Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Mrs Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" by Herman's Hermits (1965)

The record industry was every bit as clueless back then as they are today. When the Beatles broke into the consciousness of America in 1964, the fact of their being English was seen as a big thing. On the one hand, it is true that certain darlings of the British music industry (Robbie Williams, George Michael) sell nil in the States, but on the other hand finding Brits on the Billboard chart is so unexceptional today that a good amount of Americans would probably be quite unable to identify, say, Coldplay or Leona Lewis as in any way 'foreign'. Plus, it's not like the UK is especially exotic. Let's see someone from Burundi or East Timor atop the Billboard charts: that's impressive.

Anyway, back to the 60s. The novelty of the Beatles' success was such that American record companies started scrambling for any Brisith product, and the so-called 'British Invasion' was born. To the extent that this marketing manoeuvre gave us the Rolling Stones, the Who, Dusty Springfield and the Kinks, it was a welcome development. But anyone with a discernably English accent was lumped in as the 'next Beatles' and marketed en masse to the Americans. Which led to stuff like this.

As a continuation of British music-hall and skiffle trends, Herman's Hermits might not have been that bad. It's perhaps not their fault that they were promoted to the rock market. But agony strikes listeners of oldies stations across the globe today when stuff like this is stuck in with the greats of the mid-sixties.

I mean, just listen to it. It's got a bleeding ukelele, for God's sake. Okay, Wikipedia tells me it's a muted guitar, and that's what the guy in this mimed YouTube clip seems to be doing. But it sounds like a ukelele, and behind those intolerably flat and affected vocals, it might as well be a four-year-old with elastic bands stretched over a tissue box.

Herman's Hermits, who made a few non-excruciating songs, recorded two affronts to public decency: this, and “I'm Henry VIII, I am”. The latter is a much stupider song than this one, but it's knowlingly stupid, a clever-clever pastiche that fits comfortably into the 'novelty' category. This ridiculous piece of nonsense ultimately got the nod for inclusion here because it takes itself seriously: it's a 'sad' song about a girl who has fallen out of love with the protagonist, who like a mealworm writhes up to her mother to complain about it. This video performance shows just how unmusical and lifeless Peter Noone truly was: a man with no evident musical talent who lucked aboard the Beatles' ship and rode it for a few years.

Of course, fate being what it is, “Henry VIII” and “Mrs. Brown” were both Billboard number-ones on the USA. This particular fiasco spent three weeks at the peak before being surpassed by the Beatles' magnificent, forward-looking “Ticket to Ride”. A changing of the guard if ever one existed.

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