246. ‘The Legend of Xanadu’, by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich

Just what on earth was being pumped into the British water supply in early 1968? Trad jazz, Bonnie and Clyde, Eskimos and yodelling duos… Something pretty heavy duty was being passed around, by both record makers and record buyers, to induce this carnival of craziness. And it shows no signs yet of letting up. For we’re off to Xanadu!

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The Legend of Xanadu, by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 20th – 27th March 1968

We open on a dusty Andalucian plain. Spanish guitars tremble, somebody mumbles something something esta es… Then wham. A whip cracks. Or somebody shoots a B-movie ray-gun. Whatever it is, it wakes up both you and this song. We’re in cartoon soundtrack territory. Imagine Scooby Doo on a far-away planet that looks a lot like Mexico. That sentence might sound crazy, but that’s where we are right now, with #1 single 246.

You’ll hear my voice, On the wind, ‘Cross the sand… For all the zaniness of the extra bits – the sound effects, the Mariachi band and what have you – the main melody of the song is pretty traditional. Old-fashioned even – something with a hint of 1961 about it. If you should return, To that black, barren land that bears the name of… Xanadu!

The lyrics, as far as I can follow, are about a spurned lover destined to see out his days in a forgotten land. I’m listening carefully, to see if there might be a metaphor hidden away in there – that the singer is actually just imagining himself in this black, barren land – but I can’t find any. This is literally a song about a far-off place called Xanadu, and a lonely man who lives there.

We arrive, of course we do, at a spoken word section that makes this song feel even more like a theme-tune. What was it to you that a man laid down his life for your love…? So wait… he’s dead? And Xanadu is some kind of afterlife? It ends with a question: Will you find your way back someday, To Xanadu…?

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Not if I can help it, mate… I jest. I like this song. It’s grown on me over the past four or five listens. I now find myself swaying and shaking imaginary maracas as it ends. ‘The Legend of Xanadu’ is crazy – the craziest record yet this year (and that’s a high bar!) But I’m going to have to do some research to find out what on earth inspired this hit single and got it all the way to the top of the charts…

It’s not from a movie, nor is it the theme to a cartoon. It’s a stand-alone pop single by an already established band. More on them later. Research into ‘Xanadu’ takes you all the way to Inner Mongolia in the late 13th Century – a capital of China, used as a residence by the Khans and ‘discovered’ by Marco Polo, via the biggest private estate in the world from the movie ‘Citizen Kane’. In both these examples, Xanadu was an example of opulence and splendour; whereas in ‘The Legend of…’ it’s painted as a wasteland, a place of exile. And, famously, this won’t be the last chart-topping single to name-check it…

Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich (with a name like that you couldn’t expect them to release normal music) were several years into their careers by this point, their biggest hits having been ‘Bend It!’, the superb, and really heavy for its time ‘Hold Tight!’, and ‘Zabadak!’ (which makes ‘Xanadu’ sound conventional.) They seem fun, loved an exclamation mark in their titles, and are a band I’m keen to listen to more of. Wiki lists them as ‘Freakbeat’, which I think sums up this song perfectly. Like so many bands we have met these past few years, Dave Dee and Co.’s chart success ended as the sixties drew to a close.

So we forge on, past the Eskimos, the Rockefellas and the Cinderellas, across the sands of Xanadu, to find out what 1968 has in store for us next. Whatever it is, it surely won’t be dull…

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…

‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra – 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…

Next up is the one song, out of the 129 covered, that I’m happiest about discovering. Mambo isn’t a style of music that I’m very familiar with, and a trumpet-led instrumental wasn’t the type of record that I expected to blow me away. But, hoo boy, it did. ‘Sexiness’ was in short supply as we plodded through the very earliest UK #1 singles – with the focus on pure and proper romantic declarations from frightfully earnest young singers.  David Whitfield, Eddie Fisher and Vera Lynn I’m looking at you… But ‘Prez’ Prado… well, this disc just oozes sexiness. Listen to that low, low note he hits at strategic moments throughout this song, and try to tell me that it doesn’t put the filthiest thoughts in your mind! I named this as ‘Best Song’ in one of my recaps, and need no excuse to revisit it again here…

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Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra (his 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 29th April to 13th May 1955

I’ve given instrumentals a hard time so far in this rundown. The lack of any lyrics creates a barrier, for me, between the song and the listener. You can listen to a Mantovani record and think “Isn’t that a nice melody”, but the fact that there are no words to tie it to a particular feeling or experience in your life means that the record is that step further removed from you. Like a film beautifully acted but in a language you cannot understand.

Having said all that… I’m going to prove myself massively wrong with this post. The fourth instrumental to top the UK Singles chart is also, by far, the sexiest record to top said singles charts. And there are no words. Well – there are no words aside from ‘Huh!’, ‘Hah!’ and ‘Oooh’. Which is a large part of this track’s said sexiness.

Following on from ‘Mambo Italiano’ (which wasn’t really a mambo, but hey), the UK was clearly in some sort of Latin fever in early 1955. Though perhaps not, as a quick glance at the chart for the week Perez ‘Prez’ hit the top shows only one other record that sounds vaguely Latino… A different version of ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’ (which we’ll meet very soon at the top of the charts). But, for the purposes of this narrative, let’s say that the UK – finally casting off the shackles of rationing and wartime rubble – wanted to shake some booty and, while perhaps not quite ready for straight up rock ‘n’ roll, turned to some equally raunchy mambo. Further evidence towards my idea that rock ‘n’ roll didn’t just arrive with ‘Rock Around the Clock’ – it was slowly filtering in through Rosemary Clooney’s giggle, Winifred Atwell’s boogie and Johnnie Ray’s yelps. And Perez ‘Prez’ Prado’s trumpet.

Except the trumpet that makes this record isn’t being played by the man on the credits. We’ll get to that in a second. First – this record has perhaps the most intense intro we’ve heard yet. Basically it’s BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM on a load of trumpets and cymbals, before the rhythm kicks in. The lead trumpet was played by a man called Billy Regis, who absolutely makes this record by drawing out one note in particular over and over again, by sliding it down then up in a manner that sounds a little bit drunk, a little bit woozy, and that, most importantly, would allow a couple in a Southend ballroom to draw that little bit closer for a second, before the main melody jumped back in.

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Prado was more of a conductor, I guess, and it is his ‘Huhs’ and ‘Hahs’ that can be heard as he exerts his charges to squeeze every drop of sexiness from their instruments (that sounded ruder than I intended – you know what I mean). There are also some other trumpets (I guess they are trumpets) playing notes so low that it’s almost obscene. I recognise them from Lou Bega’s classic cover of ‘Mambo No.5’, from another golden age of Latin music in the UK charts, which we won’t be getting to for a long, long time. Incidentally, Perez Prado recorded the original version of that song, too.

But the final word has to go to Billy Regis, whose trumpet ends the record. He reimagines the bombastic ending – from which so many earlier chart-toppers have suffered – and it works so much better without lyrics. THIS IS THE END OF THE SONG becomes DOOO DOOO (pause) DOOOOOOOOO, and it again allows Janet and John from Southend to draw close and to feel one another’s bodies, taught and trembling from two and a half minutes of intense mambo.

‘Huh!’ and, indeed, ‘Hah!’

38. ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’, by The Johnston Brothers

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Hernando’s Hideaway, by The Johnston Brothers (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 11th to 25th November 1955

It’s starting to feel like, rather than passing comment on each UK #1 single, I’m actually reviewing a soundtrack album. The soundtrack album to a very cheesy Western. ‘Rose Marie’ was the big ballad, ‘The Man from Laramie’ was the theme song, and now ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ is…

What exactly is this? It’s hard to tell. Gone are the days when you could file pretty much every UK #1 under ‘overwrought ballad’ or ‘perky novelty. It’s another song that tells a story, about a drinking den – a dark secluded place, a place where no-one knows your face – and, again, has lyrics so obscure and specific that it must be from a film, or musical… There are silhouettes, and castanets, glasses of wine, and fast embraces. Hernando’s may actually be (whisper it!) more than just a bar…

Two lines in particular really set the scene: Just knock three times and whisper low, That you and I were sent by Joe, Then strike a match and you will know, You’re in Hernando’s Hideaway! It’s a very quirky song. And I mean that in the best possible way: the first forty seconds, for example, consist simply of voices and castanets. Then the violins kick in and we’re into a swaying, sweeping tango. Whereas ‘The Man from Laramie’ just sounded silly away from the context of the film; this song actually makes me want to watch whatever film or musical that it’s from.

And I could resist no longer – I had to Google and find out just where this funny little song originated. And it was indeed a show tune! (I’ve still got the knack!) A show tune from ‘The Pajama Game’: a musical about – wait for it – labour disputes in a pyjama factory… Seriously. It opened on Broadway in ’54, in the West End a year later, and thus explains the popularity of this track in the autumn of 1955. And when I say ‘popularity’, I mean ‘popularity’. Wikipedia lists 33 (thirty-three!) different recordings of the song. Contemporaneous to the Johnston Brother’s hit were versions from our friends Alma Cogan, Johnnie Ray and Mantovani, as well as versions yet to come from stars as varied as Ella Fitzgerald and The Everly Brothers.

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And what of the Johnston Brothers themselves? I had an image of identical twins, sharp suited and shiny-teethed. Bob and Billy Johnston, perhaps. Except, there were actually four members in the band – only one of whom was called Johnston. Johnny Johnston (great name!) formed the band and gave them their title. As the picture shows, they don’t look especially sharp or glossy (they were British, after all), and they faded away after a handful of hits.

‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ is proving to be one of those songs that improves with every listen. At first it was a curiosity; now I’m rather taken with the bizarreness of it. It is, I can say with complete confidence, the strangest UK #1 since The Stargazers hit the top with their barroom sing-along ‘I See the Moon’. Actually, 1955 has proven to be quite the eclectic year for chart-topping singles – the crazed sway of ‘Mambo Italiano’, the raunchy trumpets of Perez Prado, the lone-star yodelling of Slim Whitman. It hasn’t always been great, but at least it’s been interesting. Which wasn’t something we were saying back when David Whitfield and Frankie Laine were out-snoozing each other with their soporific ballads. 1955 has also been the year of the soundtrack hit, with this being the 6th chart-topper to emerge from a film or musical. Given that, as I write this, the UK Charts are filled with songs from ‘The Greatest Showman’ soundtrack, there’s a nice symmetry here. In some ways the charts of 2018 are unrecognisable from those topped by the Johnston Brothers; in other ways very little has changed.

Anyway, if this last bit has sounded like a round-up of sorts, well, it was kind of unavoidable. This has been the 38th UK Number One; and the end of an era. The ‘pre-rock’ era, that is…

31. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra

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Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra (his 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 29th April to 13th May 1955

What a way to kick off the next thirty!

I’ve given instrumentals a hard time so far in this rundown. The lack of any lyrics creates a barrier, for me, between the song and the listener. You can listen to a Mantovani record and think “Isn’t that a nice melody”, but the fact that there are no words to tie it to a particular feeling or experience in your life means that the record is that step further removed from you. Like a film beautifully acted but in a language you cannot understand.

Having said all that… I’m going to prove myself massively wrong with this post. The fourth instrumental to top the UK Singles chart is also, by far, the sexiest record to top said singles charts. And there are no words. Well – there are no words aside from ‘Huh!’, ‘Hah!’ and ‘Oooh’. Which is a large part of this track’s said sexiness.

Following on from ‘Mambo Italiano’ (which wasn’t really a mambo, but hey), the UK was clearly in some sort of Latin fever in early 1955. Though perhaps not, as a quick glance at the chart for the week Perez ‘Prez’ hit the top shows only one other record that sounds vaguely Latino… A different version of ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’ (which we’ll meet very soon at the top of the charts). But, for the purposes of this narrative, let’s say that the UK – finally casting off the shackles of rationing and wartime rubble – wanted to shake some booty and, while perhaps not quite ready for straight up rock ‘n’ roll, turned to some equally raunchy mambo. Further evidence towards my idea that rock ‘n’ roll didn’t just arrive with ‘Rock Around the Clock’ – it was slowly filtering in through Rosemary Clooney’s giggle, Winifred Atwell’s boogie and Johnnie Ray’s yelps. And Perez ‘Prez’ Prado’s trumpet.

Except the trumpet that makes this record isn’t being played by the man on the credits. We’ll get to that in a second. First – this record has perhaps the most intense intro we’ve heard yet. Basically it’s BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM on a load of trumpets and cymbals, before the rhythm kicks in. The lead trumpet was played by a man called Billy Regis, who absolutely makes this record by drawing out one note in particular over and over again, by sliding it down then up in a manner that sounds a little bit drunk, a little bit woozy, and that, most importantly, would allow a couple in a Southend ballroom to draw that little bit closer for a second, before the main melody jumped back in.

R-582429-1341876426-2330.jpeg

Prado was more of a conductor, I guess, and it is his ‘Huhs’ and ‘Hahs’ that can be heard as he exerts his charges to squeeze every drop of sexiness from their instruments (that sounded ruder than I intended – you know what I mean). There are also some other trumpets (I guess they are trumpets) playing notes so low that it’s almost obscene. I recognise them from Lou Bega’s classic cover of ‘Mambo No.5’, from another golden age of Latin music in the UK charts, which we won’t be getting to for a long, long time. Incidentally, Perez Prado recorded the original version of that song, too.

But the final word has to go to Billy Regis, whose trumpet ends the record. He reimagines the bombastic ending – from which so many earlier chart-toppers have suffered – and it works so much better without lyrics. THIS IS THE END OF THE SONG becomes DOOO DOOO (pause) DOOOOOOOOO, and it again allows Janet and John from Southend to draw close and to feel one another’s bodies, taught and trembling from two and a half minutes of intense mambo.

‘Huh!’ and, indeed, ‘Hah!’

28. ‘Mambo Italiano’, by Rosemary Clooney & The Mellomen

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Mambo Italiano, by Rosemary Clooney (her 2nd of two #1s) & the Mellomen

1 week, from 14th to 21st Jan / 2 Weeks, from 4th to 18th Feb 1955 (3 weeks total)

Just like that, Rosemary Clooney’s pops up again. She had two number ones, within a couple of months, and then she was done. (I’m being a little disingenuous here – she was a chart force for several years – but we are only concerning ourselves with number ones hits here, no room for second best).

And good old Rosie – her time at the top may have been fleeting, but at least she had a bit of fun while she was there. This is an even more frenzied bop than ‘This Ole House’. We start out with a bit of nonsense about a girl going back to Napoli, because she misses the scenery. And then… Hey Mambo!

On first listen I thought she was really singing in Italian, but she is just listing food: Hey mambo… try an enchilada with the fish bacalla and other cod-Italian phrases. Something something mozzarella, something something Calabrese… I think there’s a Como se dice in there. To be honest, Miss Clooney doesn’t know como se dice very much at all. And anyway, that’s Spanish. But it’s OK – you can’t help but want to dance to this. For the solo, the bouncy piano from ‘This Ole House’ returns, and it ends with a brilliant That’s Nice! OOH! As for ‘The Mellomen’… who knows? They do little more than your average ’50s backing singers – a few ‘Hey Mambo’s here and there – so I’m not sure why they got a credit. But, just like that, they have a UK Number One single.

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If this were released today, people might pick up on the gibberish mix of English and Italian, and the picture it paints of Italian-Americans, and they may perhaps view it in an unfavourable light. Remember how Justin Bieber got in trouble for singing about Doritos to the tune of ‘Despacito’? But actually, this is a song about a girl returning to a native land where she now feels confused and out of touch. The lyrics are meant to be mumbo-jumbo. We’re not meant to understand them… Kinda clever when you think about it.

The song also features the line: If you gonna be a square, you ain’t a-gonna go nowhere, ‘Square’, as far as I’m concerned, is the archetypal ’50s slang word: Be there or be square… You’re so square, baby I don’t care… So, while this is a mambo record, sung by an easy-listening singer-slash-actress, this is rock ‘n’ roll. It may be fun and funky, but it just about manages to retain an air of cool around all the silliness. While we were waiting for Bill Haley to come along and kick-off things off, the ideals and attitudes, if not the actual sounds, of rock ‘n’ roll were being sneaked in right under our noses.

As with her previous chart topper, I knew this song already. Most people do. I have vague memories of a late-90s remix. Plus, Miss Clooney is remembered nowadays as the aunt of housewives’ heartthrob George Clooney. But – remixes and celebrity descendants aside – we should all take a minute to appreciate her for the few weeks, in late ’54/early ’55, when she slapped a good dollop of fun into an otherwise pretty staid and stuffy UK singles chart.