Sounds Of The 60s

The Exciting Mr. Fitch by Cleo Laine (Fontana, 1965).

Even despite its early start on a Saturday Morning, few radio shows have ever become as permanent and immovable a fixture in my schedule as BBC Radio 2’s Sounds Of The 60s. As well as its cheerfully esoteric links back to a simpler and more straightforward time for both radio and pop music, it also introduced me to a phenomenal amount of records – now obscure, but very much chart hopefuls at the time (even the weird ones) – that I might not have discovered otherwise. More recently, I became one of the suitably upbeat and enthusiastic crowd of Sounds Of The 60s Live Tweeters, and when Brian Matthew finally retired from the show in 2017, I saw him off with a series of heartfelt messages of gratitude that received a ridiculous amount of ‘Likes’ for that hour on a Saturday. It’s almost as though people had got up hoping to hear Sorry Mr. Green by The Walham Green East Wapping Carpet Cleaning Rodent And Boggit Extermination Association.

Those comments later formed the basis of a new piece about Sounds Of The 60s, which you can find in Can’t Help Thinking About Me (available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here). In it I mention a few records that I went out looking for after hearing them on the show, and to save you having to rifle through a cardboard box of 7″s with torn sleeves for the wrong record label where the left hand side of it is coming away in your nearest charity shop, here’s a playlist of them, complete with ‘sleevenotes’…

Tomorrow – My White Bicycle

Regulars on London’s psychedelic circuit who never quite achieved the same sort of lasting fame as Pink Floyd, Soft Machine or The Jimi Hendrix Experience, due to a combination of poor promotion, frontman Keith West scoring a massive hit with Excerpt From A Teenage Opera and confusing live promoters, and EMI releasing their album with a black and white cover to save money. Most of their records were sonically ambitious even by 1967 standards, and this song about a radical scheme by Dutch activists to flood Amsterdam with ‘ownerless’ white bicycles comes drenched in so many backwards effects (and shouting coppers) that it really does sound the way that racing through the streets on a bike feels. Make sure you never listen to the stereo mix, though.

You can read more about Tomorrow – and an unusual Beatles cover featured on their lone album – here.

Joanie Sommers – Don’t Pity Me

A blue-eyed soul stomper that pretty much nobody really noticed back in 1965, but later became a huge favourite in Northern Soul circles, to the extent that a copy of the original US release on Warner Bros. will set you back somewhere in the region of seven hundred quid. Cheaper later versions are of course perfectly acceptable for spending Saturday nights attempting a triple spin before landing on one foot in perfect synchronisation to the ‘please, please, please – don’t pity me’ bit.

Mark Wirtz – He’s Our Dear Old Weatherman

Tomorrow’s producer had huge plans for the ‘Teenage Opera’ concept, which ultimately came to nothing but not before he’d been able to issue a number of singles intended for it, including this ode to an old-fashioned barometer-decrying forecaster which whistles and clatters around like some kind of hazardously dilapidated cuckoo clock. I heard this for the first time at the end of a ‘three in a row’ feature on Sounds Of The 60s, following My White Bicycle and Kippington Lodge’s cover of Tomorrow’s possibly Teenage Opera-affiliated Shy Boy; it hadn’t been announced but I guessed it was coming up and was almost literally on the edge of my seat with excitement at finally hearing it. That’s how fantastic the show was.

The Lemon Tree – William Chalker’s Time Machine

More psychedelic pop hopefuls with a song written for them by Ace Kefford from The Move, who presumably had not been watching Doctor Who at all honest. Although it wasn’t a hit, it does underline just how weird mainstream pop got for a couple of minutes in 1967 before Engelbert Humperdinck forced far out back in again, with alarming echoey brass and hammering ‘time travel’ guitar and organ bits. Also, it sounds possibly not entirely coincidentally similar to the theme from Here Come The Double Deckers!

Jake Thackray – Lah Di Dah

Hearty toasts and risky jokes aplenty in this droll admission to dreading a wedding reception crammed with awful relatives, which is both one of the funniest records ever made and yet more proof that the frowny-faced moaning that Jake’s sixties records should not have been orchestrated is a load of earnester-than-thou nonsense. It simply wouldn’t be as good without it.

Incidentally you can find my thoughts on Jake’s Christmas single Joseph here.

Cleo Laine – The Exciting Mr. Fitch

A rattling percussion and ludicrously fast piano-backed lust-fuelled longing for the dubious delights of the titular rogueish aesthete who knows how to satisfy a woman culturally as well as physically, which is altogether a much more feminist-friendly number than it possibly sounds from that description. If you don’t believe me, have a listen to the album it was recorded in tandem with, 1966’s ‘pipe down, blokes’ effort Woman Talk.

There’s lots more on Cleo and Johnny’s often overlooked back catalogue here.

Glenda Collins – I Lost My Heart At The Fairground

Joe Meek wrote and produced this Tornados-backed tale of being stood up by The Boy On The Swing Machine, which it’s fairly safe to assume was based on a true story that ran somewhat slightly differently to the one that beehive-sporting Glenda relates. It zips along in a whirl of flashing lights, tinny tannoys and cheap clanking thrills that make it all too clear that messing about with studio effects and ‘sound pictures’ was going on years before Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play. It’s also possible that Steven Patrick Morrissey may have heard it more than once. Although he is officially banned from ever listening to it again. And if he doesn’t like it he can go crying to his sweaty mate Nigel.

Alan Klein – Three Coins In The Sewer

Another Joe Meek production, with the foremost pop parodist at a time when pop had barely got started taking a swipe at big romantic film themes in this tale of a couple of shillings accidentally dropped down the drain on the way to a big night out.

You can read more about his fantastic 1964 album Well At Least It’s British – which three decades later would inadvertently invent Britpop – in Not On Your Telly, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Bernard Cribbins – Winkle Picker Shoes Blues

Bernard Cribbins made a string of great singles with George Martin – as you can hear me talking about in (Music For The) Head Ballet here – that are as sonically inventive as they are funny. From the b-side of the slightly more widely heard The Hole In The Ground, here’s a lament for an ill-advised footwear choice that has left him with wonky toes, an inability to participate in Youth Club dances, and a general bewilderment at how the ‘ell you clean ’em. Hooray for gumboots!

William Chalker's Time Machine by The Lemon Tree (Parlophone, 1967).

Buy A Book!

You can find my feature on Sounds Of The 60s – and lots more about radio and sixties pop in general – in Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of columns and features with a persona twist. Can’t Help Thinking About Me is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Alternately, if you’re just feeling generous, you can buy me a coffee here. Use Alan Klein’s three coins if you have to.

Further Listening

If you enjoyed this, you’ll enjoy Funny Ha Ha And Funny Peculiar, a playlist of records by sixties comedians (including Bernard Cribbins) that are much better than they have any right to be; you can listen to it here.

Further Reading

Diggin’ The Dankworths is a look at the hidden highlights in Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth’s back catalogue; you can find it here.

© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.