On 17 July, racing driver Stirling Moss, dubbed ‘the greatest driver never to win the World Championship’, became the first English winner of the British Grand Prix at Aintree. Two days earlier, Alma Angela Cohen, better known as Alma Cogan, scored her first and only number 1 with the poppy Dreamboat, written by Jack Hoffman.
Born of Russian-Romanian Jewish descent, Cogan had been a star for a few years by this point. When she was 14, she had been recommended for a variety show by none other than ‘Forces Sweetheart’ Vera Lynn. Two years later, formidable band leader Ted Heath told her to come back and try and work with him when she was older. He later said it was one of the biggest mistakes of his life. She became a BBC radio regular, and earned the nickname the ‘girl with the giggle in her voice’. after breaking down into laughter while recording If I Had a Golden Umbrella in 1953. With her sweet timbre, she was compared to Doris Day, particularly on her first hit, Bell Bottom Blues, in 1954. She charted 18 times in the 50s, but Dreamboat was her biggest tune.
Clocking in at under two minutes, Dreamboat is an average piece of 1950s pop fare. A bit too cutesy-wutesy and cheesy for its own good, but must have been fun at the time. The lyrics are confusing. It’s a nautical-themed love song (!), in which she seems to be singing about one person, and how devoted she is to him, how wonderful he is etc. But the first lines are:
‘You dreamboats, you lovable dreamboats
The kisses you gave me set my dreams afloat’
Make your mind up, Alma! The strangest lyric is:
‘I would sail the seven seas with you
Even if you told me to go and paddle my own canoe’
This creates the image of Alma Cogan paddling frantically behind her dreamboat. Or has she got several on the go? Anyway, by the time you’ve pondered all this, this harmless bit of fluff is over. And that was fine with pop fans of the day. Cogan won the New Musical Express‘s Outstanding British Female Singer award four times between 1956 and 1960. Her star waned as the new decade dawned, but she branched out and remained popular due to her starring role as Nancy in the musical Oliver!, plus regular appearances on television and radio.
Her dwindling chart action didn’t prevent Cogan from throwing hip showbiz parties at her widowed mother’s flat in Kensington. Regularly seen attending were the likes of Princess Margaret, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Bruce Forsyth and Roger Moore. She also become closely lined to the Beatles. Despite the teenage John bullying her at college, according to Lennon’s ex-wife Cynthia, they had a romance after meeting on Ready Steady Go! in 1964, but it was kept out of the public eye. Allegedly, Paul McCartney first played the melody of Yesterday on her piano. So it seems a shame the Fab Four couldn’t work their magic and help Cogan’s music career.
In 1966, she collapsed several times while on tour, citing stomach problems. tragically, Alma Cogan died of ovarian cancer on 24 October. She was only 34.
Written by: Jack Hoffman
Weeks at number 1: 2 (15-28 July)
Footballer Billy McCandless – 18 July