81. Shirley Bassey with Wally Stott & His Orchestra – As I Love You (1959)

Shirley Bassey became the first Welsh artist to have a UK number 1 when As I Love You knocked Elvis Presley from the top. Born on 8 January 1937 in the large multi-ethnic area of Tiger Bay, Cardiff, Shirley Veronica Bassey’s father was Nigerian and her mother was English. Bassey grew up in a nearby community – the fantastically named Splott. She was equipped with that famously loud singing voice (more on that later) before she had even hit her teens, but it made her teachers and fellow students feel uncomfortable and she was often being told to, in her words, ‘shut up’. She left school at 14 to work in a steel factory while singing in pubs and clubs on evenings and at the weekend.

Her pre-fame life was tough and eventful, with the whole family struggling to afford to eat. Bassey was only in her teens when she began performing, but dirty old men in the crowd would be shouting at her to get her clothes off. She became pregnant with her first child at 16 but never revealed the name of the father.

In 1955 while appearing in the West End, she was offered a record deal with Philips. Her first single, Burn My Candle, was banned by the BBC in 1956 for its slightly saucy lyrics. Bassey had her first hit with her rendition of The Banana Boat Song the following year. In mid-1958 she recorded both As I Love You and Kiss Me, Honey Honey, Kiss Me, with both reaching the top three simultaneously.

So, Bassey’s voice. I have to confess I am not a fan. I think you either love her powerful bellow or hate it, and I’m the latter. This made me reticent to try As I Love You, but fortunately, the shouting is kept to a minimum.

Jay Livingston and Ray Evans’ (the duo behind Doris Day’s Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)) tune is a chirpy love song, and it sounds ahead of its time. It’s hardly innovative, but to me it’s comparable to the type of tune Bacharach and David were writing in the 60s, complete with some catchy brass sounds in the chorus. It’s not as impressive though, and rather throwaway.

Shirley Bassey was the last female artist to have a number 1 in the 50s, and it was a full two years before a woman scale such heights again. Bassey would reach the top again in 1961, too, with Reach for the Stars/Climb Ev’ry Mountain.

Written by: Jay Livingston & Ray Evans

Producer: Johnny Franz

Weeks at number 1: 4 (20 February-19 March)

Births:

Field hockey player Richard Dodds – 23 February
Philosopher Simon Critchley – 27 February
Zoologist Mark Carwardine – 9 March
Poet Ben Okri – 15 March 

Deaths:

Scholar Kathleen Freeman – 21 February

Meanwhile…

23 February: As the winter drew to a close, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan visited the USSR to meet with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev. Macmillan was the first British leader since Sir Winston Churchill during World War Two to visit the country. At the time there had been a slight thaw in the Cold War. The atmosphere at the meeting was cordial, and the two discussed expanding cultural ties, but a few days later, the famously volatile Khruschev snubbed Macmillan and his entourage.

69. Perry Como with Mitchell Ayres’ Orchestra and the Ray Charles Singers – Magic Moments (1958)

Michael Holliday’s The Story of My Life, a wistful easy listening ditty written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David in which a man looks back at his life with his loved one, was replaced at the top of the charts by – another wistful easy listening ditty written by Bacharach and David in which a man looks back at his life with his loved one. They both even contained whistling.

Magic Moments, sung by mega-crooner Perry Como, is regarded as a classic of the genre, shot Bacharach and David into the big time as songwriters and reigned at number 1 for a full two months.

Perry Como had already had a number 1 here back in 1953 with the largely forgettable Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes. Since then he had charted highly in the UK with Wanted and Idle Gossip in 1954 and Hot Dog (Dog Ziggity Boom) in 1956, and by then he had begun donning his trademark cardigans for The Perry Como Show in the US. In 1956, a poll in Life magazine revealed he was considered to be the ideal husband material among young women. The ideal choice to perform a song as sweet and cosy as Magic Moments, then.

It’s hard to review Magic Moments seriously, and it’s an easy target for spoofing and poking fun at now, but at the time it must have come as a blessed relief to older record buyers and conservative types who may have been put off by all the rock’n’roll that had invaded the charts. Serene Dominic said this in his 2003 book, Burt Bacharach, Song by Song:

‘Combined with the quizzical bassoon, the whistling and the ghastly white shadings of the Ray Charles Singers, these distant recollections must seem like occurrences on another planet to later generations.’

It seems a tad harsh to me but I take the point. However, as far as this type of song goes, and compared to some of the others I’ve put myself through for this blog, I can’t help but like it. A bit. I take exception to this lyric, though:

‘I’ll never forget the moment we kissed the night of the hay ride
The way that we hugged to try to keep warm while takin’ a sleigh ride’

You can’t rhyme ‘ride’ with ‘ride’! And this is from two of the greatest songwriters of all time!

To me, Magic Moments means former Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band hero Neil Innes in the 1980s adverts for Quality Street, lampooning Como, or brings to mind Terry Gilliam’s screen version of Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, when Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) arrives at a Vegas hotel full of police with a large arsenal of drugs in his possession. But in 1958, it boosted Como’s image and success even further.

Whether it was music, film, radio or TV, he won many plaudits, including several Emmys and Grammys. Like most singers of his ilk, his career suffered in the 60s, but he enjoyed a revival of sorts in the 70s, with It’s Impossible in 1970 and And I Love You So and For the Good Times in 1973 all reaching the top 10 in the UK.

Como continued to perform for years after. The world mourned when he died in his sleep on 12 May 2001, just six days short of his 89th birthday.

Written by: Burt Bacharach & Hal David

Producer: Joe Weisman

Weeks at number 1: 8 (28 February-24 April)

Births:

Singer Nik Kershaw – 1 March
Actress Miranda Richardson – 3 March
Singer Andy Gibb – 5 March –
Singer Gary Numan – 8 March
Writer and composer Neil Brand – 18 March
Actor Gary Oldman – 21 March
Echo & the Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant – 12 April
Actor Peter Capaldi – 14 April
Musician Benjamin Zephaniah – 15 April

Deaths:

Cricketer Phil Mead – 26 March
Footballer Billy Meredith – 19 April

Meanwhile…

2 March: A British team led by Sir Vivian Fuchs completed the first ever crossing of the Antarctic, using caterpillar tractors and dogsled teams over 99 days.

19 March: Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh officially opened the London Planetarium, the first of its kind in Britain.

23 March: Work began on the M1, the first full-length motorway in the country.

1 April: The BBC Radiophonic Workshop, later responsible for such magic as the Doctor Who theme tune in 1963, was first created.

4 April: The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, better known now as CND, began its first protest march, from Hyde Park, London, to Aldermarston in Berkshire.

68. Michael Holliday – The Story of My Life (1958)

maxresdefault.jpg

Jailhouse Rock ran out of steam after three weeks at the top, and after two barnstormers, the number 1 spot was taken by this pleasant easy listening ditty – the first bestseller from the legendary partnership of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, whose prolific work-rate saw them create many pop classics of the 1950s and particularly the 60s.

Bacharach had spent his teenage years enthralled with jazz, and went on to study music. After a tour of duty he became Vic Damone’s (who had a number 1 later in 1958 with On the Street Where You Live) pianist and conductor. Bacharach later worked with Marlene Dietrich, before meeting lyricist and former journalist Hal David at the Brill Building. US country star Marty Robbins initially recorded The Story of My Life in 1957, but it was Michael Holliday’s cover that became famous on these shores.

Holliday was born Norman Alexander Milne in Liverpool on 26 November 1924. His music career began when he won a local talent contest. He joined the navy and won another contest, this time in New York, inspiring him to turn professional. Before leaving the navy, however, he found time to smuggle obscure jazz records back home, where they were sold by Elvis Costello’s mother.

Holliday made his TV debut in the summer of 1955, and he soon found himself with a record deal, and with his screen idol looks and voice comparable to Bing Crosby, he enjoyed moderate success. In 1956 he reached the top 20 for the first time with his third single Nothin’ To Do. He didn’t chart with any singles in 1957, but then came this, his first of two number 1s.

I’ve always admired Bacharach and David’s work, and even though a lot of easy listening music leaves me cold, there’s usually enough in their songs to keep me interested. The Story of My Life is slushy and somewhat of a throwback to earlier number 1s, but I can’t help but enjoy the whistling and sentimental lyrics. And Holliday performs it well. A pretty good start for the duo, with another chart-topper to follow straight after.

As for Holliday, his second number 1, Starry Eyed, was the first chart-topper of the 60s.

Written by: Burt Bacharach & Hal David

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 2 (14-27 February)

Births:

Actor James Wilby – 20 February 

Deaths:

Footballer Duncan Edwards – 21 February

Meanwhile…

21 February: Another of Busby’s Babes died as a result of the Munich Air Disaster. Manchester United’s Duncan Edwards was only 21, and was considered by many to be the finest footballer in England. Six days later, the 23rd and final victim was claimed when co-pilot Kenneth Rayment died in hospital.