23. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell

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Hold My Hand, by Don Cornell (his first and only #1)

4 weeks, from 8th Oct to 5th Nov / 1 week, from 19th to 26th Nov 1954 (5 weeks total)

So this is the Kingdom of Heaven? Is this is the sweet promised land? While angels tell of love, don’t break the spell of love. Hold my hand.

Right. Listen. This is the problem with a lot of these early number ones. It’s not that they are too old-fashioned, or too slow, or simply too boring (though plenty of them have been too old-fashioned, too slow and simply too boring) … It’s that most of them take this bizarrely extravagant approach to describing basic romantic feelings.

This is a song about asking someone to hold your hand. And I get that in 1954 there were strict limits on how suggestive you could get with your lyrics but… This is a three-minute extended metaphor explaining how holding someone’s hand can bring forth angels, plant you in the Garden of Eden, bring on the rapture, blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t mean anything.

Musically we’re accompanied by violins and a strumming guitar. I’ll let you know when this changes. And… I’m running out of things to write. Next!

No, that’s a bit harsh. This is Don Cornell’s moment. We won’t be hearing from him again. But, and I’m really sorry to say this Don, you are also part of the problem…

This song has a pretty playful, cheeky lilt to it, written in snappy little couplets. The line: This is the secret of what bliss is… is quite cute when you say it out loud. And at one point ‘portal’ is rhymed with ‘immortal’, which is clever. Guy Mitchell would have made a good job of this song. Sinatra would have given this number a little nod and a wink (it’s a much more Sinatra-y song than ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’) Cornell, though, maintains a firm baritone, and never quite relaxes into the song.

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The name Don Cornell sounds like that of a small-time gangster and, going by pictures from the time, he may well have been a (pretty smiley) small-time gangster. The same goes for Al Martino, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra (naturally) … Half the number one singles over the first two years of the UK charts seem to have been recorded by Italian-Americans. In fact, out of the eighteen acts to have topped the charts by November 1954, twelve were American. And I think this is historically significant – we weren’t just importing US-made music; Britain – war-ravaged, austerity-hit, nylon-rationed, Blitz-broken Britain – was importing American escapism in all it’s glitzy, white-teethed, suave glory. We were being sold the American dream, record by record.

11 thoughts on “23. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell

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