180. ‘(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me’, by Sandie Shaw

This next chart-topper is a record that you can date pretty much instantly. Pretend, for a second, that you haven’t been following this countdown, and that you don’t know we are currently in October 1964. Just drop the needle, and listen. You know, straight away – it’s just got that mid-sixties vibe…

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(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me, by Sandie Shaw (her 1st of three #1s)

3 weeks, from 22nd October – 12th November 1964

There are soft, warm horns, and a little cha-cha-cha, bossanova beat. The ting of a typewriter reaching the end of a line. And a warm, playful voice… I walk along the city streets you used to walk along with me… Cute and glamorous – it kind of sounds like a French person singing in English (not that Sandie Shaw is French in any way – she’s Dagenham born and bred.)

It’s a song about a lost love, about how small things – streets and cafes – can remind you of the ones that got away. Oh how can I, Forget you, When there is always something there to remind me…? But, at the same time, it’s not a sad song. I’m not really sure what ‘kind’ of song it is…

It straddles lots of borders: it’s a bit of a ballad, a bit of a torch song, a bit of a standard pop song with a rock song looking to burst through. Listen to all the instruments involved: the horns, the orchestral strings, the twangy, Shadows-esque guitars. Plus the way Shaw sings – soft and lovelorn in the verses; shouty for the chorus. And then there’s the woah-waoh-waaaaa! and the cascading piano that bookmark either end of the violin solo.

There’s a lot going on here, but I like it. ‘(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me’ is another song I knew – I could have sung the chorus – but had never listened to in any detail. It’s another Bacharach & David number (they’re starting to rack up) and I love the completely pointless brackets in the title. I like it because it doesn’t know, and probably doesn’t care, what kind of song it is. Everything’s been chucked in and given a good mix, and the end result is a classy little #1 hit.

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The only bit that jars is the I was born to love you, And I will never be free… line, because this might have been the swinging sixties, but girls were still expected to pine after their want-away men. Still, Shaw just about sells it with vocals that are both spunky and a little vulnerable.

Sandie Shaw herself is, to me anyway, super-sixties. Just the name, without knowing anything about her, and its playful alliteration dates it to within a couple of years (her real name was Sandra.) And pictures of her taken in late ’64, when this was sitting atop the charts, show a foxy, mascaraed, chunky-fringed girl (she was but seventeen) in knee-high floral dresses. You can easily picture her racing around swinging London town on the back of a scooter, bouncing from glamorous party to glamorous party, from Carnaby Street to King’s Cross.

But… perhaps this tune is actually a victim its era. It’s a good record – a sad song with an upbeat vibe – and yet it pales a little in comparison to some of the era-defining records that have topped the charts recently. A nice song lost among the greats? Our next post is a recap, and so we’ll be able to wade back through all the recent #1s, and really sort the downright brilliant hits from the simply very good. Until then…

Follow along with this Spotify playlist:

161. ‘Glad All Over’, by The Dave Clark Five

And so we launch head-first into 1964. Suddenly we are in the mid-sixties! Doesn’t time fly! And kicking off the new year are some newbies at the top of the UK singles charts: The Dave Clark Five.

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Glad All Over, by The Dave Clark Five (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 16th – 30th January 1964

Interestingly, none of the acts that topped the charts in 1963 were one-offs. Every single one of them had hit #1 previously, or would go on to hit #1 again. But the very first chart-topping act of 1964 are… drum roll… one #1 wonders!

Anyway, this a barnstorming way to start off. We get a thumping, grinding drum-beat designed to blow away any lingering new year hangovers, which is quickly joined by a bass and a stabbing saxophone. Then the singer (Mike Smith, not Dave Clark) jumps in: You say that you love me, All of the time, You say that you need me, You’ll always be mine…

The beat then morphs into an insistent, irresistible galloping-horse rhythm that will last for the whole song. And then comes a chorus that pretty much everyone knows: And I’m feelin’… Glad all over…Yes, I’m a-… Glad all over…!

It’s an non-stop sledgehammer of a song, with large swathes of call-and-response and a key-change that is pointless trying to resist. Other girls may try to take me away… (you can just pictures the girl’s eyes rolling at this point)… But you know, It’s by your side, I will stay… It’s a fun disc. File it under ‘unsophisticated’. This and The Tremeloes’ ‘Do You Love Me’ from a few posts ago would make a great drunken-1am-singalong double-header.

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Like ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, this is also a huge football, and rugby, crowd song – the call and response bits work perfectly – and is usually played after a home-team scores (Crystal Palace started it when ‘Glad All Over’ was still in the charts and lots of other teams followed suit). It was last seen in the UK charts a couple of years ago when Glasgow Rangers fans did a mass-download campaign. In fact, I’d have to say that this is just the latest in a run of chart-toppers that have entered the public consciousness like few previous #1s have. From ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ through ‘Do You Love Me’, plus the recent Beatles chart-toppers… I’ll bet most people on the streets could sing a line or two from all of these songs, even today. Just goes to show how much the music from this era lingers on.

Since we’ll never hear from them again on this countdown – just who were The Dave Clark Five? Well, you’ll be shocked to discover that there were five of them, and that they were ‘led’ by one Dave Clark, who also drummed on all their hits. They were from Tottenham, in North London, and were at the vanguard of the ‘Tottenham Sound’ -which I’m not sure sounded any different to the Mersey-sound, or any other variety of Beat-band sound, but hey – they were representing. As I mentioned, this was their one and only #1; but they scored Top 10s throughout the sixties before splitting up in 1970.

There you have it then. 1964 is off and running with a boisterous pop number. I don’t go in for previews very often in these posts, but I have to mention here that ’64 is going to be a stellar year for chart-topping singles. One of the very best… if not the best… years in terms of #1 quality. Over the course of the next twenty-two hits we’ll hear some classics, meet some legends, and have a generally pretty ‘groovy’ time (that’s how people talked back in the sixties…)

109. ‘It’s Now or Never’, by Elvis Presley

More musical one-upmanship at the top of the charts! The Big ‘O’ has just finished teaching Ricky Valance how to do heartbreak properly; now Elvis has heard Roy’s operatic vocals and clearly thought to himself ‘So, this Orbison thinks he can sing an aria, does he? We’ll show him how it’s done! Uh-huh-huh.”

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It’s Now or Never, by Elvis Presley (his 5th of twenty-one #1s)

8 weeks, from 3rd November – 29th December 1960

If only that’s how the pop charts worked – a never ending attempt to outdo the chart-topper that went before you… At least that’s how the autumn of 1960 is turning out. Hot on the heels of ‘Only the Lonely’, this is more opera-lite. Except, while Orbison kept the operatics to a minimum in what was still a rock ‘n’ roll disc; Elvis really lets fly. The King was never one for understatement.

We open with backing singers – the Jordanaires – and a slice of cheesy Italian guitar… And then boom: some very famous lines indeed. It’s now or never, Come hold me tight, Kiss me my darling, Be mine tonight… Elvis croons the verses and belts out the choruses. It’s a rhumba, or perhaps a bossanova – the kind of rhythm that gets your hips swaying gently. It’s a very sexy record.

Or, at least, it’s trying to be a sexy record. Something, though, is lacking. You can’t fault the voice – Elvis sings it very well, and very properly – but to my modern ears it just sounds a bit… silly. A bit camp? Maybe it’s the flourishes of said Italian guitars. Maybe it’s the lyrics straight from an 8th grader’s poetry collection – When I first saw you, With your smile so tender, My heart was captured, My soul surrendered – plus some of the rhymes: excite me with invite me, a lifetime with the right time

I don’t suppose the song’s cause has been helped by the intervening fifty-eight years since it was released. It’s now a standard of the white jump-suited, microphone twirling Elvis impersonator. Plus anyone who has been to Venice will have heard it mangled by hundreds of gondoliers all high on the fact that they’re getting a hundred euros for twenty minutes work. Plus, anyone who grew up in the UK in the ‘80s and ‘90s will instinctively start singing ‘Just one Cornetto, Give it to me, Delicious ice-cream, From Italy…’ when the intro kicks in. This is a song laden with pop-culture baggage.

Perhaps it’s impossible to view this song as it sounded in 1960. Though it was far from being a ‘new’ song even then. ‘O Sole Mio’, the Neapolitan folk song upon which it is based was written way back in 1898, and people would have known the melody. Whatever this record was – or is – perhaps depends on your age, or on whether you’ve holidayed in Italy, or on whether you’re a fan of cheap, mass produced ice-cream cones…

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One thing that isn’t up for debate is the success of this disc. Eight weeks at the top. Presley’s best-selling single in the UK – with 1.3 million copies sold it is his only British million-seller and was, at the time, the 2nd biggest selling single of all time behind ‘Rock Around the Clock’. A brand new entry at number one, only the 2nd single to ever do so. A monster hit. Some sources claim that its success was down to it being Elvis’s big comeback after a year away in the army. That’s not quite right, however. His first new recording, ‘Stuck on You’ had already hit #3 earlier in the year.

Whatever the reason for this record’s success, it’s what I’d call the beginning of Elvis MKIII – the neutered, granny friendly, chart-humping behemoth. MKI was the rough an’ ready country boy making his Sun Recordings – a version we never saw at the top of the UK charts. MKII was Elvis the Pelvis, singing ‘All Shook Up’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock’, scandalising TV audiences across the globe with his thrusting. The big shock here is that this Elvis sounds so different to that Elvis. He’s dropped all the mumbling, and the growling and the uh-huh-huh-ing, and is singing perfectly, like an angelic choirboy in front of an archbishop. We caught a whiff of it in his last #1 – the cabaret-ish ‘A Fool Such As I’ – but the difference is quite shocking. I’ve mentioned it before, but hearing these famous records in context, surrounded by their contemporaries, really lets you hear them afresh.

One thing I do like about this song, I have to admit, is the ending. And not in an ironic, thank-God-it’s-over kind of way, no, no, no. I like the way Elvis slows it down, the guitars twiddle their way to silence, and we await the big finish. It’s now or never… But… with a great bit of showmanship, and in a way that drags this song well past the three minute mark, Elvis goes round one more time… my love won’t wait. And then he belts the ending out: It’s now or never… MY LOVE WON’T WAIT (chun-chun-chun)!

Before I go, I must mention that – way ahead of schedule – I get to celebrate one of my birthday #1s. ‘It’s Now or Never’ spent another week at the top of the UK charts at the end of January 2005, just in time for my nineteenth birthday. Which kind of annoys me, actually, as it spoils the flow of my ‘Birthday #1s’ playlist by sitting there amongst Limp Bizkit, Enrique Iglesias and Lady Gaga like a big old sore thumb. Anyway. First world problems. You better get used to hearing Elvis over the next few months, as he has the British Singles charts in something of a choke-hold from this point on – hitting the top at least three times per year – until a certain bunch of lads from Liverpool come along and kick him off his perch.

87. ‘Dream Lover’, by Bobby Darin

Now this is more like it. This is a chart-topping single!

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Dream Lover, by Bobby Darin (his 1st of two  #1s)

4 weeks, from 3rd – 31st July 1959

It’s been a while since I listened to this song, or to any Bobby Darin songs, but slipping the needle to hear ‘Dream Lover’ is like slipping into a silk dressing gown and settling down by the fire: Every night I hope and pray, A dream lover will come my way, A girl to hold in my arms, And know the magic of her charms…

We get not one but two groups of backing singers: girls for the ‘oohs’ and boys for the ‘wadda waddas’. We get strings and we get some oh-so-fifties staccato guitars. In fact, I’d put this up there with ‘Diana’ and ‘When’ as the most fifties, most rock ‘n’ rolly, doo-woppy #1 yet. But ‘Dream Lover’ is a much better song than either of those.

And that’s down to Bobby Darin. His voice is as crisp and as clear as a bell, and he lends the song a sort of… gravitas, that places it a cut above pure teeny-bopper fluff. He sounds older than his twenty-three years, and sounds suave where Paul Anka and the Kalin Twins sounded puppyish. Does this then represent the pinnacle of late fifties rock ‘n’ roll-as-pop? Maybe something to consider in our upcoming re-cap.

For all that, it’s a simple song. The singer wants a dream lover, so he doesn’t have to dream alone. Someday, I don’t know how, I hope she’ll hear my plea, Some way, I don’t know, She’ll bring her love to me… The listener knows where the song is going, but is more than happy to be taken along for the ride.

I don’t want to really write any more about this record. I want to leave it there. Minimalist. This is where easy-listening and pop collide to create a seriously classy song. And we’ll be hearing from Bobby D again very soon, so we can delve into his backstory then. For now, just sit back, relax, and enjoy.

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There are two little things of note, though, that we should point out here. I mentioned in my post on ‘Hoots Mon’, back in November ’58, that the production on these chart-topping singles was getting more substantial, beefier. And I have to admit that on ‘Dream Lover’, and to a lesser extent on ‘When’, I’m getting a hint of the ‘Wall of Sound’ technique – Phil Spector and all that – which will be all the rage in three or four years. Listen to the crashing symbols that precede the final verse and chorus here, and you’ll see what I mean. Interestingly, this song was engineered by Tom Dowd, a pioneer of multi-track recording. So there could be something in that…

And finally, while this is a wonderful record more than worthy of a month atop the UK Singles Charts… something has been nagging at me for a while now. Are our #1 singles growing more and more lyrically banal? Let’s explore. Drag your minds back to the dark and smoggy days of pre-rock and yes, song lyrics were probably pondering weightier issues: I believe for every drop of rain that falls, A flower grows… Or Three coins in the fountain, Which one will the fountain bless…? Or I saw her face and ascended out of the common place, into the rare, somewhere in space… from ‘Brainiest #1 Yet’ ‘Stranger in Paradise’. Or they at least talked of love in slightly flowerier, more abstract terms. And there haven’t been any out-of-place, soundtrack songs like ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ or ‘The Man from Laramie’ with lyrics about sharp-shooters and speakeasies hitting the stop spot recently.

In 1958-9, while there are anomalies like ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ and ‘The Day the Rains Came’, it’s mainly all Dream lover, where are you…? All I have to do is dream… And Goodness gracious great balls of fire…! Simple, immediate stuff. Is this a bad thing? Rock ‘n’ roll may have dumbed things down a bit, but its brought an immediacy to our chart-topping hits. Everyone can relate to someone sitting at home wishing for a dream lover. Not everyone can relate to She wears red feathers and a huly-huly skirt… I’m all for it really. And that’s probably a good thing, as our next #1 takes simple to the next level.

43. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers

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It’s Almost Tomorrow, by The Dream Weavers (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 16th – 30th March / 1 week, from 6th – 13th April 1956 (3 weeks total)

Perhaps it’s time to christen a brand new era in popular music. I’ll call it: the ‘post-pre-rock age’! We’ve had the first wave of the rock ‘n’ roll explosion – the very first rock ‘n’ roll number one – but the waves have receded and we are stood on soggy sand waiting for them to return. And they will, they will… Just not yet.

What I mean is that, to all intents and purposes, we are still in the pre-rock age but that the rules have changed ever so slightly. Of course, the very top of the charts is never where you look for music’s cutting edge. You get to the top of the pop charts by being, well, popular, and by appealing to the largest number of people. But… even if you look at the Top 20 from the week in March ’56 that this latest song hit #1, there are very few records that stand out as being rock songs: Bill Haley is at #7 with ‘See You Later Alligator’, Lonnie Donegan is at #9 with ‘Rock Island Line’ (a skiffle track, admittedly, but still) and there’s a song called ‘Pickin’ a Chicken’ by Eve Boswell which sounds like a rock song involving a funky dance move (a la ‘The Twist’) but is actually just a pretty dull song about having a picnic. The rest is Sinatra, Jimmy Young, Slim Whitman

And, as with ‘Memories Are Made of This’ which preceded it, ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’ has elements of rock ‘n’ roll in it – enough, perhaps, to attract the youngsters but not enough to put off the old folks. Thus the gap between the worlds of Eddie Fisher and Elvis is deftly bridged.

Anyway, to the song. And after that big build-up, all that stuff about it being a brand new era in popular music, ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’ is a bit dull. The idea behind it is that the singer’s sweetheart is falling out of love with him, and that she will leave him ‘tomorrow’. And yet he hopes it will be otherwise… My dearest, my darling, tomorrow is near, The clouds will bring showers of sadness, I fear… ‘Emotions As Weather’ – the first chapter in ‘Cheesy Love Songs 101’. It’s almost tomorrow, but what can I do? Your kisses all tell me that, your love is untrue…

It’s a bit cloying, what with its backing singers and plinky-plonky pianos. A bit of a nursery rhyme, too – I can’t decide if it sounds more like ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ or ‘Away in a Manger’. And again, it’s another very simple #1. The production is very rich – the piano and backing singers turned up to 11 – but there isn’t much there. And, unfortunately, there’s a bit of a THIS IS THE END OF THE SONG ending: You’ll always be miiiiiiiiiiiine!

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But, in the ‘pros’ column there is a rather wonderful key-change – a very rock ‘n’ roll touch. I’m a big fan of a well constructed key-change. I can’t resist them. Who can? Its inbuilt in most people, I think. A Pavlovian reaction. And this is not just a key change, but a mid-note key change… Your love is untruuuu *key change* uuuueeeee. I’m not going to lie – it did give me a mild covering of goose bumps the first time I heard it. But that’s far and away the best thing about this song. A song which we could brand the very first rock ballad to hit the top of the UK Singles Chart, if it didn’t feel a bit of a waste to use up such an honorific title on such an average record.

This is The Dream Weavers only appearance in this countdown, and in the charts. They were big ol’ one hit wonders, you see. Though we should give them a shout out for being one of the few acts so far to have hit the top with an original composition. The Dream Weavers consisted of two high school friends – Gene Adkinson and Wade Buff (great name!) – and a rotating cast of back-up singers. Adkinson and Buff wrote ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’ themselves, and so are pretty unique among the forty-two songs that we’ve written about previously.

And we’ll leave it there for now. A simple love song – all key changes and not an orchestra in sight – but with familiarly mopey lyrics about rain and heartache, as well as a silly, bombastic ending. One leg in the new world; one leg stuck firmly in the past.

27. ‘The Finger of Suspicion’, by Dickie Valentine with The Stargazers

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The Finger of Suspicion, by Dickie Valentine (his first of two #1s) with the Stargazers (their 3rd of 3 #1s)

1 week, from 7th to 14th Jan / 2 Weeks, from 21st Jan to 4th Feb 1955 (3 weeks total)

We race on into 1955 with a song that sounds like it could be very interesting. The Finger of Suspicion! Dickie Valentine calls out his unfaithful love. He knows what she did! And he’ll stand for it no longer!

Except, no. This isn’t an era of surprises, of shocks… of excitement (with a few notable exceptions). This is a cloying little love song, putting the ‘easy’ into easy-listening. The crimes for which the accusing finger points are things like stealing a beat or two from the singer’s heart, robbing him of sleep etc. etc… All very smooth, Dickie, but the title promised so much more.

Musically it’s right down the middle of the road. Not too dull; but far from thrilling. There are snatches of film-noir soundtrack between the verses, and an extremely sedate guitar-cum-trumpet solo. Peak pre-rock!

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the song – and perhaps I’m clutching at straws here – is that Dickie Valentine is a Brit who sings like an American. Bear with me… So far in the British chart-toppers corner we’ve had folks such as David Whitfield, Vera Lynn, and Eddie Calvert. All very proper, all very sedate, all very… pleasant. They’ve sang their number one hits in a restrained, decidedly British fashion. Calvert even played his trumpet in a restrained, decidedly British fashion. Whilst the Americans – the Frankie Laines, the Guy Mitchells, the Rosemary Clooneys – have all had a bit of a swagger about them. And Valentine, here, has clearly learned from them. He doesn’t have the greatest voice, but it’s a bit louche, and slightly knowing. He sounds like he’s having a good time singing this song. Even the name, Dickie Valentine, sounds fun and stagey (his real name was the far more prosaic Richard Maxwell). We are witnessing the birth of the British pop star here, the first in a long line of cheeky, yet loveable faces that ranges from Cliff to Olly Murs, via Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams. It’s a moment of some significance.

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Almost as interesting is the manner in which Valentine ends the song. It seems that we are set up for the big, overly-dramatic finish so beloved of this era’s biggest stars. The finger of suspicion – dum dum dum dum dum dum – you’re ready for it, no matter the fact that it won’t suit the song – and then we get an ever so gentle points… at… you… Expectations well and truly subverted.

We are, of course, meeting The Stargazers again as well. Their first chart-topper was dire, their second was bizarre, and their final one is this standard little ditty. In truth, they barely feature here, save for a few backing lines. You wouldn’t even know they were involved if they weren’t credited. When this hit the top they became the act with the most UK Number Ones – joint with Frankie Laine. Best leave them there. They won’t hold onto this record for long, and will soon fade into the mists of chart history as an act very much of their time.

20. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra

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Cara Mia, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra (both Whitfield and Mantovani’s 2nd of two #1s)

10 weeks, from 2nd July to 10th Sept 1954

The last time I wrote about David Whitfield, when his first number one followed on from Frankie Laine’s rockabilly number ‘Hey Joe’, I might have mentioned something about it being one step forward and two steps back…

But for this to follow on from rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Johnnie Ray, and the gloriously suggestive ‘Such a Night’ (OK, yes, Doris Day did return to the top for a big old spell in between but let’s not allow that to get in the way of my indignation!) – it’s more a case of one step forward, ten steps back! One step for every week this record spent at the top! The difference between this and ‘Such a Night’ is massive. This is pre-rock. If such a thing ever existed, if it could be captured and bottled or defined in a dictionary, then this would be it. The Sex Pistols were punk, Oasis were Britpop, David Whitfield was pre-rock.

Shrill backing singers? Check. Overwrought vocals? Got it. Proper enunciation? Yep. Big bastard of an ending? Oh boy. Seriously, check out this ending. It has three stages. Whitfield comes in for the final verse like he means it, an octave up on previous lines: All I want is you, for ever more… Then comes the final line for which he amps it up even more: TILL THE END OF… And the note that he hits for the final TIIIIIMMMMMMEEEEE!!! cannot be natural. Its impressive, yet horrifying.

I have nothing new to write about David Whitfield. He’s of his time, and who am I to judge? People at the time clearly enjoyed it: very, very few records have ever reached double figures in terms of weeks at #1. ‘Such a Night’ only got one week. And he died young, unlike so few of his contemporaries, aged just fifty-four in 1980. We should also drop a mention for Mantovani, of violin and rhyming-slang fame, from whom we won’t be hearing again in this countdown. The violins in this song sound identical to those in his first chart topper. Mantovani’s signature strings.

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Though the sharp-eyed among you will currently no doubt be thinking ‘Now just wait a minute here!’ Because back a few posts ago I mentioned that every record thus far had been conducted by someone and their orchestra, and that these conductors – Paul Weston, Hugo Winterhalter et al, never seemed to get credited and were deleted from any chart statistics. So why is Mantovani getting a credit here? To be brutally honest… I dunno. Maybe it’s because this, more than any, is a super operatic, orchestral record and they feel that that should be recognised. Maybe it’s because Mantovani already sneaked a week at the top with his own song, ‘Moulin Rouge’, and so was slightly more renowned than your run-of-the-mill conductors. Maybe Mantovani was just really concerned about his legacy and so paid someone to stick him in the records. Who know? But if I were Paul Weston, I’d be pretty pissed off.

Before finishing, I want to mention a thought that struck me a few posts ago. It seems that in the mid-1950s there were very few ways for people to hear the music that was in the charts without buying it. No MTV (duh!), no Top of the Pops, no YouTube, no nothing. Radio consisted of a handful of stations, very few of which played pop music. Pirate Radio hadn’t got going yet. Perhaps you could have listened to ‘Pick of the Pops’, on the BBC Light Programme, but even that wasn’t first broadcast until 1955. It just seems so alien to me, to us, that you might only know of a record as a listing in a magazine and have no idea how it sounded until you went out and bought it.

Although, this might explain how certain songs managed to top the charts in the first place…

17. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers

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I See the Moon, by The Stargazers (their 2nd of three #1s)

5 weeks, from 12th March to 16th April / 1 week from 23rd April to 30th April 1954 (6 weeks total)

And now for something completely different…

Imagine an East-End pub, filled with smoke and ruddy cheeks, a jovial barman rings the bell and calls for last orders over the hubbub… Last orders, and one last song. Old Mrs. Fozzywinkle sits at the piano, shouting down someone who’s just said something saucy, and then… The opening bars of ‘I See the Moon’.

Over the mountain, over the sea, back where my heart is longin’ to be… Please let the light that shines down on me, shine on the one I love… Thematically, we are treading familiar ground: it’s a tale of two separated lovers, one hoping that the other still thinks of them. We’ve heard it a few times in this countdown so far. But, beyond the lyrics, this is something else entirely.

The first thing that comes to mind is the scene in ‘Oliver!’, where Nancy leads the pub in a rousing chorus of ‘Oom Pah Pah’. This song isn’t quite as rowdy, or raucous, but it has an unhinged quality that none of the previous chart toppers have had. Even the novelty tracks that have gone before it – the likes of ‘How Much is that Doggie?’ and ‘She Wears Red Feathers’ – still felt as if they had been professionally recorded, perhaps over several takes. This song doesn’t…

The first verse is sung – horribly – in a fake German (Polish? Transylvanian??) accent, the voice cracking as it fails to reach the high notes, with voices roaring in approval in the background. The second verse takes the form of a skit – a plummy voiced announcer introduces a little lady with a tambourine, who proceeds to come in at the wrong cue not once, not twice, but three times. Once she gets going, the announcer asks her to sing quieter, then louder, presumably until everyone listening at home is guffawing helplessly at the ridiculousness of it all. It’s funny(-ish), in a pantomime kind of way. We’re back in the music halls, here. Actually, it reminds me of a ‘Comic Relief’ track – you know the kind recorded by Cliff Richard and the cast of ‘The Young Ones’, or by French and Saunders as the Spice Girls. It has that same sort of anarchic energy, and in that regard it’s quite ahead of its time. It’s a truly bizarre song.

And when you look back to The Stargazers previous #1 – the morose ‘Broken Wings’ – it sounds even more crazy. What happened? What went wrong? (Or right, depending on your tastes?) What in God’s name did they take before hitting the recording studio? At least it’s an interesting song, though I’m not sure I’ll be revisiting it once I’ve finished writing this post.

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Information on The Stargazers is hard to come by. There are at least two other bands with the same name: an Irish folk trio, and a rock ‘n’ roll revival group from the ’80s. An image search requires some discerning before you can work out which band is which. But the original Stargazers were pretty popular in their day – the NME voted them ‘Best Vocal Group’ for five years in a row. But – and this is something that’s just occurred to me – ‘pre-rock’, the competition for that title wasn’t fierce. There simply weren’t very many groups going. This was an era of solo stars.

One other little titbit of interesting info. I’ve unearthed regarding this song: the lyric I see the moon and the moon sees me was first used in a nursery rhyme from the 1780s. We are then, listening to both the 17th UK Number One hit, and the very earliest UK Number One hit. Mind-bending…

16. ‘Oh Mein Papa’, by Eddie Calvert

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Oh Mein Papa, by Eddie Calvert (his 1st of two #1s)

9 weeks, from 8th January to 12th March 1954

Perhaps, as we tick over into 1954, we should pause once again to take stock. Just what kinds of records were topping the charts in these distant, misty, slightly-eccentric, pre rock days…?

Actually ‘distant, misty and slightly eccentric’ might just sum up most of the records I’ve described thus far. They have been surprisingly varied in style: from proto-rock numbers to gentle instrumentals, from jaunty novelties to brow-furrowingly earnest numbers about unrequited love. In a way, though, they’ve all been a bit similar too: all very safe, very chaste and very… twee? To my modern ears, anyway.

And so, onwards – to another mammoth hit. It’s the third time in just over a year that a record has racked up nine weeks at the top, and the latest record to do so is… a trumpet instrumental.

Now. There are lots of instruments that can carry an entire song: guitars and pianos, obviously, along with saxophones and violins. Drums cannot usually carry an entire song, but I wouldn’t like to say it was impossible. Tambourines definitely cannot. And nor, it would seem, can trumpets.

I’m struggling to write much about this song. There’s a trumpet. There’s a simple guitar rhythm, with some backing singers shrilly harmonising and occasionally chanting the song title. Oh, and there’s an organ. As I wrote in my post about the last #1 to involve an organ (‘Broken Wings’), it lends a cheap, Blackpool seafront kind of vibe to proceedings. I suppose it could go down as the first ever foreign language number one, but there is only one line. Oh Mein Papa. Which I believe translates as ‘Oh My Daddy.’ Oh my, Daddy, indeed.

The tune isn’t even interesting. The one other instrumental we’ve covered so far, Mantovani’s ‘Moulin Rouge’, at least had a melody that buried itself in your brain after a few listens. So this, with no words and no melody, to my ears at least, has little going for it.

There are lyrics to ‘Oh Mein Papa’, which I searched out and listened to, courtesy of our friend Eddie Fisher – whose version reached #9 – lyrics about how lovely the singer’s father was, taking him on his knee when he was a nipper… And I suppose, when this backstory is taken into consideration, Calvert’s lone trumpet, parping out its melancholy tune, takes on a little more resonance. But then, that’s the problem with instrumentals as a whole: without lyrics, are they songs or simply pieces of music? And yes, yes, you can come at me with Beethoven, Mozart and all that lot; but we’re talking about pop music here. Pop music should be immediate and relatable, and I’m not sure it can be without lyrics. Or, at least, it’s difficult for it to be so without lyrics. Anyway, who am I to say? This track lorded it over all comers for over two months.

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Eddie Calvert himself, looks like an interesting character. He looks old-fashioned, even in contemporary photographs from the 1950s. His hair is heavily Brylcreemed and he has a roguish moustache (Oh nein, Papa!). He’s half jazz session musician and half black-market spiv. If you were given a choice of where he was from, and the choices were A) Chicago, Illinois or B) Preston, Lancashire, you’d go for A). But you’d be wrong. In almost every picture I’ve found he is clutching his trademark trumpet. He probably had a name for it.

Intro

Join me as I listen to every UK Number 1 single since the charts began. Each and every song to have claimed the top spot since 1952: classics, novelties, long-forgotten hits, one-week wonders and pole-position hogging juggernauts…

I’ve been a chart geek since I was eleven or twelve – recording the rundown to tape on a Sunday afternoon, writing down the top ten, top twenty, even the top forty in a secret notebook when I should have been outside doing something better with my time. But the one position that fascinated me more than any other was, naturally, the Number One spot. Fair enough, really. It’s the pinnacle. It’s validation. Every Friday, and before that every Sunday, and before that every Tuesday, the most popular song the past week is announced and you cannot argue with the results. You might hate a particular song, you might think it’s the worst abomination ever committed to vinyl, or cassette, or CD, or compressed into an MP3 format, but you cannot argue its popularity.

And I know my charts – the artist with most #1s, the artist with the second most #1s, the song with the longest stay at #1, the song with the longest non-consecutive stay at #1, the biggest ever sales at #1, the lowest ever sales at #1, the shortest #1 by length, the longest #1 by length… I got it all down.

But, I realised: I know the titles, and the lengths, and the weeks at the top, of songs that I’ve never actually heard. And so, this blog was born. I will listen to every single UK Number 1 single, from the first published chart to the present day, and write about them. Simple.

Enjoy