41. Tennessee Ernie Ford with Orchestra conducted by Jack Fascinato – Sixteen Tons (1956)

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As 1956 began, it became apparent that the Prime Minister Anthony Eden had plunged in the polls, which seemed surprising following the Conservatives’ solid victory in the election the previous year. Whether Labour had received a bounce off the back of electing their new leader, Hugh Gaitskell, remained to be seen. On 24 January, plans were announced for the building of thousands of new homes in the Barbican area of London, which had been devastated by Luftwaffe bombings in World War Two. In the charts, interest in Dickie Valentine’s Christmas Alphabet understandably died down after the holidays, and the first new number one of the year was Rock Around the Clock, enjoying its second run at the top, before being usurped by a truly unique single.

Sixteen Tons had originally been written and recorded by country singer-songwriter Merle Travis back in 1946. Travis’s songs often spoke of the hardships of workers in the US as he came from a mining family in Kentucky. His brother once wrote him a letter with the line ‘You load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt’. His father was also fond of saying ‘I can’t afford to die. I owe my soul to the company store.’. Back then, miners were paid with credit vouchers that they could use to buy goods at the company store. Travis had the beginnings of a very catchy chorus . He came up with a song whose humour is as black as the dirt in the miners’ fingernails, and Tennessee Ernie Ford was listening. Ten years later, his cover became his second UK number 1 single in less than a year.

Sixteen Tons is so much better than Give Me Your Word. His previous number 1 was a mediocre ballad that anyone could have recorded. It’s hard to think who could perform Sixteen Tons as well as Ford. Featuring a sparse arrangement that features his deep, booming voice and finger-clicking to begin with, followed by a clarinet backing him up, Ford speaks not only for US workers, but any slave to the man. In the gloomy winter months of 1956, no doubt UK miners could find solace in such a song. Although the mining references root the song firmly in the past, anyone who finds themselves slaving away just to get by can identify.  And it helps that it’s as catchy as hell.

Selling millions upon millions, Sixteen Tons became Ford’s signature song, and earned him his own TV show, which ran for five years. Unfortunately, he and his first wife Betty had alcohol problems, and while he managed during his career peak, by the 70s his love of whiskey was taking its toll. Betty died in 1989 but even this couldn’t curtail his drinking. He died of liver failure on 17 October 1991 – 36 years to the day of the first release of Sixteen Tons. However, he left behind the definitive version of a song that truly resonates.

Written by: Merle Travis

Producer: Lee Gillette

Weeks at number 1: 2 (20 January-16 February)

Births:

Sex Pistols Singer John Lydon – 31 January
Actor Philip Franks – 2 January
New Order bassist Peter Hook – 13 February

Deaths:

Author AA Milne – 31 January 

40. Dickie Valentine with Johnny Douglas & His Orchestra – Christmas Alphabet (1955)

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As winter 1955 dawned, Rock Around the Clock-mania had set in, and Bill Haley & His Comets were finally enjoying their stint at number 1. Although this was indeed a seismic event in music, it would be wrong to think that from then on, the UK number ones were constantly rock’n’roll numbers. Teenagers, as they had recently been named, still only represented a portion of the record-buying market. There were still a lot of older folk who were more than happy with the status quo, who liked a nice crooner to sing something warm and cosy, and especially with the dark nights drawing in, etc. Smooth singer Dickie Valentine had enjoyed a very successful year, with his collaboration with the Stargazers, Finger of Suspicion, topping the charts back in January. He was still enjoying fame at the end of the year, and must have been thinking it’d be pretty damn good to top and tail 1955’s charts with two number 1s. He got exactly that by cottoning on to an idea that would serve artists well for years to come – if you want a number 1 at Christmas time, why not do a song about Christmas time?

Christmas Alphabet had been written by Buddy Kaye and Jules Loman the previous year, and was performed by US singing trio The McGuire Sisters. Kaye liked his alphabet songs – he’d written ‘A’ You’re Adorable (The Alphabet Song) back in 1949 for Perry Como, although these days it’s probably best known as featuring in Angela Rippon’s guest spot on a Morecambe & Wise Christmas special. Valentine’s version became the more famous version, and the oldies won out, knocking Haley from his lofty perch and making Christmas Alphabet the first explicitly-festive Christmas number 1.

It’s based around a very simple idea. Valentine just lists seasonal stuff around each letter that makes up the word ‘Christmas’. He runs through it twice, to make sure it’s all sunk in, and that’s it, job done. Some of the rhyming is tenuous though…

‘S is for the Santa who makes every kid his pet,
Be good and he’ll bring you everything in your Christmas alphabet!’

Erm, sorry, what? Santa makes every kid his pet? It’s news to me. Disturbing news, at that.

Although by this stage of my blog I’ve been longing for rock’n’roll to come along and shake things up, I have to confess that I don’t mind Christmas Alphabet. Reason being, I’m a sucker for a Christmas song. Especially older ones. Christmas is of course, a time for feeling all cosy and warm, if you’re lucky enough to have that option. 50s music is often perfect at encapsulating that. So I’m quite surprised, especially considering its historical importance, that Christmas Alphabet seems to have been forgotten about. You never hear it in shops, and it’s never on compilations. John Lewis are unlikely to get someone to make one of those annoying, wet, folky covers and stick it on an advert, either. It might be a slight little number, but it deserves to be remembered.

You could say the same about Valentine himself. Despite being adored at the time, he’s been largely forgotten, and that might be a reason behind Christmas Alphabet‘s obscurity. His popularity waned in the next decade, and he met a tragic end in 1971. Aged only 41, he was driving to a gig in Wales with bandmates at over 90mph in the early hours of the morning, when he lost control of the vehicle on a bend, killing the three of them.

Written by: Buddy Kaye & Jules Loman

Producer: Dick Rowe

Weeks at number 1: 3 (16 December-5 January 1956)

Births:

Poet Carol Ann Duffy – 23 December

39. Bill Haley & His Comets – Rock Around the Clock (1955)

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Finally! After nearly 40 blogs, rock’n’roll has arrived. Although not the first song of the genre (nobody really knows if such a song actually exists, although Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats is often credited as such), and not the best either, Rock Around the Clock is understandably credited as the tune that brought it to a wider audience, and influenced millions, including many youngsters who were taking note and went on to become star musicians themselves. Rock’n’roll was about feeling rather than form, about stripping away such soppy, sappy lyrics over flowery, string-packed instruments. There’s no wonder it helped bring about the dawn of the teenager. Why should young adults grow from children to instant adulthood? Why not have some fun first, before life gets too dull and dreary? Bill may have been way too old to be a teenager, but it didn’t matter. Rock Around the Clock represented the new young energy that would help sweep the country out of the post-war doldrums. It’s just a shame it had taken so long to get there.

The song is believed to have been first written in 1952. Credited to Max C. Freedman and Jimmy De Knight (a pseudonym belonging to James E. Myers), it was first recorded by Sonny Day and His Knights, although apparently they’d always had Haley’s group in mind. They had previously been a country music act known as Bill Haley and the Saddlemen, but changed their name and adopted an early rock’n’roll sound after covering Rocket 88. They had their first hit with Crazy Man, Crazy, which is perhaps the first song of the genre to be shown on television, used on the soundtrack to a play starring James Dean.

They recorded Rock Around the Clock as a last minute B-side to Thirteen Women And Only One Man In Town, a track about the survivors of a nuclear bomb. Luckily for Haley and co, the son of a famous actor had become quite the fan of that B-side. Ten-year-old Peter Ford was Glenn Ford’s son, and Glenn was due to co-star alongside Sidney Poitier in a film about teenage delinquents called Blackboard Jungle. He suggested to director Richard Brooks to stick the song over the opening credits. Swiftly capitalising on the attention, the song was re-released and spent two months at number 1 in the US. It was only a matter of time before their success was repeated in the UK, a nation starving for the return of the good times.

I’m stating the obvious by saying it sounds quaint compared with the songs it later influenced, but there’s more raw energy packed into the opening of Rock Around the Clock than any UK number 1 up to that point. Haley’s voice commands you to take note and to have a good time, and the Comets ably assist, in particular guitarist Danny Cedrone, who couldn’t think of a new solo and simply redid his performance on earlier track Rock This Joint. It didn’t matter, it’s blistering and easily the highlight of the song. In a genre full of tragedy, Cedrone was one of the first victims. He never had chance to enjoy the group’s fame as a month after they had recorded Rock Around the Clock, he fell down some stairs and broke his neck, dying at the age of 33. By the time they became number one, the Comets were a different group to the ones that recorded the song. In addition to Cedrone’s death, three other members left the group over money issues.

Before long, the younger acts they had helped influence suddenly made Bill Haley & His Comets look old and staid by comparison. They had become victims of the youth movement they helped usher in. Stardom lasted longer in Europe, where they enjoyed a few more years of being mobbed by fans. But rock’n’roll came and went many times over the years, with several revivals, and Rock Around the Clock was re-recorded several times and often reissued. Bill Haley died in 1981 of a heart attack, aged 55, but hopefully he knew the impact he had in his heyday was permanent. Rock Around the Clock‘s influence makes it immortal, and it will always be respected for this reason.

During its initial run at number one (Dickie Valentine’s festive Christmas Alphabet took the top spot over the holiday season), several newsworthy events took place. Yet another rail crash happened on 2 December in Barnes, South London, leaving 13 dead and 35 injured. And as well as the changes in music, politics was moving on, too. Long-running Labour leader Clement Attlee resigned on 7 December, recognising that, for all the positive changes he helped bring about after the war, it was time for to pass on the torch if the party was to usurp new Tory Prime Minister Anthony Eden. On 14 December, Hugh Gaitskell, a right-wing politician by many Labour members’ standards, defeated Nye Bevan and was named as the new leader.

Written by: Max C Freedman & Jimmy De Knight

Producer: Milt Gabler

Weeks at number 1: 5 (25 November-15 December 1955, 6-19 January 1956) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE DECADE*

Births:

Singer Billy Idol – 30 November
Politician Philip Hammond – 4 December
The Clash bassist Paul Simonon – 15 December
Presenter Angus Deayton – 6 January
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby – 6 January
Actress Imelda Staunton – 9 January
Singer Paul Young – 17 January 

Deaths:

Ecologist Sir Arthur Tansley – 25 November

38. The Johnston Brothers with Johnny Douglas & His Orchestra – Hernando’s Hideaway (1955)

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Compared to the charts in the previous two years, the number ones of 1955 have been quite diverse, and, well, weird at times. We’ve had standard, dreary early 50s music, ballads, novelty songs, mambo and country music. But when are we going to get to some rock’n’roll? The genre that changed everything, that shook up pop forever? We’re nearly there. Earlier that year, a film called Blackboard Jungle had been released. It featured rock’n’roll as its soundtrack, and by November, the music that featured in the opening credits, a former B-side for Bill Haley & His Comets called Rock Around the Clock, had been gathering momentum. At the same time, Rock Island Line by skiffle singer Lonnie Donegan was also released. A revolution had begun. First though, a song from a musical. I’m about as much of a fan of musicals as I am country, bar a few exceptions. Well, who doesn’t love Grease?

Hernando’s Hideaway, by the Johnston Brothers, knocked Jimmy Young from the top on 11 November. It featured in The Pajama Game, a Broadway show by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, that had moved to the West End earlier that year. Originally performed by Carol Haney, the Johnston Brothers were a male vocal group led by the marvellously named Johnny Johnston. The other members were Alan Dean, Eddie Lester and Denny Vaughan. Like the Walker Brothers, they weren’t actually related. With the musical sparking so much interest, several versions were available, but it was the brothers’ version that ruled the roost on these shores, beating off Johnnie Ray and Archie Bleyer (oo-err).

Set to a very famous tango tune (is this tune stolen from a tango standard, or is this how it became famous?), the song concerns a dodgy-sounding Spanish dive. where lovers can meet in private. Featuring atmospheric castanets and shouts of ‘Ole!’, the Johnston Brothers, at least, don’t attempt comedy Spanish accents, and let’s face it, back then, nobody would have minded if they had. I’m sure it works fine in the context of a musical, but a UK number 1? Not in my eyes, or ears, but maybe I’m getting impatient for what is to come.

The Johnston Brothers had a few more singles before calling it a day, with Johnny Johnston moving into writing advertising jingles. Johnny Johnston Jingles Ltd (again, great name) came up with, among others, the famous ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’ jingle.

Meanwhile, on 20 November the Milton rail crash left 11 dead and 157 injured when a speeding train derailed near Didcot. Another crash left more dead less than a fortnight later.

Written by: Richard Adler & Jerry Ross

Producer: Hugh Mendl

Weeks at number 1: 2 (11 November-24 November)

Births:

Go West singer Peter Cox – 17 November
Architect Amanda Levete – 17 November
Cricketer Ian Botham – 24 November

 

37. Jimmy Young with Bob Sharples & His Music – The Man from Laramie (1955)

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As well as the mambo craze of 1955, Britain was also in love with cowboys and country and western music. Slim Whitman had ruled the roost with Rose Marie for 11 weeks, and the first ‘official’ country song hit number one earlier that year – Tennessee Ernie Ford’s Give Me your Word (although, as I said here, it’s not really a country song, and you could argue that Frankie Laine’s Hey Joe should earn that honour). That summer had seen the release of Western movie The Man from Laramie, starring James Stewart in the title role, as a stranger who causes ructions by working for the rival of a cattle baron. Lester Lee and Ned Washington had written the theme, and Al Martino (forever immortalised as the first UK number one artist with Here in My Heart) performed the US version. Martino only just scraped into the top 20 in the US, but Jimmy Young, riding high off his previous number 1 with Unchained Melody, became the first homegrown artist to have two consecutive number 1s.

 

Thankfully, Young pulls off The Man from Laramie, unlike his weird uneven Unchained Melody. It’s a jolly, rickety old number, and I suppose it’s kind of catchy, but I have no desire to ever hear it again. Basically, the Man is amazing and Young tells us all the ways in which this is true. His voice is better suited to this, but he’s still bellowing, and the worst bit is the cringeworthy way he changes his voice to sing with a layer of smarm:

‘He had a flair for ladies
Now the ladies loved his air of mystery’

Poor Jimmy Young. I am hard on him I suppose, but the fact he’s so fondly remembered for his career as a DJ rather than his music suggests he was right to switch careers. He became a DJ that year on Housewive’s Choice, but sensing the music climate was changing following Elvis’s success, he decided to go full-time, working for Radio Luxembourg and the BBC. In 1967 he was one of the original band of DJs on the fledgling Radio 1. Considered too ‘square’ by some of the station’s bosses, he proved them wrong and his morning show proved very popular. He switched to Radio 2 for the lunchtime show in 1973, and stayed with the station, becoming a national institution, loved for his charm and relaxed style. He was just as nice in person as on the air, by all accounts, and was mourned by millions when he died peacefully in his sleep in November 2016, aged 95.

Written by: Lester Lee & Ned Washington

Producer: Dick Rowe

Weeks at number 1: 4 (14 October-10 November)

Births:

Presenter Timmy Mallett – 18 October

Deaths:

Songwriter Harry Parr-Davies – 14 October

36. Slim Whitman – Rose Marie (1955)

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Remember how I said I seemed to have a problem with pop’s longest-running number 1 singles? Well here’s one now. Influential country-western singer, guitarist and yodeller Slim Whitman’s Rose Marie, which enjoyed a massive 11-week-long reign in 1955. It stood as the longest-running continuous number 1 until 1991, when Bryan Adams overtook with 16 weeks at the top in 1991 with (Everything I Do) I Do It For You.

Born Otis Dewey Whitman Jr in Tampa, Florida, Slim grew up loving the country songs of Jimmie Rodgers. During World War Two he entertained fellow soldiers with his singing. He was so entertaining, his captain blocked a transfer to another ship. This was a massive stroke of luck as everybody on that ship was killed when it sank. He taught himself to play the guitar with his left hand, despite being right-handed, after losing a finger in an accident. This later had an effect on a young Paul McCartney, who was left-handed and decided to retune his guitar just as Whitman had. George Harrison was also taking note, and once said the first person he ever saw with a guitar was Whitman. The instrument was beginning to become fashionable, thanks in part to Slim. Elvis’s future manager, ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker, had heard Whitman on the radio and took him under his wing, and his first single came out in 1948. A young Elvis Presley even supported him.

Whitman had become very popular by 1955, even more famous in the UK than the US. He avoided standard country fare about drinking and having no money, and became known for his more romantic material. His yodelling became his trademark, and it may sound surprising but even Michael Jackson listed him as one of his ten favourite vocal performers. Rose Marie had been released as a single in 1954. It was taken from the 1924 opera of the same name, with music by Rudolf Friml and Herbert Stothart, and the lyrics by Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II. Eventually it toppled Alma Cogan’s Dreamboat, and it reigned supreme from July to October.

When I say I have a problem with Rose Marie, I’m perhaps being harsh. It’s not bad, especially by the standards of the time. At first I was baffled by its success. As I explained when reviewing Tennessee Ernie Ford’s Give Me Your Word, I’m not a country fan. I found myself more amused by Whitman’s voice than anything. I’m not averse to a bit of yodelling either (see Focus or Mr Trololo), but I just could not see the appeal. Unlike most of the other songs so far though, I went back to it a few times, and it has grown on me. Lew Chudd’s production is effectively haunting, and the lyrics pack more depth into them than the usual hits of the time (of course, it was written 30 years earlier, so that explains that). It’s a love song, but Whitman is powerless against his emotions:

‘Oh Rose Marie, I love you
I´m always dreaming of you
No matter what I do, I can’t forget you
Sometimes I wish that I never met you’

Nonetheless, Whitman has given up. He belongs to her now.

‘Of all the queens that ever lived, I choose you
To rule me, my Rose Marie’

So, yes, fair play to Whitman. But… 11 weeks at number 1? A world record for 36 years? Really? Having said that, when you’ve the likes of Jimmy Young as your competition, perhaps it’s understandable (sorry Jimmy). Whitman enjoyed success for the rest of his long life, with peaks and troughs, but always remembered fondly. He died surrounded by his family in 2013 at the age of 90.

There were a few noteworthy events in Britain during the 11-week-run of Rose Marie. The Guinness Book of Records was first published on 27 August. On 4 September, BBC newsreaders were seen on television reading reports for the first time. The two in question were Richard Baker and Kenneth Kendall, who became celebrities themselves in time. Ten days later, Airfix produced their first scale model aircraft kit. 22 September saw the start of ITV, in London only. The first advert shown is for Gibbs’ SR toothpaste. And most important of all, on 26 September, Clarence Birdseye started selling fish fingers in the UK. Mind-blowing.

Written by: Rudolf Friml, Herbert Stothart, Otto Harbach & Oscar Hammerstein II

Producer: Lew Chudd

Weeks at number 1: 11 (29 July-13 October)

Births:

Actress Gillian Taylforth – 14 August
The Jam bassist Bruce Foxton – 1 September
Sex Pistols guitarist  Steve Jones – 3 September
Children’s television presenter Janet Ellis – 16 September
Actor David Haig – 20 September
Human League singer Phil Oakey – 2 October
Athlete Steve Ovett – 9 October 

Deaths:

Politician Leo Amery – 16 September 

35. Alma Cogan with Vocal Group & Orchestra by Frank Cordell – Dreamboat (1955)

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On 17 July, racing driver Stirling Moss, dubbed ‘the greatest driver never to win the World Championship’, became the first English winner of the British Grand Prix at Aintree. Two days earlier, Alma Angela Cohen, better known as Alma Cogan, scored her first and only number 1 with the poppy Dreamboat, written by Jack Hoffman.

Born of Russian-Romanian Jewish descent, Cogan had been a star for a few years by this point. When she was 14, she had been recommended for a variety show by none other than ‘Forces Sweetheart’ Vera Lynn. Two years later, formidable band leader Ted Heath told her to come back and try and work with him when she was older. He later said it was one of the biggest mistakes of his life. She became a BBC radio regular, and earned the nickname the ‘girl with the giggle in her voice’. after breaking down into laughter while recording If I Had a Golden Umbrella in 1953. With her sweet timbre, she was compared to Doris Day, particularly on her first hit, Bell Bottom Blues, in 1954. She charted 18 times in the 50s, but Dreamboat was her biggest tune.

Clocking in at under two minutes, Dreamboat is an average piece of 1950s pop fare. A bit too cutesy-wutesy and cheesy for its own good, but must have been fun at the time. The lyrics are confusing. It’s a nautical-themed love song (!), in which she seems to be singing about one person, and how devoted she is to him, how wonderful he is etc. But the first lines are:

‘You dreamboats, you lovable dreamboats
The kisses you gave me set my dreams afloat’

Make your mind up, Alma! The strangest lyric is:

‘I would sail the seven seas with you
Even if you told me to go and paddle my own canoe’

This creates the image of Alma Cogan paddling frantically behind her dreamboat. Or has she got several on the go? Anyway, by the time you’ve pondered all this, this harmless bit of fluff is over. And that was fine with pop fans of the day. Cogan won the New Musical Express‘s Outstanding British Female Singer award four times between 1956 and 1960. Her star waned as the new decade dawned, but she branched out and remained popular due to her starring role as Nancy in the musical Oliver!, plus regular appearances on television and radio.

Her dwindling chart action didn’t prevent Cogan from throwing hip showbiz parties at her widowed mother’s flat in Kensington. Regularly seen attending were the likes of Princess Margaret, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Bruce Forsyth and Roger Moore. She also become closely lined to the Beatles. Despite the teenage John bullying her at college, according to Lennon’s ex-wife Cynthia, they had a romance after meeting on Ready Steady Go! in 1964, but it was kept out of the public eye. Allegedly, Paul McCartney first played the melody of Yesterday on her piano. So it seems a shame the Fab Four couldn’t work their magic and help Cogan’s music career.

In 1966, she collapsed several times while on tour, citing stomach problems. tragically, Alma Cogan died of ovarian cancer on 24 October. She was only 34.

Written by: Jack Hoffman

Producer: Wally Ridley

Weeks at number 1: 2 (15-28 July)

Deaths:

Footballer Billy McCandless – 18 July

34. Jimmy Young with Bob Sharples & His Music – Unchained Melody (1955)

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Summer 1955 brought a heatwave to many parts of the country, particularly Yorkshire, a modern record of low unemployment (barely 1% of the workforce), and three aircraft accidents in one day. On 30 June, a Gloster Meteor jet fighter crashed on takeoff in Kent, killing all crew members and two fruit-pickers. Later that day, two Hawker Sea Hawk jets crash into the North Sea in two separate incidents, leaving one pilot dead.

It was also the summer of Unchained Melody. Written for a little-known prison movie called Unchained, also released that year, the music came from Alex North, and lyrics were by Hy Zaret. The film centred on a prisoner deciding whether to go on the run or finish his sentence and live in peace with his family. Zaret only agreed to write the lyrics if he could keep out the film’s name, which might have helped with its longevity, ultimately. As we all know, the song is now a standard, and one of the most covered in history, with well over a thousand recorded versions in various languages. In the summer of 1955 alone, four versions existed in the chart at one time – by Al Hibbler, Les Baxter, Liberace and future Radio 2 DJ, Jimmy Young.

Jimmy Young had been an electrician and physical training instructor for the RAF before becoming a singer in 1950. His cover of Nat ‘King’ Cole’s Too Young was a big sheet music seller in 1951, but it was 1955 that proved his most successful year recording music, with two number 1s to his name.

Ah, Jimmy, this is awkward. I feel bad speaking ill of the (fairly) recently deceased, especially when by all accounts he was a radio legend and a thoroughly nice person to boot. However, his version of Unchained Melody is a strange mess. It makes Robson and Jerome sound like the Righteous Brothers. Whilst I admit I’m not much of a personal fan of crooners and opera-style singers like Al Martino and David Whitfield, I can appreciate the slickness of the production of their hits and their ability to sing. Young’s Unchained Melody sounds amateurish, with strings and guitar backing that seems ill-matched and uneven, and poor Young is either putting no effort in or bellowing, as if the producer is prodding him every now and then to display some passion. In spite of all this, record buyers loved it for some reason, and he enjoyed three weeks at the top that summer.

On 13 July, Ruth Ellis became the last woman to be hanged in the UK before the death penalty was abolished. She had shot dead her lover, racing driver David Blakely on Easter Sunday (10 April).

Written by: Alex North & Hy Zaret 

Producer: Dick Rowea

Weeks at number 1: 3 (24 June-14 July)

Births:

The Clash guitarist Mick Jones – 26 June

Deaths

Criminal Ruth Ellis – 13 July

33. Eddie Calvert – Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White (1955)

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On 27 May 1955, as predicted by the polls, the Conservatives won the General Election, with their new leader Anthony Eden back in power with a majority of 31 seats, up 17 from Winston Churchill’s success four years previous. Labour’s infighting between the left and right (sound familiar) had caused them substantial losses. Their leader, Clement Atlee, who had achieved so much after World War Two, was unlikely to make it to a sixth general election in a row, whenever that might be.

On the same day, Tony Bennett’s Stranger in Paradise was overtaken to number 1 by Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, but it wasn’t Perez ‘Prado’s version of Louiguy’s mambo tune, which had topped the charts only a few weeks previously. This was a cover by popular British trumpeter Eddie Calvert, also known as the ‘Man with the Golden Trumpet’. Calvert was a big star at the time, and had been number 1 with Oh Mein Papa in 1954. He was also one of the writers of Vera Lynn’s only chart-topper, My Son, My Son, later that same year. Back then it was perfectly normal for several versions of the same song to be in the charts at the same time. See David Whitfield and Frankie Laine‘s Answer Me, for instance, which were even both number 1 at the same time for one week.

There’s no denying Eddie Calvert’s ability on his version, but it’s inferior to Prado’s. It’s missing the authenticity of the King of Mambo, and seems a little too mannered. It reminds me of the Strictly Come Dancing band’s covers of songs. The passion has been sucked out. But at the same time, Calvert actually goes off script more than Billy Regis does on Prado’s version, and does some nice little improvised playing in the song’s latter half, so it’s a decent cover. It’s certainly aged better than Oh Mein Papa.

Calvert, like many other 50s stars we’ve already seen, suffered when rock’n’roll and later the Beatles changed the musical landscape. He left the country in 1968, angry at the amount of tax he was paying under Harold Wilson’s Labour government, and moved to Johannesburg. There he remained until he died in 1978 of a heart attack, aged only 56.

Written by: Louiguy

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 4 (27 May-24 June)

Births:

The Clash drummer Topper Headon – 30 May
Author Val McDermid – 4 June
World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee – 8 June
Footballer Alan Hansen – 13 June
Comedian Paul O’Grady – 14 June

Deaths:

Radium therapist Jacob Moritz Blumberg – 14 June

32. Tony Bennett with Percy Faith & His Orchestra and Chorus – Stranger in Paradise (1955)

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As soon as he replaced Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden sought to establish his presence in Number 10 by immediately announcing a General Election for 26 May. For the first time in an election, television proved to take a prominent role in campaigning for Eden’s Conservatives and Clement Atlee’s Labour. As the polls closed, all the signs pointed toward Eden having made a very shrewd move.

On the day of the election, Tony Bennett’s fortnight at number 1 with Stranger in Paradise was coming to an end. One of many versions in the chart that year of Robert Wright and George Forrest’s song from the 1953 musical Kismet, which had only just arrived in the UK, it marked the start of Bennett’s international success.

Anthony Dominick Benedetto knew he was blessed with a good voice, and had been a singing waiter before being drafted into the US army towards the end of World War Two. He later described his time in the front line as a ‘front-row seat in hell’. Returning to his previous career after the war, singer Pearl Bailey invited him to be her warm-up in 1949. She had invited Bob Hope to watch, and he was so impressed he took his on the road with him. And that was the start of Tony Bennett, one of our last living original swingers.

Tony Bennett’s voice is the best thing about this song. It’s yet another smooth ballad, smothered with the usual arrangement, but he sings his heart out and it’s plain to see why he became so famous. However, the lyrics are also noteworthy. It’s another love song, but we’re a step above the usual fare from these times. For example:

‘I saw her face
And I ascended
Out of the common place
Into the rarest
Somewhere in space
I hang suspended
Until I know
There’s a chance that she cares’

Despite being (to date) his only UK chart-topper, the best was yet to come for Bennett, but he faced several peaks and troughs. He survived the rock’n’roll boom that soon followed, and hit big again in 1962 with his version of I Left My Heart in San Fransisco. Even Sinatra said he was the best singer in the world, but the boom of the Beatles saw Bennett feeling out of place once more, and he faced trying times until he nearly died of a cocaine overdose in 1979. In the 1990s though, he enjoyed a big revival. The illness and eventual death of Sinatra in 1998 perhaps made the world realise the swingers should be enjoyed while they were still around.  Bennett was all over television at the time. His natural charm was perfect for telling tall tales of his career, and that voice was still golden.

Always a supporter of civil rights, and with opinions on the Iraq War and apartheid that have later proven him to be on the right side of history, he’s that rare commodity in music, namely a nice guy AND one hell of a talent. He’s now 91 and still recording and performing, and long may he do so.

Tony Bennett is also the earliest UK number 1 act that I have ever seen live. Performing at a very muddy and wet Glastonbury Festival on Sunday 28 June, 1998, my friends and I sat on bin bags near our tents up on the hill by the Pyramid Stage. We probably began watching him with a sense of ironic detachment, as it certainly wasn’t the sort of music we were into. However, he won us over. Though it’s nearly 20 years ago, I remember we danced, we smiled, and the sun even shone for one of the few times that entire weekend. One of the better ‘legend’ slots in the festival’s history.

Written by: Robert Wright & George Forrest 

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 2 (13-26 May)

Births:

Singer Hazel O’Connor – 16 May
Presenter Dale Winton – 22 May