94. Emile Ford and the Checkmates – What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? (1959)

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Here we are, then. The final number 1 single of the 1950s, and it shows how far the decade had progressed musically since that first number 1 by Al Martino in 1952. More so than I would have guessed before starting this blog, in fact. When I wrote about this song for Every Christmas Number 1 I saw it as ‘clever and cocky’ and a sign of rock’n’roll’s cultural impact after Elvis’s arrival. At the time, I didn’t know the song in question dates back much further than Here in My Heart.

What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? (is this still the UK number 1 with the longest title?) was written back in 1916 by Joseph McCarthy, Howard Johnson and James V Monaco. McCarthy and Monaco were responsible for You Made Me Love You, and Johnson had come up with the words for I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream. Their new composition became a hit duet for two of the most popular singers of the early 20th century, Ada Jones and Billy Murray, during World War One. It took a man who was fascinated with sound to make What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? feel so contemporary.

Emile Ford was born Michael Emile Telford Miller in Castries, Saint Lucia in the West Indies. His father was a politician and mother a singer and musical theatre director. He moved to London in 1954 to pursue his interest in sound reproduction technology, and studied at Paddington Technical College in London, learning to play guitar, piano, violin, bass guitar and drums, among other instruments. He became interested in rock’n’roll and became a performer at the age of 20, shortening his name to Emile Ford, and garnered appearances on music TV shows Six-Five Special and Oh Boy!. In 1959 he formed Emile Ford and the Checkmates with guitarist Ken Street and half-brothers George Sweetnam-Ford on bass and Dave Sweetnam-Ford on saxophone. The band took the unusual move of turning down EMI because they refused to let them self-produce, unlike Pye Records, who they signed with. Their first single was to be a cover of the country song Don’t Tell Me Your Troubles, with a doo-wop version of What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? quickly knocked off in half an hour at the end of a recording session. Airplay was so in favour of the latter that it was promoted to the A-side.

For a man with a reputation for his obsession with sound engineering, it’s ironic that his only number 1 was made almost as an afterthought, with little manipulation. It only adds to its charm though, and the swaggering doo-wop arrangement makes it one of the catchier number 1s of the decade, let alone year. Ford’s vocal is suitably raw and powerful too.

What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? rocketed up the charts, and initially shared the top spot with Adam Faith’s bizarrely-similarly-titled What Do You Want?for a week, before taking over and becoming the 1959 Christmas number 1. It remained there for six weeks, ruling the charts for most of the first month of the 60s. Ford became the first Black British artist to sell a million copies of one single. The band made the top 20 several times more, and they were voted Best New Act of 1960 by the New Musical Express. They became augmented by female backing singers known as the Fordettes for a while, before they went to work with Joe Brown. In 1960, Ford used his success as a way to continue an idea he had been working on. The band became the first group to use a backing track system at times for their hugely popular stage show, so you could argue that Ford invented karaoke, in a sense. Whether he did or not, this invention certainly changed live music forever, eventually. Their live sets were also known for their punchy sound, thanks to the band insisting on using their own PA system. It’s interesting to note that Ford, like Jimi Hendrix, had synaesthesia, a condition where a person can see certain colours in relation to the sound they are hearing. He believed this condition was a huge factor in his obsession with sound.

The band split in 1963 as the Beatles became huge (at one point the Fab Four had supported them), and Ford set up a recording studio with his father in Barbados in 1969, before moving to Sweden. In the 70s he worked on his open-air playback system for live shows, which he dubbed the Liveoteque Sound Frequency Feedback Injection System. This equipment was later used by artists as huge as Pink Floyd and Michael Jackson. Ford died in April 2016, aged 78. The song that made his name would see further chart action in 1987, when 50s-throwback Shakin’ Stevens recorded his version. Take a look at the video and try not to smile at a now-bygone age. You just don’t get videos as cheesy and cheery as this anymore. Keep an eye out for a pre-fame Vic Reeves, too.

So that’s the 50s number 1s all wrapped up. I hope you’ve enjoyed a read and a listen. Before I move on to one of the most fascinating decades in music though, I’m going to have to decide on my best and worst number 1s of the 50s. Watch this space…

Written by: Joseph McCarthy, Howard Johnson & James V Monaco

Producer: Michael Barclay

Weeks at number 1: 6 (18 December 1959-28 January 1960)

Births:

Comedian Tracey Ullman – 30 December
Chef Nigella Lawson – 6 January
Choreographer Matthew Bourne – 13 January
Actor Mark Rylance – 18 January
Racewalker Paul Blagg – 23 January 

Deaths:

Tennis player Dorothea Douglass Lambert Chambers – 7 January
Children’s author Elsie J Oxenham – 9 January
Author Nevil Shute – 12 January

93. Adam Faith – What Do You Want? (1959)

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December 1959: the decade is drawing to a close, but before it does, two shipping disasters take place within three days of each other in Scotland. At Duncansby Head on 6 December, a severe gale causes Aberdeen trawler George Robb to run aground, killing all 12 crew members. Two days later at Broughty Ferry, the lifeboat Mona capsized, and all eight crew members were lost at sea.

The same week, a new British star was born when Adam Faith went to number 1 for the first time with What Do You Want?. He was to remain one of the biggest UK pop singers of the next five years, and the song also helped producer John Barry make his name.

Faith was born Terence Nelhams-Wright in Acton in June 1940. Despite his rather posh-sounding real name, he grew up in a council house in a working-class area. After leaving school he became an odd-job boy for a silk-screen printers. By 1957 he was working as a film cutter and hoping to make his way into acting. Like so many others, he loved skiffle, and sang with and managed the Worried Men. Faith made his television debut with the group on the BBC’s Six-Five Special. Series producer Jack Good was impressed and with his help, Adam Faith was born and began recording with HMV. However, Faith got nowhere and by 1959 he was working as a film cutter once more. Faith had got to know John Barry, leader of the John Barry Seven, when they appeared in a stage show of Six-Five Special, and suggested Faith audition for new BBC music show Drumbeat. Faith was growing in popularity and recorded for several different labels but was yet to make an impact on the charts. However, he still held ambitions to also be an actor, and after having lessons he won a part in forthcoming rock’n’roll movie Beat Girl (1960). As Barry was working so closely with Faith, the film company asked him to write the score, and there began John Barry’s long, highly-successful career in film soundtrack scores, writing the themes from Jaws and the James Bond films, among so many others.

Faith signed to EMI’s Parlophone, then primarily a label for comedy acts such as the Goons. While working on Drumbeat, he and Barry got to know singer Johnny Worth, who was a member of vocal quartet the Raindrops. Worth aspired to be a songwriter and Faith and Barry saw potential in his song What Do You Want? Worth was worried about his contract stipulations and so adopted the pseudonym Les Vandyke for his writing credit.

What Do You Want? is Britain’s answer to Buddy Holly’s It Doesn’t Matter Anymore. John Burgess’s production of John Barry’s pizzicato string arrangement closely matches Holly’s song, and is by far the best thing about this short but sweet slice of pop (at only 1 minute and 38 seconds long, it’s still the shortest ever UK number 1). It introduces Faith as a cheeky cockney version of Buddy Holly, who is lovelorn and dying to know what it will take to get his girl’s love. Unfortunately Faith’s vocals are far too similar to the recently deceased singer, and although back then it seemed perfectly acceptable for British singers to mimic their US influences, today his hiccuping sounds a bit embarrassing, as does his over-the-top ‘baby’. But it’s over in a flash and the strings stay with you afterwards, and in 1959 this will have all sounded pretty impressive and an exciting signpost to where British pop might end up in the forthcoming decade.

What Do You Want? narrowly missed out on the Christmas number 1 spot. In its third and final week at the top it shared the position with Emile Ford and the Checkmates’ similarly-titled What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?, which overtook Faith on Christmas Day. Nonetheless, Faith would be a familiar UK chart presence for the next few years.

Written by: Les Vandyke

Producer: John Burgess

Weeks at number 1: 3 (4 -24 December)

Births:

Fashion designer Jasper Conran – 12 December 

Deaths:

Painter Stanley Spencer – 14 December 

92. Cliff Richard and the Shadows – Travellin’ Light (1959)

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On 30 October, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club opened in Soho, London. One of the most renowned venues of its kind, some of the artists who later played there include Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Curtis Mayfield, Prince and Jimi Hendrix, in his final public performance. Two days later, the first section of the M1 opened, between Watford and Rugby. London Transport. 17 November saw Prestwick and Renfrew become the first UK airports to feature duty free shops.

During this period, and beyond, Cliff Richard enjoyed his second lengthy stay at number 1 of the year, after Living Doll had become the biggest-selling single of 1959. Since Living Doll, his backing band, the Drifters, had run into trouble. Unlike most backing bands at the time, they had signed a separate contract to Cliff, meaning they could release material on their own. Their first single, Feelin’ Fine, had to be withdrawn in the US when the manager of the famous soul group with the same name threatened legal action. The second single, Jet Black, was credited to The Four Jets, but manager Norrie Paramor suggested they needed to find a name and stick to it. That July while in a pub in Ruslip, bassist Jet Harris suggested to guitarist Hank Marvin they should be called The Shadows, and thus the name of one of the most famous bands of the next few years was finally settled. Ironically, Bobby Vee’s backing group were also called the Shadows, but Marvin and co didn’t know this, so tough. Travellin’ Light, written by Sid Tepper & Roy C Bennett, became their first single with their new name. Tepper and Bennett became two of Richards’ most frequent collaborators, and they also wrote many songs for Elvis Presley, particularly for his films.

Travellin’ Light is pretty much a rewrite of Living Doll, as close as you can get to following up a number 1 with a repeat of the same formula. It’s also quite similar to Roger Miller’s 1965 number 1, King of the Road – had he been listening to this? The production is also similar to before, but this time Cliff’s voice has been treated with a strong echo effect, and there’s some welcome twangy guitar flourishes from Marvin, that could have done to be louder in the mix. Cliff is on his way to see his girl, and he’s so excited he’s taken nothing with him. He can’t even be bothered with a comb or toothbrush, the dirty beggar. It’s an average country tune that would be better remembered if they’d at least tried to make it sound different to what had come before, but five weeks at number 1 suggests their fans were happy with more of the same.

Written by: Sid Tepper & Roy C Bennett

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 5 (30 October-3 December)

Births:

Actor Peter Mullan – 2 November
Actor Paul McGann – 14 November
Footballer Jimmy Quinn – 18 November
Politician Charles Kennedy – 25 November
Presenter Lorraine Kelly – 30 November
Actress Gwyneth Strong – 2 December

Deaths:

Pianist Albert Ketèlbey – 26 November

91. Bobby Darin – Mack the Knife (1959)

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It’s the 1950s, you’ve had a big hit that’s resulted in you gaining a huge fan following, particularly of teenage girls who wish they could be your Dream Lover – how do you follow it up? Well, if you’re Bobby Darin, you release a swinging celebration of a serial killer. Darin’s version of Mack the Knife remains the most famous version – and there are a lot out there.

Mack the Knife was originally known as Die Moritat von Mackie Messer. It was composed by Kurt Weill, with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, for their play Die Dreigroschenoper, known over here as The Threepenny Opera. The song was written at the last minute before it’s premiere in 1928, to introduce the killer Macheath. The song was first introduced to US audiences in 1933, but it was Marc Blitzstein’s 1954 version, with less graphic lyrics to appeal to conservative America, that’s still in use today. In 1956 the US charts were awash with versions of Mack the Knife, with the first by The Dick Hyman Trio. Jazz supremo Louis Armstrong was responsible for the first version with vocals. In addition to the female victims listed in the song, Armstrong ad-libbed a mention of Lotte Lenya, the widow of Kurt Weill, who had starred in the original production, and the then-current off-Broadway version, who was present while Armstrong recorded. This was left in Darin’s version by mistake, and most subsequent versions on account of Darin’s being considered the essential recording.

Darin fell in love with Mack the Knife while watching The Threepenny Opera in 1958, and worked the song into his live act. Fresh from the success of Dream Lover, Darin was given more freedom over his sound, and his desire to move away from the teen-pop that had made him famous helped him to surprise his audience by making Mack the Knife the opening track on his next album, That’s All. This was the first time a major pop idol had tried to change tack to such an extent. However, even Darin wasn’t sure about releasing such a statement of intent as a single, and it was Atlantic Records co-founder, and Darin’s producer Ahmet Ertegun that ordered its release. As was usually the case in Ertegun’s career, he was right to do so.

Darin should never have doubted Mack the Knife‘s potential really. Granted, the lyrics are easily the darkest there had ever been at number 1, even after being cleaned up for the US, but I can imagine a lot of listeners weren’t even taking notice of the words, as it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the music. Darin really is on fire here, and there’s no wonder even Frank Sinatra, who recorded his own version, believed Darin’s was the best. He sounds smooth, assured and in his element, and the band really knock it out of the park with a punchy performance. By the time you reach the end, you’re rooting for Mack to take another life. Or was that just me? This is one of the decade’s very best number 1s, in my eyes.

Mack the Knife hit the top spots in the UK and US, and later won him two Grammy Awards. He followed it with the equally memorable Beyond the Sea. He continued to experiment with genres, trying his hand at country, and still charted highly. He also acted on TV and met and fell in love with Sandra Dee (yes, that Sandra Dee) on the set of his first film, Come September (1961), in which they starred together. They married and had a son, and starred in further films, but divorced in 1967.

Around this time, Darin had become increasingly politically active. He had his first hit in two years in 1966 when he covered folk singer Tim Hardin’s If I Were a Carpenter. He befriended Robert F Kennedy, worked with him on his presidential campaign and was at the Ambassador Hotel the night he was assassinated. This, and learning of his true parentage (more here) resulted in him becoming a recluse for a year. Upon his return to public life he set up his own record label, Direction Records, releasing folk and protest music.

In the 70s Darin had remarried and had several TV shows, but his health problems began to catch up with him. Some think his drive and desire to cram so much into his life came about due to his weakened heart, which was caused by rheumatic fever when he was eight. Darin suspected he was likely to die younger than most, and unfortunately he was right. He first had heart surgery in 1971, and had to be administered oxygen after live shows. He suffered from sepsis in 1973, which further weakened his heart, and following an operation that lasted over six hours, Darin died in recovery, aged only 37, but he had more than left his mark. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hal of Fame in the 90s, and is remembered as one of many bright young talents of rock’n’roll’s early days that went too soon, who refused to be pigeonholed and whose desire to experiment proved influential. His life was immortalised in the 2004 biopic Beyond the Sea, but unfortunately the star, director, co-writer and co-producer was Kevin Spacey, so you can expect the film to be culturally erased from history now.

Written by: Kurt Weill & Bertolt Brecht/Mark Blitzstein (English lyrics)

Producer: Ahmet Ertegun

Weeks at number 1: 2 (16-29 October)

Births:

Spandau Ballet guitarist Gary Kemp – 16 October
Actress Niamh Cusack – 20 October 

90. Jerry Keller – Here Comes Summer (1959)

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Here Comes Summer is often considered one of the first tailor-made summer anthems. The problem is, in the UK at least, that it arrived late. It entered the charts in August 1959 and didn’t reach number 1 until 9 October, toppling Only Sixteen by Craig Douglas. It was written and performed by wholesome singer-songwriter Jerry Keller.

Born June 1938 in Fort Smith, Arkansas, the family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma when he was six. Keller formed the Lads of Note Quartet sometime in the 1950s and was also a member of the Tulsa Boy Singers, in addition to becoming a disc jockey.  In 1956 he moved to New York determined to make it big, and recorded a series of demos for record labels. Getting nowhere, his church friend Pat Boone (who had the biggest-selling single of that year in the UK with I’ll Be Home) introduced him to Marty Mills, who became his manager. With its vivid lyrics of finishing school and enjoying a summer romance, Keller had finally found the hit he had been looking for.

Much like Bobby Darin’s Dream Lover, Here Comes Summer is the quintessential sound of 50s teen-pop to me. It’s not as good, but it’s not far off. It’s musically warm and wistful, and makes you look back to a summer that you never actually had, but feel like you did anyway. The backing vocals spoil it somewhat though, overpowering the song at times, drowning out Keller’s voice and spoiling the production.

Unfortunately for Keller, he was the first of many artists who become so identifiable with a summer hit that they’re rarely, if ever, heard of again as a performer. He did, however, enjoy further success as a songwriter. He wrote Almost There, a hit for Andy Williams, and The Legend of Shenandoah, recited by James Stewart in the film Shenandoah (1965).  In 1966 he wrote the English lyrics for Un homme et une femme, translated as A Man and a Woman, which was covered by many artists including Ella Fitzgerald, Engelbert Humperdinck and Johnny Mathis. In the 70s and 80s he appeared in films and was used as a vocalist in television jingles, before disappearing into obscurity. Here Comes Summer still gets used in adverts from time to time, a charming memory of relative teenage innocence.

Written by: Jerry Keller

Producer: Richard Wolf

Weeks at number 1: 1 (9-15 October)

Births:

Singer Kirsty MacColl – 10 October
Sarah, Duchess of York – 15 October

89. Craig Douglas – Only Sixteen (1959)

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On 8 October the Conservatives won their third successive General Election, and are to date the only party since World War Two to do so while increasing their majority. The election was perfect timing for Harold Macmillan’s party, due to an economic boom. Labour suffered due to Hugh Gaitskell’s claim that Labour would not raise taxes, despite their manifesto stating otherwise. It was Jo Grimond’s first election as leader of the Liberals, and the election saw future Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe and Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher enter parliament for the first time.

Craig Douglas was at number 1 at the time with Only Sixteen, which had finally ended Living Doll‘s six weeks at pole position. Douglas was born Terence Perkins, a twin in Newport, Isle of Wight in August 1941. Before he became a singer he was known as the ‘Singing Milkman’ while doing his rounds. Winning a local talent contest at 16, he became managed by Bunny Lewis, who had co-written 1954 number 1 Cara Mia under the pseudonym Lee Lange. Perkins changed his name to Craig Douglas on Lewis’s suggestion (not the most of exciting of stage names anyone has ever come up with), and, still 16, began singing lessons for his move into professional singing. He made his television debut on the BBC’s Six-Five Special alongside Cliff Richard and Joe Brown. At such a young age, he specialised in songs about teenagers. His first single was A Teenager in Love, earlier in 1959, and second single Only Sixteen made him one of the youngest number 1 acts up to that point – he was 17 at the time. It was US soul singer-songwriter Sam Cooke’s song, but Douglas’s version eclipsed it in this country.

The most surprising aspect of this song is Douglas’s vocals. Had I not read about him beforehand, I’d have thought he was twice the age he was. He doesn’t look that young on pictures from the time either. In fact, there’s little youthful exuberance to be found here, unfortunately. It sounds leaden, safe and old-fashioned – not living up to the now risqué title. The fact the singer is only a year older than the song’s subject matter makes the record safer than originally suspected anyway. The highlight is the whistling from Mike Sammes. You’d think the singing milkman would be the whistler, but it wasn’t meant to be.

For the next few years Douglas troubled the lower reaches of the top ten, but the writing was on the wall when the Beatles started their chart domination. He still tours internationally to this day on the nostalgia circuit.

Also in the news while while Only Sixteen was number 1: 47 miners died in the Auchengeich mining disaster in Lanarkshire, Scotland on 18 September, and 300 people needed rescuing when fire broke out on Southend Pier on 7 October.

Written by: Sam Cooke

Producer: Bunny Lewis

Weeks at number 1: 4 (11 September-8 October)

Births:

Music producer Simon Cowell – 7 October 

Deaths:

Soprano Agnes Nicholls – 21 September 

88. Cliff Richard and the Drifters – Living Doll (1959)

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‘Look out! Cliff!’ It’s hard to believe now, but when Sir Cliff Richard’s first single Move It narrowly missed out on number 1 to Connie Francis’s Carolina Moon/Stupid Cupid in 1958, he was considered edgy, and the closest we had to our own Elvis Presley. Tommy Steele’s impersonation of ‘the King’ on Singing the Blues was too similar, and he soon began concentrating on his film career. Unlike Elvis, Cliff was and is mainly a British phenomenon, and his cool image soon disappeared, and was forever replaced by that of the wholesome Christian entertainer. Not that it damaged his career of course. Cliff is the third biggest-selling artist in the history of the UK singles chart, behind The Beatles and Elvis, selling over 21 million in this country alone. This is the first of many staggering statistics – 67 UK top ten singles, 14 of which were number 1. Along with Elvis, he is the only act to make the chart in the first six decades, and is the only singer to have had number 1s from the 1950s through to the 90s. This is the story of Living Doll, his first.

Harry Rodger Webb had been born in Lucknow, British India on 14 October 1940. The Webbs had a modest life there, but following Indian Independence in 1948 they moved into a smaller semi-detached house in Carshalton, south London. The teenage Webb became keenly interested in skiffle, like so many future stars, and his father bought him a guitar for his 16th birthday. In 1957 he formed the Quintones, before becoming the singer in the Dick Teague Skiffle Group, and then the Drifters. This was, of course, not the US soul group of the same name. entrepreneur Harry Greatorex became their manager, and suggested Webb needed a name change if they were to get anywhere. He came up with ‘Cliff’– because it sounded like ‘rock’, and band member Ian Samwell thought Richard would make a great surname as a tribute to Little Richard. Together with drummer Terry Smart and guitarist Norman Mitham, they were now Cliff Richard and the Drifters, and Move It, penned by Samwell, stormed the charts. Cliff was a sensation, with his good looks, scowl and rock’n’roll attitude. John Lennon even called it the first British rock record.

Further singles followed, coming and going from the top ten. By the time of Richard’s film debut, in the film Serious Charge (1959), the line-up of the Drifters had become Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch on guitars, bassist Jet Harris and Tony Meeham on drums. Lionel Bart had been approached to write songs for the film. Bart had already won awards for his pop songs, and had helped discover Tommy Steele, before moving into musicals soon after. He was browsing a newspaper when he came across an advert for a child’s doll. Ten minutes later he had written the controversial lyric for Living Doll. Originally planned as a rock’n’roll song (as featured in the film), Richard was not a fan, and was horrified to hear it was going to be their next single. Producer Norrie Paramor told him they could record it any way they wanted as long as it got done. It was Welch that came up with the genius idea of slowing down the tempo and making it a country song. Previously, the Drifters had only accompanied Cliff in live performances. This was their recording debut.

Welch’s change of pace proved to be a masterstroke, and completely made the song, It’s still an ear worm now, as I can’t get it out of my head after relistening. The problem with Living Doll, of course, is Bart’s lyrics. They really haven’t aged well, and it’s hard to match Christian crusader Cliff Richard with words that objectify women so badly. The easy-going charm of the tune cannot disguise the sinister, misogynistic lyrics that Cliff is crooning (and his crooning is really effective here – Living Doll is a great production by Paramor). The words are just plain odd at times, too. For instance, if they are taken literally, then Cliff is chuffed that, although his girl looks like a doll, her hair is in fact real, and what’s more, he’ll let you have a feel if you like. Even worse, Cliff seems to get jealous very easily, and is prepared to lock her in a trunk to keep her away from other men. I wonder if Cliff ever wonders what God thinks of him singing this? Of course, in 1959, nobody gave a toss about comparing women to dolls, and Living Doll became the biggest-selling song of the year. It also marked the beginning of the end of ‘Edgy Cliff’, with his sound becoming more family-oriented. It was 27 years later that Cliff took a decidedly irreverent version of the same song back to the top, and that’s the version I first heard, but we’ll hear about that when we get to 1986.

During Living Doll‘s six-week period at the top, Barclays made history as the first bank to install one of those new-fangled computers (4 August), and on 26 August, the first Mini, an icon of the following decade, went on sale.

Written by: Lionel Bart

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 6 (31 July-10 September) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Journalist Kim Newman – 31 July
Del Leppard singer Joe Elliott – 1 August
Dead or Alive singer Pete Burns – 5 August 

Deaths:

Poet Edgar Guest – 5 August
Sculptor Jacob Epstein – 19 August
Actress Kay Kendall – 6 September