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 Presley was 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.
Patrick Charles Eugene Boone was born on 1 June 1934 in Jacksonville, Florida. The Boones moved to Nashville, Tennessee when he was two. He began recording while at university, signing with Republic Records in 1954 and then Dot Records the following year. The hits began that year, when he covered Fats Domino’s Ain’t That a Shame. This hit number one in the US, and seven on these shores.
Boone was about to begin a career in film 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 very Elvis-lite, and similar to Love Me Tender. Written from the point of view of a soldier away on duty, it features a sappy spoken-word interlude, and is very mediocre. 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, in short, Elvis-lite. 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 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. His film career was still going well, however, and among his many movies he starred in all-star epic The Greatest Story Ever Told in 1965.
In the 70s he set up his own label, Lamb & Lion Records, and signed to Motown country subsidiary Melodyland in 1974. 1978 saw Boone and his daughter involved in a scandal involving an investigation into celebrities endorsing products making false claims when he and his four daughters appeared in an advert for Acne-Statin.
In the 90s he recorded an album of heavy metal covers called In a Metal Mood: No More Mr Nice Guy. He wore a leather jacket on TV to promote it and was subsequently sacked from TV show Gospel America. It took an explanation that he was parodying himself to get his job back.
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 one of the many thousands of Elvis impersonators, Pat Boone would be very low down on my list.
Written by: Ferdinand Washington & Stan Lewis
Producer: Randy Wood
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
5 July: The Clean Air Act was passed as a result of the events of December 1952 when the singles chart was in its infancy. London had been gripped by the worst smog outbreak it had ever known. The Great Smog of London had lasted five days and is believed to have killed approximately 12,000 people.
9 July: Toy manufacturers Mettoy introduce Corgi Toys model cars, remembered fondly by boys and girls for years to come.