210. Nancy Sinatra – These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ (1966)

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The fall-out from Rhodesia continued through the rest of the winter, with the UK protesting to South Africa on 17 February over its supplying of petrol to the country. 28 February saw Prime Minister Harold Wilson announce a snap general election for 31 March. Two days later Chancellor James Callaghan announced the decimalisation of the pound, which would come into effect on 15 February 1971.

Also on 17 February, Nancy Sinatra began a month at number 1 with Lee Hazlewood’s These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, which finally brought a much-needed dose of feminism to the top of the charts.

The eldest daughter of Frank Sinatra and his first wife Nancy Barbato, Sinatra was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in July 1940. When she was five her legendary father immortalised her in song with Nancy (with the Laughing Face). He clearly wanted her to follow in his footsteps, and she spent much of her childhood having singing, piano, dance and drama lessons. In the late-1950s she was studying music, dancing and voice at the University of California, but she dropped out and in 1960 she appeared on the television special The Frank Sinatra Timex Show: Welcome Home Elvis. She was sent to the airport on behalf of Frank to welcome Presley back from his stint in the army, and performed alongside her father in a rendition of You Make Me Feel So Young/Old (delete as applicable).

In 1961 Sinatra signed to her father’s label, Reprise Records and released her debut single Cuff Links and a Tie Clip. Besides a few chart appearances in Europe and Japan, she was going nowhere, and by 1965 she was on the verge of being dropped. It was around this time that Reprise introduced her to Lee Hazlewood.

Hazlewood was best known up to this point for his work with rockabilly guitarist Duane Eddy, and he produced Peter Gunn and Rebel Rouser, among others. He had written These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ with the intention of recording it himself. It’s more than fair it would have had a fraction of the impact if this had been the case. In an article for Los Angeles Magazine in 2016, Sinatra recalled Hazlewood had come over to her parents’ house to audition songs for her. The minute he played the infamous bass line on his guitar, she was hooked. But ‘he said, “It’s not really a girl’s song. I sing it myself onstage.” I told him that coming from a guy it was harsh and abusive, but was perfect for a little girl to sing. He agreed. When he left, my father, who had been sitting in the living room reading the paper, said, “The song about the boots is best.”’

Sinatra recorded the song on 19 November 1965 in Hollywood, with the Wrecking Crew providing the backing. Hazlewood’s idea to have her sing it in a lower register was a genius move, as was that slinky descending, dare I say, groovy opening. Sinatra’s had enough of her lover’s cheating ways despite his promises to change. What makes it so effective, and revolutionary at the time, is the fact she isn’t angry, or sad. She’s cool, calm, collected and entirely in charge, and it’s for these reasons (along with the boots imagery, obviously) that make These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ so sexy. A sexy number 1 by a female artist – how many times had that happened up to this point? Sinatra’s father famously denounced pop in the 60s, which is ironic, considering his own daughter helped invent modern female pop as we know it. I’m not going to mention ‘girl power’. Oh, I just did.

Sinatra’s image change to help her promote the song also pioneered 60s fashion, and there’s good reason the track is used in spoof spy film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). Her bleached-blonde hair, heavy eye make-up, mini-skirt and boots are the epitomy of 60s glamour, and the film she made for the track, with go-go dancers parading behind her, is truly iconic.

These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ was still at number 1 on 5 March, when BOAC Flight 911 crashed during severe turbulence over Mount Fuji soon after taking off from Tokyo International Airport in Japan. All 124 on board were killed. Four days later, gangster Ronnie Kray, one half of infamous East End criminal duo the Kray Twins, shot dead George Cornell, an associate of the rival Richardson Gang. And two days after that, Chi-Chi, London Zoo’s giant panda, was flown to Moscow to get it on with Moscow Zoo’s An-An. Wonder if they played them the number 1 of the time?

Written & produced by: Lee Hazlewood

Weeks at number 1: 4 (17 February-16 March)

Births:

Comedian Ben Miller – 24 February 
Comedian Alan Davies – 6 March 
Politician Gregory Barker – 8 March 
Author Alastair Reynolds – 13 March 

Deaths:

Politician Viscount Astor – 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.

91. Bobby Darin – Mack the Knife (1959)

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It’s the 1950s, you’ve had a big hit that’s resulted in you gaining a huge fan following, particularly of teenage girls who wish they could be your Dream Lover – how do you follow it up? Well, if you’re Bobby Darin, you release a swinging celebration of a serial killer. Darin’s version of Mack the Knife remains the most famous version – and there are a lot out there.

Mack the Knife was originally known as Die Moritat von Mackie Messer. It was composed by Kurt Weill, with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, for their play Die Dreigroschenoper, known over here as The Threepenny Opera. The song was written at the last minute before it’s premiere in 1928, to introduce the killer Macheath. The song was first introduced to US audiences in 1933, but it was Marc Blitzstein’s 1954 version, with less graphic lyrics to appeal to conservative America, that’s still in use today. In 1956 the US charts were awash with versions of Mack the Knife, with the first by The Dick Hyman Trio. Jazz supremo Louis Armstrong was responsible for the first version with vocals. In addition to the female victims listed in the song, Armstrong ad-libbed a mention of Lotte Lenya, the widow of Kurt Weill, who had starred in the original production, and the then-current off-Broadway version, who was present while Armstrong recorded. This was left in Darin’s version by mistake, and most subsequent versions on account of Darin’s being considered the essential recording.

Darin fell in love with Mack the Knife while watching The Threepenny Opera in 1958, and worked the song into his live act. Fresh from the success of Dream Lover, Darin was given more freedom over his sound, and his desire to move away from the teen-pop that had made him famous helped him to surprise his audience by making Mack the Knife the opening track on his next album, That’s All. This was the first time a major pop idol had tried to change tack to such an extent. However, even Darin wasn’t sure about releasing such a statement of intent as a single, and it was Atlantic Records co-founder, and Darin’s producer Ahmet Ertegun that ordered its release. As was usually the case in Ertegun’s career, he was right to do so.

Darin should never have doubted Mack the Knife‘s potential really. Granted, the lyrics are easily the darkest there had ever been at number 1, even after being cleaned up for the US, but I can imagine a lot of listeners weren’t even taking notice of the words, as it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the music. Darin really is on fire here, and there’s no wonder even Frank Sinatra, who recorded his own version, believed Darin’s was the best. He sounds smooth, assured and in his element, and the band really knock it out of the park with a punchy performance. By the time you reach the end, you’re rooting for Mack to take another life. Or was that just me? This is one of the decade’s very best number 1s, in my eyes.

Mack the Knife hit the top spots in the UK and US, and later won him two Grammy Awards. He followed it with the equally memorable Beyond the Sea. He continued to experiment with genres, trying his hand at country, and still charted highly. He also acted on TV and met and fell in love with Sandra Dee (yes, that Sandra Dee) on the set of his first film, Come September (1961), in which they starred together. They married and had a son, and starred in further films, but divorced in 1967.

Around this time, Darin had become increasingly politically active. He had his first hit in two years in 1966 when he covered folk singer Tim Hardin’s If I Were a Carpenter. He befriended Robert F Kennedy, worked with him on his presidential campaign and was at the Ambassador Hotel the night he was assassinated. This, and learning of his true parentage (more here) resulted in him becoming a recluse for a year. Upon his return to public life he set up his own record label, Direction Records, releasing folk and protest music.

In the 70s Darin had remarried and had several TV shows, but his health problems began to catch up with him. Some think his drive and desire to cram so much into his life came about due to his weakened heart, which was caused by rheumatic fever when he was eight. Darin suspected he was likely to die younger than most, and unfortunately he was right. He first had heart surgery in 1971, and had to be administered oxygen after live shows. He suffered from sepsis in 1973, which further weakened his heart, and following an operation that lasted over six hours, Darin died in recovery, aged only 37, but he had more than left his mark. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hal of Fame in the 90s, and is remembered as one of many bright young talents of rock’n’roll’s early days that went too soon, who refused to be pigeonholed and whose desire to experiment proved influential. His life was immortalised in the 2004 biopic Beyond the Sea, but unfortunately the star, director, co-writer and co-producer was Kevin Spacey, so you can expect the film to be culturally erased from history now.

Written by: Kurt Weill & Bertolt Brecht/Mark Blitzstein (English lyrics)

Producer: Ahmet Ertegun

Weeks at number 1: 2 (16-29 October)

Births:

Spandau Ballet guitarist Gary Kemp – 16 October
Actress Niamh Cusack – 20 October 

72. Vic Damone – On the Street Where You Live (1958)

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The old-school swingers may have been on the wane, but they didn’t go down without a fight. Vic Damone’s On the Street Where You Live dates back to 1956. Written by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner for the musical My Fair Lady, the show had enjoyed two years of huge stateside success and had recently opened in London, causing the single to surge up the charts. Ironic really, considering Loewe wasn’t happy with the tune and had wanted it removing before the musical was released.

It was the last number 1 produced by Mitch Miller, who had been responsible for many chart-toppers – Guy Mitchell’s She Wears Red FeathersLook at That Girl and Singing the Blues, Johnnie Ray’s Such a Night, Just Walkin’ in the Rain and Yes Tonight Josephine, and Rosemary Clooney with the Mellomen’s  Mambo Italiano. Mitchell hated rock’n’roll, probably because he knew his demand as a producer would drop. He remains a divisive figure, for relying on novelty songs and adding gimmicks to records, and artists including Frank Sinatra resented some of his methods. There’s no denying his hit rate though, and his influence would remain. Miller helped conceive the idea of sound effects and soundscapes. Without Miller, there may not have been a George Martin, and without George Martin, there may not have been a Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Despite numerous versions of On the Street Where You Live, Damone’s remains the most popular. He was born Vito Rocco Farinola in Brooklyn, New York in 1928. Like so many others, he was inspired by Sinatra. He dropped out of high school when his father was injured at work, and worked as an usher elevator operator at the Paramount Theatre in Manhattan. One day he met none other than Perry Como, and seizing his opportunity, he stopped the elevator between floors and sang for him. Como was impressed and referred him to a local bandleader. From there, he went on to appear on and win an edition of Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in 1947, which was later used as a springboard for stardom by Marvin Rainwater and Connie Francis, who had also had number 1s in 1958. Damone had a number of hits, and also began appearing in films, before going into the army, where he served with Johnny Cash.

Despite being written in 1956, Damone’s On the Street Where You Live sounds even older, and harks back to the first number 1, Al Martino’s Here in My Heart. Damone bellows out the vocals over a grand backing. Not much of a fan of musicals, the only part of this song I actually recognised was the famous opening couplet

‘I have often walked down this street before
But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before’

I think my dad liked to sing it when I was growing up, although I may be confusing this with any number of songs my dad likes to occasionally burst into. I have to confess though that this song leaves me cold. Like many love songs in musicals, it lays on the sentiment way too thick, and after so many progressive number 1s this felt like a big, unnecessary step back. On the Street Where You Live enjoyed a fortnight at the top, but shared its second week with The Everly Brothers’ double A-side All I Have to Do Is Dream/Claudette.

Damone’s music, film and television careers continued into the 70s, when bankruptcy caused him to take up residency in Las Vegas. He was offered the role of Johnny Fontane in The Godfather (1972) but turned it down, and Al Martino accepted it instead. He retired after suffering a stroke in 2002. Damone has had some dodgy connections in his time. In his autobiography he revealed he was once dangled out of a hotel window by a Mafia member after breaking off his relationship with the thug’s daughter for insulting Damone’s mother. His life was allegedly spared when New York mob boss Frank Costello ruled in his favour. Damone’s daughter also once recalled that a bookie showed up insisting that Damone owed him a lot of money. The singer phoned Sinatra and asked him to intervene, but when ‘Ol’ Blue Eyes’ arrived on the scene, the bookie showed him a secret sign, which meant Sinatra had to keep out of it. Damone had to pay it all back. By far Damone’s dodgiest connection, however, is President Trump, who counts him as a close friend. In May 2016, Trump offered to be a character witness for the singer during a legal battle with his stepdaughters.

UPDATE (13/2/18): Vic Damone died of complications from a respiratory illness on 11 Feb 2018. He was 89.

Written by: Frederick Loewe & Alan Jay Lerner

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 2 (27 June-10 July)

Births:

Racewalker Les Morton – 1 July 

Deaths:

Poet Alfred Noyes – 28 June

63. Paul Anka – Diana (1957)

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All Shook Up ruled the charts for an impressive seven weeks, but its successor went beyond that, enjoying the longest run of 1957 with nine weeks at number 1. What makes this all the more impressive is that the singer wrote his own songs, which was unusual back then, and even more unusual was the singer’s age. A prodigious talent, young Canadian Paul Anka was only 16 when Diana made him a household name and started off a long, successful career.

Born in Ottawa, Ontario in 1941, Anka sang in a church choir as a child, also studying the piano and music theory. At high school he sang in a vocal trio called the Bobby Soxers. He recorded his debut single, I Confess at the tender age of 14. In 1957 he went to New York City with $100 from his uncle and recorded Diana. At the time, Anka’s precocious love song was believed to be about his love for his one-time babysitter, but in 2005 he admitted it was about a girl in church.

Diana is a song I can admire rather than enjoy. It gets off to a bad start, with the lyric ‘I’m so young and you’re so old’. I’m not sure that’s going to win Diana over, Paul. It’s hard to take Anka’s earnest begging and pleading seriously because of his age, and I don’t think most 16-year-olds would have the voice to pull this song off. Anka certainly doesn’t manage it. Lovesick teenagers of the 1950s could identify with it though, and in its defence, it’s a good stab at the rock’n’roll sound and a signifier that Anka was going to be a name in the music business.

This proved to be true, of course, and Anka matured into a formidable talent. He wrote Buddy Holly’s posthumous number 1, It Doesn’t Matter Anymore, and came up with the theme for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. In 1967, while on holiday in France, he heard Comme d’habitude (As Usual), sang by Claude François. He later described it as ‘a shitty record, but there was something in it’. He flew to Paris and negotiated the rights to adapt it. Some time later, Anka was having dinner with Frank Sinatra and members of the Mob, when Sinatra stated he was sick of the business and wanted out. From this, Anka sat at his piano in the early hours one morning and came up with ‘And now, the end is near…’, and before long, he had written My Way specifically for Frank Sinatra. Of course, Sinatra didn’t retire and this became his signature tune. In 1968, David Bowie had once been offered the chance to come up with some English lyrics for Comme d’habitude. He wrote Even a Fool Learns to Love, which was rejected, and rightly so, Bowie reasoned later. In 1971 Bowie reworked his version and Life on Mars? was born. Anka came up with another classic when Tom Jones released his storming version of She’s a Lady in 1971. He has continued to record and star in television and films ever since.

During Diana‘s nine-week stint at number 1, several events hit the news. On 4 September, the Wolfenden report was published, and recommended that ‘homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence’. The report was issued after a succession of well-known figures including Lord Montagu were arrested for such ‘offences’.

On 1 October, Britain introduced a vaccine against Asian Flu, which had killed thousands worldwide. The following day saw the release of David Lean’s Academy Award-winning movie The Bridge on the River Kwai. 11 October saw Jodrell Bank Observatory become operational. During Diana’s final week, topical news show Today was first broadcast on the BBC Home Service. It recently hit the news itself following Conservative idiot Michael Gove’s ill-judged joke about alleged serial rapist Harvey Weinstein during the 60th anniversary edition. And on 30 October, the government unveiled plans to stop being so ridiculously sexist and allow women to join the House of Lords. In some ways we’ve moved on so much, in others, we’ve barely moved.

Written by: Paul Anka

Producer: Don Costa

Weeks at number 1: 9 (30 August-31 October) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Squeeze singer Glenn Tilbrook – 31 August
High jumper Mark Naylor – 10 September
Ice skater Jayne Torvill – 7 October
Comedian Dawn French – 11 October
Director Michael Caton-Jones – 15 October

Deaths:

Horn player Dennis Brain – 1 September
Ventriloquist Fred Russell – 14 October

48. The Teenagers Featuring Frankie Lymon – Why Do Fools Fall in Love

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On 22 July, music newspaper Record Mirror published the first ever UK Albums Chart. They had their own version of the singles chart, but it is the New Musical Express charts that I use for this blog, as these are the ones recognised by the Official Charts Company as canon until 1960. The first album at number 1 was Frank Sinatra’s classic Songs for Swingin’ Lovers!. 26 July saw the beginning of the Suez crisis, when Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser shocked the British government by announcing the nationalisation of the Suez Canal. Initially, Anthony Eden believed he had the country’s support in taking military action, and Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell agreed, but in the following weeks he took a more cautious tone.

Meanwhile, the number 1 single in the UK was a breath of fresh air following a few lacklustre affairs. The Teenagers with Frankie Lymon became the youngest act to date to rule the roost, with the classic rock’n’roll and doo-wop number Why Do Fools Fall in Love. At the tender age of 12, New Yorker Frankie Lymon was working as a grocery boy to help his struggling family. He became friends with a doo-wop group known as the Coup de Villes – lead singer Herman Santiago, Joe Negroni, Jimmy Merchant and Sherman Games. There are several versions of who came up with the song, and indeed several court battles have ensued over publishing rights, but a neighbour of the Premiers, as they were known in 1955, handed the group some love letters written by his girlfriend, to use as inspiration. By the time they had their audition with tough producer George Goldner, they were known as The Teenagers. Santiago was either ill, or late, but whatever the reason, Frankie Lymon had a crack at the lead, and the group recorded trheir biggest single and one of rock’n’roll’s most memorable hits. Why Do Fools Fall in Love influenced the Jackson 5 and spawned the girl-group sound, as well as hundreds of imitators. And Lymon was barely a teenager.

For a song recorded such a long time ago, Why Do Fools Fall in Love still sounds fresh. It’s bursting with youthful energy, and a large part of that is down to Lymon’s lead vocal. This was pure rock’n’roll but filtered through the innocence of such a young group with little experience of the world. And the saxophone break is a blast. The song charted highly in the US, but performed even better in the UK. And then, before their career had barely begun, things began to fall apart.

Tensions understandably began to surface when the next single was credited to Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. Early in 1957, Goldner began pushing Lymon as a solo act, and his departure was made official by September. The Teenagers went through a string of replacement singers, to little success, and Lymon’s career went into freefall. They reunited briefly in 1965 but it didn’t last. He had become addicted to heroin at the age of 15, and died of an overdose in 1968 at his grandma’s house, aged only 25. A tragic victim of the often cruel music industry.

Written by: Frankie Lymon & Morris Levy

Producer: Richard Barrett

Weeks at number 1: 3 (20 July-9 August)

Births:

Sculptor Andy Goldsworthy – 26 July
Madness guitarist Chris Foreman – 8 August

42. Dean Martin – Memories Are Made of This (1956)

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It’s funny how each person’s opinion of legendary artists and their music can differ depending on their age and what stage the artist’s career was at. David Bowie was any number of characters: Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke… but to me Bowie was the grown-up version of the boy from Channel 4’s version of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, who had been so traumatised by flying around with a snowman, he had taken to dicking about empty buildings with a blouse-wearing Mick Jagger in the video to Dancing in the Street. It was around 15 years later before he became one of my favourite artists ever, and I’m still not over his death. Anyway, back to my point. To many, Dean Martin is a bona fide musical icon, and Memories Are Made of This is one of his most popular tracks. But my opinion is clouded by two things: the film The Cannonball Run (1980), and Bisto gravy. More on that later.

As 1956 began, Dean Martin was coming to the end of his ten years as one half of a showbiz duo with Jerry Lewis. He had originally been a nightclub singer before he teamed up with the comedian to become hugely popular. However he was becoming disillusioned with the feeling he was playing second fiddle to Lewis. After all, his own music career was going from strength to strength. That’s Amore, Sway and Mambo Italiano had all been big hits in the previous few years, and Memories Are Made of This had recently topped the Billboard chart. It had been written by Terry Gilkyson, Richard Dehr, and Frank Miller. According to Gilkyson’s daughter, this sweet little number in which a man looks back on his life and loves was simply her father paying tribute to meeting his wife and starting a family. Unusually, the writing trio decided to perform the backing vocals themselves. Calling themselves The Easy Riders, their doo-wop stylings feature throughout the otherwise sparse backing, and are an important ingredient of the song. Whether you like them or not is another matter…

I can’t fault Martin’s performance of Memories Are Made of This. I’m a fan of his voice. I like the way he often sounds like he’s drunk (apparently Martin didn’t drink anywhere near as much as his reputation suggests). The Easy Riders, I can do without. I find the backing vocals irritating and distracting. They’re too catchy. I can understand the song’s popularity, but as mentioned earlier, the associations I have are problematic.

To me, Dean Martin will always be Jamie Blake, the tipsy, priest-impersonating bad guy from the comedy The Cannonball Run, who constantly ridiculed his sidekick, Morris Fenderbaum (Martin’s Rat Pack friend Sammy Davis Jr). When you read how much Davis Jr was picked on by the other Rat Pack members, their roles in the film now leave a sour taste. But I loved that film as a child. So much so, I confess I used to pretend to be Jamie Blake. Me and other kids down my street used to have pretend Cannonball Run-style races on bikes, go-karts and skateboards down my street as a child, and I’d often pretend to be Martin’s character. Strange? Absolutely. But it means I forever think of him as a comedy actor rather than a great singer. I realise this is my problem, though…

This song was then used in a long-running advert for Bisto gravy in the mid-90s, and it ran for so long I got sick to death of it. So when I hear Memories Are Made of This, I can’t help but picture a drunken Dean Martin, in a priest outfit, pouring gravy while singing. Not the memories the writers had in mind.

Memories Are Made of This was Dean Martin’s only UK number 1. Later that year he and Lewis officially split, and refused to speak to each other for 20 years. Martin became a bigger star, in movies, music and television. He became close friends with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack formed at the end of the 50s, and his most famous song, Everybody Loves Somebody was released in 1964. Although his reputation for drinking was a myth, he was a heavy smoker, and was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1993. He rejected surgery and died on Christmas Day 1995. Despite my bizarre recollection of him, Dean Martin was a charming star who touched the hearts of millions. On the day he died the lights of the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed in his honour. His crypt features the lyric ‘Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime’.

Written by: Terry Gilkyson, Richard Dehr & Frank Miller

Producer: Lee Gillette

Weeks at number 1: 4 (17 Feb-15 March)

Births

Author Andrea Levy – 7 March

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

23. Don Cornell with Orchestra directed by Jerry Carr – Hold My Hand (1954)

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Frank Sinatra’s three-week stint at number 1 with Three Coins in the Fountain came to an end when he was replaced by another crooner. Don Cornell (born Luigi Varlaro) was a super-smooth baritone singer from the Bronx. He had been a singing waiter, until a fight with someone over a racist remark caught the eye (not literally) of a boxing promoter. Varlaro won twenty professional fights, but decided to walk away when asked to throw a fight for money. Sounds like a pretty decent guy, all in all. He became a guitarist but his bandleader Sammy Kaye decided to promote him to frontman and introduced him one night as Don Cornell, without giving him prior knowledge.

Fast forward a few years and Cornell was now doing well as a solo artist. In 1952 he had a hit with I, which, weirdly, was the only song title made up of a single character until Prince’s 7 in 1992. Hold My Hand had been written by Jack Lawrence and Richard Myers and featured in the romantic comedy Susan Slept Here (1954), starring Dick Powell in his final role, and Debbie Reynolds.

The song suffers in comparison to Sinatra’s. Although Three Coins in the Fountain isn’t Ol’ Blue Eyes best, his voice has aged better than Cornell’s, which now sounds a bit too polished. I’ve also had a lot of singers like this to listen to now. Having said that, the orchestra improves it, with little flourishes to keep the ears interested. We’ve had worse. Although record buyers decided they preferred it to Three Coins in the Fountain, Hold My Hand lost out to it in the Best Original Song nominations at the following Academy Awards ceremony. It only went to number 2 in the US, but stayed on top in the UK for four weeks, and then a further week after Vera Lynn had her fortnight of glory with My Son, My Son.

In another example of how God-fearing we still were back then, (see David Whitfield’s Answer Me), the BBC considered banning Hold My Hand for the opening line, the apparently blasphemous ‘So this the kingdom of Heaven’. Cornell agreed to record this again and change it to ‘So this the wonder of Heaven’. Laughable, really.

Cornell’s success tailed off in the UK, though he still performed well in America. He was one of the first stars to be included in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in 1963. He died in 2004, aged 84.

And what was occurring outside of music at this time? On 13 October, Chris Chataway broke the 5000m world record. Six days later, Britain agreed to end its occupation of the Suez Canal. Colonel Gamel Abdul Nasser had recently come into power in Egypt, and both sides agreed that British troops would be withdrawn in 1956. It didn’t quite work out like that…

2 November saw the radio premiere of Hancock’s Half Hour. One of the most influential comedies of all time, it was written by Alan Galton and Ray Simpson, and introduced the world to troubled comedian Tony Hancock, playing an exaggerated version of himself.

Written by: Jack Lawrence & Richard Myers

Producer: Bob Thiel

Weeks at number 1: 5 (8 October-5 November, 19-25 November)

Births:

Singer Adam Ant – 3 November

 

22. Frank Sinatra with Orchestra conducted by Nelson Riddle – Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)

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In 1954, Frank Sinatra was the comeback kid. The early 50s had seen his career slump drastically. His Mafia connections had caused problems, he had left his label, Columbia, Hollywood had rejected him, and his audiences were dwindling. However, his suitably bitter performance in World War Two drama From Here to Eternity in 1953 earned him rave reviews and marked a spectacular turnaround in fortunes. He even later won an Oscar for Best Supporting Role, but before then he had signed with Capitol and released a cover of the now-creepy-sounding I’m Walking Behind You, which was a UK number 1 for Eddie Fisher & Sally Sweetland.

February 1954 saw the release of his album Songs for Young Lovers. Featuring I Get a Kick Out of You and They Can’t Take That Away from Me, it is still considered one of his best. The same month, his duet with Doris Day, Young at Heart, was a huge hit. Three Coins in the Fountain was the title track for a new romantic drama. With lyrics by US star collaborator Sammy Cahn and music by UK songwriter Jule Styne, the song refers to the traditional act of throwing a coin into Rome’s Trevi Fountain and making a wish. They had been asked to write the song without any knowledge of the movie whatsoever, and it was so rushed that 20th Century Fox didn’t sign a contract, meaning the composers were screwed over the royalties. Charming.

The song isn’t that memorable, and although I’m no Sinatra expert, it doesn’t strike me as up there with his classics. But what does shine through is the quality of his voice. That warm, unmistakable timbre to his croon just puts him head and shoulders above other stars of the era. And of course considering the rushed nature of the song’s creation, it’s not too shabby. It earned him his first UK number 1, and he stayed at the top for three weeks. It also went to number 1 in the US too, but performed by The Four Aces. In 1955, it earned Sinatra another Oscar, this time for Best Original Song.

During Three Coins in the Fountain‘s reign, the UK singles chart increased in size from its initial 12 to 20. It’s also worth me pointing out that this chart, that first began in 1952, was originally only seen in the New Musical Express. However, it is now considered to be the most important chart of the time, until it was overtaken by Record Retailer from 1960 to 1969.

Written by: Jule Styne & Sammy Cahn

Producer: Voyle Gilmore

Weeks at number 1: 3 (17 September-7 October)