165. ‘Little Children’, by Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas

One of the earliest stars of the Beat explosion, Billy J. Kramer, returns for one last go on top. And he starts this latest #1 off with an intro full of intrigue. An intriguing intro. It’s a little slow and shuffling, a little woozy, like a pub band that’ve had one too many warming up for their final encore of the night. All that’s missing is a harmonica…

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Little Children, by Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas (their 2nd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 19th March – 2nd April 1964

Then the lyrics come in, and the intrigue grows ten-fold. Little children, You better not tell on me… I’m telling you… Little children, You better not tell what you see… It’s a song that tells a story – rather than the traditional ‘I love you, I’m in heaven, Hold my hand’ kind of songs that we’ve had a lot of recently – and that’s always a good thing. It makes them easier to write about for a start. But… And I’m sure you noticed it too… Those opening lines do sound kinda creepy.

It gets worse, too, before it gets better. I’ll give you candy, And a quarter, If you’re quiet, Like you oughta be, And keep the secret with me… Yep. I know. But, just as you reach for the phone to call ChildLine, all becomes clear. He wants the children to bugger off so that he can kiss and cuddle with their – presumably safely over-age – older sister. Nothing more sinister here than a spot of mild bribery. Phew.

Still, this is a strange little song. And not just because of those lyrics. I like it, the slightly seedy rhythm and the fact that it paints a picture of a very specific and believable scenario. Why does he not want his secret exposed? You saw me kissing your sister, You saw me holding her hand, But if you snitch to your mother, Your father won’t understand… Are her parents simply over-protective? Or has he got a reputation as a bit of a bounder? The best bits are the growled asides: I wish they would take a nap… And the simple, snide Go anywhere…! Add to this the fact that there isn’t really a chorus or a solo, just four ascending verses in which the singer grows more and more frustrated about not being left alone with his beau. I like it, even though it’s a strange song. I like it because it’s a strange song.

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Given all the American references littered throughout the song – ‘quarters’, ‘movies’, ‘going steady’ – I was convinced that this #1 was going to add to the list of Beat-hits-that-were-actually-covers, but no. It was written by two American songwriters – J. Leslie McFarland and Mort Shuman – but Billy J. and The Dakotas recorded the first and only version. Apparently Kramer had been offered another Lennon and McCartney song but turned it down for something quirkier. Kudos to him for that. Although it has to be said that, as fun as this record is, ‘Bad to Me’, their first, Beatles-written, chart-topper is the superior disc.

That was it for Billy J. and number one hits. In a similar fashion to Gerry & The Pacemakers, his career fell off a cliff in 1965 as the Beat movement split into all its different sub-factions. He would only have one further UK Top 10, and parted from The Dakotas in 1967. In the seventies he worked in cabaret and regional television, and to this day he still does a turn on the oldies circuits. He has also been married twice, and so he must have persuaded those pesky kids to clear off, eventually…

156. ‘Bad to Me’, by Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas

A crooning little intro has us fearing the worst as the needle drops on our latest chart-topper … If you ever leave me, I’ll be sad and blue… A guitar strums plaintively… Don’t you ever leave me, I’m so in love with you… But it’s an intro that you know is going somewhere – something in that last ‘you…’ just brims with promise – and yes, the guitar, clear as a bell, kicks in and we’re off into another solid Beat #1.

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Bad to Me, by Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas (their 1st of two #1s)

3 weeks, from 22nd August – 12th September 1963

The birds in the sky would be, Sad and lonely, If they knew that I’d lost my, One and only… And if, as this song unfolds, you get the feeling that it all sounds very familiar – something in the chord progressions and the notes that Billy J. Kramer leaves hanging in the air – then you’d be on to something. For the next seven years of the UK pop charts there will be two main categories of number one single: those recorded by The Beatles, and those written by The Beatles (or, rather, by Lennon & McCartney). Hot on the heels of their 1st #1 as performers, ‘Bad to Me’ is their first #1 as writers.

That’s not to say that Billy J. and his Dakotas don’t make this song their own. The band is crisp and tight, and Kramer’s voice is strong too. I like the flip and the little groan as he takes us through the But I know you won’t leave me cos you told me so… line. He treads a fine line between singing properly but not crooning. He doesn’t have as strong an accent as, say, John Lennon or Gerry Marsden; but he doesn’t sound like Perry Como either. In fact, we’re five #1s into the Merseybeat revolution and I don’t think I’ve struggled to make out a single line. We await the deterioration of diction in pop music – possibly the late-twentieth century’s greatest crime, according to my late Grandma – with bated breath. My money’s on Jagger.

Anyway, I like this song. We’ve got piano, some nice harmonies, and some standard Merseybeat drums. We even get my favourite type of guitar solo: one that mimics the verses note for note. It’s lazy; but works every time. And… done. A song that wasn’t completely unfamiliar to me; but one to which I had never really paid much attention. I’ll add it to my playlists.

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With this disc we keep up our run of young whippersnappers topping the charts (Kramer had just turned twenty when this reached the summit.) However we break our run of Liverpudlians! Billy J was from Bootle but the Dakotas were from all the way over in Manchester. (Still, we manage to keep it in the North-West of England, for now.) Their partnership was something of a marriage of convenience: Kramer needed a band and Brian Epstein persuaded The Dakotas to leave their original singer and team up with him. They debuted with another Beatles cover – ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret?’ – which had hit #2 earlier in the year.

Two more things to mention before we wrap up. If you’re thinking “Hey, with a name like Billy J. Kramer there’s no way he wasn’t going to be a rock star!” then you’d be sorely misguided. His real name was William Howard Ashton – a Vicar’s name if ever there was one. And secondly… ‘Bad to Me’, when you think about it, is a very misleading song title when you consider that the whole entire song is about how the girl is not bad to him. It’s as if ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love?’ was just called ‘In Love.’ Something to mull over, as I leave it there for now.