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…

10 thoughts on “44. ‘Rock and Roll Waltz’, by Kay Starr

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