32. Tony Bennett – Stranger in Paradise (1955)

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As soon as he replaced Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden sought to establish his presence in Number 10 by immediately announcing a General Election for 26 May. For the first time in an election, television proved to take a prominent role in campaigning for Eden’s Conservatives and Clement Atlee’s Labour. As the polls closed, all the signs pointed toward Eden having made a very shrewd move.

On the day of the election, Tony Bennett’s fortnight at number 1 with Stranger in Paradise was coming to an end. One of many versions in the chart that year of Robert Wright and George Forrest’s song from the 1953 musical Kismet, which had only just arrived in the UK, it marked the start of Bennett’s international success.

Anthony Dominick Benedetto knew he was blessed with a good voice, and had been a singing waiter before being drafted into the US army towards the end of World War Two. He later described his time in the front line as a ‘front-row seat in hell’. Returning to his previous career after the war, singer Pearl Bailey invited him to be her warm-up in 1949. She had invited Bob Hope to watch, and he was so impressed he took his on the road with him. And that was the start of Tony Bennett, one of our last living original swingers.

Tony Bennett’s voice is the best thing about this song. It’s yet another smooth ballad, smothered with the usual arrangement, but he sings his heart out and it’s plain to see why he became so famous. However, the lyrics are also noteworthy. It’s another love song, but we’re a step above the usual fare from these times. For example:

‘I saw her face
And I ascended
Out of the common place
Into the rarest
Somewhere in space
I hang suspended
Until I know
There’s a chance that she cares’

Despite being (to date) his only UK chart-topper, the best was yet to come for Bennett, but he faced several peaks and troughs. He survived the rock’n’roll boom that soon followed, and hit big again in 1962 with his version of I Left My Heart in San Fransisco. Even Sinatra said he was the best singer in the world, but the boom of the Beatles saw Bennett feeling out of place once more, and he faced trying times until he nearly died of a cocaine overdose in 1979. In the 1990s though, he enjoyed a big revival. The illness and eventual death of Sinatra in 1998 perhaps made the world realise the swingers should be enjoyed while they were still around.  Bennett was all over television at the time. His natural charm was perfect for telling tall tales of his career, and that voice was still golden.

Always a supporter of civil rights, and with opinions on the Iraq War and apartheid that have later proven him to be on the right side of history, he’s that rare commodity in music, namely a nice guy AND one hell of a talent. He’s now 91 and still recording and performing, and long may he do so.

Tony Bennett is also the earliest UK number 1 act that I have ever seen live. Performing at a very muddy and wet Glastonbury Festival on Sunday 28 June, 1998, my friends and I sat on bin bags near our tents up on the hill by the Pyramid Stage. We probably began watching him with a sense of ironic detachment, as it certainly wasn’t the sort of music we were into. However, he won us over. Though it’s nearly 20 years ago, I remember we danced, we smiled, and the sun even shone for one of the few times that entire weekend. One of the better ‘legend’ slots in the festival’s history.

Written by: Robert Wright & George Forrest 

Weeks at number 1: 2 (13-26 May)

Births:

Singer Hazel O’Connor – 16 May

Presenter Dale Winton – 22 May

One Reply to “32. Tony Bennett – Stranger in Paradise (1955)”

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