87. Bobby Darin – Dream Lover (1959)

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Bobby Darin is an interesting character. He was one of, if not the first teen idol to break free of what was expected and forge his own musical path. He was also, like Paul Anka and Buddy Holly, very musically gifted for someone so young.

His private life was also fascinating. Born Walden Robert Cassotto in East Harlem, New York, he was raised by his grandmother, but led to believe she was his mother. His birth mother, Nina, fell pregnant with him out of wedlock aged 17, so rather than the scandal get out, they decided his mother should pretend to be his sister instead. This pretence was kept up until Nina revealed the truth to him in 1968, when he was 32 years old. Darin was understandably devastated. He had become interested in music at a young age, and was able to play the piano, drums and guitar by the time he was a teenager. He excelled at science, but decided to pursue an acting career, before changing his career path again when he met Don Kirshner, who later managed the Monkees.

The duo, who met in a candy store, decided to write advertising jingles and ditties, the first of which was appropriately named Bubblegum Pop. He joined the Brill Building team of songwriters, and wrote songs for Connie Francis. The partnership was unsuccessful (he was there the day Neil Sedaka presented her with her second hit, Stupid Cupid), but they grew close. Unfortunately for Darin, her father, who was looking after her struggling career, did not approve. Darin suggested they elope but she refused. She later said it was the biggest mistake of her life.

Around the time Darin and Kirshner went their separate ways, Darin was taken under the wing of Atlantic Records songwriter and co-founder Ahmet Ertegun. In 1958 he wrote Splish Splash in less than an hour, and it went on to sell over a million. Finally he was a star. In April 1959, he recorded another self-penned composition, Dream Lover, with Ertegun producing alongside another legendary music figure, Jerry Wexler. Neil Sedaka was also there on the piano.

Splish Splash had been simple, knockabout fun, but Dream Lover was a sophisticated teen-pop slice of yearning. Built upon a Latin rhythm, it was successfully designed to make young girls swoon, but with safe enough lyrics to keep potentially angry parents at bay. It’s reminiscent of Tab Hunter’s Young Love, but assured where Hunter’s performance was tentative. The double-meaning of the line ‘I want a dream lover so I don’t have to dream alone’ is inspired, and Darin’s voice is effectively anguished.

If someone was to ask me to name a song that sums up the 1950s, Dream Lover would be one of the first I’d mention. This may be in part due to its use on an advert for Maltesers in the late 80s. Nostalgia for the 50s was of course very big back then, kickstarted as it was by the popularity of the Levis ads. My first exposure to Great Balls of Fire came from an advert for Edam, with the lyrics changed to ‘Goodness gracious great balls of cheese!’… bizarre, really, to turn a song of lust into an ode to cheese… I digress. One thing this blog has given me is a newfound respect for some of the artists that helped develop pop music in the 50s, and for this song, Bobby Darin deserves some of that acclaim. He’d be back later in the year with a very different sound.

During the four-week reign of Dream Lover, postcodes were introduced for the first time, with the experiment taking place in Norwich. This began on 28 July, and a day later, a series of important acts came into law – namely the Mental Health Act, the Obscene Publications Act and Legitimacy Act.

Written by: Bobby Darin

Producer: Ahmet Ertegun

Weeks at number 1: 4 (3-30 July)

Births:

Journalist Julie Burchill – 3 July

Deaths:

Cricketer Charlie Parker – 11 July 

86. Russ Conway – Roulette (1959)

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So here I am, still trying to get my head around a pop culture that is at times completely alien to me, wondering how pianist Russ Conway’s instrumentalSide Saddle got to number 1 when surrounded by the likes of songs by Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley, and now I have to review his second number 1, which actually knocked Elvis from the top. As I said in my blog for A Fool Such As I/I Need Your Love Tonight, these tracks were fairly throwaway by Elvis’s standards, but still…

Roulette sounds like a throwaway from Conway, who, probably astounded by Side Saddle‘s success, understandably thought he could just repeat the formula. And it worked. Actually, Roulette is better than his best-selling number 1, as the tune is a little catchier – after all, it was made to order, whereas Side Saddle was only ever meant to be incidental music. I could imagine it sounding appropriate in an old-fashioned London pub or strolling along Blackpool’s beach. I’m struggling to find any other use for it though.

I shouldn’t be so hard on Russ Conway. He clearly was very good at what he did, with further hits and TV shows, in his lifetime he sold over 30 million records, which gave him a lifestyle of mansions, Bentleys and Rolls-Royces. However, he suffered for his art. He became blighted by ill health, although smoking 80 cigarettes a day and drinking a lot won’t have helped. In 1963 he suffered a nervous breakdown, and then fell and fractured his hip, which left him paralysed for three days. Two years later he suffered his first stroke, aged only 38. For several years he was unable to play, and was prescribed anti-depressants to help him cope with these issues and his own self-doubt in his abilities. Many believe his hidden homosexuality was also a considerable factor in his depression. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in the late-1980s and founded the Russ Conway Cancer Fund in 1990. Despite this he battled on, and even lost part of a second finger after getting it stuck in the door of his Rolls-Royce. It still didn’t stop him playing though, and it wasn’t until 2000 that he finally succumbed to cancer, aged 75.

Written by: Trevor Stanford

Producer: Norman Newell

Weeks at number 1: 2 (19 June-2 July)

Births:

Chef Sophie Grigson – 19 June
Inspiral Carpets keyboardist Clint Boon – 27 June 

85. Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires – A Fool Such As I/I Need Your Love Tonight (1959)

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1 June saw the first edition of music programme Juke Box Jury on the BBC. Presented by David Jacobs, the presenter would ask a panel of four each week to judge whether a new record was a hit or miss. The original panel featured Pete Murray, Alma Cogan, Gary Miller and Susan Stranks. The series ran until 1967, but briefly returned in the 1970s and 80s.On 11 June, Christopher Cockerill’s hovercraft was officially launched.

Meanwhile in the chart world, Elvis made it to the top once more with another double-A-side single of recordings made before he left to be a soldier in Germany. It was his fourth and final number 1 of the 50s.

Opening with a now comically deep baritone vocal from Jordanaire Ray Walker, A Fool Such As I is a sign of Presley treading water. It had been written by Bill Trader back in 1952, and the original version was sung by country star Hank Snow. Whereas Elvis’s vocal helped lift previous single I Got Stung/One Night, here it just sounds a bit lazy and Elvis-by-numbers, and the most interesting part of the track is the guitar from either Presley, Chet Akins and/or Hank Garland. Clearly, the single’s performance suggests record buyers were more than happy, though, and perhaps some of his female fans, heartbroken and concerned about their hero being a GI in Germany, identified with the verse:

‘Pardon me if I’m sentimental
When we say goodbye
Don’t be angry with me should I cry
Well, you’re gone, yet I’ll dream
A little dream as years go by
Now and then there’s a fool such as I’

There’s even less to say about I Need Your Love Tonight. It had been written by frequent Presley collaborator Sid Wayne, along with Bix Reichner. It’s more of the same really. It trundles along and then it’s done, and the lyrics are just as forgettable:

‘Oh, oh, I love you so
Uh, uh, can’t let you go
Oh, oh, don’t tell me no
I need your love tonight’

Elvis was now equal with Frankie Laine and Guy Mitchell for the highest amount of UK number 1s in the 50s (four each), but there was a noticeable decline here. These songs signified that Elvis and his team thought they could get by with releasing songs without the danger or wit of previous material, and they were right. There was worse to come, however, and I’d still take these tracks over some of his 60s number 1s.

Written by:
A Fool Such As I: Bill Trader/I Need Your Love Tonight: Sid Wayne & Bix Reichner 

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 5 (15 May-18 June)

Births:

The Sisters of Mercy singer Andrew Eldritch – 15 May
Actress Tracy Hyde – 16 May
Comedian Paul Whitehouse – 17 May
Singer Morrissey – 22 May
Actor Rupert Everett – 29 May
Actor Adrian Paul – 29 May
Racing driver Martin Brundle – 1 June
Comedian Hugh Laurie – 11 June

84. Buddy Holly – It Doesn’t Matter Anymore (1959)

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Ah. Now, unlike Russ Conway’s Side Saddle, here is a number 1 that I can clearly understand. Buddy Holly’s It Doesn’t Matter Anymore is the first posthumous UK chart-topper. The infamous plane crash had occurred on 3 February that year, and had tragically cut short the lives of Holly and fellow stars Ritchie Valens and JP Richardson, aka The Big Bopper.

Before then, Holly was already well on the way to being a bona fide musical legend. Since the Crickets had their sole number 1 with That’ll Be the Day in late-1957, Holly had achieved success with the group and under his own name, thanks to Peggy Sue, backed with Everyday, and Rave On. In early 1958, he joined the rest of the Crickets to tour the UK and Australia. Later that year he met and fell in love with María Elena Santiago. the romance was swift – he asked her out when they first met, and proposed on their first date. Producer and manager Normal Petty didn’t approve, and asked Holly to keep their wedding quiet to avoid upsetting his fans. She pretended to merely be his secretary, but the damage was done – there was dissension in the ranks, not helped by the other Crickets also having their doubts in trusting Petty with all the money they were earning. Despite money troubles, Holly had various interesting ideas about the direction his career would go, including making an album with Ray Charles and Mahalia Jackson. This alone suggests the 1960s could have been a very different decade had Holly not died. He and Santiago settled in Greenwich Village, where he recorded acoustic songs including Crying, Waiting, Hoping. That October saw Holly’s final recording session take place. Four songs were recorded with an 18-piece orchestra, including It Doesn’t Matter Anymore and the B-side Raining in My Heart.

It Doesn’t Matter Anymore had been written by Paul Anka, whose Diana had been number 1 directly before That’ll Be the Day. Still a teenager, Anka was, like Holly, prodigiously talented. Obviously the song’s title became eerily prescient, but it actually concerned the end of a romance. Chirpy pizzicato strings belie the singer’s bitterness at the break-up, as do Holly’s occasional trademark vocal stutters (which can be irritating to modern ears, it has to be said), but it’s lush production hinted at the future direction of pop, and displays Holly’s desire to experiment with his sound. Also, is it just me, or does this sound very similar to John Kongos’s He’s Gonna Step On You Again – later known as Step On by Happy Mondays?

As 1958 drew to a close, Holly parted ways with Petty. Despite the rest of the Crickets’ concerns, they decided to stay with him, so Holly left the band. Due to Petty withholding his royalties, Holly was forced to immediately form a new band (featuring Waylon Jennings) and get out on the road. They began their ‘Winter Dance Party’ tour’, joined by Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, but the tour was beset with problems, with buses breaking down and performers suffering from flu and even frostbite. Tired of being on the road, Holly decided to charter a plane to Fargo, North Dakota. The story goes that the Big Bopper was suffering from flu particularly bad, and asked Jennings if he would consider giving up his seat for him. When Holly found out his bassist wasn’t travelling with him, he quipped ‘Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up’. In a response that was to haunt Jennings for the rest of his life, he replied ‘Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes’. Valens used to be terrified of flying, but asked Holly’s guitarist to toss a coin to decide who got to fly, and Valens won. The plane took off safely in light snow, but five minutes later, contact was lost. The plane had somehow cartwheeled across a frozen field, and Holly, Valens and Richardson had been thrown from the craft, with the pilot caught in the wreckage. All four had died instantly.

The incident shocked the music world, and of course was later immortalised by Don McLean as ‘The Day the Music Died’ in American Pie. Anka kindly gave the royalties of the song to Holly’s widow, who suffered a miscarriage when she was told of her husband’s death. It was the first of many shocking and untimely deaths in the world of rock and pop, and It Doesn’t Matter Anymore showed that posthumous singles offered music fans a way to mourn the heroes they had lost. It also showed record company bosses that it was a great way of making money out of dead artists.

Written by: Paul Anka

Producer: Norman Petty

Weeks at number 1: 3 (24 April-14 May)

Births:

Singer Sheena Easton – 27 April
Comedian Ben Elton – 3 May
Echo & the Bunnymen singer Ian McCulloch – 5 May
Director Deborah Warner – 12 May

83. Russ Conway – Side Saddle (1959)

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By the spring of 1959 it had been three years since Winifred Atwell had last topped the charts, with The Poor People of Paris. Despite the changes in musical tastes since then, there was still a market for jolly old honky tonk instrumentals that you could have a jolly good knees-up to. Who could fill that gap? Step forward, Russ Conway.

Born Trevor Stanford (the name his self-penned songs would be credited to) in 1925, his mother had been a pianist but died when he was only 14. His two brothers had formal musical education, but no real talent to speak of, whereas Conway was the opposite. He served in the Navy during World War Two, where he was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal for ‘gallantry and devotion to duty’. During the war his many health problems began, which saw him discharged due to a stomach ulcer. During his service he had lost one of the tips of a finger in an accident with a bread-slicer, but that didn’t stop him taking his friend’s advice, and upon his return, he agreed to stand in for a holidaying club pianist. He then began performing in pubs and clubs, before being spotted by the choreographer Irving Davies. He signed to EMI’s Colombia label, where he would play piano for stars including Gracie Fields. Eventually Conway made it on to the Billy Cotton Band Show, and it was Cotton who was instrumental in persuading Conway to loosen up and develop the style that made him a solo star. His first solo single, Party Pops, was released in 1957, and was a medley in the vein of Atwell’s 1954 Christmas number 1, Let’s Have Another Party. However, it was by composing that he made his breakthrough. When writing a score for a TV musical version of Beauty and the Beast, Conway was asked at the last minute to write a tune for a ballroom scene. He hastily came up with one and called it Side Saddle.

This has to be one of the strangest number 1 singles so far. I’m really struggling to grasp how it happened. At least with Atwell, her number 1s were covers of familiar tunes played at a manic pace. I’ve now listened to Side Saddle several times and I can’t remember the tune, let alone work out how it spent a month at the top. It has a certain quaint charm I guess and will have reminded the oldies of the time of their youth, perhaps. That’s the best I can manage, I’m afraid.

During Side Saddle‘s stint at number 1, an early CND rally took place in Trafalgar Square on 30 March that saw 20,000 demonstrators attend, and on 2 April, United Dairies merged with Cow & Gate to become Unigate. You might say, ‘So what?’, and it’s before my time too, but Unigate are fondly remembered for their ‘Watch out there’s a Humphrey about’ adverts in the 1970s… My mind is wandering… can we have a number 1 I can understand next, please?

Written by: Trevor Stanford 

Producer: Norman Newell

Weeks at number 1: 4 (27 March-23 April)

Births:

Actress Emma Thompson – 15 April
Painter Peter Doig – 17 April
The Cure singer Robert Smith – 21 April 

82. The Platters – Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (1959)

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Although originally written in 1933 by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach (co-writer of Rose Marie, which was a huge hit for Slim Whitman in 1955) for the musical Roberta, the 1959 number 1 version of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by the Platters is widely considered to be the definitive version, and was the highest-selling, spending a week at the top of the charts.

The Platters had formed in Los Angeles in 1952. Originally the line-up consisted of Alex Hodge, Cornell Gunter, David Lynch, Joe Jefferson, Gaynel Hodge and Herb Reed, who came up with their name. Several line-up changes occurred, most notably the addition of a female vocalist, Zola Taylor. Taken under the wing of entrepreneur Buck Ram, they were eventually signed, but only as part of a deal in which the Mercury Records took on the Penguins, the act they really wanted. The Penguins never scored a hit once signed.

The first track they recorded with Mercury was Ram’s haunting Only You (And You Alone). It had been rejected by Federal Records, but the group were convinced it could be a hit, and they were right. Also in the summer of 1955, follow-up The Great Pretender performed even better. The Platters appeared in the 1956 film, Rock Around the Clock, performing both tracks, which of course are now considered classics. A string of further hits followed, and the group hit upon the notion of recording old standards. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes was a natural choice, a classy, tortured song about the way love can make you blind.

There was some controversy upon the song’s release, as Kern’s widow claimed Jerome would have balked at his composition becoming a rock’n’roll number. She even threatened legal action to prevent its distribution. Harbach, on the other hand, congratulated Ram and the Platters in covering his song ‘with taste’, according to Ram himself. Harbach was right and Kern’s widow seems to have been some sort of over-the-top idiot. To react the way she did, you’d think the Sex Pistols had covered it. The Platters’ version is respectful to the original, and an interesting bridge between rock’n’roll and the soul music that would later follow, and Reed’s lead vocal is particularly effective. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes hit number 1 both in the US and the UK, where despite only spending a week at the top, it spent 20 weeks in total in the top 30.

1959 saw the Platters at their peak, before the four male members were later arrested on drug and prostitution charges alter that year. Nobody was convicted, but it caused irreparable damage to their reputation in the US. From then on it was downhill all the way, as members were sacked and formed their own versions of the group. Buck Ram also formed his own version, so there are now probably more members or ex-members of the Platters in the world then there are people who have never claimed to be a Platter.

Ironically, when I think of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, I think of Shirley Bassey performing it on The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show in 1971. It was Bassey’s As I Love You that the Platters had usurped. Despite not being a fan of hers, she gave an excellently-timed comic performance alongside Eric and Ernie, gamely soldiering on as the scenery collapsed all around her.

Written by: Jerome Kern & Otto Harbach

Producer: Buck Ram

Weeks at number 1: 1 (20-27 March)

Births:

Actor Steve McFadden – 20 March
Boxer Colin Jones – 21 March 

81. Shirley Bassey with Wally Stott & His Orchestra – As I Love You (1959)

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23 February 1959: As the winter drew to a close, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan visited the USSR to meet with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev. Macmillan was the first British leader since Sir Winston Churchill during World War Two to visit the country. At the time there had been a slight thaw in the Cold War. The atmosphere at the meeting was cordial, and the two discussed expanding cultural ties, but a few days later, the famously volatile Khruschev snubbed Macmillan and his entourage.

In the same week, Shirley Bassey became the first Welsh artist to have a UK number 1 when As I Love You knocked Elvis Presley from the top. Born on 8 January 1937 in the large multi-ethnic area of Tiger Bay, Cardiff, Bassey’s father was Nigerian and her mother was English. grew up in a nearby community – the fantastically named Splott. She was equipped with that famously loud singing voice (more on that later…) before she had even hit her teens, but it made her teachers and fellow students feel uncomfortable and she was often being told to, in her words, ‘shut up’. She left school at 14 to work in a steel factory while singing in pubs and clubs on evenings and at the weekend.

Her pre-fame life was tough and eventful, with the whole family struggling to afford to eat. Bassey was only in her teens when she began performing, but dirty old men in the crowd would be shouting at her to get her clothes off. She became pregnant with her first child at 16 but never revealed the name of the father. In 1955 while appearing in the West End, she was offered a record deal with Philips. Her first single, Burn My Candle, was banned by the BBC in 1956 for its slightly saucy lyrics. Bassey had her first hit with her rendition of The Banana Boat Song the following year. In mid-1958 she recorded both As I Love You and Kiss Me, Honey Honey, Kiss Me, with both reaching the top 3 simultaneously.

So, Bassey’s voice. I have to confess I am not a fan. I think you either love her powerful bellow or hate it, and I’m the latter. This made me reticent to try As I Love You, but fortunately, the shouting is kept to a minimum. Jay Livingston and Ray Evans’ (the duo behind Doris Day’s Whatever Will Be, Will Be) tune is a chirpy love song, and it sounds ahead of its time. It’s hardly innovative, but to me it’s comparable to the type of tune Bacharach and David were writing in the 1960s, complete with some catchy brass sounds in the chorus. It’s ultimately not as impressive though, and rather throwaway, but not as bad as I was expecting. And so, Shirley Bassey was the last female artist to have a number 1 in the 50s, and it was a full two years before a woman would be number 1 again.

Written by: Jay Livingston & Ray Evans

Producer: Johnny Franz

Weeks at number 1: 4 (20 February-19 March)

Births:

Field hockey player Richard Dodds – 23 February
Philosopher Simon Critchley – 27 February
Zoologist Mark Carwardine – 9 March
Poet Ben Okri – 15 March 

Deaths:

Scholar Kathleen Freeman – 21 February

80. Elvis Presley – I Got Stung/One Night (1959)

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Elvis Presley was drafted into the US army on 24 March 1958. He became a private at Fort Chafee, Arkansas. Back then, all men under 26 were required to register for the draft, and Elvis had done so in 1953, a few months before he first recorded for Sun Records. As the press gathered, Presley told them ‘the Army can do anything it wants with me’, and his trademark quiff was subsequently shorn, giving birth to the famous headline pun ‘Hair today, gone tomorrow’ being used for the first time. While training, his mother died, She was only 46, and she and Elvis were very close. Nonetheless, the training continued and he joined the 3rd Armored Division in Friedberg, Germany that October. While there he was introduced to amphetamines, which he took to using often, and also learned karate, which he would later become fond of showcasing at live shows.

Fans were obviously concerned about his career. What would happen to his music for the next two years? Luckily for them, RCA producer Steve Sholes and publisher Freddy Bienstock had it all mapped out. They had gathered plenty of material to be released during his hiatus. People would hardly notice his absence.

I Got Stung had been written for Presley by Aaron Schroeder and David Hill. Hill had released his version of All Shook Up before Elvis did, but had more success writing for ‘The King’ than releasing the same material as him. Elvis had recorded I Got Stung at his final Nashville session before leaving for Germany. It’s a slight but fun rock’n’roll track. Beginning with the cry of:’Holy smokes land sakes alive I never thought this would happen to me’, Elvis likens falling in love to being stung by a bee. I hope whoever was responsible (it wasn’t Priscilla, she met him in September 1959) didn’t die after releasing their sting… The lyrics are fairly cheesy and pedestrian, but Elvis’s vocal transforms it. He performs with rapid-fire delivery, and uses all his trademark mannerisms to lift the song. His backing band also do an admirable job, too.

One Night was granted double A-side status and featured on the flip side. It had been written by Dave Bartholomew (a collaborator with Fats Domino; together they had written Ain’t That a Shame) and Pearl King, and had first been a hit for Smiley Lewis in 1956. Originally concerning a night of sin, Presley recorded a version in 1957, but RCA and Colonel Tom Parker had reservations due to the lyric, ‘One night of sin is what I’m now paying for’. Elvis was keen on the song, though, and with Anita Steinman he reworked it to become ‘One night with you is what I’m now praying for’. Blander, but more palatable for conservative audiences. Fortunately, it doesn’t really matter, as Elvis’s performance is raunchy enough to suggest he’s planning on sinning anyway. It’s another great vocal, and once more he lifts the whole song. I’m beginning to get why he’s considered such a legend. Neither I Got Stung or One Night are up there with Jailhouse Rock, but they’re pretty good and certainly better than some of the star’s future number 1s.

Upon what would have been Elvis’s 70th birthday, a glut of his most famous singles were re-released in January 2005. I Got Stung/One Night was among them, and knocked the re-release of Jailhouse Rock from the top, earning it the honour of being the 1000th UK number 1. It also became the fourth track ever to be number 1 twice, and it was the third time that an artist has replaced themselves at the top of the charts.

Written by:
I Got Stung: Aaron Schroeder & David Hill/One Night: Dave Bartholomew, Pearl King & Anita Steinman

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 3 (30 January-19 February)

Births:

The Cure keyboardist/drummer Lol Tolhurst – 3 February

Deaths:

Physicist Owen Willand Richardson – 15 February 

79. Jane Morgan – The Day the Rains Came (1959)

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The new year began with no change at the top for some time, as Conway Twitty’s It’s Only Make Believe kept its grip at number 1. This finally changed on 23 January when US singer Jane Morgan toppled him with her version of The Day When the Rains Came. This was a cover of a French song, Le Jour où la Pluie Viendra, written by lyricist Pierre Delanoë and singer and composer Gilbert Bécaud. The duo were responsible for some of France’s biggest hits of the time, but this was their first to be translated into English and become well-known. The Day When the Rains Came’s lyrics came from Carl Sigman, who by now had a formidable reputation for adapting music from overseas and turning them into UK hits (see Answer Me and It’s All in the Game, number 1s in 1953 and 1958 respectively). Jane Morgan was a beautiful bilingual singer who performed in English and French, and was the perfect performer for this new version. She even threw in the French version on the B-side.

Morgan was born Florence Catherine Currier in 1942 in Newton, Massachusetts. Born into a talented musical family, at the age of five she was taking piano lessons and singing. Her mother taught her Italian and French. As she grew older she was accepted into New York’s prestigious Juilliard School of Music, and intended to become an opera singer. To pay her way she began singing in nightclubs. Orchestra leader Art Mooney hired her, and came up with her stage name Jane Morgan from two of his other singers, Janie Ford and Marian Morgan. Morgan’s knowledge of French came in handy when bandleader Bernard Hilda hired her to perform two shows a night at his new club near the Eiffel Tower in 1948. She began with US songs but quickly took to performing French songs as her language skills improved, and soon the audiences were flocking to her gigs. By 1949 she had her own television show in France, and later she moved between Europe, Canada and back to her own country, in the hope of becoming more famous, but agents feared her skills were too specialised. Eventually she was signed to the fledgling Kapp Records and released her debut album, appropriately named The American Girl from Paris. Her cover of Fascination was released in 1957 and remained in the charts for over six months, and it became her signature song.

The Day When the Rains Came was one of those throwbacks to the pop sound of several years previous. My initial thoughts were of how similar it sounds to previous number 1, The Garden of Eden, by Frankie Vaughan, which sounded old-fashioned when it hit the top in 1957. This isn’t a criticism, as that was a serviceable enough tune and so is this. Usually in love songs, rain is used as a metaphor for loss, but Sigman’s lyrics take a different approach, comparing the beauty of rainfall bringing plants to life with the wonder of a developing romance:

‘The day that the rains came down
Buds were born, love was born
As the young buds will grow
So our young love will grow
Love, sweet love’

Morgan’s vocals are worthy enough – she hits all the right notes, but ultimately there’s nothing about the song, lyrics or performance to lift this above average. January has often historically been a quiet month for new number 1s after the madness of Christmas – it seems The Day When the Rains Came may be an early example of this phenomenon. Nonetheless it brightened up that last week of the first month of 1959, in which the most dense fog to hit the country in seven years caused havoc.

Morgan carried on releasing music into the 1970s, and appeared in numerous TV shows over the years. She has also performed for five US presidents –  John F Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George W. Bush. Unlike many stars of the time she survives to this day, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2011.

Written by: Pierre Delanoë & Gilbert Bécaud/Carl Sigman (English lyrics)

Producer: Vic Schoen

Weeks at number 1: 1 (23-29 January)

78. Conway Twitty – It’s Only Make Believe (1958)

On Christmas Eve 1958, the south of England was covered by a blanket of thick fog. BOAC Bristol Brittania 312 had left Heathrow on a test flight. After completion, the crew requested to land at Hurn Airport instead, probably due to the poor conditions. Three minutes later, the plane hit a ploughed field, bringing down telephone lines and trees. All seven passengers were killed, and two of the five crew also died.

The Christmas number 1 that year was Conway Twitty’s It’s Only Make Believe. Much like Andy Williams, Twitty was somewhat of an Elvis copyist to begin with, before developing his own style. Yet sounding like Elvis is what garnered him a number 1 single (Butterfly by Andy Williams was nothing like his later work but his sole number 1). Twitty had been born Harold Lloyd Jenkins in 1933 in Coahoma County, Mississippi. The family moved to Helena Arkansas when he was ten years old, where he formed his first group, the Phillips County Ramblers. He later served in the Far East where his new group, the Cimmerons, would entertain his fellow troops. After his return, he heard Presley’s Mystery Train and became determined to follow in his footsteps, travelling to Sun Studios in the process.

Depending on which story you believe, he either took the name Conway Twitty from a map (Conway is in Arkansas and Twitty is in Texas), or he stole it from a man who his manager served with in the army, upon his suggestion. He switched from Sun Records to MGM Records and began releasing singles. It’s Only Make Believe had been quickly written by Twitty and his drummer Jack Nance between sets at the Flamingo Lounge in Hamilton. Taking a whole year to climb the charts, it reached number 1 in the US and and subsequently 21 other countries. To begin with, some listeners assumed the performer was Elvis, recording under a pseudonym, the vocal was so similar.

I didn’t cover It’s Only Make Believe during my blog on my mammoth listen to every Christmas number 1, here, but I was impressed by the intensity of the performance, and even more so since then. As the song began, I was ready to dismiss it as a sub-standard Elvis ballad rip-off like Pat Boone’s I’ll Be Home. However, as Twitty proclaims his wish that his lover felt as strongly as he did, he moves out of the croon and really lets rip, and it’s a great vocal performance. He sounds genuinely pained by the time he reaches the song’s title at the end of each verse. I still think it’s a shame Lord Rockingham’s XI’s Hoots Mon didn’t stay at number 1 for another week to become the festive chart-topper, though.

Twitty failed to set the charts alight again for some time, until he decided to move from rock’n’roll to country music in 1965. Country radio stations were sceptical at first, but Twitty seemed genuine, and his career took off once more. His biggest country hit became Hello Darlin’ in 1970, but he maintained his country chart success until 1990, and achieved an incredible 55 number 1s in total. On 4 June 1993 he collapsed on stage in Missouri and subsequently died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm the following day. He was 59.

1958’s number 1 singles definitely showed rock’n’roll taking control of the record-buying market. A number of future classics hit the top, and the easy listening ballads largely took a back seat. Unfortunately, so did the female artists, as once again, with the exception of Connie Francis, the top of the charts was dominated by men.

It’s Only Make Believe stayed at number 1 well into 1959. During that time, Tyne Tees Television, the ITV franchise for the north east, began transmission on 15 January, and a week later, racing driver Mike Hawthorn died after his car hit a tree on the A3.

Written by: Jack Nance & Conway Twitty

Producer: Jim Vinneau

Weeks at number 1: 5 (19 December 1958-22 January 1959)

Births:

Singer Sade Adu – 16 January 

Deaths

Racing driver Mike Hawthorn – 22 January