Gordon Thompson is Professor of Music at Skidmore College. His book, Please Please Me: Sixties British Pop, Inside Out, offers an insider’s view of the British pop-music recording industry. In the post below he looks at February of 1965. Check out Thompson’s other posts here.
Forty-five years ago in February 1965, British pop music rattled recording sales charts with a second wave of performers who followed in the footsteps of the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Animals, and more. Among the many new sounds broadcast either by the BBC or by the growing number of pirate radio stations that winter were recordings by the Who, Herman’s Hermits, and the Ivy League. Such was the nature of the British music and recording industries that a convenient myth emphasized the authenticity and self-sufficiency of these bands; however, reality held something rather more complicated.
Among the many that flocked to London to join the music revolution came two youngsters by bus from Birmingham who hoped to make their living as songwriters. To support themselves while they established publishing reputations, they found a niche as performers and session musicians in the booming recording industry. Terry Kennedy of the music publisher Southern Music renamed the young John Shakespeare and Ken Hawker as John Carter and Ken Lewis and eventually added Perry Ford (née Bryan Pugh) to create a song-writing and performing trio.
February saw the Who’s first single, “I Can’t Explain” slowly rise in the charts in a crisp Shel Talmy production (see last month’s blog); but the American artist-and-repertoire manager had needed to maximize the constraints of the three-track recording facilities at Pye Records. With limited ability to overdub vocals and the desire to keep the sound clean, he brought in Carter, Lewis, and Ford as backup singers so that guitarist-composer Pete Townsend could focus on his playing. Their high-falsetto, Beach-Boys-like vocals helped the Who and Shel Talmy create a touchstone of sixties-British-pop records.
Talmy represented only one of a growing number of independent artist-and-repertoire managers, a new echelon that financed, made, and sold their own recordings rather than take salaries from a record company. Mickie Most had established his importance the previous year with the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” and he now saw possibilities in the toothy grin and nasal voice of the young Peter Noone, renamed “Herman” in imitation of an American cartoon character. The recording reality of Herman’s Hermits found session musicians like Vic Flick (the guitarist whose distinctive sound appears in the early James Bond films) playing on their singles. Not only were Carter and Lewis also involved in the recording of Herman’s Hermits’ “Silhouettes,” but they had also written and performed on the disk’s flip side, “Can’t You Hear My Heart Beat.” This record now joined “I Can’t Explain” on the British charts.
If the competition between these and other recordings were not enough, Carter and Lewis with Ford released their own recording produced by Terry Kennedy and under the name, “The Ivy League.” They had released their first records as Carter-Lewis and the Southerners (with a young Jimmy Page on guitar) and had established a reputation among London’s music community for reliability and precision. On their “Funny How Love Can Be,” they brought their distinctive falsetto voices to bear upon a tune accompanied by some of the finest session musicians of the day, including guitarist Big Jim Sullivan and drummer Clem Cattini.
That disk would go to number eight on British charts, as would “I Can’t Explain,” while Herman’s Hermits would reach number three with their release. On the 11 and 25 February editions of the BBC’s Top of the Pops, Herman’s Hermits and the Ivy League would mime to their records with the Who doing the same on ITV’s Ready, Steady, Go! on 26 February. Of course, mimed performances allowed the continuation of the conceit that bands did everything on their records and the public consumed this myth eagerly.