The Beatles battle Cliff – where’s Elvis?

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Jan 2013 The Beatles battle Cliff – where’s Elvis?

 

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From the media – being what it is – we can expect umpteen Beatle commemorations in 2013, all noting the 50th anniversary of this or that early milestone.

January, for instance, marks 50 years since the chart entry of their first major hit Please Please Me. Indeed, the record did enter the Melody Maker and Record Retailer charts on January 19, 1963.

Although it picked up momentum by its third week, Please Please Me actually had a modest debut. Melody Maker’s January 19 listing showed it at No.47, going on to No.39 the following week. Record Retailer was about the same, No.45 and No.33 respectively.

As for the then most prestigious chart, the NME confined itself to a Top 30 and Please Please Me didn’t make an appearance until the beginning of February.

So if The Beatles were still a small story at that point, what was the hot item in January 1963? Without a doubt, the month belonged to Cliff and Summer Holiday.

The enormous success of The Young Ones film had caught people by surprise. To be sure, it was always expected to make money, but not on the scale that it actually did. When the New York Motion Picture Herald released its survey of the most popular stars at British cinema box offices during 1962, Cliff was ranked as No.1, ahead of such “real” film stars as Peter Sellers, Doris Day, John Wayne, and Sean Connery.

cliffBut was the success of The Young Ones a fluke? Or could it be repeated?

Coming into the month, there seemed to be some auspicious signs. The insider word-of-mouth was favourable, and the film’s first single – the double-sided hit The Next Time/Bachelor Boy – was at the top of the charts.  Then, backed by The Shadows, Cliff made a well-received headlining appearance on January 6’s ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’.

The following Thursday, January 10, Summer Holiday premiered at the Warner Theatre in London’s Leicester Square, replete with favourable reviews and an additional publicity bonus. Concerned about the safety implications of the large crowds congregating outside the theatre, the police turned back Cliff’s car.

While missing your own premiere was doubtless a disappointment, one suspects that the resulting newspaper and newsreel headlines softened the blow.

Although the film wasn’t set for general release until February 18, Associated British Pictures opened it in key cities before January was out. By month-end, the burning question had been decisively answered: lightning had indeed struck twice and Summer Holiday was a smash.

If Cliff was garnering most of the attention, January 1963 was also a prosperous month for The Shadows. Their own current single, Dance On! Ultimately knocked The Next Time/Bachelor Boy off the top and the Summer Holiday score provided a rich flow of song-writing royalties, particularly for rhythm guitarist Bruce Welch. All told, he had a credit on no fewer than six of its musical titles.

For Elvis, January 1963 looked like business as usual. Return To Sender had just come off a spell at No.1, and his newest movie, Girls! Girls! Girls!, had its British opening. It may have been overshadowed by Summer Holiday, but business was still very healthy.

If you’d told anyone that within a few months he’d be struggling to make the Top 10, they’d have thought you were mad. Certifiably mad.

Frank Ifield too was at the top of his game. Released in the second-half of the month, The Wayward Wind was soon on its way to the summit, making him the only artiste other than Elvis to have enjoyed three consecutive chart-toppers to that point in time.

The Wayward Wind even prevented Please Please Me from reaching the Record Retailer’s top spot, thereby precluding the latter from being retrospectively recognised as an “official” No.1!

Instrumentals were still big. In addition to The Shadows, January’s Top 20 listings included Duane Eddy, the Tornados, Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd, and the debut single by the Jet Harris-Tony Meehan duo. Written by Jerry Lordan of Apache and Wonderful Land fame, the Harris-Meehan effort Diamonds proved strong enough to go all the way.

elvisCourtesy of NME’s album chart, January 1963 also provides one of the last looks at the world before the beat group boom and the resulting  explosion in album sales changed things fundamentally and forever.

In a time when the album market was still heavily-influenced by the tastes of older customers, On Stage with The George Mitchell Minstrels, and West Side Story hogged the top spot during the month. Indeed, The Minstrels had no fewer than three titles in the first Top 10 of the year!

That pattern was even more marked in America where the late 1962-early 1963 No.1 position was dominated by comedy albums from the likes of Allan Sherman and Vaughn Meader.  Described as a “good-natured parody” of the Kennedys, Meader’s The First Family was an absolute sensation, hitting the top in December 1962 and staying there for a grand total of 12 weeks. Reputedly, it eventually sold over 7million copies.

Of course, all of this was about to change.

By January 1964, the British charts looked very different – although the Minstrels had another album in the Top 10 and West Side Story was still going strong.  As for America, it took a little longer.  But when Meet the Beatles knocked The Singing Nun off the top of Billboard’s album chart in February 1964, the times were certainly changing.

Pat Murphy

 

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