One of the earliest stars of the Beat explosion, Billy J. Kramer, returns for one last go on top. And he starts this latest #1 off with an intro full of intrigue. An intriguing intro. It’s a little slow and shuffling, a little woozy, like a pub band that’ve had one too many warming up for their final encore of the night. All that’s missing is a harmonica…
Little Children, by Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas (their 2nd and final #1)
2 weeks, from 19th March – 2nd April 1964
Then the lyrics come in, and the intrigue grows ten-fold. Little children, You better not tell on me… I’m telling you… Little children, You better not tell what you see… It’s a song that tells a story – rather than the traditional ‘I love you, I’m in heaven, Hold my hand’ kind of songs that we’ve had a lot of recently – and that’s always a good thing. It makes them easier to write about for a start. But… And I’m sure you noticed it too… Those opening lines do sound kinda creepy.
It gets worse, too, before it gets better. I’ll give you candy, And a quarter, If you’re quiet, Like you oughta be, And keep the secret with me… Yep. I know. But, just as you reach for the phone to call ChildLine, all becomes clear. He wants the children to bugger off so that he can kiss and cuddle with their – presumably safely over-age – older sister. Nothing more sinister here than a spot of mild bribery. Phew.
Still, this is a strange little song. And not just because of those lyrics. I like it, the slightly seedy rhythm and the fact that it paints a picture of a very specific and believable scenario. Why does he not want his secret exposed? You saw me kissing your sister, You saw me holding her hand, But if you snitch to your mother, Your father won’t understand… Are her parents simply over-protective? Or has he got a reputation as a bit of a bounder? The best bits are the growled asides: I wish they would take a nap… And the simple, snide Go anywhere…! Add to this the fact that there isn’t really a chorus or a solo, just four ascending verses in which the singer grows more and more frustrated about not being left alone with his beau. I like it, even though it’s a strange song. I like it because it’s a strange song.
Given all the American references littered throughout the song – ‘quarters’, ‘movies’, ‘going steady’ – I was convinced that this #1 was going to add to the list of Beat-hits-that-were-actually-covers, but no. It was written by two American songwriters – J. Leslie McFarland and Mort Shuman – but Billy J. and The Dakotas recorded the first and only version. Apparently Kramer had been offered another Lennon and McCartney song but turned it down for something quirkier. Kudos to him for that. Although it has to be said that, as fun as this record is, ‘Bad to Me’, their first, Beatles-written, chart-topper is the superior disc.
That was it for Billy J. and number one hits. In a similar fashion to Gerry & The Pacemakers, his career fell off a cliff in 1965 as the Beat movement split into all its different sub-factions. He would only have one further UK Top 10, and parted from The Dakotas in 1967. In the seventies he worked in cabaret and regional television, and to this day he still does a turn on the oldies circuits. He has also been married twice, and so he must have persuaded those pesky kids to clear off, eventually…