In today’s New York Times I read the obituary of veteran actor John Hurt, who passed away on January 25 at the age of 77. The BAFTA-winner actor received Oscar nominations for Midnight Express and The Elephant Man. The Guardian also had a glowing obituary.
What all of the obituaries on this revered actor did not mention is that John Hurt was the star of the video for the 1982 Paul McCartney hit “Take It Away”. In the video Hurt plays a impresario eager to sign Linda McCartney to a contract.
This video received regular play in the rotation of MTV when the music network was less than a year old. Off the Tug of War album, “Take It Away” reached number ten on the Billboard Hot 100, staying in the Top 40 for eleven weeks from July to September 1982.
It was the second single released off of the Tug of War album, the first of which, the duet “Ebony and Ivory” of Paul and Stevie Wonder, topped the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks.
Ironically, “Take It Away” was the fourth instance since 1973 in which a McCartney or Wings single reached the top ten but stalled at number ten. The others that hit # 10 were Wings’ “Hi, Hi, Hi” in 1973, Wings’ “Helen Wheels” in 1974, and finally the Wings’ live version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” in 1977.
The song, and the album, were produced by George Martin, who both played piano on the track and appeared in the video as a member of the band. Ringo Starr handled the drumming chores and appeared in the video. Linda McCartney provided backing vocals and tambourines.
When the video was released, MTV was less than a year old and still played videos 24/7. Having an established actor like John Hurt starring in a video was unheard of at the time.
Actually, “Take It Away” played a role in the break-up of Wings. The last configuration of Wings was recording “Take It Away” for a Wings album on December 8, 1980 when early the next morning, on a day intended to finish the song, Paul received word of John Lennon’s murder. The plan had been for Wings to release the album and tour, but when Paul balked at touring as a reaction to John’s death, guitarist Denny Laine felt that he could not wait around in limbo and left the band. A year later the song was recorded with new musicians as a McCartney single.
The Beatles accomplished a wild feat on the American charts that likely will not be broken. The band had three consecutive number one hits in 1964. Previously, Elvis Presley had two consecutive number one hits in 1956 when “Don’t Be Cruel / Hound Dog” topped the Billboard Hot 100 for eleven weeks followed by “Love Me Tender” for five weeks. As is well known in the music industry, the release of “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Hound Dog” as a double-sided single was commercial suicide because both songs would have sold the same amount of records individually and would have reaped double the profits for both Elvis and RCA Records.
On February 1, 1964, exactly one week before their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show , The Beatles topped the charts with their first U.S. release, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, which comfortably held the top position on the charts for seven weeks. Their first number one hit in the U.S. was followed by “She Loves You”, which held its ground for five weeks in the top slot. Then, “Can’t Buy Me Love” was their third consecutive number one and ruled the charts for five weeks.
“She Loves You” had already been a major number one hit in the UK, spending six weeks at the top of the charts, and 18 weeks in the top three. This Lennon/McCartney composition ranked as the biggest selling single in the history of the UK for over 14 years until the Wings single “Mull of Kintyre”, co-written by Paul McCartney and Wings guitarist Denny Laine, was the number one song at Christmas 1977 and would go onto to be the first single to sell over two million copies in the UK. While Band Aid’s 1984 charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” overtook “Mull of Kintyre” as the best-selling single in UK history, the 1977 Wings song remains the top selling non-charity single in UK history. A previous post on this blog, “ ‘Mull of Kintyre’ is the Top Song in the History of the UK, but Remains Unknown in the U.S.” elaborates on “The Mull of Kintyre”.
The authorship of “She Loves You” is noteworthy in that it was credited to “Lennon/McCartney”. The previous Beatles songs had all been credited to “McCartney/Lennon”, and after “She Loves You” the “Lennon/McCartney” moniker would be used for all of their songs for the next seven years.
While the songwriting team of Lennon and McCartney wrote three consecutive number one hits, each of the three songs were recorded by the same artists, The Beatles. Believe it or not, other songwriters have written consecutive number one hits that have been performed by different artists.
“Lady Marmalade” by Labelle is part of Billboard chart history as it was one of two consecutive number one hits by the same writers that were performed by different artists. The song was written by Kenny Nolan, with a little help from occasional songwriting partner Bob Crewe, the famous writer of countless hits for The Four Seasons and other artists. It hit number one on March 29, 1975. The previous number one hit was “My Eyes Adored You” by Frankie Valli, also written by Kenny Nolan with Bob Crewe.
This feat by Kenny Nolan and Bob Crewe represented the second time in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 that consecutive number one songs by different artists had the same writers. The first time this happened was in June 1965 when “Back in My Arms Again” by The Supremes hit number one, and then was followed into the top slot by “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” by The Four Tops. Both songs were written by the famed Motown songwriting team of Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier/Edward Holland, Jr.
Songwriter Kenny Nolan also recorded his own song “I Like Dreaming”, which hit # 3 on the charts in early 1977.
In 1978, Barry Gibb of The Bee Gees would achieve an amazing feat by co-writing four consecutive number one hits by non-consecutive artists, three of which appeared on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack album. Barry Gibb, along with his brothers Robin and Maurice, wrote “Stayin’ Alive”, the Bee Gees classic that topped the charts for four weeks beginning on February 4, 1978. “Stayin’ Alive” was followed at the top of the charts by “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water” by Andy Gibb, the younger brother of the three Bee Gees who at the time had a successful solo career of his own, and stayed on top for three weeks. “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water” was co-written by Barry Gibb and Andy Gibb, and featured The Eagles’ Joe Walsh on lead guitar. Then, “Night Fever”, the anthem by The Bee Gees written by Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, controlled the top slot for a whopping eight weeks from March 18 until May 12. Finally, the three Bee Gees penned “If I Can’t Have You”, which was number one for the single week beginning on May 13, and proved to be the only number one of Yvonne Elliman’s career.
For the record, 1978 proved to be an incredible run for Barry Gibb as he wrote or co-wrote three other songs that hit number one that year. First, before the incredible 15 week run of Gibb-penned songs topping the charts, the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love” hit number one on December 24, 1977 and stayed on top for three weeks. It was written by all three Bee Gees, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb. This domination of the charts was interrupted for three weeks in January when “Baby Come Back” by Player was in the top slot, sandwiched in between “How Deep is Your Love” and the 15 week run of the four number one hits by The Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, and Yvonne Elliman.
An incredible feat occurred when the four Gibb brothers – Barry, Robin, Maurice, Andy – collaborated to write “Shadow Dancing”, the famous Andy Gibb hit that dominated the airwaves in the summer of 1978, spending seven weeks at number one in June and July 1978. Finally, in August 1978, the song “Grease”, from the hit movie of the same name that summer and penned by Barry Gibb, was Frankie Valli’s last number one hit as it rose to the top of the charts on August 26 and stayed there for two weeks. In total, Barry Gibb either wrote or co-wrote seven songs that hit number one in 1978, which collectively spent 28 weeks in the number one position on the Billboard Hot 100.
The only other instance in which someone penned two consecutive number one hits by different artists occurred in the fall of 1989 when songwriter extraordinaire Diane Warren accomplished this feat. On November 11, 1989, her song “When I See You Smile” was taken to the top of the charts by Bad English for two consecutive weeks; this song was followed in the top slot for two weeks by “Blame It on the Rain“, the brilliant Diane Warren song performed by Milli Vanilli, which of course would be caught up in a famous controversy in 1990.
Of course, the involvement of The Bee Gees in Saturday Night Fever and Grease came as a result of their long term relationship with their manager Robert Stigwood, who produced both films. Stigwood was on track to become the manager of The Beatles right after the death of Brian Epstein, but the four boys decisively put an end to that possibility. A previous article on this blog, “The Beatles Intensely Disliked Entertainment Mogul Robert Stigwood”, explains that interesting situation.
The Beatles set a multitude of milestones with their successes on the Billboard Hot 100. It is safe to say that it is extremely unlikely that The Beatles’ feat of having three consecutive number one hits will be broken anytime soon.
Currently we are in the middle of the 35th anniversary of Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” topping the Billboard Hot 100 for an astounding ten weeks from late November 1981 to early February 1982. The British-born Australian singer started her recording career ten years earlier with her debut album If Not For You, the title track of which was her first hit, reaching the top ten in many countries and number 25 in the U.S. “If Not For You” also was the number one song for three weeks on the Easy Listening charts in the U.S. To reach number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Easy Listening charts definitely put the new singer on the radar screen in the U.S.
What Olivia Newton-John and George Harrison have in common is that they both covered the Bob Dylan song “If Not for You” for their albums, which was Newton-John’s debut album and Harrison’s first post-Beatle solo album. Harrison’s version appeared on his seminal triple album All Things Must Pass, released in 1970, the same year that The Beatles officially broke up. Olivia Newton-John definitely based her version of “If Not For You” on Harrison’s rendition of the Dylan classic cut.
“If Not For You” was included on the 1970 Dylan album New Morning. The song was originally recorded by Dylan in a session in which he was accompanied by George Harrison on guitar on May 1, 1970 at the Columbia Studios in Manhattan. The version of the song that would go on to appear on the album was recorded in August 1970 in Nashville, with Charlie Daniels playing bass on the track. The original May 1970 Dylan/Harrison version of “If Not For You” would float around in the world of bootlegs and finally appear in 1991 on Dylan’s The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased).
In 1971, George Harrison was able to gradually persuade Bob Dylan to end his five year “exile” and perform at the ex-Beatle’s Concert for Bangladesh, the famous two concert fundraiser at Madison Square Garden on August 1, 1971. The duo performed “If Not For You” together at the rehearsal and final sound check, but Dylan did not want to do the song at the actual concert.
Twenty-one years later, at the 1992 star-studded concert at Madison Square Garden celebrating Bob Dylan’s thirty years in the recording industry on 16 October 1992, Harrison did both the Dylan tunes “If Not For You” and “Absolutely Sweet Marie”; many were shocked when the CD of the event included Harrison doing “Absolutely Sweet Marie” but did not include the more famous “If Not For You”.
All Things Must Pass yielded the first number one hit by a solo Beatle with “My Sweet Lord”. “If Not For You” was not released as a single, but received much praise in reviews of the album. The track had a colorful line-up to say the least. George Harrison handled vocals, acoustic guitars, dobros, and harmonica; Gary Wright played piano; Billy Preston handled the chores on organ; Klaus Voormann played bass; Alan White played drums; Ringo Starr played tambourine.
The first song on All Things Must Pass is “I’d Have You Anytime”, a song that Harrison co-wrote with Bob Dylan in 1968. “If Not For You” represents the only song on the triple album that was not written by George Harrison.
Olivia Newton-John did not like “If Not For You” at all and initially refused to record it, but both her manager and her fiancé were able to change her mind through great efforts. Newton-John said in 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, “I wasn’t keen on that song at all, but I’m so glad John chose it because it’s not one that I would have picked. I didn’t think I sang it well, so when it was a hit you know I had to really say it was my management, and Bruce Welch and John Farrar who produced it, that were really the ones that thought that was a good record for me cause in those days I loved singing those big dramatic ballads, you know, talk about being sentimental.”
Between 1971 and 1985, Olivia Newton John had 28 Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. It all started in 1971 with “If Not For You”, her debut single which reached number 25 and stayed in the Top 40 for ten weeks. Many people think that her highly successful “Have You Never Been Mellow” in 1975 was her first number one hit in the U.S. Actually, six months prior in August 1974 she had her first chart-topper with “I Honestly Love You”. Her other number ones have been “You’re the One That I Want” with John Travolta (1978), “Magic” (1980), and “Physical” (1981). Her top ten hits have been “Let Me Be There” (1973), “If You Love Me (Let Me Know)” (1974), “Please Mr. Please” (1975), “Hopelessly Devoted to You” (1978) , “Summer Nights” (1978) with John Travolta, “A Little More Love” (1979), “Xanadu” (1980) with Electric Light Orchestra, “Make a Move on Me” (1982), “Heart Attack” (1982), and “Twist of Fate” (1983).
The song “Physical” was the biggest hit of Olivia Newton-John’s career as well as the biggest hit of the 1980s decade, staying in the top slot for an amazing ten weeks, beginning on November 21, 1981. It is surprising that the song would only reach # 7 on the British pop charts. Ironically, it was both preceded and followed in the top position by number one hits by Hall & Oates; “Physical” was preceded at number one by Hall & Oates’ “Private Eyes”, while it was followed at number one by the Hall & Oates’ classic “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)”. It was Newton-John’s fifth and final number one in the U.S.
The distinctive lead guitar on “Physical” was that of Steve Lukather, the lead guitarist of Toto who did extensive studio work with other artists. Lukather went out on the road in 2013 as a member of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. What is most ironic is that right after “Physical” left the number one position in early February and started to fade, another hit song featuring Lukather on lead guitar, “Turn Your Love Around” by George Benson, cracked the Top 40 and started to dominate the airwaves, reaching number five on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the soul singles chart. “Turn Your Love Around” was co-written by Steve Lukather, Bill Champlin of Chicago, and producer Jay Graydon. 1982 continued to be a stellar year for Mr. Lukather with his band Toto releasing Toto IV, which would sweep the Grammy Awards. 1982 would continue to be fruitful for Toto as members of the band – Lukather, Jeff Porcaro Steve Porcaro and Dave Paich – would do extensive session work on Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, which would sweep the next Grammy Awards the following year. In addition, Steve Porcaro also wrote the hit “Human Nature” on the classic Michael Jackson album.
In addition,the first single released off of Thriller was “The Girl Is Mine”, the duet with Paul McCartney which reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and featured four members of Toto – Dave Paich (piano), Steve Lukather (lead guitar), Jeff Porcaro (drums) and Steve Porcaro (synthesizers).
Of course, the word “physical” is an adjective of “physics”. While “Physical” dominated the U.S. charts and airwaves for so long, few people knew of Olivia Newton-John’s connection to the world of physics. Her mother was German-born Irene Born, who married Welshman Brinley Newton-John in England. Irene Born was the daughter of the famous Max Born. Max Born, who was Olivia Newton-John’s maternal grandfather, was a famous physicist and mathematician who was also the father of quantum mechanics. Max Born won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1954 for his “fundamental research in quantum mechanics, especially in the statistical interpretation of the wave of function”. Not only did Max Born win the Nobel Prize in Physics himself, but he also has the distinction by far of teaching the most people who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics. The amazing career of Max Born cannot be summarized in a single blog post. Born was a best friend of Albert Einstein, and their correspondence over 40 years was archived in the 1971 book Born-Einstein Letters, 1916-1955: Friendship, Politics and Physics in Uncertain Times.
Max Born was one of six Jewish professors at the University of Gottingen who were suspended in 1933 when the Nazis took power. He immediately fled to England with his wife and three children, one of whom was Olivia Newton-John’s mother Irene. He was a professor at universities in the UK for the rest of his career. He died at age 87 in 1970, a year before his granddaughter debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 with “If Not for You”. How ironic that ten years later the biggest hit of her career and the biggest hit of the entire 1980s decade would be entitled “Physical” in light of the fact that many people consider her grandfather to be the greatest physicist of all time.
In addition, in the UK it is well known that Olivia’s father, Brinley “Bryn” Newton-John, a native of Cardiff, Wales, who died in 1992, was the main MI5 officer on the Enigma Project in Bletchley Park which famously took Rudolf Hess into custody when the Deputy Fuhrer made a solo flight into Scotland in 1941 in a famous attempt to negotiate peace during World War II.
While George Harrison jammed with Bob Dylan on “If Not For You” both before and after he himself recorded the classic Dylan tune on All Things Must Pass, Olivia Newton-John in effect covered Harrison’s version rather than that of the legendary Bob Dylan.