216. Frank Sinatra – Strangers in the Night (1966)

Frank-Sinatra-My-Way-e1340246656172.jpg

On 6 June, Johnny Speight’s long-running sitcom Till Death Us Do Part was first transmitted on BBC One. Starring Warren Mitchell as the bigoted Alf Garnett, it ran well into the 1970s, with a spin-off, In Sickness and in Health, beginning in the 80s.

Returning to number 1 for the first time in 12 years (easily the longest gap up to this point) was Frank Sinatra, with one of his least favourite songs that is nevertheless one of his most famous, Strangers in the Night. When I wrote about his 1954 single Three Coins in the Fountain, I neglected to trace Ol’ Blue Eyes backstory properly, only going back to earlier in the 50s. Let’s go further back this time.

Francis Albert Sinatra was born on 12 December 1915 in Hoboken, New Jersey, the only child of Italians ‘Dolly’ and ‘Marty’ Sinatra. Delivered via forceps, Sinatra was born with a perforated eardrum and severe scarring on his left cheek, neck and ear. A skinny child with bad acne, he was given tough love by his parents, and some biographers claim she abused him in his youth. His father was an illiterate boxer. Frank became interested in jazz music from a young age, and his idol was Bing Crosby. His uncle bought him a ukelele when he was 15, and he would entertain his family. Expelled from high school in 1931 for being rowdy, he took on several odd jobs and would sing for free on local radio stations. Sinatra never learnt to read music properly, and would do so by ear only.

In 1935 his mother persuaded him to join local singers the 3 Flashes. He worshipped them, but they only let him join because he had a car. Renamed the Hoboken Four, they won first prize on a local radio talent show, and Sinatra became their lead singer, provoking jealousy due to the attention he received from girls. By 1939 he was working as a singing waiter when he joined the Harry James Band as their singer, and it was with them that he released his first record, From the Bottom of My Heart. He then moved on to the Tommy Dorsey Band. Dorsey became Sinatra’s father figure, and he would learn and copy his mannerisms, and asked him to be godfather to his daughter Nancy, born in 1940.

For the next two years his popularity grew with each recording, and he pushed Dorsey to let him make music under his own name. He became obsessed with the idea of overtaking Crosby as a star, and following a legal battle he left the group. According to some newspaper reports, Sinatra’s mobster godfather had to hold a gun to Dorsey’s head in order to persuade him.

In 1943 Sinatra signed with Colombia, and Sinatramania was in full swing. It was around this time he became known as ‘The Voice’. His fame eclipsed Crosby and he would entertain US troops during World War Two. His first album, The Voice of Frank Sinatra, was released in 1946.

As the 40s became the 50s, he suffered a career slump, thanks in part to his divorce, Mafia connections, departure from Colombia and rejection from Hollywood, but an Oscar-winning role in From Here to Eternity kickstarted his comeback. In 1953 he also signed with Capitol Records and began releasing some of his most acclaimed albums over the next few years, including Songs for Young Lovers in 1954, 1955’s In the Wee Small Hours and Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! in 1956. The title track to 1958’s Come Fly with Me became one of his best-known tracks. By the end of the decade the leader of the Rat Pack was so famous he was invited to be Master of Ceremonies at a dinner for Soviet Union President Nikita Krushchev.

In 1960, in order to give himself and other performers more artistic freedom, a discontented Sinatra left Capitol to form Reprise Records and began working with Quincy Jones in addition to his usual collaborator Nelson Riddle. By the time he turned 50 in 1965 he was immensely popular once more, performing with Rat Pack pals Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin at The Frank Sinatra Spectacular, transmitted live to movie theatres across the US. It Was a Very Good Year (which earned him a Grammy Award) and That’s Life, both very popular singles, showcased a reflective side to Ol’ Blue Eyes.

Which brings us to Strangers in the Night. Several men have claimed ownership over the years, but it’s still Bert Kaempfert’s name on the credits. The German conductor had connections to music’s biggest stars, having co-written Elvis Presley’s awful Wooden Heart, and it was he that hired the Beatles to back Tony Sheridan on his album My Bonnie. The melody to Strangers in the Night was originally called Beddy Bye and was used a part of the instrumental score to the comedy A Man Could Get Killed (1966). English lyrics came from Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder, and one of the film’s stars, Melina Mercouri, was supposed to get first crack at it, but she declined. Sinatra’s version was recorded on 11 April, a month before work began on the rest of the album, and among the personnel were Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine and future star Glenn Campbell on rhythm guitar.

Despite its success, Sinatra not only disliked Strangers in the Night, he seemingly spent the rest of his career running it down. So why record it? Well, he needed a hit single. His albums were selling well, but singles were more important to the industry in 1966. He called it ‘a piece of shit’ when it was first played to him, but then he heard his rival Jack Jones had recorded it, and he was determined to outperform him in the charts. ‘The Voice’ was on cruise control during the recording, and as the track was about to fade, he performed the famous scat ‘dooby dooby doo’ etc. This was probably a sign of how little he regarded the song, but it became famous, and even inspired the name of the crime-fighting dog Scooby-Doo.

My opinion of Strangers in the Night lies somewhere inbetween popular opinion and Frank. It’s a nice melody, and its better than his first number 1, but he also recorded many better songs down the years. I guess a large part of its popularity may lie in the romance of the lyrics. The idea of two strangers falling in love upon first sight in the dark and then staying together all their lives is enduring.

It’s fair enough if Ol’ Blue Eyes didn’t like the song, but the homophobia he displayed at the time can’t help but spoil any enjoyment I might have. He apparently thought it was about ‘two fags in a bar’, and in a concert in Jerusalem in 1975 he changed the lyrics to ‘love was just a glance away, a lonesome pair of pants away’. Not only that, he believed Campbell was giving him the eye during the recording and insulted him. His disdain didn’t fade over the years either. When he introduced it at a concert in the Dominican Republic in 1982 he called it ‘the worst fucking song I’ve ever heard’

Nonetheless, it did the job at the time and spent three weeks at the top, and the album of the same name was one of his biggest sellers. Not bad going for ‘a piece of shit’.

Written by: Bert Kaempfert/Charles Singleton & Eddie Snyder (English lyrics)

Producer: Jimmy Bowen

Weeks at number 1: 3 (2-22 June)

Births:

Playwright Mark Ravenhill – 7 June
Actor Samuel West – 19 June 
Rally driver Michael Park – 22 June 

212. The Spencer Davis Group – Somebody Help Me (1966)

Spencer-Davis-Group-7889544

By 1966, London was established as the coolest capital in the world, and it was on 15 April that Time magazine ran a pop-art cover featuring the city, with the phrase ‘LONDON: The Swinging City’. Inside it stated ‘In a decade dominated by youth, London has burst into bloom. It swings; it is the scene’. With the World Cup soon to take place, this was a great time to be in England. The Moors Murders still cast a great shadow over all this positivity though. Ian Brady and Myra Hindley’s trial for three deaths began on 19 April at Chester Crown Court.

The Spencer Davis Group were at number 1 again for the last time. Sticking firmly to the formula that saw them shoot to the top with the classic Keep on Running, they borrowed another song from reggae singer-songwriter Jackie Edwards, who was signed to their producer Chris Blackwell’s Island Records.

Edwards’ original was more like Northern Soul than reggae, and a decent stab at it. However, the Spencer Davis Group made it sound as similar to their previous number 1 as is possible. Winwood’s voice was as great as ever (hearing him singing ‘When I was just/A little boy of seventeen’ is pretty amusing as he must have been that age roughly at the time), and there’s some occasional interesting guitar sounds from Davis, but there’s no way this would have been top of the pops if it had been released before Keep on Running. In 2003 it found new life when it became the theme tune to the long-running ITV drama The Royal, a medical drama set in the 60s.

Better songs were to follow. Both Gimme Some Lovin’ and I’m a Man were much more deserving of number 1 status, and they started to make progress in the US. In 1966 the group had also starred in their own film. The Ghost Goes Gear, also starring Nicholas Parsons, saw the Spencer Davis Group staying in the haunted childhood home of their manager. This sounds awfully amazing but seems to have been lost in the mist of time sadly.

In 1967 Steve and Muff Winwood decided to leave the band. Steve formed Traffic, adopting a more psychedelic sound and co-writing the excellent Paper Sun and Hole in My Shoe (later recorded by Neil from The Young Ones). He also played the organ on Voodoo Chile on the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland (1968), before forming the short-lived supergroup Blind Faith with his pal Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech. His singing on the haunting Can’t Find My Way Home is particularly beautiful. After briefly reforming Traffic, he resurfaced as a solo artist in the late 70s, and found pop fame once more with the hit single Higher Love in 1986. He still occasionally releases new material, and his daughter Lily is now a singer.

His brother, Muff, went to work as an A&R man for Island Records, before becoming an executive for CBS Records. He produced Sparks’ hit This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us and was also responsible for signing several big names, including Prefab Sprout, Shakin’ Stevens and Sade.

The Spencer Davis Group soldiered on without the Winwoods, and actually briefly worked alongside Traffic on the soundtrack to Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. After several line-up changes, with Davis the only original member left, they split in 1969. They reformed several times over, and confusingly still exist in two different formations, one in Europe and one in the US. Will he form a third after Brexit?

ADD TAGS

Producer: Chris Blackwell

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

Births:

Model Samantha Fox – 15 April

Deaths:

Cricketer Tich Freeman – 28 January 

190. The Rolling Stones – The Last Time (1965)

Stones Masons Yard colour 1965.jpg

April Fool’s Day 1965: The Greater London Council came into power, replacing the London County Council. Also, the Finance Act introduced corporation tax, which replaced income tax for corporate institutions.

Three months earlier, fresh off the back of their second number 1, Little Red Rooster, the Rolling Stones had released their second album, The Rolling Stones No. 2, which topped the album charts. Although the majority of the LP was made up of covers, including their classy version of Time Is on My Side, there were three tracks written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. All were average, but a sign of things to come. The following month their first single to feature their name on the credits, The Last Time, was released, and a month after that became their third number 1. Except it wasn’t as straightforward as that.

Yes, the guitar lines, the intro and the verses were original, but the chorus was a steal of gospel group the Staple Singers’ This May Be the Last Time from 1958, which soul supremo James Brown had released as the B-side to Out of Sight in 1964. Luckily for the Stones, that track was a traditional with no songwriting credit. Very crafty.

Nonetheless, the Stones’ elements are strong and complement the chorus well, with Jagger further developing the ‘can’t-be-arsed-love’ persona of their first number 1 It’s All Over Now. Brian Jones’ lead guitar is very memorable and makes for a great intro, and Richards’ solo is much better than that of the aforementioned song. The highlight of the track is the end, where normally cool, calm and collected Jagger begins screaming repeatedly during the fade-out. Here was a strong sign that, with Jagger and Richards continuing development as songwriters, the Rolling Stones had the potential to move beyond blues and R’n’B covers. The main let down, for me, is the production. Andrew Loog Oldham, always a fan of raw production, worked with Phil Spector on this. What worked magnificently on You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ just isn’t as effective on this. The deliberate muddiness just frustrates me. I’d rather hear a cleaner sound. Click on the YouTube video above to see a classic performance on the song on Top of the Pops, with George Best in the audience.

In addition to managing and producing the Rolling Stones, Loog Oldham started a side-project. The Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra wasn’t an orchestra, but a revolving stable of session musicians, and occasionally, members of the Rolling Stones. In 1966 they released their fourth album, The Rolling Stones Songbook. One of the covers on there was a version of The Last Time. 31 years later, alt-rockers rockers The Verve built Bittersweet Symphony around a sample of this. After two albums as a cult psychedelic band, they suddenly became big, thanks to this excellent state-of-the-nation track. Unfortunately for them, the Rolling Stones’ notoriously tough lawyers ABKCO got involved and due to the threat of litigation, Verve singer-songwriter Richard Ashcroft surrendered all royalties to Jagger and Richards, who were added to the songwriting credits of Bittersweet Symphony, adding an extra poignancy to that song’s title. Considering the sample sounds hardly anything like The Last Time, which Jagger and Richards clearly stole from the Staple Singers… Very crafty.

To further kick dirt in the Verve’s faces, Loog Oldham then sued the Verve over the same sample. He had little to do with the sample either, it was written and arranged by David Whitaker! Said strings are also alleged to be featured on Tinchy Stryder featuring N-Dubz’s 2009 number 1, called, appropriately, Number 1. Having just listened to that, I don’t think it’s true. They’re very similar, but surely if they were the same, Jagger and Richards wouldn’t miss a chance to get royalties from that too? Hmm.

Written by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Producer: Andrew Loog Oldham

Weeks at number 1: 3 (18 March-7 April)

Births:

Footballer Steve Bull – 28 March
Journalist Piers Morgan – 30 March
Composer Robert Steadman – 1 April 
Actor Sean Wilson – 4 April 

Deaths:

Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood – 28 March
Olympian rower Richard Beesly – 28 March

66. Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of Fire (1958)

Jerry_Lee_Lewis_1950s_publicity_photo_cropped_retouched.jpg

1958’s charts began with a bang like never before. The simplicity and energy that rock’n’roll brought to popular music is perhaps never better showcased than in this song – one of the best number 1s of the decade, if not, THE best. The only number 1 with an intro to rival it to date had been Rock Around the Clock, but Great Balls of Fire has aged better. Not only did conflicted wildman Jerry Lee Lewis bring the piano to the forefront for the first time, attacking it with the same reckless abandon that Jimi Hendrix later did with the guitar, he also made the subject of sex overt. Yes, there had been hints creeping in, but Great Balls of Fire is pure lust – a subject matter that Lewis wrestled with, and proved to be his downfall.

Lewis was born into a poor family living in Ferriday, Concordia ParishLouisiana in 1935. He loved playing the piano from an early age, so much so that his parents mortgaged their farm to buy him one. He became influenced by fellow musical family members, The Great American Songbook and Hank Williams. In an early sign of Lewis’s waywardness, his mother enrolled him in Southwest Bible Institute, where she hoped he would begin performing evangelical numbers. Lewis was expelled for playing boogie-woogie versions. Rock’n’roll was growing in popularity, and was the perfect home for Lewis, who travelled to Memphis Tennessee to audition for Sun Records, home to Elvis Presley, in November 1956. He passed and began recording his own material as well as assisting greats such as Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Recordings exist of the three of them jamming with Elvis from that December. Two months later, Lewis recorded his classic version of Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On, which rightly shot him to fame. His raucous live performances were also making him a force to be reckoned with. He had originally knocked his piano bench over by mistake, but the audience loved it, so it set Lewis free to run riot on his instrument, pounding the keys, climbing on top of it and totally changing the image of pianists forever.

Great Balls of Fire had originally been written by singer-songwriter Jack Hammer. He had submitted it to Paul Case, who was working on the music film Jamboree (1957). Case didn’t like the song, but loved the title. He went to Otis Blackwell, an established hitmaker who had written Elvis’s All Shook Up, and struck a deal whereby he and Hammer would split the royalties. Despite Lewis’s burgeoning reputation as a hellraiser, he was a devout Christian, and he struggled with the premise of this next single, which was as racy as music got back then. Initially, he refused to perform it, asking Sun Records boss Sam Phillips, ‘How can the devil save souls?’ However, as the recording session went on, alcohol, and subsequently the devil, won out. Not only did he loosen up enough to take control of the number, leering away at the vocals and treating his piano like a whore, he is heard on bootleg tapes saying ‘I would like to eat a little pussy if I had some’. Quite the turnaround…

Nobody, not even Elvis, would have been able to make Great Balls of Fire the way Lewis did. It fitted his wild image like a glove. Unfortunately, Lewis’s reckless ways may have helped make him, but they also broke him. Four months after he hit number 1 in the UK, he toured the country. Three concerts in, a reporter discovered that Lewis’s third wife (he was only 22) was Myra Gale Brown – his first cousin, once removed. This was newsworthy enough, but Myra was only 13. Shocking stuff, obviously, and Lewis’s career never recovered.

I have to admit to being puzzled by Lewis’s marriage scandal. The 1950s are always remembered as a time of conservatism, yet, and I may be betraying some ignorance of the law back then, how come he wasn’t imprisoned? How come Sun Records kept him on? In today’s climate, post-Weinstein and Savile, Jerry Lee Lewis would have been completely finished, and deservedly so. He’s still recording songs to this day, and still trades on his bad-boy image (his 2010 album was called Mean Old Man).

I’d always liked Great Balls of Fire, but listening to it for this blog, in the context of other 1950s number 1s, made me respect it even more. It’s truly pioneering. And yet, it also raised (and not for the last time) the decidedly dodgy subject of enjoying art by morally questionable artists. Gary Glitter also had number 1s, and is reviled, as well he should be, yet other musicians with a dubious sexual history are still considered heroes. Where should we draw the line? I’m not sure I have the answer.

Written by: Otis Blackwell & Jack Hammer

Producer: Sam Phillips

Weeks at number 1: 2 (10-23 January)

31. Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra, the King of Mambo – Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White (1955)

A-76111-1442675046-2069.jpeg.jpg

As mentioned in my blog for Mambo Italiano, the US and UK were going through something of a mambo craze in 1955. Rosemary Clooney’s tune (with the Mellomen) was a very successful attempt to cash in on this phenomenon, but it was a novelty song. Bandleader Perez Prado was the real deal, though, and the craze was largely due to his success with songs such as Mambo No 5 at the start of the decade. Yes, that’s the song that Lou Bega remade in 1999, and then reworked by none other than Bob the Builder in 2001.

Born in Cuba, he moved to Mexico in 1949 and began his recording career there. He quickly ascended to the top of the mambo scene, developing trademark grunts as he powered his way through fiery, sometimes raunchy tunes. His first hit, Mambo Jambo, appeared a year later. Also in 1950, Spanish-born French composer Louiguy, the man behind the melody of Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose, wrote Cerisier Rose et Pommier Blanc. This Latin jazz composition translated as Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White. Lyrics were written in French by Jacques Larue, and English by Mack David, but Prado decided to record it as an instrumental, and it is this version that first went to number 1 in the UK, on 29 April, after its appearance in the movie Underwater!. starring Jane Russell, who dances to it in a famous scene.

Prado’s version has a great, memorable opening, with a powerful brass blast before trumpeter Billy Regis performs a lazy drawl on his instrument (this is probably a strange way to describe it but it’s the best I can think of) and then the sultry rhythm takes hold. It’s easy to see why mambo was popular in the UK. Compared to number 1s by Vera Lynn and David Whitfield, this is exciting and exotic. The low horn sound that crops up from time to time is probably the weirdest noise to appear in the charts so far. It’s so deep it almost sounds alien and electronic. The most enjoyable number 1 so far, and the only one to get a reaction from my two-year-old.

Other acts wanted in on the mambo craze, and ‘Man with the Golden Trumpet’ Eddie Calvert’s inferior cover of this track also went to number 1 a few weeks later. It remains Prado’s only number 1, but he continued to enjoy success around the world for years to come. He died in 1989, aged 72, but his music has lived on, and aged very well. In addition to the remakes of Mambo No.5, his track Guaglione was used in a famous advert for Guinness in 1995, which is where I first came across his work. And despite never seeing Underwater!Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White sounds very familiar to me, and I’m certain it’s been used on TV, so if anyone can tell me where, please do!

Written by: Louiguy 

Producer: Herman Diaz

Weeks at number 1: 2 (29 April-12 May)

Births:

Singer Hazel O’Connor – 16 May 

Deaths:

Cricketer Gilbert Jessop – 11 May 

15. Frankie Laine with Paul Weston & His Orchestra – Answer Me (1953)

1213.jpg

In a year in which US crooner Frankie Laine so completely dominated the fledgling UK charts, it seems fitting that he finished 1953 at the top. Even more so that it was with Answer Me, which as I mentioned here, is so typically of its time. Despite becoming banned by the BBC for its religious content (yes, really), both Laine’s version and David Whitfield’s continued to outsell the other top ten as winter set in. After a week at number 1, Hull-born tenor David Whitfield’s single was overtaken by Laine’s version.

It’s easy to see why Laine overtook Whitfield. Although nothing can disguise the cloying sentimentality of Answer Me, this recording, with the backing of Paul Weston & his Orchestra, is stronger. Laine’s singing is more natural, and softer, with an organ, guitar and choir accompanying him. Like I Believe, he saves the bellowing until the end, giving the song time to build. It reached number 1 on 13 November, and there it remained until January 1954, for a very impressive eight weeks.

However, on 11 December, David Whitfield’s version sold equally well. Or at least, it did in the few shops whose sales counted towards the top 12. And so for a week, both versions were recognised as number 1 singles. It’s fair to say this will never happen again (UPDATE: I was wrong! It also happened in 157, 1958 and 1959!). It’s a shame it didn’t occur during Christmas week really, it could have become known as a pop music version of the Christmas truce in World War One.

As mentioned in my blog on Whitfield’s version, both he and Laine later recorded covers of Answer Me, My Love, in which the then-shocking references to God were removed. Neither of these outperformed their first versions though. Just goes to show the universal appeal and interest in ‘banned’ songs really.

With a few slight exceptions, looking back at the number 1 singles of 1953 has proven that ‘pop’ music had a long way to go before it became exciting, memorable and most importantly, fun. However, some of the key ingredients were starting to fall into place.

Meanwhile, the end of the year saw Piltdown Man, discovered in 1912 and believed to be the remains of an early human, to be a hoax, on 20 November. Five days later, England lost dramatically to Hungary in football’s ‘Match of the Century’ by 6-3, and on 26 November the House of Lords voted to go ahead with the government’s plans for commercial television.

Written by: Gerhard Winkler & Fred Rauch/Carl Sigman (English lyrics)

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 8 (13 November 1953-7 January 1954)

Births:

Comedian Griff Rhys Jones – 16 November
Politician Hilary Benn – 26 November
Politician Alistair Darling – 28 November
Politician Geoff Hoon – 6 December
Comedian Jim Davidson – 13 December
Director Anthony Minghella – 6 January

 

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 ones of 1953 being covers of the same track, and even, for one week, number one 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 twenty shops and asking 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 versions of 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, the actual gall of the use of the word ‘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 perfect 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 one. Hailing from Hull, he was the most successful British singer in the US at the time. A former choirboy and Royal Navy entertainer, he came to prominence after appearing on the Radio Luxembourg talent contest, Opportunity Knocks. The problem for Whitfield was that Frankie Laine’s version was in the charts at the same time, and he was unstoppable in 1953…

During the initial run at number one for Answer Me, 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.

Written by: Gerhard Winkler & Fred Rauch/Carl Sigman (English lyrics)

Producer: Bunny Lewis

Weeks at number 1: 2 (6-11 November, 11-16 December)

Births:

Equestrian Lucinda Green – 7 November
Comedian Jim Davidson – 13 December

Deaths

Poet Dylan Thomas – 7 November

13. Frankie Laine with Paul Weston & His Orchestra – Hey Joe (1953)

FRANKIE_LAINE=Hey_Joe.jpg

1953 was definitely Frankie Laine’s year. He dominated the singles chart 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 twelve 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.

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 hasn’t aged as well as those future pop 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 of his 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 the popularity of westerns in the 1950s, and Laine in general, would have helped Hey Joe no end.

During Hey Joe‘s fortnight at the top, The Samaritans phone counselling service began. Vicar Chad Varah officially set it up in London on 2 November, but had been inspired years earlier while at a funeral for a poor 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.

Written by: Boudleaux Bryant

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 2 (23 October-5 November)

Births:

Actor Peter Firth – 27 October

 

 

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 eighteen), 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, I’ve forgotten how it goes already. 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, anyway. 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! Two of the most obvious ingredients to a pop tune ever 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. Mitchell’s career continued though, and he also starred in films such as Those Redheads From Seattle (1953) and Red Garters (1954). In 1957 he would achieve his third and final number one.

The government had sweet news for the country too. On 26 September, they ended post-war sugar rationing. Slowly, but surely, the UK was sweeping off the post-war malaise.

Written by: Bob Merrill

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 6 (11 September-22 October)

Births

Comedian Les Dennis – 12 October
Politician Peter Mandelson – 21 October

Deaths:

Physicist Lewis Fry Richardson – 30 September

 

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

During I Believe‘s original nine-week stint at number 1, Elizabeth II’s Coronation took place. The public holiday on 2 June inadvertently saw the start of the television revolution in the UK, with many families purchasing one specifically to watch a crown be placed on the head of somebody who’d already been Queen for over a year. Also that morning, news reached the world that Mount Everest had finally been conquered. It actually happened on 29 May, but obviously nobody could film from the peak on a smartphone to prove it back then so the news travelled slowly.

On 25 June the serial killer John Christie was sentenced to death for the murder of his wife Ethel. However, he should have been sentenced for more. A further seven bodies were uncovered at 10 Rillington Place in Notting Hill. During the trial, Christie confessed to murdering Beryl Evans. Beryl, her husband Timothy and their baby daughter Geraldine had lived at the flat in the 40s, and in 1950, Beryl’s husband Timothy was hanged for murdering Beryl and Geraldine, despite him insisting Christie had been responsible. Christie had even been a witness for the prosecution. Yet another instance of tragic errors in the justice system that helped lead to the abolishment of the death penalty. The whole shocking, terrible story was made into a film starring Richard Attenborough in 1971 and a BBC television series starring Tim Roth in 2016.

A day later, US star Eddie Fisher returned to the number one spot, this time with accompaniment from the singer Sally Sweetland. When reviewing his previous number one, Outside of Heaven, I remarked that Fisher sounded a little like he was stalking an ex-partner by watching her in the crowd as she married someone else. In I’m Walking Behind You, he takes that a sinister step further. There’s no wrong way of reading these lyrics. Fisher is actually 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 one, so I’m going to assume so. Frank Sinatra later covered it too. Sally Sweetland is the woman warbling in the background of this forgettable tune, 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 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.

This was Fisher’s last number 1 in the UK, possibly because his personal life had begun to cause problems. As mentioned in my blog for Outside of Heaven, 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?). The handsome crooner still had a long career ahead of him though, and three more marriages after Taylor before his death in 2010. One week after reaching the top, Frankie Laine returned to number 1 for another six weeks.

Written by: Billy Reid

Producer: Hugo Winterhalter

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