12. Guy Mitchell – Look at That Girl (1953)

GUY_MITCHELL=Look_At_That_Girl.jpg

The majority of number 1 singles so far have been a bit on the serious side, with maudlin ballads often ruling the roost. Finally, after Frankie Laine’s I Believe‘s final three-week stint at the top (making a record-breaking total of eighteen), cheeky chap Guy Mitchell was back. Thankfully, this time he’s avoiding the slight racism of She Wears Red Feathers, too.

Bob Merrill, one of the era’s chief hitmakers, totted up a third number 1 songwriting credit here, after also being responsible for Mitchell’s She Wears Red Feathers and Lita Roza’s (How Much is) That Doggie in the Window?. With producing supremo Mitch Mitchell also back on board, Look at That Girl went to number 1 on 11 September and stayed there for an impressive six weeks.

Less impressive is the song itself. Yes, finally something a bit more light-hearted, but despite the bounciness of the tune and Mitchell giving it his all, I’ve forgotten how it goes already. A few things are of note though. Firstly, the lyrics are almost saucy, certainly if you compare them to previous number ones, although that’s not saying much.

‘Look at that girl, you see what I see
Oh look at that girl, she’s walking straight to me
That’s right, last night I held her tight
Ho ho it happens all the time
I look at that girl, and I can’t believe she’s mine’

Mitchell, you dirty dog! This is explicit, by 1953 standards, anyway. Also, Look at That Girl features two elements that would become pop staples in years to come, and haven’t featured in number ones yet. Handclaps! And, best of all, a guitar solo! Two of the most obvious ingredients to a pop tune ever sounded almost shocking when I first heard this, after what had come before. It was an unusual piece for Mitchell as well, who was more used to performing novelty songs. Just like She Wears Red Feathers, Look at That Girl was also more successful in the UK than the US. It didn’t even chart there, and it marked the end of the success for Mitchell, Merrill and Miller as a trio together. With names like that, perhaps they should have become a law firm. Mitchell’s career continued though, and he also starred in films such as Those Redheads From Seattle (1953) and Red Garters (1954). In 1957 he would achieve his third and final number one.

The government had sweet news for the country too. On 26 September, they ended post-war sugar rationing. Slowly, but surely, the UK was sweeping off the post-war malaise.

Written by: Bob Merrill

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 6 (11 September-22 October)

Births

Comedian Les Dennis – 12 October
Politician Peter Mandelson – 21 October

Deaths:

Physicist Lewis Fry Richardson – 30 September

 

11. Mantovani & His Orchestra – The Song from The Moulin Rouge (1953)

mantovani-663032.jpg

Tired of reading about easy listening crooners? Well, here’s something slightly different. Eddie Fisher & Sally Sweetland’s I’m Walking Behind You was knocked back off the top slot by Frankie Laine’s mammoth I Believe, which stayed there for a further impressive six weeks. During that period, serial killer John Christie was hanged for the murder of his wife (there were other victims though, detailed here and here), and two notable TV shows began on the BBC: influential sci-fi drama The Quatermass Experiment and nostalgic (yes the BBC loved looking to the past even then) music hall series The Good Old Days, which ran for 30 years.

On 14 August, for the first time an instrumental became number 1. The Song from the Moulin Rouge (also known as Where Is Your Heart) came from, predictably enough, the 1952 movie Moulin Rouge, which starred José Ferrer and Zsa Zsa Gabor. The music was written by distinguished French composer Georges Auric, with French lyrics by Jacques Larue. However, this version, by Anglo-Italian conductor and composer Annunzio Paolo Mantovani, was instrumental, with the main melody played on an accordion by Henry Krein. As well as being the first instrumental number 1, it was the first time the number 1 sounded anything other than British or American. The wistful tune conjures up an air of French melancholy and a rare European sophistication, by 1950s singles standards, anyway.

Mantovani’s signature style of cascading strings (known as the Mantovani Sound) made him hugely popular on these shores. He was Britain’s most successful album artist until a band called the Beatles started making a noise. He had helped keep morale up during World War Two on BBC Radio, so it was perhaps inevitable that he would reach number one sooner rather than later. Mantovani was more than just your average conductor though, he innovated. He was one of the early pioneers of stereo recording, and his tunes were often used in record shops to demonstrate the exciting new sound. Despite this, by the time the Beatles had eclipsed him in sales, he was out of favour. When George Martin suggested a string overdub for Yesterday, Paul McCartney insisted it must not sound like Mantovani. He had become yesterday’s man.

But in 1953 he was on top of his game, and although The Song from Moulin Rouge was only top of the pops for a week before I Believe began it’s final, three-week stint at the top, Mantovani would return in 1954 with that year’s longest-running number 1 single.

Written by: Georges Auric

Producer: Frank Lee

Weeks at number 1: 1 (14-20 August)

Births

Journalist Carol Thatcher – 15 August

10. Eddie Fisher Featuring Sally Sweetland, with Hugo Winterhalter & His Orchestra – I’m Walking Behind You (1953)

eddie-fisher-im-walking-behind-you-his-masters-voice-78.jpg

During I Believe‘s original nine-week stint at number 1, Elizabeth II’s Coronation took place. The public holiday on 2 June inadvertently saw the start of the television revolution in the UK, with many families purchasing one specifically to watch a crown be placed on the head of somebody who’d already been Queen for over a year. Also that morning, news reached the world that Mount Everest had finally been conquered. It actually happened on 29 May, but obviously nobody could film from the peak on a smartphone to prove it back then so the news travelled slowly.

On 25 June the serial killer John Christie was sentenced to death for the murder of his wife Ethel. However, he should have been sentenced for more. A further seven bodies were uncovered at 10 Rillington Place in Notting Hill. During the trial, Christie confessed to murdering Beryl Evans. Beryl, her husband Timothy and their baby daughter Geraldine had lived at the flat in the 40s, and in 1950, Beryl’s husband Timothy was hanged for murdering Beryl and Geraldine, despite him insisting Christie had been responsible. Christie had even been a witness for the prosecution. Yet another instance of tragic errors in the justice system that helped lead to the abolishment of the death penalty. The whole shocking, terrible story was made into a film starring Richard Attenborough in 1971 and a BBC television series starring Tim Roth in 2016.

A day later, US star Eddie Fisher returned to the number one spot, this time with accompaniment from the singer Sally Sweetland. When reviewing his previous number one, Outside of Heaven, I remarked that Fisher sounded a little like he was stalking an ex-partner by watching her in the crowd as she married someone else. In I’m Walking Behind You, he takes that a sinister step further. There’s no wrong way of reading these lyrics. Fisher is actually walking down the aisle behind the bride-to-be!

‘I’m walking behind you
On your wedding day
And I’ll hear you promise
To love and obey
Though you may forget me
You’re still on my mind
Look over your shoulder
I’m walking behind’

Shudder. Was stalking an ex considered socially acceptable in 1953? It certainly didn’t stop Fisher bagging another number one, so I’m going to assume so. Frank Sinatra later covered it too. Sally Sweetland is the woman warbling in the background of this forgettable tune, written by the first British songwriter to top the US charts, Billy Reid. Fisher and Sweetland are so loud you can barely hear the musicians, but the song is so average it doesn’t really matter. Sweetland was a soprano who provided backing vocals for the young Tony Bennett. Years later she worked as a vocal coach with her husband Lee, and among their students was one Seth McFarlane, later the creator of animated comedy Family Guy.

This was Fisher’s last number 1 in the UK, possibly because his personal life had begun to cause problems. As mentioned in my blog for Outside of Heaven, he married actress Debbie Reynolds, and had two children, one being Star Wars great Carrie Fisher. They had a very public divorce and he went on to marry Elizabeth Taylor, with who he had been having an affair. Taylor had been married to Fisher’s best friend, the deceased Mike Todd (I wonder if Fisher checked to see if the ghost of Todd was walking behind him in church?). The handsome crooner still had a long career ahead of him though, and three more marriages after Taylor before his death in 2010. One week after reaching the top, Frankie Laine returned to number 1 for another six weeks.

Written by: Billy Reid

Producer: Hugo Winterhalter

Weeks at number 1: 1 (26 June-2 July)

9. Frankie Laine with Paul Weston & His Orchestra – I Believe (1953)

1100-29.JPG

On 24th April, 1953, Prime Minister Winston Churchill received a knighthood from the Queen. Recognised officially for his part in leading the nation during World War Two, Churchill would suffer a stroke only a few weeks after the Queen’s Coronation that summer. It began a period of ill health that would begin the decline of the great wartime leader.

On the same day, US singer, songwriter and actor Frankie Laine’s cover of I Believe became the UK number one single. It remained there for nine weeks, equalling the previous record held by Al Martino’s Here in My Heart. However, following a week at number 1 for I’m Walking Behind You by Eddie Fisher and Sally Sweetland, it returned to the top spot for a further six weeks. Mantovani’s The Song from Moulin Rouge then topped the charts, but once again, I Believe went back to number 1. A staggering feat, this cover of a religious power ballad still holds the record for most non-concurrent weeks at number 1. It is doubtful that anyone will equal or top eighteen weeks anymore.

I Believe was written by musicians Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl and Al Stillman for Jane Froman. Froman was a big stage, TV and radio star who had suffered chronic injuries in a 1943 plane crash. Troubled by the Korean War in 1952, she asked her songwriters to come up with a tune that would offer hope to the audience of her TV show, Jane Froman’s USA Canteen. It’s fair to say that Drake, Graham, Shirl and Stillman delivered.

While cynical non-believers may balk at the lyrics, I Believe, by comparison to its predecessors at number 1, screams ‘I am a hit and I am important’ at you. For a nation of churchgoers in the 50s, this grandiose ballad was bound to do well. It could partly be that it’s already registered in my mind as a success due to the Robson and Jerome’s bland cover (their follow-up to Unchained Melody) from 1995, which cashed in on the elderly’s memories of the song and fans of the duo’s characters in the ITV drama Soldier Soldier. Their cover remains an early warning of Cowell’s evil reign of terror over the charts for years to come. Back in 1953 though, such a big song required a big voice, and a big star. So Frankie Laine was a natural choice.

Born into Chicago to a family of Sicilian immigrants, with connections to the Mob, Laine’s father was Al Capone’s barber, and he was 12 when he heard shots and found his Grandpa’s body. His mother told them he was killed by rival gangsters. By 1953 he was a squeaky clean (they all were then) superstar, without the good looks of some of his contemporaries, but it didn’t matter so much back then if you had a voice, and Laine certainly had that. Beginning with the gentle strum of an acoustic guitar, Laine builds the song into a display of righteous power, bellowing at the end with a performance that is still impressive today. And after eighteen weeks of chart dominance, he still had more to come in 1953.

Written by: Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl & Al Stillman

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 18 (24 April-25 June, 3 July-13 August, 21 August-10 September) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Prime Minister Tony Blair – 6 May
Musician Mike Oldfield – 15 May
Comedian Victoria Wood – 19 May
Actor Alfred Molina – 24 May
Politician Michael Portillo – 26 May
Dr Hilary Jones – 19 June
Racing driver Nigel Mansell – 8 August
Bucks Fizz singer Bobby G – 23 August

8. Lita Roza – (How Much is) That Doggie in the Window?

2006BA9827_jpg_l.jpg

Here’s one we all know. (How Much is) That Doggie in the Window is more like a timeless nursery rhyme than a chart-topper. It is about as far removed from a 2017 number one as it’s possible to get, but children of every generation since have grown up with it and loved it, including my own young daughters. It was written by Bob Merrill, author of the tacky She Wears Red Feathers, number one by Guy Mitchell a month previously. Loosely based on a folk song called Carnival of Venice, an earlier version, The Doggie in the Window, sung by one of the most famous singers of the 50s, Patti Page, is still the most well-known, and hit number one on the Billboard charts in the US, selling millions. But it didn’t make it to number one in the UK. Enter Lita Roza.

Lita Roza hailed from Liverpool and was a singer with The Ted Heath Jazz Band. She regularly topped polls in the Melody Maker and the New Musical Express for best female singer. A creditable artist, she didn’t want to record a novelty record, but her A&R, Dick Rowe, nagged her until she relented. However, she insisted on singing it in only one take, and refused to ever perform it live. Roza claimed in a 2004 interview that she kept her word, and so she began a long tradition of artists who hate the song they become best known for. Nonetheless, it immortalised her as the first UK solo act to become number one. Listening to her cover alongside Patti Page’s (not something I can see myself doing more than once), I prefer Roza’s, as she sings with much less affectation than Page.

However, Roza clearly had some affection or appreciation for her sole number one, as when she died in 2008, she left £300,000 in her will to charities. £190,000 of this went to dog-related charities: Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and The Cinnamon Trust.

(How Much is) That Doggie in the Window spent one week at the top, from 17 April, 1953. Six days previously, Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, was published, beginning an almighty cultural legacy.

Written by: Bob Merrill

Producer: Dick Rowe

Weeks at number 1: 1 (17-23 April)

Births:

Author Sebastian Faulks – 20 April

 

 

 

 

7. The Stargazers – Broken Wings (1953)

Bjp7-wBGkKGrHqIH-EYEs8QRORBOBLUgoQ6QNw_12.JPG

On 24 March 1953, while She Wears Red Feathers continued its hold on the top of the UK charts, Queen Mary, consort of the deceased King George V, died peacefully in her sleep. On the same day, the discovery of several bodies at 10 Rillington Place shocked the country. The murderer, John Christie, had moved out four days earlier, leaving several bodies hidden around the house. He had killed at least eight people, including his wife Ethel. A week later on 31 March, both the funeral of Queen Mary and the arrest of Christie took place. Mary had insisted that the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II should not be delayed in the event of her death. The trial of Christie, later in the year, revealed a terrible miscarriage of justice in which a husband and father had been wrongly sentenced to death by hanging…

The ‘comic’ stylings of She Wears Red Feathers were knocked from number 1 on 10 April, and we were back to appropriately mournful ballad territory. Only this time, for the first time, the act responsible were not a US singer. They were actually homegrown, and there were five of them. The Stargazers, went through several incarnations following their inception in 1949, but it is believed at the time of their first number one the vocal group were Cliff Adams, Ronnie Milne, Marie Benson, Fred Datchler and Bob Brown. They had lots of success on BBC Radio during the 50s, so, like the US chart-toppers that preceded them, their appearances in the media of the time no doubt helped them achieve their number 1 placing.

Broken Wings has not aged well. Written by John Jerome and Bernard Gunn, the lyrics point out correctly that with broken wings, no bird can fly. The subject of the song has been let down by their lover, who has been unfaithful.

‘With broken wings, no bird can fly
And broken promises mean love must fade and die
I trusted you, you can”t be true
My heart no longer sings
It”s wings are broken too’.

Musically, the Stargazers’ cover is a dirge, with only one point of interest, which is the sparse instrumentation, dominated by an electric piano. Very different to what had been top of the pops up to this point. A week later they were replaced by something much more memorable and light-hearted, but the Stargazers weren’t done with the charts. If you want to hear a catchier song called Broken Wings, there is of course, this track by Mr Mister.

Written by: John Jerome & Bernard Gunn

Producer: Dick Rowe

Weeks at number 1: 1 (10-16 April)

Births:

Mathematician Andrew Wiles – 11 April
Politician Stephen Byers – 13 April

 

 

6. Guy Mitchell with Mitch Miller & His Orchestra & Chorus – She Wears Red Feathers (1953)

guy mitchell.jpg

Hmm. Novelty songs were all the rage back in the 50s. I’ve nothing against novelty songs if done right, but these early ones were obviously from a time predating political correctness. She Wears Red Feathers is the bizarre tale of an English banker’s love for a hula-hula girl, who apparently ‘lives on just cokey-nuts and fish from the sea’. The banker and his love get married in a ceremony involving an elephant and baboons playing bassoons… This song didn’t do great in the US, but the British have always had a more eccentric sense of humour, and they welcomed it with open arms and sent cheeky US crooner Guy Mitchell’s version to number 1 on 13 March, 1953.

Thing is, despite the lyrics being borderline racist (‘cokey-nuts’ is performed by Mitchell in a ‘comedy’ accent), the chorus is memorable. It’s the sort of tune you can imagine Nigel Farage and Mike Read singing after a skinful.  It’s been lurking somewhere in the dark corners of my mind all this time, as I recognised the title when I came upon it and the chorus started up in my brain automatically. I’ve no idea where I heard it. We certainly didn’t own a copy, so it must have been in a film or TV show. In the clip below, Mitchell performs the song with gusto on an unknown variety show.

The song was created in 1952 (all these early number ones so far have actually dated from the previous year) by US songsmith Bob Merrill. Merrill had an astounding hit rate and was the second most successful songwriter of the decade in this country. He co-wrote If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake with Al Hoffman and Clem Watts in 1950, and specialised in comical, catchy tunes.  Merrill and Mitchell worked very well together, especially when produced by Mitch Miller, who was renowned for inventiveness and gimmickry. Miller hated rock’n’roll when it came about, calling it “musical baby food.”, and actually turned both the Beatles and Elvis Presley down. Not exactly forward-thinking, Mitch. However, back in the early 50s, Mitchell, Merrill and Miller could do no wrong, and the trio would trouble the charts again many times. Glam rockers Mud recorded an awful cover of She Wears Red Feathers in the 70s, when being PC still didn’t seem to matter, and you can hear it here, if you really need to.

Written by: Bob Merrill

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 4 (13 March-9 April)

Births

Author Christopher Fowler – 26 March

Deaths:

Queen Mary – 24 March
Poet Idris Davies – 6 April

 

5. Perry Como with the Ramblers – Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes (1953)

0612009a.jpg

The first number one by an artist I was aware of before taking on this project, US easy listening singer Perry Como was one of the biggest stars of the 1950s, and one of the names that really conjures up the era that predates rock’n’roll. Easy listening of the 50s might seem so dated to some now, but keep in mind that after two world wars and economic depression, this is what people needed. So, with his baritone croon, his cardigans (Bing Crosby once said Como was ‘the man who invented casual’, so we have him to thank for Alan Partridge) and the general aura of cosiness that he gave off, Como had nearly three decades of huge success from the 1940s onwards. Had the UK charts existed earlier he’d have no doubt been number 1 before 1953. Not bad going for a man who began work as a barber at the tender age of eleven.

Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes is lyrically the mirror image of a previous number one, You Belong to Me. Whereas Stafford’s song featured a woman hoping that her partner would remember who he should be thinking of while he was away,  Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes is about an absent man asking his lover not to stray. I quite like that title, it’s more oblique than the other chart-toppers that preceded it. The tune gallops along at a fair rate (well, by 50s standards) but ultimately, it hasn’t aged well. It was written by Winston L. Moore, who was better known as the disc jockey Slim Willet, and had been covered several times before Como, but predictably enough, his was the best known and most successful, staying at number one for five weeks. He would once again reach number one in 1958 with the much more memorable Magic Moments.

Amusingly, Willet co-wrote a response song with Tommy Hill, to be performed by his sister Goldie Hill, with the less cryptic title I Let the Stars Get in My Eyes, in which Hill basically sings that, oops, she did exactly what she was told not to do and fell for someone else. Love, eh?

On a lighter note, finally, some good news to mention outside of the charts. On 5 February, the day before Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes hit number 1, the UK government ended rationing on sweets. Hooray!

Written by: Slim Willet

Producer: Eli Oberstein

Weeks at number 1: 5 (6 February-12 March)

Births

Comedian Norman Pace – 17 February

4. Eddie Fisher with Hugo Winterhalter’s Orchestra & Chorus – Outside of Heaven (1953)

eddie-fisher-outside-of-heaven-1952-78.jpg

The UK was hit by not one, but two aquatic disasters on 31 January, 1953. The car ferry MV Princess Victoria was sailing from Stranraer, Scotland, to Larne in Northern Ireland, when it sank in the Irish Sea, killing 133 people, including several high-ranking Northern Irish politicians. Also that night, the North Sea flood began, killing hundreds of people on the east coast in England, Scotland and Belgium.

So it seemed appropriate that that week’s number one was a gloomy ballad. Outside of Heaven had hit the top a day earlier. Sammy Gallop and Chester Conn had written this from the perspective of a spurned lover on the outside looking in at his lost love’s new life. Unable to let go, he walks past her house, and is even around on her wedding day, suggesting he is at best a glutton for punishment, or at worse, indulging in a spot of stalking…

‘On your wedding day I stood in the crowd
I could hardly keep from crying out loud
There goes the kiss my lips have known’

Outside of Heaven was given added appeal by being sang by one of the era’s heart-throbs – Eddie Fisher. Following a spell in the Korean War, the US actor and singer went on to be one of the most successful singles artists of the first half of the decade. Later, Fisher began hosting his own variety show in the US, Coke Time with Eddie Fisher (I’m assuming this was blatant sponsorship for a certain soft drink rather than an open confession to a drug habit).

Unlike the character in his song, Fisher had no problem moving on from partners. He married actress Debbie Reynolds, the first of his five wives, in 1955, and a year later they had their first child, Star Wars (1977) star Carrie Fisher. Carrie and Debbie, of course died tragically within a day of each other in December 2016. I’m getting ahead of myself here though, and there’s more Eddie Fisher to come yet.

Written by: Sammy Gallop & Chester Conn

Producer: Hugo Winterhalter

Weeks at number 1: 1 (30 January-5 February)

 

 

 

 

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

kay-starr-comes-along-alove-1952-78.jpg

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