A crooning little intro has us fearing the worst as the needle drops on our latest chart-topper … If you ever leave me, I’ll be sad and blue… A guitar strums plaintively… Don’t you ever leave me, I’m so in love with you… But it’s an intro that you know is going somewhere – something in that last ‘you…’ just brims with promise – and yes, the guitar, clear as a bell, kicks in and we’re off into another solid Beat #1.
Bad to Me, by Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas (their 1st of two #1s)
3 weeks, from 22nd August – 12th September 1963
The birds in the sky would be, Sad and lonely, If they knew that I’d lost my, One and only… And if, as this song unfolds, you get the feeling that it all sounds very familiar – something in the chord progressions and the notes that Billy J. Kramer leaves hanging in the air – then you’d be on to something. For the next seven years of the UK pop charts there will be two main categories of number one single: those recorded by The Beatles, and those written by The Beatles (or, rather, by Lennon & McCartney). Hot on the heels of their 1st #1 as performers, ‘Bad to Me’ is their first #1 as writers.
That’s not to say that Billy J. and his Dakotas don’t make this song their own. The band is crisp and tight, and Kramer’s voice is strong too. I like the flip and the little groan as he takes us through the But I know you won’t leave me cos you told me so… line. He treads a fine line between singing properly but not crooning. He doesn’t have as strong an accent as, say, John Lennon or Gerry Marsden; but he doesn’t sound like Perry Como either. In fact, we’re five #1s into the Merseybeat revolution and I don’t think I’ve struggled to make out a single line. We await the deterioration of diction in pop music – possibly the late-twentieth century’s greatest crime, according to my late Grandma – with bated breath. My money’s on Jagger.
Anyway, I like this song. We’ve got piano, some nice harmonies, and some standard Merseybeat drums. We even get my favourite type of guitar solo: one that mimics the verses note for note. It’s lazy; but works every time. And… done. A song that wasn’t completely unfamiliar to me; but one to which I had never really paid much attention. I’ll add it to my playlists.
With this disc we keep up our run of young whippersnappers topping the charts (Kramer had just turned twenty when this reached the summit.) However we break our run of Liverpudlians! Billy J was from Bootle but the Dakotas were from all the way over in Manchester. (Still, we manage to keep it in the North-West of England, for now.) Their partnership was something of a marriage of convenience: Kramer needed a band and Brian Epstein persuaded The Dakotas to leave their original singer and team up with him. They debuted with another Beatles cover – ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret?’ – which had hit #2 earlier in the year.
Two more things to mention before we wrap up. If you’re thinking “Hey, with a name like Billy J. Kramer there’s no way he wasn’t going to be a rock star!” then you’d be sorely misguided. His real name was William Howard Ashton – a Vicar’s name if ever there was one. And secondly… ‘Bad to Me’, when you think about it, is a very misleading song title when you consider that the whole entire song is about how the girl is not bad to him. It’s as if ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love?’ was just called ‘In Love.’ Something to mull over, as I leave it there for now.