111. Johnny Tillotson – Poetry in Motion (1961)

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1961 was an unusual year for number 1s. There was more movement at the summit of the charts than ever before, with a whopping 21 chart-toppers. Many were short-lived, lasting only a week at a time, and it’s tough to work out a trend or scene that may have had an impact. Elvis Presley could still do no wrong, and had four number 1s, more this year than any other artist had managed in 12 months. Unusually, Cliff didn’t score any new number 1s this year, but was still a regular in the upper reaches. There was still a place for rock’n’roll, but with many of the greats already gone, the scene was missing some of the initial excitement and danger.

As is often the case, the year got off to a fairly unexciting start, with singer-songwriter Johnny Tillotson’s Poetry in Motion knocking Cliff and the Shadows’ I Love You from the top and enjoying a fortnight at number 1. Tillotson was born in April 1939 in Jacksonville, Florida. Aged only nine, he was sent away to look after his grandmother in Palatka, which seems a bit much. While at high school there he began to be known as a talented singer, and after gaining further notice in national talent contests, Archie Bleyer signed him to Cadence Records. He began releasing self-penned singles in 1958, and a cover of Earth Angel, making slight dints on the charts, but he made his name with Poetry In Motion, written by Mike Anthony and Paul Kaufman. Kaufman later claimed the inspiration came from the parade of schoolgirls he would see pass by his window every afternoon…hmm…

Bill Porter, by now the US’s most in-demand sound engineer, supervised the session. Among the musicians involved were saxophonist Boots Randolph, whose 1963 hit Yakety Sax became the much-remembered signature tune on The Benny Hill Show, used every time Benny was chasing or being chased by scantily-clad ladies. Floyd Cramer was on piano, and would feature on the next number 1, Elvis’s Are You Lonesome Tonight?, as well as having a number 1 under his own name with On the Rebound in May.

Randolph’s saxophone is probably the most memorable element of this so-so track, giving the sound some punch and distinction. It’s not a bad tune, but a bit average and unmemorable, other than the solid production. The lyrics aren’t earth-shattering either, and ‘She doesn’t need improvement/She’s much too nice to rearrange’ is as iffy as the inspiration behind the song. The only other noteworthy mention goes to the reference to Love Potion No. 9, which had been a hit in 1959 for the Clovers.

Johnny Tillotson became a teen idol after its release, but his father had become terminally ill. This inspired his 1962 song, It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin’, which became a big country hit and was later covered by Elvis. He had further hits, and starred in films, including 1966 comedy The Fat Spy with Jayne Mansfield (considered by many as one of the worst films ever made) but his fortunes waned as the 1960s drew to a close. The 90s saw Tillotson reguarly touring other countries, but tragedy hit his family when his 22-year-old daughter Kelli was killed in a car crash in 1991. 2010 saw the release of his single Not Enough, which paid tribute to all uniformed US personnel, and saw him gain recognition for the first time in years.

Written by: Mike Anthony & Paul Kaufman

Producer: Archie Bleyer

Weeks at number 1: 2 (12-25 January)

Births:

Simon Russell Beale – 12 January
Madness singer Suggs – 13 January
Footballer Peter Beardsley – 18 January
Designer Wayne Hemingway – 19 January

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