16. Eddie Calvert – Oh Mein Papa (1954)

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As 1954 began, Frankie Laine was loosening his grip on the charts, and it would be another two years before he topped them for the final time. On 8 January, trumpeter Eddie Calvert, from Preston in Lancashire, took over from Laine with his cover of Oh Mein Papa.

Oh Mein Papa was, as the title suggests, a German song. It was written by Swiss composer Paul Burkhard in 1939 for the musical Der Schwarze Hecht and became his most successful tune. It concerned a young woman remembering the days her father worked as a clown, and these days, you’re most likely to know it from an episode of The Simpsons, in which Krusty the Clown sings it with Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky (Like Father, Like Clown).

Albert Edward Calvert, born 15 March 1922, came from a family who loved brass band music, but he became particularly interested in the trumpet.

After World War Two, he graduated from amateur to professional dance orchestras. Calvert earned the nickname ‘The Man with the Golden Trumpet’ (aren’t they all golden?) after appearing on the TV with the Stanley Black Orchestra, and the name stuck for the rest of his career. He was a BBC radio and TV star by the time he cut his chart-topping version of Oh Mein Papa.

Oh Mein Papa did as well as Frankie Laine’s initial run at the top with I Believe, remaining there for nine weeks. Impressive, and somewhat bizarre, all things considered, but we’re only on 1954 and rock’n’roll was yet to change the world.

Although classed as an instrumental, a choir occasionally sing the song’s title. Other than Calvert’s trumpet, there is an incredibly dated-sounding organ. In the charts at the same time, was a vocal version by previous number 1 artist Eddie Fisher. Despite his previous success, he was unable to beat Calvert here, whereas in the US, the opposite occurred.

Calvert was the first artist to receive a gold disc for an instrumental record. It was also the first number one to be recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, which was a good few years off becoming the go-to studio for the likes of Cliff Richard and most famously The Beatles.

Written by: Paul Burkhard

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 9 (8 January-11 March)

Births:

Writer Iain Banks – 16 February
Actor Anthony Head – 20 February
Snooker player Willie Thorne – 4 March
Swimmer David Wilkie – 8 March

Deaths

Actor Sydney Greenstreet – 18 January
Royal Navy Captain Ronald Niel Stuart – 8 February

Meanwhile…

12 February: A report was issued by the British Medical Committee suggesting a link between smoking and lung cancer. It would be some time before the music world took any link on board.

15. Frankie Laine with Paul Weston & His Orchestra – Answer Me (1953)

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In a year in which US crooner Frankie Laine so completely dominated the fledgling UK charts, it seems fitting that he finished 1953 at the top. Even more so that it was with Answer Me, which as I mentioned here, is so typically of its time. Despite becoming banned by the BBC for its religious content (yes, really), both Laine’s version and David Whitfield’s continued to outsell the other top 10 as winter set in. After a week at number 1, Hull-born tenor David Whitfield’s single was overtaken by Laine’s version.

Although nothing can disguise the cloying sentimentality of Answer Me, this recording, with the backing of Paul Weston & his Orchestra, is stronger. Laine’s singing is more natural, and softer, with an organ, guitar and choir accompanying him. Like I Believe, he saves the bellowing until the end, giving the song time to build. It reached number 1 on 13 November, and there it remained until 7 January 1954, for a very impressive eight weeks.

However, on 11 December, David Whitfield’s version sold equally well. Or at least, it did in the few shops whose sales counted towards the top 12. And so for a week, both versions were recognised as number 1 singles. It’s a shame it didn’t occur during Christmas week, it could have become pop music’s version of the Christmas truce in World War One.

As mentioned in my blog on Whitfield’s version, both he and Laine later recorded covers of Answer Me, My Love, in which the then-shocking references to God were removed. Neither of these outperformed their first versions though. Just goes to show the universal appeal and interest in ‘banned’ songs really.

With a few slight exceptions, looking back at the number 1 singles of 1953 has proven that ‘pop’ music had a long way to go before it became exciting, memorable and most importantly, fun. However, some of the key ingredients were starting to fall into place.

Written by: Gerhard Winkler & Fred Rauch/Carl Sigman (English lyrics)

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 8 (13 November 1953-7 January 1954)

Births:

Comedian Griff Rhys Jones – 16 November
Labour MP Hilary Benn – 26 November
Labour MP Alistair Darling – 28 November
Labour MP Geoff Hoon – 6 December
Comedian Jim Davidson – 13 December
Director Anthony Minghella – 6 January

Meanwhile…

20 November: Piltdown Man, discovered in 1912 and believed to be the remains of an early human, were proved to be a hoax.

25 November: England lost dramatically to Hungary in football’s ‘Match of the Century’ by 6-3, ending a 90-year unbeaten home run against sides from outside the British Isles.

26 November: The House of Lords voted to go ahead with the government’s plans for commercial television.

14. David Whitfield with Stanley Black & His Orchestra – Answer Me (1953)

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Until the rise of The Beatles, most songs in the 50s and 60s charts tended to be covers, and often multiple versions of these songs were available at once. This led to the last two number 1s of 1953 being covers of the same track, and even, for one week, number 1 at the same time. An oddity, no doubt, brought on by the fact that the charts were compiled in such an amateurish fashion, with the New Musical Express simply ringing around 20 shops to ask what was doing well.

Answer Me was originally a German song called Mütterlein, written by Gerhard Winkler and Fred Rauch. The English lyrics were by top US songwriter Carl Sigman, who used to collaborate with Duke Ellington, among others. In Answer Me, a man asks God why his love has left him:

‘Answer me, Lord above:
Just what sin have I been guilty of?
Tell me how I came to lose my love
Please answer me, oh, Lord’

I would have thought God had bigger things to think about… These lyrics proved to be controversial. It seems laughable now, but the BBC actually banned Answer Me due to complaints over its religious content, and both David Whitfield and Frankie Laine later released toned down versions called Answer Me, My Love, in which Sigman cleaned up his act. This seems even more bizarre when you consider the huge success of I Believe, but it must have been due to the explicit references to God.

With its depressing lyrics, all-too-early-50s stately pace and overwrought style, Answer Me is a less memorable I Believe. David Whitfield’s voice was clearly made for this type of song, but you just wish he’d tone it down a bit.

Nonetheless, Whitfield was a hugely popular male tenor when he first hit number 1. Hailing from Hull in the East Riding of Yorkshire, he was born on 2 February 1925. Whitfield sang in the choir at his church as a child and during World War Two he would entertain fellow troops.

He featured in the Radio Luxembourg version of Opportunity Knocks after the war, which was his platform to fame. His second single was a version of I Believe, but follow-up Bridge of Sighs was his first taste of top 10 action.

Whitfield was the most successful British singer in the US in 1953, but the problem was, the unstoppable Frankie Laine’s version was in the charts at the same time.

Written by: Gerhard Winkler & Fred Rauch/Carl Sigman (English lyrics)

Producer: Bunny Lewis

Weeks at number 1: 2 (6-12 November, 11-17 December)

Births:

Equestrian Lucinda Green – 7 November
Comedian Jim Davidson – 13 December

Deaths

Poet Dylan Thomas – 7 November

Meanwhile…

11 November: Current affairs series Panorama first appeared on the BBC. Groundbreaking, and still often controversial, this series continues to unearth unpleasant truths all these years later.

13. Frankie Laine with Paul Weston & His Orchestra – Hey Joe (1953)

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Frankie Laine dominated the singles chart in 1953 in a way nobody else has since. His record-breaking dominance with I Believe was proof of this enough, but there was more to come.

On 23 October, his cover of Hey Joe ended the dominance of Guy Mitchell’s Look at That Girl. A week later, his next number 1, Answer Me, entered the charts. With four songs in a chart that only consisted of 12 singles back then, it’s doubtful that anyone else will ever have a third of all songs in the chart in any given week ever again. Although Ed Sheeran seems to be trying his best.

Sadly, Hey Joe isn’t the legendary track covered by, among others, The Jimi Hendrix Experience. It was a country music track written by Boudleaux Bryant for Carl Smith, and had been a bestseller on the US country music chart for eight weeks. It was Bryant’s first notable achievement, and four years later he and his wife Felice would begin a run of hits for The Everly Brothers, including Bye Bye Love and All I Have to Do Is Dream. Hey Joe does not live up to those classics.

Frankie Laine’s cover, backed by Paul Weston & His Orchestra, certainly tries its best, and obviously its success suggests it worked with record buyers back then. Like Look at That Girl, it features a quite effective guitar solo, and the brass works well, but the lyrics are nauseating. Some cowboy is jealous of Joe’s gal, and he’s decided he’s going to take her for his own.

‘Hey Joe
She’s got skin that’s creamy dreamy
Eyes that look so lovey dovey
Lips as red as cherry berry wine’

Ugh. By the end of the song, he’s telling Joe that, though they might be friends to the end, the end is nigh as his passion for her is all-consuming. If Joe had any sense he’d shoot this annoying ex-friend first while he’s describing her in that patronising way of his. Although Laine characteristically performs the tune with gusto, his vocal styling makes it worse, stretching certain words out past the point of no return. No doubt though, the popularity of westerns in the 50s, and Laine, meant Hey Joe was bound to do well.

Written by: Boudleaux Bryant

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 2 (23 October-5 November)

Births:

Actor Peter Firth – 27 October

Meanwhile…

2 November: The Samaritans phone counselling service began. Vicar Chad Varah officially set it up in London, was inspired years earlier while at a funeral for a 14-year-old girl who had committed suicide in the belief she had an STD. She was in fact only menstruating. This troubled Varah to the extent he advertised for volunteers at his church to help people contemplating suicide, and The Daily Mirror came up with the name for the fledgling support group in their headline a month later for an article highlighting Varah’s work. Varah stayed with the Samaritans until 2004.

12. Guy Mitchell – Look at That Girl (1953)

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The majority of number 1 singles so far have been a bit on the serious side, with maudlin ballads often ruling the roost. Finally, after Frankie Laine’s I Believe‘s final three-week stint at the top (making a record-breaking total of 18), cheeky chap Guy Mitchell was back. Thankfully, this time he’s avoiding the slight racism of She Wears Red Feathers, too.

Bob Merrill, one of the era’s chief hitmakers, totted up a third number 1 songwriting credit here, after also being responsible for Mitchell’s She Wears Red Feathers and Lita Roza’s (How Much is) That Doggie in the Window?. With producing supremo Mitch Mitchell also back on board, Look at That Girl went to number 1 on 11 September and stayed there for an impressive six weeks.

Less impressive is the song itself. Yes, finally something a bit more light-hearted, but despite the bounciness of the tune and Mitchell giving it his all, it’s easily forgotten. A few things are of note though. Firstly, the lyrics are almost saucy, certainly if you compare them to previous number ones, although that’s not saying much.

‘Look at that girl, you see what I see
Oh look at that girl, she’s walking straight to me
That’s right, last night I held her tight
Ho ho it happens all the time
I look at that girl, and I can’t believe she’s mine’

Mitchell, you dirty dog! This is explicit, by 1953 standards. Also, Look at That Girl features two elements that would become pop staples in years to come, and haven’t featured in number ones yet. Handclaps! And, best of all, a guitar solo!

Obvious ingredients to pop tunes yet they sounded almost shocking when I first heard this, after what had come before. It was an unusual piece for Mitchell as well, who was more used to performing novelty songs. Just like She Wears Red Feathers, Look at That Girl was also more successful in the UK than the US. It didn’t even chart there, and it marked the end of the success for Mitchell, Merrill and Miller as a trio together. With names like that, perhaps they should have become a law firm.

Written by: Bob Merrill

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 6 (11 September-22 October)

Births

Comedian Les Dennis – 12 October
Labour MP Peter Mandelson – 21 October

Deaths:

Physicist Lewis Fry Richardson – 30 September

Meanwhile…

26 September: The government had sweet news when they ended post-war sugar rationing. Slowly, but surely, the UK was sweeping off the post-war malaise.

11. Mantovani & His Orchestra – The Song from The Moulin Rouge (1953)

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Tired of reading about easy listening crooners? Well, here’s something slightly different. Eddie Fisher and Sally Sweetland’s I’m Walking Behind You was knocked back off the top slot by Frankie Laine’s mammoth I Believe, which stayed there for a further impressive six weeks.

On 14 August, for the first time an instrumental became number 1. The Song from The Moulin Rouge (also known as Where Is Your Heart) came from, predictably enough, the 1952 movie Moulin Rouge, which starred José Ferrer and Zsa Zsa Gabor. The music was written by distinguished French composer Georges Auric, with French lyrics by Jacques Larue.

However, this version, by Anglo-Italian conductor and composer Annunzio Paolo Mantovani, ditched the words, with the main melody played on an accordion by Henry Krein. As well as being the first instrumental number 1, it was the first time the number 1 sounded anything other than British or American. The wistful tune conjures up an air of French melancholy and a rare European sophistication, by 50s singles standards, anyway.

Mantovani’s signature style of cascading strings (known as the Mantovani Sound) made him hugely popular on these shores. He was Britain’s most successful album artist until a band called The Beatles started making a noise.

Born 15 November 1905 in Venice, Italy, Mantovani had music in his blood. His father Bismarck was concertmaster at Milan’s La Scala opera house. The family moved to England in 1912, and the youngster studied at Trinity College of Music in London.

By the 40s Mantovani was famous, and he helped keep morale up during World War Two on BBC Radio, so it was perhaps inevitable that he would reach number 1 sooner rather than later. He was more than just your average conductor though. He innovated.

Mantovani was one of the early pioneers of stereo recording, and his tunes were often used in record shops to demonstrate the exciting new sound. In 1952 he became the first artist to sell a million stereophonic records.

In 1953 he was on top of his game, and although The Song from The Moulin Rouge was only top of the charts for a week before I Believe began it’s final, three-week stint at the top, Mantovani would return in 1954 with that year’s longest-running number 1 single.

Written by: Georges Auric

Producer: Frank Lee

Weeks at number 1: 1 (14-20 August)

Births

Journalist Carol Thatcher – 15 August

Meanwhile…

19 August: The England cricket team defeat Australia to win the Ashes for the first time in 19 years.

9. Frankie Laine with Paul Weston & His Orchestra – I Believe (1953)

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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*

Births:

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

Deaths:

Footballer Alex James – 1 June 

Meanwhile…

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.