February 1964 saw The Beatles take the U.S. by storm to say the least, and usher in what became known as “The British Invasion”. While the high-profile band from Liverpool dominated the Billboard Hot 100 for many months, few realize that the second hit by a band from Liverpool was “Needles and Pins” by The Searchers.
“Needles and Pins” entered the Top 40 on March 21, 1964, staying in the Top 40 for eight weeks. It peaked at number 13, and miraculously stayed at number 13 for three weeks. In January 1965, their song “Love Potion Number Nine” would climb to number three. The band had five other hits in the Top 40 between March 1964 and April 1965. They were: “Don’t Throw Your Love Away” (# 16), “Some Day We’re Gonna Love Again” (# 34), “When You Walk in the Room” (# 35), “What Have They Done to the Rain” (# 29), and “Bumble Bee” (# 21). The Searchers had other hits that charted in the UK.
Prior to “Needles and Pins” entering the Top 40 on March 21, 1964, that other band from Liverpool had five songs chart in the Top 40. The first was “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, which held the number one position for seven weeks. “I Saw Her Standing There” hit number 14. “She Loves You” was number one for two weeks, followed by “Please Please Me” which peaked at number three. “My Bonnie”, their recording from their Hamburg days with Tony Sheridan, hit number six. Then, “Twist and Shout” stayed at number two for four weeks.
The Searchers were originally formed as a skiffle group in Liverpool in 1959 by John McNally and Mike Pender. Their classic line-up that had the hits in the U.S. consisted of Mike Pender and John McNally, both on guitars and vocals; Tony Jackson on bass and vocals, as well as Chris Curtis on drums. The band’s name was taken from the 1956 western The Searchers starring John Ford.
The band heard “Needles and Pins” for the first time at the Star Club in Hamburg, the famed establishment in Beatles lore where they were the house band during two different stays in Germany. It was being sung at the Star Club by British singer Cliff Bennett.
Before being recorded by The Searchers, Jackie DeShannon released an unsuccessful version that had no traction on the charts. Of course, Beatle fans know that the Kentucky native received her big break when chosen to open for The Beatles on their first U.S. concert tour in 1964. She had an international hit in 1965 with the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song “What the World Needs Now Is Love“, which reached number seven on the Billboard Hot 100. Years later DeShannon would co-write the song “Bette Davis Eyes“, which was a monstrous hit for Kim Carnes, holding the top position on the Billboard Hot 100 for an astounding nine weeks.
“Needles and Pins” was written by Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzche, two underlings of Phil Spector. Bono would produce minor hits such as Larry Williams’ “Bony Maronie” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” prior to a successful recording career with his wife Cher. After massive success on American television with The Sonny and Cher Show and a divorce from Cher, Bono would eventually drift into politics, becoming the mayor of Palm Springs and then serving in the U.S. Congress from 1995 until his death from a skiing accident in January 1998. During his years he teamed up with his wife Cher as the famed duo Sonny and Cher, he was famous for sporting a “caveman vest”. The piece of legislation for which he is best known during his career as a congressman was extending the term of copyright by 20 years. The United States Copyright Extension Act of 1998 was passed by Congress nine months after his death and became commonly known as the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act. Of course, this legislation helps songwriters.
Jack Nitzche (1937 – 2000), the other co-writer of “Needles and Pins” had an amazing career, and was Phil Spector’s righthand man for many years. He later did work for The Rolling Stones on occasion, playing electric piano on the hits “Paint It Black” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, as well as writing the choral arrangement for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Nitzche worked on the film scores for many blockbuster movies such as The Exorcist, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and The Razor’s Edge. In 1983, Jack Nitzche won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for co-writing “Up Where We Belong”, the theme song from the movie An Officer and A Gentleman starring Richard Gere and Debra Winger, which he co-wrote with Will Jennings and Buffy Sainte-Marie. “Up Where We Belong“, a duet with Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes, topped the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks in November 1982.
The Beatles started the British Invasion and are the best known band from this era, but when they put Liverpool on the entertainment map, it should be remembered that the second band from Liverpool to score a hit during the British Invasion was The Searchers with “Needles and Pins”.