184. Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames – Yeh Yeh (1965)

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1965 began with the death of one of the 20th century’s most notable figures. On 15 January, newspapers reported Sir Winston Churchill was seriously ill after suffering a stroke. The 90-year-old’s time had come. 24 January saw Churchill pass away in his sleep at home, 70 years to the day his father had died. The country was in mourning, and prepared for a state funeral, the first time a ‘commoner’ had received one in the 20th century.

At number 1 that fortnight was an entirely inappropriate party song, that it would be impossible to describe without using the word ‘groovy’. In fact, that very word did appear in Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames’ version of Yeh Yeh. These two-plus minutes are the world of Austin Powers, for real.

Fame was born Clive Powell in Leigh, Lancashire back in June 1943. He fell in love with the piano from a young age, and as a teenager he performed with various groups in and around Manchester. His influences included the rock’n’roll pianists of the time, such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino. In 1959 the Powell family moved to London, and Clive was discovered by Lionel Bart, who found fame that year as the writer of Living Doll. Bart took the 16-year-old to meet Larry Parnes, whose ever-expanding roster of Brit rock’n’rollers included Billy Fury, Johnny Gentle, Marty Wilde and Lenny Lovely. I might be making one of those up. Parnes was happy to take him on, but Powell didn’t like the idea of being dubbed ‘Georgie Fame’. Unfortunately for him he had to like it or lump it.

In the summer of 1961 Fame became a member of Fury’s backing group, the Blue Flames, who consisted of guitarist Colin Green, bassist Tex Makins, drummer Red Reece and saxophonist Mick Eve. Fury let the group go at the end of that year, complaining they were too jazzy, and the Tornados replaced them (before their number 1 smash Telstar). Fame graduated to the frontman position in May 1962, and further line-up changes took place. Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames moved away from purely rock’n’roll and began drawing on jazz, R’n’B and even ska. By the end of 1962 they had a residency at the Flamingo, a jazz club in London’s West End. The US servicemen that were regulars at the club helped open Fame up to new sounds by lending him their records. At around this time he also fell in love with the sound of the Hammond organ, which was rare in the UK at the time. This was thanks to hearing Booker T & the MG’s classic Green Onions. In 1963 they signed with EMI Columbia, and the following year they released their first album, Rhythm and Blues at the Flamingo, produced by Ian Samwell, who had been an original member of the Shadows (then called the Drifters). It was a flop and so were their first three singles. After further line-up changes (including a brief spell from Jimmie Nicol behind the drumkit. Nicol famously filled in for an ill Ringo Starr while the Beatles were touring), they released their second album, Fame at Last. The perfect album name.

Among their repertoire at the time was the Latin-flavoured jazz instrumental Yeh Yeh, written by Rodgers Grant and Pat Patrick and recorded by Afro-Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaría in 1963. Shortly after, lyrics were added by Jon Hendricks of the vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.

The ubiquity of Fame’s verson, thanks to numerous adverts and TV shows over the years haven’t dulled my appreciation. It may sound a bit smug and self-satisfied, even self-consciously hip, but it’s a great time capsule of the swinging 60s, and it’s a nicely robust production. Lyrically, it’s not far off the Beatles’ I Feel Fine, which it had knocked from the top after its five-week stint over Christmas. I particularly like the way the tune changes and the coolness changes into joy when Fame sings ‘We’ll play a melody/And turn the lights down low/So that I can’t see’. Nicely done, all in all.

Two more number 1s for Fame, with and without the Blue Flames, were to follow, and perhaps the greatest year for number 1 singles had begun.

Written by: Rodgers Grant, Pat Patrick & Jon Hendricks

Producer: Tony Palmer

Weeks at number 1: 2 (14-27 January)

Births:

Chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – 14 January
Rapper Slick Rick – 14 January
Actor James Nesbitt – 15 January
Countess of Wessex Sophie Rhys-Jones – 20 January
Scottish actor Alan Cumming – 27 January

Deaths:

Politician Winston Churchill – 24 January 

149. The Shadows – Foot Tapper (1963)

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The movie Summer Holiday had been out for months, but its popularity was still very high in March 1963, leading to an unusual chart occurrence. For the second time in three months, Cliff Richard found himself knocked from the top of the charts by his backing band, the Shadows. Summer Holiday had been at number 1 for a fortnight, but Foot Tapper replaced it for a week, only to be overtaken by the film’s title track once more.

Foot Tapper was also from the film’s soundtrack, and Bruce Welch had co-written both. The Shadows final number 1 was also written by its most famous member, bespectacled guitarist Hank Marvin. It’s another uptempo piece of incidental music, in a similar vein to their previous bestseller, Dance On!.

It’s a bit better than Dance On!, but only a bit. Once more, you can imagine it working as incidental music for a film score, after all, that’s what it was. But Foot Tapper jangles along for just over two minutes and leaves little impression – it lives up to its name and that’s it. The best bit is the drum work from Brian Bennett, but compare it to Jet Harris and Tony Meehan’s Diamonds and Foot Tapper just doesn’t stand up. The Shadows had been an inspiration to many aspiring musicians, many of which would ultimately outdo and replace them, but their own well was starting to look very dry, and after backing Cliff Richard on seven number 1s, and achieving five in their own right, the group never topped the charts again.

Bassist Brian Locking left the group that October to concentrate on being a Jehovah’s Witness and was replaced with John Rostill. The hits began to dry up as Beatlemania conquered all in its path, and they starred alongside Cliff in another film, Finders Keepers. This 1966 movie features the bizarre premise of the boys arriving in a Spanish town to perform, only to find that the locals have fled in panic because a small bomb has landed nearby. So Cliff and the Shadows decide to find the bomb and get things back to normal. What a lovely set of lads. The Rolling Stones wouldn’t have done that, would they?

The 1970s began with the group featuring as regular guests on Cliff’s variety show for the BBC, It’s Cliff Richard!. Rostill left the group and sadly committed suicide in 1973, prompting yet another line-up change, and it wouldn’t be the last. The group took part in the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest, coming in second place with Let Me Be the One. Onetime guitarist John Farrar, who came and went in the mid-70s, went on to write You’re the One That I Want for John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, one of the biggest-selling number 1s of all-time. The 80s saw keyboard thrown into the mix but like so many bands from their era, an attempt at sounding contemporary just made them look more old-fashioned. The band reunited with Cliff for live shows several times, and Hank Marvin helped on his collaboration with the Young Ones on a remake of their first number 1, Living Doll in 1986, which was the first Comic Relief single. The band’s most famous rhythm section, Jet Harris and Tony Meehan, joined them on stage in 1989 for a special performance of Move It at Cliff’s The Event show. In 2004 they announced a farewell tour, and each of the band’s line-up at the time received an OBE, but Hank Marvin gave it back (fair play). Despite the tour, they have continued to perform and record, with Singing the Blues, their last collaboration with Cliff, reaching the top 40 in 2009.

It may be easy to sneer at the Shadows in the 21st century, but if you can look past the white-than-white image and the quaint walk they would famously perform together on stage, Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch and various members ably assisted one of rock’n’roll’s biggest ever stars for years, had a hand in making some of his biggest records, became huge stars in their own right, and released Apache, one of the greatest instrumentals of all time, which would go on to influence hip-hop artists decades later. And if it wasn’t for the Shadows, there would perhaps be no Merseybeat. And after lots of teasing, we’ve finally reached that era.

Written by: Hank Marvin & Bruce Welch

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 1 (28 March-3 April) 

 

 

132. Cliff Richard and the Shadows – The Young Ones (1962)

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Exactly a year to the day since Cliff had last held the top spot in the singles chart, the boy wonder scored his fifth number 1 with one of his most memorable songs. The Young Ones was the title track to his latest film, released at the end of 1960. After aping Elvis with his music, Cliff’s management had decided he should also become a movie star, and this was his third feature film.

The musical revolved around his character Nicky, an aspiring singer whose youth club was threatened by the millionaire property developer Hamilton Black (Robert Morley), who planned to replace the youth club with an office block. The youth club members decide to put on a show to save the club, but guess what? Nicky is Hamilton’s son! Families, eh? In the end, Hamilton is so proud of his son’s burgeoning success, he decides to join the young ones singing and dancing on stage. Lovely. The cast also featured Carole Gray as Cliff’s romantic interest, and the Shadows were also on board, although it was decided they weren’t very good at acting, so they were relegated to non-speaking roles, and Hank Marvin and Jet Harris’s roles were taken by future sitcom stars Richard O’Sullivan (Man About the House) and Melvyn Hayes (It Ain’t Half Hot Mum).

The film’s title track was written by Sid Tepper and Roy C Bennett, who were behind the group’s second number 1, Travellin’ Light. They also had experience in writing for Presley’s films. The Young Ones is a pretty successful attempt at defining the spirit of teenagers, which let’s not forget were still a pretty new concept back in 1962. Some critics take exception with Norrie Paramor’s strings, and I can see their point. He certainly was guilty of over-egging things when producing (see Walkin’ Back to Happiness) at times. However, I feel the arrangement works and adds to the air of wistfulness in the lyrics. As is often the case, the star of the show is Hank Marvin, who provides yet another memorable guitar line. Although Cliff was adored, I do wonder how successful he would have been in the early years without such a great guitarist behind him. Incidentally, the drummer on the soundtrack is Tony Meehan, who by the time of this release was no longer with the Shadows – he had been replaced by Brian Bennett.

It seems to me that The Young Ones is the first number 1 that revealed pop was becoming aware of the passing of time; recognising that youth is only temporary and will soon be in the hands of another generation. It was one of Cliff’s biggest ever hits, becoming the first British song to shoot straight to the top, and is certainly among his best work. I may look upon it favourably because it’s caught up in childhood memories. I recall playing my parents’ record – it must have been one of the earliest pieces of vinyl in the family collection (it probably belonged to my mum, she was a Cliff fan, and by coincidence has the same name as his 1980s romantic interest, Sue Barker) – and comparing it to the version I preferred. I’m referring of course to the fact that 20 years after its release, Tepper and Bennett’s song became the name of one of the most influential sitcoms of all time – BBC2’s The Young Ones.

I was only three when Rik, Vyvyan, Neil and Mike first burst onto our screens in 1982, so it’s unlikely I can remember that far back, but I can still remember wanting to cry when the final episode was first shown, and I was only five then! I’m not sure it’s right that my parents should have let me watch such a show so young, but I’m forever grateful they did. Of course, I didn’t know just how brilliant a show it was, I was just laughing at the cartoon violence, but there had never been anything like it. The theme tune was a suitably anarchic version of the original, sang by the cast, with Rik Mayall’s voice the most notable. Rik’s character was the Cliff fan, so this made sense. It was also entirely appropriate because if there was ever a comedian who realised the importance of staying young, it was Mayall. I grew up watching him on The Young Ones, remember his reading of George’s Marvellous Medicine on Jackanory, became an awkward teenager when Bottom arrived on TV, and like so many others, was shocked when he died in 2014. He was 56, which is no age to go, but he seemed so much younger than that, because he kept that spark of life that usually dims over time. I still can’t believe he’s gone, really, and the photo of his comedy partner Ade Edmondson helping to carry his coffin is such a tragic sight. Hearing a snotty Mayall singing ‘Cos we may not be the young ones very long’ now sounds desperately sad to me.

This won’t be the last time this blog notes the connection between Cliff and The Young Ones, of course – unless something happens and I don’t get as far as 1986. That year they collaborated on the first Comic Relief single, recording a new version of Cliff’s first number 1, Living Doll. Special mention should also go to Viv Stanshall & Kilgaron’s 1976 version of The Young Ones, in which the eccentric former Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band singer played it surprisingly straight. Another hero who went far too young, Stanshall was only 51 when he died in 1995 in an accidental fire while asleep in his flat.

My apologies for having mentioned death so much in a blog concering a song about youth! I’ll endeavour to completely avoid it next time…

Written by: Sid Tepper & Roy C Bennett

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 6 (11 January-21 February)

Births:

Broadcaster Emma Freud – 25 January
Comedian Eddie Izzard – 7 February
Comedian Hugh Dennis – 13 February 
Presenter Vanessa Feltz – 21 February

Deaths:

Historian RH Tawney – 16 January

100. Anthony Newley – Do You Mind (1960)

On 3 May, Burnley FC won the Football League First Division title. They defeated Manchester City 2-1, meaning that FA Cup finalists Wolverhampton Wanderers missed out on becoming the first team of the 20th century to win both the league title and the FA Cup.

Earlier that week, Anthony Newley scored his second and final number 1, and Do You Mind became the 100th chart-topping single. It was the second number 1 to be written by Lionel Bart, following the best-selling single of 1959, Cliff Richard and The Drifters’ Living Doll. Bart was only a month away from the opening of his musical, Oliver!, which premiered at the New Theatre in the West End on 30 June. The original cast featured Australian comedian Barry Humphries, later to be better known as Dame Edna Everage.

Do You Mind is superior to Newley’s first number 1, Why, but that’s not saying much. Featuring finger clicking and a style that’s not dissimilar from Living Doll, it’s better suited to the cheeky cockney stylings of Newley than the sickly previous single, and once more, you can’t help but imagine the young David Bowie having a go at it. Which is probably what Bowie was trying to achieve with Love You Till Tuesday (and that’s certainly superior to this track). It’s another love song, basically Newley telling his love  how he’s going to shower her with kisses, make an idol of her etc, but with the added bonus of actually checking she’s alright with all that first. So at least he’s more of a gentleman than Cliff Richard, who prefers to lock his girl up in a trunk so no big hunk can steal her away from him.

These two number 1s were only early stages in the start of a very successful career for Newley. This was the last in a series of chart-toppers by cockneys in early 1960, but Newley began working with several figures from this brief ‘scene’. He formed a very successful songwriting partnership Leslie Bricusse, who had helped write Lonnie Donegan’s awful My Old Man’s a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer). The material the duo came up with far surpasses anything they had made up to this point. Their first musical, Stop the World – I Want to Get Off (1961) featured the multi-award-winning What Kind of Fool Am I? and they became the first British duo to win the Grammy for Song of the Year. In 1964 they wrote the lyrics for Goldfinger, sang by Shirley Bassey for the James Bond film of the same name. John Barry, who had arranged Adam Faith’s two number 1s, What Do You Want? and Poor Me, composed the music. The same year, they also wrote Feeling Good, which became legendary thanks to Nina Simone in 1965. In 1963 he had married Joan Collins, having already had two wives. They had a son together but split in 1970, remaining friends, and he married again a year later.

In 1971, Newley and Bricusse wrote the music for Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, starring the brilliant Gene Wilder. As I’ve stated here before, I’m not much of a fan of musicals, but I’ve always loved this, and if I’m feeling particularly sentimental and I’m watching it with my daughters, Pure Imagination can almost move me to tears, particularly since the death of Gene Wilder. The Candy Man was also later a big hit for Sammy Davis Jr.

Newley had already married twice before his wedding to Joan CA distinctly British character, Newley couldn’t quite repeat his success abroad, but he did appear on game shows and chat shows in the 1970s. Always versatile, he continued to do well with music, film, TV and theatre, but his star did begin to wane. In 1e992 he took the title role in Scrooge: The Musical. This musical was a stage version of the 1970 film featuring Albert Finney as the miser, with the music by Bricusse. Say what you like but I won’t have anyone tell me that this isn’t the definitive version of A Christmas Carol. There you go, that’s two musicals I’ve admitted loving in one blog. The show ran until 1997, with fellow 50s cockney star Tommy Steele (who had a 1957 number 1 with Singing the Blues) later taking his place.

In 1998 he featured in BBC1’s flagship soap opera EastEnders. He was to become a regular, but ill health took hold. He finally succumbed to cancer in April 1999, aged 67.   So his two number 1s are a poor yardstick to measure Newley with, really, and there was much more to him than the David Bowie comparison. Hopefully though, not as much as Newley’s own son, Sacha, recently claimed. He made news headlines in late 2017 when he said that his father loved young girls and this is what caused the split between him and Joan Collins. But how young? Sacha called his father a paedophile, causing Collins to issue a public statement strongly denying he ever had any involvement with underage girls.

Written by: Lionel Bart

Producer: Ray Horricks

Weeks at number 1: 1 (28 April-4 May)

Births:

Author Ian Rankin – 28 April

Deaths:

Architect Charles Holden – 1 May

97. Adam Faith – Poor Me (1960)

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As stated in my last blog, the Official Charts Company recognises Record Retailer‘s top 50 singles chart from 10 March 1960 through until Feb 1969 as canon, replacing the New Musical Express, which despite this continued with its own chart. The trade publication, later known as Music Week, had turned weekly as of that date, and their chart covered 50 placings.

The first number 1 via this method was Adam Faith’s second, and it knocked fellow cockney Anthony Newley’s Why from the top after a four-week stint. Recorded while his first chart-topper, What Do You Want? was still doing well, Poor Me came from the same team, with string arranger John Barry now taking a writing credit alongside Johnny Worth, who was now able to be credited under his own name.

Poor Me is What Do You Want? all over again, but with a more lovelorn lyric. This time Faith is wallowing in misery as he’s been cheated on. All the ingredients are the same. Faith copies Buddy Holly’s vocal tics, which is a bit embarrassing (at least his vocal style isn’t as random as it was on his last hit), and John Barry’s pizzicato strings are once more the highlight. Matching the more downbeat lyrics, the arrangement swirls around once more, but with a more woozy feel. In fact, the ominous backing strings actually sound like an early attempt at the James Bond theme. Like What Do You Want?, it also clocks in at well under two minutes long. You’ve got to admire the chutzpah really. After all, if Cliff Richard can follow up Living Doll with another number one that’s almost exactly the same (Travellin’ Light), why not adopt the same approach?

Despite not achieving number 1 again, Faith was still a regular name in the upper reaches of the charts for some time, including Christmas song Lonely Pup (In a Christmas Shop) at the end of 1960. In 1963 he tried to ape the Beatles, recording with backing group The Roulettes, but their debut single The First Time was the last time he reached the top five. Ever attempting to emulate the sound of the time, he tried psychedelia, recording the marvellously named Cowman, Milk Your Cow by Barry and Robin Gibb in 1967.

In 1968, Faith chose to concentrate on his acting career, which had ran concurrently with his chart success, and starred mainly in theatres, alongside some film work. He also had a notable role as the lead character in TV series Budgie. A serious accident almost cost him a leg, but he returned to star as David Essex’s dodgy manager in music film Stardust (1974).

That same decade, he went into music management, and diminutive ego-maniac Leo Sayer was among his stable. Sayer later claimed that Faith wasn’t entirely honest with him when it came to money. I’m guessing Sayer chose not to ask him for assistance when Faith moved into investment and financial advice in the 80s. Big acting roles continued to come in, including the 1980 film McVicar alongside Roger Daltrey, and a part in Minder on the Orient Express, the 1985 Christmas special. His most notable role in his later years was in BBC comedy drama series Love Hurts, alongside Zoë Wanamaker. His reputation as a money expert was in tatters in 2002 when his TV station Money Channel closed, and Faith was declared bankrupt, owing a whopping £32 million. The irony of the opening lines of that first number 1, ‘What do you want if you don’t want money?’ must not have escaped him at this point. Another celebrity, film producer Michael Winner, also complained of how Faith’s unsound advice had cost him. All this information can’t help but create the image in my mind of Faith as a real-life Del-Boy Trotter or Arthur Daley.

Faith may have had mixed success with money, but he was certainly an astute TV critic. He died of a heart attack in the early hours of 8 March 2003, aged 62, and his final words made the news as much as memories of his career. They were ‘Channel 5 is all shit, isn’t it? Christ, the crap they put on there. It’s a waste of space.’ Last year Faith made headlines again when former singer-songwriter David Courtney, who Faith had managed, claimed in his book that Faith told him he had been asked by MI6 to spy on Fidel Castro when he visited Cuba in 1997. Apparently Faith was ‘crapping himself with fear’ as he was led into a room to meet the Cuban leader, whereupon Castro stated ‘I know you’ and held up a copy of What Do You Want?. Whether it’s true or not, I find myself wondering whether Faith tried to sell him broken VHS recorders afterwards.

Written by: Johnny Worth & John Barry

Producer: John Burgess

Weeks at number 1: 1 (10-16 March)

Births:

Comedian Jenny Eclair – 16 March 

Every 50s Number 1

The Intro

So, my first decade of number 1s is finished, 94 songs and seven months later. When I decided to review every UK number 1, I considered taking a random approach, but I decided starting right from the beginning would give me a wider knowledge of the progression of pop and pop culture in the UK. I did find the idea of kicking off with the 1950s a potentially arduous task, however. Although there are exceptions, my interest in music tends to really start in 1963 with the Beatles first album, and I know I’m not alone in feeling like that. I feared starting with the 50s would put some readers off. Also, it’s the decade that’s as far out of my comfort zone as I’m going to get with this mammoth blog task I’ve set myself.

Except maybe it isn’t.

The older I get (38 currently), I feel I’m going to really struggle with the 2010s so far. Don’t understand the kids of today, cannot stand autotune, etc… Anyway, I find myself getting more out of the 50s far more than I initially expected. It’s still music I find myself respecting rather than enjoying, and there haven’t been many I’ll be downloading for future listens I have to confess, but it has been a fascinating journey, and I’m surprised at how much music changed from 1952 to 1959.

Before I finish with the decade and move on to the swinging 60s, I decided it would be nice to (kind-of) repeat the task I set myself in December. Back then I listened to every Christmas number 1 in order, in one session, and decided on a best and worst for each decade, before coming up with an overall best and worst. That blog seemed to generate a lot of interest, so I thought I’d do the same with the 50s. I decided against listening to all 94 songs in one go, that seemed a little bit much, so I decided to take it a year at a time.

1952/53

Where it all began. As Al Martino’s Here in My Heart was the only number 1 of 1952, I’ve lumped it in with 1953. It’s neither the best nor worst of what followed. In general, the record-buying public will still in thrall of string-laden love songs, often melancholy, overwrought ballads, with the emphasis on how well the singer could hold a note. Form over content. Not the kind of music that floats my boat, really. It was less than ten years since World War Two, and music fans still liked to wade through syrupy songs of missing loved ones abroad. In 1953’s defence, though, at least it had a healthy amount of female singers topping the charts. Once rock’n’roll takes hold, they largely disappeared bar a few exceptions. There’s some strange novelty songs in there that you wouldn’t think of as chart-toppers – see (How Much is) That Doggie in the Window? and the un-PC She Wears Red Feathers. Frankie Laine dominated that year.

The Best:

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Kay Starr – Comes A-Long A-Love: Only three tracks in and already there were elements of a rock’n’roll sound mixed in with jazz. This took me by surprise, and it was more than welcome. Kay Starr’s strong vocal mixed with a breezy tune had a vital element missing from other songs that year – fun.

The Worst:

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David Whitfield with Stanley Black & His Orchestra – Answer Me: This is the decade at its least appealing to me. It’s so leaden and dreary. Whitfield’s vocals are too affected and operatic. The Frankie Laine version was better, but not by much, as it’s a pretty poor song anyway.

1954

Generally more of the same, but of a higher standard. Doris Day, Frank Sinatra and even Vera Lynn all make appearances, but they’re not their finest works. Rosemary Clooney’s jolly old knees-up about death, This Ole House is one of the highlights. A couple of instrumentals make it big, one good (Winifred Atwell’s Let’s Have Another Party), one not so good (Eddie Calvert’s Oh Mein Papa)

The Best:

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Johnnie Ray – Such a Night: Mr Emotion was probably the revelation of the decade for me. Previously I only knew him for his namecheck in Come On Eileen, and that Morrissey used to wear hearing aid in tribute to him.  I referred to him as the ‘prototype eccentric rock’n’roll star’, and his three number 1s were all unique forerunners of the music that was to follow. This one in particular must have sounded pretty racy at the time, and contained the first hint of sex, one of pop’s key ingredients.

The Worst:

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The Stargazers with Syd Dean & His Orchestra –  I See the Moon: This is genuinely offensive to my ears. At the time it was considered a comedy song. Praise be that comedy has moved on from ‘funny’ voices. It’s the audio equivalent of Colin Hunt from The Fast Show. When I first heard this I said the Stargazers sounded pissed-up and tone deaf. Nothing has happened to change my mind. Six weeks at the top of the charts?!

1955

The year of mambo, and Bill Haley. Perez ‘Prez’ Prado rules the roost when it comes to the former, with his version of Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White beating Eddie Calvert’s safer cover. Rosemary Clooney’s Mambo Italiano may not be the real deal but it’s a fun spoof. Tony Bennett makes his one and only appearance to date, and Slim Whitman’s haunting Rose Marie makes a big impact.

The Best:

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Bill Haley & His Comets – Rock Around the Clock: Tempting as it might be to go against the grain here and pick something less predictable, I can’t. Yes it must be nigh-on impossible to hear this and imagine the impact the decade’s best-seller made at the time, and it sounds safe now, but it’s still catchy as hell, and for me, it’s all about that guitar solo.

The Worst:

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Jimmy Young with Bob Sharples & His Music – Unchained Melody: Another one of the most famous songs of all time, but this is nowhere near as good as the Righteous Brothers version. It’s not even as good as Robson & Jerome’s. The blame doesn’t entirely lie with poor Jimmy Young, as the production is all over the place, but he really doesn’t help matters, lurching from barely trying to bellowing within seconds.

1956

Several strong singles this year, mainly Tennessee Ernie Ford’s tough ode to the working man, Sixteen Tons, and Johnnie Ray’s melancholic Christmas number 1, Just Walkin’ in the Rain, featuring an unforgettable whistling refrain. Elvis has arrived, but the UK has to make do with Pat Boone at the top instead with I’ll Be Home. Dean Martin makes his only appearance, and Doris Day returns with signature tune Whatever Will Be, Will Be.

The Best:

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The Teenagers Featuring Frankie Lymon – Why Do Fools Fall in Love: The first doo-wop song to make it to the top, the Teenagers one and only big hit was so influential on later soul and funk bands, and still sounds good to this day. Such a shame the band, and particularly Lymon, fell apart so soon.

The Worst:

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Anne Shelton with Wally Stott & His Orchestra – Lay Down Your Arms: Shudder. I disliked this song even more the second time around. I’m all for strong women, but Shelton needs to calm down a bit. Her poor lover must be terrified. I think I’d rather be at war than with Shelton.

1957

The year skiffle hit the top of the charts. Lonnie Donegan’s three number 1 songs left an indelible mark on music, even if it took some time for its impact to become apparent. 1957 is the strongest year for number 1s to date, and rock’n’roll is now dominant. Even the most old-fashioned song, Frankie Vaughan’s The Garden of Eden, sounds good. Legends such as Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly make their first appearances, and the former’s cultural impact becomes apparent, with Tommy Steele and Andy Williams impersonating him, to an occasionally embarrassing degree.

The Best:

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Lonnie Donegan & His Skiffle Group – Cumberland Gap: I used to think skiffle was a rather laughably quaint genre played on cheap, silly instruments. It’s only by listening to what came before Lonnie Donegan that I now understand and appreciate its true effect – to me it’s now almost as important as punk. The hardest part of choosing the best of 57 was picking between this and Donegan’s Gamblin’ Man, with it’s fiery ending, but Cumberland Gap came first and sounded like nothing I’d listened to up to that point.

The Worst:

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Guy Mitchell with Jimmy Carroll – Rock-a-Billy: Cheeky chappie Mitchell’s fourth and final chart-topper is mean-spirited and has the laziest chorus of any number 1 so far. A shame, as his previous single at the start of the year, Singing the Blues, proved he could actually be a dab hand at this new pop sound.

1958

Elvis was really on form with his second number 1 – Jailhouse Rock narrowly misses out on my favourite of this year and could have easily won in another year. Burt Bacharach and Hal David made their mark with two concurrent number 1s for Michael Holliday and Perry Como. Connie Francis finally returned a female artist to the top with a versatile selection of solid tunes – her Stupid Cupid introduced Neil Sedaka to the charts. The Everley Brothers made an excellent debut with the year’s highest seller, All I Have to Do is Dream, and Hoots Mon by Lord Rockingham’s XI was the finest novelty number 1 of the decade.

The Best:

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Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of Fire: Direct, simplistic, fun, horny and mad, this just edges past Jailhouse Rock for me and got 1958 off to a great start. As far removed from some of the dreary monotony of 1953 as it’s possible to get in the same decade.

The Worst:

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Vic Damone – On the Street Where You Live: I feel bad for doing this when Vic Damone has so recently passed away, but it really does stick out like a sore thumb from the rest of 1958’s list. It sounds like it belongs in 1954. Sorry, Vic. RIP.

1959

Buddy Holly’s untimely death made It Doesn’t Matter Anymore the first posthumous chart-topper, and was a big influence on Adam Faith’s first number 1, What Do You Want?. Elvis was away in the army, and his singles output quality began to slip with A Fool Such as I/I Need Your Love Tonight. Rock’n’roll went all dreamy and teenage-orientated, with Jerry Keller’s one-hit wonder Here Comes Summer and Bobby Darin’s Dream Lover, before Darin used his success to take an interesting career change. Cliff Richard made his first of many appearances, with Living Doll the year’s best-seller, and Shirley Bassey made her debut at number 1. The decade ended with Emile Ford and the Checkmates’ solid What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For?.

The Best:

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Bobby Darin – Mack the KnifeA fascinating diversion from his previous number 1, Darin resisted scaring his young fans away with this swinging celebration of a serial killer, but Atlantic Records pushed for it anyway. It’s likely the fans ignored the lyrics and chose to be swept away by his cool vocals and the power and punch of the backing band. Suddenly pop was taking a dark turn, if you listened closely enough. Much covered, but probably never bettered.

The Worst:

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Russ Conway – Side Saddle: This one totally baffled me when I wrote my blog, and while I found it slightly better the second time around, I still can’t quite believe this was such a success, but context is everything, I guess. Nonetheless, it’s still the weakest number 1 of the year.

The Best 50s Number 1 Ever is…

Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of FireDeciding on the best single proved to be much tougher than I first thought. It was very difficult to decide between this and Cumberland Gap, and Mack the Knife wasn’t far behind, either. Both songs shook up the music world, but in different ways. The winner is so ensconced in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine how it must have sounded as new, whereas I came in to Cumberland Gap completely fresh. If this decision was based on which single is most important, I’d have to award it to Cumberland Gap, as the influence of skiffle was so important on the following decade. It proved you didn’t have to have the voice of an opera singer to be at number 1, you didn’t have to have an orchestra backing you, and you didn’t even have to play expensive instruments. You could just make an all-mighty racket.

However, as impressed as I was by it, in the end this decision should also be based on personal enjoyment, as well as influence, mass appeal, inventiveness… and Great Balls of Fire has all of these. And despite me knowing it so well, it still managed to sound new and exciting, even after all this time. Plus, as great as Cumberland Gap sounds compared to most of the competition, in a way I had heard it before with the very similar and better known Rock Island Line. So congratulations, Jerry Lee Lewis. Despite being one of pop music’s first controversial figures, and therefore your brief period in the charts, you’ve managed to top Elvis and many other 50s legends, and Great Balls of Fire is one hell of a tune. You ripped up the rulebook when it came to the piano, and you showed the way pop was heading when it came to showmanship on the stage. And your best work was later used to sell cheese. But that’s record companies for you.

The Worst 50s Number 1 Ever is…

The Stargazers with Syd Dean & His Orchestra – I See the MoonNo contest. Reviewing every number 1 of the 50s was at times trying, and I knew it would be, but nothing prepared me for this. Don’t get me wrong, unlike many ‘serious music’ obsessives, there is a small place in my heart for comedy and novelty songs as genres, if they’re done right. And as I said above, context is everything. But I See the Moon is genuinely painful to listen to. I don’t get the joke, unless the joke is ‘Listen to how awful we sound’, in which case, the joke isn’t funny. In a decade with so number 1s that would be unimaginable now, I See the Moon is beyond comprehension to my poor ears.

The Outro

While I’m keen to get onto the number 1s of the 60s, and I originally saw reviewing the 50s tracks as a necessary evil in order to make it to the next batch, I am sorry to see it go. I’ve learnt a lot, about the social history as well as the music of the time, and it’s been a fascinating look at pop’s baby steps. Next, the decade of the Beatles, the Stones, Swinging London, the return of Labour to government, psychedelia, colour TV, British pop dominating at home and abroad… I can’t wait and I hope you can’t too.

Blogs on every 50s number 1 are available to view via the Archive section.

92. Cliff Richard and the Shadows – Travellin’ Light (1959)

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On 30 October, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club opened in Soho, London. One of the most renowned venues of its kind, some of the artists who later played there include Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Curtis Mayfield, Prince and Jimi Hendrix, in his final public performance. Two days later, the first section of the M1 opened, between Watford and Rugby. London Transport. 17 November saw Prestwick and Renfrew become the first UK airports to feature duty free shops.

During this period, and beyond, Cliff Richard enjoyed his second lengthy stay at number 1 of the year, after Living Doll had become the biggest-selling single of 1959. Since Living Doll, his backing band, the Drifters, had run into trouble. Unlike most backing bands at the time, they had signed a separate contract to Cliff, meaning they could release material on their own. Their first single, Feelin’ Fine, had to be withdrawn in the US when the manager of the famous soul group with the same name threatened legal action. The second single, Jet Black, was credited to The Four Jets, but manager Norrie Paramor suggested they needed to find a name and stick to it. That July while in a pub in Ruslip, bassist Jet Harris suggested to guitarist Hank Marvin they should be called The Shadows, and thus the name of one of the most famous bands of the next few years was finally settled. Ironically, Bobby Vee’s backing group were also called the Shadows, but Marvin and co didn’t know this, so tough. Travellin’ Light, written by Sid Tepper & Roy C Bennett, became their first single with their new name. Tepper and Bennett became two of Richards’ most frequent collaborators, and they also wrote many songs for Elvis Presley, particularly for his films.

Travellin’ Light is pretty much a rewrite of Living Doll, as close as you can get to following up a number 1 with a repeat of the same formula. It’s also quite similar to Roger Miller’s 1965 number 1, King of the Road – had he been listening to this? The production is also similar to before, but this time Cliff’s voice has been treated with a strong echo effect, and there’s some welcome twangy guitar flourishes from Marvin, that could have done to be louder in the mix. Cliff is on his way to see his girl, and he’s so excited he’s taken nothing with him. He can’t even be bothered with a comb or toothbrush, the dirty beggar. It’s an average country tune that would be better remembered if they’d at least tried to make it sound different to what had come before, but five weeks at number 1 suggests their fans were happy with more of the same.

Written by: Sid Tepper & Roy C Bennett

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 5 (30 October-3 December)

Births:

Actor Peter Mullan – 2 November
Actor Paul McGann – 14 November
Footballer Jimmy Quinn – 18 November
Politician Charles Kennedy – 25 November
Presenter Lorraine Kelly – 30 November
Actress Gwyneth Strong – 2 December

Deaths:

Pianist Albert Ketèlbey – 26 November