December 30th, 2012
This is my interpretation of what might have appeared in John Peel’s Listeners’ Festive Fifty in 1962, had he been working for the BBC at that time.
We’ve reached numbers 20-11.
20. THE TOKENS – The Lion Sleeps Tonight
One of those songs everybody knows thanks to The Lion King.
Originally written and recorded in 1939 by South African singer Solomon Linda, it is said to be about Shaka Zulu, the Zulu king who resisted the European settlers in the nineteenth century. Much like King Arthur, he is said to be sleeping until his country’s hour of greatest need.
There were countless versions of the song both before and after The Tokens took it to Number One in the US charts – the Karl Denver Trio had a good go at it. I first heard it performed by Miriam Makeba on one of my Dad’s
LPs, so that’s always going to be the definitive version for me.
Tight Fit were to take it to Number One in the UK in the early eighties, but we can, I think, draw a veil over that.
19. THE SHADOWS – Wonderful Land
In pop histories of the sixties, the Shadows are (ahem) overshadowed by the group from Liverpool that came along just after they did. But in the early sixties they were massive. This record stayed at Number One in the UK for eight weeks, longer than any other record in the entire sixties, although I suppose you could argue that just proved what little competition they had.
This is a majestic, atmospheric record that lives in your head a long time after the final fade-out. Hank Marvin’s trademark guitar sound is perfectly matched with the orchestral sweeps.
18. THE RIVINGTONS – Papa Oom Mow Mow
The Rivingtons had previously been known as the Sharps, and had hits both in their own right and backing Duane Eddy. This was their first hit after the name change and can lay claim to being the first garage record, certainly the first HIT garage record.
17. BOB DYLAN – Song To Woody
Dylan in wistful mode as he sings a living tribute to his hero Woody Guthrie, who he met in 1961 when the folk legend was in hospital in New Jersey.
Also namechecked here are Guthrie collaborator Cisco Houston and bluesmen Leadbelly, and Sonny Terry. It’s a clear indication of Dylan’s intention to acknowledge his influences, but also to move on and forge his own musical identity.
16. DUANE EDDY – The Ballad Of Paladin
Duane Eddy put his own unique spin on the closing theme to the Western TV Series “Have Gun – Will Travel” which starred Richard Boone. Originally a standard Western ballad, Eddy takes it by the scruff of the neck, cranks up the volume on the guitar and sets it to a proto-Ennio Morricone orchestral backing.
15. MARY WELLS – Operator
Mary sounds like she’s trying to imitate the vocal delivery of song composer Smokey Robinson here. Chugs along in a decent enough groove, but an odd choice for the imaginary listeners to make in 1962. There were far odder choices made by Peel’s real listeners in the eighties though. A clue as to this song’s unexpectedly high placing can perhaps be gleaned from the theory that the song was hyped into the upper reaches of this chart by Post Office workers.
14. MARVIN GAYE – Hitch-Hike
This song’s high placing is perhaps due to the fact that it was released very close to the Festive Fifty deadline in mid-December, and so would have been fresh in Peel’s listeners’minds.
Not perhaps as soulful or meaningful as much of his work, it nevertheless has a joy that is undeniable.
Co-written by Clarence Paul (who also wrote and produced the Little Stevie Wonder tracks listed elsewhere in this chart)
13. ISLEY BROTHERS – Twist And Shout
Their first big hit since “Shout” almost three years earlier. The song’s writer, Bert Russell, had seen Phil Spector produce a dismal version of the song by the Top Notes the previous year, and was keen to show Spector how the record should have sounded.
The result was two and half minutes of snap and energy, coming as close as possible to capturing the energy of a live performance.
Both “Shout” and “Twist And Shout” would later be covered by British artists to great effect.
12. HOWIE CASEY AND THE SENIORS – I Ain’t Mad At You
B-side to Twist At The Top. Unusually for British beat groups, they featured a black lead singer, Derry Wilkie, who actually gets a separate credit on the record as you can see from the Youtube vid.
The fact that the band started as Derry And The Seniors and ended up taking the name of the sax player tells you something about the relative business nous of the two men.
Often airbrushed out of Merseybeat history, they were in fact the first Liverpool band to play in Hamburg, paving the way for Rory Storm and The Hurricanes and others.
11. DUANE EDDY – The Avenger
Shamefully low chart position. Didn’t even make the Hot 100 in the States and failed to trouble the scorers in the UK. Snuck out in early 1962 while Eddy was in the process of changing record labels. Interesting to note exactly how much artists were at the mercy of the whims of the record company back then. Nowadays, he would have released it on a download from his website and his rabid fans would all have bought it direct.
Back at 8pm for the Top Ten. Place your bets on the Number One …