Charting The Blues - Bye Bye Blues
As the R&B Boom morphed into the British Blues Boom, the singles charts reflected more keyboard-led, and originally-composed hits. Meanwhile the long playing record began to achieve more significance as the place where "serious musicians" could show off their chops. Eyes down for a full house as we round off this series with another two dozen Bluesy British Hits.
Manfred Mann: “On No Not My Baby.” No. 11 in April 1965
Written by Goffin & King for The Shirelles and recorded, over their backing track, by Maxine Brown. As an aside, there's an interesting anecdote telling how Maxine had to listen to The Shirelles cut and "find her own tune," (suggesting the original Goffin King Demo was somehow no longer available) and how she was inspired by two girls playing outside who picked up the chorus. But if you listen to the Shirelles recording (it's on YouTube) there's very little difference in the melody, even if Ms Brown's version is smoother. The Manfreds recording was not released as a single in the USA but made the top twenty here.)
The Birds: “Leaving Here.” No. 45 in May 1965
Recorded in the states by Eddie Holland (of Holland Dozier &) and a favourite of "Maximum R&B" band The Who, who recorded two versions which remained unissued until 1985. This slightly slower interpretation by Ron Wood's old band boasts a cool key change and a positively stinging guitar solo. Maybe the bass is a bit out of tune, and the drums are slightly sloppy, but it's chock full of fabulous power chords and it's topped off by some great, mean vocals. Ace!
The Spencer Davis Group: “Strong Love.” No. 44 in June 1965
A rare single by little known vocal group The Malibus, and written by Don Robey (aka Deadric Malone) Eddie Silvers & Mary Brown, it was reputedly played to Spencer by Manchester DJ Roger Eagle. The SDG take it a little faster, but it's ideally suited to Winwood's voice, and he provides a nice scat solo too.
The Pretty Things: “Cry To Me.” No. 28 in July 1965
The Pretties provide a creditable cover of Solomon Burke's original, though by the time the single was released, the Stones had also brought out their version, on 'Out Of Our Heads.' The Stones took it at the same tempo as "Pain In My Heart," which may have been closer to what writer Bert Berns intended, as Solomon reputedly sped it up some, but my money's still on Mr May's boys! After this came the powerful original "Midnight To Six Man" - it failed to chart, but it's still a great single.
Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames: “Like We Used To Be.” No. 33 in July 1965
Self-penned under his real name Clive Powell, this swings at a steady beat, and again captures the warm big band R&B sound of the Blue Flames. Neat organ solo too, nice one Georgie!
The Small Faces: “Whatcha Gonna Do About It?” No. 14 September 1965
Composed by: Ian Ralph "Sammy" Samwell, a songwriter and record producer best known as the writer of Cliff Richard's debut hit "Move It", and Brian Potter, (though the band allegedly "already had the melody") this song deliberately hangs itself on the bones of Solomon Burke's "Everybody Needs Somebody," now known to Blues Brothers fans everywhere. The first (and last) deliberately R&B flavoured single from the band, with a Townsend-styled guitar feedback solo from Stevie Marriot. The flip-side was a cover of Timi Yuro's American hit "What's A Matter Baby."
Georgie Fame &The Blue Flames: “Something.” No. 23 in October 1965
Written by (surprise, surprise) John Mayall and very heavy on the baritone sax, this would've been too tuneful for the Bluesbreakers - remember the sad fate of their "Sitting On Top Of The World?" - but suits Mr Fame admirably. However, after this, Georgie dispensed with the Blue Flames and started recording American covers rather than continue the home-grown hits.
The Spencer Davis Group: “Keep On Running.” No. 1 in December 1965
A substantially -rearranged version of reggae star Jackie Edwards' original, hinging on Muff Winwood's fat, farty bass riff, and brother Stevie's great voice and fuzz guitar. This led to more Jackie Edward numbers, and more big hits for the SDG.
The Animals: “Inside- Looking Out.” No. 12 in February 1966
Frustrated by Mickie Most's insistence on giving them Brill Building songs which portrayed romanticised views of poverty, the group split with him and released this. Based on their existing re-arrangement of the work song "Rosie" (you can find them playing it in concert, somewhere on YouTube) it's credited to Burdon and bassist 'Chas' Chandler, and is probably their most powerful musical statement as a Blues Band since House Of The Rising Sun. It stalled just outside the top Ten and after that they returned to the Brill Building for Goffin/King's "Don't Bring Me Down" in June, their final single.
The Spencer Davis Group: “Somebody Help Me.” No. 1 in March 1966
Virtually a straight copy of the original, minus the orchestra and brass, a bright uptempo song and a good choice for the band, though without the immediate impact of its predecessor.
Alan Price: “I Put A Spell On You.” No. 9 in March 1966
Owing more to the Nina Simone version than Screamin' Jay's original, this opens with a hymnal organ figure. Alan takes the first verse alone, then the band comes in and it kicks into overdrive with syncopated brass and a dazzling keyboard solo. He ain't Eric Burdon, but he still delivers a powerful and passionate vocal, and musically it's much more cohesive than his old band's version on Animalisms. Nicely done.
The Pretty Things: “Come See Me.” No. 43 in May 1966
A re-arrangement of the single by little known Soul singer J J Jackson, the Pretties put this into the same tempo as "Everybody Needs Somebody" and throw all their energy into it. The bass intro is immediately striking, the band, augmented by keyboards, sounds huge, and the catchy chorus trades May's vocal with Taylor's super-fuzzy guitar. A really powerful single, this deserved to do much better.
The Spencer Davis Group: “When I Come Home.” No. 12 in September 1966
Co-written by Stevie Winwood and Jackie Edwards, brought together through their mutual association with Chris Blackwell of Island Records. A fine track, it doesn't quite have the immediacy of their two chart-toppers, but may have been the catalyst that spurred young Stevie into writing his own hits.
Georgie Fame: “Sunny.” No. 13 in September 1966
Written and recorded Stateside by Bobby Hebb, whose version of it went into the UK Charts just ahead of this one. Fame's arrangement is put together with piano and lots of smooth brass, but it's Hebb's version that has the “vibes” (in more ways than one!)
The Spencer Davis Group: “Gimme Some Loving.” No. 2 in November 1966
Credited to Winwood on the UK single label, though Spencer and Stevie's brother Muff (but not drummer Pete York) were included on the sheet music. Allegedly based around Homer Banks's “A Lot Of Love,” Muff recalls it was “conceived, arranged and rehearsed” in half an hour.
Georgie Fame: “Sitting In The Park.” No.12 in December 1966
No. 12 in December 1966 Fame delivers a pretty accurate cover of singer and writer Billy Stewart's smooth and tuneful American hit, providing a strangely summery sound for an Xmas single.
The Spencer Davis Group: “I'm A Man.” No. 9 in January 1967
Unlike the Bo Diddley or Muddy Waters songs of the same name, Stevie's masculinity finds a more cerebral expression, as he admits he'd “rather be with cats.” In fact, he's “resisting all involvement” with women – sorry, I mean “groovy chicks” - in favour of following his creative muse. His last with the band before he quit to form Traffic, and later covered by brassy American outfit Chicago Transit Authority.
Chris Farlowe: “Moanin'.” No. 46 in June 1967
Based on Bobby Timmons composition for Art Blakeys Jazz Messengers, with lyrics written later by John Hendricks, it was first recorded by vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross in 1959. This version, with a fascinating arrangement by Phil Dennys, begins with sitar and tabla, and then becomes a sort of Indian/Big Band Jazz fusion. Jimmy Page is on the session, but it's reputed to be Big Jim Sullivan on the sitar. Thoroughly unique.
Amen Corner: “Gin House Blues.” No. 12 in July 1967
First recorded by Bessie Smith, and later covered by Nina Simone, this is the first & last Bluesy single from Andy Fairweather Low's Amen Corner, before they moved on to being pop stars. The brass and organ sound is augmented by a rather out-of-place string section, but otherwise it's quite nicely done.
Fleetwood Mac: “Black Magic Woman.” No. 37 in April 1968
Peter Green's fertile imagination tapped into the music he loved to create this classic combination of minor rumba and uptempo shuffle, the template for Otis Rush's “All Your Love.” One of the hits most closely associated with Britain's Blues Boom, yet also very nearly the last, as Green's increasingly disturbed mental state took his Blues into previously uncharted territory. Covered by Santana, whose version was a chart-topping hit in the States.
Fleetwood Mac: “Need Your Love So Bad.” No. 31 in July 1968 (also no 32 in July 1969)
This Mac hit was written by Mertis John Jr., and first recorded by his brother Little Willie John in 1955. It was recorded again in 1960 by Dakota Staton and in '64 by Irma Thomas, then in '68 by Solomon Burke before Peter and the boys cut this version with the sumptuous string arrangement by Mickey 'Guitar' Baker. It's remained a blues jam favourite and a dance floor filler even until today, not bad going, eh?
Chicken Shack: “I'd Rather Go Blind.” No. 14 in May 1969
Christine Perfect takes the vocal refrain on this fairly faithful cover of Etta James' soulful ballad, written by Ellington Jordan and Billy Foster. Terry Noonan arranges the horn section, and Stan Webb adds a spiky solo.
Georgie Fame: “Seventh Son.” No. 25 in December 1969
After a percussion intro, Georgie takes on this Willie Mabon/Willie Dixon number, and as a musicians in-joke, he sings it with seven beats to the bar instead of eight. Crazy, jazzy saxes abound, and it's weird but it seems to work.
And that was it for British R&B. Fleetwood Mac went on to have huge hits with 'Albatross,' 'Man Of The World,' 'Oh Well' and 'Green Manalishi,' but in spite of the obvious Blues influences in the latter two, they're still a rather different animal. The same goes for Chicken Shack's 'Tears In The Wind' and Ten Years After's 'Love Like A Man,' which both charted, but which you couldn't call Blues with a capital 'B.' Success belonged to bands like Free - formed around ex-Mayall bassist Andy Fraser and ex-Black Cat Bones guitarist Paul Kossof - with their June 1970 No.2 hit 'All Right Now.' The genre now known as Blues/Rock had been born, and The Blues would never be quite the same again.
© 2017 Stevie King for the British Blues Archive