Winchester Cathedral (song)
American issue of "Winchester Cathedral"
|Single by The New Vaudeville Band|
|B-side||"Wait For Me Baby"|
|Released||October 4, 1966|
|Genre||Pop, beat, baroque pop|
It reached #1 in Canada on the RPM 100 national singles charts and shortly thereafter in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Stephens was a big fan of tunes from the British music hall era (or what Americans would call "vaudeville"), so he wrote "Winchester Cathedral" in that vein, complete with a Rudy Vallée soundalike (John Carter) singing through his hands to imitate a megaphone sound. Although the song was recorded entirely by session musicians, when it became an international hit, an actual band had to be assembled, with Fontana trying unsuccessfully to recruit the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. The recording is one of the few charting songs to feature a bassoon.  The band toured extensively under the tutelage of Peter Grant, who later went on to manage The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin.
The tune went to No. 4 in the UK Singles Chart. It went all the way to the top in the U.S., however, displacing "You Keep Me Hangin' On" by the Supremes on December 3, 1966. After a one-week run at No. 1, "Winchester Cathedral" was knocked off the summit by the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations", only to rebound to the top spot the following week. After two additional weeks, it was knocked off the top for good by "I'm a Believer" by The Monkees.
"Winchester Cathedral" topped the Billboard Easy Listening chart for four weeks. Cover records by Dana Rollin and The New Happiness reached no higher than No. 70. The Shadows recorded an instrumental version of this song on their album, Jigsaw. Singer Rudy Vallée, whose voice and style the original recording imitated, did his own cover of the song in 1967 when he was in his late 60s. (It did not chart.) The Four Freshmen recorded a cover of the song on their 1968 album In a Class by Themselves. Frank Sinatra also recorded a version of the song for his 1966 album That's Life.
The song won the 1967 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary (R&R) Recording, despite not being a rock and roll song. An initial long-playing album including the song was issued in late 1966 by Fontana Records, also titled Winchester Cathedral. Stephens received the 1966 Ivor Novello award for "Best Song Musically and Lyrically".
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the song's release, a new version by Geoff Stephens was released on CD by Signum Classics, sung by members of the Winchester Cathedral Choir. The premier performance of this version was to take place during a Gala Concert in Winchester Cathedral on March 12 to help raise funds for the Cathedral's Appeal.
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