Updating a legend into the top 10

I’m starting to prepare for returning to the radio as a DJ after more than 30 years off the air. A lot has changed since then, most notably in that there are no more D’s to J.  The station doesn’t even have a compact disc player any more, much less turntables or – as disc jockeys of the past will remember – carts. (They were kind of like 8-track tapes, only even more ornery.) Everything is on computer files now.

It does present some challenges for someone like myself who believes that music is best in some kind of physical format. I’ve been starting to transfer some CD compilations I made a few years back onto a stick or thumb drive (I guess those are the same thing).  This thing, a quarter the size of my phone, holds something like six hours of music! And that’s in the form of uncompressed WAV files, too. Think how many MP3s would fit! (They’d sound pretty icky on the radio, though.)

The station is WSWE-LP, 92.7 FM, the college radio station of Sweet Briar College, just south of Amherst, Va. Right now it has a power of about 100 watts, but depending on elevation, weather and other obstacles, I’ve been able to hear it a good distance south of campus, though there are certain areas where it doesn’t come in at all. The station’s pretty free-form; even their automated system is eclectic. In between songs released just this year, they threw in “Pretty Ballerina” by the Left Banke, a hit in early 1967, which I think is the oldest song I’ve heard on the station so far.

Once I know more, I’ll let you know more. I’ll probably be doing two hours a week for now. The station also isn’t yet set up for streaming, but that, I am told, will come soon, too.

Anyway, I know you’re here for another entry from The Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s, and I’m happy to oblige.

Early in their career, Peter & Gordon had three straight hits, including a #1, with songs written for them by John Lennon and Paul McCartney (actually McCartney by himself; Lennon contributed nothing to any of those three hits).  But their second biggest hit had nothing to do with the Beatles, but with a much older British legend.

# 698
Lady Godiva / Peter & Gordon /
Capitol 5740
(Total points: 1,051 /  Chart debut: 10/8/1966 / Chart peak: 6 / Weeks on chart: 14)

Lady Godiva – a real person – was the wife of 11th century Anglo-Saxon nobleman Leofric, Earl of Mercia. She lived just before and after the Norman conquest of 1066 and, after surviving her husband, was one of very few Anglo-Saxons who continued to own significant amounts of land after the invasion. She died sometime before 1086. But she is best known for a mythical event: According to the most common version of the legend, which first was told some 200 years after her death, she rode naked through the streets of Coventry on a dare, covered only by her long hair, to protest her husband’s oppressive taxation of the townsfolk; after she did so, he rolled back the levies.

In 1966, songwriters Mike Leander and Charles Mills brought the legend into the modern era with “Lady Godiva,” Peter & Gordon’s second-biggest American hit single and the first of two songs they have in the Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s.

The modern Lady Godiva is a 17-year-old beauty queen who, during her famous ride, is seen by a Hollywood director who promises to make her a star, but he turns out to be in the X-rated film business. Paul Jones, shortly after he left the group Manfred Mann, recorded the original version for his LP My Way. John Burgess, Peter & Gordon’s producer, who also produced the Jones album, brought “Lady Godiva” to the duo as a possible single. Gordon Waller loved it, but Peter Asher didn’t; he had to be talked into recording the song.

Performed in the British music-hall style that was popular in the U.S. during the early years of the British Invasion, “Lady Godiva” took some time to get going, but it eventually peaked at #6 just before Christmas in 1966. It was Peter & Gordon’s first Top 10 single since “I Go to Pieces” had reached #9 in early 1965.

Collector’s notes: “Lady Godiva” was originally released in the U.S. with a Geoff Stephens composition, “The Town I Live In,” on the B-side. Both an advertisement and the 45 review in the October 26, 1966 Billboard mention this as the flip. But this record was taken off the market, possibly less than a week after it was issued. Today, it is considered to be among the rarest Capitol 45s. It is known to exist on both East Coast and West Coast pressings.

The “standard” version of the 45 has “Morning’s Calling,” the same B-side as on the British release of “Lady Godiva,” on the flip side. This is common on both East Coast and West Coast extra-bold editions. A variation of the East Coast pressing has the perimeter print at the bottom of the label in yellow rather than the standard white.

“Lady Godiva” was not issued with a picture sleeve.

Fast fact: Peter & Gordon’s follow-up single, “Knight in Rusty Armour,” done in a similar style to “Lady Godiva,” made the top 20 in early 1967, and “Sunday for Tea” made the top 40. But those would be the duo’s last hits.

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