A tragic accident occurred on 13 June 1957 when a bus collided with a queue of people waiting at an Oxford Street bus stop, killing eight. Two weeks later on 27 June, the Medical Research Council issued a report that revealed there really was evidence to support a link between smoking and lung cancer. Why this came as a shock, I do not know. What do these events have in common? Johnnie Ray was enjoying his final UK number 1 with Yes Tonight Josephine at the time, after toppling the Andy Williams hit, Butterfly.
Yes Tonight Josephine had been written by Winfield Scott, who later co-wrote Return to Sender for Elvis Presley (along with Otis Blackwell), and Dorothy Goodman, of which I know nothing. Unlike lots of Ray’s material (they didn’t call him ‘Mr Emotion’ for nothing), this is a bouncy, upbeat number, along the lines of Ray’s first number 1, 1954’s Such a Night. Once again, Mitch Miller was in charge of production. Although he certainly had the magic touch back then, and helped make Ray the Christmas number 1 in 1956 with Just Walkin’ in the Rain, I think on this occasion it was a mistake for him to be involved.
Yes Tonight Josephine isn’t a bad song. Ray, as always, performs well. But it’s ruined by some bizarre backing vocals that smother the song and make it too laughable to enjoy fully.
‘(Yip yip way bop de boom ditty boom ditty)
(Yip yip way bop de boom)’
I think they’re supposed to represent Ray’s anticipation of his upcoming night with Josephine, but they come across like a man with Tourette’s, and they never end. Miller was straying too far into novelty song territory. Understandable, as that was his comfort zone.
Sadly, Ray’s career declined after this, and with that, his personal problems increased. He was arrested again in 1959 for soliciting an undercover officer, and went to trial but was found not guilty. In 1960 he was hospitalised with tuberculosis, and this caused him to give up alcohol. When he eventually appeared on local television in Chicago in 1966, he looked emaciated. A doctor told Ray in 1969 that he was well enough to drink an occasional glass of wine. For someone with an addiction to alcohol, this was never going to end well. He became an alcoholic once more and the music took a permanent back seat.
Johnnie Ray died of liver failure in 1990, aged 63. It was a tragic but inevitable end for a tortured soul. Fame is complicated. Had Ray been around in more enlightened times, his sexuality wouldn’t have been an issue and he may have been happier. At the same time, his troubles helped make him distinctive, intense and influential. It’s a shame such a pioneering singer isn’t better remembered.
Written by: Winfield Scott & Dorothy Goodman
Producer: Mitch Miller
Weeks at number 1: 3 (7-27 June)
Broadcaster Danny Baker – 22 June
Author Malcolm Lowry – 27 June