Time Machine: May 1963

I love the Internet when it brings me a pretty good deal on the May 25, 1963 issue of Melody Maker. What would you hear if you tuned in to the hit parade that spring week?2016-05-18 21.23.52

Well, the Beatles, there’s a shocker. They have ‘From Me to You’ in the #1 spot about six weeks after its single release (backed with ‘Thank You, Girl’). It’s been at #1 since 4 May and will stay there for seven weeks total. It’s the only Beatles cut in Melody Maker’s Top Fifty, though—still a few months before the Fabs routinely hog multiple top slots. Broader Merseybeat makes a respectable showing, with Billy J. Kramer at #6 (on a Lennon/McCartney composition, of course), Gerry and the Pacemakers’ winning ‘How Do You Do It’ hanging on at #8, and the Big Three squeezing in at #45.

Several tracks here suggest the transitional quality of mid-1963, just as the British Invasion began to invade Britain itself. Roy Orbison’s gorgeous ‘In Dreams,’ and Del Shannon’s ‘Two Kinds of Teardrops’ wag the tail of the weepy sleeve-hearted trend whose greatest exponent was Johnnie Ray. Trad jazz isn’t quite dead, with Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen turning in a late peak, ‘Casablanca.’ Space races ahead with Telstars The Tornados bringing us ‘Robot’ and a Ziggy-manque group named The Spotnicks at #37. And how happy Keith Moon must’ve been with a great surfin’ track from The Chantays at #21.

C&W forms a noticeable percentage, from Ned Miller’s legit hat act and Skeeter Davis’s wonderful one hit to Frank Ifield’s near-novelty one. (Ifield also wrote The Spotnicks’ hit.) But even Ray Charles is working out his Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, here at #24. Speaking of novelty, Benny Hill fills his lyrics with farming jokes at #29—that’ll pack in the kids—and future TV hairstyle Wink Martindale achieves new levels of camp (unintentionally, I think) with ‘Deck of Cards.’

2016-05-18 21.25.01

Blues and R&B are packing them in the clubs but scarcely touching the charts

Eddie Cochran offers one of two notable posthumous releases on the chart with the misogynistic but rocking ‘My Way(not the Sinatra). Buddy Holly’s ‘Brown-Eyed Handsome Man’ may not measure up to Chuck Berry’s authoritative original, but gotta love him anyway, the sexy geek. Freddy and the Dreamers are his comic-relief kid brothers with ‘If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody,’ originally recorded by James Ray. Another great James Ray song lives on in a much later cover by George Harrison—and May ’63 sees his future copyright nemesis, the Chiffons’ ‘He’s So Fine,’ at #12.

The film soundtrack for the Cliff Richard vehicle Summer Holiday is sprinkled throughout the chart (and when I say ‘vehicle,’ I mean a Piccadilly bus). Poor bloke hasn’t yet realized he’s being pushed offstage by these upstarts from the north. The chart also features the theme from the short-lived sci-fi television program Fireball XL5. Those folks will later bring us Thunderbirds, but I don’t believe its theme song will do as well.

Paul and Paula do their darndest to continue the flirtation begun in ‘Hey Paula,’ and I’ll send a quid to whoever can spell me what they’re saying in the opening of their #14 hit (“Doinck”?!) Tommy Roe has hit #15 and #26 with a song about selling out as a musician; there’s capitalism for you. The Byrds will do the same more famously later on. Strangely enough, Little Eva’s ‘Let’s Turkey Trot’ didn’t approach her prior success with ‘The Loco-Motion.’ Can’t imagine why.

Little Eva and James Ray aside, there’s a serious dearth of anything rhythm & blues in the top tracks of May ’63—except for arguably the best song on the page, Sam Cooke’s ‘Another Saturday Night.’ That voice, that easy phrasing, that perfect tempo, that sense of humor. Better than all of the Beatles to that time.2016-05-18 21.24.06

Must give a shout-out to the underappreciated Helen Shapiro, that matchless teenybopper tenor. And waaayy down at the bottom, it’s an honor just to be here, we find The Hollies (shown above) dashing headlong through a loopy Coasters song, but it’s a stepping stone to bigger things: they’ll almost hit the top with ‘Just One Look’ about a year later.

Hop in the way back machine and listen to May 1963.

If you like this post or playlist, check out August 1963 according to the New Musical Express.

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