Potboiling

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In the two short years since “Love Me Do” The Beatles had recorded four LPs, eight singles, an EP of otherwise unavailable material, made a film, toured North America, Australasia, Europe and the UK (several times), appeared nearly 50 times in the BBC radio and dozens of TV shows, not to mention all the interviews, press conferences, photo calls and other promotional duties. It’s no wonder then that by “Beatles For Sale” LP
the Lennon/McCartney giveaway numbers were becoming increasingly rare. A couple of tracks of interest exist.

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Johnny Devlin was apparently the first artist to record “real” rock and roll in New Zealand, earning the local nick name of “the King of Rock and Roll” in the late 1950’s. He and his group the Devils were also one of The Beatles’ supporting acts during the group’s tour of Australia and New Zealand. In scenes reminiscent of “I’ve Just Fallen For Someone” (see below), Devlin says he performed his new song “Won’t You Be My Baby” to Paul McCartney who immediately grabbed a guitar and reshaped to song into something entirely different. He “should have got a credit.” Needless to say, he didn’t so the credibility of the story is open to question. It’s a most pleasing record, with it’s mixture of Devlin’s Elvis styled vocals and the Devils’ Shadows inspired guitars although it must have sounded outdated when released in Januray 1965. (Curiously the record sounds like it could have been a hit in Finland where such combinations were very much loved then and indeed now!) The song does not seem to have been released on an official CD and even the original single pressing rarely turns up in auctions. I was lucky enough to secure a copy (and for a reasonable price too!) on eBay.

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The only true giveaway from this era is “I Don’t Want To See You Again” as recorded by Peter and Gordon. Peter says he had to use all of his persuasive skills to get this exclusive from Paul and it’s not difficult to see why. The group were seriously short of songs for their new LP, returning to the “six cover versions” formula of their first two LPs and even updating “I’ll Follow The Sun” from their days as Quarry Men. What’s more, “I Don’t Want To See You Again” would have fit “Beatles For Sale” perfectly with it’s C&W overtones, effortless melodicism and the general air of melancholia.Thus Paul must have been disheartened to see the single become a total flop in the UK. Determined to make it a hit in America he went to record special introductions for the American stations to go along with the single. It worked and the result was a reasonable chart placing of 16. But what would I not give to hear Paul and John harmonize the song’s middle section…

Peter and Gordon’s version (with Paul’s intro and outro) are available on the EMI CD discussed earlier.

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Published in: on June 29, 2007 at 12:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Another Hard Day’s Night

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The Beatles’ third LP “A Hard Day’s Night” was famously their first one to comprise entirely of original material – and the only one where all the songs were by Lennon/McCartney. It’s also one that is curiously dominated by Lennon. True, most of the songs were co-efforts, mostly written in a Parisian hotel room just before the group took over the USA. But eventually only three numbers (“Can’t Buy Me Love”, “Things We Said Today” and “And I Love Her”) can be considered Paul’s babies. The rest are largely John’s. But looking at the material Paul was giving away during the first half of 1964 it becomes obvious the LP could have been entirely different. Now let’s have a closer look.

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Peter And Gordon (Asher and Waller, respectively) were an Everly Brothers inspired harmony duo from London. Columbia Records were supposedly unaware that Peter’s sister was none other than Jane Asher, Paul McCartney’s long time girl friend. If true, it must have been a pleasant surprise when Peter brought in two Lennon/McCartney exclusives for their debut session. The first of these, “A World Without Love”, was a pleasant mid tempo number with lyrics too corny for The Beatles to consider. The line “Please lock me away” would always crack them up. Apparently Billy J Kramer felt the same way and rejected the number. Peter and Gordon had no such reservations and were rewarded with a number one single on both sides of the Atlantic. Not bad for a debut, huh?

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The other number, “Nobody I Know” wasn’t quite in the same league. Billy J Kramer would probably have tucked it on a B side, but Peter and Gordon – and producer Norman Newell – were wise to save it for the follow up. Aided by some fine twelve string acoustic guitarand riding on the trails of a chart topper it made # 10 in the UK and #12 in the US. Paul was to provide the duo two more exclusives in the future, all of these can be easily found on any number of compilations, such as “The Ultimate Peter & Gordon” on EMI.

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“One And One Is Two” was a fast rocker, not unlike “Hold Me Tight”, written in that Parisian hotel room and intended fror Billy J Kramer (John and Paul’s demo circulates among collectors). According to author Michael Braun who was there (unlike so many “experts”) John quipped “Billy J’s finished after that!” Once again Kramer seems to have agreed, passing the song over to the Fourmost (now was there a pecking order or what?). They could not make the song to work either, even with Paul sitting in on bass, so it was left for the Strangers with Mike Shannon to take the song with them into obscurity. Little is known of the group (by me, at least!) For years they were rumoured to be a South African group but Paul has since described them as “mates from Liverpool.” Their enthusiastic, energetic and somewhat amateurish version can best be found on a compilation CD “Lennon & McCartney Songbook vol. 2” on Castle Records. Highly recommended listening for anyone interested in obscure and more familiar cover versions.

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One song that Billy J Kramer agreed to record was “From A Window”. This was a typically melodic piece of Macca pop, although perhaps somewhat lacking in the hook department which may explain why the single only made #10 in the UK. Coming after a number one this was considerd a disappoinment. In the USA the song was covered by Chad and Jeremy with the result that neither version was a hit. The times they were a changing and Kramer’s next record, the ironically titled “It’s Gotta Last Forever” failed to chart at all nd a cover of Burt Bacharac’s ” Trains And Boats And Planes” would become his last cgart entry, # 12 in the UK. All of Billy’s hits are easily available, for instance on “Billy J Kramer With The Dakotas At Abbey Road 1963-1966” on EMI. And oh, Paul was in the studio for “From A Window”, which was handy when Billy couldn’t reach the final high note, Paul stepped in and sang it. It’s on the record. Listen!

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Decca Records must have surely been kicking themselves by this time. In January 1962 they had rejected the world’s greatest pop goup, the world’s greatest song writing duo and three hit songs, all at the same time. Beat that! To compensate this accident they would sign up nearly every act int he land, hoping to find another Beatles. And in early 1964 they had on of their groups record the last of Lennon/McCartney songs from that infamous 1962 demo tape. The group were the Applejacks, the sole presenters of “the Solihull Sound” (yeah, nice try!) who’d had a #7 hit with “Tell Me When.” (Unusually their bass player was femaleFor the follow up Decca dug out the positively old fashioned sounding “Like Dreamers Do”. A jarring piano riff was added but the record sounded too much like yesteryear’s Gerry & the Pacemakers to go past #20 in the UK charts. The Applejacks would have one more hit record (“Three Little Words, #23) before disapearing. A further Lennon/McCartney cover of “Baby’s In Black” had no Beatles approval, but Kinks collectors cherish the group’s 1965 version of “I Go To Sleep”, probably the best song “Ray Davies gave away” – but that’s another blog!

“Like Dreamers Do” can be found on the “Lennon & McCartney Song Book Vol. 2” CD mentioned above. All of the Applejacks recorded work can be found on a Beat Merchants CD “Everybody Fall Down”, if you’re mad enough to hunt it down. It’s not worth it, trust me;) And I’m not sure it’s an official release anyway (doesn’t look like one.)

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Of all the songs Paul gave away at this time, the most intriguing one is “It’s for You”. An extremely ambitious record for it’s time, being a jazzy waltz, it rather amazingly made #7 in the UK charts in the capable hands of Cilla Black. I’d be tempted to attribute this success to the musical climate of the sixties, but of course coming after two consecutive number ones (the big ballads “Anyone Who Had A Heart” and “You’re My World”) helped enormously. That’s not to take anything away from Cilla who does her usual high quality job, with Paul playing the piano. But I wonder what the “Hard Day’s Night” era Beatles would have made of this.

“It’s For You” is available on any number of Cilla compilations – like the one pictured below. But hey Paul, how about a solo version at long last?

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Published in: on June 28, 2007 at 1:56 pm  Comments (3)  

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Published in: on June 21, 2007 at 10:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Empire of Brian, part two

Lots has been made of Brian Epstein’s homosexuality. One former merseybeat musician went as far as saying that Epstein’s group can be categorised into “those with that talent” and “those that he fancied.” This, of course, is a bit simplistic (The Beatles probably fell into both categories!) but one artist who certainly had talent was Cilla Black. And I think it’s safe to assume Brian did not have a crush on her.

Born Priscilla White, the hat girl of the Cavern Club would join the groups on stage every time the opportunity arose. Renamed by John Lennon, she became the only female artist in Brian’s early stable. For her debut single she was given “Love Of The Loved”, an early Paul McCartney number familiar from The Beatles’ Decca audition tape. Cilla says she was expecting to make a “beat group record” and was dispappointed to see that George Martin had booked a horn section for the session. Perhaps it was this somewhat old fashioned arrangement or perhaps it was that the song itself wasn’ that good, but “Love Of The Loved” only made a very disappointing number 29 on the UK charts. Luckily better things were in store for Cilla.

“Love Of The Loved” can be found on practically every one of Cilla Black’s hit compilations (and there are lots of those!) I have it on a 3 CD set called “The Abbey Road Decade 1963-1973”

If Cilla had “the talent” then Billy J Kramer probably had “the looks”. Well he must have had something. For his third single he was given two more Lennon/McCartney numbers, one from each. Eventually it was Paul’s “I’ll Keep You Satisfied” that was chosen as the top side. It’s a typically melodic, bouncy and optimistic Macca ditty that The Beatles never recorded themselves – though “With The Beatles” would probably have been even better an LP if they had. Billy J’s version went all the way to a slightly disappointing number four.

John’s contribution was “I’m In Love” – another number never recorded by The Fabs (a somewhat rambling piano demo circulates amongst Lennon collectors). Surviving session tapes show that John was in the studio, watching Billy J record the song and giving his unique “support”:

John: “Adam Faith you fool!”

Billy: “I can’t get it John”

George Martin:”I give you full permission to come on The Beatles’ session on Thursday and shout at John whenever you like!”

Perhaps John wasn’t6 satisfied with Billy’s version, in any case it wasn’t released for another 28 years, the song been passed to the Fourmost instead. Comparing the two, the Fourmost perform the song in a different key, alter some of the lyrics, lose the guitar solo but add a guitar riff not unlike that of “Bad To Me”. Their version became their second hit, reaching number 15 in the UK charts.

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Billy’s and Fourmost’s hits can be found on the compilations discussed earlier.

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Billy’s version of “I’m In Love” was only released on an Imperial CD “The Best of Billy J Kramer with the Dakotas” which seems to be increasingly hard to track. Down (Don’t tell anyone but it’s also on a Beatles bootleg called “Roadrunner”)

Published in: on June 12, 2007 at 2:32 pm  Comments (1)  

The Empire of Brian

After he’d signed up The Beatles, Brian epstein began to build up an empire of local talent, signing one act after another. By the latter half of 1963 his artist were dominating the UK charts at an unprecedented rate. In retrospect it’s easy to dismiss him, saying all he had to do was look at the Popularity Poll of the Merseybeat newspaper and sign the most popular acts, but the truth is no one else was doing this. Brian was.

Gerry And The Pacemakers were the second group Brian ever signed. They were also the second most popular and arguably the second most talented. True, Gerry grinned annoyingly, held his guitar ridiculously high upon his chest and the Pacemakers’ records were more often than not either incredibly banal pop ditties, pathetic ballads or lame covers of American classics. But Gerry Marsden also wrote three of the best records to come out of the Merseyside: “It’s Gonna Be All Right”, “You Got What I Like” and “Ferry Cross The Mersey”. Their first two records (“How Do You Do It” and “I Like It”, both written by Mitch Murray, the former being basically “An Arrangement The Beatles Gave Away”) fell into the idiotic pop category. Both were also number one UK hits. For the third single someone suggested “Hello Little Girl”, a very early John Lennon composition. Surviving home tapes show this one to have started out as a slow, Buddy Hollyesque track. By the time of The Beatles’ infamous and unsuccessful audition for Decca Records in January 1962, the number had been sped up to a peppy pop number, ideally suited to the Pacemakers. A fine version was recorded in July but Gerry fought hard against releasing it, preferring the big ballad “You’ll Never Walk Alone” instead. Epstein and producer George Martin reminded him that no act had ever had three number ones with their three first releases, and releasing “Hello Little Girl” would probably do the trick. Gerry was adamant that he didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a performer of only fast numbers and eventually Brian and George let him have his head – and it was a number one as well!

“Hello Little Girl” was passed off to the Fourmost, another Liverpool band of Brian’s with a preference to comedy or novelty type of songs. They were more than happy to record the number in August, “learning the song as we went along”. Frankly, you can hear that: the drummer Dave Lovelady struggles unsuccesfully to keep up with the rest of the group while Brian O’Hara’s guitar solo is truely ham fisted. The annoying falsetto vocal doesn’t help either but George Martin’s celeste, doubling up the solo, is a nice touch. The record went all the way to number nine in the UK charts, yet another proof of Brian’s empire’s supremacy.

The Pacemakers’ version was finally released in 1995 on “The Best of Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Definitive Collection.”

The Fourmost’s hit version is a lot easier to find. I have it on a EMI CD “The Best of the Fourmost.”

Published in: on June 12, 2007 at 1:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

A scruffy lil R&B combo from the Deep South…of London

Everybody knows how The Beatles made the Rolling Stones stars so I’ll…tell the story again!

The Stones’ debut single, a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On” had narrowly missed the Top 20. A proposed follow up of “Poison Ivy”/”Fortune Teller” was cancelled at the last minute, perhaps because both songs were far too popular amongst the beat groups now popping up everywhere. Or perhaps just because the Stones’ versions were lame. Their second single had to be more powerful, more original, more commercial yet more uncompromising.

Luckily Andrew “Loog” Oldham, the Stones’ manager and a former employee of Brian Epstein, bumped into John & Paul one day in the street. The two promised to help and took a taxi to a Stones rehearsal. Lennon tried to sell his own “One After 909”, a number harking back to the skiffle days of the Quarry Men and one that The Beatles had somewhat unsuccesfully attempted to record in March (see Anthology 1 for that version.) It was met with little enthusiasm though. Luckily Paul’s unfinished R&B number “I Wanna Be Your Man” was deemed suitable so the song writing Beatles disappeared into another room to finish the number. The two returned moments later and astonished everyone by declaring the song finished.


“I Wanna Be Your Man” would become the Rollling Stones’ first Top 20 hit (#12 to be ptecise) when released in November. Even more importantly John and Paul’s seemingly effortless song writing demonstration assure the group -or at least manager Oldham!- that writing your own material was the way to go. Literally locking Mick & Keef in the same room to write songs was probably the brightest decision of his career playing paving way for their rise to the second biggest group of the 60’s.

(These stories usually fail to mention that The Beatles themselves started recording their own version of the song merely days after they’d “donated” it to the Stones. The Beatles version featuring Ringo Starr was released three weeks after the Stones’ version, on the group’s second LP “With The Beatles”.)

The Stones’ version is available on a number of places, like the Singles Collection – The London Years.

Published in: on June 8, 2007 at 1:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Weren’t The Beatles supposed to end the era of Bobbies, Tommies and Billies?

They say a lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same spot. Don’t know if that’s true but Brian Epstein certainly thought he could duplicate the success of Billy J Kramer. Take one pretty boy (Tommy Quickly), team him up with a better than average beat combo (The Remo Four), lock them inside the EMI studios with producer George Martin and a Lennon/McCartney song and you have a – flop. You see the only faults in this theory were that a) Quickly was even worse a singer than Kramer and b) the song he was given was “Tip Of My Tongue” has often been described as “the worst song Lennon/McCartney ever wrote.” (The Beatles had wanted to record the number at the tail end of the “Please Please Me” sessions but George Martin tactfully suggested they should work out a new arrangement and the song was never brought up again.)

That’s not to say the record is without it’s charms. It sounds rather like amphetamin fuelled Herman’s Hermits on helium, trying to frantically rewrite “Please Please Me.” Which is nice.

Quickly was to have some minor top 40 success later with “The Wild Side Of Life”. He was also given another Lennon/McCartney exclusive with “No Reply” with both John and Paul contributing to the recording but sadly the record was never issued, The Beatles recording the number themselves.
Two more invaluable pieces of trivia:
1) The Remo Four had been asked to become Billy J Kramer’s band but they declined
2) Later on they performed most of the “western music” on the George Harrison soundtrack album “Wonderwall Music”.

“Tip of My Tongue” is available on the “Beat Beat Beat vol. 1” CD discussed below.
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Billy J Kramer was much luckier. The success of his debut single meant that he was given two more Lennon/McCartney numbers for the follow up. The top side “Bad To Me” was special in that was specifically written for another artist by John Lennon (probably the only such occurenc during his entire career!) It’s also darn near a classic and it’s a shame The Beatles never recorded this number (John & Paul’s acoustic demo circulates among collectors though.) The B side was an old Lennon number entitled “I Call Your Name”, which gained a new middle eight for the occasion. The results were equally brilliant (listen out for another impressive instrumental break!) so when The Beatles decided a year later to record ther number themselves they effectively borrowed the Dakotas’ arrangement (“Cos it’s our song anyroad, innit?”)

“Bad To Me” bettered the chart position of it’s precursor, making the top spot of the UK charts in August 1963.

Both songs are widely available on compilations such as “Billy J Kramer At The Abbey Road 1963-1966”

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Published in: on June 4, 2007 at 2:08 pm  Comments (3)