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Dec 04

BILLY J KRAMER AND THE DAKOTAS – “Bad To Me”

Popular27 comments • 2,687 views

#156, 24th August 1963

When pop critics go to the amusement park we tend not to wander further than the rollercoasters. “Rollercoaster ride” became a cliche because it’s such a good way of summing up the rattling three-minute thrill of a great single. But parks have other attractions, and so does pop. Leon Cassidy invented the “dark ride” in 1928 – a sedate single-rail panorama past a succession of scenes designed to surprise, delight and satisfy. Think of a ghost train, or Pirates Of The Carribean, or the Tunnel of Love.

The joy in the rollercoaster lies in the adrenalin. The dark ride relies on its ability to enthral you moment-to-moment, and to have the succession of those moments make a deep aesthetic sense. Lennon and McCartney, who wrote “Bad For Me” and passed it on to Kramer, could play the rollercoasters but the songs they wrote were often ‘dark rides’. “Bad To Me” leads me at a trot through a series of melodic turns, sometimes unexpected, always pleasing.

I’m reaching for a cumbersome metaphor because the simple question ‘what makes a good tune?’ always turns out bloody difficult. I suppose it doesn’t help that I’m no musicologist – but even if musicology can describe a melody where I can’t, it’s still not usually much good at expressing what that melody does to one. Is there a notational explanation for the sense of rightness I get from the “sad…bad…me” sequence in this song? And if there was, does that mean that using the same melodic sequence would have the same effect in a different song?

It seems to me that Lennon and McCartney were, before anything else, fantastic at taking the listener through a song. The arrangement, with its strong piano chords as signposts, helps create the sense of hand-holding. But the lyrics and even the performance of “Bad To Me” are quite beside the point (in fact the paper mood of the lyrics would ordinarily be scuppered by as sweet a tune). This may be one key to the Beatles’ enormous cross-cultural and cross-generational popularity. Terrific tune, anyway.

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Comments

  1. 1
    SteveIson on 22 Jul 2008 #

    Yeh,this is a lovely,charming tune..You might be able to find some explanation of the ‘rightness’ of the melodic beauty from some music theorist-but it would never explain its magic..Intuitive,natural and born on Lennon/McCartneys love of pop and its sense of freedom……

  2. 2
    Lena on 14 Jun 2011 #

    For another song of theirs by Lennon/McCartney, I just wrote about a previous one at http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/06/people-who-know-people-billy-j-kramer-html. Thanks for reading!

  3. 3
    wichita lineman on 15 Jun 2011 #

    Poor Billy J, all under-appreciated. A very sweet single, but I’ve always preferred a couple of other Lennon/McCartney gifts to Bill – I’ll Keep You Satisfied (no.4) and, especially, From A Window (no.10) which could easily have been a number one if it had come out 6 months earlier – the Mersey boom tailed off incredibly quickly in ’64.

  4. 4
    punctum on 16 Jun 2011 #

    Billy’s sister did rather better in the seventies and eighties, although she doesn’t bother Popular – you may know her best as Elkie Brooks (nee Elaine Bookbinder).

  5. 5
    wichita lineman on 16 Jun 2011 #

    Really?? I had no idea.

    Most Creme Brulee entry on Wikipedia evah:

    “In 1983 Kramer released a solo single called You Can’t Live On Memories, which failed to chart.”

  6. 6
    Mark G on 16 Jun 2011 #

    #4 Elkie Brooks’ brother was Tony Mansfield, drummer in The Dakotas.

    (Sorry p, it’s not often yr rong, but there you go for once)

  7. 7
    punctum on 16 Jun 2011 #

    Well that’s the 1981 edition of the Guinness Book Of Hit Singles wrong, then.

  8. 8
    wichita lineman on 16 Jun 2011 #

    Guinness book? Wrong? Never! Actually p, I’ve been wondering if there’s a corrected list of errors in the book somewhere online – people always say it’s flawed but I’m not sure how (beyond completely missing a Top 10 hit in the first edition, Johnny Mann Singers’ Up Up And Away).

    At the risk of stereotyping, I’d say Elkie looks particularly Jewish and Billy doesn’t. But then so do I!

    Not THAT Tony Mansfield, I assume?

    Do You Want To Know A Secret was a “missing” number one, which would have given Billy three no.1s from his first four singles. And, after that, a no.10 and out. Bit like the 60s B*witched.

  9. 9
    punctum on 16 Jun 2011 #

    The last edition of Guinness came out in 2006 and is packed end-to-end with laughable errors*. No wonder the franchise got dropped. Virgin took over the chart book market afterwards but their books are so dreary in format and approach it’s as if they’re not even trying in the face of Chart Stats, which latter presumably makes Guinness corrections redundant (it took almost until the nineties until they admitted they’d missed out Teri de Sario).

    *The biggest being: what is the point of a Guinness Book Of Hit Singles And Albums if you miss out every Various Artists album?

  10. 10
    wichita lineman on 16 Jun 2011 #

    Teri de Sario?

    P – was there ever a Julius La Rosa hit in any chart, do you know? I heard of somebody willing to pay a kings ransom for a copy of one of his London 45s and I can’t think why else this would be the case.

    Yes, I remember all the K-Tel albums being excluded. I’ve offloaded all my old Guinness books except the first two (formative, touchstone stuff) and the last one.

    Tried convincing the Official Charts Co to brighten up the Virgin book, in vain. It’s SO dull.

  11. 11
    Mark G on 16 Jun 2011 #

    One of the editions was packed with errors and typos (The Bodysnatchers’ hit was called “Easy Life” not “Enz Live”, for example, and Herb Alpert’s “Rise” single was given over to somebody entirely different)

    Bad rendering could have resulted in the sentence “Elkie Brooks is the sister of Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas drummer” being commuted, for instance.

    Still, now there’s the internet and chartstats website (moribund though it might be right now), the market for an ever-increasing “all the hits” book is reduced. Guinness did some good decade-specific books but that’s all over now, right?

  12. 12
    AndyPandy on 16 Jun 2011 #

    And hasnt the Official Charts Company’s insistence that ‘Please Please Me’ never got to Number 1 amongst other things made anything they say chart records-wise rather dubious/pointless anyway…

  13. 13
    punctum on 16 Jun 2011 #

    Julius LaRosa only had the one hit in the UK – something called “Torero” which managed to get to #15 in July 1958 and I don’t even remember it from Jimmy Savile’s Double Top Ten Show/Old Record Club which in my youth covered pre-Beatles chart territory pretty comprehensively.

    Teri de Sario made #52 in September 1978 with the Gibb bros’ “Ain’t Nothing Gonna Keep Me From You” (very fine record, should have done a lot better) but for years the Guinness people haughtily snorted at the very notion of her existence, “We Never Make Mistakes,” &c.

    The “Please Please Me” situation we’ve discussed many times in the Popular past and I guess it’s just bad luck that the only chart not to have the record at number one is the one which has become the “official” chart of record. Copyright innit. NME charts? What they?*

    *now here’s a thing: L & I recently got hold of the Complete NME Album Charts book (goes up to 1994; don’t know whether there were further updates but suspect that there weren’t) and, whaddya know, there are tons of NME-only number one albums, and some damn fine (and important) ones to boot, which fill in a lot of TPL gaps. Am wondering whether/how to incorporate these into my main blog viz. (a) I feel I’ve got enough work to do with the Guinness ones BUT (b) I don’t really want to miss any of the NME-only ones out. I guess the solution is to start a sort of satellite blog but do you reckon this is a good idea or a one-way trip to the cardiac tent?

  14. 14
    Mark G on 16 Jun 2011 #

    Ah, now I do remember “Torero”, and it’s a wonderful thing.

    I don’t know Jul’s version (presumably in English), but I have the Renato Carosone original version. Basically it’s about someone who reckons to be a magnificent bullfighter, just come from Santa Fe, off to hollywood “and neither of those two things are true… Torero!”

    Which translates as “Bull!” which loses nothing in translation.

    Renato Carosone also did the track that got sampled for “no speak americano” which sounds a lot like “Torero” in arrangement.

  15. 15
    Mutley on 16 Jun 2011 #

    Julius LaRosa had a big hit in the US with his partially self-penned Eh, Cumpari in 1953. It sort of indirectly got to no.1 in the UK, in that it was the B side to the Stargazers no.1 I see the Moon in March 1954. Sticking with the no.1 theme, the latter also got a ‘1’ rating in Popular.

  16. 16
    wichita lineman on 17 Jun 2011 #

    Almost as controversial as Vincent, that 1 one.

    Cheers for J La Rosa info, everyone. A quick peek reveals no copies of Torero on ebay or gemm, so I guess that’s the one the bloke was after (even though it seems quite late for a hardtogethit 45).

    P, a supplementary blog? Depends how much time you have, and whether K-Tel/Pickwick albums qualified on other charts (well, that last bit matters to me anyway).

    Never quite understood why people are SO exercised by Please Please Me’s no.2 Guinness placing. Stranger On The Shore was no.1 elsewhere (everywhere else?) too and poor Acker Bilk never scored a no.1. Unlike the Beatles who did alright, really.

  17. 17
    weej on 17 Jun 2011 #

    The 1960s conflicting charts problem is a tricky one, but I reckon I have a solution.
    The arguments for the Record Retailer chart seem to be that it had and uninterrupted run and extended to 50 places, and the argument for the NME and MM charts seems to be that they had a much larger sample (over 100 shops compared to RR’s 30).
    So, why not then have a formula like this – for each song calculate (50-(chart placing))*(number of shops reporting) for each chart, add up the figures and make a new definitive chart nobody can argue with?
    Sorry if I’m being terribly naive here, expect somebody’s had the same idea before, but why doesn’t someone have a go? All that would be needed to get it right are databases of all the charts (with accurate estimates of reporting shop numbers) and some fairly good software to do all the calculating and sorting.

  18. 18
    punctum on 17 Jun 2011 #

    The BBC had a go at this in the sixties, although I think their solution – totting up average chart positions from all the other main charts – wasn’t quite as technically sophisticated. At one point in August/September 1968 they had four singles tied at number one in their chart; the British Market Research Bureau got the contract very shortly thereafter.

    This is a tempting idea, however, and I’m perfectly willing to give it a go if someone is prepared to pay me big bucks to do so.

  19. 19
    wichita lineman on 17 Jun 2011 #

    I couldn’t even get OCC funding to do the sheet music charts! Bah!

    Does anyone have complete chart listings for papers other than NME and Record Retailer? I think the Radio London charts are online, entirely unrepresentative of sales but interesting to see what they were playing (lots more soul than the BBC, not that surprisingly).

  20. 20
    wichita lineman on 17 Jun 2011 #

    Back to Billy J, who is getting a little forgotten here. This is Second To None , the flip of From A Window from 1964. A hint of yearning, backed manfully by rich, thick acoustic guitars – it’s a step up from first generation Merseybeat, a hint of where it could’ve gone if R&B hadn’t wiped it out, and I find it really really touching.

  21. 21
    Lena on 17 Jun 2011 #

    And now here’s the number two behind this – http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/06/manchester-enters-freddie-and-dreamers-html – complete with free aerobics video (so to speak)…

  22. 22
    Mark G on 17 Jun 2011 #

    http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/06/manchester-enters-freddie-and-dreamers.html you keep losing the last dot for some reason..

  23. 23
    lonepilgrim on 13 Oct 2011 #

    The Freddie & The Dreamers song at number 2 got to number 1 in the US – as celebrated here:

    http://nohardchords.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/132-freddie-and-the-dreamers-im-telling-you-now/

  24. 24
    richard thompson on 28 Feb 2012 #

    Saw Billy J live at the cavern club in 2011, he said Do you want to know a secret was his first number one, the NME chart was seen as the main chart of the time I believe, Joe Brown says he doesn’t like the Guinness book, I spotted errors in the second edition of it.

  25. 25
    Mark G on 29 Feb 2012 #

    Just struck me how most of his singles (all up to Trains/Boats/Planes) listed the act as “BILLY J KRAMER with THE DAKOTAS”, as opposed to “and”..

    (This is not meant as a ‘correction’..)

    The ‘with’ seems like a ‘distancing’, leaving the door open for both acts to do records ‘without’ the other.

  26. 26
    wichita lineman on 29 Feb 2012 #

    The Dakotas were already a functioning instrumental group, from Manchester, and Brian Epstein hired them to back Billy who was at that singer with a Liverpool group The Coasters (presumably they weren’t up to scratch).

    They had a Top 20 hit with The Cruel Sea in 1963, in the middle of their BJK hit run. It was written by guitarist Mike Maxfield who was clearly no slouch:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAEcWLYrDuc

    …and later recorded a great fuzzy psych 45, The Spider And The Fly:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1XclmdVtcg

  27. 27
    lonepilgrim on 28 Jan 2015 #

    Yet another song with that latin(?) rhythm – it seems to allow writers to write lyrics in a more conversational mode with unusual stresses and beats. This is pleasant enough and not so familiar to me as some of the other hits we’ve had this year. Short and sweet guitar solo too.

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