U.K. Still Was Where the Action Was

Second in a series by Al Sussman on the greatest of all years for rock 'n' roll, originally published in Beatlefan #96, September 1995.

Liverpool had gotten a great deal of media attention since the arrival of The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers and other Merseybeat groups but the city on the other side of the River Mersey, Manchester, had its moment of pop glory in the spring of ¹65.

First, the most bizarre-looking of all the British bands, Freddie and the Dreamers (who looked like Buddy Holly on crack backed up by the bouncers from Manchester's beat clubs), suddenly took off in America with "I'm Telling You Now", which had gone to No. 2 in the U.K. 19 months before. (The Beatles' "She Loves You" had kept it from the top spot, to show you how far back this record went.)

With the group hitting every TV show that would let them appear in America, they touched off a brief flurry of "Freddiemania." Two labels, Mercury and the Capitol subsidiary Tower, released Freddie records in short order, and they had two more sizeable successes with "You Were Made For Me" and "Do the Freddie", inspired by the silly, aerobics-like dance Freddie Garrity did onstage.

"I'm Telling You Now" was No. 1 for two weeks in April before being ousted by another Manchester band, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, with their classic piece of Britpop, "The Game of Love". A week later, they were supplanted by another Manchester band, Herman's Hermits, and an old English pop tune, "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter".

Reportedly, it was the tremendous response to radio airplay of "Mrs. Brown" as a track from the "Herman's Hermits on Tour" LP  that caused MGM Records, the group's U.S. label, to release it as a single, despite the fact that MGM had just released the group's recent U.K. Top 5 cover of "Silhouettes". Thus, in mid-May, the Hermits had two of the Top 5 records in America, to be followed shortly by the group's version of Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World". Herman (aka Peter Blair Denis Bernard Noone) had become a bonafide teen idol -- the cute, cuddly kind for teen girls  intimidated by John Lennon or the Rolling Stones.

So, bands from Manchester had the No. 1 single in the U.S. for six straight weeks, quite an accomplishment considering the increasingly stiff competition. Two of those groups, Freddie and the Dreamers and Herman's Hermits, appeared on a special one-hour edition of NBC-TV's "Hullabaloo" on May 4, including a Freddie-Herman duet in the show's infamous Top Pop Medley segment.  

That meeting of Manchester's pop royalty was small potatoes, though, compared with the bill at the annual New Musical Express Poll-Winners Concert at the Wembley Empire Pool on April 11. Performing in the 3 1/2-hour show were The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Moody Blues (the original group, with Denny Laine singing lead), Freddie and the Dreamers, Herman's Hermits, Georgie Fame and His Blue Flames, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Cilla Black, The Searchers, Dusty Springfield, The Animals, The Kinks and four newcomers: Donovan (a Scottish folk singer), Tom Jones (a swivel-hipped pop singer from Wales whose first hit, "It's Not Unusual", was top of the pops in the U.K. in late March), Them (an Irish band with an intense lead singer-songwriter named Van Morrison) and The Seekers (an Australian folk group who had topped the U.K. chart in March with "I'll Never Find Another You").

Donovan, with his denim jacket, harmonica holder and nasal delivery, was a cause celebre in England in April because of the impending arrival of the American star he was widely accused of imitating. The king of the new folk music,  Bob Dylan, was coming to Britain for his first major tour there, complete with film crew to chronicle the visit, onstage and off, for what would become D.A. Pennebaker's 1967 documentary "Don't Look Back". Many of Britain's biggest pop stars, including The Beatles, took in the Dylan shows, which were standard acoustic concerts. At home, though, big changes were afoot.

A new Dylan album, "Bringing It All Back Home", had just been released, and while side two of the LP was acoustic, the first side was Dylan backed up with electric instruments (gasp!), with several tracks frighteningly close to rock 'n' roll, including one song released as a  single (heresy!), "Subterranean Homesick Blues". Folk purists were aghast but this was just the beginning.

Meanwhile, in stark contrast, a new breed of garage band was emerging to give the pop audience some classic party rock. From East Los Angeles came Cannibal and the Headhunters with a rocked-up version of Chris Kenner's "Land of 1000 Dances". From Dallas, Domingo Samudio (aka Sam the Sham) and the Pharaohs served up "Woolly Bully".


And San Antonio produced a Tex-Mex band led by Doug Sahm and featuring Augie Meyers and his Vox keyboard. When the British hit America, they called their band the Sir Douglas Quintet and, like the Beau Brummels, tried to appear as English as possible. But "She's About a Mover" was pure American party rock.
While some of the more "serious" songs of that year wouldn't stand the test of time, these three songs would reverberate down through the years, right up to 1994, when Ini Kamoze used "Land Of 1000 Dances" as the anchor of the hip-hop hit "Here Comes the Hotstepper".

Manchester's occupation of the U.S. top of the pops finally ended in the fourth week of May when The Beatles' first worldwide single of the year, "Ticket to Ride", reached the top. But cynical eyebrows were raised because it didn't reach No. 1 until its fifth week on the singles chart. Suspicions that The Beatles were slipping were heightened the following week when, after just one week at No. 1, "Ticket to Ride" was ousted by the Beach Boys' "Help Me Rhonda". It was the California band's second No. 1 in less than a year and one of the first major shots in an American pop counterattack on the British, who in the first week in May had had nine of the Top 10 singles in the U.S.

One of the most important elements in that renaissance was r&b, or soul, as it was beginning to be known. The late spring saw the arrival of such classics  as the Impressions' "Woman's Got Soul", the Olympics' original version of "Good Lovin'" and "Lipstick Traces", the debut hit for what would be one of the truly great soul acts of the late ¹60s and the ¹70s, the O'Jays.

Other soul hits included  "I Do" for the one-hit-wonder Marvellows; Billy Stewart's magnificent "I Do Love You"; and arguably Otis Redding's greatest moment on record, "I've Been Loving You Too Long".

Motown contributed a pair of Holland-Dozier-Holland-written and -produced No. 1 records: The Supremes' fifth straight chart-topper, ''Back in My Arms Again", and the Four Tops' first, after a decade in the business, "I Can't Help Myself".
But the Anglo acts were hardly keeping a low profile. The Animals released their wonderful cover of Sam Cooke's "Bring It on Home to Me", The Yardbirds and Donovan made their American debuts and The Kinks showed great staying power with "Tired of Waiting for You" and "Set Me Free". And then there was the biggest record of the year . . .

It began with a simple riff. Keith Richards had gotten a Gibson fuzztone box and, early on the morning of May 6, Richards knocked on Mick Jagger's door at a hotel in Clearwater, FL, to play him a riff he had discovered. Jagger liked it and they used it as the jumping off point for a new song that would become "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction".

The following week at the fabled Chess Studios in Chicago and at RCA's Hollywood studios, the Stones recorded the song (and much of the material for their next album, "Out of Our Heads"). "Satisfaction" entered the American charts the second week of June and hit the top a month later, staying there for four weeks in the midst of rock 'n' roll's greatest summer, ending up as the No. 1 record of the year and a timeless rock classic.

Meanwhile, back in the mother country, The Who made a May 21 encore appearance on "Ready Steady Go", performing their new single, "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", which, like "I Can't Explain", would hit the U.K. Top 10 and soon become the theme of "R.S.G". And, on June 11, the first official audio document of the manic atmosphere of a Rolling Stones concert, a live EP called "Got Live If You Want It", was released.

The next day, it was announced that The Beatles had made Queen Elizabeth's birthday honors list and would be awarded MBEs -- an announcement that outraged some past recipients of the award and convinced some trendy pop fans that The Beatles had "sold out" and no longer were as relevant as the Stones, Who, Kinks or Yardbirds. Two days later in the U.S., a new Capitol Beatles collection, "Beatles VI", was released and within a month was the No. 1 LP in America. So who was slipping?

Two artists who really were no longer relevant by that time had hits in the late spring with songs recorded years before. Elvis Presley, whose current output of movie songs was becoming increasingly awful, had the biggest hit he would have until his late ¹60s comeback with "Crying in the Chapel", an early ¹50s r&b hit for Sonny Til and the Orioles recorded  during the October 1960 sessions for Elvis' first gospel album but not previously released. Lesley Gore, whose teen angst records were increasingly evocative of the pre-Beatles girl-group days of the early ¹60s, had a hit with "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows", a 1963 album track that had shown up in the film "Ski Party".

Late in the spring, New York-based Bang Records released a new single that featured a pronounced Bo Diddley-style rhythm. "I Want Candy" was credited to the Strangeloves and the primitive sound was said to be a product of the group's background in the Australian outback. In reality, the Strangeloves were three New York-bred writer-producers, Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gotteherer, who had been the creative force behind The Angels' 1963 girl group classic, "My Boyfriend's Back".

Shortly after "I Want Candy" became a hit, the trio produced a single for a young garage band from Ohio called The McCoys. It was  a re-working of The Vibrations' 1964 r&b hit, "My Girl Sloopy". Now called "Hang on Sloopy", it would go to No. 1 at the beginning of October, becoming an inspiration for young bands throughout the country. Incidentally, Gottehrer would produce Blondie's 1977 debut album and the first two LPs by The Go-Gos in 1982.

With Gary Lewis and the Playboys a confirmed success by the early summer, another second-generation Hollywood celebrity garage band emerged with a slickly-produced piece of pop confection: "I'm a Fool" by Dino, Desi and Billy. They were Dino Martin (eldest son of Dean Martin), Desi Arnaz Jr., (son of Lucy and Desi) and Beverly Hills friend Billy Hinches, who later would be sucked into the strange vortex of the ¹70s-¹80s Beach Boys.

The same week that "I'm a Fool" entered the U.S. singles chart, the No. 1 record was by another L.A.-based group. But while Dino, Desi and Billy were inconsequential one-hit wonders, "Mr. Tambourine Man" literally gave birth to a new musical form.
Jim McGuinn, David Crosby, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke were ex-folkies who, turned off by the inflexibility of the folk establishment and turned on by The Beatles, formed a band, made some embryonic recordings and landed a contract with Columbia Records, all within the space of a few months in the second half of 1964.

On Jan. 20, 1965, the group, dubbed The Byrds, recorded an electrified version of a song that Dylan had recorded acoustically for his "Bringing It All Back Home" album. "Mr. Tambourine Man", with its country- and folk-derived vocal harmonies and trademark 12-string Rickenbacker lead played by McGuinn -- who had bought his Rick after seeing George Harrison's -- was released on April 12, and by the time it reached No. 1 at the end of June, it had set the pop world on its ear. The Beatles instantly became ardent fans. Dylan pressed ahead with his transition to electrified music and other ex-folkies began to move into the rock arena, while more acts began recording Dylan songs.

Over the course of the summer, Dylan's "All I Really Want to Do" appeared on the charts in versions by The Byrds and a former Phil Spector session singer named Cherilyn Lapiere (aka Cher). A former surf band now called The Turtles hit the Top 10 with "It Ain't Me Babe". And, on June 15, Dylan himself recorded "Like a Rolling Stone", his most fully-realized attempt to fuse rock, folk and blues values. By summer's end, despite the fact that many Top 40 radio stations played just the first half of the six-minute epic, only The Beatles kept "Like a Rolling Stone" from going to No. 1. The music industry and the press, in need of a moniker for this new sound, called it "folk-rock".

The birth of folk-rock and the spectacular success of "Satisfaction" set the table for a summerlong musical feast, unparalleled in its richness. The airwaves overflowed with one classic song after another -- not just on radio but also on TV, with "Shindig" (which continued with new shows right through the summer), "Hullabaloo", numerous local music shows and a new ABC afternoon series from Dick Clark.

"American Bandstand' had gone to a Saturday-only schedule when the show moved to California in 1963, so the door was open for Clark to develop a new weekday series. It was called "Where the Action Is" and its hook was that instead of being confined to a studio, the performers would lip-sync their hits (live performances have always been a rarity on any Clark-produced music series) in locales where young people tended to gather. In other words, where the action was -- beaches, parks, skating rinks, bowling alleys, etc. Like "Shingdig", "Action" had a small group of regular performers, mostly early ¹60s  teen idol types who didn't blend well musically with some of the more contemporary acts who appeared on the show.

Still, "Where the Action Is" did produce one act that achieved pop stardom. Paul Revere and the Raiders had gained a certain degree of fame in the Northwest in the early ¹60s. In fact, their version of "Louie Louie" was a local hit some months before their Northwest-based rivals, The Kingsmen, had the national hit. The Raiders were perfect for TV, with their Revolutionary War-style uniforms and goofy onstage antics. And lead singer Mark Lindsay took to the tube so well that the teen magazines made him the first American teen idol to surface since the British insurrection.

The show also gave the Raiders' floundering recording career an immediate boost. In the fall, they had a moderate hit with "Steppin' Out", helped no little bit by the national exposure the song received on "Action". That set the stage for the great successes the group would enjoy during much of the show's nearly two years on the air. And once the Steve Alaimos and Linda Scotts of the early days faded away, the Raiders became the series' primary meal ticket -- so they were very good for each other.

There was one other notable success associated with "Where the Action Is": Freddie Cannon's hit version of the show's theme. It was co-written by Tommy Boyce, who would gain future fame as a songwriter and record producer (with Bobby Hart) for The Monkees, who, like the Raiders, achieved success chiefly through regular television exposure.

IN PART THREE: Phil Spector, "protest" songs and the nascent San Francisco scene enjoy chart success but the late summer and early fall belong to the Fab Four, who top off another hit movie and tour by releasing what will become the most-played song of all time, and then conquering Saturday morning TV.