There’s a certain poignancy that Men in Black should be number one in the UK on a day when millions of people around the world might have been wearing black to mourn the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
At the end of 1996, Will, having had hits as one-half of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, dropped his rap moniker, quit The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air after six years and became a Hollywood movie star. He loved recording and the following year released his first album Big Willie Style, under his own name. He had finished filming his seventh movie, Men in Black, the title song of which appeared on the album. The song became his first UK number one as a solo artist.
Will was born Willard Carroll Smith Jr. in September 1968 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He had no intention of going to college but wanted to become a singer and actor. His first film role was as Ta Cake Walters in the 1993 film Made in America and then as Paul in Six Degrees of Separation later the same year. By 1997, he was landing major movie roles and that year he was chosen to star opposite Tommy Lee in Men in Black. The story focused on two NYPD agents Jay (Will) and Kay (Tommy) who alongside a pathologist, Laura Weaver, are asked to track down and wipe out an alien called Edgar who is out to assassinate two ambassadors. It was the executive producer, Steven Spielberg who brought in Will. He said, “He’s funny and he’s serious, all rolled into one. And he’s a totally honest actor.” Tommy Lee said of Will, “He is double cool. I just hoped I could keep up with him in the cool department.”
15 months before Men in Black topped the chart, George Michael had a number one with Fastlove, both songs sampled Patrice Rushen’s 1982 number eight hit Forget Me Nots. The original line in Patrice’s hit was ‘To help you to remember’ but was changed to ‘They won’t let you remember’ in Men in Black to fit in with the theme of the film. The female singer on this version was Cheryl Clemons, former vocalist with SWV.
Will also became the king of sampling because over the following five years he had top three hits with: Getting’ Jiggy Wit It (sampling Sister Sledge’s He’s The Greatest Dancer), Miami (using The Whispers’ And The Beat Goes On), Wild Wild West from the film of the same name (using Stevie Wonder’s I Wish) and Will 2K (which sampled The Clash’s Rock The Casbah).
Despite spending four weeks atop the UK singles chart it was not released as a single in the US, which, because then-chart rules disqualified it from the Billboard hot 100 Singles chart, but because of heavy rotation on the radio it spent four weeks at the summit of the Billboard airplay chart. Possibly a clever move by the record company as it boosted sales of the soundtrack album instead. It did go on to win a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance.
The song was produced by Jean Claude Olivier & Samuel Barnes who use the moniker Poke & Tone. They had already produced hits by Soul For Real, Nas and Foxy Brown but Men in Black gave them their first number one. They have since worked on over 25 UK hit by acts including Jay-Z, LL Cool J, Destiny’s Child and Rihanna.
On New Year’s Eve 1997, Will married the actress Jada Pinkett. He has since gone on to star in the films, Enemy Of The State (1998), The Legend Of Bagger Vance (2000) and the sequel to Men In Black, Men In Black II (2002), The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), Men in Black 3 (2012), Suicide Squad (2016) and Gemini Man which is released this month. His 2002 hit, Black Suit’s Comin’ (Nod Ya Head) was lifted from the Men In Black II soundtrack and reached number three. His last two hits to date were Switch and Party Starter in 2005.
Spandau Ballet chart 20 UK hit singles and Gary wrote everyone of them. They spent a hot of 159 weeks on the UK singles chart and one of their finest songs was the 1984 top three hit Only When You Leave which is about a man who crave a woman he knows is not really right for him, but continues to chase her. Tony Hadley’s superb voice just nails every song. Enjoy.
Over the years, a number of singers have turned into radio broadcasters and using Radio 2 as an example, Jimmy Young, Michael Ball, Elaine Paige & Ana Matronic have all done just that but the other way round is quite a rarity. Jim Reeves is one but he never considered himself a singer despite charting over 25 UK and US hit singles as well as 73 hits on the Billboard Country chart. This week we look at his debut UK hit.
James Travis Reeves was born in Panola County, Texas in August 1923 and after completing his education had aspirations to become a baseball player, but due to an ankle injury that ambition was short-lived. So instead he moved to Shreveport, Louisiana and began work as a radio announcer on KWKH. With his deep rich voice he was occasionally encouraged to sing in between announcements. He got his first recording contract with Macy’s in 1950 and joined the Louisiana Hayride cast three years later, two years after that he joined the Grand Ole Opry.
His first country hit was Mexican Joe in 1953 which spent nine weeks at the top and followed it with Bimbo which topped the country chart for three weeks. His 1957 eight-week chart topper became his first Billboard Hot 100 hit. The following year the Roger Miller-penned Billy Bayou gave him another five weeks at the top. But it was in 1959 that he really hit the big time when the Joe and Audrey Allison song He’ll Have to Go gave him his first UK hit and spent a whopping 14 weeks at number one on the U.S. country chart.
The song is seemingly about a man ringing his wife or girlfriend and feeling that she is cheating on him because he thinks there is someone there with her and explaining that he can’t say the intimate things he normally would when another man is on the scene.
Jim Reeves made that song his own making you believe that the problem was between him and his significant other, but in truth, it’s not a true story and no one else was involved, but it was a real phone call that inspired it.
The song was written by the husband and wife song writing couple, Joe and Audrey Allison and one day Joe was out and called his wife to check everything was ok, but the trouble was that Audrey had such a soft voice that Joe couldn’t hear what she was saying and kept asking her to repeat herself. He asked her one more time to speak up and put her mouth closer to the receiver so he could hear her properly which she finally did and all was ok.
When Joe arrived home he saw a piece of paper which was always kept by the phone and saw a single line of writing which Audrey had written that read, ‘put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone’. After realising it was from their earlier conversation he noted that Audrey had changed mouth to lips and thus inspired a memorable song which now felt like it was a conversation between two lovers. Instead of talking to Audrey about what she had written and asking if she wanted to add to it, he just carried on writing and within a matter of minutes, Joe had just about finished the song.
It seems unlikely that either of them would have come up with that song alone, but it was her line that triggered the song. They called it He’ll Have to Go and gave it to Columbia records who got one of their new signings, Billy Brown, to record it first. The label failed to promote it properly and song only got occasional airplay on the country stations. One of those few occasions was lucky for Jim Reeves who heard it and wanted to record it straightaway. He was advised to hold off just to see if Brown’s version would do anything. Jim just knew that this song was the one saying to his close associates, “This is going to be the big one. No matter what I’ve done in the past, or ever will do, He’ll Have to Go is going to be the one that will live on.” Thankfully, Brown’s version didn’t go anywhere and it was agreed that Jim would record it in Nashville.
The recording sessions at the Little Victor studios in Nashville usually took place in the afternoons and evenings, but Jim asked for an early morning recording session because he knew his deep voice sounded more resonant in the morning and knew he could do it justice. Jim’s regular musicians were known as the A Team and all were there in the morning and they comprised, Floyd Cramer on piano, Hank Garland on guitar, Bob Moore on bass and Buddy Harman on drums. The backing voices were the Anita Kerr singers and producer Chet Atkins brought Marvin Hughes in to add a touch of vibraphone. It was the third take that nailed it and in the same session three other songs were recorded, one of them being In A Mansion Stands My Love, which was put on the other side of the record.
Just when it was time to sit back and watch the record fly, a spanner was put in the works by RCA. Jim’s label had decided in their infinite wisdom to relegate He’ll Have to Go to the B-side and, instead, promote In A Mansion Stands My Love. Jim and Chet were furious. Once the record was serviced to radio stations, many of the DJs agreed with Jim and Chet by actually playing the B side and thus He’ll Have to Go became the big hit and his first UK hit reaching number 12.
Jim had taken a pilot’s test and qualified but, like Roger Peterson – the pilot of the Buddy Holly plane crash – he was only qualified to fly VFR (visual flight rules) and on the afternoon of Friday 31st July 1964, Jim, and his manager Dean Manuel, were en route to Nashville International Airport from Batesville, Arkansas when they encountered a storm and heavy rain and literally within 60 second the plane had nose-dived and both men died instantly. There was a lot of confusion surrounding the moments leading up to the crash with one story being that he was flying upside down, but this was incorrect and attested by an eye-witness and singer Marty Robbins who remembered hearing the crash and helped direct investigators to the location. More confusion was added when the Nashville Controller John Hettish pinpointed the exact spot of the impact but investigators still took a couple of days to locate the wreckage. There is further fascinating reading on this in Jim Reeves: His Untold Story which was published in 2011 by author Larry Jordan.
The week Jim died, ironically I Won’t Forget You was on its way down the UK chart from number four but went back to a new peak of number three. Two years later Jim had his only UK number one with Distant Drums which he’d originally recorded purely as a demo for Roy Orbison.
In 1967, Jim Reeves was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and 31 years later, he was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. That is where his Memorial is situated with the inscription, ‘If I, a lowly singer, dry one tear, or soothe one humble human heart in pain, then my homely verse to God is dear, and not one stanza has been sung in vain.’
Sue Wilkinson had one quirky hit in 1980 called You Gotta Be a Hustler If You Wanna Get On and she would have celebrated her 75th birthday this week.
There are a number of rumours and some incorrect information going round about Sue including that she had acting roles in both General Hospital and Coronation Street, these are untrue. About nine years ago, I had a brief interview with Trisha O’Keefe who was Sue’s producer and friend who told me the aforementioned information and the fact she was born in 1944 not 1943 as various sites including Wikipedia claim.
She was signed to Cheapskate Records which was owned by Chas Chandler who was managing Slade at the time and there was also another rumour that Don Powell of the band played drums on the track and made the peculiar twanging noises, but as Trisha confirmed, “Don Powell did not appear on track, he wasn’t on the scene when the track was first recorded – but did make an appearance with Sue on Top of The Pops as a guest celebrity which Chas suggested and he was miming with an ordinary drum kit. I was the one banging and twanging things on the record!” The man on the keyboard is Andy Millar-Reid.
You Gotta Be A Hustler If You Wanna Get On was originally called You Gotta Be A Scrubber If You Wanna Get On but it was Doreen Davies at Radio 1 who used to run the playlist meeting who suggested it be changed if they wanted airplay.
The single was taken from her only album, a 17-tracker called Looking for Cover. Three further singles were released, Time ‘N’ Tide, Women Only and Toy Boys but all failed to capture the public’s imagination.
“Sue eventually moved to Nashville to work with several major songwriters,” Trisha explained, “and had huge success as a jingle writer out there. She was sadly diagnosed with breast cancer and returned to the UK, where she died in 2005.
Let’s remember that great little quirky hit which reached number 25 in the UK.