18. Doris Day with Orchestra conducted by Ray Heindorf – Secret Love (1954)

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US smash-hit musical western Calamity Jane was first released in November 1953. Loosely based on the life of the title character and her alleged romance with notorious folk hero “Wild Bill” Hickok, it starred Doris Day and Howard Keel in the central roles.

Doris Day, born Doris Mary Kappelhoff on 3 April 1922 was one of the most well-known singers and actresses of the era. Originally she wanted to be a dancer, but an accident at the age of 15 forced her out of action and she discovered a talent for singing, with Ella Fitzgerald her idol.

She took singing lessons, and caught the attention of jazz musician Barney Rapp. Kappelhoff began working with him, but he understandably felt she needed a new stage name. Admiring her rendition of Day After Day, he suggested Doris Day.

The sugary timbre of her voice and film-star looks soon captivated radio, film and television audiences, right from her first hit, Sentimental Journey, back in 1945.

Her first UK singles success came in 1952, with a Frankie Laine duet, Sugarbush, and the following year she duetted with Johnnie Ray on the number four hit Let’s Walk That-a-Way.

On 16 April, 1954, UK singles buyers saw sense and decided that this track from Calamity Jane was more deserving of the number 1 spot than the execrable I See the Moon by The Stargazers. The ballad was written by composer Sammy Fain, with Paul Francis Webster providing the lyrics that describe the joy of finally being able to tell the world of a love kept under wraps.

Day was visibly moved when Fain visited her to play it for the first time. The day of the recording, she warmed-up her voice, cycled to the studio and announced to musical director Ray Heindorf that she would only perform one take of her vocal. Despite understandable misgivings, Heindorf was ecstatic after the take, agreeing that she could never outdo herself.

It would seem this song had special meaning for Day, she clearly loved it and it shows in that one-take performance. A cut above other songs of this ilk, her authentic vocal turns from typically sweet to barely-contained delight at times. The stirring strings replicate the chorus and add to its hit factor.

Secret Love gave Day her fourth US number one, and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song on 25 March. However she caused controversy by refusing to perform it at the ceremony. The subsequent bad press saw Day housebound with depression for some time afterwards. Nonetheless, a few weeks later it became her first UK number 1.

In a clear display of how mad the British record-buying public can often be, I See the Moon returned to the top after only a week. Not for long though, and on 8 May, Secret Love toppled Johnnie Ray’s Such a Night, beginning eight weeks as best-selling single.

Written by: Sammy Fain & Paul Francis Webster 

Producer: Ray Heindorf

Weeks at number 1: 9 (16-22 April, 8 May-1 July) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Footballer Trevor Francis – 19 April
Entertainer Gary Wilmot – 8 May

Deaths:

Mathematician Alan Turing – 7 June

Meanwhile…

29 May: Diane Leather became the first woman to break the five-minute mile.
29 June: The IRA returned after a long period of inactivity.

15. Frankie Laine with Paul Weston & His Orchestra – Answer Me (1953)

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In a year in which US crooner Frankie Laine so completely dominated the fledgling UK charts, it seems fitting that he finished 1953 at the top. Even more so that it was with Answer Me, which as I mentioned here, is so typically of its time. Despite becoming banned by the BBC for its religious content (yes, really), both Laine’s version and David Whitfield’s continued to outsell the other top 10 as winter set in. After a week at number 1, Hull-born tenor David Whitfield’s single was overtaken by Laine’s version.

Although nothing can disguise the cloying sentimentality of Answer Me, this recording, with the backing of Paul Weston & his Orchestra, is stronger. Laine’s singing is more natural, and softer, with an organ, guitar and choir accompanying him. Like I Believe, he saves the bellowing until the end, giving the song time to build. It reached number 1 on 13 November, and there it remained until 7 January 1954, for a very impressive eight weeks.

However, on 11 December, David Whitfield’s version sold equally well. Or at least, it did in the few shops whose sales counted towards the top 12. And so for a week, both versions were recognised as number 1 singles. It’s a shame it didn’t occur during Christmas week, it could have become pop music’s version of the Christmas truce in World War One.

As mentioned in my blog on Whitfield’s version, both he and Laine later recorded covers of Answer Me, My Love, in which the then-shocking references to God were removed. Neither of these outperformed their first versions though. Just goes to show the universal appeal and interest in ‘banned’ songs really.

With a few slight exceptions, looking back at the number 1 singles of 1953 has proven that ‘pop’ music had a long way to go before it became exciting, memorable and most importantly, fun. However, some of the key ingredients were starting to fall into place.

Written by: Gerhard Winkler & Fred Rauch/Carl Sigman (English lyrics)

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 8 (13 November 1953-7 January 1954)

Births:

Comedian Griff Rhys Jones – 16 November
Labour MP Hilary Benn – 26 November
Labour MP Alistair Darling – 28 November
Labour MP Geoff Hoon – 6 December
Comedian Jim Davidson – 13 December
Director Anthony Minghella – 6 January

Meanwhile…

20 November: Piltdown Man, discovered in 1912 and believed to be the remains of an early human, were proved to be a hoax.

25 November: England lost dramatically to Hungary in football’s ‘Match of the Century’ by 6-3, ending a 90-year unbeaten home run against sides from outside the British Isles.

26 November: The House of Lords voted to go ahead with the government’s plans for commercial television.

14. David Whitfield with Stanley Black & His Orchestra – Answer Me (1953)

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Until the rise of The Beatles, most songs in the 50s and 60s charts tended to be covers, and often multiple versions of these songs were available at once. This led to the last two number 1s of 1953 being covers of the same track, and even, for one week, number 1 at the same time. An oddity, no doubt, brought on by the fact that the charts were compiled in such an amateurish fashion, with the New Musical Express simply ringing around 20 shops to ask what was doing well.

Answer Me was originally a German song called Mütterlein, written by Gerhard Winkler and Fred Rauch. The English lyrics were by top US songwriter Carl Sigman, who used to collaborate with Duke Ellington, among others. In Answer Me, a man asks God why his love has left him:

‘Answer me, Lord above:
Just what sin have I been guilty of?
Tell me how I came to lose my love
Please answer me, oh, Lord’

I would have thought God had bigger things to think about… These lyrics proved to be controversial. It seems laughable now, but the BBC actually banned Answer Me due to complaints over its religious content, and both David Whitfield and Frankie Laine later released toned down versions called Answer Me, My Love, in which Sigman cleaned up his act. This seems even more bizarre when you consider the huge success of I Believe, but it must have been due to the explicit references to God.

With its depressing lyrics, all-too-early-50s stately pace and overwrought style, Answer Me is a less memorable I Believe. David Whitfield’s voice was clearly made for this type of song, but you just wish he’d tone it down a bit.

Nonetheless, Whitfield was a hugely popular male tenor when he first hit number 1. Hailing from Hull in the East Riding of Yorkshire, he was born on 2 February 1925. Whitfield sang in the choir at his church as a child and during World War Two he would entertain fellow troops.

He featured in the Radio Luxembourg version of Opportunity Knocks after the war, which was his platform to fame. His second single was a version of I Believe, but follow-up Bridge of Sighs was his first taste of top 10 action.

Whitfield was the most successful British singer in the US in 1953, but the problem was, the unstoppable Frankie Laine’s version was in the charts at the same time.

Written by: Gerhard Winkler & Fred Rauch/Carl Sigman (English lyrics)

Producer: Bunny Lewis

Weeks at number 1: 2 (6-12 November, 11-17 December)

Births:

Equestrian Lucinda Green – 7 November
Comedian Jim Davidson – 13 December

Deaths

Poet Dylan Thomas – 7 November

Meanwhile…

11 November: Current affairs series Panorama first appeared on the BBC. Groundbreaking, and still often controversial, this series continues to unearth unpleasant truths all these years later.

13. Frankie Laine with Paul Weston & His Orchestra – Hey Joe (1953)

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Frankie Laine dominated the singles chart in 1953 in a way nobody else has since. His record-breaking dominance with I Believe was proof of this enough, but there was more to come.

On 23 October, his cover of Hey Joe ended the dominance of Guy Mitchell’s Look at That Girl. A week later, his next number 1, Answer Me, entered the charts. With four songs in a chart that only consisted of 12 singles back then, it’s doubtful that anyone else will ever have a third of all songs in the chart in any given week ever again. Although Ed Sheeran seems to be trying his best.

Sadly, Hey Joe isn’t the legendary track covered by, among others, The Jimi Hendrix Experience. It was a country music track written by Boudleaux Bryant for Carl Smith, and had been a bestseller on the US country music chart for eight weeks. It was Bryant’s first notable achievement, and four years later he and his wife Felice would begin a run of hits for The Everly Brothers, including Bye Bye Love and All I Have to Do Is Dream. Hey Joe does not live up to those classics.

Frankie Laine’s cover, backed by Paul Weston & His Orchestra, certainly tries its best, and obviously its success suggests it worked with record buyers back then. Like Look at That Girl, it features a quite effective guitar solo, and the brass works well, but the lyrics are nauseating. Some cowboy is jealous of Joe’s gal, and he’s decided he’s going to take her for his own.

‘Hey Joe
She’s got skin that’s creamy dreamy
Eyes that look so lovey dovey
Lips as red as cherry berry wine’

Ugh. By the end of the song, he’s telling Joe that, though they might be friends to the end, the end is nigh as his passion for her is all-consuming. If Joe had any sense he’d shoot this annoying ex-friend first while he’s describing her in that patronising way of his. Although Laine characteristically performs the tune with gusto, his vocal styling makes it worse, stretching certain words out past the point of no return. No doubt though, the popularity of westerns in the 50s, and Laine, meant Hey Joe was bound to do well.

Written by: Boudleaux Bryant

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 2 (23 October-5 November)

Births:

Actor Peter Firth – 27 October

Meanwhile…

2 November: The Samaritans phone counselling service began. Vicar Chad Varah officially set it up in London, was inspired years earlier while at a funeral for a 14-year-old girl who had committed suicide in the belief she had an STD. She was in fact only menstruating. This troubled Varah to the extent he advertised for volunteers at his church to help people contemplating suicide, and The Daily Mirror came up with the name for the fledgling support group in their headline a month later for an article highlighting Varah’s work. Varah stayed with the Samaritans until 2004.

12. Guy Mitchell – Look at That Girl (1953)

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The majority of number 1 singles so far have been a bit on the serious side, with maudlin ballads often ruling the roost. Finally, after Frankie Laine’s I Believe‘s final three-week stint at the top (making a record-breaking total of 18), cheeky chap Guy Mitchell was back. Thankfully, this time he’s avoiding the slight racism of She Wears Red Feathers, too.

Bob Merrill, one of the era’s chief hitmakers, totted up a third number 1 songwriting credit here, after also being responsible for Mitchell’s She Wears Red Feathers and Lita Roza’s (How Much is) That Doggie in the Window?. With producing supremo Mitch Mitchell also back on board, Look at That Girl went to number 1 on 11 September and stayed there for an impressive six weeks.

Less impressive is the song itself. Yes, finally something a bit more light-hearted, but despite the bounciness of the tune and Mitchell giving it his all, it’s easily forgotten. A few things are of note though. Firstly, the lyrics are almost saucy, certainly if you compare them to previous number ones, although that’s not saying much.

‘Look at that girl, you see what I see
Oh look at that girl, she’s walking straight to me
That’s right, last night I held her tight
Ho ho it happens all the time
I look at that girl, and I can’t believe she’s mine’

Mitchell, you dirty dog! This is explicit, by 1953 standards. Also, Look at That Girl features two elements that would become pop staples in years to come, and haven’t featured in number ones yet. Handclaps! And, best of all, a guitar solo!

Obvious ingredients to pop tunes yet they sounded almost shocking when I first heard this, after what had come before. It was an unusual piece for Mitchell as well, who was more used to performing novelty songs. Just like She Wears Red Feathers, Look at That Girl was also more successful in the UK than the US. It didn’t even chart there, and it marked the end of the success for Mitchell, Merrill and Miller as a trio together. With names like that, perhaps they should have become a law firm.

Written by: Bob Merrill

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 6 (11 September-22 October)

Births

Comedian Les Dennis – 12 October
Labour MP Peter Mandelson – 21 October

Deaths:

Physicist Lewis Fry Richardson – 30 September

Meanwhile…

26 September: The government had sweet news when they ended post-war sugar rationing. Slowly, but surely, the UK was sweeping off the post-war malaise.

11. Mantovani & His Orchestra – The Song from The Moulin Rouge (1953)

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Tired of reading about easy listening crooners? Well, here’s something slightly different. Eddie Fisher and Sally Sweetland’s I’m Walking Behind You was knocked back off the top slot by Frankie Laine’s mammoth I Believe, which stayed there for a further impressive six weeks.

On 14 August, for the first time an instrumental became number 1. The Song from The Moulin Rouge (also known as Where Is Your Heart) came from, predictably enough, the 1952 movie Moulin Rouge, which starred José Ferrer and Zsa Zsa Gabor. The music was written by distinguished French composer Georges Auric, with French lyrics by Jacques Larue.

However, this version, by Anglo-Italian conductor and composer Annunzio Paolo Mantovani, ditched the words, with the main melody played on an accordion by Henry Krein. As well as being the first instrumental number 1, it was the first time the number 1 sounded anything other than British or American. The wistful tune conjures up an air of French melancholy and a rare European sophistication, by 50s singles standards, anyway.

Mantovani’s signature style of cascading strings (known as the Mantovani Sound) made him hugely popular on these shores. He was Britain’s most successful album artist until a band called The Beatles started making a noise.

Born 15 November 1905 in Venice, Italy, Mantovani had music in his blood. His father Bismarck was concertmaster at Milan’s La Scala opera house. The family moved to England in 1912, and the youngster studied at Trinity College of Music in London.

By the 40s Mantovani was famous, and he helped keep morale up during World War Two on BBC Radio, so it was perhaps inevitable that he would reach number 1 sooner rather than later. He was more than just your average conductor though. He innovated.

Mantovani was one of the early pioneers of stereo recording, and his tunes were often used in record shops to demonstrate the exciting new sound. In 1952 he became the first artist to sell a million stereophonic records.

In 1953 he was on top of his game, and although The Song from The Moulin Rouge was only top of the charts for a week before I Believe began it’s final, three-week stint at the top, Mantovani would return in 1954 with that year’s longest-running number 1 single.

Written by: Georges Auric

Producer: Frank Lee

Weeks at number 1: 1 (14-20 August)

Births

Journalist Carol Thatcher – 15 August

Meanwhile…

19 August: The England cricket team defeat Australia to win the Ashes for the first time in 19 years.

10. Eddie Fisher Featuring Sally Sweetland, with Hugo Winterhalter & His Orchestra – I’m Walking Behind You (1953)

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On his previous number 1, Outside of Heaven, Eddie Fisher sounded like he was stalking an ex-partner by watching her in the crowd as she married someone else. This time, with accompaniment from the singer Sally Sweetland, his obsession has deepened – he’s walking down the aisle behind the bride-to-be!

‘I’m walking behind you
On your wedding day
And I’ll hear you promise
To love and obey
Though you may forget me
You’re still on my mind
Look over your shoulder
I’m walking behind’

Shudder. Was stalking an ex considered socially acceptable in 1953? It certainly didn’t stop Fisher bagging another number 1, so perhaps so. Frank Sinatra later covered it too.

This forgettable slice of traditional pop was written by the first British songwriter to top the US charts, Billy Reid. Fisher and Sweetland are so loud you can barely hear the musicians, but the song is so average it doesn’t really matter.

Sweetland, born Sally Miller on 23 September 1911, was a soprano who provided backing vocals for the young Tony Bennett. Years later she worked as a vocal coach with her husband Lee, and among their students was one Seth McFarlane, later the creator of animated comedy Family Guy. She lived to the grand old age of 103, passing away on 8 February 2015.

This was Fisher’s last number 1 in the UK, and this may be down to the problems his personal life would cause. In 1955 he married actress Debbie Reynolds, and had two children, one being Star Wars great Carrie Fisher. They had a very public divorce and he went on to marry Elizabeth Taylor, with who he had been having an affair. Taylor had been married to Fisher’s best friend, the deceased Mike Todd (I wonder if Fisher checked to see if the ghost of Todd was walking behind him in church?). Such behaviour, bad enough now, must have been truly scandalous in the 50s. His TV show was subsequently cancelled and he was then dropped by RCA Victor in 1960.

The handsome crooner notched up a further three marriages after Taylor. He tried a comeback in 1983 but this went nowhere and his final album was made a year later.

Plagued by health problems in later years, Fisher was rarely seen in public. He fell and broke his hip and died due to surgery complications on 22 September 2010. He was 82.

Written by: Billy Reid

Producer: Hugo Winterhalter

Weeks at number 1: 1 (26 June-2 July)