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 50s 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. 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 Que Sera, Sera (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.

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 this year 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 Everly 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.

72. Vic Damone – On the Street Where You Live (1958)

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The old-school swingers may have been on the wane, but they didn’t go down without a fight. Vic Damone’s On the Street Where You Live dates back to 1956. Written by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner for the musical My Fair Lady, the show had enjoyed two years of huge stateside success and had recently opened in London, causing the single to surge up the charts. Ironic really, considering Loewe wasn’t happy with the tune and had wanted it removing before the musical was released.

It was the last number 1 produced by Mitch Miller, who had been responsible for many chart-toppers – Guy Mitchell’s She Wears Red FeathersLook at That Girl and Singing the Blues, Johnnie Ray’s Such a Night, Just Walkin’ in the Rain and Yes Tonight Josephine, and Rosemary Clooney with the Mellomen’s  Mambo Italiano. Mitchell hated rock’n’roll, probably because he knew his demand as a producer would drop.

He remains a divisive figure, for relying on novelty songs and adding gimmicks to records, and artists including Frank Sinatra resented some of his methods. There’s no denying his hit rate though, and his influence would remain. Miller helped conceive the idea of sound effects and soundscapes. Without Miller, there may not have been a George Martin, and without George Martin, there may not have been a Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Despite numerous versions of On the Street Where You Live, Damone’s remains the most popular. He was born Vito Rocco Farinola in Brooklyn, New York on 12 June 1928 to Italian emigrants.

Like so many others, he was inspired by Sinatra to become a singer. He dropped out of high school when his father was injured at work, and worked as an usher elevator operator at the Paramount Theatre in Manhattan. One day he met Perry Como, and seizing his opportunity, he stopped the elevator between floors and sang for him. Como was impressed and referred him to a local bandleader. From there, he went on to appear on and win an edition of Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in 1947, which was later used as a springboard for stardom by Marvin Rainwater and Connie Francis, who had also had number 1s in 1958.

Damone had a number of hits, and also began appearing in films, before going into the army, where he served with Johnny Cash.

Despite being written in 1956, Damone’s On the Street Where You Live sounds even older, and harks back to the first number 1, Al Martino’s Here in My Heart. Damone bellows out the vocals over a grand backing. Not much of a fan of musicals, the only part of this song I actually recognised was the famous opening couplet

‘I have often walked down this street before
But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before’

I think my dad liked to sing it when I was growing up, although I may be confusing this with any number of songs my dad likes to occasionally burst into.

I have to confess though that this song leaves me cold. Like many love songs in musicals, it lays on the sentiment way too thick, and after so many progressive number 1s this felt like a big, unnecessary step back. On the Street Where You Live enjoyed a fortnight at the top, but shared its second week with The Everly Brothers’ double A-side All I Have to Do Is Dream/Claudette.

Damone’s music, film and television careers continued into the 70s, when bankruptcy caused him to take up residency in Las Vegas. He was offered the role of Johnny Fontane in The Godfather (1972) but turned it down, and Al Martino accepted it instead.

Damone retired after suffering a stroke in 2002, the same year he released his final album.

He had some dodgy connections in his time. In his autobiography he revealed he was once dangled out of a hotel window by a Mafia member after breaking off his relationship with the thug’s daughter for insulting Damone’s mother. His life was allegedly spared when New York mob boss Frank Costello ruled in his favour. Damone’s daughter also once recalled that a bookie showed up insisting that Damone owed him a lot of money. The singer phoned Sinatra and asked him to intervene, but when ‘Ol’ Blue Eyes’ arrived on the scene, the bookie showed him a secret sign, which meant Sinatra had to keep out of it. Damone had to pay it all back.

By far Damone’s dodgiest connection, however, was President Trump, who counted him as a close friend. In May 2016, Trump offered to be a character witness for the singer during a legal battle with his stepdaughters.

Damone died of complications from a respiratory illness on 11 Feb 2018. He was 89.

Written by: Frederick Loewe & Alan Jay Lerner

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 2 (27 June-10 July)

Births:

Racewalker Les Morton – 1 July 

Deaths:

Poet Alfred Noyes – 28 June

60. Johnnie Ray – Yes Tonight Josephine (1957)

‘Mr Emotion’ Johnnie Ray’s third and final UK number 1 toppled the Andy Williams hit, Butterfly.

Yes Tonight Josephine had been written by Winfield Scott, who later co-wrote Return to Sender for Elvis Presley (along with Otis Blackwell), and Dorothy Goodman, of which I know nothing. Unlike lots of Ray’s material, this is a bouncy, upbeat number, along the lines of Ray’s first number 1, 1954’s Such a Night. Once again, Mitch Miller was in charge of production. Although he certainly had the magic touch back then, and helped make Ray the Christmas number 1 in 1956 with Just Walkin’ in the Rain, I think on this occasion Ray could have done better.

Yes Tonight Josephine isn’t a bad song. Ray, as always, performs well. But it’s ruined by some bizarre backing vocals that smother the song and make it too laughable to enjoy fully.

‘(Yip yip way bop de boom ditty boom ditty)
(Yip yip way bop de boom)’

I think they’re supposed to represent Ray’s anticipation of his upcoming night with Josephine, but they come across like a man with Tourette’s. Miller was straying too far into novelty song territory. Understandable, as that was his comfort zone.

Sadly, Ray’s career declined after this, and with that, his personal problems increased. He was arrested again in 1959 for soliciting an undercover officer, and went to trial but was found not guilty. In 1960 he was hospitalised with tuberculosis, and this caused him to give up alcohol. When he eventually appeared on local television in Chicago in 1966, he looked emaciated. A doctor told Ray in 1969 that he was well enough to drink an occasional glass of wine. For someone with an addiction to alcohol, this was never going to end well. He became an alcoholic once more and the music took a permanent back seat.

Johnnie Ray died of liver failure on 24 February 1990, aged 63. It was a tragic but inevitable end for a tortured soul. Had Ray been around in more enlightened times, his sexuality wouldn’t have been an issue and he may have been happier. At the same time, his troubles helped make him so distinctive, intense and influential.

Written by: Winfield Scott & Dorothy Goodman

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 3 (7-27 June)

Births:

Broadcaster Danny Baker – 22 June

Deaths:

Author Malcolm Lowry – 27 June

Meanwhile…

13 June 195: A bus collided with a queue of people waiting at an Oxford Street bus stop, killing eight.

27 June: The Medical Research Council issued a report that revealed there was evidence to support a link between smoking and lung cancer. 

20. David Whitfield, with Chorus and Mantovani and His Orchestra – Cara Mia (1954)

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Doris Day’s Secret Love had a second, lengthy eight-week stay at number 1 after toppling Johnnie Ray’s Such a Night. Eventually Day ran out of steam and on 2 July, Hull’s favourite soprano David Whitfield returned to number one with his version of Cara Mia, with dual credit going to popular conductor Mantovani and his orchestra.

Both were at the height of their fame and had previous chart-toppers to their name, Whitfield with Answer Me and Mantovani had The Song from The Moulin Rouge. This track easily outdid the success of both, and stayed top of the pops for a mammoth 10 weeks, a UK record at the time.

Cara Mia, Italian for ‘My Beloved’, was credited to Tulio Trapani and Lee Lange. In fact, Trapani was Mantovani, who had arranged the song, and Lange was producer Bunny Lewis. Why did they use aliases? I’m not sure, but it’s the first time we’ve seen a number 1 with credits for pseudonyms. Why am I mentioning it? Because there’s not a lot that can be said about the song itself, unfortunately.

After a run of interesting tracks, we’re back in the rather’dull, overblown sludge territory that seemed so popular in the early 50s. Whitfield can hold a note, that’s for sure, but once more I find myself asking how this could be number 1 for so long. Then again, I did the same when Bryan Adams reigned for so long in the summer of 1991, so perhaps it’s going to be a common theme with the biggest sellers.

Neither artist had a number 1 again, although Mantovani came close with follow-up Swedish Rhapsody, and continued to enjoy huge sales figures, as well as presenting his own TV series in 1959. The composer ceased recording in the mid-70s, and died in a Kent care home on 8 April 1980, aged 74.

As for Whitfield, he too had further success for a few years, and his top 10 entries continued until 1957. including recording the theme music to the TV series The Adventures of William Tell, he fell out of favour when rock’n’roll took hold. It also didn’t help that he would turn down offers to go to America, preferring to stay put in Hull.

Whitfield recorded two further versions of Cara Mia, in 1966 and for his final album in 1975. He too died in 1980, of a brain haemorrhage while touring Australia on 15 January, aged only 54.

Written by: Tulio Trapani & Lee Lange

Producer: Bunny Lewis

Weeks at number 1: 10 (2 July-9 September)

Births:

Pet Shop Boys singer Neil Tennant – 10 July
Singer Joe Jackson – 11 August
Singer Elvis Costello – 25 August

Deaths

Physician Henry Valentine Knaggs – 11 July

Meanwhile…

4 July: Meat rationing came to an end in the UK.

19. Johnnie Ray – Such a Night (1954)

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‘Poor old Johnnie Ray sounded sad upon the radio
He moved a million hearts in mono.’

Immortalised in the video and opening line of Come On Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners,  it’s a shame that it seems to be what US singer and songwriter Johnnie Ray is best known for these days.

As great a song as it is, he deserves better. In many ways the prototype eccentric rock’n’roll star, he was troubled, overtly sexual and most of all, different. He wasn’t a cardigan crooner or your typical teen idol, but for a time he was just as popular. Ray was a big influence on Elvis Presley, who later covered this song, and Morrissey wore a hearing aid in the early years of The Smiths in tribute.

Born 10 January 1927, John Alvin Ray was raised in Dallas, Oregon. The Rays lived briefly on a farm, and at the age of three, he began playing piano. At 12, he was singing in the church choir.

Aged 13 and living in Portland, Oregon, Ray became deaf in his left ear following an accident at the Boy Scouts, which is why he was known for wearing a hearing aid in concert. He also later explained the incident had a profound impact on his unique performance style.

Ray was one of the first, if not the first star to show you could turn your weaknesses into your greatest strengths. He was influenced by, among others, Kay Starr, whose jazzy, rhythmic singing on previous number 1, Comes A-Long A-Love was one of the earliest signals of rock’n’roll to make the charts.

At 15 Ray was singing on a local radio station, and performing in comedy and theatre shows. Later, he moved to Detroit, Michigan, and gained a cult following for his live performances. He signed his first record deal in 1951.

In 1952 Ray became famous for the first of several appearances on US TV’s Toast of the Town (which became The Ed Sullivan Show three years later). Soon after the double-A side Cry/The Little White Cloud That Cried made him a teen idol. On 30 April, his cover of Such a Night became his first UK number 1.

Such a Night had originally been a hit for soul group The Drifters. It was songwriter Lincoln Chase’s first big hit, and caused some controversy by being a bit too racy. Ray had no qualms about not only covering it, but making it sound positively filthy by the usual standards of the day. The lyrics and rhymes are very basic, but it’s all about the delivery with this song, produced by hitmaker Mitch Miller. Ray doesn’t hold back, he grunts and groans, and makes it clear he’s not just talking about kissing his girl.

Sex had made its way to the top of the charts (the nudge-nudge wink-wink of Guy Mitchell’s Look at That Girl barely compares) for the first time, and already the likes of Frankie Laine started to look old-fashioned by comparison. Ray would do better, but rock’n’roll doesn’t seem so far away anymore.

Written by: Lincoln Chase

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 1 (30 April-6 May)

Deaths:

Journalist JC Forbes – 6 May

Meanwhile…

6 May: Athlete Roger Bannister made history, becoming the first person to break the four-minute mile.

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, born Doris Mary Kappelhoff on 3 April 1922 was one of the most well-known singers and actresses of the era. Originally she wanted to be a dancer, but an accident at the age of 15 forced her out of action and she discovered a talent for singing, with Ella Fitzgerald her idol.

She took singing lessons, and caught the attention of jazz musician Barney Rapp. Kappelhoff began working with him, but he understandably felt she needed a new stage name. Admiring her rendition of Day After Day, he suggested Doris Day.

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.

Her first UK singles success came in 1952, with a Frankie Laine duet, Sugarbush, and the following year she duetted with Johnnie Ray on the number four hit Let’s Walk That-a-Way.

On 16 April, 1954, UK singles buyers saw sense and decided that this track from Calamity Jane was more deserving of the number 1 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 that describe 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 the British 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.

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

Meanwhile…

29 May: Diane Leather became the first woman to break the five-minute mile.
29 June: The IRA returned after a long period of inactivity.