“Chains”: A BEAUTIFUL song by The Beatles

The musical Beautiful: The Carole King Story has been on Broadway for four years, opening in January 2014. The hit musical won six Tony awards in 2014 and is still going strong. The play tells the life of singer/songwriter Carole King, featuring the song catalog of King and her husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin, as well as the song catalog of fellow Brill Building husband-and-wife songwriting team Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. The January 14, 2014 New York Times article “A Songwriter Who Found Her Voice” gives good a insight into the play.

A song that is featured in the play is one that represents the only Goffin-King song ever recorded by The Beatles. The four members of The Beatles were well aware of the many hits written by the Queens-based songwriting duo that worked at the famed Brill Building located at 1619 Broadway in Manhattan. In 1963 when The Beatles were having hits in England and were a year away from their famous landing in the U.S., John Lennon was quoted in the British press as saying that he and Paul McCartney wanted to become “the Goffin-King of England”.

The song “Chains” was not a big hit like other songs penned by Goffin-King, but was a hit nonetheless. Both the version by The Cookies and the later version by The Beatles each have a unique history. The Cookies were the back-up singers for Little Eva, the babysitter for King and Goffin. As legend has it, King saw babysitter Eva Boyd doing a wild dance that inspired the husband and wife to write the song “The Loco-Motion”. They already had faith in Eva’s vocal abilities. Little Eva topped the charts with “The Loco-Motion” for one week on August 25, 1962.

The Cookies version of “Chains” was the band’s first song in the Top 40, reaching number 17 in late December 1962. Three months later, The Cookies would have their biggest hit as “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby)”, another Goffin-King composition, which reached number seven on the charts.

“The Loco-Motion” and the Goffin-King songwriting duo has a unique and most ironic place in U.S. chart history. The Goffin-King song “Go Away Little Girl”, a number one hit for Steve Lawrence in January 1963, became the first song in Billboard Hot 100 history to reach number one by two different artists when Donny Osmond topped the charts with “Go Away Little Girl” for three weeks in September 1971. Surprisingly, the second instance in which a song reached number one by two different artists was also a Goffin-King composition; Grand Funk reached the top slot with their version of “The Loco-Motion” for two weeks in May 1974, some twelve years after Little Eva’s chart-topper with the song.

The musical Beautiful also features two quick appearances by Neil Sedaka, who took Carole King on one date when she 16 and used it as the basis for the song “Oh! Carol”, which reached number nine on the charts in 1959. Of course, Neil Sedaka was a great friend of John Lennon and wrote and performed the 1975 hit “The Immigrant” about Lennon’s immigration problems. A previous blog post, “Neil Sedaka Wrote a Hit Song About John Lennon’s Immigration Problems”, covers in detail how Sedaka was moved by his friend John Lennon’s immigration troubles and wrote “The Immigrant”.

The Beatles’ version of “Chains” was recorded on February 11, 1963 and released in the UK on March 22, 1963. It appeared on the Please Please Me album in the UK, and The Early Beatles album in the U.S. John did the harmonica intro and George provided lead vocals. It would represent the first time that Beatles fans would hear George’s voice on a commercially released single. Some critics in England had criticisms of the song, which was recorded in four takes, the first of which was chosen for the single release.

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