Billy J Kramer
He grew up as the youngest of seven siblings and attended the St George of England
Secondary School, Bootle. He then took up an engineering apprenticeship with British
Railways and in his spare time played rhythm guitar in a group he had formed himself,
before switching to become a vocalist. The performing name Kramer was chosen at
random from a telephone directory. It was John Lennon's suggestion that the "J" be
added to the name to further distinguish him by adding a 'tougher edge'.[1] Kramer
soon came to the attention of Brian Epstein, ever on the look-out for new talent to
add to his expanding roster of local artists. Kramer turned professional but his then
backing group, the Coasters, were less keen, so Epstein sought out the services of a
Manchester-based group, The Dakotas, a combo then backing Pete MacLaine.

Even then, The Dakotas would not join Kramer without a recording contract of their
own. Once in place, the deal was set and both acts signed to Parlophone under
George Martin. Collectively, they were named Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas to
keep their own identities within the act. Once the Beatles broke through, the way was
paved for a tide of Merseybeat and Kramer was offered the chance to cover "Do You
Want to Know a Secret?", first released by the Beatles on their own debut album,
Please Please Me. The track had been turned down by Shane Fenton (later known
as Alvin Stardust) who was looking for a career-reviving hit.
[edit] Success

With record producer George Martin, the song "Do You Want to Know a Secret?" was
a number two UK Singles Chart hit in 1963,[2] and was backed by another tune
otherwise unreleased by The Beatles, "I'll Be on My Way". After this impressive
breakthrough another Lennon/McCartney pairing, "Bad to Me" c/w "I Call Your Name",
reached number one.[2] It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold
disc.[3] "I'll Keep You Satisfied" ended the year with a respectable number four
placing.[2]

Kramer was given a series of songs specially written for him by John Lennon and Paul
McCartney which launched him into stardom. "I'll Keep You Satisfied", "From a
Window", "I Call Your Name" and "Bad to Me" earned him appearances on the
television programmes, Shindig!, Hullabaloo and The Ed Sullivan Show. (Kramer had
also been offered Lennon-McCartney's "I'm In Love", and recorded a version in
October 1963. In the end, it was shelved and the song was instead given to The
Fourmost. In the 1990s, a Kramer CD compilation album included Kramer's version,
and included some recording studio banter on which John Lennon's voice could be
heard).

The Dakotas, meanwhile, enjoyed Top 20 success in 1963 on their own with Mike
Maxfield's composition "The Cruel Sea", an instrumental retitled "The Cruel Surf" in
the U.S., which was subsequently covered by The Ventures. This was followed by a
George Martin creation, "Magic Carpet", in which an echo-laden piano played the
melody alongside Maxfield's guitar. But it missed out altogether and it was a year
before their next release. All four tracks appeared on an EP later that year.

The three big hits penned by Lennon and McCartney suggested that Kramer would
always remain the Beatles' shadow, unless he tried something different. Despite
being advised against it, he turned down the offer of another Lennon/McCartney
song, "One and One is Two", and insisted on recording the Stateside chart hit "Little
Children". It became his second chart topper and biggest hit.[2] It was Kramer's only
major hit outside the UK. In the US, this was followed up with "Bad to Me". "Little
Children" b/w "Bad To Me" is the only debut single of an act on the Hot 100, each of
whose sides separately reached that chart's top 10 (#7 and #9, respectively). Despite
this success Kramer went backwards with his second and last UK single of 1964, the
Lennon/McCartney composition "From a Window", which only just became a Top Ten
hit.[2]
[edit] After the peak

The year 1965 saw the end for the beat music boom, and the next Kramer single was
"It's Gotta Last Forever", which harked back to a ballad approach. In a year where
mod-related music from the likes of The Who prevailed, the single missed completely.
Kramer's cover of "Trains and Boats and Planes" saw off Anita Harris' cover version
only to find itself in direct competition with Dionne Warwick's version, which won the
day. Kramer's effort still reached a respectable number 12, but was the group's
swansong, as all subsequent cuts missed the chart.[2]

The Dakotas' ranks were then strengthened by the inclusion of Mick Green, formerly
a guitarist with the London band the Pirates who backed Johnny Kidd. This line-up cut
a few tracks which were at odds with the balladeer's usual fare. These included a take
on "When You Walk in the Room" and "Sneakin' Around". The Dakotas' final outing
whilst with Kramer was the blues-driven "Oyeh!", but this also flopped.