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.
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.