134) Herman’s Hermits – “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”

Herman’s Hermits were sort of the kid brothers of the British Invasion, and, as such, were often treated as a band to be mocked or manipulated. Singer Peter Noone was 16 when the group had its first hit, half a decade or so younger than most other beat groups and a full 11 years younger than Freddie Garrity. Unlike their peers, the Hermits hadn’t dug through crates for imported blues records or paid their dues in sketchy German clubs. But Animals producer Mickie Most recognized the group’s fresh-scrubbed innocence as an opportunity to diversify his portfolio, pairing Noone’s child-actor cuteness with a poppier, less R&B sound designed to appeal to young girls. Rather than trying to sound American as possible, Herman’s Hermits emphasized their Manchester roots, treading the same music hall boards as Freddie and the Dreamers and singing in their own accents (or, sometimes, a put-on Cockney one). The experiment succeeded; the group became one of the most successful imports of the British Invasion, racking up more top 10 hits in the US than in their native country and briefly reaching near-Beatles levels of sales and popularity. The group only netted a single UK number one with “I’m Into Something Good,” not coincidentally the most American of their hits: a Goffin/King song marrying Beach Boys harmonies to a Motown beat. Meanwhile, many of their biggest American hits – both US number-ones, as well as “Leaning on the Lamp Post” (#9) and the Ray Davies-written “Dandy” (#5) – were never released at home, where they’d likely have been laughed off as too old-fashioned, too English, for a credible beat group. But, as with Freddie and the Dreamers before them, this acute foreignness just made Americans love them more.

“Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” sounds even less like a rock song than “I’m Telling You Now,” as befitting its origin in a 1963 television play called The Lads. The most prominent instrument is a guitar, yes, but it’s been muted to sound like a ukulele or a banjo; the bass and drums are shoved so far down in the mix as to be barely audible. The shuffling jauntiness of the instrumentation seems at odds with the song’s lyrics about the end of a young romance, but, like Noone’s straightforward, unsentimental reading, it’s an attempt to hide raw emotions behind a pleasant face. Despite his feelings for the girl, the narrator accepts her lack of reciprocation without kicking up a fuss or pleading for her return, anything that might embarrass her or make her feel guilty. Because he refuses to emphasize his own heartbreak, our hearts break for him. But even more than a song about the loss of first love, “Mrs. Brown” is a song about learning that two good people aren’t always good together, that no matter how much he loves her he can’t make her love him back. That the narrator needs to confide in his ex-girlfriend’s mother reminds you he’s still a kid; that he handles the rejection with dignity and considerateness shows he’s becoming an adult. For all the ridicule Herman’s Hermits got for being teen idol lightweights, it’s their very youth and lack of tough-guy posturing that makes the song. “Mrs. Brown” could easily have been a jokey novelty; instead, it’s a rather touching reflection on growing up. 7

Hit #1 on May 1, 1965; total of 3 weeks at #1
134 of 1008 #1’s reviewed; 13.29% through the Hot 100

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5 Comments

Filed under 07, 1965

5 responses to “134) Herman’s Hermits – “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”

  1. I took a history of rock class, and I was struck by how perfect 1965 was as a music year, but Herman’s Hermits were always the exception. How is it that we have LMFAO making #1’s these days?

    And forgive my overzealous commenting. I’m a big fan of lists.

  2. bob stanley

    I’ve always been fond of this since I bought HH’s Greatest Hits on K-Tel in the 70s. It was the only track on the album that wasn’t a single in the UK (which really confused me at the time – what was it doing on there?). In Britain, it had been the lead track on an EP which sold well, judging by the number of copies I see in second hand shops. I can see Mickie Most’s logic in NOT releasing the more arcane and peculiarly ‘English’ material in England, but this would surely have been a major hit. There’s a more bizarre MM decision on UK/US releases coming up in 1967.

    The song was originally recorded on Decca by Tom Courtenay, who sang it in The Lads (which, as far as I know, has been wiped).

  3. Pinstripe Hourglass

    Sam Huddy: I could be totally wrong on this but I’ve always been under the impression that illegal downloading and decreasing radio listenership, along with the proliferance of mediums like internet radio which Billboard doesn’t track, have made the Billboard charts less reflective of the general public taste. Does anyone REALLY listen to LMFAO? Really?

  4. I have that feeling, too, but I had to listen to LMFAO in Israel, so that’s something. Unfortunately there’s no way of counterbalancing the conventional wisdom that charts mean anything in the present day.

    Don’t take that as a condemnation of this blog, the ’60s charts were probably at their most accurate then than any other time.

  5. GeorgeL

    It is interesting to note that HH made some much better records which weren’t big hits (“Just A Little Bit Better”; “A Must to Avoid”).

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