She’s back. Barely two months after a gorgeous slice of teenage angst, ‘You Don’t Know’, made her the youngest ever solo chart topper, our Helen returns to the top of the charts. And this time she’s feeling much perkier.
Walkin’ Back to Happiness, by Helen Shapiro (her 2nd and final #1)
3 weeks, from 19th October – 9th November 1961
Funny but it’s true, What loneliness can do… OK, it’s not immediately very perky, but bear with it… Since I’ve been away… Wait for it… I have loved you more each day!
And we’re off. This is a pop record that whips along at breakneck speed – the drums, the guitar, the violins, even the backing singers – none of them linger too long over a single note. Carried along, you really can imagine Miss Shapiro skipping gayly through a field of daffodils. Or something. And the hook; what a hook. Walkin’ back to happiness, Whoopa-oh-yeah-yeah…! Add it to the wop-bop-ba-loomas and the rama-lama-ding-dongs of pop music lore. To most people in 2019, Helen Shapiro’s entire career has probably been reduced to this very line. It certainly had been for me before starting this blog.
Contrast if you can the in-your-face optimism of this tune with the moodiness of her first chart-topper. On ‘You Don’t Know’, Helen was languishing in the exquisite pain of loving a boy who never noticed her. She could never tell him. She was condemned to suffer in silence. Here, though… Spread the news I’m on the way, Whoopa-oh-yeah-yeah, All my blues have blown away, Whoopa-oh-yeah-yeah… Technically this song is about someone returning to their lover (I never knew I’d miss you, Now I know what I must do…), but it’s tempting to view it as a riposte to ‘You Don’t Know’ – now she’s head over heels in love. Maybe it’s with the guy who, just two months before, was passing her by in the corridor?
In terms of managing the career of a teen star, her ‘team’ did very well here (she was managed by Norrie Paramour, fifties/early sixties producer du jour – we’ve already heard his work with stars like Cliff and The Shadows, Ruby Murray and Michael Holliday). Shapiro’s two chart-toppers are simultaneously different and yet complimentary. While so many stars have recently followed up big hits with very-similar-sounding hits (Adam Faith, the Everlys, Cliff) it’s refreshing to hear the youngest star of the time return with something completely different. It reminds me of Connie Francis’s double-whammy of ‘Who’s Sorry Now’ and ‘Stupid Cupid’ from a few years back.
The best bit of this whole affair is the bridge, when Miss Shapiro lets rip with a Walkin’ back to happiness with yo-ou, mm-hmm-hmm… It’s still hard to imagine that someone with a voice this rich and honeyed was just fifteen when she recorded this. Though I do feel that, as good as this record is, her voice has a natural air of melancholy which suited her previous #1 better. That’s me nit-picking, though. This is a pure pop classic – a disc that can’t help but make you smile.
Helen Shapiro’s star burned brightly but briefly. Her two chart-toppers aside, she only had three other Top 10s, and by the mid-sixties she was struggling to make the Top 40 at all. Going by her Greatest Hits, she had a go at all the pop classics of the day: ‘It’s My Party’, ‘A Teenager in Love’, ‘Please Mister Postman’ and the ultimate teeny-bopper anthem ‘Lipstick on your Collar’ (that Mary-Jane, eh). She then moved into acting – both on TV and in the West End – and officially ‘retired’ from showbiz in 2002.
While we’ve had girls with perky pop songs hitting the top of the charts before now – Rosemary Clooney and Connie Francis say ‘Hi!’ – they were both American. Helen Shapiro is British, and can thus be seen as the start of a chain linking us right through the 1960s, taking us past Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw, Lulu and more. Female chart-toppers are few and far between in this decade, and the ones that do pop up tend to do so with some pretty special songs…