To recap, then…
We’ve fallen into a bit of a slump, really, at the top of the UK singles charts. It happens… This is my fifth recap, and it’s another one without a defining theme to it. We’ve had ‘The Pre-Rock Recap’, and we’ve had ‘The Rock ‘n’ Roll Recap’ and we’ve had two others that were more a bunch of songs squashed together. It’s like throwing dinner parties: sometimes the guests all hit it off smashingly and other times everybody just sits around looking awkward.
If I was to fumble around for a one-word summary of the past thirty twenty-nine chart-toppers, I’d have to go for… ‘easy’. By and large they’ve been very easy listens – nothing too wild, nothing too experimental, no boundary pushing… I’m thinking ‘Moon River’, ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’, ‘Wonderful Land’, ‘The Young Ones’ – proper records the lot of them. Background music, though, rather than anything that really grabbed me. But maybe that’s just me…
Then there were the downright bland chart-toppers, of which the last few months haven’t been short: ‘Well I Ask You’, ‘Dance On!’ (such a promising title; so little going on), and Frank Ifield’s double-whammy of dull, ‘I Remember You’ and ‘The Wayward Wind.’ Lots of worthy contenders, then, for the latest ‘Meh’ Award… I’m going to give it to Cliff though, for the thoroughly snooze-inducing ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’ – a double ‘A’ for double the dullness.
And, sorry, we can’t talk about ‘dullness’ without mentioning Elvis. This recap covers an unbelievable 5 (five!) chart-toppers from The King. ‘Little Sister’ / ‘His Latest Flame’ is an undeniable classic double-‘A’, don’t get me wrong, as is ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’. Except, that came with the hideous ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’ in tow, which took a lot of the shine off. No, it is his three most recent #1s that have really had the eye-lids drooping. ‘She’s Not You’ – OK at best. ‘Return to Sender’ – cheesy, though an undeniable guilty pleasure. And ‘Good Luck Charm’, with its pre-set boogie-woogie riff and half-arsed vocals, which had the temerity to spend five weeks at the top! I was seriously tempted to dish out Elvis’s 2nd Very Worst Chart-Topper award for this… But I can’t. Not when the worst charge you can level at it is that it’s Elvis on auto-pilot. And not when ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield, is barrelling its way towards you like a yodelling freight-train. I honestly still have nightmares about that record… It’s by far the worst of the past bunch.
That is the big mystery of British music in 1962-3… why Frank Ifield? Why? He bursts out of nowhere to become the biggest star in the land for a year, and then… I’m pinning all my hopes on his final number-one, which is coming up shortly, redeeming the career of Frank Ifield for me. But I won’t be holding my breath.
Before we get to the next awards, a little love for the outliers. The discs that aren’t very bad, or incredibly good, or mad-cap, or even dull. Shirley Bassey (Dame Shirley Bassey, thankyouverymuch) with ‘Reach for the Stars’ / ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’, ‘Tower of Strength’ by Frankie Vaughan, ‘Michael’ by The Highwaymen, the bubble-gum bounce of ‘Walkin’ Back to Happiness’ and the irrepressible – no matter how much you want to repress it – ‘Summer Holiday’. All perfectly acceptable, and all records that I enjoyed (re)discovering at the time.
Rehearsals for the Royal Variety Performance. Shirley Bassey, 6th November 1961. (Photo by Barham/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Because so many of the recent chart-topping records have been planted firmly in the middle of the road, I feel that there is a very fine line between those few that stand out for being the best and those few that stand out for being the craziest. So, I think I’ll have to award my ‘WTAF’ Award, and my Very Best Award at the same time. Should ‘Nut Rocker’ go down as one of the best; or one of the craziest? Should ‘Telstar’ go down as one of the craziest; rather than the best? Maybe I should re-consider ‘Lovesick Blues’… It was an utterly crazy record, after all. Then there’s the gothic-romance-as-three-minute-pop-song of ‘Johnny Remember Me’…
No, I’m going to stick with my gut, and dish the ‘WTAF’ Award out to Mr. B. Bumble and his Stingers, for turning The Nutcracker into a gloriously daft rock ‘n’ roll boogie. Hurrah!
And for the very best – the crème de la crème – I’ve whittled it down to four. In one corner we have The Everly Brothers final UK #1, ‘Temptation’. One the one hand it’s probably the hardest rocker of the past thirty twenty-nine, but on the other it feels like it shouldn’t really be here. It was so long ago that I had kind of forgotten that it would be in this recap. Next we have some real heartbreak in the form of Helen Shapiro’s ‘You Don’t Know’ – it still amazes me that that was the voice of a fourteen-year-old. Then it’s the towering ‘Telstar’, from The Tornados, sending pop music light years into the future. And finally our most recent chart-topper, and The Shadows last ever: ‘Foot Tapper’. I could give a good argument for any of them, but I know deep down which way I want to go… The very best chart topping single between July 1961 and April 1963 is… drum roll please… ‘Telstar.’
In case you’ve lost track, then:
The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability: 1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell. 2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers. 3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone. 4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley. 5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else: 1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers. 2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton. 3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI. 4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven. 5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
The Very Worst Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra. 2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young. 3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway. 4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley. 5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
The Very Best Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray. 2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra. 3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis. 4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers. 5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
Actually, looking at those winners, perhaps the word I was searching for to describe this phase of chart history was ‘Instrumental’. Of the past twenty-nine #1 hits, seven have been lyric-less. And really, this is the last hurrah of the instrumental hit because, looking forward, they are about to become a rare species indeed.
I mentioned in my last post that I have broken my own rules slightly here, by doing a recap one song early. But… there was method in my madness. Whatever we’ve been calling the past few years: the rock ‘n’ roll age, the post rock ‘n’ roll age, the 2nd wave of rock ‘n’ roll… One thing’s for sure. It’s over. And another thing that’s for sure is that when I do my next recap, I won’t be complaining about there being no definable ‘sound of’ the time. Because we are about to hit on one of the richest, most distinctive, most glorious eras in British music history…
We are off to Liverpool.
(P.S. I’ve made Spotify playlist featuring all the #1s so far – I’ll update it every time I post. Follow it below…)