189. Tom Jones – It’s Not Unusual (1965)

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It’s not unusual to have a strong opinion on Sir Tom Jones. Most people either love him or hate him. As for me, well, it depends on my mood. I recall going to see him while nursing a diabolical hangover at Glastonbury and his over-the-top bellowing made me want to put my head under the cider bus and plead for someone to run me over and put me out of my misery. But at the right time, and on the right song, Jones is a lot of fun, and there’s perhaps no better example of this then on his first number 1, It’s Not Unusual.

Before he was a sir, and before he was Tom Jones, he was Thomas John Woodward. He was born in 1940 in Pontypridd, Glamorgan, South Wales. He loved to sing from a very young age, and would perform at family events and in the school choir. Woodward’s world was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of 12. He spent two years recovering in bed, with little to do other than listen to music and draw. He loved US soul and R’n’B singers including Little Richard and Jackie Wilson plus rock’n’roll stars like Elvis Presley. Despite his reputation as a ladies’ man, he married his pregnant girlfriend Linda Trenchard when they were still in high school in 1957, and they stayed together until her death in 2016. To support his new family he began work in a glove factory, and later took on construction jobs.

In 1963 he was the singer in beat group Tommy Scott and the Senators and gathered somewhat of a following in South Wales. The following year they recorded tracks with eccentric producer Joe Meek (the genius behind Johnny Remember Me (1961), Telstar (1962) and Have I the Right? (1964), but had little luck. However, one night while performing, he was spotted by Gordon Mills. Mills had once been in the Viscounts, who had a minor hit with their version of Barry Mann’s Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp Bomp Bomp) (see my blog on You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’). Mills was from South Wales but was now aiming to be a pop manager in London. He took the singer under his wing and renamed him ‘Tom Jones’ as an attempt to cash in on the 1963 Academy Award-winning movie of the same name.

Mills helped Jones bag a recording contract with Decca, but his first single in 1964, Chills and Fever, didn’t do great. Soon after he recorded a demo of It’s Not Unusual, a new track by Mills and Les Reed. Reed had been in the John Barry Seven and played piano on Adam Faith’s two number 1s, What Do You Want? (1959) and Poor Me (1960). Sandie Shaw was supposed to record it as a follow-up to her chart-topper (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me (1964), but was so impressed by Jones’s delivery, she suggested he make it his second single. The BBC weren’t so keen, and despite the fact society was becoming more liberal, they could still be far too stuffy, and they reckoned Jones was too sexy, so it didn’t get much airplay. Luckily for the singer, pirate radio stations were growing in popularity, and Radio Caroline loved it.

Reed arranged the recording session for It’s Not Unusual, and there were some notable names involved. Possibly. There have long been rumours that among the session musicians was Jimmy Page (this isn’t the first time this has been mentioned on this site). Reed however insists the only guitarist was Joe Moretti, who contributed to Johnny Kidd & the Pirates’ classic Shakin’ All Over in 1960. Several people claim to have been the drummer, but the most likely person is Andy White, who famously played on the version of Love Me Do that made it onto the Beatles debut LP, Please Please Me. Also on the session, due to the unavailability of Jones’s usual keyboard player, was Reginald Dwight. Did Dwight take notes on how to be a flamboyant showman, a few years before he became Elton John?

Shaw was so right about this song, you can’t really imagine anyone other than Jones pulling it off. Despite me saying I have to be in the right mood for Tom Jones, hearing It’s Not Unusual immediately puts me in that mood. Jones’s complete lack of subtlety, raw power and pomposity works a treat and the band make heartbreak a joyous sound. You could call it his signature song, and there’s no wonder it became the theme tune to his musical variety series This Is Tom Jones later that decade. My memory of that Glastonbury experience in 2009 is very foggy, but a quick search of his setlist reveals he ended his initial set with It’s Not Unusual. I’d put money on me smiling at that point.

Written by: Les Reed & Gordon Mills

Producer: Peter Sullivan

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

Births:

TV presenter Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen – 11 March 
Butterfly swimer Caroline Foot – 14 March
Boxer Michael Watson – 15 March 

180. Sandie Shaw – (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me (1964)

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On 24 October, Northern Rhodesia became the independent Republic of Zambia, thus ending 73 years of British rule. Nine days later, ITV broadcast its famously shoddy soap opera Crossroads for the first time. Its original run lasted until 1988. A week after this saw the House of Commons vote to abolish the death penalty before the end of 1965.

What do these three events have in common? They all took place while Sandie Shaw was at number 1 for the first time, with her best chart-topper, (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me. This was yet another classic from Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Dionne Warwick had recorded a demo version in 1963, but it was soul singer Lou Johnson who first charted with it in the US during the summer of 1964. Sandie Shaw made the song her own, and the song helped make her one of the UK’s most famous female stars of the 1960s.

Sandie Shaw was born Sandra Ann Goodrich on 26 February 1947. She was raised in Dagenham, Essex and at the age of six would entertain her aunt with her rendition of Guy Mitchell’s She Wears Red Feathers. She went to work at the local Ford Dagenham factory after leaving school, with some part-time modelling on the side. She came second in a talent show and got to perform at a charity concert in London. Goodrich was spotted by Adam Faith, also on the bill, who had two number 1s under his belt – What Do You Want? (1959) and Poor Me (1960). Afterwards Faith introduced her to his manager, Eve Taylor. She secured Goodrich, then only 17,  a recording contract with Pye Records in 1964, and came up with the name Sandie Shaw. Cheesy, but memorable, unlike Shaw’s debut single, As Long as You’re Happy Baby, which got her nowhere. Taylor went to America to look for a song to save Shaw, and heard Johnson’s version. Knowing she was on to a good thing, she quickly returned home, the single was recorded with Tony Hatch, no stranger to number 1s from female singers, and (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me was rush-released in September.

Shaw premiered the single on Ready, Steady, Go!, and her stunning looks, along with her unique barefooted performance, helped her chances no end. Of course, it’s a bloody good song too – vintage Bacharach and David, in which Shaw is unable to get her ex off her mind. You could argue that the production is far too light-hearted to put across any of the supposed misery this entails, but far better to just enjoy the song for what it is – a prime piece of swinging 60s pop. In fact, you could argue that Shaw is perfectly happy to be reminded of her love, thank you very much. Her voice is unusual in the verses, almost French-like, yet very natural during the brilliant choruses, and a nice counterpoint to the raucousness of Lulu or Cilla Black’s foghorn wailing.

(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me climbed the charts slowly but surely, eventually knocking Roy Orbison’s Oh, Pretty Woman from its perch for three weeks, but then the Big O climbed to number 1 once more. But it didn’t matter as Shaw was now firmly established as a star, with further number 1s and a Eurovision win to come.

Written by: Burt Bacharach & Hal David

Producer: Tony Hatch

Weeks at number 1: 3 (22 October-11 November)

Births:

Actor Clive Owen – 3 October
Footballer Paul Stewart – 7 October

Deaths:

Illustrator Mabel Lucie Attwell – 5 November 

175. Manfred Mann – Do Wah Diddy Diddy (1964)

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On 13 August 1964, Peter Anthony Allen at Walton Prison, Liverpool and Gwynne Owen Evans at Strangeways Prison, Manchester were hanged for the murder of John Alan West on 7 April. They were the last executions to take place in the UK. Football TV programme Match of the Day began broadcasting on BBC Two on 22 August, making it the longest-running football show in the world.

The number 1 at the time of the executions was a suitably sombre affair befitting the occasion. Actually, no it wasn’t, It was Doo Wah Diddy Diddy by Manfred Mann. An unusual song by an unusual band. Manfred Mann was the keyboard player in Manfred Mann, but it wasn’t his name. Confused yet?

Mann’s real name was Manfred Lubowitz. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1940, the aspiring jazz pianist moved to the UK in 1961 and took the name Manfred Manne in tribute to the jazz drummer Shelley Manne. He soon dropped the ‘e’. In 1962 Mann met percussionist Mike Hugg at Butlin’s in Clacton, and they formed a house band that included Graham Bond. Mann and Hugg decided to form a new group known as the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers, with the aim of combining jazz with the new R’n’B sound that was becoming popular. The line-up quickly grew, but they struggled to find a singer until they met Paul Jones. Jones, originally Paul Pond, had previously performed duets as ‘PP Jones’ with Elmo Lewis. Lewis was in fact Brian Jones. At one point Jones and Keith Richards had asked Jones to be the singer in a new group but he turned them down. By the end of 1962 the group was known as Manfred Mann & the Manfreds, and were a five-piece which also included Mike Vickers on guitar, saxophone and flute, and Dave Richmond on bass.

The quintet signed with EMI in March 1963 and were assigned to the His Master’s Voice label to work with producer John Burgess, who had produced Adam Faith’s two number 1s, What Do You Want? (1959) and Poor Me (1960). Burgess thought they had potential but insisted they make their name snappier and despite Mann’s reluctance, they became Manfred Mann. The group’s first few singles didn’t chart, but their profile received a huge boost when they were asked to come up with a new theme tune for the ITV music series Ready, Steady, Go! The result, 5-4-3-2-1, rocketed up the charts to number five. Richmond left the band shortly afterwards to be replaced by Jones’ friend Tom McGuinness.

A few singles later, the band opted to cover married couple Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich’s Do-Wah-Diddy, which had been released in 1963 by US vocal group the Exciters. Together with Phil Spector, they had helped define the girl group sound of the early 1960s, and Do-Wah-Diddy was considered a sequel to Da Doo Ron Ron, which had been a huge success for the Crystals. Manfred Man opted to rename their version Do Wah Diddy Diddy, for some reason. It was an odd song choice for a jazz and R’n’B group, but one that paid off well.

Do Wah Diddy Diddy is a strange but memorable mix of bizarre lyrics, sung earnestly by Jones in his best bluesy voice, with an incredibly catchy tune that has stood it in good stead over the years. It suffers next to the recent batch of classic number 1s, but it’s better than some would say, mainly because the tune is one hell of an earworm. Never think the British public will deny a good song just because the lyrics are gibberish. Comedian Peter Kay certainly has a point about those opening lines though:

‘There she was just a-walkin’ down the street, singin’ “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do”
Snappin’ her fingers and shufflin’ her feet, singin’ “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do”

Taken literally, that’s a very strange image, isn’t it? Yet it’s taken as read that the song is simply about a guy who’s turned on by a girl on the street. Critics point out that Jones’ vocal is out of place in what is essentially a fun track, but I’d argue such passion makes it clear what he’s really singing about. So all in all, no classic, but I can see why it’s stood the test of time.

The success of Do Wah Diddy Diddy meant Manfred Mann moved further away from their original sound for their single releases, covering other girl groups for their 45s and tucking the jazz and R’n’B away on their albums. Two more number 1s would appear over the next few years.

Written by: Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich

Producer: John Burgess

Weeks at number 1: 2 (13-26 August)

122. Eden Kane – Well I Ask You (1961)

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Eden Kane’s time at the top of the charts came swiftly, and ended almost as quickly. Kane was born Richard Graham Sarstedt in March 1940. His family lived in New Delhi, India, and two of his younger brothers, Peter and Clive, would also become musicians. Peter even reached number 1 too, in 1969, with the ballad Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?, and Clive had a number 3 hit in 1976 with a cover of My Resistance is Low, under the name Robin Sarstedt. The family moved to Kurseong to run a tea plantation, but when his father dies, Richard, his mother, brother and three sisters moved to the UK, settling in Norbury in Croydon. He became a big Bill Haley fan, and he and his brothers started a group called the Fabulous 5.

The next step towards fame came when Richard won a talent contest at Kings Road in Chelsea. The prize wasn’t very rock’n’roll – it was the chance to record an advertising jingle for Cadbury’s Drinking Chocolate. The song, Hot Chocolate Crazy, is a funny little ditty now, but it got him noticed due to plenty of airplay on Radio Luxembourg and it became the B-side of his first single, You Make Love So Well, on Pye Records. Sarstedt was a handsome man, so his looks would appeal to girls, but what about his name? His new management team, Philip Waddilove and Michael Barclay, christened him Eden Kane. The forename was due to the fashion for biblical names at the time, ie Adam Faith, and the surname came from Barclay’s love of the film Citizen Kane (1941). Kane moved to Decca, and his first single for them, Well I Ask You, had been written by Les Vandyke, a pseudonym for Johnny Worth, who had written both of Adam Faith’s number 1s, What Do You Want? and Poor Me. Overseeing production was Bunny Lewis, who had worked on three number 1s – David Whitfield’s Answer Me, Cara Mia, by Whitfield and Mantovani, and Only Sixteen by Craig Douglas.

Kane’s number 1 is your average slice of early 60s pop, and you can easily imagine it being sang by Faith, or Anthony Newley. It would also be at home as the TV theme to a cheeky sitcom. I can picture Sid James or Paul Shane winking at the camera when I hear the bawdy-sounding main hook. The cheeriness belies the fact Kane is mightily pissed off at this girl, who has treated him like crap and now expects to get him back. I’m not sure about the way Kane sings ‘Well I ask ya’, but at least he isn’t doing a Buddy Holly impression. I haven’t heard the follow-up single, Get Lost, but I really hope that it’s his answer to his relationship conundrum.

Kane’s next few singles all performed well, but his last hit came in 1964 during the height of the beat boom. He appeared on television shows with new acts like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but he saw the writing on the wall, and following a stint with his own TV show in Australia, he moved to California and became a producer. In 1972 the Sarstedt Brothers released an album, Worlds Apart Together, but it didn’t set the world alight the same way some of their solo singles had. Weirdly, in the 90s he became contracted to play several small parts in the various Star Trek spin-offs, – Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, and was credited as Richard Starstedt. These days he occasionally pops up on the nostalgia circuit alongside other stars of the era.

The drummer on Well I Ask You was Clem Cattini, who was a member of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates when they hit number 1 with Shakin’ All Over. Cattini’s name will be popping up many more times in this blog, as the session drummer holds the record for most appearances on UK number 1s – at least 42, some sources say more. The list of his best-selling appearances is simply staggering – an eclectic mix of artists including the Tornados, the Walker Brothers, Thunderclap Newman, Ken Dodd, T Rex, Benny Hill and Hot Chocolate, and his number 1s date right up to the (Is This the Way to ) Amarillo, the 2005 Comic Relief single by Tony Christie featuring Peter Kay. He was also considered by Jimmy Page as a possible drummer for Led Zeppelin. This man surely deserves some kind of award?

Written by: Les Vandyke

Producer: Bunny Lewis

Weeks at number 1: 1 (3-9 August)

Births:

Comedian Brian Conley – 7 August

100. Anthony Newley – Do You Mind (1960)

On 3 May, Burnley FC won the Football League First Division title. They defeated Manchester City 2-1, meaning that FA Cup finalists Wolverhampton Wanderers missed out on becoming the first team of the 20th century to win both the league title and the FA Cup.

Earlier that week, Anthony Newley scored his second and final number 1, and Do You Mind became the 100th chart-topping single. It was the second number 1 to be written by Lionel Bart, following the best-selling single of 1959, Cliff Richard and The Drifters’ Living Doll. Bart was only a month away from the opening of his musical, Oliver!, which premiered at the New Theatre in the West End on 30 June. The original cast featured Australian comedian Barry Humphries, later to be better known as Dame Edna Everage.

Do You Mind is superior to Newley’s first number 1, Why, but that’s not saying much. Featuring finger clicking and a style that’s not dissimilar from Living Doll, it’s better suited to the cheeky cockney stylings of Newley than the sickly previous single, and once more, you can’t help but imagine the young David Bowie having a go at it. Which is probably what Bowie was trying to achieve with Love You Till Tuesday (and that’s certainly superior to this track). It’s another love song, basically Newley telling his love  how he’s going to shower her with kisses, make an idol of her etc, but with the added bonus of actually checking she’s alright with all that first. So at least he’s more of a gentleman than Cliff Richard, who prefers to lock his girl up in a trunk so no big hunk can steal her away from him.

These two number 1s were only early stages in the start of a very successful career for Newley. This was the last in a series of chart-toppers by cockneys in early 1960, but Newley began working with several figures from this brief ‘scene’. He formed a very successful songwriting partnership Leslie Bricusse, who had helped write Lonnie Donegan’s awful My Old Man’s a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer). The material the duo came up with far surpasses anything they had made up to this point. Their first musical, Stop the World – I Want to Get Off (1961) featured the multi-award-winning What Kind of Fool Am I? and they became the first British duo to win the Grammy for Song of the Year. In 1964 they wrote the lyrics for Goldfinger, sang by Shirley Bassey for the James Bond film of the same name. John Barry, who had arranged Adam Faith’s two number 1s, What Do You Want? and Poor Me, composed the music. The same year, they also wrote Feeling Good, which became legendary thanks to Nina Simone in 1965. In 1963 he had married Joan Collins, having already had two wives. They had a son together but split in 1970, remaining friends, and he married again a year later.

In 1971, Newley and Bricusse wrote the music for Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, starring the brilliant Gene Wilder. As I’ve stated here before, I’m not much of a fan of musicals, but I’ve always loved this, and if I’m feeling particularly sentimental and I’m watching it with my daughters, Pure Imagination can almost move me to tears, particularly since the death of Gene Wilder. The Candy Man was also later a big hit for Sammy Davis Jr.

Newley had already married twice before his wedding to Joan CA distinctly British character, Newley couldn’t quite repeat his success abroad, but he did appear on game shows and chat shows in the 1970s. Always versatile, he continued to do well with music, film, TV and theatre, but his star did begin to wane. In 1e992 he took the title role in Scrooge: The Musical. This musical was a stage version of the 1970 film featuring Albert Finney as the miser, with the music by Bricusse. Say what you like but I won’t have anyone tell me that this isn’t the definitive version of A Christmas Carol. There you go, that’s two musicals I’ve admitted loving in one blog. The show ran until 1997, with fellow 50s cockney star Tommy Steele (who had a 1957 number 1 with Singing the Blues) later taking his place.

In 1998 he featured in BBC1’s flagship soap opera EastEnders. He was to become a regular, but ill health took hold. He finally succumbed to cancer in April 1999, aged 67.   So his two number 1s are a poor yardstick to measure Newley with, really, and there was much more to him than the David Bowie comparison. Hopefully though, not as much as Newley’s own son, Sacha, recently claimed. He made news headlines in late 2017 when he said that his father loved young girls and this is what caused the split between him and Joan Collins. But how young? Sacha called his father a paedophile, causing Collins to issue a public statement strongly denying he ever had any involvement with underage girls.

Written by: Lionel Bart

Producer: Ray Horricks

Weeks at number 1: 1 (28 April-4 May)

Births:

Author Ian Rankin – 28 April

Deaths:

Architect Charles Holden – 1 May

97. Adam Faith – Poor Me (1960)

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As stated in my last blog, the Official Charts Company recognises Record Retailer‘s top 50 singles chart from 10 March 1960 through until Feb 1969 as canon, replacing the New Musical Express, which despite this continued with its own chart. The trade publication, later known as Music Week, had turned weekly as of that date, and their chart covered 50 placings.

The first number 1 via this method was Adam Faith’s second, and it knocked fellow cockney Anthony Newley’s Why from the top after a four-week stint. Recorded while his first chart-topper, What Do You Want? was still doing well, Poor Me came from the same team, with string arranger John Barry now taking a writing credit alongside Johnny Worth, who was now able to be credited under his own name.

Poor Me is What Do You Want? all over again, but with a more lovelorn lyric. This time Faith is wallowing in misery as he’s been cheated on. All the ingredients are the same. Faith copies Buddy Holly’s vocal tics, which is a bit embarrassing (at least his vocal style isn’t as random as it was on his last hit), and John Barry’s pizzicato strings are once more the highlight. Matching the more downbeat lyrics, the arrangement swirls around once more, but with a more woozy feel. In fact, the ominous backing strings actually sound like an early attempt at the James Bond theme. Like What Do You Want?, it also clocks in at well under two minutes long. You’ve got to admire the chutzpah really. After all, if Cliff Richard can follow up Living Doll with another number one that’s almost exactly the same (Travellin’ Light), why not adopt the same approach?

Despite not achieving number 1 again, Faith was still a regular name in the upper reaches of the charts for some time, including Christmas song Lonely Pup (In a Christmas Shop) at the end of 1960. In 1963 he tried to ape the Beatles, recording with backing group The Roulettes, but their debut single The First Time was the last time he reached the top five. Ever attempting to emulate the sound of the time, he tried psychedelia, recording the marvellously named Cowman, Milk Your Cow by Barry and Robin Gibb in 1967.

In 1968, Faith chose to concentrate on his acting career, which had ran concurrently with his chart success, and starred mainly in theatres, alongside some film work. He also had a notable role as the lead character in TV series Budgie. A serious accident almost cost him a leg, but he returned to star as David Essex’s dodgy manager in music film Stardust (1974).

That same decade, he went into music management, and diminutive ego-maniac Leo Sayer was among his stable. Sayer later claimed that Faith wasn’t entirely honest with him when it came to money. I’m guessing Sayer chose not to ask him for assistance when Faith moved into investment and financial advice in the 80s. Big acting roles continued to come in, including the 1980 film McVicar alongside Roger Daltrey, and a part in Minder on the Orient Express, the 1985 Christmas special. His most notable role in his later years was in BBC comedy drama series Love Hurts, alongside Zoë Wanamaker. His reputation as a money expert was in tatters in 2002 when his TV station Money Channel closed, and Faith was declared bankrupt, owing a whopping £32 million. The irony of the opening lines of that first number 1, ‘What do you want if you don’t want money?’ must not have escaped him at this point. Another celebrity, film producer Michael Winner, also complained of how Faith’s unsound advice had cost him. All this information can’t help but create the image in my mind of Faith as a real-life Del-Boy Trotter or Arthur Daley.

Faith may have had mixed success with money, but he was certainly an astute TV critic. He died of a heart attack in the early hours of 8 March 2003, aged 62, and his final words made the news as much as memories of his career. They were ‘Channel 5 is all shit, isn’t it? Christ, the crap they put on there. It’s a waste of space.’ Last year Faith made headlines again when former singer-songwriter David Courtney, who Faith had managed, claimed in his book that Faith told him he had been asked by MI6 to spy on Fidel Castro when he visited Cuba in 1997. Apparently Faith was ‘crapping himself with fear’ as he was led into a room to meet the Cuban leader, whereupon Castro stated ‘I know you’ and held up a copy of What Do You Want?. Whether it’s true or not, I find myself wondering whether Faith tried to sell him broken VHS recorders afterwards.

Written by: Johnny Worth & John Barry

Producer: John Burgess

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

Births:

Comedian Jenny Eclair – 16 March 

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.