A four-piece Liverpudlian band, managed by Brian Epstein and produced by George Martin – we could only be talking about one band…Gerry And The Pacemakers. Well, clearly there were some similarities between The Beatles and Gerry And The Pacemakers!
Although sharing early beginnings, with the stomping grounds of the iconic Cavern Club and performing in Hamburg, Germany, the two bands’ careers would split off in different directions; Gerry & The Pacemakers signed to Columbia Records and The Beatles to Parlophone.
Upon lead singer Gerry Marsden’s death in 2021, journalist and music critic Neil McCormick wrote in The Daily Telegraph that “as The Beatles forged their identity, the Pacemakers would always be in their shadow.” Whilst it is a fair aspersion that the band never reached the dizzying heights of “The Fab Four”, to claim that they were little more than a facsimile of John, Paul, George, and Ringo is to do a great injustice.
First Number One Single
What is often forgotten is that Gerry & The Pacemakers actually had their first number-one before The Beatles – and with a song rejected by the band, no less.
Indeed, in April 1964, Gerry & The Pacemakers topped the charts with the single “How Do You Do It?”. The single would remain at the top spot for three weeks. It was the first Merseybeat single to hit the UK number one position.
Parlophone’s The Beatles (Gerry & The Pacemakers were on sister label Columbia Records) rejected the George Martin-produced track. Instead, The Beatles opted to record their self-written track “Love Me Do”, which barely cracked the UK Top 20.
It was The Beatles however, who managed to dethrone the single when “From Me To You” became their first number-one single in May 1963.
The First Band To Have Their First Three Singles Go To Number One
Perhaps the greatest accolade Gerry Marsden and Co. can attest to is becoming the first band to have their first three singles top the UK chart.
After “From Me To You” topped the charts, Gerry fought back with the group’s second number one, “I Like It”. The energetic ditty remained unchallenged on the perch for four weeks.
On Halloween, The Pacemakers netted their third consecutive number-one single, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, with which they have become synonymous. Much like “I Like It”, it remained there for four weeks. It would remain until “She Loves You” regained the number one position, having already topped the chart for several weeks earlier that year.
Stardom & Shrivel
After three successive singles since their debut, they aimed for a fourth although it was not to be. The track “I’m The One” was prevented from the top spot by another Merseybeat band when held off by The Searchers’s “Needles and Pins”.
It was not until mid-1964 that Gerry and company saw their biggest US chart hit when “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying” peaked at number four on the Hot 100.
Yet, as the decade progressed, much like many of the British Invasion era acts such as The Dave Clark Five and Herman’s Hermits, their star was waning by the mid-late ‘60s – in part by being blown out of the water by cultural music change reflected by acts like Jimi Hendrix and The Doors.
“You’ll Never Walk Alone”: A Legacy In Liverpool
Perhaps the greatest legacy left by the band in the modern day relates to Liverpool F.C. who have adopted the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as their anthem.
Also a motto on the club’s coat of arms, the song is sung before every Liverpool game, with fans singing in unison as the camera pans over a sea of raised red scarves.
One of the favourite songs of Bill Shankly – perhaps the most beloved and acclaimed Liverpool manager of all time – he was provided with a copy by Gerry prior to the track’s release, with the song going on to become the club’s track for decades. Former player Tommy Smith recalls how Shankly was “in awe of what he heard”.
Part of the beauty of the track is that it is fairly simple lyrically, making it the urban hymn it is today. The single is driven by its lyrics of hope and unity alongside an emotionally crescendoing chorus making it a sing-along classic. It is arguable that no Beatles song could really fulfil such a role as well as this does.
The song, already in common use, was given greater resonance after the events at Hillsborough Stadium in 1989. In the Hillsborough Disaster, 97 Liverpool supporters were fatally crushed during their FA Cup semi-final match when police incompetence led to overcrowding in the deadliest event in British sporting history.
One of the most tear-jerking performances of the song (although there are many viewable online) took place on the 20-year anniversary of the tragedy when Marsden performed at Anfield in front of 30,000 fans as manager Rafael Benitez helped release 96 balloons in tribute to the victims.
Margaret Aspinall of the Hillsborough Family Support Group remarked: “It’s so moving to us, it’s like our prayer. It belongs to the families now, it’s ours. I’m sorry Gerry but it belongs to the 96.”
The track, a favourite of Liverpool-supporting icon John Peel, rose to a level of fame to even be covered by some of the biggest artists in the world, such as Elvis Presley.
Today, the single has entered the realm of cornerstone ballad – such as that of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, commonly performed during times of national tragedy or crisis, such as during Covid-19.
Even then, it is not the only Liverpool classic by the band, whose single “Ferry Cross The Mersey” was a hit in the UK and US – perhaps surprisingly charting higher in the US. The song, which was a top 10 hit in its heyday, topped the charts in 1989 with a charity edition featuring fellow Liverpudlians such as Paul McCartney and Holly Johnson, the leader singer of Frankie Goes To Hollywood (ironically, the latter of whom would be the second act to get three consecutive chart-toppers from their debut).
Gerry And The Pacemakers: Voices of Merseyside
I was being somewhat facetious in my introduction by pointing out the many similarities between the groups.
Although obviously sharing many similarities, the bands are too unique, with Gerry & The Pacemakers leaving their own indelible mark. The band even starred in their own film, Ferry Cross The Mersey, which was their equivalent of A Hard Day’s Night.
In 2013, Marsden stated that he and The Beatles were good friends: “on-stage rivals but off stage we were the best of mates.” Paul also released a touching tribute after Marsden’s 2021 passing, which left pianist Les Maguire as the last surviving member of the group.
As well as their notable accolade of being the first band to have three number-one singles, the band also saw success with many hits such as “I’m The One” and “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying”. Moreover, two singles – “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Ferry Cross The Mersey” – have become symbols of the Scouse spirit, earning him his 2003 MBE.
The band were first and foremost Liverpudlian, perhaps at the expense of their own commercial career.