How well a single performs in the charts can be influenced by various things… promotion, star power, tastes and trends, time of year… pure luck. And that most fickle, unpredictable of factors: the general public. Do enough of them like your song to make it a smash? Or will they ignore it, and let it fall by the wayside?
I’m taking a short break from the regular countdown to feature five discs that really should have topped the charts. Be it for their long-reaching influence, their enduring popularity or for the simple fact that, had they peaked a week earlier or later, they might have made it. (I’ll only be covering songs released before 1964, as that’s where I’m up to on the usual countdown.)
And first up… A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-lop-bom-bom!
Tutti Frutti, by Little Richard
Recorded in September 1955, peaked at #29 in February 1957
‘Tutti Frutti’ came nowhere near the top of the charts. One week at #29, a year and a half after it was originally recorded. That’s all. But this is the sound of the rock ‘n’ roll starters whistle. This is rock ‘n’ roll: the tempo, the frenzied piano, the orgasmic ‘ooooh’s, the wonderful nonsense of the lyrics… Imagine, for a second, a parallel universe in which this was a chart-topping hit.
In real life, rock ‘n’ roll was announced at the top of the UK charts by ‘Rock Around the Clock’ – which is fine. A classic. A seminal record. We all know it. But if this had been the disc to kick it all off in the autumn of ’55… A flamboyant black pianist, pounding out a song (allegedly) originally written with references to gay sex (Tutti Frutti, Good booty, If it don’t fit, Don’t force it…) All that had been eliminated by the time it came to be recorded properly, but the sanitised version was still saucy enough: Got a girl, Named Sue, She knows just what to do… Imagine that knocking Jimmy Young’s plodding ‘The Man From Laramie’ unceremoniously off the top!
Of the big four rock ‘n’ rollers – Elvis, Chuck, Buddy, and Little Richard – the latter is the only one never to have topped the UK charts. He is the only one still alive so… who knows – there might still be time! The closest he came was with his cover of ‘Baby Face’, which reached #2 in early 1959.