49. ‘Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera Sera)’, by Doris Day

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Whatever Will Be Will Be (Que Sera Sera), by Doris Day (her 2nd of two #1s)

6 weeks, from 10th August to 21st September 1956

Following on from one super-famous song is… another super-famous song. An even more super-famous song. One of the most famous songs ever?

Que sera sera, Whatever will be will be, The future’s not ours to see, Que sera sera…

People know these lyrics. Even today, sixty-two years on, I’ll bet if you stopped someone on the streets, even a fairly young person, and started singing that line they would be able to finish it. Go on – try it today. (I won’t be held responsible for any subsequent strange looks or slaps in the face).

But, having actually listened to the song, I now wonder if the lyrics are more famous than the recording. It’s very Italiany, with a flourish of guitars (mandolins?) at the start. It’s short and very simple – just said guitar, Doris Day, some violins and the mandatory backing singers. The singer asks her mother if she’ll be pretty and rich, then asks her sweetheart what lies ahead, then fields the very same questions from her own children. It’s a mantra for life: Que sera sera.

As I noted in her previous entry, Day has an irresistible voice. A proper voice, with all the proper enunciation and pronunciation; but with enough of a giggle, and a little huskiness, to make it the sort of voice you want to listen to. She only had two chart-toppers, but ‘Secret Love’ clung to the top spot for nine weeks while this one took up residency for six. There are plenty of acts with more #1s but far less time spent at the top. And as this is the last we’ll hear from Miss Day, let me take the time to point you in the direction of her 1963 classic ‘Move Over Darling’, a song I first heard as a pup on a ‘Steve Wright’s Sunday Love Songs CD’ and which I love to this day. It’s far superior to either of her chart-toppers too, IMHO…

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I’ve done my obligatory Wikipedia-based research and have turfed up two little interesting facts. This song, like ‘Secret Love’, was from a movie in which Day starred: Hitchcock’s ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ (it really doesn’t sound like a song from a Hitchcock film, but hey). And… the title is neither correct in French (which I – with a decent A-Level in said language – assumed it was), Spanish or Italian. It is, essentially, gibberish.

But, before we end, let’s step back and look at the bigger picture. I really feel that this, along with ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love’ before it, is ushering in a new era at the top of the UK chart. Two huge, well-known songs. This song has become a football chant, still used to this day, for God’s sake! Plus, Doris Day is still going strong, aged ninety-six, as is Pat Boone from two chart-toppers ago. These songs covered in this countdown are slowly growing more and more tied to the modern world.

Perhaps this song’s influence is best summed up by this tale. Every year I go to a German beer festival in Hong Kong. And every year, without fail, before the overweight men in nipple tassels, before the ‘Big German Horn Blowing Contests’ and before we do the YMCA on the tables, the band plays ‘Whatever Will Be Will Be’. And everyone sings along.

48. ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’, by The Teenagers ft. Frankie Lymon

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Why Do Fools Fall in Love, by The Teenagers ft. Frankie Lymon (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 20th July to 10th August 1956

Ah-doo-ma-da-doo-ma-da-doo-ma-doo-doo-doo…

The perfect antidote to our recent, saccharine-heavy chart toppers.

Ooh-wa-ooh-wa-wa…

This is one of the very few songs we’ve covered so far that I don’t think I need to really describe. Surely everyone knows this?

Why do birds si-ing, so gay? And lovers await the break of day? Why do they fall in love?

It’s a breathless, relentless song: two minutes twenty seconds packed with vocal harmonies, scattish drums and a brilliantly aggressive saxophone solo. There are certain records that simply had to have topped the charts, so seismic are they in shaping the history of pop music. This is one of them. It’s a great record. A classic. I love it.

But… That’s not good enough. I can’t leave it there – the shortest post yet. Let’s do this track justice. Why is it such a classic?

Firstly, Frankie Lymon’s voice. One of the things I know about this track, without doing any research, is that Lymon was just thirteen when he recorded this song. His voice is perfect. Not technically perfect, mind: it cracks and breaks a couple of times. But perfect for a song about first love, about being in love and getting rejected and, rather than wallowing in self-pity and whining about how you’ll wait for ever and a day for your loved one (c.f pretty much every male-led #1 thus far), it’s about shrugging your shoulders and realising what a fool you’ve been. It’s a wonderfully cynical record. Lymon sounds just like a heart-broken teenage boy, full of hurt and bravado. Because he was.

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Which brings us onto the second reason. This is a song for teenagers, by teenagers. Literally: it’s by ‘The Teenagers’. Lymon was the youngest of the five, but none of the others were any older than sixteen when this song hit the top spot. Bill Haley, on the other hand, was thirty. This is the next big step in rock ‘n’ roll’s evolution. While this is strictly a doo-wop record, I make it the 4th rock ‘n’ roll record to top the charts. And I’m being pretty generous in making it four. But, interestingly, the four tracks have all been lyrically very distinct. Bear with me. ‘Such a Night’ was all about sex, ‘Rock Around the Clock’ about partying (and maybe a little bit of sex), ‘Rock And Roll Waltz’ about uncool parents and now ‘Why Do Fools…’ gives us hormonal heartbreak. We just need a song about vomiting all over a friend’s back garden at a house party to get the full set.

Reason number three? This is the first song I’ve covered on this blog, I believe – and bear in mind that we are forty-eight songs in now – in which you can’t make out all the words. The line I quoted back at the start? I had to check the lyrics online. I thought it went And lovers who wait to play all day… And the line: Why does my heart skip a crazy beat? Before I know it will reach defeat… I always thought it was… it will re-tweet tweet… Whatever that might have meant in 1956. A basic cornerstone of rock music is slurred lyrics that you can’t immediately understand and which, more importantly, annoy your parents because they’re not sung PROPERLY!

The fourth, and final, reason…? Well, it’s just a great song. A summer smash. It oozes New York city: steam, water spraying from a sidewalk valve, the sun blasting down, the Jets and the Sharks… I dunno. I grew up in small town Scotland. I first really got to know this song after buying an old second-hand CD compilation called ‘Don’t Stop, Doo-Wop’. It was brilliant; twenty-odd fifties and sixties doo-wop tracks, a few more of which will feature in this countdown. I wish I knew what I’d done with it.

Unfortunately, this will be The Teenagers one and only appearance here. Not that they were one-hit wonders, though, as they followed this classic up with the excellently titled ‘I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent’.

Even more unfortunately – tragically, in fact – Frankie Lymon trod a very rock ‘n’ roll path following this early success. By 1957 he had struck out on his own, away from The Teenagers. Aged 15, however, he was also a heroin addict and a lover to women twice his age. His career was ended by this addiction, and by the simple fact of his voice breaking. He lost his only child when she was just two days old. He died of an overdose, in 1968, at the horribly young age of twenty-five, on his grandmother’s bathroom floor. I mean… That’s a grim tale. As trite as it sounds though, what better way to remember him than as a fresh-faced, fresh voiced kid singing about fools in love?

One more time then: Ooh-wa-ooh-wa-wa…

47. ‘I’ll Be Home’, by Pat Boone

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I’ll Be Home, by Pat Boone (his 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 15th June to 20th July 1956

Having just read back through my last post – poor old Ronnie Hilton – I feel I’ve been a bit harsh recently. So I’ve decided: I need to approach these records with emptier ears, by dropping all my modern inclinations and pre-conceptions and by just listening to the records. By realising the difference between a record that is bad, and one that I simply dislike. By being – and this is going to be an immense struggle for someone like me – less judgemental. Here goes…

I’ll be home… My darling… Please wait for me… We’ll stroll along together… Once more our love will be free… A piano plinks, a guitar strums, the backing singers hum. This is possibly the gentlest number one yet. And Pat Boone? Well, there’s only one word for what he’s doing. He is crooning. He is crooning the hell out of this record. This is dictionary-definition crooning

This is a post-pre rock/pre-rock n roll ballad, if you get what I mean. File it alongside ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’ from a few posts ago. The lyrics are a little more youth-orientated (some lines about meeting at the corner drug store on a Saturday) and the chord progressions are that of a modern pop song. I do quite like what he does with the words moo-ooo-ooon light and toge-e-e-ther, and the abrupt pause after the line My mind’s made up… There’s a playful hint to the song. But it’s way too saccharine. It reminds me of that ‘Father Ted’ episode, where Mrs Doyle wins a competition to meet a Daniel O’Donnell-esque singer (Eoin McLove – I’ve just checked). Eoin McLove would definitely have sung this song.

There’s also – abruptly and brilliantly – a spoken word section. Oh yes. Midway through, Boone draws up to the mic, and talks directly to us, making this the first in a niche group of #1 hits, along with classics such as ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’, and ‘Never Ever’ by All Saints. Darling, as I write this letter, here’s hoping you’re thinking of me… His love shouldn’t worry, he’ll be home soon (HOW MANY MORE of these male-led hits are going to be about pining for your loved one?? I get that these were days of war in Korea and of National Service but still – I doubt we’ll ever see a more dominant lyrical theme in any other era!) I’ll be home, to start serving you… That’s nice. It’s a nice (ish) song. There. Maybe not worth a 5 week stay at the top, but hey. I managed a critique without writing anything too biting. Well done me. But, wait a second…

A sinister under-belly requires tickling. You see, this particular song is an example of something that went on a lot in the fifties. Pat Boone, Frankie Laine, Elvis et al got rich and famous by recording songs written and originally recorded by black artists. Because they were white an’ wholesome, their records sold more. It was a big thing in the US; less in the UK (see Winifred Atwell and the record that succeeded this one at the top). ‘I’ll Be Home’ was originally recorded by The Flamingoes, a black doo-wop group. The B-side was a whitewashed cover of ‘Tutti Frutti.’ A sign of the times, but not great.

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And the plot thickens further. Before this, I’d heard of Pat Boone for two reasons. One, was a line in a Snoop Dogg song (‘Beautiful’) where he claims a girl is too good and wants to stay home listening to Pat Boone, of all people. Two – Mr Boone (who’s still alive, aged eighty-three) is an ultra-conservative Christian. A proper Fox News, evangelising, pray-the-gay-away kind of Christian. I knew this, somehow, but didn’t know quite how bad it was. And it’s bad. Here are some of his greatest hits – all from Wikipedia, take from that what you will – which have nothing to do with his sole chart topping hit in 1956, but sure are amusing (make that terrifying):

A) He refused to star in a film with a star as sexy as Marilyn Monroe, as it would have compromised his beliefs. B) He has compared liberalism to cancer. C) He has compared gay rights activism to Islamic terrorism, and has campaigned against Democratic candidates with the claim that they want to turn Kentucky into San Francisco. D) He loves war, and has claimed that any opponents of the Vietnam War, and both Iraq wars, neither loved their country nor respect their elders. E) He – perhaps inevitably – believes that Barack Obama shouldn’t have served as President, due to his fluency in Arabic and his love for the Koran… Suddenly, all that money and recognition he stole off black artists in the ’50s starts to look even more sinister, no?

Hilariously, he was kicked off a Gospel Music show he hosted in 1997 after releasing an album of heavy metal and hard rock covers, including ‘Smoke on the Water’, ‘Paradise City’ and, oh yes, ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’. Tragically this album doesn’t seem to be on Spotify, but I’m including the link to his version of ‘Enter Sandman’ here. You have been warned…

I could go on but don’t have all day, and that did go slightly off topic. Apologies. Basically, Pat Boone, it was nice meeting you. You sound a bit mental. Onwards.

46. ‘No Other Love’, by Ronnie Hilton

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No Other Love, by Ronnie Hilton (his 1st and only #1)

6 weeks, from 4th May to 15th June 1956

Through writing these blog posts, I’m becoming a strong believer in nominative determinism. I.e. through looking at the name of the recording artist one can anticipate what the song will sound like. Not that anyone’s been called Sax Jazzington, or anything silly like that. More like how Kay Starr sounds fun and flirty, Slim Whitman sounds grizzled and lonesome, Jimmy Young sounds… normal, and a little dull. I feel that Ronnie Hilton should fall into the latter category.

And, lo and behold, he does. It starts dramatically enough, though: a burst of cymbals, then another, then another… Then it feels like a step back in time, to the dark days of *shudder* David Whitfield. It’s semi-operatic, its over the top, it’s not a particularly easy listen. Hilton’s voice is overwrought. It’s a powerful voice, a technically very good voice, the sort of voice that your gran would have approved of; but it’s too much. It’s probably no worse than the Whitfield, Laine days of a couple years back, but it already sounds very dated coming so soon after more progressive-sounding records by Bill Haley, Alma Cogan and even Dean Martin.

Lyrically too, this is a song that’s been done before. No other love have I… Into your arms I’ll fly… Waiting to hear you say… ‘No other love have I’. He’s a little lovelorn, is Mr Hilton. I’ve mentioned it before, but why is it the girls that have all the fun in these early chart toppers? With a few exceptions (Vera Lynn, cough cough) they get to be perky and flirty while the men stay at home and stoically wait for their love to be fulfilled.

One thing I was certain of, without doing any kind of research, is that Ronnie Hilton was British. His voice has that properness, that stoicism, void of any kind of vulgar, American swagger. One other thing that I was pretty certain of, again before delving into Wikipedia and around, is that ‘No Other Love’ must have been from a soundtrack, such is its unnervingly bombastic approach to what is an otherwise very basic love song. And yes, it’s a Rogers & Hammerstein number, from their 1953 show ‘Me and Juliet’.

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Actually, the most surprising thing I could uncover about Ronnie Hilton – this is his only appearance at the top so let’s give him a moment in the sun – is that ‘Ronnie Hilton’ was his stage name. He was born Adrian Hill. Let that sink in for a second: he, or somebody advising him, thought Adrian Hill was a little too boring, a little too staid, and that ‘Ronnie Hilton’ would get the girls swooning. I think that just sums him, this song, and this whole pre-rock era up… If you’re going to change your name in an attempt to gain fame and glory for God’s sake try to come up with something slightly sexy. No?

And – perhaps just as interestingly – Hilton recorded a fairly successful (in the UK at least) version of ‘The Wonder of You’, eleven years before Elvis Presley made it a standard. But… listen to Hilton’s version, then Presley’s version, and it becomes clear why the latter was one of the most famous voices, and personalities, of the 20th Century and the former wasn’t.

I’m being a little down on Ronnie Hilton, really, so let’s give him a break and end with something completely unrelated. Something that just occurred to me as I wrote the intro to this post. The only reason that my nominative determinism theory works is because I have heard so few of these early number one hits. I write the title down, search them out on Spotify, and take a step into the unknown. But, looking down the list of UK #1s through the remainder of 1956, through ’57 and ’58, this is going to become less and less of a thing. I know several of the next twenty or thirty records. Soon I’ll know the majority of them. Of course, every so often, even as we get to the eighties and nineties, there will be songs I simply have never heard before (I have no idea how ‘Doop’, by Doop, goes for example – and it had 3 weeks at the top in 1994) but, on the whole, we are slowly stepping out of the mist and onto firmer, better known ground.

45. ‘The Poor People of Paris’, by Winifred Atwell

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The Poor People of Paris, by Winifred Atwell (her 2nd of two #1s)

3 weeks, from 13th April to 4th May 1956

Listening to a recording of Winifred Atwell playing the piano, I can’t help but picture her smiling. She must never have stopped smiling. Her 2nd #1, just like her first, is a spectacularly perky piece of music.

Unlike her first chart-topper, however, this isn’t a medley. It’s the one tune, blasted through in barely two minutes. It wouldn’t have felt out of place as one of the songs on ‘Let’s Have Another Party’, though. And by that I mean that it sounds exactly the same. The same ragtime style, the same boogie-woogie piano, and the same frenetic pace. As jaunty as both songs have been, I won’t be rushing to try out her Greatest Hits… I can guess what it will sound like.

Actually, there is one little moment of note here, musically. Midway through, as Atwell returns for a second run-through of the melody, a strange sound begins playing over her piano. It sounds like it could be an extremely high voice – a super-soprano, maybe – or someone whistling. Or that weird box (a Theremin, or a Moog synthesiser?) that’s used to make sound effects in Sci-Fi B movies. To me it’s a very sixties kind of sound, and I’m surprised to hear it popping up on a chart-topper this early – if that indeed is what it is. I’ve had a quick look online, but can find no answer to what the sound is…

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In lieu of writing any more about this record (Miss Atwell certainly got it over with in a manner that suggests she was bursting for the toilet, so we’ll keep it similarly brief) let’s look at the song in general. ‘The Poor People of Paris’ is a French song – quel surprise – recorded most famously by Edith Piaf as ‘La Goulante du Pauvre Jean.’ When it came time for the track to be adapted into English the man who did so misheard the ‘Jean’ from the French title as ‘gens’: hence the poor people of Paris. Tsk tsk. Us Anglophones and our terrible attempts at French, eh? He needn’t have bothered with his adaptation either, really, as pretty much everybody after Madame Piaf recorded the song as an instrumental.

I am glad that we’re seeing Winifred Atwell here again, don’t get me wrong. That a black woman could score not one but TWO #1s, and a score of other hits, at this time remains impressive. But the first time was always going to be the more significant and the choice of songs for the ‘Let’s Have Another Party’ medley made it very interesting. This record, however, just feels a little throwaway. Atwell’s legacy lives on in much more recent chart-topping singles though, as she was a big influence, apparently, in Elton John learning the piano.

On a final note… Do any other British chart-toppers include a capital city in their title? There must be one but – and I’m doing this completely off the top of my head here – I can’t think of any. All I can get is ‘New York, New York’ (neither a #1, nor a capital city), ‘London’s Calling’ (capital city – yes, #1 hit – no) and, um, Berlin. The band. You know, from ‘Top Gun’. Do comment if you can do any better than me on this…

44. ‘Rock and Roll Waltz’, by Kay Starr

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Rock and Roll Waltz, by Kay Starr (her 2nd of two #1s)

1 week, from 30th March to 6th April 1956

You remember how, in my last post, I single-handedly invented a new era in popular music – ‘The Post-Pre-Rock Age? You do? Excellent.

Well, the 44th UK #1 single perfectly encapsulates this brave new age. The Rock and Roll (New! Exciting! Sexy!) Waltz (Old! Boring! Not very sexy!) And it’s a fun little record. A record that tells a story:

One night I was late, came home from a date, slipped out of my shoes at the door…          Then from the front room, I heard a jump-tune, I looked in and here’s what I saw…

What is it that she sees…? Well…

There in the night, was a wonderful scene… Mom was dancing with dad, to my record machine… And while they danced only one thing was wrong… They were trying to waltz to a rock and roll song!

Mum! Dad! You silly old squares! All the cool cats know you can’t waltz to a rock ‘n’ roll song!

This, lyrically at least, is rock and roll. Old people not getting this hip new music. Young people rejecting the music of their parents. The chorus is a simple cluster of catchphrases: 1, 2 and then rock… 1, 2 and then roll… It’s good for your soul… It’s old but it’s new… And what is rock ‘n’ roll but a load of nonsensical catchphrases? 1, 2, 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock rock… Whop Bop a Loo Bop a Whop Bam Boo… Goodness! Gracious! Great Balls of Fire!

Musically, though, this isn’t rock ‘n’ roll. There are no guitars, there’s a slightly waltzy rhythm, a boogie-woogie bass and a great big jazzy swing. It’s fun, it’s perky and you can certainly dance to it, but it ain’t rock. It’s a novelty, and Kay Starr sings it in manner that suggests she knows exactly what a piece of throwaway fluff it is.

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I mentioned in her last entry, the flirty and fun ‘Comes A-Long A-Love’, that Starr has a magnetic voice. You can tell that ‘Rock and Roll Waltz’ isn’t perhaps the type of record that she’s used to singing – it’s easy to imagine that she wasn’t impressed by the suggestion that she move away from her usual style – but she sells it with warmth and with playfulness. It feels like a long time since I wrote about ‘Comes A-Long A-Love’, and I suppose three years and two months is quite a long gap to have between your two number one hits. Two number ones – the 3rd and the 44th in UK chart history – both spending a solitary week at the top. And both very different records. I’m glad that writing this countdown introduced me to Ms Starr, though, and it’s a shame that we won’t be hearing from her again.

One final thing about this record, though, is very rock ‘n’ roll. At least ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ in a 1956 sense. The song may be a story told through the eyes of a teenager; but Kay Starr certainly wasn’t one. She was, in fact, coming up for thirty-four when this song hit the top spot. As was the similarly decrepit Bill Haley as he rocked around the clock. This new style of music may have been for teenagers, but it wasn’t being recorded by teenagers just yet.

And to finish on a personal note – this was number one on the day my dad was born. Fitting, perhaps, that it’s a song about two uncool parents attempting to dance around their living room. Or not, seeing as my father has never danced a step in his life, I don’t think. Still, it’s not a bad song to have as your birthday #1. OK, it’s a strange little number that nobody has actually listened to for many years; but there are far, far worse songs to have been born under…

43. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers

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It’s Almost Tomorrow, by The Dream Weavers (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 16th – 30th March / 1 week, from 6th – 13th April 1956 (3 weeks total)

Perhaps it’s time to christen a brand new era in popular music. I’ll call it: the ‘post-pre-rock age’! We’ve had the first wave of the rock ‘n’ roll explosion – the very first rock ‘n’ roll number one – but the waves have receded and we are stood on soggy sand waiting for them to return. And they will, they will… Just not yet.

What I mean is that, to all intents and purposes, we are still in the pre-rock age but that the rules have changed ever so slightly. Of course, the very top of the charts is never where you look for music’s cutting edge. You get to the top of the pop charts by being, well, popular, and by appealing to the largest number of people. But… even if you look at the Top 20 from the week in March ’56 that this latest song hit #1, there are very few records that stand out as being rock songs: Bill Haley is at #7 with ‘See You Later Alligator’, Lonnie Donegan is at #9 with ‘Rock Island Line’ (a skiffle track, admittedly, but still) and there’s a song called ‘Pickin’ a Chicken’ by Eve Boswell which sounds like a rock song involving a funky dance move (a la ‘The Twist’) but is actually just a pretty dull song about having a picnic. The rest is Sinatra, Jimmy Young, Slim Whitman

And, as with ‘Memories Are Made of This’ which preceded it, ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’ has elements of rock ‘n’ roll in it – enough, perhaps, to attract the youngsters but not enough to put off the old folks. Thus the gap between the worlds of Eddie Fisher and Elvis is deftly bridged.

Anyway, to the song. And after that big build-up, all that stuff about it being a brand new era in popular music, ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’ is a bit dull. The idea behind it is that the singer’s sweetheart is falling out of love with him, and that she will leave him ‘tomorrow’. And yet he hopes it will be otherwise… My dearest, my darling, tomorrow is near, The clouds will bring showers of sadness, I fear… ‘Emotions As Weather’ – the first chapter in ‘Cheesy Love Songs 101’. It’s almost tomorrow, but what can I do? Your kisses all tell me that, your love is untrue…

It’s a bit cloying, what with its backing singers and plinky-plonky pianos. A bit of a nursery rhyme, too – I can’t decide if it sounds more like ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ or ‘Away in a Manger’. And again, it’s another very simple #1. The production is very rich – the piano and backing singers turned up to 11 – but there isn’t much there. And, unfortunately, there’s a bit of a THIS IS THE END OF THE SONG ending: You’ll always be miiiiiiiiiiiine!

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But, in the ‘pros’ column there is a rather wonderful key-change – a very rock ‘n’ roll touch. I’m a big fan of a well constructed key-change. I can’t resist them. Who can? Its inbuilt in most people, I think. A Pavlovian reaction. And this is not just a key change, but a mid-note key change… Your love is untruuuu *key change* uuuueeeee. I’m not going to lie – it did give me a mild covering of goose bumps the first time I heard it. But that’s far and away the best thing about this song. A song which we could brand the very first rock ballad to hit the top of the UK Singles Chart, if it didn’t feel a bit of a waste to use up such an honorific title on such an average record.

This is The Dream Weavers only appearance in this countdown, and in the charts. They were big ol’ one hit wonders, you see. Though we should give them a shout out for being one of the few acts so far to have hit the top with an original composition. The Dream Weavers consisted of two high school friends – Gene Adkinson and Wade Buff (great name!) – and a rotating cast of back-up singers. Adkinson and Buff wrote ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’ themselves, and so are pretty unique among the forty-two songs that we’ve written about previously.

And we’ll leave it there for now. A simple love song – all key changes and not an orchestra in sight – but with familiarly mopey lyrics about rain and heartache, as well as a silly, bombastic ending. One leg in the new world; one leg stuck firmly in the past.

42. ‘Memories Are Made of This’, by Dean Martin

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Memories are Made of This, by Dean Martin (his 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 17th February to 16th March 1956

Sweet sweet mem’ries you gave to me…

This is one of those #1s that fall into the ‘I can sing a line or two before listening to it’ category. See also ‘That Doggie in the Window’ and ‘This Ole House’. At first I thought I might have sung this in my days as a primary school choirboy. But then, after listening more closely, I realised that the lyrics are perhaps a bit rich for a group of eight year olds.

Take one fresh and tender kiss, add one stolen night of bliss…

So, yeah… Then I got to thinking that the intro sounds a lot like the intro to ‘King of the Road’ – that sliding da dum dum dum guitar – which I definitely did sing in my primary school choir. So maybe that’s what I was thinking of.

Anyway. I wrote in the last post that we were having a bit of a minimalist phase in terms of our chart topping records, after the bombast of ’53 and ’54, and this track follows suit. There’s a guitar, some backing singers, and Dean Martin. It’s nice.

Lyrically, the song describes the ‘recipe’ for a happy life. Lots of ‘taking’, ‘adding’ and ‘folding’. With His blessings from above, Serve it generously with love… Which is fine. It actually reminds me a bit of ‘Christmas Alphabet’, in a way – another pop song as step by step guide. It is, though, a metaphor which can only go so far. The lines: Then add the wedding bells, One house where lovers dwell, Three little kids for the flavour… Stir carefully through the days, See how the flavour stays… Are either a little too saccharine, or a little too cannibalistic, to really work.

These lines, however, come during the middle-eight in which – and I may be going out on a limb here but bear with me – we have a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll chord progression. I am completely incapable of describing it in words, having no musical ability on which to base my idea, so you’ll just have to take a listen below to see what I mean. The very fact that this is a Verse Chorus Verse Chorus Middle Eight Verse Chorus (Ok, the chorus is one line, but still) kind of song is interesting in itself. It’s by no means a ‘rock’ song; but there’s a whiff of something there.

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And it’s another one of those occasions in which we tick off a musical legend’s sole moment at the top of the UK charts. Vera Lynn’s had her moment, Tony Bennett’s had his, now it’s Dean’s turn. It just seems right that he got there at least once. To be honest, I know very few concrete facts about about Dean Martin – I tend to get all the rat-pack type singers muddled up together – but I see that he sang songs that are probably more famous than he now is: ‘Volare’, ‘That’s Amore’, ‘Sway’… In fact, it seems safe to say that ‘Memories Are Made of This’ is Dean Martin’s most famous song in which he wasn’t hamming up his eye-talian side. It sounds like I imagine all Dean Martin records to sound like: laidback, slightly louche, very nonchalant… He sounds as if he’s phoning it in, to an extent, but that just adds to the appeal. ‘The King of Cool’, indeed.

41. ‘Sixteen Tons’, by Tennessee Ernie Ford

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Sixteen Tons, by Tennessee Ernie Ford (his 2nd of two #1s)

4 weeks, from 20th January to 17th February 1956

Hmmm… What’s going on here, then?

It is more interesting, I suppose, approaching these distant number ones – apart from the handful that I already knew – and not knowing what I’m going to get. It wasn’t always like this – for most of 1953 and ’54 the chart toppers followed a rather overwrought formula. Now they are growing much more eclectic.

But, at the same time, I feel ‘Sixteen Tons’ has been done before. We’re back on ‘Man from Laramie’, ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ territory here – back in the cheesy Western soundtrack album. This is what I expected from a man named Tennessee Ernie Ford, much more so than his earlier, bombastic #1: ‘Give Me Your Word’.

It’s a song about loading something… coal, I think… Loading sixteen tons of it, to be precise. You load sixteen tons, what d’ya get? Another day older and deeper in debt. St Peter don’t you call me cos I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store… The singer is a hard man; shovellin’ sixteen tons ain’t nothin’ to him, no Sir.

After describing his working day, he goes on to big himself up: raised by a lion, fightin’ and trouble are his middle names, if you see him coming then you better step aside etc. etc. One fist of iron, the other of steel, If the right one don’t get you then the left one will… It’s all a bit silly, but Ford sings it with tongue firmly in cheek. He even giggles at one point, as he delivers the line: Can’t no high-toned woman make me walk the line… He knows it’s silly – and the listener can enjoy it for what it is. But, importantly, he doesn’t disrespect the song. It’s skilfully done. I kind of wish it had been Tennessee Ernie singing ‘The Man from Laramie’, rather than stiff old Jimmy Young, as what that song dearly needed was a slightly looser delivery; a delivery with the eyebrows raised. I’ve had a look, but unfortunately can’t find any sign that he ever recorded a version.

The only musical accompaniment to the lyrics is a guitar/clarinet combo, some light drumming, and some finger clicks. It’s minimalist. In fact, almost all of the most recent number ones have toned down the orchestral accompaniment and the backing singers (‘Rose Marie’ and ‘Christmas Alphabet’, the simple guitar riff of ‘The Man from Laramie’ and ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’s castanets). Unfortunately, at the same time, ‘Sixteen Tons’ resurrects a technique that we haven’t heard for a while – the THIS IS THE END OF THE SONG! technique. We end on a long, drawn out repetition of the final I OOOOOWWWWEEEEEE MY SOOUULLL blah blah blah… line. It spoils the whole song, truly it does. The sooner this trick dies a death the better!

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Each time I’ve listened to this track over the past half hour, somewhere in the back of my mind is the nagging suspicion that I’ve heard this somewhere before. I probably have – it is Ford’s signature hit, after all. And it’s a simple song. So simple that it sounds like it might be… Nope, I can’t place it.

And on that note, we will bid farewell to Tennessee Ernie Ford. But don’t you worry about him. He had a long and distinguished career back in the US, in the Country & Western world, releasing albums such as ‘This Lusty Land’, ‘Great Gospel Songs’, ‘Civil War Songs of the North’ and, er, ‘Civil War Songs of the South’ (maybe it was a ‘Use Your Illusion’ I & II kind of thing?) Whatever, he had clearly found his niche. He also had a TV show – ‘The Ford Show’ – and a catchphrase: ‘Bless your pea-pickin’ heart.’

Yee-hah! Let’s leave it there…

40. ‘Christmas Alphabet’, by Dickie Valentine

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Christmas Alphabet, by Dickie Valentine (his 2nd of two #1s)

3 weeks, from 16th December 1955 to 6th January 1956

And so we come across something I never considered when I started this blog: the fact that I will, every so often, have to listen to Christmas songs on repeat. When it most emphatically isn’t Christmas. No matter. ‘Tis a burden I shall bear stoically.

The very first Christmas song to hit #1 in the UK is based around a simple concept – an acrostic poem as hit single. C is for the candy trimmed around the Christmas tree, H is for the happiness with all the family… All the way to the final S which is for Ol’ Santa who makes every kid his pet, Be good and he’ll bring you everything in your Christmas alphabet… Repeat. Done. Note that I am not referring to it as the very first ‘Christmas Number One’, as that wasn’t a ‘thing’ until the ’70s and, technically, Al Martino, Frankie Laine and Winifred Atwell have all already had one.

It’s kind of cute on first listen, but quickly becomes so sugary sweet that you begin to fear diabetes. As I mentioned at the time of his 1st number one, Dickie Valentine still sings like an American crooner (apart from when his ever-so-proper English accent sneaks through in the line about the ‘tree so tawl’). And while this little ditty is a world away from any kind of rock ‘n’ roll – from the record which bookended this song’s stay at the top, for example – he is cementing his image as the first British teen idol.

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A quick look at the career of Mr. Valentine – which we should do now, as we won’t be hearing from him again – proves this to be true. He made his name singing with big bands, then by impersonating singers such as Frankie Laine and Johnnie Ray. His marriage in 1954 caused hysteria among his young fans, though it clearly didn’t kill his career. An image search throws up lots of cheeky grins, often accompanied by a boater-hat and a bow-tie – a definite ‘cheeky-chappie’. He scored the first and last #1s of 1955 but, like so many of these early chart-toppers, his recording career died a death in the ’60s, and he himself died the most rock ‘n’ roll death of all the artists featured so far: in a car crash aged just 41.

To finish, I do have a little anecdote about Dickie Valentine – and it’ll perhaps be my most tenuous link to any of the artists featuring in this rundown. Years ago (we’re talking early high school, here) I had a friend whose family loved going on cruises. I’ve never understood the appeal of cruises myself, but I suppose that’s irrelevant here. My friend mentioned a cruise they’d been on in which each cabin had – for some reason – a live feed of the ship’s ballroom that passengers could tune into any time of the day or night. My friend was watching it one night – disco night – when an old man, unimpressed by the DJs more modern tastes, walked past the camera and shouted ‘Play some Dickie Valentine!’. I have NO IDEA why my friend told me this uninteresting story; or indeed why I have remembered it to this day. I’d never heard of Dickie Valentine at the time; neither, presumably, had my friend. I suppose it is quite a funny name (‘Hur, hur… Dickie…’). But of all the things in life I’d have been better off remembering… The mind is a strange, strange thing.