Helen Shapiro-Face The Music: The Complete Singles 1967-1984.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: CD.

By the time Helen Shapiro celebrated her twenty-first birthday in 1967 the London-born singer realise had already enjoyed the most successful period of her career. Her rise had been meteoric and was like the script to a Hollywood film.

Helen Shapiro was born in Bethnal Green Hospital in the East End of London on the ’28th’ of September 1948, and spent the early part of her childhood living in a council flat in Clapton, in the borough of Hackney. She attended Northwold Primary School which was where her musical career began.

By then, Helen Shapiro had discovered music and bought her first single. However, her parents were unable to afford their own record player and she had to borrow a neighbour’s player to hear her new single. This was just the start of Helen Shapiro’s love of music.

She began to play the banjo ukulele and sometimes, joined her brother Ron when he sang in the skiffle group at the local youth group. Even then, Helen Shapiro had a deep voice and her school friends started to call her “foghorn.” However, she would have the last laugh.

Aged ten, Helen Shapiro became joined Susie and the Hula Hoops’ lead vocalist. The group also included her cousin Susan Singer who would embark upon a career as a vocalist during the sixties and guitarist Mark Field who later, changed his name to Mark Bolan. This was the start of Helen Shapiro’s career. 

Helen Shapiro enrolled at The Maurice Burman School of Modern Pop Singing, in Baker Street, London, which was the alma mater of Alma Coogan. One of Maurice Burman’s contacts was John Schroeder a songwriter and A&R executive at Columbia. He recorded a demo of Helen Shapiro singing Birth Of The Blues, and not long after this the thirteen year old was signed to Columbia.

By the time Helen Shapiro released her debut single Don’t Treat Me Like A Child in February 1961 she was fourteen. It reached number three in the UK, six in Ireland and topped the charts in New Zealand. The single launched Helen Shapiro’s career. 

The followup was You Don’t Know which was released on the ‘29th’ June 1961 and reached number one in the UK and was certified gold. Elsewhere the single topped the charts in Ireland and New Zealand and was a top ten single in Denmark, Norway, France, Israel and Japan. 

The day after her fifteenth birthday Walkin’ Back to Happiness was realised as single on the ‘29th’ of September 1961. The topped the UK chart gave Helen Shapiro her second gold disc. This was just part of the story. Walkin’ Back to Happiness reached number one in Ireland, New Zealand, Israel and South Africa and reached the top ten in Austria, Australia, France, Holland, Norway and Sweden. It was the biggest hit single of Helen Shapiro’s nascent career. She was enjoying success beyond her wildest dreams.

When Helen Shapiro released her fourth single Tell Me What He Said in early 1962 it “only” reached number two in the UK. This was her fourth consecutive top ten single. Elsewhere, it reached number one in India and gave her a top ten single in Ireland, Israel, New Zealand and Norway.

The followup Let’s Talk About Love stalled at twenty-three later in 1963. This was a disappointment for Helen Shapiro, who had made her acing debut.

 By the spring of 1962 she had appeared as herself in the Billy Fury film Play It Cool and played the female lead in the British musical comedy It’s Trad, Dad! which featured performances by a variety of dixieland jazz bands and rock-and-roll singers. However, after her appearances in the two films Helen Shapiro decided to concentrate on her musical career.

Later in 1962, Helen Shapiro released her sixth single Little Miss Lonely which peaked at number eight in the UK charts. Little did she realise that this was the last top ten single of her career.

Despite that, there was still more success to come for Helen Shapiro when was voted Britain’s “Top Female Singer” before her sixteenth birthday. This was just the latest award to come her way during a two year period where she was one of the biggest names in British music.

In 1963, Helen Shapiro embarked upon a British tour and one of the groups that had been booked to support her were The Beatles. They had just enjoyed their first hit single and she witnessed firsthand the early outbreaks of Beatlemania. However, during the tour unbeknown to Helen Shapiro The Beatles also wrote a song for her.

This was Misery which was turned down by Norrie Paramor who was Helen Shapiro’s producer. She wasn’t told about the song never mind allowed to hear it Misery. It was only later that Helen Shapiro was told about his decision to turn down Misery. By then, it had featured on The Beatles’ debut album Please Please Me. For Helen Shapiro it was a case of what might have been as  the song might have transformed her ailing fortunes.

None of the singles that Helen Shapiro released during 1963 troubled the top thirty in the UK. Queen For Tonight Reaches thirty-three, Woe Is Me thirty-five and Look Who It Is stalled at forty-seven. Worse was to come when No Trespassing failed to chart in the UK, although it topped the charts in Australia. This was a small crumb of comfort for the seventeen year old singer.

1964 was another disappointing year for Helen Shapiro with hit singles again proving elusive. None of her singles troubled the top thirty in the UK. Her most successful release was a cover of Fever which stalled at a lowly thirty-eight. This was a far cry from 1961 when Helen Shapiro had enjoyed two number ones and two other top ten singles. That must have seemed like a long time ago.

Things went from bad to worse in 1965 when none of the singles that Helen Shapiro released came close to troubling the charts. It was a similar case in 1966 and as 1967 dawned executives at Columbia were wondering if Helen Shapiro’s hit making days were behind her? 

She would only release two more singles on Columbia. These singles and the B-Sides feature on a new Helen Shapiro compilation which has been released by Ace Records. It’s entitled Face The Music: The Complete Singles 1967-1984 and features twenty-five tracks including many that make their debut on CD. 

By March 1967, John Schroeder who had discovered Helen Shapiro had left Columbia and so had her producer Norrie Paramor. He had been replaced by Norman Smith who produced the final two singles Helen Shapiro released for the label. 

Her first single of 1967 was a cover of Billy Vera and Chip Taylor’s Make Me Belong To You which featured the Helen Shapiro composition The Way Of The World on the B-Side. It was recorded in 1966 and featured an impassioned and emotive vocal. It’s a stronger song and would’ve made a better single as Make Me Belong To You never troubled the charts.

It was a similar case when the cerebral sounding She Needs Company, a Paul Jones composition was released as a single with Stop and You Will Become Aware on the flip-side.  Sadly, when the single was released on the ‘25th’ of August 1967 Helen Shapiro’s Columbia swansong failed to chart. However, the B-Side went on to become a favourite on the Northern Soul scene. By then, it was all change for Helen Shapiro.

After leaving Columbia, Helen Shapiro signed to Pye which was home to two of Petula Clark and Sandie Shaw. The label now had three of the top British female vocalists signed to the label. 

Helen Shapiro’s debut for Pye was the ballad You’ll Get Me Loving You which was released in 1968 and featured the faux-Motown of Silly Boy (I Love You) on the B-Side. Both sides were written by Anthony King and John Schroeder who had penner her early hits and many of the songs she recorded at Pye. However, the single failed to trouble the charts and the search for a hit continued.

In 1969, the Latin-tinged Today Has Been Cancelled was released as a single and failed to chart in the UK. However, it was a commercial success in Australia where Helen Shapiro had enjoyed a string of hit singles. On the B-Side was vastly underrated and radio friendly Face The Music which was penned by Anthony King and John Schroeder.

They didn’t write the followup You’ve Guessed which was released as a single later in 1969. It failed to find an audience although the stomping B-Side Take Me for A While with its dancing strings was another of Helen Shapiro’s songs to become a favourite on the UK Northern Soul scene.

As 1970 dawned, eight years had passed since Helen Shapiro last enjoyed a hit single  with Little Miss Lonely. Her time at Pye had been unsuccessful partly because the label weren’t promoting the singles as effectively as other releases. To make matters worse John Schroeder moved to Polydor. He had cowritten many of the songs she recorded and championed Helen Shapiro at Pye. Things weren’t looking good for her.

Especially when her first single of 1970 failed to chart. This was Take Down A Note Miss Smith with Couldn’t You See on the B-Side. The followup later in 1970 was Waiting On The Shores Of Nowhere which featured the hurt-filled ballad Glass Of Wine on the flip-side. It was the last single Helen Shapiro would release for Pye in the UK and is one of the hidden gems in her back-catalogue.

Just before Helen Shapiro was dropped by Pye, she released Das Ist Nicht Die Feine Englische Art on their German imprint. After that, the thirty year old singer left the label and her search for a hit continued.

Two years after leaving Pye, Helen Shapiro recorded The Prophet for the Phoenix label. When the single was released in 1972, Helen Shapiro used the moniker Ella Stone and Moss. However, the single failed to trouble the charts and doesn’t feature on the Face The Music: The Complete Singles 1967-1984 compilation .

By 1975, Helen Shapiro had signed to DJM and released the tender, heartfelt ballad You’re A Love Child as a single. On the B-Side was That’s The Reason I Love You where pop, rock and soul melt into one on what’s another hidden gem. Sadly, the single failed to find and audience and Helen Shapiro left DJM.

Later in 1975 she headlined Ronnie Scott’s jazz club as she continued to pursue a career as a jazz singer. It was a new chapter in her career.

In 1976 she returned to the studio with producer Bill Kimber and arranger Colin Frechter and recorded If You Feel He Cares and It Only Hurts When You Love. The songs were sold to the Magnet label who seeing the potential in them spent money on PR before releasing them using the Swing Thing moniker later in 1976. Sadly, for Helen Shapiro it was another disappointment when the single sunk without trace.

Despite that, she continued to work with Bill Kimber and Colin Frechter. They recorded the Russ Ballard’s Can’t Break The Habit for the next single. On the B-Side was the Ron and Helen Shapiro composition For All The Wrong Reasons on the B-Side. Despite its slick, uptempo and hook-laden sound the single failed to chart when released in 1977. That was despite being heavily promoted by Arista and being played on local and national radio. It was the one that got away for Helen Shapiro who had now gone fifteen years without a hit.

Helen Shapiro’s second single for Arista was a soulful cover of Every Little Bit Hurts with Touchin’ Wood on the flip-side. Sadly when the single was released in 1978 it failed to trouble the charts. This resulted in Helen Shapiro and Arista parting company.

The next single she released in the UK was on Oval which was co-owned by DJ and writer Charlie Gillett. He approached Helen Shapiro to make the album which eventually became Straight Up and Fly Right. Before this, they released a cover of Irving Berlin’s Let Yourself Go was released as a single with Funny on the B-Side. It showed another side to Helen Shapiro who by now had reinvented as a jazz singer.

Despite that, the following year, 1984, she returned to her pop roots with cover of Allen Toussaint’s Brickyard Blues. It was released with Just Another Weekend on the flip-side. This was the final pop single of Helen Shapiro’s career which began twenty-three years earlier in 1961.

Incredibly, the first two years of Helen Shapiro’s career proved to be the most successful. In the UK she enjoyed five top ten singles between 1961 and 1962 and two of these topped the charts. During this period, Helen Shapiro enjoyed hit singles as far afield as Australia, Europe, India, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa. Sadly, never again did she scale these heights and by 1967 her time at Columbia where the label she signed to six years earlier was almost at an end.

Face The Music: The Complete Singles 1967-1984 features the last two singles Helen Shapiro released for Columbia and documents her career as a solo artist right through until 1984. The compilation shows different sides to Helen Shapiro a talented singer who showcases her versatility during the twenty-five tracks Face The Music: The Complete Singles 1967-1984. It shows that there’s more to Helen Shapiro than Walkin’ Back to Happiness, much more. 

Face The Music: The Complete Singles 1967-1984.

1 Comment

  1. PS B

    Wow – what a great blog. I found it as it was recommended to me via WordPress after I had subscribed to another (not related) blog, which was good to see as yours was directly in my line of interest. Your reviews are incredibly detailed, well-written and well-presented.Most impressive, I must say.

    You may find my own review blog of interest although it is not a patch on yours! Click on my pic by my user name.

    Anyway keep up the good work! Cheers, Paul.

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