Summer of ’63…..
At the start of June, The Beatles sat at the top of the charts with From Me to You, having been there since the beginning of May. When they were finally deposed, it was by
another Merseyside group – Gerry & The Pacemakers and I Like It.
Then, in August, along came The Searchers with Sweets for my Sweet, to be followed by Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas touting Lennon & McCartney’s Bad to Me. Other acts like Freddie & The Dreamers, Brian Poole & The Tremeloes, and The Hollies, also began to make their mark. Yes, times were definitely a-changing.
However, the overwhelmingly big story was that of The Beatles. When the NME published its half-year chart review at the end of June, Cliff Richard was in first place, a full 300 points ahead of The Beatles. His lead looked almost insuperable. But it had been whittled down to less than 50 points by the end of September, and was well on its way to being completely wiped out.
In the NME’s final listing for August, The Beatles enjoyed two separate Top 10 entries. One was the new single, She Loves You, which had just come roaring in at No.2 en route to the top the following week. The other was the Twist and Shout EP, which had racked up unprecedented sales for the format – so much so, it had earlier gone into the singles Top 5.
And the situation in the top slice of that chart was particularly instructive. Bad to Me, She Loves You, Freddie & The Dreamers’ I’m Telling You Now, and Sweets for my Sweet took four of the first five positions. Only Cliff’s It’s All in the Game was flying the pre-beat boom flag, and it was pretty clear that he wasn’t going to make it to the summit. Still, Cliff
had his consolations.
In early August, the NME had reported the American trade magazine Billboard as having his Lucky Lips simultaneously topping the charts in six different countries: Norway, Israel, South Africa, Hong Kong, Sweden, and Holland. And business for his summer season in Blackpool was described as “sensational.” Playing twice-nightly for 16 weeks at the spanking new Blackpool ABC, Holiday Carnival pulled around 350,000 paying customers.
In the early part of the summer, the status of Elvis Presley’s recording career provided great speculative fodder. After a couple of years during which the only question had been how fast any new Elvis record would get to the top, March 1963 had upended expectations. To everyone’s astonishment, One Broken Heart For Sale went no higher than No. 8 in the NME, while missing the Top 10 entirely in the other music papers. As Melody Maker’s headline put it: “Presley plunges.”
Many of the explanations focused on the theory that Elvis had become unduly dependent on film songs, although that hadn’t hindered him previously. In any event, there was unusual interest in his follow-up, a non-film song called Devil In Disguise. Which path would it follow?
As it transpired, Devil in Disguise did pretty well. Although Frank Ifield’s Confessin’ kept it off the NME’s top spot, it did go all the way – for a single week – in Record Retailer’s listing. Indeed, in a sign of how dramatically things had changed, it was the only American record to make No.1 in Britain that year!
That said, it was something of a false signal with respect to what lay ahead. Relatively speaking, hard times were coming. Over the next five years, only three Elvis singles made the Top 10, and it was to be the end of the decade before he gained his chart stride.
As for Frank Ifield, turbulence was also just around the corner. When Confessin’ hit No.1, it marked his fourth chart-topper out of five consecutive releases. Stir in t
he fact that he was just then headlining a lengthy London Palladium season in Swing Along, and he seemed close to invincible.
But as far as record sales were concerned, the bottom was about to drop out. There’d only be one more Top 10 entry, after which his chart career dwindled away.
The summer of 63 was also something of a last hurrah for instrumentals, particularly those guitar-led. In the first three years of the decade, there’d been no fewer than nine different instrumental chart-toppers, plus a whole raft of other substantial hits. Although that too was about to change, you’d never have guessed it.
At the beginning of June, Jet Harris and Tony Meehan were in the Top 3 with Jerry Lordan’s Scarlett O’Hara. Within a month, another Lordan tune – Atlantis by The Shadows – had followed suit. And before the summer was out, the likes of The Tornados and the Dakotas also made appearances, albeit in considerably less elevated positions. There were even two instrumental classics from the American surf rock genre – Wipeout and Pipeline.
Across the Atlantic, though, there was certainly no hint of the British Invasion to come. Over there, the summer charts were dominated by acts like the Beach Boys, Bobby Vinton, The Four Seasons, and Lesley Gore. There was even a smattering of folk influence, courtesy of Top 10 singles from Peter, Paul and Mary, and Trini Lopez. But by the time another summer rolled around, that too would change.
A native of Dublin, Pat Murphy now lives in Toronto, Canada