Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Sounds of ’63

M’colleague Jonny Morris has been throwing me helpful suggestions regarding this blog since it started, one of which was to listen to other music from the same period to get an appreciation of context. This seemed an excellent idea, and I was particularly interested to hear what The Beatles’ commercial rivals were doing amidst their growing success. Never mind the stuff which is still considered credible today – what were people actually buying?

So I tracked down all the UK number one singles from 1963 on Spotify (except those by The Beatles, which aren’t on there) and stuck them in this playlist. There’s rather a lot of dull balladry, and it’s easy to see why The Beatles considered The Shadows the only British group worth being influenced by at this point. Again, it’s interesting to try to listen to this with a fresh ear because, if you take The Beatles out of the equation as I’ve been forced to do here, suddenly this doesn’t look much like the 1960s of the popular imagination – yet at the time it must have been an exciting new wave of which The Beatles were the biggest, but not the only, part.

The Beatles were joined in the charts by more Liverpool groups, including Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas with their Lennon/McCartney offcuts and Gerry and the Pacemakers with their debut song which The Beatles turned down for fear that everyone back home would think they were soppy wankers (evidently Gerry and co decided they were willing to live it down for the sake of a hit). However, as Jonathan Gould notes in his excellent book Can’t Buy Me Love, the Liverpool scene – which had been so exciting in the early 1960s, supporting hundreds of beat groups – didn’t produce a single other band who came close to The Beatles’ standard. By the end of the next year, the other Liverpool acts – along with almost everyone else on this playlist – would be surpassed.

The first genuine representatives of post-Beatles pop to score a number one were, ironically, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, and I know the word ‘ironically’ is over-used and for some reason often employed to mean ‘exactly as you would expect’ but I think it is appropriate here. Essex group The Tremeloes were signed by Decca in preference to The Beatles following the latter’s flop audition on New Year’s Day 1962, thereby demonstrating that the oft-quoted line that Decca’s Dick Rowe is supposed to have said to Brian Epstein – ‘Guitar music is on the way out’ – was either erroneous, or just an attempt by Rowe to get Epstein out of his office. (Additionally, anyone who has actually listened to the Decca session tapes will know that Rowe’s decision was based on pretty sound evidence.) Yet in the end, The Tremeloes had their first hit by shamelessly copying The Beatles, covering ‘Twist and Shout’ in the wake of The Beatles’ version and then following it up with another soul cover (and a very smart choice, too).

I couldn’t be bothered to wade further down the charts than number one, but I’d be very interested to hear any other records from ’63 that are particularly good/bad/interesting in a Beatles context. If you have any suggestions, do leave a comment.

1 comment:

  1. The only other Merseybeat act that was any cop is The Swinging Blue Jeans (their version of Hippy Hippy Shake is virtually a cover of The Beatles version from Live At The BBC). It's also worth checking out the rest of the Songs The Beatles Gave Away - some of them are great, some of them are awful.