The Shadows are back. But sans-Cliff. Who’s doing the singing then? Nobody! That’s who. Yep, it’s time for another instrumental interlude…
Apache, by The Shadows (their 4th of twelve #1s)
5 weeks, from 25th August – 29th September 1960
I’ve struggled to place my feelings on the instrumentals featured in this countdown. We’ve veered from the decidedly pleasant Song from ‘The Moulin Rouge’, to the undeniably perky Winifred Atwell, to the Oh-God-Make-It-Stop! of Russ Conway and Eddie Calvert. And then I went and named Perez Prado’s ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’ as one of the very best records we’ve heard thus far… I know that ‘Instrumental’ itself isn’t a genre – you can’t pigeon hole them all together. But still… Where does this latest one fit in the grand scheme of vocals-less chart-toppers?
It’s different, for a start, in that it’s a guitar-led track. I make this the 9th instrumental chart-topper (10th if you count ‘Hoots Mon’ with its sporadic shouting) and the first to use guitars as the lead instrument. Lots of pianos, trumpets and violins thus far; not many guitars. It starts, though, with drums. What might be described as ‘Injun Drums’, which would make sense in a song called ‘Apache’. Which means that this track, alongside Johnny Preston’s ‘Running Bear’, ensures that 1960 will go down as the year of the Native American in Popular Music.
It’s a song with a long and varied history – The Shadows’ version being neither the first nor the last – but it was originally inspired by a 1954 western movie, starring Burt Lancaster and entitled, funnily enough, ‘Apache.’ (A 1973 version of the song, by the Incredible Bongo Band, has become one of the most sampled tracks of all time, earning it the title of ‘hip-hop’s national anthem’, but that’s a story for another day…)
Perhaps one of the reasons that I struggle with instrumentals is that I find them so hard to write about. What are they about, for a start? ‘The Poor People of Paris’ didn’t sound like it was about poor people. ‘Moulin Rouge’ had precious little to do with the can-can. Russ Conway’s efforts were ice-cream van jingles in search of an actual melody. But ‘Apache’ -and this is a big point in its favour – does actually sound as if it’s about a Native American soldier, riding out into the sunset for one final showdown… Close your eyes as you listen and you’ll see him. Plus the bit where the guitars sound like a galloping horse is really cool.
It makes sense as a song, too. There’s a verse, a bridge, and then a chorus. You can kind of sing along to it. Plus, there’s a riff! Make that three from three! Dun-dun-Dun-dan-dun-dun-dan-dun… The guitars sound great, and just as twangy as those used in ‘Shakin’ All Over’. This is a great piece of music, actually. But subtle; its greatness taking time to become apparent.
I mentioned during my post on ‘Travellin’ Light’ that for their first two #1s The Shadows, or The Drifters as they were for ‘Living Doll’, had little more to do than just turn up and tickle their instruments (so to speak). They did a bit more on ‘Please Don’t Tease’, riffing and soloing and the like, but I half suspect that they went solo just so that they could let loose a little. Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch were too talented to stay as Cliff’s backing band forever. ‘Apache’ was their first ‘solo’ release to chart, and it charted in style: five weeks at the top making it, for now, the second biggest hit of 1960 behind ‘Cathy’s Clown’. And this is only the beginning – for the next three years The Shadows will utterly dominate the UK charts. I make it 33 (thirty-three!) Top 10 hits, both with and without Cliff, before the glory days draw to an end.
Even with this early hit, The Shadows already manage two very impressive feats. Firstly, they become the first ever act in UK chart history to replace themselves at #1. And they draw level with giants such as Elvis, Frankie Laine and Guy Mitchell as the artists with the most UK chart-toppers. All of this with a record that doesn’t have any lyrics! How about that! Maybe from now on I should try harder to appreciate instrumentals… Maybe instrumentals are the way forward… Down with lyrics! Yeah! Put that on a T-shirt…