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Posts from the ‘Pop music’ Category

Doris Day 1922-2019

Doris Day died today, aged 97, leaving behind her the guiltiest of pleasures. I imagine that back in 1963 I was not the only teenaged boy to be stirred by “Move Over Darling”, a “girl group” record sung by a 41-year-old woman, co-written and produced by her 21-year-old son. Did Terry Melcher feel weird as he sat in the control booth of a Hollywood studio in 1963, listening to his mother wrap up the song he had written with one of the sexier fades ever delivered by a middle-aged woman famous for starring in frothy comedies: “You’ve captured my heart and now that I’m no longer free, make love to me…”?

Commissioned as the theme tune for a movie in which Day starred with James Garner and Polly Bergen, the song was co-written by Melcher with Hal Kanter, a showbiz veteran who had worked on Blue Hawaii, and London-born Joe Lubin, who had written for Danny Kaye and cleaned up the lyric of “Tutti Frutti” for Pat Boone. The arranger was Jack Nitzsche, then spending most of his time writing charts for Phil Spector. Nitzsche did a typically great job, particularly in the way the backing vocals overlap the lead at the start of the middle eight, intensifying the song’s graceful flow. And that has to be Hal Blaine knocking out the Spector-lite version of the baion beat — bom / bom-bom — that underpinned so many hits. The strings and voices give the whole thing a lovely texture.

I suppose it’s one of those records, like Louise Cordet’s “I’m Just a Baby” and Connie Stevens’ “The Greenwood Tree”, that lurk in the collection and aren’t brought into polite conversation. But what the hell. Once a welcome aid to growing up, now it’s nothing more or less than two and a half minutes of prelapsarian California pop perfection. RIP, Miss Day.

The Beatles in Twickenham

Beatlemania 1

Ailsa Avenue is an ordinary street in suburban Twickenham, remarkable only for having been the setting for a memorable scene in one of the Beatles’ films. It’s where the girls in the photograph are waiting for a glimpse of John, Paul , George and/or Ringo. This is 1964, Beatlemania is at its height, and the group are in the middle of filming their second feature film.

There was a time when the members of the Beatles spent more time in Twickenham than at their own homes. Twickenham Studios were the headquarters for A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, for some of their early promotional videos, for the promos for “Hey Jude” and “Revolution”, and for the early sessions for Let It Be. Ailsa Avenue was where, under Dick Lester’s direction, they shot the exteriors for the scene in which the Beatles enter four adjacent terraced houses, only for the next shot to reveal that, in a nice little piece of self-satire, the interiors have been knocked together and fitted with a sunken bed, a mighty Wurlitzer organ, a sandwich automat and other pop-star necessities. They hadn’t, of course. That bit was built at the studios. forever disappointing those Beatlemaniacs who turn up and knock hopefully on the doors of numbers 5, 7, 9 or 11.

The dark-haired girl with the duffel coat and the serious expression in the middle of the photograph is called Susan Kilby. She was about 14 years old then, and such a fan that she and her friends would get up at three o’clock in the morning to walk to Heathrow airport in order to welcome the group back from one of their foreign tours. She is one of those who have contributed their memories to an exhibition called The Beatles in Twickenham, which opened last week at the Exchange theatre, part of St Mary’s University, a few hundred yards from Ailsa Avenue and the film studios

The exhibition is mostly photographs and posters, plus a couple of pages from the shooting schedule for Help!, and some interesting testimony from witnesses to the events in question. But at the opening the other night there were film clips on show, including an amazing sequence from Let It Be in which Yoko does some free-form yowling while John plays the “Watch Your Step” riff and Ringo thunders away like the world’s greatest heavy metal drummer, and the “Revolution” promo, from which I learnt — very belatedly — that it was John who played the scorching Chuck Berry lead on his Epiphone Casino while George took the rhythm part. The 1965 promo films shot at Twickenham Studios included “I Feel Fine” and “Help!”, which broke barriers by having Ringo pedalling an exercise bike or holding a parasol instead of miming the drum part. I suspect they were the first clips of their kind in which the pretence of miming was completely undermined; no doubt someone will put me straight.

* The Beatles in Twickenham is at the Exchange theatre until August 16 (exchangetwickenham.co.uk). The Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn will be speaking on May 17, and there will be a screening of the tour documentary Eight Days a Week on May 21.

Scott Walker 1943-2019

Scott Walker’s death was announced today. As a small tribute, this is the introduction to a piece I wrote a couple of decades ago about the events of the year 1965. 

In 1965, things changed fast. It just happened. You didn’t even have to try. Here’s a little story from one day in the spring of that year. Perhaps it says something about what things were like, and how special it felt, even then, even in the margins.

It’s a Friday evening. In a house in the Midlands, an 18-year-old boy is waiting to take a 17-year-old girl to the opening night of Bob Dylan’s first British tour. He has two tickets in his pocket. Sheffield City Hall, grand circle, front row, seven shillings and sixpence each.

The television is on as they prepare to leave her parents’ house. It’s Ready Steady Go!, live from London, the weekly hotline to the heart of whatever’s hip. One of the presenters — either the dolly-bird Cathy McGowan or the incongruously avuncular Keith Fordyce — announces the appearance of a new group. They’re from America, they’re called the Walker Brothers, and this is their first time on British TV. Their song is called “Love Her”.

On the small black and white screen, the face of a fallen angel appears. The boy and the girl are already cutting things fine for Dylan, but still the girl freezes in the act of putting on her coat and, as if in slow motion, sits down to watch the 21-year-old Scott Engel, clutching the microphone as though it were a crucifix, delivering the straining, heavily orchestrated teen ballad in a dark brown voice borrowed from the romantic hero of a picture strip in Romeo or Valentine.

As the song ends and the image fades, the girl shakes herself lightly, refocuses on her surroundings, pulls on her brown suede jacket. OK, she says. Ready to go.

Joe Osborn 1937-2018

150px-Joe_Osborn_for_Wikipedia

As a first-call bass guitarist in Los Angeles in the second half of the 1960s, Joe Osborn played on some of the era’s most memorable hits, including “California Dreamin'”, “Windy” and “MacArthur Park”. Osborn, who died at his home in Lousiana on December 14, aged 81, formed a particularly strong partnership in the Hollywood studios with the pianist Larry Knechtel and the drummer Hal Blaine.

Born in Mound, Louisiana, Osborn started life as a guitarist and spent two years playing with Bob Luman in Las Vegas before joining Ricky Nelson’s band in 1960 and moving to LA. Since the guitarist was James Burton, Osborn switched to bass and played on such Nelson hits as “Travellin’ Man”. In 1964 his studio career had already begun when he became part of the minimalist rhythm section on the Lou Adler-produced Johnny Rivers at the Whisky A Go Go, whose party vibe, captured by the engineer Bones Howe, made it — and the single taken from it, Chuck Berry’s “Memphis” — a giant hit. Osborn went on to play on many more of Rivers’ (now underrated) albums, right up to LA Reggae and Blue Suede Shoes in the early ’70s, and on many of Howe’s subsequent productions, usually alongside Blaine. “Hal and Joe had the lock and the feel,” Howe said in Harvey Kubernik’s book Turn Up the Radio!

He played a Fender Jazz Bass, whose narrow neck suited his fingers, mostly with a pick. Apparently he didn’t change his flat-wound strings for 20 years. There was plenty of competition on his instrument in the Hollywood studios — from Carol Kaye, Ray Pohlman, Lyle Ritz, the multi-talented Knechtel and others, some of them with jazz training — but he was valued for his southern rock ‘n’ roll chops. His later work included Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (with Knechtel on piano) and all the 5th Dimension’s hits, including “Wedding Bell Blues”, “Let the Sunshine In/Aquarius” and the sublime “One Less Bell to Answer”.

Here is a very nice little two-minute tribute, and here is a short interview. As with a lot of great session musicians, the true extent of his contribution will probably never be adequately measured.

Sinatra for sale

An American Classic (Frank Sinatra)

Norman Rockwell’s “An American Classic (Portrait of Frank Sinatra)” is among the headline items in a series of sales in New York next month, at which Sotheby’s will auction off the possessions of Sinatra and his fourth wife, Barbara Marx, who died last year. Commissioned by Frank in 1973, the painting hung on the wall of Barbara’s Los Angeles apartment after his death and has an estimate of $80-120,000. Rockwell, who created so many memorable magazine covers for the Saturday Evening Post, was in his 80th year when he painted a work that, for all its superficial suburban blandness, catches an interesting light in the eye and turn of the mouth.

Other objects for sale, besides a great quantity of the last Mrs Sinatra’s jewellery, include some of Frank’s own modernist abstract paintings; a leather-bound final script of From Here to Eternity, in which Sinatra used the part of Private Angelo Maggio to turn his career around; a pair of AKG microphones that he carried on the road; a monogrammed orange jacket that he wore on his private jet; a personalised yarmulke; and letters from every US president from Truman to Clinton.

There is also a poster from his two-week run at the London Palladium in July 1950, his first dates outside America, in which he shared the bill with Max Wall, the Skyrockets Orchestra, the Tiller Girls, Krista & Kristel, Pierre Bel (“continental juggler”), and Wilson, Keppel & Betty. The Daily Graphic talked to him in the aftermath of the opening night, from which he was lucky to escape with his clothes on. “Two tall redheaded girls nearly got my tie,” he told the paper. “One was actually pulling it off my neck. I pulled back.” Ava Gardner, with whom he was in the middle of a torrid affair, was in the audience as he opened with “Bewitched”, “Embraceable You” and “I Fall in Love Too Easily”, during which the pandemonium in the stalls began.

* You can find details of the auction here: http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/2018/lady-blue-eyes-property-barbara-frank-sinatra-n09963.html?locale=en

Spector / Hopper

 

Phil Spector noir

These days, nobody talks about him. I hardly ever listen to the string of epic records he made in the 1960s, and I once wrote a book about him. He’s nine years into a 19-year sentence for second-degree murder, and currently being held at a prison hospital in Stockton, California. He’ll be 88 when he comes out.

So there he was this afternoon, hanging on a wall in Somerset House at this year’s Photo London exhibition, immortalised by his friend Dennis Hopper in 1965.

Back in the days when Phil Spector was making his classic records at the Gold Star studio in Los Angeles, Hopper, who had acted with James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and Giant, was one of those who sometimes dropped by. Spector always liked an audience.

“We hit it off right from the beginning, hanging out at Canter’s, chasing girls,” Hopper told Mick Brown, the author of Tearing Down the Wall of Sound, the definitive Spector biography. Hopper was also pursuing a side-career as a photographer, and after attending the sessions for “River Deep — Mountain High” he shot the cover photo for Ike and Tina Turner’s only Philles album.

In 1967 Spector became involved in a Hopper film project, The Last Movie, which collapsed the following year (and was revived and completed in 1970). In 1968 he played a coke dealer in the era-defining Easy Rider, written by Hopper, Peter Fonda and Terry Southern, produced by Fonda and directed by Hopper. The Christmas following the movie’s release, Spector sent his friends a card featuring a still from his scene and the motto “A little snow at Christmas never hurt anyone…”

Hopper’s photograph of Spector laughing maniacally — blurred so that it looks oddly like one of Francis Bacon’s screaming Popes — catches him at his peak. Or just after it, actually. 1965 was the year of the Ronettes’ “Born to be Together”, the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” and Tom Wolfe’s essay for the Sunday magazine of the New York Herald Tribune, “The First Tycoon of Teen”. It was the year after the matchless triumph of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”, the year before the crippling debacle of “River Deep”.

The framed gelatin silver print is being offered by the Johannes Faber gallery of Vienna. It’s yours for £16,000.

* Photo London ends on Sunday, May 20.

Regarding Françoise Hardy

F Hardy

One thing Françoise Hardy and I have in common is that we both gave Paris a wide berth in May ’68. In my case it was a question of force majeure: with my girlfriend, I was on my way from London to Istanbul on the Direct Orient Express (third class, £40 return each, three and a half days there and three and a half back, £5 supplement for a couchette on the homeward journey), and the general strike in France meant a detour via Brussels. For Hardy, it was a matter of choice: she and her new boyfriend, the singer Jacques Dutronc, were advised by their publicist to get out of town to avoid the évenements.

“We didn’t need to be told twice,” she wrote 10 years ago in Le désespoir des singes et autres bagatelles, her fine and extremely candid autobiography. “We left for Corsica, where we spent several idyllic weeks — the first and the last of our long and strange relationship.”

Neither of them would have found a natural home on the barricades. “My political awareness was nulle, and it was the same for Jacques.” What she did know was that she disliked violence, which she believed would solve nothing. “Contrary to things I’ve heard Daniel Cohn-Bendit say,” she continues, “May ’68 didn’t transform society; it was because society had already been transformed that May ’68 could take place.” That’s quite an interesting argument.

Fifty years later, at the age of 74, she has a new album out. It’s one she never expected to make, her recent years having been occupied by treatment for lymphoma, from which she recovered after being given a new kind of chemotherapy. Created in collaboration with Erick Benzi, who produced and played many of the instruments, Personne d’autre fits very nicely into the sequence of Hardy albums of the last three decades: Décalages (1988), Le Danger (1996), Clair-obscur (2000), Tant de belles choses (2004), Parenthèses (2006), La pluie sans parapluie (2010) and L’Amour fou (2013).

There may be others that I don’t know, just as I didn’t know a much earlier album, La question (1971), until I was steered in its direction by Sean O’Hagan’s excellent interview with Hardy in the Observer a couple of weeks ago, in which it was described as her own favourite. I sent off for it straight away, and once I heard it I couldn’t believe that it hadn’t been in my life for the past 47 years.

Her principal collaborator on this one was a Brazilian guitarist, songwriter, arranger and producer known as Tuca, born Valeniza Zagni da Silva. Together she and Hardy achieve a blend of the elegance of chanson and the lightness of bossa nova, using the latter’s familiar gut-string acoustic guitar but not the rhythms. There are strings everywhere, romantic but not cloying, and the occasional support of a double bass. Only in the latter stages of the album do an electric guitar, a piano, a swirl of organ and a brass section make brief and discreet appearances.

La question is a concept album in the sense that it constructs a wistful mood which endures and evolves without strain throughout its dozen songs and 32 minutes. In 1971 Hardy herself was still sounding like a girl rather than the woman she is on Personne d’autre, but this is nevertheless a grown-up record. To achieve such weightless poise takes time, talent and touch. And for me, at least, better late than never.

* Personne d’autre and La question are both on Parlophone. “Viens”, a track from the latter, is featured on Paris in the Spring, a new anthology of French pop from the late ’60s and early ’70s compiled by Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs for Ace Records. An English translation of Hardy’s autobiography is due at the end of the month, titled The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles, published by Feral House. I haven’t seen it, so the translations included here are mine.

1965: Annus mirabilis

Jon Savage 1965

When Jon Savage compiled his excellent 2-CD sets of hits and curiosities from 1966 and 1967 for Ace Records, he was just clearing his throat. Now, with 1965: The Year the Sixties Ignited, he arrives at the real point of the exercise: a celebration of the best year in the history of popular music. OK, I’m biased: I was 18, which is a pretty important age to be. Jon’s selection of 48 tracks on two discs is characteristically idiosyncratic and stimulating; mine would be very different. I loved 1965 while it was happening, and I’ve felt that way ever since. Twenty years ago I wrote a piece about it for the Independent on Sunday’s Review section, and then expanded it slightly for inclusion in a collection of my music pieces titled Long Distance Call. Here, because you almost certainly won’t have read it in either form, is a truncated version.

 

Bob Dylan 1965 ticket

IT’S A FRIDAY evening in the spring of 1965. In a house in the Midlands, an 18-year-old boy is waiting to take a 17-year-girl to the opening night of Bob Dylan’s first British concert tour. He has two tickets in his pocket. Sheffield City Hall, grand circle, second row, seven shillings and sixpence each.

The television is on as they prepare to leave her parents’ house. It’s Ready Steady Go!, live from London, the weekly hotline to the heart of whatever’s hip. One of the presenters — either the dollybird Cathy McGowan or the incongruously avuncular Keith Fordyce — announces the appearance of a new group. They’re from America, they’re called the Walker Brothers, and this is their first time on British TV. Their song is called “Love Her”.

On the small black and white screen, the face of a fallen angel appears. The boy and the girl are already cutting things fine for Dylan, but still the girl freezes in the act of putting on her coat and, as if in slow motion, sits down to watch the 21-year-old Scott Engel, clutching the microphone as though it were a crucifix, delivering the straining, heavily orchestrated teen ballad in a dark brown voice borrowed from the romantic hero of a comic strip in Romeo or Valentine.

As the song ends and the image fades, the girl shakes herself lightly, refocuses on her surroundings and pulls on her coat. OK, she says. Ready to go.

A COUPLE OF hours later they would be among the first people in Britain to feel the impact of the new songs that were still a fortnight away from release on Dylan’s fifth album, Bringing It All Back Home. With “It’s Alright Ma”, “Gates of Eden”, “Love Minus Zero”, “Mr Tambourine Man” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, a flood of dazzling images and ideas was released. “The lamp post stands with folded arms, its iron claws attached…” “He not busy being born is busy dying…” “To dance beneath the diamond sky / With one hand waving free… ” He was bringing the unformed thoughts of his audience into focus, inventing new emotions and redefining old ones.

Reeling out into the night, speechless with awe, saturated by those visions, they couldn’t know that Dylan was already bored with the way he’d been presenting himself up. The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Animals may have worshipped him, but he wanted what they’d got. Less than two months after opening that tour in Sheffield, he would convene a full-tilt rock and roll band in a New York studio to record “Like a Rolling Stone”, the first six-minute 45. In July he took a band with him on to the stage at the Newport Folk Festival, where he had been a hero in previous years but was now reviled for his supposed act of heresy. Highway 61 Revisited and “Positively 4th Street” followed, in all their ornate mystery.

But although his change of direction was a shock, it was not a surprise. Because in 1965 change was expected: every month, every week, almost every day. Every time you walked into a record shop, opened a book, bought a magazine, turned on the TV. Between picking up your coat and putting it on.

THE YEAR 1965 started with the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin'” (the greatest of all orchestral pop records) and ended with the Beatles’ Rubber Soul (their most satisfying album) and contained so much great music that it would take a year to listen to it, even now. In the sense that pop musicians were still waking up to the reality of their own economic power, and had not yet taken the logical step of attempting to control the means of production, this was also the last year of innocence.

It was filled with perfect examples of what we think of as ’60s moments. David Bailey wore a crewneck sweater to marry Catherine Deneuve. Mods and rockers spent the Easter holiday hurling deckchairs at each other on the Brighton seafront. Marianne Faithfull, much to her own surprise, turned down Bob Dylan’s advances (she was pregnant and about to marry a man who owned a bookshop and art gallery). Julie Christie starred in John Schlesinger’s Darling and Jane Birkin flitted in and out of Richard Lester’s The Knack, giving us two defining images of Swinging London. The Beatles reunited with Lester to make Help!, played Shea Stadium, visited Elvis at home in Beverly Hills, and went to Buckingham Palace to receive their MBEs and smoke dope in the lavatories — not quite all on the same day, but almost. Liverpool, probably not coincidentally, won the FA Cup for the first time. Jean Shrimpton (whose sister was going out with Mick Jagger) lived with Terence Stamp (whose brother was managing the Who) and horrified Australian society by turning up to the Melbourne Cup in a simple shift dress that terminated four inches above her knees.

That’s how easy it was to shock people in those days. When a small rip opened up in the weakened crotch seam of the American singer P. J. Proby’s velvet trousers on stage in Croydon in January, he was banned by the ABC theatre chain and excoriated by the newspapers. When three of the Stones — Jagger, Richards and Wyman — were reported to have urinated against a wall at a petrol station on the way home from a show in Romford, they made the front pages and were fined £5 each. There was a fuss about these incidents but under the outrage, much of it bogus, there was a sense that they were adding to the gaiety of the nation.

In what was left of the real world of Great Britain, the Kray twins were being remanded, the Moors Murderers were charged, Harold Wilson’s government announced an “experimental” 70mph speed limit, legal blood-alcohol limits for drivers were brought in, and incitement to racial hatred was banned. Heath succeeded Home as Tory leader and declared his intention to take Britain into the Common Market — to which, in any case, the government had just applied for a £500 million loan. Internationally, the big issues were the Vietnam war and civil rights, both of which spilled over the frontiers of the United States and commanded the attention and concern of young people throughout the world.

In January, Lyndon Johnson sent the B-52s to bomb North Vietnam. In June, the first American troops went into action on the ground against Vietcong bases near Saigon; by the time they got there, the VC had vanished. The President’s answer: send more troops. the Rev Dr Martin Luther King was arrested during a voter-registration protest in Selma, Alabama; eight weeks later he marched back into town at the head of 25,000 people, protected by 3,000 federal troops and the camera crews of the world’s television networks. Between times, Malcolm X had met an assassin’s bullet in New York. In August, 28 people died and 676 were injured when Watts exploded in three days of rioting.

Everything seemed connected, somehow or other. When Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston to take the heavyweight championship of the world, even that was part of the bigger deal: the youthquake, black power, the generalised feeling that the Establishment was there for the taking. Liston and Floyd Patterson, against whom Clay subsequently defended his title, were black, too, but other, older kinds of black. Clay was Dylan’s age, Jagger’s age, Lennon’s age. Our age.

And ours was also a visual age. Coming between the studied sloppiness of the Beat generation — sandals and shapeless sweaters — and the romantic self-indulgence of the hippies, it was the time of the mods, whose aesthetic may have ended up with the skinheads of the British Movement but had begun with better intentions in the jazz clubs of Soho, the tailors of Whitechapel and the liberal atmosphere of the London art colleges, among people who knew about Fellini and Jasper Johns.

Much of that came together in the Who, who began the year with the terse, staccato chords of their first single, “I Can’t Explain”. They ended it with the thrillingly anarchic feedback of “My Generation”. In between came “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere”, described by Pete Townshend, its composer, as “anti-middle age, anti-boss class, and anti-young marrieds”. If the Who had packed it all in at Christmas, after those three 45s, they’d have been regarded as the greatest rock group of all time, no contest.

British rock music, high on its own huge success in the US and fuelled by a profound admiration of Bob Dylan’s wilful unpredictability, was moving away from covers of Chess and Motown records and beginning to explore its creative potential. The Beatles started to enter the regions beyond two-dimensional love songs, distilling the darker complexities of “Help!” and “Norwegian Wood”, both indelibly marked by Dylan’s influence on Lennon, while George Martin’s experience enabled Paul McCartney to achieve the imaginative leap that led to “Yesterday”.

The Stones, with Jagger and Richards forced into the role of composers by their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, who recognised the value of copyrights, used the influence of Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters to create the template for riff-based rock music with “The Last Time” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, benefitting from Keith’s acquisition of something called a fuzz box and from the funkier ambiance of American studios. The Animals built a denser sound, more conscious of dynamics, with “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “It’s My Life”. The Yardbirds were experimenting with mood and structure on “For Your Love” and the quasi-liturgical “Still I’m Sad”. Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames emerged from the Flamingo all-nighters with the finger-popping “Yeh Yeh”, the sound of an Ivy League jacket and a French crop. The Kinks progressed from the kinetic power chords of “Tired of Waiting for You” to the prophetic quasi-oriental drone of “See My Friends”, which anticipated raga-rock and a certain strand of psychedelia. The Small Faces (real, rather than art-school, mods) made their debut with the pugnacious “Whatcha Gonna Do About It?”, a healthy plundering of the chord-riff from Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”. Out of Belfast came the incomparably surly Them with “Baby Please Don’t Go”, a devastatingly supercharged version of a country-blues text, followed by “Here Comes the Night” and the opening chapter of the Van Morrison legend.

“Gloria”, the B-side of “Baby Please Don’t Go”, may have been the first punk-rock record. Or perhaps that was the pounding “I Want Candy” by the Strangeloves, a non-existent group created to counter the British invasion by a bunch of New York studio-hack writer-producers. Or possibly it was the magnificently silly “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, or the Sir Douglas Quintet’s “She’s About a Mover”, out of Texas. Or, from New York once more, the McCoys’ “Hang on Sloopy”, a kind of punk-bubblegum hybrid based on the Vibrations’ vastly superior “My Girl Sloopy”. The year was full of one-offs like these as American groups (and the commercial interests behind them) fought back, producing guitar-driven music to counter that coming from the other side of the ocean.

The Byrds — not a one-off — took an electric 12-string guitar to his “Mr Tambourine Man” and invented jangling folk-rock (refined later in the year with “Turn Turn Turn”, their version of Pete Seeger’s take on the Book of Ecclesiastes). Music producer Lou Adler bought his staff songwriter Phil Sloan a corduroy Dylan cap, handed him a copy of Highway 61 Revisited and an acoustic guitar, and locked him in a Hollywood bungalow for a weekend. On the Monday morning Sloan handed Adler the demo tape of “Eve of Destruction”, an instant worldwide No 1 for the hoarse-voiced Barry McGuire.

Harold Battiste, a veteran of the New Orleans R&B scene, helped a couple of Hollywood brats, Salvatore Bono and Cherilyn LaPier, to become Sonny and Cher with “I Got You Babe”, a folk-rock minuet with an oboe where most records would have a guitar or a saxophone. Brian Wilson, fiddling about in his studio while the rest of the Beach Boys toured the world, pushed the enrichment button on surf music so hard that it turned into the sunlit symphonies of “Help Me Rhonda” and “California Girls”. The Everly Brothers, relics of pop’s first golden age, a duo with roots in the music of the Appalachian chain, were reborn with the crunching drive of “Love Is Strange”, as powerful a sound as any in the whole year,

In cities around America, soul music had reached its mature phase. Detroit’s Hitsville USA was in top gear with Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar”, Martha and the Vandellas’ “Nowhere to Run”, Kim Weston’s “Take Me in Your Arms”, Jr Walker’s “Shotgun”, the Marvelettes’ “I’ll Keep Holding On”, Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight”, the Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself” and “It’s the Same Old Song”, the Supremes’ “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Back in My Arms Again”, and half a dozen Smokey Robinson masterpieces: three for the Temptations (“My Girl”, “It’s Growing” and “Since I Lost My Baby”) and three for his own group, the Miracles (“Ooo Baby Baby”, “Goin’ to A Go-Go” and the incomparable “Tracks of My Tears”). In Chicago, Curtis Mayfield was using the memory of his grandmother’s Sunday morning church sermons to create “People Get Ready”. In Memphis, the Stax house band was launching Wilson Pickett into “In the Midnight Hour” and Otis Redding into “Respect”. James Brown stopped off while touring to record “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” in Charlotte, North Carolina and “I Got You (I Feel Good)” in Miami, Florida.

That’s to say nothing of Barbara Mason’s swooning “Yes I’m Ready”, the Dixie Cups’ “Iko Iko” and Shirley Ellis’s “The Clapping Song” (which both found new uses for children’s playground songs), Lou Christie’s falsetto tour de force on “Lightning Strikes”, Betty Everett’s “Getting Mighty Crowded”, Tom Jones’s “It’s Not Unusual”, the Shangri-Las’ “I Can Never Go Home Any More”, the Ronettes’ “Born to Be Together” (their finest moment), the Drifters’ “At the Club”, Dusty Springfield’s glowing “Some of Your Loving”, Petula Clark’s “Downtown”, and the boiling, gospel-driven “Heartbeat Pts 1 and 2” by Gloria Jones. Or Dionne Warwick’s staggering “(Here I Go Again) Looking With My Eyes (Seeing With My Heart)”, the Searchers’ “What Have They Done to the Rain”, Wayne Fontana’s “Game of Love”, Fontella Bass’s “Rescue Me”, the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe in Magic?”, Dobie Gray’s “The ‘In’ Crowd”, Little Richard’s utterly magnificent “I Don’t Know What You Go But It’s Got Me Pts 1 and 2”, and, to get back to where we started, two further Walker Brothers classics, “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “My Ship Is Coming In”. All of them — and many others — still played and recognised today.

MOST SIGNIFICANTLY, though, and paradoxically in the light of all this frantic activity, 1965 was the year in which pop music started to slow down. First there was the way in which the working process itself became more leisurely, a result of increasing affluence among musicians who had started out two or three years earlier traipsing up and down the M1 crammed into Transit vans, and the freedom it gave those who had previously been the slaves of managers and record companies. And there was the accompanying desire to spend more time creating records in the studio, exploring the potential of both the developing technology and the musicians’ own imaginations.

In 1965 the Beatles, as they had every year since signing with EMI, released two albums, Help! and Rubber Soul. The Stones released No. 2 and Out of Our Heads. The Beach Boys released Today and Summer Days (and Summer Nights!). That was the standard working schedule. But in 1965 the sense of artistic competitiveness was growing fast. The Beatles would hear the new Beach Boys single and know they had to top it. The only way was to spend more time in the laboratory. The following year, there would be only one album from each of these three leading bands: Revolver, Aftermath and Pet Sounds. And that would remain the pattern.

The music also slowed down in a more literal and far-reaching sense, thanks to the combined influence of James Brown and Andy Warhol. Together, the effect of Brown’s one-chord funk in the clubs and the influence of Warhol’s image-repetition in the art colleges began to thin out the music’s layers, simplifying its structure and reducing the density of its content. This was the birth of pop minimalism, and it also led directly to the inversion of what might be called the music’s weight distribution. Where the aural focus had been on the lead voice(s) — an emphasis reflecting the old “Vocal with rhythm accompaniment” tag that used to be printed on the labels of pre-war 78s, under the singer’s name — now the bottom end of the rhythm section began to take greater prominence. This shift of balance arrived hand in hand with technological developments allowing discothèques to install sound systems which played extra emphasis on the elements of the music that made people dance: the bass and drums. In that sense the most important records of 1965 were not “Satisfaction”, “Ticket to Ride” or “My Generation”, but “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, whose long-term effect on the time-frame and event-horizon of popular music is all around us today — in disco and house music, hip-hop, drum ‘n’ bass, trance, and just about everything else.

Buried within 1965, then, were the seeds of 1966, which also included the debut of Jefferson Airplane at the Matrix in San Francisco and of the Grateful Dead at the first Acid Tests. In November, the two bands shared the bill at the opening night of Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium. That same month, on the east coast, Lou Reed and John Cale gave their new band a name under which they played their first gigs in a New Jersey high school auditorium. Around the corner of the new year lay Cream, Pet Sounds, “Paint It Black”, “Eleanor Rigby”, the aloof visions of Blonde on Blonde and the tumultuous tour that prefaced Dylan’s motorcycle crash. And The Velvet Underground and Nico, with which another future would begin.

Swing Out Sister’s ‘Almost Persuaded’

Swing Out SisterOne of the nicer things that happened to me in 2017 was an encounter with Corinne Drewery and Andy Connell, otherwise known as Swing Out Sister. The circumstances — the funeral in Grimsby of Corinne’s dad, the lead singer and bass guitarist with the R&B band in which I played during the mid-’60s — could have been happier. But it was fun to tell her about the band, about the nights we supported Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Tom Jones, and about how Rae, her dad, was always on at me — quite correctly — to stick to a simple backbeat rather than trying to lay Elvin Jones licks all over the 12-bar blues of Jimmy Reed and Howlin’ Wolf.

It was some time after Swing Out Sister registered their first big hit, “Breakout”, in 1986 that I realised I had a tenuous connection to the girl with the Louise Brooks bob and the great pop-soul voice, whom I had seen as a very small child more than 20 years earlier. It took another 30 years for us to meet again, and to have a conversation which revealed the depth of the love and knowledge of music that she and Andy share.

When I saw that their 10th studio album, Almost Persuaded, was being self-released via PledgeMusic before Christmas, I signed up. The product of three years of thought and work, the CD arrived a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been playing it almost non-stop ever since, enjoying the way the duo create and sustain an escape into a neo-Bacharachian world of romantic elegance. The settings for their poised melodies and lyrics feature cool grooves, beautiful keyboard textures, deft horn flourishes and the mentholated sounds of vibes and (synthetic) strings. The music makes you feel that you’re sitting in a penthouse lounge, looking down on the lights of the city, with the first drink of the evening in your hand.

There’s no irony in play here, which is one of the reasons I like it so much. It’s a kind of uptown pop music that flourished in the era of Dee Dee Warwick’s “When Love Slips Away”, Lou Johnson’s “The Last One to Be Loved” and the Forum’s “The River Is Wide”, but with updated components and a modern sheen. In other words it’s civilised escapism, pure and simple, designed to carry you into a different world.

The arrangements soar and swirl and sigh, restrained by fine judgement from excesses of lushness or sentimentality. There are hints — and they are only ever hints — of Francis Lai and Michel Legrand, of blaxploitation soundtracks and early Eurodisco. The best song, the gorgeous “All in a Heartbeat”, comes in two versions, and the second of them sounds like a classic to me, switching from restrained verse to ecstatic chorus with a heart-lifting rush that reminds me of Corinne’s deep affection for Northern Soul.

From start to finish, Almost Persuaded is beautifully conceived and artfully crafted, and is warmly recommended to anyone who fancies slipping into a seat in that penthouse bar, high above the city lights.

* The photograph of Corinne Drewery is from the cover of Almost Persuaded and was taken by Gersende Giorgio. The album is available now on CD and download via PledgeMusic: http://www.pledgemusic.com

Elvis Presley 16 August 1977

Elvis Presley died at his home in Memphis 40 years ago today. The president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, paid tribute with a statement in which he said that the singer had “permanently changed the face of American popular culture.” Here’s Elvis with an acoustic guitar and a song in a hotel room in Germany in 1958, aged 23: