Category Archives: Popular singers

‘It’s number 1 – it’s Top of the Pops!’ in 1969.

Many in Britain will know this headline coming across the airwaves.

In July 1969 the charts for 5th July showed the Edwin Hawkins Singers ‘Oh Happy Day’ at number 5; ‘Living in the Past’ by Jethrow Tull at 4; ‘The Ballard of John and Yoko’ by the Beatles at 3; ‘In the Ghetto’ by Elvis at 2 and ‘Something in the Air’  by Thunderclap Newman at 1.

12th July has Thunderclap, Elvis and the Beatles in situ but ‘Hello Susie‘ by Amen Corner had shot up from 14 to 4 pushing Jethro Tull to 5.

19th July still has no change at 1 and 2 but last week’s number 9 – the Rolling Stones ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ is now at number 3; the Plastic Ono Band has shot from 21 to 4 with ‘Give Peace a Chance’ causing ‘Hello Susie’ to slip down 1 to 5.

But we are looking at the situation on 26th July 1969 and at Number One – Top of the Pops is/are the Rolling Stones with their …….

‘Honky Tonk Woman’

This will stay at number 1 until 30th August when Zager & Evans’ ‘In the Year 2525’ knocks them down – to number 2!

Music of this day in years gone by

Do you like listening to current popular music?  I used to – but now I seem to live in the past.  The music I have in the car proves that.  Let’s take today – 13th July – as an example.

On 13th July 1957 Elvis Presley had just started a seven week stay at number one with ‘All Shook Up’.  It’s on one of the CDs in my car.

On 13th July 1958 the Everly Brothers were in the second week of a seven week stay with double sider ‘All I have to do is Dream/Claudette’.  Yes that’s in the car as well.

However the music of 13th July 1985 is not in the car – but it is in the cupboard.  So what is/was that I hear some of you asking.  Well  it was a dual-venue concert that was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London (attendance 72,000 people) and the John F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia USA where around 100,000 people took part.  On this same day, concerts inspired by the initiative happened in other countries including Austria, Australia, Japan, the Soviet Union and West Germany making it one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time.  It was estimated that a global audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watched the live broadcasts.  What was this magical event?

It was Live Aid.

The day that Eddie Cochran died

This year – 2017 – Easter Sunday falls on 16th April.    In 1960, Easter Sunday was on 17th April – the day this then teenager, and many others across Britain and beyond, remember as the day that Eddie Cochran died.  His death, in St. Martin’s Hospital, Bath, came as a result of injuries sustained in a car crash just outside Chippenham, late the night before.

Eddie and his great friend Gene Vincent had been touring the UK since mid-January on a package tour that had created a sensation amongst UK rock n roll fans.  By 1960 the first flush of raw rock’n’roll was long gone – much to the regret of many of us.  I had virtually all of Gene’s and Eddie’s discs at home.  They were well-hidden though because Dad had ‘accidentally’ damaged some Bill Haley 78s at Christmas.  Eddie & Gene were not going to have the same treatment.

Often described as ‘James Dean with a guitar’, Eddie had everything going for him. A young, good-looking guy, a hugely talented musician, who as well playing stunning guitar, could also handle bass and drums and most unusually for those times, also wrote his own songs.  Two of which – ‘Summertime Blues’ and ‘C’mon Everybody’, had been huge hits and today – nearly 60 years on – they are regarded as classics of the genre.
Eddie had arrived in the UK to join a tour that had started before Christmas.  Promoted by Larry Parnes the acts and musicians were all under contract to him and included Billy Fury – another of my idols – Joe Brown, Georgie Fame, Vince Eager and Johnny Gentle. The tour had a punishing schedule through a typical British winter – something California-resident Eddie was used to!  By the time the group reached the Bristol Hippodrome on Monday 11th April for a week-long residency, Eddie and his songwriter girlfriend, Sharon Sheeley, were looking forward to going back home.

After the final Saturday night show they collected their things from their hotel. Sometime after 11.00pm, a Ford Consul driven by George Martin, with Eddie, Gene, Sharon and tour-manager Pat Thompkins, set off for London.   Eddie, Sharon and Gene sat in the back, with Thompkins next to the driver.  This was pre-M4 days and Martin chose the A4 down through Bath.  However, it was a bad road, especially at night, so he chose a short cut round Chippenham.  Pat Thompkins later recalled: “You come out from under the viaduct and come across a bridge in front of you. On your right is the A4 and then the bridge and on your left is the A4 to London. Well, he saw the A4 and turned right, going the wrong way. When he saw the milestone, he realized he was going the wrong way and hit the brakes.”

Martin lost control on the Rowden Hill bend – then a notorious accident black-spot – and spun backwards into a concrete lamp post.  The impact sent Eddie up into the roof and forced the rear door open, throwing him onto the road.  Martin and Thompkins were able to walk away from the wreckage uninjured but Gene, Sharon and Eddie were lying on the grass verge.

The noise brought local residents onto the scene and the police were called to the scene.  An ambulance from Chippenham arrived soon after, in total darkness and the three were taken to St Martin’s hospital.  Gene had broken his collarbone but Sharon only suffered shock and bruising.  The injuries to Eddie would prove fatal.  He had suffered severe brain damage and never regained consciousness.  He died at 4.10pm that Sunday afternoon.

Like Buddy Holly who came our way two years earlier, Eddie Cochran had a profound influence on young aspiring British musicians.  Joe Brown has often said what a great and innovative guitar player Eddie was, introducing styles and techniques that had never been seen here before.   Georgie Fame credits Eddie with introducing the music of Ray Charles to a mainstream UK audience, through his playing of Charles’ songs in his stage act.  Shadows drummer Brian Bennett, as a member of Marty Wilde’s band who were loaned out to Eddie for some of the live dates and his BBC radio sessions for the Saturday Club show, recalls Eddie showing him some great drum tricks. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey both idolised Eddie and of course, ‘Summertime Blues’ was for years a Who stage-favourite.  Ironically, the biggest UK hits for Eddie’s songs ‘C’mon Everybody’ and ‘Somethin’ Else’, came in 1979, when The Sex Pistols took both of them to number three in the charts.

George Harrison had seen Eddie when the tour played Liverpool and even acquired an important  piece of Eddie memorabilia: ‘In 1999 I worked on a radio series for the BBC World Service with Paul McCartney, looking back at his early rock’n’roll years.  Paul recalled the-then unknown Beatles touring Scotland backing Johnny Gentle in 1960.  Eddie had given Johnny his stage shirt after the Bristol show and following a week of pestering by the young Beatle, Johnny eventually passed it to George.  Johnny came to one of the Eddie Cochran Weekender events in Chippenham, where I interviewed him live on air. He too said what an amazing talent Eddie was, and also said he wished he’d kept that shirt!’

When someone dies young, it’s always the eternal question – what would they have done in life?  In the case of Eddie Cochran, I think there can be little doubt he would have been the first ‘guitar-hero’ of the sixties, with Clapton, Beck, Page and Hendrix queuing up to play with him.   Jimi always said he wanted Eddie Cochran played at his funeral, and he got his wish.  What makes this whole story even more poignant is how young Eddie was when he took his seat in the car that night – just 21.

Today, that dangerous bend at Rowden Hill, Chippenham has long since been made safe. There is no longer any physical reminder of the tragedy, except for one thing – a plaque on the grass verge in memory of Eddie.  To this day that plaque marks the spot where he Eddie died.  It was erected by fans and unveiled at one of Chippenham’s Eddie Cochran Weekender events by Sharon Sheeley, on what was her first visit since that fateful night at Easter 1960.

PS: Included in the police team that came to the crash was a young Wiltshire cadet called Dave Harman.  Not too long after he changed his ‘name’ to Dave Dee and became a highly successful pop star himself.

This has been a much longer piece than I would normally post – and is being posted on both of my blogs [talkinghistoryblog & beejaytellingstories].  Wikipedia has a broader story of Eddie’s life and death.

It is quite possible that the story is either new to you and/or not something that presents any interest to you.  To me it is a part of my late teenage years.  I have most of Eddie’s work on disk or tape and, until quite recently, I still had my guitar from that long ago youth!

PPS: At a different time at a different place Gene Vincent would step on my fingers – but that’s another story!

We can ‘Rock Around the Clock’ BEFORE the USA!

It was on this day – Monday 12th April 1954 – that Bill Haley and the Comets recorded ‘Rock Around the Clock’.  It was a song written by Max Freedman and Jimmy Deknight. Bill Haley recorded it at the Decca studios. It wasn’t the first rock’n’roll song, and Bill Haley wasn’t the first to record it. But somehow his version caught the mood of the moment. It is considered to be the song that brought rock and roll into mainstream culture all over the world. The song went to Number One in the UK and USA, and it was Bill Haley’s biggest hit.  Many fans consider this band to be as revolutionary as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and they were most certainly the earliest group of white musicians to bring rock and roll to the attention of America and the rest of the world.

Bill had left Essex Records in the spring of 1954 and signed for Decca and the band’s first recording session was set for April 12, 1954 at the Pythian Temple studios in New York City. The recording session almost failed to take place because the band was traveling on a ferry that got stuck on a sandbar on the way to New York from Philadelphia. Once at the studio, producer Milt Gabler insisted that the band work on a song entitled “Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town)” that he wanted to promote as the A-side on the group’s first Decca single.  Near the end of the session, the band finally recorded a take of “Rock Around the Clock” but Bill’s vocals were drowned out by the band. A quick second take was made with minimal accompaniment.  Why the ‘minimal?’ – Sammy Davis Jr was waiting outside the studio for his turn behind the mike!

It is said that the Decca engineers later combined the two versions together into one version but Johnny Grande, the Comets piano player, tells a slightly different version, claiming that the only reason a second take was recorded was that the drummer made an error!

Whatever is the truth – ‘Rock’ took the lead with the ‘Thirteen Women’ on the flip side and ‘Rock around the Clock’ became the first of the group’s nine singles in the Top 20 between then and 1956.

Many musicians have claimed that they performed on the recording session for “Rock Around the Clock” but, according to the official record sheet from the session, the musicians on the famous recording were:  Bill Haley on vocals and rhythm guitar; Marshall Lyle on string bass; Franny Beecher on guitar; Joey Ambrose [aka Joey D’Ambrosio] on tenor saxophone; Billy Williamson on steel guitar; Johnny Grande on piano; Billy Gussak on drums and Danny Cedrone on electric guitar.

It was on Friday 9th July 1955 that “Rock Around the Clock” became the first rock and roll recording to hit the top of the US Billboard’s Pop charts, a feat it repeated on charts around the world.  On Billboard the song stayed at the top for eight weeks.

However – in the UK the record was released on Brunswick Records and reached number 17 on the UK Singles Chart in January 1955 – four months before it first entered the US pop charts!  This wasn’t the only entry it had in the UK because it re-entered the UK chart and hit number one in November 1955 for three weeks, dropped off the top for three weeks and then returned to the top for another two weeks in January 1956.  It made another re-entry in September 1956, reaching number 5. The track was re-issued in 1968 and made number 20, and again in 1974, when it reached number 12. The song’s original release saw it become the UK’s first million selling single and it went on to sell over 1.4 million copies in total!

Remembering some songs in Egypt

Tomorrow – Monday 20th March 2017 – Dame Vera Margaret Lynn will become 100 years old.  There has been – and there will be – a lot of stories about the lady who, during the Second World War, earned the title ‘The Forces’ Sweetheart’.

I’m not going to try to compete with it all – so I’m just going to slip in one little thing a day early – something that my father told me many, many times.

It was a day in Egypt when ‘the Forces’ Sweetheart’ made him and his colleagues very happy young men.  After the war Dad told me about it and how ‘great’ she had been.  I didn’t really appreciate the story until, a few years later, when we moved into a newly built council house.  The house had electric and Dad went out and bought a record player and a whole stack of Vera Lynn records!

A last look at my box of records

One last look into my box of records – and the first story I found this time was a number of 45s and LPs of Duane Eddy.  In fact – in a second look these cover virtually everything of Duane’s from Rebel Rouser forward.  To balance it out – or maybe distort the collection – is Charlie Drake’s version of ‘Splish Splash’ – Bobby Darin’s version had not appealed to me and my parents and any way, we had seen Charlie Drake in person – well ‘on-stage’ actually.

His ‘Dream Lover’ did, though, and as a result I got to see both Eddy and Darin in London during their 1960 tour.  Stage presence was not a strong point of Duane’s performance.  He just stood there and played – and the theatre crowd loved it.

The second half was Bobby Darin – and he sat at the piano and we had minimal performance but a distinct presence.  There was a nod toward rock with ‘Splish Splash; an outstanding ‘Dream Lover’ and then his new genre of swing-style ‘Mack the Knife’ followed by ‘Beyond the Sea’, ‘Clementine’ and a few more that I didn’t write down!

However, not everyone appreciated the change; it was not quite the ‘rock ‘n’ roll we expected.  However – he recognised the challenge, and thanked the audience for their requests, but if they didn’t mind he would stay on the stage and carry on singing!

Now – what else is there in my box that brings back memories?  Ah, a clutch of Billy Fury records.  Now there was a performer.

A part of the Larry Parnes collection of British performers toured Britain at the end of the 1950s and into the 60s.  We were on a Youth Club day trip to Great Yarmouth – primarily to see the evening performance of our idols.  We were on the Britannia Pier where Billy and Marty Wilde, Adam Faith, Joe Brown and the like could walk unmolested down the sea front between performances.  One such stroll killed all the passion for them as far as the girls were concerned when one of them said: “Look – they’ve got make-up in their ears!”

A more local venue for the travelling show as far as we were concerned was the Broadway Cinema in Letchworth, Herts.  Here they were regular visitors – and so were we – and it was one night in 1960 when I first heard Billy Fury sing ‘Wondrous Place’.

The stage curtains were drawn across.  The front of the stage was empty and the lights were dimmed – then, from one side there appeared the slight figure of Billy in a soft spotlight to provide a breath taking performance of his new record to a packed auditorium where you could have heard a pin drop.  It peaked at 25 in the pop-charts – why it never made number 1 I’ll never know but it still sends shivers down my spine – in fact it just has because I listened to it on You Tube!

I think this is all for now.  Now you know what my memories box is all about.  Do you have one?  If you do we’d love to hear about it.

More from my box of records

Let’s pick up from where we were last Saturday – with US funny man called Stan Freberg.  As I said – he’s in my box twice. The ‘British’ disc has Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’ on one side and the take on Mr Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ on the other.

Well – in the summer of 1956 I went on a holiday camp holiday with my parents – probably Butlin’s at Clacton. There Butlin’s provided their typical on-camp entertainments of the time and every evening Red Coats performed to Stan Freberg’s fantastic version of ‘Rock Island Line’.  But they also did the other side of their disc – Harry Belafonte’s then very popular ‘Banana Boat Song’.  As I write this I can still recall situations from both pieces – particularly from the Banana Boat when the ‘Belafonte’ character was singing and when he sang: A beautiful bunch a’ripe banana, Hide thee deadly black tarantula he stepped away saying, very clearly, ‘I don’t do Spiders’.

Be it Rock ‘n’ Roll, Skiffle or Calypso Stan Freberg certainly had his finger on the pulse of 1950s pop music.

At this time, opportunities to see the new and the great performers in the flesh were rare for teenagers like me in rural Cambridgeshire.  However – there is one ‘live’ performer that sticks in my memory box.  Many of his disks remain safe and secure in my boxes and his performances in real life are still embedded in my memory box.

Who is this individual?  Well, if you are of my sort of age, records such as ‘Be Bop a Lula’, ‘Blue Jean Bop’ and ‘Pistol Packin’ Mama’ may help.

It’s Gene Vincent – an archetypal rocker who moved to England in the late 1950s and toured small halls across the country.  One of these small halls was that of the canteen of the Kayser Bondor factory in Baldock, Hertfordshire.  It was used for regular dances and ‘not quite’ performers.  Sad to say Gene was one of those but when I was sitting on the edge of the low stage while the black leather clad rock icon performed, at times inches from me, and once standing on my fingers, is another lasting memory.

The Bondor factory ceased production in 1983 and was redeveloped by Tesco as a Superstore. The original façade remains but the factory has ‘gone’.  I wonder how many of today’s ‘visitors’ realise that they are in the land of Gene Vincent!

Anyway – I’ll call it a day here and come back next Saturday – same time, same place – with the third part of what’s in my ‘Memories Box’.

My box of records

‘Do you really need to keep this box with all these records?’  The challenge so many of a certain age dread.

‘Of course I do.  They will be worth money in years to come.’  It’s a standard answer, but it cuts little ice.  Perhaps I should give the real reason – my teenage years are kept safe in this box.  Well, actually there are some other boxes around as well.  All full with 45rpm singles and EPs and LPs – oh – and some 78s!

Flipping through the contents the memories come flooding back.

There are all Elvis’ HMV releases here – starting with the May 1956 release of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.  Also here is the HMV 10” compilation LP that describes it as ‘that blues tinged opus in agony’.  For me these are still ‘real’ Elvis.

Matching these are the full set of singles from Buddy Holly and the Crickets – starting with ‘That’ll be the day’, the distinctive black Coral label with the push-out triangular centre still there – now held in place by some ancient white glue.

There’s Lonnie Donegan’s Decca EP, released while he was still with Chris Barber’s Jazz Band.  While the band had a break, Donegan and two/three of the band had jammed in a folksy style that leant on American Blues.  ‘Digging my Potatoes’ is typical of this cross-over and, as far as I can remember, was banned by the BBC because of its double entendre!  It was through these breaks that Skiffle was born – and Lonnie Donegan was the name that everyone remembered.

However – there are others here in my memory box.  Nancy Whiskey – the only female vocalist to make a break through – fronting Chas McDevitt’s skiffle group with ‘Freight Train’; Wally Wyton – later to become a fixture on the radio – and the Vipers with ‘Don’t You Rock Me Daddy-O’ and ‘Streamline Train’.  Donegan had the bigger hit with ‘Daddy-O’ but I preferred the Vipers’ version.

The track, though, that made Donegan’s name was the US Country style ‘Rock Island Line’ that was released by Decca Records in January 1956.  While it made Donegan’s name it did not make him his fortune.  He was paid a flat recording fee – I believe it was £25!  The track was also released in the US – and it made the charts there as well.

There was, perhaps, another – unexpected – step in the popular success of ‘Rock Island Line’ and Lonnie Donegan himself; and that was a US funny man called Stan Freberg.  He’s in my box as well – well actually twice.  I have two disks with Stan’s fantastic version of ‘Rock Island Line’.  On the other side of one – the US version – is a take on Harry Belafonte’s ‘Banana Boat Song’.  The ‘British’ disc has Lonnie on one side but he has to put up with a take on Mr Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.  What a mix!

I think this is enough for today.  We’ll have another dip in my Records Box same day next week.

However – were you of this era?  Are my memories the same as yours?  If you & they are – why not let me know?

You can post your memories here or to my e-mail address of talkinghistory@msn.com