Singers & Songs from the Sixties & Seventies
During the 1960s a number of pop acts enjoyed hits with songs written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney that The Beatles themselves didn’t release as singles. They include “Do You Want to Know a Secret?”, “Bad to Me” ( Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas), “It’s For You” ( Cilla Black), “Hello Little Girl” ( The Fourmost) and “Like Dreamers Do” ( The Applejacks), although perhaps the best of the lot — and certainly the most successful — was the song recorded by an Everly Brothers- type duo that topped the charts in both the UK and USA in April 1964: “A World Without Love” by Peter and Gordon. Such was the dominance of the Fab Four at the time, it’s hardly surprising that the song “A World Without Love” replaced at number one in the United Kingdom was… “Can’t Buy Me Love” by The Beatles!
Peter Asher, the older of the two, was born on 22nd June 1944 in London. His father, Richard Asher, was a highly regarded physician, described as “one of the foremost medical thinkers of our times”, while his mother, Margaret Augusta ( née Eliot), was a talented musician and a professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Peter had two younger sisters, Jane and Claire, and with Jane enjoyed an early career as a child actor in a number of plays, films and television productions: the two of them appeared together in The Adventures of Robin Hood ( 1955- 1959) in which Richard Greene played the hero of Sherwood Forest.
Peter attended the prestigious Westminster School, and it was there that he met and became close friends with Gordon Waller. Born on 4th June 1945 ( in Braemar, Aberdeenshire), Gordon was also the
Peter and Gordon
son of a leading light in the medical profession — an eminent surgeon — and he too had a couple of younger sisters: Diana and Anne.
At first Peter was more of a jazz and folk music fan, but under Gordon’s influence and the inescapable nationwide boom in pop music and beat groups, he soon came to share his friend’s enthusiasm for rock and roll. This led to the boys purchasing their first guitars and sneaking out at night ( a serious violation of school rules!) to earn pocket money playing in pubs and clubs.
It was in 1964, after they had left school and were performing at the Pickwick Club in London, that they were spotted by a record producer who signed them to EMI. By a happy coincidence, it was around this time that Paul McCartney started dating Peter’s sister Jane and the duo were soon thrust into the exciting music scene of 1960s London.
McCartney subsequently moved into the Ashers’ elegant town house in Wimpole Street, and it was at a party there that Peter and Gordon first heard Paul singing “A World Without Love”, a song the precociously talented Beatle had written when he was just 16.
Released on the Columbia label, not only did Peter and Gordon’s recording of the song go to number one, but it sold over a million copies. Complete with acoustic guitars, Beatle- style haircuts ( and Peter wearing a pair of spectacles similar to those that John Lennon would adopt), the duo toured with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and became part of the socalled “British invasion” of the USA, with appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show ( with the inevitable screaming girls in the audience!) and at numerous other venues across the country.
Although Peter and Gordon didn’t top the charts again, further hits followed on both sides of the Atlantic: three more McCartney songs — “Nobody I Know” ( 1964: UK number 10; USA number 12), “I Don’t Want To See You Again” ( 1964: USA number 16), “Woman” ( 1966: UK number 28; USA number 14) — as well as “True Love Ways” ( 1965: UK number 2; USA number 14), “I Go To Pieces” ( 1965: USA number 9), “To Know You Is To Love You” ( 1965: UK number 5; USA number 24), “Baby I’m Yours” ( 1965: UK number 19). The duo’s last hit in Britain was “Lady Godiva” which reached number 16 in the charts in September 1966 ( number 6 in the USA), although they entered the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States on two more occasions, in 1967 with “Knight in Rusty Armour” and “Sunday for Tea”.
The pair parted amicably in 1968. Gordon went on to pursue a solo career ( including an album Gordon), and in the 1970s played the part of Pharaoh in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat before running his own music publishing business. He also, for a time, had a market gardening business in Northamptonshire, and, as a lifelong railway enthusiast, whenever he could he enjoyed regular trips on board The Flying Scotsman!
Peter Asher embarked on a highly successful career as a recording executive, manager and producer, first with The Beatles’ Apple label, where he signed American singersongwriter, James Taylor, before becoming Taylor’s manager in the United States and producing records for, among others, Linda Ronstadt, Andrew Gold, Neil Diamond, Diana Ross, Bonnie Raitt and Cher.
In August 2005 Peter and Gordon reunited for the first time as part of a tribute concert in New York to a member of the Dave Clark Five. Over the next couple of years several other performances followed ( when they received a message of congratulations from Paul McCartney) in Florida, San Diego, Santa Monica, Chicago and Las Vegas. Sadly, it was only a couple of weeks after one such concert, on 17th July 2009, that Gordon Waller suffered a heart attack and died. He was just 64.
Peter was shocked by his long- time partner’s sudden death, and paid a lavish tribute: “Gordon remains one of my very favourite singers of all time, and I am still so proud of the work that we did together. I am just a harmony guy, and Gordon was the heart and soul of our duo.”
He was survived by his second wife, Jen, two daughters from his previous marriage, and a granddaughter.
Peter, who in 1983 married his second wife Wendy Worth ( their daughter Victoria is a musician with punk band Cobra Starship) has won numerous Grammy awards and in the 2015 New Year’s Honours List was awarded a CBE. He continues to produce and perform, and recent projects have included a successful one- man show, “A Musical Memoir of the 60s and Beyond”, two albums with Steve Martin and Edie Brickell which led to a stage musical, Bright Star, for which Peter was music supervisor, and an extensive acoustic tour of the United States with fellow music legend Albert Lee.
“Please lock me away…” Half a century after the duo made their heartfelt plea at the beginning of their chart- topping hit, there seems to be little chance of Peter Asher allowing anyone to do that!
The duo were frequent guests on pop- music shows.
The singers pictured at the height of their fame in the mid- 1960s. When they started out they were known as… Gordon and Peter.
Peter in recent years, an award- winning producer who continues to perform.