When The Ed Sullivan Show introduced the Beatles to America on Feb. 9, 1964, it opened the door for the many entertainers from the United Kingdom who ruled the American pop music charts during the period known as the British Invasion (1964-67).
Some were part of the same stable of acts that signed with the Fab Four's manager, Brian Epstein, and had the advantage of using songs written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and recording with Beatles producer George Martin. Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, with Bad To Me, a top-10 hit in 1964, were an example.
Peter & Gordon actually became the first British act other than the Beatles to have a No. 1 record in America when A World Without Love topped the charts in June of the same year. While they had the benefit of a Lennon/McCartney composition to get them started, the duo were not part of Epstein's group.
"No, we weren't, although sometimes I wished that we were," said Gordon Waller, who will appear at the New York Metro Beatlefest at the N.J. Crowne Plaza Meadowlands hotel in Secaucus, N.J., this weekend. "(Epstein) had so many acts. Most of them were from Liverpool (England)."
Neither Waller nor his partner, Peter Asher, came from the Merseyside area, and their association with the Beatles came through a personal connection.
Waller was born in Braemar, Scotland. His family moved to Middlesex, England, when he was still a boy, and he hooked up with the London-born Asher at the Westminster School. The duo began playing at small clubs and eventually signed a recording contract with EMI to work with producers Norman Newell and John Burgess.
Peter's younger sister, Jane Asher, met and began dating Paul McCartney in 1963, and for a short period of time, both McCartney and Waller crashed at the Asher family residence in London's West End. Lennon visited frequently, and the musicians often got together for informal jam sessions. It was at one of these sessions that Peter and Gordon acquired the song that would make them stars.
"We used to hang out and play songs," Waller recalled. "Paul played (an unfinished version of) A World Without Love, and I asked him if the Beatles were going to record it. He said that he didn't know, so I said that we'd like to record it.
"Paul had never written anything for anyone else before. We made a verbal deal that if we recorded any of his songs, we didn't want (the Beatles) to record the same song. That didn't stop anybody else from recording it. Bobby Rydell had a track of A World Without Love, and if my memory serves me well, I remember giving a guy at the publishing company some static about it."
Said Rydell: "I recorded quite a few songs at the time, and that was just one of them. I don't know how (the record company) acquired it. All I did was go in (the studio) and sing it."
The issue soon became moot. Rydell's version charted but didn't crack the top 40. But the tune began a string of hits for Peter & Gordon, including other McCartney compositions such as Nobody I Know, I Don't Want to See You Again and Woman (originally issued with Bernard Webb, a McCartney pseudonym, listed as the composer).
The British duo also had hits with remakes of True Love Ways, a Buddy Holly song, and To Know You Is To Love You, a Phil Spector composition originally released by the Teddy Bears. Waller and Asher also collaborated as songwriters, but their tunes usually ended up on the B sides of their singles.
"We tried desperately to write hit songs," Waller said, adding that the decisions on which tracks were to be the A sides were based on "how the songs turned out. Obviously, we wanted to write the B sides because we got paid (the same royalties)."
Another hit, I Go To Pieces, was given to Peter & Gordon by Del Shannon, who had several hit records of his own, including Runaway and Keep Searchin' (We'll Follow the Sun).
"We did a tour in New Zealand with Del and the Searchers," Waller said. "Del was always trying to play poker or sell songs to people, and he did a little bit of both on that tour. We were sitting around one night when he played the song. When we asked what it was, he said he wanted to give it to the Searchers. We said, 'The hell with the Searchers; we'll do it!' We also recorded another (Del Shannon) song called Broken Promises."
Peter & Gordon's run with fame came to an end in 1967 when Asher reportedly tired of performing.
"That's fairly accurate," Waller agreed. "Being on the road was hard, and with Peter and me, it was almost like being married, and we started having rows about silly things."
Money was a big factor, too, Waller noted. When the pair finished a tour, they would take a look at how much money they cleared and concluded that touring "really wasn't worthwhile" financially.
"Peter wanted to record Lady Godiva, but I really didn't want to," Waller said. "We ended up doing it, and it was a big hit. When a tour came up, we said we wouldn't go unless we had half of the money up front. We didn't get it, and that tour never happened. We ended up doing one more short tour, but it was just a few television appearances and about six or seven shows."
When the act broke up, Asher eventually went on to become an extremely successful record producer, most notably with Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor. Waller continued to record as a solo artist.
"I signed a contract with EMI for another two years," he said. "I had quite a few singles (released), but nothing really took off."
In the last 30 years, Waller, 54, dabbled in acting and played the part of the Pharaoh in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, in London and in Sydney, Australia, where he lived for a time. He also took 10 years off "to get away from it all" and is now involved in various business ventures.
His first marriage lasted 22 years, and he and wife, Gay, had two daughters Natalie, 22, and Phillippa, 19. He now lives in both Cornwall, England, where he owns a home, and in Glendale, Calif., where his second wife, Georgiana, owns a home.
"I've known (Georgiana) for more than 30 years," Waller said. "I met her in 1966 on a show called Where The Action Is. We married last year. Peter Asher was my best man, and Peter and Gordon performed very badly for the first time in twenty-nine years. We even have a video of it. It was great!"
While it's common for an artist to re-record a new version of another artist's hit song, musicians have even dueled for radio play simultaneously with different versions of the same song. Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon is one of the first.
Carl Perkins hitched a ride to No. 4 on the pop music charts in 1956 with his self-penned Blue Suede Shoes. While traveling to New York City for an appearance on The Perry Como Show, the rockabilly star was seriously injured in a car crash, which prevented him from keeping the momentum going and generating interest in a follow-up record. Meanwhile, his friend, Elvis Presley, also recorded the song. While Perkins recuperated in a hospital, Presley sang Blue Suede Shoes on several television shows en route to his monumental rise to stardom.
Perkins never duplicated his first hit, but his career was revived somewhat in 1964. While on a tour through England, he met four lads from Liverpool who were big fans and who were eager to cover a few of his songs. Perkins was in the studio with the Beatles when they cut such tunes as Matchbox, Honey Don't and Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby.
The British duo Peter & Gordon crossed paths with Philadelphia's own Bobby Rydell when both acts released versions of a John Lennon/Paul McCartney tune, A World Without Love, in 1964. Unfortunately, the British Invasion had overrun the American music scene by then, and Rydell and the rest of the teen idols from that phase of the rock 'n' roll era soon disappeared from the charts.
How the two acts came to record the same song is an interesting story. The two sides vary slightly, but both seem to point to an unknown culprit at a music publishing firm.
Gordon Waller was living at Peter Asher's house in London in the early 1960s around the same time that Peter's sister, Jane Asher, was dating Paul McCartney. During an informal jam session, McCartney played an unfinished version of A World Without Love, and Peter and Gordon asked if they could record it.
"Paul had never written anything for anyone else before," Waller said. "We made a verbal deal that if we recorded any of his songs, we didn't want (the Beatles) to record the same song. That didn't stop anybody else from recording it. Bobby Rydell had a track of A World Without Love, and if my memory serves me well, I remember giving a guy at the publishing company some static about it."
"I was coming off of Forget Him, which was a big million-seller for me (in 1963)," Rydell said. "Then I had put out a song called Make Me Forget, and we were looking for a follow-up record. I guess this was in early 1964. I honestly don't know where (A World Without Love) came from. I was recording for the Cameo/Parkway record label, and I recorded quite a few songs at the time, and that was one of them. I don't know how (the record company) acquired it. All I did was go in and sing it.
"I remember driving to New York with my first manager, Frankie Day, and when we got into the New York area, we picked up WCBS radio. All of a sudden, we heard (Peter and Gordon singing) A World Without Love. My manager went ballistic. He was more upset about it than I was."
"We were touring in England, and we bumped into the Beatles prior to their (success) in America," Day said from his office in Los Angeles. "I got to know their manager (Brian Epstein), and he gave me some songs to listen to, and that was one of them.
"Bobby was real big back then, and I told (Epstein) that I would have Bobby record (A World Without Love) if (Epstein) would guarantee me that he wouldn't offer it to anybody else. I don't know who else he might have offered it to, but at the time, he said that it was clean, which in the record business meant that nobody had recorded it."
Day said he didn't know how Peter & Gordon wound up recording the same song.
"It might have been somebody at the publishing house," Day guessed, "but the Beatles got real big after that, and I just let the issue drop because I didn't want to go looking for a fight."
Said Rydell: "Some disc jockeys played the Peter and Gordon version, and some played mine, and some jockeys, I think, were just fed up with the whole thing. Anyway, to make a long story short, we put it out and sold quite a few records. It charted for me, but I don't think it went real high maybe the top fifty."
Interestingly, Rydell also recalled meeting the Fab Four.
"I was touring England with a singer by the name of Helen Shapiro, who was sort of the (Little) Peggy March of the U.K.," he remembered. "There was a Rolls Royce in front of our bus, and Helen said, 'There are the Beatles.' I had never heard of the Beatles, so I'm looking around the floor of the bus for bugs.
"Anyway, the Rolls Royce stopped, and everybody got out of the car and got on our bus. The Beatles knew who I was, but I didn't know them, so we were introduced, and we shook hands and everything. About a month later, they were on The Ed Sullivan Show."
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