The Christmas number 1 of 1956 was a rather downbeat affair, but a good one. This was Johnnie Ray’s second number 1, after the lusty Such a Night in 1954. He had been immortalised in film too that year, starring in the famous musical-comedy-drama There’s No Business Like Show Business alongside Marilyn Monroe. He had seven further top 10 hits between 1954-56.
Just Walkin’ in the Rain had an interesting genesis: it had been written in 1952 by Johnny Bragg and Robert Riley. They weren’t a songwriting duo – they were prisoners at Tennessee State Prison in Nashville.
The pair were walking across the prison courtyard on a miserable rainy day, when allegedly Bragg remarked, ‘Here we are just walking in the rain, and wondering what the girls are doing’. Riley suggested this would be the good basis for a song, and within minutes Bragg composed a couple of verses. However, he couldn’t read or write, so he asked Riley to write down the lyrics in exchange for a songwriting credit.
At first Ray wasn’t keen on recording it, but producer extraordinaire Mitch Miller persuaded him to give it a go. With his reputation for songs of heartbreak, Ray was an ideal candidate for a cover, and Miller was proven right.
Backed by the Ray Conniff Singers and a mystery whistler (one of the most memorable aspects of the tune), Ray’s version perfectly captures the almost cosy melancholy at the heart of the song. Yes, he’s forlorn and lovesick, but you get the feeling he’s kind-of enjoying feeling sorry for himself. No wonder Morrissey became such a fan – was this track the source of inspiration for Well I Wonder by The Smiths?
Ray is in fine voice too, and makes the song so much more effective than your average crooner would. It reminds me of the infamous ‘You’re Never Alone with a Strand’ ad campaign of 1959, in which a solitary man walks the wet streets, lighting a Strand cigarette to cheer himself up. The ads were soon dropped due to creating an association of Strand with sad, lonely men. Just Walkin’ in the Rain would have provided a perfect soundtrack.
Despite the cultural shift that rock’n’roll brought about, the number 1s of 1956 were still on the conservative side. Music’s popularity was increasing with the rise of the teenager – the top 20 had expanded to a top 30, and singles by Elvis Presley and Lonnie Donegan threatened to hold the top spot, but were kept away by safer choices by the older generation. Come 1957, however, several big names finally made it to pole position, in a year that was made up of entirely male number 1 singles.
Written by: Johnny Bragg & Robert Riley
Producer: Mitch Miller
Weeks at number 1: 7 (16 November 1956-3 January 1957)
The KLF musician Jimmy Caughty – 19 December
Iron Maiden guitarist Dave Murray – 23 December
Violinist Nigel Kennedy – 28 December
Artist Nina Hamnett – 16 December
22 November- 8 December: The Olympics took place in Melbourne, Australia. Great Britain and Northern Ireland won six gold, seven silver and 11 bronze medals.
29 November: Petrol rationing was introduced due to petrol blockades caused by the Suez Crisis.
23 December, the British and French troops withdrew from Suez after pressure from the UN and US.
19 December: Dr John Bodkin Adams was arrested for the murder of patient Edith Alice Morrell.
Christmas Day: The long-running advertising campaign for PG Tips starring ‘talking’ chimps began, with the voices provided by Peter Sellers.