Before listening to this next UK chart-topper, I would have put the house on ‘Juliet’ being a doo-wopish, soulful, Motown record and The Four Pennies a black vocal group from Detroit. And if I had, I would now be homeless.
Juliet, by The Four Pennies (their 1st and only #1)
1 week, from 21st – 28th May 1964
For this is another Beat record, and The Four Pennies a band from Blackburn, Lancashire. Which goes to show how much of a forgotten #1 single this is. I have genuinely never heard this record before. I suspect most people haven’t. This record is so inconspicuous that I missed it every time I glanced down my list of UK chart-toppers, what with its single week at the top being completely buried amongst large swathes of Beatles, Pacemakers, Searchers and Cilla.
What is it, then – this most forgotten of #1s? Well, if I had to pick one word to describe it that word would be ‘gentle’. A gentle guitar rhythm, gentle drums, and oh-so gentle vocals that give us something approaching a lullaby. There was a love, I knew before, She broke my heart, Left me unsure…. It sounds like the last number played at a spring dance in 1955, a soundtrack to which sweethearts would pair up and decide to ‘go steady’, not a hit single from the swinging sixties. Ju-li-e-e-e-et, Don’t forget… (some high quality rhyming, there.)
It’s got a pleasantly lo-fi, home-demo quality to it, and I quite like the soaring, layered you gave me… line in the bridge. It’s nice that it sneaked a week at the top in amongst all the huge hits of the time; but there’s a good reason as to why ‘Juliet’ has been well-forgotten by the collective conscience… It’s pretty dull. Kind of like The Bachelors from a few weeks back, it’s a case of bandwagon-jumping, or perhaps clever marketing, from four guys with guitars who look like a cool new Beat group, but who are recording music for mums.
Actually, the more I listen to it, and the more I look at my list of upcoming number one singles, I think this might be the final genuine, Merseybeat chart-topper. Suddenly the movement is dead. Or, if not dead then about to splinter into lots of different styles: R &B, garage, folk… especially once the Americans get involved. But what a run it’s been. I can’t imagine a similarly homogenous run of #1 singles at any other time, before or after. Since The Searchers hit the top back in August ’63 with ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ we’ve had a near flawless procession of Beat pop at the top of the charts. I make it fourteen out of fifteen #1s, with the only exception being Cilla Black’s ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’, and she was from Liverpool and so was still halfway there.
The Four Pennies weren’t quite one-hit wonders, but ‘Juliet’ was their only Top Ten hit. The follow-up, ‘I Found Out the Hard Way’, could only make #14. By 1966, after only three years together as a recording group, Lionel, Fritz, Alan and Mike had gone their separate ways. Perhaps most tellingly, they were the only group from the Beat movement – and I’m talking about all the bands covered so far in this countdown and all the bands still to come over the next few years – that failed to chart for even a single week in the USA during the famous ‘British Invasion’.
Listen to every #1 so far with this playlist: