134. ‘Wonderful Land’, by The Shadows

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!

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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.

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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!

133. ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ / ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’, by Elvis Presley

Wise men say, Only fools… would be surprised at Elvis Presley claiming yet another UK #1. His sixth inside fifteen months. And with it, he takes his chart-topping singles account into double figures.

 

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Can’t Help Falling in Love / Rock-A-Hula Baby, by Elvis Presley (his 10th of twenty-one #1s)

4 weeks, from 22nd February – 22nd March 1962

One of the good things about Elvis’s post-army career is that he never released two similar records in a row. We’ve had operatics (‘It’s Now or Never’) followed by a ballad (‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’) followed by oompah (‘Wooden Heart’) followed by a return to La Scala (‘Surrender’) then a spot of rock ‘n’ roll (‘Little Sister’ / ‘His Latest Flame’) and now some more balladry.

Some supreme balladry. Because ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ is Elvis at the height of his crooning powers – a classy, classy record. Not one that I probably have to describe in too much detail, given its ubiquitousness, but I’ll give it a go anyway. A simple piano melody, the ‘ting’ of a xylophone, and The King: Wise men say, Only fools rush in, But I can’t help, Falling in love with you… Oh, Elvis, do go on… Shall I stay, Would it be a sin, If I can’t help, Falling in love with you…? That voice. There are no operatics, nothing fancy; but you’re dragged in, and left as putty in his hands. It’s a very chivalrous love song, too – with the singer almost apologising for his affections.

It’s like an update of the big fifties ballads – ‘Here in My Heart’, ‘Answer Me’ and so on – with the same OTT emoting (Take my hand, Take my whole life too…), but much more stripped back. And yet compared to its contemporaries, this record – all of Elvis’s records for that matter – sounds incredibly polished. Very crisp and very clear. As if it’s been recorded in the most palatial of recording studios using the most up-to-date equipment (to be fair, it probably was). If ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ was in a high-school class with all the other recent #1 singles – suspend your disbelief for just a second, please – then it would be the cool kid, the rich kid, the captain of the football team with the cutest cheerleader girlfriend.

Two bits stand out in particular: the twang of the guitar in the bridge, and the moment when Elvis and the backing singers combine for the final verse. Mmmm. Shivers. Elvis released some drivel in the 1960s; but when he was at the top of his game, releasing beauties such as this, there was no touching him. Cliff could but watch and weep.

For proof of the transcendent nature of this song, look no further than the fact that this is both the unofficial club anthem of Sunderland F.C. and my parents’ ‘song’ – despite the fact that they had barely started primary-school when this was at the top of the charts. And just a few weeks ago, while on holiday in Cambodia, I heard a busker performing it in the street.

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So: ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ is an utter classic. The song on the flip-side of this disc, on the other hand… Well, let’s pull no punches here: it’s Elvis at his shitty B-movie contractual soundtrack worst. ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’, or to give it its’ bandwagon-jumping full title ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby (Twist Special)’, sets out to be a fun song, with a Rock-a-hula, rock rock-a-hula, Wow! intro, and I want to find it fun… But I can’t.

Because I don’t believe Elvis himself is having much fun here. He sounds like he’s going through the motions as he describes his Hawaiian lover with silly lines like: When she starts to sway, I gotta say, She really moves the grass around… and Although I love to kiss my little hula-miss, I never get the chance, I wanna hold her tight, All through the night, But all she wants to do is dance… And if he ain’t enjoying it, then how are we meant to?

Couple this with the terrifying guitar effects – Rock! Whhrrraa! – and the ridiculously cheesy chorus-line ending, and you’ve got a hot mess. Still, at least it’s a rocker – ridiculously fast-paced and over in under two minutes. An up-tempo bad record is always, I repeat always, better than a slow-tempo bad record.

Both sides of this disc featured on the latest Elvis film, ‘Blue Hawaii’ – a film that I’ve never seen but, going by its write-up on Wiki, might be worth checking out. Sample sentence: “Before Ellie can drown herself, Chad (Elvis’s character) saves her and administers an overdue spanking.” Quite. And though we’ve covered a fair few double ‘A’-sides up to now, none of them have contrasted as much as this pair of songs do. Surely ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ could have stood alone and still made it to #1? Surely people weren’t buying this disc for ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’?? But it’s there, in the annals of British chart history, as much of a hit as its far-superior twin. And that egalitarianism, that chance that any song can get to number-one as long as enough people buy it, is why we love the charts. Isn’t it…?

132. ‘The Young Ones’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows

We enjoyed/suffered through (delete according to personal preference) a Cliff-less 1961. But Britain’s great rock ‘n’ roll hope kicks off 1962 with… (pause for dramatic effect)… his most famous hit?

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The Young Ones, by Cliff Richard (his 5th of fourteen #1s) and The Shadows (their 7th of twelve #1s)

6 weeks, from 11th January – 22nd February 1962

OK, there are the Christmas songs. And ‘Summer Holiday’. And ‘Congratulations’… Let’s just say that this is his most famous song not about festivities and/or vacations. Though this latest chart-topper is a celebration of sort – a celebration of being young!

Its starts with some Shadows ™ guitar, before Cliff comes in with his gossamer-light voice… The young ones, Darlin’ we’re the young ones, And the young ones, Shouldn’t be afraid… I am slightly loathe to admit it, but I have missed that voice of late… To live, Love, While the flame is young, ‘Cause we may not be the young ones very long… Any song performed by The Shadows and sung by Cliff can’t fail to be of a certain standard. It may well be cheesy, and the lyrics might be very trite, but downright bad? Unlikely.

And ‘The Young Ones’ does have its moments. I love the beat-band drum fills, while the guitars are very reminiscent of Buddy Holly’s mid-tempo hits – ‘Heartbeat’, ‘Maybe Baby’ and the like. Yet it’s far from perfect –  corny couplets like: Oh I need you, And you need me, Oh my darlin’, Can’t you see…? make sure of that.

And then there are the violins. Yep, Cliff’s gone orchestral. By the end the strings are swirling and cascading, drowning out Hank and Bruce’s guitars. (I can’t help wondering if this was one of those tracks, like the minimalist ‘Travellin’ Light’, on which The Shadows were a little bored…) I had to double-check that I was listening to the original version, rather than some kind of polished re-release… I’d see this as Cliff’s attempt to move away from teeny-bop discs like ‘Please Don’t Tease’ and ‘I Love You’ – his bid for adult-artist longevity.

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In that regard it’s a very clever record. The lyrics are about being young; and yet the production is very grown-up. It isn’t enough of a departure to alienate the screaming fifteen year-olds, but it’s classy enough to get grandma interested. And there’s a bittersweet edge to the closing lyrics that will appeal to mum and dad: And someday, When the years have flown, Darlin’ then we’ll teach the young ones, Of our own…

I wouldn’t call it a sell-out in the same way that Elvis prancing about in Lederhosen singing ‘Wooden Heart’ was a sell-out. Because, let’s face it, Cliff has never – in terms of his chart-topping singles, at least – managed to justify his tag as Britain’s foremost rock ‘n’ roller. From the opening chords of his first #1 he’s been planted firmly in the middle of the road. But… Something definitely clicked here, and his career has kicked up a gear. Thanks to its role on the soundtrack to Cliff’s movie of the same name, ‘The Young Ones’ had built up a staggering 500,000 pre-orders before its release, meaning that it rocketed straight in to the charts at Number One – only the 3rd single (and the 1st single not released by a certain Elvis Presley) to do so. It remains his biggest seller in the UK.

And its legacy was such that twenty years later it became the theme tune to BBC sitcom ‘The Young Ones’, in which Rik Mayall played a lisping, tantrum-throwing, anarchy-loving Cliff fan. The joke of course being that, by 1982, young people with any aspirations towards being cool couldn’t possibly be Cliff fans. But, the eighties are a long way off yet in our world. It’s January of 1962, Cliff and The Shadows are the biggest pop-stars in the country, and they’ve just scored their biggest hit yet. Though, as with all of us, they may not be the young ones very long…