December 26th, 2012
I was idly musing about music the other day, while listening to Brian Matthew’s still excellent Sounds Of The Sixties on Radio Two.
If you’re not aware of the show, give it a go.
It’s not quite the parade of obvious, familiar hits you might find on a commercial station, and they cover every sixties genre from surf to psychedelia, Motown to early metal and all points inbetween.
I got to thinking about what sort of music John Peel, or his equivalent, would have played if he’d been on the radio in the early sixties and the phrase “Festive Fifty, Fifty Years Ago” popped into my head.
It seemed so obvious, I couldn’t believe nobody had ever done it before. A quick search on the Interweb confirmed that no, they hadn’t.
(not that I could see, anyway – if I am mistaken then please send me the links so I can check out how it differs from my take)
It seemed to happily coincide with me turning fifty this year.
So here is my take on what the Festive Fifty might have looked like in 1962 if John Peel – or somebody with similar eclectic tastes in music – had been on BBC Radio in 1962, and if he had invited his listeners to write in with their favourite tracks of the year.
The general consensus among music fans about 1962 seems to be that it was not a great year.
The initial surge of rock’n’roll had run out of steam a couple of years previously.
Elvis Presley had gone into the army in 1958 and although he came out in 1960 he wasn’t really making records with the same raw power.
The charts were full of crooners.
The great years of Stax and Motown lay ahead, and the British Beat Boom was only happening in one port town in the North-West of England.
Not a classic year, then?
I beg to differ. Here is part one of the evidence, m’lud.
50. SAM COOKE – Bring It On Home To Me
One of the pioneers of soul music, that is to say, singing with a lot more raw emotion than was traditional for black singers of the forties and fifties, Sam Cooke became a huge star, with hits not only in the black record charts but also in the pop charts, thus paving the way for the likes of Marvin Gaye, Bobby Womack and Al Green.
This song, about infidelity, was written by Cooke against the backdrop of a troubled marriage in which both himself and his wife Barbara had a number of extramarital affairs. Several other artists, notably Eddie Floyd and The Animals, were later to have hits with the song, which would become a standard.
In 1962 it reached No.13 in the US chart but failed to chart in the UK, although it just sneaked into the Festive Fifty.
49. LITTLE STEVIE WONDER – Wondering
The twelve-year-old prodigy Stevland Hardaway Morris was signed to Berry Gordy’s Tamla label and recorded his first, instrumental album, “The Jazz Soul Of Little Stevie Wonder” in 1962. Little Stevie didn’t sing on it and most of the tracks were written by his mentors Clarence Paul and Henry Cosby but this track is one of two to be co-written by the boy genius, and features a searing keyboard solo which was entirely Stevie’s creation.
48. GINO PARKS – For This I Thank You.
Berry Gordy’s theory for selling records was much the same as Lee “Scratch” Perry’s a few years later – churn them out in sufficient quantity and some of them will be hits. In a year when Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells, among others, were hitting the high numbers, records like this Northern Soul classic remained unjustly ignored. Gino Parks never had a hit, but he deserved one.
47. THE EVERLY BROTHERS – How Can I Meet Her
By 1962 Phil and Don Everly were expanding their style to include polished pop records like this one as well as their more traditional country-rock sound. The gorgeous vocal harmonies are still intact here, though. Lennon and McCartney were big fans, and I don’t think it’s too fanciful to see the influence of this record in some of the early Beatles songwriting efforts over the next couple of years. Lyrically, this song is the natural grandfather of “Fit But You Know It” by The Streets. (link).
46. DAPHNE ORAM – Four Aspects
Daphne Oram was a sound engineer at the BBC during and after World War II. She was largely responsible for setting up the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1957, becoming its first director.Realising her heart lay in creating her own compositions for their own sake and not merely as background or incidental music, she left the BBC, continuing to write music and inventing a system of drawing on strips of 35mm film which were read by photo-electric cells and converted into sound. She dubbed this system “Oramics” and this short piece is an early, eerie example of the possibilities of electronic music.
45. BYRON LEE AND THE DRAGONAIRES – Jump Up
The world first superstar of Jamaican music, Byron Lee and his band the Dragonaires had been around since 1956 but got their first big break when they appeared in a cameo in the first ever James Bond film “Dr No”, as the hotel band performing this song. Seen by movie-goers worldwide both at the time and to the present day, it gave the sort of exposure to Jamaican music that could not be bought for money.
44. BOB DYLAN – Fixin’ To Die
Bob Dylan’s first album contained very few originals, and this is a cover of an old Bukka White song, the lyrics of which examine the effect of the protagonist’s death on his family, which is most unsual for blues songs of the time. Dylan adjusted the melody and added a few of his own (uncredited) verses, which could either be seen as a young artist taking his first tentative steps to writing his own songs, or simply continuing the folk tradition of perpetually adding verses to existing songs.
43. THE TORNADOS – Jungle Fever
I like to think Peel would have approached playing records on his show like he did in the seventies, and play the B-side of a single as frequently as the A-side. Bet he’d have said he preferred this to the more illustrious A-side, too. Does “Telstar” get into the Festive Fifty of 1962? You’ll have to wait and soo
42.RAY CHARLES – It Makes No Difference Now
From the “Modern Sounds in Country And Western” album which saw Ray Charles make a deliberate and wildly successful attempt to cross his more usual blues and soul music with country and western. His rich tones perfectly suit country music, and the instrumentation brings a cool, jazzy feel which is being milked by artists on Radio Two to this day. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
41. THE BEATLES – Love Me Do
One of the lesser Liverpool groups of the very early 60s, the Beatles’ management were, however, close friends with the publisher of Mersey Beat, who featured the band heavily during 1961 and 1962.
There was some controversy when they unexpectedly won the paper’s readers’ poll in January 1962, when favourites Rory Storm And The Hurricanes were found to have attempted to rig the vote. The Beatle’s young manager, Brian Epstein, has done exactly the same thing, but was not found out (Rory Storm’s manager had foolishly used a distinctive green pen for his multiple votes …)
The head of steam behind The Beatles grew throughout the year, and this record finally charted for them in October. There were rumours that Epstein had bought ten thousand copies of the record with his own money, but these were strenuously denied by the band.
Tomorrow, it’s the countdown from 40 to 31. Stay cool, hep cats.