Behind the #1s – Paul Weston

Taking a break from the usual proceedings, I’m going to use this week to take a look at the folks behind some of the 210 #1s we’ve heard so far. The writers, the producers and, in the case of our first post, the conductors…

In the early days of the charts, when big productions and even bigger voices were all the rage, any self-respecting chart-topper needed an orchestra to back up them up. On the 45s of the time, nearly every #1 is assigned to both a lead artist and an orchestra. ‘Here in My Heart’, by Al Martino, with Orchestra under the direction of Monty Kelly… ‘Outside of Heaven’, by Eddie Fisher with Hugo Winterhalter’s Orchestra and Chorus…

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Perhaps for reasons of convenience, the Official Singles Chart don’t list the orchestra, or it’s conductor, for any of the early chart-toppers. Which is strange, I suppose, as in modern times we have no problem with crediting ‘featured’ artists on a dance or rap track. Maybe it’s because we don’t actually hear their voices… Whatever the reason, several men have missed out on their moment in the record books. Winterhalter and Kelly, Frank Cordell, Stanley Black, Harold Mooney, Mitch Miller…

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I’ve chosen Paul Weston as the frontman for this piece, though, thanks largely to his work with Frankie Laine. Weston was a Massachusetts born musician, who had been a pianist in a dance band, before becoming a song-writer and music director at Capital, and then Colombia Records. He conducted and arranged all three of Laine’s 1953 hits: ‘I Believe’ (still the song with the most weeks at #1 in the UK, sixty-five years on), ‘Hey Joe!’ and ‘Answer Me’. He also conducted on Jo Stafford’s ‘You Belong to Me’, Britain’s 2nd  ever chart-topper. Stafford and Weston had married not long before recording the song.

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Paul Weston with his wife, Jo Stafford

If Paul Weston were actually credited with his work on #1 singles, he would sit at joint 10th place in the all-time weeks at the top of the UK singles chart list with 29 weeks’ worth of chart-toppers, tied with ABBA and Take That, and one week behind Drake. Later in the 1950s he went on to do TV work, helped to start up the Grammy Awards, and worked for Disney. He passed away in the mid-nineties.

One conductor who did get credited on his hit records was the Italian, Annunzio Paulo Mantovani who, like all the best pop stars, went by just the one name: Mantovani. He was popular enough to score a solo, instrumental number one single in 1953: The Song from ‘The Moulin Rouge’, which had been a big hit in the cinemas that year. This success, and his subsequent fame is, I’m guessing, why he is the only conductor to be credited by the Official Charts Company, for his orchestral accompaniment on David Whitfield’s overwrought ‘Cara Mia’ in 1954.

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Mantovani, doing his thing

Conductors and their orchestras became less essential once rock ‘n’ roll arrived, but they still occasionally popped up on the more bombastic number ones. The last one I can think of was Shirley Bassey’s ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ / ‘Reach for the Stars’ double-‘A’ side from 1961, which was credited, on the vinyl at least, to Geoff Love and His Orchestra.

To the conductors, then, and their batons, which shaped the sound of the singles chart’s earliest years.

Recap: #181 – #210

We last recapped in late 1964, and the past thirty #1s have brought us right through 1965 and out the other side. The very middle of the mid-sixties. And, to be honest, we’ve been spoiled.

For example. This was a genuine, consecutive run of chart-topping singles, from the summer of ’65: ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’, by The Byrds… followed by The Beatles, with ‘Help!’… then ‘I Got You Babe’… and finally ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones. No filler in between. Those singles, over the course of just nine weeks, were the top selling songs in Britain. Timeless hit after timeless hit. Songs that are still ubiquitous to this day, some fifty-five years later. Amazing.

This is why it’s good to pause, momentarily, and look back. Otherwise I’d start taking for granted the huge musical moments that are becoming almost commonplace. Dotted around elsewhere in the past year or so we’ve had non-consecutive gems too: our first Motown #1 from The Supremes, a karaoke classic from Tom Jones, the distilled essence of The Swinging Sixties TM from Nancy Sinatra and a contender for best pop song ever from The Righteous Brothers. It’s like the best all-you-can-eat buffets – you never have enough room to appreciate every morsel.

The sound of these number ones has also been moving forward at lightning speed. We’ve seen the Beat sound disintegrate into straight-up blues, folk, baroque pop, and garage rock. Glance back two years, to early 1964, and things were much more homogenous. Merseybeat followed by Merseybeat followed by – hey – more Merseybeat. And most of those discs were great. But variety is the spice of life. I’m really loathe to be one of those ‘things were much better back in the day’ types… but… compare pop music from 2019 with that of 2017 – or even 2007 – and would you see that much of a difference? Of course, everything here was new, just waiting to be discovered and experimented with. Dirges and harpsichords on hit singles? Why not!

Even the outliers, the singles that deviated from the irresistible forward thrust, had the good sense to be eclectic. Elvis returned and took us to church, Georgie Fame gave us some Latin soul, Roger Miller represented the country side of things while, in Unit 4 + 2, we had genuine one-hit wonders. We’ve also heard several more female voices than we have in past recaps: Sandie, Jackie, Nancy, Diana Ross and the gang, and a lady called Cher.

All of which means I’m struggling to dish out the more negative awards – the ‘Meh’ Award and my equivalent of a Razzie: The Very Worst Chart-Topper. But let’s not kid ourselves. I’ve not enjoyed every single song going. I struggled to get the appeal of The Seekers after hearing their bland chart-topping double. Meanwhile, Cliff returned as boring as ever… Plus there’s my unresolved childhood history with The Moody Blues, which means I want to award one to ‘Go Now!’, even though I love that one song. ‘Where Are You Now (My Love)’ was OK, though I’m struggling to really remember it, while The Overlanders’ cover of ‘Michelle’ didn’t really need to exist. And then there was Ken Dodd’s ‘Tears’ – the 3rd biggest selling single of the decade. Yes, you read that correctly. But that would be like kicking a puppy, naming that as the worst record…

I’ve got it. The ‘Meh’ Award goes to ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers. A funeral dirge, plain and simple, with some cheek for having the word ‘Carnival’ in the title. I still can’t believe it sold over a million. And the very worst of the past bunch goes to Country Cliff, for the soporific ‘The Minute You’re Gone’. Compared to some of the past ‘worst #1s’ it’s fairly inoffensive. Russ Conway, David Whitfield and Elvis in Lederhosen were much worse crimes against music. It’s just that, while everybody was twisting, Cliff was sticking, even going backwards.

Before we choose the ‘good’ awards, we should mention that over the past thirty #1s, one of the greatest ‘rivalries’ in pop music has really taken off. After the last recap, everybody was trailing in The Beatles’ wake. But… The Stones have arrived. Both bands have scored four chart-toppers in this segment. In a recent post I claimed that, for the moment, The Stones were ahead of The Fabs, just. Those of you who took the bait disagreed… But I’m sticking with it. Yes, ‘I Feel Fine’, ‘Ticket to Ride’, ‘Help!’ and ‘Day Tripper’ / ‘We Can Work It Out’ are superb records. No debate. Imperious. But look at The Stones’ four: ‘Little Red Rooster’ (authentic, full-on Blues), ‘The Last Time’ (the weakest, for sure, but still a great, swaggering rock song), ‘Satisfaction’ and then ‘Get Off Of My Cloud’ (those riffs, along with a tonne of angst and venom, and general dissatisfaction with the world around them – It’s punk, metal, emo… It’s the future!) On that note, I’m going to give the ‘WTAF’ Award, the award for our more ‘out there’ #1s, to ‘Little Red Rooster’, because that’s a slice of pure Chicago blues that had no business getting to the top of the British singles charts – though I’m so glad it did.

Which just leaves the crème de la crème. As always, I’ve got it down to four. ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’, ‘Help!’, ‘Satisfaction’, and our most recent #1: ‘These Boots Are Made for Walkin’’. And I’m going to instantly eliminate The Beatles and Nancy Sinatra for being great, but just not great enough. So… Perhaps the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make. The Righteous Brothers, or The Rolling Stones. I’m listening to both songs one more time as I mull…. God, why don’t I just call a tie…? No, that sets a dangerous precedent for me (in this completely unnecessary and self-imposed situation)… Ga! I love rock music, at heart. Rock ‘n’ roll always wins. As great as ‘…Lovin’ Feelin’’ is, it ain’t rock. ‘Satisfaction’ takes it.

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To recap the recaps, 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. 6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies. 7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.

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. 6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers. 7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.

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. 6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors. 7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.

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. 6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles. 7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.

Phew. We’ll pause for a bit, before hitting the next thirty. Thirty discs that’ll take us through the ‘Summer of Love’ and beyond. Next up, I’m going to spend a week looking at some of the people behind the #1s… Coming soon, to a blog feed near you…

210. ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin”, by Nancy Sinatra

One of the coolest intros ever – a twangy guitar that slides and droops like a wilting sunflower on a southern summer’s day – leads us into one of the coolest number one hits you’re ever likely to hear.

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These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, by Nancy Sinatra (her 1st of two #1s)

4 weeks, from 17th February – 17th March 1966

The sixties are truly swinging. There’s been attitude and swagger, even drug references (!) at the top of the charts. And now here’s Nancy, bringing the sass. The way she pauses between the lines, the way she delivers them like she can’t be bothered, as if the man she’s singing about is barely worth the oxygen.

You keep sayin’, You’ve got something’ for me… Her man’s been taking her for a ride; but Nancy ain’t no fool. You’ve been a-messin’, Where you shouldn’t’ve been messin’… He’s in for it. These boots are made for walkin’, And that’s just what they’ll do… One of these days these boots … cut the beat, leave it all to the vocals… are gonna walk all over you…

It’s a fairly minimalist record – sparse instrumentation and a lot of room for the echoey vocals to do their job. Which means there’s lots of time for all the gorgeous little details that make this such a great song to shine through. The whispered ‘yeah!’ between verses one and two, the sarcastic ‘Ha!’ after the You keep thinkin’, That you’ll never get burned… line. The way the horns come in halfway through, the same horns that will go wild for the fade-out (a very mid-sixties touch.) Then there’s the made up words – the ‘samin’ and the ‘truthin’. Nancy’s too cool to bother with proper English.

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‘These Boots…’ is a big development in terms of female-recorded #1s. In every photo-shoot from the time, Nancy Sinatra appears as a very sensual character: big, just-woken up hair, mascara-ed eyes, lots of cleavage. She’s sexy. A siren. In a way that Cilla (the girl next door) and Sandie Shaw (kooky and cute) weren’t. Helen Shapiro was still a kid, Doris Day was basically your aunt. The closest female star I can think of, from previous #1 hits, is Connie Francis, who was bringing the girl power on ‘Who’s Sorry Now’ seven years ago. But even she pales in comparison with Nancy Sinatra’s mini-skirts and thigh-high boots.

Surprisingly, this wasn’t her first attempt at a singing career. I had imagined that she simply appeared, fully-formed, as the superstar daughter of Frank Sinatra. But she had been releasing singles since 1961, to little interest on either side of the Atlantic. By 1965, she was about to get dropped by her label. It wasn’t until she paired up with Lee Hazelwood (the man with hands down the coolest voice ever committed to vinyl) that success came her way. He wrote ‘These Boots…’, and several other songs before she became his full-on muse and they recorded three albums together.

Though, I wonder … While being daughter of one of the most famous male singers of all time clearly didn’t bring her instant success, did it perhaps help mould her image? She had to distance herself from her fuddy-duddy dad, whose hit single career had stalled of late, hence the sexy looks; while her family name perhaps also gave her a safety net that meant she didn’t need to fit the ‘girl next door’ image adopted by most other female stars of the time. Was she in a constant state of teenage rebellion?

For a star who has become so synonymous with The Swingin’ Sixties TM, Nancy Sinatra wasn’t all that big a deal on the UK singles charts. But the impact left by this record alone is more noteworthy than the careers of many, more ‘successful’ stars. And she does still have one further chart-topper coming up – one of the sweetest (or should that read creepiest) #1 singles ever.

Remembering Eddie Fisher

I’m starting out a new feature today, remembering some of the biggest stars that we have met so far. The only requirements needed to feature here are that we have already covered your chart-topping careers on this countdown, and that you are dead…

On this day, then, nine years ago, Eddie Fisher – the King of pre-rock ‘n’ roll – passed away, aged 82. The first artist to score multiple #1 singles in the UK. An artist whose two chart-toppers came in the blink of an eye, in the first eight months of the singles chart’s existence. Numbers 4 and 10.

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First came the sombre ‘Outside of Heaven’, in which he stood outside the house of the girl he once loved. You can read my original post here. It’s sedate, proper… traditional.

Then came the equally sombre ‘I’m Walking Behind You’ – a duet with Sally Sweetland – in which he followed his ex to church on her wedding day. Again it’s sedate, proper, traditional… and pretty darn creepy when you listen carefully.

I struggled to really get his chart-topping singles when I originally wrote about them, and still do. He had a good voice, they were well-constructed songs… They were just so old-fashioned. Old-fashioned sounding even among their contemporaries, and incredibly old-fashioned when compared to where we are now in the countdown – slap bang in the middle of the swinging sixties (amazingly, given the way pop music has changed, we’re only actually thirteen years down the line in real time…)

What the songs do offer is an interesting glimpse into how music sounded before rock ‘n’ roll came along, and Fisher – along with Frankie Laine, Guy Mitchell, Johnnie Ray – was one of the biggest male stars of the late forties / early fifties. Only one of his singles failed to make the UK Top 10, while he enjoyed 25 (!) US Top 10s, including 4 #1s.

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He had quite the life outside of the recording studio, too. That is, yes, him with Elizabeth Taylor, his second wife (he was number four of eight for her). He left his first wife, Debbie Reynolds – Taylor’s best friend! – for her. It was quite the scandal, and proof that misbehaving pop stars weren’t a rock ‘n’ roll invention. He was married five times in total, and had four children over the course of them. The oldest of whom was the late, Star Wars great, Carrie Fisher.

So, if you can, take a moment out of your day, click on the links, and transport yourself back to 1953, when Eddie Fisher was crooning his way to the top of the charts and was, for a short time, the man with the most UK #1 singles in history.

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Eddie Fisher, August 10th 1928 – September 22nd 2010

209. ‘Michelle’, by The Overlanders

For those counting, we arrive at the 3rd Beatles cover to top the UK charts. Which means that in a little under three years, Lennon & McCartney have been responsible for twelve chart-toppers! Not bad, not bad at all. A couple of posts ago I mentioned them in comparison with Bacharach and David, who recently wrote The Walker Brothers #1 ‘Make It Easy on Yourself’. But, having done some digging, it turns out that they were still way behind John and Paul with just 6 chart-topping compositions to their name, in well over double the time.

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Michelle, by The Overlanders (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 27th January – 17th February 1966

Anyway, that’s all well and good; but this next chart-topper isn’t by The Beatles. Note the name at the start of this post: The Overlanders. You know, the British folk-rock-cum-pop combo? Nope? Well this was their one and only hit. And it’s a pretty faithful, note for note, cover of the original.

I’d like to write about this without comparing it to The Beatles’ version, but that would mean erasing a song that I’ve been listening to since I was a kid from my memory for the next half an hour. And I don’t have the technology to do that… Michelle, Ma belle, These are words that go together well, My Michelle… Alongside a jaunty, perky, French-salon tune. It’s slightly heavier, more deliberate version – the instruments and the vocals have a deeper finish and a gloss that the original doesn’t. The Beatles’ version is more subtle, lighter… (Oh fine, here’s a link. Compare them for yourself.)

Probably the most notable thing about this disc is that it has a full line of French in it, which is a first for a UK chart-topper. Michelle, Ma Belle, Son les mots qui vent très bien ensemble, Tres bien ensemble… Even if, like me, you have only the most basic of French abilities, you can work out that it’s just a direct translation of the preceding, English line. Still, aside from ‘Que Sera Sera’, which is actually gibberish, this is the first in a long line of ‘non-English’ #1s, or ‘not-completely-English #1s’, which will take us through ‘Je T’Aime…’ to ‘La Isla Bonita’, to, um, ‘Gangnam Style’…

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As a hit record, this is alright. It might as well have been done by a pub covers band for all the personality they bring to it, but it’s OK. It’s not as good as the original, you’d never choose to listen to this version over it, but the only bit I think that really lets The Overlanders down is the creaky I love you… before the solo.

What it kind of reminds me of is the electronic keyboard that I had as a kid, for the six months or so I attempted to learn, which had a bunch of famous songs pre-programmed into it. ‘Michelle’ wasn’t one of them; but if it had been I bet it would have sounded quite like this. Perhaps the problem is that, unlike the previous two Lennon & McCartney written chart-toppers, everyone thinks of ‘Michelle’ as a Beatles song. It’s a well- known track from one of their best-regarded albums, ‘Rubber Soul’, and features on several Greatest Hits compilations (which is where I first heard it all those years ago.) Whereas, Billy J. Kramer, and Peter and Gordon, could more easily pass ‘Bad to Me’ and ‘A World Without Love’ off as their own, with no ‘official’ version of those hits ever recorded by The Fab Four, The Overlanders wouldn’t be as lucky.

But then again, if you wanted a guaranteed hit in the mid-sixties, you couldn’t do any better than nabbing yourself a Beatles’ cast-off. They got their big smash; but very few people remember them for it. Like I wrote at the start, this was The Overlanders’ one and only hit record. It raises a philosophical question to finish on: What’s better, plugging away valiantly on your own with little recognition, or riding the coattails of the world’s biggest band for three weeks of reflected glory?

208. ‘Keep on Running’, by The Spencer Davis Group

We skip on into 1966, where the first number one is, perhaps unexpectedly, neither folkey nor baroquey. It’s a straight-up rocker!

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Keep on Running, by The Spencer Davis Group (their 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 20th – 27th January 1966

A dirty drum and bass riff kicks it off, and then we get a blast of some kind of feedback-slash-scuzzy chord couplet. It makes you sit up, makes you take notice. Keep on runnin’, Runnin’ from my arms… It’s not as heavy as The Stones have been recently, but it’s not as poppy as anything from the Merseybeat days. It’s like a perfect marriage of the two…

Actually, it’s got a real soul vibe to it too, as if Sam Cooke was now fronting a Beat combo. It’s cool – catchy and funky. I love the Hey! Hey! Hey!s, and the way that the intro riff returns for the now customary wig-out at the end. It’s clear that any self-respecting rock record in 1965-66 has to fade-out with the lead singer going a little bit crazy…

I know this song, but know very little about the band – The Spencer Davis Group (don’t ‘The Spencer-Davis’s’ sound like a posh couple that you avoid in Sainsbury’s?) I would have bet they were American, with their funky soul sound, but no. They were from Birmingham (and not the one in Alabama.) Interestingly, ‘Keep on Running’ isn’t a cover of a soul song, but a cover of a reggae hit from the year before. Check it out here… Unsurprisingly, it sounds completely different. I’ve never been a huge reggae fan – something that I’m sure will crop up in this countdown as the genre grows in popularity – so I’ll take The Spencer-Davis’s version, thankyouverymuch.

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It’s a great record. Though I feel, before we go much further, that the lyrics need some scrutinising. They’re a bit… overbearing? That’s putting it politely. The title refers to a woman who, try as she might, will not be able to escape the singer’s attentions. One fine day I’m gonna be the one, To make you understand, Oh yeah, I’m gonna be your man… It gets worse when you realise that he’s motivated not by love, but because his mates are laughing at him: Everyone is talkin’ about me, Makes me feel so bad, Everyone is laughin’ at me, Makes me feel so sad…

Hmmm. The more you think about them, the worse they get. But hey, this was the sixties. Different times, different levels of tolerance for possessive wierdos… File under ‘Catchy but Creepy’, with ‘What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?’ and ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’.

The Spencer-Davis’s will be back, and very shortly, for the second part of their chart-topping brace. They had had a few low charting singles in the previous couple of years, but ‘Keep on Running’ propelled them to another level entirely. It’s not quite a classic, a standard, but it has a hook that most people could sing. And, despite what I said about the lyrics, I do really like it. It’s fun, and a little rough around the edges. Like all the best rock songs should be… A great way to kick off a new year.

207. ‘Day Tripper’ / ‘We Can Work It Out’, by The Beatles

The Fab Four claim their third straight Christmas number one (before Christmas number ones were a thing, but still), and they do so with their most straight-up rock record yet.

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Day Tripper / We Can Work It Out, by The Beatles (their 9th of seventeen #1s)

5 weeks, from 16th December 1965 – 20th January 1966

There’s a riff – a riff we all know – dun-duh-duh-duh-duh-dun-dada-da-dada – (riffs never really work when written out…) which keeps on going till the end. It’s a riff record – maybe, just maybe, they’d been listening to The Stones –a great, straight-up rock song.

I like the way the intro builds: guitar, then bass, then drums, and the way that the solo is basically the riff, beefed-up. It’s a simple song – there’s no reinventing the wheel here. I guess it’s experimental, in the sense that they’re experimenting with a heavier sound, but that’s stretching it a bit. It’s a John Lennon number, and one of the things I like most about him is that he never lost his rock ‘n’ roll roots, never stopped being a fan of Chuck and Buddy, no matter how avant-garde he and his bandmates seemed to get.

Of course, like any great rock song, there’s a fair amount of raunch here too. She’s a big teaser, She took me half the way there now… Not much imagination needed. Especially after Lennon admitted that he would have made it ‘prick teaser’, had he been allowed. Tried to please her, She only played one night stands… So on and so forth. Another layer of innuendo comes when you consider the ‘trip’ aspect of the lyrics. A ‘day tripper’ would be someone who only drops acids on special occasions. A weekend hippy, a ‘Sunday driver’.

Whether it’s about drugs or sex, or both, doesn’t really matter, though. This is a cracking rock number – one that I’ve enjoyed reacquainting myself with for this post. It’s one of those Beatles songs that kind of gets lost among the mega-hits. But, actually, listen to the soooooo long growl, and the way that the solo ascends to a climax with a hint of ‘Twist and Shout’, and try telling me that this isn’t one of their best. And, come to think of it, I can think of two other songs off the top of my head in which the ‘Day Tripper’ riff makes an appearance: ‘Hair of the Dog’, which gleefully rips it off to the extent that when Guns N’ Roses covered it they gave up the pretence and by the end were just playing the Beatles’ riff, and The Wildhearts’ ‘My Baby Is a Headfuck’. So maybe I’m underestimating it…

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What of the flip-side? We’ve not had a double-‘A’ side #1 for a while (nearly three years to be precise) and ‘We Can Work It Out’ is the perfect companion for ‘Day Tripper’, in that it sounds pretty much the opposite. I’ve always thought that double-‘A’s should contrast, one should be the yin to the other’s yang, and so gone is the electric guitar and the bravado, replaced by acoustics and recriminating.

It’s a folk-rock waltz of a record, in which Paul McCartney muses on a failing relationship: Try to see it my way, Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?… Think of what you’re saying, You can get it wrong and still you think that it’s all right… He remains positive – the title is ‘We Can Work It Out’ after all – but if you listen closely to the lyrics it becomes clear that any compromise will be on his terms: While you see it your way, There’s a chance that we might fall apart before too long… Very passive-aggressive… Actually, the more I listen, the more I realise how the singer of this song is being a bit of a dick. Life is very short, And there’s no time, For fussing and fighting my friend… (So hurry up and just admit I’m right!)

The accordion-slash-harpsichord sounding instrument which characterises this disc – the one that creates the woozy, trippy feel at the end of the bridge, and that closes the song with a little riff – is a harmonium, apparently. This is where pop music has been heading throughout 1965, with the baroque-folk stylings of The Byrds, Sonny and Cher and The Walker Brothers, and it’s nice to close out the year in this way. A sign of where The Beatles were heading. ‘Rubber Soul’ was released while this disc sat at #1, and ‘Revolver’ would be coming up very shortly after.

This was The Beatles first double-‘A’ side as they couldn’t agree on which record was the more commercial sounding. Lennon was the one who forced ‘Day Tripper’ to get equal-billing, but in terms of airplay at the time ‘We Can Work It Out’ was the winner. In the US they were released separately, with ‘We Can Work It Out’ hitting the top of the Billboard 100 and ‘Day Tripper’ only making #5. But for me rock always wins. ‘Day Tripper’ all the way…

And so we cross the midway point of The Beatles’ chart-topping run. Nine down, seven to go. To celebrate, I thought I’d do a quick rank of the hits that have gone so far. Based solely on personal preference not artistic merit. Let me know if you agree or are scandalised by my ignorance. In ascending order (worst – best), then:

We Can Work It Out > Can’t Buy Me Love > From Me To You > I Feel Fine > A Hard Day’s Night > Ticket to Ride > I Want to Hold Your Hand > Day Tripper > Help! > She Loves You

Actually, that was really hard and kind of pointless. I don’t dislike any of those songs. A ‘bad’ Beatles disc is another act’s signature song. But it’ll be interesting to add the next seven to the list, and to see where they fit in. Anyway, look! Suddenly it’s 1966. Onwards!

Listen to every number one so far – by The Fab Four or otherwise – with this playlist:

206. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers

Another dose of easy-listening, faux-folk from Australia’s biggest band? (That wasn’t a question – you’re getting it whether you like it or not.)

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The Carnival Is Over, by The Seekers (their 2nd and final #1)

3 weeks, from 25th November – 16th December 1965

I just about managed to see the positive side of The Seekers’ first number one, ‘I’ll Never Find Another You’, for all it’s tweeness. But I think I’ll have to draw the line here… The term ‘dirge’ has cropped up once or twice in recent entries – The Beatles experimented with it in the background on ‘Ticket to Ride’, while ‘I Got You Babe’, for all its cuteness, was propped up with a pretty flat bass rhythm. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, though, is A Dirge, plain and simple.

The beat plods, the backing vocals are lifeless. You can almost picture the coffin being lowered into the ground. You start wishing they’d just get on with it… Say goodbye, My own true lover, As we sing, A lover’s song, How it breaks it my heart to leave you, Now the carnival is gone… Judith Durham, the lead singer, is once again on fine Sunday school teacher round the campfire form. Don’t get me wrong, she sings it very well; but it’s painfully proper.

It’s a song about two lovers, Pierrot and Columbine. Has Columbine fallen in love with a traveller? A handsome stranger who set up camp for a week or two? It’d have to have been a sailing carnival, thanks to the line about ‘harbour lights’… So maybe not. Or is ‘the carnival’ a metaphor for love, a love that’s no longer? Though the carnival is over, I will love you ‘till I die…

This record follows the same formula as The Seekers’ first #1, in that it was written and produced by Tom (brother of Dusty) Springfield. The melody was borrowed from an old Russian folk song, and once you learn that you think ‘Yes!’, this tune would make complete sense when bellowed out by a sturdy serf, gathering hay on the steppe. Not so much as a hit single in 1965. Yes, yes, yes it’s part of the folk-rock movement that’s become huge this year, but it’s a spectacularly lifeless song. You just want to shake them by the shoulders and tell them to liven it up a bit.

Apparently Springfield was inspired to write the lyrics after seeing the Rio carnival. Which seems hard to believe, as this record doesn’t exactly scream samba and piña coladas on the beach. In the bridge, there is an attempt at livening things up, with a nifty Spanish guitar riff. But that’s it. Plus the bridge also has a line about kisses ‘sweet as wine’, which is a metaphor I’ve never understood, what with most wines not being sweet at all. It should be ‘sweet as sherry’ is all I’m saying.

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And so we plod to a close. That’s that for The Seekers at the top of the UK charts. They would have three further Top 10 singles before splitting in 1968. They’ve reformed twice since then, and still perform to this day, minus Durham who retired in 2013. They were huge in their homeland, and were even voted ‘Australians of the Year’. I can see why, too, what with US and UK acts dominating since the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll, it’s always nice to feel a local connection to a successful artist.

One more thing to say about ‘The Carnival Is Over’ – it was a spectacularly high-selling record. Late 1965 seems to have been a high point for record sales as, after Ken Dodd’s ‘Tears’ had become the 3rd best-selling single of the decade, this disc also did well over a million. At last count it was sitting at No. 30 in the best-sellers of all time list. Not bad for a dirge. I’m clearly in the minority…

205. ‘Get Off Of My Cloud’, by The Rolling Stones

Barging Ken Dodd out of the way, snapping one of his tickling sticks and giving him the finger… It’s The Rolling Stones!

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Get Off Of My Cloud, by The Rolling Stones (their 5th of eight #1s)

3 weeks, from 4th – 25th November 1965

They’re still angry, still dissatisfied with modern life, with complaining neighbours and, once again, detergent. What did Mick and Keith have against detergent…? Like ‘Satisfaction’, which was at #1 just six weeks before this, ‘Get Off of My Cloud’ tells an anti-hero’s story in three verses, against a frantic drumbeat and another scuzzily insistent riff.

It’s clearly another response to their new-found fame, their new-found position as The Beatles’ one true rivals to the throne. But all they want to do is be left alone. In each verse, Mick tries to escape the world around him: I sit at home looking out the window, Imagining the world has stopped… and I was sick and tired of this, Decided to take a drive downtown… It’s a response to, and another symptom of, their fame. This was a #1 in both the UK and the US, as well as Canada and Germany, and no other band could have taken a record as raw and aggressive as this to the top of the charts around the world.

It’s also a very hard song to sing. There are several points where I have no idea what is being sung, Charlie Watt’s drums and the guitars being so prominent in the mix, with Jagger’s vocals submerged under them. My favourite bit is when he almost starts rapping the phone-call from his neighbour, asking him and his friends to shut up because it’s 3 a.m. The telephone is ringing I say ‘Hi, it’s me, who’s there on the line? A voice says ‘Hi, hello, how are you?’ Well I guess I’m doin’ fine…

In the end, though, he finds some solace. He takes a drive downtown, where it’s nice and peaceful, and falls asleep. Whether or not he’s under the influence of something isn’t established… He wakes up to parking tickets, but I don’t think he cares – he’s Mick Jagger and he’s rich as piss. How the tickets look like flags, I don’t know. And I have no idea who the guy dressed up like a Union Jack is meant to be.

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It’s a weird song. A scrappy, messy, glorious song. Apparently Keith Richards doesn’t look back on it too fondly, what with it being rushed out in order to capitalise on ‘Satisfaction’s success. And yes, the sound is a bit off, and the mix a bit bass heavy, and the lyrics pretty much cover the same ground as ‘Satisfaction’, but that’s part of this record’s charm. It really does sound like it was recorded in a garage, in one take, and while the sound is far removed from their bluesy roots, this is in keeping with The Stones as a rough and ready rock ‘n’ roll band.

But if that doesn’t convince you, at least you can’t deny the hook. Hey! – hey – You! – you – Get off of my cloud! Who hasn’t wanted to yell that at someone who’s been bringing them down, when you just want a bit of peace and quiet. Don’t hang around cos two’s a crowd…

Looking back at The Stones three #1s from this year, we have three masterpieces of attitude and anger. Gone are the blues covers, in comes ‘The Last Time’ with its disparaging swagger, ‘Satisfaction’ with that riff and it’s dissatisfaction with fame and modern living, and now this… more dissatisfaction with fame, modern living and the whole bloody world. And, taking these three discs and standing them side by side next to The Beatles three 1965 chart-toppers – ‘Ticket to Ride’, ‘Help!’ and ‘Day Tripper’, which is coming up in a couple of posts time… I’m going to go out on a limb and say The Stones’ output – solely talking about the chart-toppers, here – was, for the moment, trumping the Fab Four’s.

Not that it would last… But that’s a story for another day.

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204. ‘Tears’, by Ken Dodd

The best thing about a pop chart, about a list of the best-selling songs in any given week, is that anything can, technically, get to the top. Get enough people to buy it, download it, stream it, whatever, and you get yourself a #1 single.

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Tears, by Ken Dodd (his 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 30th September – 4th November 1965

Which means, try as you might to apply some kind of sense to the ebb and flow of number ones, to christen new eras and to identify the overall ‘sound’ of a time, you’ll always get anomalies. Which means… In amongst The Beatles and The Stones, The Byrds and the Baroque, we have comedian Ken Dodd, covering a sentimental ballad, first written in 1929.

Tears for souvenirs, Are all you left me… Mem’ries of a love, You never meant… The rhythm floats by like a placid river, the guitar trills, the strings swirl… Tears have been my only, Consolation… But tears can’t mend a broken heart, I must confess… He sings it perfectly well, but not spectacularly. I’m picturing a busker on the banks of the Seine, accompanied by an accordion (this would totally work in French, and was actually based on an old French aria from the 1870s.)

Is it a parody? A novelty? I don’t know. What it definitely is is a throwback. This is pure music hall. It’s not cool and it doesn’t care. A record for your gran. It’s almost not worth writing any more about ‘Tears.’ It is what it is. Move on.

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But. But, but, but… That really wouldn’t be fair. Because this isn’t a flash in the pan, one-week wonder. It’s a disc that lodged itself in at the top for five whole weeks – a length of time reserved solely these days for The Beatles. It was the biggest selling record of 1965. Let that sink in… In the year of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’, ‘Help!’, ‘Satisfaction’, and ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’; Ken Dodd’s ‘Tears’ outsold them all. It was the 3rd best-selling single of the entire decade, the only non-Beatles single in the Top 5. As of 2017, it still sat in 39th place on the list of best-selling singles ever. The middle of the road is always the best place from which to sell a record.

And then there’s the man behind the song. The voice that guides us through this tale of heartbreak and regret. Sir Ken Dodd, of the tickling sticks and the Diddy Men. Of Saturday night telly, Christmas pantos and the Blackpool lights. Of a type of humour and a style of show that was uniquely British. I know some of my readers are not British and… I don’t know if I can even begin to explain him. Look him up. I’m a bit young to have really been ‘into’ him, but my mum liked him. I think that this was the first record she ever bought… He died last year, aged ninety, having performed his final stand-up show just a few months earlier.

Not that this was his only musical success. He was a genuine chart presence throughout the sixties, with several other Top Tens. And I have to admit that, as I listen to ‘Tears’ now for the seventh or eighth time, with a glass (or two) of wine as I write, that this is a pretty nice song. A song that actually fits in quite well with the strings, and the lush production, found in the more ‘respectable’ pop songs of the time. (Plus – whisper it – I think I might be enjoying it more than the previous, overwrought #1, ‘Make It Easy on Yourself’…)

Anyway, before I get too carried away, and claim ‘Tears’ to be the most underrated pop song of the decade, or something, I’ll finish. And glancing forward… Ah yes, normal service is about to be resumed, with a vengeance.