Until the rise of the Beatles, most songs in the 50s and 60s charts tended to be covers, and often multiple versions of these songs were available at once. This led to the last two number ones of 1953 being covers of the same track, and even, for one week, number one at the same time. An oddity, no doubt, brought on by the fact that the charts were compiled in such an amateurish fashion, with the New Musical Express simply ringing around twenty shops and asking what was doing well.
Answer Me was originally a German song called Mütterlein, written by Gerhard Winkler and Fred Rauch. The English lyrics were by top US songwriter Carl Sigman, who used to collaborate with Duke Ellington, among others. In Answer Me, a man asks God why his love has left him:
‘Answer me, Lord above:
Just what sin have I been guilty of?
Tell me how I came to lose my love
Please answer me, oh, Lord’
I would have thought God had bigger things to think about… These lyrics proved to be controversial. It seems laughable now, but the BBC actually banned Answer Me due to complaints over its religious content, and both David Whitfield and Frankie Laine later released versions of Answer Me, My Love, in which Sigman cleaned up his act. This seems even more bizarre when you consider the huge success of I Believe, but it must have been due to the explicit references, the actual gall of the use of the word ‘God’.
With its depressing lyrics, all-too-early-50s stately pace and overwrought style, Answer Me is a less memorable I Believe. David Whitfield’s voice was clearly perfect for this type of song, but you just wish he’d tone it down a bit. Nonetheless, Whitfield was a hugely popular male tenor when he first hit number one. Hailing from Hull, he was the most successful British singer in the US at the time. A former choirboy and Royal Navy entertainer, he came to prominence after appearing on the Radio Luxembourg talent contest, Opportunity Knocks. The problem for Whitfield was that Frankie Laine’s version was in the charts at the same time, and he was unstoppable in 1953…
During the initial run at number one for Answer Me, current affairs series Panorama first appeared on the BBC. Groundbreaking, and still often controversial, this series continues to unearth unpleasant truths all these years later.
Written by: Gerhard Winkler and Fred Rauch/Carl Sigman (English lyrics)
Weeks at number 1: 2 (6-11 November, 11-16 December)
Equestrian Lucinda Green – 7 November
Comedian Jim Davidson – 13 December
Poet Dylan Thomas – 7 November