227. Tom Jones – Green, Green Grass of Home (1966)

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December 1966: Harry Roberts, John Whitney and John Duddy are sentenced to life for killing three policemen in August on 12 December. Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith were in the news throughout the month as they attempted to negotiate the whole independence saga. On 20 December Wilson withdrew all offers and announced that he will only consider independence when a black majority government is installed in Rhodesia. Two days later, a steadfast Smith announced he already considered the country a republic. New Year’s Eve saw thieves steal millions of pounds worth of paintings from Dulwich Art Gallery in London.

And so, after such a stellar year of chart action, we’re back at the Christmas number 1. For the first time since 1962, it isn’t the Beatles, who were working on Strawberry Fields Forever. Holding court as the top of the pops for the whole month, and most of January, was 1966’s best-selling single – Tom Jones’s cover of Green, Green Grass of Home.

Since his last number 1, the storming It’s Not Unusual in 1965, Jones’s popularity had slipped somewhat. Granted, his theme to What’s New Pussycat?, by Bacharach and David, did well, but his theme to the James Bond movie Thunderball wasn’t so popular. His manager Gordon Mills decided a new approach was needed, and steered Jones towards using that deep voice to become a light entertainment-style crooner.

Green, Green Grass of Home had been written by Claude ‘Curly’ Puttman, Jr, and was first made popular by flamboyant country star Porter Wagoner in 1965. Later that year, controversial rock’n’roller Jerry Lee Lewis recorded a version for his album Country Songs for Country Folks, and it was this version that made Tom Jones decide to give it a crack himself. His producer Peter Sullivan weren’t so sure – country wasn’t what they had in mind for Jones, so Les Reed, who had written It’s Not Unusual, arranged the track and took it in an easy listening direction.

Jones recalled in an interview for The Mail on Sunday in 2011 that Lewis was on a UK tour just before the single’s release, and met with Jones. He was bowled over by this new pop version, and told Jones he had a hit on his hands.

It’s an odd one, really. Green, Green Grass of Home is still considered one of Tom Jones’s best songs, and yet it leaves me rather cold. The arrangement is rather dated now, particularly when compared to the previous number 1, Good Vibrations. I think the Beach Boys classic would have made for a much more appropriate song to round the year off. But there’s no accounting for taste. Which leads me onto my next point.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m against the death penalty, but it’s hard to feel sorry for the singer once you know the twist – that he’s behind bars and reminiscing on his hometown before he is hanged. The likelihood here is that this man has done something terrible. An odd choice for Christmas number 1, all in all. I hate the ‘Mary/cherries’ rhyme as well.

Green, Green Grass of Home is a sign of what happens to the charts in 1967. After all this energy, vigour and innovation, things go somewhat downhill. 1967 was a great year for albums, and I used to think that once we got full-blown into the ‘flower power’ era, there would be some wonderful single number 1s. There’s far fewer than I hoped, and more often than not, the fashion sways back towards MOR.

Also that year, Tom Jones performed in Las Vegas for the first time. Like his friend Elvis Presley in the 1970s, his recording output suffered as his live act grew more flamboyant, and it was here he cultivated the sweaty, open shirt image that would make him a figure of fun over the years. There were still hits from time to time though, such as Delilah in 1968. From 1969 to 1971 he presented his own variety show on ITV called This Is Tom Jones. The year it ended he recorded one of my favourite Jones tracks, She’s a Lady, written by Paul Anka and later used to great effect in Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (1998).

By the mid-70s his career had declined and he tried to get more film and TV work, but by the early 80s he was recording country material that failed to chart. The first of his many comebacks came in 1987 when A Boy From Nowhere made it to number two. Then the following year he teamed up with Art of Noise for a smash-hit cover of Prince’s Kiss. Unfortunately, someone missed the point of the original, and changed the lyrics from ‘Women, not girls rule my world’ to ‘Women and girls rule my world’, which sounds a bit seedy to me.

In 1992 he kickstarted the idea of ‘legends’ appearing at Glastonbury Festival, and had cameos on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Simpsons the following year. Also in 1993 he was back in the charts with If I Only Knew. I personally find this track hilarious for its opening, in which Jones’s bellow is used to headache-inducing levels. It’s hard not to enjoy it though. 1996 saw him cameo in Tim Burton’s sci-fi comedy movie Mars Attacks. He rounded off the millenium with Reload, an enormously successful collection of covers featuring the stars of the time.

It was around then I got a bit sick of Tom Jones. That bellow was everywhere, from the dodgy duet It’s Cold Outside with Matthews (which takes on new levels of meaning when you read he allegedly banged her over the mixing desk during the recording) to the especially irritating version of Mama Told Me Not to Come with Stereophonics. The biggest hit, Sex Bomb, with Mousse T, long outstayed its welcome. But the Queen loved him and he was given an OBE that year, before being knighted in 2006.

He’s never really gone away since the success of Reload, and is now a national treasure. There’s one more number 1 with which he’s involved, from 2009, so I’ll return to his story then.

Next time then, 1967. Until 18 January though, Green, Green Grass of Home reigned at number 1. So what was happening in the news then? On New Year’s Day, the Queen decided to commemorate England’s World Cup achievement by making manager Alf Ramsey a Sir, and also awarded captain Bobby Moore with an OBE.

3 January saw stop-motion children’s TV favourite Trumpton begin on BBC One, and four days later another classic TV series began on BBC Two – The Forstyte Saga.

On 4 January, motorboat racer Donald Campbell was tragically killed while trying to break his own water speed record attempt on Coniston Water in the Lake District. Footage shows his Bluebird K7 and smash into the water. His body wasn’t found until 2001.

And in the world of politics, the UK entered the first round of negotiations for European Economic Community Membership on 15 January. Three days later, the flamboyant Jeremy Thorpe replaced Jo Grimond as leader of the Liberal Party. He was a popular leader and increased the party’s voting stastics, but controversy would end his leadership early.

Written by: Curly Putman

Producer: Peter Sullivan

Weeks at number 1: 7 (1 December 1966-18 January 1967) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Footballer Dennis Wise – 16 December
Rugby player Martin Bayfield – 21 December
Rugby league player Martin Offiah – 29 December
Comedian Mark Lamarr – 7 January
Actress Emily Watson – 14 January

Deaths:

Land and water speed record breaker Donald Campbell – 4 January 

 

73. The Everly Brothers with Orchestra conducted by Archie Bleyer – All I Have to Do is Dream/Claudette (1958)

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The first of four number 1s for the country-influenced rock’n’roll duo in this country, and the best-selling single of 1958. All I Have to Do is Dream/Claudette enjoyed a seven-week run at the top of the charts and established the Everly Brothers as one of the biggest and most influential acts of the next few years.

Isaac Donald ‘Don’ Everly was born in Brownie, Muhlenberg County, Kentucky on 1 February 1937, and Phillip Jason ‘Phil’ Everly arrived on 19 January 1939 in Chicago, Illinois.

Born into a musical family, their father Ike was a guitarist and mother Margaret a singer. They sang as the Everly Family on the radio in the mid-1940s, with the boys known as ‘Little Donny’ and ‘Baby Boy Phil’. In 1955 the brothers moved to Nashville, Tennessee. By this point, their musical prowess already had an important fan – family friend Chet Atkins, a record producer and songwriter.

Atkins used his contacts to get Don and Phil a record deal, and their first single, Bye Bye Love (covered by Simon & Garfunkel as the last track on Bridge Over Troubled Water in 1970) was a smash-hit, selling over a million and reaching number six over here.

They continued to work with its songwriters, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant (Bryant’s solo work, Hey Joe, performed by Frankie Laine, had been a UK number 1 in 1953), releasing Wake Up Little Susie, which reached number 2, before working on All I Have to Do is Dream, which was by Bryant alone, and allegedly written in only 15 minutes.

Opening with the lush jangle of Chet Atkins on guitar, All I Have to Do is Dream begins straight away with that memorable chorus, a trick later used by ABBA and Stock, Aitken & Waterman to pull the listener in. If that jangle doesn’t grab you (and if it doesn’t, what’s wrong with you?), the vocals will. Don and Phil’s unique harmonies still sound sublime today. The only misfire is the dated, corny lyric:

‘Only trouble is, gee whiz,
I’m dreamin’ my life away’

Fortunately before you have time to dwell on that too much you’re back into the chorus. This is the sound of the Everly Brothers and Boudleaux Bryant at their best. According to Phil, the acetate featuring Bryant on vocals would have been a hit anyway, such was the beauty of the song. Maybe so, but it’s his and brother Don’s voices, and Atkins’ guitar work, that make All I Have to Do is Dream a classic.

The other song, Claudette, hasn’t aged as well, but it’s a decent enough uptempo acoustic track, written by Roy Orbison and named after his first wife. As a B-side, however, it would certainly have been better than average, and as it helped propel ‘The Big O’ to success and helped buy him a cadillac, then it’s alright by me.

The Everly Brothers tied at number 1 for their first week with Vic Damone’s On the Street Where You Live, but went on to spend most of the summer at the top.

Written by:
All I Have to Do is Dream: Boudleaux Bryant/Claudette: Roy Orbison 

Producer: Archie Bleyer

Weeks at number 1: 7 (4 July-21 August)*BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Comedian Jennifer Saunders – 6 July
Singer-songwriter Kate Bush – 30 July
Athlete Daley Thompson – 30 July
Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson – 7 August
Labour MP Rosie Winterton – 10 August
Singer Feargal Sharkey – 13 August
Politician Philip Dunne – 14 August 

Deaths:

Campaigner Margaret Haig Thomas, 2nd Viscountess Rhondda – 20 July 

Meanwhile…

10 July: The first parking meters were installed.

18-26 July: The British Empire and Commonwealth Games were held in Cardiff.

26 July: The Queen gave her eldest son Charles the customary title of Prince of Wales, and the presentation of débutantes to the royal court were abolished.

1 August: Carry On Sergeant, the first of the Carry On films, premiered. Different in tone from the bawdy humour that was to come, it featured Bob Monkhouse and the first star of Doctor Who, William Hartnell.

65. Harry Belafonte – Mary’s Boy Child (1957)

Each year before 1957 had brought hints of the progression in music and popular culture that rock’n’roll brought about, but these were often few and far between, with the charts still dominated by fluffy, overwrought, orchestrated love songs, often performed by a revolving door of crooners.

1957 had changed all that. By and large, rock’n’roll ruled, with Guy Mitchell and Frankie Vaughan the only crooners to hit the top spot, and even then, Mitchell was aping the new sound. It was also entirely male-dominated. Female singers didn’t get a look in. As winter and Christmas loomed though, record buyers once more turned to something cosier.

Mary’s Boy Child had been written by Jester Hairston a US songwriter, actor and leading expert on Negro spirituals. Originally called He Pone and Chocolate Tea (pone was a type of corn bread), in this form it had nothing to do with Christmas and was a calypso song for a friend’s birthday party. Later, famous film composer Walter Schumann asked Hairston to write a Christmas tune for his choir. Remembering the birthday song, he simply rewrote the lyrics and made them festive-themed, similar to how Slade rewrote a psychedelic song and transformed it into Merry Xmas Everybody. (Incidentally, Mary’s Boy Child was the last explicitly festive Christmas number 1 until Slade in 1973). Harry Belafonte had heard the choir performing the new version and asked if he could cover it.

Belafonte, born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr, was born on 1 March 1927 in Harlem, New York, to parents of Jamaican and Dutch descent. He served in the navy during World War Two, and returned to New York afterwards to work as a janitor’s assistant. A tenant gave him two tickets to the American Negro Theatre, where he instantly fell in love with the stage, and also befriended Sidney Poitier. They were both so poor, they would buy a single ticket for local plays, then trade places between acts, so one could inform the other of what had taken place.

To help pay for his acting classes, Belafonte became a singer. At his very first show, he was backed by the Charlie Parker Band, which included Miles Davis as well as Parker. He began recording in 1949, and his breakthrough came in 1956 with the album Calypso, the first LP in the world to sell over a million copies in a year, and the first to sell that many ever in the UK. Introducing the wider world to calypso music, it featured the hits Banana Boat Song (‘Day-O’) and and Jump in the Line (both of which are great and I got to know them thanks to the 1988 film Beetlejuice)

This is the first Christmas number 1 to get to the same chart position later when covered by another act, namely Boney M in 1978. How does it compare? Well I don’t get the love for Boney M at all, and I particularly don’t like their cover of Mary’s Boy Child, so it’s no competition really.

Belafonte is in fine voice as always, though it’s a shame he didn’t opt for a livelier approach to the song. He’s singing in a calypso rhythm but the music doesn’t really match. Despite this, I’d easily take it over a naff disco-lite version with an extra bit tacked on the end for no reason.

Record-buyers in 1957 loved the religious imagery and cosy string backing, keeping it at number 1 for seven weeks from November, well into January 1958.

In 1959 Belafonte became the first African American to win an Emmy. A young Bob Dylan played harmonica on his 1962 album Midnight Special. As the 60s progressed he became dissatisfied with his film work and the music hits were drying up. By that point he was known as a prominent civil rights activist, and provided great financial help to Martin Luther King. He helped organise marches and bailed King and several other protestors out of jail. Much more personally rewarding than his other careers, I should guess.

Later, Belafonte organised the 1985 charity single and number 1 We Are the World, became a UNICEF ambassador, and a staunch critic of apartheid and US foreign policy. He supported Bernie Sanders in his bid to become US President, and will no doubt be horrified at the current state of his country’s politics.

Written by: Jester Hairston

Producer: Rene Farron

Weeks at number 1: 7 (22 November 1957-9 January 1958)

Births:

Singer Billy Bragg – 20 December

Deaths:

Writer Michael Sadleir – 13 December – Michael Sadleir
Writer Dorothy L. Sayers – 17 December
Composer Eric Coates – 21 December 

Meanwhile…

4 December: At the Lewisham by-pass, in dense fog, an electric train stopped at a signal under a bridge. A steam train crashed into it, causing the bridge to collapse onto the latter. The rail crash left 90 dead.

Christmas Day: Queen Elizabeth II marked the 25th anniversary of the first Christmas broadcast on the radio with the start of a new tradition. For the first time, the speech also featured on television. The Queen made reference to this change, and put older viewers minds at ease by remarking that the age of change was sometimes bewildering, but everyone would be okay if we hung on to ageless ideals and values. However, during the speech some viewers experienced confusion when they overheard an American voice say ‘Joe, I’m gonna grab a quick coffee…’ Apparently, at this time, sunspots often caused freak radio conditions, resulting in US police radio transmissions interfering in UK television broadcasts. I’d imagine that was very bewildering.

45. Winifred Atwell & Her ‘Other’ Piano – The Poor People of Paris (1956)

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The Dream Weavers’ It’s Almost Tomorrow was knocked off the number 1 spot for the second and final time by Trinidadian pianist Winifred Atwell, scoring her second and final number 1 with her cover of The Poor People of Paris.  Her fast-paced piano-playing and charming personality had seen her at number 1 during Christmas 1954 with Let’s Have Another Party, scoring a number three hit in 1955 with Let’s Have a Ding Dong. and then this track, all ploughing the same furrow. Why change a winning formula though?

La goualante du pauvre Jean, as the song was called in France, translates into The Ballad of Poor John in English. Marguerite Monnot, one of Edith Piath’s top songwriters, had written the original music, with words by René Rouzaud. However, US songwriter Jack Lawrence wrote the English lyrics, and misinterpreted the French title, which is why the two differ so much. None of this really matters here though, as Atwell’s cover was instrumental.

Atwell, as usual, plays the song as if her life depends on it. It’s so frenetic, I accidentally pressed play on two separate clips at once and felt a nervous breakdown coming on. While this style of playing is considerably dated now, it still has a certain charm, and anything with a bit of life to it impresses in these early days of the chart.

The main reason it appeals to me, however, is because I immediately recognised it as having featured in 90s Channel 4 comedy show Vic Reeves Big Night Out, a show that changed my life (no exaggeration). In the show, Bob Mortimer’s character Man with the Stick sings a slowed-down version, all about his ill-fated works holiday with ‘good-laugh’ Terry. Here it is in all its glory.

Atwell’s career continued to skyrocket. She had her own television series and performed to millions. She was loved by the Queen, who even requested she perform at a private party to keep spirits up during the Suez Crisis. Sadly, her race was an issue in the Deep South, which meant she never repeated her success in the US.

There was insight and intelligence behind Atwell’s fun-loving public persona, and at heart she was shy, eloquent and intellectual. She claimed her own life was untouched by racism, and considered herself lucky to be so loved. But after buying an apartment in Sydney and while touring the country in 1962, she spoke out about the plight of the Australian Aborigines.

Atwell suffered a stroke in 1980 and announced her retirement on TV the following year. Sadly, her house was destroyed by an electrical fire in 1983, and while staying with friends she died of a heart attack on 28 February.

It would be wrong to dismiss Atwell as a throwaway from a bygone age – her piano skills had a surprising impact on the world of progressive rock, with both Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman citing her as an influence.

Written by: Marguerite Monnot

Producer: Hugh Mendl

Weeks at number 1: 3 (13 April – 3 May)

Births:

Tennis player Sue Barker – 19 April
Actress Koo Stark – 26 April 

Meanwhile…

17 April: Chancellor of the Exchequer Harold Macmillan announced in his Budget speech the launch of Premium Bonds, to go on sale on 1 November, with £1,000 prize available in the first draw, taking place in June 1957.

20 April: Jazz maestro (and eventual presenter of Radio 4’s comedy panel game I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue) Humphrey Lyttelton and his band recorded Bad Penny Blues with then little-known sound engineer Joe Meek. It became the first British jazz record to get into the top 20, and the inspiration for The Beatles’ Lady Madonna in 1968.

9. Frankie Laine with Paul Weston & His Orchestra – I Believe (1953)

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US singer, songwriter and actor Frankie Laine’s cover of I Believe stayed at number 1 for nine weeks, equalling the previous record held by Al Martino’s Here in My Heart. However, following a week at number 1 for I’m Walking Behind You by Eddie Fisher and Sally Sweetland, it returned to the top spot for a further six weeks. Mantovani’s The Song from The Moulin Rouge then topped the charts, but once again, I Believe went back to number 1. A staggering feat, this cover of a religious power ballad notched up 18 weeks as the nation’s bestseller. It still holds the record for most non-concurrent weeks at number 1.

I Believe was written by musicians Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl and Al Stillman for Jane Froman. Froman was a big stage, TV and radio star who had suffered chronic injuries in a 1943 plane crash. Troubled by the Korean War in 1952, she asked her songwriters to come up with a tune that would offer hope to the audience of her TV show, Jane Froman’s USA Canteen. It’s fair to say that Drake, Graham, Shirl and Stillman delivered. But back in 1953, such a big song required a big voice, and a big star. So Frankie Laine was a natural choice.

Francesco Paolo LoVecchio arrived in the world on 30 March 1913, the son of Sicilian refugees. The LoVecchios had links to organised crime, and Francesco’s father had even worked as Al Capone’s barber.

Little LoVecchio got his first taste for singing as a member of a church choir, and acquired his astounding vocal prowess through high-school sports. As a teenager in the 20s he found himself performing for thousands at a charity ball. Clearly, a star in the making.

But fame didn’t come instantly. With influences including Bing Crosby and Billie Holiday, Frank LoVecchio spent much of the Great Depression performing at dance marathons. 1937 saw him briefly replace Perry Como in the Freddy Carlone band, and a year later he took on the stage name Frankie Laine.

It wasn’t until World War Two ended that his career really took off. He began recording for Mercury in 1946, and initially listeners thought he was black. Laine’s version of That’s My Desire established him as a force to be reckoned with. Soon he was working with Mitch Miller, and together they were a formidable team. Hit after hit followed, particularly when they jumped ship to Columbia. 1952 saw Laine begin working his magic on film and TV western themes, with High Noon being his first.

While cynical non-believers may balk at the lyrics, I Believe, by comparison to its predecessors at number 1, screams ‘I am a hit and I am important’ at you. For a nation of churchgoers in the 50s, this grandiose ballad was bound to do well. It could partly be that it’s already registered in my mind as a success due to Robson and Jerome’s bland cover (their follow-up to Unchained Melody) from 1995, which cashed in on the elderly’s memories of the song and fans of the duo’s characters in the ITV drama Soldier Soldier. Their cover remains an early warning of Cowell’s evil reign of terror over the charts for years to come.

Beginning with the gentle strum of an acoustic guitar, Laine builds the song into a display of righteous power, bellowing at the end with a performance that is still impressive today. After 18 weeks of chart dominance, he still had more to come. 1953 was truly Frankie Laine’s year.

Written by: Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl & Al Stillman

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 18 (24 April-25 June, 3 July-13 August, 21 August-10 September) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Prime Minister Tony Blair – 6 May
Musician Mike Oldfield – 15 May
Comedian Victoria Wood – 19 May
Actor Alfred Molina – 24 May
Politician Michael Portillo – 26 May
Dr Hilary Jones – 19 June
Racing driver Nigel Mansell – 8 August
Bucks Fizz singer Bobby G – 23 August

Deaths:

Footballer Alex James – 1 June 

Meanwhile…

24 April: Prime Minister Winston Churchill received a knighthood from the Queen. Recognised officially for his part in leading the nation during World War Two, Churchill would then suffer a stroke on 25 June. It began a period of ill health that would begin the decline of the great wartime leader.

2 May: Blackpool win the first televised FA Cup final with a 4-3 win over Bolton Wanderers.

2 June: Elizabeth II’s Coronation took place. The public holiday 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 the news travelled slowly.

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. He was hanged on 15 July. 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.

18 July: Influential sci-fi drama The Quatermass Experiment began on the BBC.

20 July: Nostalgic (yes the BBC loved looking to the past even then) music hall series The Good Old Days began. It would run for 30 years.

6. Guy Mitchell with Mitch Miller & His Orchestra & Chorus – She Wears Red Feathers (1953)

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Hmm. Novelty songs were all the rage back in the 50s. I’ve nothing against novelty songs if done right, but these early ones came way before anyone had even thought of political correctness. She Wears Red Feathers is the bizarre tale of an English banker’s love for a hula-hula girl, who apparently ‘lives on just cokey-nuts and fish from the sea’. The banker and his love get married in a ceremony involving an elephant and baboons playing bassoons… clearly, the weirdest number 1 up to this point.

This song didn’t do great in the US, but the British have always had a more eccentric sense of humour, and they welcomed it with open arms and sent cheeky US crooner and actor Guy Mitchell’s version to number 1 on 13 March.

Mitchell’s real name was Albert George Cernik. The son of Croatian immigrants (parents who immigrated to the US seems to be a common theme among many of these early number 1 stars) was born on 22 February 1927. Cernik was signed to Warner Brothers Pictures when only 11 to sing and act.

During World War Two he served in the US navy before accepting an invitation to join Carmen Cavallaro’s big band, but solo stardom was right around the corner when he, like Al Martino, won the radio talent show Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in 1949. A year later he signed with Columbia, where Mitch Miller took him under his wing and dubbed him Guy Mitchell, because he seemed like a nice guy. Debut single My Heart Cries for You made him an instant success, narrowly missing out on the top spot in America. His first hit in the UK, the bizarre Feet Up (Pat Him on the Po-Po), was the first ever number two in the singles chart.

Despite the lyrics to She Wears Red Feathers being highly questionable, (‘cokey-nuts’ is performed by Mitchell in a ‘comedy’ accent), the chorus is memorable. It’s the sort of tune you can imagine Nigel Farage singing after a skinful.

Worryingly, it’s the earliest number 1 I have heard. It’s been lurking somewhere in the dark corners of my mind all this time, as I recognised the title when I came upon it and the chorus started up in my brain automatically. I’ve no idea where I heard it. We certainly didn’t own a copy, so it must have been in a film or TV show.

The song was created in 1952 (all these early number ones so far have actually dated from the previous year) by US songsmith Bob Merrill. Merrill had an astounding hit rate and was the second most successful songwriter of the decade in this country. He co-wrote If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake with Al Hoffman and Clem Watts in 1950, and specialised in comical, catchy tunes.

Merrill and Mitchell worked very well together, especially when produced by Mitch Miller, who was renowned for inventiveness and gimmickry. Miller hated rock’n’roll when it came about, calling it ‘musical baby food’, and he turned both Elvis Presley and the Beatles down. Not exactly forward-thinking, Mitch.

However, back in the early 50s, Mitchell, Merrill and Miller could do no wrong, and Mitchell scored another three number 1s.

Glam rockers Mud recorded an awful cover of She Wears Red Feathers in the 70s, when being PC still didn’t matter, and you can hear it here, if you really need to.

Written by: Bob Merrill

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 4 (13 March-9 April)

Births

Author Christopher Fowler – 26 March

Deaths:

Queen Mary – 24 March
Poet Idris Davies – 6 April

Meanwhile…

24 March: Queen Mary, consort of the deceased King George V, died peacefully in her sleep.

On the same day, the discovery of several bodies at 10 Rillington Place shocked the country. The murderer, John Christie, had moved out four days earlier, leaving several bodies hidden around the house. He had killed at least eight people, including his wife Ethel.

31 March: Both the funeral of Queen Mary and the arrest of Christie took place. Mary had insisted that the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II should not be delayed in the event of her death. The trial of Christie, later in the year, revealed a terrible miscarriage of justice in which a husband and father had been wrongly sentenced to death by hanging.