Every 50s Number 1

The Intro

So, my first decade of number 1s is finished, 94 songs and seven months later. When I decided to review every UK number 1, I considered taking a random approach, but I decided starting right from the beginning would give me a wider knowledge of the progression of pop and pop culture in the UK. I did find the idea of kicking off with the 1950s a potentially arduous task, however. Although there are exceptions, my interest in music tends to really start in 1963 with the Beatles first album, and I know I’m not alone in feeling like that. I feared starting with the 50s would put some readers off. Also, it’s the decade that’s as far out of my comfort zone as I’m going to get with this mammoth blog task I’ve set myself.

Except maybe it isn’t.

The older I get (38 currently), I feel I’m going to really struggle with the 2010s so far. Don’t understand the kids of today, cannot stand autotune, etc… Anyway, I find myself getting more out of the 50s far more than I initially expected. It’s still music I find myself respecting rather than enjoying, and there haven’t been many I’ll be downloading for future listens I have to confess, but it has been a fascinating journey, and I’m surprised at how much music changed from 1952 to 1959.

Before I finish with the decade and move on to the swinging 60s, I decided it would be nice to (kind-of) repeat the task I set myself in December. Back then I listened to every Christmas number 1 in order, in one session, and decided on a best and worst for each decade, before coming up with an overall best and worst. That blog seemed to generate a lot of interest, so I thought I’d do the same with the 50s. I decided against listening to all 94 songs in one go, that seemed a little bit much, so I decided to take it a year at a time.


Where it all began. As Al Martino’s Here in My Heart was the only number 1 of 1952, I’ve lumped it in with 1953. It’s neither the best nor worst of what followed. In general, the record-buying public will still in thrall of string-laden love songs, often melancholy, overwrought ballads, with the emphasis on how well the singer could hold a note. Form over content. Not the kind of music that floats my boat, really. It was less than ten years since World War Two, and music fans still liked to wade through syrupy songs of missing loved ones abroad. In 1953’s defence, though, at least it had a healthy amount of female singers topping the charts. Once rock’n’roll takes hold, they largely disappeared bar a few exceptions. There’s some strange novelty songs in there that you wouldn’t think of as chart-toppers – see (How Much is) That Doggie in the Window? and the un-PC She Wears Red Feathers. Frankie Laine dominated that year.

The Best:


Kay Starr – Comes A-Long A-Love: Only three tracks in and already there were elements of a rock’n’roll sound mixed in with jazz. This took me by surprise, and it was more than welcome. Kay Starr’s strong vocal mixed with a breezy tune had a vital element missing from other songs that year – fun.

The Worst:


David Whitfield with Stanley Black & His Orchestra – Answer Me: This is the decade at its least appealing to me. It’s so leaden and dreary. Whitfield’s vocals are too affected and operatic. The Frankie Laine version was better, but not by much, as it’s a pretty poor song anyway.


Generally more of the same, but of a higher standard. Doris Day, Frank Sinatra and even Vera Lynn all make appearances, but they’re not their finest works. Rosemary Clooney’s jolly old knees-up about death, This Ole House is one of the highlights. A couple of instrumentals make it big, one good (Winifred Atwell’s Let’s Have Another Party), one not so good (Eddie Calvert’s Oh Mein Papa)

The Best:


Johnnie Ray – Such a Night: Mr Emotion was probably the revelation of the decade for me. Previously I only knew him for his namecheck in Come On Eileen, and that Morrissey used to wear hearing aid in tribute to him.  I referred to him as the ‘prototype eccentric rock’n’roll star’, and his three number 1s were all unique forerunners of the music that was to follow. This one in particular must have sounded pretty racy at the time, and contained the first hint of sex, one of pop’s key ingredients.

The Worst:


The Stargazers with Syd Dean & His Orchestra –  I See the Moon: This is genuinely offensive to my ears. At the time it was considered a comedy song. Praise be that comedy has moved on from ‘funny’ voices. It’s the audio equivalent of Colin Hunt from The Fast Show. When I first heard this I said the Stargazers sounded pissed-up and tone deaf. Nothing has happened to change my mind. Six weeks at the top of the charts?!


The year of mambo, and Bill Haley. Perez ‘Prez’ Prado rules the roost when it comes to the former, with his version of Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White beating Eddie Calvert’s safer cover. Rosemary Clooney’s Mambo Italiano may not be the real deal but it’s a fun spoof. Tony Bennett makes his one and only appearance to date, and Slim Whitman’s haunting Rose Marie makes a big impact.

The Best:


Bill Haley & His Comets – Rock Around the Clock: Tempting as it might be to go against the grain here and pick something less predictable, I can’t. Yes it must be nigh-on impossible to hear this and imagine the impact the decade’s best-seller made at the time, and it sounds safe now, but it’s still catchy as hell, and for me, it’s all about that guitar solo.

The Worst:


Jimmy Young with Bob Sharples & His Music – Unchained Melody: Another one of the most famous songs of all time, but this is nowhere near as good as the Righteous Brothers version. It’s not even as good as Robson & Jerome’s. The blame doesn’t entirely lie with poor Jimmy Young, as the production is all over the place, but he really doesn’t help matters, lurching from barely trying to bellowing within seconds.


Several strong singles this year, mainly Tennessee Ernie Ford’s tough ode to the working man, Sixteen Tons, and Johnnie Ray’s melancholic Christmas number 1, Just Walkin’ in the Rain, featuring an unforgettable whistling refrain. Elvis has arrived, but the UK has to make do with Pat Boone at the top instead with I’ll Be Home. Dean Martin makes his only appearance, and Doris Day returns with signature tune Whatever Will Be, Will Be.

The Best:


The Teenagers Featuring Frankie Lymon – Why Do Fools Fall in Love: The first doo-wop song to make it to the top, the Teenagers one and only big hit was so influential on later soul and funk bands, and still sounds good to this day. Such a shame the band, and particularly Lymon, fell apart so soon.

The Worst:


Anne Shelton with Wally Stott & His Orchestra – Lay Down Your Arms: Shudder. I disliked this song even more the second time around. I’m all for strong women, but Shelton needs to calm down a bit. Her poor lover must be terrified. I think I’d rather be at war than with Shelton.


The year skiffle hit the top of the charts. Lonnie Donegan’s three number 1 songs left an indelible mark on music, even if it took some time for its impact to become apparent. 1957 is the strongest year for number 1s to date, and rock’n’roll is now dominant. Even the most old-fashioned song, Frankie Vaughan’s The Garden of Eden, sounds good. Legends such as Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly make their first appearances, and the former’s cultural impact becomes apparent, with Tommy Steele and Andy Williams impersonating him, to an occasionally embarrassing degree.

The Best:


Lonnie Donegan & His Skiffle Group – Cumberland Gap: I used to think skiffle was a rather laughably quaint genre played on cheap, silly instruments. It’s only by listening to what came before Lonnie Donegan that I now understand and appreciate its true effect – to me it’s now almost as important as punk. The hardest part of choosing the best of 57 was picking between this and Donegan’s Gamblin’ Man, with it’s fiery ending, but Cumberland Gap came first and sounded like nothing I’d listened to up to that point.

The Worst:


Guy Mitchell with Jimmy Carroll – Rock-a-Billy: Cheeky chappie Mitchell’s fourth and final chart-topper is mean-spirited and has the laziest chorus of any number 1 so far. A shame, as his previous single at the start of the year, Singing the Blues, proved he could actually be a dab hand at this new pop sound.


Elvis was really on form with his second number 1 – Jailhouse Rock narrowly misses out on my favourite of this year and could have easily won in another year. Burt Bacharach and Hal David made their mark with two concurrent number 1s for Michael Holliday and Perry Como. Connie Francis finally returned a female artist to the top with a versatile selection of solid tunes – her Stupid Cupid introduced Neil Sedaka to the charts. The Everley Brothers made an excellent debut with the year’s highest seller, All I Have to Do is Dream, and Hoots Mon by Lord Rockingham’s XI was the finest novelty number 1 of the decade.

The Best:


Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of Fire: Direct, simplistic, fun, horny and mad, this just edges past Jailhouse Rock for me and got 1958 off to a great start. As far removed from some of the dreary monotony of 1953 as it’s possible to get in the same decade.

The Worst:


Vic Damone – On the Street Where You Live: I feel bad for doing this when Vic Damone has so recently passed away, but it really does stick out like a sore thumb from the rest of 1958’s list. It sounds like it belongs in 1954. Sorry, Vic. RIP.


Buddy Holly’s untimely death made It Doesn’t Matter Anymore the first posthumous chart-topper, and was a big influence on Adam Faith’s first number 1, What Do You Want?. Elvis was away in the army, and his singles output quality began to slip with A Fool Such as I/I Need Your Love Tonight. Rock’n’roll went all dreamy and teenage-orientated, with Jerry Keller’s one-hit wonder Here Comes Summer and Bobby Darin’s Dream Lover, before Darin used his success to take an interesting career change. Cliff Richard made his first of many appearances, with Living Doll the year’s best-seller, and Shirley Bassey made her debut at number 1. The decade ended with Emile Ford and the Checkmates’ solid What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For?.

The Best:


Bobby Darin – Mack the KnifeA fascinating diversion from his previous number 1, Darin resisted scaring his young fans away with this swinging celebration of a serial killer, but Atlantic Records pushed for it anyway. It’s likely the fans ignored the lyrics and chose to be swept away by his cool vocals and the power and punch of the backing band. Suddenly pop was taking a dark turn, if you listened closely enough. Much covered, but probably never bettered.

The Worst:


Russ Conway – Side Saddle: This one totally baffled me when I wrote my blog, and while I found it slightly better the second time around, I still can’t quite believe this was such a success, but context is everything, I guess. Nonetheless, it’s still the weakest number 1 of the year.

The Best 50s Number 1 Ever is…

Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of FireDeciding on the best single proved to be much tougher than I first thought. It was very difficult to decide between this and Cumberland Gap, and Mack the Knife wasn’t far behind, either. Both songs shook up the music world, but in different ways. The winner is so ensconced in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine how it must have sounded as new, whereas I came in to Cumberland Gap completely fresh. If this decision was based on which single is most important, I’d have to award it to Cumberland Gap, as the influence of skiffle was so important on the following decade. It proved you didn’t have to have the voice of an opera singer to be at number 1, you didn’t have to have an orchestra backing you, and you didn’t even have to play expensive instruments. You could just make an all-mighty racket.

However, as impressed as I was by it, in the end this decision should also be based on personal enjoyment, as well as influence, mass appeal, inventiveness… and Great Balls of Fire has all of these. And despite me knowing it so well, it still managed to sound new and exciting, even after all this time. Plus, as great as Cumberland Gap sounds compared to most of the competition, in a way I had heard it before with the very similar and better known Rock Island Line. So congratulations, Jerry Lee Lewis. Despite being one of pop music’s first controversial figures, and therefore your brief period in the charts, you’ve managed to top Elvis and many other 50s legends, and Great Balls of Fire is one hell of a tune. You ripped up the rulebook when it came to the piano, and you showed the way pop was heading when it came to showmanship on the stage. And your best work was later used to sell cheese. But that’s record companies for you.

The Worst 50s Number 1 Ever is…

The Stargazers with Syd Dean & His Orchestra – I See the MoonNo contest. Reviewing every number 1 of the 50s was at times trying, and I knew it would be, but nothing prepared me for this. Don’t get me wrong, unlike many ‘serious music’ obsessives, there is a small place in my heart for comedy and novelty songs as genres, if they’re done right. And as I said above, context is everything. But I See the Moon is genuinely painful to listen to. I don’t get the joke, unless the joke is ‘Listen to how awful we sound’, in which case, the joke isn’t funny. In a decade with so number 1s that would be unimaginable now, I See the Moon is beyond comprehension to my poor ears.

The Outro

While I’m keen to get onto the number 1s of the 60s, and I originally saw reviewing the 50s tracks as a necessary evil in order to make it to the next batch, I am sorry to see it go. I’ve learnt a lot, about the social history as well as the music of the time, and it’s been a fascinating look at pop’s baby steps. Next, the decade of the Beatles, the Stones, Swinging London, the return of Labour to government, psychedelia, colour TV, British pop dominating at home and abroad… I can’t wait and I hope you can’t too.

Blogs on every 50s number 1 are available to view via the Archive section.

94. Emile Ford and the Checkmates – What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? (1959)


Here we are, then. The final number 1 single of the 1950s, and it shows how far the decade had progressed musically since that first number 1 by Al Martino in 1952. More so than I would have guessed before starting this blog, in fact. When I wrote about this song for Every Christmas Number 1 I saw it as ‘clever and cocky’ and a sign of rock’n’roll’s cultural impact after Elvis’s arrival. At the time, I didn’t know the song in question dates back much further than Here in My Heart.

What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? (is this still the UK number 1 with the longest title?) was written back in 1916 by Joseph McCarthy, Howard Johnson and James V Monaco. McCarthy and Monaco were responsible for You Made Me Love You, and Johnson had come up with the words for I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream. Their new composition became a hit duet for two of the most popular singers of the early 20th century, Ada Jones and Billy Murray, during World War One. It took a man who was fascinated with sound to make What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? feel so contemporary.

Emile Ford was born Michael Emile Telford Miller in Castries, Saint Lucia in the West Indies. His father was a politician and mother a singer and musical theatre director. He moved to London in 1954 to pursue his interest in sound reproduction technology, and studied at Paddington Technical College in London, learning to play guitar, piano, violin, bass guitar and drums, among other instruments. He became interested in rock’n’roll and became a performer at the age of 20, shortening his name to Emile Ford, and garnered appearances on music TV shows Six-Five Special and Oh Boy!. In 1959 he formed Emile Ford and the Checkmates with guitarist Ken Street and half-brothers George Sweetnam-Ford on bass and Dave Sweetnam-Ford on saxophone. The band took the unusual move of turning down EMI because they refused to let them self-produce, unlike Pye Records, who they signed with. Their first single was to be a cover of the country song Don’t Tell Me Your Troubles, with a doo-wop version of What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? quickly knocked off in half an hour at the end of a recording session. Airplay was so in favour of the latter that it was promoted to the A-side.

For a man with a reputation for his obsession with sound engineering, it’s ironic that his only number 1 was made almost as an afterthought, with little manipulation. It only adds to its charm though, and the swaggering doo-wop arrangement makes it one of the catchier number 1s of the decade, let alone year. Ford’s vocal is suitably raw and powerful too.

What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? rocketed up the charts, and initially shared the top spot with Adam Faith’s bizarrely-similarly-titled What Do You Want?for a week, before taking over and becoming the 1959 Christmas number 1. It remained there for six weeks, ruling the charts for most of the first month of the 60s. Ford became the first Black British artist to sell a million copies of one single. The band made the top 20 several times more, and they were voted Best New Act of 1960 by the New Musical Express. They became augmented by female backing singers known as the Fordettes for a while, before they went to work with Joe Brown. In 1960, Ford used his success as a way to continue an idea he had been working on. The band became the first group to use a backing track system at times for their hugely popular stage show, so you could argue that Ford invented karaoke, in a sense. Whether he did or not, this invention certainly changed live music forever, eventually. Their live sets were also known for their punchy sound, thanks to the band insisting on using their own PA system. It’s interesting to note that Ford, like Jimi Hendrix, had synaesthesia, a condition where a person can see certain colours in relation to the sound they are hearing. He believed this condition was a huge factor in his obsession with sound.

The band split in 1963 as the Beatles became huge (at one point the Fab Four had supported them), and Ford set up a recording studio with his father in Barbados in 1969, before moving to Sweden. In the 70s he worked on his open-air playback system for live shows, which he dubbed the Liveoteque Sound Frequency Feedback Injection System. This equipment was later used by artists as huge as Pink Floyd and Michael Jackson. Ford died in April 2016, aged 78. The song that made his name would see further chart action in 1987, when 50s-throwback Shakin’ Stevens recorded his version. Take a look at the video and try not to smile at a now-bygone age. You just don’t get videos as cheesy and cheery as this anymore. Keep an eye out for a pre-fame Vic Reeves, too.

So that’s the 50s number 1s all wrapped up. I hope you’ve enjoyed a read and a listen. Before I move on to one of the most fascinating decades in music though, I’m going to have to decide on my best and worst number 1s of the 50s. Watch this space…

Written by: Joseph McCarthy, Howard Johnson & James V Monaco

Producer: Michael Barclay

Weeks at number 1: 6 (18 December 1959-28 January 1960)


Comedian Tracey Ullman – 30 December

Chef Nigella Lawson – 6 January 

Choreographer Matthew Bourne – 13 January 

Actor Mark Rylance – 18 January 

Racewalker Paul Blagg – 23 January 


Tennis player Dorothea Douglass Lambert Chambers – 7 January 

Children’s author Elsie J Oxenham – 9 January 

Author Nevil Shute – 12 January

93. Adam Faith – What Do You Want? (1959)


December 1959: the decade is drawing to a close, but before it does, two shipping disasters take place within three days of each other in Scotland. At Duncansby Head on 6 December, a severe gale causes Aberdeen trawler George Robb to run aground, killing all 12 crew members. Two days later at Broughty Ferry, the lifeboat Mona capsized, and all eight crew members were lost at sea.

The same week, a new British star was born when Adam Faith went to number 1 for the first time with What Do You Want?. He was to remain one of the biggest UK pop singers of the next five years, and the song also helped producer John Barry make his name.

Faith was born Terence Nelhams-Wright in Acton in June 1940. Despite his rather posh-sounding real name, he grew up in a council house in a working-class area. After leaving school he became an odd-job boy for a silk-screen printers. By 1957 he was working as a film cutter and hoping to make his way into acting. Like so many others, he loved skiffle, and sang with and managed the Worried Men. Faith made his television debut with the group on the BBC’s Six-Five Special. Series producer Jack Good was impressed and with his help, Adam Faith was born and began recording with HMV. However, Faith got nowhere and by 1959 he was working as a film cutter once more. Faith had got to know John Barry, leader of the John Barry Seven, when they appeared in a stage show of Six-Five Special, and suggested Faith audition for new BBC music show Drumbeat. Faith was growing in popularity and recorded for several different labels but was yet to make an impact on the charts. However, he still held ambitions to also be an actor, and after having lessons he won a part in forthcoming rock’n’roll movie Beat Girl (1960). As Barry was working so closely with Faith, the film company asked him to write the score, and there began John Barry’s long, highly-successful career in film soundtrack scores, writing the themes from Jaws and the James Bond films, among so many others.

Faith signed to EMI’s Parlophone, then primarily a label for comedy acts such as the Goons. While working on Drumbeat, he and Barry got to know singer Johnny Worth, who was a member of vocal quartet the Raindrops. Worth aspired to be a songwriter and Faith and Barry saw potential in his song What Do You Want? Worth was worried about his contract stipulations and so adopted the pseudonym Les Vandyke for his writing credit.

What Do You Want? is Britain’s answer to Buddy Holly’s It Doesn’t Matter Anymore. John Burgess’s production of John Barry’s pizzicato string arrangement closely matches Holly’s song, and is by far the best thing about this short but sweet slice of pop (at only 1 minute and 38 seconds long, it’s still the shortest ever UK number 1). It introduces Faith as a cheeky cockney version of Buddy Holly, who is lovelorn and dying to know what it will take to get his girl’s love. Unfortunately Faith’s vocals are far too similar to the recently deceased singer, and although back then it seemed perfectly acceptable for British singers to mimic their US influences, today his hiccuping sounds a bit embarrassing, as does his over-the-top ‘baby’. But it’s over in a flash and the strings stay with you afterwards, and in 1959 this will have all sounded pretty impressive and an exciting signpost to where British pop might end up in the forthcoming decade.

What Do You Want? narrowly missed out on the Christmas number 1 spot. In its third and final week at the top it shared the position with Emile Ford and the Checkmates’ similarly-titled What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?, which overtook Faith on Christmas Day. Nonetheless, Faith would be a familiar UK chart presence for the next few years.

Written by: Les Vandyke

Producer: John Burgess

Weeks at number 1: 3 (4 -24 December)


Fashion designer Jasper Conran – 12 December 


Painter Stanley Spencer – 14 December 

92. Cliff Richard and The Shadows – Travellin’ Light (1959)


On 30 October, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club opened in Soho, London. One of the most renowned venues of its kind, some of the artists who later played there include Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Curtis Mayfield, Prince and Jimi Hendrix, in his final public performance. Two days later, the first section of the M1 opened, between Watford and Rugby. London Transport. 17 November saw Prestwick and Renfrew become the first UK airports to feature duty free shops.

During this period, and beyond, Cliff Richard enjoyed his second lengthy stay at number 1 of the year, after Living Doll had become the biggest-selling single of 1959. Since Living Doll, his backing band, the Drifters, had run into trouble. Unlike most backing bands at the time, they had signed a separate contract to Cliff, meaning they could release material on their own. Their first single, Feelin’ Fine, had to be withdrawn in the US when the manager of the famous soul group with the same name threatened legal action. The second single, Jet Black, was credited to The Four Jets, but manager Norrie Paramor suggested they needed to find a name and stick to it. That July while in a pub in Ruslip, bassist Jet Harris suggested to guitarist Hank Marvin they should be called The Shadows, and thus the name of one of the most famous bands of the next few years was finally settled. Ironically, Bobby Vee’s backing group were also called the Shadows, but Marvin and co didn’t know this, so tough. Travellin’ Light, written by Sid Tepper & Roy C Bennett, became their first single with their new name. Tepper and Bennett became two of Richards’ most frequent collaborators, and they also wrote many songs for Elvis Presley, particularly for his films.

Travellin’ Light is pretty much a rewrite of Living Doll, as close as you can get to following up a number 1 with a repeat of the same formula. It’s also quite similar to Roger Miller’s 1965 number 1, King of the Road – had he been listening to this? The production is also similar to before, but this time Cliff’s voice has been treated with a strong echo effect, and there’s some welcome twangy guitar flourishes from Marvin, that could have done to be louder in the mix. Cliff is on his way to see his girl, and he’s so excited he’s taken nothing with him. He can’t even be bothered with a comb or toothbrush, the dirty beggar. It’s an average country tune that would be better remembered if they’d at least tried to make it sound different to what had come before, but five weeks at number 1 suggests their fans were happy with more of the same.

Written by: Sid Tepper & Roy C Bennett

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 5 (30 October-3 December)


Actor Peter Mullan – 2 November 

Actor Paul McGann – 14 November 

Footballer Jimmy Quinn – 18 November 

Politician Charles Kennedy – 25 November 

Presenter Lorraine Kelly – 30 November 

Actress Gwyneth Strong – 2 December


Pianist Albert Ketèlbey – 26 November

91. Bobby Darin – Mack the Knife (1959)


It’s the 1950s, you’ve had a big hit that’s resulted in you gaining a huge fan following, particularly of teenage girls who wish they could be your Dream Lover – how do you follow it up? Well, if you’re Bobby Darin, you release a swinging celebration of a serial killer. Darin’s version of Mack the Knife remains the most famous version – and there are a lot out there.

Mack the Knife was originally known as Die Moritat von Mackie Messer. It was composed by Kurt Weill, with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, for their play Die Dreigroschenoper, known over here as The Threepenny Opera. The song was written at the last minute before it’s premiere in 1928, to introduce the killer Macheath. The song was first introduced to US audiences in 1933, but it was Marc Blitzstein’s 1954 version, with less graphic lyrics to appeal to conservative America, that’s still in use today. In 1956 the US charts were awash with versions of Mack the Knife, with the first by The Dick Hyman Trio. Jazz supremo Louis Armstrong was responsible for the first version with vocals. In addition to the female victims listed in the song, Armstrong ad-libbed a mention of Lotte Lenya, the widow of Kurt Weill, who had starred in the original production, and the then-current off-Broadway version, who was present while Armstrong recorded. This was left in Darin’s version by mistake, and most subsequent versions on account of Darin’s being considered the essential recording.

Darin fell in love with Mack the Knife while watching The Threepenny Opera in 1958, and worked the song into his live act. Fresh from the success of Dream Lover, Darin was given more freedom over his sound, and his desire to move away from the teen-pop that had made him famous helped him to surprise his audience by making Mack the Knife the opening track on his next album, That’s All. This was the first time a major pop idol had tried to change tack to such an extent. However, even Darin wasn’t sure about releasing such a statement of intent as a single, and it was Atlantic Records co-founder, and Darin’s producer Ahmet Ertegun that ordered its release. As was usually the case in Ertegun’s career, he was right to do so.

Darin should never have doubted Mack the Knife‘s potential really. Granted, the lyrics are easily the darkest there had ever been at number 1, even after being cleaned up for the US, but I can imagine a lot of listeners weren’t even taking notice of the words, as it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the music. Darin really is on fire here, and there’s no wonder even Frank Sinatra, who recorded his own version, believed Darin’s was the best. He sounds smooth, assured and in his element, and the band really knock it out of the park with a punchy performance. By the time you reach the end, you’re rooting for Mack to take another life. Or was that just me? This is one of the decade’s very best number 1s, in my eyes.

Mack the Knife hit the top spots in the UK and US, and later won him two Grammy Awards. He followed it with the equally memorable Beyond the Sea. He continued to experiment with genres, trying his hand at country, and still charted highly. He also acted on TV and met and fell in love with Sandra Dee (yes, that Sandra Dee) on the set of his first film, Come September (1961), in which they starred together. They married and had a son, and starred in further films, but divorced in 1967.

Around this time, Darin had become increasingly politically active. He had his first hit in two years in 1966 when he covered folk singer Tim Hardin’s If I Were a Carpenter. He befriended Robert F Kennedy, worked with him on his presidential campaign and was at the Ambassador Hotel the night he was assassinated. This, and learning of his true parentage (more here) resulted in him becoming a recluse for a year. Upon his return to public life he set up his own record label, Direction Records, releasing folk and protest music.

In the 70s Darin had remarried and had several TV shows, but his health problems began to catch up with him. Some think his drive and desire to cram so much into his life came about due to his weakened heart, which was caused by rheumatic fever when he was eight. Darin suspected he was likely to die younger than most, and unfortunately he was right. He first had heart surgery in 1971, and had to be administered oxygen after live shows. He suffered from sepsis in 1973, which further weakened his heart, and following an operation that lasted over six hours, Darin died in recovery, aged only 37, but he had more than left his mark. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hal of Fame in the 90s, and is remembered as one of many bright young talents of rock’n’roll’s early days that went too soon, who refused to be pigeonholed and whose desire to experiment proved influential. His life was immortalised in the 2004 biopic Beyond the Sea, but unfortunately the star, director, co-writer and co-producer was Kevin Spacey, so you can expect the film to be culturally erased from history now.

Written by: Kurt Weill (music) & Bertolt Brecht (lyrics)/Mark Blitzstein (English lyrics)

Producer: Ahmet Ertegun

Weeks at number 1: 2 (16-29 October)


Spandau Ballet guitarist Gary Kemp – 16 October

Actress Niamh Cusack – 20 October 

90. Jerry Keller – Here Comes Summer (1959)


Here Comes Summer is often considered one of the first tailor-made summer anthems. The problem is, in the UK at least, that it arrived late. It entered the charts in August 1959 and didn’t reach number 1 until 9 October, toppling Only Sixteen by Craig Douglas. It was written and performed by wholesome singer-songwriter Jerry Keller.

Born June 1938 in Fort Smith, Arkansas, the family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma when he was six. Keller formed the Lads of Note Quartet sometime in the 1950s and was also a member of the Tulsa Boy Singers, in addition to becoming a disc jockey.  In 1956 he moved to New York determined to make it big, and recorded a series of demos for record labels. Getting nowhere, his church friend Pat Boone (who had the biggest-selling single of that year in the UK with I’ll Be Home) introduced him to Marty Mills, who became his manager. With its vivid lyrics of finishing school and enjoying a summer romance, Keller had finally found the hit he had been looking for.

Much like Bobby Darin’s Dream Lover, Here Comes Summer is the quintessential sound of 50s teen-pop to me. It’s not as good, but it’s not far off. It’s musically warm and wistful, and makes you look back to a summer that you never actually had, but feel like you did anyway. The backing vocals spoil it somewhat though, overpowering the song at times, drowning out Keller’s voice and spoiling the production.

Unfortunately for Keller, he was the first of many artists who become so identifiable with a summer hit that they’re rarely, if ever, heard of again as a performer. He did, however, enjoy further success as a songwriter. He wrote Almost There, a hit for Andy Williams, and The Legend of Shenandoah, recited by James Stewart in the film Shenandoah (1965).  In 1966 he wrote the English lyrics for Un homme et une femme, translated as A Man and a Woman, which was covered by many artists including Ella Fitzgerald, Engelbert Humperdinck and Johnny Mathis. In the 70s and 80s he appeared in films and was used as a vocalist in television jingles, before disappearing into obscurity. Here Comes Summer still gets used in adverts from time to time, a charming memory of relative teenage innocence.

Written by: Jerry Keller

Producer: Richard Wolf

Weeks at number 1: 1 (9-15 October)


Singer Kirsty MacColl – 10 October 

Sarah, Duchess of York – 15 October

89. Craig Douglas – Only Sixteen (1959)


On 8 October the Conservatives won their third successive General Election, and are to date the only party since World War Two to do so while increasing their majority. The election was perfect timing for Harold Macmillan’s party, due to an economic boom. Labour suffered due to Hugh Gaitskell’s claim that Labour would not raise taxes, despite their manifesto stating otherwise. It was Jo Grimond’s first election as leader of the Liberals, and the election saw future Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe and Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher enter parliament for the first time.

Craig Douglas was at number 1 at the time with Only Sixteen, which had finally ended Living Doll‘s six weeks at pole position. Douglas was born Terence Perkins, a twin in Newport, Isle of Wight in August 1941. Before he became a singer he was known as the ‘Singing Milkman’ while doing his rounds. Winning a local talent contest at 16, he became managed by Bunny Lewis, who had co-written 1954 number 1 Cara Mia under the pseudonym Lee Lange. Perkins changed his name to Craig Douglas on Lewis’s suggestion (not the most of exciting of stage names anyone has ever come up with), and, still 16, began singing lessons for his move into professional singing. He made his television debut on the BBC’s Six-Five Special alongside Cliff Richard and Joe Brown. At such a young age, he specialised in songs about teenagers. His first single was A Teenager in Love, earlier in 1959, and second single Only Sixteen made him one of the youngest number 1 acts up to that point – he was 17 at the time. It was US soul singer-songwriter Sam Cooke’s song, but Douglas’s version eclipsed it in this country.

The most surprising aspect of this song is Douglas’s vocals. Had I not read about him beforehand, I’d have thought he was twice the age he was. He doesn’t look that young on pictures from the time either. In fact, there’s little youthful exuberance to be found here, unfortunately. It sounds leaden, safe and old-fashioned – not living up to the now risqué title. The fact the singer is only a year older than the song’s subject matter makes the record safer than originally suspected anyway. The highlight is the whistling from Mike Sammes. You’d think the singing milkman would be the whistler, but it wasn’t meant to be.

For the next few years Douglas troubled the lower reaches of the top ten, but the writing was on the wall when the Beatles started their chart domination. He still tours internationally to this day on the nostalgia circuit.

Also in the news while while Only Sixteen was number 1: 47 miners died in the Auchengeich mining disaster in Lanarkshire, Scotland on 18 September, and 300 people needed rescuing when fire broke out on Southend Pier on 7 October.

Written by: Sam Cooke

Producer: Bunny Lewis

Weeks at number 1: 4 (11 September-8 October)


Music producer Simon Cowell – 7 October 


Soprano Agnes Nicholls – 21 September 

88. Cliff Richard and The Drifters – Living Doll (1959)


‘Look out! Cliff!’ It’s hard to believe now, but when Sir Cliff Richard’s first single Move It narrowly missed out on number 1 to Connie Francis’s Carolina Moon/Stupid Cupid in 1958, he was considered edgy, and the closest we had to our own Elvis Presley. Tommy Steele’s impersonation of ‘the King’ on Singing the Blues was too similar, and he soon began concentrating on his film career. Unlike Elvis, Cliff was and is mainly a British phenomenon, and his cool image soon disappeared, and was forever replaced by that of the wholesome Christian entertainer. Not that it damaged his career of course. Cliff is the third biggest-selling artist in the history of the UK singles chart, behind The Beatles and Elvis, selling over 21 million in this country alone. This is the first of many staggering statistics – 67 UK top ten singles, 14 of which were number 1. Along with Elvis, he is the only act to make the chart in the first six decades, and is the only singer to have had number 1s from the 1950s through to the 90s. This is the story of Living Doll, his first.

Harry Rodger Webb had been born in Lucknow, British India on 14 October 1940. The Webbs had a modest life there, but following Indian Independence in 1948 they moved into a smaller semi-detached house in Carshalton, south London. The teenage Webb became keenly interested in skiffle, like so many future stars, and his father bought him a guitar for his 16th birthday. In 1957 he formed the Quintones, before becoming the singer in the Dick Teague Skiffle Group, and then the Drifters. This was, of course, not the US soul group of the same name. entrepreneur Harry Greatorex became their manager, and suggested Webb needed a name change if they were to get anywhere. He came up with ‘Cliff’– because it sounded like ‘rock’, and band member Ian Samwell thought Richard would make a great surname as a tribute to Little Richard. Together with drummer Terry Smart and guitarist Norman Mitham, they were now Cliff Richard and The Drifters, and Move It, penned by Samwell, stormed the charts. Cliff was a sensation, with his good looks, scowl and rock’n’roll attitude. John Lennon even called it the first British rock record.

Further singles followed, coming and going from the top ten. By the time of Richard’s film debut, in the film Serious Charge (1959), the line-up of the Drifters had become Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch on guitars, bassist Jet Harris and Tony Meeham on drums. Lionel Bart had been approached to write songs for the film. Bart had already won awards for his pop songs, and had helped discover Tommy Steele, before moving into musicals soon after. He was browsing a newspaper when he came across an advert for a child’s doll. Ten minutes later he had written the controversial lyric for Living Doll. Originally planned as a rock’n’roll song (as featured in the film), Richard was not a fan, and was horrified to hear it was going to be their next single. Producer Norrie Paramor told him they could record it any way they wanted as long as it got done. It was Welch that came up with the genius idea of slowing down the tempo and making it a country song. Previously, the Drifters had only accompanied Cliff in live performances. This was their recording debut.

Welch’s change of pace proved to be a masterstroke, and completely made the song, It’s still an ear worm now, as I can’t get it out of my head after relistening. The problem with Living Doll, of course, is Bart’s lyrics. They really haven’t aged well, and it’s hard to match Christian crusader Cliff Richard with words that objectify women so badly. The easy-going charm of the tune cannot disguise the sinister, misogynistic lyrics that Cliff is crooning (and his crooning is really effective here – Living Doll is a great production by Paramor). The words are just plain odd at times, too. For instance, if they are taken literally, then Cliff is chuffed that, although his girl looks like a doll, her hair is in fact real, and what’s more, he’ll let you have a feel if you like. Even worse, Cliff seems to get jealous very easily, and is prepared to lock her in a trunk to keep her away from other men. I wonder if Cliff ever wonders what God thinks of him singing this? Of course, in 1959, nobody gave a toss about comparing women to dolls, and Living Doll became the biggest-selling song of the year. It also marked the beginning of the end of ‘Edgy Cliff’, with his sound becoming more family-oriented. It was 27 years later that Cliff took a decidedly irreverent version of the same song back to the top, and that’s the version I first heard, but we’ll hear about that when we get to 1986.

During Living Doll‘s six-week period at the top, Barclays made history as the first bank to install one of those new-fangled computers (4 August), and on 26 August, the first Mini, an icon of the following decade, went on sale.

Written by: Lionel Bart

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 6 (31 July-10 September) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*


Journalist Kim Newman – 31 July 

Del Leppard singer Joe Elliott – 1 August

Dead or Alive singer Pete Burns – 5 August 


Poet Edgar Guest – 5 August 

Sculptor Jacob Epstein – 19 August

Actress Kay Kendall – 6 September 

87. Bobby Darin – Dream Lover (1959)


Bobby Darin is an interesting character. He was one of, if not the first teen idol to break free of what was expected and forge his own musical path. He was also, like Paul Anka and Buddy Holly, very musically gifted for someone so young.

His private life was also fascinating. Born Walden Robert Cassotto in East Harlem, New York, he was raised by his grandmother, but led to believe she was his mother. His birth mother, Nina, fell pregnant with him out of wedlock aged 17, so rather than the scandal get out, they decided his mother should pretend to be his sister instead. This pretence was kept up until Nina revealed the truth to him in 1968, when he was 32 years old. Darin was understandably devastated. He had become interested in music at a young age, and was able to play the piano, drums and guitar by the time he was a teenager. He excelled at science, but decided to pursue an acting career, before changing his career path again when he met Don Kirshner, who later managed the Monkees.

The duo, who met in a candy store, decided to write advertising jingles and ditties, the first of which was appropriately named Bubblegum Pop. He joined the Brill Building team of songwriters, and wrote songs for Connie Francis. The partnership was unsuccessful (he was there the day Neil Sedaka presented her with her second hit, Stupid Cupid), but they grew close. Unfortunately for Darin, her father, who was looking after her struggling career, did not approve. Darin suggested they elope but she refused. She later said it was the biggest mistake of her life.

Around the time Darin and Kirshner went their separate ways, Darin was taken under the wing of Atlantic Records songwriter and co-founder Ahmet Ertegun. In 1958 he wrote Splish Splash in less than an hour, and it went on to sell over a million. Finally he was a star. In April 1959, he recorded another self-penned composition, Dream Lover, with Ertegun producing alongside another legendary music figure, Jerry Wexler. Neil Sedaka was also there on the piano.

Splish Splash had been simple, knockabout fun, but Dream Lover was a sophisticated teen-pop slice of yearning. Built upon a Latin rhythm, it was successfully designed to make young girls swoon, but with safe enough lyrics to keep potentially angry parents at bay. It’s reminiscent of Tab Hunter’s Young Love, but assured where Hunter’s performance was tentative. The double-meaning of the line ‘I want a dream lover so I don’t have to dream alone’ is inspired, and Darin’s voice is effectively anguished.

If someone was to ask me to name a song that sums up the 1950s, Dream Lover would be one of the first I’d mention. This may be in part due to its use on an advert for Maltesers in the late 80s. Nostalgia for the 50s was of course very big back then, kickstarted as it was by the popularity of the Levis ads. My first exposure to Great Balls of Fire came from an advert for Edam, with the lyrics changed to ‘Goodness gracious great balls of cheese!’… bizarre, really, to turn a song of lust into an ode to cheese… I digress. One thing this blog has given me is a newfound respect for some of the artists that helped develop pop music in the 50s, and for this song, Bobby Darin deserves some of that acclaim. He’d be back later in the year with a very different sound.

During the four-week reign of Dream Lover, postcodes were introduced for the first time, with the experiment taking place in Norwich. This began on 28 July, and a day later, a series of important acts came into law – namely the Mental Health Act, the Obscene Publications Act and Legitimacy Act.

Written by: Bobby Darin

Producer: Ahmet Ertegun

Weeks at number 1: 4 (3-30 July)


Journalist Julie Burchill – 3 July


Cricketer Charlie Parker – 11 July 

86. Russ Conway – Roulette (1959)


So here I am, still trying to get my head around a pop culture that is at times completely alien to me, wondering how pianist Russ Conway’s instrumentalSide Saddle got to number 1 when surrounded by the likes of songs by Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley, and now I have to review his second number 1, which actually knocked Elvis from the top. As I said in my blog for A Fool Such As I/I Need Your Love Tonight, these tracks were fairly throwaway by Elvis’s standards, but still…

Roulette sounds like a throwaway from Conway, who, probably astounded by Side Saddle‘s success, understandably thought he could just repeat the formula. And it worked. Actually, Roulette is better than his best-selling number 1, as the tune is a little catchier – after all, it was made to order, whereas Side Saddle was only ever meant to be incidental music. I could imagine it sounding appropriate in an old-fashioned London pub or strolling along Blackpool’s beach. I’m struggling to find any other use for it though.

I shouldn’t be so hard on Russ Conway. He clearly was very good at what he did, with further hits and TV shows, in his lifetime he sold over 30 million records, which gave him a lifestyle of mansions, Bentleys and Rolls-Royces. However, he suffered for his art. He became blighted by ill health, although smoking 80 cigarettes a day and drinking a lot won’t have helped. In 1963 he suffered a nervous breakdown, and then fell and fractured his hip, which left him paralysed for three days. Two years later he suffered his first stroke, aged only 38. For several years he was unable to play, and was prescribed anti-depressants to help him cope with these issues and his own self-doubt in his abilities. Many believe his hidden homosexuality was also a considerable factor in his depression. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in the late-1980s and founded the Russ Conway Cancer Fund in 1990. Despite this he battled on, and even lost part of a second finger after getting it stuck in the door of his Rolls-Royce. It still didn’t stop him playing though, and it wasn’t until 2000 that he finally succumbed to cancer, aged 75.

Written by: Trevor Stanford

Producer: Norman Newell

Weeks at number 1: 2 (19 June-2 July)


Chef Sophie Grigson – 19 June

Inspiral Carpets keyboardist Clint Boon – 27 June