roll Recap’ and we’ve had two others that were more a bunch of songs squashed together. It’s like throwing dinner parties: sometimes the guests all hit it off smashingly and other times everybody just sits around looking awkward.

If I was to fumble around for a one-word summary of the past thirty twenty-nine chart-toppers, I’d have to go for… ‘easy’. By and large they’ve been very easy listens – nothing too wild, nothing too experimental, no boundary pushing… I’m thinking ‘Moon River’, ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’, ‘Wonderful Land’, ‘The Young Ones’ – proper records the lot of them. Background music, though, rather than anything that really grabbed me. But maybe that’s just me…

Then there were the downright bland chart-toppers, of which the last few months haven’t been short: ‘Well I Ask You’, ‘Dance On!’ (such a promising title; so little going on), and Frank Ifield’s double-whammy of dull, ‘I Remember You’ and ‘The Wayward Wind.’ Lots of worthy contenders, then, for the latest ‘Meh’ Award… I’m going to give it to Cliff though, for the thoroughly snooze-inducing ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’ – a double ‘A’ for double the dullness.

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And, sorry, we can’t talk about ‘dullness’ without mentioning Elvis. This recap covers an unbelievable 5 (five!) chart-toppers from The King. ‘Little Sister’ / ‘His Latest Flame’ is an undeniable classic double-‘A’, don’t get me wrong, as is ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’. Except, that came with the hideous ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’ in tow, which took a lot of the shine off. No, it is his three most recent #1s that have really had the eye-lids drooping. ‘She’s Not You’ – OK at best. ‘Return to Sender’ – cheesy, though an undeniable guilty pleasure. And ‘Good Luck Charm’, with its pre-set boogie-woogie riff and half-arsed vocals, which had the temerity to spend five weeks at the top! I was seriously tempted to dish out Elvis’s 2nd Very Worst Chart-Topper award for this… But I can’t. Not when the worst charge you can level at it is that it’s Elvis on auto-pilot. And not when ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield, is barrelling its way towards you like a yodelling freight-train. I honestly still have nightmares about that record… It’s by far the worst of the past bunch.

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That is the big mystery of British music in 1962-3… why Frank Ifield? Why? He bursts out of nowhere to become the biggest star in the land for a year, and then… I’m pinning all my hopes on his final number-one, which is coming up shortly, redeeming the career of Frank Ifield for me. But I won’t be holding my breath.

Before we get to the next awards, a little love for the outliers. The discs that aren’t very bad, or incredibly good, or mad-cap, or even dull. Shirley Bassey (Dame Shirley Bassey, thankyouverymuch) with ‘Reach for the Stars’ / ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’, ‘Tower of Strength’ by Frankie Vaughan, ‘Michael’ by The Highwaymen, the bubble-gum bounce of ‘Walkin’ Back to Happiness’ and the irrepressible – no matter how much you want to repress it –  ‘Summer Holiday’. All perfectly acceptable, and all records that I enjoyed (re)discovering at the time.

Because so many of the recent chart-topping records have been planted firmly in the middle of the road, I feel that there is a very fine line between those few that stand out for being the best and those few that stand out for being the craziest. So, I think I’ll have to award my ‘WTAF’ Award, and my Very Best Award at the same time. Should ‘Nut Rocker’ go down as one of the best; or one of the craziest? Should ‘Telstar’ go down as one of the craziest; rather than the best? Maybe I should re-consider ‘Lovesick Blues’… It was an utterly crazy record, after all. Then there’s the gothic-romance-as-three-minute-pop-song of ‘Johnny Remember Me’

No, I’m going to stick with my gut, and dish the ‘WTAF’ Award out to Mr. B. Bumble and his Stingers, for turning The Nutcracker into a gloriously daft rock ‘n’ roll boogie. Hurrah!

And for the very best – the crème de la crème – I’ve whittled it down to four. In one corner we have The Everly Brothers final UK #1, ‘Temptation’. One the one hand it’s probably the hardest rocker of the past thirty twenty-nine, but on the other it feels like it shouldn’t really be here. It was so long ago that I had kind of forgotten that it would be in this recap. Next we have some real heartbreak in the form of Helen Shapiro’s ‘You Don’t Know’ – it still amazes me that that was the voice of a fourteen-year-old. Then it’s the towering ‘Telstar’, from The Tornados, sending pop music light years into the future. And finally our most recent chart-topper, and The Shadows last ever: ‘Foot Tapper’. I could give a good argument for any of them, but I know deep down which way I want to go… The very best chart topping single between July 1961 and April 1963 is… drum roll please… ‘Telstar.’

In case you’ve lost track, then:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability: 1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell. 2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers. 3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone. 4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley. 5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else: 1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers. 2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton. 3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI. 4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven. 5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra. 2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young. 3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway. 4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley. 5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray. 2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra. 3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis. 4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers. 5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.

Actually, looking at those winners, perhaps the word I was searching for to describe this phase of chart history was ‘Instrumental’. Of the past twenty-nine #1 hits, seven have been lyric-less. And really, this is the last hurrah of the instrumental hit because, looking forward, they are about to become a rare species indeed.

I mentioned in my last post that I have broken my own rules slightly here, by doing a recap one song early. But… there was method in my madness. Whatever we’ve been calling the past few years: the rock ‘n’ roll age, the post rock ‘n’ roll age, the 2nd wave of rock ‘n’ roll… One thing’s for sure. It’s over. And another thing that’s for sure is that when I do my next recap, I won’t be complaining about there being no definable ‘sound of’ the time. Because we are about to hit on one of the richest, most distinctive, most glorious eras in British music history…

 We are off to Liverpool.

(P.S. I’ve made Spotify playlist featuring all the #1s so far – I’ll update it every time I post. Follow it below…)