108. Roy Orbison – Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel) (1960)

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Autumn 1960: On 25 October, heavy fog causes two barges to collide with the Severn Railway Bridge. Two bridge spans collapsed, causing the barges to catch fire. Five people died in the incident, and the bridge was never repaired, eventually being demolished. Two days later, the British drama adaptation of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, starring Albert Finney, was released. It’s still considered one of the best British films of all time. Three days after its release, Michael Woodruff performed the first successful kidney transplant in the UK at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. And on 2 November, a landmark ruling saw Penguin Books found not guilty of obscenity for publishing DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The book quickly sold 3 million copies, and was a watershed moment for future publishing freedoms.

During this eventful fortnight, US singer-songwriter Roy Orbison enjoyed his first of three stints at number 1 with Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel). With his unique image, and distinct, at times astounding voice, Orbison’s life was sometimes tragic, but he is also rightly remembered as one of the greatest talents of his generation. So much so, as I write this a tour is imminent in which thousands of people have paid to see a hologram of ‘The Big O’ ‘performing’ alongside the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. Bruce Springsteen also name-checked this very song in his excellent Thunder Road.

Roy Kelton Orbison was born on 23 April 1936 in Vernon, Texas. His family struggled to find employment during the Great Depression, and eventually settled in Wink. He was a shy child, with poor eyesight and little confidence, but he loved to sing, and at the age of seven, his father bought him a guitar. He adored the country music of Hank Williams and Jimmy Rodgers, and was singing on a local radio show a year later. By the late 1940s, he was the presenter of the show. Orbison and some friends formed the Wink Westerners while he was in high school. After graduating he enrolled at North Texas State College, and heard his fellow schoolmate Pat Boone had signed a recording contract. Boone would later have a UK number 1 with I’ll Be Home in 1956. Orbison became determined to make his name in the music business, and like everybody was wowed upon seeing Elvis Presley on television for the first time. The Wink Westerners appeared on TV alongside Johnny Cash, who suggested that Orbison contact Sun Records owner Sam Phillips. A phone call between the two got nowhere, but later, the Wink Westerners changed their name to the Teen Kings, and their recording of Ooby Dooby changed Phillips’s mind. Signing to Sun, the band toured plenty but eventually split, with Orbison staying at Phillips’s house with his girlfriend, Claudette Frady. 1957 saw the couple wed, and Orbison paid tribute to is wife with the song Claudette, which as a double A-side with the more famous All I Have to Do Is Dream, became the first number 1 for the Everly Brothers, and the biggest-selling UK single of 1958.

This was the step up Orbison needed, and the royalties meant he was able to buy his own Cadillac, but he was very different to your typical rock’n’roll star of the same time, and was just as shy as the child he had been growing up, causing many to wonder if he was cut out for showbusiness. His hair was already going white, causing him to dye his hair earlier than most, and in 1960, he didn’t always wear his famous glasses. While researching this blog, the picture above surprised me, as he hadn’t yet developed his famous persona. He looks older in 1960 than he did before his death in 1988.

In 1958, Orbison was strumming his guitar in his car, as he often did, when songwriter Joe Melson tapped on the window. The duo decided to try writing songs together. Eventually Orbison signed with Monument Records, and he and Melson began working with producer Fred Foster. The trio, along with sound engineer Bill Porter, began work on new songs with sophisticated production techniques, involving string sections and backing singers that were close-miked. The first release, Uptown, got nowhere, however, and Orbison began considering performing in nightclubs instead. They had worked on another song using the same sound, Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel), and had tried selling it to Elvis and the Everlys, but both acts declined. Orbison decided to have a go himself, and once more they adopted a new method of production, by building the song around the vocals, with the band performing quietly in the background. The part of the title in brackets was added to differentiate the song from a tune Frank Sinatra had sang.

Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel) begins in a style very reminiscent of an Everly Brothers track, with the backing vocalists singing over a gentle strum, until that unmistakable voice of Orbison’s enters. I’ve always admired Orbison’s singing, ever since hearing it from a young age. Nobody has ever sounded quite so distinct, before or since. This track is a perfect introduction to the Orbison sound. Here’s a song for the unlucky-in-love, for the shy, for the broken-hearted. Here was a new type of musical hero, a sensitive soul that could help you get through trying times. Rather than yet another rock’n’roll star to be envious of, the Big O would have been much more identifiable to your more sensitive teenager. And although Roy Orbison would come up with better songs over the next few years, Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel) may be the best encapsulation of the Roy Orbison sound. Like his friends the Everly Brothers, this was a new, more sophisticated form of pop, that would influence future musical idols. And that falsetto at the end is probably the most impressive vocal performance I’ve heard from a UK number 1 between 1952 and 1960.

Suddenly this shy singer-songwriter was a big star in the US and UK, and other musicians were wondering if this powerful voice had really come from their unassuming friend. Elvis regretted turning the song down (you can imagine him singing it, but could he sing about being a loser in love with such conviction?) and bought copies of the single for his friends. By the time Orbison next had a UK number 1, the musical landscape had changed dramatically.

Written by: Roy Orbison & Joe Melson

Producer: Fred Foster

Weeks at number 1: 2 (20 October-2 November)

Births:

Actress Finola Hughes – 29 October

Every 50s Number 1

The Intro

So, my first decade of number 1s is finished, 94 songs and seven months later. When I decided to review every UK number 1, I considered taking a random approach, but I decided starting right from the beginning would give me a wider knowledge of the progression of pop and pop culture in the UK. I did find the idea of kicking off with the 1950s a potentially arduous task, however. Although there are exceptions, my interest in music tends to really start in 1963 with the Beatles first album, and I know I’m not alone in feeling like that. I feared starting with the 50s would put some readers off. Also, it’s the decade that’s as far out of my comfort zone as I’m going to get with this mammoth blog task I’ve set myself.

Except maybe it isn’t.

The older I get (38 currently), I feel I’m going to really struggle with the 2010s so far. Don’t understand the kids of today, cannot stand autotune, etc… Anyway, I find myself getting more out of the 50s far more than I initially expected. It’s still music I find myself respecting rather than enjoying, and there haven’t been many I’ll be downloading for future listens I have to confess, but it has been a fascinating journey, and I’m surprised at how much music changed from 1952 to 1959.

Before I finish with the decade and move on to the swinging 60s, I decided it would be nice to (kind-of) repeat the task I set myself in December. Back then I listened to every Christmas number 1 in order, in one session, and decided on a best and worst for each decade, before coming up with an overall best and worst. That blog seemed to generate a lot of interest, so I thought I’d do the same with the 50s. I decided against listening to all 94 songs in one go, that seemed a little bit much, so I decided to take it a year at a time.

1952/53

Where it all began. As Al Martino’s Here in My Heart was the only number 1 of 1952, I’ve lumped it in with 1953. It’s neither the best nor worst of what followed. In general, the record-buying public will still in thrall of string-laden love songs, often melancholy, overwrought ballads, with the emphasis on how well the singer could hold a note. Form over content. Not the kind of music that floats my boat, really. It was less than ten years since World War Two, and music fans still liked to wade through syrupy songs of missing loved ones abroad. In 1953’s defence, though, at least it had a healthy amount of female singers topping the charts. Once rock’n’roll takes hold, they largely disappeared bar a few exceptions. There’s some strange novelty songs in there that you wouldn’t think of as chart-toppers – see (How Much is) That Doggie in the Window? and the un-PC She Wears Red Feathers. Frankie Laine dominated that year.

The Best:

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Kay Starr – Comes A-Long A-Love: Only three tracks in and already there were elements of a rock’n’roll sound mixed in with jazz. This took me by surprise, and it was more than welcome. Kay Starr’s strong vocal mixed with a breezy tune had a vital element missing from other songs that year – fun.

The Worst:

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David Whitfield with Stanley Black & His Orchestra – Answer Me: This is the decade at its least appealing to me. It’s so leaden and dreary. Whitfield’s vocals are too affected and operatic. The Frankie Laine version was better, but not by much, as it’s a pretty poor song anyway.

1954

Generally more of the same, but of a higher standard. Doris Day, Frank Sinatra and even Vera Lynn all make appearances, but they’re not their finest works. Rosemary Clooney’s jolly old knees-up about death, This Ole House is one of the highlights. A couple of instrumentals make it big, one good (Winifred Atwell’s Let’s Have Another Party), one not so good (Eddie Calvert’s Oh Mein Papa)

The Best:

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Johnnie Ray – Such a Night: Mr Emotion was probably the revelation of the decade for me. Previously I only knew him for his namecheck in Come On Eileen, and that Morrissey used to wear hearing aid in tribute to him.  I referred to him as the ‘prototype eccentric rock’n’roll star’, and his three number 1s were all unique forerunners of the music that was to follow. This one in particular must have sounded pretty racy at the time, and contained the first hint of sex, one of pop’s key ingredients.

The Worst:

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The Stargazers with Syd Dean & His Orchestra –  I See the Moon: This is genuinely offensive to my ears. At the time it was considered a comedy song. Praise be that comedy has moved on from ‘funny’ voices. It’s the audio equivalent of Colin Hunt from The Fast Show. When I first heard this I said the Stargazers sounded pissed-up and tone deaf. Nothing has happened to change my mind. Six weeks at the top of the charts?!

1955

The year of mambo, and Bill Haley. Perez ‘Prez’ Prado rules the roost when it comes to the former, with his version of Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White beating Eddie Calvert’s safer cover. Rosemary Clooney’s Mambo Italiano may not be the real deal but it’s a fun spoof. Tony Bennett makes his one and only appearance to date, and Slim Whitman’s haunting Rose Marie makes a big impact.

The Best:

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Bill Haley & His Comets – Rock Around the Clock: Tempting as it might be to go against the grain here and pick something less predictable, I can’t. Yes it must be nigh-on impossible to hear this and imagine the impact the decade’s best-seller made at the time, and it sounds safe now, but it’s still catchy as hell, and for me, it’s all about that guitar solo.

The Worst:

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Jimmy Young with Bob Sharples & His Music – Unchained Melody: Another one of the most famous songs of all time, but this is nowhere near as good as the Righteous Brothers version. It’s not even as good as Robson & Jerome’s. The blame doesn’t entirely lie with poor Jimmy Young, as the production is all over the place, but he really doesn’t help matters, lurching from barely trying to bellowing within seconds.

1956

Several strong singles this year, mainly Tennessee Ernie Ford’s tough ode to the working man, Sixteen Tons, and Johnnie Ray’s melancholic Christmas number 1, Just Walkin’ in the Rain, featuring an unforgettable whistling refrain. Elvis has arrived, but the UK has to make do with Pat Boone at the top instead with I’ll Be Home. Dean Martin makes his only appearance, and Doris Day returns with signature tune Whatever Will Be, Will Be.

The Best:

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The Teenagers Featuring Frankie Lymon – Why Do Fools Fall in Love: The first doo-wop song to make it to the top, the Teenagers one and only big hit was so influential on later soul and funk bands, and still sounds good to this day. Such a shame the band, and particularly Lymon, fell apart so soon.

The Worst:

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Anne Shelton with Wally Stott & His Orchestra – Lay Down Your Arms: Shudder. I disliked this song even more the second time around. I’m all for strong women, but Shelton needs to calm down a bit. Her poor lover must be terrified. I think I’d rather be at war than with Shelton.

1957

The year skiffle hit the top of the charts. Lonnie Donegan’s three number 1 songs left an indelible mark on music, even if it took some time for its impact to become apparent. 1957 is the strongest year for number 1s to date, and rock’n’roll is now dominant. Even the most old-fashioned song, Frankie Vaughan’s The Garden of Eden, sounds good. Legends such as Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly make their first appearances, and the former’s cultural impact becomes apparent, with Tommy Steele and Andy Williams impersonating him, to an occasionally embarrassing degree.

The Best:

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Lonnie Donegan & His Skiffle Group – Cumberland Gap: I used to think skiffle was a rather laughably quaint genre played on cheap, silly instruments. It’s only by listening to what came before Lonnie Donegan that I now understand and appreciate its true effect – to me it’s now almost as important as punk. The hardest part of choosing the best of 57 was picking between this and Donegan’s Gamblin’ Man, with it’s fiery ending, but Cumberland Gap came first and sounded like nothing I’d listened to up to that point.

The Worst:

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Guy Mitchell with Jimmy Carroll – Rock-a-Billy: Cheeky chappie Mitchell’s fourth and final chart-topper is mean-spirited and has the laziest chorus of any number 1 so far. A shame, as his previous single at the start of the year, Singing the Blues, proved he could actually be a dab hand at this new pop sound.

1958

Elvis was really on form with his second number 1 – Jailhouse Rock narrowly misses out on my favourite of this year and could have easily won in another year. Burt Bacharach and Hal David made their mark with two concurrent number 1s for Michael Holliday and Perry Como. Connie Francis finally returned a female artist to the top with a versatile selection of solid tunes – her Stupid Cupid introduced Neil Sedaka to the charts. The Everley Brothers made an excellent debut with the year’s highest seller, All I Have to Do is Dream, and Hoots Mon by Lord Rockingham’s XI was the finest novelty number 1 of the decade.

The Best:

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Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of Fire: Direct, simplistic, fun, horny and mad, this just edges past Jailhouse Rock for me and got 1958 off to a great start. As far removed from some of the dreary monotony of 1953 as it’s possible to get in the same decade.

The Worst:

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Vic Damone – On the Street Where You Live: I feel bad for doing this when Vic Damone has so recently passed away, but it really does stick out like a sore thumb from the rest of 1958’s list. It sounds like it belongs in 1954. Sorry, Vic. RIP.

1959

Buddy Holly’s untimely death made It Doesn’t Matter Anymore the first posthumous chart-topper, and was a big influence on Adam Faith’s first number 1, What Do You Want?. Elvis was away in the army, and his singles output quality began to slip with A Fool Such as I/I Need Your Love Tonight. Rock’n’roll went all dreamy and teenage-orientated, with Jerry Keller’s one-hit wonder Here Comes Summer and Bobby Darin’s Dream Lover, before Darin used his success to take an interesting career change. Cliff Richard made his first of many appearances, with Living Doll the year’s best-seller, and Shirley Bassey made her debut at number 1. The decade ended with Emile Ford and the Checkmates’ solid What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For?.

The Best:

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Bobby Darin – Mack the KnifeA fascinating diversion from his previous number 1, Darin resisted scaring his young fans away with this swinging celebration of a serial killer, but Atlantic Records pushed for it anyway. It’s likely the fans ignored the lyrics and chose to be swept away by his cool vocals and the power and punch of the backing band. Suddenly pop was taking a dark turn, if you listened closely enough. Much covered, but probably never bettered.

The Worst:

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Russ Conway – Side Saddle: This one totally baffled me when I wrote my blog, and while I found it slightly better the second time around, I still can’t quite believe this was such a success, but context is everything, I guess. Nonetheless, it’s still the weakest number 1 of the year.

The Best 50s Number 1 Ever is…

Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of FireDeciding on the best single proved to be much tougher than I first thought. It was very difficult to decide between this and Cumberland Gap, and Mack the Knife wasn’t far behind, either. Both songs shook up the music world, but in different ways. The winner is so ensconced in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine how it must have sounded as new, whereas I came in to Cumberland Gap completely fresh. If this decision was based on which single is most important, I’d have to award it to Cumberland Gap, as the influence of skiffle was so important on the following decade. It proved you didn’t have to have the voice of an opera singer to be at number 1, you didn’t have to have an orchestra backing you, and you didn’t even have to play expensive instruments. You could just make an all-mighty racket.

However, as impressed as I was by it, in the end this decision should also be based on personal enjoyment, as well as influence, mass appeal, inventiveness… and Great Balls of Fire has all of these. And despite me knowing it so well, it still managed to sound new and exciting, even after all this time. Plus, as great as Cumberland Gap sounds compared to most of the competition, in a way I had heard it before with the very similar and better known Rock Island Line. So congratulations, Jerry Lee Lewis. Despite being one of pop music’s first controversial figures, and therefore your brief period in the charts, you’ve managed to top Elvis and many other 50s legends, and Great Balls of Fire is one hell of a tune. You ripped up the rulebook when it came to the piano, and you showed the way pop was heading when it came to showmanship on the stage. And your best work was later used to sell cheese. But that’s record companies for you.

The Worst 50s Number 1 Ever is…

The Stargazers with Syd Dean & His Orchestra – I See the MoonNo contest. Reviewing every number 1 of the 50s was at times trying, and I knew it would be, but nothing prepared me for this. Don’t get me wrong, unlike many ‘serious music’ obsessives, there is a small place in my heart for comedy and novelty songs as genres, if they’re done right. And as I said above, context is everything. But I See the Moon is genuinely painful to listen to. I don’t get the joke, unless the joke is ‘Listen to how awful we sound’, in which case, the joke isn’t funny. In a decade with so number 1s that would be unimaginable now, I See the Moon is beyond comprehension to my poor ears.

The Outro

While I’m keen to get onto the number 1s of the 60s, and I originally saw reviewing the 50s tracks as a necessary evil in order to make it to the next batch, I am sorry to see it go. I’ve learnt a lot, about the social history as well as the music of the time, and it’s been a fascinating look at pop’s baby steps. Next, the decade of the Beatles, the Stones, Swinging London, the return of Labour to government, psychedelia, colour TV, British pop dominating at home and abroad… I can’t wait and I hope you can’t too.

Blogs on every 50s number 1 are available to view via the Archive section.

90. Jerry Keller – Here Comes Summer (1959)

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Here Comes Summer is often considered one of the first tailor-made summer anthems. The problem is, in the UK at least, that it arrived late. It entered the charts in August 1959 and didn’t reach number 1 until 9 October, toppling Only Sixteen by Craig Douglas. It was written and performed by wholesome singer-songwriter Jerry Keller.

Born June 1938 in Fort Smith, Arkansas, the family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma when he was six. Keller formed the Lads of Note Quartet sometime in the 1950s and was also a member of the Tulsa Boy Singers, in addition to becoming a disc jockey.  In 1956 he moved to New York determined to make it big, and recorded a series of demos for record labels. Getting nowhere, his church friend Pat Boone (who had the biggest-selling single of that year in the UK with I’ll Be Home) introduced him to Marty Mills, who became his manager. With its vivid lyrics of finishing school and enjoying a summer romance, Keller had finally found the hit he had been looking for.

Much like Bobby Darin’s Dream Lover, Here Comes Summer is the quintessential sound of 50s teen-pop to me. It’s not as good, but it’s not far off. It’s musically warm and wistful, and makes you look back to a summer that you never actually had, but feel like you did anyway. The backing vocals spoil it somewhat though, overpowering the song at times, drowning out Keller’s voice and spoiling the production.

Unfortunately for Keller, he was the first of many artists who become so identifiable with a summer hit that they’re rarely, if ever, heard of again as a performer. He did, however, enjoy further success as a songwriter. He wrote Almost There, a hit for Andy Williams, and The Legend of Shenandoah, recited by James Stewart in the film Shenandoah (1965).  In 1966 he wrote the English lyrics for Un homme et une femme, translated as A Man and a Woman, which was covered by many artists including Ella Fitzgerald, Engelbert Humperdinck and Johnny Mathis. In the 70s and 80s he appeared in films and was used as a vocalist in television jingles, before disappearing into obscurity. Here Comes Summer still gets used in adverts from time to time, a charming memory of relative teenage innocence.

Written by: Jerry Keller

Producer: Richard Wolf

Weeks at number 1: 1 (9-15 October)

Births:

Singer Kirsty MacColl – 10 October
Sarah, Duchess of York – 15 October

78. Conway Twitty – It’s Only Make Believe (1958)

On Christmas Eve 1958, the south of England was covered by a blanket of thick fog. BOAC Bristol Brittania 312 had left Heathrow on a test flight. After completion, the crew requested to land at Hurn Airport instead, probably due to the poor conditions. Three minutes later, the plane hit a ploughed field, bringing down telephone lines and trees. All seven passengers were killed, and two of the five crew also died.

The Christmas number 1 that year was Conway Twitty’s It’s Only Make Believe. Much like Andy Williams, Twitty was somewhat of an Elvis copyist to begin with, before developing his own style. Yet sounding like Elvis is what garnered him a number 1 single (Butterfly by Andy Williams was nothing like his later work but his sole number 1). Twitty had been born Harold Lloyd Jenkins in 1933 in Coahoma County, Mississippi. The family moved to Helena Arkansas when he was ten years old, where he formed his first group, the Phillips County Ramblers. He later served in the Far East where his new group, the Cimmerons, would entertain his fellow troops. After his return, he heard Presley’s Mystery Train and became determined to follow in his footsteps, travelling to Sun Studios in the process.

Depending on which story you believe, he either took the name Conway Twitty from a map (Conway is in Arkansas and Twitty is in Texas), or he stole it from a man who his manager served with in the army, upon his suggestion. He switched from Sun Records to MGM Records and began releasing singles. It’s Only Make Believe had been quickly written by Twitty and his drummer Jack Nance between sets at the Flamingo Lounge in Hamilton. Taking a whole year to climb the charts, it reached number 1 in the US and and subsequently 21 other countries. To begin with, some listeners assumed the performer was Elvis, recording under a pseudonym, the vocal was so similar.

I didn’t cover It’s Only Make Believe during my blog on my mammoth listen to every Christmas number 1, here, but I was impressed by the intensity of the performance, and even more so since then. As the song began, I was ready to dismiss it as a sub-standard Elvis ballad rip-off like Pat Boone’s I’ll Be Home. However, as Twitty proclaims his wish that his lover felt as strongly as he did, he moves out of the croon and really lets rip, and it’s a great vocal performance. He sounds genuinely pained by the time he reaches the song’s title at the end of each verse. I still think it’s a shame Lord Rockingham’s XI’s Hoots Mon didn’t stay at number 1 for another week to become the festive chart-topper, though.

Twitty failed to set the charts alight again for some time, until he decided to move from rock’n’roll to country music in 1965. Country radio stations were sceptical at first, but Twitty seemed genuine, and his career took off once more. His biggest country hit became Hello Darlin’ in 1970, but he maintained his country chart success until 1990, and achieved an incredible 55 number 1s in total. On 4 June 1993 he collapsed on stage in Missouri and subsequently died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm the following day. He was 59.

1958’s number 1 singles definitely showed rock’n’roll taking control of the record-buying market. A number of future classics hit the top, and the easy listening ballads largely took a back seat. Unfortunately, so did the female artists, as once again, with the exception of Connie Francis, the top of the charts was dominated by men.

It’s Only Make Believe stayed at number 1 well into 1959. During that time, Tyne Tees Television, the ITV franchise for the north east, began transmission on 15 January, and a week later, racing driver Mike Hawthorn died after his car hit a tree on the A3.

Written by: Jack Nance & Conway Twitty

Producer: Jim Vinneau

Weeks at number 1: 5 (19 December 1958-22 January 1959)

Births:

Singer Sade Adu – 16 January 

Deaths

Racing driver Mike Hawthorn – 22 January

54. Tommy Steele & the Steelmen – Singing the Blues (1957)

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Guy Mitchell only enjoyed a week at the top of the charts with Singing the Blues before record buyers decided they preferred Tommy Steele’s version, This bizarre turn of events had happened before in December 1953, when Frankie Laine‘s version of Answer Me knocked David Whitfield‘s from the top.

Tommy Steele was enjoying immense popularity at the time, and is considered by many to be Britain’s first rock’n’roll star. Born Thomas William Hicks in 1936, he had been a merchant seaman, and sang and played guitar and banjo in London coffee houses in his spare time. He fell in love with rock’n’roll when a ship he worked on docked in Norfolk, Virginia in the US and he heard Buddy Holly on the radio. He and his group, the Steelmen scored their first hit with Rock with the Caveman in 1956, reaching number 13. It was a rip-off of Rock Around the Clock, but a pretty good one. It was beginning to become common practise for British singers to record covers of songs that were going down well in the US, and release them over here before the imports became better known. Although his version of Singing the Blues hadn’t beaten Mitchell’s to the top spot, it had knocked it down after only a week.

By this point, Elvis-mania had well and truly gripped the nation, and Tommy Steele decided to ape him for his version. Clearly this worked at the time, but his affectation is so obvious now as to sound laughable. His slurring of the opening line is way too over-the-top, and makes Pat Boone sound much more authentic at ripping the King off. Thankfully Steele settles down and things pick up when he drops the impression, but the Steelmen’s backing is almost identical to Mitchell’s, right down to the whistling, so inevitably you compare the two, and when you do, Steele is the loser. Mitchell was a veteran by this point, and sounds relaxed and at home with the material. So, Steele had succeeded in beating Presley to a UK number 1 single, and won the initial battle with Mitchell, but was only in pole position for a week before everybody decided they’d actually preferred Mitchell’s version, which went back to the top for its second of three stints. Perhaps he should have laid off the Elvis impressions and stuck to sounding like Bill Haley & His Comets.

Steele continued to enjoy great fame, however, and his debut album, The Tommy Steele Story, became the first number 1 album by a UK act later that year. Also in 1957, he found himself competing against Mitchell once more, as they both covered Mervin Endley’s sequel, Knee Deep in the Blues. Neither version fared as well, though. He went solo in 1958, and continued with his music until the rise of the Beatles, before wisely concentrating on his film and theatre career, and is still loved by fans from his youth.

Symbolically, as Steele enjoyed his only number 1 to date, the Cavern Club, then for jazz aficionados before later becoming home to the Beatles as they went stratospheric, opened its doors for the first time.

Written by: Melvin Endsley

Producer: Hugh Mendl

Weeks at number 1: 1 (11-17 January)

47. Pat Boone – I’ll Be Home (1956)

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In December 1952 when the singles chart was in its infancy, London was gripped by the worst smog outbreak it had ever known. The Great Smog of London lasted five days and is believed to have killed approximately 12,000 people. Such a shocking number of deaths caused Parliament to get their act together (eventually), and on 5 July the Clean Air Act was passed. 9 July saw toy manufacturers Mettoy introduce Corgi Toys model cars, remembered fondly by boys and girls for years to come. And in the music world, Elvis-mania was finally in full effect on these shores – Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Suede Shoes and I Want You I Need You I Love You had all bothered the charts, but surprisingly not one hit the top. Record buyers chose the safer option instead, and on 15 June, Pat Boone toppled Ronnie Hilton and I’ll Be Home began five weeks at number 1.

Pat Boone was, according to Billboard, the second-biggest charting artist of the latter half of the 50s, only beaten by Elvis. Early Elvis was considered raunchy, suggestive and dangerous. Pat Boone was not, but he sounded very similar and, like Elvis, was fond of taking songs by black artists and tailoring them to a white audience. He had already enjoyed number ones in the US and was about to begin a film career too when I’ll Be Home hit the big time. The song, written by Ferdinand Washington and Stan Lewis, had originally been a hit for doo-wop group The Flamingos. Boone picked Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti as its B-side.

I’ll Be Home is, predictably enough, Elvis-lite, and very similar to Love Me Tender, but written from the point of view of a soldier away on duty, it seems. It features a sappy spoken-word interlude, and is mediocre to my ears. But Boone was and is overtly Christian, which would have pleased the older record buyers back then. As far as I know he didn’t shake his hips either, so Presley had to wait even longer to top the charts. Sometimes there really is no accounting for sense and taste in the UK singles chart.

Nonetheless, Boone was incredibly successful, and could afford to turn down films and songs that didn’t hold up to his strong conservative views – he even turned down the opportunity to work with Marilyn Monroe. DC Comics even turned him into a comic strip. I can’t imagine it would have been very exciting, and I wouldn’t expect a Hollywood adaptation any time soon. The British Invasion ended his peak years and he moved into a more natural genre for him, namely gospel. I may sound rather disparaging of Boone, but it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm for a man who was very vocal in supporting both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. He believed that people should ‘respect their elders’ and blindly follow their Presidents into any folly they may choose. In recent years he has also tried to draw links between gay rights protests and terrorist attacks, claimed Barack Obama was ineligible to serve as President, and compared liberalism to cancer. If I was forced to go see an Elvis impersonator, Pat Boone would be at the bottom of my list.

Written by: Ferdinand Washington & Stan Lewis

Producer: Randy Wood

Weeks at number 1: 5 (15 June – 19 July) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Joy Division singer Ian Curtis – 15 July 

Deaths:

Writer Walter de la Mare – 22 June