56. Tab Hunter with Billy Vaughn’s Orchestra & Chorus – Young Love (1957)

The irrepressible Guy Mitchell’s Singing the Blues knocked Frankie Vaughan’s The Garden of Eden back off the top and enjoyed one final week at number 1, before clean-cut Hollywood actor Tab Hunter (how ’50s movie star’ is that name?) sent it back down the charts for good with the earnest pop ballad Young Love.

Born Arthur Andrew Kelm on 11 July 1931 in Manhattan, New York City, his father was abusive, and their parents divorced while he was still young. As Arthur Gelien, he became interested in figure skating.

At 15 he was sacked from the Coast Guard for lying about his age. He met actor Dick Clayton, who suggested his teen idol looks would stand him in good stead should he choose to become an actor. His agent Henry Wilson decided Tab Hunter would be a better name. Sorry to keep bringing it up, but where I come from, a tab hunter is someone who keeps cadging cigarettes…

Anyway, he spent the first half of the 50s getting noticed in a series of film roles, before hitting the big time in World War Two drama Battle Cry (1955). For several years, Hunter was Warner Bros’ most popular male star.

Young Love had been written by Ric Cartey and Carole Joyner. Cartey himself released the original version in late 1956 but got nowhere. Country star Sonny James fared better and made it a big hit, but Tab Hunter went even further. One of the top-selling singles of 1957 in both the UK and US, Warner Bros. were so impressed, they formed Warner Bros. Records as a way of preventing Hunter from releasing his freshly recorded album on a rival label. These days, Warner Bros. Records is one of only three remaining huge music conglomerates.

It’s a very safe, innocent tune, and an early attempt at getting young girls to buy records. Having noticed how rock’n’roll had impacted on teenagers, record companies were beginning to wake up to the younger market. Getting a good-looking film star to perform such a song was the perfect move.

It has a certain charm – more than some of the dross similar acts like the Osmonds churned out in the 70s (in fact Donny Osmond’s inferior cover reached number 1 in 1973), and most 90s teen ballads too. Hunter sounds like a young Morrissey at times. Perhaps an early influence on the miserable racist?

Hunter’s film career continued to shine, but tailed off during the 70s. As I was born in 1979, I have to confess I hadn’t heard of him until now. However, while researching, I was delighted to discover that Hunter played geeky substitute teacher Mr Stewart in Grease 2 (1982). Slated by critics, and hated by many fans of the original, I have a certain fondness for the sequel, as do others I know. Listening again to his big cameo moment, the verses from Reproduction sound very similar to the verses from Young Love. Must have been deliberate.

After decades of rumours, Hunter finally revealed he was gay in his 2005 autobiography. On 8 July 2018, he suffered a cardiac arrest and died, aged 86.

Written by: Ric Cartey & Carole Joyner

Producer: Billy Vaughn

Weeks at number 1: 7 (22 February-11 April)

Births:

Actor Robert Bathurst – 22 February

Deaths:

Artist Wyndham Lewis – 7 March
Linguist Charles Kay Ogden – 21 March

Meanwhile…

6 March: Ghana became independent of the UK.

11 April: The government announced that Singapore would also breaking free of British rule.

1 April, BBC’s current affairs programme Panorama pioneered fake news when they transmitted their infamous April Fools Day hoax, with a feature on spaghetti trees in Switzerland, that you can see here. They have inspired many inferior copies ever since.

21. Kitty Kallen with Orchestra directed by Jack Pleis – Little Things Mean a Lot (1954)

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David Whitfield and Mantovani’s Cara Mia took up the number 1 spot for virtually the whole summer in 1954, somehow. As the nights started to grow darker, US singer Kitty Kallen finally got a look in with Little Things Mean a Lot. It had been written a year earlier, with lyrics by Edith Lindeman, a newspaper editor, and disc jockey Carl Stutz, both residing in Richmond, Virginia.

Kitty Kallen, born Katie Kallen to Russian Jewish immigrants on 25 May 1921 in Philadelphia, New Jersey, would impersonate famous singers as a child. She had her own local radio show before she became a teenager.

She joined the Jimmy Dorsey Band at 21 and sang the vocals for his US number 1 Besame Mucho, later covered by the Beatles on Beatles For Sale. Her recording of Little Things Mean a Lot saw her career go up a notch, hitting the top of the Billboard charts before doing the same in the UK.

It’s a rather sweet little number, and a move away from Kallen’s big-band stylings to something approaching pop. She sings a list of ways in which her lover can make her happy, and luckily for him, they’re all easily enough done. She’s a very low-maintenance partner. Beating Lennon and McCartney by 10 years, she points out expensive jewellery isn’t important to her. Money can’t buy her love. Was this their inspiration? Possibly.

By the end of 1954 the song had sold over two million copies, and with her beautiful voice and striking looks, she found herself topping polls to be the most famous female singer around. It all went wrong from there.

In 1955, her throat began to seize up, but only affected her when performing live. This convinced her the problem was psychological, and she spent five years with psychotherapists, none of which helped matters. Instead she found relief in religion, and returned to performing for a few years before retiring in the mid-60s.

Bizarrely, after she retired, several other women tried to pass themselves off as Kitty Kallen. In 1978, she and her family were baffled by reports of her death. It transpired one of her impersonators had died. Frank Sinatra wasn’t having it though. ‘Ol’ Blue Eyes’ (whose Three Coins in the Fountain took over at number 1 the week after Little Things Mean a Lot) called the family to offer his condolences, but wouldn’t take no for an answer when Kitty’s husband explained and said she was just sleeping (perhaps a bad choice of words, in retrospect). He refused to hang up until he could hear her voice. Kallen actually lived until 7 January 2016, dying at the ripe old age of 94.

Written by: Edith Lindeman & Carl Stutz

Producer: Milt Gabler

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

14. David Whitfield with Stanley Black & His Orchestra – Answer Me (1953)

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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 1s of 1953 being covers of the same track, and even, for one week, number 1 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 20 shops to ask 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 toned down versions called 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 to 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 made 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 1. Hailing from Hull in the East Riding of Yorkshire, he was born on 2 February 1925. Whitfield sang in the choir at his church as a child and during World War Two he would entertain fellow troops.

He featured in the Radio Luxembourg version of Opportunity Knocks after the war, which was his platform to fame. His second single was a version of I Believe, but follow-up Bridge of Sighs was his first taste of top 10 action.

Whitfield was the most successful British singer in the US in 1953, but the problem was, the unstoppable Frankie Laine’s version was in the charts at the same time.

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

Producer: Bunny Lewis

Weeks at number 1: 2 (6-12 November, 11-17 December)

Births:

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

Deaths

Poet Dylan Thomas – 7 November

Meanwhile…

11 November: 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.