72. Vic Damone – On the Street Where You Live (1958)

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The old-school swingers may have been on the wane, but they didn’t go down without a fight. Vic Damone’s On the Street Where You Live dates back to 1956. Written by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner for the musical My Fair Lady, the show had enjoyed two years of huge stateside success and had recently opened in London, causing the single to surge up the charts. Ironic really, considering Loewe wasn’t happy with the tune and had wanted it removing before the musical was released.

It was the last number 1 produced by Mitch Miller, who had been responsible for many chart-toppers – Guy Mitchell’s She Wears Red FeathersLook at That Girl and Singing the Blues, Johnnie Ray’s Such a Night, Just Walkin’ in the Rain and Yes Tonight Josephine, and Rosemary Clooney with the Mellomen’s  Mambo Italiano. Mitchell hated rock’n’roll, probably because he knew his demand as a producer would drop.

He remains a divisive figure, for relying on novelty songs and adding gimmicks to records, and artists including Frank Sinatra resented some of his methods. There’s no denying his hit rate though, and his influence would remain. Miller helped conceive the idea of sound effects and soundscapes. Without Miller, there may not have been a George Martin, and without George Martin, there may not have been a Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Despite numerous versions of On the Street Where You Live, Damone’s remains the most popular. He was born Vito Rocco Farinola in Brooklyn, New York on 12 June 1928 to Italian emigrants.

Like so many others, he was inspired by Sinatra to become a singer. He dropped out of high school when his father was injured at work, and worked as an usher elevator operator at the Paramount Theatre in Manhattan. One day he met Perry Como, and seizing his opportunity, he stopped the elevator between floors and sang for him. Como was impressed and referred him to a local bandleader. From there, he went on to appear on and win an edition of Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in 1947, which was later used as a springboard for stardom by Marvin Rainwater and Connie Francis, who had also had number 1s in 1958.

Damone had a number of hits, and also began appearing in films, before going into the army, where he served with Johnny Cash.

Despite being written in 1956, Damone’s On the Street Where You Live sounds even older, and harks back to the first number 1, Al Martino’s Here in My Heart. Damone bellows out the vocals over a grand backing. Not much of a fan of musicals, the only part of this song I actually recognised was the famous opening couplet

‘I have often walked down this street before
But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before’

I think my dad liked to sing it when I was growing up, although I may be confusing this with any number of songs my dad likes to occasionally burst into.

I have to confess though that this song leaves me cold. Like many love songs in musicals, it lays on the sentiment way too thick, and after so many progressive number 1s this felt like a big, unnecessary step back. On the Street Where You Live enjoyed a fortnight at the top, but shared its second week with The Everly Brothers’ double A-side All I Have to Do Is Dream/Claudette.

Damone’s music, film and television careers continued into the 70s, when bankruptcy caused him to take up residency in Las Vegas. He was offered the role of Johnny Fontane in The Godfather (1972) but turned it down, and Al Martino accepted it instead.

Damone retired after suffering a stroke in 2002, the same year he released his final album.

He had some dodgy connections in his time. In his autobiography he revealed he was once dangled out of a hotel window by a Mafia member after breaking off his relationship with the thug’s daughter for insulting Damone’s mother. His life was allegedly spared when New York mob boss Frank Costello ruled in his favour. Damone’s daughter also once recalled that a bookie showed up insisting that Damone owed him a lot of money. The singer phoned Sinatra and asked him to intervene, but when ‘Ol’ Blue Eyes’ arrived on the scene, the bookie showed him a secret sign, which meant Sinatra had to keep out of it. Damone had to pay it all back.

By far Damone’s dodgiest connection, however, was President Trump, who counted him as a close friend. In May 2016, Trump offered to be a character witness for the singer during a legal battle with his stepdaughters.

Damone died of complications from a respiratory illness on 11 Feb 2018. He was 89.

Written by: Frederick Loewe & Alan Jay Lerner

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 2 (27 June-10 July)

Births:

Racewalker Les Morton – 1 July 

Deaths:

Poet Alfred Noyes – 28 June

60. Johnnie Ray – Yes Tonight Josephine (1957)

‘Mr Emotion’ Johnnie Ray’s third and final UK number 1 toppled the Andy Williams hit, Butterfly.

Yes Tonight Josephine had been written by Winfield Scott, who later co-wrote Return to Sender for Elvis Presley (along with Otis Blackwell), and Dorothy Goodman, of which I know nothing. Unlike lots of Ray’s material, this is a bouncy, upbeat number, along the lines of Ray’s first number 1, 1954’s Such a Night. Once again, Mitch Miller was in charge of production. Although he certainly had the magic touch back then, and helped make Ray the Christmas number 1 in 1956 with Just Walkin’ in the Rain, I think on this occasion Ray could have done better.

Yes Tonight Josephine isn’t a bad song. Ray, as always, performs well. But it’s ruined by some bizarre backing vocals that smother the song and make it too laughable to enjoy fully.

‘(Yip yip way bop de boom ditty boom ditty)
(Yip yip way bop de boom)’

I think they’re supposed to represent Ray’s anticipation of his upcoming night with Josephine, but they come across like a man with Tourette’s. Miller was straying too far into novelty song territory. Understandable, as that was his comfort zone.

Sadly, Ray’s career declined after this, and with that, his personal problems increased. He was arrested again in 1959 for soliciting an undercover officer, and went to trial but was found not guilty. In 1960 he was hospitalised with tuberculosis, and this caused him to give up alcohol. When he eventually appeared on local television in Chicago in 1966, he looked emaciated. A doctor told Ray in 1969 that he was well enough to drink an occasional glass of wine. For someone with an addiction to alcohol, this was never going to end well. He became an alcoholic once more and the music took a permanent back seat.

Johnnie Ray died of liver failure on 24 February 1990, aged 63. It was a tragic but inevitable end for a tortured soul. Had Ray been around in more enlightened times, his sexuality wouldn’t have been an issue and he may have been happier. At the same time, his troubles helped make him so distinctive, intense and influential.

Written by: Winfield Scott & Dorothy Goodman

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 3 (7-27 June)

Births:

Broadcaster Danny Baker – 22 June

Deaths:

Author Malcolm Lowry – 27 June

Meanwhile…

13 June 195: A bus collided with a queue of people waiting at an Oxford Street bus stop, killing eight.

27 June: The Medical Research Council issued a report that revealed there was evidence to support a link between smoking and lung cancer. 

58. Guy Mitchell with Jimmy Carroll – Rock-a-Billy (1957)

Following such an influential and exciting number 1 as Lonnie Donegan’s Cumberland Gap, I guess the only way was down. It had only been a few months since easy listening and novelty record star Guy Mitchell had hit the top spot for the third time with Singing the Blues, and here he was again for the last time with Woody Harris and Eddie V. Deane’s Rock-a-Billy.

Rockabilly, an offshoot of rock’n’roll, began to creep into the vocabulary of press releases and reviews in 1956. It derived from a blurring of the genres of rockn’roll and bluegrass, or, to put it more insultingly, ‘hillbilly’ music, as it was often called at the time. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Bill Haley were all producing rockabilly music, and rising rapidly at the time, so why not spoof the genre? Why indeed…

Singing the Blues had, whether intentionally or not, been a successful bridge of genres by Mitchell, covering both his familiar easy listening style and the new rock’n’roll sound. Despite Tommy Steele being considered the more authentic rocker of the two, Steele wound up sounding way too much like Elvis to take seriously, and so Mitchell’s version holds up better. Rock-a-Billy was a bad choice as a follow-up. Well, it wasn’t at the time, it got to number 1, obviously, but the years haven’t been kind to it. It comes across as mean-spirited and the lyrics to the chorus are as unimaginative as it gets. Get a load of this…

‘Rock-a-billy, rock-a-billy, rock-a-billy, rock
Rock-a-billy, rock-a-billy, rock, rock, rock
Rock-a-billy, rock-a-billy, rock-a-billy, rock
Rock-a-billy, rock-a-billy, rock, rock’

There was a little more lyrical dexterity in your average rockabilly song at the time. Later on, Mitchell urges the listener to ‘wriggle like a trout’ and then spitefully exclaims:

‘Ya know you’re gonna act like a crazy fool,
Who cares? It’s cool’.

Unfortunately for Mitchell and others of his ilk, lots of people were interested in acting like crazy fools, and following this fourth chart-topper (which made him equal with Frankie Laine for most UK number 1s at that point), his career waned, bar his 1959 cover of Ray Price’s Heartaches by the Number, which despite missing the top spot became perhaps his best-known tune.

Mitchell retired in the 70s, but recorded material sporadically after that and occasionally joined the nostalgia circuit. He died of complications from cancer surgery on 1 July 1999, aged 72.

Written by: Woody Harris & Eddie V. Deane

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 1 (17-23 May)

53. Guy Mitchell with Ray Conniff & His Orchestra – Singing the Blues (1957)

1957 began with happy-go-lucky crooner Guy Mitchell at the top for the third time, with his version of Singing the Blues.

Previously recorded by country star Marty Robbins, it had been written by Mervin Endsley, a musician who had contracted polio at the age of three and had been in a wheelchair ever since. From the age of 11 he spent three years in the unfortunately-named Crippled Children’s Hospital in Memphis. While there he became a huge country music fan and taught himself the guitar. He had written Singing the Blues in 1954 and taken it to Nashville in the hope of getting a hit. And a hit is what he got, several times over.

I wasn’t too flattering about Mitchell’s 1953 number 1s – She Wears Red Feathers and Look at That Girl – but Singing the Blues is a cut above both of them.

Produced once more by Mitch Miller, Mitchell is in his element here. The country element is hard to detect – this version of Singing the Blues sounds more like the older generation trying to harness rock’n’roll and put their own, safer, stamp on it. Unlike Kay Starr on (The) Rock and Roll Waltz, Mitchell and Miller pull it off. That’s largely down to the song itself, a winning tune set to effectively downbeat lyrics, rather than a naff novelty song with a new genre awkwardly shoved into it.

Mitchell, from the evidence I’ve heard, couldn’t sing a sad song if he tried, and he certainly doesn’t try here. Somehow though, it all gels, with Mitchell turning it into a cheeky come-on over a chirpy backing of whistling, ukulele and backing harmonies. He’s hoping to charm his ex into coming back.

And listeners kept coming back to Singing the Blues – his version made it to number 1 for two more week-long stints, making him one of only five acts to have the same number 1 on three separate occasions. The other artists are Frankie Laine with I Believe, Pharrell Williams with Happy, What Do You Mean? by Justin Bieber and Despacito (Remix) by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber.

At the same time as the Mitchell and Robbins versions were released, they found themselves competing with a third, by up-and-coming rock’n’roller Tommy Steele. More on that next time…

Written by: Melvin Endsley

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 3 (4-10 January, 18-24 January & 1-7 February)

Births:

Astronaut Michael Foale – 6 January
Journalist Francis Wheen -22 January
Comedian Adrian Edmondson – 24 January 

Meanwhile…

9 January: 1957 began with political change. Prime Minister Anthony Eden had struggled at the end of 1956 to recover from the debacle of Suez, and perhaps because of this he had suffered ill health. His doctors advised him to quit if he wanted to carry on living, and so he resigned. A day later, with no formal process in place at the time, the Conservative Party decided he would be succeeded by then-Chancellor Harold Macmillan. The political situation was so rocky at the time that Macmillan told the Queen he could not promise the government would last longer than six weeks.

52. Johnnie Ray – Just Walkin’ in the Rain (1956)

The Christmas number 1 of 1956 was a rather downbeat affair, but a good one. This was Johnnie Ray’s second number 1, after the lusty Such a Night in 1954. He had been immortalised in film too that year, starring in the famous musical-comedy-drama There’s No Business Like Show Business alongside Marilyn Monroe. He had seven further top 10 hits between 1954-56.

Just Walkin’ in the Rain had an interesting genesis: it had been written in 1952 by Johnny Bragg and Robert Riley. They weren’t a songwriting duo – they were prisoners at Tennessee State Prison in Nashville.

The pair were walking across the prison courtyard on a miserable rainy day, when allegedly Bragg remarked, ‘Here we are just walking in the rain, and wondering what the girls are doing’. Riley suggested this would be the good basis for a song, and within minutes Bragg composed a couple of verses. However, he couldn’t read or write, so he asked Riley to write down the lyrics in exchange for a songwriting credit.

At first Ray wasn’t keen on recording it, but producer extraordinaire Mitch Miller persuaded him to give it a go. With his reputation for songs of heartbreak, Ray was an ideal candidate for a cover, and Miller was proven right.

Backed by the Ray Conniff Singers and a mystery whistler (one of the most memorable aspects of the tune), Ray’s version perfectly captures the almost cosy melancholy at the heart of the song. Yes, he’s forlorn and lovesick, but you get the feeling he’s kind-of enjoying feeling sorry for himself. No wonder Morrissey became such a fan – was this track the source of inspiration for Well I Wonder by The Smiths?

Ray is in fine voice too, and makes the song so much more effective than your average crooner would. It reminds me of the infamous ‘You’re Never Alone with a Strand’ ad campaign of 1959, in which a solitary man walks the wet streets, lighting a Strand cigarette to cheer himself up. The ads were soon dropped due to creating an association of Strand with sad, lonely men. Just Walkin’ in the Rain would have provided a perfect soundtrack.

Despite the cultural shift that rock’n’roll brought about, the number 1s of 1956 were still on the conservative side. Music’s popularity was increasing with the rise of the teenager – the top 20 had expanded to a top 30, and singles by Elvis Presley and Lonnie Donegan threatened to hold the top spot, but were kept away by safer choices by the older generation. Come 1957, however, several big names finally made it to pole position, in a year that was made up of entirely male number 1 singles.

Written by: Johnny Bragg & Robert Riley

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 7 (16 November 1956-3 January 1957)

Births:

The KLF musician Jimmy Caughty – 19 December
Iron Maiden guitarist Dave Murray – 23 December
Violinist Nigel Kennedy – 28 December 

Deaths:

Artist Nina Hamnett – 16 December

Meanwhile…

22 November- 8 December: The Olympics took place in Melbourne, Australia.  Great Britain and Northern Ireland won six gold, seven silver and 11 bronze medals.

29 November: Petrol rationing was introduced due to petrol blockades caused by the Suez Crisis.

23 December, the British and French troops withdrew from Suez after pressure from the UN and US.

19 December: Dr John Bodkin Adams was arrested for the murder of patient Edith Alice Morrell.

Christmas Day: The long-running advertising campaign for PG Tips starring ‘talking’ chimps began, with the voices provided by Peter Sellers.

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

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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.

49. Doris Day – Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) (1956)

Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) is a quintessential 50s standard that has long since surpassed its original use, which was to serve as a musical number for Doris Day in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller The Man Who Knew too Much (1956). Since Day’s role in Calamity Jane (1953), she had been seeking more serious movie roles.

Songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evans specialised in writing songs for films, and really hit gold here. It may be sugar-coated (thanks in large part to perpetually squeaky-clean Day’s signature vocal style), like most 50s pop, but the cheeriness belies there’s something lyrically deeper going on – often a key ingredient in some of the best pop music.

‘Que sera, sera’ doesn’t actually mean anything. Livingston and Evans created it from a mix of Spanish and Italian. The Italian phrase ‘Che sarà sarà’ (translated as ‘what will be, will be’) is carved into a wall in The Barefoot Contessa (1954), and the two songwriters decided to add some Spanish to the phrase due to the language’s popularity, and probably because it rolled off the tongue easier.

Although Doris Day’s voice leaves some people cold, and is the sort of thing I’d normally run a mile from, I can’t fault her performance here, just like I couldn’t for her previous number 1, Secret Love.

Although, indeed, ‘the future’s not ours to see’, it’s turned out alright for Day in the song, as by the end she has children of her own, and they in turn are asking her about their future. Yet despite the joy in Day’s voice as the song ends, who knows how the children will turn out? What will be, will be, after all, and the message somewhat pricks the positivity in the production and performance.

It would be impossible to name all the cover versions. My personal favourite has to be Sly & the Family Stone’s suitably strung-out recording from his 1973 album Fresh. Stone had a very tough future ahead of him at that point, making his version rather poignant. I also can’t let this blog pass by without mentioning a memorable advert from my childhood, in which the song was rewritten to sell McCain Steakhouse Grills. As you can see here, the new version was sang by a group of hungry builders in a van, and ends with the chorus changed to ‘We hope it’s chips, it’s chips!’ God knows what Doris Day would have thought of it.

Like Secret Love before it, the song won an Oscar for Best Original Song. However, despite its enduring popularity, it became something of a millstone around Day’s neck, as it became the theme tune to her sitcom The Doris Day Show in 1968, which she didn’t enjoy making. By this point her film career was stalling, the permissive society was at large and she was seen as a symbol of a bygone age. Threats of bankruptcy and the death of her husband Marty Melcher also took their toll.

There were still occasional chart hits in the 60s, however. Move Over Darling, a top 10 hit from the film of the same name in 1963, had been co-written by her son, Terry Melcher. But she did herself no favours by turning down roles like Mrs Robinson in The Graduate (1967) because she deemed it offensive.

Her sitcom ended in 1973, and Day began to live a quieter life running several animal welfare organisations. The 80s did see her involved in lengthy legal proceedings over her money. Her final album, My Heart, was released in 2011.

Day died of pneumonia on 13 May 2019, aged 97. The Doris Day Animal Foundation announced there would be no funeral service, gravesite or memorial. An unusually muted end for a much-loved celebrity, but one entirely in keeping with the modest woman Day was.

Written by: Jay Livingston & Ray Evans

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 6 (10 August-20 September)

Births:

Actress Kim Cattrall – 21 August
Footballer Ray Wilkins – 14 September
Actor Tim McInnerny – 18 September

Meanwhile…

9 August: The opening of the seminal art exhibition This Is Tomorrow at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, which featured, among others, Richard Hamilton’s collage Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?. It is now considered to be one of the earliest examples of pop art, a decade before the movement really became popular. Hamilton went on to design the sleeve for The Beatles in 1968.

17 August: Scotland Yard began investigating society doctor John Bodkin Adams. Between 1946 and 1956, more than 160 of his patients died in suspicious circumstances.

10 September: French Prime Minister Guy Mollet visited London and proposed that France should merge with the United Kingdom. The idea was rejected by Anthony Eden.

12 September, Manchester United became the first English team to compete in the European Cup, beating RSC Anderlecht 2–0 in the first leg of the preliminary round.