50. Anne Shelton with Wally Stott & His Orchestra – Lay Down Your Arms (1956)

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On 15 October, the RAF officially retired the last Lancaster bomber. Along with the Spitfire, the plane was synonymous with World War 2. Yet another sign that the country was moving on from the war. You wouldn’t think that by looking at the number one single of the time, however. 

Lay Down Your Arms was a Swedish song, originally called Anne-Caroline, by Åke Gerhard and Leon Landgren, but the English lyrics were from Paddy Roberts, who had written Softly, Softly, a 1955 number 1 for Ruby Murray. It was a boisterous military march-themed love song, in which the protagonist is telling her soldier boyfriend that the conflict is over, so he needs to get himself home, lay down his arms and surrender to hers. Clever, eh?

The perfect person to sing a throwback to the war songs of the 40s was Forces Sweetheart Anne Shelton. Born Patricia Jacqueline Sibley in Dulwich, South London on 10 November 1923, she had begun singing on BBC radio show Monday Night at Eight at the age of 12. She had a recording contract at 15, and avoided being evacuated during World War Two by performing with dance-band leader Albert Ambrose.

Changing her name to Anne Shelton, she performed at military bases during the war, and had possibly avoided death when she was forced to turn down the opportunity to work with Glenn Miller due to prior commitments (this was the tour in which Miller died in a plane crash). She had been the first British artist to record one of the most famous songs of the war, Lili Marlene.

After the conflict ended, she became the first Brit to tour the entire US, coast to coast, which took a year. As the years passed she found it difficult to maintain her success with the songs of the 40s, and looked to war-themed material instead, such as Lay Down Your Arms.

It’s hard to fathom why this got to number 1 as far as the timing goes, let alone the quality. A month later, after the embarrassment of the Suez Crisis, would be more understandable. I can only imagine the older generation were going out in droves and buying this because they preferred it to the new rock’n’roll sounds that were loved by the youth. It’s not terrible, the melody is memorable and I’ve had it swimming round my head since listening to it, but it’s no Rock Island Line or Why Do Fools Fall in Love.

Shelton’s vocal is overbearing – I feel sorry for her soldier boy as she sounds like a terrifying lover. He’d probably be safer back on the beach at Normandy.

The most noteworthy element of the song is the fact troubled genius Joe Meek was the engineer, learning his trade before becoming a famous producer a few years later.

Shelton had a few more hits, including Sailor, which went into the top 10 in 1961 but couldn’t beat Petula Clark‘s number 1 version.  She also made two attempts at entering Eurovision.

As the decades went by she was often brought out for war anniversaries and ceremonies, much like Vera Lynn. She died on 31 July 1994 of a heart attack, aged 70.

Written by: Åke Gerhard & Leon Landgren/Paddy Roberts (English lyrics)

Producer: Johnny Franz

Weeks at number 1: 4 (21 September-18 October)

Births:

Athlete Sebastian Coe – 29 September 

Deaths:

Scientist Frederick Soddy – 22 September 

26. Winifred Atwell & Her ‘Other’ Piano – Let’s Have Another Party (1954)

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As 1954 drew to a close, the charts were finally livening up. Rosemary Clooney’s This Ole House had shown the way forward, and a certain song called Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley & His Comets had been getting attention. Unlike the previous December, when record buyers had chosen the solemn Answer Me by Frankie Laine as their Christmas number 1, everyone decided they wanted to spend the festive season having a bloody good knees up. And so on 3 December, Winifred Atwell’s instrumental Let’s Have Another Party went to the top and stayed there until the new year. She had become the first black person to have a number 1.

Una Winifred Atwell was born in Trinidad & Tobago, date unknown, though her gravestone suggests 1910. She was expected to join the family business and become a pharmacist, but she had loved playing the piano since childhood, and left her home to study music in the US, before moving to London and becoming the first female pianist to achieve the highest grading at the Royal Academy of Music. Substituting for an ill star at the Capitol Theatre, she caught the interest of famous impresario Bernard Delfont with her frenetic honky tonk style of playing. Before long, her version of Black and White Rag made her famous (it was later used as the theme tune to the BBC’s snooker show Pot Black)

Let’s Have Another Party was a follow-up to her hit Let’s Have a Party (see what she did there?). Atwell showcased her skills once more with a medley of 10 songs. Easily the longest chart-topper so far, she ran through Somebody Stole My Gal, I Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight, When the Red Red Robin, Bye Bye Blackbird, The Sheik of Araby, Another Little Drink, Lily of Laguna, Honeysuckle and the Bee, Broken Doll and Nellie Dean. She did this without pause, at a relentless pace, and as old-fashioned as it sounds now, it’s very refreshing to hear something so different to what came before. Atwell had mad skills, you could say. You can imagine people gathering round the gramophone on Christmas Day and actually smiling along to this, or perhaps even going so far as to have a little dance, and it’s a lovely image.

Although the charts in 1954 had often offered up more of the same, the number ones were of more interesting fare than 1953, with a little less crooning and more (dreadful) comedy, jazz and pop. 1954 showed early signs of how unpredictable the UK charts could and would be in years to come.

Written by: Leo Wood/Walter Donaldson & Russ Kahn/Harry Woods/Ray Henderson & Mort Dixon/Harry B Smith, Francis Wheeler & Ted Snyder/Clifford Grey & Nat Dyer/Leslie Stuart/William Penn & Albert Fitz/Douglas & Guy C Rawson/Henry W Armstrong

Weeks at number 1: 5 (3 December 1954-6 January 1955)

Producer: Johnny Franz

Births:

Author Hanif Kureishi – 5 December
Author Louis de Bernières – 8 December
Singer Annie Lennox – 25 December
SNP leader Alex Salmond – 31 December
Classicist Mary Beard – 1 January
Comedian Jimmy Mulville – 5 January 

Deaths:

Author James Hilton – 20 December

Meanwhile…

Christmas Day: The Prestwick air disaster occurred at 3.30 that morning, when the RMA Cathay struggled with intense rain and landed short of the runway at Prestwick Airport in Scotland. The aircraft overturned and burst into flames, killing 28 of the 36 on board, including two children and cricket star Kenneth Davidson.