SPEEDY GONZALES – Pat Boone (1 week)
Another novelty track from the painful balladeer: ol’ Pat used to take rock’n’roll songs and bland them out, but he was a bit of a clean-cut teen idol to boot – he even starred in a good film Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, though it didn’t lead to a new career. I enjoyed the movie in my early teen years, and enjoyed this song in my early years. It had Speedy Gonzales, the superfast Loony Tunes Mexican mouse who has disappeared entirely from history, cos it “reinforced stereotypes”. No more than, say, The Magnificent Seven did, but that wasn’t a kids cartoon with a Thuffering Thuckertash speech-impediment prowling cat – who was clearly the baddie anyway. Anyway, I loved Speedy and if anything it made me root for the Mexicans as much as The Magnificent Seven did. Andale! Arriba! It says little for Pat Boone’s recording career that this catchy little ditty is far and away his best record, though I might be biased.
TELSTAR – The Tornadoes (2 weeks)
Only two weeks for this ground-breaking instrumental record, the Joe Meek futuristic soundscape production years ahead of its time – and what a tune! In 1966 dad was posted to Aden, so mum and brother and me lived in a basic one-bed flat in a rundown area of Liverpool. Dad came back with a new portable record player and some 45’s – including this one, and I played both sides to death (B side Jungle Fever is also good). Prior to that, I knew the tune, but as with most 60’s instrumentals I didn’t know the title or artist – they just got used a lot as backdrops to TV items and the like, so they eased into the subconscious as knowing I liked them but no idea on how to find out who they were or what it was called. Has it dated? Well, in one sense it sounds of its time, but in another sense it inhabits an aural universe all of its own. There was no record like it before, and the nearest I’ve seen to it since is the fab affectionate pastiche by Saint Etienne, “You’re In A Bad Way”. Sheer brilliance, both.
IT MIGHT AS WELL RAIN UNTIL SEPTEMBER – Carole King (3 weeks)
Another tune I adored as long as I can remember, what a melody from the greatest female pop songwriter of the 60’s. Very teen late 50‘s, love the drip-drop effects, and a good vocal, but it’s all about the tune. Normally she gave away the songs to hit groups and acts, and hubby Gerry Goffin did the lyrics against all expectations – but no it was Carole who did the Brill Building melodies, always, always top notch and a huge list of classy classic songs to point to as proof. For this one though, she stepped out on her own and had a huge UK hit out of it – and then nothing for 9 years till she entered her singer-songwriting blockbuster phase after splitting from Gerry. It was a hit all over agin in the UK in 1972, after Tapestry put her at the centre of contemporary music, with an all-time classic album and nothing less. This song? In the US peaked at only 22: outrageous!
VENUS IN BLUE JEANS – Mark Wynter (2 weeks)
Talking about late 50’s teen pop, here’s another one of that genre, albeit a UK teen cover of a US top 10 1962 hit for Jimmy Clanton which outdid the original’s popularity in the US in comparison. Smooth and polished, and not at all rock’n’roll, this one was on the British airwaves quite a lot, and was another one dad purchased for his record player. My brother Mark loved it too, he had the same Christian name – these things matter to kids! Mark Wynter was another kiddie fave, though in his case, he was pretty much only remembered (by me) for only this one – even the follow-up Go Away Little Girl meant nothing to me till I heard Donny Osmond do it. So how does it compare with the Jimmy Clanton version which I’m playing now for the first time ever? Basically identical arrangements and vocals, but the UK version is more polished, sung better, but lacks a bit of the charm of the original, but that also lacks a bit of the oomph of the UK cover. Take your choice. Howard Greenfield co-wrote it, he of Neil Sedaka co-writing fame: he wrote Oh Carol with Neil for Carole King (they all worked in the Brill Building songwriting factory in New York). Amongst his loads of hit songs? Amarillo. Love Will Keep us Together. And, err Crying In The Rain with Carole King. I love a circular link.
BOBBY’S GIRL – Susan Maughan (8 weeks)
Talking about UK covers of US hits, here’s the very first record I went gaga over as I was about to turn 5 years old. I was obsessed with it. From the pounding intro, the soaring hook, and the non-feminist teen-lyrics which kind of washed over me, I couldn’t stop singing “I wanna be Bobby’s Girl” without even thinking about gender stereotype roles. I was a kid and it was just a fab record with a fab tune you could sing easily. What more do you want at 4 or 5?! Susan got a bit of a TV career out of it for a while, and was my fave pop star into early 1963, but in the States it was Marcy Blaine who had the equally big hit version. So how does that compare? Teen girlie vocals, instead of the mature foghorn of Susan’s, so the song makes more sense – I really don’t believe Susan wants to be Bobby’s Girl, I think she’d tell him what’s for, whereas Marcy would pine, simper and know her place – at least till she grew up. Production-wise? Again the UK hit version has more oomph, but again it suits the song less. I’ll stick with my first love though….
SUN ARISE – Rolf Harris (1 week)
Sneaking in at year’s end, it’s the once-beloved children’s and family Aussie entertainer who was HOOOGE in the UK in the 60’s and beyond, bearded Rolf exported Aboriginal music culture on this sort-of novelty song, with his didgeridoo often on TV and highly featured on this low-key but catchy bit of World Music. Like nothing heard before in the UK, and little since chart-wise, pretty much every kid knew it at the time – and nowadays it’s forgotten, not least because of the court case and prison-time for Rolf which has tended to not make him a fave of radio stations (at least the few that bother to play any 60’s at all, which is precious few these days in the first place). Rolf of course went on to further chart success, topping my actual charts in 1969 with Two Little Boys, another (anti-war) Aussie-themed ballad. And of course there was his 1990’s sheet-music-read version of Led Zep’s Stairway To Heaven which became a hit on the back of a popular Glastonbury set as a generation of kids-now-grown-up let their residual affection for Rolf loose. Not been a lot of that these days….