Lay Down Your Arms, by Anne Shelton (her 1st and only #1)
4 weeks, from to 21st September to 19th October 1956
We hit the half-century and meet a genre we haven’t encountered yet… The military march!
A couple of times now I’ve mentioned records that, upon reaching the top of the chart, represent a ‘one step forward, two steps back’ moment. Most famously when David Whitfield took the frightfully stiff ‘Cara Mia’ to the top shortly after Johnnie Ray’s superbly raunchy ‘Such a Night’. But this… This takes it to another level.
*Ah 1, 2, ah 1, 2, 3* Come to the station, Jump from the train, March at the double, Down lover’s lane, Then in the glen, Where the roses entwine, Lay down your arms… And surrender to mine!
Anne Shelton loves a soldier, but he’s been called away on duty. Such is a soldier’s life. He gets some leave but now, after spending all week doing what the Seargent demands, he has to manfully obey his lover’s commands. I feel sorry for him. Anne Shelton sounds pretty high-maintenance.
There is one word for this record… One adjective to do it justice. It is twee. So very twee. I’d brand it as a novelty song, if it weren’t all so very earnest. Shelton sounds like a Girl Guide leader – albeit one on her third sherry of the evening – striding out betwixt the heather, bellowing out the chorus as if summoning her hounds. It’s like a P.G. Wodehouse character, one of Bertie Wooster’s aunts perhaps, has come to life and recorded a hit single.
For the most part Shelton’s pronunciation is immaculate, her ‘t’s clipped and her ‘r’s rolled. Yet at the end of every verse, she gets a little… um… playful. She admonishes her serviceman: You’ve got to do your duty, wherever you may be, And now you’re under orders, To hurry home to me… I can’t describe the way she delivers the last part of that line. It’s not with a giggle, but… It’s like a middle-aged biology teacher flirting with a 6th-form boy on the last day of term.
It’s a bizarre record. But the more I listen to ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, the more I like it. It’s kooky, in a way. I have no idea why it hit #1 in the autumn of 1956. It sounds as if it should have been a smash in 1941. Perhaps it was the revenge of the old-timers, who saw all these young stars with their shiny teeth and their guitars beginning to clog up the charts, and decided to restore order. But the fact that this was a chart-topper after ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love’, and just a few months before the rock ‘n’ roll invasion really took hold, is an example of why the pop charts are such wonderful things. Anything can get to the top as long as enough people want it to.
I, of course, knew nothing about Anne Shelton before coming across this record. It seems she was a bit of a mini-Vera Lynn, in that she was another ‘Forces Sweetheart’ who recorded inspirational songs for troops, and also performed at military bases during the war. But this song was written and recorded for the first time in 1956 – eleven years after the war’s end. Somehow, there was still a demand for this kind of thing. Maybe it struck a chord with people in the days of National Service? I was joking a minute ago, when I suggested the old folks were somehow responding to rock ‘n’ roll by sending some ‘proper’ music up the charts, but maybe there’s some truth in that too.
Or, maybe it’s as simple as the fact that, throughout chart history, every so often an oldie gets through. Louis Armstrong did it. Cher did it. Cliff kept doing it. The grannies unite, everybody else sneaks out to buy it when their mates aren’t looking, and Anne Shelton gets a month on top of the UK singles charts.