71. Connie Francis – Who’s Sorry Now? (1958)

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October 1957: Connie Francis was finished. Her recording contract with MGM was almost at an end and she had failed to make an impact, bar a recent duet with Marvin Rainwater on The Majesty of Love. The record company had let her know they would not be renewing her contract, and she had one single left to record. Born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero in 1937, the Italian-American had suffered one setback after another during her music career. Her father and manager financed a four-track demo that nearly every label turned down, on accounting of Francis sounding too similar to singers like Kitty Kallen and Kay Starr. MGM only signed her because one of the tracks was called Freddy, and that was the name of the son of a company co-executive, who thought Francis’s success with the record would make a nice birthday gift. But Freddy had sank.

And so Francis prepared to give it all up and study medicine at university, but she had one last single to record. Her father had asked her to perform a cover of Who’s Sorry Now?, a break-up song by Tin Pan Alley songwriters Ted Snyder, Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. Originally recorded by Isham Jones & his Orchestra in 1923, it had also featured in the Marx Brothers film A Night in Casablanca in 1946. George Franconero Sr tried to tell his daughter that adults would remember the song, and, with the proper arrangement, teenagers would love it too, but she disagreed, and several heated arguments took place. She delayed recording on the other three tracks at the session so much, she told her father there wasn’t enough tape left to record it anyway. However, he insisted, and the session ended with seconds of tape left to spare. After its release, it seemed Francis was correct – Who’s Sorry Now? hadn’t made an impact. But on New Year’s Day 1958, she performed the single on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, and the momentum began. George was right, Connie was wrong.

Until I discovered the origins of the song, I thought Who’s Sorry Now? was an example of the growing sophistication of pop – so it must have been very innovative back in the 20s. A jilted lover has warned her ex that they would regret leaving them, and they’ve been proven right. The fact vows are mentioned suggests they have divorced – not your average subject matter for a pop song. Producer Harry A Myerson did an excellent job in proving Francis’s father correct – the song sounds completely of its time, and is key to its success, as is Francis’s delivery. For someone who didn’t like the song, her performance really suggests otherwise as she is in complete control, especially as the drums kick in for the  second half of the song and she mocks her ex with ‘I’m glad that you’re sorry now’.

After so many failed attempts, Francis was fully deserving of her new stardom, and it was ironic that it was her old singing partner Marvin Rainwater’s Whole Lotta Woman that she knocked from the top. Who’s Sorry Now? was number 1 for an impressive six weeks, with a double A-side to come later that year. She had also finally broken the ridiculously long run of male domination of the charts. No woman had been at the top since Anne Shelton with Lay Down Your Arms in October 1956 – 17 months previous.

Written by: Ted Snyder, Bert Kalmar & Harry Ruby

Producer: Harry Myerson

Weeks at number 1: 6 (16 May-26 June)

Births:

Singer Toyah Wilcox – 18 May
Singer-songwriter Paul Weller – 25 May 

Deaths:

Actor Ronald Colman – 19 May
Actor Robert Donat – 9 June
Writer Edwin Keppel Bennett – 13 June 

70. Marvin Rainwater – Whole Lotta Woman (1958)

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On 30 April 1958, the Life Peerages Act allowed the creation of life peers who could sit in the House of Lords. As women could become life peers, the act made it possible for women to sit in the House of Lords for the first time. On the same day, the musical My Fair Lady opened at Drury Lane Theatre in London, starring Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. Three days later, Bolton Wanderers won the FA Cup for the fourth time with a 2-0 victory over Manchester United, a club still reeling from the Munich Air Disaster.

Enjoying a three-week stint at number 1 at the time, Marvin Rainwater’s Whole Lotta Woman was a self-penned primitive rockabilly tune. Born in Wichita, Kansas in July 1925, Rainwater had studied classical piano as a child, but he lost part of his right thumb in an accident as a teenager. He trained to be a vet, but after his stint in the Navy during World War Two, he decided to try the guitar. Claiming to be 25 percent Cherokee, he cut a unique figure when he began wearing his trademark buckskin jacket and headband on stage, and writing his own songs. He won the TV talent show Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in 1955, and from there a recording contract with MGM swiftly followed. Combining country and western with the emerging rockabilly sound, and with an imposing physique and unique, craggy good looks, Rainwater had natural star quality, and scored hits with Gonna Find Me a Bluebird and The Majesty of Love, a duet with future number 1 artist Connie Francis.

Whole Lotta Woman is a primitive rocker with simple, sexually-charged lyrics that only just made it past censorship (the BBC let it go, some of the US broadcasters wouldn’t touch it). The most interesting aspect of the recording is probably Rainwater’s raucous, double-tracked vocals, and the duelling electric guitar and piano instrumental break. Not bad, but it suffers coming after a run of interesting, more famous chart-toppers.

Rainwater’s follow-up, I Dig You Baby, made the top 20, but he failed to repeat his early flourish of success. He began recording material with his younger sister, Patty, but around this time he developed ongoing throat problems. His voice suffered, and MGM let him go. He went into semi-retirement to rest his voice, recording sporadically for other labels. Changing tastes and lack of momentum caused his career to stall, and eventually he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He recovered from this, but his career didn’t. Sadly, his final recording sessions remain unissued due to the dire state of his voice, and by then he was living in a caravan with his family on wasteland in Minnesota. He died of heart failure in 2013, aged 88. His guitar-playing had inspired many however – back in Rainwater’s glory days, a teenage guitarist called Brian Rankin was waiting in the shadows to make his mark on rock’n’roll, and he was quite the fan. He even changed his name to Hank Marvin.

Written by: Marvin Rainwater

Producer: Jim Vinneau

Weeks at number 1: 3 (25 April-15 May)

Births:

Singer Fish – 25 April
Presenter Sandi Toksvig – 3 May 

Deaths:

Cricketer Frank Foster – 3 May 

69. Perry Como with Mitchell Ayres’ Orchestra and the Ray Charles Singers – Magic Moments (1958)

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Michael Holliday’s The Story of My Life, a wistful easy listening ditty written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David in which a man looks back at his life with his loved one, was replaced at the top of the charts by – another wistful easy listening ditty written by Bacharach and David in which a man looks back at his life with his loved one. They both even contained whistling. Magic Moments, sung by mega-crooner Perry Como, is regarded as a classic of the genre, shot Bacharach and David into the big time as songwriters and reigned at number 1 for a full two months.

Perry Como had already had a number 1 here back in 1953 with the largely forgettable Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes. Since then he had begun donning his trademark cardigans for The Perry Como Show in the US. In 1956, a poll in Life magazine revealed he was considered to be the ideal husband material among young women. The ideal choice to perform a song as sweet and cosy as Magic Moments, then.

It’s hard to review Magic Moments seriously, and it’s an easy target for spoofing and poking fun at now, but at the time it must have come as a blessed relief to older record buyers and conservative types who may have been put off by all the rock’n’roll that had invaded the charts. Serene Dominic said this in his 2003 book, Burt Bacharach, Song by Song:

‘Combined with the quizzical bassoon, the whistling and the ghastly white shadings of the Ray Charles Singers, these distant recollections must seem like occurrences on another planet to later generations.’

It seems a tad harsh to me but I take the point. However, as far as this type of song goes, and compared to some of the others I’ve put myself through for this blog, I can’t help but like it. A bit. I take exception to this lyric, though:

‘I’ll never forget the moment we kissed the night of the hay ride
The way that we hugged to try to keep warm while takin’ a sleigh ride’

You can’t rhyme ‘ride’ with ‘ride’! And this is from two of the greatest songwriters of all time!

To me, Magic Moments means former Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band hero Neil Innes in the 1980s adverts for Quality Street, lampooning Como, or brings to mind Terry Gilliam’s screen version of Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, when Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) arrives at a Vegas hotel full of police with a large arsenal of drugs in his possession. But in 1958, it boosted Como’s image and success even further. Whether it was music, film, radio or TV, he won many plaudits, including several Emmys and Grammys. Like most singers of his ilk, his career suffered in the 60s, but he enjoyed a revival of sorts in the 70s and continued to perform for years after. The world mourned when he died in his sleep in 2001, just six days short of his 89th birthday.

Como’s second number 1 reign takes us into spring 1958, and during this time, a British team led by Sir Vivian Fuchs completed the first ever crossing of the Antarctic on 2 March, using caterpillar tractors and dogsled teams over 99 days. On 19 March, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh officially opened the London Planetarium, the first of its kind in Britain. Four days later, work began on the M1, the first full-length motorway in the country. Lovers of pioneering sonic experimentation (such as myself) will take note of the fact the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, later responsible for such magic as the Doctor Who theme tune in 1963, was first created on 1 April, and three days later, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, better known now as CND, began its first protest march, from Hyde Park, London, to Aldermarston in Berkshire.

Written by: Burt Bacharach & Hal David

Producer: Joe Weisman

Weeks at number 1: 8 (28 February-24 April)

Births:

Singer Nik Kershaw – 1 March
Actress Miranda Richardson – 3 March
Singer Andy Gibb – 5 March –
Singer Gary Numan – 8 March
Writer and composer Neil Brand – 18 March
Actor Gary Oldman – 21 March
Echo & the Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant – 12 April
Actor Peter Capaldi – 14 April
Musician Benjamin Zephaniah – 15 April

Deaths:

Cricketer Phil Mead – 26 March
Footballer Billy Meredith – 19 April

68. Michael Holliday – The Story of My Life (1958)

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Jailhouse Rock ran out of steam after three weeks at the top, and after two barnstormers, the number 1 spot was taken by this pleasant easy listening ditty – the first bestseller from the legendary partnership of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, whose prolific work-rate saw them create many pop classics of the 1950s and particularly the 60s.

Bacharach had spent his teenage years enthralled with jazz, and went on to study music. After a tour of duty he became Vic Damone’s (who had a number 1 later in 1958 with On the Street Where You Live) pianist and conductor. Bacharach later worked with Marlene Dietrich, before meeting lyricist and former journalist Hal David at the Brill Building. US country star Marty Robbins initially recorded The Story of My Life in 1957, but it was Michael Holliday’s cover that became famous on these shores.

Holliday was born Norman Alexander Milne in Liverpool in 1924. His music career began when he won a local talent contest. He joined the navy and won another contest, this time in New York, inspiring him to turn professional. Before leaving the navy, however, he found time to smuggle obscure jazz records back home, where they were sold by Elvis Costello’s mother. Holliday made his TV debut in the summer of 1955, and he soon found himself with a record deal, and with his screen idol looks and voice comparable to Bing Crosby, he enjoyed moderate success, before this, his first of two number 1s. Before it all went wrong for him.

I’ve always admired Bacharach and David’s work, and even though a lot of easy listening music leaves me cold, there’s usually enough in their songs to keep me interested. The Story of My Life is slushy and somewhat of a throwback to earlier number 1s, but I can’t help but enjoy the whistling and sentimental lyrics. And Holliday performs it well. A pretty good start for the duo, with another chart-topper to follow.

Sadly as The Story of My Life‘s fortnight at the top was drawing to a close, another of Busby’s Babes died as a result of the Munich Air Disaster. Manchester United’s Duncan Edwards was only 21, and was considered by many to be the finest footballer in England. He passed away on 21 February. Six days later, the 23rd and final victim was claimed when co-pilot Kenneth Rayment died in hospital.

Written by: Burt Bacharach & Hal David

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 2 (14-27 February)

Births:

Actor James Wilby – 20 February 

Deaths:

Footballer Duncan Edwards – 21 February

67. Elvis Presley – Jailhouse Rock (1958)

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On 6 February, 1958, British European Airways Flight 609 crashed on its third attempt to take off from Munich-Riem Airport in West Germany. Slush on the runway caused the plane to smash through a fence, and it then hit a house, tearing the left win off. On board the craft were the Manchester United football team, then known as ‘Busby’s Babes’ after their manager, Matt Busby, along with supporters and journalists. The team hadn’t been beaten for 11 matches and were one of the best in the country. 20 people died at the scene of the Munich Air Disaster that day, and one on the way to hospital. Among them were seven of Busby’s Babes. Bobby Charlton and Busby were among the survivors, but the manager and several other players were seriously injured. 

Number 1 at the time of this terrible event was Elvis Presley’s second chart-topper, Jailhouse Rock. It had made history as the first single to do straight in at number 1 (and did so again when it was re-released in 2005 – making it the first single to repeat the feat). It deserved to. Unlike All Shook Up, which I was rather lukewarm about, Jailhouse Rock is certainly a classic, and one of Presley’s best songs.

The title track of Elvis’s latest film, it had been written by one of the most famous songwriting partnerships of all time – Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. They had worked with him before, but it was on this film that they developed a close working relationship. The singer came to regard them as his ‘good-luck charm’, and Lieber and Stoller were impressed by his knowledge of black music after initial reservations about his authenticity.

Like Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire, Jailhouse Rock has an excellent intro that grabs from the get-go. Unlike that song, which rocks immediately, the tension builds, with Elvis starting the story behind that famous beat, before kicking into gear with the chorus. As catchy as the song is, and the band put in a great performance, the key here is Elvis’s delivery. It’s possibly his finest vocal performance, and it’s a damn shame he never let rip quite like this again. Lyrically, it’s a bit of a novelty song – the kind Lieber and Stoller enjoyed writing for The Coasters. Elvis plays it completely straight, and you’re too busy enjoying the performance to take too much notice of the silly lyrics. Notably, it’s the first song to contain homosexual references at number 1:

‘Number forty-seven said to number three
“You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see
I sure would be delighted with your company
Come on and do the Jailhouse Rock with me”‘

In a decade in which previous number 1 Answer Me got into trouble purely for using God’s name, this seems somewhat surprising. You could look at it as progress, but it’s perhaps more likely to have either been considered a joke or was missed by everyone enjoying the song too much at the time. There’s also a reference to real-life mobsters The Purple Gang in there, too.

Jailhouse Rock is the sound of a legendary artist at the top of his game, and I ‘get’ Elvis completely when I hear this. It’s such a shame he became stuck doing so many saccharine ballads for films as the years went by.

Written by: Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 3 (24 January-13 February)

Births:

Musician Jools Holland – 24 January
Comedian Linda Smith – 29 January
British broadcasting executive Michael Jackson – 11 February
Scientist Steve Grand – 12 February 

Deaths:

Manchester United players and associates in the Munich air disaster – 6 February: Roger Byrne (team captain), Geoff Bent, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, Billy Whelan, Frank Swift (journalist and former Manchester City and England goalkeeper)
Suffragette Christabel Pankhurst – 13 February 

66. Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of Fire (1958)

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1958’s charts began with a bang like never before. The simplicity and energy that rock’n’roll brought to popular music is perhaps never better showcased than in this song – one of the best number 1s of the decade, if not, THE best. The only number 1 with an intro to rival it to date had been Rock Around the Clock, but Great Balls of Fire has aged better. Not only did conflicted wildman Jerry Lee Lewis bring the piano to the forefront for the first time, attacking it with the same reckless abandon that Jimi Hendrix later did with the guitar, he also made the subject of sex overt. Yes, there had been hints creeping in, but Great Balls of Fire is pure lust – a subject matter that Lewis wrestled with, and proved to be his downfall.

Lewis was born into a poor family living in Ferriday, Concordia ParishLouisiana in 1935. He loved playing the piano from an early age, so much so that his parents mortgaged their farm to buy him one. He became influenced by fellow musical family members, The Great American Songbook and Hank Williams. In an early sign of Lewis’s waywardness, his mother enrolled him in Southwest Bible Institute, where she hoped he would begin performing evangelical numbers. Lewis was expelled for playing boogie-woogie versions. Rock’n’roll was growing in popularity, and was the perfect home for Lewis, who travelled to Memphis Tennessee to audition for Sun Records, home to Elvis Presley, in November 1956. He passed and began recording his own material as well as assisting greats such as Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Recordings exist of the three of them jamming with Elvis from that December. Two months later, Lewis recorded his classic version of Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On, which rightly shot him to fame. His raucous live performances were also making him a force to be reckoned with. He had originally knocked his piano bench over by mistake, but the audience loved it, so it set Lewis free to run riot on his instrument, pounding the keys, climbing on top of it and totally changing the image of pianists forever.

Great Balls of Fire had originally been written by singer-songwriter Jack Hammer. He had submitted it to Paul Case, who was working on the music film Jamboree (1957). Case didn’t like the song, but loved the title. He went to Otis Blackwell, an established hitmaker who had written Elvis’s All Shook Up, and struck a deal whereby he and Hammer would split the royalties. Despite Lewis’s burgeoning reputation as a hellraiser, he was a devout Christian, and he struggled with the premise of this next single, which was as racy as music got back then. Initially, he refused to perform it, asking Sun Records boss Sam Phillips, ‘How can the devil save souls?’ However, as the recording session went on, alcohol, and subsequently the devil, won out. Not only did he loosen up enough to take control of the number, leering away at the vocals and treating his piano like a whore, he is heard on bootleg tapes saying ‘I would like to eat a little pussy if I had some’. Quite the turnaround…

Nobody, not even Elvis, would have been able to make Great Balls of Fire the way Lewis did. It fitted his wild image like a glove. Unfortunately, Lewis’s reckless ways may have helped make him, but they also broke him. Four months after he hit number 1 in the UK, he toured the country. Three concerts in, a reporter discovered that Lewis’s third wife (he was only 22) was Myra Gale Brown – his first cousin, once removed. This was newsworthy enough, but Myra was only 13. Shocking stuff, obviously, and Lewis’s career never recovered.

I have to admit to being puzzled by Lewis’s marriage scandal. The 1950s are always remembered as a time of conservatism, yet, and I may be betraying some ignorance of the law back then, how come he wasn’t imprisoned? How come Sun Records kept him on? In today’s climate, post-Weinstein and Savile, Jerry Lee Lewis would have been completely finished, and deservedly so. He’s still recording songs to this day, and still trades on his bad-boy image (his 2010 album was called Mean Old Man).

I’d always liked Great Balls of Fire, but listening to it for this blog, in the context of other 1950s number 1s, made me respect it even more. It’s truly pioneering. And yet, it also raised (and not for the last time) the decidedly dodgy subject of enjoying art by morally questionable artists. Gary Glitter also had number 1s, and is reviled, as well he should be, yet other musicians with a dubious sexual history are still considered heroes. Where should we draw the line? I’m not sure I have the answer.

Written by: Otis Blackwell & Jack Hammer

Producer: Sam Phillips

Weeks at number 1: 2 (10-23 January)

Every Christmas Number 1

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The Intro

I’ve been blogging my reviews of all the UK number 1s in order for four months now, and have reached the end of 1957. Despite not being a fan of 50s music in general (maybe that’s a bit harsh, I should say I’m not too knowledgeable about it), I’ve found it more interesting than expected. Hopefully, some of the readers I’ve gathered are enjoying it too.

Anyway, I decided a nice addition for Christmas would be to work my way through every Christmas number 1 to date. Now, I love music, and I’m also fond of Christmas, so initially it sounds like a no-brainer. However, Christmas number 1s are a complete wild card. No matter the decade, no matter your musical taste, it would be impossible to enjoy them all. Indeed, after a first glance, I realised there are far fewer festive songs than you’d maybe expect. From children’s songs, to rock’n’roll and psychedelic classics, to total, utter dross, the Christmas number 1 offers examples of the mammoth highs and terrible lows of pop music over the last 65 years. And although sadly pop is no longer the cultural force it once was, the Christmas number 1 is still considered important. So much so, they even bring Top of the Pops back especially for it.

So, 69 songs (if a number 1 was a double A-side, I’ve included both), 4 hours and 15 minutes of seasonal chart-toppers, broken down into decisions on the best and worst of each decade, and then one overall winner. With two young children in my house, it would be impossible to take on this task in one sitting. So I decided to do it while working my day job, which today is working on, appropriately enough, the Christmas TV listings for TV Times. I think I already know which song will win out. Let’s see if I’m right…

The 1950s

The 1950s songs went by in a blur. This could be because I started listening at 7.30 in the morning and didn’t have enough caffeine in me, but it’s also because the charts didn’t start until 1952, and most tracks were pretty concise back then. In fact the first ever Christmas number 1 was the first ever chart-topper – Al Martino’s Here in My Heart. With pop music in its infancy, the yuletide number 1 wasn’t yet an event, and there wasn’t a festive-themed chart-topper until crooner Dickie Valentine’s Christmas Alphabet in 1955, which is a slight but charming enough number. You could perhaps argue Winifred Atwell had kicked things off the year previous, with the piano knees-up Let’s Have Another Party – it contained a snatch of When the Red Red Robin. Harry Belafonte’s Mary’s Boy Child in 1957 was the last explicitly Christmas song to reign until Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody, 16 years later.

Elvis-mania changed pop forever and rock’n’roll ruled the roost in the late 50s. For me, this is where music started to get interesting, so it’s probably no coincidence that one of my favourites of the 50s was the last – Emile Ford and the Checkmate’s clever and cocky What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? (1959), later covered by Shakin’ Stevens.

The Best:

Johnnie Ray –Just Walkinin the Rain (1956): One of rock’n’roll’s pioneers, the eccentric, troubled ‘Mr Emotion’ sang this melancholic yet strangely cheery song written by two men languishing in prison. It’s not seasonal in the slightest, it’s just a great song by an influential but under-appreciated talent. One listen and you won’t be able to resist whistling the refrain. I can’t whistle, but this is one of the few times I wished I could.

The Worst:

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Frankie Laine with Paul Weston & His Orchestra – Answer Me (1953): The hardest part of blogging about many of those early number 1s was wading through the sea of near-identical overwrought ballads. The majority of them leave me cold, and despite Frankie being able to hold a note well, this did nothing for me. Hilariously, the BBC banned it at the time due to the then-shocking mention of God in the lyrics, which only increased its sales. The BBC clearly never learnt its lesson, as this wasn’t the last time this happened to a future number 1.

The 1960s

Pop music evolved at a mind-blowing rate and came of age during this decade. Obviously the 1960s were dominated by the best group of all time, the Beatles, and they also hold the record for most festive number 1s to date, with four in total – I Want to Hold Your Hand (1963), I Feel Fine (1964), Day Tripper/We Can Work it Out (1965) and Hello Goodbye (1967).  Never anything but a pleasure to listen to, John, Paul, George and Ringo played a large part in making this decade’s list pretty darn enjoyable. The classic Moon River, sang by Danny Williams, topped the charts in 1961, and Elvis also got a look-in, with one of his better tracks – Return to Sender, in 1962.

In the latter half of the decade, children’s records grew in popularity, and were obviously going to sell well in December, beginning the trend for novelty Christmas number 1s. The Scaffold’s Lily the Pink (1968) may be irritating but served it’s purpose, and my five-year-old seemed to love it recently. More problematic is Rolf Harris’s Two Little Boys in 1969. Finding out what a pervert Rolf Harris was, under everybody’s radar, for so long was like finding out there’s no such thing as Father Christmas, yet this tune seems somehow still strangely moving, and now sadder than ever, because he’s bloody ruined it for everyone.

The Best:

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The Beatles – Hello Goodbye (1967): It was always going to be a Beatles song. I did struggle between Day Tripper and Hello Goodbye, though. Despite the former’s killer riff, I decided to go with the latter, as I’m a sucker for most psychedelic 60s stuff. Although it’s not the Fab Four’s best example of pyschedelia, I love it’s joyous simplicity, and especially the singalong at the end, which is lie-affirming pop at its best. I also think it would make for a hilarious funeral song.

The Worst:

Cliff Richard and The Shadows – I Love You (1960): Look at that title, it’s as generic as it gets, which at least sets the scene for the song itself. Tepid, basic and very forgettable, it’s no wonder it’s been largely forgotten. Cliff of course became a festive staple in the 80s. Whatever you might think of his later yuletide tunes, you’d find it difficult to argue that they’re not better than this.

The 1970s

It was in this decade that the idea of the Christmas Number 1 really became an event, beginning with Slade and Wizzard’s battle for best festive anthem in 1973. An honourable mention for fellow glam rockers Mud’s Elvis tribute Lonely This Christmas (1974) – always had a soft spot for that one. Benny Hill’s children’s song Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West) in 1971 was deceptively filthy – I’ve never realised just how smutty the lyrics were until today (although to be fair I probably haven’t heard it in full since I was about seven).

Several ‘classics’ also hit the top, and having long since grown bored of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody (1975), I was impressed by it for the first time in years. It’s complexity and sheer oddness really made it stand out during my mammoth listen, and I didn’t mind hearing it again once I reached the songs of the 90s (it was of course reissued following Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991). Wings’ Mull of Kintyre (the biggest single of the decade) seems to be either loved or hated – I just think it’s alright – but who remembers it was actually a double A-side, along with the long-forgotten rocker Girls School (which fared far better in the US) in 1977? Mary’s Boy’s Boy Child – Oh My Lord (1978) saw Boney M cover Belafonte’s 1957 tune, livening it up but increasing the tackiness tenfold.

I find it hilarious and brilliant that Pink Floyd’s dark disco classic Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) was 1979’s festive bestseller. I don’t know about you, but nothing says Christmas more than a choir of children singing ‘We don’t need no education/We don’t need no thought control’ with an air of menace.

The Best:

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Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody (1973): Overfamiliarity hasn’t dimmed my love of Noddy bellowing ‘IT’S CHRRIISSSTTTMMMAAASSS!’, and although I sometimes think I prefer Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, it was Slade that won out back then, so it was Slade I heard today, finally bringing some yuletide cheer back into my rundown, and doing it with such wit and a tune that still holds up so well. I think the fact the production doesn’t labour the festive theme, unlike some of the songs yet to come, only adds to its brilliance.

The Worst:

Jimmy Osmond – Long Haired Lover from Liverpool (1972): Jesus Christ. That’s the only thing I can say about this that’s remotely festive, but it’s not meant as a compliment. I know the Osmonds were huge back then but I fail to see how anyone ever found this remotely appealing. It’s memorable I guess, but so is a bout of diarrhoea. My ears were genuinely pained when Jimmy hit the high notes, and it seemed to go on forever.

The 1980s

I was born in 1979, so it’s this decade that takes me back to Christmas as a child. One of my earliest memories is of clutching my copy of Do They Know It’s Christmas? (1984) in the playground before taking it to a school Christmas disco, aged five. A landmark moment in music, it was of course the start of charity singles gunning for the all-important top spot, and it’s a classic, but it’s controversially not even in my top two 80s number 1s. And the less said about the Stock, Aitken and Waterman-produced Band Aid II version (1989), the better. I wondered why it had been airbrushed from history and I was only 20 seconds in before realising why. It’s total crap.

The quality of the number 1s really jumped about in the 80s, particularly the first half. Special mention must go to The Human League’s electro classic Don’t You Want Me (1981). I really struggled to decide whether this was my 80s favourite, or the one that just pipped it to the post. It may not be seasonal in the slightest, but I’m not purely judging these singles on festive merit, which is why Do They Know It’s Christmas?, the highest-selling festive chart-topper of all time, isn’t the winner.

Warm memories of the reissue of Jackie Wilson’s Reet Petite in 1986, originally from 1956, were rekindled. And although it’s terrible, I found myself amused by Renée and Renato’s Save Your Love (1982), because it’s damn funny and it reminded me of the Kenny Everett spoof. Plus I think my mind might have started unravelling by this point. You can certainly argue that Cliff Richard’s Mistletoe and Wine is tacky shit, but nostalgia can really affect critical judgement, so I won’t be agreeing, sorry.

The Best:

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Pet Shop Boys – Always on My Mind (1987): I feel this may be a controversial choice due to it having nothing to do with Christmas, and the fact it kept Fairytale of New York from number 1, but I picked it because it’s bloody brilliant, and for me, this cover of the Elvis ballad (written by Willie Nelson) gets better with age. Taking a great song, transforming it and improving upon it is no easy task, but Nick Tennant and Chris Lowe did so without any of their usual irony, simply turning it into a disco juggernaut. There’s no wonder it often finds itself in the upper reaches of lists of best cover versions of all time. Joss Ackland didn’t half used to scare me in the video, though.

The Worst:

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St Winifred’s School Choir – There’s No One Quite Like Grandma (1980): Like Pet Shop Boys, this kept a festive classic off the top, namely Jona Lewie’s excellent Stop the Cavalry. However, unlike Pet Shop Boys, it’s wretched. And did a nation coming to terms with the murder of John Lennon really pick this over reissues of his work? A perfect example of Christmas chart insanity, like Long Haired Lover from Liverpool before it, this grates big time. And yet, I’d still take it over some of the ‘serious’ work that’s yet to come…

The 1990s

The Christmas number 1s of the late 1980s had marked the turning point, in which the standard began to fall, with occasional exceptions. I knew this before beginning my foolhardy task, but failed to appreciate how painful the job was going to become. Cliff had his third and final appearance to date (he was part of Band Aid II) with the execrable Saviour’s Day (1990) (The pan pipes! Not the pan pipes!), in which he came up with his own, duller version of Christmas. No thanks, Cliff, we’re happy with mistletoe and wine. Queen pared up Freddie Mercury’s farewell, These Are the Days of Our Lives, with a reissue of 1975’s Bohemian Rhapsody (1991), and I was tempted to award the best of the decade to the latter, but in the end it seemed unfair to let it have two chances.

By this point in my youth I was starting to develop my own tastes, and my music snobbery had begun. I hated the seemingly eternal reign of Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You back in 1992, and it didn’t do much for me in 2017 either. I did appreciate Houston’s singing more than I used to, though. It’s the production that kills it. Mr Blobby (1993)… this track came up more than any other when I told people what I would be doing, as though this would be the ultimate form of torture. You know what? It wasn’t. I genuinely found myself laughing at it. The people behind it were sick geniuses, throwing every trick in the book to seemingly irritate and infuriate anyone who didn’t watch Noel’s House Party. In fact, after rehearing it, I genuinely wouldn’t be surprised if one day it turned out to be yet another prank by twisted geniuses the KLF. Just as insane in it’s own way was Michael Jackson’s Earth Song in 1995. Fair play to the self-proclaimed ‘King of Pop’ for trying to highlight the damage humans have done to the world, but heavily implying he was some kind of Messiah-like figure while doing so was a bit daft.

Who would have thought that East 17 would be one of the decade’s few Christmas highlights with Stay Another Day (1994)? Then and now I found the Walthamstow gang ridiculous, but I have to hand it to songwriter Tony Mortimer, Stay Another Day is a great song, especially when you know it was written about his brother, who committed suicide. Poor old troubled Brian Harvey sings it well, too. He veers out of tune at times, but that fits perfectly in the context of this song. I admire the chutzpah of tacking on bells at the end, but it’s a shame it was then adopted by seemingly every other boy band aiming for a number 1 on 25 December.

The Best:

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Spice Girls – 2 Become 1 (1996): I have an inkling this may also be a controversial choice, mainly for people who know me. Back in the day I claimed to hate the Spice Girls. I was a huge Britpop fan and I blamed them for ruining pop music by not being ‘for real’. It didn’t occur to me that many guitar-bands were running out of steam, or becoming so experimental, they were never going to maintain their followings. Now I’m nearly 40, I’m less concerned with whether a song is ‘cool’ or not, and grudgingly admit the early Spice Girls singles were great pop songs. You have to make room for love ballads at Christmas, and 2 Become 1 is a great example of one. I’ve even been known to listen to it outside of Christmas. And you have to admire the fact it gets a cheeky reference to wearing a condom in there. Their next two yuletide number 1s, Too Much (1997) and Goodbye (1998), were tosh, though.

The Worst:

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Westlife – I Have a Dream/Seasons in the Sun (1999): This was the easiest choice to make by far. I hated Westlife for being the final number 1 ‘artists’ of the 20th century. Was this really what the last 50 years of pop had been leading up to?! Time has certainly not changed my mind. I’d forgotten this was coming up so soon, and as the Irish boy band’s tepid cover of ABBA’s I Have a Dream began, I wanted to punch my ears. Only problem is, that would have pushed my earphones further down my now long-suffering hearing vessels, and thus increasing the torture. The next two or three minutes were vacuous, contemptible, cynical pap, but at least it would soon be over. Fuck! It’s a double-A-side! And they’ve had a go at a song about dying! I think Seasons in the Sun is actually even worse! This single only deserves to be the final number 1 of the millennium because it signposts the downward trajectory in quality and worth of the charts in the 21st century to date. But I’d rather listen to There’s No One Quite Like Grandma than ever suffer these two songs again.

The 2000s

Before Simon Cowell did irreparable damage to December’s charts with the X Factor, there were a few more years of oddities. At 21, I had no time for Bob the Builder’s Can We Fix It? back in 2000, but coming after Westlife in my marathon listen, it was actually easy on the ears. It’s quite funny to think Neil Morrissey has had a number 1 with a dance anthem. Robbie Williams & Nicole Kidman’s Something Stupid (2001) seemed rather pointless, then and now. Girls Aloud had won Popstars: The Rivals in 2002, and Sound of the Underground still sounds like one of the few reality show songs that wasn’t a power ballad put together by a committee. Perhaps if talent show winners were still releasing songs like this, the X Factor wouldn’t finally be dying a slow death.

Michael Andrew and Gary Jules’s haunting cover of Tears For Fears’ Mad World (from the film Donnie Darko) seemed an appropriate choice after the conflict in Iraq in 2003, but strikes me as simply too downbeat now. Easily the most depressing track in the collection. The 20th anniversary of Do They Know It’s Christmas? brought about yet another version, and while Band Aid 20’s cover is better than Band Aid II, it goes on way too long and sounds too earnest. Speaking of earnest…

The second series of The X Factor in 2005 was where the Christmas charts were first hijacked. The next five years were wall-to-wall Cowell. Manufactured MOR with a revolving door of singers, some who have long since been forgotten about. Alexandra Burke’s Hallelujah (2008) was the only remotely memorable one, and that’s undoubtedly due to me loving Jeff Buckley’s version of the Leonard Cohen classic, which was that year’s runner-up.

The Best:

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Rage Against the Machine – Killing in the Name (2009): By the close of the 00s, some record buyers had had enough of Cowell’s dominance. Beginning an internet campaign which quickly snowballed, Zack de la Rocha and co’s rap-metal call for revolution from 1992 was the perfect antidote to yet another lightweight pop ballad. After suffering so much tripe beforehand I was on the verge of shouting ‘THANK FUCK’ in the middle of the office. Although it wasn’t the end of X Factor number 1s, Rage Against the Machine had inflicted serious damage to their stranglehold of the charts.

The Worst:

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Leon Jackson – When You Believe (2007): Jackson won the fourth series of the X Factor with this cover of a power ballad sung by Whitney Houston & Mariah Carey for the animation The Prince of Egypt in 1998. Dreary and tedious, it’s a throwback to some of the very first number 1s of the early 1950s and the worst X Factor Christmas number 1. I don’t think Jackson has been seen since. – another victim of Cowell’s ruthlessness.

The 2010s

Rage Against Machine had given the list a much-needed kick up the arse, but I don’t think it was just the potential lethargy my ears were suffering that caused the remaining tracks to be a tough listen. In addition to further X Factor tracks, charity singles became very popular once more, beginning with Wherever You Are by Military Wives with Gareth Malone in 2011. Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir’s A Bridge over You (2015) was along similar lines, combining Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water and Coldplay’s Fix You. I don’t want to belittle charity singles, but the combination of these and yet more talent show winners made for a very musically uninspiring final few tracks.

Some potential hope for the future came with the last song of all. Rockabye (2016), by Clean Bandit featuring Sean-Paul and Anne-Marie, broke the malaise that had set in and was simply a modern pop song by a young group, just like in the old days.  It didn’t do much for me personally, but pop should primarily be for the young, not a man who’s nearly 40, so fair play to them. Here’s hoping there’s further life in the charts for years to come.

The Best:

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The Justice Collective – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (2012): Adopting the Band Aid approach and featuring an all-star cast of musicians and celebrities, The Justice Collective was assembled by Peter Hooton of The Farm, in order to raise money for various charities associated with the Hillsborough disaster. Covering the classic Hollies track was an inspired choice, and it would be difficult to not be moved by this, whatever your thoughts on charity songs.

The Worst:

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Matt Cardle – When We Collide (2010): Shock, horror – it’s another X Factor song! Matt Cardle won the seventh series and released a cover of rock band Biffy Clyro’s Many of Horror and renamed it, for some reason. That’s the most interesting thing I can say about this leaden waste of time.

The Best UK Christmas Number 1 Ever is…

Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody (1973): I predicted this would win beforehand, but I didn’t predict just how many non-festive songs it would be up against, so Noddy, Dave, Don and Jim almost won by default. That’s not to take anything away from their win though. If it wasn’t for their chart battle with Wizzard, would the Christmas number 1 be the annual event it still is today? Possibly not. Back in 1973, the UK was going through a tough ride, with strikes and power cuts, and Merry Xmas Everybody brought some light back into (literally) dark times. 44 years later, we need this song more than ever.

The Worst UK Christmas Number 1 Ever is…

Westlife – I Have a Dream/Seasons in the Sun (1999): I think I made my feelings on this clear earlier, but even thinking about the damage it did to my ears is making me angry all over again. Pop music at it’s very dreariest, and far more offensive than any of the novelty hits I’ve had to suffer. I expected my lowest-rated song to be from the X Factor conveyor belt, but I feel some degree of sympathy towards those artists involved. It’s the man behind them that’s the true villain of chart music.

The Outro

Well, that was quite an experience. Yes, you could argue putting myself through every Christmas number 1, only to ultimately rediscover my love for Slade and hatred for Westlife, was pointless, but, despite my forlorn face above, and lots of moaning within this feature, it’s made for a fascinating experience. Tracing the Christmas number 1s from the inception of the charts has been like following the history of pop itself, which is after all what this site is all about. And no number 1 single better captures the eccentricities of the record-buying public than the Christmas number 1, throwing some real curveballs in there. Of course, listening to a history of pop like this has highlighted how far chart music has fallen over the last few decades. But there is still some hope for the future. And while this four-hour-plus experience has left me somewhat scarred, I’m already wondering if next year I should make my way through every UK Christmas number 2… Maybe I have developed a form of musical Stockholm Syndrome?

Of course, everyone’s entitled to an opinion… why not tell me yours? Feel free to shout me down and leave a comment in the box below the list.

List of Every UK Christmas Number 1 (1952-2016)

1952: Al Martino – Here in My Heart
1953: Frankie Laine with Paul Weston & His Orchestra – Answer Me
1954: Winifred Atwell & Her ‘Other’ Piano – Let’s Have Another Party
1955: Dickie Valentine with Johnny Douglas & His Orchestra – Christmas Alphabet
1956: Johnnie Ray – Just Walkin’ in the Rain
1957: Harry Belafonte – Mary’s Boy Child
1958: Conway Twitty: It’s Only Make Believe
1959: Emile Ford and the Checkmates – What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?
1960: Cliff Richard and The Shadows – I Love You
1961: Danny Williams – Moon River
1962: Elvis Presley – Return to Sender
1963: The Beatles – I Want to Hold Your Hand
1964: The Beatles – I Feel Fine
1965: The Beatles – Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out
1966: Tom Jones: Green Green Grass of Home
1967: The Beatles – Hello Goodbye
1968: The Scaffold – Lily the Pink
1969: Rolf Harris – Two Little Boys
1970: Dave Edmunds – I Hear You Knocking
1971: Benny Hill – Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)
1972: Donny Osmond – Long Haired Lover from Liverpool
1973: Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody
1974: Mud – Lonely This Christmas
1975: Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
1976: Johnny Mathis – When a Child Is Born (Soleado)
1977: Wings – Mull of Kintyre/Girls School
1978: Boney M – Mary’s Boy Child – Oh My Lord
1979: Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)
1980: St Winifred’s School Choir – There’s No One Quite Like Grandma
1981: The Human League – Don’t You Want Me
1982: Renée and Renato – Save Your Love
1983: The Flying Pickets – Only You
1984: Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
1985: Shakin’ Stevens – Merry Christmas Everyone
1986: Jackie Wilson – Reet Petite
1987: Pet Shop Boys – Always on My Mind
1988: Cliff Richard – Mistletoe and Wine
1989: Band Aid II – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
1990: Cliff Richard – Saviour’s Day
1991: Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody/These Are the Days of Our Lives
1992: Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You
1993: Mr Blobby – Mr Blobby
1994: East 17 – Stay Another Day
1995: Michael Jackson – Earth Song
1996: Spice Girls – 2 Become 1
1997: Spice Girls – Too Much
1998: Spice Girls – Goodbye
1999: Westlife – I Have a Dream/Seasons in the Sun
2000: Bob the Builder – Can We Fix It?
2001: Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman – Something Stupid
2002: Girls Aloud – Sound of the Underground
2003: Michael Andrews and Gary Jules – Mad World
2004: Band Aid 20: Do They Know It’s Christmas?
2005: Shayne Ward – That’s My Goal
2006: Leona Lewis – A Moment Like This
2007: Leon Jackson – When You Believe
2008: Alexandra Burke – Hallelujah
2009: Rage Against the Machine – Killing in the Name Of
2010: Matt Cardle – When We Collide
2011: Military Wives with Gareth Malone – Wherever You Are
2012: The Justice Collective – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
2013: Sam Bailey – Skyscraper
2014: Ben Haenow – Something I Need
2015: Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir – A Bridge Over You
2016: Clean Bandit featuring Sean Paul and Anne-Marie – Rockabye

65. Harry Belafonte – Mary’s Boy Child (1957)

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Each year before 1957 had brought hints of the progression in music and popular culture that rock’n’roll brought about, but these were often few and far between, with the charts still dominated by fluffy, overwrought, orchestrated love songs, often performed by a revolving door of crooners. 1957 had changed all that. By and large, rock’n’roll ruled, with Guy Mitchell and Frankie Vaughan the only crooners to hit the top spot, and even then, Mitchell was aping the new sound. It was also entirely male-dominated. Female singers didn’t get a look in. As winter and Christmas loomed, however, record buyers once more turned to something cosier.

Mary’s Boy Child had been written by Jester Hairston a US songwriter, actor and leading expert on Negro spirituals. Originally called He Pone and Chocolate Tea (pone was a type of corn bread), in this form it had nothing to do with Christmas and was a calypso song for a friend’s birthday party. Later, famous film composer Walter Schumann asked Hairston to write a Christmas tune for his choir.  Remembering the birthday song, he simply rewrote the lyrics and made them festive-themed, similar to how Slade rewrote a psychedelic song and transformed it into Merry Xmas Everybody. (Incidentally, Mary’s Boy Child was the last explicitly festive Christmas number 1 until Slade in 1973). Harry Belafonte had heard the choir performing the new version and asked if he could cover it.

Belafonte, born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr, was born on 1 March 1927 in Harlem, New York, to parents of Jamaican and Dutch descent. He served in the navy during World War Two, and returned to New York afterwards to work as a janitor’s assistant. A tenant gave him two tickets to the American Negro Theatre, where he instantly fell in love with theatre, and also befriended Sidney Poitier. They were both so poor, they would buy a single ticket for local plays, then trade places between acts, so one could inform the other of what had taken place. To help pay for his acting classes, Belafonte became a singer. At his very first show, he was backed by the Charlie Parker Band, which included Miles Davis as well as Parker. He began recording in 1949, and his breakthrough came in 1956 with the album Calypso, the first LP in the world to sell over a million copies in a year, and the first to sell that many ever in the UK. Introducing the wider world to calypso music, it featured the hits Banana Boat Song (‘Day-O’) and and Jump in the Line (both of which are great and I got to know them thanks to the 1988 film Beetlejuice)

Of course, this is the first Christmas number 1 to get to the same chart position later when covered by another act, namely Boney M in 1978. How does it compare? Well I don’t get the love for Boney M at all, and I particularly don’t like their cover of Mary’s Boy Child, so it’s no competition really. Belafonte is in fine voice as always, though it’s a shame he didn’t opt for a livelier approach to the song. He’s singing in a calypso rhythm but the music doesn’t really match. Despite this, I’d easily take it over a naff disco-lite version with an extra bit tacked on the end for no reason. And record-buyers in 1957 loved the religious imagery and cosy string backing, keeping it at number 1 for seven weeks from November, well into January 1958.

Harry Belafonte’s success continued for a while. In 1959 he became the first African American to win an Emmy. A young Bob Dylan played harmonica on his 1962 album Midnight Special. As the 1960s progressed he became dissatisfied with his film work and the music hits were drying up. By that point he was known as a prominent civil rights activist, and provided great financial help to Martin Luther King. He helped organise marches and bailed King and several other protestors out of jail. Much more personally rewarding than his other careers, I should guess. His humanitarian work increased; he helped organise the 1985 charity single We Are the World, became a UNICEF ambassador, and a staunch critic of apartheid and US foreign policy. He supported Bernie Sanders in his bid to become US President, and will no doubt be horrified at the current state of his country’s politics.

Train crashes seemed to happen a lot in the 1950s, and unfortunately on 4 December another big one occurred. At the Lewisham by-pass, in dense fog, an electric train stopped at a signal under a bridge. A steam train crashed into it, causing the bridge to collapse onto the latter. The Lewisham rail crash left 90 dead.

As the nation tucked into their Christmas dinners on 25 December, Queen Elizabeth II marked the 25th anniversary of the first Christmas broadcast on the radio with the start of a new tradition. For the first time, the speech also featured on television. The Queen made reference to this change, and put older viewers minds at ease by remarking that the age of change was sometimes bewildering, but everyone would be okay if we hung on to ageless ideals and values. However, during the speech some viewers experienced confusion when they overheard an American voice say ‘Joe, I’m gonna grab a quick coffee…’ Apparently, at this time, sunspots often caused freak radio conditions, resulting in US police radio transmissions interfering in UK television broadcasts. I’d imagine that was very bewildering.

Written by: Jester Hairston

Producer: Rene Farron

Weeks at number 1: 7 (22 November 1957-9 January 1958)

Births:

Singer Billy Bragg – 20 December

Deaths:

Writer Michael Sadleir – 13 December – Michael Sadleir
Writer Dorothy L. Sayers – 17 December
Composer Eric Coates – 21 December 

64. The Crickets – That’ll Be the Day (1957)

By the autumn, 1957 had proved to be an important year in the music charts, but there was more to come. Future My Way songwriter Paul Anka’s Diana was prevented from a 10th week at the top by a new group known as The Crickets, led by the unassuming bespectacled figure Buddy Holly

Born Charles Hardin Holley in Lubbock, Texas in 1936, he was born into a musical family and learned to sing and play guitar at a young age, drawing from diverse influences including gospel and country. It soon became apparent he was very talented, and Holly appeared on local television in 1952. Three years later he was opening for rock’n’roll figureheads Elvis Presley and Bill Haley & His Comets. The following year he recorded an album of rockabilly with his new band, Buddy and the Two Tones for Decca. The album was unsuccessful and Holly wasn’t happy with the sound he achieved with producer Owen Bradley. He decided to head to New Mexico to record demos with Norman Petty. To avoid legal problems, a new name was needed for the group. They considered calling themselves The Beetles, but settled on The Crickets. With Buddy Holly on vocals and lead guitar, rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan, Joe B. Mauldin as bassist and Jerry Allison on drums, their resulting popularity helped define the classic four-piece band line-up. Much happier with the results under Petty, they decided to release the new version of That’ll Be the Day as a single. Although written by Holly and Allison, Petty insisted on a writing credit too.https://youtu.be/RU769ErbfxU

It’s perhaps hard now to understand the impact That’ll Be the Day had in 1957. Much like Elvis and skiffle, it proved so influential, but unlike, say, Lonnie Donegan’s Cumberland Gap, it has aged, and is perhaps more comparable to Elvis’s All Shook Up – a little mannered and safe (the stuttering vocals can irritate), but a sign of great promise to come. It still has some charm however, and the final line ‘That’ll be the day when I die’ is still eerily prescient.

For an all-too-brief time though, the only way was up for Buddy Holly. He began churning out hits, and his name soon got top billing on Crickets material. His horn-rimmed glasses became hugely popular with teenagers, and future music legends John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, and Mick Jagger, to name but a few, were listening intently. Holly had one more number 1 to come, as a solo artist, but sadly he wasn’t around to enjoy it.

During That’ll Be the Day‘s three-week run at the top, on 15 November, flying boat City of Sydney crashed into a disused chalk pit on the Isle of Wight. The Aquila Airways Solent crash was at the time the worst ever air disaster to happen on English soil, killing 45 people.

Written by: Jerry Allison, Buddy Holly & Norman Petty

Producer: Norman Petty

Weeks at number 1: 3 (1-21 November)

Deaths:

Architect William Haywood – 4 November

63. Paul Anka – Diana (1957)

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All Shook Up ruled the charts for an impressive seven weeks, but its successor went beyond that, enjoying the longest run of 1957 with nine weeks at number 1. What makes this all the more impressive is that the singer wrote his own songs, which was unusual back then, and even more unusual was the singer’s age. A prodigious talent, young Canadian Paul Anka was only 16 when Diana made him a household name and started off a long, successful career.

Born in Ottawa, Ontario in 1941, Anka sang in a church choir as a child, also studying the piano and music theory. At high school he sang in a vocal trio called the Bobby Soxers. He recorded his debut single, I Confess at the tender age of 14. In 1957 he went to New York City with $100 from his uncle and recorded Diana. At the time, Anka’s precocious love song was believed to be about his love for his one-time babysitter, but in 2005 he admitted it was about a girl in church.

Diana is a song I can admire rather than enjoy. It gets off to a bad start, with the lyric ‘I’m so young and you’re so old’. I’m not sure that’s going to win Diana over, Paul. It’s hard to take Anka’s earnest begging and pleading seriously because of his age, and I don’t think most 16-year-olds would have the voice to pull this song off. Anka certainly doesn’t manage it. Lovesick teenagers of the 1950s could identify with it though, and in its defence, it’s a good stab at the rock’n’roll sound and a signifier that Anka was going to be a name in the music business.

This proved to be true, of course, and Anka matured into a formidable talent. He wrote Buddy Holly’s posthumous number 1, It Doesn’t Matter Anymore, and came up with the theme for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. In 1967, while on holiday in France, he heard Comme d’habitude (As Usual), sang by Claude François. He later described it as ‘a shitty record, but there was something in it’. He flew to Paris and negotiated the rights to adapt it. Some time later, Anka was having dinner with Frank Sinatra and members of the Mob, when Sinatra stated he was sick of the business and wanted out. From this, Anka sat at his piano in the early hours one morning and came up with ‘And now, the end is near…’, and before long, he had written My Way specifically for Frank Sinatra. Of course, Sinatra didn’t retire and this became his signature tune. In 1968, David Bowie had once been offered the chance to come up with some English lyrics for Comme d’habitude. He wrote Even a Fool Learns to Love, which was rejected, and rightly so, Bowie reasoned later. In 1971 Bowie reworked his version and Life on Mars? was born. Anka came up with another classic when Tom Jones released his storming version of She’s a Lady in 1971. He has continued to record and star in television and films ever since.

During Diana‘s nine-week stint at number 1, several events hit the news. On 4 September, the Wolfenden report was published, and recommended that ‘homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence’. The report was issued after a succession of well-known figures including Lord Montagu were arrested for such ‘offences’.

On 1 October, Britain introduced a vaccine against Asian Flu, which had killed thousands worldwide. The following day saw the release of David Lean’s Academy Award-winning movie The Bridge on the River Kwai. 11 October saw Jodrell Bank Observatory become operational. During Diana’s final week, topical news show Today was first broadcast on the BBC Home Service. It recently hit the news itself following Conservative idiot Michael Gove’s ill-judged joke about alleged serial rapist Harvey Weinstein during the 60th anniversary edition. And on 30 October, the government unveiled plans to stop being so ridiculously sexist and allow women to join the House of Lords. In some ways we’ve moved on so much, in others, we’ve barely moved.

Written by: Paul Anka

Producer: Don Costa

Weeks at number 1: 9 (30 August-31 October) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Squeeze singer Glenn Tilbrook – 31 August
High jumper Mark Naylor – 10 September
Ice skater Jayne Torvill – 7 October
Comedian Dawn French – 11 October
Director Michael Caton-Jones – 15 October

Deaths:

Horn player Dennis Brain – 1 September
Ventriloquist Fred Russell – 14 October