Morpheus on… Classics That Never Made Number One

Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7pjP_XkK4U) “Rip It Up” and “Lucille” were all great classics from the golden age of Rock ‘N’ Roll – so surely they all made Number One, right? Sadly, no. In fact, not one of them rose higher than number SEVENTEEN. “Lucille” did not even make the Top Twenty.

A check of the US Fifties charts reveals that Pat Boone’s appalling COVER version of “Tutti Frutti” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFxTvffJqOg) actually did BETTER – but who remembers THAT today? (Ironically, Boone’s OWN classic – “Speedy Gonzales” – only made number six in the US and two in the UK, despite being enormously popular there).

The reason is not hard to find. Having just struggled through a WAR, American adults were in no mood to take crap from their KIDS. Ignoring the fact that men are genetically pre-programmed to go “walkabout” around age thirteen – and hit their sexual PEAK at fifteen – they demanded their kids remain VIRGINS until EIGHTEEN – and abstain from alcohol until they reached TWENTY-ONE (and in many states – they still DO).

And they wondered why their kids REBELLED.

Unable to bring themselves to look INWARDS when their progeny became “delinquent” – the parents blamed it all on Rock ‘N’ Roll.

Of course, the music was only a SYMPTOM of rebellion – not the cause. But since the major record companies and radio stations were owned by ADULTS – the music still got BANNED.

And the situation in Britain was little better. The BBC (where the news-readers wore evening dress to read the news – on RADIO) was also dominated by fogeys and only devoted a couple of hours a week to the phenomenon.

The BULK of the records which occupied BOTH Top Twentys through the Fifties was MIDDLE-OF-THE-ROAD.

But in the SIXTIES, “yoof” finally got recognised (they now had MONEY) and once America’s small radio stations – and Britain’s “pirate” stations – took off, Pop ruled the day.

So no more problems – right?

Well – not necessarily. Elvis’ 1964 movie title track, “Viva Las Vegas”  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fuGCxQE14w – you can sing ALONG to that one – you’re welcome) never made the Top Twenty either.

Despite its inclusion on various compilation albums (and a recent airing in the film “The Boat That Rocked” [US title: “Pirate Radio”]) Lorraine Ellison’s 1966 rendering of “Stay With Me (Baby)”  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tVwIfiO8q8) originally only reached number sixty-four.

And in the Seventies, the story continued. Remember The Ides Of March’s “Vehicle”? Possibly not – but I promise you will know it when you hear it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRu93TEcSl8). A classic, covered by every show-band that ever played – however in the UK, it only got to number thirty-one. Even in the US, it was kept off the number one spot by the appropriately-named The Guess Who. Who? Precisely.

Then came a number that can be guaranteed to be in every British All-Time Top One Hundred – Peter Skellern’s endearing ballad, “You’re A Lady”  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpoRPej88ik) – but it only peaked at number three in the UK charts (although granted while other records stormed to the top – only to be forgotten the following week – “You’re A Lady” sold steadily for MONTHS).

And what of Eric Clapton’s “Layla”? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C74sjfGUQXo). The album originally flopped and it was not until two years later that the single was released – and THEN it was only a US number ten and UK seven.

But the undisputed KING of records that never made the prime slot but should have – was Ultravox’s 1981 hit, “Vienna” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W77LBPHQzl0&feature=related). This classic spent FOUR WEEKS as a UK number TWO. For the first week, thanks to John Lennon’s “Woman” – but infamously, for three further weeks it was denied its due by a ghastly novelty record called “Shaddap You Face” – the composer and performer of which received DEATH THREATS from Ultravox fans.

Joe Dolce has never lived it down.

Footnote: The Little Richard, Elvis karaoke and Clapton uploads above were posted by yours truly, but curiously the “You’re A Lady” clip was NOT – yet you will hear a piece of  “Muppets” at the end that I used to play when I was a DJ. Great – or perhaps not so – minds?
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5 responses to this post.

  1. Neat piece!

    As far as I recall, I was first alerted to the issue of abuse of the artist and the fan via cover-version, by some noble DJ on Luxy. It became a big bugbear in my mind.

    The two species were

    (1) British weedy wail ruining American sexy super dude.

    (2) White Yank watering-down real-thing Black beauty.

    I became aware of the latter, later, but the former was a constant cause of adolescent anger through my teenage (1950s) Rock’n’Roll listening on Luxy and AFN.

    I HATED hearing a great US original ONCE on (I think) the London-American 15-minute show, or AFN, and then a Brit-twit cover UBIQUITOUSLY on other labels’ Luxy shows.

    The worst ever was when Singing The Blues by Guy Mitchell was pushed aside by the ludicrous Tommy Steele effort. Yet, it did not matter so much because it was a trivial song. The perpetration of the same sin, sometimes possible crime, upon more important, destined to be classic, soulful numbers, was a torment.

    BBC Light Programme were constantly covering, via Variety shows. The Stargazers or some such singing group would sing live some great recorded song from the States. Despite their great talent, I did not desire to hear what they had to offer.

    Marty Wilde, Craig Douglas, and the grotty-spotty like, were followed by Cilla Black in the 1960s. But it was perfectly honourable when Lulu versioned, five years after, the great number Shout from Sam and Dave (I think). This is professional. Instant cover to steal chart chance is vile.

  2. Posted by theworldaccordingtomorpheus on September 27, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    The Isley Brothers, actually. And it only reached number 47 in the US charts. And Lulu’s later cover only made number 7 in the UK charts. All of which re-inforces my point!

    Your reply is a bit off-subject, but it was so well written, I approved it!

    My piece was a BASTARD to write! I knew about all the records listed – but not being a savant, I had to LOOK UP all the chart positions. Not so easy as one might imagine – there are a NUMBER of charts – but without the specific numbers, the piece would have been somewhat LAME!

    Also, having been resident in the Orient for a decade now, I find I am increasingly confused as to my own identity. I mean, unlike most ex-pat Brits, I have embraced the culture. The REAL culture – i.e., the MIND-SET, not temples and customs.

    But I am also East Anglian, English, British, European and Western.

    Plus most of my Western TV is American (although we get SOME British – and my son regularly sends me more, on disk) and US influence is rife here.

    But when I WRITE stuff – or post YouTube audio-visual clips – I am always aware that more than half my audience is in North America. Only a third is British – and the remaining 17% come from all over.

    Hang on – half… one third… 17%… YES – that’s about right!

    So while as a Brit, I obviously try to avoid Americanisms – I have to give SOME concession to the MAJORITY of my audience. F’rinstance, I give PRICES in Pounds AND US$ (my keyboard has TWO $s on it, but no Pound sign – go figure – and THAT’S an Americanism right there – and that was ANOTHER one!)

    It’s not JUST for the benefit of Yanks, either – the Almighty Dollar is virtually a World currency. No matter which country you come from – you always know the value of a US$.

    And no matter WHAT happens to the World’s financial system – I don’t see that changing in MY life-time.

    “It cost me fifty bucks.” Fine. “I paid fifty Yuan for that.” Wot???

  3. Posted by littlealfie on September 27, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    This IS interesting! A topic that has been demonstrated by their previous writings to be of interest to the Author AND the two people who habitually comment on his work!

    I take it you’re not expecting anyone else in the world to stick their two-penn’orth in here?

    But seriously, you have obviously done a lot of hard work (and spent a lot of time watching music videos) and I see what you’re saying. Isn’t it always the case though that no piece of “art” (be it a painting or a song) is EVER recognised as a classic until (long) after the event? Take the works of Van Gogh as a prime example.

    As for me, I regretted that “Groovin’ with Mr Bloe” never got to number one in 1970 (Yes! 1970 AGAIN!). I loved it but because it didn’t hit the top spot I had a terrible job finding it when trying , over the last few years, to find downloads of all my favourites!

    I also endorse Cy’s comments on weak covers although my problem was that in ’63 when it all kicked off musically in the UK I was only 10 and had no way of telling that the version of any particular song I was hearing was anything other than the original. I had, for instance, not the faintest inkling that a good deal of both the Beatles and Rolling Stones output was reworked blues standards – I hadn’t heard THOSE versions then!

    And even now Brian Matthew on a Saturday morning will sometimes play a song I know but by a different artist and I will be surprised to learn that what I think of as MY version wasn’t the first. I plainly don’t know as much as I think I do.

    Incidentally, would you two gentlemen like to rejoin Mensa so that we can form a “Let’s-comment-on
    –each-others’-blog” SIG?

    No, I thought not!

    Alfie

  4. Posted by Morpheus on September 29, 2010 at 5:37 am

    I lapsed when I moved to Thailand (7,000 miles is a bit far to go for a pub-meet) but I think my old chum DID rejoin Mensa. Then again, even if I returned to cold, wet, miserable, over-priced Blighty (they’d have to drag me, screaming) I don’t think Mensa’d welcome ME back! I blotted my copy-book BIG time when I issued my last SIG from HERE, having discovered a prat at Mensa had SPIKED it. Cost me fifty quid – but the issue of FREE SPEECH was worth it. And now I’m on t’Interweb, I can write what I LIKE!

    Bums! Tits! Clive Sinclair is an arsehole!

  5. Yes, I did rejoin Mensa earlier this year. It was more of an irrational urge and a desire for change, than a good reason.

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