3. Kay Starr – Comes A-Long A-Love (1953)

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At 9am on 28 January 1953, Derek Bentley was controversially hanged for murder at Wandsworth Prison in London. Bentley issued the infamous and ambiguous phrase “Let him have it” to his friend and accomplice Christopher Craig, and a policeman was shot dead. Bentley, who had health and developmental issues, was pardoned for the crime 45 years later, and the tragic case helped bring about the eventual end of the death penalty in the UK

Five days earlier, US singer Kay Starr hit number one with Comes A-Long A-Love (not many song titles sound as ‘1950s’ as this). Unlike the first two top-selling tracks, this tune, written by former Tin Pan Alley songwriting veteran Al Sherman, was a chirpy, breezy little number, in which Starr extols the virtues of love. If you’re in love, you’re always singing, bells are ringing… you get the idea. Although lyrically basic by today’s standards, this song does have something going for it. It must do as I’ve only heard it twice and it’s been in my head for days. Not sure about the lyrics below though…

‘I don’t care how
Blue you’re feeling now
You sparkle yes you bubble
Look out you gotta whole lotta trouble’

Is Starr basically telling the subject of her song, “I don’t care how down you are at the moment, just go and fall in love, alright?”. It seems harsh advice. Nonetheless she sings Sherman’s tune with a certain panache, but then Starr did indeed live up to her surname. She had been a successful jazz and pop singer since the 40s, and Billie Holliday once proclaimed her to be “the only white woman who could sing the blues”. In her voice you can hear the stylings of the rock’n’roll singers that were yet to come. Comes A-Long A-Love was only number 1 for one week, but Starr would reach pole position one more time.

Written by: Al Sherman

Producer: Mitch Miller

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

Births

Footballer Ronnie Moore – 29 January

Deaths

Criminal Derek Bentley – 29 January

 

2. Jo Stafford with Paul Weston & His Orchestra – You Belong to Me (1953)

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Jo Stafford’s cover of You Belong to Me featured in the very first UK singles chart on 14 November, 1952. When Al Martino’s Here in My Heart finally lost its grip on the top slot, Stafford became the first female solo artist to be number one. Like Martino before her, Stafford’s vocal range was operatic, but she was much more than that. Among her contemporaries she was considered one of the most versatile vocalists of the 50s. She had earned the nickname ‘GI Jo’ during World War Two, performing for soldiers stationed in the US, and like Martino’s track, this romantic ballad clearly touched a nerve for those who had suffered through the war.

It was credited to Pee Wee King, Chilton Price and Redd Stewart, but Price wrote the first draft. Originally entitled Hurry Home to Me, he envisaged it as being from the viewpoint of a woman missing her soldier sweetheart during the war. King and Stewart made alterations and made it less specific, providing the song with more of a universal appeal. After all, the war was seven years ago by this point.

It holds up better than Here in My Heart, and I think the lyrics can be interpreted in more than one way…

‘See the pyramids along the Nile
Watch the sun rise on a tropic isle
But just remember, darling, all the while
You belong to me’

Sounds sweet and lovely at first, but could these be the words of a worried, paranoid control freak? Is she issuing a threat to her partner to behave himself while he’s away? Or am I alone in thinking this?! Despite only topping the charts for one week, its appeal has stood the test of time – Bob Dylan and Tori Amos are among the notable artists to release covers.

As for Stafford, she saw out most of the rest of her career with her husband Paul Weston, the orchestra leader and producer on this track, performing comedy songs, which sounds like a waste of a good voice to me. They released a cover of the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive in 1977. Stafford died of heart failure in 2008, aged 90.

Written by: Pee Wee King, Chilton Price and Redd Stewart

Producer: Paul Weston

Weeks at number 1: 1 (16-22 January)

 

 

 

1. Al Martino – Here in My Heart (1952)

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And so, we begin. Going back, back, way back in time, through the smog, to the UK on 14 November, 1952. Winston Churchill’s Conservatives had been back in power a year, following Labour’s huge changes to the country after World War Two under Clement Atlee, and Elizabeth II ascended to the throne earlier that year (that’s right, she’s been Queen longer than the charts have existed). That March, Maurice Kinn and Percy Dickens bought the Musical Express and Accordion Weekly, transforming it into the New Musical Express (how I wish it still went under the original title). Dickins had been following what Billboard were doing with their chart system in the US, and decided to follow suit, with the charmingly antiquated and inaccurate system of ringing around twenty record stores around the country to find out what vinyl 78s were selling the most. He compiled a top 12 (Why 12? Who knows?) and thus US singer and actor Al Martino made history.

Al Martino was the singles chart’s original X Factor-style success story. Earlier that year he won first place on the TV show Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, and the success gained him the recording contract to make this single. Here in My Heart remained at number 1 for nine weeks, so it’s the only number one of 1952. Only six other tracks have lasted longer – Bryan Adams’s (Everything I Do) I Do It For You, Wet Wet Wet’s cover of Love is All Around, One Dance by Drake, David Whitfield’s Cara Mia, Rihanna’s Umbrella and I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston.

It’s hard to see why it was so big. All the tracks above have their critics (me amongst them), but they’re catchy, to some extent. Martino’s track is a maudlin, melancholy piece of pop-opera (popera?) in which he shows off his vocal range to a doomy string-laden backing. The tune is forgotten as soon as the track ends, but to a country still suffering trauma from a terrible war, it clearly had some appeal.

Martino continued to have success into the 70s, and played Johnny Fontane in The Godfather (1972), he also sang the theme tune, Speak Softly Love. He was still performing in 2004 to packed concert halls. Al Martino died of a heart attack in 2009, aged 82.

Written by: Pat Genaro, Lou Levinson & Bill Borrelli

Producer: Voyle Gilmore

Weeks at number 1: 9 (14 November 1952-15 January 1953)

Births:

Comedian Mel Smith – 3 December
Presenter Clive Anderson – 10 December
Actress Jenny Agutter – 20 December