US singer, songwriter and actor Frankie Laine’s cover of I Believe stayed at number 1 for nine weeks, equalling the previous record held by Al Martino’s Here in My Heart. However, following a week at number 1 for I’m Walking Behind You by Eddie Fisher and Sally Sweetland, it returned to the top spot for a further six weeks. Mantovani’s The Song from The Moulin Rouge then topped the charts, but once again, I Believe went back to number 1. A staggering feat, this cover of a religious power ballad notched up 18 weeks as the nation’s bestseller. It still holds the record for most non-concurrent weeks at number 1.
I Believe was written by musicians Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl and Al Stillman for Jane Froman. Froman was a big stage, TV and radio star who had suffered chronic injuries in a 1943 plane crash. Troubled by the Korean War in 1952, she asked her songwriters to come up with a tune that would offer hope to the audience of her TV show, Jane Froman’s USA Canteen. It’s fair to say that Drake, Graham, Shirl and Stillman delivered. But back in 1953, such a big song required a big voice, and a big star. So Frankie Laine was a natural choice.
Francesco Paolo LoVecchio arrived in the world on 30 March 1913, the son of Sicilian refugees. The LoVecchios had links to organised crime, and Francesco’s father had even worked as Al Capone’s barber.
Little LoVecchio got his first taste for singing as a member of a church choir, and acquired his astounding vocal prowess through high-school sports. As a teenager in the 20s he found himself performing for thousands at a charity ball. Clearly, a star in the making.
But fame didn’t come instantly. With influences including Bing Crosby and Billie Holiday, Frank LoVecchio spent much of the Great Depression performing at dance marathons. 1937 saw him briefly replace Perry Como in the Freddy Carlone band, and a year later he took on the stage name Frankie Laine.
It wasn’t until World War Two ended that his career really took off. He began recording for Mercury in 1946, and initially listeners thought he was black. Laine’s version of That’s My Desire established him as a force to be reckoned with. Soon he was working with Mitch Miller, and together they were a formidable team. Hit after hit followed, particularly when they jumped ship to Columbia. 1952 saw Laine begin working his magic on film and TV western themes, with High Noon being his first.
While cynical non-believers may balk at the lyrics, I Believe, by comparison to its predecessors at number 1, screams ‘I am a hit and I am important’ at you. For a nation of churchgoers in the 50s, this grandiose ballad was bound to do well. It could partly be that it’s already registered in my mind as a success due to Robson and Jerome’s bland cover (their follow-up to Unchained Melody) from 1995, which cashed in on the elderly’s memories of the song and fans of the duo’s characters in the ITV drama Soldier Soldier. Their cover remains an early warning of Cowell’s evil reign of terror over the charts for years to come.
Beginning with the gentle strum of an acoustic guitar, Laine builds the song into a display of righteous power, bellowing at the end with a performance that is still impressive today. After 18 weeks of chart dominance, he still had more to come. 1953 was truly Frankie Laine’s year.
Written by: Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl & Al Stillman
Producer: Mitch Miller
Weeks at number 1: 18 (24 April-25 June, 3 July-13 August, 21 August-10 September) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*
Prime Minister Tony Blair – 6 May
Musician Mike Oldfield – 15 May
Comedian Victoria Wood – 19 May
Actor Alfred Molina – 24 May
Politician Michael Portillo – 26 May
Dr Hilary Jones – 19 June
Racing driver Nigel Mansell – 8 August
Bucks Fizz singer Bobby G – 23 August
Footballer Alex James – 1 June
24 April: Prime Minister Winston Churchill received a knighthood from the Queen. Recognised officially for his part in leading the nation during World War Two, Churchill would then suffer a stroke on 25 June. It began a period of ill health that would begin the decline of the great wartime leader.
2 May: Blackpool win the first televised FA Cup final with a 4-3 win over Bolton Wanderers.
2 June: Elizabeth II’s Coronation took place. The public holiday inadvertently saw the start of the television revolution in the UK, with many families purchasing one specifically to watch a crown be placed on the head of somebody who’d already been Queen for over a year. Also that morning, news reached the world that Mount Everest had finally been conquered. It actually happened on 29 May, but the news travelled slowly.
25 June: The serial killer John Christie was sentenced to death for the murder of his wife Ethel. However, he should have been sentenced for more. A further seven bodies were uncovered at 10 Rillington Place in Notting Hill. During the trial, Christie confessed to murdering Beryl Evans. Beryl, her husband Timothy and their baby daughter Geraldine had lived at the flat in the 40s, and in 1950, Beryl’s husband Timothy was hanged for murdering Beryl and Geraldine, despite him insisting Christie had been responsible. Christie had even been a witness for the prosecution. He was hanged on 15 July. Yet another instance of tragic errors in the justice system that helped lead to the abolishment of the death penalty. The whole shocking, terrible story was made into a film starring Richard Attenborough in 1971 and a BBC television series starring Tim Roth in 2016.
18 July: Influential sci-fi drama The Quatermass Experiment began on the BBC.
20 July: Nostalgic (yes the BBC loved looking to the past even then) music hall series The Good Old Days began. It would run for 30 years.