40. ‘Christmas Alphabet’, by Dickie Valentine

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Christmas Alphabet, by Dickie Valentine (his 2nd of two #1s)

3 weeks, from 16th December 1955 to 6th January 1956

And so we come across something I never considered when I started this blog: the fact that I will, every so often, have to listen to Christmas songs on repeat. When it most emphatically isn’t Christmas. No matter. ‘Tis a burden I shall bear stoically.

The very first Christmas song to hit #1 in the UK is based around a simple concept – an acrostic poem as hit single. C is for the candy trimmed around the Christmas tree, H is for the happiness with all the family… All the way to the final S which is for Ol’ Santa who makes every kid his pet, Be good and he’ll bring you everything in your Christmas alphabet… Repeat. Done. Note that I am not referring to it as the very first ‘Christmas Number One’, as that wasn’t a ‘thing’ until the ’70s and, technically, Al Martino, Frankie Laine and Winifred Atwell have all already had one.

It’s kind of cute on first listen, but quickly becomes so sugary sweet that you begin to fear diabetes. As I mentioned at the time of his 1st number one, Dickie Valentine still sings like an American crooner (apart from when his ever-so-proper English accent sneaks through in the line about the ‘tree so tawl’). And while this little ditty is a world away from any kind of rock ‘n’ roll – from the record which bookended this song’s stay at the top, for example – he is cementing his image as the first British teen idol.

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A quick look at the career of Mr. Valentine – which we should do now, as we won’t be hearing from him again – proves this to be true. He made his name singing with big bands, then by impersonating singers such as Frankie Laine and Johnnie Ray. His marriage in 1954 caused hysteria among his young fans, though it clearly didn’t kill his career. An image search throws up lots of cheeky grins, often accompanied by a boater-hat and a bow-tie – a definite ‘cheeky-chappie’. He scored the first and last #1s of 1955 but, like so many of these early chart-toppers, his recording career died a death in the ’60s, and he himself died the most rock ‘n’ roll death of all the artists featured so far: in a car crash aged just 41.

To finish, I do have a little anecdote about Dickie Valentine – and it’ll perhaps be my most tenuous link to any of the artists featuring in this rundown. Years ago (we’re talking early high school, here) I had a friend whose family loved going on cruises. I’ve never understood the appeal of cruises myself, but I suppose that’s irrelevant here. My friend mentioned a cruise they’d been on in which each cabin had – for some reason – a live feed of the ship’s ballroom that passengers could tune into any time of the day or night. My friend was watching it one night – disco night – when an old man, unimpressed by the DJs more modern tastes, walked past the camera and shouted ‘Play some Dickie Valentine!’. I have NO IDEA why my friend told me this uninteresting story; or indeed why I have remembered it to this day. I’d never heard of Dickie Valentine at the time; neither, presumably, had my friend. I suppose it is quite a funny name (‘Hur, hur… Dickie…’). But of all the things in life I’d have been better off remembering… The mind is a strange, strange thing.

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.