The Story Behind “Bad to Me” by Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas and How John Lennon Helped Get the Singer to No. 1

Billy J. Kramer began as a rhythm guitarist in several beat combos around Liverpool, England. He was born William Ashton but changed his name to Billy Forde when he switched to vocals with The Coasters. When he wanted to change his name yet again, he found Kramer in a telephone directory. It was none other than John Lennon who suggested adding the middle initial J.

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Beatles manager Brian Epstein added the young singer to his stable of clients and paired him with a Manchester band called the Dakotas. Parlophone Records signed the group to a deal as well as Kramer. His first release, a John Lennon and Paul McCartney song called “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” went all the way to No. 2 on the UK chart. When Kramer’s first single was printed, Epstein insisted it be Billy J. Kramer “with the Dakotas” as opposed to “and the Dakotas.” Several weeks before Kramer’s second single, the Dakotas’ instrumental “The Cruel Sea” was released and became a Top-20 hit. Both Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas were tasting success. Let’s take a look at the story behind “Bad To Me” by Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas.

If you ever leave me
I’ll be sad and blue
Don’t you ever leave me
I’m so in love with you


John Lennon wrote “Bad to Me” in April 1963, while vacationing with Epstein in Barcelona, Spain. Lennon’s wife Cynthia was expecting their first child. In 1980,  Lennon told author David Sheff in All We Are Saying, “I was on holiday with Brian Epstein in Spain, where the rumors went around that he and I were having a love affair. Well, it was almost a love affair, but not quite. It was never consummated. But it was a pretty intense relationship. It was my first experience with a homosexual that I was conscious was homosexual. He had admitted it to me. We had this holiday together because Cyn was pregnant, and I went to Spain and there were lots of funny stories. We used to sit in a cafe in Torremolinos looking at all the boys, and I’d say, ‘Do you like that one? Do you like this one?’ I was rather enjoying the experience, thinking like a writer all the time: I am experiencing this, you know. And while he was out on the tiles one night or lying asleep with a hangover one afternoon, I remember playing him the song ‘Bad to Me.’ That was a commissioned song, done for Billy J Kramer, who was another of Brian’s singers. From Liverpool.”

The birds in the sky would be sad and lonely
If they knew that I’d lost my one and only
They’d be sad
If you’re bad to me

The Demo

Lennon recorded the song when he returned from holiday. Kramer later remembered Lennon showing him the song in person on a piano. In December 2014, Kramer told the Daily Mail, “John came to me on my 20th birthday when I was on tour with them and told me he’d written a song for me.” The demo may have been recorded for the publishing company. The acetate disc had a Dick James Music Ltd label as he administered Lennon and McCartney’s publishing. John Lennon was the primary performer in the recording, but there was another voice at the end. It’s either Lennon’s voice double-tracked or McCartney making an appearance.

The leaves on the trees would be softly sighin’
If they heard from the breeze that you left me cryin’
They’d be sad
Don’t be bad to me

First No. 1

On June 26, 1963, Kramer and the Dakotas recorded the song at EMI Studios at Abbey Road. George Martin produced the session, and Paul McCartney was present, although he did not participate. The single was released a month to the day later, and it was backed with another Lennon and McCartney song, “I Call Your Name.” It became Kramer’s first No. 1 hit in the UK. When it was released in America nearly a year later, it hit No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1965, Kramer performed “Bad to Me” on the TV special The Music of Lennon and McCartney, filmed in Manchester, England, and aired on Granada TV. The show also featured Peter & Gordon, Lulu, Alan Haven, Tony Crombie, Fritz Spiegl, Marianne Faithfull, Antonio Vargas, Dick Rivers, Cilla Black, The George Martin Orchestra, Henry Mancini, Esther Phillips, Peter Sellers, and The Beatles. 

But I know you won’t leave me ’cause you told me so
And I’ve no intention of lettin’ you go
Just as long as you let me know
You won’t be bad to me

The Acetate

In 1981, an acetate of the original Lennon demo, once owned by Brian Epstein’s assistant Alistair Taylor, was sold at auction on December 22, 1981, for £308. In 2013, the recording was released digitally as part of the Bootleg Recordings 1963 collection. The majority of the album was Beatle recordings, but it also contained two demos: “Bad to Me” and “I’m In Love,” which was recorded by The Fourmost.

So the birds in the sky won’t be sad and lonely
‘Cause they know that I got my one and only
They’ll be glad
You’re not bad to me

Lennon and McCartney

After he released “Do You Want to Know a Secret” and “Bad to Me,” Kramer recorded “I’ll Keep You Satisfied” and “From a Window,” which were also written by the songwriting team of Lennon and McCartney. Kramer’s string of hits continued into 1965 with contributions from other writers, but the hits were elusive after he separated from The Dakotas.

But I know you won’t leave me ’cause you told me so
And I’ve no intention of lettin’ you go
Just as long as you let me know
You won’t be bad to me

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Photo by Terry Disney/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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