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When The Beatles & Stones Were Minor Hitmakers

Before the Beatles and the Stones each became, well the Beatles and the Stones, they were just two groups hungry for the good things: namely fame and (much) fortune.  The Stones were so hungry that they composed a 30-second jingle for a 1963 Rice Krispies commercial.

But when the Stones weren’t trying to land commercial gigs, Jagger and Richards were trying to be a commercial entity by writing a song for an established star. The first hit (well, #7 in the UK in 1964) for the Jagger/Richards songwriting team was “That Girl Belongs to Yesterday,” sung by Gene Pitney.

The Hartford, CT native and the Stones seemed like an odd pair as Pitney’s well-crafted tunes and smooth crooning starkly clashed with the Stones’ raucous blues/R&B stylings.  But back in the day, Gene was a hit-making machine, which included the stirring Carole King/Gerry Goffin composition “Every Breath I Take.”

Gene was also good friends of musical giants like Phil Spector, Burt Bacharach, and Hal David, who chose Gene to sing their “Twenty Hours From Tulsa” and “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance.”  His chart successes did not go unnoticed by Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham who introduced him to his up-and-coming band and a Jagger/Richards tune called “My Only Girl.”

Gene, who was no slouch in the hit songwriting department (“Hello Mary Lou” for Ricky Nelson and “He’s a Rebel” for the Crystals) rearranged the melody and released it as “That Girl Belongs to Yesterday,” which went to #49 in the States.  It ended Pitney’s streak of seven singles that cracked the Top Forty but marked the first time the soon-to-be familiar “Jagger/Richards” credit appeared on a record in the States.

The appreciative Stones even gave a shout-out to Spector and Pitney for playing on their debut album by naming a tune on the LP’s UK version called “Now I’ve Got a Witness (Like Uncle Gene and Uncle Phil),” which was shortened to “Now I’ve Got a Witness” for the US edition.

When Pitney wasn’t playing with the Stones, he was partying hard, which was captured on tape in an ultra-X-rated song called “Andrew’s Blues,” where Gene and Jagger mercilessly mock Oldham’s love-making technique—or lack thereof. Bassist Bill Wyman described the drunken session in his Stone Alone: The Story of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band book: “Gene Pitney arrived direct from the airport with duty-free cognac. It was his birthday, and his family’s custom was that everyone had to drink a whole glass. Pitney played piano while Spector and the Hollies played tambourine and maracas and banged coins on empty bottles. The session then degenerated into silliness, but everybody had a great time cutting ‘Andrew’s Blues’ and ‘Spector and Pitney Came Too’—both of which were very rude.”

Pitney never recorded a Jagger/Richards song again. And if John Lennon and Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein had his way, Del Shannon would have never recorded the first Lennon/McCartney song that (barely) got into America’s Top 100 charts. Shannon recalled in a 1989 interview with Bob Costas that the Fab Four opened for Del in 1963.  Shannon stated: “I did a lot of shows in England, and they’d come backstage and chat a bit. They were the strangest guys, especially John.  Very open and frank.”

When the group and Del performed at Royal Albert Hall, Del approached John backstage about one of their songs: “I said ‘John, I’m going to cover ‘From Me to You’ because the English were always covering American artists.’ And he said, ‘That would be great, mate.’ But when he walked on stage, just before he got to the stage, he turned to me, and he said, ‘Don’t do that.’ I think Brian Epstein didn’t want anyone to cover their songs before they were released in America.”

But at the time, the Beatles were just another English band.  The Liverpudlians had earlier released “Please Please Me” and then “From Me to You” on the Vee-Jay label to very little American acclaim and, worse, very little sales.  Del’s version of “From Me to You” marked the first time a Lennon/McCartney composition made its way into America’s top 100. It got to #77 in June 1963 while the Beatles take went to #116 in August.  Of course, the Beatles had the last laugh: as Beatlemania swept the nation, while Shannon permanently stalled.


But within a year’s time, the days of a Stones or Beatles record struggling to enter America’s top 100 was over, with both bands firing on all cylinders and delivering hit after hit.  The groups even discussed how each would delay a release of a single so as not to compete with each other.  In the 2013 book 50 Licks: Myths and Stories from Half of Century from Half a Century of the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards noted: “Everybody was talking about the Beatles versus the Stones and all that crap, and yet between us, it would be, ‘You come out first and we’ll wait two weeks.’ We would try never to clash; there was plenty of room for both of us.”

-Mark Daponte

Photo composite of the Beatles and The Rolling Stones (both Getty Images)

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2 comments on “When The Beatles & Stones Were Minor Hitmakers


    Only America would consider the Beatles as minor hitmakers in 1963. That year they released four singles – (one of which (Please Please Me) overtook Del Shannon’s Little Town Flirt on the UK, Australian, New Zealand and some European charts) -three EPs, two albums; appeared on radio 49 times and on television 35 times; and made 287 additional live appearances. Billy J Kramer, Cilla Black and The Fourmost had hits in 1963 with Lennon & McCartney songs, as did other artists in the following year. 1963 was the beginning of Beatlemania just about everywhere except America, which finally caught up in 1964.

  2. Americans. We are such dolts, aye, mate.

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