Hmm. Novelty songs were all the rage back in the 50s. I’ve nothing against novelty songs if done right, but these early ones were obviously from a time predating political correctness. She Wears Red Feathers is the bizarre tale of an English banker’s love for a hula-hula girl, who apparently ‘lives on just cokey-nuts and fish from the sea’. The banker and his love get married in a ceremony involving an elephant and baboons playing bassoons… This song didn’t do great in the US, but the British have always had a more eccentric sense of humour, and they welcomed it with open arms and sent cheeky US crooner Guy Mitchell’s version to number 1 on 13 March, 1953.
Thing is, despite the lyrics being borderline racist (‘cokey-nuts’ is performed by Mitchell in a ‘comedy’ accent), the chorus is memorable. It’s the sort of tune you can imagine Nigel Farage and Mike Read singing after a skinful. It’s been lurking somewhere in the dark corners of my mind all this time, as I recognised the title when I came upon it and the chorus started up in my brain automatically. I’ve no idea where I heard it. We certainly didn’t own a copy, so it must have been in a film or TV show. In the clip below, Mitchell performs the song with gusto on an unknown variety show.
The song was created in 1952 (all these early number ones so far have actually dated from the previous year) by US songsmith Bob Merrill. Merrill had an astounding hit rate and was the second most successful songwriter of the decade in this country. He co-wrote If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake with Al Hoffman and Clem Watts in 1950, and specialised in comical, catchy tunes. Merrill and Mitchell worked very well together, especially when produced by Mitch Miller, who was renowned for inventiveness and gimmickry. Miller hated rock’n’roll when it came about, calling it “musical baby food.”, and actually turned both the Beatles and Elvis Presley down. Not exactly forward-thinking, Mitch. However, back in the early 50s, Mitchell, Merrill and Miller could do no wrong, and the trio would trouble the charts again many times. Glam rockers Mud recorded an awful cover of She Wears Red Feathers in the 70s, when being PC still didn’t seem to matter, and you can hear it here, if you really need to.
Written by: Bob Merrill
Weeks at number 1: 4 (13 March-9 April)
Author Christopher Fowler – 26 March
Queen Mary – 24 March
Poet Idris Davies – 6 April