Adam Faith

TrackSingle / Album
What Do You Want?Parlophone 45-R 4591
Poor MeParlophone 45-R 4623
The ReasonParlophone 45-R 4623
Big TimeParlophone 45-R 4643
Johnny Comes Marching HomeParlophone 45-R 4665
How About ThatParlophone 45-R 4689
The Beat Girl SongBeat Girl (OST)
The First TimeParlophone R 5061
Cowman, Milk Your CowParlophone R 5635
I SurvivedI Survive

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Adam Faith photo

 

Contributor: Merric Davidson

 

Adam Faith was born Terence Nelhams-Wright (known as Terry Nelhams) in Acton, West London in June 1940.

Adam Faith plaque

Like so many others he started out in a skiffle group, the Worried Men, in 1957, playing the 2i’s Coffee Bar and appearing on the Six-Five Special on TV where he impressed Jack Good and was rewarded with a recording contract with HMV. He moved to Parlophone in 1959 where the hits began. In time, he was to become equally as famous as a much-loved actor. There is a lot more to chronicle in the life and times of the charismatic Adam Faith but it doesn’t need to be done here.

This isn’t intended as an essay on the merits (or otherwise) of a UK pop star, more an attempt to address my enduring love for (some of) this man’s records, almost sixty years on. It’s really hard to believe that it’s that long since I first heard his fourth single and first No.1, What Do You Want?.

After three failed singles, here was the song that would propel this budding actor into the pop charts and a string of top ten hits. I was twelve when it came out in 1959 and I was sold – hook, line and sinker.

I wanted to hear What Do You Want? all the time. Had to have it but I had no money. My mother eventually took pity and bought it for me. But – and it was a huge but – it may have been What Do You Want? but not as I knew it. It was this …

Johnny Worth - What Do You Want

For those who don’t know, Embassy was the budget label of the now defunct High Street emporium, Woolworth’s. Everyone had at least one Embassy record in their collection, standing out like a bad penny, and mine was What Do You Want?.

The singer, Johnny Worth, was also Les Vandyke, the song’s writer. It wasn’t great. The one I wanted was this one; the hit record, the one with John Barry’s arrangement, not the measly, cheap, ‘wrong’ version from Woolies.

Adam Faith - What Do You Want

 

The first Adam Faith record that I owned was the follow up, Poor Me, which came out just two months later, in January 1960. I had been saving up. Poor Me, again written by Vandyke and arranged by Barry, and of course influenced like the last one by Buddy Holly, was nevertheless under two minutes of pure pop magic. Once again, the singer hit the No.1 spot. Poor Me is still my favourite Adam Faith record, the only one of his on my (very long) essential pop playlist and one of the great pop records. Here it is:

The flip side, The Reason, was written by John Barry and, at a time when we all owned so few records that both sides were played over and over again, I got to know every inch, every groove of The Reason. I mean it’s not a particularly brilliant song but it has rather a pleasing understated Barry sound and based on plays on my Dansette alone, it’s got to go in.

Adam Faith was never a rock ‘n’ roll singer; he wasn’t even a good singer and he knew he wasn’t, had a really limited range and didn’t always hit the right notes. What he did have, though, was a presence and a charm and there was something about him and his chiselled good looks that made even the poor records he scored with later, tolerable.

But before then, there was the flip side of the third hit (Someone Else’s Baby), the Lionel Bart composition, Big Time, written for his musical, Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be. “No more chicken runs, I used to dig ‘em once, when I was back in school, I was the biggest dunce …”

 

My next purchase was a double A-side (Adam Faith released five singles in 1960 alone) and the side I played to death was Johnny Comes Marching Home. With its supreme arrangement by John Barry and its familiarity, the American Civil War anthem sounded great to this thirteen-year-old. I can see now that it was maybe an attempt to break the singer’s pop chains by giving him material for a wider audience. I don’t know, perhaps I’m imagining things because, for certain, there were many more pop ditties to come between 1960 and 1962. Only one of these, the fifth hit, How About That, again written by Les Vandyke, makes this top ten. Romance, innocence, wonder, hope: “You’ve got a face like an angel’s face, how about that …”.

After that one, and the dreadful Lonely Pup (In A Christmas Shop), it was really a race to the bottom for Adam. From 1963 onwards, with the help of hit songwriter Chris Andrews, a lot of records were released and the first of these harnessed the Merseybeat sound. The First Time made it to No.5 and I’ve included it for its sheer chutzpah.

By this time, the backing band, the excellent Roulettes, were filling out the sound and receiving credit on the records. We Are In Love was another attempt to cash in by bringing an ersatz Beatles beat to the capital. It peaked at #11:

Years passed, and then, in the summer of love, with Adam spending more time acting than recording, there was this oddity; a Brothers Gibb song Cowman, Milk Your Cow which was released as a single. Adam hadn’t had a top twenty hit for three years. Despite its catchy title (!) this one died on the vine, but it has a lot going for it and is well worth a listen. Peter Green on guitar.

 

And that was pretty much it. I could have included a few late-period cover versions in this list: Bacharach & David’s A Message To Martha, Bob Lind’s Cheryl’s Goin’ Home, but I’d have been had up for rock treason. So I’m finishing with the opener from Adam’s 1974 comeback album, I Survive; he had survived a serious car crash the previous year. There is at least one dodgy note – it wouldn’t be Adam without that – but it’s ambitious and appealing. Sadly, despite stellar guitar work from Ritchie Blackmore and contributions from Paul McCartney, the album, described as “a debacle” by Faith in his autobiography, flopped.

After two decades working as a financial adviser and investor, famously conducting his affairs from the restaurant of Fortnum & Mason, Adam Faith was declared bankrupt in 2002 following the collapse of his Money Channel TV venture. He had a history of heart problems and died of a heart attack the following year, aged 62.

Adam Faith – a man who never found his true vocation, a rock anomaly who lives on in the nostalgic canyons of your mind.

“He was never big-headed, and to me that’s what made him a star.” Gerry Marsden

“He was a pioneer of pop in the Sixties and a great actor. A true working-class hero.” Cilla Black

“I will miss him. He was a one-off. He was a good mate.” Roger Daltrey

“He was a bit of a workaholic. He just put everything he had into what he was doing at the time. But the main thing I remember about him more than anything else is he was just so nice. There was no ego there. He was always very, very kind and he would always come over and he was the most friendly person I think I have ever known.” Tony Blackburn

 

Adam Faith photo 2

 

Adam Faith (1940-2003)

 

Adam Faith poster 2

 

 

SELECTED TV/FILMOGRAPHY
Never Let Go (1960)
Beat Girl (1960)
What A Whopper (1961)
Mix Me A Person (1962)
Budgie (1971-72)
Stardust (1974)
Yesterday’s Hero (1979)
McVicar (1980)
Love Hurts (1992-94)
The House That Jack Built (2002)

 

Adam Faith poster

 

Adam Faith website (including pictorial discography)

Adam Faith interviewed by John Freeman “Face to Face” BBC TV 1960

John Barry official website

Les Vandyke wikipedia

Johnny Worth/Les Vandyke talks about the influence of Buddy Holly on “What Do You Want” (YouTube)

The Roulettes (AllMusic)

Adam Faith biography (iTunes)

Merric Davidson is a retired publisher who started this site four years ago. He tweets toppermost @AgeingRaver.

TopperPost #637

11 Comments

  1. Dave Stephens
    Jul 1, 2017

    Lovely Toppermost – I have a preference for those with plenty of personal content. You even persuaded me to listen to a load of Faith clips; first time I’ve consciously paid the man any attention for decades. Mind you when marooned on the proverbial desert island I’d still prefer It Doesn’t Matter anymore to the entire Faith oeuvre. Different strokes I guess.

  2. Merric Davidson
    Jul 2, 2017

    Thanks Dave. Not too different strokes. I’d go It Doesn’t Matter Anymore AND the flip side for the entire oeuvre on that island.

  3. Colin Duncan
    Jul 4, 2017

    Enjoyed reading this Toppermost very much. I come into music with the Beatles and Stones etc, Merric, but a slightly older family friend and big Adam fan gave me ‘What Do You Want?’ and ‘Poor Me’ and I played them for years. I started reading about Adam a few months ago and I think he is the classic sixties icon story. A really interesting life. He was a skiffle group member, teen idol, style icon, sex symbol, actor, stamp collector, stocks and shares dealer, financial journalist and then lost all his money in his TV investment. Like many other people, I loved Budgie and the interplay between Adam and the great Iain Cuthbertson. When I was working at Petticoat Lane, full of records and brilliant clothes at that time, I bought a Budgie jacket. You can’t be more cool than giving your name to a classic piece of clothing. And when he lost the lot, he started again. I was really saddened by his death at the time. I’m going to check out your selections – pop is great. Thanks very much, Merric.

    • Merric Davidson
      Jul 4, 2017

      Cheers Colin, would love to see a picture of you in that Budgie jacket. Excellent. Pop IS great!

  4. Colin Duncan
    Jul 4, 2017

    There’s a sad end to the story of the Budgie jacket. When I split up with the girlfriend at the time, she wouldn’t give me back my records, my books, my sports gear and my Budgie jacket. It would have been better if she had thrown them down the stairs after me. I looked today and I could have bought a new one for £625. Adam also helped popularise feather cuts and curved collars on the ends of shirts at this time, and me as a dedicated follower of fashion had both. He was an icon and dated Chris Evert and managed Leo Sayer as well. (No wonder he had a heart attack)! Working through the Toppermost list, and I’m not an expert, but I think ‘It’s Alright’ is a miss. One of my favourite clips in film is the scene where Robin Williams plays ‘It’s Alright’ . Great scene. You can watch it on YouTube and it’s a must. This is an achievement in itself. Weather is miserable up here, but I’ve spent two long afternoons on Adam Faith. Maybe not the greatest singer, but no one in British pop was more stylish. Really got a lot from this Toppermost. Thanks again, Merric.

    • Merric Davidson
      Jul 4, 2017

      I think you’re right, it probably should have gone in, it was his sole US top 40 hit after all – and it’s a lot more frantic Faith than the Sonics more restrained cover a couple years later. And the movie clip is brilliant of course. Yes, a good call all round!

  5. Peter Viney
    Jul 10, 2017

    A bit more on Johnny Worth. Johnny Worth started doing work for Embassy in 1958. Like many Embassy artists, he sang with the Oscar Rabin Band, then joined vocal group The Raindrops. Johnny Worth did the Embassy cover of Adam Faith’s hit song, What Do You Want? for Embassy. But is it a cover, or the original? The Adam Faith version went to #1, but Johnny Worth had written the song in the first place. He has the tremolo in his voice, but sings “baby” not “bigh-bee” like Adam. Worth continued recording for Embassy and Oriole, and also covered Someone Else’s Baby and How About That, both of which he’d written for Adam Faith. With such songwriting success under his belt, he changed his name to Les Vandyke and carried on writing the hits, such as Poor Me, again for Adam Faith, which he promptly covered for Embassy. He is collectable in his own right, and there is a Johnny Worth Embassy CD compilation (The Complete Embassy Singles). He says: “I got paid a tenner a track which was quite a bit of dosh in the late fifties / early sixties.”
    I’m particularly fond of the later period with The Roulettes.

  6. Merric Davidson
    Jul 10, 2017

    Thanks for the extra on Johnny Worth and if anyone wants to know more about this most interesting and charming “pop man” all this and much more is available in the info-packed Les Vandyke wikipedia entry. For example, he was the writer of Eden Kane’s No.1 hit Well I Ask You (1961) and two of his other top ten hits, and so many other hit records, including one of my British Beat Group favourites, Blue Girl by The Bruisers – totally brilliant! And another favourite, Some People, written for the movie of the same name and recorded by Valerie Mountain and also Jet Harris – who probably should have stuck to playing bass! I mention in the post that Johnny Worth/Les Vandyke wrote both Poor Me and How About That for Adam Faith, as well as What Do You Want. He also wrote Who Am I, The Time Has Come, As You Like It, Don’t That Beat All… So – no Johnny Worth, maybe no Adam Faith. Also, in the fascinating interview with Worth that is on youtube, the one that we flag up in the links above, he reveals that he said to Adam during the recording sessions for What Do You Want that, “We’ve got to find something different that you can do, and then it hit us, we twisted ‘a’ in ‘baby’ into ‘bye-be’. It’s easy to be clever after the event. It was just an idea and we were extraordinarily lucky.” For further information on the Woolworth Embassy label, record collectors and those with a passing interest could visit The Wonder of Embassy Records website, it’s not definitive, it’s reportedly a work in progress, but it’s a nostalgic trip for those of us of a certain age. Or try the official history from the Woolworths Museum.

  7. David Lewis
    Jul 18, 2017

    Brilliant summary. I would have the ugh. Knew few of those, but in fact, my slightly later than yours childhood has a soundtrack dotted with these songs thanks to local radio. In Australia.

  8. John Chamberlain
    Aug 6, 2017

    Thanks for that, Merric. I really enjoyed the Face to Face interview. Not your average pop star.

    • Merric Davidson
      Aug 6, 2017

      Cheers John, quite a cause célèbre when it aired in 1960 wasn’t it.

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