“We thought that if we lasted for two to three years that would be fantastic.” So said Ringo Starr about the expectations he and his band mates had for a career in music. If the greatest creative force of the last half of the 20th century did not expect it to last then what about those others who had peeked through the door the Beatles had kicked down.
The more opportunistic inanities of the Mersey Beat had been rumbled. The 15 minutes of fame were up for Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Swinging Blue Jeans and others who had made a raucous racket but lacked the imagination to do anything but ride the bandwagon. For reasons beyond the understanding of us Brits the Dave Clark Five and Herman’s Hermits had endless hits in the U.S.A. In 1964 the competition for chart success was fierce. A band needed to come up with the goods or it was back to the provinces and the milk round. Here are three fine examples of British pop from this year.
“When You Walk In The Room” is the fourth of five singles (six in the US) released by the Searchers in 1964. The first two had been Number One hits in the UK so no pressure then. This is a great pop single but I am equally impressed by the process of the band, and producer Tony Hatch, going into Pye studios with the intent of fashioning a record to be a world wide hit and doing it so well.
The Searchers did not write their own material. They had hit with “Needles and Pins”, a Jackie de Shannon record written by Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzche. They returned to de Shannon for this song. Here is the palette, a folky song rocked up with a 12 string Rickenbacker, which the Byrds were to use on their Dylan covers. I love the Byrds but just listen to the opening of this song without thinking “Eight Miles High”…can’t be done.
When the hits dried up the band headed for cabaret in Britain. There was a bit of a revival in 1979 when Sire signed them and recorded a couple of LPs of likeable power pop. In the early 80s we had a Xmas party at our favourite London club/hangout. The Searchers did not usually play to such a young audience. Their set full of hits were just the thing to start the festive season and the band seemed to be enjoying themselves. They returned for an encore, the crowd insisted on a reprise of “Needles and Pins” and the band obliged. Everybody in the place danced, sang and smiled. It was a fine moment, I hope the group did enjoy it too.
The Hollies were the first of the great Manchester bands. Their high energy, harmonised versions of R & B hits had established them and this British song continued their success. By 1966 they were releasing their own songs, written by singer Allan Clarke and guitarists Tony Hicks and Graham Nash. These singles brought them more success in the US. Nash, unhappy at a “Hollies Sing Dylan” LP, hooked up with Crosby and Stills to form a band destined for superstardom. The Hollies continued to have hits but headed for the middle of the road and for cabaret.
The collected work of the Hollies is a fine example of how a young group started with the Mersey Beat and developed a more sophisticated approach to their music. Tony Hicks is, apparently, an unassuming guy. his contribution to the Hollies sound, writing, playing and vocally, is integral to their success. He is an overlooked talent in the first wave of British pop music.
The Pretty Things were promoted as being wilder than the Rolling Stones, largely, it seems, on the basis of singer Phil May having longer hair than Jagger. “Don’t Bring Me Down” is one of their fine singles released between 1964 and 66. The music was short (just 2 minutes), sharp and spiky. They were not too successful. I guess the Stones were wild enough in those days. Young Englishmen trying to play like Bo Diddley and inventing garage rock almost accidentally.
The Things changed like many groups. In 1968 they recorded a psychedelic “concept” LP. It was released in the same week as the “White Album”, “Beggar’s Banquet” and “Village Green Preservation Society”. By 1968 you had to be pretty damn good if you wanted to be heard. There are only so many hours in the day to listen to music. “S.F. Sorrow” was overlooked and it is for their influential singles that the band is best remembered.