We’re climbing aboard our time machine and zooming back to the sixties this month where life appeared to be a whole lot calmer and music was, erm, more musical! Well, at least we could hear and understand the lyrics irrespective of their sugary sweetness. But, hey, wasn’t that part of their charm? So let’s visit the top rungs of the charts in May 1962 before digressing as we usually do.
Sitting comfortably at the top was “Wonderful Land” by The Shadows, Cliff Richard’s backing group, and follow-up to “The Savage”. Penned by Jerry Lordan, responsible for the group’s earlier single “Apache”, another UK chart topper for five weeks, “Wonderful Land” dominated the top for eight weeks. Remarkably, this feat was only equalled by The Archies and Elvis Presley through the whole decade, including those singles by The Beatles. At the time of “Wonderful Land”, The Shadows were going through a period of transition as original members Tony Meehan and Jet Harris left to be replaced by Brian Bennett and Brian Locking respectively, making up the slick quartet with Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch. A little bit of gossip now. The Shadows originally called themselves The Drifters but that had to change pronto as there was already a successful group by that name recording in America. It mattered little because it was the music these British guys pumped out that attracted fans and sales by the thousands.
So, as The Shadows they worked with our Cliffie from 1958 to 1968, and from the 1950s through to the 2000s marked up an astonishing sixty-nine UK hit singles: thirty-five credited to them, and thirty-four with Cliff Richard. With a membership comprising the basics of bass, rhythm and lead guitars and drums, The Shadows typified those in the forefront of the British beat group boom. And for goodness sake, they developed The Shadows Walk – sequences using their bodies and guitars in tempo with the music. Nothing fanciful you understand – not at all like the complexities associated with the intricate choreography on display by American groups – but rather a combination of three steps within a 60-60-60 degree triangle with a reverse right-heel back-kick and optional can-can finale. (Thank you Wikipedia – I couldn’t have managed this description by myself!)
Del Shannon sings about his love for a girl he barely knows. The poor thing has been dumped by her boyfriend, and Del wants to get to know her better believing he can….make her better. “Hey Little Girl” was the name of his single sitting at number two. Charles Weedon Westover aka Mr Shannon, born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was a successful rock ‘n’ roll/country singer and musician, who crossed over into pop music. His career got off to a blinding start with the international mega-selling “Runaway” with “Hat’s Off To Larry” following, highlighting his slightly high-pitched voice. All in all, Del had a pretty terrific career, with the usual ups and downs that come with a show business environment, but his life was cut short in tragedy. In the years leading up to his death, he suffered badly with depression, which was said to have contributed towards him committing suicide in February 1990.
Another “Hey” sat just below. This time, “Hey! Baby” sung by a rather handsome looking bloke by the name of Bruce Channel. Now here’s a tie-up to The Beatles for what it’s worth. Featured in “Hey! Baby” was a well-known harmonica player named Delbert McClinton, and while on tour with Bruce and The Beatles in the UK, he taught John Lennon to play said harmonica. John took Delbert’s words of wisdom on board, with the results heard on “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me” in particular. Anyway, back to Bruce Channel’s singalong “Hey! Baby” which I reckon was everyone’s party favourite but more so on the re-make in 2000 by an Austrian artist DJ Otzi. Now called “Hey! Baby (Uhh, Ahh)” this version eventually hit the top of the chart thanks to it being adopted as the unofficial theme for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. You remember it – there’s a fair amount of loud grunting going on. Sadly, Bruce’s original was kinda left on the starting block which was a pity.
Instrumental singles were the name of the game this month. Two more significant 45s were in the top ten and, believe me, they couldn’t be more different. So let’s hit the frenetic “Nut Rocker” from B. Bumble and the Stingers. (Don’t you just love these crazy names!?) Totally out of the box, this was a version (some said a disrespectful take on a classic) of the march from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet taken at the speed of light. Mr Bumble and his friends were infact session musicians working for Rendezvous Records in Los Angeles who specialised in rock ‘n’ roll arrangements of classical melodies. So, when the single dramatically took off, a touring band was formed, with leader R.C. Gamble, better known as Billy Bumble. And as such, they toured the UK to promote the follow-up “Apple Knocker” based on the William Tell Overture. I can assure you, I’m not making any of this up. All I will say is – this was the sixties!
The second instrumental was, by comparison, smooth and easy-on-the-ear from a certain Somerset-born Mr Acker Bilk, a clarinettist who wore a distinctive goatie, bowler hat and striped waistcoat. The single “Stranger On The Shore” was originally titled “Jenny” after his daughter, and was subsequently used as the theme to the BBC tv series aimed at young people. Believe it or not, I actually remember avidly watching these episodes back in the day but for the life of me, can’t bring up any of the storyline. “Stranger On The Shore” peaked at number two and was the first British single to hit the American top spot, quickly followed by The Tornadoes “Telstar”, another blinding instrumental. Acker Bilk’s single spent a year on the UK chart, was the biggest money spinner of 1962, and at one time was the top selling instrumental of all time. There’s a lovely story coming up too. During May 1969 the crew of Apollo 10 took “Stranger On The Shore” on their space mission to the moon. I bet Mr Bilk was all starry eyed.
Back on terra firma, amid all these instrumentals and dumped girlfriends needing help, there was our own Helen Shapiro – and, once again, there’s a tenuous link with The Beatles. When she was one of their support acts during a 1963 tour, John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote “Misery” for her. Norrie Paramor, Helen’s producer at the time, down-thumbed it. “It was actually turned down on my behalf before I heard it” a disappointed singer once commented. “I never got to hear it or give an opinion. It’s a shame really.” Indeed, as Ms Shapiro would have enjoyed a guaranteed hit as artists were climbing over themselves for Beatle material. Nevertheless, “Tell Me What He Said”, an upbeat pop single, sat comfortably in the top ten in May before peaking at number two, Helen’s fourth single to hit the top three. With her mature voice not befitting her young age, Helen Shapiro was the youngest female chart topper and before she was sixteen-years-old was crowned Britain’s top female singer. Mmm…maybe she didn’t need Lennon and McCartney after all!
One of the books we’d have been reading this month was “The Spy Who Loved Me”, another in the James Bond series written by Ian Fleming, who had the uncanny knack of captivating his readers – and film goers – with the antics of the suave 007. This book signified his ninth novel which he penned at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica, and was one of his shortest manuscripts. However, the response it received was quite overwhelming but for the wrong reasons, and, to be honest, I had no idea about the ensuing backlash. And I’ve always considered myself to be such an avid James Bond fan! Briefly then, here’s the back story. When published in hardback only, readers were up in arms, saying it was his worst yet. It was also one of his most sexually explicit which led to it being banned in several countries. In America it was reproduced in Stag magazine under the title “Motel Nymph”. Ian explained why he had introduced a sexual slant into an otherwise captivating story. “I had become increasingly surprised to find my thrillers, which were designed for an adult audience, being read in schools, and that young people were making a hero out of James Bond … So it crossed my mind to write a cautionary tale about Bond, to put the record straight in the minds particularly of younger readers … the experiment has obviously gone very much awry”. Such was the outcry that Ian Fleming requested there should be no reprints or paperback versions available until after his death.
Subsequently, when “The Spy Who Loved Me” hit the big screen in 1977, where Roger Moore played the British M16 agent, most of Ian Fleming’s original storyline had been changed. Who would have thought? It didn’t matter though as the film went on to gross around $185 million globally, with $46 million in America alone. Nowadays, if you haven’t added the dvd to your collection, ITV appear to show James Bond films rather too regularly.
From books to American politics and a famous film star. This was the month in 1962 that Marilyn Monroe made her last significant public appearance when she sang “Happy Birthday Mr President” at the birthday bash for President John F Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, New York. The event was part of a fundraiser for the Democratic Party but it was the enigmatic Miss Monroe who absolutely stole the evening as she trotted to the side of the stage to the amazement of all those attending. Looking every inch the American star, she was stitched into a breathtaking $12,000 beige, skin tight dress ‘made of nothing but beads’ with no underwear. President Kennedy wasn’t the only man in attendance who gulped in disbelief yet he composed himself sufficiently to acknowledge her presence, saying “I can now retire from politics after having had ‘Happy Birthday’ sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.” The pictures of Marilyn in this awesome gown were as iconic as those taken a few years’ earlier when she stood on a subway grate as her pleated white halter neck dress blew up around her. The fabulous image was naturally forefront in the promotion of her 1955 romantic comedy The Seven Year Itch where her co-star was Tom Ewell.
The girl who was Norma Jeane Mortenson broke all the rules and trod new ground to become a leading actress, yet so often she was shrugged off by film directors as a ‘dumb blonde’. It’s fair to say working with her on a film set was no easy task yet those completed films attracted millions in dollars and erstwhile Monroe fans. Her endearing popularity went on to cross decades. She was one of the most famous stars of classical Hollywood, but also a victim due to her unstable childhood, her troubled private life and poor judgements. However, the conspiracy theories surrounding her sudden, tragic death in 1962 continue to puzzle her fans. Me included. None of the books in my collection has answered the question, instead they have thrown up more clues than I care to investigate. I guess we’ll never be totally sure how Marilyn Monroe died and that bugs and saddens me no end.