79. Jane Morgan – The Day the Rains Came (1959)

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The new year began with no change at the top for some time, as Conway Twitty’s It’s Only Make Believe kept its grip at number 1. This finally changed on 23 January when US singer Jane Morgan toppled him with her version of The Day When the Rains Came. This was a cover of a French song, Le Jour où la Pluie Viendra, written by lyricist Pierre Delanoë and singer and composer Gilbert Bécaud. The duo were responsible for some of France’s biggest hits of the time, but this was their first to be translated into English and become well-known. The Day When the Rains Came’s lyrics came from Carl Sigman, who by now had a formidable reputation for adapting music from overseas and turning them into UK hits (see Answer Me and It’s All in the Game, number 1s in 1953 and 1958 respectively). Jane Morgan was a beautiful bilingual singer who performed in English and French, and was the perfect performer for this new version. She even threw in the French version on the B-side.

Morgan was born Florence Catherine Currier in 1942 in Newton, Massachusetts. Born into a talented musical family, at the age of five she was taking piano lessons and singing. Her mother taught her Italian and French. As she grew older she was accepted into New York’s prestigious Juilliard School of Music, and intended to become an opera singer. To pay her way she began singing in nightclubs. Orchestra leader Art Mooney hired her, and came up with her stage name Jane Morgan from two of his other singers, Janie Ford and Marian Morgan. Morgan’s knowledge of French came in handy when bandleader Bernard Hilda hired her to perform two shows a night at his new club near the Eiffel Tower in 1948. She began with US songs but quickly took to performing French songs as her language skills improved, and soon the audiences were flocking to her gigs. By 1949 she had her own television show in France, and later she moved between Europe, Canada and back to her own country, in the hope of becoming more famous, but agents feared her skills were too specialised. Eventually she was signed to the fledgling Kapp Records and released her debut album, appropriately named The American Girl from Paris. Her cover of Fascination was released in 1957 and remained in the charts for over six months, and it became her signature song.

The Day When the Rains Came was one of those throwbacks to the pop sound of several years previous. My initial thoughts were of how similar it sounds to previous number 1, The Garden of Eden, by Frankie Vaughan, which sounded old-fashioned when it hit the top in 1957. This isn’t a criticism, as that was a serviceable enough tune and so is this. Usually in love songs, rain is used as a metaphor for loss, but Sigman’s lyrics take a different approach, comparing the beauty of rainfall bringing plants to life with the wonder of a developing romance:

‘The day that the rains came down
Buds were born, love was born
As the young buds will grow
So our young love will grow
Love, sweet love’

Morgan’s vocals are worthy enough – she hits all the right notes, but ultimately there’s nothing about the song, lyrics or performance to lift this above average. January has often historically been a quiet month for new number 1s after the madness of Christmas – it seems The Day When the Rains Came may be an early example of this phenomenon. Nonetheless it brightened up that last week of the first month of 1959, in which the most dense fog to hit the country in seven years caused havoc.

Morgan carried on releasing music into the 1970s, and appeared in numerous TV shows over the years. She has also performed for five US presidents –  John F Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George W. Bush. Unlike many stars of the time she survives to this day, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2011.

Written by: Pierre Delanoë & Gilbert Bécaud/Carl Sigman (English lyrics)

Producer: Vic Schoen

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

78. Conway Twitty – It’s Only Make Believe (1958)

On Christmas Eve 1958, the south of England was covered by a blanket of thick fog. BOAC Bristol Brittania 312 had left Heathrow on a test flight. After completion, the crew requested to land at Hurn Airport instead, probably due to the poor conditions. Three minutes later, the plane hit a ploughed field, bringing down telephone lines and trees. All seven passengers were killed, and two of the five crew also died.

The Christmas number 1 that year was Conway Twitty’s It’s Only Make Believe. Much like Andy Williams, Twitty was somewhat of an Elvis copyist to begin with, before developing his own style. Yet sounding like Elvis is what garnered him a number 1 single (Butterfly by Andy Williams was nothing like his later work but his sole number 1). Twitty had been born Harold Lloyd Jenkins in 1933 in Coahoma County, Mississippi. The family moved to Helena Arkansas when he was ten years old, where he formed his first group, the Phillips County Ramblers. He later served in the Far East where his new group, the Cimmerons, would entertain his fellow troops. After his return, he heard Presley’s Mystery Train and became determined to follow in his footsteps, travelling to Sun Studios in the process.

Depending on which story you believe, he either took the name Conway Twitty from a map (Conway is in Arkansas and Twitty is in Texas), or he stole it from a man who his manager served with in the army, upon his suggestion. He switched from Sun Records to MGM Records and began releasing singles. It’s Only Make Believe had been quickly written by Twitty and his drummer Jack Nance between sets at the Flamingo Lounge in Hamilton. Taking a whole year to climb the charts, it reached number 1 in the US and and subsequently 21 other countries. To begin with, some listeners assumed the performer was Elvis, recording under a pseudonym, the vocal was so similar.

I didn’t cover It’s Only Make Believe during my blog on my mammoth listen to every Christmas number 1, here, but I was impressed by the intensity of the performance, and even more so since then. As the song began, I was ready to dismiss it as a sub-standard Elvis ballad rip-off like Pat Boone’s I’ll Be Home. However, as Twitty proclaims his wish that his lover felt as strongly as he did, he moves out of the croon and really lets rip, and it’s a great vocal performance. He sounds genuinely pained by the time he reaches the song’s title at the end of each verse. I still think it’s a shame Lord Rockingham’s XI’s Hoots Mon didn’t stay at number 1 for another week to become the festive chart-topper, though.

Twitty failed to set the charts alight again for some time, until he decided to move from rock’n’roll to country music in 1965. Country radio stations were sceptical at first, but Twitty seemed genuine, and his career took off once more. His biggest country hit became Hello Darlin’ in 1970, but he maintained his country chart success until 1990, and achieved an incredible 55 number 1s in total. On 4 June 1993 he collapsed on stage in Missouri and subsequently died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm the following day. He was 59.

1958’s number 1 singles definitely showed rock’n’roll taking control of the record-buying market. A number of future classics hit the top, and the easy listening ballads largely took a back seat. Unfortunately, so did the female artists, as once again, with the exception of Connie Francis, the top of the charts was dominated by men.

It’s Only Make Believe stayed at number 1 well into 1959. During that time, Tyne Tees Television, the ITV franchise for the north east, began transmission on 15 January, and a week later, racing driver Mike Hawthorn died after his car hit a tree on the A3.

Written by: Jack Nance & Conway Twitty

Producer: Jim Vinneau

Weeks at number 1: 5 (19 December 1958-22 January 1959)

Births:

Singer Sade Adu – 16 January 

Deaths

Racing driver Mike Hawthorn – 22 January

77. Lord Rockingham’s XI – Hoots Mon (1958)

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On 13 September 1958, Oh Boy!, the first all-music show for teenagers began on ITV. Producer Jack Good had previously worked on the BBC’s Six-Five Special, but had wanted to make it music-only. When the BBC declined, he resigned. The show featured top stars and future hit-makers, including Cliff Richard, Shirley Bassey, Conway Twitty and Billy Fury. The show’s house-band were Lord Rockingham’s XI, a group of session musicians led by Harry Robinson, who had also worked on Six-Five Special. Other notable members included Benny Green on saxophone (he later became a Radio 2 presenter) and Hammond organ player Cherry Rainer.

In addition to backing artists on the show, they began recording novelty instrumentals for Decca. First single Fried Onions didn’t chart, but Robinson was on to a winner when he decided they should record a jazz-rock’n’roll hybrid version of traditional Scottish song The Hundred Pipers. The lyrics were ditched and replaced with four terrible over-the-top Scottish dialect outbursts, namely, ‘Och aye’, ‘Hoots mon’, ‘There’s a moose loose aboot this hoose’ and ‘It’s a braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht’. As Robinson was Scottish he decided he should be the one to perform these, risking inciting hatred from his fellow countrymen. All in all, it sounds like a terrible idea, doesn’t it?

It wasn’t. Hoots Mon is an excellent novelty single and I love the fact something like this was once able to make it number 1. The band are having a whale of a time, and it’s infectious, you really can’t help but enjoy it too. It’s also surprisingly heavy sounding for its time. Apparently, the engineer wasn’t happy with the bass and wanted the band to re-record it. Record buyers with lightweight needles even complained that the vinyl would jump, and it became banned in some factories as workers couldn’t stand the noise. It would have made a great Christmas number 1 and nearly was, but Conway Twitty’s It’s Only Make Believe overtook it after three weeks at the top.

Oh Boy! was replaced in 1959 by another Good project, Boy Meets Girls. Lord Rockingham’s XI hadn’t been able to maintain their fame, and also had to settle out of court with the real Lord Rockingham (hang on, there’s a real Lord Rockingham?), so they disbanded at the same time. Robinson moved into arranging and conducting songs for musicals, and subsequently became a noteworthy string arranger for several folk artists of the late 1960s. In particular, his work on Nick Drake’s River Man is sublime and sometimes I think it might be the best use of strings I’ve ever heard in a ‘pop’ song.

I first heard Hoots Mon, like lots of 50s and 60s songs, in an advert. Maynard’s Wine Gums used it in 1993 and rewrote the most famous line, coming up with ‘There’s juice loose aboot this hoose’. A mad caricature of a Scotsman manically chews sweets while items around the house come to life courtesy of Aardman Animations (incidentally, this very track was number 1 when Nick Park was born. Clearly, it was meant to be). If only all adverts were as ridiculous and fun as this. I hope Robinson enjoyed this remake. Sadly he passed away in 1996.

One of my favourite groups of all time, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, reformed in 2006 for an amazing anniversary gig at the London Astoria. One of the live highlights of my life, they decided to carry on for a while, and released an album, Pour l’amour des Chiens in 2007. It was patchy, but one of the highlights was Hawkeye the Gnu (get it?) a reworked version of Hoots Mon, featuring vocals from Stephen Fry. An inspired decision, and I’m only surprised the band never recorded it in their original incarnation.

While Hoots Mon was riding high, The British Electronic Computer Exhibition, the world’s first of its kind, was held at Earl’s Court in London. It ran from 28 November to 4 December. On 30 November, viewers of Armchair Theatre were left puzzled when actor Gareth Jones disappeared inbetween scenes during the play Underground. The drama was broadcast live, and Jones had suffered a fatal heart attack. Bizarrely, his character was supposed to suffer one later in the programme. The rest of the cast were forced to improvise an ending, which I imagine was a bit of a mess. As winter began, the country’s first motorway, the Preston Bypass, was opened by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan on 5 December.

Written and produced by: Harry Robinson 

Weeks at number 1: 3 (28 November-18 December)

Births:

Animator Nick Park – 6 December

Deaths:

Actor Gareth Jones – 30 November