On 24th April, 1953, Prime Minister Winston Churchill received a knighthood from the Queen. Recognised officially for his part in leading the nation during World War Two, Churchill would suffer a stroke only a few weeks after the Queen’s Coronation that summer. It began a period of ill health that would begin the decline of the great wartime leader.
On the same day, US singer, songwriter and actor Frankie Laine’s cover of I Believe became the UK number one single. It remained there for nine weeks, equalling the previous record held by Al Martino’s Here in My Heart. However, following a week at number 1 for I’m Walking Behind You by Eddie Fisher and Sally Sweetland, it returned to the top spot for a further six weeks. Mantovani’s The Song from Moulin Rouge then topped the charts, but once again, I Believe went back to number 1. A staggering feat, this cover of a religious power ballad still holds the record for most non-concurrent weeks at number 1. It is doubtful that anyone will equal or top eighteen weeks anymore.
I Believe was written by musicians Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl and Al Stillman for Jane Froman. Froman was a big stage, TV and radio star who had suffered chronic injuries in a 1943 plane crash. Troubled by the Korean War in 1952, she asked her songwriters to come up with a tune that would offer hope to the audience of her TV show, Jane Froman’s USA Canteen. It’s fair to say that Drake, Graham, Shirl and Stillman delivered.
While cynical non-believers may balk at the lyrics, I Believe, by comparison to its predecessors at number 1, screams ‘I am a hit and I am important’ at you. For a nation of churchgoers in the 50s, this grandiose ballad was bound to do well. It could partly be that it’s already registered in my mind as a success due to the Robson and Jerome’s bland cover (their follow-up to Unchained Melody) from 1995, which cashed in on the elderly’s memories of the song and fans of the duo’s characters in the ITV drama Soldier Soldier. Their cover remains an early warning of Cowell’s evil reign of terror over the charts for years to come. Back in 1953 though, such a big song required a big voice, and a big star. So Frankie Laine was a natural choice.
Born into Chicago to a family of Sicilian immigrants, with connections to the Mob, Laine’s father was Al Capone’s barber, and he was 12 when he heard shots and found his Grandpa’s body. His mother told them he was killed by rival gangsters. By 1953 he was a squeaky clean (they all were then) superstar, without the good looks of some of his contemporaries, but it didn’t matter so much back then if you had a voice, and Laine certainly had that. Beginning with the gentle strum of an acoustic guitar, Laine builds the song into a display of righteous power, bellowing at the end with a performance that is still impressive today. And after eighteen weeks of chart dominance, he still had more to come in 1953.
Written by: Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl & Al Stillman
Weeks at number 1: 18 (24 April-25 June, 3 July-13 August, 21 August-10 September) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*
Prime Minister Tony Blair – 6 May
Musician Mike Oldfield – 15 May
Comedian Victoria Wood – 19 May
Actor Alfred Molina – 24 May
Politician Michael Portillo – 26 May
Doctor Hilary Jones – 19 June
Racing driver Nigel Mansell – 8 August
Singer Bobby G (Bucks Fizz) – 23 August