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.
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.
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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