DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The Beatles overwhelmed America when they led the British invasion in 1964. But within a few months, many other bands were vying for attention. Most of them managed a hit or two. But Herman's Hermits hit the American pop charts a total of 22 times. Bear Family Records has released a 66 track compilation record of their work called the "Best Of Herman's Hermits." Rock historian Ed Ward has this review.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALKING WITH MY ANGEL")
HERMAN'S HERMITS: (Singing) Ain't no guy in town who would ever try to put me down when I'm walking, walking with my angel. Yeah, 'cause every guy...
ED WARD: Hey, girls, who's your favorite Herman? Only one answer to that question, of course. It had to be Herman. The other four guys - who knew their names? If you were really up on things, you knew Herman's real name was Peter Noone. But unless you were British, you probably didn't know that he began his show business career in 1961 under the name Peter Novak, playing a recurring character in the British soap opera "Coronation Street." He was all of 13 at the time and only 15 when he joined the Heartbeats, a Manchester quartet looking to make it on the coattails of bands from that city's rival, Liverpool.
With Noone's arrival, the band changed its name to Herman and the Hermits and acquired two managers, Harvey Lisberg and Charlie Silverman who also wrote songs. Noting the band's popularity at home, Lisberg and Silverman bundled them down to London where they recorded two of their songs with producer Ron Richards who was working with another Manchester band, the Hollies.
(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED SONG)
HERMAN'S HERMITS: (Singing) Only just last night I thought about you. And I know I just can't live without you. You, yes, you are on my mind. And I know that your loving...
WARD: Mickie Most, a hotshot young producer currently working with the Animals heard the demo and told the managers that if they replaced the rhythm section, he'd take a chance with them. And the new guitarist Derek Leckenby said he thought the name Herman's Hermits would be better. So they changed it. In July 1964, Most finished producing the Animals and took the Hermits on for his next production, a recent hit for an American singer, Earl-Jean written by the dynamic duo of Carole King and Gerry Goffin.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M INTO SOMETHING GOOD")
HERMAN'S HERMITS: (Singing) Woke up this morning feeling fine. There's something special on my mind. Last night I met a new girl in the neighborhood. Oh, yeah. Something tells me I'm into something good. Something tells me I'm into something good. She's the kind of girl...
WARD: Copying the original in everything but gender, the record soared to the top of the British charts and scored an American deal with MGM, which had already signed the Animals. It only got to number 13 in the states, but the follow-up hit number two and Hermania - as they were calling it in England - was born.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAN'T YOU HEAR MY HEARTBEAT")
HERMAN'S HERMITS: (Singing) Every time I see you looking my way. Baby, baby, can't you hear my heartbeat? In the car or walking down the highway, baby, baby, can't you hear my heartbeat? When you move up closer to me. I get a feeling that's oh-wee. Can't you hear the pounding of my heartbeat? 'Cause you're the one I love. You're the one I love.
WARD: Their next record, an uninspired cover of the vocal group Classic Silhouettes was a top ten hit. And next, they grabbed a song from a recent British musical TV production and hit the jackpot.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MRS. BROWN, YOU'VE GOT A LOVELY DAUGHTER")
HERMAN'S HERMITS: (Singing) Mrs. Brown, you've got a lovely daughter. Girls as sharp as her are something rare. But it's sad. She doesn't love me now. She's made it clear enough. It ain't no good to pine. She wants to...
WARD: A canny move. It sounded like nothing on the radio. Noone emphasized his Mancunian accent when he said enough, and Herman's Hermits became the band to watch in 1965. Mickie Most wasn't fond of the song and only agreed to release it stateside if MGM had a million advance orders which came soon enough. They signed onto Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars, a major American group tour and were tapped to appear in a quickie film "When The Boys Meet The Girls" for which they recorded a song that MGM wanted out immediately.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LISTEN PEOPLE")
HERMAN'S HERMITS: (Singing) Listen people. Do what I say. I say everybody's got to have their day, and don't you know that everybody's got to love somebody?
WARD: The British record company didn't like it and released an old music hall tune, "I'm Henry The VIII, I Am" instead. Most didn't want that out in America. But MGM came up with its million preorders again, so he caved. After it had hit number one, they released "Listen People" which hit number three in early 1966. But the Hermits had a problem besides the fact that they had no identity. They were totally dependent for most of their career on outside songwriters.
Neither the band nor Noone wrote early on, so they went to Mickie Most's extensive network of writers - not only Goffin and King, but Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Steve Barri and P.F. Sloan and other Tin Pan Alley songwriters and in Britain, Graham Gouldman, who later went on to 10cc, Ray Davies, who wrote "Dandy" for them and recorded it himself with the Kinks and a young folk rocker Most was grooming for stardom, Donovan.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MUSEUM")
HERMAN'S HERMITS: (Singing) I drink sweet wine for breakfast. I slept but an hour or so. I smiled a little in the silence deciding on where to go. Meet me under the whale at the Natural History Museum. I think that's what she said a little bit sad about having to leave them. Yawning in the sun. It's like a child I run. Don't do it if...
WARD: By the time "Museum" came out in the summer of 1967, Herman's Hermits were over in America. Noone cheerfully admits that they weren't in it to make grand statements or break creative boundaries. They were in it for the kicks, the hits, the tours, the fun. After their run of hits evaporated, they continued to tour in places like the Philippines, Japan and Australia, but made their last single in 1970 after which Noone started a solo career. The Hermits tried to make a go without him, but it failed. Oh, and their names? Karl Green, bass; Barry Whitwam, drums; Keith Hopwood, guitar; and Derek Leckenby, guitar. Well done, lads.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M HENRY VIII, I AM")
HERMAN'S HERMITS: (Singing) I'm Henry the eighth, I am. Henry the eighth, I am. I got married to the widow next door. She's been married seven times before. And every one was a Henry. She wouldn't have a Willy or a Sam. I'm her eighth old man, I'm Henry. Henry the eighth, I am. Second verse, same as the first.
BIANCULLI: Ed Ward is the author of the upcoming book "The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1: 1920-1963." The music he played today is from "Herman's Hermits: The Best Of Herman's Hermits" on Bear Family Records.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BIANCULLI: Monday on FRESH AIR, we talk with Scott Rudin. The Tony Awards are June 12 and five shows on which he was lead producer are nominated for Tonys. He's also a movie producer and has done films with the Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson and David Fincher. Hope you can join us. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. John Sheehan directed the show. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.