Here’s one we all know. (How Much is) That Doggie in the Window? is known to most as a timeless nursery rhyme rather than a chart-topper. It is about as far removed from a modern number 1 as it’s possible to get, but children of every generation since have grown up with it and loved it, including my own daughters.
It was written by Bob Merrill, author of the tacky She Wears Red Feathers, number 1 by Guy Mitchell a month previously. Loosely based on a folk song called Carnival of Venice, an earlier version, The Doggie in the Window, sung by one of the most famous singers of the 50s, Patti Page, is still the most well-known, and hit number 1 on the Billboard charts in the US, selling millions. But it didn’t make it to number one in the UK. Enter Lita Roza.
Lita Roza, born Lilian Patricia Lita Roza on 14 March 1926, hailed from Liverpool. She credited her passion for music to her father, an accordionist and pianist. He was of Filipino ancestry, which is where Roza’s sultry looks originated too.
Her desire to make it in show business was with her as a child. Aged 12 she became a dancer, at 15 she was working with a comedian, and she first became a singer a year later. Roza signed up with The Harry Roy Orchestra in London but by the time she was 18 she had quit and moved to America with her new husband. The marriage was short-lived and shortly after World War Two she returned to the UK.
Roza became a singer with The Ted Heath Jazz Band and juggled this with a burgeoning solo career. She regularly topped polls in Melody Maker and the New Musical Express for best female singer.
A creditable artist, she didn’t want to record a novelty record, but her A&R, Dick Rowe, nagged her until she relented. However, she insisted on singing it in only one take, and refused to ever perform it live. Roza claimed in a 2004 interview that she kept her word, and so she began a long tradition of artists who hate the song they become best known for.
Nonetheless, it immortalised her as the first UK solo act to become number 1. Listening to her cover alongside Patti Page’s (not something I can see myself doing more than once), I prefer Roza’s, as she sings with much less affectation than Page.
She remained popular until rock’n’roll took off, when she moved into TV work, and also appeared in the Eurovision Song Contest heats from 1957, 1959 and 1960.
However, Roza clearly had some affection or appreciation of (How Much is) That Doggie in the Window? as when she died she left £300,000 in her will to charities. £190,000 of this went to dog-related charities: Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and The Cinnamon Trust. She passed away on 14 August 2008, aged 82.
Written by: Bob Merrill
Producer: Dick Rowe
Weeks at number 1: 1 (17-23 April)
Novelist Sebastian Faulks – 20 April