British Invasion: Herman’s Hermits

By Peter Lindblad
Revisit the phenomenon that rocked the world
Herman's Hermits. Courtesy ITV Archives/Rex USA
Herman’s Hermits. Courtesy ITV Archives/Rex USA
Here’s the thing about stardom: You cannot predict when, or if, it will ever happen.

So, if really, really good fortune does come your way, you can’t say, “No, thank you. I’ll wait for the next bus to come along.” You’ve got to grab the golden ring while you can.

And that’s what Herman’s Hermits did. In the summer of 1964, when all the boys were just that, mere boys, or rather, teenagers, Peter Noone and company were experiencing their first taste of runaway success with their hit debut single “I’m Into Something Good.”

“We had all our success before we became accomplished musically,” says Noone. “Suddenly, we’re like 16 years old, and we’re doing all this, while The Beatles were about 22 when they started recording.”

That does not mean that the string of exuberant, jaunty pop hits Herman’s Hermits produced in their early years should be dismissed. Far from it, in fact. Their tight, somewhat complex harmonies are a marvel, and perhaps no other song exemplifies that more than “A Kind Of Hush.”

Noone, however, liked “No Milk Today” and “Sunshine Girl” more. He’s always been a bit troubled by the intro to “A Kind Of Hush.”

“It’s not a great time code at the beginning,” says Noone. “It kind of goes haywire at the beginning. But people don’t realize that.”

Hardly anyone, save for the most snobbish musical killjoy or Herman’s Hermits themselves, has ever noticed it. Nor have people ever really thought about the band being in any way associated with punk.

Noone does, though. And it has everything to do with the simple innocence and “not a care-in-the-world” attitude with which Herman’s Hermits went about creating a sensation.
“We never did have a plan,” says Noone. “I guess we were punk-ish in that way. We never did have any aspirations but to be in a band.”

For Herman’s Hermits, it all started in Manchester, England, in 1963, and manager and producer Mickie Most helped mold and shape their “cheeky,” unabashedly ebullient, bubblegum sound.

Most had a unique producing style that rubbed some the wrong way but was a perfect fit for Herman’s Hermits. Mistakes in the studio were not only tolerated, but also often purposely left on record. Supposedly, The Animals were upset about a bad note Most left in “House Of The Rising Sun.” Nevertheless, Most had his own way of doing things.
“He wanted to go with the best all-around, energized take, and that was punk-ish, too,” says Noone. “I still like bands that are willing to do that. It breeds enthusiasm.”

Because something that sounds too perfect can be dull. Most knew that. And for the Hermits, Most didn’t deviate from  recording their songs in a key he could sing. Why?

“He said he wanted something everyone could sing along with, like a football chant,” adds Noone. “Like in church, with church music. You want a key that’s good for everybody.”

It’s hard to argue with Herman’s Hermits’ success. “I’m Into Something Good” kickstarted the Hermits. Penned by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, the Hermits took it to #1 in the U.K. and #13 in the States.

Interestingly enough, that would be the last U.K. chart-topper, but in America, that was only the first shot across the bow. Two more U.S. #1s on the MGM label — “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” and “I’m Henry The Eighth, I Am” (the Harry Champion British music hall song from 1911) — would make a splash across the pond in 1965.

That same year, “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” peaked at #2 in the U.S. And there was more, much more. 1966 saw them put out George Formby’s “Leaning On A Lamp Post,” from the musical “Me And My Girl,” “A Must To Avoid” and “Listen People,” which crescendoed at #7, #8 and #3, respectively, in the U.S. And then there was the Top 10 1967 hit “There’s A Kind Of Hush.”

And then there were the TV appearances on “The Dean Martin Show,” “The Jackie Gleason Show” and, of course, “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

The hoopla over Herman’s Hermits died down after the late 1960s. Reportedly, their last album of the decade, Rock N Roll Party, was locked away by MGM and never released.
Still, it was quite the rocket ride to the top for Herman’s Hermits. Comprised of original members guitarist/vocalists Keith Hopwood and Karl Green, bassist/vocalist Alan Wrigley, drummer Steve Titterington and, obviously, Noone. Derek “Lek” Leckenby, vocals and gutiar, and drummer Barry Whitwam would later emigrate from  another group, The Wailers.

The changes forced the group to shuffle the lineup. Titterington was replaced by Whitwam, Karl Green moved to bass to take Wrigley’s spot and Leckenby slid into Green’s former role.

The fresh-faced Noone got an early trial by fire with the group. Around age 13, walking into a youth club in Flixton, where his grandmother lived, Noone was approached by Alan Wrigley, bass player in The Heartbeats. Wrigley told Noone that Malcolm Lightfoot, the group’s singer, was a no-show that night.

Noone had never seen the band, but Rigby proceeded to recruit him to fill Lightfoot’s shoes for that evening after a very brief job interview.

“It’s strange,” says Noone. “I wasn’t nervous. They were doing a repertoire that I knew. Bobby Rydell … all these songs that I knew because I was a big music fan.”

Noone passed the audition and joined the band, which eventually morphed into Herman’s Hermits.

It was Noone’s musical upbringing that helped him land the gig. His dad was a musician, and an older sister turned Noone on to artists like Rydell. For his part, though, Noone was more into acts like Dion & The Belmonts, Buddy Holly and the like that appealed to more male concerns.

“It was very teddy boy,” says Noone.

Two years after that impromptu gig with The Heartbeats, Noone was fronting Herman’s Hermits. Early on, as evidenced by a rare performance of “Fortune Teller” on the new Hermits’ DVD “Listen People 1964-1969” that’s part of a new British Invasion 5-DVD box set, the band could whip up some raucous R&B. But the Hermits’ sound would become more refined and commercial. After all, here was a clean-cut group of fun-seeking youths, and fans, especially teenage girls, couldn’t contain themselves.

“We did our cheeky, chappy thing for them,” says Noone, and in some way, the subtle, almost imperceptible, sexual innuuendo in Herman’s Hermits’ music somehow connected with the female set. Noone explains the appeal.

“Girls of every generation have found boys more appealing who are charming rather than smarmy,” says Noone.

And there was no hint of anything sleazy with Herman’s Hermits. Most would help make sure of that.

However, maintaining that immaculate image had its drawbacks, as did leaks that session musicians, including Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, played on some of their singles. Noone doesn’t see what the big deal is.

“I find it irrelevant,” says Noone. “Think about ‘Daydream Believer.’ Who cares who played on that? By the time we got some of those songs [the session musicians played on] on stage, we were playing them better than whoever played on the session.”

People forget that kind of thing. And, because of their image and their puppy-dog pop aesthetic, no matter how tight the playing was or how full of instantly memorable hooks the songs were, Herman’s Hermits always had to fight for respect. Over time, they’ve gotten a measure of it, but whatever the case, Herman’s Hermits was a band of the people … with Most’s help.

“We were really way more vox pop,” adds Noone, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

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