Cover Versions of #1s – Fats Domino & Alma Cogan

Day three of cover versions week… and I got a couple of Fab Four facsimiles for you!

‘Lady Madonna’, by Fats Domino – 1968 album track

(Originally a #1 in March 1968, by The Beatles)

Paul McCartney was quite open about the debt that ‘Lady Madonna’ owed to Fats Domino, and so it was perhaps no surprise that Fats himself repaid the compliment less than a year after the original was released. It is probably the most faithful of all the cover versions I’ll post this week… Other than some extra piano flourishes it could easily be Fats singing over the original instrumental track. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t rock, however, and it took the rock ‘n’ roll legend to #100 in the US, just when it looked as if he might never have another chart hit.

‘I Feel Fine’, by Alma Cogan – 1967 album track

(Originally a #1 in December 1964, by The Beatles)

Towards the end of her career, and just before her much too early death aged just thirty-four, Alma Cogan had a go at covering some of The Beatles’ biggest hits. She put her own twist on ‘Help’, and ‘Ticket to Ride’, but I’ve gone for her very swinging-sixties take on ‘I Feel Fine’. (Actually, her best Beatles’ cover is her gorgeous ‘Eight Days a Week’, but that original was never released as a single in the UK…) Cogan had a close relationship with the Fab Four – especially, the rumours suggest, John Lennon – and I covered this in more depth in my post on her a few months ago. Sadly, none of her Beatles covers seemed to grabbed the public’s attention, all of them failing to chart.

Another two tomorrow, this time a couple of takes on the same well-known chart-topper…

247. ‘Lady Madonna’, by The Beatles

Ah, the Beatles. Bringing some sense and stability to the top of the UK singles charts, after a few months of wackiness. But actually, even this, a famous hit record from the most famous band in the world, stands out. It’s nowhere as weird as we’ve heard this year, but it’s still different…

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Lady Madonna, by The Beatles (their 14th of seventeen #1s)

2 weeks, from 27th March – 10th April 1968

For a start, ‘Lady Madonna’ is a piano driven song, which is pretty rare for a Beatles’ single. It’s well-known as a tribute to Fats Domino, which means it’s already the second 1968 #1 to reference the famous pianist, after Georgie Fame’s ‘Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde’. Fats scored his biggest hit for a while by releasing his own version later in the year. Incidentally, I just discovered that he only ever had one (!) UK Top 10, which for a founding pillar of rock ‘n’ roll seems scandalous…

Anyway, as good as the piano riff is here, I love it when McCartney’s bass kicks, and even better when the main guitar kicks in for the second verse, growling like a pit-bull. And then comes the saxophone, another instrument that The Fab Four didn’t often use. It’s a song with a swagger and a swing to it. Anyone attempting it at karaoke would have to finish their performance with a mic toss.

In the back of my mind, I know what the song’s about. I’ve read, somewhere and sometime, just who Lady Madonna was. But before I Google and confirm, here’s my interpretation after listening to it for the first time in ages. She’s poor (Wonder how you manage to make ends meet…) with kids (Baby at your breast…), lots of kids (Wonders how you manage to feed the rest…). She’d like to escape (Lady Madonna, Lying on the bed, Listen to the music playing in your head…) but is trapped in a life of drudgery (Thursday night your stockings needed mending…)

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It’s a kind of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ part II, and again Lennon and McCartney – though by this point they were largely writing separately, this being a Paul composition – prove themselves able to go way beyond the regular confines of pop music. ‘Madonna’ gives the woman in the song saintly connotations and – yes, I remembered correctly! – McCartney was inspired to write the song by a picture of a breastfeeding tribeswoman in a copy of National Geographic. The music here might be back-to-basics rock ‘n’ roll, but the lyrics are some of The Beatles most cutting. See how they run… What’s ‘running’? The kids? The years? The people that see this poor mother in the street…?

On a far more frivolous note, the use of ‘Madonna’ in the title also opens up a fascinating sub-genre: #1 hits that reference other chart-topping artists! Obviously, they weren’t referencing Madonna Ciccone, who was a good fifteen years away from releasing anything, but still… To be honest, I’m struggling to think of others… ‘Moves Like Jagger’ never quite made it to the top. ‘Rock Me Amadeus’, maybe, as had the charts been around in the 1700s Mozart would have done alright… In ‘Return of the Mack’ Mark Morrison was singing about himself… Let me know if you can think of any other. It’s fascinating, but completely pointless. Anyway.

Anyway, anyway, anyway… All of a sudden, we are approaching the end of The Beatles’ chart-topping careers. This was their fourteenth #1, and there are only three more to go! Luckily, two of them are stone-cold classics. The other is, well… We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Recap: #181 – #210

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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To recap the recaps, then:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability: 1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell. 2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers. 3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone. 4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley. 5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows. 6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies. 7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else: 1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers. 2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton. 3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI. 4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven. 5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers. 6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers. 7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra. 2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young. 3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway. 4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley. 5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield. 6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors. 7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray. 2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra. 3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis. 4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers. 5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes. 6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles. 7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.

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

209. ‘Michelle’, by The Overlanders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recap: #150 – #180

And so we pause…

These latest thirty #1 records represent perhaps the richest vein of pop music ever to have been hit upon in this country. Much of 1961 and ’62 was spent drilling different holes – occasionally coming up with a beauty (The Tornados); largely hitting a lot of bland MOR (Cliff, Frank Ifield.) But one day, in April 1963, the motherlode was discovered. Merseybeat.

This is the Merseybeat recap. The most homogenous sounding bunch of chart-toppers we are ever likely to meet. Young guys with guitars singing perky songs about falling in love, holding hands and getting into something good. It started with a triple whammy – a call to kids across the land – as Gerry & The Pacemakers and The Beatles arrived at the top of the charts. The Searchers, Billy J. Kramer, The Tremeloes and The Dave Clark Five all soon followed. That stretch, from April ’63 through to the summer of ’64 is probably the most consistent sounding year in UK chart history, one beat-pop number followed by another, with few exceptions and very few duds.

It’s definitely the strongest bunch of #1s yet, and it’s been very hard to pick which ones are merely great and which ones are utterly transcendent. Classics like ‘From Me to You’, ‘I Like It’, ‘Glad All Over’, ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’, ‘Have I the Right?’ and ‘I’m Into Something Good’ – which might have made the ‘Best Of’ at any other time – will have to just get left by the wayside. Whole chart-topping careers, those of Billy J., The Searchers, The Pacemakers and Cilla Black, have come and gone in a blink of an eye. For so long we plodded through mediocrity; now we wish things could slow down a little.

Of course, nothing that good can last forever, but I was surprised by how quickly the Merseybeat wave came, conquered and then receded. By July 1964, a harder sound had arrived at the top courtesy of The Animals and The Rolling Stones (Yes, we met the Stones for the first time! What should have been a headline becomes a footnote thanks to the brilliance of those around them.) Beat pop has slowly started to fragment in recent months, into full on rock (‘You Really Got Me’), rhythm and blues (‘It’s All Over Now’), experimental electro pop (‘Have I the Right?’) and easy-listening with a hint-of-Beat (‘(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me’.)

Out of the last thirty-one #1s, I can count only seven outliers. Seven discs that haven’t fit the Beat-pop/rock bill. Cilla’s two proto-power ballads, the best of which was ‘You’re My World’, The Pacemaker’s weird showtune swansong ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, a couple of leftovers from the previous era in Elvis’s ‘(You’re the) Devil in Disguise’ and Frank Ifield’s final, and most pleasing, #1 ‘Confessin’ (That I Love You)’. And, of course, the return of Roy Orbison. The Roynaissance. ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ was the sound of him meeting the Beat-revolution halfway; but his earlier comeback #1, the dramatic and operatic ‘It’s Over’, sounded completely out of place, and all the better for it.

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Which leads me to the latest ‘WTAF’ Award, and a truly tough decision. Do I award it to The Big O, for ‘It’s Over’, or to Gerry & The Pacemakers for the bizarre, and perhaps fatal, decision to record a version of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’? I’m going to edge towards The Pacemakers – ‘It’s Over’ merely sounds out of place thanks to its surroundings; in the career of Roy Orbison it makes complete sense. Whereas I’m not sure anyone saw ‘YNWA’ coming. Still, it probably gets played ten times more these days than ‘I Like It’, and it means Gerry and the lads get a nice windfall any time Liverpool win a big match.

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Choosing a record to crown as both ‘Meh’ and the Very Worst Chart-Topper is also a tough decision. There simply haven’t been enough terrible records to go around. It’s basically a straight shootout between The Bachelors ‘Diane’ and The Four Pennies ‘Juliet’. Two landfill Merseybeat records, cashing in on the day’s signature sound to make bland MOR; two records named after girls. I’ll give the ‘Meh’ Award to ‘Juliet’ and the Very Worst Chart-Topper to ‘Diane’, as The Four Pennies were merely boring, while I feel there was something sinister in The Bachelors perverting Merseybeat into a record for grannies. Like when Pat Boone released his metal-covers record, or when Tom Jones did Prince…

Before we settle what was the best of the best, one thing that did surprise me as I covered the past thirty-one chart-topping discs was that only three of them were recorded by Americans. Roy Orbison, of course, and one Elvis Presley, who you may remember from previous recaps. Back in my first recap, during the pre-rock days, I commented on how few British acts there seemed to be, and how the big US stars of the day – Kay Starr, Perry Como, Eddie Fisher et al – were bringing the glamour to bombed-out, over-rationed Blighty. Well, ten years on and much has changed. The Brits are the cool ones – it was they who were invading the Billboard Hot 100 across the Atlantic. Except, they were doing so with American-written songs. All The Searchers’ #1s were originally recorded by US vocal groups. Cilla and Sandie Shaw hit big with Bacharach and David numbers. ‘Do You Love Me?’ was a Motown number, while ‘I’m Into Something Good’ was written by Goffin and King. An interesting footnote to the British Invasion.

To the crème de la crème, then… The 6th Very Best Chart-Topper award. I’ve narrowed it down to a top five. ‘How Do You Do It?’, by Gerry and the P’s, for kicking this whole shebang off. Then The Animals, for announcing the end of Merseybeat a year later with the deep-throated, bluesy ‘The House of the Rising Sun’. They’re joint fourth. 3rd place goes to ‘You Really Got Me’ – in which the Kinks invented garage rock, power-pop and, oh yes, heavy metal – and generally grabbed us all by the bollocks and kicked us up the arse. Runner-up goes to the sublime ‘Needles and Pins’ by The Searchers – a moment of sad-pop melancholy in amongst the frenzy. I really wish I could argue a case for this being the very best but… I can’t. Not when The Fab Four are looking on.

Yes, five of the past bunch of chart-toppers were by The Beatles, with a further two written and donated to other acts by Lennon & McCartney. All of which were good-to-great #1s. (Sorry to disappoint, but I won’t have too many bad words to say about any of their seventeen chart-toppers.) One though, stands out above the rest. The one hundred and fifty seventh UK chart-topper, and the moment the world realised that they were in on something spectacular: ‘She Loves You’. Yeah, yeah… Yeah!

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To recap the recaps, then:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability: 1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell. 2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers. 3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone. 4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley. 5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows. 6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.

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.

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.

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.

The next thirty will take us from the tail-end of 1964 through to early ’66, and I doubt there will be anything like as clear and definable a ‘sound’ to the coming months. Popular music will continue to fragment. Starting with a brand new first at the top of the UK charts. It’s Motown, baby!

Songs That Should Have Been #1… ‘Please Please Me’, by The Beatles

The Stargazers, Don Cornell, The Johnston Brothers, The Dream Weavers, Jerry Keller…? Nope, me neither. But they’ve all had the honour of topping the UK singles chart.

How well a single performs in the charts can be influenced by various things… promotion, star power, tastes and trends, time of year… pure luck. And that most fickle, unpredictable of  factors: the general public. Do enough of them like your song to make it a smash? Or will they ignore it, and let it fall by the wayside?

I’m taking a short break from the regular countdown to feature five discs that really should have topped the charts. Be it for their long-reaching influence, their enduring popularity or for the simple fact that, had they peaked a week earlier or later, they might have made it. (I’ll only be covering songs released before 1964, as that’s where I’m up to on the usual countdown.)

Next up… A record that changed the course of popular music?

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Please Please Me, by the Beatles

Reached #2 in February 1963

As with Elvis, I don’t need to go giving The Fab Four any extra number one singles. By the end of their chart careers, they’d had seventeen of them. And as much as I love this single (if it had been one of their #1s it would probably be in my Top 5) , and as much as I wish that this had been their first ever chart-topper, that isn’t why I’m including ‘Please Please Me’ in this mini-countdown.

I touched on it in my last post, on the mega-long running #2 hit ‘Stranger on the Shore’, but the charts of the 1950s and ’60s were a tad confused. There wasn’t just one of them, for a start. You had the ‘Melody Maker’ chart, the ‘NME’ chart, and the ‘Record Retailer’ chart. None of which offered a complete overview of a week’s sales – they all conducted ‘surveys’ of selected record stores over the phone…

‘Please Please Me’ hit #1 in the NME chart (which had the largest circulation) and ‘Melody Maker’ chart, but it only reached #2 in ‘Record Retailer’, which was the one that the UK Singles Chart chose to follow. So, it may well have been the biggest selling single at some point; we’ll just never know for sure… The history books record it as having stalled behind Frank Ifield’s dull-as-dishwater ‘The Wayward Wind’ for two weeks.

It’s far from the only single to have suffered this unfortunate fate – it wasn’t until 1969 that the UK charts were unified into one – but it’s a landmark single from the biggest pop group in history, with one of the very best middle-eights, ever… So enjoy.

166. ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, by The Beatles

Our next #1 is a record that wastes no time in getting to the heart of what it’s all about. The song is called ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, and the intro goes:

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Can’t Buy Me Love, by The Beatles (their 4th of seventeen #1s)

3 weeks, from 2nd – 23rd April 1964

Can’t buy me love…. No-oh…. Can’t buy me lo-ve… It’s a jarring intro – a bit too in your face – but things improve a lot with the verses. I’ve always liked the swinging, bluesy rhythm on this record and today, listening to it for the first time in ages, I still do. Buy you a diamond ring my friend, If it makes you feel alright, I’ll get you anything my friend, If it makes you feel alright…

It’s a song about money not being everything; which is a topic that always sounds a bit off coming from hugely successful and completely loaded musicians. But I think The Beatles were young enough, and sufficiently green behind the ears, in early-’64, to get away with it. Actually, in a similar manner to ‘She Loves You’, Lennon & McCartney take a familiar theme here and add a layer or two. The lyrics aren’t about not needing money; they’re about having money and not really caring what you do with it. I don’t care too much for money, Money can’t buy me love…

It’s also a kind of contradictory message, as they then list the things they’ll give someone – as long as they love them back. Give you all I’ve got to give, If you say you’ll love me too… So money can buy you love…? I’m confused, guys. Perhaps we’re getting a first glimpse, four number #1s into their career, of The Fab Four’s disillusionment with fame and riches…? Especially in the final verse, where they hope that the girl wants the kind of things that money just can’t buy. Had they already been burned by gold-digging groupies…? It ends on what almost sounds like a wistful sigh… Ohhhhh….

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Musically, it’s a little basic. At least, it’s Beatles-basic (which means that most other bands would have bitten your hand off for a chance to record it.) The high points are the ear-splitting shriek before the solo, and the echoey, plucked guitar that follows. It’s never been one of my favourite Beatles songs – I guess I always overlooked it in favour of the ‘bigger’ hits – but it’s been nice to re-discover it for this post. For some reason I will always associate it with an episode of The Simpsons, in which Grandpa and his friends frolic in a meadow (I’m sure I’m not imagining that…)

‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ ensured that The Beatles joined both Elvis and Frank Ifield in scoring 4 #1s in a year (though only Elvis did it in a calendar year.) In fact, this record hit the top simultaneously in the UK and the US and pretty much marks the absolutely demented, scream your head off and throw your panties height of Beatlemania. It was #1 in the week of the famous all-Beatles Top 5 in the Billboard Hot 100, and followed directly on from ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ and ‘She Loves You’ in occupying pole position. These three discs hogged the top spot over there for a full fourteen consecutive weeks.

Back on the other side of the Atlantic, though, you could be forgiven for thinking that a three-week stint at the top of the charts seems a little short for a hot new single from The Biggest Band the World Had Ever Seen. Perhaps, but they were about to be replaced at #1 by one of their own songs… again…

Listen to all the #1s so far by following my playlist:

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…

Follow along with my Spotify playlist:

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…

Follow, and listen to every #1 so far, with this Spotify playlist:

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…

Follow the OFFICIAL playlist to this blog, updated along with every post, here….