On 15 October, the RAF officially retired the last Lancaster bomber. Along with the Spitfire, the plane was synonymous with World War 2. Yet another sign that the country was moving on from the war. You wouldn’t think that by looking at the number one single of the time, however.
Lay Down Your Arms was a Swedish song, originally called Anne-Caroline, by Åke Gerhard and Leon Landgren, but the English lyrics were from Paddy Roberts, who had written Softly, Softly, a 1955 number one for Ruby Murray. It was a boisterous military march-themed love song, in which the protagonist is telling her soldier boyfriend that the conflict is over, so he needs to get himself home, lay down his arms and surrender to hers. Clever, eh?
The perfect person to sing a throwback to the war songs of the 1940s was Forces Sweetheart Anne Shelton. She had performed at military bases during the war, and had perhaps avoided death when she was forced to turn down the opportunity to work with Glenn Miller due to prior commitments. This was the tour in which Miller died in a plane crash. Shelton had been the first British artist to record one of the most famous songs of the war, Lili Marlene.
It’s hard to fathom why this got to number one when it did. A month later, after the embarrassment of the Suez Crisis, would be more understandable. At the end of 1956, the UK probably needed to be reminded of a time in which they were the heroes in a war. I can only imagine the older generation were going out in droves and buying this because they preferred it to the new rock’n’roll sounds that were loved by the youth. It’s not terrible, the melody is memorable and I’ve had it swimming round my head since listening to it, but it’s no Rock Island Line or Why Do Fools Fall in Love. Shelton’s vocal is overbearing – I feel sorry for her soldier boy as she sounds like a terrifying lover. He’d probably be safer back on the beach at Normandy. The most noteworthy element of the song is the fact troubled genius Joe Meek was the engineer, learning his trade before becoming a famous producer a few years later Shelton had a few more hits and attempts at entering Eurovision. As the decades went by she was often brought out for war anniversaries and ceremonies. She died in 1994 of a heart attack, aged 70.
Written by: Åke Gerhard & Leon Landgren/Paddy Roberts (English lyrics)
Weeks at number 1: 4 (21 September-18 October)
Athlete Sebastian Coe – 29 September
Scientist Frederick Soddy – 22 September