402. ‘Chanson d’Amour’, by The Manhattan Transfer

At the end of my last post, I claimed that I had never heard this song before. I also offered a prayer that it might break our recent run of bland soft-rock…

Chanson d’Amour, by The Manhattan Transfer (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 6th – 27th March 1977

Well, I can state that I have heard this song before – somewhere, sometime long forgotten. Or, maybe it’s just that this sounds like a standard, a melody that we all have running through us. As for whether it ups the tempo…? It does, a bit.

I like it, though; for it immediately has a boozy, saucy, pub singalong feel to it. A rolling piano, accordions… Chanson d’amour, Play encore… I also like it because, while half the lyrics are French, they are at my level of French – i.e. very basic high school. Chanson d’amour, Je t’adore… And then there’s an inane refrain: rah-ta-rah-ta-dah…

Actually, so bad is the French that I feel qualified to pick them up on it. The pronunciation is well off, coming out more like Chanson d’amooor, Joo t’adooor… Safe to say there were no actual French people involved in the making of this record. But it’s fun. It kind of sounds like Edith Piaf having a singalong, half-cut on Pernod, down an East End boozer.

There’s another saxophone solo. Make that two in a row and throw in a comment about London buses. (This one grates less than ‘When I Need You’, but I still would have preferred them to stick to the piano, or the accordion.) Then we roll to a gentle finish, and I’m left to wonder what on earth this record was doing at the top of the charts in early 1977. It’s completely pointless, but catchy and – praise be! – fun.

Manhattan Transfer were a band from New York, around since the late sixties. They did swing, jazz, a cappella stuff and largely stayed away from the charts until this hit smashed out of nowhere. They are still a going concern, still with three long-term members. ‘Chanson d’Amour’, meanwhile, was first written and recorded in the late fifties, by Art and Dotty Todd. Going off on a complete tangent… the Todd’s had also recorded the original version of another UK #1 single: ‘Broken Wings’, which was one of the very earliest chart-topping singles back in 1953, for The Stargazers. (Never thought I’d be mentioning them again!)

Viewed in this way, then, the record makes more sense. We can slot it in amongst the rock ‘n’ roll revival records – some covers, some originals – that have been peppering the charts for a few years now (Showaddywaddy, the Rubettes, etc.) Meanwhile, perhaps the definitive version of ‘Chanson d’Amour’ came from the cast of ‘Are You Being Served’, in the show’s final episode. Come to think of it, that’s probably how I knew this song… From post-Sunday lunch re-runs as a child.

249. ‘What a Wonderful World’ / ‘Cabaret’, by Louis Armstrong

*Insert now standard comment about 1968 being an eclectic year* The eclecticism continues with the oldest chart-topper yet, a jazz trumpeter who was a veteran even before the charts, before rock ‘n’ roll, before popular music as we know it. Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Louis Armstrong.

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What a Wonderful World / Cabaret, by Louis Armstrong (his 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 24th April – 22nd May 1968

‘What a Wonderful World’ is the sort of song for which the word ‘timeless’ was invented. It hit #1 in 1968, but it could have similarly done so in 1948, or ’88, or in 2168. It will hit the top spot again, in a different version, in 2007. It’s a song that you all know, one that doesn’t need me to dissect and examine it…

But still, that’s kind of why I’m doing this. It drifts in on a lullaby’s melody, before Louis begins to sing, listing all the things that he sees – trees of green, red roses too – which remind him of just how wonderful the world is. The colours of the rainbow, So pretty in the sky… There’s a tremble in his voice at the end of every line, either from age or from emotion, that is beautiful.

You could be cynical, and remind yourself of all the things he must not be seeing – the litter on the street, the homeless person sleeping on the bench – but no. What would that achieve? Despite its simplicity and childlike optimism, this is a song whose opening chords cannot fail to make you go all warm inside. It is pop music as hymn, the closest comparison in terms of previous number ones would be Frankie Laine’s ‘I Believe’. It’s an old man looking back on life with the weight of experience… I especially love the I hear babies crying, I watch them grow, They’ll learn much more, Than I’ll ever know… line. The fact that Armstrong died just three years after recording this record, and was already in declining health, makes it even more touching.

He ends with an Oh yes…, which lingers as you consider that the babies of 1968 are now well into middle age, while the babies of 2020 are being born into a world that may not exist for much longer… But hey-ho. Before we depress ourselves completely, let’s flip the disc and enjoy the other side of this double-‘A’.

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For all the loveliness of ‘What a Wonderful World’, it is nothing like the music that Satchmo had spent the previous forty years recording. His cover of ‘Cabaret’, though, is a lot more jazzy. His voice, the exact same voice which was a second ago trembling with emotion, now flirts and tempts: Come taste the wine, Come hear that band, Yes it’s time for celebratin’, Right this way your table’s waitin’…

It is, of course, the theme from the musical of the same name, the one made much more famous by Liza Minelli. Life is a cabaret, Old chum… So come to the cabaret… (Though it omits the verses about Elsie the whore/corpse…) It makes for the perfect double-‘A’ disc, the yin to ‘Wonderful World’s yang. And Armstrong’s famous trumpet gets an outing here, as it simply had to at some point on his sole chart-topper.

It’s always good to have some jazz at #1, and I make this the 3rd jazz-based chart-topper of the year, after ‘The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde’ and ‘Cinderella Rockefella’. Though, honestly, it feels a bit wrong to mention those discs in the same breath as this. Not that it’s Louis Armstrong’s most influential moment or anything, but still… Perhaps I’m biased. The first CD I ever bought, aged seven or so, was a discount box-set of Satchmo’s Greatest Hits, from the thirties through to the fifties. Completely true – I’m not making that up to sound precocious (while The Spice Girls would soon come along to ruin my taste in music). I even went through a wanting-to-be-a-saxophonist phase, though my parents – probably quite sensibly – never shelled out and bought me one.

Neither ‘What a Wonderful World’ or ‘Cabaret’ featured on those CDs, because come the sixties Armstrong had changed record labels and become a pop star, scoring #1s on either side of the Atlantic. His bio is too long and storied to go into in any sort of detail. A jazz icon, he was one of the first black artists to enter the white public’s consciousness. He released his first single in 1923 (!), was born in 1901 – as close as we’ll come to a chart-topper being born in the nineteenth century – and was the oldest ever chart-topper, at sixty-seven, until Tom Jones popped up again and spoiled it a few years ago. The term ‘legend’ is overused, but we’ll make an exception here, for the one and only Louis Armstrong. Take it away, Satch…

All the #1 singles so far in one place:

245. ‘Cinderella Rockefella’, by Esther & Abi Ofarim

Why, isn’t 1968 just turning into the most eclectic year? Ballads about infamous crime duos, folk-pop about Eskimos… and now this.

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Cinderella Rockefella, by Esther & Abi Ofarim (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 28th February – 20th March 1968

We start off with a trad-jazz vibe – woozy pianos, banjos and illicit cocktails – and I’m enjoying it because I’m genetically programmed to like this kind of music hall silliness. But then the yodelling starts. Yodelladayodalladay… Pure Alpine throat-bending, which turns out to actually be saying You’re the lady, You’re the lady that I love… I’m the lady, The lady whooooo…

But before the Frank Ifield flashbacks really hit, thankfully they start singing more normally. A man and a woman. Woman: I love your touch… Man: Thank you so much… The lyrics aren’t up to a great deal (Man: I love your chin… Woman: Say it again…), but at least they aren’t being yodelled.

The man, Abi, and the woman, Esther are wooing one another, in a speakeasy. Musically, this could be from the soundtrack to ‘Chicago’ – minus the yodelling – and it means that half of this year’s #1 singles so far have had a retro-jazz vibe to them. Though, for my money ‘The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde’ was far superior to this. It’s a song that doesn’t really go anywhere, and one that raises plenty of questions… What? Who? Why?

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That ‘What?’ first. Rockefeller is the New York magnate responsible for The Rockefeller Centre. Cinderella is, well, Cinderella. Cinderella is beautiful and JD Rockefeller was rich ergo = the perfect couple. ‘Cinderella Rockefeller’, I know, is a school musical staple – though one I’ve neither been involved in nor seen. Any song list from the musical that I can find online does not list ‘Cinderella Rockefella’ as one of its songs. And the Wiki page for the song doesn’t mention the musical…

On to the ‘Who?’ Esther and Abi Ofarim were an Israeli husband and wife duo – the one and only Israeli act to top the British charts. Abi sings low; Esther sings high. She’s very shrill. The song had been performed on various US variety shows before they picked it up.

And the ‘Why?’ I really don’t know. Novelty hits are novelty hits and often come out of nowhere. Maybe you had to have been there, in the spring of ’68. Maybe people were getting sick of all the high-brow, forward facing, boundary pushing pop of the recent years and were ready to embrace some cheesy tosh.

I can’t say I hate it. It’s kind of fun, and I do love the musical arrangement. But… the yodelling. If, before starting this blog, someone had asked me how many #1 hits would feature yodelling I would have answered with a flat zero. But no. Slim Whitman, old Frank and now this. It’s a record that’s 20% intriguing, and 80% irritating. One things for sure, in my next recap it’s going to be difficult to choose the weirdest chart-topper from this most recent bunch…

Listen to every #1 hit so far:

242. ‘The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde’, by Georgie Fame

Happy New Year! We step into 20… I mean 1968, but if you were expecting the penultimate year of the sixties to bring daring news sounds to the top of the UK charts… then keep waiting. The first #1 of the year is a step back in time. To the saloon bars of 1920s America…

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The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde, by Georgie Fame (his 3rd and final #1)

1 week, from 24th – 31st January 1968

We’ve got banjos, trombones, honky-tonk pianos, an intro with very strong hints of Fats Domino… To be honest, I love it from the get-go. It’s fun, it’s kinda dumb… It’s a history lessons at number one!

Bonnie and Clyde, Were pretty lookin’ people, But I can tell you people, They were the devil’s children… Georgie Fame’s back for one final moment of glory, but he’s traded the blue-eyed soul for some trad-jazz. He lists the famous duo’s crimes – robbing stores, stealing cars, before they made the graduation into the banking business – and sounds like he’s having a load of fun in doing so.

It’s a chart-topping record with a hefty body count – the bloodiest #1 since ‘Mack the Knife’. Sample line: They left him lyin’ in a pool of blood, And laughed about it all the way home… And it’s a chart-topping record with sound-effects! Getaway cars, sirens and, best of all, a round of carbines as the heroes of the tale meet their end. Yep, Fame sticks to the facts – no riding off into the sunset for Bonnie and Clyde here. And very few #1 singles will ever feature lines like: Actin’ upon, Reliable information, A federal deputation laid a deadly ambush…

It’s odd, isn’t it? A chart-topping single that so glorifies two serial killers. There’s a glamour to Bonnie and Clyde, though, isn’t there? The romance, the fast cars, the cigars… You can’t imagine ‘The Ballad of Harold Shipman’ being such a smash… The famous movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway had been a hit the previous year. ‘The Ballad…’ hadn’t featured in the film, but Fame had been inspired to write the song after seeing it.

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The record, fittingly, ends on a melodramatic note. A long drawn out coda, in which the duo draw their last breath. And finally together, They died… A few years back, any mention of death in a hit single seemed guaranteed to cause controversy. The Everly Brothers, Ricky Valance and co. all got airplay bans for their ‘death-discs’. Society has clearly moved on during the sixties, in more ways than one. (Though this was apparently censored in the US thanks to the machine-gun sound effects.)

I like it. A completely random interlude to the swinging sixties, the sort of bizarre post-Christmas number one that the charts can sometimes throw up as they wait for the first big hits of the year. Though perhaps we should class Georgie Fame as a ‘big’ artist. This is, after all, his third #1. The same total as The Kinks, The Searchers, Sandie Shaw and other sixties royalty. Two more than Dusty! Three more than The Who and Dylan! Somehow, though, he’s kind of slipped under the radar, with his soulful, bluesy, Latin-tinged hits. I do love the fact that he never had a top ten hit that didn’t make #1. All or nothing for Mr. Fame. He’s now seventy-six, and still performs from time to time. The pop charts of the 1960s were a better place for his sporadic appearances at the top.

1968 is off with a bang, then. Literally, what with the mass shooting that ends this record. I made a point in the last post about 1967 having no one-week chart-toppers, and now the first one of this year has lasted only seven days. Here’s to what’s looking like an eclectic year! Onwards…

Listen to the first fourteen (and a bit) years’ of #1 singles with my handy playlist:

185. ‘Go Now!’, by The Moody Blues

Hot on the heels of Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames’ snazzy ‘Yeh Yeh’, an equally quirky record pops up for a week at the top of the UK charts.

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Go Now!, by The Moody Blues (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 28th January – 4th February 1965

We’ve already sa-id… I like records that just get on with it – no drawn out intro, no nothing – and this is one such disc. Goodbye… Voice, then piano. A thumpingly, clumpingly unsubtle piano. I mean this with no disrespect, but the piano here sounds like it’s being played by an elephant. I’d bet they overlaid several tracks one on top of the other to get the rich, heavy sound. I love it. Since you gotta go, Oh you better go now…!

It’s a song about a break up. The singer doesn’t want to break up, but if it has to be done then he’d rather his S.O. just got on with it. Cos darlin, darlin’, Can’t you see I want you stay, yeah-ah-yeah-ah… The singer – Denny Laine – has a voice every bit as soulful as Georgie Fame before him, and he holds nothing back. The way he sings/spits out lines like I don’t want you to tell me just what you intend to do now…, for example, is great, and deceptively hard to recreate.

The production too is thick and soulful, with hints of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and the baroque minor keys that were about to become a big thing in sixties pop. (It’s actually a cover of an American R&B hit from earlier in the decade.) It’s also a very rough-and-ready recording – not perfect – with lots of crackly patches, as if the tape were struggling to contain the volume and the power of this band. I love the piano solo, one that rolls and cascades – a cross between a ship being tossed on stormy seas and Dante’s descent into hell. The ending is also a lot of fun, with a huge finish – the whole band appearing to shout out the title of the song before a very quick, slightly wonky fade.

‘Go Now!’ is another grown-up pop record – make that two in a row – and one that perfectly encapsulates the way pop music is now fragmenting and moving away from the Beat sound that has dominated for most of the past two years. New year, new sound etc. etc. It’s also a record that I’ve loved for many years – The Moody Blues being a staple of long family car journeys as a child. But, here’s the ironic bit… I really, really can’t stand any of The Moody Blues’ other songs…

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You see, after this – their one and only chart-topper – they started getting all experimental. Denny Laine left the band and a bloke called Justin Hayward came in, they ditched the pop/R&B and they went… (shudder)… progressive. Now, I love rock music. To me ‘rock’ is the foundation upon which all great music is made. Stick ‘garage’, or ‘hard’, or ‘glam’, or ‘electronic’, or ‘punk’, or ‘surf’, or even ‘yacht’, in front of ‘rock’, and I’m usually in. ‘Prog-rock’, though? I run a mile. Jethro Tull, Marillion, Pink Floyd, Yes!… No, no, no! Lock me in and call it ‘Room 101’. You can be experimental, and forward-thinking, as avant-garde as you like… but ‘Prog’? The minute you call yourself prog then your head’s gone too far up your arse. And The Moody Blues are the worst culprits for me because A) They started it and B) I had to sit through their ‘Best Of’ on many a long car journey, aged eleven.

It would start off well enough. Track 1 was ‘Go Now!’. Three minutes of pop bliss. But then there were nineteen other songs to sit through before it was over – none of which sounded anything like ‘Go Now!’. And prog-rock songs are never, ever as short as they should be… ‘Give me ABBA’, I would cry, ‘The Eagles or The Stones. Even Fleetwood Mac if you must. Anything but this.’ But my dad would stand firm, and we’d listen to the bitter end… I have especially painful memories of ‘Nights in White Satin’… And ‘Tuesday Afternoon‘…

Having studied The Moody Blues history ahead of this post, it seems that the blame can be laid squarely at this Justin Hayward fellow’s feet. Once he was in and Laine was out (Laine later joined Wings), ‘Go Now!’ seems to have been written out of the band’s history. They rarely performed it live, and it didn’t appear on any of their ‘Greatest Hits’ until the mid-1990s. (Which was precisely when my dad bought said CD for the car… Just think – there might easily have been no good songs on that album…)

Yes, let’s end this post on a positive note. Nineteen of the twenty tracks on The Moody Blues ‘Greatest Hits’ album may well be terrible songs. But the one good song on that album also happens to be their only #1 single. We won’t hear from them again on this countdown! We can just pretend that they were one-hit wonders! Pretend that the glorious ‘Go Now!’ was the only piece of music that the band ever offered to the world. Isn’t that a comforting thought…

184. ‘Yeh Yeh’, by Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames

No sooner have I mentioned that 1965 might be a more eclectic year in terms of its chart-topping singles, when along comes one Georgie Fame with a swaying slice of Latin soul.

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Yeh Yeh, by Georgie Fame (his 1st of three #1s) & The Blue Flames (their 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, from 14th – 28th January 1965

Wham and then Bam. In the space of three #1s we’ve gone BluesBeat rock-Latin. I might even go so far as to describe this as a Bossanova, if I was at all certain what exactly a ‘Bossanova’ was… Whatever it is, it’s not a sound that we’ve heard very often at the top of the UK charts. After months of Merseybeat things are really starting to splinter in different directions.

The song is about a guy who, after finishing work every evening, calls up his baby and asks her what she wants to do… I mention movies, But she don’t seem to dig that, And then she asks me, Why don’t I come to her flat…Yeh Yeh’ is his response. The words are spat out at a rapid pace, half-rapped (this might be the hardest number one yet in terms of making out the lyrics). But it still becomes clear just what his baby’s game is. She suggests supper and listening to some records, and soon the kissing starts: And when she kisses, I feel the fire get hot, She never misses, She gives it all that she’s got…

I love the break in the middle, when one long tongue twister line – We’ll play a melody and turn the lights down low so that none can see… – ascends to a natty drum fill and lots of We gotta do that’s! and Yeh Yehs! Then there’s a full-blown sax solo for all you hip cats out there.

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It’s a cool record, there’s no doubting that. I can imagine it as the soundtrack to a lot of groovy, hipster parties during the winter of ’64 – ’65. And Georgie Fame – before googling him I pictured him in a turtle neck and a pork pie hat, and after googling him I was slightly disappointed to find that he favoured suits and sharp ties. (He did like a cigarette, dangling all loose and louche, from the corner of his mouth, however.) Plus, finding out that he was born Clive Powell, in Lancashire, rather than Georgie Fame, New York City, took the shine off even further.

Still, despite being Clive from Lancashire, Fame has a real soulful voice. He goes fast then slow, loud then quiet, and – while the band are really tight – his voice is the most impressive instrument in the record. The way it blends together with the organ and the sax to draw out the final note is particularly cool. The Blue Flames had been the backing band for British rock ‘n’ roller Billy Fury, and Georgie Fame their piano player, but when they parted ways Clive AKA Georgie Fame became their leader and they went off down the path of R&B-slash-soul.

‘Yeh Yeh’ is nice, and funky; but it’s a hard record to classify. The best way I can describe is that it would sit perfectly next to ‘Green Onions’ by Booker T. & The MGs on a compilation called ‘Sexy Sixties’, or something. Plus, both Fame and The Flames will pop up sporadically as the sixties progress, so we’ll save any further bios for another day. In the meantime, sit back, grab a glass, and enjoy the sound of the swinging, sexy sixties floating through your earholes. Yeh Yeh!

Never miss a number one single with this playlist…

‘Comes A-Long A-Love’, by Kay Starr – 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…

First up: only the 3rd song ever to top the UK charts, in January 1953, and the song that showed me that the pre-rock years weren’t just going to be a procession of melodramatic ballads and perfectly-pronounced pop. Miss Kay Starr, take it away…

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Comes A-Long A-Love, by Kay Starr (her 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 23rd to 30th January 1953

Snazzy! And jazzy! I really thought – and more fool me – that these pre-Rock ‘n’ Roll hits would be dull, twee, chaste… one step up the danceability chart from hymns, basically. How wrong I was. It wasn’t all bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover.

Though bluebirds do feature in this song, they do so as a symbol of being in love and suddenly becoming aware of the world around you. Birds! Flowers! The sun! Comes A-Long A-Love suddenly though you never sang you’re always singing… Comes A-Long A-Love suddenly chimes you never heard begin a-ringing… The lyrical message being that falling in love will make you a better, livelier person.

Kay Starr’s voice is in complete contrast to the Jo Stafford record that went before. It’s husky, then sing-songy, she pauses where you least expect it and then rushes through tongue twister lines phrases like petty little things no longer phase you, which I’ll bet you can’t say five times fast. You might even say she’s flirting with the listener… And, yes, a quick search shows Ms. Starr was quite the little minx (that’s what they called them in those days). Those eyebrows! What didn’t they suggest! This song could be seen as a challenge – she’s daring you not to fall in love with her.

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But again, it’s another song that paints love in a positive light. Three number ones in and nobody’s had their heart broken… Even lonely old Al Martino was hopeful that his lover would say ‘yes’. That’s something I’m going to look out for: the first ever reference to heartbreak in a UK number one hit. And, again, Kay Starr enunciates so damn well. This isn’t an easy song to sing, but she makes it sound like she’s ad-libbing her way through it. I’ve got to hand it to these old-timers, before the days of auto-tune, because they really could sing. Gran was right all along…

Some bits do jar, slightly. Starr uses ‘Mister’, and ‘Brother’, in a way that you wouldn’t these days. And the aforementioned reference to being in love and seeing bluebirds is a bit of a Disneyfied image. It must have been easy for songwriters, at the birth of modern pop music – love is great, you see bluebirds, do-bee-do – before people discovered cynicism. So far, though, all three number ones have been recorded by American artists. Perhaps that explains the saccharine sentiments! As everyone knows, Americans are sickeningly positive. How brilliant would it be, then, if the first UK recorded #1 turned out to be a piece of proto-Morrissey miserabilism…

One final thing I’ve noticed, while looking up these first three UK chart toppers, is how long they all lived. Jo Stafford died in 2008, aged ninety. Al Martino died in 2009 at eighty-two. Kay Starr died in November 2016, having reached a grand old innings of ninety-four. That means two of them outlived Michael Jackson, who wouldn’t have his first number one hit for another twenty-eight years. They were made of sterner stuff in those days, mind.

123. ‘You Don’t Know’, by Helen Shapiro

Rock ‘n’ roll is young people’s music. For the kids. At least it used to be, until all the rock ‘n’ rollers refused to die, kept touring well into their seventies, and the kids all started listening to rap. But indulge me… Rock ‘n’ roll is music for young people; and is at its best when being sung by young people. Like in this next chart-topper.

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You Don’t Know, by Helen Shapiro (her 1st of two #1s)

3 weeks, from 10th – 31st August 1961

This is a song about heartache and longing. About dreaming of, pining for, obsessing over someone in the way that only a teenager can. Some lovely girl-band Woaah-oo-wooah-oo-woaahs lead us into a tale of a girl who has a big old crush… Although I love you so, Oh you don’t know, You don’t know, Just how I feel, For my love I daren’t reveal, I’m so, I’m so afraid, You might not care… The object of her desire passes by in the corridor, yet he has no idea of what the sight of him with another girl does to poor Helen. Oh honey, we’ve all been there…

I don’t know about you but I’m listening to this record, picturing Miss Shapiro lying on her bed, hair done up in a bee-hive, diary open as she pairs her first name with the surname of her crush over and over again, a solitary tear rolling down her cheek…

We don’t quite reach peak teen-angst, though, until the bridge: I would tell you, If I believed that you might care someday, But until then, I’ll never give this away… Isn’t that just perfect? Of course she’ll never actually tell him; because nothing in this world beats the exquisite pain of unrequited love.

This record could be awful. It could sound ridiculous to anyone over the age of seventeen. But it doesn’t; it stays on the right side of all the melodrama and turns out glorious. Calling it rock ‘n’ roll in the intro was slightly misleading – this is a classy jazz-pop-ballad, all bass and strings. And the fact that Helen Shapiro was really just fourteen when this disc hit #1 gives the whole affair true authenticity. Yes, really. Her voice might sound deep and honeyed, and like she’s had her heart broken a million times; but she was just a child when this sent her to the top of the charts. (Her only previous hit – from earlier in 1961 – had actually been titled ‘Don’t Treat Me Like a Child’).

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This means that Miss Shapiro becomes, in a stroke, the youngest woman, and just the second-youngest artist of either gender, to top the charts. Only a thirteen year old Frankie Lymon back in 1956 can beat her – and that was with ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love?’, another song about teenage heartache that benefitted from being sung by actual teenagers (very literally, what with Lymon’s backing group being ‘The Teenagers’.)

It’s been a while, actually, since we had a rock ‘n’ roll disc being sung by anyone over thirty. Cliff, The Everlys, Del Shannon, Johnny Tillotson, even Elvis, were all still well within their twenties while performing on recent chart-toppers. Gone are the days of Bill Haley, Guy Mitchell, Kay Starr and the like pretending to be kids to get hits. Helen S. takes it to another level here, though – and remains, to this very day, the youngest female solo artist ever to reach #1 in the UK.

To be honest, it’s just nice to hear a girl’s voice again on this countdown. As great and groovy as recent songs have been, it’s all been a bit of a sausage-fest! Miss Shapiro will grab another #1 very soon and so we shall hold back from any bio until then. For now, simply close your eyes and think back to when you were fourteen, scribbling the name of your crush on the back-page of your notebook, a dreamy look in your eyes and a bucket load of hormones churning around your brain… Woaah-oo-wooah-oo-woaah… Those were the days…

118. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven

Attention, readers. Do not panic. Do not adjust your dials. We have not, I repeat not, somehow warped back in time to 1923. This is The Temperance Seven, and this record did indeed hit #1, in the UK, during the early summer of ’61.

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You’re Driving Me Crazy, by The Temperance Seven (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 25th May – 1st June 1961

If I wasn’t already familiar with this song, I’d have assumed after the first minute or so that we were dealing with another instrumental. The first, and perhaps only time, that one instrumental record has deposed another from the top of the charts. But no. It’s just that the intro here is long and winding. Clarinets, trumpets, tubas (?)… I’m guessing there’s a sax in there somewhere too. This is a jazz record. Not jazz pop, or jazz rock, but proper, traditional Jazz. The sort that goes with flappers doing the Charleston, and gin rickeys. The sort of jazz that soundtracked all-night parties on West Egg. And we get a minute and ten seconds of this pure jazzin’ before a voice comes in…

You left me sad and lonely, Why did you leave me lonely? Lyrically, this is very simple number one. A girl is driving a man crazy… I’m burning like a flame, dear, I’ll never be the same, dear… The delivery is very knowing, extremely arch. It’s not really sung; more enounced with gusto. One pictures Noel Coward leaning against a mantlepiece, cigarette dangling lazily between two fingers, eyebrow raised… You, You’re driving me crazy… What did I do? Oh what did I do?… My tears for you, Make everything hazy… Clouding a sky of blue… The lyrics only last for a few lines, taking up barely a minute of song-time (and, at a second or two shy of four minutes, this is our longest number one so far.) It is listed as a ‘vocal refrain’, by a Mr. Paul McDowell, which only adds to the kitschy feeling.

The remainder of this record saunters along – very catchily, very jauntily… It’s an undeniably fun song. And I do like the fake-ending. But…

Something’s up here… Why is this jazz disc grabbing a week atop the charts in the post-rock ‘n’ roll era? Why is the ‘singing’ so camp? Why does this whole song feel as if it’s being delivered with a big, pantomime wink? Should I be listing this as a ‘novelty’, rather than a ‘jazz’ record? I probably should. The Temperance Seven were an Art School band, who claimed to have formed in 1904 in something called the Pasadena Cocoa Rooms… But they hadn’t – they got together in 1955 in Chelsea. They were darlings of the late 1950s London art scene, and performed at one point with comedian Peter Sellers on vocals. Imagine the cast of Monty Python in a revival of ‘Chicago’ and you’re halfway there. This record is, for want of a better description, a piss-take.

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It’s cute, it’s meta… It’s deliberately aping 1920s jazz with its tongue lodged firmly in its cheek. It’s not like previous #1s – ‘Whose Sorry Now’, ‘Mack the Knife’ et al – where old songs were covered and rebooted. This is our first ‘retro’ #1 – a record that deliberately sounds old, foreshadowing the likes of Showaddywaddy and Shakin’ Stevens by well over a decade. And it’s a pastiche done very well – The Temperance Seven were all accomplished musicians – and so the record also works as a piece of simple nostalgia. It’s also worth noting that this record was produced by one… George Martin. Of Beatles-producing fame. And whiffs of The Temperance Seven do come through in some of the Fab Four’s stuff… Listen to ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, and then ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’, or ‘Honey Pie’ for example.

I’m in two minds here. I like the fact that it’s something completely different. It’s one of the weirdest number ones yet; probably one of the weirdest ever. It’s gloriously odd. It’s cool that this got anywhere near the top of the singles chart. But… There were countless ‘proper’ Trad-Jazz artists releasing records at this time. Kenny Ball, Chris Barber, Acker Bilk all had some huge hits – ‘Stranger on the Shore’ and ‘Midnight in Moscow’ and all that. Louis Armstrong was having a bit of a chart-renaissance, too. None of them got to number one, though. The jazz revival of the early 1960s is represented at the top of the UK charts, for a solitary week, by a bunch of art school kids having a bit of a laugh. And I’m not sure how I feel about that…

I am slightly biased, though. The first CD I ever bought – aged seven or eight – was a compilation full of Trad-Jazz classics. Lots of Barber, Bilk and Ball. I wanted to learn the saxophone. I wanted to be Satchmo. Even now I’ll put a Trad-Jazz playlist on when I want music that I don’t really have to listen to (and I mean that as a good thing). Nothing too experimental: no bebop, no improv… Just good, old-fashioned jazz (I did jazz-hands there as I typed that).

I have to say, though, moral quandaries over this record aside, 1961 has been an excellent year for chart-toppers. Pure pop, doo-wop, piano rags and now this… The only blot on the page – and it’s a sizeable one – has been the abominable ‘Wooden Heart’. Long may the variety, and the fun, continue!

79. ‘The Day the Rains Came’, by Jane Morgan

So what do we have here, then, for the first #1 of 1959? Well, the intro is promising: trumpets, saxophones…? Some kind of brass section at least. Ba-da-da-da-da-da-da…Bum-bum-bum… I would describe it as an intro you could strip to, if that weren’t being slightly tasteless.

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The Day the Rains Came, by Jane Morgan (her 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 23rd – 30th January 1959

Does the rest of the song live up to this saucy promise? Well, no. Not if you truly were expecting some kind of chanson d’amour. The title kind of gives that much away. It’s a song about rain, flowers, and crop cycles: The day that the rains came down, Mother Earth smiled again… Now the lilacs could bloom, Now the fields could grow greener… Further lyrics follow about buds being born and rivers swelling.

It’s an extended metaphor of a song – all the nature that is blooming is mirrored in the love blooming between the singer and her beau. As the young buds will grow… So our young love will grow… Love sweet love… Morgan’s voice is prim and clipped, harking back to the era of Doris Day and Vera Lynn. She sings it crisply, and properly, but it does come across as rather old-fashioned. She’s no Connie Francis, that’s for sure.

It’s reminiscent in many ways of singers like Jo Stafford and Kitty Kallen, jazz-pop from the very earliest days of the chart. Listen to the bridge in particular, the lines that begin: A robin sang a song of love, A willow tree reached out to the heavens… and tell me that it doesn’t reek of 1954. And the ending… Oh the ending. Ms. Morgan absolutely belts it out – Raaaaiiiiinnn Sweeeeet Raaaaaaaaaaiiiiiinnnnnn! – in a way that nobody else on a chart topping record has done for years. Is this perhaps our first throwback record? The first chart-topper that is intentionally harking back to days gone by, years before acts like Showaddywaddy, Shakin’ Stevens and, erm, Oasis? It certainly wasn’t an old song, having been written, originally in French, and recorded in 1958.

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I don’t dislike this record. The instrumentation is great, with a real swagger to the drums and brass. It’s just a shame that the lyrics are so wishy-washy. It’s technically ‘The Day the Rains Came Pt I’, as Part II is the same song sang by Morgan in the original French. Which is better to listen to, in a way (as long as you don’t understand French), as you can imagine that she is singing the saucy lyrics that the music is crying out for.

This may also be the first occurrence in the UK singles charts of a ‘January Number One’ – a record that takes advantage of the usual post-Christmas drop in sales to sneak a week or two at the top. It was a regular thing from the seventies through to the nineties, and can still happen today – see Eminem’s ‘River’ from January this year. And I’ve mentioned before how much I admire a good ‘one song-one week’ chart-topping record. Jane Morgan hadn’t troubled the upper reaches of the UK charts, let alone the number one spot, before this and wouldn’t do so again. And – following on from Tommy Edwards, Lord Rockingham’s XI and Conway Twitty – I make her the fourth consecutive one (ish) -hit wonder chart topper!

To conclude, then. This is a nice enough diversion, a snazzy little jazz pop number; but one which sounds pretty out of place as the first #1 of 1959. Let’s get back on track, shall we…