71. ‘Who’s Sorry Now’, by Connie Francis

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Who’s Sorry Now, by Connie Francis (her 1st of two #1s)

6 weeks, from 16th May – 27th June 1958

I really didn’t mean to set it up like that at the end of the previous post, truly I didn’t. It simply occurred to me that we hadn’t had a female singer at the top of the charts for a long old time and then, lo and behold, here we are…

Not since the 19th October 1956 – just shy of seventeen months ago – have we had a feminine voice on a #1 record. Since then sixteen different male singers, or male groups, have come and gone with twenty different number one singles.

And the differences between ‘Who’s Sorry Now’, and the last female-led chart-topper – Anne Shelton’s ‘Lay Down Your Arms’ – paint a very telling picture of how the landscape of popular music has changed in recent months. Because, basically, rock ‘n’ roll has happened. Anne Shelton hit the top around the same time as ‘Que Sera Sera’ and Frankie Laine’s big-band show tune ‘A Woman in Love’. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’ was a bizarre, military marching fruit-loop of a song that harked back to World War II, Vera Lynn and all that. Since then we’ve had Elvis, and Lonnie Donegan, and Buddy and Jerry Lee. And now Connie Francis takes all that rock ‘n’ roll attitude, and gives it her own, feminine twist.

Who’s sorry now? Who’s sorry now? Whose heart is achin’ for breakin’ each vow…? Miss Francis had her heartbroken, but the man who hurt her now has his own romantic troubles… Who’s sad and blue? Who’s cryin’ too? Just like I cried, Over you… There’s a twang in her voice, a sassy hiccup, and it gives the distinct impression that she’s struggling to dredge up much sympathy for her ex.

Is this a rock ‘n’ roll ballad? The slower tempo and the backing singers suggest that it is. If so, I make it only the second one ever to top the charts – the first being The Dream Weavers’ ever-so-dreary ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’ from two years back. (I thought about including ‘Young Love’ as a ballad; but that was just a soppy little pop song – ballads need a little bit of emosh about them).

And ‘Who’s Sorry Now’ certainly gives us emotion. It’s a song of two halves. During the first, Francis’s voice lilts and coos. For the second, she whips it up a notch or five. Right till the end! Just like a friend! I tried to warn you somehow… The drums start whippin’, cymbals crash, and her voice almost snaps… You had your way, Now you must pay… Then she delivers the final, crushing blow… I’m glad that you’re sorry now… It is a moment!

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This is part torch-song, part clap-back. If I were a sassy black drag-queen, I would have clicked my fingers and shouted ‘Preach’ as this track shuddered to a halt. Alas, I am not; but I love this song all the same. This is a big stepping stone in music, make no doubt about it: this is paving the way for Madonna, The Spice Girls, and any other female act with even a smidgen of attitude. This is Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ repackaged for the late fifties. A lot of the female artists we’ve met previously on this countdown have been cute, and flirty, and fun to listen to – Kitty Kallen, Kay Starr, Winifred Atwell, I’m looking at you. But no girl has brought this level of spunk to the table. Alma Cogan and Rosemary Clooney were having a great time on records like ‘Dreamboat’ and ‘Mambo Italiano’ but they were, ultimately, throwaway pop discs, with nothing like the bite of ‘Who’s Sorry Now’.

I love this song, and I love Connie Francis, and have done for a while. You can’t truly be into rock ‘n’ roll without having discovered Connie, Brenda Lee and the other female stars of the time. She was just twenty-one when this hit the top-spot, and in her pictures she sports a perfectly ‘fifties’ look: short curls an’ smokey eyes. But, on doing a little further research, I was surprised – nay, shocked! – to learn two things. One: that ‘Who’s Sorry Now’ was actually first recorded in 1923! And two: that Connie Francis was initially resistant to recording it. Luckily for all of us she did, and this version is completely different to the reedy-sounding 1923 version (which was an instrumental, for a start).

I shan’t wax too lyrical on Ms Francis just yet – we’ll be meeting her again before the year’s out, with an equally brilliant but completely different record. For now, I shall ask one more time… ‘Who’s Sorry Now? Not Connie. No sir… Preach!’

12 thoughts on “71. ‘Who’s Sorry Now’, by Connie Francis

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