In a year in which US crooner Frankie Laine so completely dominated the fledgling UK charts, it seems fitting that he finished 1953 at the top. Even more so that it was with Answer Me, which as I mentioned here, is so typically of its time. Despite becoming banned by the BBC for its religious content (yes, really), both Laine’s version and David Whitfield’s continued to outsell the other top ten as winter set in. After a week at number 1, Hull-born tenor David Whitfield’s single was overtaken by Laine’s version.
It’s easy to see why Laine overtook Whitfield. Although nothing can disguise the cloying sentimentality of Answer Me, this recording, with the backing of Paul Weston & his Orchestra, is stronger. Laine’s singing is more natural, and softer, with an organ, guitar and choir accompanying him. Like I Believe, he saves the bellowing until the end, giving the song time to build. It reached number 1 on 13 November, and there it remained until January 1954, for a very impressive eight weeks.
However, on 11 December, David Whitfield’s version sold equally well. Or at least, it did in the few shops whose sales counted towards the top 12. And so for a week, both versions were recognised as number 1 singles. It’s fair to say this will never happen again (UPDATE: I was wrong! It also happened in 157, 1958 and 1959!). It’s a shame it didn’t occur during Christmas week really, it could have become known as a pop music version of the Christmas truce in World War One.
As mentioned in my blog on Whitfield’s version, both he and Laine later recorded covers of Answer Me, My Love, in which the then-shocking references to God were removed. Neither of these outperformed their first versions though. Just goes to show the universal appeal and interest in ‘banned’ songs really.
With a few slight exceptions, looking back at the number 1 singles of 1953 has proven that ‘pop’ music had a long way to go before it became exciting, memorable and most importantly, fun. However, some of the key ingredients were starting to fall into place.
Meanwhile, the end of the year saw Piltdown Man, discovered in 1912 and believed to be the remains of an early human, to be a hoax, on 20 November. Five days later, England lost dramatically to Hungary in football’s ‘Match of the Century’ by 6-3, and on 26 November the House of Lords voted to go ahead with the government’s plans for commercial television.
Written by: Gerhard Winkler and Fred Rauch/Carl Sigman (English lyrics)
Producer: Mitch Miller
Weeks at number 1: 8 (13 November 1953-7 January 1954)
Comedian Griff Rhys Jones – 16 November
Politician Hilary Benn – 26 November
Politician Alistair Darling – 28 November
Politician Geoff Hoon – 6 December
Comedian Jim Davidson – 13 December
Director Anthony Minghella – 6 January 1954