SONG: Wondrous Place
ARTIST: Billy Fury and the Four Jays
Listen to it here:
Wondrous Place was written by Jeff Lewis and Bill Giant, and was first recorded by the American singer Jimmy Jones in May 1960. Billy Fury’s version came out just a few months later in September of that same year. Fury’s version reached number 25 of the UK singles chart, and had a small resurgence forty years later when it was used for a Toyota Yaris commercial.
Billy Fury was born Ronald Wycherley in Liverpool, England in 1940. He took piano lessons as a teen and bought his first guitar at age 14. After school, Wycherley became a tugboat operator, while also fronting his own band. He entered and won a talent competition, and that was the boost he needed to start writing his own songs.
Wycherley went to meet pop manager Larry Parnes in the hopes of interesting one of Parnes’ proteges in one of his newly written songs. Instead, Parnes pushed Wycherley up on stage right away, and he was such an immediate success that Parnes signed him, added him to his tour, and renamed him “Billy Fury”. In a sign of the times, Fury was seen to be too sexual and provocative, and had to tone down his act immediately.
Hits came quickly for Billy Fury, with “Maybe Tomorrow” in 1959, and then “Colette”, and “That’s Love”. He released his first album The Sound of Fury in 1960 with Joe Brown on lead guitar and backup vocals by the Four Jays. Parnes held auditions for a new backing band for Fury, and the Beatles auditioned and won the gig, on the condition that they sack their bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe. John Lennon refused, and The Tornadoes eventually won the gig.
Into the early 1960s, Fury started to concentrate less on rock and roll and more on mainstream ballads, as he intentionally tried to tone down his image and get the world to see him as a singer and not specifically a rock singer. Record labels tried to model him into a teen idol, and he even appeared in his first feature film, which was modeled after Elvis movies. Fury enjoyed some success into the mid 1960s. In the 1970s he abandoned touring altogether as he underwent several open heart surgeries.
Fury’s luck continued to sour in the late 1970s when he was declared bankrupt for unpaid taxes dating back almost 20 years. His health also continued to plague him, and new releases barely dented the UK charts.
In 1983, at age 42, Fury collapsed from a heart attack at his home in London. He died the next day. Similar to Bobby Darin, Fury had contracted rheumatic fever as a child, which damaged his heart and ultimately contributed to his death.
- Billy Fury was a keen birdwatcher and spent much of his free time on this hobby.
- In the 1960s Fury lived just down the block from Paul McCartney
Welcome to the ‘60s! I’ve never heard Billy Fury before so I was going in blind here. I see we’re still clinging to that super reverb sound….but when the song started I was convinced it was a corrupted link and I was listening to the Zombie’s “She’s Not There” and half expected to hear “well no one told me abooouuut herrr..” Billy’s voice is nice, and you can hear how the sound is evolving from the Elvis-esque ‘Memphis’ sound to something maybe a little more smooth. His voice is definitely the feature because the band is so innocuous – we have guitar, electric bass and a very faint minimal drum kit. Like it sounds like they only had one snare drum and brushes for it. It’s a decent song, and I would say its strongest feature is the haunting melody, which is odd that it’s a song about being happy and comfortable in his lovers’ arms. I think, at least. I find some of what he’s singing difficult to understand, but it could just be me! It was neat (and sad) learning about him.
I don’t think I’ve ever listened to Billy Fury before, and this song is definitely new to me. The first thing that really hit me is that this song’s melody, chords, and general vibe remind me a LOT of Love Potion Number 9 by the Searchers. Like a lot. A quick search didn’t uncover any connections, but I wonder if this song was a bit of an inspiration for the Searchers’ much more popular hit. Anyway, back to this song: I really like how spacious this song sounds. The bass is well mic’ed and there just seems to be a lot of room for each instrument. The guitar is playing a tasteful background lick, and the drums are just very minimal. Billy Fury’s voice is a bit of an enigma for me. I want to like it more than I do, but it’s just a little too nasal to me, and you can hear that he’s maybe not as skillful a singer as some of his contemporaries. I do like the melody, which I think is less linear than a lot of pop tunes, and I think the lack of a clear chorus is a really nice change, but may also have contributed to this song not being as popular as it could be. I can see how people would consider this song underrated, and though it’s maybe nothing super incredible, I find it enjoyable.
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song:
There are not too many covers of this song, but here’s The Last Shadow Puppets:
And the Cherokees have a rock version:
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Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist: