143. ‘Return to Sender’ by Elvis Presley

In which Elvis does something unprecedented and – to this very day – unmatched. Two years, eight number ones singles. Four in 1961. Four in 1962. Of the 110 chart-weeks that have passed since he returned from his army-enforced hiatus, Elvis has been at #1 for forty-one of them… The record with which The King sealed this feat…?

767443674e89abb4f5a207ea43f83b12

Return to Sender, by Elvis Presley (his 13th of twenty-one #1s)

3 weeks, from 13th December 1962 – 3rd January 1963

…is utter, utter cheese. Elvis wrote a letter to a girl; it came back. Return to sender, Address unknown, No such number, No such zone… They had a quarrel – a lover’s spat – and no matter how much he apologises his girl ain’t having it. That’s about it.

It’s Elvis at his most unimaginative: an early to mid-sixties movie soundtrack that got to the top of the chart by default just because it had the name ‘Elvis Presley’ on the cover. But… I love this song. Have done for years. Back when I first got my much-mentioned Elvis ‘Best Of’ as a teenager this was one of the songs I would skip to first. At the time I even went so far as to list it as my favourite Elvis song… ever. I know, I know, I was young and have since seen the error of my youthful ways. It’s not my favourite Elvis song, honest. And it’s nowhere near being his best song. But it has a charm to it, a swing and a swagger to it, that is hard to deny.

For example, I love it when the backing singers – the Jordanaires – pop up with their baritone The writing on it… before every chorus. I love it when Elvis launches into the final verse, as if impatient for it to begin: This time I’m gonna take it myself, And put it right in her ha-and… And I love the line I write I’m sorry but my letter keeps coming back… for the rasp in Elvis’s voice that went missing circa-1959, and for the fact that to someone from Scotland it sounds like he’s saying ‘Aye right, I’m sorry…’ (And therefore isn’t sorry in the slightest.)

elvis-presley-return-to-sender-1962-5

At the very least, Elvis sounds more alive during this than he did in his last two chart toppers – the dull ‘Good Luck Charm’ and the slightly better ‘She’s Not You’. There’s a hiccup in his voice and a wink in his eye that suggest he might even be enjoying himself here. It’s a solid pop song – very jaunty without being irritating. It sounds a bit like a mellower version of a Neil Sedaka hit. ‘Calendar Girl’, maybe.

However, this doesn’t mean that ‘Return to Sender’ is signalling an upturn in Elvis’s career. As I mentioned, this was yet another movie soundtrack tie-in – this time from ‘Girls! Girls! Girls!’, which currently holds a 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (Sample lyric from the title track: Big and brassy, Small and sassy, Just give me one of each kind…) In fact, you could say that this hit marks the end of Elvis’s ‘Imperial Phase’. People were getting tired of the same sub-standard pop, and a star name can only get you so far – even when that star name is The One-And-Only Elvis Presley. Amazingly, after this, Elvis will score just three more UK number one singles in his lifetime!

There we have it, then. It’s weird to think that from now on every fifth number-one I write about won’t be by The King. But I’ll cope. While it’s undeniably impressive to have had four chart-toppers a year, two years in a row; when that run includes tracks like ‘Wooden Heart’, ‘Rock-a-Hula Baby’ and ‘Good Luck Charm’ then some of the shine is inevitably lost…

142. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield

It had been a while since I arrived at a record about which I know nothing. Zilch. Nada. Until Frank Ifield came along. I should relish these moments of blissful ignorance. They are becoming rarer and rarer the further we move into the rock age…

frank-ifield-lovesick-blues-1962-19

Lovesick Blues, by Frank Ifield (his 2nd of four #1s)

5 weeks, from 8th November – 13th December 1962

Upon pressing play, however, and unleashing this next #1, I find myself wishing for a quick return to those halcyon times, just two minutes back, when I had never heard this song.

‘Lovesick Blues’ could be a decent song. It’s fun, it’s up-tempo. It’s got a strong hook and a funky trumpet. It’s a record with an old-world, showtune charm (it was originally written in 1922) and a super-sixties rhythm section. It’s cheesy, sure, but that’s OK. I can imagine it as the theme to a silly sitcom, or an Austin Powers movie. I could live very easily with this as a huge chart-topping record; if it weren’t for one very big problem…

The yodelling. Oh God, the yodelling. In my post on Ifield’s first number one – ‘I Remember You’ – I was surprised to find him labelled as a ‘yodeller’. He doesn’t yodel that much, I thought. One listen of ‘Lovesick Blues’, however, and my doubts are dispelled. Frank Ifield = Yodeller.

A Brief History of Yodelling. Originally used by Alpine herders calling to their cattle, or to send messages from one village to another, yodelling was gradually incorporated into traditional songs and stage shows. And then, for some reason, it crossed the Atlantic and made it into country music. We’ve had yodelling before in this countdown – without me even noticing it! – thanks to Slim Whitman in 1955. Once you start looking, the breadth and depth of yodelling around the world is quite terrifying. Switzerland is where it started, obviously, but it can also be found in the folk music of Romania, Scandinavia, Georgia, Central Africa and Hawaii… Hank Williams was a good yodeller. As was, believe it or not, Bill Haley (he gave it up when he jumped on the rock ‘n’ roll bandwagon.) The mind boggles.

I want, as I usually do in these posts, to quote some lyrics from this song, to explore some of the themes that are present etc. and so on. But to be honest, I can’t really focus on the words. Ifield rattles through the song at breakneck speed, adding twelve notes to a word when just one would do. It’s a song, I believe, about feeling blue when lovesick.

FRANK_IFIELD_LOVESICK+BLUES+-+1ST-294596

He’s a good singer, is Frank Ifield. He’s an excellent yodeller, if that’s your kinda thing. But when he hits that drawn-out final note… Oh boy. In the interests of fairness, I gave the Hank Williams version of ‘Lovesick Blues’ a go. But nope, I wasn’t feeling it. Little Richard recorded a version, and I love me some Little Richard, but, again, it ain’t doing nothing for me. Maybe the song’s just cursed… Plus, the ‘B’-side to ‘Lovesick Blues’ was a ditty titled ‘She Taught Me How to Yodel.’ I’ve put in a link, but I would urge you to only click on it if you are in a sound-proofed room with hard liquor to hand.

There’s clearly a reason why this is a very forgotten chart-topper; why this was the first #1 in a long time that I’d never heard before. I bet nobody’s listened to this for years… And for it to follow on from the sublime ‘Telstar’!? Talk about coming back to earth with a bump. You can still see the crater…

‘Lovesick Blues’ does, though, mark an important milestone in British chart history. Its second week at the top coincided with the chart’s 10 year anniversary. From ‘Here in My Heart’ to now. One decade; 142 chart-topping discs. That’s an average of one #1 every twenty-six days. From pre-rock, to rock ‘n’ roll, to post rock ‘n’ roll, to yodelling… If I continue at this rate I’ll reach the 1970s by next summer, the 1980s by 2022, the 1990s hopefully before the 2030s… Still with me…?

141. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornados

To fully appreciate this next #1, I want you to go back and listen to the previous chart-topper, Elvis’s ‘She’s Not You’. Off you go. Done? Good. Because we need to make sure we know exactly where we are in October 1962. We’re in a bit of a post rock ‘n’ roll slump, with lots of middling pop and quirky novelties rather than an easily definable ‘Sound of ‘62’. And after that mediocre piece of Elvis-by-numbers, this song’s going to Blow. Your. Mind.

MAINtornados

Telstar, by The Tornados (their 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 4th October – 8th November 1962

The intro alone to ‘Telstar’ has enough innovative weirdness for there to have been papers written and conferences held on it. It’s an intro that sets a scene. I imagine a dust track at night in the Nebraskan desert. What sounds like a car coming to a stop. A weird humming and hissing. Ominous music that grows nearer and nearer. Pure B-movie soundtrack brilliance. It sounds bizarre listening to it from the comfort of 2019. It must have freaked people the hell out when they first heard it in 1962.

‘Telstar’ is an instrumental, one with a pretty simple and fairly repetitive melody. I’m no musician, but I’m guessing that, looking at the music written down on paper, it’s a tune that The Shadows – the pre-eminent instrumental group of the age – could have knocked out in their sleep. But, if you study ‘Telstar’ simply as notes on a page then you are missing everything else that makes this record amazing.

This is The Shadows recast as aliens. This is The Shadows playing as the Cantina band from Star Wars. There ain’t no guitar or drums here. Or, at least, there might be; but they’re way off in the background. This is an electronic record. A fully electronic record drenched in ethereal echo and lots of effects. This is what was hinted at in the Musitron on Del Shannon’s ‘Runaway’ and in the ghostly effects on ‘Johnny Remember Me’, come to full fruition.

It’s a record that tells a story. One of my major complaints whenever an instrumental number one comes along is that, without lyrics, they often struggle to be anything more than a melody looking for a home. There are exceptions to this rule, of course; and none bigger than ‘Telstar’. When the key-change comes and the backing singers join in with the tune you really can picture that car on the dust track in Nebraska, a girl clinging to her boyfriend’s arm, a huge light opening up in the sky above, ready to beam them away…

It’s also a record that is, perhaps more than any other #1 we’ve covered so far, a very specific product of its time. The Telstar Communications Satellite was a real satellite, launched four months before this disc hit the top spot. Barely a year before that, Yuri Gagarin had become the first man in orbit. The space-race had lift-off (pardon the pun) and this record sounds as if it comes from a distant galaxy compared to Elvis, Frank Ifield et al. It was also during ‘Telstar’s five weeks at the top that the world held its breath over the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I can’t think of a better song to put on the gramophone ahead of a nuclear Armageddon.

THE-TORNADOS-TELSTAR-b-w-JUNGLE

I mentioned ‘Johnny Remember Me’ and, as many will already know, both it and ‘Telstar’ were products of the bizarrely brilliant mind of producer Joe Meek. But whereas ‘Johnny…’ was the sound of Meek flexing his creative muscles; this disc is his masterpiece. He has one more chart-topper to come so we’ll save the main bio for then (though I could reserve a whole blog post, nay a full-on book, for an overview of his brilliant, troubled and ultimately tragic life.)

The Tornados, on the other hand, only ever had this moment at the top. I have to admit that in doing my research for this post I’ve fallen down something of a Tornados rabbit-hole… They were perhaps better known as the backing band to Billy Fury – an early British rock ‘n’ roller, a cooler version of Cliff, if you will, who never quite made it to the top of the charts. They were also a vehicle for Joe Meek’s experimental flights of fancy, and released a bunch of innovative, funny and outright bizarre records throughout the early to mid-1960s. Check out, for example, ‘Do You Come Here Often?’ – the B-side to their final ever single – in which two men full-on flirt over a loopy lounge-jazz melody. It was released in 1966, when ‘that sort of thing’ was still very much illegal…

However, nothing else they ever recorded came close to matching the success of ‘Telstar’. Not only was it a huge hit in the UK; it was the first ever US #1 by a British group – beating a certain foursome from Liverpool by just over a year. You can hear its influence in, say, prog rock, the electronic acts of the late ‘70s and ‘80s, and in the ‘Dr. Who’ theme. Muse scored a Top 10 hit in 2006 with ‘Knights of Cydonia’, a song which was, how to put this, lovingly influenced by ‘Telstar’. (Muse frontman, Matt Bellamy’s father was actually the guitarist in… wait for it… The Tornados! How ‘bout dat.)

Anyway… Glancing down my list of upcoming chart-toppers, I’m under no allusions that this has been anything other than a wonderfully freak occurrence, rather than a shift in the British musical landscape. But what a freak occurrence. That this song was the 141st UK #1 single should be celebrated long and loud. Press play once more and imagine that it’s you in that car on that dusty desert road. Beam me up…!

140. ‘She’s Not You’, by Elvis Presley

Ladies and Gentlemen! For the eighth time in under two years! It’s… Oh, I can’t be arsed. Not really. Look – Elvis is #1. Again.

elvis-presley-shes-not-you-1962-2

She’s Not You, by Elvis Presley (his 12th of twenty-one #1s)

3 weeks, from 13th September – 4th October 1962

In my post on his last chart-topper – the soporific ‘Good Luck Charm’ – I crafted a pretty nifty (if I do say so myself) metaphor in which Elvis’s career equalled a long-haul flight. We were five hours in, meal-trays cleared, lights dimmed etc. etc. Very smooth sailing. And if you were hoping for a bit of turbulence with this latest record then you will be left disappointed. ‘She’s Not You’ is basically ‘Good Luck Charm’ Pt. II. Same tempo, same half-asleep Elvis. In fact, I’m pretty sure that both songs use the very same backing track (**stokes chin thoughtfully**)

Her hair is soft, And her eyes are oh so blue… She’s all the things a girl should be, But she’s not you… Elvis has a new girl, but still loves the old girl. Sigh. She knows just how to make me laugh when I feel blue… She’s everything a man could want, But she’s not you…

I must admit that, despite this song’s utter basic-ness and the fact that clearly very little effort went into the writing or the recording of it, I do like it. I always have liked it, ever since I got that Elvis Greatest Hits collection way back when. There are the bumbabumbabumbabums for a start, and the piano solo that always makes me imagine a bumblebee hovering over a flower. And it has a bit of a swing to it, most notable in the bridge, when Elvis slurs that line: And when we’re dancing, It almost feels the same… (For years I thought it was It’s so confusing…) There’s something cool, really, about auto-pilot Elvis. About Elvis not even trying, yet still dragging songs like this to the top of the charts just because he was Elvis Fucking Presley.

712827128207_1

Interestingly, this is the first time since the 1950s that Elvis has hit the top with two similar sounding discs. Last year, he was veering from opera to rockabilly to lederhosen. Maybe, then, the similarities between ‘Good Luck Charm’ and ‘She’s Not You’ – his eleventh and twelfth UK #1 singles – say it all about his mid-career malaise. And it’s needless to say that there is absolutely no rock ‘n’ roll to be found here. This song has had the rock sucked right out of it. This is pure, 100% middle of the road pop.

As I find in every post I write about Elvis these days, I’m out of things to say pretty quickly. We all know he’ll be along again soon, so let’s save it for whenever we see him next. I do want to note, however, just how quickly we are racing through 1962. ’61 took us on a variety of detours, down all sorts of one-week bye-ways, but ’62 has been marked by big records spending huge chunks of time at the top. Only twelve songs will make #1 in this year, the fourth lowest total in chart history (after 1954, 1992 and 2016, fact fans.) After just three more chart-toppers we will be in 1963: the official start of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ and modern pop music as we know it… Hold on, people. It’s coming.

139. ‘I Remember You’, by Frank Ifield

For the 3rd post in a row, we have somebody new at the top of the charts. Mr. Frank Ifield is going to burn very brightly, and very briefly, across British pop in 1962-63 and he kicks things off here with a big ol’ seven-week stay at #1.

p021yt5y

I Remember You, by Frank Ifield (his 1st of four #1s)

7 weeks, from 26th July – 13th September 1962

Let’s get down to business, then. What is this new and rather sudden singing phenomenon all about? On first listen… I’m not sure. There’s a nice, rolling C&W rhythm, and a lot of harmonica. This is a record that is harmonica-heavy. I remember you-oooh… You’re the one who made my dreams come true, A few, Kisses ago…

He’s got a distinctive voice, does Frank Ifield. It’s a good voice; but not what I’d call a particularly enjoyable voice. He has a tendency to launch into extremely high notes at the end of each line, for a start. Then there’s the way he takes the phrase out of the blue, and adds about eight extra syllables onto the end. Wiki describes Ifield as a ‘singer and guitarist who often incorporated yodelling’, but I wouldn’t describe what he’s doing here as ‘yodelling’ exactly. It’s more that he’s just fannying about when he should be getting on with singing the song.

Singing style aside, I’m not terribly sure what this song is about, either. He ‘remembers’ a girl, but that’s because he just kissed her. When my life is through, And the angels ask me, To recall, The thrill of them all… That’s a strange thing to think, as you kiss the love of your life – that you’ll remember it on your deathbed. Or is it extremely romantic? Kind of? Contrast these very lightweight lyrics with those of Ray Charles in the previous chart-topper. Big difference.

FRANK_IFIELD_I+REMEMBER+YOU+-+2ND-571711

If you’re getting the feeling that I’m not terribly into this record, then you’d be right. This is the first time I’ve ever heard it and, to be honest, it’s average. Even the music is a weird kind of Americana: a British interpretation of Country & Western (Ifield was British-Australian). You can imagine him on a music-hall stage, perched on a wooden fence, chewing a bit of straw. Howdy pardner…! But – and this might just be me – I’m also getting slight Merseybeat vibes. Maybe it’s the way his sentences run on – You’re the one who said I love you too, Yes I do, Didn’t you know…. – or maybe it’s the chord progression. The harmonica ‘riff’ which I complained about at the start kind of reminds me of ‘Please Please Me’ by The Beatles. The Merseybeat explosion is less than a year off, and the bands that would lead it were already around and making music, and so perhaps it’s not so far-fetched to be hearing the sounds already creeping through.

The end of ‘I Remember You’ sounds pretty cheesy and cheap, and I, personally, was glad that we got there in just over two minutes. If ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ was a Champions League kind of record; then this is solidly League One. The Scunthorpe United of chart-topping singles. It’s a cover of an old forties standard – which means that the blame can’t be heaped wholly at Frank Ifield’s door and that the people of 1962 would perhaps have already known the song, giving it a head start in its bid for the top. Yet, I remain unconvinced that this is what the charts needed. And why on earth it stayed at #1 for seven weeks, selling over a million copies in the process, is a real mystery. Maybe it shouldn’t be, though: bland and accessible sells – always has, always will.

I’ll hold off on any Frank Ifield biography for now – this is just the beginning of a big twelve months for him, and we’ll be hearing a lot more from him very, very soon. For now, let’s leave the bio at him being (half) Australian, and thus the first in a very long line of Aussie chart-toppers. To be at the head of a list that contains Kylie, The Seekers, Olivia Newton-John and Peter Andre is a proud achievement indeed…

138. ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’, by Ray Charles

1962 throws up another curveball. From Elvis at his mid-career blandest, to the throwaway fun of ‘Come Outside’, to this classic with a capital C, L, A, S, S, I and C. Which way will it swing next? For the moment, who cares? This is pop music at its very finest.

Ray-Charles-008

I Can’t Stop Loving You, by Ray Charles (his 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 12th – 26th July 1962

I can’t stop loving you… I’ve made up my mind, To live in memories, Of the lonesome times… A soft rhythm tickled out on the drums, meandering jazz-bar piano, swooning strings. This is a supremely well-made record; simple, yet soaring. I know it, indirectly; and yet I’ve never really listened to it.

It’s a song about a man who has resigned himself to living in the past. I can’t stop wanting you… It’s useless to say… So I’ll just live my life, In dreams of yesterdays… Both the lyrics and Ray Charles’s voice are raw and unadorned. There are no metaphors or flowery allusions here – he calls a spade a spade. When he says he’s blue you know he means it.

I can’t think of any song that we’ve featured so far on this countdown that has relied so much on backing singers. This whole song is a call and response between Charles and the guys lined up behind his piano. They remain in the same pitch, while he rises and falls around them. This contrast is most effective in the Since we’ve been apart… line. The backing singers softly plead; Charles almost yells the line out. And the bit where he tells them to Sing the song, children… is just pure class.

s-l300 (1)

What I wrote about the song – that I knew it without really knowing it – could apply just as well to Ray Charles himself. I know he was blind, and played a piano. That there was a movie made about him starring Jamie Foxx. Beyond that, to my shame, I’m a-blank. He had more famous hits than this: ‘Hit the Road, Jack’, ‘I Got a Woman’ and ‘Georgia on My Mind’. But sometimes the Chart-Gods decide to dish you out just one chart-topping single, and you just have to take it when it comes your way.

I feel that Charles is one of those American singers whose US success never quite translated to the same levels on the other side of the Atlantic. Billy Joel’s another such artist, as perhaps is Bruce Springsteen. Still, when you’re described as a ‘genius’ by Sinatra, and have featured in the top-10 of ‘Rolling Stone’s ‘Greatest Artists’ and ‘Greatest Singers of All Time’ polls, maybe you don’t much miss the recognition from one insignificant little island.

I should note – though I’m not sure if anyone will be interested – that this is the first chart-topper I have been unable to find on Spotify. They have all manner of (much longer) album versions, live versions, and re-recorded versions of ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’, but not the original single cut. YouTube came to my rescue, however, and the link below should be the genuine, 1962 chart-topper. One of the classiest songs to have reached the summit so far, I’d say. Sing the song, children…

137. ‘Come Outside’, by Mike Sarne with Wendy Richard

The charts of spring/summer 1962 have proven to be a little schizophrenic… We’ve veered from the safe ‘Wonderful Land’ to the zany ‘Nut Rocker’ to the bland ‘Good Luck Charm’, and now to this. How to describe this latest #1? This… This is a ‘Carry On…’ film distilled into a two and a half minute pop song.

wr_g1

Come Outside, by Mike Sarne with Wendy Richard (their 1st and only #1s)

2 weeks, from 28th June – 12th July 1962

Mike Sarne is at a dance with his girl. She wants to keep dancing; he wants to get her outside for a spot of you-know-what. Little doll, We’ve been jivin’ all night long, Little doll, got a feelin’ something’s wrong, Cause it ain’t right to wanna keep on dancin’, There won’t be any time left, For romancin’… The chords are copy-paste rock ‘n’ roll, the backing singers straight out of a Neil Sedaka number.

It’s a novelty record; but it’s a very listenable novelty record. That’s one thing worthy of noting: so far all the ‘silly’ chart-toppers have still had a high level of musicianship and song-writing go into them. From ‘That Doggie in the Window’, to ‘Hoots Mon!’ to the aforementioned ‘Nut Rocker’ – they may have been at various points irritating, cloying and/or twee, but they were all still produced with the same level of skill and attention as a ‘straight’ hit single. Whereas, growing up as a child of the nineties, ‘novelty’ songs meant cheap and nasty tracks like ‘Mr Blobby’, ‘Bob the Builder’ and the ‘Crazy Frog’.

So, I wonder when we’ll have our first truly bad novelty chart-topper. ‘Come Outside’ certainly isn’t it. This is a loving pastiche of all that’s great about rock ‘n’ roll music, with a very British twist. You can tell that Sarne isn’t a natural born singer, yet he tries his best, plays it straight, and I love his sub-cockney accent. Richard, his co-star, doesn’t sing any lines herself – she’s there to voice her objections to his advances. ‘Vocal interjections’ are, I believe, the technical term… Sarne: Come outside… Richard: What for? S: Come outside… R: What’s the rush? S: There’s a lovely moon out there… R: It’s cold outside…

dedae2d4922d292e46309c108364555b

This is a linguistic time-capsule of a record. When Richard shouts ‘Belt up!’ and ‘Give over!’, it suddenly sounds very old-fashioned, and I’m pretty sure that nobody has referred to ‘slap and tickle’ for at least thirty years. Plus, the reason that Sarne is so desperate to get his bird outside is because he’s promised her old man to have her home ‘bout  half past ten, which is peak-1962. By the final chorus Sarne has gotten very insistent – perhaps a little too insistent to these post-#metoo ears – causing Richard to shout ‘Lay off!’ and ‘Stop shoving!’. But, to be fair, she sounds like she could take care of herself, and come the end she’s given in very easily: Come outside… You are a one… Come outside… Oh all right… Come outside… Not for too long… The fade-out, in which the couple make their way out of the dancehall, bickering about how he needs a shave, is the high point of the whole disc.

Mike Sarne had a handful of minor hits in the UK, none of which came close to matching this debut. He went into acting, presenting and directing. Wendy Richard went on to become one of the most recognisable actresses on British television, starring in ‘Are You Being Served?’ (a show every bit as silly and camp as this song) and, of course, in ‘EastEnders’ for twenty-odd years. She died in 2009.

While I do like this record on its own merits; it also reminds me of lazy, hazy Saturday mornings a decade or so ago listening to ‘Sounds of the Sixties’ on Radio 2. My radio alarm would wake me to the voice of the late, great Brian Matthew – a voice, rich and syrupy, that I would happily have paid to hear read the phone-book. It was on one such morning that I heard ‘Come Outside’ for the first time, and it’s had a spot on my playlists ever since.

136. ‘Good Luck Charm’, by Elvis Presley

Uh-huh-huh, Uh-huh-huh, Uh-huh-huh, Oooh yeah… Sorry, I think I just dosed off. Where was I? Oh, right. It’s Elvis again. How many #1s is that, now? I’ve lost track… Eleven? Thanks.

1a05378768dab97cbc98827b6cd5841c

Good Luck Charm, by Elvis Presley (his 11th of twenty-one #1s)

5 weeks, from 24th May – 28th June 1962

This is the sound of Elvis in complete cruise-control. If his career were a long-haul flight (bear with me…) then we would currently be five-hours in, cruising at 37,000 feet, meals served, lights dimmed, pilots snoozing with their feet up.

Don’t want a four-leaf clover, Don’t want an old horse-shoe… These are the things Elvis doesn’t need – along with a silver dollar, a rabbit’s foot on a string and a lucky penny – because he has his girl. Come on and… Be my little good luck charm, You sweet delight… I want a good luck charm, A-hangin’ on my arm, To have, To hold, Tonight…

And that’s pretty much it. Elvis sounds bored. The music sounds like one of the pre-set backing rhythms on an old Casio keyboard that I had as a kid. After two verses and two choruses, we get to the spot where the solo should be. And the solo is Elvis going ‘Uh-huh-huh’… over and over again. When you think back to the energy of his fifties number ones – his growl on ‘Jailhouse Rock’, for example – or the startling newness of his Sun Record, pre-chart topping days, then you have to feel sad that he had been reduced to songs like this. It’s not awful. It’s OK. But the problem is that it’s not trying to be anything more than just OK.

s-l300

And coming as it does, hot on the heels of Elvis’s best two post-army chart toppers – ‘Little Sister / Her Latest Flame’ and ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ – it really does feel like a step backwards. He was capable of so much more. It’s a well-known fact that Elvis was up for recording pretty much anything that his manager, Colonel Parker, suggested, and that Col. Parker had absolutely no qualms about milking his hit-record machine for all he was worth. (‘Song of the Shrimp’, ‘(There’s) No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car’ and ‘Petunia, the Gardner’s Daughter’ are all titles of songs recorded by ‘The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ between 1961 and 1967.) ‘Good Luck Charm’ is probably the one UK chart-topper record that best encapsulates this mid-career malaise.

I wrote in my previous post that the zany ‘Nut Rocker’ was just what we needed to liven things up at the top of the charts. This, however, is just what we didn’t need. I’ve listened to it six or seven times while writing this post and am pretty sure that my brain has started to melt. To think that this was the country’s number one selling song for five (5!) weeks. Really, record buying public of 1962? Really…?

135. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers

Now this is how you make an instrumental rock ‘n’ roll record! At the risk of sounding like a complete pleb, this latest chart-topper is ten-times better than its highly-regarded (but pretty dull) predecessor, The Shadows’ ‘Wonderful Land’.

bbumblestingers00

Nut Rocker, by B. Bumble & The Stingers (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 17th – 24th May 1962

Imagine a Buzzfeed listicle entitled ‘23 Things You Never Knew You Needed in Your Life, But Totally Do’. Top-spot on that list would surely go to “the march from The Nutcracker done in a rollicking, boogie-woogie-slash-rock ‘n’ roll style”. And as it so happens – that is exactly what ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers, is!

This is a bizarre, wacky, completely unexpected record. Coming as it does after pretty sedate efforts from Cliff, The Shadows and Elvis, it sounds like a drunken uncle bundling his way onto the dance-floor at a wedding. And I mean that as a good thing. This is a superb record. I might even go as far as saying that it’s life-affirming. This is why humans were put on the planet – to make songs such as this. This needs to swap places with ‘Wonderful Land’ as the record that spent eight weeks atop the charts.

I don’t actually have much to write about the song itself – I tried to take notes, but ended up just smiling and tapping my feet. Plus, it races to an end in under two minutes. But those two minutes include the following: a stupidly dramatic intro, piano riffs, superb drum fills, and a natty little guitar solo. It is undeniably the march from ‘The Nutcracker’, but it’s so much more than just the march from ‘The Nutcracker’. Listen to that here, then listen to ‘Nut Rocker’ through the link below. It’s pretty special, actually, how they’ve stayed true to the original piece of classical music but added everything you need for a rock ‘n’ roll song. It is a novelty, it is silly; but I wouldn’t call it a piss-take. It’s clearly done with love.

B._BUMBLE_&_THE_STINGERS_NUT+ROCKER-570931

For perhaps the first time in this countdown, I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard this song. I was in the passenger seat of my mum’s car, aged fourteen or so, on a Saturday afternoon in May. We were listening to ‘Pick of the Pops’, a radio show that replays the charts from any given year. That week it was the chart from 1962, and we had been guessing who might have been at the top of the charts – Cliff? Elvis? Roy Orbison? It was a bit too early for The Beatles… When B. Bumble & The Stingers were announced as the #1 we… well, we burst out laughing. In a good way. It’s that kind of record.

The Stingers were very much a flash-in-the-pan kind of act. They had had success with a version of ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ before ‘Nut Rocker’, and they followed their sole chart-topper up with a version of the William Tell Overture ,‘Apple Knocker’, and ‘Dawn Cracker’ – based on Greig’s ‘Morning Mood’ (they had clearly found their niche). All were done in the same boogie-woogie style, but having had a listen I can confirm that none come close to the genius of this track. ‘Nut Rocker’ really was a case of capturing lightning.

Just in case you somehow remain unconvinced about how good, yet slightly mental, this record is, here are a couple of things to chew on before we finish. One – this song was almost banned by the BBC, as they had a policy of not playing records which parodied classical music. How dare these teddy boy upstarts lampoon proper music! (In the end they let it pass, as even the stuffed-suits in Broadcasting House saw ‘Nut Rocker’ for the heartfelt homage that it clearly was.) Two – and if this doesn’t convince then you are beyond redemption – it means that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky has a writing-credit on one of the silliest chart-topping records in history. Roll over Beethoven, indeed…

134. ‘Wonderful Land’, by The Shadows

In the wake of Elvis scoring his tenth #1 single, The Shadows are just about keeping up the pace with their eighth. With added strings! And horns!

A1x5FMeD9GL._SL1000_

Wonderful Land, by The Shadows (their 8th of twelve #1s)

8 weeks, from 22nd March – 17th May 1962

Just as they did with Cliff on ‘The Young Ones’, Hank, Bruce and the boys have gone all orchestral. ‘Wonderful Land’ soars high, off above the clouds and away, sounding for all the world like the theme to a middle-of-the-road Western.

I wonder – as I wondered with Cliff on ‘The Young Ones’ – if the band were looking to broaden their appeal, to go after the teeny-boppers and their parents (and maybe even their grandparents). Whatever the plan – it clearly worked. Only two other records in the whole of the 1960s spent eight weeks at number one.

Personally, I am really struggling to see why this record connected in such a way with the general, record-buying public. It’s nice enough; but eight weeks at the top of the charts…? It’s not that nice. I’ll refer back to my complaint about previous instrumental chart-toppers – that an instrumental simply has to try that much harder than a song with lyrics. The lyrics are what draw you in, are 70% of what you remember about a song. Ok, ok, so you might remember a riff, or an intro, or a guitar solo – but not in the same way that you connect with a song’s lyrics. It means that, to me, instrumental records remain a little abstract; difficult to truly love. A few instrumentals get it so, so right (‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by ‘Prez’ Prado) while most fall flat to some degree (‘Side Saddle’, by Russ Conway.) For me, ‘Wonderful Land’ falls into the latter category. But maybe I’m just a philistine.

THE_SHADOWS_WONDERFUL+LAND+-+2ND-570309

I do like the bit with the jingly-jangly guitars, the flickery bit… I have no idea what the official guitaring terminology is… Lightly-plucked? It’s cool, and drenched in an other-worldly echo. And ‘Wonderful Land’ gets a lot of love – even to this day – as one of The Shadows best songs. But I enjoyed their previous chart-topper, the crunchy, surfy ‘Kon-Tiki’, more than this. What do I know?

I feel like I should be giving a record such as this – a colossal, chart-humping giant of a record – more of a write-up. But I’m pretty much out of things to say. It’s not like this is the last we’ll hear from The Shadows – they’ll be back soon enough (with much better songs!) Still, worthy of note is the fact that, after 1961 gave us lots of one-week chart-toppers, lots of bye-roads to wander up and get lost in; the first three #1 singles of 1962 have taken us right into the middle of May!