120. Del Shannon – Runaway (1961)

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The often cool, cloudy summer of 1961 saw Barclays become the first bank in Britain with an in-house computing centre. The ‘No. 1 Computing Centre’ opened on 4 July in Drummond Street, London. The ‘white heat’ of technology was a few years away, but it was a start. Four days later, the Wimbledon women’s final was an all-British affair, and Angela Mortimer defeated Christine Truman.

At number 1 for a three-week period at that point, Del Shannon’s Runaway remains one of the most memorable rock’n’roll and pop songs of the early-60s. Key elements of the track, namely Shannon’s tortured falsetto and the sound of Max Crook’s Musitron, became very influential, which makes the singer-songwriter’s mental issues and eventual suicide all the more tragic.

Del Shannon was born Charles Weedon Westover in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in December 1934. Like many other future rock’n’rollers, he grew up playing the guitar and ukelele, and enjoyed country and western music by artists like Hank Williams. He entered the army in 1954, where he joined his first band, the Cool Flames. Upon his return to Michigan, he became a carpet salesman and truck driver for a furniture factory, and became rhythm guitarist in the Moonlight Ramblers, before replacing singer Doug DeMott, who was fired for drunken behaviour, in 1958. Westover changed his name to Charlie Johnson and renamed the group the Big Little Show Band. In 1959 the groups line-up was bolstered by the addition of keyboardist Max Crook. The keyboard wizard had been working on his own instrument, a primitive synthesiser he dubbed the Musitron. Crook had built this by modifying an old clavioline, adding television tubes, a reel-to-reel tape machine and parts from various household appliances. The group signed to Bigtop Records, but Johnson was urged to make another name change. ‘Del’ came from his favourite car, the Cadillac Coup de Ville, and he stole his surname from local wrestler Mark Shannon.

The origins of Runaway are unclear. Del Shannon once claimed it came about fairly instantly during a jam session on stage, but another version of events tells of unhappy initial recording sessions that resulted in Shannon and Crook being told to remake an earlier track known as Little Runaway, and to give the Musitron a place to shine during the new version.

Runaway starts off like any other rock’n’roll song, but the lyrics go deeper. Shannon’s sadness seems genuine, and his later reported problems suggest he was a tortured soul all his life, rather than one of the stereotypical handsome, clean-cut teen stars of the time. When he hits the falsetto on the chorus (Shannon claimed inspiration from Jimmy Jones, who had hit number 1 with Good Timin’ a year previous), he sounds genuinely pained, but it also adds energy to the song. And then when the Musitron takes over the instrumental break, we’re in uncharted territory. It may sound somewhat weedy now, but there’s an eeriness to it that resonates, as well as a sprightliness. A strange combination, but it’s definitely the highlight, and producers like Joe Meek were listening intently.

Del Shannon had a few more hits, usually containing the same bitter, melancholy lyrics, such as So Long, Baby. In 1963 he became the first American to cover the Beatles, when his version of their first UK number 1, From Me to You, charted before the original in the States. His fame started to slide, so he dipped his toes into other genres, releasing an album of Hank Williams covers, and he worked with Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham on a psychedelic album, Home and Away, which Oldham wanted to become known as the UK’s answer to Pet Sounds, but it didn’t see a release in full until 1978. It does feature a pretty good, strung-out update of this track, in which Shannon sings in a lower register, but the problem with Runaway 67 for me is it doesn’t go far out enough, and where’s the Musitron solo? The 1968 follow-up, The Further Adventures of Charles Westover, was critically-acclaimed, but sold poorly. Alcoholism took its toll during the 70s, but he did work with Tom Petty, and in the 80s he re-recorded Runaway yet again, this time as the theme to the successful TV series Crime Story.

The nostalgia for 50s culture in the 80s did Shannon some good, but not enough, and perhaps he wanted to be considered a contemporary artist, not remembered as a singer from the past who was known for that one big hit.He began taking Prozac for depression, but it was not enough to save him from his personal demons. On 3 February, he performed at a memorial concert for Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, and five days later, he committed suicide with a gunshot wound from his rifle. He was 55. It seems that Shannon may have seen his career as unfulfilled, but Runaway is still considered an exceptional rock’n’roll track, and his falsetto was a big influence on Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees. It’s a tragedy that he felt life hadn’t been kind enough to him.

Written by: Del Shannon & Max Crook

Producers: Harry Balk & Irving Micahnik

Weeks at number 1: 3 (29 June-19 July)

Births:

Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales – 1 July 
Welsh TV presenter Gareth Jones – 5 July 
Comedian Jeremy Hardy – 17 July 

119. Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires – Surrender (1961)

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On 8 June, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (Queen Elizabeth II’s first cousin) married Katharine Worsley at York Minster. Six days later, the Conservative government unveiled plans for a new signal-operated ‘panda’ crossing system to make the roads safer for pedestrians. The system was first introduced in April 1962, outside London’s Waterloo railway station.

During this time, Elvis Presley was back at number 1 yet again for a lengthy stint, with another European-flavoured single based on an earlier song. Surrender was based on Italian ballad Torna a Surriento, by Giambattista and Ernesto de Curtis. An English language version, called Come Back to Sorrento, had been recorded by Frank Sinatra, as well as Dean Martin, but Presley wanted a more uptempo feel, and asked for something new from his publisher, Freddy Bienstock. Bienstock gave the task to Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, whose A Mess of Blues had made it onto the B-side of Elvis’s massive 1960 number 1, It’s Now or Never. They had also recently had a hit when the Drifters recorded their track, Save the Last Dance for Me.

Although they both shared credit for Surrender, Shuman wanted nothing to do with it, according to Pomus’s biographer Alex Halberstadt. Apparently, Shuman said ‘Why should I want to write for some redneck idiot who wants to sound like Mario Lanza? You write it Doc, you’ve already got the music.’ Pretty cutting! Pomus found it easy enough and sent off a demo to Bienstock. Elvis then recorded the track with his usual group on 30 October 1960, in the middle of a marathon session that produced his first gospel LP, His Hand in Mine.

Surrender isn’t one of Elvis’s best number 1s, but at least isn’t the previous one, Wooden Heart. It’s an average-at-best song, but as is often the case, Presley’s voice is the highlight and lifts the material. One thing these blogs have taught me is just how versatile and powerful his singing was. Whether he tried his hand at gospel, rock’n’roll or crooning, he could do it all. Surrender doesn’t even clock in at two minutes and is easy to forget. At this point, you can see why John Lennon claimed Elvis died when he joined the army. Despite the quality of the song though, it was another of Elvis’s highest-selling songs, and Pomus and Shuman would work with him again.

As Surrender‘s month at the top drew to an end, Michael Ramsey became the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, on 27 June, succeeding Geoffrey Fisher, who had held the position since 1945.

Written by: Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman & Ernesto De Curtis

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 4 (1-28 June)

Births:

Trade union leader Bob Crow – 13 June
Singer Boy George – 14 June 
Comedian Ricky Gervais – 25 June 
Comedian Meera Syal – 27 June

Deaths:

Welsh poet Huw Menai – 28 June

118. The Temperance Seven with vocal refrain by Mr Paul McDowell – You’re Driving Me Crazy (1961)

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The 1961 number 1s really were all over the place, and this is as sure a sign as any. The Temperance Seven were a group of young men performing jazz covers from the 1920s and 30s, and their cover of You’re Driving Me Crazy was an affectionate look back to an earlier period in recorded music – indeed, the era in which vinyl recordings first became popular. They were retro before the term existed (I think).

The Temperance Seven were founded at Christmas in 1955 by students at the Chelsea School of Art. Its three founder members were Paul McDowell on trombone, Phillip Harrison on banjo and drummer Brian Innes. Eventually they expanded to a nine-piece, and their name was suggested to them by Douggie Gray from the Alberts, an influential comedy group of the era. Why the number seven, when there were nine of them? It’s an ironic use of the word ‘temperance’ which my tired brain doesn’t really get right now. In 1960 they recorded with Goons comedian Peter Sellers, and their producer was George Martin. Martin had joined EMI in 1950, and took over the Parlophone imprint five years later. It was regarded as relatively unimportant back then, and was mostly used for classical, novelty and comedy recordings. Martin’s work with Sellers became well-known, and more and more comedians began working with him, so the Temperance Seven seemed a natural act for Martin to produce.

You’re Driving Me Crazy had been written by Walter Donaldson in 1930. The song became a hit for several acts, including Lee Morse. It also featured in the racy Betty Boop cartoon, Silly Scandals, the following year. While singing the song, Boop’s dress kept falling down, to reveal a lacy bra and make her squeal. Shocking stuff at the time. Like many of Donaldson’s songs, this track became a standard, and was later recorded by Frank Sinatra, Mel Tormé and Peggy Lee, to name but a few. Donaldson also wrote Makin’ Whoopee, My Baby Just Cares For Me, and Yes Sir, That’s My Baby.

I’ve been a huge fan of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band for decades, and have seen the Temperance Seven name-checked many times in relation to them, so I had high hopes for You’re Driving Me Crazy, but was left rather disappointed. There’s none of the anarchic spirit of the Bonzos here, it just seems a very straight and stiff run-through of a Donaldson song that isn’t as good as any of the ones I’ve listed above. McDowell’s vocal doesn’t have the character that dear old Vivian Stanshall had. I now understand why some Bonzo band members would be annoyed by the Temperance Seven comparison – it’s quite lazy really. The intro and the end go on far too long too, though that is entirely in keeping with most recordings of the 20s and 30s. Having said that, I like Martin’s production just before the final vocal kicks in, in which the instruments create this kind-of circular sound (my apologies, I’m not great with proper musical terms).

Nonetheless, for a time the Temperance Seven were big, with Paul McDowell having to quit his role in the Experimental Theatre Club revue. He was replaced by future Monty Python’s Flying Circus member Terry Jones. Later in the summer of 61 they appeared at the London Palladium for a fortnight run as top of the bill. It was never going to last, though, and the original incarnation disbanded in the mid-60s, just as the Bonzos were starting to make a name for themselves with riotous performances at the Bull’s Head in Barnes. Chris Hook took charge of the band when they reformed in the 80s, and this incarnation still tours today. McDowell went on to star in Porridge as Mr Collinson, and died aged 84 in 2016. And producer George Martin? Well, his name is going to crop up a fair few more times, obviously.

Written by: Walter Donaldson

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 1 (25-31 May)

Births:

Comedian Harry Enfield – 30 May 

117. Floyd Cramer – On the Rebound (1961)

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Number 1 for a week in May, On the Rebound saw a much-demanded session musician step out into the spotlight and become a star in his own right. Pianist Floyd Cramer was one of the key architects of the ‘Nashville sound’, a sophisticated version of country music that had originated in the mid-1950s.

Cramer had been born in Shreveport, Louisiana in October 1933. He grew up in the small town of Huttig, Arkansas, where he taught himself to play the piano after his parents bought him one for his fifth birthday. After graduating, he returned to Louisiana and found work at radio station KWKH, where he began backing honky tonk stars and even toured with Hank Williams. Despite making his name as a session musician, he actually recorded his first solo single, Dancin’ Diane, in 1953. Two years later, he found himself touring with an up-and-coming singer named Elvis Presley. 1955 proved an important year for Cramer, as he finally moved to Nashville at the instigation of one of the Nashville sound’s figureheads, songwriter and producer Chet Atkins. Over the next few years, Cramer, along with Atkins, Owen Bradley, Harold Bradley, Fred Carter and the Jordanaires, worked with some of American music’s most influential stars, including UK number 1 artists Elvis, Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers.

Key to Cramer’s success was the ‘slip note’ style of playing he developed, in which he would often hit out-of-key notes before sliding into the right one, which created a kind of slurring sound that fitted perfectly with the country music he was working on. Cramer first used ‘slip note’ at a session for Hank Locklin’s Please Help Me, I’m Falling, when Atkins asked Cramer to copy Don Robertson’s playing on the demo. However, it was Cramer that ran with this style and made it his own. In 1960 he had a hit with the memorable instrumental Last Date, which peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100. Ironically, he was kept from the top spot by Presley’s Are You Lonesome Tonight?, on which he had also played. Last Date was later covered by REM, among others. A year later, the self-penned title track of his new album On the Rebound, also narrowly missed out on topping the US charts, but it did the business in the UK.

I was surprised just how much I enjoyed this track. I was half expecting something along the lines of Russ Conway’s number 1s, Side Saddle and Roulette, but On the Rebound really is a cut above. With instrumentals, you either need a really good central riff, or enough elements to keep the listener interested, and this track does both. It’s laden with hooks, punchy, and sounds pretty modern, thanks to Atkins’ production, with Cramer’s skills impressing over stirring string stabs. There’s been a lot of disappointing number 1s so far in 1961. This is one of the better ones.

Floyd Cramer continued to release his own work alongside session performances, often covering the hits of the time. From 1965 to 1974 he annually recorded an album of the year’s hits, titled The Class of… As a fan of the Monkees, I wouldn’t mind hearing Floyd Cramer Plays the Monkees, from 1967, or maybe Floyd Cramer and the Keyboard Kick Band from ten years later, in which Cramer played eight different keyboards. His final chart hit was his own version of the theme to US soap opera Dallas in 1980. Cramer died of lung cancer on New Year’s Eve 1997, aged 64.

Written by: Floyd Cramer

Producer: Chet Atkins

Weeks at number 1: 1 (18-24 May)

116. The Marcels – Blue Moon (1961)

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Following on from their league title victory, Tottenham Hotspur became the first English football team of the 20th century (and only the third in history), to win the double, after a 2-0 victory over Leicester City in the FA Cup Final on 6 May. Two days later, George Blake was sentenced to 42 years in prison. He had been found guilty of being a double agent for the Soviet Union.

The number 1 single at the time was this fast-paced doo-wop version of the classic ballad Blue Moon. Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart began writing it in 1933 for the movie Hollywood Party, starring Jean Harlow. The main lyrics were:

‘Oh Lord, if you’re not busy up there,
I ask for help with a prayer,
So please don’t give me the air ‘

However, the song didn’t get finished. A year later, Hart rewrote the lyrics to create a track for the Manhattan Melodrama. It was now called It’s Just That Kind of Play, and the words were changed to:

‘Act One:
You gulp your coffee and run,
Into the subway you crowd,
Don’t breathe, it isn’t allowed.’

This time, the song was cut from the film, but MGM asked Rodgers and Hart for a song to be used in a nightclub scene. Hart rewrote the lyrics again and renamed it The Bad in Every Man. This time the lyrics had been changed to:

‘Oh, Lord…
I could be good to a lover,
But then I always discover,
The bad in ev’ry man’

Guess what? MGM still weren’t happy, and although they could see there was a great tune there, the lyrics weren’t full of hit-making potential. They asked for some more romantic words and a new title, and a (surely exasperated) Hart came up with:

‘Blue moon
You saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own’

Finally, they had completed Blue Moon. Artists including Mel Tormé recorded versions, but it was Elvis Presley that first brought it to the attention of rock’n’rollers. His 1954 recording made it onto his eponymous debut album, released two years later.

Fast forward to 1961, and the Marcels were struggling to finish their debut album. The mixed-race doo-wop group, named after the then-popular marcel wave hairstyle, had formed in 1959, consisting of lead singer Cornelius Harp, Richard Knauss, Fred Johnson, Gene Bricker and Ron Mundy. The Marcels were not a high priority for their label, Colpix Records, and producer Stu Phillips was told not to waste much time on them. However, one night he sneaked the group into the studio after everyone else had left. They recorded three songs and had time for one more, and one band member said they knew Blue Moon. Phillips told them they had an hour to learn it, and the song was hurriedly recorded in only two takes.

Anyone who bought this version expecting a re-run of the original must have got quite a shock when Fred Johnson’s famous ‘bomp-baba-bomp-ba-bomp-ba-bomp-bomp… vedanga-dang-dang-vadinga-dong-ding’ rang out and bounced straight into a comparatively raucous run-through of the track. To many people, this intro is the best bit of the song, and one of most famous intros in doo-wop and rock’n’roll history, but originally Johnson’s vocal came from their cover of Zoom by the Cadillacs. A shrewd Phillips decided to lift it and stick it at the start of Blue Moon to give it some oomph, and it proved to be an inspired decision. Not that this blog should purely be about the intro, mind – the whole track is fun, and a much-needed antidote to some of the tracks I’ve sat through of late. It stayed respectful to the original, yet at the same time, shook things up enough to make it appeal to both young and old.

Blue Moon was huge in the US and UK, and allegedly famous DJ Murray the K (later to try and lay claim to the title ‘the fifth Beatle’ during the British Invasion) played it 26 times in a single show. The Marcels were unable to sustain this success, although a cover of Heartaches did okay. Unfortunately, the group’s white members, Knauss and Bricker, left due to racial problems when they toured the Deep South. Members came and went, and although the original group reformed briefly in 1973, the band splintered into various incarnations. Cornelius Harp died in June 2013, aged 73, and Ron Mundy died in 2017, aged 76.

This doo-wop classic has popped up in many places over the years, but perhaps the most famous appearance is over the end credits of An American Werewolf in London (1981), with versions by Bobby Vinton and Sam Cooke appearing earlier in the comedy horror.

Written by: Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart

Producer: Stu Phillips

Weeks at number 1: 2 (4-17 May)

Births:

Bucks Fizz singer Jay Aston – 4 May
Actress Janet McTeer – 8 May
The Cult guitarist Billy Duffy – 12 May
Actor Tim Roth – 14 May

115. Elvis Presley – Wooden Heart (1961)

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It came as no surprise that the best-selling single of 1961 was by Elvis Presley. However, I would have hoped it would be one of his better tracks, something of similar quality to Are You Lonesome Tonight?. As history has proven time and time again in the charts though, it’s that some artists can release any old tat, and that often, there’s no accounting for taste when it comes to the number 1 single. Here is a prime example. Wooden Heart is probably Elvis’ recording nadir, and yet it stayed at the top for a ridiculous six weeks.

The song was based on the German folk song Muss i denn by Friedrich Silcher. It’s possible that, as with It’s Now Or Never, Elvis heard the original while based in West Germany and fancied recording it, but if so, he never admitted to it. This is understandable. It took four people to adapt this song, and the guilty party are Elvis soundtrack collaborators Fred Wise, Ben Wiseman and Kay Twomey, along with German bandleader Bert Kaempfert. A year later, Kaempfert hired the Beatles to back Tony Sheridan on his album, My Bonnie, released in 1962.

It featured in his new movie, GI Blues, in which he played the magnificently-named Tulsa McLean, a solider serving in West Germany who also has a music career. Wherever did they draw the inspiration for this particular plot? I haven’t seen the film, and definitely have no intention of doing so, but he sings Wooden Heart to a puppet. Let that sink in for a minute. It would seem that Elvis’s transformation from dangerous heart-throb to family entertainer was complete.

Is there anything good to say about Wooden Heart? I suppose you could argue it was a brave decision for Presley to turn his hand to something so different from his standard fare. And, annoyingly, it is rather catchy. But so catchy it deserved to be number 1 for six weeks? No. The lyrics are trite, too, and half way through, Elvis starts singing the words to Muss i den, then a translation of the new lyrics at the end. Maybe this was his weird way of paying tribute to the country he lived in for two years? I really don’t know.

Wooden Heart didn’t even get released as a single in the US, so the people behind him may have known it might cause his reputation some damage. However, a cover by Joe Dowell later made it to number 1, so there’s the proof that US audiences were as bad as British. Eventually, Elvis’s version was sneaked out as the B-side to Blue Christmas in 1964.

Tottenham Hotspur won the Football League First Division title for the second time during the reign of Wooden Heart, defeating Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 on 17 April. They have failed to win it since. On 27 April, Sierra Leone became the latest country to gain independence from the UK – perhaps they discovered we had picked Wooden Heart as the best single available? 1 May saw betting shops become legal under the terms of the Betting and Gaming Act 1960, and 19 people died in a fire at the Top Storey Club, a nightclub in Bolton. This tragedy resulted in the swift passing of a new Licensing Act to improve fire safety.

Written by: Fred Wise, Ben Weisman, Kay Twomey & Bert Kaempfert 

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 6 (23 March-3 May) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Politician William Hague – 26 March
Rugby league player Ellery Hanley – 27 March
Filmmaker Michael Winterbottom – 29 March
Actor Robert Caryle – 14 April
Fashion designer Bella Freud – 17 April
Actor Nicholas Lyndhurst – 20 April
Chef Phil Vickery – 2 May

Deaths:

Artist Vanessa Bell – 7 April 

114. The Everly Brothers – Walk Right Back/Ebony Eyes (1961)

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March 1961: On the sixth of the month, influential singer-songwriter, actor, comedian and cheeky ukelele maestro George Formby died of a heart attack, aged 56. Two days later, Edwin Bush is arrested in London for stabbing Elsie May Batten with an antique dagger from the shop in which he worked. He became the first British criminal to be identified using the Identikit system. Five days from then, five members of the Portland Spy Ring go on trial at the Old Bailey, accused of passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. A week later, on 20 March, Shakespeare Memorial Theatre changed its name to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and the following day, the Beatles made their first performance at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. The Everly Brothers were occupying the top of the charts for the third time for most of that month, with a double A-side single, Walk Right Back/Ebony Eyes.

Walk Right Back had been written by their friend Sonny Curtis, who had performed with Buddy Holly and joined the Crickets as their vocalist after Holly’s death. He came up with the song while in the army and played it to Don and Phil while on leave. They liked it immediately and said they’d record it, but Curtis had only written one verse so far. He didn’t get the next verse to them in time, so the brothers simply sang the one verse they had, twice. They might have done better to have waited, as Walk Right Back only really works as a neat little guitar lick. It’s far too chirpy for such sad lyrics, and a disappointment after All I Have to Do Is Dream and Cathy’s Clown, but those magic harmonies are still great to hear, and always uplift any song of theirs. Curtis would later do better, when he wrote the classic I Fought the Law.

Ebony Eyes is also a let-down. It was written by the bizarrely-named John D Loudermilk (what does the ‘D’ stand for? Nothing, apparently), who had written for artists including Eddie Cochran. With teenage death songs such as Tell Laura I Love Her all the rage, Ebony Eyes tells the sad story of a young man who lost his fiancée in an airplane crash during stormy conditions. She was on board, Flight 1203, which was lost in skies as dark as his lover’s ebony eyes. It’s a bit hokey and maudlin to my ears, and is made even more so by Don’s ill-advised spoken word performance. The brothers had tried their hand at acting lessons, which he had hated, so why he decided to play the song’s protagonist, I don’t know. Sadly, no version of him bursting into laughter exists as far as I’m aware (see my blog on Elvis Presley’s Are You Lonesome Tonight?). Again, the sublime vocals raise the song above most fare of the time, but this single fails to reach their usual high standards.

Written by:
Walk Right Back: Sonny Curtis/Ebony Eyes: John D Loudermilk

Producer: Wesley Rose

Weeks at number 1: 3 (2-22 March)

Births:

Olympian javelin thrower Fatima Whitbread – 3 March 

Deaths:

Singer George Formby – 6 March
Conductor Thomas Beecham – 8 March 

113. Petula Clark – Sailor (1961)

Two whole years since a female artist had last got to number 1 (Shirley Bassey, with As I Love You), Petula Clark finally broke the drought with Sailor. Long before her most famous hit, Downtown (which never got to number 1), Clark had been a child star. She was born Sally Olwen Clark on 15 November 1932, at Longsgrove Hospital in Epsom, Surrey. Both her parents were nurses there, and it was her father who later came up with her stage name, Petula. During World War Two, she lived with her sister at her grandparents home in South Wales. It was a small, very modest house, with no electricity or running water. Her grandparents spoke little English, so she learnt Welsh. She became a singer in the chapel choir, and discovered a talent for impersonating artists such as Vera Lynn. She first began performing publicly aged only seven, in 1939.

Clark’s big break came about during World War Two, by accident. In 1942, she attended a BBC radio broadcast with her father, and they intended to post a message to her uncle, serving overseas, but the air raid sirens began and the recording delayed. The producer asked for someone to help calm the attendants, and Clark sang Mighty Lak’ a Rose. It went down so well, she was asked to do so again when the broadcast went out, and suddenly Clark was touring and entertaining the troops, as well as King George VI and Sir Winston Churchill. She even became a mascot for the army, her face plastered on tanks for good luck. Clark garnered a number of film appearances during the rest of the decade, appearing alongside fellow child star and future two-time number 1 artist Anthony Newley in Vice Versa (1948). There was also Petula Clark, her television series for the BBC. As the 1940s wound up, Clark teamed up with producer Alan A Freeman to record a number of international hits, including The Little Shoemaker in 1954. However, she was struggling to shed her image of the child star-turned-adolescent, and wanted to be recognised as a more mature performer. She was able to achieve this away from the UK, becoming popular in France and Belgium. performing alongside Sacha Distel. By the time she came to record Sailor, she was approaching her thirties, and was based in Paris.

The track was an English language version of the 1959 German song, Seemann (Deine Heimat ist das Meer) by Werner Scharfenberger and Fini Busch, which had been a hit for Lolita. In the original, Lolita is aware of her lover’s desire to travel, but Normal Newell (who had produced Russ Conway’s number 1s, Side Saddle and Roulette) had been tasked with writing English lyrics, and he hurriedly turned it into a plea for the sailor to come home, taking only ten minutes to write his version. Sailor had been brought to Clark’s attention by Tony Hatch, who assisted with the production, on this, their first collaboration. It was Hatch that later penned Downtown, and they had many hits together. He also wrote the theme to Crossroads in 1964, and went on to write several other soap opera themes with his wife Jackie Trent, including Emmerdale Farm and Neighbours.

It’s a shame Hatch didn’t get to write something for Clark sooner really, as Sailor is an outdated, old-fashioned ballad playing on people’s memories of World War Two. The orchestra and backing singers make it sound like it could be from the charts of 1953. Also, it certainly shows that Newell knocked off the lyrics so quickly, as there’s not many to comment on (for some reason, Newell was credited as David West) and they’re rather hackneyed and cliched. What it does have going for it, though, is some fine, atmospheric harmonica, courtesy of Harry Pitch.

I can see why Clark was keen to cover Sailor, as it makes her sound older than her years, so it could have helped her shake off her old image – but then again, perhaps not, because of the war connection to the words. It’s no surprise that Clark’s song competed against a version by Anne Shelton, who was also a star during the war, and had scored a number 1 back in 1956 with the awful Lay Down Your Arms. Whatever Petula Clark’s reasons, it worked and her version spent a week at number 1. Shelton’s also made it to the top ten, but it marked the end of her successful career.

It would be six years before Clark’s next number 1, and I’ll talk about her more in depth when we get to 1967, but it’s interesting to note that as I write this, it was 50 years ago this week that Clark made history alongside Harry Belafonte. He was a guest on her US TV special, Petula, and during the show they performed an anti-war duet. At one point, Clark touched Belafonte’s arm, and this marked the ever time a white woman and black man had physical contact on TV. Ridiculously, in some areas this caused a furore, and one of the advertising managers threatened to resign if the moment was transmitted. What a prick.

Written by: Werner Scharfenberger & Fini Busch/David West (English lyrics)

Producer: Alan A Freeman

Weeks at number 1: 1 (23 February-1 March)

112. Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires – Are You Lonesome Tonight? (1961)

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5 February 1960 saw the first edition of The Telegraph newspaper’s weekend edition, The Sunday Telegraph, and a fortnight later, police had to break up a demonstration outside the Belgian embassy in London. The protest was over the murder of the ex-Prime Minster of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba.

For the majority of that month, Elvis was at number 1 for the sixth time with his version of Are You Lonesome Tonight?. This ballad had been written back in 1926 by vaudevillians Roy Turk and Lou Handman, and was a hit for a number of artists, including Vaughan Deleath, Gene Austin and Al Jolson. Colonel Tom Parker rarely told Elvis what to sing, but asked him to record it because his wife, Marie, loved Austin’s version. Elvis, backing singers the Jordanaires and his band had finished recording his comeback album, and 1960’s best-selling single, It’s Now Or Never and decided to record Parker’s request at 4am on 4 April. When it came time for him to record the vocals, Presley asked everyone to leave the studio and told co-producer Chet Atkins to turn the lights out. Perhaps embarrassed by the spoken word part, he wasn’t happy, and told Steve Sholes to throw the tape away as he couldn’t do it justice, Sholes, Atkins and engineer Bill Porter disagreed, and eventually everyone was happy. Depending on which story you believe, that sound you hear at the end (only really discernible with earphones) is either Elvis accidentally knocking a chair over in the dark, the Jordanaires bumping into their microphone stand, or one of the producer’s stapling a contract together.

To my ears, Are You Lonesome Tonight? is the King’s best number 1 since Jailhouse Rock, three years previous. It’s a beautiful song, and Elvis is in fine voice. It must have been quite something to listen to him recording in the dark. The Jordanaires are also used well, their voices used to create a comforting sound rather than smothering the song, which happened on occasion. Unfortunately, the spoken word section, with a reference to William Shakespeare’s As You Like It does date and spoil the song somewhat, but fair play to him for recording the lyrics in full. When he powers through the song’s ending though, it’s quickly forgotten about, and the result is one of Elvis’s most memorable, soulful love songs. When this hit number 1, Elvis became the first act to have the number 1 single and album (the soundtrack to his movie GI Blues)

It soon became a staple track in his live sets, and featured in the 1968 comeback special, Singer Presents… ELVIS. It also featured in his first Las Vegas show the following year, and it was around this time that the famous ‘laughing version‘ was unofficially recorded. Fifty seconds in, Elvis kills the mood by changing the lyrics from ‘Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?’ to ‘Do you gaze at your bald head and wish you had hair?’ The rest of the song descends into farce, with backing singer Cissy Houston gamely soldiering on while Presley becomes unable to continue, laughing until the song’s climax. Whether this happened for a bit of fun, embarrassed by the spoken word section or because he was out of his head isn’t clear, but it’s an enjoyable, infectious outtake, and it’s nice to hear Elvis not take himself seriously. This version even charted in 1982. Sadly it is clear by the time of this posthumous televised performance of Are You Lonesome Tonight?, recorded a couple of months before his death, that drugs were having a big effect. It’s a tragic sight to see a bloated, sweaty Elvis rambling before the song’s start, and spouting gibberish during the song, but, despite the fact he would soon be gone, when he puts the effort in, his voice sounds as great as ever.

Written by: Roy Turk & Lou Handman

Producers: Steve Sholes & Chet Atkins

Weeks at number 1: 4 (26 January-22 February)

Births:

Singer-songwriter Lloyd Cole – 31 January
Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor – 16 February
Politicians Angela and Maria Eagle – 17 February
Footballer Justin Fashanu – 19 February
Actress Imogen Stubbs – 20 February 

Deaths:

Cricketer Stan Nichols – 26 January 

111. Johnny Tillotson – Poetry in Motion (1961)

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1961 was an unusual year for number 1s. There was more movement at the summit of the charts than ever before, with a whopping 21 chart-toppers. Many were short-lived, lasting only a week at a time, and it’s tough to work out a trend or scene that may have had an impact. Elvis Presley could still do no wrong, and had four number 1s, more this year than any other artist had managed in 12 months. Unusually, Cliff didn’t score any new number 1s this year, but was still a regular in the upper reaches. There was still a place for rock’n’roll, but with many of the greats already gone, the scene was missing some of the initial excitement and danger.

As is often the case, the year got off to a fairly unexciting start, with singer-songwriter Johnny Tillotson’s Poetry in Motion knocking Cliff and the Shadows’ I Love You from the top and enjoying a fortnight at number 1. Tillotson was born in April 1939 in Jacksonville, Florida. Aged only nine, he was sent away to look after his grandmother in Palatka, which seems a bit much. While at high school there he began to be known as a talented singer, and after gaining further notice in national talent contests, Archie Bleyer signed him to Cadence Records. He began releasing self-penned singles in 1958, and a cover of Earth Angel, making slight dints on the charts, but he made his name with Poetry In Motion, written by Mike Anthony and Paul Kaufman. Kaufman later claimed the inspiration came from the parade of schoolgirls he would see pass by his window every afternoon…hmm…

Bill Porter, by now the US’s most in-demand sound engineer, supervised the session. Among the musicians involved were saxophonist Boots Randolph, whose 1963 hit Yakety Sax became the much-remembered signature tune on The Benny Hill Show, used every time Benny was chasing or being chased by scantily-clad ladies. Floyd Cramer was on piano, and would feature on the next number 1, Elvis’s Are You Lonesome Tonight?, as well as having a number 1 under his own name with On the Rebound in May.

Randolph’s saxophone is probably the most memorable element of this so-so track, giving the sound some punch and distinction. It’s not a bad tune, but a bit average and unmemorable, other than the solid production. The lyrics aren’t earth-shattering either, and ‘She doesn’t need improvement/She’s much too nice to rearrange’ is as iffy as the inspiration behind the song. The only other noteworthy mention goes to the reference to Love Potion No. 9, which had been a hit in 1959 for the Clovers.

Johnny Tillotson became a teen idol after its release, but his father had become terminally ill. This inspired his 1962 song, It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin’, which became a big country hit and was later covered by Elvis. He had further hits, and starred in films, including 1966 comedy The Fat Spy with Jayne Mansfield (considered by many as one of the worst films ever made) but his fortunes waned as the 1960s drew to a close. The 90s saw Tillotson reguarly touring other countries, but tragedy hit his family when his 22-year-old daughter Kelli was killed in a car crash in 1991. 2010 saw the release of his single Not Enough, which paid tribute to all uniformed US personnel, and saw him gain recognition for the first time in years.

Written by: Mike Anthony & Paul Kaufman

Producer: Archie Bleyer

Weeks at number 1: 2 (12-25 January)

Births:

Simon Russell Beale – 12 January
Madness singer Suggs – 13 January
Footballer Peter Beardsley – 18 January
Designer Wayne Hemingway – 19 January