April 7, 1965
“Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” by Herman’s Hermits
#1 on the Cashbox Top 100, April 3-9, 1965
Billboard magazine is the best-known, longest-running, and most in-depth compiler of music chart rankings in the United States, with the Hot 100 and Billboard 200 the primary yardstick for measuring the success of pop singles and albums, respectively. This very column frequently relies on Billboard’s rankings to determine the #1 records discussed each week. But while Billboard may now be the de facto official compiler of the US music charts, that wasn’t always the case. For decades, Billboard was just one of many trade magazines publishing national rankings of popular music.
Billboard’s biggest competitor in the mid-’60s was Cashbox, founded in 1942 to cover the jukebox industry. (Record World, the third major charts publisher, also launched in the ’40s, but would only really take off in the ’70s.) Cashbox compiled its Top 100 chart based strictly on record sales and jukebox plays — in short, songs listeners spent money on. Billboard’s Hot 100, on the other hand, factored in radio airplay in addition to sales, creating a chart that was more inclusive but arguably less objective, as it gave DJs more direct influence into a song’s chart placement. This difference in methodology between the two magazines resulted in weekly charts that were often similar to each other, but never identical.
Occasionally, a song would even reach #1 on one chart without ever topping the other. Such is the case with Herman’s Hermits’ second US single, “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat.” The teenage rock group from Manchester, England, emerged out of the British Invasion in 1964 with the instant classic “I’m Into Something Good.” The Gerry Goffin-Carole King composition sounded breezier than a lot of what was coming out of the British Invasion — closer to the girl group records the duo frequently wrote with a healthy dose of Beach Boys-style harmonies. But while the song itself borrowed from American pop, the beat-group arrangement and lead singer Peter Noone’s pronounced (some say exaggerated) accent tipped US fans off to the Hermits’ origins across the pond.
If the Rolling Stones were positioned as the bad boys of the British Invasion, Herman’s Hermits were the extra-good boys, a position reinforced by their youth and Noone’s chipper-chappie voice. Producer Mickie Most, who made his name producing the Animals — arguably the hardest-rocking band of the British Invasion’s first wave — took Herman’s Hermits in the complete opposite direction, toning down the R&B influences and playing up the trebly instrumentation and bouncy melodies associated with the British music hall tradition. Not only did this help set the Hermits apart from the bulk of other UK acts of the era, who seemed to be trying their damnedest to sound American, it also made them cheerfully non-threatening to any parents who might be suspicious of more raucous, bawdier acts. Noone, a former child actor, was perfectly suited to playing up the theatrical delivery associated with music hall, and had the cutie-pie face and shaggy hair to make him an instant teen heartthrob.
“Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” is a perfect example of the early-era Hermits hit: somewhat slight but relentless catchy, romantic but not sexual, and polished without being too sophisticated. In different hands, its repetitiveness and mushy lyrics could be insufferable, but Most and the Hermits give it a light, slightly goofy touch that comes off as sweetly charming instead. Like “I’m Into Something Good” before it, “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” borrows more from girl-group pop than rock ‘n’ roll — think of it as the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” from a male point of view.
Also like its predecessor, which made Cashbox’s Top 10 but only charted at #13 on the Hot 100, “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” performed better on the Cashbox chart than on Billboard, where it “only” went to #2. It would be the first of three US #1s for the band, with the other two (“Mrs Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” and “I’m Henry VIII, I Am”) topping both the Cashbox and Billboard charts. Incidentally, none of their US #1s were even released as singles in their native UK, perhaps because their blatant Englishness seemed rather naff in their homeland. (“Can’t You Feel My Heartbeat,” however, did become a hit in the UK — in a version by an American group, Goldie and the Gingerbreads.)
Cashbox, the charts publisher that gave Herman’s Hermits their first US #1, continued operations until 1996. By the time it folded, however, it was no longer the formidable rival of Billboard that it had been in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Billboard’s current position as the last major music chart compiler still standing has led to Cashbox and other rivals being all but forgotten. Records that were just as big as those that topped the Billboard charts — maybe even bigger, in terms of sales — are now also-rans compared with the “true” #1s. Yet comparing the Billboard and Cashbox charts, and observing the discrepancies, offers a fuller picture of what the biggest hits in America were at the time, as well as a reminder that charts aren’t always consistent, and shouldn’t necessarily be taken as the ultimate authority of what music fans love most.
It Was 50 Years Ago Today examines a song, album, movie, or book that was #1 on the charts exactly half a century ago.