139. Frank Ifield – I Remember You (1962)

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The brightest new star in 1962 was English-born Australian easy listening and country singer Frank Ifield. He was famous for incorporating yodelling into his songs, and was the last pre-Beatles chart sensation, scoring four number 1s in 62 and 63, and becoming the first UK-based performer to score three number 1s in a row. His first chart-topper, I Remember You, was also 62’s biggest-selling single, in a year of huge-sellers. By the middle of the decade he had already been largely forgotten.

Ifield was born in 1937 in Coundon, Warwickshire. His parents were Australian, and his father had created the Ifield pump, a device used in fuel systems for jet aircraft. In the mid-1940s they emigrated to rural Dural (now there’s a rhyme), near Sydney. Young Frank became a fan of country music, in particular Hank Snow, who was nicknamed the Yodelling Ranger. In his teens he decided to drop out of school to concentrate on a full-time singing career, and he quickly became popular through radio appearances. He signed to EMI Australia in 1953 and had a few hits, and then progressed to presenting his own television show, Campfire Favourites. With Australia sort-of conquered, he returned to the UK in 1959, and hit the top 30 the following year with Lucky Star (not the Madonna song).

Ifield released more singles, but Lucky Star was beginning to look like a one-off success, until I Remember You became massive. It dated back to 1941, with music by victor Shertzinger and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, who had written 1961’s Christmas number 1 Moon River. The original singer was Dorothy Lamour in the 1942 musical The Fleet’s In, which Schertzinger directed. The lyrics apparently spoke of Mercer’s love for Judy Garland, and he gave it to her the day after she married David Rose, which adds a bittersweet edge to the happy-go-lucky Ifield version.

So why did Ifield become so successful? I’m afraid this is another one of those mysteries lost in the midst of time.Perhaps Brits just used to like a bit of yodelling. After all, Slim Whitman’s Rose Marie was both yodel-packed and enjoyed 11 weeks at the top in 1955. I Remember You is actually quite charming in an endearingly quaint way. Unlike Britain’s other superstar Cliff, who’s songs are often plain dull, Ifield relishes his chance to shine, and I’m a sucker for a harmonica – as were the Fab Four – Lennon later claimed this song was the inspiration for including one on their early tracks. But if the Beatles hadn’t happened, is this really the direction music would have gone in?

I Remember You got settled in nicely at number 1 and didn’t budge for seven weeks. During that time, Jamaica became independent on 6 August, with Trinidad and Tobago close behind on the 31st. 17 August was the release date for the Tornados’ innovative future number 1 Telstar. The following day, the Beatles played their first gig with the line-up that changed everything. Pete Best had been usurped and Ringo Starr was now behind the drums. Five days later, Lennon married Cynthia Powell at a register office in Mount Pleasant, Liverpool. 1 September saw Channel Television, the ITV franchise for the Channel Islands, go on air; and the next day, Glasgow’s trams ran for the last time, leaving Blackpool tramway the only one left in Britain.

Written by: Victor Scherzinger & Johnny Mercer

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 7 (26 July-12 September) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Journalist John Micklethwait – 11 August 
Actress Sophie Aldred – 20 August 
Actor Peter Wingfield – 5 September

Deaths:

Poet Richard Aldington – 27 July

138. Ray Charles – I Can’t Stop Loving You (1962)

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12 July: Blues singer Long John Baldry performs at London’s Marquee Club. His support act for the night are performing their first gig. The Rollin’ Stones consisted of Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ian Stewart and Dick Taylor. They would become the Rolling Stones shortly after, but it would be nearly another year before the first classic line-up fell into place. The following day, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan sacked a third of his cabinet. Panicking after poor polling results and Liberal gains in by-elections, the speed and scale of the dismissals saw the press refer to it as the Night of the Long Knives, which was the name of a purge in 1934 Nazi Germany.

That same week, soul pioneer Ray Charles achieved his only solo number 1 single with his cover of singer-songwriter Don Gibson’s I Can’t Stop Loving You. He had already brought jazz, gospel and blues sounds into soul, and here was a successful attempt to draw on elements of country and develop the genre further. The original version had been a hit for Gibson in 1958.

Born into poverty in Greenville, Florida in September 1930, Ray Charles Robinson was blind by the age of seven due to glaucoma, but it didn’t prevent him studying composition and learning to play various instruments, including of course, the piano, at the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind. By the time he became a teenager, both his parents had died, and he used his savings to move to Seattle in 1947, where he performed in two different bands, and adopted his trademark sunglasses. Back then however he modelled himself on Nat ‘King’ Cole, and his early recordings were fair facsimiles of his softer sound. It wasn’t until he joined Atlantic Records in 1952 that he began experimenting with mixing genres, and he began to score his first R&B hits, including Mess Around and the mighty I Got a Woman. In 1959 he reached his pinnacle for the label when he released perhaps his finest song. What’d I Say combined Latin rhythms with soul to create a racy classic that made him a pop star.

By 1962, Charles had moved to ABC-Paramount Records due to a contract that offered him greater artistic freedom. He had further pop hits, including Georgia on My Mind and Hit the Road Jack, but following a near-death experience in a plane, he decided to try something new. Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music was the result, and is considered by many his finest album.  I Can’t Stop Loving You became its first single after a version by Tab Hunter, who had previously hit number 1 with Young Love, enraged Charles. ABC-Paramount quickly edited the album version down and had a hit on their hands.

My ears were crying out for something a bit more mature after Come Outside, but I must confess to being disappointed by this. It could be down to my lack of appreciation for most country music, but I don’t feel I Can’t Stop Loving You hits the mark like his aforementioned hits. Charles is in fine voice as always, his weathered tones belying the fact he was only 31 when he recorded it, but the backing vocals from the Randy Van Horne Singers are shrill and date the production. The album version is also overlong, but at least the single edit shaves off some of the excess fat. It’s another number 1 that is perhaps easy to respect, less easy to enjoy, these days. But this single did open the doors to the further blurring of boundaries. They didn’t call him ‘the Genius’ for nothing.

And to think he managed to do all this while nursing a heroin addiction! However, in 1965 he was arrested for possession for a third time, and went into rehab. This time he kicked it for good, even though two subsequent hits sound like statements of defiance – I Don’t Need No Doctor and Let’s Go Get Stoned. By the 1970s his star was on the wane. 1980 saw a cameo in much-loved musical comedy The Blues Brothers, and this would definitely have been the first time I became aware of Charles, as I was obsessed with this film for years in my childhood. In 1985 he made another appearance at number 1 when the charity supergroup USA for America topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with the mediocre We Are the World. Charles acted as bandleader, trying his best to coax better performances out of those who couldn’t be arsed (I’m looking at you, Paul Simon). His health declined as the new millennium dawned, but after hip surgery in 2003 he was ready to hit the road once more. Sadly ill health took hold, and at the age of 73 he died of complications from acute liver disease in 2004. Several months later, the biopic Ray was released, starring an Oscar-winning Jamie Foxx in the title role.

From humble beginnings and personal struggles, Ray Charles went on to not only become one of soul and R&B’s most important figures, whose music was enjoyed by millions, but he was also an inspiration to a diverse range of legendary artists, including Stevie Wonder, Elvis Presley, Steve Winwood and Roger Waters. He also contributed to the civil rights movement, and will be remembered as one of the 20th century’s brightest talents.

Written by: Don Gibson

Producer: Sid Feller

Weeks at number 1: 2 (12-25 July)

Deaths:

Historian GM Trevelyan – 21 July

121. The Everly Brothers – Temptation (1961)

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25 July saw the release of one of the more famous British movies of the decade. Whistle Down the Wind, set in Lancashire and based on the 1959 book by Mary Hayley Bell, starred Hayley Mills and Alan Bates, and was produced by Richard Attenborough. During the same week, the Everly Brothers went to number 1 for the fourth and final time, with their cover of Temptation. This was an old song, written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, who had also written Singing in the Rain. Temptation had first been used in the 1933 film Going Hollywood, where it had been performed by superstar crooner Bing Crosby.

The production of the song caused some problems for Don and Phil, as their producer Wesley Rose was unhappy at them choosing to record a song that hadn’t been published by Acuff-Rose, meaning he wouldn’t get royalties. However, Don had dreamt the version he had in mind for the brothers, and insisted they go ahead. Therefore after its production, Rose blocked the Everlys from releasing any song from his team of writers, including Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, who were responsible for many of their hits. Bizarrely, it also barred them from recording self-composed material, as the Everlys were also contracted to Acuff-Rose!

Don was definitely right to push ahead with Temptation, and it’s a shame he didn’t get more creative control, as both this and Cathy’s Clown were in a sense his tracks, and are the best number 1 singles the duo made. However, it’s Rose’s name on the production credits, so it’s difficult to know how much rein he was given. Nonetheless, whoever is responsible, there’s a real sense of the envelope being pushed here, and the reverb-heavy sound is probably the best production I’ve heard in a number 1 single up to this point. The backing vocals rage against the song, sounding unearthly and intense, creating a great dramatic feel. There’s no way out here, and the song’s protagonist is doomed to be led along by the woman in question. As always the harmonies from the brothers are great, but both this and the aforementioned track have made me see that there was more to the Everly Brothers than just great voices.

Rose’s ban on songwriters, plus a stint in the Marines later in 1961, deeply affected the Everly Brothers’ momentum. By the time the dispute with Acuff-Rose had ended in 1964, the world had changed, and the Beatles, who the Everlys had influenced so much, were the new kings. Plus, Don and Phil had become addicted to amphetamines, and Don was eventually hospitalised due to a nervous breakdown. They still had hits, but not to the same extent. They recorded an album in 1966 with the Hollies, Two Yanks in England (wonder how long it took them to come up with that title?) as their backing band, but returned to their country roots by the close of the decade.As the 70s dawned, Don released a solo album, and tensions came to a head in 1973. They announced their final show together at Knotts Berry Farm, but couldn’t even make it through to the end. Phil smashed his guitar and left the stage, leaving Don to finish alone.

For ten years the brothers pursued solo careers to mixed success. On 23 September 1983 they reunited for a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, and no instruments were destroyed. They recorded a new album, EB ’84, and a song from superfan Paul McCartney, On the Wings of a Nightingale, returned them to the charts. Simon & Garfunkel, who had been heavily influenced by the brothers (their harmonies are also sublime, they recorded a version of Bye Bye Love, and they often hate each other) invited them to be their special guests on their Old Friends tour in 2003.

Sadly, weak lungs were an Everly family trait – their father had died of black lung disease, and Phil had stopped smoking in 2001, but the damage he had inflicted on his lungs was permanent. Phil Everly died of lung disease on 3 January 2014, aged 74. Don later admitted that they had become estranged again in the last few years, with their political beliefs causing a rift, but despite the feuding, he was devastated and unable to come to terms with his younger brother’s death. In 2016, he admitted he would wish a good morning to some of Phil’s ashes that he kept in his home, every day.

The Everly Brothers were trailblazers. Their pioneering work in the studio influenced many great acts, and they were one of the first acts to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They were also the first in a long line of warring family members in music, with the Davies brothers of the Kinks and Gallaghers in Oasis, among others, keeping up the tradition in later years. But no matter the tensions within the family, when they sang together they created magic.

Written by: Nacio Herb Brown & Arthur Freed

Producer: Wesley Rose

Weeks at number 1: 2 (20 July-2 August)

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)

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 

Every 50s Number 1

The Intro

So, my first decade of number 1s is finished, 94 songs and seven months later. When I decided to review every UK number 1, I considered taking a random approach, but I decided starting right from the beginning would give me a wider knowledge of the progression of pop and pop culture in the UK. I did find the idea of kicking off with the 1950s a potentially arduous task, however. Although there are exceptions, my interest in music tends to really start in 1963 with the Beatles first album, and I know I’m not alone in feeling like that. I feared starting with the 50s would put some readers off. Also, it’s the decade that’s as far out of my comfort zone as I’m going to get with this mammoth blog task I’ve set myself.

Except maybe it isn’t.

The older I get (38 currently), I feel I’m going to really struggle with the 2010s so far. Don’t understand the kids of today, cannot stand autotune, etc… Anyway, I find myself getting more out of the 50s far more than I initially expected. It’s still music I find myself respecting rather than enjoying, and there haven’t been many I’ll be downloading for future listens I have to confess, but it has been a fascinating journey, and I’m surprised at how much music changed from 1952 to 1959.

Before I finish with the decade and move on to the swinging 60s, I decided it would be nice to (kind-of) repeat the task I set myself in December. Back then I listened to every Christmas number 1 in order, in one session, and decided on a best and worst for each decade, before coming up with an overall best and worst. That blog seemed to generate a lot of interest, so I thought I’d do the same with the 50s. I decided against listening to all 94 songs in one go, that seemed a little bit much, so I decided to take it a year at a time.

1952/53

Where it all began. As Al Martino’s Here in My Heart was the only number 1 of 1952, I’ve lumped it in with 1953. It’s neither the best nor worst of what followed. In general, the record-buying public will still in thrall of string-laden love songs, often melancholy, overwrought ballads, with the emphasis on how well the singer could hold a note. Form over content. Not the kind of music that floats my boat, really. It was less than ten years since World War Two, and music fans still liked to wade through syrupy songs of missing loved ones abroad. In 1953’s defence, though, at least it had a healthy amount of female singers topping the charts. Once rock’n’roll takes hold, they largely disappeared bar a few exceptions. There’s some strange novelty songs in there that you wouldn’t think of as chart-toppers – see (How Much is) That Doggie in the Window? and the un-PC She Wears Red Feathers. Frankie Laine dominated that year.

The Best:

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Kay Starr – Comes A-Long A-Love: Only three tracks in and already there were elements of a rock’n’roll sound mixed in with jazz. This took me by surprise, and it was more than welcome. Kay Starr’s strong vocal mixed with a breezy tune had a vital element missing from other songs that year – fun.

The Worst:

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David Whitfield with Stanley Black & His Orchestra – Answer Me: This is the decade at its least appealing to me. It’s so leaden and dreary. Whitfield’s vocals are too affected and operatic. The Frankie Laine version was better, but not by much, as it’s a pretty poor song anyway.

1954

Generally more of the same, but of a higher standard. Doris Day, Frank Sinatra and even Vera Lynn all make appearances, but they’re not their finest works. Rosemary Clooney’s jolly old knees-up about death, This Ole House is one of the highlights. A couple of instrumentals make it big, one good (Winifred Atwell’s Let’s Have Another Party), one not so good (Eddie Calvert’s Oh Mein Papa)

The Best:

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Johnnie Ray – Such a Night: Mr Emotion was probably the revelation of the decade for me. Previously I only knew him for his namecheck in Come On Eileen, and that Morrissey used to wear hearing aid in tribute to him.  I referred to him as the ‘prototype eccentric rock’n’roll star’, and his three number 1s were all unique forerunners of the music that was to follow. This one in particular must have sounded pretty racy at the time, and contained the first hint of sex, one of pop’s key ingredients.

The Worst:

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The Stargazers with Syd Dean & His Orchestra –  I See the Moon: This is genuinely offensive to my ears. At the time it was considered a comedy song. Praise be that comedy has moved on from ‘funny’ voices. It’s the audio equivalent of Colin Hunt from The Fast Show. When I first heard this I said the Stargazers sounded pissed-up and tone deaf. Nothing has happened to change my mind. Six weeks at the top of the charts?!

1955

The year of mambo, and Bill Haley. Perez ‘Prez’ Prado rules the roost when it comes to the former, with his version of Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White beating Eddie Calvert’s safer cover. Rosemary Clooney’s Mambo Italiano may not be the real deal but it’s a fun spoof. Tony Bennett makes his one and only appearance to date, and Slim Whitman’s haunting Rose Marie makes a big impact.

The Best:

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Bill Haley & His Comets – Rock Around the Clock: Tempting as it might be to go against the grain here and pick something less predictable, I can’t. Yes it must be nigh-on impossible to hear this and imagine the impact the decade’s best-seller made at the time, and it sounds safe now, but it’s still catchy as hell, and for me, it’s all about that guitar solo.

The Worst:

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Jimmy Young with Bob Sharples & His Music – Unchained Melody: Another one of the most famous songs of all time, but this is nowhere near as good as the Righteous Brothers version. It’s not even as good as Robson & Jerome’s. The blame doesn’t entirely lie with poor Jimmy Young, as the production is all over the place, but he really doesn’t help matters, lurching from barely trying to bellowing within seconds.

1956

Several strong singles this year, mainly Tennessee Ernie Ford’s tough ode to the working man, Sixteen Tons, and Johnnie Ray’s melancholic Christmas number 1, Just Walkin’ in the Rain, featuring an unforgettable whistling refrain. Elvis has arrived, but the UK has to make do with Pat Boone at the top instead with I’ll Be Home. Dean Martin makes his only appearance, and Doris Day returns with signature tune Whatever Will Be, Will Be.

The Best:

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The Teenagers Featuring Frankie Lymon – Why Do Fools Fall in Love: The first doo-wop song to make it to the top, the Teenagers one and only big hit was so influential on later soul and funk bands, and still sounds good to this day. Such a shame the band, and particularly Lymon, fell apart so soon.

The Worst:

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Anne Shelton with Wally Stott & His Orchestra – Lay Down Your Arms: Shudder. I disliked this song even more the second time around. I’m all for strong women, but Shelton needs to calm down a bit. Her poor lover must be terrified. I think I’d rather be at war than with Shelton.

1957

The year skiffle hit the top of the charts. Lonnie Donegan’s three number 1 songs left an indelible mark on music, even if it took some time for its impact to become apparent. 1957 is the strongest year for number 1s to date, and rock’n’roll is now dominant. Even the most old-fashioned song, Frankie Vaughan’s The Garden of Eden, sounds good. Legends such as Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly make their first appearances, and the former’s cultural impact becomes apparent, with Tommy Steele and Andy Williams impersonating him, to an occasionally embarrassing degree.

The Best:

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Lonnie Donegan & His Skiffle Group – Cumberland Gap: I used to think skiffle was a rather laughably quaint genre played on cheap, silly instruments. It’s only by listening to what came before Lonnie Donegan that I now understand and appreciate its true effect – to me it’s now almost as important as punk. The hardest part of choosing the best of 57 was picking between this and Donegan’s Gamblin’ Man, with it’s fiery ending, but Cumberland Gap came first and sounded like nothing I’d listened to up to that point.

The Worst:

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Guy Mitchell with Jimmy Carroll – Rock-a-Billy: Cheeky chappie Mitchell’s fourth and final chart-topper is mean-spirited and has the laziest chorus of any number 1 so far. A shame, as his previous single at the start of the year, Singing the Blues, proved he could actually be a dab hand at this new pop sound.

1958

Elvis was really on form with his second number 1 – Jailhouse Rock narrowly misses out on my favourite of this year and could have easily won in another year. Burt Bacharach and Hal David made their mark with two concurrent number 1s for Michael Holliday and Perry Como. Connie Francis finally returned a female artist to the top with a versatile selection of solid tunes – her Stupid Cupid introduced Neil Sedaka to the charts. The Everley Brothers made an excellent debut with the year’s highest seller, All I Have to Do is Dream, and Hoots Mon by Lord Rockingham’s XI was the finest novelty number 1 of the decade.

The Best:

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Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of Fire: Direct, simplistic, fun, horny and mad, this just edges past Jailhouse Rock for me and got 1958 off to a great start. As far removed from some of the dreary monotony of 1953 as it’s possible to get in the same decade.

The Worst:

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Vic Damone – On the Street Where You Live: I feel bad for doing this when Vic Damone has so recently passed away, but it really does stick out like a sore thumb from the rest of 1958’s list. It sounds like it belongs in 1954. Sorry, Vic. RIP.

1959

Buddy Holly’s untimely death made It Doesn’t Matter Anymore the first posthumous chart-topper, and was a big influence on Adam Faith’s first number 1, What Do You Want?. Elvis was away in the army, and his singles output quality began to slip with A Fool Such as I/I Need Your Love Tonight. Rock’n’roll went all dreamy and teenage-orientated, with Jerry Keller’s one-hit wonder Here Comes Summer and Bobby Darin’s Dream Lover, before Darin used his success to take an interesting career change. Cliff Richard made his first of many appearances, with Living Doll the year’s best-seller, and Shirley Bassey made her debut at number 1. The decade ended with Emile Ford and the Checkmates’ solid What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For?.

The Best:

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Bobby Darin – Mack the KnifeA fascinating diversion from his previous number 1, Darin resisted scaring his young fans away with this swinging celebration of a serial killer, but Atlantic Records pushed for it anyway. It’s likely the fans ignored the lyrics and chose to be swept away by his cool vocals and the power and punch of the backing band. Suddenly pop was taking a dark turn, if you listened closely enough. Much covered, but probably never bettered.

The Worst:

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Russ Conway – Side Saddle: This one totally baffled me when I wrote my blog, and while I found it slightly better the second time around, I still can’t quite believe this was such a success, but context is everything, I guess. Nonetheless, it’s still the weakest number 1 of the year.

The Best 50s Number 1 Ever is…

Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of FireDeciding on the best single proved to be much tougher than I first thought. It was very difficult to decide between this and Cumberland Gap, and Mack the Knife wasn’t far behind, either. Both songs shook up the music world, but in different ways. The winner is so ensconced in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine how it must have sounded as new, whereas I came in to Cumberland Gap completely fresh. If this decision was based on which single is most important, I’d have to award it to Cumberland Gap, as the influence of skiffle was so important on the following decade. It proved you didn’t have to have the voice of an opera singer to be at number 1, you didn’t have to have an orchestra backing you, and you didn’t even have to play expensive instruments. You could just make an all-mighty racket.

However, as impressed as I was by it, in the end this decision should also be based on personal enjoyment, as well as influence, mass appeal, inventiveness… and Great Balls of Fire has all of these. And despite me knowing it so well, it still managed to sound new and exciting, even after all this time. Plus, as great as Cumberland Gap sounds compared to most of the competition, in a way I had heard it before with the very similar and better known Rock Island Line. So congratulations, Jerry Lee Lewis. Despite being one of pop music’s first controversial figures, and therefore your brief period in the charts, you’ve managed to top Elvis and many other 50s legends, and Great Balls of Fire is one hell of a tune. You ripped up the rulebook when it came to the piano, and you showed the way pop was heading when it came to showmanship on the stage. And your best work was later used to sell cheese. But that’s record companies for you.

The Worst 50s Number 1 Ever is…

The Stargazers with Syd Dean & His Orchestra – I See the MoonNo contest. Reviewing every number 1 of the 50s was at times trying, and I knew it would be, but nothing prepared me for this. Don’t get me wrong, unlike many ‘serious music’ obsessives, there is a small place in my heart for comedy and novelty songs as genres, if they’re done right. And as I said above, context is everything. But I See the Moon is genuinely painful to listen to. I don’t get the joke, unless the joke is ‘Listen to how awful we sound’, in which case, the joke isn’t funny. In a decade with so number 1s that would be unimaginable now, I See the Moon is beyond comprehension to my poor ears.

The Outro

While I’m keen to get onto the number 1s of the 60s, and I originally saw reviewing the 50s tracks as a necessary evil in order to make it to the next batch, I am sorry to see it go. I’ve learnt a lot, about the social history as well as the music of the time, and it’s been a fascinating look at pop’s baby steps. Next, the decade of the Beatles, the Stones, Swinging London, the return of Labour to government, psychedelia, colour TV, British pop dominating at home and abroad… I can’t wait and I hope you can’t too.

Blogs on every 50s number 1 are available to view via the Archive section.

92. Cliff Richard and the Shadows – Travellin’ Light (1959)

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On 30 October, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club opened in Soho, London. One of the most renowned venues of its kind, some of the artists who later played there include Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Curtis Mayfield, Prince and Jimi Hendrix, in his final public performance. Two days later, the first section of the M1 opened, between Watford and Rugby. London Transport. 17 November saw Prestwick and Renfrew become the first UK airports to feature duty free shops.

During this period, and beyond, Cliff Richard enjoyed his second lengthy stay at number 1 of the year, after Living Doll had become the biggest-selling single of 1959. Since Living Doll, his backing band, the Drifters, had run into trouble. Unlike most backing bands at the time, they had signed a separate contract to Cliff, meaning they could release material on their own. Their first single, Feelin’ Fine, had to be withdrawn in the US when the manager of the famous soul group with the same name threatened legal action. The second single, Jet Black, was credited to The Four Jets, but manager Norrie Paramor suggested they needed to find a name and stick to it. That July while in a pub in Ruslip, bassist Jet Harris suggested to guitarist Hank Marvin they should be called The Shadows, and thus the name of one of the most famous bands of the next few years was finally settled. Ironically, Bobby Vee’s backing group were also called the Shadows, but Marvin and co didn’t know this, so tough. Travellin’ Light, written by Sid Tepper & Roy C Bennett, became their first single with their new name. Tepper and Bennett became two of Richards’ most frequent collaborators, and they also wrote many songs for Elvis Presley, particularly for his films.

Travellin’ Light is pretty much a rewrite of Living Doll, as close as you can get to following up a number 1 with a repeat of the same formula. It’s also quite similar to Roger Miller’s 1965 number 1, King of the Road – had he been listening to this? The production is also similar to before, but this time Cliff’s voice has been treated with a strong echo effect, and there’s some welcome twangy guitar flourishes from Marvin, that could have done to be louder in the mix. Cliff is on his way to see his girl, and he’s so excited he’s taken nothing with him. He can’t even be bothered with a comb or toothbrush, the dirty beggar. It’s an average country tune that would be better remembered if they’d at least tried to make it sound different to what had come before, but five weeks at number 1 suggests their fans were happy with more of the same.

Written by: Sid Tepper & Roy C Bennett

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 5 (30 October-3 December)

Births:

Actor Peter Mullan – 2 November
Actor Paul McGann – 14 November
Footballer Jimmy Quinn – 18 November
Politician Charles Kennedy – 25 November
Presenter Lorraine Kelly – 30 November
Actress Gwyneth Strong – 2 December

Deaths:

Pianist Albert Ketèlbey – 26 November