Category Archives: Helen Shapiro

She coulda been Dusty… maybe

Helen Shapiro‘s story is well known – the early part of it, anyway. Discovered soon after her fourteenth birthday, Helen was the girl with the deep powerful voice that didn’t sound like it came – or could come – from one so young. Impressed with his new charge but despairing of finding suitable material, EMI producer John Schroeder penned the perfect introductory single himself: “Don’t Treat Me Like A Child” hung about the top ten for ages in the spring of 1961 and was followed by two huge number one hits (written by Schroeder and fellow producer Mike Hawker), the soulful ballad “You Don’t Know” and the pastiche of the US girl group sound “Walkin’ Back To Happiness”.

If 1962 didn’t quite deliver the same level of success, it was still a pretty good year – another couple of top ten singles, a successful debut album Tops With Me, above-the-title film roles in It’s Trad, Dad! and Play It Cool, acclaim from reader’s polls in the music press… all this, and she was only just getting started. But then… well, it all kind of petered out for young Helen. In early 1963, she was the headliner on a package tour, with The Beatles way down the billing. By the tour’s end, The Beatles were the biggest band in Britain and Helen Shapiro was looking passé – a “has-been at sixteen”, as a notorious headline had it.

And yet, when you look at what was around the corner – the emergence of r’n’b and soul-influenced singers like Sandie, Lulu, Dusty, and let’s throw Cilla into that mix too – Shapiro should have been ideally placed to benefit from the new trends. Even during her early run of pop hits, EMI were keen to demonstrate their young star’s versatility, and Shapiro more than rose to the challenge of different styles, as showcased on the 1961 EP Helen (issued while “Walkin’ Back to Happiness” was still high in the charts) on which she tackled a clutch of jazz standards, 1962’s self-explanatory A Teenager Sings The Blues EP, and the 1963 country LP Helen In Nashville. Time and again Shapiro showed her vocal chops, but her EMI paymasters never followed through, leaving each of these experiments as one-offs – gimmicks, basically. After Helen In Nashville came a set of covers of already over-familiar American pop songs, 1964’s Helen Hits Out!, and that was her last album for 14 years.

But quietly, Helen Shapiro kept plugging away at it. A few singles a year, often favourably reviewed in the music press, but no hits. The girl who had been such a sensation at 14 had reached the unimaginably advanced age of 20 when she cut this single, her last for EMI. The B-side went on to become a northern soul favourite, and the A-side, penned by Manfred Mann‘s Paul Jones, is a bit of a lost classic too. Maybe it would have been a hit if given instead to someone like Dusty Springfield or Petula Clark? The latter’s career resurrection must have given Shapiro some hope for her own, and indeed after being dropped by EMI, Shapiro ended up as Clark’s labelmate on Pye, where presumably somebody believed they could work the same magic again. But it didn’t happen.

She’ll need a new *record* company after this…

Nowadays, many of Shapiro’s late 60s singles are recognised as “ones that got away” and change hands for insane sums. This one, buoyed up by the northern soul connection, will set you back £100+ if you can find a copy in decent nick. Fortunately, it’s also on a compilation CD for a tenner… or here for free!

Helen Shapiro – She Needs Company (EMI Columbia 7″, 1967)
Link: Helen Shapiro – She Needs Company
Link: Helen Shapiro – Stop And You Will Become Aware