Secret Love, by Doris Day (her 1st of two #1s)
1 week, from 16th to 23rd April / 8 weeks from 7th May to 2nd July 1954 (9 weeks total)
A dreamy intro… Is that a harp…? And is that running water, or just the quality of the recording? It’s very soft start to the 18th chart-topping record, and it’s not immediately obvious why this song straddled the very top of the charts for three whole months.
There are some mushy lyrics about the titular ‘secret love’, about being a dreamer, about only being able to tell the stars about how deeply in love you are… So far, so 50s.
But then. Boom. The chorus. I know this song. People know this song. NOOOOOWWWW I shout it from the highest hills, even told the golden daffodils, at last my heart’s an open door, and my secret love’s not secret, anymore…
Day has a wonderful voice: with elocution as crisp and clear as any we’ve heard before, but without the stiffness and formality that has made some of the previous number ones sound old-fashioned. There’s a great warmth to it, and the way she jumps from softly purring the verse to walloping out the chorus is impressive. It’s effortless. You could say it’s star quality.
And surely she is the biggest star to have topped the charts thus far. Frankie Laine, and Guy Mitchell, were huge in their day but have largely been forgotten. People know Doris Day. Even today people will have heard of her, though they might not be able to pinpoint why. I, for example, knew this song without realising it. And everyone knows her next chart-topper, which contains some of the most famous lines in the history of popular music. But more on that later…
Probably the first time I ever heard of her was through ‘Grease’, and Rizzo’s mocking line ‘Hey, I’m Doris Day. I was not brought up that way…’ Day is held up by the Pink Ladies as straight-laced and old-fashioned – a girl who most certainly would not go to bed till she was legally wed. That, in a way, sums up this ‘pre-rock’ age and its stars who would, long before the turn of the next decade, seem painfully uncool next to Elvis and his kind.
Speaking of movies… Something about this recording gave me an inkling that it was from a movie soundtrack. Perhaps it was the orchestra, or the way the song doesn’t so much end as fade away to grey. Anyway, for each of these posts I make sure I listen to each song three or four times before doing any research on it (honest). But, lo and behold, ‘Secret Love’ is from a movie: ‘Calamity Jane’. Again: a film I’ve heard of – most people probably have – but have never seen. This is a sign of star quality, of true fame, no? When you are woven so deep into popular culture that people stop realising you’re there.
Two other little things to muse upon before we move onwards… At 3 minutes 40 seconds, this is a pretty long record. That’s pretty much the length of the average 21st century pop hit. Actually, these super-early chart toppers have routinely been hitting the three-minute mark. When I started listening to music I – no doubt influenced by the 2.5 minute wonders on my parents ‘Sounds of the ’60s’ cassettes in the car – assumed that songs started out really short and got longer and longer (at least until the 70s, when prog-rock came along and simply took the piss). But it appears that the average length of pop songs (as we know them, post-war, at least) actually started out at three minutes or longer and shrunk in the late fifties/ early sixties.
And the last thing (which is much more important than the average length of chart topping singles): you know how I keep referencing just how long these early pop stars seemed to have lived for? Well, Miss Day has only gone and topped them all. By still being alive! Ninety-five and still going strong (at the time of writing…) Well done her!