Charting The Blues - The Big Beat
Much has been written about “Mersey Beat” to suggest that Liverpool's position as a major seaport, and the passage of merchant seamen carrying records from the USA, allowed its young and aspiring musos access to a treasure trove of Stateside R&B. But it wasn't entirely unique in that respect, for Newcastle was also home to a thriving R&B scene, and the newly-termed “Beat Groups” were springing up in London and Manchester too. Playing a mixture of White Rock'n'Roll, Black R&B, Country Music, instrumentals and rocked-up standards, the bands gigged in crowded clubs like The Cavern, or cut their teeth in Hamburg's notorious Kaiserkeller and Star Club, where they might play five or six gruelling 90-minute sets a day.
Not all these bands achieved great chart success, and many, like Rory Storm and The Hurricanes are only now remembered for the musicians that passed through them (Ringo Starr and Keef Hartley both drummed for The Hurricanes.) The Beatles cannily reserved their original compositions their singles, though R&B still featured on their Eps and LPs. But the rest of our Sixties beat groups were responsible for some great British Rhythm & Blues hits, some two dozen of which I've listed here.
The Big Three: “Some Other Guy.” No. 37 in April 1963.
First recorded by Richie Barrett, and written in collaboration with US hitmakers Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, this lively number featured in The Beatles' stage set, though they never put it on record. A fine, rocking version was recorded by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates in '63, but left unreleased, allowing Liverpool band The Big Three to have the British hit. In his long career, Big Three bassist John Gustafson also played with The Merseybeats, Roxy Music, The Ian Gillan Band and The Pirates.
Freddie & The Dreamers: “If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody.” No 3 in May 1963.
Wacky Mancunian Freddie Garrity made for an unlikely Pop Idol, but he had a big hit with this unusual and catchy R&B Waltz. It was written by Rudy Clark and recorded in the States by James Ray, who was also responsible for the original version of George Harrison's Eighties hit, “I Got My Mind Set On You.”
The Hollies: “(Ain't That) Just Like Me.” No.25 in May 1963.
Recorded in '61 by The Coasters, and written by band members Earl Carroll and Billy Guy, this is the first of four consecutive R&B cover hits from Manchester's tight vocal harmony group, featuring the young Graham Nash.
Brian Poole & The Tremelos: “Twist & Shout.” No. 4 in July 1963.
Best-known by the Beatles, who featured it on their debut album, this three-chord dance number was written by Bert Berns and Phil Medley, and first recorded in the States by The Top Notes. However, it was The Isley Brothers who had the American hit, and Barking's own Brian Poole who took this faster, “La Bamba”- flavoured version into the UK Charts.
The Hollies: “Searchin'.” No.12 in August 1963.
Another Coasters cover, this time written by Leiber and Stoller, which featured in The Beatles' live set (it turns up on Anthology 1, in their Decca Audition.) Perfunctorily performed here by The Hollies with their manager Tommy Sanderson on the very prominent piano.
Brian Poole & The Tremeloes: “Do You Love Me.” No.1 in September 1963
An unforgettable hit with a great semi-spoken intro ('You broke my heart 'cause I couldn't dance') that Lou Reed borrowed on for his poppy 1984 single “I Love You Suzanne.” Written by Berry Gordy for his eponymous Gordy label, and a million-seller for vocal group the Contours, whose version is unique for its false ending.
Dave Berry & The Cruisers: “Memphis Tennessee.” No.19 in September 1963
Unfortunately for Dave, Chuck's version, which had been released in the UK with “Let It Rock” as the A-side, got 'flipped' by radio DJ's, and it was the other Mr Berry's “Memphis” which made it to no.6 in October of the same year.
The Dave Clark 5 “Do You Love Me.” No.30 October 1963
The Contours hit gets another outing, this time from the creators of the “Tottenham Sound.” The spoken intro has sadly been dropped, and the “push, push” backing vocals are also excised – too risqué? On his own official website, session drummer Bobby Graham claimed to have played on both this and the Tremeloes version, but there the similarity ends.
The Hollies: “Stay.” No.8 in November 1963
The original, written by Maurice Williams and recorded with his group The Zodiacs lasted 1 minute 37 seconds, and remains to this day the shortest single ever to reach the top of the American charts. The Hollies speed it up to a frantic pace, but still stretch it out to 2.15 by sticking a nifty guitar solo in the middle.
Bern Elliott & The Fenmen: “Money.” No.14 in November 1963
I suppose this must be the “Kentish Sound,” but it seems a little insipid up against The Beatles' better known version, or the Barrett Strong original, which was the first hit on Berry Gordy's Tamla label. Fenmen Wally Allen and Jon Povey ended up in the Pretty Things, and played on the classic (and first) 'Rock Opera,' “S.F. Sorrow.”
Dave Berry: “My Baby Left Me.” No.37 in January 1964
You might call it an 'Elvis cover,' but technically both records are covers of the original 1951 recording by Bluesman Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup. No “Cruisers” on this one, but a tight arrangement and a bunch of top session players including Big Jim Sullivan and Jimmy Page make this a great slice of rocking British Blues that still holds up today.
The Paramounts: “Poison Ivy.” No.35 in January 1964
This Coasters hit, which made no. 15 in the UK in 1959, had already been covered by just about every band in Liverpool, and the Rolling Stones. Strangely, then, it was this belated version by a group from Southend-on-Sea who took it back into the charts. Gary Brooker, Robin Trower and Barrie Wilson went on to become part of Procul Harum.
The Hollies: “Just One Look.” No.2 in February 1964
Written by Doris Troy and ex-Oriole (that's the Doo-Wop group, not the baseball team) Gregory Carroll, this attractive tune made no.10 on the American charts for Atlantic Records. The Hollies typically less relaxed version completes the band's successful run of R&B covers, and after this they moved to more home-grown material.
The Undertakers: “Just A Little Bit.” No.49 in March 1964
This Liverpool band, later re-branded as “The Takers” when their name was considered “too macabre,” had been trying hard to get their brand of sax-led R&B into the charts, and finally scraped into the Top Fifty with this energetic version of the stop-start Rosco Gordon number. Although he had a great voice and good looks, success always eluded vocalist Jackie Lomax. In 1968 he cut the George Harrison song “Sour Milk Sea” for The Beatles' Apple Records, but despite having George, Paul, Ringo, Nicky Hopkins and Eric Clapton on the session, it still wasn't a hit. (Darn good record though!)
Bern Elliott & The Fenmen: “New Orleans.” No.24 in March 1964
The Fenmen sound a whole lot livelier on this spirited cover of Gary 'U.S.' Bond's 1960 dance hit, though their backing vocals are bizarre. It sounds like they're singing “techie, techie,” over and over during the verses. But whatever they're doing, it does actually drive the beat along nicely, have a listen and see what you think.
The Swinging Blue Jeans: “Good Golly Miss Molly.” No.11 in March 1964
This cover of the 1958 Little Richard hit, written by John Marascalco and 'Bumps' Blackwell was the follow-up to SBJ's no.2 hit with their version of Chan Romero's “Hippy Hippy Shake,” and is very similar in both style and arrangement. A tremendously tight performance, it's remarkable how much they sound like The Beatles with Lennon singing.
Dave Berry: “Baby It's You.” No.24 in April 1964
A Shirelles number written by Burt Bacharach, Luther Dixon and Mack David, which had also been covered by The Beatles on their debut album, 'Please Please Me.' Dave's version is pleasant though not particularly outstanding, but I'm sure it gave him a lot of opportunities to indulge his propensity to hide behind curtains and gesture strangely.
Lulu: “Shout.” No.7 in May 1964
Written and first recorded by The Isley Brothers in 1959, their version covered two sides of a single, but 15-year old Marie McDonald McLaughlin Laurie concentrates all her energies on Side 1 and gives a bravura performance. I'd lay money that she's backed by some top session players here, but her band The Luvvers gets credit on the label. A classic!
The Swinging Blue Jeans: “You're No Good.” No.3 in June 1964
Written by Clint Ballard Jr. for Dee Dee Warwick (sister of Dionne) and also covered in the States by Betty Everett, the SBJ's do a fine job of re-interpreting this rather biting end-of-relationship ballad.
Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders: “Um Um Um Um Um Um.” No.5 in October 1964
Major Lance's original recording of this Curtis Mayfield song broke into the UK Charts at no.40 in February, but this better-promoted cover by Glyn Geoffrey Ellis and his group made it to the top ten. The Mindbenders later had a hit with “Groovy Kind Of Love” and guitarist Eric Stewart went on to become one of the founder members of 10cc.
The Four Pennies: “Black Girl.” No.20 in October 1964
Just when you thought there were no hits left in Lead Belly's songbook, this Blackburn quartet, who'd already topped the charts with their syrupy original “Juliet,” released this rather dark and dramatic waltz-time ballad about a woman who becomes unhinged after her husband's grisly death in a railroad accident. Lead Belly's version is more popularly known as “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” or “In The Pines.”
Tony Jackson & The Vibrations: “Bye Bye Baby.” No.38 in October 1964
A 1960 Stateside hit for Mary Wells, who wrote it, and also covered by Betty Everett, this was the debut single for breakaway bassist Jackson's new band when he quit The Searchers. The B-side is Bobby Parker's excellent and often-covered “Watch Your Step,” reputedly an influence on the Beatles' “I Feel Fine.”
The Fourmost: “Baby I Need Your Loving.” No.24 in November 1964
This Liverpool band were quick to pick up on this smooth, soulful Holland-Dozier-Holland composition that had taken The Four Tops to No. 11 in the States. Vocalist and guitarist Mike Millward, who had originally been with the Undertakers, died tragically of leukemia in 1966, ending the band's run of hits.
The Moody Blues: “Go Now.” No.1 in December 1964
Recorded by Bessie Banks and written by her ex-husband Larry, produced by Leiber and Stoller for their Tiger label, the song was very quickly covered by this Birmingham band. Back then, under the leadership of Denny Laine, they were very much an R&B group, and included Sonny Boy Williamson and Bo Diddley numbers in their repertoire, but that all changed when he was replaced by Justin Hayward in 1966. Laine went on to form The Electric String Band (fore-runners of the ELO) and join Paul McCartney in Wings.
It's only fair to mention the Beatles' contribution to British R&B, since all their albums sold at least “gold” if nor “platinum.” Their debut album “Please Please Me” contained:
“ Anna (Go To Him)” by Arthur Alexander, “Baby It's You” by the Shirelles, “Boys,” also a Shirelles cover, “Chains,” a Goffin-King song recorded by Little Eva's backing group The Cookies, and The Isley Brothers' “Twist And Shout.”
“ With The Beatles” featured Chuck Berry's “Roll Over Beethoven,” Smokey Robinson's “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” The Marvelettes' “Please Mr. Postman,” The Donays' “Devil In Her Heart” and Barrett Strong's “Money.”
“ Beatles For Sale” included Chuck Berry's “Rock And Roll Music,” Wilbert Harrison's “Kansas City” twinned with Little Richard's “Hey Hey Hey Hey,” and “Mr. Moonlight,” first recorded by Dr Feelgood & The Interns, who were actually Piano Red (Willie Lee Perryman) and his band.
And finally, the “Long Tall Sally” EP featured Larry Williams' “Slow Down,” and his “Dizzy Miss Lizzie” turns up at the end of the “Help!” LP. So the Fab Four had a big hand in bringing R&B to the forefront of the Sixties 'Pop' market. But soon the reign of the 'Beat Groups' was to be challenged by bands who specialised in a different kind of Rhythm & Blues.
© 2017 Stevie King for the British Blues Archive