37. ‘The Man from Laramie’, by Jimmy Young

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The Man from Laramie, by Jimmy Young (his 2nd of two #1s)

4 weeks, from 14th October to 11th November 1955

He’s back. Like Rosemary Clooney earlier in 1955, Jimmy Young grabs two chart-toppers – his only two chart toppers – in pretty short order. Burning briefly but brightly.

Back in the autumn of ’53, when Frankie Laine was pounding the charts with hit after hit, I introduced the concept of the ‘shadow hit’ – the song that does well because it follows on from a massive hit record. Laine spent 18 weeks at number one with ‘I Believe’ before the somewhat less memorable ‘Hey Joe’ grabbed a fortnight in its wake. Well, we have our second ‘shadow number-one’ right here. As much as I struggled to appreciate Jimmy Young’s interpretation of ‘Unchained Melody’, I cannot argue that it isn’t a classic and a 20th Century standard. ‘The Man from Laramie’, however…

It’s a song that tells a story. The story of a man. The man from Laramie. The man with the peaceful turn of mind, kinda sociable and friendly, friendly as any man could be… BUT underestimate him at your peril. For you never saw a man outdraw – the Man from Laramie! The ladies loved him, everyone admired him, danger was this man’s speciality… You get the picture.

Musically this is very watered down, music-hall Country & Western (BBC C&W, perhaps?) compared to the record it replaced at the top. The music itself is nothing more than an irritatingly simple rhythm picked out on a guitar. It’s all about the lyrics. And lyrically we are deep in the Wild West. Shoot-outs at noon, a fearless stranger with notches on his gun…

It’s a strange song. At least, it’s a strange song to have topped the sales charts for a whole month. The lyrics are so incredibly specific that they would only really make sense if they were from a musical or a movie (*Googles frantically*) And yes – ‘The Man from Laramie’ was indeed a film, a Western (obviously) starring James Stewart and this was the theme song. Our old friend Al Martino recorded – and only reached #19 – with his version. Jimmy reined supreme.

Out of interest, I gave the Martino version a listen. And while it’s the same cheesy song, with lyrics about shoot-outs blah blah blah that just sound weird away from the context of the movie, it sounds more professional, more polished, classier… better! I’ve mentioned it before – and I’ll doubtless mention it again – but this really has been a dominant theme among these early number ones. Americans really were doing it better. Why did they sound so cool, while the Brits still sounded so uptight and stuffy? Don’t believe me? Here’s a link to the Al Martino version. Compare and contrast it with the video below.

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I don’t need to go over again how I endured hours of Jimmy Young on the radio during my formative years (read all about it in the ‘Unchained Melody’ post). The hits dried up soon after he claimed these two chart-toppers and by the sixties he had moved into broadcasting where he remained popular and well-respected for four decades. I can’t help feeling, though, that he was someone who resented newer, more successful pop stars. I bet he loved complaining that you couldn’t make out a word Mick Jagger was singing. That music was so much better in his day. That kids these days didn’t know they were alive. He just had that air about him… (God, I clearly still have issues regarding those long car journeys that need working through.)

Anyway, if you enjoyed this latest chart-topper, this strange, time-capsule of a song with lyrical references to a movie that nobody has watched for decades, then you are in luck. Hang around for the 38th UK #1, coming shortly.

16 thoughts on “37. ‘The Man from Laramie’, by Jimmy Young

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