60. Johnnie Ray – Yes Tonight Josephine (1957)

johnnie-ray-yes-tonight-josephine-1957-2-78.jpgA tragic accident occurred on 13 June 1957 when a bus collided with a queue of people waiting at an Oxford Street bus stop, killing eight. Two weeks later on 27 June, the Medical Research Council issued a report that revealed there really was evidence to support a link between smoking and lung cancer. Why this came as a shock, I do not know. What do these events have in common? Johnnie Ray was enjoying his final UK number 1 with Yes Tonight Josephine at the time, after toppling the Andy Williams hit, Butterfly.

Yes Tonight Josephine had been written by Winfield Scott, who later co-wrote Return to Sender for Elvis Presley (along with Otis Blackwell), and Dorothy Goodman, of which I know nothing. Unlike lots of Ray’s material (they didn’t call him ‘Mr Emotion’ for nothing), this is a bouncy, upbeat number, along the lines of Ray’s first number 1, 1954’s Such a Night. Once again, Mitch Miller was in charge of production. Although he certainly had the magic touch back then, and helped make Ray the Christmas number 1 in 1956 with Just Walkin’ in the Rain, I think on this occasion it was a mistake for him to be involved.

Yes Tonight Josephine isn’t a bad song. Ray, as always, performs well. But it’s ruined by some bizarre backing vocals that smother the song and make it too laughable to enjoy fully.

‘(Yip yip way bop de boom ditty boom ditty)
(Yip yip way bop de boom)’

I think they’re supposed to represent Ray’s anticipation of his upcoming night with Josephine, but they come across like a man with Tourette’s, and they never end. Miller was straying too far into novelty song territory. Understandable, as that was his comfort zone.

Sadly, Ray’s career declined after this, and with that, his personal problems increased. He was arrested again in 1959 for soliciting an undercover officer, and went to trial but was found not guilty. In 1960 he was hospitalised with tuberculosis, and this caused him to give up alcohol. When he eventually appeared on local television in Chicago in 1966, he looked emaciated. A doctor told Ray in 1969 that he was well enough to drink an occasional glass of wine. For someone with an addiction to alcohol, this was never going to end well. He became an alcoholic once more and the music took a permanent back seat.

Johnnie Ray died of liver failure in 1990, aged 63. It was a tragic but inevitable end for a tortured soul. Fame is complicated. Had Ray been around in more enlightened times, his sexuality wouldn’t have been an issue and he may have been happier. At the same time, his troubles helped make him distinctive, intense and influential.  It’s a shame such a pioneering singer isn’t better remembered.

Written by: Winfield Scott & Dorothy Goodman

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 3 (7-27 June)

Births:

Broadcaster Danny Baker – 22 June

Deaths:

Author Malcolm Lowry – 27 June

59. Andy Williams with Orchestra conducted by Archie Bleyer – Butterfly (1957)

So here we are, well into 1957, and still no UK number 1 from Elvis. We’ve had spoofs (Rock-a-Billy) and sound-a-likes (Singing the Blues) but still the top spot remained out of reach. Joining the artists who were clearly trying to emulate his sound is easy listening legend Andy Williams. Butterfly is an odd entry in his catalogue as it’s unrepresentative of what he later became known for.

Williams was born in Wall Lake, Iowa in 1927. He and his three older brothers Bob, Don and Dick formed the Williams Brothers in 1938. Their big break came in 1943 when they sang backing vocals on Bing Crosby’s Swinging on a Star. The brothers then appeared in a number of films, and then began collaborating with head of MGM’s vocal department Kay Thompson. Williams later revealed that he and Thompson fell in love, despite nearly 20 years between them. After the brothers split, Thompson also acted as his mentor, preparing him for a solo career and writing many of his songs. Although he struck out on his own in 1953, it wasn’t until 1956 that he began making waves, thanks to his regular appearances on Tonight Starring Steve Allen.

Butterfly was written by Bernie Lowe and Kal Mann, the duo behind Elvis’s Teddy Bear. It had first been a hit for singer and guitarist Charlie Gracie, now largely forgotten but a rock’n’roll pioneer at the time.

It’s disarming at first, hearing the unmistakable voice of Williams singing this kind of song, and becomes even more so when you hear the fairly unpleasant lyrics he’s singing. Butterfly is about a man who can’t stand seeing his love hanging round other men. So what is he going to do about it?

‘I love you so much, I know what I’ll do
I’m clippin’ your wings, your flyin’ is through
‘Cause I’m crazy about you, you butterfly’

What does ‘clippin’ your wings’ mean, exactly?

As the years passed and Williams became the wholesome, easy listening crooner everyone remembers, Butterfly was forgotten, despite being his only number 1 both here and in the US. More hits followed, and in 1962 he covered Moon River, which became his signature tune. Other notable songs that were more in the ‘Andy Williams’ vein of course include Music to Watch Girls By and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. The same year, The Andy Williams Show began and ran until 1971. His Christmas specials, and version of It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year earned him the nickname ‘Mr Christmas’. He died in 2012 of bladder cancer, but will always be remembered as one of the foremost crooners of the 1960s and 70s.

Written by: Bernie Lowe & Kal Mann

Producer: Archie Bleyer

Weeks at number 1: 3 (24 May-6 June)

Births:

Singer Siouxsie Sioux – 27 May 

58. Guy Mitchell with Jimmy Carroll – Rock-a-Billy (1957)

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Following such an influential and exciting number 1 as Lonnie Donegan’s Cumberland Gap, I guess the only way was down. It had only been a few months since easy listening and novelty record star Guy Mitchell had hit the top spot for the third time with Singing the Blues, and here he was again for the last time with Woody Harris and Eddie V. Deane’s Rock-a-Billy.

Rockabilly, an offshoot of rock’n’roll, began to creep into the vocabulary of press releases and reviews in 1956. It derived from a blurring of the genres of rockn’roll and bluegrass, or, to put it more insultingly, ‘hillbilly’ music, as it was often called at the time. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and BIll Haley were all producing rockabilly music, and rising rapidly at the time, so why not spoof the genre? Why indeed…

Singing the Blues had, whether intentionally or not, been a successful bridge of genres by Mitchell, covering both his familiar easy listening style and the new rock’n’roll sound. Despite Tommy Steele being considered the more authentic rocker of the two, Steele wound up sounding way too much like Elvis to take seriously, and so Mitchell’s version holds up better. Rock-a-Billy was a bad choice as a follow-up. Well, it wasn’t at the time, it got to number 1, obviously, but the years haven’t been kind to it. It comes across as mean-spirited and the lyrics to the chorus are as unimaginative as it gets. Get a load of this…

‘Rock-a-billy, rock-a-billy, rock-a-billy, rock
Rock-a-billy, rock-a-billy, rock, rock, rock
Rock-a-billy, rock-a-billy, rock-a-billy, rock
Rock-a-billy, rock-a-billy, rock, rock’

There was a little more lyrical dexterity in your average rockabilly song at the time. Later on, Mitchell urges the listener to ‘wriggle like a trout’ and then spitefully exclaims:

‘Ya know you’re gonna act like a crazy fool,
Who cares? It’s cool’.

Unfortunately for Mitchell and others of his ilk, lots of people were interested in acting like crazy fools, and following this fourth chart-topper (which made him equal with Frankie Laine for most UK number 1s at that point), his career waned, bar his 1959 cover of Ray Price’s Heartaches by the Number, which despite missing the top spot became perhaps his best-known tune. He retired in the 1970s, but recorded material sporadically after that. He died of complications from cancer surgery in 1999, aged 72.

Written by: Woody Harris & Eddie V. Deane

Producer: Mitch Miller

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

57. Lonnie Donegan & His Skiffle Group – Cumberland Gap (1957)

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It’s only now that I finally get just why skiffle was so influential. There had been no number 1 like Cumberland Gap before. At forty seconds in when Lonnie Donegan moves the song up a gear and it enters a breakneck speed, going so fast that he becomes breathless, you see why a genre that was fashionable for such a brief time inspired a generation of great musicians. It has been argued that Cumberland Gap was the first punk number 1, and it’s a very strong argument. This is a million miles away from Here in my Heart.

Lonnie Donegan was born Anthony James Donegan in Bridgeton, Glasgow in 1931. He bought his first guitar at 14, as World War Two came to an end. He took a keen interest in jazz, folk, country and blues. Trad jazz bandleader Chris Barber had heard he was good on the banjo and asked him for an audition. Donegan had never played a banjo, but bought one and passed the audition anyway. In 1952 he formed his own band, the Tony Donegan Jazzband, and after opening for blues musician Lonnie Johnson, Donegan took his first name in tribute. By 1953, he was in Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen with Barber. During the intervals of their shows, Donegan took to providing a ‘skiffle break’. The name derived from a New Orleans term for house parties that were organised to pay the rent. These interludes soon had the crowd more excited than the main sets. Donegan, with backing from a tea-chest bass and washboard from other band members, would play storming renditions of old blues songs by Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie. It’s very likely that Cumberland Gap was among this material. It was only a matter of time before Donegan broke free and went solo.

Easily the oldest song to reach number 1 to date, Cumberland Gap‘s origins are shrouded in mystery. It’s an Appalachian folk tune that likely dates back to the latter half of the 19th century, but I’d put money on it being Woody Guthrie’s recording that Donegan was aware of. Originally concerning a mountain pass at the juncture of Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky used by migrants in the 18th century, Donegan has fun with the lyric, referring to the county in northwest England instead and claiming the Gap is ‘Fifteen miles from Middlesborough’.

Despite Rock Island Line coming first, and being understandably perhaps the most famous skiffle song ever, I think I prefer Cumberland Gap, maybe because of the fact I’ve been comparing it to number 1s that came before, which can only amplify how good it is, or perhaps due to the wordplay. There’s not a lot of difference between the two, which is why skiffle didn’t last long, but that doesn’t really matter. Both songs create an almighty racket on such basic instruments, don’t outstay their welcome, and show so much other material from the time as being out-of-date and too restrained. And it still sounds fresh, unlike Rock Around the Clock. You can see why Bill Haley soon started to look old-fashioned, and Donegan’s DIY ethic was bound to become more inspiring. Skiffle’s inspiring qualities were instant. By this point, John Lennon had formed the Quarrymen, and during Donegan’s next run at the top, Paul McCartney joined the group.

During Cumberland Gap‘s impressive five-week stint at number 1, John Bodkin Adams shocked the nation by being found not guilty in court on 15 April. It is still believed that Adams was a forerunner of Dr Harold Shipman, and may have killed over a hundred patients, but that political interference caused him to be set free. On 20 April, Manchester United retained the First Division title in the Football League, but lost against Aston Villa in the FA Cup final on 4 May, narrowly missing out on becoming the first team to win the double that century. On 24 April the BBC broadcast astronomy series The Sky at Night, with the legendary Patrick Moore at the helm right from the start.

Written by: Traditional

Producer: Alan A Freeman

Weeks at number 1: 5 (12 April-16 May)

Births:

Author Nick Hornby – 17 April
Cricketer Graeme Fowler – 20 April
Actor Daniel Day-Lewis – 29 April
Comedian Jo Brand – 3 May
Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious – 10 May

56. Tab Hunter with Billy Vaughn’s Orchestra & Chorus – Young Love (1957)

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The irrepressible Guy Mitchell’s Singing the Blues knocked Frankie Vaughan’s The Garden of Eden back off the top and enjoyed one final week at number 1, before Hollywood actor Tab Hunter (how ‘1950s movie star’ is that name?) sent it back down the charts for good with the earnest pop ballad Young Love.

Born Arthur Andrew Kelm, at 15 he had been sacked from the Coast Guard for lying about his age. He met actor Dick Clayton, who suggested his teen idol looks would stand him in good stead should he choose to become an actor. His agent Henry Wilson decided Tab Hunter would be a better name. Sorry to keep bringing it up, but where I come from, a tab hunter is someone who keeps cadging cigarettes… Anyway, he spent the first half of the 50s getting noticed in a series of film roles, before hitting the big time in World War Two drama Battle Cry (1955). For several years, Hunter was Warner Bros’ most popular male star.

Young Love had been written by Ric Cartey and Carole Joyner. Cartey himself released the original version in late 1956 but got nowhere. Country star Sonny James fared better and made it a big hit, but Tab Hunter went even further. One of the top-selling singles of 1957 in both the UK and US, Warner Bros. were so impressed, they formed Warner Bros, Records as a way of preventing Hunter from releasing his freshly recorded album on a rival label. These days, Warner Bros. Records is one of only three remaining huge music conglomerates.

It’s a very safe, innocent tune, and an early attempt at getting young girls to buy records. Having noticed how rock’n’roll had impacted on teenagers, record companies were beginning to wake up to the younger market. Getting a good-looking film star to perform such a song was the perfect move. It has a certain charm – more than some of the dross similar acts like the Osmonds churned out in the 1970s*, and most 90s teen ballads too. It helps that Hunter sounds like a young Morrissey at times. Perhaps an early influence on one of my future heroes and current massive disappointment? You’d probably be hard-pressed to count it among your favourite songs of the decade, though.

Hunter’s film career continued to shine, but tailed off during the 70s. As I was born in 1979, I have to confess I hadn’t heard of him until now. However, while researching, I was delighted to discover that Hunter played geeky substitute teacher Mr Stewart in Grease 2 (1982). Slated by critics, and hated by many fans of the original, I have a certain fondness for the sequel, as do others I know. Listening again to his big cameo moment, the verses from Reproduction sound very similar to the verses from Young Love. Must have been deliberate. Hunter is still with us, and JJ Abrams’ film company Bad Robot are working on a film of his life. One question remains though – ‘Where does the pollen go?’

Staunch fans of the British Empire were dealt a double blow during Young Love‘s reign. Ghana became independent of the UK on 6 March, and the government announced on 11 April that Singapore would also breaking free. On 1 April, BBC’s current affairs programme Panorama pioneered fake news when they transmitted their infamous April Fools Day hoax, with a feature on spaghetti trees in Switzerland, that you can see here. They have inspired many inferior copies ever since.

  • Now there’s an irony. Upon further research, I discovered that Young Love was not only covered by Donny Osmond in 1973, it reached number 1!

Written by: Ric Cartey & Carole Joyner

Producer: Billy Vaughn

Weeks at number 1: 7 (22 February-11 April)

Births:

Actor Robert Bathurst – 22 February

Deaths:

Artist Wyndham Lewis – 7 March
Linguist Charles Kay Ogden – 21 March

55. Frankie Vaughan – The Garden of Eden (1957)

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Erstwhile easy listening joker Guy Mitchell may have won the war with Tommy Steele & the Steelmen, as his version of Singing the Blues returned to number 1 after Steele had toppled him, but it was short-lived. Only a week later, on 25 January, scouse crooner Frankie Vaughan began a four-week stint at number 1 with The Garden of Eden, a swaggering, lusty little number, written by Dennise Haas Norwood.

Frankie Vaughan was born Frank Ableson, and took Vaughan as a surname because his Russian grandmother referred to him as her ‘number one grandson’, and she pronounced ‘one’ with a ‘v’. He became a singer at the Lancaster School of Art, but took to boxing during his time in the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War Two, and was also a prize-winning artist. Versatile. He returned to singing during the tail-end of the 1940s, and became known for wearing a top hat and carrying a cane. In 1955 he released what became his trademark tune, Give Me the Moonlight, featuring the rather confident lyric, ‘Give me the moonlight, give me the girls and leave the rest to me’. As sexual equality became an issue in the following decade, this song was subsequently dropped from setlists…

Vaughan’s cover of The Green Door (yep, the one that eventually became a number 1 for Shakin’ Stevens in 1981) had been narrowly kept from the Christmas number 1 spot by Johnnie Ray’s Just Walkin’ in the Rain in 1956, but a month later, he was on top. The Garden of Eden is more interesting than your average easy listening tune of the time, due to its lyrics that hint at infidelity. Whether that’s true or not, the singer is definitely being tempted by someone he’s not supposed to be with:

‘When you walk in the garden
In the garden of Eden
With a beautiful woman
And you know how you care
And the voice in the garden
In the Garden of Eden
Tells you she is forbidden
Can you leave her there’

It makes a change from sappy songs of undying devotion, at least. Not too bad musically, either. Vaughan really booms it out over an acoustic strum that turns into a full-blown swing number. Ironically, Vaughan later claimed to have turned down temptation himself, in the form of Marilyn Monroe. He starred with her in the 1960 movie Let’s Make Love, and said she tried to seduce him, but he was married and turned down the offer. Vaughan often returned to the charts after The Garden of Eden, and found himself back at number 1 with Tower of Strength in 1961.

On 16 February the Toddlers’ Truce was abandoned. This wasn’t a sign of children going to war – until that point, broadcasters agreed not to transmit for an hour once television for children had ended at 6pm, so that parents could put their children to bed. If the BBC tried this while my eldest daughter was being put to bed, there’d be practically no evening schedule at all…

Written by: Dennise Haas Norwood

Producer: Johnny Franz

Weeks at number 1: 4 (25 January-21 February)

Births:

Footballer Gordon Strachan – 9 February

54. Tommy Steele & the Steelmen – Singing the Blues (1957)

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Guy Mitchell only enjoyed a week at the top of the charts with Singing the Blues before record buyers decided they preferred Tommy Steele’s version, This bizarre turn of events had happened before in December 1953, when Frankie Laine‘s version of Answer Me knocked David Whitfield‘s from the top.

Tommy Steele was enjoying immense popularity at the time, and is considered by many to be Britain’s first rock’n’roll star. Born Thomas William Hicks in 1936, he had been a merchant seaman, and sang and played guitar and banjo in London coffee houses in his spare time. He fell in love with rock’n’roll when a ship he worked on docked in Norfolk, Virginia in the US and he heard Buddy Holly on the radio. He and his group, the Steelmen scored their first hit with Rock with the Caveman in 1956, reaching number 13. It was a rip-off of Rock Around the Clock, but a pretty good one. It was beginning to become common practise for British singers to record covers of songs that were going down well in the US, and release them over here before the imports became better known. Although his version of Singing the Blues hadn’t beaten Mitchell’s to the top spot, it had knocked it down after only a week.

By this point, Elvis-mania had well and truly gripped the nation, and Tommy Steele decided to ape him for his version. Clearly this worked at the time, but his affectation is so obvious now as to sound laughable. His slurring of the opening line is way too over-the-top, and makes Pat Boone sound much more authentic at ripping the King off. Thankfully Steele settles down and things pick up when he drops the impression, but the Steelmen’s backing is almost identical to Mitchell’s, right down to the whistling, so inevitably you compare the two, and when you do, Steele is the loser. Mitchell was a veteran by this point, and sounds relaxed and at home with the material. So, Steele had succeeded in beating Presley to a UK number 1 single, and won the initial battle with Mitchell, but was only in pole position for a week before everybody decided they’d actually preferred Mitchell’s version, which went back to the top for its second of three stints. Perhaps he should have laid off the Elvis impressions and stuck to sounding like Bill Haley & His Comets.

Steele continued to enjoy great fame, however, and his debut album, The Tommy Steele Story, became the first number 1 album by a UK act later that year. Also in 1957, he found himself competing against Mitchell once more, as they both covered Mervin Endley’s sequel, Knee Deep in the Blues. Neither version fared as well, though. He went solo in 1958, and continued with his music until the rise of the Beatles, before wisely concentrating on his film and theatre career, and is still loved by fans from his youth.

Symbolically, as Steele enjoyed his only number 1 to date, the Cavern Club, then for jazz aficionados before later becoming home to the Beatles as they went stratospheric, opened its doors for the first time.

Written by: Melvin Endsley

Producer: Hugh Mendl

Weeks at number 1: 1 (11-17 January)

53. Guy Mitchell with Ray Conniff & His Orchestra – Singing the Blues (1957)

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1957 began with political change. Prime Minister Anthony Eden had struggled at the end of 1956 to recover from the debacle of Suez, and perhaps because of this he had suffered ill health. His doctors advised him to quit if he wanted to carry on living, and so he resigned on 9 January. A day later, with no formal process in place at the time, the Conservative Party decided he would be succeeded by then-Chancellor Harold Macmillan. The political situation was so rocky at the time that Macmillan told the Queen he could not promise the government would last longer than six weeks.

The first new number 1 of the year had been in place since 4 January. For the third time, the happy-go-lucky popular crooner Guy Mitchell was back at the top with his version of Singing the Blues. Previously recorded by country star Marty Robbins, it had been written by Mervin Endsley, a musician who had contracted polio at the age of three and had been in a wheelchair ever since. From the age of 11 he spent three years in the unfortunately-named Crippled Children’s Hospital in Memphis. While there he became a huge country music fan and taught himself the guitar. He had written Singing the Blues in 1954 and taken it to Nashville in the hope of getting a hit. And a hit is what he got, several times over.

I wasn’t too flattering about Mitchell’s 1953 number 1s – She Wears Red Feathers and Look at That Girl – but Singing the Blues is a cut above both of them. Produced once more by Mitch Miller (who had given Mitchell his stage name – his real name was Albert George Cernik), Mitchell is in his element here. The country element is hard to detect – this version of Singing the Blues sounds more like the older generation trying to harness rock’n’roll and put their own, safer, stamp on it. And unlike Kay Starr on (The) Rock and Roll Waltz, Mitchell and Miller pull it off. That’s largely down to the song itself, a winning tune set to effectively downbeat lyrics, rather than a naff novelty song with a new genre awkwardly shoved into it.

Mitchell, from the evidence I’ve heard, couldn’t sing a sad song if he tried, and he certainly doesn’t try here. Somehow though, it all gels, with Mitchell turning it into a cheeky come-on over a chirpy backing of whistling, ukulele and backing harmonies. He’s hoping to charm his ex into coming back. And listeners kept coming back to Singing the Blues – his version made it to number 1 for two more week-long stints, making him one of only four acts to have the same number 1 on three separate occasions. The other artists are Frankie Laine with I Believe, Pharrell Williams with Happy and What Do You Mean? by Justin Bieber. At the same time as the Mitchell and Robbins versions were released, they found themselves competing with a third, by up-and-coming rock’n’roller Tommy Steele. More on that next time…

Written by: Melvin Endsley

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 3 (4-10 January, 18-24 January & 1-7 February)

Births:

Astronaut Michael Foale – 6 January
Journalist Francis Wheen -22 January
Comedian Adrian Edmondson – 24 January 

52. Johnnie Ray – Just Walkin’ in the Rain (1956)

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Between 22 November and 8 December, 1956, the Olympics took place in Melbourne, Australia.  Great Britain and Northern Ireland won six gold, seven silver and 11 bronze medals. Meanwhile, petrol rationing became introduced on 29 November due to petrol blockades caused by the disastrous Suez Crisis, and on 23 December, the British and French troops withdrew from Suez after pressure from the UN and US. On 19 December, Dr John Bodkin Adams was arrested for the murder of patient Edith Alice Morrell. On a lighter note, Christmas Day marked the start of PG Tips long-running advertising campaign starring talking chimps, with the voices provided by Peter Sellers.

The best-selling single in the UK during this period was Johnnie Ray’s memorable Just Walkin’ in the Rain. This was his second number 1, after the lusty Such a Night in 1954. The song had an interesting genesis: it had been written in 1952 by Johnny Bragg and Robert Riley. They weren’t a songwriting duo – they were prisoners at Tennessee State Prison in Nashville. The pair were walking across the prison courtyard on a miserable rainy day, when allegedly Bragg remarked, ‘Here we are just walking in the rain, and wondering what the girls are doing’. Riley suggested this wold be the good basis for a song, and within minutes Bragg composed a couple of verses. However, he couldn’t read or write, so he asked Riley to write down the lyrics in exchange for a songwriting credit.

One of the better number 1s of the era, at first Ray wasn’t keen on Just Walkin’ in the Rain, but producer extraordinaire Mitch Miller persuaded him to give it a go. With his reputation for songs of heartbreak, Ray was an ideal candidate for a cover, and Miller was proven right. Backed by the Ray Conniff Singers and a mystery whistler (one of the most memorable aspects of the tune), Ray’s version perfectly captures the almost cosy melancholy at the heart of the song. Yes, he’s forlorn and lovesick, but you get the feeling he’s kind-of enjoying feeling sorry for himself. No wonder Morrissey became such a fan – was this track the source of inspiration for Well I Wonder by the Smiths? Well, I wonder. Ray is in fine voice too, and makes the song so much more effective than your average crooner would. It reminds me of the infamous ‘You’re Never Alone with a Strand’ ad campaign of 1959, in which a solitary man walks the wet streets, lighting a Strand cigarette to cheer himself up. The ads were soon dropped due to creating an association of Strand with sad, lonely men. Just Walkin’ in the Rain would have provided a fitting soundtrack.

Despite the cultural shift that rock’n’roll brought about, the number 1s of 1956 were still on the conservative side. Music’s popularity was increasing with the rise of the teenager – the top 20 had expanded to a top 30, and singles by Elvis Presley and Lonnie Donegan threatened to hold the top spot, but were kept away by safer choices by the older generation. Come 1957, however, several big names finally made it to pole position, in a year that was made up of entirely male number 1 singles.

Written by: Johnny Bragg & Robert Riley

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 7 (16 November 1956-3 January 1957)

Births:

The KLF member Jimmy Caughty – 19 December
Iron Maiden guitarist Dave Murray – 23 December
Violinist Nigel Kennedy – 28 December 

Deaths:

Artist Nina Hamnett – 16 December

51. Frankie Laine with Percy Faith & His Orchestra – A Woman in Love (1956)

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Only eleven years after the end of World War Two, the United Kingdom’s reputation as a superpower took a battering that it never really recovered from. Suez. Nasser’s plans to nationalise the Suez Canal company had shocked the UK and France, and plans began to remove him, partly to protect what was left of the British Empire. After meeting with President Eisenhower, Chancellor Harold Macmillan misread the situation and believed the US would not stand in their way. In fact, Eisenhower was insisting on a peaceful solution.

On 24 October, the UK, France and Israel agreed in secret that Israel would invade Sinai. Then, the UK and France would heroically intervene, and engineer the situation so that Nasser could not nationalise the company. Pretty shameful, sneaky stuff. The Israelis attacked on 29 October, expecting retaliation, Nasser’s army instead withdrew. On 5 November the Anglo-French assault began, soon overwhelming the Egyptian army. By 6 November, the UN insisted on a ceasefire, and Eisenhower was furious. There had also been a backlash in the UK, and the consensus now was that Prime Minister Anthony Eden should have acted in the summer before public opinion had turned. Before replacing Winston Churchill, Eden had a reputation as a man of peace. By going to war, and subsequently claiming the meeting between the UK, France and Israel had never taken place, Eden’s reputation was permanently damaged, and parallels were later drawn between him and Tony Blair. By mid-November, newspapers began demanding his resignation.

Throughout the short-lived but infamous conflict, the UK’s number 1 single was Frankie Laine’s cover of A Woman in Love. It had been written by Frank Loesser for the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls. The Four Aces had some success with their version in the US, but the golden touch of Laine surpassed this in the UK. It became his fourth and final number 1 on these shores (a record at this point), after I Believe, Hey Joe and Answer Me, all back in 1953.

As usual, Laine gives it his all, over a tango drumbeat and parping, swinging brass, but I’m already struggling to remember the tune two minutes after hearing it and it’s left me rather cold. Frankie is insistent that the woman he’s bellowing at is in love with him as it’s all in her eyes. I’m not sure shouting this at her is the right way to go about persuading her, though.

Laine had many more years of good fortune, on TV, record and film. Although not personally a fan, he is now considered somewhat a bridge from the pop of old to rock’n’roll, not so much because of his style, but the way he expressed his voice, putting more soul into his performances than your average swinger of the time. He was also one of the first white performers to cover black artists. His reputation as a social activist is impressive – he was the first white artist to appear on Nat King Cole’s TV show when he was unable to get a sponsor, purely because he was black. He later performed for free for supporters of Martin Luther King, and devoted a large amount of his time to the Salvation Army and homeless charities. His final recording, Taps/My Buddy, was dedicated to the firefighters who helped during the 9/11 terrorist attack, and he insisted all profits went directly to them. Frankie Laine died of heart failure on 6 February, 2007, aged 93, his ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean.

Written by: Frank Loesser

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 4 (19 October-15 November)

Births:

Director Danny Boyle – 20 October
Singer Hazell Dean – 27 October
Actress Juliet Stevenson – 30 October
Screenwriter Richard Curtis – 8 November