Though she achieved some success, her voice and her catalogue of great songs should have made British singer Samantha Jones one of Britain’s biggest stars of the 1960s.
She was born Jean Owen in Liverpool, north west England, on 17 November 1943.
After taking part in a singing contest in 1961, she was offered a job with the Ivor Kirchen Band. However, she also applied for a part in the Vernons Girls, a group set up, at least in part, to promote the football pools by circumventing laws banning the advertising of gambling. Despite joining several years after the other members, when a decision was taken to trim the group from 16 to just three singers, Jean, as she was still known, was asked to stay on.
The group enjoyed a couple of top 40 hits, You know what I mean, in May 1962, and Funny all over, in January 1963. They toured with the Beatles and released a single We love you Beatles, in early 1964. For the follow up, Only you can do it, written by producer Charles Blackwell – later known as the godfather of Brit girl pop – Samantha was put on lead vocals. When fellow Liverpudlian Cilla Black turned down a duet with Long John Baldry on a Beatles-themed TV special, Samantha was asked to step into her place.
Her performance encouraged Blackwell to seek out a solo career for the petite singer. After signing with US label United Artists, she was given the stage name Samantha Jones.
She released her first solo single in December 1964, It’s all because of you. The song had some of the drama of the Burt Bacharach and Hal David songs that had been hits for Cilla Black and Sandie Shaw earlier that year, but despite promotion on the TV show Ready steady go!, it failed to chart.
She also released an Italian version of the song, Io non lo dico mai, through United Artists’ arm in Italy and, later, appeared at the Venice song festival.
Another Blackwell composition was chosen for the follow up. Don’t come any closer is a haunting tune, beautifully sung. Though it flopped upon its release in February 1965, it has since become recognised as one of the best Brit girl songs of the era by aficionados of the genre. (Its emotional charge beats a version recorded by Françoise Hardy – Non, ce n’est pas un rêve – hands down.) Samantha also released the song in Spain.
Jackie de Shannon’s Just for him was given the Samantha Jones treatment and released as her third solo single, in September 1965, again without success.
While promoting Don’t come any closer in the US, she met arranger Arnie Goland, who had just split from Phil Spector. The result was I deserve it, which employed the full ‘wall of sound’ used by The Ronettes and others. The song was released in America but failed to chart. At home, United Artists released the B-side, That special way, as an A-side.
Another song recorded in the States, this time in Nashville, the difficult Shoes, was issued as the follow up in the US, though, arguably, its flip, Tell her of our love, was the better side.
By 1967, Samantha was overdue a hit and Blackwell was convinced he’d written one for her. The exuberant Surrounded by a ray of sunshine was pop at its poppiest. Despite heavy rotation on Radio Caroline, it joined her ever-increasing list of flops, though it has since gone on to find popularity on the northern soul dance scene. The B-side, How do you say goodbye, penned by David Gates, is also one of her finest recordings.
Frustrated by her lack of success, Samantha began recording with big bands for the BBC and dubbing the singing on various TV programmes.
After another couple of flops, Why can’t I remember (to forget you), issued in November 1967, and Lonely lonely man, in 1968, United Artists released Samantha’s first album, Call it Samantha, in the States.
After switching agents in 1968, she was offered the chance to sing a promotional single for car makers Ford. Go ahead (backed by Ford leads the way) was produced by German-born Mark Wirtz, who had enjoyed great success a year earlier with Excerpt from a teenage opera, with Keith West. The single helped promote Samantha in mainland Europe, where it was being given away with Ford cars.
For her final release with United Artists, she recorded a version of the Left Banke’s And suddenly. The song later became another northern soul favourite, but failed to sell at the time. Interestingly, a re-recorded, slower version of the Ford single, retitled Go ahead and love me, was put on its B-side.
In 1969, Samantha joined the Penny Farthing label and Mark Wirtz wrote and produced her first single, the chugging Today (without you), a song she didn’t care for much. However, after winning the Radio-Tele Luxembourg Grand Prix International song contest with it in October that year, it gave her her first solo success in Europe, charting in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Two more singles followed – a duet with Kris Ife, Feelin’ better, released under the name Krimson Kake, and a version of the Honeybus’ Do I still figure in your life – before Samantha won Belgium’s Knokke Festival in 1970 with My way, a version of the French song Comme d’habitude, which has become a classic in the hands of Frank Sinatra and others.
In the early 1970s, she enjoyed further success in Belgium and the Netherlands before taking a job singing on the QE2, and later producing shows for cruise ships.
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