89. Craig Douglas – Only Sixteen (1959)

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Sam Cooke

Producer: Bunny Lewis

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

Births:

Music producer Simon Cowell – 7 October 

Deaths:

Soprano Agnes Nicholls – 21 September 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Lionel Bart

Producer: Norrie Paramor

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

Births:

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

Deaths:

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

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