Listen…Do You Want To Buy A Guitar?

So far we’ve seen three cover versions of Lennon/McCartney tunes and no hits. Luckily this would all change when William Ashton’s guitar got stolen! Eh?

Ashton was the rhythm guitarist of a Bootle based instrumental group called the Coasters but the lack of an instrument forced him to become a reluctant front man, “Billy Kramer” (The surname was picked up from a phone book at random). The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein liked something about the combo enough to offer them a managing contract. Kramer said yes and got an extra J to his name from Lennon (“You can say it’s for Julian, if they ask!”) but the Coasters backed down when they heard only their singer would be guaranteed a fixed salary. In their place Epstein lured in the Dakotas from Manchester, with the promise of releasing their own instrumental records as well. This was a good move: while Kramer’s vocal talents can best be described as “limited”, the instrumental prowess of the Dakotas ensured that their records packed more punch than most of their competitors’.

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For their debut single two Lennon/McCartney numbers were chosen. The eventual top side “Do You Want To Know A Secret” had already been offered to and rejected by Shane Fenton & the Fentones. (Fenton later became succesful under the name of Alvin Stardust but thankfully that’s another story!) Kramer was more than happy to record the song, following The Beatles’ arrangement very closely. The flip side of the record was “I’ll Be On My Way”, an early Buddy Hollyesque McCartney number which The Beatles never recorded for EMI and as such “the first song The Beatles gave away.” However the Fabs recorded the song just once for the BBC and luckily this performance is preserved on “Live At The BBC.” Comparing the two, the Dakotas take the number at an unnecessarily fast tempo, but guitarist Mike Maxfield’s truely brilliant guitar solo more than makes up for this!

“Do You Want To Know A Secret” went all the way to number two in the UK charts, becoming the first ever cover hit of a Lennon/McCartney tune. Perhaps it was this early success which explains why Billy J would always be the first one to get his pick from the unrecorded Lennon/McCartney numbers. And perhaps this “outside success” assured at least John and Paul that they were indeed “real song writers”. They continued on giving songs away but never again would they be pushing every one of them to everyone. Well they didn’t have to. By now people would be queuing up to get one.

“Do You Want To Know A Secret” and “I’ll Be On My Way” are readily available on any number of Billy J Kramer compilations, I have them on an EMI CD called “Billy J Kramer with the Dakotas at Abbey Road 1963-1966.”

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Published in: on May 31, 2007 at 8:40 am  Leave a Comment  

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