In the wake of Elvis scoring his tenth #1 single, The Shadows are just about keeping up the pace with their eighth. With added strings! And horns!
Wonderful Land, by The Shadows (their 8th of twelve #1s)
8 weeks, from 22nd March – 17th May 1962
Just as they did with Cliff on ‘The Young Ones’, Hank, Bruce and the boys have gone all orchestral. ‘Wonderful Land’ soars high, off above the clouds and away, sounding for all the world like the theme to a middle-of-the-road Western.
I wonder – as I wondered with Cliff on ‘The Young Ones’ – if the band were looking to broaden their appeal, to go after the teeny-boppers and their parents (and maybe even their grandparents). Whatever the plan – it clearly worked. Only two other records in the whole of the 1960s spent eight weeks at number one.
Personally, I am really struggling to see why this record connected in such a way with the general, record-buying public. It’s nice enough; but eight weeks at the top of the charts…? It’s not that nice. I’ll refer back to my complaint about previous instrumental chart-toppers – that an instrumental simply has to try that much harder than a song with lyrics. The lyrics are what draw you in, are 70% of what you remember about a song. Ok, ok, so you might remember a riff, or an intro, or a guitar solo – but not in the same way that you connect with a song’s lyrics. It means that, to me, instrumental records remain a little abstract; difficult to truly love. A few instrumentals get it so, so right (‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by ‘Prez’ Prado) while most fall flat to some degree (‘Side Saddle’, by Russ Conway.) For me, ‘Wonderful Land’ falls into the latter category. But maybe I’m just a philistine.
I do like the bit with the jingly-jangly guitars, the flickery bit… I have no idea what the official guitaring terminology is… Lightly-plucked? It’s cool, and drenched in an other-worldly echo. And ‘Wonderful Land’ gets a lot of love – even to this day – as one of The Shadows best songs. But I enjoyed their previous chart-topper, the crunchy, surfy ‘Kon-Tiki’, more than this. What do I know?
I feel like I should be giving a record such as this – a colossal, chart-humping giant of a record – more of a write-up. But I’m pretty much out of things to say. It’s not like this is the last we’ll hear from The Shadows – they’ll be back soon enough (with much better songs!) Still, worthy of note is the fact that, after 1961 gave us lots of one-week chart-toppers, lots of bye-roads to wander up and get lost in; the first three #1 singles of 1962 have taken us right into the middle of May!