242. ‘The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde’, by Georgie Fame

Happy New Year! We step into 20… I mean 1968, but if you were expecting the penultimate year of the sixties to bring daring news sounds to the top of the UK charts… then keep waiting. The first #1 of the year is a step back in time. To the saloon bars of 1920s America…

p01g89hr

The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde, by Georgie Fame (his 3rd and final #1)

1 week, from 24th – 31st January 1968

We’ve got banjos, trombones, honky-tonk pianos, an intro with very strong hints of Fats Domino… To be honest, I love it from the get-go. It’s fun, it’s kinda dumb… It’s a history lessons at number one!

Bonnie and Clyde, Were pretty lookin’ people, But I can tell you people, They were the devil’s children… Georgie Fame’s back for one final moment of glory, but he’s traded the blue-eyed soul for some trad-jazz. He lists the famous duo’s crimes – robbing stores, stealing cars, before they made the graduation into the banking business – and sounds like he’s having a load of fun in doing so.

It’s a chart-topping record with a hefty body count – the bloodiest #1 since ‘Mack the Knife’. Sample line: They left him lyin’ in a pool of blood, And laughed about it all the way home… And it’s a chart-topping record with sound-effects! Getaway cars, sirens and, best of all, a round of carbines as the heroes of the tale meet their end. Yep, Fame sticks to the facts – no riding off into the sunset for Bonnie and Clyde here. And very few #1 singles will ever feature lines like: Actin’ upon, Reliable information, A federal deputation laid a deadly ambush…

It’s odd, isn’t it? A chart-topping single that so glorifies two serial killers. There’s a glamour to Bonnie and Clyde, though, isn’t there? The romance, the fast cars, the cigars… You can’t imagine ‘The Ballad of Harold Shipman’ being such a smash… The famous movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway had been a hit the previous year. ‘The Ballad…’ hadn’t featured in the film, but Fame had been inspired to write the song after seeing it.

Georgie+Fame+The+Ballad+Of+Bonnie+And+Clyde-652822

The record, fittingly, ends on a melodramatic note. A long drawn out coda, in which the duo draw their last breath. And finally together, They died… A few years back, any mention of death in a hit single seemed guaranteed to cause controversy. The Everly Brothers, Ricky Valance and co. all got airplay bans for their ‘death-discs’. Society has clearly moved on during the sixties, in more ways than one. (Though this was apparently censored in the US thanks to the machine-gun sound effects.)

I like it. A completely random interlude to the swinging sixties, the sort of bizarre post-Christmas number one that the charts can sometimes throw up as they wait for the first big hits of the year. Though perhaps we should class Georgie Fame as a ‘big’ artist. This is, after all, his third #1. The same total as The Kinks, The Searchers, Sandie Shaw and other sixties royalty. Two more than Dusty! Three more than The Who and Dylan! Somehow, though, he’s kind of slipped under the radar, with his soulful, bluesy, Latin-tinged hits. I do love the fact that he never had a top ten hit that didn’t make #1. All or nothing for Mr. Fame. He’s now seventy-six, and still performs from time to time. The pop charts of the 1960s were a better place for his sporadic appearances at the top.

1968 is off with a bang, then. Literally, what with the mass shooting that ends this record. I made a point in the last post about 1967 having no one-week chart-toppers, and now the first one of this year has lasted only seven days. Here’s to what’s looking like an eclectic year! Onwards…

Listen to the first fourteen (and a bit) years’ of #1 singles with my handy playlist:

219. ‘Getaway’, by Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames

Following on from The Kink’s ‘Sunny Afternoon’, and we are keeping up with the summery theme. For what could be more summery than a little getaway…?

georgie-fame-and-the-blue-flames-1965-resize-1-1280x620

Getaway, by Georgie Fame (his 2nd of three #1s) & The Blue Flames (their 2nd and final #1)

1 week, from 21st – 28th July 1966

Gotta go, I hope you’re ready cos, Take a look outside… Georgie sings… We’ll leave the city folk, They’ll have to stay… he persuades… Don’t have to pack a thing, Just get away… It’s not as soulful, or as funky, as his previous number one, ‘Yeh Yeh’. It’s a simple enough acoustic riff, with a brass section for back-up. It’s cute. It’s catchy enough. It makes sense when you discover that it was written, initially, as an advertising jingle for a brand of petrol.

A lot of the song, around thirty percent I’d guess, is Fame chanting gotta go over the jaunty rhythm. Dig a little deeper into the remaining lyrics, though, and it turns out that his ‘getaway’ isn’t going to be a particularly luxurious one. I know a little place… A kind of pretty place… But it sounds charming: sun, sea and a bit of peace and quiet. I suppose it speaks to a time when young people didn’t have as much freedom, and perhaps could only truly ‘getaway’ once they were married…

georgie-fame-blue-flames-getaway-1966_360_a14c4c905930e91eb7f8b67044e08e6d

Musically, there are two things of note. There’s an organ solo, which places this song firmly in the mid-sixties. And every few lines a horn gives out a low parp, the sort of sound that usually follows a clown’s pratfall, which lends an (unintentionally?) comic air to the record. Apart from that, there doesn’t seem to be that much to it. It’s a nice enough diversion. Both of Georgie and The Blue Flames’ #1s have been a little off the beaten path compared to the dominant sound of the time. I like that – he was doing his thing and, clearly, people were digging it.

Another point to note – this hit is referred to as both ‘Getaway’ and ‘Get Away’, with different vinyl pressings having one title or the other. The Official Charts list it as one word so that’s what I’m going with… And I’m struggling to write much more about this chart-topper, to be honest. It’s nice. The end.

Plus, Georgie Fame will be making one more appearance at the top of the charts in a year or so, minus his Blue Flames (it is a really cool name for a backing band, isn’t it: The Blue Flames), so we can skip the bio bit. Anyway, I know that I’m publishing this in late October, but close your eyes and imagine that it’s high-summer, as it was when this disc hit the top of the charts. Close your eyes and, for two minutes thirty-one seconds, getaway.

184. ‘Yeh Yeh’, by Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames

No sooner have I mentioned that 1965 might be a more eclectic year in terms of its chart-topping singles, when along comes one Georgie Fame with a swaying slice of Latin soul.

maxresdefault

Yeh Yeh, by Georgie Fame (his 1st of three #1s) & The Blue Flames (their 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, from 14th – 28th January 1965

Wham and then Bam. In the space of three #1s we’ve gone BluesBeat rock-Latin. I might even go so far as to describe this as a Bossanova, if I was at all certain what exactly a ‘Bossanova’ was… Whatever it is, it’s not a sound that we’ve heard very often at the top of the UK charts. After months of Merseybeat things are really starting to splinter in different directions.

The song is about a guy who, after finishing work every evening, calls up his baby and asks her what she wants to do… I mention movies, But she don’t seem to dig that, And then she asks me, Why don’t I come to her flat…Yeh Yeh’ is his response. The words are spat out at a rapid pace, half-rapped (this might be the hardest number one yet in terms of making out the lyrics). But it still becomes clear just what his baby’s game is. She suggests supper and listening to some records, and soon the kissing starts: And when she kisses, I feel the fire get hot, She never misses, She gives it all that she’s got…

I love the break in the middle, when one long tongue twister line – We’ll play a melody and turn the lights down low so that none can see… – ascends to a natty drum fill and lots of We gotta do that’s! and Yeh Yehs! Then there’s a full-blown sax solo for all you hip cats out there.

Georgie-Fame-Blue-Flames-Yeh-Yeh

It’s a cool record, there’s no doubting that. I can imagine it as the soundtrack to a lot of groovy, hipster parties during the winter of ’64 – ’65. And Georgie Fame – before googling him I pictured him in a turtle neck and a pork pie hat, and after googling him I was slightly disappointed to find that he favoured suits and sharp ties. (He did like a cigarette, dangling all loose and louche, from the corner of his mouth, however.) Plus, finding out that he was born Clive Powell, in Lancashire, rather than Georgie Fame, New York City, took the shine off even further.

Still, despite being Clive from Lancashire, Fame has a real soulful voice. He goes fast then slow, loud then quiet, and – while the band are really tight – his voice is the most impressive instrument in the record. The way it blends together with the organ and the sax to draw out the final note is particularly cool. The Blue Flames had been the backing band for British rock ‘n’ roller Billy Fury, and Georgie Fame their piano player, but when they parted ways Clive AKA Georgie Fame became their leader and they went off down the path of R&B-slash-soul.

‘Yeh Yeh’ is nice, and funky; but it’s a hard record to classify. The best way I can describe is that it would sit perfectly next to ‘Green Onions’ by Booker T. & The MGs on a compilation called ‘Sexy Sixties’, or something. Plus, both Fame and The Flames will pop up sporadically as the sixties progress, so we’ll save any further bios for another day. In the meantime, sit back, grab a glass, and enjoy the sound of the swinging, sexy sixties floating through your earholes. Yeh Yeh!

Never miss a number one single with this playlist…