1953 was definitely Frankie Laine’s year. He dominated the singles chart in a way nobody else has since. His record-breaking dominance with I Believe was proof of this enough, but there was more to come. On 23 October, his cover of Hey Joe ended the dominance of Guy Mitchell’s Look at That Girl. A week later, his next number 1, Answer Me, entered the charts. With four songs in a chart that only consisted of twelve singles back then, it’s doubtful that anyone else will ever have a third of all songs in the chart in any given week ever again.
Sadly, Hey Joe isn’t the legendary track covered by, among others, The Jimi Hendrix Experience. It was a country music track written by Boudleaux Bryant for Carl Smith, and had been a bestseller on the US country music chart for eight weeks. It was Bryant’s first notable achievement, and four years later he and his wife Felice would begin a run of hits for the Everly Brothers, including Bye Bye Love and All I Have to Do Is Dream. Hey Joe hasn’t aged as well as those future pop classics.
Frankie Laine’s cover, backed by Paul Weston & His Orchestra, certainly tries its best, and obviously its success suggests it worked with record buyers back then. Like Look at That Girl, it features a quite effective guitar solo, and the brass works well, but the lyrics are nauseating. Some cowboy is jealous of Joe’s gal, and he’s decided he’s going to take her for his own.
She’s got skin that’s creamy dreamy
Eyes that look so lovey dovey
Lips as red as cherry berry wine’
Ugh. By the end of the song, he’s telling Joe that, though they might be friends to the end, the end is nigh as his passion for her is all-consuming. If Joe had any sense he’d shoot this annoying ex-friend of his first while he’s describing her in that patronising way of his. Although Laine characteristically performs the tune with gusto, his vocal styling makes it worse, stretching certain words out past the point of no return. No doubt the popularity of westerns in the 1950s, and Laine in general, would have helped Hey Joe no end.
During Hey Joe‘s fortnight at the top, The Samaritans phone counselling service began. Vicar Chad Varah officially set it up in London on 2 November, but had been inspired years earlier while at a funeral for a poor 14-year-old girl who had committed suicide in the belief she had an STD. She was in fact only menstruating. This troubled Varah to the extent he advertised for volunteers at his church to help people contemplating suicide, and The Daily Mirror came up with the name for the fledgling support group in their headline a month later for an article highlighting Varah’s work. Varah stayed with the Samaritans until 2004.
Written by: Boudleaux Bryant
Producer: Mitch Miller
Weeks at number 1: 2 (23 October-5 November)
Actor Peter Firth – 27 October