18. ‘Secret Love’, by Doris Day

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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…

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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!

17. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers

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I See the Moon, by The Stargazers (their 2nd of three #1s)

5 weeks, from 12th March to 16th April / 1 week from 23rd April to 30th April 1954 (6 weeks total)

And now for something completely different…

Imagine an East-End pub, filled with smoke and ruddy cheeks, a jovial barman rings the bell and calls for last orders over the hubbub… Last orders, and one last song. Old Mrs. Fozzywinkle sits at the piano, shouting down someone who’s just said something saucy, and then… The opening bars of ‘I See the Moon’.

Over the mountain, over the sea, back where my heart is longin’ to be… Please let the light that shines down on me, shine on the one I love… Thematically, we are treading familiar ground: it’s a tale of two separated lovers, one hoping that the other still thinks of them. We’ve heard it a few times in this countdown so far. But, beyond the lyrics, this is something else entirely.

The first thing that comes to mind is the scene in ‘Oliver!’, where Nancy leads the pub in a rousing chorus of ‘Oom Pah Pah’. This song isn’t quite as rowdy, or raucous, but it has an unhinged quality that none of the previous chart toppers have had. Even the novelty tracks that have gone before it – the likes of ‘How Much is that Doggie?’ and ‘She Wears Red Feathers’ – still felt as if they had been professionally recorded, perhaps over several takes. This song doesn’t…

The first verse is sung – horribly – in a fake German (Polish? Transylvanian??) accent, the voice cracking as it fails to reach the high notes, with voices roaring in approval in the background. The second verse takes the form of a skit – a plummy voiced announcer introduces a little lady with a tambourine, who proceeds to come in at the wrong cue not once, not twice, but three times. Once she gets going, the announcer asks her to sing quieter, then louder, presumably until everyone listening at home is guffawing helplessly at the ridiculousness of it all. It’s funny(-ish), in a pantomime kind of way. We’re back in the music halls, here. Actually, it reminds me of a ‘Comic Relief’ track – you know the kind recorded by Cliff Richard and the cast of ‘The Young Ones’, or by French and Saunders as the Spice Girls. It has that same sort of anarchic energy, and in that regard it’s quite ahead of its time. It’s a truly bizarre song.

And when you look back to The Stargazers previous #1 – the morose ‘Broken Wings’ – it sounds even more crazy. What happened? What went wrong? (Or right, depending on your tastes?) What in God’s name did they take before hitting the recording studio? At least it’s an interesting song, though I’m not sure I’ll be revisiting it once I’ve finished writing this post.

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Information on The Stargazers is hard to come by. There are at least two other bands with the same name: an Irish folk trio, and a rock ‘n’ roll revival group from the ’80s. An image search requires some discerning before you can work out which band is which. But the original Stargazers were pretty popular in their day – the NME voted them ‘Best Vocal Group’ for five years in a row. But – and this is something that’s just occurred to me – ‘pre-rock’, the competition for that title wasn’t fierce. There simply weren’t very many groups going. This was an era of solo stars.

One other little titbit of interesting info. I’ve unearthed regarding this song: the lyric I see the moon and the moon sees me was first used in a nursery rhyme from the 1780s. We are then, listening to both the 17th UK Number One hit, and the very earliest UK Number One hit. Mind-bending…

16. ‘Oh Mein Papa’, by Eddie Calvert

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Oh Mein Papa, by Eddie Calvert (his 1st of two #1s)

9 weeks, from 8th January to 12th March 1954

Perhaps, as we tick over into 1954, we should pause once again to take stock. Just what kinds of records were topping the charts in these distant, misty, slightly-eccentric, pre rock days…?

Actually ‘distant, misty and slightly eccentric’ might just sum up most of the records I’ve described thus far. They have been surprisingly varied in style: from proto-rock numbers to gentle instrumentals, from jaunty novelties to brow-furrowingly earnest numbers about unrequited love. In a way, though, they’ve all been a bit similar too: all very safe, very chaste and very… twee? To my modern ears, anyway.

And so, onwards – to another mammoth hit. It’s the third time in just over a year that a record has racked up nine weeks at the top, and the latest record to do so is… a trumpet instrumental.

Now. There are lots of instruments that can carry an entire song: guitars and pianos, obviously, along with saxophones and violins. Drums cannot usually carry an entire song, but I wouldn’t like to say it was impossible. Tambourines definitely cannot. And nor, it would seem, can trumpets.

I’m struggling to write much about this song. There’s a trumpet. There’s a simple guitar rhythm, with some backing singers shrilly harmonising and occasionally chanting the song title. Oh, and there’s an organ. As I wrote in my post about the last #1 to involve an organ (‘Broken Wings’), it lends a cheap, Blackpool seafront kind of vibe to proceedings. I suppose it could go down as the first ever foreign language number one, but there is only one line. Oh Mein Papa. Which I believe translates as ‘Oh My Daddy.’ Oh my, Daddy, indeed.

The tune isn’t even interesting. The one other instrumental we’ve covered so far, Mantovani’s ‘Moulin Rouge’, at least had a melody that buried itself in your brain after a few listens. So this, with no words and no melody, to my ears at least, has little going for it.

There are lyrics to ‘Oh Mein Papa’, which I searched out and listened to, courtesy of our friend Eddie Fisher – whose version reached #9 – lyrics about how lovely the singer’s father was, taking him on his knee when he was a nipper… And I suppose, when this backstory is taken into consideration, Calvert’s lone trumpet, parping out its melancholy tune, takes on a little more resonance. But then, that’s the problem with instrumentals as a whole: without lyrics, are they songs or simply pieces of music? And yes, yes, you can come at me with Beethoven, Mozart and all that lot; but we’re talking about pop music here. Pop music should be immediate and relatable, and I’m not sure it can be without lyrics. Or, at least, it’s difficult for it to be so without lyrics. Anyway, who am I to say? This track lorded it over all comers for over two months.

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Eddie Calvert himself, looks like an interesting character. He looks old-fashioned, even in contemporary photographs from the 1950s. His hair is heavily Brylcreemed and he has a roguish moustache (Oh nein, Papa!). He’s half jazz session musician and half black-market spiv. If you were given a choice of where he was from, and the choices were A) Chicago, Illinois or B) Preston, Lancashire, you’d go for A). But you’d be wrong. In almost every picture I’ve found he is clutching his trademark trumpet. He probably had a name for it.

15. ‘Answer Me’, by Frankie Laine

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Answer Me, by Frankie Laine (his 3rd of four #1s)

8 weeks, from 13th November 1953 to 8th January 1954 (including 1 week joint with David Whitfield, from 11th to 18th December 1953)

There’s something rather familiar about this record…

Having read the previous post, you know what this song is all about: heartbroken guy, on his knees, turning to the Lord as a last resort… all very melodramatic. This sticks very close to the structure of the David Whitfield version – it’s exactly the same length – but I must admit I like this version better. There’s just something about Laine’s voice: warm, beckoning, a voice I want to listen to, a voice I trust. Unlike Whitfield’s plummy whining.

Musically, this version is also a little less overwrought than its predecessor. The guitar strums that play us in are very reminiscent of ‘I Believe’, and the violins have been replaced by an organ and backing singers. It’s still pretty dull, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just that little bit more listenable. It’s got an American gloss, all glittery lapels and perfect teeth, that David Whitfield’s reserved, BBC World Service delivery was lacking. And the ending is still a bit much, though Laine holds it back until the final line rather than belting out the whole last chorus.

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We’re now a year into this countdown, believe it or not, and out of the past 37 weeks, Mr. Frankie Laine has been at number one for 28 of them. In many ways it is impossible to compare the charts of today with those of the early ’50s – in terms of how the data is collected, in terms of what data is included, in terms of how wide-ranging the chart data is – but if anyone does think that today’s streaming dominated charts are dull, slow-moving and dominated by the same handful of artists, I would suggest you tell them to thank their lucky stars they weren’t around in the autumn of 1953. Not only are the same artists dominating here; the same songs are, too.

In lieu of mentioning having anything new to say about the song, I thought I might give a little shout out here to the conductors. The ‘what’, you say? The conductors! Almost every chart-topping record by a solo act, as you may have noticed from the pictures I post at the start of every entry, has been conducted by someone and their orchestra.

So far, Monty Kelly has conducted the orchestra for ‘Here in My Heart’, Harold Mooney for ‘Comes A-Long A-Love’, Hugo Winterhalter did both Eddie Fisher’s chart-toppers, Mitch Miller was Guy Mitchell’s go-to guy for both of his, Johnny Douglas did the ‘accompaniment’ for ‘That Doggie in the Window’ (apparently it didn’t warrant a full-blown orchestra) while Stanley Black guided David Whitfield through ‘Answer Me’. Mr. Paul Weston, though, has been the most prolific so far: Jo Stafford’s ‘You Belong to Me’, as well as the Frankie Laine trio of ‘I Believe’, ‘Hey Joe’ and now ‘Answer Me’ coming under his baton. Only the Stargazers (presumably because they played their own instruments) and Perry Como haven’t had orchestral accompaniment. Mantovani got the credit as conductor for ‘Moulin Rouge’ because it was an instrumental.

If haven’t included these conductors in the titles of my blog posts it’s because, well, they aren’t included anywhere else. Most listings of UK Singles Chart #1s – Wikipedia and the Official Chart Company included – don’t mention them. And so I won’t either. I understand it from the point of view that the conductor is neither playing an instrument nor singing the song, and that if the conductor gets a credit then so should the violinist, the trombonist, the harpist etc. etc. But, at the same time, Paul Weston has been heavily involved in four number one singles so far – with more to come, presumably – totalling 30 weeks at the top. That would already be enough to make him joint 7th (with Justin Bieber) for most combined weeks at number one! It seems a little harsh that he is forever banished from the chart history books…

14. ‘Answer Me’, by David Whitfield

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Answer Me, by David Whitfield (his 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 6th to 13th November/ 1 week joint with Frankie Laine, from 11th to 18th December 1953 (2 weeks total)

This period, the immediate post-war years, 1945-55, is known musically as the ‘pre-rock era’. The time right before ‘Rock Around the Clock’, and Elvis, and teddy boys and pink ladies, created what we know as modern popular music.

Except I have a history degree, and one of the first things you learn in history class is that any labels that have been applied to certain periods of time, and the images that are conjured up when you think of, say, the ‘Tudors’ or the ‘fin de siècle’, are at best gross stereotypes and at worst just plain wrong.

And, having listened to thirteen of the biggest selling hits from this period, it’s clear that there’s no such thing as the ‘pre-rock’ sound. Rock was already here, in the playful hiccups of Kay Starr’s voice and the twangy guitar solo of ‘Hey Joe’. Plus, twenty years previously we had been right in the middle of the ‘Jazz Age’, and that was a pretty raucous time. No, rock was here. It had always been here, at least in spirit if not in sound. It just hadn’t broken through quite yet as ‘rock’. It was having what we might now call a soft landing. Every musical genre has one – nobody woke up one morning and invented heavy metal, or garage, or grime. They can all be traced back to something earlier.

But – big but – that’s not to say you’re going to find any traces of the nascent rock ‘n’ roll movement here, in the 14th UK #1. Because for every hit that was flirting with rockier elements, there was a hit like this. One step forwards, two steps back. This is pre-pre-pre rock. This is partying like it’s 1910.

David Whitfield’s ‘Answer Me’ is a proper record. And I don’t mean ‘proper’ as in substantial and fulfilling; I mean ‘proper’ as in how you should behave when the vicar comes for tea. It’s semi-operatic, it’s painfully earnest, and it’s incredibly old-fashioned.

It’s a song about heartbreak, first and foremost. The singer is asking the Lord for an answer: does his love still love him back? Answer me, Lord above, just what sin have I been guilty of?… She was mine yesterday… I believed love was here to stay… And so on. Whitfield’s voice is so clear, so technically correct, that it sounds slightly ridiculous. Here is a man at the end of his tether, laying himself at the mercy of God, begging for one more chance with the love of his life, and all the while enunciating like the Queen. Every ‘t’ pings off his teeth, every ‘r’ is rolled. It’s as if the lyrics were written down in the phonetic alphabet – If she thinks aT awll abowT me, please leT heR heaR my praiR – and that it was recorded for the benefit of foreign students.

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And, I know I’ve mocked the dramatic endings of some of the previous records, but this one really takes the biscuit. Whitfield’s voice completely changes with thirty seconds to go, growing fuller and throatier, but losing none of his cut-glass diction, as he steels himself for the big finish. Please answer me…. Oh….. Lord…..! It’s as if he’s responding to the American singers that have gone before, the Guy Mitchells and the Frankie Laines, with all their sloppy vowels and swallowed endings: “Sir, my heart may indeed be breaking, but that’s no reason to speak like a slob.”

If anything, the chart run of ‘Answer Me’ is much more interesting than the song itself. It had a week at the top, then dropped down for a whole month before returning. That’s a pretty long gap between stints at number one. When it did eventually climb back up, it did so in a manner that has only occurred a handful of times in chart history: it tied with another record for number one. And, for added intrigue, the song that it had this little tussle with was… a different version of ‘Answer Me’. This is all very 1950s. But more on all that in the next post…

To finish, I’d like to return to the idea of the ‘pre-rock era.’ I dug up this old article from ‘The Guardian’, which name checks some of the hits covered here. And it posits an interesting idea about why this time in music was dominated by very MOR, very laid-back, very jaunty hits about prayers being answered, and girls in red feathers and huly-huly skirts. Namely, that Britain had just seen the worst conflict in history, had lost loved ones, had survived the nightly threat of the Blitz, had suffered through ten years of rationing and rubble only to emerge at the other side into a world on the verge of nuclear Armageddon… and they just wanted some bloody escapism. It’s pretty obvious when you think about it.

Then, come 1955 or thereabouts, youngsters for whom the war was a distant, childhood dream, who wanted to escape the drab post-war depression, looked across the Atlantic… and the rest is history.

But not quite yet.

13. ‘Hey Joe!’, by Frankie Laine

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Hey Joe!, by Frankie Laine (his 2nd of four #1s)

2 weeks, from 23rd October to 6th November 1953

One thing you soon realise as you become a seasoned chart-watcher (OK, chart-geek), is that songs don’t do well on the charts just because they’re good. Being good often has no correlation to whether or not a song is a hit.

Of course, sure, there are plenty of songs that hit the top of the charts because they’re brilliant. We’ve already seen ‘I Believe’ – a stone-cold classic – and we’ll see many, many more as we meander down this long list of Number 1s.

There are also the catchy numbers: not always classics, but songs that hit the right vein at the right time (‘Look at That Girl’ being one such) and you can completely understand why they got to the top.

Then there are the novelty hits, the so-bad-they’re-good hits, the comeback hits, the posthumous hits… Songs hit the top for a hundred and one reasons.

But one of the most interesting reasons for a song hitting the top is what I am dubbing – for the very first time, right here – the ‘shadow hit’. Example: Frankie Laine has just spent 18 weeks at #1 with a monster hit. He releases ‘Hey Joe!’, a song nowhere near as powerful, nowhere near as epic, nowhere near as good, and within a fortnight it’s hit the top spot. Had he released ‘Hey Joe!’ first, would it have performed anywhere near as well…? I’m going to have to say ‘nope’.

Not for the first time, I’ll describe this record as a bit ‘musical theatre-y’. The ‘Joe’ of the title is the singer’s love rival, and the song is basically a two-minute long pea-cocking session, a listing of why the girl should ditch Joe and get with him. I can picture the two of them having a dance-off in a barn: Frankie Vs Joe, two parts ‘Oklahoma’, one part ‘West-Side Story’.

Hey Joe! She’s got skin that’s creamy-dreamy, eyes that look so lovey-dovey, lips as red as cherry berry wine… She’s a honey, she’s a sugar pie, I’m warnin’ you I’m gonna try, to steal her from you… Lyrically it’s a bit…rich. He and Joe, it turns out, were buddies. But no longer. Girls’ll do that to a guy.

It’s not terrible. It’s up-tempo, it’s jaunty (I don’t think I’ve ever written that word so often as since I started this blog), it’s diverting and doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s very wordy – again – and there’s another guitar solo: a genuinely trippy fifteen seconds with an effects pedal that is at least twenty years ahead of it’s time. It is completely different to ‘I Believe’, and nobody could have accused Mr. Laine of resting on his laurels.

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Late 1953 was a period of utter chart domination for Frankie Laine. Having seen that he had three chart toppers in quick succession, I looked up the actual charts for this period and, in ‘Hey Joe!’s 2nd week at the top, Frankie also had brand new hit ‘Answer Me’ (more on that to follow soon) at #3, ‘Where the Winds Blow’ at #5 and the record-setting ‘I Believe’ still at #6 in its 31st week on the chart. A chart which only had 12 places! Very few artists can claim to have ever had four songs in the top six.

So, there we have it. Our first ‘shadow’ number one. More will follow, don’t you doubt it, scurrying along in the wake of bigger, better hits. As an interesting aside, some sources list this song as ‘Hey! Joe’ – the ‘Essential Frankie Laine’ album on Spotify being one. But the Official Charts Company, which I feel compelled to go along with due to years of loyalty, have done away with the exclamation mark. And I think that’s a bit of a shame. What song title isn’t enlivened by an exclamation mark?

12. ‘Look at That Girl’, by Guy Mitchell

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Look at That Girl, by Guy Mitchell (his 2nd of four #1s)

6 weeks, from 11th September to 23rd October 1953

I promise, sincerely, that there will be no mention of ‘fanny’ in this post. OK?

Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, we have something else to talk about here. We are finally rocking and rolling. The invasion is here.

Not at first, mind. We begin on familiar territory. We’ve got the jaunty guitars from ‘Don’t Let the Stars…’ and Mitchell’s previous #1, ‘She Wears Red Feathers’ (compared to which this is ten times better!), and some trumpets (or clarinets, or bassoons, whatever…), and Mitchell’s voice still sounds like he thinks he should be singing a comedy number.

Look at that girl, she’s like a dream come true… Ah look at that girl, can blue eyes be so blue…? But this is no simple song of longing. No, Sir. It turns out the girl is already his. We think. With each word my heart just skips, oh if I could kiss those lips… He’s keeping it ambiguous. Maybe they’ve got a thing going. Maybe not.

And as the song goes on – we start to rock. And I don’t mean ROCK (tongue out, fist raised). I mean ‘rock’, like it’s 1953. There are hand-claps. Mm-hmm. And a guitar. Woo! And Mitchell has a little call and response with the backing singers, when they take the lead lyric Look at that girl… and he quips back I don’t believe it they’re making it up! And then there are the lyrics: the kissing, the holding her tight… Pass the smelling salts…

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It sounds to me as if a battle is taking place here, between traditional easy-listening and the burgeoning rock ‘n’ roll movement. On the one hand you’ve got the usual twee backing singers and floaty trumpets, parping away at the end of each line; on the other you have the hand claps and the guitar solo. That’s right. Solo. In a symbolic move, the trumpets begin the solo and play it in tandem with the guitar for a couple of bars, before the guitar takes it over completely.

And having said that Mitchell sings the song with a slight giggle in his voice, after the 3rd or 4th listen it works. He’s having a good time. We’re having a good time. He’s a nice singer – he sounds like he could be belting it out if he wanted to, but he doesn’t. The song doesn’t require belting out (That’s something old Eddie Fisher could have learned to look out for…)

If you stick with this blog for long enough, you’ll soon see I’m a sucker for a straight-up, unpretentious pop song. A couple of verses, couple of choruses, a solo and a final verse. Maybe a key change. Then finish. The sort of song that sounds simple but is pretty darn hard to get right. (I say, having never even attempted to write a song in my life). This is one such song. And I like it. It’s my favourite so far.

11. The Song from ‘The Moulin Rouge’, by Mantovani and His Orchestra

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The Song from ‘The Moulin Rouge’, by Mantovani and His Orchestra (his 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 14th to 21st August 1953

Ooh la la.

I’m less annoyed that this song helped deny Frankie Laine his record of consecutive weeks at the top. Mainly because Eddie Fisher had already done the damage; but also because this isn’t terrible.

But ‘not terrible’ isn’t really selling it either… So, let’s try again. It’s nice enough. Its pretty mellow. It’s cute. A bit heavy on the accordion, but yeah. Oh, and its an instrumental. The first ever instrumental to top the UK charts, back when instrumentals were much more of a thing than they are now.

I should probably stop getting excited about a record being the ‘FIRST EVER _____!’ to top the charts, because we’re only eleven songs in and pretty much every one of them is the first ever something. But still. This is the first ever film score to hit the top too, The Moulin Rouge being a film about Pigalle’s famously raunchy red-windmilled nightclub, starring Zsa-Zsa Gabor. And it’s the first ever #1 by a non American or Brit, Mantovani being Italian.

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To the song. Well. If you’re writing a song about Paris, or France, what’s the first instrument that springs to mind? Mais oui. L’accordion. Trop cliché, non? Maybe it wasn’t a cliché in 1953. Maybe this song made it a cliché to soundtrack Paris with an accordion-led air.

There’s not much to it, really. It’s the same couple of refrains played over and over again, first by said accordion, then by violins. And as I was taking notes for this post, while listening to the track for the first time, I jotted down all that stuff about the movie, the soundtrack, the accordion, and ended it with the words ‘a bit dull.’

But now I’m on the 4th or 5th listen, I’m not so sure. It’s seeping into my brain through its repetitiveness, and actually its quite nice. Pleasant. I think the best word for it might be melancholic. It has a sense of longing for the past, of long-lost summer days beneath a sun-dappled beech tree. And I’m not just being facetious here – it really does conjure up that image in my mind. The song has a name, as you can perhaps see from the picture of the disc above: ‘Where Is Your Heart’, and there was a version with words doing the rounds. But that doesn’t really interest us here.

The song ends very sedately. Unlike the songs that have gone before it doesn’t build to a big, over the top finale. It simply melts away, and I respect that. I’m not sure what role the song played in a film about the world’s most famous strip club, though. It’s about as far removed from the can-can as you can get.

While I had never heard this song before, I had heard of Mantovani. And for a while I couldn’t quite remember how or why. But then it came to me. See, where I come from, Mantovani is rhyming slang for… well… fanny. Example sentence: “I’ve got some Tesco’s Finest aftershave on, I’ll definitely get some manto tonight!”

And what a legacy that is.

10. ‘I’m Walking Behind You’, by Eddie Fisher with Sally Sweetland

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I’m Walking Behind You, by Eddie Fisher with Sally Sweetland (Fisher’s 2nd of two #1s/ Sweetland’s first and only #1)

1 week, from 26th June to 3rd July 1953

The first artist to top the UK singles charts twice.

I’m just annoyed that this is one of the songs that denied Frankie Laine his record. And it does seem a little odd that this one song, amongst all the other songs available, was the one that snatched a single week at the top, sandwiched between week after week after week of ‘I Believe’…

Anyway, before I head off down a swirling conspiracy theory tunnel, let’s just remind ourselves that this is what the record buying public do – they buy drivel and send it to number one. Drivel like this. This song is awful. Whereas I complained that Eddie Fisher’s first chart topper was dull and melodramatic (it’s quite a feat, I suppose, to be simultaneously dull and melodramatic), this is just plain creepy. The title doesn’t bode well, and the lyrics prove it to be true.

Picture the scene: (*sinister piano intro*) I’m walking behind you, on your wedding day… He is obsessed with his ex’s weddings, this guy. His previous chart topper had him lurking outside a church too. And I’ll hear you promise, to love and obey. But it’s OK, you see. He’s not stalking her; he’s merely giving her another option. If things go wrong, dear, and fate is unkind, look over your shoulder, I’m walking behind. She’ll be glad, I’m sure.

It would be unfair, though, to pin all responsibility for the creepy atmosphere here solely on Eddie Fisher. The backing vocals from Sally Sweetland are extraordinary. They float at a dog-whistle pitch far, far in the background. So far back that they echo. Backing vocals are traditionally, I had thought, recorded by someone stood behind, or next to, or at the very least somewhere in the vicinity of the lead singer. But it sounds as if Sweetland recorded her vocals from a warehouse down the street. It makes her sound as if she were an avenging angel, whispering down from the rafters into the ears of the spurned lover. Given the song’s subject matter, perhaps that was the intention.

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I guess I should mention here something which applies to all early the songs in this countdown. In the fifties the song was the thing, it seems, rather than the artist. The records that have topped the chart so far are, by and large, one of many versions of the same song. They’re just the most popular versions – the ones that made it to the top. For example, in 1953 alone, ‘I’m Walking Behind You’ was recorded by Frank Sinatra, Dorothy Squires, Jimmy Young and Eddie Fisher. ‘How Much is That Doggy…’ was recorded by Patti Page as well as Lita Roza. ‘Broken Wings’ was also recorded by Dickie Valentine and two chaps called Art and Dotty Todd. ‘Don’t Let the Stars…’ was recorded by no less than seven different acts before we count Perry Como’s chart topping version. Soon we’ll see an occasion where the two versions of the same song take turns at being number one.

So it’s unfair to paint Eddie Fisher as a creep with a habit of turning up at weddings uninvited. He just liked to record songs with lyrics about turning up at weddings uninvited. And I have to say that, while the sound and style of these early hits hasn’t sounded too dated to my modern ears (they mostly all follow the basic pop song formula: verse, bridge, chorus, solo, chorus…), the lyrics are really starting to grate. I wasn’t expecting any swears, or anything too sexy, but it’s all either been extremely saccharine, extremely melodramatic, borderline racist or just plain tame. Elvis needs to hurry along, and quick.

This is the last we’ll hear from Eddie Fisher in this countdown. And I have to admit the two songs I’ve heard so far haven’t inspired me to discover more of his back-catalogue. Except, as I was doing my ‘research’ for this post, I couldn’t help but notice his 1954 US #29 hit, simply entitled ‘Fanny’. Give it a listen, I assure you: it’s worth it.

But we can end this entry with a more heartwarming, and slightly more wholesome, piece of backstory. I had mentioned previously how all these early stars seemed to live well into their eighties and nineties. Well. Sally Sweetland, of the ethereal backing vocals, only went and lived up until 2015, to the grand old age of 103. Her husband had died a few years before that, and they had been together for seventy years! He had been the voice of Woody Woodpecker; and she had taught Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane how to sing. Well, there you go.

9. ‘I Believe’, by Frankie Laine

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I Believe, by Frankie Laine (his 1st of four #1s)

9 weeks, from 24th April to 26th June/ 6 weeks, from 3rd July to 14th August/ 3 weeks, from 21st August to 11th September 1953 (18 weeks total)

Boom! Nine number ones in and we’ve hit the big time. We are walking with UK chart royalty here.

I wish I could more clearly recall the moment when I first became interested in the music charts. I have foggy memories here and there: vague snatches of mid-nineties Top 40 countdowns aged ten or eleven. I remember knowing that No Doubt were #1 with ‘Don’t Speak’, and that The Verve were there with ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’. Which places my first wave of enthusiasm firmly in 1997, aged eleven. What sparked it? I don’t know. Maybe something as simple as watching Top of the Pops.

But then I lost interest for a bit aged thirteen or fourteen – the age when you lose interest in everything – and didn’t return until I was sixteen. Then I remember very clearly listening to the Top 40 countdown in a minibus on the way home from a scout camp, on one of the weeks that Will Young’s ‘Evergreen’ was at the top. And that was that.

My interest grew subtly; from simply knowing who was in the charts, to listening to them every week, to writing down the Top 10, Top 20, Top 40. My uncle had done the same thing for years – and every so often he would let me look through huge ring-binders full of several decades’ worth of hand-written charts, and peek into the cupboard where he had a copy of every number one single since the ’60s on vinyl, cassette or CD. By 2002, though, he was losing interest (it was, I suppose, a bit weird for a man in his fifties to be buying Atomic Kitten cassingles) and so perhaps in some sense I took over from him. I’ve never thought about it like that… We never discussed it or anything. He doesn’t know I do this. And I’ve not matched his level of stamina for the task. I’ve missed huge chunks, missed years’ worth of charts. I’ve dabbled in recording the albums charts, recording iTunes number ones, Spotify number ones, rather than the traditional Top 40… And now I’m writing this.

Anyway, the reason for this huge diversion ahead of describing ‘I Believe’ by Frankie Lane is thus: back at the start of my second wave of interest in the charts I used to pore over the Guinness Book of UK Hit Singles, absorbing chart stats and memorising the #1 singles from any given year. And one of the first chart stats that anyone learns – even people who have nothing more than a passing interest – is that the longest ever run at number one is held by ‘(Everything I Do) I Do it for You’, by Bryan Adams, which resided imperiously at the top for sixteen weeks in 1991. This is basic knowledge – like knowing one Shakespeare quote, or that Pi is 3.14 something something something.

Except. Everything we think we know is wrong. Bryan Adams holds the record for most consecutive weeks at Number 1. This song has the most in total.

It begins with a single guitar strum… I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows… Like all songs that have gone on to become something more than just hit records, it’s a simple song. Deceptively simple. But Frankie Laine is in complete control of the lyrics and the tempo, each line growing upon the previous one. The song is just one big crescendo – no verses, no chorus, just a list of things of every day miracles that make the singer ‘believe’. Every time I hear a newborn baby cry, or touch a leaf, or see the sky… Then I know why… I believe… Two minutes long. Done.

The obvious conclusion to draw is that this is a hymn – that the things he lists are those that seal his faith in God. But I’m not sure. I think he just believes in life. Though I am a massive atheist. Still, perhaps part of the song’s mass appeal is that it doesn’t mention ‘God’ as such. It leaves it open for the listener to apply their own personal convictions upon the song.

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The biggest surprise for me upon Googling Frankie Laine is that he’s a pudgy white guy. His voice makes it sound for all the world like he’s black. I can’t explain it, and wouldn’t want to get into some weird, racial vocal-profiling discussion, but listen and I’m sure you’ll agree. 1953 was Laine’s year on the UK singles chart, and he’ll go on to score another couple of chart toppers before this year’s out.

Anyway. This was a song that I knew, or knew of, but had never really listened to. And it’s very good. It sounds like the sort of song that should have stayed at number one for weeks on end. So often the general public get it wrong, sending utter turds to the top and letting genuine classics languish below. But they got it right here. And if someone came along tomorrow and gave ‘I Believe’ a tropical house makeover, with a verse from Justin Bieber, it would probably work. Not that I’m suggesting anyone tries that anytime soon…

But it should be so much more famous. Its chart run was broken twice, on both occasions just for a single week, and because of that Bryan Adams has all the glory and has passed into chart folklore. And that’s just not fair. #justiceforfrankie.