Random Runners-Up: ‘Bend It!’, by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich

I’m going to spend the next week in the company of some songs that almost featured on this blog in their own right. Instead, all these hits peaked in the most frustrating position of all… #2. As with this feature last year, they’ve been chosen at random – honest – and the date generator has thrown up some interesting choices. Two songs I’ve never heard of, a couple that I’m acquainted with, and one that nearly everyone on this planet knows word for word… Kicking us off, here’s one I’m acquainted with:

‘Bend It!’, by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich

#2 for 2 weeks, from 6th-20th October 1966 (behind ‘Distant Drums’, by Jim Reeves)

One of the kookiest bands of the decade – in a decade that wasn’t short on kooky bands – sat in second place for a fortnight with this Greek-sounding foot-stomper. Bend It! Bend It! they exhort… Just a little bit… It’s all about two people fitting together, like a jigsaw puzzle. It’s all a little suggestive – suggestive enough to get it banned and hastily re-recorded in the US.

Like many of DDDBM&T’s hits, ‘Bend It!’ doesn’t follow standard pop song conventions. Each verse works its way up to crashing, plate-smashing crescendo, before settling back down to a woozy stomp. Apparently it was inspired by ‘Zorba’s Dance’ – that tune you hear in every Greek restaurant. I’d say it was more than just ‘inspired by’ that earlier hit…

Still it’s a fun tune. Dave Dee and pals knew how to keep it interesting. A year or so after this they scored their only chart-topper, the epic ‘Legend of Xanadu’. That was another fun one, and fairly unique for the band in that the title wasn’t followed by an exclamation mark. They also scored Top 5 hits with the thumping ‘Hold Tight!’ (their breakthrough and my favourite), ‘Okay!’, and ‘Zabadak!’

The fact that this single featured on an album called ‘If Music Be the Food of Love… Then Prepare for Indigestion’ is both brilliant, and a fitting summary of the band’s approach to making pop music. Try everything once! It’s just a shame that they seem to have slipped from the official sixties pantheon.

Another #2 is up tomorrow…

Recap: #211 – #240

Recap number… let me check… eight! We are exactly fifteen years, and two hundred and forty #1 hits, into the UK Singles Chart. It bears repeating every so often, but to listen back to the very first chart-toppers – the likes of ‘Here in My Heart’, ‘She Wears Red Feathers’ and ‘Answer Me’ – is to take a step back in time that feels much deeper than fifteen years.

Especially after this recap, because we have just passed through possibly the most diverse, fertile, wonderful couple of years in popular music history. 1963-65 brought some brilliant songs together at the top of the charts, but they were mostly in the same Beat-pop vein. Recently, we’ve had runs in which experimental psychedelic rock has sat shoulder to shoulder with schmaltzy easy-listening, in which the grittiest soul has been followed by cute country ballads. It’s also been a year or two of blockbuster hits, some big long stretches at number one – five weeks here, six weeks there, seven even, for Tom Jones.

These are thirty chart-toppers that I think we’ll have to split into two. The first half – 1966 – contains some of the finest pop songs ever recorded. Choosing the very best one out of a list that includes ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Good Vibrations’, among others, ain’t gonna be easy…

Which is why it might be easier to start with the worst. 1967 saw a big shift away from experimental sounds and, for the most part, easy-listening ruled. Suddenly we were back in the pre-rock days. Engelbert, Jim Reeves, Petula Clark and Sir Tom all crooned for their supper over a six month period. But the only one of those songs that I truly disliked – and the winner of this recap’s Very Worst Chart-Topper Award, is Mr. Humperdinck, he of the luxurious sideburns and pillowed lips, with the dreary ‘Release Me’, which must have had people crying out to be released from its six week run at the top. He did redeem himself, I think, with his second #1, ‘The Last Waltz’, which stayed on the right side of cheesy.

That was an easy award. And so it is with this recap’s ‘Meh’ Award, for the hit that was simply dull, rather than terrible. I considered giving it to Jim Reeves, for ‘Distant Drums’, but he was just doing what he did best, and he was dead… So I’m going to give it to The Tremeloes, for their cover of ‘Silence is Golden’. Not awful, but far from their best effort. They were capable of much more.

Why was it, do we think, that things went ever so slightly bland in 1967? Was it a backlash to all the experimentation? A return to what felt safe and comfortable, and not at all scary? Or was it that everyone had given their gran and their maiden aunt an HMV voucher for Christmas? It really is strange, and it makes the Summer of Love, in which ‘normal’ service was restored by Procol Harum, The Beatles and Scott McKenzie, stand out like a sore-thumb. Our more recent #1s suggest that the blip might be over, though – The Foundations and Long John Baldry bringing a bit more grit and streetwise savvy to the number one spot.

So strong are some of the recent chart-topping records that, looking back, you might completely miss some hugely significant hits. Frank Sinatra had a comeback! And duetted with his daughter! Dusty Springfield scored her one and only number one single! The Monkees invented the boy band, while strong, eight-out-of-ten pop songs like ‘Pretty Flamingo’ and ‘With a Girl Like You’, pass by almost un-noted. In previous updates ‘All or Nothing’ by The Small Faces might have been the main story, or might even have been getting the awards… Not this time. We also met The Bee Gees for the first time! And then there was ‘Paint It, Black’. Yep, I almost forgot about one of The Stones’ biggest hits. Admittedly it has never been one of my favourite Stones’ songs, but in terms of its sound and lyrical content it is hugely significant. I thought about giving it my ‘WTAF’ Award, the gong for the more ‘interesting’ chart toppers around, but I already gave them that award last time out, and if I gave them it twice in a row I’d be in danger of painting them as some kind of novelty… So, if it’s not ‘Paint It, Black’ then there’s only one other candidate… Not ‘All You Need Is Love’, because that makes sense in context. Step forward, Sandie Shaw with ‘Puppet on a String’ – a loopy record that makes no sense in any context. (Apart from the Eurovision Song Contest context, but shhh…)

On, then, to the very best that the charts of 1966-67 had to offer. This is a hell of a decision. I have to disregard classics like ‘Sunny Afternoon’, ‘Out of Time’ and ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’ because they just weren’t quite brilliant enough. As usual, I’ve whittled it down to four. The three I mentioned earlier: The Walker Brothers’ ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’, The Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’, The Beach Boy’s ‘Good Vibrations’ plus Procol Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. All worthy winners in any other recap…

In 4th place – The Walker Brothers. A superb pop record, but not a game-changer like the others. In 3rd place… ‘Eleanor Rigby’. (Gasps from the back row!) A pop song that sounds nothing like a pop song. A heart-breaking story of loss and ageing that takes barely two minutes to tell, accompanied by nothing but strings. But… it was a double-‘A’ side, and if I name ‘Eleanor Rigby’ as the very best #1 then I am also naming ‘Yellow Submarine’ as the very best #1, and that’s not something that I’m prepared to do. In 2nd place… ‘Good Vibrations’. An amazing work of art, but one that can’t quite escape the fact that it is a work of art. And so, The Very Best Chart-Topper of the past thirty goes to ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ – a confident beast of a record that strode in the room, sounding unlike any other, and was extremely proud of it.

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. 8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.

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. 8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.

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. 8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.

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. 8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.

It’s very telling that the four award winning songs came practically one after the other in the spring/summer of 1967. That’s how varied and eclectic the charts have been recently – weird followed by boring followed by brilliant. And that is really how the charts should be: anything can top them and anything should top them… Long may it continue!

227. ‘The Green, Green Grass of Home’, by Tom Jones

It’s become a bit of theme recently – every so often we take a pause from pop music’s race into the future to enjoy a good, old-fashioned ballad. First with Ken Dodd, then Jim Reeves, and now Tom from the Valleys.

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Green, Green Grass of Home, by Tom Jones (his 2nd of three #1s)

7 weeks, from 1st December 1966 – 19th January 1967

A soft, swaying intro precedes a tale of a man returning home, from a long time away. The old home town looks the same, As I step down from the train… And doesn’t Tom sing it well? There’s something in the Welsh waters… Why are they such good singers? Why is it Welsh Male Voice choirs, and not Geordie Male Voice choirs?

He runs towards his long-lost love, Mary: Hair of gold, And lips like cherries… And then he heads home: There’s that old oak tree, That I used to play on… It’s a heart-warming song for Christmas. One for all the family. Yes, it’s good to touch, The green green grass of home… Like most Tom Jones songs, it helps if you’re a bit drunk. I love the saloon-bar piano, that really adds a ‘last-call’ vibe. And, also like most Tom Jones songs, it’s a karaoke classic. Not quite ‘Delilah’, but getting there.

I love a song that tells a story, verse by verse. Just where has this man been all this time…? And ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’, like all good stories, has one hell of a twist. We break for a spoken-word interlude, in which the singer reveals that it was all a dream. And, who’s that? Why it’s the guard… And there’s a sad, old padre, On and on we’ll walk at daybreak, Again I’ll touch, The green green grass of home… Yep, plot twist: he’s getting executed.

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I love it. Either he’s been wrongfully convicted, which only increases the power of the earlier verses, or you’ve spent the last two minutes sympathising with a murderer. The little piano riff to end is this song’s version of a ‘badoom-tish.’ And I’m similarly in two minds about this record as a whole. On the one hand, it’s mawkish, sentimental mush. On the other, it’s a great one for belting out in the shower.

And to be fair, this was a mega-hit. Seven weeks at #1 is longer than any record in the past three and a half-years, since The Beatles’ ‘From Me to You’. And, as I mentioned earlier, I doubt that this disc being released over the festive season hurt its chances. The idea of a ‘Christmas Number One’ wasn’t really a thing this early in the charts, but I do wonder if the success of ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’ set the tone for later, similarly saccharine, festive hits.

As for Sir Tom, similar to his first #1, ‘It’s Not Unusual, I think we have to look at him as existing separately from his chart contemporaries. His other big sixties hits included ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ and ‘Help Yourself’ – nothing baroquey or folky, or Beat-poppy about them. But… If you’re never in fashion you’ll never be out of fashion. Maybe it’s this refusal to follow trends that’s allowed him all his comebacks: his Prince covers in the eighties, and his huge resurgence when I was in high-school. Looking back, how on earth did a near sixty-year old man singing ‘Sex Bomb’ become such a thing…? And he will hit the top-spot once more, briefly, in forty-two years’ time. Which, unsurprisingly, is by far the biggest gap between #1 singles, ever.

226. ‘Good Vibrations’ by The Beach Boys

I read an article once, on The Guardian, about how 1966 was the best year in the history of pop music. You can check it out here. And, as we reach the penultimate #1 of the year, you look around and pretty much have to agree with them. Yes, the standard of chart-topper has been ridiculously high since mid-1963, while 1961 was eclectically fun and there were a few months in 1957-58 when every rock ‘n’ roll legend around was lining up for their moment in the spotlight… But 1966 beats them all. Because 1966 has this song.

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Good Vibrations, by The Beach Boys (their 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, from 17th November – 1st December 1966

How to even contemplate writing a post on ‘Good Vibrations’? How to say anything remotely original, anything that hasn’t been said a thousand times before. The genius of Brian Wilson… The hundreds of hours of tape… The synthesisers… The expense…. You’ve heard it all before.

So let’s listen to it, then, as if it were the first time we were ever hearing this hot new single from America’s biggest band. The follow up to their smash hit ‘God Only Knows’. Is this the disc to give them their long-overdue 1st British #1…?

It comes in all dreamy, and echoey. Angelic vocals and a shimmering backing track. I, I love the colourful clothes she wears… It’s trademark Beach Boys – high-pitched harmonies – but completely different to, say, ‘Barbara Ann’. And when the drums come in, like a drunken horse clomping around its’ stable, it’s gorgeously woozy.

Then woosh! We’re into the chorus. Not hanging around. That insistent bassline. The UFO stylings of the Theramin. I’m pickin’ up good vibrations, She’s givin’ me the excitations… Perfectly nonsensical pop lyrics. More harmonising. Good – ba-ba – Good vibrations – ba-ba…

Verse II. Snap back to woozy bliss. I… I look in her eyes, She goes with me to a blossom world… Trips? To different worlds? Is that a drug reference I smell? Are you boys smoking pot down there…? It’s the summer of love come six months early. Repeat the chorus. You can tell that they were stitching different pieces of music together, in the way that the song swerves this way and that, but it never sounds forced.

Then another sharp turn, into jingle-jangly Baroque pianos. Things get woozier. I don’t know where but she sends me there… We’re mid-trip, but we don’t have time to relax. Because now we’re at a funeral. At least, there’s a funeral organ, and a plaintive chant: Gotta keep those love-good, Vibrations a-happenin’ with her… Which fades away and is replaced by a home-on-the-range whistle, and a throbbing bass… Aaaaaahhhhhh!

Pause.

Good, good, good, good vibrations…! And then by the time you get to the layered na-na-na-nas you just want to say ‘Alright, boys, you’re just showing off now…’ Cue the fade-out, with the Theramin to the fore, as the aliens come and beam us all up. Phew.

It’s still The Beach Boys; but in a dimension we’ve never been to before. And it’s still a pop song; but one from a planet we’ve not managed to reach yet. The sonic shock you get when you hear it, alongside its contemporaries, is similar to that felt from ‘Telstar’, in 1962. Another record from another planet.

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That was fun! I have to admit that for years I’ve viewed ‘Good Vibrations’ as a sort of museum piece – a work of art to be admired, but not enjoyed. Best viewed from afar. That happens with ‘The Classics’. ‘Good Vibrations’ would never crop up in any of my playlists. But maybe it should. Maybe I’ll add it today. It stands up as a pop song. At heart it’s a ditty about falling in love at first sight. Musically, it’s outrageously creative without being pretentious. Perfect.

I love that this was The Beach Boy’s first UK #1. Slamming right in at the top with a little disc called ‘Good Vibrations’… Of course, it wasn’t their first hit. In 1966 alone, they’d had two #2s, with ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Sloop John B’. In their native US they were huge, and had been for years. The only reason they took a little longer to take off in Britain is that their early surf-rock songs didn’t resonate on an island where any attempt at surfing usually ends in frostbite.

‘Good Vibrations’, and the ‘Pet Sounds’ album that preceded it, was a line in the sand. The Beach Boys were upping their game, and were ready to take on the British big boys: namely John and Paul. Anyway… You can read hundreds of more sophisticated analyses of ‘Good Vibrations’ – the record that changed pop music. You know where to find them. If, though, for reasons best kept to yourself, you have never heard ‘Good Vibrations’ before (or even if you’ve heard 1000 times already) press play on the link below, and get yourself some excitations…

225. ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’, by The Four Tops

Amongst all the glorious music that has reached the top of the charts over the past few years, as we’ve reached the apex of the swinging sixties – Merseybeat, R&B, folk, soul, garage rock – one genre has been seriously underrepresented. Motown.

Granted it’s not technically a genre, more a record label… but hey – everyone knows the Motown sound. And ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’, by male vocal group The Four Tops, is only its 2nd ever UK #1, after The Supremes’ ‘Baby Love’. And so, in the context of the charts of 1966, this record stands out every bit as much as its predecessor, Jim Reeve’s croon-tastic ‘Distant Drums’.

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Reach Out I’ll Be There, by The Four Tops (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 27th October – 17th November 1966

And, though I mentioned the ‘Motown sound’ right there in that last paragraph, the intro to this song is more ‘Spaghetti-Western’. They’re not pan-pipes, are they…? It’s ominous, and thrilling. A horseman clattering round the corner to save his damsel in distress. Now if you feel like you can’t go on, Because all your hope is gone, And your life is filled with much confusion, Until happiness is just an illusion…

It should be a ballad. It should be sung by Lionel Richie at a piano. It’s a brilliant song, but the music and the lyrics don’t really match. The woman in the song isn’t just a little unlucky in love; she’s apparently suicidal. Her world has gone cold, is crumblin’ down, while she drifts out all on her own… I mean, it’s heavy stuff. And all the while The Four Tops charge to her rescue aboard a frantic and incessant groove. Reach out for me…

It’s melodramatic – I get that – and way over the top. It reminds me of John Leyton’s ‘Johnny Remember Me’, possibly the only other #1 single so far to be based on a horse’s gallop. But several things about this record push it above camp curio and into the realm of the classic. There are the ‘Ha’s!’ the pepper the end of lines, the spoken asides – Just look over your shoulder! – and the outrageously funky bass riff before the choruses. And, most of all, the Dar-lin’s!

The Top’s lead singer, Levi Stubbs, commits to each and every line of this record. It’s one of the most memorable vocal performances that we’ve heard in this countdown. He commits to the point where it doesn’t matter how ridiculous the song is. His vocals are the reason that this is a Rolling Stone ‘Top 500 of All Time’ kind of tune.

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It’s a deserved #1. It’s a great song and it’s about time that another Motown disc got there. For a genre that is hugely loved and respected in the UK – think all the compilation CDs and ‘Motown Weeks’ on X Factor – it really never got its due representation at the top of the charts. ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’ was the label’s 13th Billboard chart-topper. In Britain it was, as I mentioned at the start, its 2nd. They will have 1 (one!) more #1 in the ‘60s, and only eight in total, ever…

And I have to admit that The Four Tops are a band I’d heard of – Motown, sixties, etc. etc. – but didn’t know too much about. The hits were more famous than the group it seems, as scanning through their discography you can see some stone-cold classics: ‘I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)’, ‘Standing in the Shadows of Love’, ‘It’s the Same Old Song’… Not a bad encore. And they do still tour, though ‘Duke’ Fakir is the only surviving original member.

All of a sudden, then, in The Four Tops and Gentleman Jim, two American acts have wrenched us away from what had been ‘the sound of ‘66’. And up next, another bunch of American ‘Boys’ (hint, hint) will drag us even further from our comfort zones with, ah yes, possibly the greatest pop song ever recorded…

Follow along with this handy playlist:

224. ‘Distant Drums’, by Jim Reeves

What to make of this, then…? Just as we were getting into a groove at the top of the charts – a rocking, modish, soulful groove with cool and forward-facing #1s following similarly cool and forward-facing #1s – The Kinks, The Blue Flames, Chris Farlowe and ‘Eleanor Rigby’, a curveball is thrown our way.

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Distant Drums, by Jim Reeves (his 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 22nd September – 27th October 1966

Gentle drums, a swaying rhythm, a crooner’s voice… I hear the sound, Of distant drums, Far away, Far away… It’s the sort of country-ish ballad that was ten-a-penny in the late fifties and early sixties. (I’d perhaps call this one country-calypso, if that’s at all possible…) But it’s a sign of how far popular music has come in a very short time that ‘Distant Drums’ sticks out like a sore thumb in late 1966.

It’s a sentimental song, about a man who hears the distant drums of war… Then I must go, And you must stay… And so he begs his beloved to marry him before he gets shipped off: Let’s share all the time we can before it’s too late… If you love me Mary, Marry me… (Gettit? ‘Mary’ – ‘Marry’?) It’s sweet. Old-fashioned. Your gran would love it. I am certain, even without checking, that Daniel O’Donnell has covered this.

Why on earth it spent over a month at the top of the charts I do not know. But there’s no need to make a big fuss about it. Yes, it’s nothing like the brilliant hits that went right before, but I’m not a snob. There’s room for all in this parish. Jim Reeves sings it beautifully, in a very understated way. And it’s worth noting that exactly one year ago, Ken Dodd was at the top of the charts – for five weeks as well, no less – with the similarly saccharine ‘Tears’. And as with Doddy, ‘Distant Drums’ was, despite the strong competition, the biggest-selling single of the year! Maybe there was something in the autumn air…

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Or maybe it was because, as I’ve just discovered, Jim Reeves was dead. We have our third ever posthumous #1! But, unlike Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran’s swansongs, Reeves had been dead for a while… A light aircraft crash, in a storm, in July 1964. Well over two years before this record hit the top spot… A bit late for a tribute, then. One other explanation is timing: that the song’s theme suddenly became prescient with escalation of the Vietnam War. Jim Reeves – ‘Gentleman Jim’ as he was known – had had plenty of chart hits before this one, both alive and dead, and so perhaps it isn’t a huge shock that one would catch the public’s imagination like this.

Whatever the reason, it means we get a little interlude in our rundown of the nation’s biggest selling songs. I’m not going to pretend that hearing this song has been a highlight of my day. If it had come in, say, 1962, in a version by Frank Ifield, I would have probably had far less patience with it… Moving on, then, without any further ado…

223. ‘All or Nothing’, by The Small Faces

1966 has been a pretty cool year in terms of its chart-toppers. Nancy’s boots, The Walker Brothers, the cynical Stones and Dusty finally making it… Plus a lot of soul: The Spencer Davis Group, Georgie Fame and, most enjoyably of all, Chris Farlowe. To that list you can now add The Small Faces.

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All or Nothing, by The Small Faces (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 15th – 22nd September 1966

This is another cool record, and it’s cool from the very start – from the fade-in drum roll. We’ve not had one of those before at the top of the charts. Then a trippy riff, and a wistful voice: I thought you’d listen, To my reasoning, But now I see, You don’t hear a thing… Intelligent lyrics, and I do love the bravado required to rhyme ‘reasoning’ with ‘hear a thing’. The singer is trying to make his lover see that he doesn’t share. Things could work out, Just like I want them to, If I could have, The other half of you… And then an ultimatum: All or nothing, For me…

The guitars in the chorus are thick and chunky. Very forward-thinking. Very power-pop. It’s The Undertones come a decade early. I’d rank it along with ‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘Get Off Of My Cloud’ as one of the heaviest #1 singles so far. Although ‘All or Nothing’s heaviness is more subtle, not as in your face.

And it doesn’t last the whole song through. There’s a mellow ba-ba-ba-baba refrain mid-way through, and then a funky breakdown towards the end. And lots of great soul shout-outs from the lead-singer Steve Marriott. It’s amazing to think that he was just nineteen when this was recorded. Aw Yeahs, and Hear my children sing!, and Gotta keep on tryin’! And when he belts out the crucial I ain’t tellin you no lie, So don’t just sit there and cry! line, it’s a real finger-kiss moment. It’s a record that packs a lot in to its three minutes. Funky, heavy, soulful… A song I knew vaguely; but hadn’t realised just how forward facing it sounded. If you were a pop-loving kid in 1966, this is what your cool older brother would have been listening to.

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That’s the best word for this record. Cool. No point searching for a better one. Another cool chart-topper for the year. In pictures from the time, The Small Faces look the part too. Mods, with long hair and sharp suit jackets. And they crammed a lot into their four years together. (It is amazing, isn’t it, how many of these mid-sixties groups fell apart after just a few years – with a couple of obvious exceptions…) Like The Troggs from two posts back, certain other of their hits far outshine their one and only chart-topper. ‘Itchycoo Park’ made #3 the following year, and ‘Lazy Sunday’ – for many a year the only Small Faces song I knew – made the runners-up position in 1968. Neither of those songs sound anything like the heavy, soulful R&B on ‘All or Nothing’, which speaks to the band’s quality and creativity.

I have to admit that I thought I had imagined some link between The Small Faces and The Faces – assuming that it was just a coincidence in naming. But no, I was right: Marriot left, the remaining Faces dropped the ‘Small’ and recruited Rod Stewart. Rod the Mod, as he was back then. The rest is history. Marriot died tragically young, in a house-fire aged just forty-four. He’s kind of forgotten today, in the pantheon of sixties stars, which is a shame, as his legacy helped shape both punk and Britpop. The Jam and Blur certainly owe him a debt, anyway.

The Small Faces, then, with their one and only week atop the British Singles chart. Sit back, and Hear the children sing!

Keep up with this Spotify playlist:

222. ‘Eleanor Rigby’ / ‘Yellow Submarine’, by The Beatles

In my intro to The Beatles’ last #1 – ‘Paperback Writer’ – I said that it was a definitive split away from ‘The Fab Four’. This latest chart-topper from the group, then, is an even greater stride away from the mop-top days.

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Eleanor Rigby / Yellow Submarine, by The Beatles (their 11th of seventeen #1s)

4 weeks, from 18th August – 15th September 1966

The first side of this double-‘A’ disc contains a song that features no guitars, no drums, no nothing apart from strings. It’s a story about two people: Eleanor Rigby, who lives in a dream and wears a face kept in a jar by the door, and Father McKenzie, who writes sermons that nobody will hear and who spends his nights darning socks… We are a million miles away from ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, and that was barely two and a half years ago!

It’s a horribly sad song. Just start with the main refrain: Ah, look at all the lonely people! Then delve into the details. The images. Eleanor sweeping confetti from the floor of a church, after a joyful wedding party has been and gone. The priest and his socks. Eleanor’s funeral, at the end of which Father McKenzie wipes the dirt from his hands and walks back to church alone. No-one was saved…

The characters are fictional, although Paul McCartney has at times been ambiguous when asked about them. The grave of an Eleanor Rigby exists in Liverpool, very near to where Paul and John first met as teenagers. She died in 1939, aged just forty-four, and it does seem slightly too much of a coincidence. But then again, if you were going to invent a fictional old woman’s name, Eleanor Rigby wouldn’t be a bad shout.

Real or invented, Eleanor’s song races along on tight, menacing violins – the story told in barely two minutes. It’s a vignette, a moment in time. You can imagine Paul McCartney viewing the churchyard from the window of a double-decker bus, Eleanor sweeping the church steps, Father McKenzie waiting for the congregation that will never come, and then going home to write the song. Just what is it about? A study in loneliness? The decline of Christianity? A comment on the misery of post-war Britain? The more you listen to it, the more important ‘Eleanor Rigby’ sounds. And the less like a chart-topping record. Only The Beatles could have taken this song to chart success. Largely because only The Beatles were capable of writing pop songs like this.

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They were also the only band capable of writing songs like the one on the other side of this disc. We flip the record, and move from the sublime into the ridiculous. As if they thought that ‘Eleanor Rigby’ might be too much of a departure, too avant-garde, and so wanted something childishly reassuring to go along with it. But, in its own way, ‘Yellow Submarine’ is every bit as arresting…

Let me state right here right now – it is impossible to truly hate ‘Yellow Submarine’. It might be irritating, cheesy and pointless… but there’s a loveable nugget buried in there. Perhaps it’s because ‘Yellow Submarine’ is often the first Beatles song people ever hear as toddlers. I think also, for me, it’s the fact that Ringo sings it. There’s something wonderfully soothing about Ringo’s voice. It’s got a melancholy tremble that contrasts nicely with the song’s stupidly optimistic lyrics. Plus, his voice always reminds me of ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’, which was my favourite TV show as a sprog.

In the town, Where I was born, Lived a man, Who sailed to sea… Ringo and chums sail out to find the land of submarines. They live a life of ease, beneath the waves… The end. It’s a complete novelty. The silliest, most childlike chart-topper since ‘(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window’ from way back when. To pair this with ‘Eleanor Rigby’ reminds me of when Elvis paired ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ with ‘Rock-a-Hula Baby’, times ten.

But hey. I like the bit where the band begins to play, and the use of goofy sound effects as the sub gets its journey underway, and the final verse, with the shouted, distorted backing vocals. The band must have enjoyed recording it, as they went and endorsed a whole movie based on the song. The cartoon ‘Yellow Submarine’ is probably one of the iconic Beatles images, along with Sgt Peppers and the EMI stairwell pictures.

Of course, this being The Beatles, the lyrics to ‘Yellow Submarine’ have undergone intense scrutiny. Just what is it about, man? Is it an anti-war statement (Yellow Nuclear Submarine?) Is it an ode to a hippy commune? The band themselves, as they usually did, stated that it was just a children’s song about a big, yellow submarine. Nothing more, nothing less.

So, there you have it. Two completely bizarre songs from the biggest band in history, at the height of their powers. There’s an arrogance to them releasing this disc – in them saying to their adoring public: ‘Here, get your pretty little heads around this!’ And it marks the start of a mini-hiatus from the top of the charts for The Beatles. Their next release, another very famous double-‘A’ side, will (gasp!) not make #1, and we won’t hear from them until almost a whole year has passed. By which time they will have taken another supersonic leap forward…

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220. ‘Out of Time’, by Chris Farlowe

Amidst all the great pop being produced in the mid-sixties, two acts inevitably stand out above the rest. The Beatles and The Stones. Lennon & and McCartney, Jagger & Richards. Trading blows at the top of the charts. But John and Paul could always boast one original claim: that, on top of the ten #1 singles they have appeared on, they had written three more for other artists. ‘Bad to Me’, ‘A World Without Love’, and ‘Michelle’… Until now.

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Out of Time, by Chris Farlowe (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 28th July – 4th August 1966

For it is with much fanfare that we announce Mick and Keef as official ‘Chart-Topping Songwriters For Other Artists’, as Chris Farlowe takes ‘Out of Time’, from The Stones’ ‘Aftermath’ album, to the very summit of the hit parade! For a long time, I must admit, I did not know this was a Stones original. Which is strange, as the lyrics are straight from page one of the Rolling Stones’ songbook.

You don’t know what’s going’ on, You’ve been away for far too long, You can’t come back, Think you are still mine… A patronising, slightly threatening approach to women? Ladies and Gentlemen – The Rolling Stones! (See also ‘Under My Thumb’, ‘Heart of Stone’, ‘Stupid Girl’.) You’re out of touch my baby, My poor, old-fashioned baby… Baby, baby, baby, You’re out of time… It’s a song about a miscommunication: the girl was under the impression her BF would wait for her while she was away; BF was under no such illusion. And yes, he’s a dick, no disputing, but calling somebody ‘obsolete’ while you dump them is pretty bad-ass.

Chris Farlowe has one hell of a voice. It’s soulful and husky. He sounds like he smoked at least twenty a day. Maybe the reason that I went for so long without realising that ‘Out of Time’ wasn’t his song is down to the fact that he completely owns this record. He sounds like he’s having a ball. He sings it with a cocky confidence, a knowledge that there will be twenty more girls where this last one came from… I love the drawn-out sneer in the ‘tiiiiiimeee’, the ‘Ha!’ and the ‘Yeah!’ before the final chorus, and the way they call ‘Is everybody ready?’ before launching into an encore. (Some sources suggest that that is Mick and Keith themselves on the backing vocals…)

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Compared to The Stones’ version (which you can listen to here), and even though Mick Jagger produced this cover, Farlowe’s is a very different beast. Soaring strings, crashing Wall of Sound drums, and swooping, doo-wop backing singers accompany him. The original is much more stripped back: all organs and finger clicks. It’s also much harsher: switch ‘old-fashioned’ for ‘discarded’, and add a verse about how the girl has ‘had her day.’ Farlowe’s version is more likeable, way more over the top, making it easier not to notice how unpleasant the song is. The Rolling Stones leave you in no doubt…

Chris Farlowe featured on the first sixties compilation I ever heard, as young boy, on a cassette in my parents’ car. It was his version of ‘Handbags and Gladrags’, which came before Rod Stewart, and then The Stereophonics, did it to death. And I remember thinking distinctly, even as an eight year old, that he had a voice and a half. Why he wasn’t bigger than he was is a strange one. He had had one, minor hit before this, and his biggest hit after ‘Out of Time’ was ‘Handbags…’ which only made #33. And I have to admit, while listening to him sing in the car as a kid, and for years afterwards, I imagined him to be black. Racial profiling by voice? Maybe. As you can see from the picture up there, he is most definitely white.

His sound is – I’m starting to notice – very 1966, coming hot on the heels of The Spencer Davis Group’s couple of #1s, and Georgie Fame. All white boys doing soul. And that, like most hot sounds of the sixties, didn’t last long. Flower power is coming. Maybe Farlowe just couldn’t adjust. He still tours, with jazz bands and Van Morrison, and was included in the 50th Anniversary celebrations of England’s Football World Cup win (‘Out of Time’ was at #1 the week of the final against West Germany.)

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