Charting The Blues - Why Does My Chart Go Boom
Evolving alongside the “Liverpool Sound” was another form of R&B-based music which, like Lonnie Donegan's Skiffle, developed out of Chris Barber's love for the Blues. Encouraged by ex-Barber musicians Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies, and their band Blues Incorporated, a new wave of young British musos began to form their own groups, with repertoires likely to include Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters or Howlin' Wolf. They called themselves Rhythm & Blues Bands, and soon the UK charts were enjoying the fruits of a fully-fledged R&B Boom, twenty-four examples of which are listed here. At the forefront were a London mob formed by slide guitarist Brian Jones...
The Rolling Stones: “Come On.” No. 21 in July 1963
This cover of a Chuck Berry B-side was reputedly completed by a studio engineer, following Andrew Oldham's instruction, "You mix it, I'll drop by and pick it up in the morning!" Fortunately, whoever it was did a decent job, though Jagger's view differed: "I don't think 'Come On' was very good, in fact it was shit. God knows how it ever got in the charts.” It's actually a very neat and tidy pop single, perhaps too much so for Sir Mick.
The Rolling Stones: “I Wanna Be Your Man.” No. 12 in November 1963
Not too proud to accept a leg up from their nearest competitors, the Stones were offered a number that John & Paul wrote for Ringo to sing. Andrew Oldham's pragmatic response was, “If it's right for the boys, I couldn't care less if it was written by Dorothy Squires.” (Now hands up, who knows who Dorothy Squires was?) They dropped the loping Bo Diddley beat the Fab Four used, but gave it a bluesy boost with some manic walking bass and scorching slide guitar. And very good it is too.
The Rolling Stones: “Not Fade Away.” No. 3 in February 1964
While Keith was saying “The band's entire goal was to be the best London Blues band," Mick was saying “We made out we were Blues purists to get booked. The reality is, in rehearsal we would play anything – Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly." Hence this Buddy cover, perhaps. But like the previous single, they show a great talent for radical re-arrangement, and it really pays off, giving them their biggest hit so far.
The Animals: “Baby Let Me Take You Home.” No. 21 in April 1964
Although this has its roots in several old Folk Blues songs, revisited by Bob Dylan as “Baby Let Me Follow You Down,” the Animals arrangement is closest to that of Sam Cooke-styled Soul crooner Hoagy Lands, whose “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand” - credited to Bert Russell (aka Bert Berns) & Wes Farrell- is the perfect template for the Animals single, including the striking guitar intro. To read me banging on about this at tedious length, check out 'The Animals' in our “Biographies” section. Anyway, it's a terrific record, whoever takes the credit for it.
The Dennisons: “Walking The Dog.” No. 36 in May 1964
Only a month before, this Rufus Thomas number had been released as the final track on the Stones' debut album. Here, Cavern Club regulars The Dennisons prove that Mersey Beat bands can handle R&B as well, or better than the Londoners. The vocals are very convincing, and producer Art Greenslade drums up a much more powerful sound, too.
The Pretty Things: “Rosalyn.” No. 41 in June 1964
The UK's first original composition R&B debut single, courtesy of Fontana A&R man Jimmy Duncan and Bill Farley, owner of Regent Sound, where this track was recorded. The NME review read, “Not a great deal of melody, but ample enthusiasm, sparkle and drive.” It sounds a bit murky, but it has a punkish energy, and features a rare, sizzling slide solo from 'rhythm' guitarist Brian Pendleton. Later covered by David Bowie on his 'Pin-Ups' album.
The Animals: “House Of The Rising Sun.” No. 1 in June 1964
The first Number One of the UK's R&B boom, legend has it that the band took time out of a tour to come down to London and record this in one take, before going back on the tour. At nearly 4½ minutes, it was a lot of music to squeeze onto a 45rpm vinyl single, and considered too long for radio airplay, but producer Mickie Most and the band stuck to their guns, and the rest is history. There's much more info in our “Biographies” section, if you can spare the time.
Manfred Mann: “Do Wah Diddy Diddy.” No. 1 in July 1964
Composed by the Brill Building's Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich for vocal group The Exciters, their version wasn't a great success Stateside, but someone here saw the potential, and it became the first in a string of four R&B-cover hits for the Manfred Men, all originally written for female singers. It also made No.1 in the States, as part of the 'British Invasion.'
Rolling Stones: “Its All Over Now.” No. 1 in July 1964
Influential New York deejay Murray The K (The K stood for Kaufman) already had the ear of The Beatles, and gave a copy of the Valentinos original (co-composed by band member Bobby Womack) to the Stones, who quickly cut their version in Chess Studios, on their first time in Chicago, prompting Keith to admit it was “the best single we've done.” It was the Stones' first UK chart-topper, but Mick, in insouciant mood, commented, “I don't care a damn if our new record has reached number one.”
The Animals: “I'm Crying.” No. 8 in September 1964
Though this is a fine example of home-grown British R&B, and performed with great conviction, it couldn't help but be compared to its antecedent. When it failed to match the performance of “Rising Sun,” the Animals were persuaded to leave songwriting to the professionals, and didn't attempt another self-penned A-side until they'd split with manager Mickie Most. BTW, the B-side's a corker!
Manfred Mann: “Sha La La.” No. 3 in October 1964
Written by the little-known Robert Mosely and Robert Napoleon Taylor, and first recorded by The Shirelles, who'd already provided The Beatles with a few covers. The girls sang it to a repetitive stomp beat, like The Supremes' “Where Did Our Love Go,” but The Manfreds put a little more swing and sensitivity into it, and scored massively in the UK, also reaching No.12 in the USA.
The Pretty Things: “Don't Bring Me Down.” No. 10 in October 1964
A classic of home-grown R&B, written by Johnnie Dee, former lead singer of a band called The Bulldogs, who travelled with the Pretties to “soak up the atmosphere.” This stop-start, loud-quiet number, peppered with hip-speak, has sex and rebellion written right through it. Unfortunately the line “I laid her on the ground” (mystifyingly reworded by web lyrics sites as “I'll lead her on the ground,” or “I'll treat her on the ground,” and on sheet music as - probably even worse - “I'll take her on the ground”) was considered too provocative, and resulted in a ban in America.
BTW Johnnie Dee became road manager for a band called The Fairies, who recorded a rather nice cover of Bob Dylan's “Don't Think Twice It's Alright” for Decca. Their drummer was John “Twink” Alder, who later joined The Pretty Things, and took part in the recording of S. F. Sorrow. More info in our 'Biographies' section.
The Yardbirds: “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.” No. 44 in November 1964
The sleeve notes on Pye International Rhythm & Blues Showcase EP Volume 1 say:
“ Don & Bob kick off Side One with a unique and highly exciting version of Washboard Sam's 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,' a tune which has been recorded by many blues singers since it was written in the thirties.” And indeed, “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” recorded in 1937 and more often credited to John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, is a Blues standard, that's been reworked by Smokey Hogg and Junior Wells among many others.
The only trouble is, this is a completely different song about hops and soda pops, recorded in 1961 by Don Level and Bob Love. Moreover, it was Level & Love who wrote the song, not HG Demarais, who's named on the label, and on all other pressings and re-releases since. I have to wonder if poor old Don & Bob ever saw one red cent from their efforts.
But I digress, and you can find me doing so more in that damnable 'Biographies' section. Suffice it to say, it's a darn catchy little number, and the Yardbirds do an acceptable version of it, before they abandon all hope of succeeding with an R&B single and start recording Graham Gouldman songs, driving Blues purist Eric into John Mayall's waiting arms. 'Nuff said'.
The Spencer Davis Group: “I Can't Stand It.” No. 47 in November 1964
The Soul Sisters' “pulsating, rock-a-twist” version of Smokey McAllister's “I Can't Stand It” notable for it's swinging trombone solo, was their debut single for the Sue Label, and quickly picked up by the newly-named Spencer Davis Group (they were previously The Rhythm & Blues Quartet) as follow-up to their own debut, a cover of John Lee Hooker's “Dimples.” Displaying young Stevie Winwood's fantastic vocal range, and featuring some very nice 'scat' singing on the solo section, it took the band into the UK Top 50.
The Rolling Stones: “Little Red Rooster.” No. 1 in November 1964
Perhaps the purest of the Stones' Blues covers, and the last, before they converted to original compositions for their A-sides, and still kept getting to Number One. Marianne Faithfull observed, “It's interesting because Mick Jagger seems more gentle and pleasant on this,” while Mick commented, “We try to make all our singles different...it's a straight blues, and nobody's ever done that, except on albums.” Nor would they again. The UK's last True Blues chart-topper.
Manfred Mann: “Come Tomorrow.” No. 4 in January 1965
Written by Dolores Phillips, Frank Augustus and Bob Elgin, the Stateside version was recorded by songstress Marie Knight, who had sung and recorded with Sister Rosetta Tharpe in the 40s, and toured the UK in the late 50s singing with Humphrey Lyttleton's band. Though Paul Jones can't match her vocal range, the Manfreds handle it very tastefully, competing well with the orchestral build-up at the end of the original.
Them: “Baby Please Don't Go.” No. 10 in January 1965
Big Joe Williams' well-known number gets a complete make-over from Van Morrison & the boys - or not, depending whose version of history you believe. Even Holmesian deduction couldn't sort out this hodge-podge of conflicting evidence. Claims include: that all of Them played on the session, or some of Them, or none of Them, apart from Van; or that Jimmy Page played lead, or rhythm, or a downtuned guitar part along with the bass. Perhaps it was the ghost of Cyril Davies playing the harmonica? All I can be sure of is that the end result is a dynamic and electrifying masterpiece of re-imagination, which well deserves its induction into both the Rock and Blues Halls of Fame. Full marks to Bert Berns for an outstanding production, too. Forever a classic.
The Pretty Things: “Honey I Need.” No. 13 in February 1965
Another original song for The Pretties, this time written by lead guitarist Dick Taylor with “Smithling & Button” - in reality John Warburton, Peter Smith & Ian Stirling, his old friends from Art School. It's a strange mixture of Folk, Pop and R&B, with acoustic 12-string, stinging guitar, handclaps, and booming bass drum. John Stax's bass seems ghostly and disembodied, sometimes there and sometimes not, but the whole thing's insistently driving and really catchy. Chart-wise it was downhill for the band after this, but there were still some minor hits to come.
The Animals: “Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood.” No. 3 in February 1965
Though the band can't equal the dark, mysterious magic of Nina's slow orchestral original, they compensate by upping the tempo, and turning the violin riff from the outro of her version into the guitar hook for their arrangement. The interpretation's still strong and dramatic, and Burdon remains one of the few British vocalists of this era who could sing Blues with genuine conviction. Nit-pickers may notice the strange, slightly-off-tune effect on the chorus, reputedly caused by 'tape drag.' Yes, kids, we used to record on tape! However did we manage?
Them: “Here Comes The Night.” No. 2 in March 1965
More legends surround this one. Them founder, guitarist Billy Harrison says: "I remember sitting in Decca when Bert said he had this song, and he came out with "Here Comes the Night". He had a riff and that's all he had, and we sat and we worked on it, and we came up with what you hear.” (In fact that guitar riff had already appeared on another Berns-penned single, “Come On And Stop,” recorded by Marv Johnson for United Artists.)
Harrison's backed up by drummer Ronnie Millings, who recalls putting four days into the arrangement. Yet Decca allegedly shelved Them's recording, and gave the song to Lulu, who then recorded a sumptuous and sophisticated, Spectorish version. Issued as her third single, in November 1964, it barely crept into the charts at no.50, to the band's quiet satisfaction, while Them's stripped down, more direct version was finally released early the following year, whereupon it nearly made Number One.
Reversing the process, Berns then took the song back to the States, and gave a rewritten version (without the riff) titled “There They Go,” to “Do Wah Diddy” group The Exciters, but it didn't meet with success. Them's version is the one that will always be remembered.
Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames: “In The Meantime.” No. 22 in March 1965
The follow up to his big hit “Yeh Yeh,” this was written by British pianist John Burch, who toured military bases in the late 50's with a group which included Graham Bond. Fame serves up a sophisticated, swinging piece of UK R&B, with his Mose Allison- flavoured vocals well to the fore. Though not quite so catchy as its predecessor, manager and club-owner Rik Gunnell's production captures Fame's warm, jazzy, big-band sound to a tee, and there's a very tasty sax solo into the bargain.
The Spencer Davis Group: “Every Little Bit Hurts.” No. 41 in March 1965
Written by composer, sound engineer and produced Ed Cobb, who was responsible for such great songs as Gloria Jones' 'Tainted Love' and the Standells' 'Dirty Water,' this heartfelt ballad was a hit in the States for Brenda Holloway on the Motown label. The SDG take it slightly slower, but otherwise it doesn't differ greatly from the original, and though orchestral accompaniment is added, it's Stevie Winwood's voice and piano which carry the song.
Heinz: “Diggin' My Potatoes.” No. 49 in March 1965
The smooth voice of Joe Meek's peroxide protégé, ex-Tornado Heinz Burt was never really suited to Blues but he does his best, perhaps trying to catch the coat-tails of the R&B bands. There's a nicely-tinkling, bluesy piano and a hot slide guitar solo, credited to the ubiquitous Jimmy Page, which help liven this up, but even then, it only crept into the bottom of the Top Fifty.
The Animals: “Bring It On Home To Me.” No. 7 in April 1965
Alan Price surprisingly avoids the delicate piano intro of the Sam Cooke Original, instead doubling Hilton Valentine's 12-string on the hummable solo, and contributing some nice organ fills elsewhere. Burdon's emotive voice (double-tracked on the last verse?) adds all the soul you could ask for, but it's the last real R&B single from the Animals for a while, as producer Mickie Most lured them away to Brill Building songwriters for the next two.
The R&B Boom continued in the UK, slowly metamorphosing into the Blues Boom, drawing reliance away from the singles charts, and emphasizing the importance of the Long Player. Original compositions began to figure more than straight covers, and the wild, unrestrained R&B of guitar bands like the Stones and Pretty Things began to give way to the smoother, organ-led sounds of combos like The Spencer Davis Group and Georgie Fame's Blue Flames. There's more booming to come in the next instalment.
© 2017 Stevie King for the British Blues Archive