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:

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…

175. ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’, by Manfred Mann

‘Pop Music’… an ultra-generic term, but hey… What’s the first thing that pops (gettit?) into your head when you hear that term? Feel-good, catchy hits. Bubble-gum and bright colours. Popular songs that sell loads of copies. And yet, many, if not most, pop songs are more complex than that. Look at the songs to have hit #1 in 1964, and you’ll find a lot of bittersweet emotion: ‘Needles and Pins’, ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’, ‘A World Without Love’, two songs titled ‘It’s Over’ and ‘It’s All Over Now’. Plus a song about a boy driven to ruin in a gambling den-slash-whorehouse. Only one – ‘Glad All Over’ – could potentially have filled all the ‘feel-good, catchy, bubblegum’ criteria this year so far. Make that two, now.

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Do Wah Diddy Diddy, by Manfred Mann (their 1st of three #1s)

2 weeks, from 13th – 27th August 1964

There she was, Just a-walkin’ down the street, Singin’… Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy doo…! I forgot to add one more requirement to the ‘Pop Music’ manifesto – a memorable hook. And has there ever been a more memorable hook than Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy doo? Add it to the wopbopaloomas, the ramalamadingdongs and the zig-ah-zig-ahs of pop lore. As usual, I took a pre-post listen to this song, and tried to jot down some notes. But I found I didn’t write very much. I was too busy enjoying what is a great little pop song.

We come to a goofy call-and-response section: She looked good… (looked good…) She looked fine…( looked fine…) And I nearly lost my mind… And then it’s the bridge – another great bridge in an era of absolutely superb middle-eights. Woah-oh-woah, I knew we were falling in lo-o-o-ve… coupled with a twangy, rock ‘n’ roll throwback guitar. And we finish with, of course, a happy ending: with the loved-up couple together every single day, singing… You know exactly what they were singing: Do wah diddy diddy…

Musically, we can still hear the slow disintegration of the Merseybeat sound, now with organs, and maracas, and deep, bouncy, almost synthetic sounding drums. We’re approaching what I would think is peak-sixties, and this is a very sixties-sounding disc. And I’m looking at what I’ve written so far, and thinking it’s a pretty short post for a pretty high-quality song… But at the same time, ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’ is pretty close to pop perfection; and pop don’t need no analysing. That’s not really what pop music is for.

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Plus, Manfred Mann will be chart staples for the entirety of the 1960s, managing what many of their Beat contemporaries couldn’t – to adapt their sound and score hits (including two more chart-toppers) all the way through to 1969. So I can’t even pad this post out with a career round-up.

This record made them the first non-Liverpudlian/Mancunian US chart-toppers during the British Invasion of 1964. In actual fact, though, ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’ was a cover. US girl group The Exciters had had a minor hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with it earlier in the year. Give that version a listen here. It’s a sign of the song’s strength, I’d say, that it works just as well in the hands of a female vocal group as it does in the hands of a raucous Beat-combo, and sounds as if it was originally written for them both. A stone-cold pop classic.

Songs That Should Have Been #1… ‘Be My Baby’, by The Ronettes

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.)

Last up…? Why, if it isn’t the best pop song of all time!

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Be My Baby, by The Ronettes

Reached #4 in November 1963

Not sure I have to write much more than that… But I’ll try.

Why is it such a classic? Well… There’s the intro, THE crashing, smashing Wall of Sound, the cascading drums, the melodramatic handclaps, the horns, the over-dubbing, the full-on orchestra in the background, the lyrics that range from girlishly submissive (I’ll make you happy, baby…) to flirty ( …just wait and see) in the space of one line…

Phil Spector may be a terrible person; yet against the backdrop of his crimes, and his truly messed-up relationship with Ronette’s lead singer Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Bennett (the only member of the group to actually sing on this song – every voice in the record is hers) ‘Be My Baby’ shines out even more brightly as a slice of pop perfection. Beauty out of something, or someone, awful.

Put simply, this is an amazing song, and it is a crime that it never topped the charts. I’ll end this mini-countdown imagining a parallel universe, where ‘Be My Baby’ sat astride the UK singles chart for a good month or two…

The usual #1s countdown will resume in a couple of days…

Songs That Should Have Been #1… ‘Stranger on the Shore’, by Mr. Acker Bilk

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 song that I have to admit I don’t know terribly well. In fact, I listened to it for the very first time just before typing these words…

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Stranger on the Shore, by Mr. Acker Bilk

reached #2 in January 1962

It’s a pleasant enough instrumental, by a clarinetist from Somerset… The theme to a TV programme of the same name. It sounds slightly dated, even for a record released in 1961. Not the type of song I’d usually rush to listen to… I’m including this disc in this mini-countdown for exactly the opposite reasons I included ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. ‘Stranger on the Shore’ isn’t revolutionary, or life-changing, or any of that…  But it was a bloody persistent record.

It entered the Top 10 in December of 1961, and it remained, with a couple of drops and re-entries, a Top 10 record in the following… July! Over six months! It remained in the charts for a year. It was the first British single to hit #1 in on the Billboard Hot 100, two years before the British Invasion. It was also the biggest selling hit of 1962 in Britain, and is the biggest selling instrumental record in chart history. It was played in Apollo 10, on its way to the moon…

All the figures suggest that this should have been massive chart-topping smash… except the one that matters most. It never got higher than number two, held off in the most part by Cliff & The Shadows, ‘The Young Ones’. It did top the NME chart, but that wasn’t the official chart, and a lot more on that tomorrow, in my next shoulda-been-number-one post…

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:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

155. ‘Sweets For My Sweet’, by The Searchers

Everybody back aboard the Merseybeat bus, for a trip that’s going to take us well into 1964. The initial beat-bands to top the charts – Gerry & The Pacemakers and The Beatles – are now joined by another bunch of Liverpudlians.

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Sweets For My Sweet, by The Searchers (their 1st of three #1s)

2 weeks, from 8th – 22nd August 1963

I can’t imagine another time when one sound monopolised the top of the charts in such a fashion. From now – early August 1963 – to the middle of February 1964, every UK #1 will have a Merseybeat flavour to it. And we kick off with this one, and a chorus that most will know…

Sweets for my sweet, Sugar for my honey, Your first sweet kiss, Thrills me so… It’s a step back from the frenetic tempo of ‘From Me to You’ and ‘How Do You Do It?’, the guitars here chime rather than rattle; the drums roll rather than thump. There’s a hint of a chugging little riff buried in there too. In fact, I’d say that musically this is a step ahead of the earlier beat chart-toppers. I’m getting hints of The Byrds in the guitars and The Beach Boys in the ‘oooh-eeeh-oooh’ backing vocals. In fact, I can hear the foundations of ‘80s indie in that chiming solo that follows the choruses. You tell me that that doesn’t sound like something the Stone Roses might have come out with.

On the flip side… there’s always a flip side… the lyrics here are a step back from the cheeky charms of John Lennon and Gerry Marsden. They were giving us little vignettes about running fingers through hair, and kisses that would keep you satisfied… relatable stuff. The Searchers still sing in scouse accents but are giving us: If you wanted that star that shines so brightly, To match the stardust in your eyes, Darling I would chase that bright star nightly, And try to steal it from the sky… And then there’s some nonsense about the Sandman, like it was still 1954 or something.

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There’s a good reason for this. I said that the chorus should be familiar to all, but to American readers it might be more famous in the form of The Drifters 1961 original. (Yes, I too was slightly surprised to find out that it was a cover, and that in fact all The Searchers’ chart-toppers would be covers.) These lyrics work well in the hands of The Drifters. But 1963 is a long way, musically, from ’61. Times have changed, and if you came out with these lyrics in a playground in Liverpool you’d probably get beaten up.

The Searchers were, like the bands that went immediately before them in establishing this new sound at the top of the charts, a four-piece, young (early twenties) and, of course, from the north-west of England. They will hit the top spot twice more in very short order, and next time it will be with a much better song…!

That’s not to be too harsh on ‘Sweets For My Sweet’, it’s a perfectly good pop song. It’s just a bit… Cheesy? Simplistic? Trite? Maybe it’s a victim of time. If The Drifters had taken it to #1 two years earlier I might have loved it. One thing’s for sure, though, when that perfect little drum roll at the end, which is so mid-sixties, pops up you are just about ready to forgive all the sins that went before.

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153. ‘Confessin’ (That I Love You)’, by Frank Ifield

In my last post, I indulged in a bit of metaphor-making and compared the Merseybeat wave that was sweeping the charts to a meteor – a mop-topped meteor that flattened all the musical dinosaurs who were clogging the charts. Except, as beautiful as that image is, reality gets in the way here. We briefly have to return to the old ways. The corpse, it seems, is still twitching.

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Confessin’ (That I Love You), by Frank Ifield (his 4th and final #1)

2 weeks, from 18th July – 1st August 1963

Frank Ifield, after dominating the latter half of 1962, still had enough in the tank to claim one final #1 single. The three he’s had so far have ranged from dull (‘The Wayward Wind’) to demented (‘Lovesick Blues’), but none have been very good. Can ‘Confessin’’ save the day?

It starts with a smooth rhythm – a bossanova? – and, naturally, a harmonica. And then the syrupy tones of ol’ Frank. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating – for all his many faults, this guy could sing. I’m confessin’ that I love yo-ooou, Tell me do you love me to-ooo, I’m confessin’ that I need you, Honest I do… Need you ev’ry moment…

It’s a lot more understated than his previous chart-toppers, even his trademark yodelling works here, in that it fits in with the lilting rhythm of the song and doesn’t just sound like him showing off. I kind of like it… I mean, I’ve forgotten it pretty much as soon as it’s done, and the lyrics are a kind of nothingy mulch about how much he loves a girl, and how he hopes she returns his feelings: I’m afraid someday you’ll leave me, Saying can we still be friends… To suggest that it has redeemed the chart-topping career of Yodelling Frank, however, would be a step too far.

If I’ve learned anything over my past four Ifield-based posts, it’s that this will be an old song done up to suit modern ears. It’s what Frank did. And in fact, ‘Confessin’ (That I Love You)’ dates further back than any Ifield #1 has done so far. It’s had the treatment from pretty much everyone, many of whom we’ve met before on this countdown: Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day, Perry Como, Frankie Laine, Kay Starr, Dean Martin and Johnnie Ray, as well as others like Judy Garland and the wonderfully named Chester Gaylord, who had the original hit way back in 1930.

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It’s a perfectly nice record, but one that I doubt would have come anywhere near the top of the charts had it been Ifield’s first release. It definitely needed the goodwill and borrowed lustre of his earlier, much bigger hits to drag it to the summit. Way, way back – when I wrote about Frankie Laine’s follow up to the monster-hit ‘I Believe’ – I invented the idea of a shadow-hit, a hit record kind of like those tiny birds that hang out picking the flies off hippos, and this is definitely what’s happening here.

And so ends the chart-topping career of Frank Ifield. He burned brightly but oh-so briefly – his four #1s squeezed into just under a year. I must admit I made a grave error when I got excited about Elvis doing four-in-a-year and struggled to find any other act that had managed it… Our Frank was hiding right here under our very noses. But that kind of sums up his career and his legacy, as I’d say he’s been pretty much forgotten. He was bulldozed from collective memory by The Beatles et al, and now rarely gets mentioned… He had one more Top Ten hit following this, and has been inducted into both the Australian Music Hall of Fame and, more importantly, the Coventry Music Wall of Fame. In the eighties he contracted pneumonia, which left him unable to yodel… He’s still going, though, aged eighty-one.

Frank Ifield, then, ladies and gentlemen. First Australian to top the UK charts, the Great Yodeller, forgotten superstar of the 1960s… A round of applause, please. And onwards.

Follow along, and listen to every #1 covered so far, on my Spotify playlist: