149. ‘Foot Tapper’, by The Shadows

Once again, The Shadows replace themselves at #1, and all I have to say is ‘Thank God!’ Thank God that ‘Summer Holiday’ wasn’t their final UK chart topper. For the group that contributed more to British rock ‘n’ roll than any other act to bow out from the top spot with a record as sickeningly twee and limp as that would have been a travesty.

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Foot Tapper, by The Shadows (their 12th and final #1)

1 week, from 28th March – 4th April 1963

Thank God for ‘Foot Tapper’, then, as it ensures that Hank, Bruce and the other two score their final number one with, in my opinion, the best of the lot. OK, ok, ‘Foot Tapper’ might not be as sweeping as ‘Apache’, as epic as ‘Wonderful Land’ and it might not rock as hard as ‘Kon-Tiki’; but it is an insanely catchy little number.

What does it consist of? A light and limber riff? Check. Natty little drum fills? Check. A bouncy bassline? Check. A super-appropriate title? Check. (Go on – press play on the link below and watch your feet start tappin’.) Unlike their previous #1, ‘Dance On’, this one really does get you moving. This record just has a joie de vivre about it, a certain je ne sais quoi… It’s a song of such special potency that it’s got me speaking French.

It’s a very fitting way to round off three months of unparalleled Shadows dominance in the UK Singles charts. We’ve had The Shadows with Cliff twice (‘The Next Time’ and ‘Summer Holiday’), we’ve had solo-Shadows (‘Dance On!’ and now this) and we’ve had ex-Shadows (‘Diamonds’ from Jet Harris and Tony Meehan). They’ve replaced themselves at the top twice this year already, and now sit right behind Elvis Presley himself as the act with the most #1s in chart history. (Skip forward forty-six years, and The Shadows still remain joint-fifth in the all-time #1s list – level with Take That, and behind only Elvis, The Beatles, Cliff, Westlife and Madonna.)

And while we’re on the theme of Dominance, it is worth noting that ‘Foot Tapper’ is the 3rd chart-topper to be taken from the soundtrack to ‘Summer Holiday’. I’m not sure that there has ever been a more successful soundtrack than that. And… these Cliff ‘n’ Shadows number ones over the past few months have all been produced by the same man: Norrie Paramor. The same Paramor that also produced the only non-Shadows chart-topper of 1963 so far, Frank Ifield’s ‘The Wayward Wind’. So it could be argued that it is he that truly has the charts in a chirpy, string-drenched stranglehold.

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Back to the record in question, though, and I am not alone in holding ‘Foot Tapper’ in high-regard. The tune was, of course, the theme to ‘Sounds of the Sixties’ on Radio 2 – a show that I’ve mentioned before and will happily mention again whenever the opportunity arises. This meant that, no matter what tunes had been played in the preceding two hours – Procol Harum, Velvet Underground, experimental Scott Walker ‘B’-sides… – the last tune you always heard was this. Da-da-da-doo-doo, Doo-doo-dun-dun-da-da…

And so. We arrive at the end of an era. And I don’t just mean in the sense that we’ll never hear from The Shadows again. I mean that this is officially the end of the ‘rock ‘n’ roll age’, which we’ve been wading through ever since Bill Haley shouted ‘One, two, three o’clock…’ back in November 1955. Because of this I’m going to break my own rules slightly and do the next recap one song early (Gasp!) The first number one single after said recap will then be the starting pistol for perhaps the biggest, most influential movement in British popular music history! I’m excited! Are you…?

135. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers

Now this is how you make an instrumental rock ‘n’ roll record! At the risk of sounding like a complete pleb, this latest chart-topper is ten-times better than its highly-regarded (but pretty dull) predecessor, The Shadows’ ‘Wonderful Land’.

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Nut Rocker, by B. Bumble & The Stingers (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 17th – 24th May 1962

Imagine a Buzzfeed listicle entitled ‘23 Things You Never Knew You Needed in Your Life, But Totally Do’. Top-spot on that list would surely go to “the march from The Nutcracker done in a rollicking, boogie-woogie-slash-rock ‘n’ roll style”. And as it so happens – that is exactly what ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers, is!

This is a bizarre, wacky, completely unexpected record. Coming as it does after pretty sedate efforts from Cliff, The Shadows and Elvis, it sounds like a drunken uncle bundling his way onto the dance-floor at a wedding. And I mean that as a good thing. This is a superb record. I might even go as far as saying that it’s life-affirming. This is why humans were put on the planet – to make songs such as this. This needs to swap places with ‘Wonderful Land’ as the record that spent eight weeks atop the charts.

I don’t actually have much to write about the song itself – I tried to take notes, but ended up just smiling and tapping my feet. Plus, it races to an end in under two minutes. But those two minutes include the following: a stupidly dramatic intro, piano riffs, superb drum fills, and a natty little guitar solo. It is undeniably the march from ‘The Nutcracker’, but it’s so much more than just the march from ‘The Nutcracker’. Listen to that here, then listen to ‘Nut Rocker’ through the link below. It’s pretty special, actually, how they’ve stayed true to the original piece of classical music but added everything you need for a rock ‘n’ roll song. It is a novelty, it is silly; but I wouldn’t call it a piss-take. It’s clearly done with love.

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For perhaps the first time in this countdown, I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard this song. I was in the passenger seat of my mum’s car, aged fourteen or so, on a Saturday afternoon in May. We were listening to ‘Pick of the Pops’, a radio show that replays the charts from any given year. That week it was the chart from 1962, and we had been guessing who might have been at the top of the charts – Cliff? Elvis? Roy Orbison? It was a bit too early for The Beatles… When B. Bumble & The Stingers were announced as the #1 we… well, we burst out laughing. In a good way. It’s that kind of record.

The Stingers were very much a flash-in-the-pan kind of act. They had had success with a version of ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ before ‘Nut Rocker’, and they followed their sole chart-topper up with a version of the William Tell Overture ,‘Apple Knocker’, and ‘Dawn Cracker’ – based on Greig’s ‘Morning Mood’ (they had clearly found their niche). All were done in the same boogie-woogie style, but having had a listen I can confirm that none come close to the genius of this track. ‘Nut Rocker’ really was a case of capturing lightning.

Just in case you somehow remain unconvinced about how good, yet slightly mental, this record is, here are a couple of things to chew on before we finish. One – this song was almost banned by the BBC, as they had a policy of not playing records which parodied classical music. How dare these teddy boy upstarts lampoon proper music! (In the end they let it pass, as even the stuffed-suits in Broadcasting House saw ‘Nut Rocker’ for the heartfelt homage that it clearly was.) Two – and if this doesn’t convince then you are beyond redemption – it means that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky has a writing-credit on one of the silliest chart-topping records in history. Roll over Beethoven, indeed…

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!

126. ‘Kon-Tiki’, by The Shadows

As we continue our slow meander along the highways and bye-ways of 1961 –it does feel that this year is taking a little longer to get through than previous ones – it’s time for a little interlude.

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Kon-Tiki, by The Shadows (their 6th of twelve #1s)

1 week, from 5th – 12th October 1961

Picture, if you possibly can, the year 1961 as a TV variety show. On the bill are some huge, established stars – Elvis, the Everlys, Shirley Bassey – along with some new up and coming teen sensations – Johnny Tillotson, Helen Shapiro – and some quirky little gems – Floyd Cramer and The Temperance Seven. Maybe Cliff – who won’t actually be hitting #1 this year – can be the MC. OK? Well, to this weird mental image you can add the house band, the ones that pop up and play as the curtains drop and the scenery gets shifted. They are, of course, The Shadows.

‘Kon-Tiki’ is another instrumental. A lilting little slice of surf-rock. It’s got cool drum-fills, a nice crunchy, tinny edge to the guitars and a hint of reverb around the main riff. There’s a couple of call and response bits between the lead and the bass, and the ending has some gnarly (did they say ‘gnarly’ in the early sixties?) echo. It’s a decent enough record – I’m not sure that the Shadows made many poor ‘solo’ records – but when it ends less than two minutes in you’re left wondering… Is that it?

It’s far from being one of their bigger hits (I wasn’t particularly familiar with it before starting this post) and it kind of feels like filler. Something thrown together as the guys were jamming. A ‘B’-side, maybe? But hey, what do I know. It was a UK number one single; only the band’s second solo chart-topper.

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The Kon-Tiki was actually a raft used in a 1947 expedition across the Pacific Ocean by the Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl. ‘Kon-Tiki’ was chosen as it was an old name for the Incan sun-god. What all this had to do in inspiring the writing of this perky guitar instrumental is, to be honest, unknown. My best guess is that it sounds kinda tropical, kinda surfy, and could work well as the soundtrack to a sunset luau on the beaches of Hawaii. Compared to ‘Apache’, which really did conjure up images of Indian braves galloping across the plains, ‘Kon-Tiki’ is a little more abstract.

Maybe that’s fine, though. It’s a nice enough tune, a pleasant one-week interlude on our journey through 1961. It reminds us that The Shadows are still around, are still the biggest British band of the time. Maybe it needs no further meaning than that.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, it does feel like we’ve been lingering in 1961 for quite a while now. In actual fact, with twenty-one number one singles, 1961 has by far the most chart-toppers of any year yet covered. But that’s OK. It’s proving a nice place to be. Jazz, rock, showtunes, instrumentals… all genres are welcome here. And, if you thought it’s been eclectic recently; just wait till you hear what’s up next!