Random Runners-up: ‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’, by Gene Pitney

I’m running a new feature this week – a moment in the sun for the singles that didn’t quite make it to the top. These aren’t particularly long-running, or unlucky #2 singles. They may not even be particularly good… They all simply peaked in the runners-up position.

Today’s random runner-up…

‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’, by Gene Pitney

#2 for 2 weeks, behind ‘Little Red Rooster‘ and ‘I Feel Fine‘, from 3rd-17th Dec. 1964

It reminds me of ‘I Believe‘, with its strong, deliberate chords in the intro. It also reminds me of Roy Orbison’s boleros – his mini-operas – ‘Running Scared’ and ‘It’s Over‘ that grow and grow to outrageously dramatic conclusions.

I’m gonna be strong, And stand as tall as I can, Yes I’m gonna be strong, And let you run along… Gene’s gonna put a brave face on a break-up, gonna look his girl in the eye, smile, and walk away. But, as he finally admits in the final line, as the crescendo crashes: After you kiss me goodbye… How I’ll break down and cry….!

He gives it everything, does Mr. Pitney. It is a song for blowing away the cobwebs, for getting you out of bed on a winter’s morning. It sounds a little old-fashioned, especially considering the songs that kept it off the top, but when someone performs a song like this, with gusto and volume, you’ve got to tip your hat.

Our first two runners-up, The Spencer Davis Group and Connie Francis, had already had #1s. Gene Pitney hasn’t, and he’ll have to wait a good long while for his one and only chart-topper. He scored ten Top 10s between 1963 & ’68, bookended by what are probably his most famous songs (i.e. the ones I know): ‘Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa’ and ‘Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart’.

Remembering Cilla Black

Growing up, the two things that I knew about Cilla Black was that she presented ‘Blind Date’ on a Saturday night (a program I wasn’t allowed to watch as a child, due to my mother’s long-held distrust of ITV) and that her real name was Cilla White.

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As I got older, and all teenage, it would have been harder to think of anyone less cool than Cilla Black. She hung out with Cliff Richard, campaigned for the Tories, and had her hair set in a perfect early-nineties bouffant. Years ago I stumbled across a forum in which BA cabin crew posted horror stories about serving Ms. Black (always ‘Ms. Black’), how she would only sit in seat 1A, only drank a particular champagne, and would make her demands known only through her PA… (although, are you even a real celebrity if cabin crew don’t have a few bad things to say about you…?)

The one thing I didn’t know Cilla Black for, really, was the thing that started her off on her career of matchmaking and terrorising cabin crew: her singing.

While her hit-making career didn’t last too long, the two chart-toppers she had in 1964 are both excellent ballads interpreted very well, by a very young woman. The first – ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ – a Bacharach & David number that stands as the highest-selling single of the 1960s by a British woman.

I love the way, in that performance, how she starts off simply, quite unspectacularly, before dropping an octave and letting loose. Then a few months later came ‘You’re My World’, an Italian melody with English lyrics. Both these hits stood out, when I wrote about them for this blog, because they stood out so much from Cilla’s contemporaries, the Merseybeat bands, and in particular her Cavern Club mates, The Beatles (who are in the audience for the performance below).

She would continue to have hits as the sixties went on, though no further number ones. I can’t claim to be the biggest expert on the later musical career of Cilla Black (and I will happily take recommendations from those who know better), but if I can choose one more video to embed, it would be her final UK Top 10, a #3 from 1971: ‘Something Tells Me (Something’s Gonna Happen Tonight)’.

Following this the hits dried up, although she kept on recording music even after reinventing herself as the 1980s/1990s go to woman for Saturday night ‘trash’ TV. (My mother’s words, not mine…) On this, the fifth anniversary of her death then, it is worth remembering that Cilla Black was, first and foremost, a lady who could hold a tune, and whose musical achievements have been slightly overshadowed by what came next.

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Cilla Black, 27th May 1943 – 1st August 2015

183. ‘I Feel Fine’, by The Beatles

And so we hit the mid-point of the swinging sixties. Slap bang in the middle, and The Beatles are knocking The Stones off the #1 spot. How very 1960s. Peak sixties!

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I Feel Fine, by The Beatles (their 6th of seventeen #1s)

5 weeks, from 3rd December 1964 – 14th January 1965

But this is a new version of the Beatles. I mentioned when covering their last chart-topper, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, that that was the sound of the MerseyBeatles being killed off – their last pure pop hit. And, as if to make sure of that, their sixth UK number one enters to the sound of feedback. A deliberately jarring intro, one that’s been done to death by now but at the time must have sounded strange indeed.

Their voices, too, have changed. They’re deeper, huskier… manlier? The mop-top boys have grown up. Baby says she’s mine you know, She tells me all the time you know, She said so… There’s an arrogance to it. The girl doesn’t have a name – she’s just ‘baby’. Tomorrow there’ll be a new one. That’s what happens when you’re in the world’s most popular band. She’s in love with me and I feel fine…

The guitar is rocking – apparently the riff came first when Lennon and McCartney were writing it – and drives the song along. The bridge, though, is still pure bubble-gum. Old habits die hard, I guess. I’m so glad, That’s she’s my little girl, She’s so glad, She’s tellin’ all the world… The relationship doesn’t seem to be built on the strongest of foundations, though – it’s more about buying diamond rings to keep his little girl happy.

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This disc is a world away – both lyrically and sonically – from The Beatles earlier chart-toppers. Think the innocent ‘From Me to You’ and the earnest ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’. It’s a cool record, the first Beatles record that your older brother would have admitted to liking.

There’s been a lot of discussion, for years, over when and where the band first started taking drugs. As far as I know Bob Dylan thought they must have been smoking as early as 1963, as he misheard the ‘I can’t hide’ lyric in ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ as ‘I get high…’ And they definitely were by October 1965, as Paul McCartney admitted to smoking a joint in the toilets of Buckingham Palace when they collected their MBEs.

If I had to guess, I’d narrow it down to the few months between ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and this release. There’s a glazed, detached air to their voices here… They sound pretty stoned. Plus the name of the song just sounds like something you’d say when you’re high… ‘Dude, I feel fine…’ Then there are the mmmmhhs as the song fades out. The Beatles MK II are here.

It’s the perfect way to end 1964 – by far the best year yet in terms of the quality of its #1s. It has felt like walking through Madame Tussaud’s at times – look there’s Diana Ross, and Roy Orbison, and over there, The Kinks and Cilla Black! So to end it with The Stones and then The Fab Four –the decade’s two biggest bands – is perfect. 1965 looks like being a much more eclectic year, though the overall standard of chart-topper might drop off slightly… Onwards!

182. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones

Pack your welly boots, your straw hat and some industrial strength bug spray – we’re off to the country. To a farm somewhere in the Miss’ippi Delta. With The Rolling Stones.

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Little Red Rooster, by The Rolling Stones (their 2nd of eight #1s)

1 week, from 3rd – 10th December 1964

It feels like the Stones’ arrival, earlier this year, passed us by. ‘It’s All Over Now’ sneaked a week at the top in the summer, but surrounded as it was by some colossal pop tunes from some legendary acts I had basically forgotten about it. The first Stones #1 should have been a bigger thing, I feel. So, they’re back. And this time they’re making sure we notice them.

Their tactic? To return with a song so unlike any of the one hundred and eighty-one previous chart-toppers that you instantly sit up and start listening. A slow, woozy blues riff comes along, reeling you in, lulling you into a vision of sipping ice-tea on a farmhouse veranda, before Mick Jagger’s languorous vocals… I am the little red rooster, Too lazy to crow for days… I am the little red rooster, Too lazy to crow for days… It’s an atmospheric song – the dusty, heat-hazed farmyard unfolds before your very eyes. Dogs begin to bark, And hounds begin to howl… All the while the hypnotic, twelve-bar blues riff continues to drag you along. Watch out strange cat people, Little red rooster’s on the prowl…

1964 has been a year, by and large, of peerless pop. But this is no pop song, not by any stretch of the imagination. There are no verses, or chorus, or bubble-gum bridge here. This is low-down and dirty blues. It’s like the band pressed record on a jamming session, a warm-up before recording the actual single, and decided to release it instead. I’m listening to it on repeat as I write this, and it’s very easy to miss when the song starts over. It could be three minutes long; or thirty minutes.

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While the lyrics might sound like the Mick Jagger manifesto – I am the little red rooster… Keep everything in the farmyard upset in every way… – one that he’s been following for the best part of sixty years, the real star here is Brain Jones and his slide guitar. The main rhythm is acoustic, but Jones’s electric guitar flirts, and slinks, and playfully cavorts around every line. One minute it’s making the sound of dogs barking, then horses rearing, then it’s the little red rooster itself. Jones was blues through and through, and felt some discomfort at the band ‘selling out’ and becoming a pop group. As the sixties progressed and the Stones moved further and further away from their bluesy roots, he became a marginalised figure on the edge of the band, until his tragic death. Looking back, it’s easy to forget that he was as much a part of the original Stones as Jagger and Richards. This record is perhaps his finest hour, and a kind of vindication. He had managed to get a full-on blues song to #1 in the British charts – the only time that has ever happened.

‘Little Red Rooster’ had originally been recorded by Howlin’ Wolf, one of the Stones’ biggest early influences, in 1961. But it’s a folk song at heart, handed down through the mists of time, probably from well back in the 1800s. His version is very raw, while another version by Sam Cooke is much more polished, with a snazzy organ doing the work of Brian Jones’s slide guitar. In those earlier versions the singer has a little red rooster, rather than being the little red rooster – which brings to mind some saucy connotations. I’m surprised Mick and the lads changed it…

Understandably, the band’s management was against releasing this as a single. It doesn’t exactly scream ‘#1 smash hit’. But it was. And I feel that this, along with all their earliest singles, have been somewhat erased from The Rolling Stones canon. For years I thought – according to the greatest hits CDs I had – that their career began with ‘Time Is On My Side’. But now I know. And while I would never name ‘Little Red Rooster’ as one of my favourite Stones songs, I am truly glad that they took this slice of Delta blues to the top of the charts for a cold and drizzly December’s week.

181. ‘Baby Love’, by The Supremes

For the intro to this next post, I was going to go all overboard on how this was the first time in ages that two female acts had replaced one another at the top of the UK charts. Sandie Shaw making way for The Supremes’ girl-group stylings. The first time that this had happened since September 1956!!!! Except… For a week in between, ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’, by most-definitely-a-man Roy Orbison, sneaked back to the top of the charts. Ah.

So I need a new intro… How about: And so, with this next number one, Motown arrives at the top of the singles chart! And what a record with which to arrive. A piano intro that slides down the scales – in stereo it sounds as if it’s travelling right to left through your brain – and then the voice of one of the most renowned female singers in pop history:

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Baby Love, by The Supremes (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 19th November – 3rd December 1964

Oooh-hooo-oo… Baby love, My baby love, I need ya, Oh how I need ya…. A girl loves a boy, but he doesn’t seem to be returning the sentiment. All he does is treat her bad, breaks her heart and leaves her sad… Baby love, My baby love, Been missin’ ya, Miss kissin’ ya…

It’s a gorgeous song, the production all warm and glossy, the drums keep swinging time, a mournful sax comes in mid-way through… And Diana Ross’s honeyed voice. A voice that sounds effortlessly perfect. It’s a world away from some of the other female voices we’ve heard so far – she doesn’t belt like Shirley Bassey or sparkle like Helen Shapiro – but it has a special quality to it. In the closing lines – Need to hold you, Once again my love, Feel your warm embrace my love… you can really feel her pleading.

The lyrics, as a whole, though, are pretty meh. Standard ‘Oh baby come back to me I’ll do what you want and give you all my love’ kind of stuff. The default setting for sixties girl-groups. And I don’t want to go all ‘woke’ here but, I’d like a little more sass and swagger from my girl groups. Look back a few years, and Rosemary Clooney and Connie Francis were serving up plenty of attitude in ‘Mambo Italiano’, say, or ‘Who’s Sorry Now’. ‘Baby Love’ comes across as soppy next to those discs.

The other two Supremes – Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson – have equal billing here but aren’t much more than backing singers. 70% of the time they’re chanting Don’t throw our love away… Which they do beautifully, but you can see why the group soon became Diana Ross & The Supremes. Ms. Ross was definitely front and centre from the start. In the UK this would be their only #1 (though we will be hearing from Ms. Ross again), while in the US they enjoyed a staggering twelve (12!) chart-toppers between 1964 and 1969. Of course, classics like ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’, ‘Stop! In the Name of Love’ and ‘The Happening’ were big British hits; but another chart-topper always eluded them.

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A few weeks ago, I did a series of posts on songs that should have topped the charts, in which I included Best Pop Song Ever ™ ‘Be My Baby’, by The Ronettes. ‘Baby Love’ isn’t in the same league as that, but in hitting the top spot I feel it kind of represents for all the sixties girl groups (all of them American) that missed out. For The Ronettes, The Crystals, The Shangri-Las, The Marvelettes, The Vandellas… Plus, this is also basically ground-zero for all the girl groups that are yet to come. When I was a teen they were ten-a-penny – The Spice Girls, Eternal, En Vogue, All Saints, B*Witched… They can all be traced back through these three girls and this sweetly sung chart-topper.

A final thought: ‘Baby Love’ really stands out when you hear it in context. On a ‘Motown’s Greatest Hits Compilation’ it might have passed you by; but hearing it now, after months, years even, of boys with guitars and their beat-pop ditties, this record hits you like a crisp, clean breath of Detroit air. Inhale it, and enjoy.

180. ‘(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me’, by Sandie Shaw

This next chart-topper is a record that you can date pretty much instantly. Pretend, for a second, that you haven’t been following this countdown, and that you don’t know we are currently in October 1964. Just drop the needle, and listen. You know, straight away – it’s just got that mid-sixties vibe…

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(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me, by Sandie Shaw (her 1st of three #1s)

3 weeks, from 22nd October – 12th November 1964

There are soft, warm horns, and a little cha-cha-cha, bossanova beat. The ting of a typewriter reaching the end of a line. And a warm, playful voice… I walk along the city streets you used to walk along with me… Cute and glamorous – it kind of sounds like a French person singing in English (not that Sandie Shaw is French in any way – she’s Dagenham born and bred.)

It’s a song about a lost love, about how small things – streets and cafes – can remind you of the ones that got away. Oh how can I, Forget you, When there is always something there to remind me…? But, at the same time, it’s not a sad song. I’m not really sure what ‘kind’ of song it is…

It straddles lots of borders: it’s a bit of a ballad, a bit of a torch song, a bit of a standard pop song with a rock song looking to burst through. Listen to all the instruments involved: the horns, the orchestral strings, the twangy, Shadows-esque guitars. Plus the way Shaw sings – soft and lovelorn in the verses; shouty for the chorus. And then there’s the woah-waoh-waaaaa! and the cascading piano that bookmark either end of the violin solo.

There’s a lot going on here, but I like it. ‘(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me’ is another song I knew – I could have sung the chorus – but had never listened to in any detail. It’s another Bacharach & David number (they’re starting to rack up) and I love the completely pointless brackets in the title. I like it because it doesn’t know, and probably doesn’t care, what kind of song it is. Everything’s been chucked in and given a good mix, and the end result is a classy little #1 hit.

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The only bit that jars is the I was born to love you, And I will never be free… line, because this might have been the swinging sixties, but girls were still expected to pine after their want-away men. Still, Shaw just about sells it with vocals that are both spunky and a little vulnerable.

Sandie Shaw herself is, to me anyway, super-sixties. Just the name, without knowing anything about her, and its playful alliteration dates it to within a couple of years (her real name was Sandra.) And pictures of her taken in late ’64, when this was sitting atop the charts, show a foxy, mascaraed, chunky-fringed girl (she was but seventeen) in knee-high floral dresses. You can easily picture her racing around swinging London town on the back of a scooter, bouncing from glamorous party to glamorous party, from Carnaby Street to King’s Cross.

But… perhaps this tune is actually a victim its era. It’s a good record – a sad song with an upbeat vibe – and yet it pales a little in comparison to some of the era-defining records that have topped the charts recently. A nice song lost among the greats? Our next post is a recap, and so we’ll be able to wade back through all the recent #1s, and really sort the downright brilliant hits from the simply very good. Until then…

Follow along with this Spotify playlist:

179. ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ by Roy Orbison

In comes an intro that isn’t messing around… Sturdy, confident drums… Then Dun-dun-dun-dun-dun… An intro that builds – a layer added with every repetition – until it morphs into a chain-link of a riff.

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Oh, Pretty Woman, by Roy Orbison (his 3rd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 8th – 22nd October / 1 week, from 12th – 19th November 1964 (3 weeks total)

And then in comes that voice. The Big O. Reigning it in a little compared to his last, full on operetta of a #1 single, ‘It’s Over’Pretty woman, Walkin’ down the street, Pretty woman, The kind I’d like to meet…  Now, let’s pause for just a second. That ‘I’d’ right there, twenty seconds in, makes or breaks this song. ‘I’d like to meet…’ suggests that he’s been a little unlucky in love. Make it ‘I like to meet…’ as some sources do claim, and the singer suddenly becomes a player, a predator, and the song a little icky. I’m going to trust that it’s an ‘I’d’…

Anyway. Roy’s just hanging out, chilling, watching the girls go by. Pretty woman… I don’t believe you, You’re not the truth, No-one could look as good as you… And then a spoken Mercy! that is truly sublime. Pretty woman, Won’t you pardon me, Pretty woman, I couldn’t help but see… That you look lovely as can be, Are you lonely, Just like me…? He may be ogling and approaching passers-by, but he’s a perfect gentleman about it. Plus, he’s lonely. There’s a tenderness to this song that lifts it above other stalker-anthems like ‘I’m Walking Behind You’ and ‘Every Breath You Take.’

Then, though, Roy does something that even he probably can’t get away with. The grrrrrooooowwwwllllll. Let’s pretend the growl never happens, OK? We get to the bridge – a real fifties rock ‘n’ roll throwback – that seals this record’s place among the greats. Pretty woman, Stop a while, Pretty woman, Talk a while… while the drums roll, and a piano tinkles.

As with ‘It’s Over’, ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ stands out against the musical landscape of 1964. It could have been a hit five years earlier, or ten years later. I’m not sure you could say the same of ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’. The Roy Orbison renaissance (the Roynaissance, if I may) of ’64 is probably the most pleasant surprise in a spectacular year of pop music. Though to be honest, he hadn’t been anywhere, and had been scoring big hits throughout the early sixties. It’s just that none of them had made it to the top of the charts.

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We get to the climax of the song, and an already brilliant song is elevated even further. The rules of pop music never applied to Roy Orbison, and he bends them to great effect here. He serves us a cliff-hanger, similar to the one he dishes up at the end of ‘Running Scared’. The woman doesn’t stop, and he’s left disappointed. He slows it down, in his trademark talking-singing-freestyling style: Don’t walk away, Hey…. OK… If that’s the way it must be, OK… Then another moment of perfection – But, wait… Cut to the same drumbeat that opened the song. What’s that I see…? She’s turned around. She’s coming back! Of course she’s coming back. Was there a woman alive who could resist the Orbison charm?

I, as I’m sure you’ve realised, love this record. It’s a Rolling Stone Top 500, Rock n Roll Hall of Fame kind of record. A song that nobody can say a bad word about. I love Roy Orbison too, and still remember getting his greatest hits as a Christmas present back as a kid. Perhaps with the exception of Elvis, no other star of the fifties and sixties had an identifiable image like Roy Orbison. Dark suit, dark glasses, guitar, quiff. It’s up there with Michael Jackson’s hat and glove, and Madonna’s pointy bra. You may think it’s superficial; but it’s a hallmark of the very best pop stars.

Following this, Orbison suffered some pretty lean years in terms of chart hits, and some unimaginable tragedies: he lost his wife and his two eldest sons in the space of two years. But, as with all the greats he came back – The Travelling Wilburys, ‘You Got It’ and all that. And then, just as his comeback was picking up speed, and in a twist befitting one of his greatest ballads, he had a heart-attack and died, in 1988, aged just fifty-two. He’s a legend – plain and simple. The songs that defied convention, the operatic voice, and the dark glasses. The Big O.

178. ‘I’m Into Something Good’, by Herman’s Hermits

After the gritty garage riffing of The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’, it’s time for something different. Proving just how much of a golden age this was for British pop music, our next chart-topper is the complete opposite of the last; but is equally brilliant.

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I’m Into Something Good, by Herman’s Hermits (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 24th September – 8th October 1964

In fact, I might be as bold as to claim that we are in the midst of the strongest ever run of UK #1 singles. Ever. In history. Past and present. Starting with, and including, Cilla’s ‘You’re My World’ back in June, the past nine chart-toppers have all been solid eight (or more) out of tens. No duds, no slip ups. And all have been wildly different sounding discs.

This one kicks off with a gently rumbling piano and a softly chugging riff. The sound of someone pulling their curtains open one morning to see the sun, and flowers, and butterflies, and frolicking lambs. Someone’s clapping; someone’s shaking a tambourine. Like I said, a world away from ‘You Really Got Me’. Except… It’s another song about falling head over heels for someone.

Woke up this morning, Feeling fine, There’s something special on my mind, Last night I met a new girl in the neighbourhood… is how it starts, and then it goes on to explain how the singer and the new girl danced, walked home, and how he asked to see her next week. Something tells me I’m into something good…

Ok, yes. It’s very PG. Herman’s Hermits were all about holding hands and going steady, whereas I’ll bet The Kinks were looking to get straight behind the bike shed for a bit of a fumble. But as a description of a first, teenage crush it works well. The lead singer, Peter Noone (AKA Herman) was literally just sixteen years old when this hit the top spot, which may explain how he could convincingly sell such a cutesy, starry-eyed song without it coming off as cheesy.

As a direct contrast to Noone’s grinning delivery, I love the deadpan backing singers. Whether they meant it, or whether they really were just extremely monotone singers, it works – it sounds like they’re very much over their friend’s romantic mooning, and would like him to shut up. Plus, the gentle piano-slash-guitar riff with the ooo-weee-ooos is giving me strong Beach Boys vibes.

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Which kinda makes sense, as the original songwriters – a pair no less distinguished than Gerry Goffin and Carole King – wrote it with the melodies of Brian Wilson in mind. This is yet another Beat song originally written by American bands and/or songwriters. It may have been The British Invasion, but it was heavily funded by the US. And it’s another hit that claims to have featured Jimmy Page as a session guitarist. Seriously, pretty much every #1 at the moment seems to have claimed a ‘featuring J. Page’ credit. He (probably) didn’t play on this one.

Another theme that I’ve noticed cropping up recently, and one that reaches its peak with this record, is how brilliant the band names were during the Beat era. From the cool (‘The Dakotas’, ‘The Animals’) to the quirky (‘The Kinks’) to the pun-tastic (‘The Beatles’ – ubiquity really has stopped people from realising how clever a name that is) to the downright silly (‘Manfred Mann’ and now ‘Herman’s Hermits’) – this truly was a great time to form, and name, a band.

Herman’s Hermits would go on to score hits right through until disbanding in 1970. In the US they would hit #1 with ‘classics’ such as ‘Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter’ and ‘I’m Henry VIII, I Am’, in which they camped up their Britishness in a manner so appalling that these records never saw the light of day in the UK. File them alongside Dick Van Dyke’s chimney-sweep and Daphne’s brothers from ‘Frasier’. No, back home their sole chart-topper was this paean to a first crush, one of the cutest #1 singles ever. He asked to see her next week, and she told him he could… Aww. Bless.

Follow along with this handy playlist:

177. ‘You Really Got Me’, by The Kinks

Chart-topper No. 177, AKA The One Where Heavy Metal is invented. Or so the history books would have you believe…

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You Really Got Me, by The Kinks (their 1st of three #1s)

2 weeks, from 10th – 24th September 1964

It’s easy to see why ‘You Really Got Me’ has gone down in the annals as the first metal/hard rock song (let alone #1 hit). There hasn’t been a chart-topper yet that has relied so heavily on its riff. Da-da-da-dun-da, Da-da-da-dun-da … Two sharp blasts from Dave Davies’ guitar kick us off, and it doesn’t let up until the very end. Da-da-da-dun-da, Da-da-da-dun-da…

Girl, You really got me goin’, You got me so I don’t know what I’m doin’ … Lyrics that rival the riff for brutal simplicity. You really got me now, You got me so I can’t sleep at night… The band called it a ‘love song for street kids’, and you can understand the sentiment. Poetry it ain’t; but the message comes across loud and clear. It’s a simple, yet intense, song. An intensely simple song. With that dense, monotonous riff dragging all along in its wake.

And the solo, when it arrives, is definitely the hardest rocking twenty seconds or so to feature at the top of the UK charts. And I don’t just mean up to now – I mean ever. Pure, unadulterated ROCK doesn’t often make it to the top of the charts and this solo, even listening to it fifty-five years on, still has the power to grab you by the balls. Ray Davies screams, and his brother goes wild.

My favourite bit, though, of this whole record, is how the choruses build into that oh yeeaahhh! moment, where the whole band join in and propel us into that unforgettable hook: You really got me, You really got me, You really got me…! It’s at this point that you realise you’re also listening to the first true power-pop record, too, with the vocals and the riff coming together to punch out the tune. Plus, you could argue that this is one of the first garage rock discs, too, in its simplicity and its rough-round-the-edges charm.

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Whatever genre this is – metal, garage rock, power-pop – it’s an undeniable classic. Few bands have announced themselves to the world like The Kinks did with this disc. And, like all great songs, a mythology has grown around ‘You Really Got Me’… Allegedly, the lead guitar was played by a then session-musician Jimmy Page (it wasn’t). Also allegedly, you can hear Ray Davies telling his brother to ‘fuck off’ in the drum fill just before the solo (I’ve really tried, but can’t). And then there’s the story of how the band achieved that gritty, crunchy guitar sound – by ripping the amplifier open.

I’ve listened to this song seven or eight times now in writing this, and I could listen to it seven or eight more. It’s perfect: short, sharp and sexy. It really feels as if every #1 we come across at the moment is raising the stakes – whether it’s The Honeycombs stamping on Joe Meek’s staircase, The Animals and The Stones bringing the blues, or The Beatles killing off Merseybeat in the outro to ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. Look back one year, to the days of Frank Ifield, Cliff, even Gerry & The Pacemakers, and it feels (and sounds) more like ten.

Weirdly, despite the fact that this may well be The Kinks’ biggest, best-known hit; it really doesn’t sound like them. The follow-up to this was ‘All Day and All of the Night’ (basically ‘You Really Got Me’ Pt. II), but after that they went in all kinds of different directions: Beat, music hall, folk, as well as pure pop. They have two more #1s to come, though, so let’s save all that for another day.

To end… I have a confession to make. This is such a classic, timeless, influential record that… and I think this just goes to show how irresistible this song truly is… I love even the Van Halen cover version…

176. ‘Have I the Right?’, by The Honeycombs

What’s that? What’s this? Why, it’s the sound of Merseybeat being fed through an electronic blender…

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Have I the Right?, by The Honeycombs (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 27th August – 10th September 1964

This is a Beat-pop song, with everything in the right place: verses, choruses, a solo. Lyrics about love. Have I the right to hold you, You know I’ve always told you, That we must never, ever part… Some whoah-oahs. But… Something doesn’t sound quite right. And by ‘not quite right’ I don’t mean it sounds ‘wrong’ – far from it. I mean it sounds… completely unique.

Take the drums for a start. They are deep and bouncy, and echoey. The drummer might well be in a completely different room from the rest of the band. In the chorus, as they pound out on every note, they sound like one of those huge Japanese drums, echoing across a misty forest.

Then there are the jabs of electronic keyboard that pierce the end of every line in the verses, like a ray-gun in a cheapo fifties ‘B’-movie. The guitar too is sharp, and clean as a knife; but again there’s something kooky about it, as if you were listening to pop music from a different but not too distant dimension. These two instruments combine on the solo and then, perhaps midway through, you realise what this song reminds you of: the one and only, the era-defining, blast from the future that was ‘Telstar’.

That particular #1 was produced by the legendarily maverick Joe Meek, and so was this. All three of his chart-toppers – this, ‘Telstar’ and John Leyton’s ‘Johnny Remember Me’ – were recorded in his apartment in Islington. All three are unique songs; but all contain recognisable characteristics. They’re drenched in overdubbing, they’re tweaked and tucked, they twang with reverb, and they are just all a little bit weird.

Here, for instance, is just one of the tales from the recording of ‘Have I the Right?’ Those drums I mentioned earlier? They were enhanced, not digitally, but by members of The Honeycombs stamping their feet on the stairs outside the studio. A tambourine was thumped against a microphone. And then, for the finishing touch, the tape was sped up. So much for the misty Japanese forest…

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This record isn’t quite ‘Telstar’ – how could you recreate one of the most innovative and forward-gazing pop songs ever recorded? But it is still a brilliant #1. And in some ways, maybe, this is actually the more impressive feat. Here, Meek had to use his powers in the confines of a ‘regular’ mid-sixties pop song; while on ‘Telstar’ he was allowed to completely let loose… When we get to the chorus – Come right back, I just can’t bear it, I got some love and I need to share it… The lyrics look normal on paper – a little basic even. It’s the sound, and the propulsive, endearingly home-made feel of this song that makes it what it is.

Joe Meek, while never actually featuring in any of his chart-topping hits, was the main star of all three. From the gothic melodrama of ‘Johnny…’, to the space-age transmission of ‘Telstar’, to this piece of electronically blended Merseybeat. And, as is befitting one of pop music’s greatest innovators, he was an extremely eccentric character. His Wikipedia entry ranges from the bizarre (his belief that he could communicate with the dead, including through the meows of a cat), to the sad (he struggled through long-term drug addiction), to the downright tragic (he shot his landlady, and then himself, in 1967 after a depression brought on by the drugs, impending plagiarism lawsuits and the fear that he was about to be outed as gay.)

Under all this, The Honeycombs – understandably – have to play second fiddle. This was their debut hit and, although Meek produced several of their follow-ups, they struggled to match the success of ‘Have I the Right?’ Their second most successful single could only hit #12, and they broke up in 1967 after several line-up changes. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about them is that their drummer and founding member – Honey Lantree – was a woman.

Let us celebrate, then, this progressive sounding chart-topper, ‘Have I the Right?’, with a progressive bunch of people at the helm: a gay producer, a female-drummer, and a bunch of guys stamping on the stairs…

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