160. ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, by The Beatles

Oh yeah I’ll, Tell you somethin’, I think you’ll understand… Well, what you need to understand is that we end 1963 with the biggest band of the year. Three #1s spread out over a staggering eighteen weeks! The band that would go on to become the biggest band of the decade and then the biggest band of all time.

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I Want to Hold Your Hand, by The Beatles (their 3rd of seventeen #1s)

5 weeks, from 12th December 1963 – 16th January 1964

And what a cheesy wonder this song is. When I wrote about ‘She Loves You’, I mentioned that it was quite a sophisticated pop song, with a pseudo-3rd person narrative and melancholy chord progressions. Well, all that sophistication was dumped at the studio door when the lads turned up to record ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand.’

Oh please, Say to me, You’ll let me be your man, And please, Say to me, You’ll let me hold your hand… It’s so twee, so innocent. Can I be your boyfriend? I just really, really, really want to… hold your hand. I’ve listened to it several times now, scouring the lyrics for a hint of double-entendre, but no. And when I touch you… promising… I feel happy inside… Oh. It’s as chaste and vanilla a record as you’ll find.

This is not to suggest that I don’t like it. Who doesn’t like this record? It’s probably been proven, by a team of crack scientists, that it’s impossible for a fully-functioning human being to dislike this record. You’ve got that intro, for a start. Dun-dan-ding, Dun-dan-ding… And some quality drum fills from Ringo. And that twangy guitar – George Harrison’s, I’m guessing. And some clapping (Yes, clapping!) My personal highlight, though, is the Everly Brothers’ harmonising on the ‘Ha-a-a-a-a-nd’.

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Nope, we’re pretty close to pop-perfection here. It’s not quite in the same league as ‘She Loves You’, but it’s pretty, pretty, pre-tty good. The greatest threat to songs like ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ is ubiquity – the fact that most people have heard them three hundred times already. You have to remind yourself that The Beatles were re-inventing pop music as they went here, have to imagine yourself as a sixteen-year-old in the winter of 1963, hearing this for the first time…

I think this might become a theme whenever a Beatles disc crops up on this countdown but, hey: some statistics. The band replaced themselves at #1 with this disc (‘She Loves You’ having returned to #1 after seven weeks, remember) becoming only the second ever act to do this. (Plus, The Shadows replaced themselves with records on which they were the featured, not the lead, artists, so…) ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ is their biggest selling record worldwide, having sold 12 million copies.

It also holds an important place in pop-music folklore. Bob Dylan famously thought that they were singing I get high… when they were actually singing I can’t hide… and was shocked to find out that they had never smoked weed. And it was so good that it made Brian Wilson and Mike Love convene a special Beach Boys meeting to discuss the threat The Beatles posed to their position as America’s #1 band. (I love that – pop music meets military strategy.)

In the end, even Sgts Wilson and Love couldn’t hold back the British Invasion. ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ was their 1st US #1 a few weeks after it hit the top back home. It was part of the all-Beatles Billboard Top 5 in April ’64. Suddenly they were HUGE. Bigger even – some might have said – than Jesus himself…

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159. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers

Gerry and his gang make it three number ones in a year – three in ‘63. A feat that not many acts manage. But this is a disc light-years away from their first two chart-toppers.

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You’ll Never Walk Alone, by Gerry & The Pacemakers (their 3rd and final #1)

4 weeks, from 31st October – 28th November 1963

It starts very simply. When you walk… A voice, a piano, a sparse drumbeat, and a bass… Through a storm, Hold your head up high, And don’t be afraid, Of the dark… Yup, we are definitely a long way from ‘I Like It’.

It’s a motivational song – a ‘never-give-up’ number about holding onto your dreams, even in your darkest hour. And Gerry Marsden certainly sells it here, building in confidence as the song progresses with his slightly rough-round-the-edges scouse crooning, and an affecting tremble in his voice. Walk on, Through the rain, Though your dreams be tossed, And blown…

Then the violins kick in, and the band and George Martin pull out all the stops to make sure there isn’t a spine left untingled. Walk on… Walk on… With hope in your heart, And you’ll never walk alone…. It’s a classic, an anthem. There’s a quick drop following the first chorus and then BOOM – we’re back for a big ol’ finish.

What on earth, though, were Gerry and The Pacemakers doing recording a version of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in the first place? It’s such a weird trio of chart-toppers: ‘How Do You Do It?’ – perky Beat-pop, ‘I Like It’ – perky Beat-pop, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ – umm… It’s from a Rodger’s & Hammerstein musical, ‘Carousel’, first performed in 1945 as their follow-up to ‘Oklahoma!’ In the show, the song is sung by the lead-female character’s sister to comfort her following her death of her husband.

However, in the UK, and much of Europe, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ has become completely disassociated from the original musical, and even from Gerry & The Pacemakers. Ask your average youngster in the street today if they know the song and they’ll probably say ‘yes – it’s the Liverpool Football Club song.’ It’s a record – more so than any of the other chart-toppers that we’ve covered so far – that has, for better or worse, taken on a completely new role in the decades since its release. At every Liverpool home game, just as the players run out onto the pitch, you’ll hear that piano and Gerry Marsden’s husky tones. Then, just as it arrives at the big finish, the P.A system will cut out and the crowd will take it home.

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Legend has it that in the early sixties the P.A. would play the Top 10 ahead of each match at Anfield. For four weeks in November 1963, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was the last song played due to it being atop the charts. But even after it was knocked off the top and dropped out the charts, the crowd kept singing it. The Pacemakers were hometown lads, after all, and the lyrics and melody of the song do lend themselves to being sung en-masse at a football match. So it stuck. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is the Liverpool FC song now. It’s sung at every game. It’s carved above the gates at Anfield. Liverpool supporters sign off from message boards and forums with ‘YNWA’.

But… Football being a tribal game, this means that any supporter of a club that isn’t LFC has to, basically, hate this song. Especially those who grew up in the seventies and eighties, when the buggers were winning everything. I would never particularly choose to listen to this song, as I’m not a Liverpool fan. It’s left ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in a very weird position in British popular culture – a song that everybody knows; but one that only a select portion of the population will actively enjoy. And, amazingly, I’ve only just scratched the surface here. The song will top the charts again, and will become indelibly connected to two of the biggest tragedies in recent British history. All that for another day…

Away from football, ‘YNWA’ (those Liverpool fans might be on to something here) has been recorded by everyone who’s everyone: Elvis, through Roy Orbison, to Susan Boyle. It would literally take half an hour for me to type out all the artists who’ve done their take in the song. Gerry and The Pacemaker’s version remains, in the UK at least, the definitive one. But I’ve not answered my initial question from several paragraphs back… Why on earth did they take such a big step away from their Merseybeat roots, and so early in their careers? Could it have, perhaps, been their downfall? You can’t imagine The Beatles ever recording a showtune, can you? It was the band’s last #1, and they would only have three further Top 10s. By 1965 their chart-careers would be over. It’s a huge collapse (similar to the way Liverpool threw away the league title at Crystal Palace a few seasons ago… I couldn’t resist…)

Still, three #1s from their first three singles was an unprecedented achievement at the time, and one that wouldn’t be matched for over twenty years. They split up in 1966, with Gerry going into cabaret and children’s entertainment.

Before we finish, I have one big problem with this record (and it’s nothing to do with football). I’ve mentioned ‘The big finish’ a couple of times now; but the song doesn’t actually have one. The song build and builds, and builds, for two minutes and twenty seconds, and is crying out for a huge, epic, grandiose finish. But they bottle it. In the middle of the last ‘never’, Gerry pauses, the soaring violins fall away, and the song ends with a bit of an anti-climax. It’s a strange decision. I don’t know if it was Marsden’s, another band member’s, George Martin’s or maybe even Rodger’s or Hammerstein’s back in the forties. But for me it doesn’t work. It leaves me feeling a little flat. I’ll leave it to the crowd at Anfield to give this song the big finish that it deserves.

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…

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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…

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