Jo Stafford’s cover of You Belong to Me featured in the very first UK singles chart on 14 November, 1952. When Al Martino’s Here in My Heart finally lost its grip on the top slot, Stafford became the first female solo artist to be number one. Like Martino before her, Stafford’s vocal range was operatic, but she was much more than that. Among her contemporaries she was considered one of the most versatile vocalists of the 50s. She had earned the nickname ‘GI Jo’ during World War Two, performing for soldiers stationed in the US, and like Martino’s track, this romantic ballad clearly touched a nerve for those who had suffered through the war.
It was credited to Pee Wee King, Chilton Price and Redd Stewart, but Price wrote the first draft. Originally entitled Hurry Home to Me, he envisaged it as being from the viewpoint of a woman missing her soldier sweetheart during the war. King and Stewart made alterations and made it less specific, providing the song with more of a universal appeal. After all, the war was seven years ago by this point.
It holds up better than Here in My Heart, and I think the lyrics can be interpreted in more than one way…
‘See the pyramids along the Nile
Watch the sun rise on a tropic isle
But just remember, darling, all the while
You belong to me’
Sounds sweet and lovely at first, but could these be the words of a worried, paranoid control freak? Is she issuing a threat to her partner to behave himself while he’s away? Or am I alone in thinking this?! Despite only topping the charts for one week, its appeal has stood the test of time – Bob Dylan and Tori Amos are among the notable artists to release covers.
As for Stafford, she saw out most of the rest of her career with her husband Paul Weston, performing comedy songs, which sounds like a waste of a good voice to me. They released a cover of the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive in 1977. I think I’m going to have to try and find that and give it a listen…
Written by: Pee Wee King, Chilton Price and Redd Stewart
Weeks at number 1: 1 (16-22 January)