37. Jimmy Young with Bob Sharples & His Music – The Man from Laramie (1955)

jimmy-young-the-man-from-laramie-decca.jpg

As well as the mambo craze of 1955, Britain was also in love with cowboys and country and western music. Slim Whitman had ruled the roost with Rose Marie for 11 weeks, and the first ‘official’ country song hit number one earlier that year – Tennessee Ernie Ford’s Give Me your Word (although, as I said here, it’s not really a country song, and you could argue that Frankie Laine’s Hey Joe should earn that honour). That summer had seen the release of Western movie The Man from Laramie, starring James Stewart in the title role, as a stranger who causes ructions by working for the rival of a cattle baron. Lester Lee and Ned Washington had written the theme, and Al Martino (forever immortalised as the first UK number one artist with Here in My Heart) performed the US version. Martino only just scraped into the top 20 in the US, but Jimmy Young, riding high off his previous number 1 with Unchained Melody, became the first homegrown artist to have two consecutive number 1s.

 

Thankfully, Young pulls off The Man from Laramie, unlike his weird uneven Unchained Melody. It’s a jolly, rickety old number, and I suppose it’s kind of catchy, but I have no desire to ever hear it again. Basically, the Man is amazing and Young tells us all the ways in which this is true. His voice is better suited to this, but he’s still bellowing, and the worst bit is the cringeworthy way he changes his voice to sing with a layer of smarm:

‘He had a flair for ladies
Now the ladies loved his air of mystery’

Poor Jimmy Young. I am hard on him I suppose, but the fact he’s so fondly remembered for his career as a DJ rather than his music suggests he was right to switch careers. He became a DJ that year on Housewive’s Choice, but sensing the music climate was changing following Elvis’s success, he decided to go full-time, working for Radio Luxembourg and the BBC. In 1967 he was one of the original band of DJs on the fledgling Radio 1. Considered too ‘square’ by some of the station’s bosses, he proved them wrong and his morning show proved very popular. He switched to Radio 2 for the lunchtime show in 1973, and stayed with the station, becoming a national institution, loved for his charm and relaxed style. He was just as nice in person as on the air, by all accounts, and was mourned by millions when he died peacefully in his sleep in November 2016, aged 95.

Written by: Lester Lee & Ned Washington

Producer: Dick Rowe

Weeks at number 1: 4 (14 October-10 November)

Births:

Presenter Timmy Mallett – 18 October

Deaths:

Songwriter Harry Parr-Davies – 14 October

36. Slim Whitman – Rose Marie (1955)

Slim_Whitman_1968.JPG

Remember how I said I seemed to have a problem with pop’s longest-running number 1 singles? Well here’s one now. Influential country-western singer, guitarist and yodeller Slim Whitman’s Rose Marie, which enjoyed a massive 11-week-long reign in 1955. It stood as the longest-running continuous number 1 until 1991, when Bryan Adams overtook with 16 weeks at the top in 1991 with (Everything I Do) I Do It For You.

Born Otis Dewey Whitman Jr in Tampa, Florida, Slim grew up loving the country songs of Jimmie Rodgers. During World War Two he entertained fellow soldiers with his singing. He was so entertaining, his captain blocked a transfer to another ship. This was a massive stroke of luck as everybody on that ship was killed when it sank. He taught himself to play the guitar with his left hand, despite being right-handed, after losing a finger in an accident. This later had an effect on a young Paul McCartney, who was left-handed and decided to retune his guitar just as Whitman had. George Harrison was also taking note, and once said the first person he ever saw with a guitar was Whitman. The instrument was beginning to become fashionable, thanks in part to Slim. Elvis’s future manager, ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker, had heard Whitman on the radio and took him under his wing, and his first single came out in 1948. A young Elvis Presley even supported him.

Whitman had become very popular by 1955, even more famous in the UK than the US. He avoided standard country fare about drinking and having no money, and became known for his more romantic material. His yodelling became his trademark, and it may sound surprising but even Michael Jackson listed him as one of his ten favourite vocal performers. Rose Marie had been released as a single in 1954. It was taken from the 1924 opera of the same name, with music by Rudolf Friml and Herbert Stothart, and the lyrics by Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II. Eventually it toppled Alma Cogan’s Dreamboat, and it reigned supreme from July to October.

When I say I have a problem with Rose Marie, I’m perhaps being harsh. It’s not bad, especially by the standards of the time. At first I was baffled by its success. As I explained when reviewing Tennessee Ernie Ford’s Give Me Your Word, I’m not a country fan. I found myself more amused by Whitman’s voice than anything. I’m not averse to a bit of yodelling either (see Focus or Mr Trololo), but I just could not see the appeal. Unlike most of the other songs so far though, I went back to it a few times, and it has grown on me. Lew Chudd’s production is effectively haunting, and the lyrics pack more depth into them than the usual hits of the time (of course, it was written 30 years earlier, so that explains that). It’s a love song, but Whitman is powerless against his emotions:

‘Oh Rose Marie, I love you
I´m always dreaming of you
No matter what I do, I can’t forget you
Sometimes I wish that I never met you’

Nonetheless, Whitman has given up. He belongs to her now.

‘Of all the queens that ever lived, I choose you
To rule me, my Rose Marie’

So, yes, fair play to Whitman. But… 11 weeks at number 1? A world record for 36 years? Really? Having said that, when you’ve the likes of Jimmy Young as your competition, perhaps it’s understandable (sorry Jimmy). Whitman enjoyed success for the rest of his long life, with peaks and troughs, but always remembered fondly. He died surrounded by his family in 2013 at the age of 90.

There were a few noteworthy events in Britain during the 11-week-run of Rose Marie. The Guinness Book of Records was first published on 27 August. On 4 September, BBC newsreaders were seen on television reading reports for the first time. The two in question were Richard Baker and Kenneth Kendall, who became celebrities themselves in time. Ten days later, Airfix produced their first scale model aircraft kit. 22 September saw the start of ITV, in London only. The first advert shown is for Gibbs’ SR toothpaste. And most important of all, on 26 September, Clarence Birdseye started selling fish fingers in the UK. Mind-blowing.

Written by: Rudolf Friml, Herbert Stothart, Otto Harbach & Oscar Hammerstein II

Producer: Lew Chudd

Weeks at number 1: 11 (29 July-13 October)

Births:

Actress Gillian Taylforth – 14 August
The Jam bassist Bruce Foxton – 1 September
Sex Pistols guitarist  Steve Jones – 3 September
Children’s television presenter Janet Ellis – 16 September
Actor David Haig – 20 September
Human League singer Phil Oakey – 2 October
Athlete Steve Ovett – 9 October 

Deaths:

Politician Leo Amery – 16 September 

30. Tennessee Ernie Ford with Orchestra conducted by Billy May – Give Me Your Word (1955)

tennessee-ernie-ford-give-me-your-word-1954-78.jpg

On 30 November 1954, Winston Churchill became the first, and to date, only UK Prime Minister to still be in the job at 80 years old. However, ill health was taking its toll. He had suffered two strokes and was aware he was slowing down physically and mentally. On 5 April 1955, he announced his retirement. Another sign that the country was moving on from World War Two. The following day, his deputy for 15 years, Anthony Eden, became the Prime Minister. Highly regarded as a man of peace, world events would soon tarnish his reputation and have a lasting impact on his legacy.

Meanwhile, in the UK top 20, a very dull song had been holding on to the top spot for some time. Give Me Your Word, by Tennessee Ernie Ford, became number 1 on 11 March. It was written by bandleader George Wyle and lyricist Irving Taylor. It is considered the first country song to top the charts, although it isn’t really. All the ingredients of 1950s romantic, overwrought ballads are present and correct. The only thing remotely ‘country’ about it is the drawl of Tennessee Ernie Ford.

Ford had added ‘Tennessee’ to his name when he became a radio disc jockey during the 1940s, and taken on the character of a wild, crazy hillbilly. Soon he was releasing singles, and doing very well. The Shotgun Boogie was fast-paced boogie-woogie. He also recorded slower-paced duets with the likes of jazz singer Kay Starr, who had been number 1 in 1953 with Comes A-Long A-Love.

How did Give Me Your Word achieve the same feat? Let alone, for seven weeks? This is a mystery, lost in the midsts of time. I’m not much of a country fan, so I may be biased, but like I said above, this isn’t much of a country song. It had been a B-side originally, to River of No Return in 1954. That’s where by rights it should have stayed. It’s no How Soon Is Now? by the Smiths, for example, where the sheer brilliance of the tune demands it to be promoted from the flip side. To be fair to Ford, he made up for this bland, soppy rubbish when Sixteen Tons became his second number 1 in January 1956.

Written by: George Wyle & Irving Taylor

Producer: Lee Gillette

Weeks at number 1: 7 (11 March-29 April) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Poet John Burnside – 19 March
DJ Janice Long – 5 April

Deaths

Bacteriologist Sir Alexander Fleming – 11 March