216. ‘Strangers in the Night’, by Frank Sinatra

After the all-out nihilism of ‘Paint It, Black’, it’s time for a slight change of pace. A fifty year old crooner – a legend, even by this point in his career – with a song about the joys of a chance meeting.

frank-sinatra1

Strangers in the Night, by Frank Sinatra (his 2nd of three #1s)

3 weeks, from 2nd – 23rd June 1966

Soaring strings, a gentle sway, and Ol’ Blue Eyes… Strangers in the night, Exchanging glances, Wond’ring in the night, What were the chances… It’s timeless, traditional pop. A similar, if much classier, version of Ken Dodd’s mega-hit ‘Tears’ from the previous year. A record that might have been #1 in 1946, 56, 66, 76… you get the drift. By this point in his career, a good twenty years since he graduated from teen-idol status, Sinatra was not about to reinvent himself as a folk singer.

Strangers in the night, Two lonely people, We were strangers in the night… And, yes, there’s something in the sweep of the violins and the softness of the horns, that conjures up an image of two people, in New York, entering a darkened bar for last orders… By the end of the song, they’ve been together for years. Things turned out alright, you see, for strangers in the night.

Frank Sinatra is a weird proposition for me. He’s old, too old even for my parents to have listened to him. He released his first single in 1939, and he would be a hundred and four were he still around today. And yet, the songs are there. They reach you anyway, regardless of whether you grew up hearing him. ‘Fly Me to The Moon’, ‘New York, New York’, ‘My Way’… He’s also a weird proposition for me as I’m not convinced that he was all that great a singer. I mean, he obviously was – the way he holds the yooouuuuu before the chorus here is good – but at the same time he talks his way through certain lines. The Ever since that night… line, for example.

FRANK_SINATRA_STRANGERS+IN+THE+NIGHT+-+4PR-555761

We have heard from Frank before in this countdown – going on twelve years ago, when he took ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’ to the top. Now, twelve years between #1 hits is a long time in any era of the charts; but this gap, straddling rock ‘n’ roll and the beat revolution, is particularly impressive. And this is the Sinatra that everybody knows, the Sinatra that wannabes cover on talent shows… the vast majority of his best known hits come from the sixties. Try naming one of his bobby-soxer hits from the early forties…

I love the pause, before we sweep into the final verse of ‘Strangers in the Night’. It’s cinematic, cocky Sinatra. And then perhaps the most famous bit of this song: do bee do bee dooo, da-da-da-da, yayayaya… So famous that it apparently inspired ‘Scooby Do.’ He sounds like your uncle, drunk at a wedding, forgetting the words… And then it hits you. That’s why Sinatra was, and still is, so popular. Because drunk uncles at weddings can just about pull off an impression!

Sinatra, though, hated this song. He couldn’t stand the record that returned him to the top of the charts after a decade. And he wasn’t ever subtle about it, either. It was ‘a piece of shit’ and ‘the worst fucking song (he’d) ever heard.’ You wonder, then, if the do-bee-do skat is simply him giving up. (Which makes the whole song even more glorious, if you ask me…)

Whatever the reason – the quality of the song, the iconic doo-be-doos, Sinatra’s vehement hatred of it – ‘Strangers in the Night’ became one of his biggest hits, one of his signatures, a song that he would have to bite the bullet on and perform every night for the rest of his life. I’d also suggest that his daughter hitting the tops of charts around the world just a few months earlier wasn’t bad publicity, either. Not that it matters. An artist of Sinatra’s stature needs to feature in this countdown. And I’m glad that he does.

Catch up here:

215. ‘Paint It, Black’, by The Rolling Stones

Picture a mid-summer’s evening: a soft, dusty light, some people gathered around an ancient stone circle, having a sing-song. Long hair and baggy clothes. Pagans? Hippies? Look a little closer, though. They look familiar… Why, it’s The Rolling Stones! Conducting a full-blown Satanic ritual!

mainSTONESBLC2

Paint It, Black, by The Rolling Stones (their 6th of eight #1s)

1 week, from 26th May – 2nd June 1966

I’ve used many words to describe the chart-toppers we’ve covered so far. Catchy, dull, quirky, God-awful… ‘Paint It, Black’, though, is the first I’ve had to consider calling ‘evil’… It’s a hulking, threatening, malignant brute of a #1 single. From the opening riff, it’s as if an evil spirit is taking up residence in your ears. Brain Jones is playing a sitar, and sitars, to me, usually sound blissed-out, and spiritual – the background soundtrack to massages and yoga sessions. Not when The Stones get their hands on one…

Then there’s the lyrics. I see a red door, And I want it painted black, No colours any more, I want them to turn black… Jagger’s voice melts into the insistent, pounding rhythm – sometimes soft and coaxing, sometimes aggressive and half-crazed. What is it about? Depression? Drug-induced psychosis? A funeral (as the line about a line of black cars suggests)? Whatever it is, it’s a bleak, bleak record. I see people turn their heads and quickly look away… or I look inside myself and see my heart is black… And then there’s the serial killer line: I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes, I have to turn my head until my darkness goes…

It’s an amazing song. A song I respect a lot. I love that it was a #1 hit. But I can’t bring myself to love it. It’s not a song to put on in the background. It’s a song that you have to be in the right mood to deal with. In many ways it’s a weird song – not helped by the fact that, for years, I thought one of its lines went: No more will my green seagull turn a deeper blue… (It is, of course, ‘my green sea go’. Which makes even less sense…)

ROLLING_STONES_PAINT+IT,+BLACK+-+BOXED-88953

By the end, our hilltop ceremony is reaching its climax. The bass grinds, the sitar dances, the band are humming with intent, and Jagger is crowing: I wanna see it painted, Painted black, Black as night, Black as coal…! He wants to see the sun blotted out… He wants to end it all… The record slowly fades to a frenzied close. This was only top of the charts for a week. That’s probably all the country could deal with from such a relentlessly nasty disc.

Back when I first got into The Stones, with their Greatest Hits etc, ‘Paint It, Black’ (apparently the comma was just a record-company typo, though it does lend a nicely pretentious air) blended in amongst the hits. Its edge was dulled. Not here, though, doing this countdown in real-time. It really makes you stop and think… This was a best-selling single. It’s a superb piece of music; but only one act could have pulled it off and still kept it commercially viable.

I’ll say it again… The Stones’ hits might never quite have matched the Beatles in ‘musical’ terms. But they were pushing the boundaries of what could be considered ‘pop music’. The Fab Four used sitars, yes, to write cute acoustic numbers like ‘Norwegian Wood’; while Jagger, Richards and Jones were using one to summon the Devil.

This is something of an end of an era moment for the Stones, too. They’ve crammed four number one hits into just over a year – all of them towering slices of swagger, anger and petulance. But we won’t hear from them now for over two years. By which point they will have tried their hand at flower-power, gone hard on the drugs, driven Brian Jones out of the band… This is a moment. And not just for The Stones. For the singles charts. For British music. For popular music as a whole. Go on… Paint it,… Black!

Catch up with all the #1s so far – including five other Stones’ hits:

214. ‘Pretty Flamingo’, by Manfred Mann

After our Dusty Springfield extravaganza last time out, we’re back with something a little more routine. A little more of its time. Guitars, drums and a husky-voiced man.

6607-manfred-mann

Pretty Flamingo, by Manfred Mann (their 2nd of three #1s)

3 weeks, from 5th – 26th May 1966

It’s got an intro that has always reminded me of Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, in the way that the bass and the drums roll in, after a couple of guitar chords. It’s a song that I’ve known for quite a while, a perennial of the ‘Best of The Sixties’ tapes and CDs that accompanied long car journeys with my family. And it’s a song I’ve always liked: it’s sunny, breezy, poppy… A song that gives you a pleasant two and a half minutes; but that doesn’t linger too long afterwards.

Manfred Mann have grown up since ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’ gave them their first chart-topper nearly two years back. It’s a more mature sound, more laidback and a tiny bit trippy. And, though I described singer Paul Jones’s voice as husky in the intro – it’s not a regular kind of husky. It’s nasally, and a bit rough. An acquired taste. The opening line hits you: On our block, All of the guys call her flamingo… This was one of Jones’s final recordings with the Mann’s – he would leave a couple of months later.

And actually, thinking about it more closely, is calling a girl a ‘flamingo’ that much of a compliment? It kind of suggests you have scrawny legs and a big beak… Or, rather, according to the lyric, it’s: ‘Cos her hair glows like the sun, And her eyes can light the skies… I’m still not convinced. When she walks, She moves so fine, Like a flamingo… (Flamingos are lanky and walk with an old man stoop. I doubt the songwriter had ever actually seen a flamingo…)

Manfred-Mann-–-Pretty-Flamingo-HMV-Records-POP

All lyrical inconsistencies are forgiven, however, when we get to the bridge, which has a hook to die for: When she walks by, She brightens up the neighbourhood… And then we have what sounds like a flute solo, and some sha-la-las to wrap up, because it’s that kind of record. I also like the ‘Ha!’ after the If he just could… line, which suggests that deep down Jones knows it ain’t never happening with Ms Flamingo.

It’s a fun song, a cute song, a song that needs but a short post like this to do it justice. This was the middle disc in Manfred Mann’s chart-topping run, and I like that they straddled the swinging sixties with their #1s: one in 1964, one in ’66, and one to come in ’68. They’re not a name that instantly springs to mind when you think of ‘Biggest Acts of the 60s’, but perhaps they should be. Enjoy!

213. ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’, by Dusty Springfield

Before we get going with this next number one single, I have to go on record and state that only allowing Dusty Springfield, the greatest British female singer ever, one measly week at the top of the singles charts, is one of the British people’s greatest embarrassments. Hang your heads in shame, British record-buying public!

46703

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, by Dusty Springfield (her 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 28th April – 5th May 1966

Now that’s off my chest… To the song. And what a song. I’d like to follow my earlier statement with the caveat that, if you were going to give Dusty Springfield, the greatest British female singer ever, only one #1 single, then you could do a lot worse than allowing that single to be ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’.

The intro sets a scene. It’s a throwback of an intro, straight from the melodramatic pre-rock days. It’s a Shirley Bassey intro. An intro you’d make up as a piss-take of a Bond theme. Horns blast, cymbals crash, and a choir welcomes the coming apocalypse… And then… Dusty. Whose voice, after all that, sounds kind of small.

But what a voice. I’ll have to remind myself that this is a post on ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’, the two hundred and thirteenth UK #1 single, not a post on the life and times of Dusty Springfield. But she did have a voice on her. When I said, I needed you… You said, You would always stay… It wasn’t me who changed, But you… And now you’ve gone… Away… It’s default Dusty – heartbroken, but defiant. Nobody does defiant heartbreak like her. And then comes the chorus, with it’s very rational approach to a broken relationship: You don’t have to say you love me, Just be close at hand… (For years, I though it was ‘just because you can’, which, to be fair, would also work.) You don’t have to stay forever, I will understand…

I love the dramatic way the second verse comes in… Left alone!… and the violin flourish that accompanies it. And then the two Believe me’s that prelude the final, sweeping chorus. And the key change. Because a song like this simply couldn’t finish without a key change. God, it’s a good record. I want to name it as one of the best yet. Except, my next recap is ages off. Damn. I’ve always felt that it’s a frustratingly short record, even though it comes in at not much under three minutes. They could have stuck another verse in. But no. They didn’t need to. It’s perfect as it is. It’s a complete side-step from the predominant sounds of the mid-sixties, a record that could have been a hit at any time. If Adele released a cover of it tomorrow, it would still work.

118898513

And that’s it. One song. One week. Dusty Springfield as chart-topping artist. It’s nowhere near enough, but at least she got it. And, of course, her career is not defined by this one hit. It’s just one of her sixteen UK Top 20 singles. There’s ‘I Only Want to Be With You’, her 1963 debut, ‘Stay Awhile’, ‘In the Middle of Nowhere’, ‘I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself’ (brilliantly covered by The White Stripes)… And then there’s her Memphis records, ‘Son of a Preacher Man’, and ‘Breakfast in Bed’, her cover of ‘The Look of Love’, one of the most sensual recordings ever made. And then there’s her late-career revival, courtesy of The Pet Shop Boys, culminating in the superb ‘What Have I Done to Deserve This’ (she loved a good long song title, did our Dusty.)

But my favourite Dusty is the one that belted out ballads like ‘Losing You’, ‘All I See Is You’, ‘I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten’, and, of course, this. ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’ was, apparently, based on an Italian pop hit from the year before, which had reduced Dusty to tears upon hearing it. Her song-writing team put together English lyrics for the melody, and she allegedly took forty-seven takes before she was happy with her vocals. The diva!

I better end this post before I go overboard on the links… One final thing, though. Dusty’s career was famously damaged by a 1970 interview in which she announced she was gay (‘bent’, in her own words.) For much of seventies and eighties she battled with alcoholism and self-harm. And listening back to the lyrics of ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’, you notice there are no pronouns used other than ‘you’ and ‘me’. And then you listen to the refrain: Believe me, Believe me, I can’t help but love you… And you realise that you are perhaps listening to a gay love song, which hit #1 in a time when it was socially unacceptable, if not illegal, to be that way. A powerful subtext, to an already very powerful record. Ladies and gentlemen: Dusty Springfield.

Catch up here:

212. ‘Somebody Help Me’, by The Spencer Davis Group

The Spencer-Davis’s return with a quick-fire #1, barely three months after the first. It’s not a record that rings a bell but, as soon as I press play, I know I’ve heard this before, somewhere, sometime…

Spencer_Davis_Group_1966

Somebody Help Me, by The Spencer Davis Group (their 2nd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 14th – 28th April 1966

Like ‘Keep on Running’, it all kicks off with a bass riff. But one a bit mellower, a bit more understated, and not quite as filthy sounding as in their first chart-topper. Somebody help me, yeah… Somebody help me, now… Won’t somebody tell me what I’ve done wrong…

It’s a song that tells a bit of a story. The singer had a girl, his Queen, back when he was seventeen, but lost her. Since then he’s been unable to find a new one. Now I’m so lonesome, On my own… (If the stalker-ish lyrics to ‘Keep on Running’ were anything to go by, it’s easy to guess why she dumped him.) And that’s about it. A simple enough rock ‘n’ roll record.

Like its predecessor, ‘Somebody Help Me’ has got a nice soulful vibe to it – especially in the bridge – in the I need a girl, To hold me tight… – plus I like the funky guitar licks at the end of the lines. The Spencer-Davis’s liked a crunchy guitar, which gives their songs quite a Kinks-y feel. And it’s the shortest chart-topper we’ve had in a long time, coming in at bang-on two minutes. Which is fine – there’s absolutely no need for this disc to be any longer.

SPENCER_DAVIS_GROUP_SOMEBODY+HELP+ME+-+SOLID-710811

It’s a forgotten record, I’d say. A forgotten gem…? I’m not sure. Is it quite a ‘gem’? It’s definitely a groovy little record (we’re allowed to say ‘groovy’, by the way – it was the style of the time…) One that adds texture to the way Beat pop was splitting into different sub-genres. I’m not sure whether to go as far as calling it a ‘Shadow Number One’ – a song that only hits the top because of its more famous predecessor. Because A) it’s a good enough record to have reached the top on its own merits, and B) it managed a fortnight at the top while ‘Keep on Running’ only got a single week.

Interestingly, this song was, like ‘Keep on Running’, written by reggae singer Jackie Edwards. But he doesn’t seem to have ever recorded it. And, like so many bands of this era, The Spencer Davis Group didn’t last very long. They had a couple more Top 10s – including the classic ‘Gimme Some Lovin’, which is probably better known than either of their chart-toppers – before lead singer Steve Winwood left.

And that was all she wrote for the Spencer-Davis’s at the top of the UK Singles Chart.  They’ve reformed over the years in a variety of guises. Except… Winwood would go on to have a half-decent solo career, with a handful of eighties hits. One of which – ‘Valerie’, from 1982 – went on to be noticed by Swedish DJ Eric Prydz. He loved the vocals, persuaded Winwood to re-record them, and they formed the basis for his 2004 #1 ‘Call on Me’. So… we will hear the soulful tones of Winwood one more time in this countdown, in precisely thirty-eight years’ time. Aren’t the charts fascinating?

211. ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’, by The Walker Brothers

Back to business, then. And not a bad record to get back to! Though it starts with an intro that is as folksy as anything we’ve had so far. Very of its time. Guitars round the campfire, a tambourine shakes… I’m getting Seekers flashbacks. Am I about to be underwhelmed by The Walker Brothers, for the second time…?

The-Walker-Brothers-1

The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore, by The Walker Brothers (their 2nd and final #1)

4 weeks, from 17th March – 14th April 1966

Of course not. Because in come the drums. Suddenly it’s not a folk song – it’s gorgeous, string-drenched, Wall of Sound-at-its-finest, pop. Loneliness, Is a cloak you wear… A spaghetti Western lone whistle… Because, why not? A deep shade of blue, Is always there…

Then it all comes together. The drums cascade, the voices swirl together… The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore, The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky… It’s a song about being dumped, essentially. About being sad and lonesome. But never has sadness sounded so appealing. By the time we get to the Bay-yay-ay-bay! I’m sold. Sign me up for the misery!

It’s a brilliantly melodramatic record. All the things that I didn’t think worked on The Walker’s 1st chart-topper – the slightly knowing ‘Make It Easy on Yourself’ – come together here. I think it’s because the music is so compelling, so lush and enveloping, that the OTT lyrics work. I criticised Scott Walker’s crooning on that record, but I love it here. It all culminates in the middle-eight: Lonely, Without you, Baby… through to a glorious I can’t go o-o-o-on…! It’s a song for wallowing in, with a bottle of wine and the curtains drawn.

The-Walker-Brothers-The-Sun-Aint-Gonna-Shinebw-After

Everything about ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ points towards one man: Phil Spector. He must, you think, have produced this record. It sounds like the inside of his head. But, no. One Johnny Franz was on production duties. And yet the debt is clear. This is a Phil Spector record, even if he was nowhere near the studio.

It all builds to a climax, with the layered vocals on the fade-out working brilliantly. And it ends on a high, leaving you uplifted despite the subject matter. This could be a sad, depressing song, if you stripped it all back, but it isn’t. Thank God. It is ten, twenty times, better than the Walker’s previous chart-topper, and an early contender for best record in my next recap. It’s that good.

Interestingly, this isn’t the original version of ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna…’ It had been recorded a year earlier by Frankie Valli. His version sounds a little heavy-handed, but surprisingly similar to this one. It, however, made no impact on the charts. It’s also been covered by Cher, in the ‘90s. She is perhaps the only person who could make this song sound more OTT than Scott Walker…

This was the peak of The Walker Brother’s success, their popularity such that their fan-club allegedly had more members than The Beatles’. They had several further hits, and yet disbanded in 1968, largely due to Scott Walker’s dissatisfaction with being seen as a mere teen-idol. I can’t say I’ve listened to that much of his solo output, though I do know it has a reputation for being ‘challenging’… That’s probably what’s putting me off. It’s also been very influential: David Bowie, Pulp, Radiohead, The Arctic Monkeys… the list is a long one. He passed away in March of this year. John Walker had died in 2011, leaving Gary as the sole surviving ‘brother’.

But we’ll leave them here. Bowing out with their crowning glory. A song I knew was good, but hadn’t realised quite how good. Yet another supreme mid-sixties pop moment. Keep ‘em coming!

Catch up with all the Number Ones so far, here:

210. ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin”, by Nancy Sinatra

One of the coolest intros ever – a twangy guitar that slides and droops like a wilting sunflower on a southern summer’s day – leads us into one of the coolest number one hits you’re ever likely to hear.

4zdvr1b9qpk11

These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, by Nancy Sinatra (her 1st of two #1s)

4 weeks, from 17th February – 17th March 1966

The sixties are truly swinging. There’s been attitude and swagger, even drug references (!) at the top of the charts. And now here’s Nancy, bringing the sass. The way she pauses between the lines, the way she delivers them like she can’t be bothered, as if the man she’s singing about is barely worth the oxygen.

You keep sayin’, You’ve got something’ for me… Her man’s been taking her for a ride; but Nancy ain’t no fool. You’ve been a-messin’, Where you shouldn’t’ve been messin’… He’s in for it. These boots are made for walkin’, And that’s just what they’ll do… One of these days these boots … cut the beat, leave it all to the vocals… are gonna walk all over you…

It’s a fairly minimalist record – sparse instrumentation and a lot of room for the echoey vocals to do their job. Which means there’s lots of time for all the gorgeous little details that make this such a great song to shine through. The whispered ‘yeah!’ between verses one and two, the sarcastic ‘Ha!’ after the You keep thinkin’, That you’ll never get burned… line. The way the horns come in halfway through, the same horns that will go wild for the fade-out (a very mid-sixties touch.) Then there’s the made up words – the ‘samin’ and the ‘truthin’. Nancy’s too cool to bother with proper English.

NANCY_SINATRA_THESE+BOOTS+ARE+MADE+FOR+WALKIN+-+SOLID-562479

‘These Boots…’ is a big development in terms of female-recorded #1s. In every photo-shoot from the time, Nancy Sinatra appears as a very sensual character: big, just-woken up hair, mascara-ed eyes, lots of cleavage. She’s sexy. A siren. In a way that Cilla (the girl next door) and Sandie Shaw (kooky and cute) weren’t. Helen Shapiro was still a kid, Doris Day was basically your aunt. The closest female star I can think of, from previous #1 hits, is Connie Francis, who was bringing the girl power on ‘Who’s Sorry Now’ seven years ago. But even she pales in comparison with Nancy Sinatra’s mini-skirts and thigh-high boots.

Surprisingly, this wasn’t her first attempt at a singing career. I had imagined that she simply appeared, fully-formed, as the superstar daughter of Frank Sinatra. But she had been releasing singles since 1961, to little interest on either side of the Atlantic. By 1965, she was about to get dropped by her label. It wasn’t until she paired up with Lee Hazelwood (the man with hands down the coolest voice ever committed to vinyl) that success came her way. He wrote ‘These Boots…’, and several other songs before she became his full-on muse and they recorded three albums together.

Though, I wonder … While being daughter of one of the most famous male singers of all time clearly didn’t bring her instant success, did it perhaps help mould her image? She had to distance herself from her fuddy-duddy dad, whose hit single career had stalled of late, hence the sexy looks; while her family name perhaps also gave her a safety net that meant she didn’t need to fit the ‘girl next door’ image adopted by most other female stars of the time. Was she in a constant state of teenage rebellion?

For a star who has become so synonymous with The Swingin’ Sixties TM, Nancy Sinatra wasn’t all that big a deal on the UK singles charts. But the impact left by this record alone is more noteworthy than the careers of many, more ‘successful’ stars. And she does still have one further chart-topper coming up – one of the sweetest (or should that read creepiest) #1 singles ever.

209. ‘Michelle’, by The Overlanders

For those counting, we arrive at the 3rd Beatles cover to top the UK charts. Which means that in a little under three years, Lennon & McCartney have been responsible for twelve chart-toppers! Not bad, not bad at all. A couple of posts ago I mentioned them in comparison with Bacharach and David, who recently wrote The Walker Brothers #1 ‘Make It Easy on Yourself’. But, having done some digging, it turns out that they were still way behind John and Paul with just 6 chart-topping compositions to their name, in well over double the time.

409261612b4d7aea6ffdc34e7c45d2b4

Michelle, by The Overlanders (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 27th January – 17th February 1966

Anyway, that’s all well and good; but this next chart-topper isn’t by The Beatles. Note the name at the start of this post: The Overlanders. You know, the British folk-rock-cum-pop combo? Nope? Well this was their one and only hit. And it’s a pretty faithful, note for note, cover of the original.

I’d like to write about this without comparing it to The Beatles’ version, but that would mean erasing a song that I’ve been listening to since I was a kid from my memory for the next half an hour. And I don’t have the technology to do that… Michelle, Ma belle, These are words that go together well, My Michelle… Alongside a jaunty, perky, French-salon tune. It’s slightly heavier, more deliberate version – the instruments and the vocals have a deeper finish and a gloss that the original doesn’t. The Beatles’ version is more subtle, lighter… (Oh fine, here’s a link. Compare them for yourself.)

Probably the most notable thing about this disc is that it has a full line of French in it, which is a first for a UK chart-topper. Michelle, Ma Belle, Son les mots qui vent très bien ensemble, Tres bien ensemble… Even if, like me, you have only the most basic of French abilities, you can work out that it’s just a direct translation of the preceding, English line. Still, aside from ‘Que Sera Sera’, which is actually gibberish, this is the first in a long line of ‘non-English’ #1s, or ‘not-completely-English #1s’, which will take us through ‘Je T’Aime…’ to ‘La Isla Bonita’, to, um, ‘Gangnam Style’…

R-5555535-1541595797-1010.jpeg

As a hit record, this is alright. It might as well have been done by a pub covers band for all the personality they bring to it, but it’s OK. It’s not as good as the original, you’d never choose to listen to this version over it, but the only bit I think that really lets The Overlanders down is the creaky I love you… before the solo.

What it kind of reminds me of is the electronic keyboard that I had as a kid, for the six months or so I attempted to learn, which had a bunch of famous songs pre-programmed into it. ‘Michelle’ wasn’t one of them; but if it had been I bet it would have sounded quite like this. Perhaps the problem is that, unlike the previous two Lennon & McCartney written chart-toppers, everyone thinks of ‘Michelle’ as a Beatles song. It’s a well- known track from one of their best-regarded albums, ‘Rubber Soul’, and features on several Greatest Hits compilations (which is where I first heard it all those years ago.) Whereas, Billy J. Kramer, and Peter and Gordon, could more easily pass ‘Bad to Me’ and ‘A World Without Love’ off as their own, with no ‘official’ version of those hits ever recorded by The Fab Four, The Overlanders wouldn’t be as lucky.

But then again, if you wanted a guaranteed hit in the mid-sixties, you couldn’t do any better than nabbing yourself a Beatles’ cast-off. They got their big smash; but very few people remember them for it. Like I wrote at the start, this was The Overlanders’ one and only hit record. It raises a philosophical question to finish on: What’s better, plugging away valiantly on your own with little recognition, or riding the coattails of the world’s biggest band for three weeks of reflected glory?

208. ‘Keep on Running’, by The Spencer Davis Group

We skip on into 1966, where the first number one is, perhaps unexpectedly, neither folkey nor baroquey. It’s a straight-up rocker!

Framed_BW_02-6

Keep on Running, by The Spencer Davis Group (their 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 20th – 27th January 1966

A dirty drum and bass riff kicks it off, and then we get a blast of some kind of feedback-slash-scuzzy chord couplet. It makes you sit up, makes you take notice. Keep on runnin’, Runnin’ from my arms… It’s not as heavy as The Stones have been recently, but it’s not as poppy as anything from the Merseybeat days. It’s like a perfect marriage of the two…

Actually, it’s got a real soul vibe to it too, as if Sam Cooke was now fronting a Beat combo. It’s cool – catchy and funky. I love the Hey! Hey! Hey!s, and the way that the intro riff returns for the now customary wig-out at the end. It’s clear that any self-respecting rock record in 1965-66 has to fade-out with the lead singer going a little bit crazy…

I know this song, but know very little about the band – The Spencer Davis Group (don’t ‘The Spencer-Davis’s’ sound like a posh couple that you avoid in Sainsbury’s?) I would have bet they were American, with their funky soul sound, but no. They were from Birmingham (and not the one in Alabama.) Interestingly, ‘Keep on Running’ isn’t a cover of a soul song, but a cover of a reggae hit from the year before. Check it out here… Unsurprisingly, it sounds completely different. I’ve never been a huge reggae fan – something that I’m sure will crop up in this countdown as the genre grows in popularity – so I’ll take The Spencer-Davis’s version, thankyouverymuch.

image_236192_3_1_3_5_8_6_6_10_1_266708_1_118752_1_9_1_335022

It’s a great record. Though I feel, before we go much further, that the lyrics need some scrutinising. They’re a bit… overbearing? That’s putting it politely. The title refers to a woman who, try as she might, will not be able to escape the singer’s attentions. One fine day I’m gonna be the one, To make you understand, Oh yeah, I’m gonna be your man… It gets worse when you realise that he’s motivated not by love, but because his mates are laughing at him: Everyone is talkin’ about me, Makes me feel so bad, Everyone is laughin’ at me, Makes me feel so sad…

Hmmm. The more you think about them, the worse they get. But hey, this was the sixties. Different times, different levels of tolerance for possessive wierdos… File under ‘Catchy but Creepy’, with ‘What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?’ and ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’.

The Spencer-Davis’s will be back, and very shortly, for the second part of their chart-topping brace. They had had a few low charting singles in the previous couple of years, but ‘Keep on Running’ propelled them to another level entirely. It’s not quite a classic, a standard, but it has a hook that most people could sing. And, despite what I said about the lyrics, I do really like it. It’s fun, and a little rough around the edges. Like all the best rock songs should be… A great way to kick off a new year.