163. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors

Ladies and Gentlemen! ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors, is the UK’s one hundred and sixty-third number one single… Nope. Me neither.

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Diane, by The Bachelors (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 20th – 27th February 1964

It’s been a good long while since we arrived at a chart-topper that I’d never, ever heard before. Yodeller par excellence Frank Ifield’s version of ‘Confessin’ was probably the last. But even before pressing play, I can kind of predict what we’re heading for here. ‘Diane’, by ‘The Bachelors’ doesn’t, to me, scream rock ‘n’ roll abandon.

And yup, the intro has a strong whiff of barbershop quartet: Smile for me-e-e-e…. My Diane… Close harmonies, and long drawn out notes. But no sooner has this opener swooped to a close than in comes a lilting country rhythm. I’m in heaven, When I see you smile, Smile for me, My Diane… It’s a song about a woman, called Diane, and how much a boy loves her. She lights the road home. No matter where he roams etc. etc. (Has there ever been a non-country and western song featuring the word ‘roam? I don’t think so…)

The Beat-invasion may have had a strong chokehold on the charts at this time, but other songs could still poke through. This had a solitary week at the top, and I have the feeling that that was because there was little in the way of competition – a default #1 because, well, something has to be number one. It’s cute, and pleasant enough, but…

I’m not too sure what to make of it. Maybe it’s insignificant enough for me to simply make nothing of it. It’s a country-ish, barbershop-ish (I do like the ah-oh-oh-ohs!) little ditty that I have to admit I was singing along to by the fourth listen. Actually, I’ve just realised that I’m also getting hints of Cliff – in both the swaying guitars last heard in ‘Summer Holiday’ and the band’s name (Bachelors, get it?)

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Who exactly were these Bachelors? Well, they were Irish, which makes them the very first Irish act to top the British charts, preceding U2 and Boyzone, and the other Irish chart-dominators of the eighties and nineties. So that’s something. There were three of them – Conleth, Declan and John, and they made a decent mid-sixties career out of re-interpreting old tunes from the 1920s and ‘30s in a vaguely Beat-ish way. ‘Diane’ was originally written as the theme song to a 1927 silent movie, for example. Slim Whitman, Jim Reeves and Vic Damone all did their own versions at one time or another. The lads also scored hits with covers of songs like ‘I Believe’ and ‘Hello Dolly!’ While other Beat groups were looking forward; The Bachelor-boys were looking back.

Nothing dates this song, though, as much as the ending. Back in the dark and distant Pre-Rock days almost every song ended with a huge, soaring climax that had been signposted a mile off. And The Bachelors here do their best to recapture those halcyon days. The song slows down, the singer revs up and… Smile for meeeeeee, My… Di….AAAAAAANE! We finish all misty-eyed for the days of Al Martino and David Whitfield.

I don’t begrudge this song its week on top of the charts; but at the same time I’m not terribly sad that we won’t be hearing from The Bachelors ever again. Interestingly, not only does this record give us our first Irish #1, it also sees the name Diane (or variants thereof) sprint into the lead as the name featured in the most chart-topping singles. With two. This, and Paul Anka’s ‘Diana’. We’ve also had a Joe, a Rose Marie, a Hernando, a Josephine, a Mary, a Cathy, a Laura, a Johnny and a Michael, all on one chart-topper each. Not something I ever thought I’d keep an eye on but, now that I have done, it’s kind of fascinating. Which name will be the winner? And who’d have thought that a Josephine would have topped the charts before, say, a Sue or a Jenny?

162. ‘Needles and Pins’, by The Searchers

The Searchers return for a second run at the top. And if their first #1 – ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ – was a cute little slice of Beat-pop; then this is next-level stuff entirely. This baby is a classic!

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Needles and Pins, by The Searchers (their 2nd of three #1s)

3 weeks, from 30th January – 20th February 1964

We start with a simple, chiming riff. In my previous post on The Searchers, I mentioned that they had a sound slightly removed from frenetic Merseybeat – a bit more sedate, a bit more melancholic – a sound that wouldn’t sound out of place on Indie records of the 1980s. Well, that sound is back here.

Lyrically, too, this is a more complex record than the likes of ‘Do You Love Me’ and other such pub-singalongs. And no, ‘Needles and Pins’ doesn’t refer to waking up with a dead arm; it’s about the feeling you get when you see a lost love. One that did you wrong. I saw her today, I saw her face, It was a face I loved, And I knew, I had to run awa-y…

It’s also a song about bruised pride… Because of all my pride, The tears I gotta hide… and a song with an air of revenge about it: Let her go ahead, And take his love instead, And one day she will see, Just how to say please, And get down on her knees, Yeah that’s how it begins, She’ll feel those needles and pins, Hurtin’, Hurtin’… This is one grown-up love song. It’s like the sophisticated older brother of discs like our last chart-topper, ‘Glad All Over’, looking down his nose at his younger siblings’ silly little songs.

I wish I had the musical vocabulary to describe the chord structures and the key and whatever it is that gives this record its ‘mood’. Whatever it is that makes this song so good. But then again, if I could dissect it and pinpoint it’s genius maybe it would lose some of its magic. It’s a sad-sounding song about a sad-sounding break-up; and it’s superb. By the final verse, it’s reached a bit of a crescendo. Two voices – the lead singer (Mike Pender) and a high-pitched back-up which just adds to the emotion. Oh, needles and pins… And those drum-fills. Oh those drum-fills.

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I’ve been kind of surprised, listening to them all in a row, how cheesy (for want of a better word) these early Beat #1s have been. Musically they’ve been a huge step forward but, in lyrical terms, records like ‘From Me to You’, ‘Bad to Me’, and ‘I Like It’ haven’t moved on much from the 1950s.

‘Needles and Pins’ is different. Though I was shocked to find out that it is actually a cover. It’s a song I’ve loved for a long time and have assumed for years was a Searcher’s original. But no. It’s a Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono song, originally recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1963. I feel betrayed… I really do. This – and I realise that this is a bold statement to make – is the first pop song I ever loved. I must have been maybe seven, and it was on a sixties mix-tape (which I’m sure I’ve mentioned before) in our family car. It would be playing on a Sunday evening as we drove home from dinners at my grandparents, along dark roads under orange streetlights. A melancholy scene for a melancholy song.

Actually, that’s another thing that has surprised me – just how many of these early Beat chart-toppers were covers. Since Gerry & The Pacemakers kicked the movement off in April ’63, I make this six covers out of eleven (I’m counting ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in this, though it isn’t your average Beat-pop number). I just assumed these boys with guitars were all writing their own songs. How wrong I was!

Anyway, the ‘Needles and Pins’ story doesn’t end with The Searchers. It’s classic status is confirmed by the fact it’s been covered by The Ramones and Tom Petty. It’s a song so good that it might just give you needles and pins! (Though I’ve always said ‘pins and needles’ – I guess that didn’t scan quite as well…)

Follow along with my Spotify playlist:

161. ‘Glad All Over’, by The Dave Clark Five

And so we launch head-first into 1964. Suddenly we are in the mid-sixties! Doesn’t time fly! And kicking off the new year are some newbies at the top of the UK singles charts: The Dave Clark Five.

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Glad All Over, by The Dave Clark Five (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 16th – 30th January 1964

Interestingly, none of the acts that topped the charts in 1963 were one-offs. Every single one of them had hit #1 previously, or would go on to hit #1 again. But the very first chart-topping act of 1964 are… drum roll… one #1 wonders!

Anyway, this a barnstorming way to start off. We get a thumping, grinding drum-beat designed to blow away any lingering new year hangovers, which is quickly joined by a bass and a stabbing saxophone. Then the singer (Mike Smith, not Dave Clark) jumps in: You say that you love me, All of the time, You say that you need me, You’ll always be mine…

The beat then morphs into an insistent, irresistible galloping-horse rhythm that will last for the whole song. And then comes a chorus that pretty much everyone knows: And I’m feelin’… Glad all over…Yes, I’m a-… Glad all over…!

It’s an non-stop sledgehammer of a song, with large swathes of call-and-response and a key-change that is pointless trying to resist. Other girls may try to take me away… (you can just pictures the girl’s eyes rolling at this point)… But you know, It’s by your side, I will stay… It’s a fun disc. File it under ‘unsophisticated’. This and The Tremeloes’ ‘Do You Love Me’ from a few posts ago would make a great drunken-1am-singalong double-header.

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Like ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, this is also a huge football, and rugby, crowd song – the call and response bits work perfectly – and is usually played after a home-team scores (Crystal Palace started it when ‘Glad All Over’ was still in the charts and lots of other teams followed suit). It was last seen in the UK charts a couple of years ago when Glasgow Rangers fans did a mass-download campaign. In fact, I’d have to say that this is just the latest in a run of chart-toppers that have entered the public consciousness like few previous #1s have. From ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ through ‘Do You Love Me’, plus the recent Beatles chart-toppers… I’ll bet most people on the streets could sing a line or two from all of these songs, even today. Just goes to show how much the music from this era lingers on.

Since we’ll never hear from them again on this countdown – just who were The Dave Clark Five? Well, you’ll be shocked to discover that there were five of them, and that they were ‘led’ by one Dave Clark, who also drummed on all their hits. They were from Tottenham, in North London, and were at the vanguard of the ‘Tottenham Sound’ -which I’m not sure sounded any different to the Mersey-sound, or any other variety of Beat-band sound, but hey – they were representing. As I mentioned, this was their one and only #1; but they scored Top 10s throughout the sixties before splitting up in 1970.

There you have it then. 1964 is off and running with a boisterous pop number. I don’t go in for previews very often in these posts, but I have to mention here that ’64 is going to be a stellar year for chart-topping singles. One of the very best… if not the best… years in terms of #1 quality. Over the course of the next twenty-two hits we’ll hear some classics, meet some legends, and have a generally pretty ‘groovy’ time (that’s how people talked back in the sixties…)

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.