Before I begin my next post in this countdown, I would just like to address something. The elephant in the room, if you will. As I mentioned back when writing about Guy Mitchell’s ‘Singing the Blues’, one of its weeks in the top spot was shared with the record that’s up next: Frankie Vaughan’s ‘The Garden of Eden’. It’s the second time we’ve encountered this situation, and it won’t be the last. Which begs the question… How did records end up sharing the top spot with such regularity in the 1950s? Well, the answer’s pretty simple. But it kind of whips the rug away from under this whole countdown. You see, the charts back in the early days of their existence simply weren’t very accurate.
Way back in my intro I mentioned that the concept of a ‘singles chart’ was introduced in November 1952 by the NME. And the UK Singles Charts company has since incorporated this chart into the ‘official’ chart – even though such a thing didn’t exist at the time. There were various other charts published every week in the 1950s: the Melody Maker chart, the Record Mirror chart, the Record Retailer chart… and the NME chart, which is recognised as the most comprehensive. But not completely comprehensive. There are still many bones of contention. Which I won’t go into here – they can be easily searched for online.
The number of record stores surveyed by the NME for their chart was surprisingly low and the methods very old fashioned compared to the instant downloading and streaming databases used in 2018 – they basically called up a bunch of record stores and asked them to keep a record of what they were selling. The first chart – topped by the record we met in my earliest post, Al Martino’s ‘Here in My Heart’ – was compiled using data from only 20 (twenty!) major record stores. And thus, every so often, because they were working from such a small sample, there were ties. David Whitfield and Frankie Laine in 1953, Guy Mitchell and Frankie Vaughan in 1957… In 1960, the Record Retailer Chart became the UK Chart Company’s chart of choice and there were no further ‘joint’ number ones (though there were still several contested number ones). Then in 1969 the British Market Research Bureau took over chart-compiling duties and steadied the boat further, while in 1982 chart compilation went digital. Since then, it’s been on the straight and narrow. 100% reliable.
So, while it may be distressing to some to discover the records that you have read about during this countdown may not actually have been the best selling records in a particular week, I thought it was only correct that I address the issue. And with that, today’s sermon is brought to a close. On with the next (presumed?) Number One Single!
The Garden of Eden, by Frankie Vaughan (his 1st of two #1s)
4 weeks, from 25th January – 22nd February 1957 (including 1 week joint with Guy Mitchell from 1st – 8th February 1957)
So I press play on this record, ‘The Garden of Eden’ by Frankie Vaughan, and pretty soon I get to thinking that, from ‘Just Walkin’ in the Rain’ to this, I don’t think we’ve encountered such a run of similar-sounding songs. Here we have yet another male singer, with yet another performance involving guitar and vocals and not much else. I’m gearing up for another recap, so I don’t want to get too introspective right now, but it seems like we are settling into a groove which – glancing ahead at what’s to come – might last for a while yet.
I am not left thinking this for too long, however. This record is slightly deceiving. It does start off with a simple guitar strum, and with understated backing singers, but halfway through someone flicks a switch. We get trumpets, and a cymbal clash. Things escalate pretty quickly. The drums go up several notches, and suddenly the vocals are accompanied by a full-on big-band swing section. It’s a never ending crescendo, a key-change drawn out for two and a half minutes, and I like it! You can imagine this being performed on TV, the curtain opening to show Frankie Vaughan alone on stage. Then, as the song progresses, the lights draw further and further back to reveal, by the end, the full-blown orchestra that are bringing us to climax. It’s not rock ‘n’ roll, in terms of the sound, but it is in terms of the frenzied tempo.
Lyrically we are in somewhat stranger territory too. Recent number ones have been lovelorn, and wry. This is… well to tell the truth I’m not entirely sure what this is: When you walk in the garden, The garden of Eden, With a beautiful woman, And you know how you care… And a voice in the garden, The garden of Eden, Tells you she is forbidden, Can you leave her there?
It goes on… When you’re yearning for loving, And she touches your hand, Can you leave her to heaven, And obey the command, Can you walk from the garden, Does your heart understand?
It’s a parable, maybe. Resist temptation? Don’t resist temptation? I don’t really know what it’s about even after several listens. My best bet is that this is Vaughan explaining his behaviour to St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. “Yes, m’lord, I should have resisted the advances of that beautiful woman but, to be honest, she was far too hot…”
Without knowing any of this track’s backstory, I imagine it must have been pretty risqué to have had this many religious references in a pop song back in early 1957. Remember how, back in 1953, Frankie Laine and David Mitchell had remove the ‘My Lord’ from the title of their versions of ‘Answer Me’? But I can’t find mention of any controversy online. So that’s that.
Also of note is the fact that, once again, it’s a British artist doing the rockin’ and a rollin’. Vaughan was a Liverpudlian for whom this appearance at the top of the UK charts was the culmination of a few years of growing success – he was voted ‘Showbusiness Personality of the Year’ in 1956, and was one of the biggest stars of the late fifties. Pictures show him in dickie-bows and top-hats, so we know what kind of territory we’re in. And we will meet Mr. Vaughan again, in a few years, though I feel he has been somewhat forgotten over time, considering how famous he once was.