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

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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

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

Births

Comedian Norman Pace – 17 February

 

 

 

 

4. Eddie Fisher – Outside of Heaven (1953)

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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 and Chester Conn

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Al Sherman

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

Births

Footballer Ronnie Moore – 29 January

Deaths

Criminal Derek Bentley – 29 January

 

2. Jo Stafford – You Belong to Me (1953)

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

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

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

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

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

As for Stafford, she saw out most of the rest of her career with her husband Paul Weston, performing comedy songs, which sounds like a waste of a good voice to me. They released a cover of the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive in 1977. I think I’m going to have to try and find that and give it a listen…

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Martino continued to have success into the 70s, and played Johnny Fontane in The Godfather (1972), he also sang the theme tune, Speak Softly Love.

Written by: Pat Genaro, Lou Levinson, and Bill Borrelli

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

Births:

Comedian Mel Smith – 3 December

Presenter Clive Anderson – 10 December

Actress Jenny Agutter – 20 December