‘Starry Eyed’, by Michael Holliday – The UK Number 1s Blog Anniversary Special

This week marks the 1st anniversary of The UK Number 1s Blog (** Trumpet Fanfare**)! In the past year we’ve covered the period from Nov. ’52 to Nov’ 61, with 129 chart-topping songs featured. We’ve survived pre-rock, rode the rock ‘n’ roll revolution, and are now well on our way towards the swinging sixties… Thanks to everyone who has read, followed, commented and enjoyed.

To celebrate this milestone, I’m going to take a short break from the usual countdown to repost seven songs that I have really enjoyed discovering over the past year. These aren’t necessarily the best songs to have topped the charts – there’ll be no Buddy Holly, Johnnie Ray, Connie Francis, Elvis or The Everly Brothers (follow the links if you want to read about them) – as I’ve been listening to, and loving, those artists for years. This week will be all about the forgotten gems, the hits I’d never heard before, the songs that have slipped through the cracks…

My final choice is ‘Starry Eyed’, by Michael Holliday. As we moved further into the rock ‘n’ roll age, the songs that hit the top spot became more and more familiar. But in amongst all the Cliff and Elvis came this little gem – the first #1 of the sixties. It’s not the most instant song, but it snags on something and stays with you long after you expect it to have faded. It’s ethereal and dreamy, but with a solid pop hook. Enjoy.

(PS. That’s it for my week-long anniversary recap of my favourite chart-topping discoveries. Normal service will resume with my next post – the 130th UK #1 single.)

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Here we go then. One tentative foot in front of the other. A hop and a skip and… We’re into the 1960s! Hurrah! It’s one small step for man… as someone will quite famously say before this decade is through.

Starry Eyed, by Michael Holliday (his 2nd of two #1s)

1 week, from 29th January – 5th February 1960

On first listen, however, the 1960s sounds suspiciously like the 1950s. Backing singers? Check. Basic rock ‘n’ roll guitar? Check. Croony male lead singer? Check. Where’s the innovation? Where are the groovy new sounds? Where are all the drugs and free love?

Bum-bam-bum-bam-bum… Why am I so starry-eyed, Starry-eyed and mystified, Every time I look at you, Fallin’ stars come into view… So far so standard. A song about being in love, and about seeing stars because you’re so in love, and to be honest it’s been done a million times before. When we touch I hear angels sing, When we kiss I hear wedding bells ring… Yeah yeah, blah blah blah.

But actually, to dismiss this song because of its unremarkable lyrics would be to do it a huge disservice. Because, on a second, third and fourth listen, this record has got a lot going for it. Firstly there are the backing singers and their Bum-bam-bums. They’re not just any old Bum-bam-bums – they sound echo-y and ethereal, like woozy church bells or a trippy version of the intro to ‘Mr. Sandman.’ It’s really cool.

Adding to this effect is the guitar, which is restricted to a few strums during the verses and chorus but which comes in nice and layered, fed through the same robotic distortions as the backing singers, during the solo. It gives the record a real dreamy quality, like the singer’s dazed after a blow to the… Wait, I get it! He’s starry-eyed. He has been whacked over the head. With love!

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I could complain about Michael Holliday’s sonorous voice being a little too sombre, a little too straight-laced for this song but, after a few listens, it kind of works. His voice has an innocence to it, as he gazes into his lovers mystical eyes and his pupils morph into cartoon love-hearts. Underpinning it all there’s a groovy little rhythm – a bossanova? – that actually makes it quite a sexy record. A record to which there’s more than meets the ear and which improves with every listen. We’re not in the swinging sixties just yet; but this is a sniff of what’s to come…

‘Starry Eyed’ is certainly a lot better than the song which first brought Mr. Holliday to our attention a couple of years back – the fairly bland and saccharine ‘The Story of My Life’. I mentioned then that he only ever scored a handful of hits in his career – in fact he managed to squeeze two #1s from just three top ten hits. The story of his life – see what I did there! – is in truth quite a tragic one. Holliday suffered from crippling stage fright and, shortly after ‘Starry Eyed’ hit the top spot, he suffered a nervous breakdown. He took drugs to keep going and sadly died of an overdose in 1963, aged just thirty-eight. He joins the ‘Died Far Too Early’ club along with the likes of Dickie Valentine and Buddy Holly, perhaps proving that pop stars have always died young and in dubious circumstances, and that it didn’t just start with Jimi Hendrix. Remember him this way: by discovering – as I’ve just done – this forgotten gem of a UK Number One.

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