Pop music has been my obsession since I was a teenager. All my childhood, and then my entire adult life, I listened to pop when I should have been doing everything else.
Not all pop of course. No one hates music more than the person who really loves music. All I have to do is hear the opening chords of Light My Fire by The Doors or something by The Velvet Underground to run screaming out of the room.
It’s these prejudices, more than the enthusiasm, that make me want to write about pop. Who wants to know more about the good stuff?
George Harrison, for example, was a lovely man and a brilliant songwriter, but the only really interesting fact about him is this: After he died, a tree was planted in his memory and it was eaten by beetles.
And while I was genuinely impressed to meet Sting, there’s nothing interesting to write about his music compared to his huge ego and tendency to hang out on chat shows with Amazon tribesmen.
Here, from my new book of pop mixes, I haven’t picked the most famous or talented—and certainly not the most likable. But they are, I think, the most interesting…
Elvis sang Love Me Tender, the audience applauded politely – and he came in third
All shaken up
One evening in the late 1950s, Lil Thompson’s Steakhouse in Tennessee held an Elvis Presley impersonator contest. The big man heard about it, showed up with his entourage and sat quietly in the back. No one recognized him, so he decided to join in. “I’m going to destroy this,” Elvis said.
Lil was afraid everyone would go crazy if they realized who the newcomer was, but nothing happened. Elvis sang Love Me Tender, the audience applauded politely – and he came in third.
Special for blue
Kylie Minogue Kylie at the Liverpool Echo Arena, 2014 Kiss Me Once Tour. She is a year older than the Tory MP
Kylie Minogue is almost exactly a year older than Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Missed a beat
One day in 1965, singer Billy J. Kramer (who shared a manager with The Beatles) asked Paul McCartney if he’d written anything good recently, something suitable for him to release as a single. “Yeah, actually,” McCartney said, picking up his guitar and playing a tune he’d recently beat up. “Yesterday,” he sang, “all my troubles seemed so far away.”
Kramer thought about it and said, “No.”
When Eddie Cochran died in a car accident in England, aged just 21, the young police officer who attended the scene was Dave Dee – later known for Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich.
Chop Chop John
John DENVER wrote his most successful song, Annie’s Song, about his wife, ten minutes on a Colorado ski lift after the couple had an argument. In 1982, John and Annie were divorced, and their battle over property division became so hostile. John took a chainsaw to their matrimonial bed and cut it in half.
During their third US tour in 1965, the Rolling Stones stayed in a Florida motel. Keith Richards called Mick Jagger to his room and played him a guitar riff that had come to him in a dream. He’d woken up in the middle of the night, turned on the tape device he’d kept next to his bed, and recorded it. On the tape you could hear him drop the pick and on the rest of the tape Keith was snoring. Something else had also come to him in the dream.
“The words that go with this are, ‘I can’t get satisfaction,'” Keith said. Exactly three weeks later the record was in the shops.
Keith Richards called Mick Jagger to his room and played him a guitar riff that had come to him in a dream
Ozzy Osbourne’s father had his milk delivered by Noddy Holder.
Oh no, Yoko!
The first movie Yoko Ono made with John Lennon was Smile, in which John stuck out his tongue and wiggled his eyebrows in his garden for 52 minutes in super slow motion.
It premiered at the Chicago Film Festival in 1968 and half the audience was still in their seats. Yoko wanted to make a four-hour version, but couldn’t.
Yoko Ono’s first film with John Lennon was Smile, in which John stuck out his tongue and wiggled his eyebrows in his garden for 52 minutes in super slow motion.
Cold on Cohen
When Leonard Cohen’s first album came out in 1967, the New York Times reviewed it under the headline “Alienated Young Man Creates Some Sad Music.”
In the mid-1960s, Don Arden – Sharon Osbourne’s father and rock ‘n’ roll executive with psychotic tendencies – led the Small Faces. One day he made the mistake of telling their parents that the reason they were always tired wasn’t that they were too busy performing, but that they were too busy on drugs.
The group sought a new representation and Robert Stigwood, later the manager of the Bee Gees, paid them a visit. So Arden paid Stigwood a visit.
“There was a big ashtray on the table,” he said. “I picked it up and knocked it down with such force that the table cracked. Two of my men lifted Stigwood from his chair, dragged him to the balcony, and held him so that he faced the sidewalk four stories below.’
Arden later adapted his story. “It was only one floor,” he said.
Karen Carpenter’s doorbell rang the first six tones of We’ve Only Just Begun.
turn me on
Unencumbered by good looks, charm, or a reasonable speaking voice, Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman was nonetheless the band’s most prolific shagmeister.
In his memoir, he told the story of a band meeting in 1965 where they counted their conquests in the two years since the Stones began: “I’d had 278 girls, Brian (Jones) 130, Mick (Jagger) 30, Keith (Richards) six, and Charlie (Watts) none.’
Move it, Cliff
After appearing on ITV’s Oh Boy! in 1957 the NME wrote this about 17-year-old Cliff Richard: ‘His hip swaying was repulsive, hardly the kind of performance a parent would want their children to see. He wore so much eyeliner he looked like Jayne Mansfield.”
After a show in 1965, a used car salesman approached Frank Zappa and offered him $100 for a tape of the musician having sex for a bachelorette party. Zappa accepted the offer. He spent the night with one of his go-go dancers, faking the whole thing, with bedsprings, grunts, sighs, and squeaks. He said he spent hours laughing at the recording.
Zappa delivered the tape, but the seller turned out to be an undercover vice squad officer. Zappa was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit pornography. He was in jail for ten days.
There was an unforeseen bonus to this adventure. His criminal record exempted him from conscription, so Frank Zappa never had to go to Vietnam.
Olivia Newton-John’s grandfather was Max Born, a German-Jewish physicist who fled the Nazis with his family to England in the late 1930s and later won the Nobel Prize for research into quantum mechanics.
Her father was an MI5 officer on the Enigma project at Bletchley Park in World War II and took Rudolf Hess into custody.
The comedian Ben Elton is her third cousin.
Already feeling green
The man with the sweetest voice in the soul had a cruel, disciplining father. As a boy, Al Green had a pet goat named Billy that kept getting loose. His father decided that both the boy and the goat needed to be taught a lesson. “We were having dinner one night,” Al says, “and I think, ‘This stew tastes good, not like I’ve ever tasted before.'”
His mother already asked what kind of meat was in the stew. She wouldn’t answer. Then his father collapsed with laughter. “At that moment I knew I was eating Billy. Since then I have never eaten goat again.’
Flowers for Diana
While Wembley stadium for Live Aid was packed, two empty seats in the Royal Box waited for the Prince and Princess of Wales. Paula Yates stood nearby, holding a cellophane-wrapped bouquet of roses, ready to present them to the guests of honor. She had bought them from a garage on Harrow Road. They still had the price sticker on it.
Killer Queen jibe
During Live Aid in 1985, after the Queen set stole the show, Elton John said to Freddie Mercury, ‘Freddie, no one should be chasing you. You were magnificent.”
“You’re absolutely right, honey, we were. We killed them,” Freddie said. “You, on the other hand, honey – you looked like the damn Queen Mother when you were on stage. Where did you get that absolutely hideous hat?’
When Mark Ellen, host of Old Gray Whistle Test, was at Oxford University, there were only three bands, and he was in one of them, Ugly Rumours. All they were missing was a singer, and a friend knew Tony Blair who appeared on revue shows, so they asked him to audition.
“By the time he arrived, wearing exactly the same boots as us, he’d already gotten the job anyway. He had a folk-rock look – long hair with bangs – and was sharp, organized, quite genteel, very funny and started many sentences with the word ‘boys’.
‘The new five-piece Ugly Rumors started appearing on the party circuit, Tony emotional into a microphone. He took on a brave hoop-neck top that revealed several square inches of bare torso.
“The only tensions in the band were the endless do-your-flares-in-your-cowboy-boots discussions, and the irritating sight of pretty girls in printed dresses gathered around his microphone stand.”
On the box
When the Undertones first started, Feargal Sharkey was the only member of the group with a job. He supplied and installed TVs for Radio Rentals.
Janet the pin up
The healthiest of the Jackson siblings (although that’s not saying much, of course), Janet has had her septum pierced, as well as her belly button, her nipples — as revealed by her Super Bowl ‘closet malfunction’ with Justin Timberlake — and what she calls ” in the south’. She probably rings when she walks. A nostril has also been pierced, “for a spiritual reason I’m not talking about.”
The art of adding
After the breakup of Simon and Garfunkel in 1970, Art took a job as a math teacher for a short time. “I just got married and moved to Connecticut, and there was a prep school nearby, so I taught there.
“It was a strange phase in my life to leave Simon & Garfunkel at the height of our success and become a teacher. I talked to them about a math problem and asked if anyone had any questions, and they said, ‘How were the Beatles?’ ‘
Viv Stanshall, once leader of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and a thoroughly riotous person by any standards, once said, “If I had all the money I spent on booze, I’d spend it on booze.”
Taken from Berkmann’s Pop Miscellany: Sex, Drugs And Cars In Swimming Pools by Marcus Berkmann, published by Little Brown on 3rd June for £14.99. © Marcus Berkmann 2021.
Visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193 to order a copy for £13.34 (offer valid until 13/6/21; UK shipping free on orders over £20).