123. ‘You Don’t Know’, by Helen Shapiro

Rock ‘n’ roll is young people’s music. For the kids. At least it used to be, until all the rock ‘n’ rollers refused to die, kept touring well into their seventies, and the kids all started listening to rap. But indulge me… Rock ‘n’ roll is music for young people; and is at its best when being sung by young people. Like in this next chart-topper.

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You Don’t Know, by Helen Shapiro (her 1st of two #1s)

3 weeks, from 10th – 31st August 1961

This is a song about heartache and longing. About dreaming of, pining for, obsessing over someone in the way that only a teenager can. Some lovely girl-band Woaah-oo-wooah-oo-woaahs lead us into a tale of a girl who has a big old crush… Although I love you so, Oh you don’t know, You don’t know, Just how I feel, For my love I daren’t reveal, I’m so, I’m so afraid, You might not care… The object of her desire passes by in the corridor, yet he has no idea of what the sight of him with another girl does to poor Helen. Oh honey, we’ve all been there…

I don’t know about you but I’m listening to this record, picturing Miss Shapiro lying on her bed, hair done up in a bee-hive, diary open as she pairs her first name with the surname of her crush over and over again, a solitary tear rolling down her cheek…

We don’t quite reach peak teen-angst, though, until the bridge: I would tell you, If I believed that you might care someday, But until then, I’ll never give this away… Isn’t that just perfect? Of course she’ll never actually tell him; because nothing in this world beats the exquisite pain of unrequited love.

This record could be awful. It could sound ridiculous to anyone over the age of seventeen. But it doesn’t; it stays on the right side of all the melodrama and turns out glorious. Calling it rock ‘n’ roll in the intro was slightly misleading – this is a classy jazz-pop-ballad, all bass and strings. And the fact that Helen Shapiro was really just fourteen when this disc hit #1 gives the whole affair true authenticity. Yes, really. Her voice might sound deep and honeyed, and like she’s had her heart broken a million times; but she was just a child when this sent her to the top of the charts. (Her only previous hit – from earlier in 1961 – had actually been titled ‘Don’t Treat Me Like a Child’).

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This means that Miss Shapiro becomes, in a stroke, the youngest woman, and just the second-youngest artist of either gender, to top the charts. Only a thirteen year old Frankie Lymon back in 1956 can beat her – and that was with ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love?’, another song about teenage heartache that benefitted from being sung by actual teenagers (very literally, what with Lymon’s backing group being ‘The Teenagers’.)

It’s been a while, actually, since we had a rock ‘n’ roll disc being sung by anyone over thirty. Cliff, The Everlys, Del Shannon, Johnny Tillotson, even Elvis, were all still well within their twenties while performing on recent chart-toppers. Gone are the days of Bill Haley, Guy Mitchell, Kay Starr and the like pretending to be kids to get hits. Helen S. takes it to another level here, though – and remains, to this very day, the youngest female solo artist ever to reach #1 in the UK.

To be honest, it’s just nice to hear a girl’s voice again on this countdown. As great and groovy as recent songs have been, it’s all been a bit of a sausage-fest! Miss Shapiro will grab another #1 very soon and so we shall hold back from any bio until then. For now, simply close your eyes and think back to when you were fourteen, scribbling the name of your crush on the back-page of your notebook, a dreamy look in your eyes and a bucket load of hormones churning around your brain… Woaah-oo-wooah-oo-woaah… Those were the days…

9 thoughts on “123. ‘You Don’t Know’, by Helen Shapiro

  1. badfinger20

    Her voice was really mature for her age…hard to believe she was that young. It was nice to hear her…I have read about her but never listened to anything.

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