99. Lonnie Donegan – My Old Man’s a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer) (1960)

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Following Johnny Preston’s Running Bear, the charts took another strange turn. ‘King of Skiffle’ Lonnie Donegan was back, but skiffle wasn’t. It burnt out not long after his second number 1, Gamblin’ Man/Puttin’ On the Style in 1957. So what style was Donegan putting on now? Sadly, it was music hall.

My Old Man’s a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer) had its origins in the song My Old Man’s a Fireman (On the Elder Dempster Line), which was a student’s union song in Birmingham before becoming popular with soldiers during World War One. Donegan and his band would perform this on stage, and at some point some foolish A&R man told him he thought it could be a hit. The band adapted it, and once they had enough to work with, decided to record it.

My Old Man’s a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer) was credited to Donegan and his road manager Peter Buchanan. After its original release, Beverley Thorn also received a credit. Thorn was in fact a pseudonym for Leslie Bricusse, who was soon to enjoy a fruitful writing partnership with Anthony Newley. Why Beverley Thorn? No idea.  The single was recorded live at Gaumont Cinema in Doncaster, Yorkshire, on 20 February, and released a month later, hitting the top very quickly. Why? Again, no idea.

The fact a man responsible for pioneering music like Rock Island Line and Cumberland Gap should become best known for such a dire song is criminal. My Old Man’s a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer) should have remained a live skit and nothing more. Now obviously, it made him number 1 for a third time, and opened him up to a new audience, but the release shocked hardcore skiffle fans, and did his credibility no good at all. I have to side with the skiffle fans. I’m no purist, and I have plenty of time for comedy songs too, but I can’t hear anything funny here at all. For example:

‘Lonnie: I say, I say, I say!
Les: Huh?
Lonnie: My dustbin’s full of lilies
Les: Well throw ’em away then!
Lonnie: I can’t: Lily’s wearing them’

Clearly music hall still had a place in the 60s. In fact it was still popular into the 80s, judging by the success of the BBC’s The Good Old Days. Also, Donegan released this at exactly the right time, as, with Adam Faith and Anthony Newley scoring two number 1s each, cockney singers were clearly the in thing. But that craze died down very soon, and by 1962, as several of the acts inspired by him began to make waves, Donegan fell out of favour with mainstream audiences, and he turned to producing instead.

In the mid-70s he temporarily reunited with the rest of the Chris Barber Band, but was waylaid by a heart attack in 1976. Two years later, his album Putting On the Style featured re-recordings of his old tracks, with backing from big names such as Ringo Starr, Brian May and Elton John.

By the end of the millennium, Donegan had the reputation of a music legend, appearing at Glastonbury Festival in 1999 and becoming an MBE in 2000. However, he had continued to suffer heart problems, and passed away on 3 November 2002 at the age of 71.

Lonnie Donegan has been one of the revelations of this blog for me. Although highly-regarded at the end of his life, I feel he should be considered more important for his influence on British music. Had it not been for his incendiary recordings and shows in the mid-50s, The Beatles, The Who and Led Zeppelin may not have existed, and we may have been permanently stuck with the safe pop and easy listening that was so popular in 1960. Cumberland Gap was a very close runner-up for the best number 1 of the 50s, as I stated here. It’s best to remember him for that, and look upon My Old Man’s a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer) as a bad joke that got out of hand.

Written by: Lonnie Donegan, Peter Buchanan & Beverly Thorn

Producers: Alan A Freeman & Michael Barclay

Weeks at number 1: 4 (31 March-27 April)

Births:

Athlete Linford Christie – 2 April
Soprano Jane Eaglen – 4 April
Presenter Jeremy Clarkson – 11 April
Chef Gary Rhodes – 22 April
Duran Duran drummer Roger Taylor – 26 April
Author Ian Rankin – 28 April 

Meanwhile…

1 April: A Mr Bill Griggs of Northampton began marketing Dr Martens boots on 1 April.

8 April: The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh had their second son christened as Andrew Albert Christian Edward.

17 April: The music world was shocked when US rock’n’roll star Eddie Cochran, who was touring Britain, was killed in a car crash in Wiltshire. There’ll be more on him in a future blog.

94. Emile Ford and The Checkmates – What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? (1959)

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Here we are, then. The final number 1 single of the 1950s, and it shows how far the decade had progressed musically since that first number 1 by Al Martino in 1952. More so than I would have guessed before starting this blog, in fact. When I wrote about this song for Every Christmas Number 1 I saw it as ‘clever and cocky’ and a sign of rock’n’roll’s cultural impact after Elvis’s arrival. At the time, I didn’t know the song in question dates back much further than Here in My Heart.

What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? (is this still the UK number 1 with the longest title?) was written back in 1916 by Joseph McCarthy, Howard Johnson and James V Monaco. McCarthy and Monaco were responsible for You Made Me Love You, and Johnson had come up with the words for I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream. Their new composition became a hit duet for two of the most popular singers of the early 20th century, Ada Jones and Billy Murray, during World War One. It took a man who was fascinated with sound to make What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? feel so contemporary.

Emile Ford was born Michael Emile Telford Miller on 16 October 1937 in Castries, Saint Lucia in the West Indies. His father was a politician and mother a singer and musical theatre director. He moved to London in 1954 to pursue his interest in sound reproduction technology, and studied at Paddington Technical College in London, learning to play guitar, piano, violin, bass guitar and drums, among other instruments.

He grew interested in rock’n’roll and became a performer at the age of 20, shortening his name to Emile Ford, and garnered appearances on music TV shows Six-Five Special and Oh Boy!. In 1959 he formed Emile Ford and The Checkmates with guitarist Ken Street and half-brothers George Sweetnam-Ford on bass and Dave Sweetnam-Ford on saxophone.

The band took the unusual move of turning down EMI because they refused to let them self-produce, unlike Pye Records, who they signed with. Their first single was to be a cover of the country song Don’t Tell Me Your Troubles, with a doo-wop version of What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? quickly knocked off in half an hour at the end of a recording session. Airplay was so in favour of the latter that it was promoted to the A-side.

For a man with a reputation for his obsession with sound engineering, it’s ironic that his only number 1 was made almost as an afterthought, with little manipulation. It only adds to its charm though, and the swaggering doo-wop arrangement makes it one of the catchier number 1s of the decade, let alone year. Ford’s vocal is suitably raw and powerful too.

What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? rocketed up the charts, and initially shared the top spot with Adam Faith’s bizarrely-similarly-titled What Do You Want? for a week, before taking over and becoming the 1959 Christmas number 1. It remained there for six weeks, ruling the charts for most of the first month of the 60s.

Ford became the first Black British artist to sell a million copies of one single. The band made the top 20 several times more, and they were voted Best New Act of 1960 by the New Musical Express. They became augmented by female backing singers known as The Fordettes for a while, before they left to work with Joe Brown.

In 1960, Ford used his success as a way to continue an idea he had been working on. The band became the first group to use a backing track system at times for their hugely popular stage show, so you could argue that Ford invented karaoke, in a sense. Whether he did or not, this invention certainly changed live music forever, eventually. Their live sets were also known for their punchy sound, thanks to the band insisting on using their own PA system. It’s interesting to note that Ford, like Jimi Hendrix, had synaesthesia, a condition where a person can see certain colours in relation to the sound they are hearing. He believed this condition was a huge factor in his obsession with sound.

The band split in 1963 as The Beatles became huge (at one point the Fab Four had supported them), and Ford set up a recording studio with his father in Barbados in 1969, before moving to Sweden.

In the 70s he worked on his open-air playback system for live shows, which he dubbed the Liveoteque Sound Frequency Feedback Injection System. This equipment was later used by artists as huge as Pink Floyd and Michael Jackson.

Ford died on 11 April 2016, aged 78. The song that made his name would see further chart action in 1987, when 50s-throwback Shakin’ Stevens recorded his version. Take a look at the video and try not to smile at a now-bygone age. You just don’t get videos as cheesy and cheery as this anymore. Keep an eye out for a pre-fame Vic Reeves, too.

So that’s the 50s number 1s all wrapped up. I hope you’ve enjoyed a read and a listen. Before I move on to one of the most fascinating decades in music though, I’m going to have to decide on my best and worst number 1s of the 50s. Watch this space…

Written by: Joseph McCarthy, Howard Johnson & James V Monaco

Producer: Michael Barclay

Weeks at number 1: 6 (18 December 1959-28 January 1960)

Births:

Comedian Tracey Ullman – 30 December
Chef Nigella Lawson – 6 January
Choreographer Matthew Bourne – 13 January
Actor Mark Rylance – 18 January
Racewalker Paul Blagg – 23 January 

Deaths:

Tennis player Dorothea Douglass Lambert Chambers – 7 January
Children’s author Elsie J Oxenham – 9 January
Author Nevil Shute – 12 January

Meanwhile…

28 December 1959: Associated Rediffusion airs children’s television series Ivor the Engine for the first time.

61. Lonnie Donegan – Gamblin’ Man/Puttin’ On the Style (1957)

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Puttin’ On the Style/Gamblin’ Man, was the first ever double A-side to top the charts. It wasn’t until The Beatles and Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out in 1965 that this became an official phenomenon… in 1957, an intended B-side could become known as the A-side simply because it was requested more in the shops. Double A-sides must have simply had equal requests (which is why the next few years contain many Elvis double-A-sides).

Donegan’s second number 1 release was also the first live recordings to reach number 1 in the UK (recorded at the London Palladium), and the last single to rule the charts issued exclusively on the 78 rpm format. The 7-inch, 45 rpm format, which had first been released in 1949, had become the norm.

Gamblin’ Man, credited to original performer Woody Guthrie and Donegan, starts off much gentler than Donegan’s previous incendiary number 1, Cumberland Gap. A tale of a no-good gambler stealing the heart of a mother’s girl, at first Donegan’s trademark bleat is laid over a casual strum. However, just before you start to wonder when Donegan lost his fire, the song picks up, and like Cumberland Gap, it gets faster and faster, Donegan stumbling over the words as he tries to keep up with another blistering performance. The song ends with Donegan’s drummer smashing down repeatedly on the drums. No number 1 had ever ended like this before.

By comparison, the traditional number Puttin’ On the Style is rather sedate. It’s not without it’s charm, however. It’s a cheeky strum-along, offering a wry look at how youths show off to impress – perhaps Donegan’s attempt to charm the older generation, who might have been scared off by the skiffle movement? It is perhaps a sign of things to come for Donegan, whose next number 1, several years later, appalled skiffle aficionados. And me.

A genre like skiffle was, like punk, never supposed to last long before it burnt out, but it had left its mark. The genre would not make it to number 1 again. Meanwhile, one of music’s biggest superstars had been troubling the upper reaches of the UK top 30 for quite some time, and the top spot was about to finally be his.

Written by:
Gamblin’ Man: Woody Guthrie & Lonnie Donegan/Puttin’ On the Style: Traditional

Producers: Alan A Freeman & Michael Barclay

Weeks at number 1: 2 (28 June-11 July)

Births:

Singer Marc Almond – 9 July
Comedian Paul Merton – 9 July

Meanwhile…

6 July: Scouse teenagers John Lennon and Paul McCartney met for the first time at a garden fête at St. Peter’s Church, Woolton. Lennon’s skiffle group, The Quarrymen, were performing when McCartney arrived for the afternoon show, and they were introduced to each other afterwards by mutual friend Ivan Vaughan. McCartney tried to impress Lennon, performing Eddie Cochran’s Twenty Flight Rock while The Quarrymen set up for their evening set. It must have worked as at the end of the night, Lennon decided he should ask McCartney to join the band.

McCartney had left before their second set, but one of the songs they performed was Puttin’ on the Style.