Attention, readers. Do not panic. Do not adjust your dials. We have not, I repeat not, somehow warped back in time to 1923. This is The Temperance Seven, and this record did indeed hit #1, in the UK, during the early summer of ’61.
You’re Driving Me Crazy, by The Temperance Seven (their 1st and only #1)
1 week, from 25th May – 1st June 1961
If I wasn’t already familiar with this song, I’d have assumed after the first minute or so that we were dealing with another instrumental. The first, and perhaps only time, that one instrumental record has deposed another from the top of the charts. But no. It’s just that the intro here is long and winding. Clarinets, trumpets, tubas (?)… I’m guessing there’s a sax in there somewhere too. This is a jazz record. Not jazz pop, or jazz rock, but proper, traditional Jazz. The sort that goes with flappers doing the Charleston, and gin rickeys. The sort of jazz that soundtracked all-night parties on West Egg. And we get a minute and ten seconds of this pure jazzin’ before a voice comes in…
You left me sad and lonely, Why did you leave me lonely? Lyrically, this is very simple number one. A girl is driving a man crazy… I’m burning like a flame, dear, I’ll never be the same, dear… The delivery is very knowing, extremely arch. It’s not really sung; more enounced with gusto. One pictures Noel Coward leaning against a mantlepiece, cigarette dangling lazily between two fingers, eyebrow raised… You, You’re driving me crazy… What did I do? Oh what did I do?… My tears for you, Make everything hazy… Clouding a sky of blue… The lyrics only last for a few lines, taking up barely a minute of song-time (and, at a second or two shy of four minutes, this is our longest number one so far.) It is listed as a ‘vocal refrain’, by a Mr. Paul McDowell, which only adds to the kitschy feeling.
The remainder of this record saunters along – very catchily, very jauntily… It’s an undeniably fun song. And I do like the fake-ending. But…
Something’s up here… Why is this jazz disc grabbing a week atop the charts in the post-rock ‘n’ roll era? Why is the ‘singing’ so camp? Why does this whole song feel as if it’s being delivered with a big, pantomime wink? Should I be listing this as a ‘novelty’, rather than a ‘jazz’ record? I probably should. The Temperance Seven were an Art School band, who claimed to have formed in 1904 in something called the Pasadena Cocoa Rooms… But they hadn’t – they got together in 1955 in Chelsea. They were darlings of the late 1950s London art scene, and performed at one point with comedian Peter Sellers on vocals. Imagine the cast of Monty Python in a revival of ‘Chicago’ and you’re halfway there. This record is, for want of a better description, a piss-take.
It’s cute, it’s meta… It’s deliberately aping 1920s jazz with its tongue lodged firmly in its cheek. It’s not like previous #1s – ‘Whose Sorry Now’, ‘Mack the Knife’ et al – where old songs were covered and rebooted. This is our first ‘retro’ #1 – a record that deliberately sounds old, foreshadowing the likes of Showaddywaddy and Shakin’ Stevens by well over a decade. And it’s a pastiche done very well – The Temperance Seven were all accomplished musicians – and so the record also works as a piece of simple nostalgia. It’s also worth noting that this record was produced by one… George Martin. Of Beatles-producing fame. And whiffs of The Temperance Seven do come through in some of the Fab Four’s stuff… Listen to ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, and then ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’, or ‘Honey Pie’ for example.
I’m in two minds here. I like the fact that it’s something completely different. It’s one of the weirdest number ones yet; probably one of the weirdest ever. It’s gloriously odd. It’s cool that this got anywhere near the top of the singles chart. But… There were countless ‘proper’ Trad-Jazz artists releasing records at this time. Kenny Ball, Chris Barber, Acker Bilk all had some huge hits – ‘Stranger on the Shore’ and ‘Midnight in Moscow’ and all that. Louis Armstrong was having a bit of a chart-renaissance, too. None of them got to number one, though. The jazz revival of the early 1960s is represented at the top of the UK charts, for a solitary week, by a bunch of art school kids having a bit of a laugh. And I’m not sure how I feel about that…
I am slightly biased, though. The first CD I ever bought – aged seven or eight – was a compilation full of Trad-Jazz classics. Lots of Barber, Bilk and Ball. I wanted to learn the saxophone. I wanted to be Satchmo. Even now I’ll put a Trad-Jazz playlist on when I want music that I don’t really have to listen to (and I mean that as a good thing). Nothing too experimental: no bebop, no improv… Just good, old-fashioned jazz (I did jazz-hands there as I typed that).
I have to say, though, moral quandaries over this record aside, 1961 has been an excellent year for chart-toppers. Pure pop, doo-wop, piano rags and now this… The only blot on the page – and it’s a sizeable one – has been the abominable ‘Wooden Heart’. Long may the variety, and the fun, continue!