51. Frankie Laine with Percy Faith & His Orchestra – A Woman in Love (1956)

frankie-laine-a-woman-in-love-philips-78.jpg

Throughout the short-lived but infamous Suez conflict (see below), the UK’s number 1 single was Frankie Laine’s fourth and final number 1 – this cover of A Woman in Love.

It had been written by Frank Loesser for the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls. The Four Aces had some success with their version in the US, but the golden touch of Laine surpassed this in the UK.

Despite all his UK previous number 1s happening in 1953, the hits had continued. 1954 saw six top 10 singles and three more in 1955, including Cool Water which stalled at number two.

As usual, Laine gives it his all here, over a tango drumbeat and parping, swinging brass, but I’m already struggling to remember the tune two minutes after hearing it and it’s left me rather cold. Laine is insistent that the woman he’s bellowing at is in love with him as it’s clear in her eyes. I’m not sure shouting this at her is the right way to go about persuading her, though.

Laine had many more years of good fortune ahead. He famously sang the theme to western TV series Rawhide, which began in 1959, and showed he had a sense of humour by doing the same for Mel Brooks’ spoof Blazing Saddles in 1974, which won him an Oscar nomination.

He is now considered somewhat a bridge from the pop of old to rock’n’roll, not so much because of his style, but the way he expressed his voice, putting more soul into his performances than your average swinger of the time.

He was also one of the first white performers to cover black artists. His reputation as a social activist is impressive – he was the first white artist to appear on Nat King Cole’s TV show when he was unable to get a sponsor, purely because he was black. He later performed for free for supporters of Martin Luther King, and devoted a large amount of his time to the Salvation Army and homeless charities.

His final recording, Taps/My Buddy, was dedicated to the firefighters who helped during the 9/11 terrorist attack, and he insisted all profits went directly to them.

Frankie Laine died of heart failure on 6 February 2007, aged 93, his ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean.

Written by: Frank Loesser

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 4 (19 October-15 November)

Births:

Director Danny Boyle – 20 October
Singer Hazell Dean – 27 October
Actress Juliet Stevenson – 30 October
Screenwriter Richard Curtis – 8 November 

Meanwhile…

Only eleven years after the end of World War Two, the United Kingdom’s reputation as a superpower took a battering that it never really recovered from. Suez. Nasser’s plans to nationalise the Suez Canal company had shocked the UK and France, and plans began to remove him, partly to protect what was left of the British Empire. After meeting with President Eisenhower, Chancellor Harold Macmillan misread the situation and believed the US would not stand in their way. In fact, Eisenhower was insisting on a peaceful solution.

24 October: The UK, France and Israel agreed in secret that Israel would invade Sinai. Then, the UK and France would heroically intervene, and engineer the situation so that Nasser could not nationalise the company. Pretty shameful, sneaky stuff.

29 October: The Israelis attacked expecting retaliation, Nasser’s army instead withdrew.

5 November: The Anglo-French assault began, soon overwhelming the Egyptian army.

6 November. The UN insisted on a ceasefire, and Eisenhower was furious.

There had also been a backlash in the UK, and the consensus now was that Prime Minister Anthony Eden should have acted in the summer before public opinion had turned. Before replacing Winston Churchill, Eden had a reputation as a man of peace. By going to war, and subsequently claiming the meeting between the UK, France and Israel had never taken place, Eden’s reputation was permanently damaged, and parallels were later drawn between him and Tony Blair. By mid-November, newspapers began demanding his resignation.

16. Eddie Calvert – Oh Mein Papa (1954)

p01br0dz.jpg

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.

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

D77EF6B1-A082-4E98-9C47-E47DEE48BDD5-2908-00000154DCC8E1A9.jpeg

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)

FRANKIE_LAINE=Hey_Joe.jpg

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)

GUY_MITCHELL=Look_At_That_Girl.jpg

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)

mantovani-663032.jpg

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.

10. Eddie Fisher Featuring Sally Sweetland, with Hugo Winterhalter & His Orchestra – I’m Walking Behind You (1953)

eddie-fisher-im-walking-behind-you-his-masters-voice-78.jpg

On his previous number 1, Outside of Heaven, Eddie Fisher sounded like he was stalking an ex-partner by watching her in the crowd as she married someone else. This time, with accompaniment from the singer Sally Sweetland, his obsession has deepened – he’s walking down the aisle behind the bride-to-be!

‘I’m walking behind you
On your wedding day
And I’ll hear you promise
To love and obey
Though you may forget me
You’re still on my mind
Look over your shoulder
I’m walking behind’

Shudder. Was stalking an ex considered socially acceptable in 1953? It certainly didn’t stop Fisher bagging another number 1, so perhaps so. Frank Sinatra later covered it too.

This forgettable slice of traditional pop was written by the first British songwriter to top the US charts, Billy Reid. Fisher and Sweetland are so loud you can barely hear the musicians, but the song is so average it doesn’t really matter.

Sweetland, born Sally Miller on 23 September 1911, was a soprano who provided backing vocals for the young Tony Bennett. Years later she worked as a vocal coach with her husband Lee, and among their students was one Seth McFarlane, later the creator of animated comedy Family Guy. She lived to the grand old age of 103, passing away on 8 February 2015.

This was Fisher’s last number 1 in the UK, and this may be down to the problems his personal life would cause. In 1955 he married actress Debbie Reynolds, and had two children, one being Star Wars great Carrie Fisher. They had a very public divorce and he went on to marry Elizabeth Taylor, with who he had been having an affair. Taylor had been married to Fisher’s best friend, the deceased Mike Todd (I wonder if Fisher checked to see if the ghost of Todd was walking behind him in church?). Such behaviour, bad enough now, must have been truly scandalous in the 50s. His TV show was subsequently cancelled and he was then dropped by RCA Victor in 1960.

The handsome crooner notched up a further three marriages after Taylor. He tried a comeback in 1983 but this went nowhere and his final album was made a year later.

Plagued by health problems in later years, Fisher was rarely seen in public. He fell and broke his hip and died due to surgery complications on 22 September 2010. He was 82.

Written by: Billy Reid

Producer: Hugo Winterhalter

Weeks at number 1: 1 (26 June-2 July)