The first number 1 by an artist I was aware of before taking on this project, US easy listening singer Perry Como was one of the biggest stars of the 50s, and one of the names that really conjures up the era that predates rock’n’roll. After two world wars and economic depression, this is what the people needed. With his baritone croon, his cardigans (Bing Crosby once said Como was ‘the man who invented casual’, so we have him to thank for Alan Partridge) and the general aura of cosiness that he gave off, Como had nearly three decades of huge success from the 40s onwards. Had the UK charts existed earlier he’d have no doubt been number 1 before 1953. Not bad going for a man who began work as a barber as a 10-year-old.
Como was born Pierino Ronald Como, the seventh of 10 children to Italian immigrant parents, in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania on 18 May 1912. His parents owned a second-hand organ, and as a toddler young Como would start learning the ropes of his first instrument. The older he got, the more instruments he would learn, and being a singer wasn’t top of his ambitions. He wanted to be the best barber in the neighbourhood. He had his own shop aged 14.
In 1932 Como made his first appearance on stage in Cleveland while attending a Freddy Carlone show. Carlone invited audience members to perform with him, and a terrified Como was pushed into it by his friends. He was immediately offered a job.
In 1936 he made his first recordings with Ted Weems’s orchestra, where he worked on the smooth singing style that would make his name. But Como had started a family, and missed his wife and young son, so he quit in 1942 to become a barber once more. The offers kept coming though, and in 1943 he signed with RCA Victor, the company he stayed with for the next 44 years. He gained the interest of Frank Sinatra, who sometimes asked him to fill in for him on theatre shows. Como rocketed to stardom.
His first UK chart-topper, Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes shares similarities to Jo Stafford’s number 1, You Belong to Me. Her song featured a woman hoping that her partner would remember who he should be thinking of while he was away, Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes is about an absent man asking his lover not to stray. I quite like that title, it’s more oblique than the other number 1s that preceded it.
The tune gallops along at a fair rate (well, by 50s standards) but ultimately, it hasn’t aged well. It was written by Winston L. Moore, who was better known as the disc jockey Slim Willet, and had been covered several times before Como, but predictably enough, his was the best known and most successful, staying at number one for five weeks. He would once again reach number 1 in 1958 with the much more memorable Magic Moments.
Amusingly, Willet co-wrote a response song with Tommy Hill, to be performed by his sister Goldie Hill, with the less cryptic title I Let the Stars Get in My Eyes, in which Hill basically sings that, oops, she did exactly what she was told not to do and fell for someone else. Charming.
Written by: Slim Willet
Producer: Eli Oberstein
Weeks at number 1: 5 (6 February-12 March)
Comedian Norman Pace – 17 February
5 February: To the delight of children, and many adults, the government ended rationing on sweets.