Random Runners-up: ‘Gimme Some Loving’, by The Spencer Davis Group

I’ll be trying out a new feature this week – drumroll please – Random Runners-up! Yes, a moment in the sun for the singles that didn’t quite make it to the top. These aren’t particularly long-running, or unlucky #2 singles. They may not even be particularly good… They all simply peaked in the runners-up position.

I used random.org (the website you never knew you’d need) to generate five random dates from between the start of the UK singles chart in November 1952, through to our most recent chart-topper in September 1973. I then checked what record was sitting at #2 that week and, as long as it wasn’t a record that had been at, or was heading to, the top of the charts, I chose it.

First up…

‘Gimme Some Loving’, by The Spencer Davis Group

#2 for 1 week, behind ‘Good Vibrations‘, from 24th Nov. – 1st Dec. 1966

Hey! Not a bad way to kick things off! Listen to that organ blast out like a train that’s just spotted the bridge up ahead has collapsed. Hey! The Spencer Davis’s had had two #1s in 1966 – ‘Keep On Running‘ and ‘Somebody Help Me‘ – but for my money this is the best of the three. Hey!

Well, my temperature’s rising’, Got my feet on the floor… Crazy people knocking cos they want some more… Steve Winwood’s having a party, and everybody wants in. This is a song that hums, throbs, positively trembles with energy. It’s a song for Friday night, for casting off the cares of the week and shaking your ass.

I would have bet good, good money on this being a Motown cover… But no. It was written by the boys in the band – Steve, his brother Muff, and, of course, Spencer Davis. Which makes ‘Gimme Some Loving’ surely one of – if not the – finest example of sixties blue-eyed soul around. (Dusty excepted… Obvs.) It would go on to have a second-wind following its inclusion in The Blues Brothers movie some fifteen years later.

I won’t write as much about these songs as A) I don’t have time and B) they weren’t #1s. Still, this song doesn’t need much analysing. Just get up and start shaking something. It should have been a chart-topper, surely it should, but when the record that holds you off the top is ‘Good Vibrations’ then you probably have to say ‘fair enough’.

Another #2 will be along, same time tomorrow…

212. ‘Somebody Help Me’, by The Spencer Davis Group

The Spencer-Davis’s return with a quick-fire #1, barely three months after the first. It’s not a record that rings a bell but, as soon as I press play, I know I’ve heard this before, somewhere, sometime…

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Somebody Help Me, by The Spencer Davis Group (their 2nd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 14th – 28th April 1966

Like ‘Keep on Running’, it all kicks off with a bass riff. But one a bit mellower, a bit more understated, and not quite as filthy sounding as in their first chart-topper. Somebody help me, yeah… Somebody help me, now… Won’t somebody tell me what I’ve done wrong…

It’s a song that tells a bit of a story. The singer had a girl, his Queen, back when he was seventeen, but lost her. Since then he’s been unable to find a new one. Now I’m so lonesome, On my own… (If the stalker-ish lyrics to ‘Keep on Running’ were anything to go by, it’s easy to guess why she dumped him.) And that’s about it. A simple enough rock ‘n’ roll record.

Like its predecessor, ‘Somebody Help Me’ has got a nice soulful vibe to it – especially in the bridge – in the I need a girl, To hold me tight… – plus I like the funky guitar licks at the end of the lines. The Spencer-Davis’s liked a crunchy guitar, which gives their songs quite a Kinks-y feel. And it’s the shortest chart-topper we’ve had in a long time, coming in at bang-on two minutes. Which is fine – there’s absolutely no need for this disc to be any longer.

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It’s a forgotten record, I’d say. A forgotten gem…? I’m not sure. Is it quite a ‘gem’? It’s definitely a groovy little record (we’re allowed to say ‘groovy’, by the way – it was the style of the time…) One that adds texture to the way Beat pop was splitting into different sub-genres. I’m not sure whether to go as far as calling it a ‘Shadow Number One’ – a song that only hits the top because of its more famous predecessor. Because A) it’s a good enough record to have reached the top on its own merits, and B) it managed a fortnight at the top while ‘Keep on Running’ only got a single week.

Interestingly, this song was, like ‘Keep on Running’, written by reggae singer Jackie Edwards. But he doesn’t seem to have ever recorded it. And, like so many bands of this era, The Spencer Davis Group didn’t last very long. They had a couple more Top 10s – including the classic ‘Gimme Some Lovin’, which is probably better known than either of their chart-toppers – before lead singer Steve Winwood left.

And that was all she wrote for the Spencer-Davis’s at the top of the UK Singles Chart.  They’ve reformed over the years in a variety of guises. Except… Winwood would go on to have a half-decent solo career, with a handful of eighties hits. One of which – ‘Valerie’, from 1982 – went on to be noticed by Swedish DJ Eric Prydz. He loved the vocals, persuaded Winwood to re-record them, and they formed the basis for his 2004 #1 ‘Call on Me’. So… we will hear the soulful tones of Winwood one more time in this countdown, in precisely thirty-eight years’ time. Aren’t the charts fascinating?

208. ‘Keep on Running’, by The Spencer Davis Group

We skip on into 1966, where the first number one is, perhaps unexpectedly, neither folkey nor baroquey. It’s a straight-up rocker!

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Keep on Running, by The Spencer Davis Group (their 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 20th – 27th January 1966

A dirty drum and bass riff kicks it off, and then we get a blast of some kind of feedback-slash-scuzzy chord couplet. It makes you sit up, makes you take notice. Keep on runnin’, Runnin’ from my arms… It’s not as heavy as The Stones have been recently, but it’s not as poppy as anything from the Merseybeat days. It’s like a perfect marriage of the two…

Actually, it’s got a real soul vibe to it too, as if Sam Cooke was now fronting a Beat combo. It’s cool – catchy and funky. I love the Hey! Hey! Hey!s, and the way that the intro riff returns for the now customary wig-out at the end. It’s clear that any self-respecting rock record in 1965-66 has to fade-out with the lead singer going a little bit crazy…

I know this song, but know very little about the band – The Spencer Davis Group (don’t ‘The Spencer-Davis’s’ sound like a posh couple that you avoid in Sainsbury’s?) I would have bet they were American, with their funky soul sound, but no. They were from Birmingham (and not the one in Alabama.) Interestingly, ‘Keep on Running’ isn’t a cover of a soul song, but a cover of a reggae hit from the year before. Check it out here… Unsurprisingly, it sounds completely different. I’ve never been a huge reggae fan – something that I’m sure will crop up in this countdown as the genre grows in popularity – so I’ll take The Spencer-Davis’s version, thankyouverymuch.

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It’s a great record. Though I feel, before we go much further, that the lyrics need some scrutinising. They’re a bit… overbearing? That’s putting it politely. The title refers to a woman who, try as she might, will not be able to escape the singer’s attentions. One fine day I’m gonna be the one, To make you understand, Oh yeah, I’m gonna be your man… It gets worse when you realise that he’s motivated not by love, but because his mates are laughing at him: Everyone is talkin’ about me, Makes me feel so bad, Everyone is laughin’ at me, Makes me feel so sad…

Hmmm. The more you think about them, the worse they get. But hey, this was the sixties. Different times, different levels of tolerance for possessive wierdos… File under ‘Catchy but Creepy’, with ‘What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?’ and ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’.

The Spencer-Davis’s will be back, and very shortly, for the second part of their chart-topping brace. They had had a few low charting singles in the previous couple of years, but ‘Keep on Running’ propelled them to another level entirely. It’s not quite a classic, a standard, but it has a hook that most people could sing. And, despite what I said about the lyrics, I do really like it. It’s fun, and a little rough around the edges. Like all the best rock songs should be… A great way to kick off a new year.