Author: Jon Kutner

The Ballad of John & Yoko (Beatles)

In music the word ballad generally has a definition meaning a slow sentimental or romantic song, but this week’s suggestion is most definitely not that. It only had half the group on the song and getting banned on numerous radio stations probably ensured its place at the top of the chart.

John Lennon liked instant song writing – writing a song one day, recording it the next and releasing it as soon as possible. By 1969, he and Yoko were self-absorbed and he wrote about their life in The Ballad of John and Yoko, wittily calling themselves ”two gurus in drag’ and once again leaning heavily on Chuck Berry’s style.

The song was released in June 1969 just three months after John and Yoko had married – and on the quick. Paul had married Linda on March and on the back of that John decided he wanted to marry Yoko. They had some plans but they didn’t work. The first was to get married at sea, so on a journey to Dorset, Lennon instructed his driver to divert to Southampton to find out what was involved only to be told it was not allowed. Then he had the idea of getting hitched in Paris and asked his management team to arrange it. Peter Brown found out that getting wed in Paris at short notice, especially if you are not French, couldn’t happen either, but did advise Lennon that Gibraltar was a possibility as it was controlled by Britain and John was British. So that’s where they married and then honeymooned in Amsterdam.

The Ballad of john & Yoko is really written about all John’s run-ins with various authorities, the opening line, ‘Standing in the dock at Southampton trying to get to Holland or France’ sums up the plans he had and Brown’s call in summed up in the third verse, ‘Peter Brown called to say you can make it okay, you can get married in Gibraltar near Spain.’

The honeymoon was a little unusual as John had invited various members of the press to their hotel. No doubt some of them believing that it was to witness a special moment between the couple and have an exclusive scoop only to find out that it was a rant and a protest about the war which they did from their bed.

This was the last Beatles number one, and the only one to feature just two members. As George Harrison was on holiday and Ringo Starr was filming The Magic Christian, John asked Paul McCartney to record it with him. Although Paul had his differences with John, he was a working musician and readily agreed. They enjoyed recording the song with John urging the drumming Paul to “Go a bit faster, Ringo” and Paul responding to John playing lead guitar, “OK, George.” Paul also plays bass, piano and maracas on the track.

Some UK radio stations and most in America refused to play the track because of the line, ‘Christ, you know it ain’t easy’ which shows John frustration. The word was deemed invective and almost certainly, the record would have been banned more if he had come from a lesser act than The Beatles. Instead, the Top of The Pops film, which used news footage of John and Yoko, made great play of the word ‘Christ!’ by flashing it on the screen each time that Lennon sang it.

At the song’s conclusion there is an inspired Spanish guitar piece which was ‘borrowed’ from Johnny Burnette and his Rock N’ Roll Trio’s 1956 song Lonesome Tears in My Eyes.

A few weeks after the song dropped from number one, John had the idea for the song Give Peace A Chance, but this time he used the pseudonym, The Plastic Ono Band. He had something of a Messianic complex because only a few weeks after making this single, he called his associates into the board room at Apple and told them that he was Christ reincarnated and was going to announce it on the evening news. They agreed to have a drink first and by night-time, John’s claim had been forgotten. Pity really – it would have made great TV, followed, one would think, by John’s arrest for taking mind-bending drugs.

Top 20 greatest BBC Radio presenters

In 2017, the BBC launched a poll to celebrate 50 years or Radio’s 1, 2, 3 & 4 and the results were as follows.

20 Tony Blackburn
19 Nick Clarke
18 Linda Smith
17 Fi Glover
16 James Naughtie
15 Danny Baker
14 Melvin Bragg
13 John Humphrys
12 Kirsty Young
11 Brian Redhead
10 Jenni Murray
9 Eddie Mair
8 Humphrey Lyttelton
7 Jane Garvey
6 Kenny Everett
5 Alistair Cooke
4 Annie Nightingale
3 Sue MacGregor
2 John Peel
1 Terry Wogan

Doctor’s Orders (Sunny)

In the 1960s and 70s, there were an elite bunch of session musicians on both sides of the Atlantic, the Wrecking Crew, as they were known, are probably the most famous in the US but in the UK, there were more groups of individual session people, Clem Cattini and Bobby Graham were the most sought after drummers, Big Jim Sullivan, Vic Flick and a pre-Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page were much in demand guitarists and Madeline Bell,  Merry Clayton, Lesley Duncan, Darlene Love, Joe Brown’s wife Vicky, a pre-famous Luther Vandross and the sisters Sue and Sunny all had their services requested for backing singers. This week’s suggestion concentrates on one half of the latter duo’s only solo UK hit, Sunny.

Sue and Sonny were real sisters who were born Yvonne and Heather Wheatman respectively in Madras in India and began singing professionally in 1963 under the name The Myrtelles. “I cut my first record when I was 12,” Sunny recalled in an interview with Michael Benton. “It was called Just Let Me Cry and was released by Oriole Records. Then when I was 15, I teamed up with my sister, and turned professional. Our work in those days consisted of cabaret dates, but after three years of doing them, we both realised they were too old for us – the audiences.” They briefly changed their names to Sue and Sunshine before setting with Sue and Sunny. They came to London in the early 60s and began working with Kenny Lynch who suggested they change their name to The Stockingtops, but they didn’t like that and moved on.

Before they settled permanently in the UK, they played in Europe as Sunny explained, “We went to Germany to play the air force bases, only this time we put on a more girlish act. But once again we felt the work wasn’t right. We had to sing all the old standards and they didn’t really suit a couple of teenagers. We felt trapped. We decided to come back to London.”

Once back in London, three or four years went by with nothing much happening the girls were beginning to lose interest when their lucky break happened, “One day we got a call from Lesley Duncan who asked us if we’d help her do a session. She was absolutely desperate so we agreed. Anyway, the session went really well and things materialised from there.” That, in turn, led to a session with Love Affair and can be prominently heard singing the line ‘So lead me where the rainbow ends’ in the 1968 hit Rainbow Valley which peaked at number five. Next stop – a number one hit. “We were asked if we’d like to back Joe Cocker. It really flipped me because I had always admired him, not only for his singing but for the tremendous amount of effort he puts into everything he does,” and just six months later they sang on his cover of the Beatles’ With A Little Help from My Friends. That song also launched Joe Cocker’s career in the States and he undertook the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour which was manic but Sue and Sunny reluctantly turned down the invitation, “I really wanted to do that tour, but it was such a long one that Sue and myself knew we’d have a hard time keeping up the pace.” confessed Sunny.

They joined the first incarnation of Brotherhood of Man in 1970 and sang alongside their male counterpart Tony Burrows and can be heard on United We Stand and then again with Burrows on Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) by Edison Lighthouse. Over the next few years they became backing singers for Elton, John, Dusty Springfield, Giorgio Moroder, Donna Summer, Frank Zappa, T-Rex, Mott The Hoople, David Bowie and Tom Jones and probably made more appearances on Top of the Pops than Tony Burrows.

Then came Sunny’s only UK hit single under her own name and on her own. She explained why Sue was not involved, “After Brotherhood of Man folded, Sue decided she wanted to spend some time having babies, so I was just left to get on with things by myself. The song writer Roger Cook knew that I was going solo and rang me up to say that he had a song for me. Anyway, I went round to see him, heard the song and thought it might do something. I wasn’t sure because I’d chosen songs in the past and they’d flopped. I recorded it in November 1973 with Roger Greenaway producing and Chris Gunning provided the arrangement. I also wrote the flip side It’s Only When You’re Lonely. You know, I’m crazy about lyrics and lady singers, especially people like Billie Holliday, Nancy Wilson, Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross.”

She also recorded an album also called Doctor’s Orders which included some songs from the Cook & Greenaway stable as well as a cover version of the Drifters’ 1973 hit Like Sister and Brother. A follow up single, A Warm and Tender Romance was released but failed to chart thus leaving Sunny as a one-hit-wonder, but, then again, how can she be given the number of hits she’s been on?

The song has been covered by numerous people including Carol Douglas who took the song to number 11 in the States as well as charting in Belgium, France, Italy, New Zealand, Germany and its best placing of number two in Spain. There have also been versions recorded in different languages and genres, in French by a lady called Sheila,  a reggae version by Pluto, one by the soul musician Van McCoy, another by Giti Pashae with Persian lyrics and one in Finnish by Lea Laven retitled as Viittiks Tulla Takas. It’s certainly been around the world that song.

UK number ones that start and end with the same letter

There are 55 UK number ones that have a title which start and end with the same letter, here is the list.

Title Artist
America Razorlight
Deeper Underground Jamiroquai
Do You Mind Anthony Newley
Don’t Turn Around Aswad
Don’t You Worry Child Swedish House Mafia Feat John Martin
Eastside Benny Blanco & Halsey & Khalid
Easy Love Sigala
Ebeneezer Goode Shamen
Eternal Flame Atomic Kitten
Eternal Flame Bangles
Everlasting Love Love Affair
Every Breath You Take Police
Everybody In Love JLS
Everytime Britney Spears
Give Me Everything Pitbull Feat Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer
Good Feeling Flo Rida
Hallelujah Alexandra Burke
Hangin’ Tough New Kids on The Block
Heaven Is A Place On Earth Belinda Carlisle
Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini Bombalurina
Living Doll Cliff Richard and The Drifters,
Living Doll Cliff Richard and The Young Ones Feat Hank Marvin
Long Haired Lover From Liverpool Little Jimmy Osmond
Look At That Girl Guy Mitchell
Millennium Robbie Williams
Never Be The Same Again Melanie C Feat Lisa ‘Left-Eye’ Lopes
Return To Sender Elvis Presley With the Jordanaires
Rhythm Is A Dancer Snap
River Eminem Feat Ed Sheeran
River Ellie Goulding
Roar Katy Perry
Rockstar Dababy Feat Roddy Ricch
Rockstar Post Malone Feat 21 Savage
Rollercoaster B*Witched
Running Bear Johnny Preston
Sealed With A Kiss Jason Donovan
Seven Tears Goombay Dance Band
She Wears Red Feathers Guy Mitchell
Sign Of The Times Harry Styles
Singing The Blues Guy Mitchell
Singing The Blues Tommy Steele and The Steelmen
Sixteen Tons Tennessee Ernie Ford
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes Platters
Stitches Shawn Mendes
Summer Nights John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John
Suspicious Minds Will Young & Gareth Gates
Thank U Next Ariana Grande
The Lion Sleeps Tonight Tight Fit
Tiger Feet Mud
Total Eclipse Of The Heart Bonnie Tyler
Travellin’ Light Cliff Richard and The Shadows
Twilight Cover Drive
Twist And Shout Chaka Demus And Pliers with Jack Radics &Taxi Gang
Who’s Sorry Now Connie Francis
You’re Driving Me Crazy Temperance Seven

Freddie Mercury

This week Freddie Mercury would have celebrated his 75th birthday. Hard to believe it’s almost 30 years since he passed away but what a performer and I had the privilege of meeting him twice.

His solo career began in 1984 and ran concurrently alongside Queen for a few years. Prior to the re-issue of Barcelona which tied in with the Olympic Games that year and the re-mix of Living on My Own the following year, Freddie’s cover of the Platters’ The Great Pretender was his biggest solo hit single which peaked at number four in March 1987.

Let’s remember the greatest showman and his hit that could almost be biographical.