They are most remembered for being the first act to reach number one in the UK Singles Chart with their first three single releases: "How Do You Do It?", "I Like It" and "You'll Never Walk Alone". This record was not equalled for 20 years, until the mid-1980s success of fellow Liverpool band Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Consequently, they stand as the second most successful pop group originating in Liverpool. Another of their most famous songs, "Ferry Cross the Mersey", refers to the River Mersey that flows past Liverpool.
Gerry Marsden formed the group in 1959 with his brother Fred, Les Chadwick, and Arthur McMahon. They rivalled the Beatles early in their career, playing in the same areas of Hamburg, Germany and Liverpool. McMahon (known as Arthur Mack) was replaced on piano by Les Maguire around 1961. They are known to have rehearsed at Cammell Laird shipping yard at Birkenhead. The group's original name was Gerry Marsden and the Mars Bars, but they were forced to change this when the Mars Company, producers of the chocolate Mars Bar, complained.
The band was the second to sign with Brian Epstein, who later signed them to Columbia Records (a sister label to the Beatles' label Parlophone under EMI). They began recording in early 1963 with "How Do You Do It?", a song written by Mitch Murray. The song was produced by George Martin and became a number one hit in the UK, the first by an Epstein-managed Liverpool group to achieve this on all charts.
Gerry and the Pacemakers' next two singles, Murray's "I Like It" and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "You'll Never Walk Alone", both also reached number one in the UK Singles Chart, the latter recorded instead of the Beatles' "Hello Little Girl". "You'll Never Walk Alone" had been a favourite of Marsden's since seeing Carousel growing up. It quickly became the signature tune of Liverpool Football Club and, later, other sports teams around the world. The song remains a football anthem. The group narrowly missed a fourth consecutive number one when "I'm the One" was kept off the top spot for two weeks in February 1964 by fellow Liverpudlians' The Searchers "Needles and Pins".
Despite this early success, Gerry and the Pacemakers never had another number one single in the UK. Marsden began writing most of their songs, including "I'm the One","It's Gonna Be All Right" and "Ferry Cross the Mersey", as well as their first and biggest US hit, "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying", which peaked at No.4.