242. Georgie Fame – The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde (1968)

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On with 1968, then, and what a strange year of number 1s it is. We have the good, the bad, and even The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to listen to.

The Beatles were still at number 1 for most of January with their Christmas chart-topper, Hello, Goodbye, before finally running out of steam. They were replaced by Lancashire-born jazz cat Georgie Fame and his third and last number 1, The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.

Before hearing this track I assumed it would be taken from the soundtrack to the 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. I was wrong, but that didn’t surprise me, as not only have I never seen the film, I don’t actually know much about the subject matter either.

Arthur Penn’s multi-Academy Award-winning landmark crime biography detailed the rise and fall of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Burrow. In the Great Depression of the 1930s, the duo captured the imagination of the US on a two-year crime spree. Although the romantic image of the duo as Robin Hood-style characters has endured, the reality is their many bungled robberies resulted in innocent people being killed. The movie is considered one of the first films of the New Hollywood era, prompting more filmmakers to show sex and violence in their work. At the time, the duo’s death was considered a truly shocking end to a Hollywood movie.

Songwriters Mitch Murray (the man behind both Gerry and the Pacemakers number 1s – How Do You Do It? and I Like It) and Peter Callander saw the film and felt inspired to write a 30s-style jazz spoof telling the tale of the duo. Georgie Fame, who had enjoyed two number 1s with his backing band the Blue Flames (Yeh Yeh and Get Away) was the perfect artist to record their new track.

Since Get Away topped the charts, the band had enjoyed two further top 20 hits with Sunny and Sitting in the Park. They released one more album, Sweet Thing in 1966, before Fame chose to sign with CBS Records and go solo. The Blue Flames disbanded, and drummer Mitch Mitchell became a third of the Jimi Hendrix Experience soon after. Fame released his first solo album Sound Venture later that year. His first two solo singles failed to chart, but The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde, released in 1967, became number 1, and was his only top ten hit in the US.

This quirky, rickety little track certainly gets 1968 off to a weird start. It may not have been in the film, but without it, there’s no way Fame would have outsold the Beatles. It’s not without its charm, and I always enjoy a Georgie Fame vocal, but by reducing the story of Bonnie and Clyde to a bit of fun, it’s nothing more than a throwaway novelty track.

It’s quite a sparse recording, featuring mainly Fame and a banjo, but there’s some brass too, plus sound affects, including the sound of gunfire as it reaches its climax. I think we’re supposed to go ‘Awww!’ when Fame sings ‘Bonnie and Clyde/They lived a lot together/And finally together/They died’, which is going a bit easy on bankrobbing murderers really. I’m now trying to imagine other inappropriate tunes, such as The Ballad of Fred and Rose West, or Peter Sutcliffe’a Sad Sad Song.

Fame’s hits began to dry up soon after, but Somebody Stole My Thunder in 1970 is a strong shot of R’n’B. He formed a partnership with organist Alan Price, formerly of the Animals, and they had a hit with Rosetta in 1971, but they split two years later. Much of the early 70s was spent writing jingles for television and radio, and making the soundtrack for the Till Death Us Do Part big-screen spin-off, The Alf Garnett Saga (1972). In 1974 he reformed the Blue Flames, but by the 80s he was back in the advert industry.

In 1989 he began working with cantankerous Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison as his producer and performing in his live band, as well as recording their collaborative LP, How Long Has This Been Going On in 1996. This partnership lasted until 1998, with occasional work together ever since.

Fame suffered tragedy in 1993 when his wife, Nicolette Powell, jumped off the Clifton Suspension Bridge to her death. They had married in 1972 after having a baby while she was still married to Alistair Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 9th Marquess of Londonderry. When tests proved the baby was theirs, the Marchioness had divorced him for Fame. Suffering from depression, Powell had left a suicide note in which she said she had no purpose in life now their children had grown up.

In 1998 Fame also became a founding member of former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, with whom he worked for a couple of years before going it alone again. He has released albums ever since and has performed at Glastonbury Festival. His live band sometimes includes his two sons Tristan and James. What a shame Nicolette didn’t live to enjoy their performances.

Written by: Mitch Murray & Peter Callander

Producer: Mike Smith

Weeks at number 1: 1 (24-30 January)

Births:

Journalist Matthew d’Ancona – 27 January
Rapper Tricky – 27 January

Deaths:

Spymaster Maxwell Knight – 27 January 

131. Danny Williams – Moon River (1961)

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Christmas week 1961 was a particularly cold and frosty affair, with some northern and Scottish areas seeing snowfall. The snow increased in the run-up to the new year, and was heavy at times. By this point, Frankie Vaughan’s histrionics on Tower of Strength may have been wearing thin, and record buyers wanted something warm and comforting. What better than Moon River?

Henry Mancini was the man behind the music, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. The song was written for romantic comedy classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s, starring Audrey Hepburn, which had been released in October. An instrumental version is heard as the film opens, but Hepburn sings it as Holly Golightly in the movie, strumming away at a guitar while sat outside her apartment, watched over by Paul ‘Fred’ Varjak (George Peppard).

Such beautiful music needed lyrics of similar quality, so Mancini and Mercer were well-matched. In Moon River, Mercer is recalling his childhood in Savannah, Georgia. The ‘huckleberry friend’, which some find troublesome, refers to picking huckleberries in the summer, although it is also used deliberately to bring to mind Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn. Despite the song’s classic status now, Paramount Pictures executive Martin Rackin suggested the song should be removed from Breakfast at Tiffany’s following a lukewarm preview. Hepburn was livid, and Rackin relented.

Eventually becoming one of the most covered songs of all time, several versions were available as singles when 1961 drew to a close. Soul star Jerry Butler hit the US charts first, with an instrumental version by Mancini, with orchestra and chorus, close behind, but it was South African-born singer Danny Williams that made Moon River the UK’s Christmas number 1.

Williams was born in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape in 1942. He grew up under apartheid, performing his first solo with a church choir at the age of six. He won a talent contest aged 14 and joined the touring show Golden City Dixies. The show travelled to London in 1959, where Williams impressed EMI’s Norman Newell, who signed him to the HMV label. He was reticent to record Moon River at first, partly due to the ‘huckleberry friend’ lyric, but he changed his mind after seeing the film.

I think you could potentially argue that it’s impossible to record a bad version of Moon River, and Williams certainly didn’t. Featuring lush strings and his smooth voice (he became known as ‘Britain’s Johnny Mathis), it’s a beautiful way to bring 1961 to a close, after such an unpredictable, often uneven year for number 1s. Were it not for another singer sharing his surname, this would possibly be the definitive version. Yet the man most people identify with the song never actually released Moon River as a single, meaning Andy Williams’ sole number 1 was the Elvis Presley rip-off Butterfly in 1957. He became forever known for the song after it made it onto his 1962 album Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes, and he also performed it at the Oscars, where it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Danny Williams’s success led to his appearance in Michael Winner’s film Play it Cool (1962) alongside Billy Fury. In 1963 he supported fellow number 1 artist Helen Shapiro on a nationwide tour. Other support acts included the Beatles. Like so many others, their subsequent rise meant his career was all but over, and he suffered a nervous breakdown in 1968, before being declared bankrupt two years later. In 1994 he took part in a Nat ‘King’ Cole tribute show. Williams always took pride in knowing that Cole declined to record Moon River because he considered Williams’ cover to be perfect. Following the collapse of apartheid he returned to South Africa several times but always considered the UK his home. He died aged 63 in December 2005 of lung cancer.

Moon River is a standard now. One of the most interesting versions for me is the nine-minute-plus version Morrissey recorded as the B-side to Hold on to Your Friends in 1994. He always saw a haunting sadness in the lyrics, and felt the happiness it promised was always out of reach. He changed some of the lyrics to make it bleaker and added the sound of a woman sobbing. Perhaps she was a fan that could see into his future as a right-wing nutjob?

While Williams’ version ruled the charts, 1962 began. The first episode of drama series Z-Cars was broadcast on the BBC on 2 January. The show became famous for its realistic portrayal of the force and ran until 1978. Three days later the album My Bonnie by Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers was released. The brothers in question were in fact the Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best. By the end of 1962, the line-up had changed and they had released their first single, Love Me Do. Beatlemania was coming ever closer.

Written by: Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer

Producer: Norman Newell

Weeks at number 1: 2 (28 December 1961-10 January 1962) 

Births:

The Jesus and Mary Chain singer Jim Reid – 29 December
Javelin thrower Sharon Gibson – 31 December 
Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie – 4 January 

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

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From 9 August until 9 September, the seminal art exhibition This Is Tomorrow at the Whitechapel Art Gallery 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 later went on to design the sleeve for The Beatles in 1968.

One day later, a very 50s-sounding song, and one of the most enduring of the era, knocked Who Do Fools Fall in Love from number one. Whatever Will Be, Will Be (usually now known as Que Sera, Sera) has long since surpassed its original use, which was as a vehicle for Doris Day in the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew too Much. Songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evans specialised in writing songs for films, and really hit gold here. It may be sugar-coated (courtesy of perpetually squeaky-clean Doris), 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 one, Secret Love. Although, indeed, ‘the future’s not ours to see’, it’s turned out alright for Day, 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.

Whatever Will Be, Will Be is now a standard, and 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. 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. 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, and she was seen as a symbol of a bygone age. Since the sitcom’s end in the 70s, Day has lived a quieter life, but did release her first album in years in 2011, aged 89. These days, she runs several animal welfare organisations, using her celebrity status to raise awareness. A symbol of more innocent times, Doris Day is no doubt a living legend.

During her second and final stint at number 1, Scotland Yard began investigating society doctor John Bodkin Adams. Between 1946 and 1956, more than 160 of his patients died in suspicious circumstances. On 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. And on 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.

UPDATE (13/5/19): Well, even living legends die eventually, sadly. The showbiz world mourned today when Doris Day passed away from pneumonia, aged 97.

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

22. Frank Sinatra with Orchestra conducted by Nelson Riddle – Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)

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In 1954, Frank Sinatra was the comeback kid. The early 50s had seen his career slump drastically. His Mafia connections had caused problems, he had left his label, Columbia, Hollywood had rejected him, and his audiences were dwindling. However, his suitably bitter performance in World War Two drama From Here to Eternity in 1953 earned him rave reviews and marked a spectacular turnaround in fortunes. He even later won an Oscar for Best Supporting Role, but before then he had signed with Capitol and released a cover of the now-creepy-sounding I’m Walking Behind You, which was a UK number 1 for Eddie Fisher & Sally Sweetland.

February 1954 saw the release of his album Songs for Young Lovers. Featuring I Get a Kick Out of You and They Can’t Take That Away from Me, it is still considered one of his best. The same month, his duet with Doris Day, Young at Heart, was a huge hit. Three Coins in the Fountain was the title track for a new romantic drama. With lyrics by US star collaborator Sammy Cahn and music by UK songwriter Jule Styne, the song refers to the traditional act of throwing a coin into Rome’s Trevi Fountain and making a wish. They had been asked to write the song without any knowledge of the movie whatsoever, and it was so rushed that 20th Century Fox didn’t sign a contract, meaning the composers were screwed over the royalties. Charming.

The song isn’t that memorable, and although I’m no Sinatra expert, it doesn’t strike me as up there with his classics. But what does shine through is the quality of his voice. That warm, unmistakable timbre to his croon just puts him head and shoulders above other stars of the era. And of course considering the rushed nature of the song’s creation, it’s not too shabby. It earned him his first UK number 1, and he stayed at the top for three weeks. It also went to number 1 in the US too, but performed by The Four Aces. In 1955, it earned Sinatra another Oscar, this time for Best Original Song.

During Three Coins in the Fountain‘s reign, the UK singles chart increased in size from its initial 12 to 20. It’s also worth me pointing out that this chart, that first began in 1952, was originally only seen in the New Musical Express. However, it is now considered to be the most important chart of the time, until it was overtaken by Record Retailer from 1960 to 1969.

Written by: Jule Styne & Sammy Cahn

Producer: Voyle Gilmore

Weeks at number 1: 3 (17 September-7 October)

 

18. Doris Day with Orchestra conducted by Ray Heindorf – Secret Love (1954)

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US smash-hit musical western Calamity Jane was first released in November 1953. Loosely based on the life of the title character and her alleged romance with notorious folk hero “Wild Bill” Hickok, it starred Doris Day and Howard Keel in the central roles. Doris Day was one of the most well-known singers and actresses of the era. Originally she wanted to be a dancer, but an accident forced her out of action and she discovered a talent for singing. The sugary timbre of her voice and film-star looks soon captivated radio, film and television audiences, right from her first hit, Sentimental Journey, back in 1945.

On 16 April, 1954, UK singles buyers saw sense and decided that a song from the film, Secret Love, was more deserving of the number one spot than the execrable I See the Moon by the Stargazers. The ballad was written by composer Sammy Fain, with Paul Francis Webster providing the lyrics. With lyrics describing the joy of finally being able to tell the world of a love kept under wraps, Day was visibly moved when Fain visited her to play it for the first time. The day of the recording, she warmed-up her voice, cycled to the studio and announced to musical director Ray Heindorf that she would only perform one take of her vocal. Despite understandable misgivings, Heindorf was ecstatic after the take, agreeing that she could never outdo herself.

It would seem this song had special meaning for Day, she clearly loved it and it shows in that one-take performance. A cut above other songs of this ilk, her authentic vocal turns from typically sweet to barely-contained delight at times. The stirring strings replicate the chorus and add to its hit factor. Secret Love gave Day her fourth US number one, and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song on 25 March. However she caused controversy by refusing to perform it at the ceremony. The subsequent bad press saw Day housebound with depression for some time afterwards. Nonetheless, a few weeks later it became her first UK number 1.

In a clear display of how mad our record-buying public can often be, I See the Moon returned to the top after only a week. Not for long though, and on 8 May, Secret Love toppled Johnnie Ray’s Such a Night, beginning eight weeks as best-selling single. Day soon came out of the doldrums and continued to entertain for decades to come. In fact, she’s one of the few stars from this era still with us.

Written by: Sammy Fain & Paul Francis Webster 

Producer: Ray Heindorf

Weeks at number 1: 9 (16-22 April, 8 May-1 July) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Footballer Trevor Francis – 19 April
Entertainer Gary Wilmot – 8 May

Deaths:

Mathematician Alan Turing – 7 June