In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
Peter Noone had things figured out. Noone formed Herman’s Hermit’s in 1964, when he was 16. He’d already found some measure of fame in the UK, acting on the long-running soap opera Coronation Street, but he saw an open lane. The Beatles had already been running wild, and Noone knew that he could sell his own status as a cute English kid to Americans who were going nuts about anything both cute and English. So he exaggerated his Manchester accent and he made himself look as sheepish as possible. He turned himself into an exotic import. And it worked.
“Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” was a song that had been around for a couple of years when Herman’s Hermits got ahold of it. The actor Tom Courtenay had sung it in The Lads, a 1963 TV play. And its story is easy enough to grasp, even without the context of the play. Noone is sad about being dumped, so he goes to the girl’s mother to assure her that he’s OK, even though he isn’t particularly OK. It’s supposed to be a sort of stiff-upper-lip romantic gesture, even though it comes off more as trawling for sympathy.
Herman’s Hermits had been playing the song at parties and they threw it onto their debut album at the last minute. They never even released it as a single in the UK, but American DJs decided that they liked it, and a huge hit was born. (The song is also the third straight #1 from a Manchester band, a very weird little coincidence. It’s a wonder that the music press waited until the Stone Roses showed up to coin the term “Madchester.”)
As a song, it’s an amiable and ambling little nothing. Herman’s Hermits were famous for using session musicians, including Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, on their records, but “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” seems to be one of the records where they played on their own. The song never achieves liftoff. It never even tries for liftoff. Instead, it’s a morose little mutter, a self-pitying rock-kicker. In some small way, it’s amazing that a song this flat and unassuming could’ve hit the way it did. But that was the British Invasion: lots of incredible music, and lots of entirely unremarkable music that people only liked because it was British.
BONUS BEATS: In 1968, Herman’s Hermits made a Help!-style movie vehicle called Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter. The Mrs. Brown of the movie was a dog, which does not fit with the lyrics of the song at all. It looks bad. Here’s the trailer: