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.
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.
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!