In December 1952 when the singles chart was in its infancy, London was gripped by the worst smog outbreak it had ever known. The Great Smog of London lasted five days and is believed to have killed approximately 12,000 people. Such a shocking number of deaths caused Parliament to get their act together (eventually), and on 5 July the Clean Air Act was passed. 9 July saw toy manufacturers Mettoy introduce Corgi Toys model cars, remembered fondly by boys and girls for years to come. And in the music world, Elvis-mania was finally in full effect on these shores – Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Suede Shoes and I Want You I Need You I Love You had all bothered the charts, but surprisingly not one hit the top. Record buyers chose the safer option instead, and on 15 June, Pat Boone toppled Ronnie Hilton and I’ll Be Home began five weeks at number 1.
Pat Boone was, according to Billboard, the second-biggest charting artist of the latter half of the 50s, only beaten by Elvis. Early Elvis was considered raunchy, suggestive and dangerous. Pat Boone was not, but he sounded very similar and, like Elvis, was fond of taking songs by black artists and tailoring them to a white audience. He had already enjoyed number ones in the US and was about to begin a film career too when I’ll Be Home hit the big time. The song, written by Ferdinand Washington and Stan Lewis, had originally been a hit for doo-wop group The Flamingos. Boone picked Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti as its B-side.
I’ll Be Home is, predictably enough, Elvis-lite, and very similar to Love Me Tender, but written from the point of view of a soldier away on duty, it seems. It features a sappy spoken-word interlude, and is mediocre to my ears. But Boone was and is overtly Christian, which would have pleased the older record buyers back then. As far as I know he didn’t shake his hips either, so Presley had to wait even longer to top the charts. Sometimes there really is no accounting for sense and taste in the UK singles chart.
Nonetheless, Boone was incredibly successful, and could afford to turn down films and songs that didn’t hold up to his strong conservative views – he even turned down the opportunity to work with Marilyn Monroe. DC Comics even turned him into a comic strip. I can’t imagine it would have been very exciting, and I wouldn’t expect a Hollywood adaptation any time soon. The British Invasion ended his peak years and he moved into a more natural genre for him, namely gospel. I may sound rather disparaging of Boone, but it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm for a man who was very vocal in supporting both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. He believed that people should ‘respect their elders’ and blindly follow their Presidents into any folly they may choose. In recent years he has also tried to draw links between gay rights protests and terrorist attacks, claimed Barack Obama was ineligible to serve as President, and compared liberalism to cancer. If I was forced to go see an Elvis impersonator, Pat Boone would be at the bottom of my list.
Written by: Ferdinand Washington & Stan Lewis
Weeks at number 1: 5 (15 June – 19 July) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*
Joy Division singer Ian Curtis – 15 July
Writer Walter de la Mare – 22 June