Remembering Lonnie Donegan

Today we remember Britain’s very first rock star. Cliff? Tommy Steele? Marty Wilde? They were but cabaret entertainers giving rock ‘n’ roll a go. Lonnie Donegan? He rocked, well and truly.

I remember listening to his first number one single, and thinking woah. ‘Cumberland Gap’ came in in the spring of 1957, between Tab Hunter’s schmaltzy ‘Young Love’ and Guy Mitchell’s goofy ‘Rock-A-Billy’. It was a short, sharp slap round the face and you can read my original post here. (The live version below is even more ferocious). It’s a traditional American folk song, given the British skiffle treatment, and to my ears it is punk come twenty years early. It was also the first of many times that a Scot has topped the UK charts.

‘Cumberland Gap’ wasn’t Donegan’s breakthrough hit: he’d been scoring Top 10s since 1955, and would amass sixteen of them before his chart career was cut short by the Merseybeat explosion. (Ironically, many of those bands had been hugely influenced by Lonnie and his Skiffle Group. The Beatles began when Paul McCartney joined John Lennon’s skiffle band a few months after ‘Cumberland Gap’ had been at #1.) Here is his first hit: ‘Rock Island Line’, a #8 in the UK and, significantly, a Top 10 in America too.

Born in Glasgow, but raised in the east-end of London, Lonnie Donegan had a background in trad-jazz before moving into the new skiffle movement. His subsequent hits included his 2nd number one, a double-‘A’ side of ‘Gamblin’ Man’ and ‘Putting on the Style’, and the brilliantly named ‘Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (On the Bedpost Overnight)?’. That hit veered towards the music hall, and it was the same style of hit that gave Donegan his third and final chart-topper, ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’. I don’t think I was as impressed by that record in my original review, as humour is a hard thing to get right in a record, and it doesn’t necessarily age well.

It’s tempting to blame Donegan’s shrinking chart fortunes on the song he released for the 1966 World Cup: ‘World Cup Willie’. (Willie was a lion, and the official mascot for the tournament.) It didn’t chart, but it perhaps spurred England on to their win. (Yes, England won the World Cup in 1966. They still mention it from time to time…) I had never heard it, and was ready to hate it, but it’s actually a bit of a trad-jazz foot-stomper. You can see, though, why skiffle hard-liners felt betrayed by Donegan’s move away from the genre in the sixties.

Despite the hits drying up, Donegan and his band continued to tour throughout the seventies and eighties. This was despite him suffering several heart attacks, one of which killed him on this day in 2002. The Beatles aside, his legacy also lives on through artists like Roger Daltrey, Mark Knopfler and Jack White.

Lonnie Donegan, 29th April 1931 – 3rd November 2002

Random Runners-Up: ‘Cloud Lucky Seven’, by Guy Mitchell

My third randomly selected #2 for the week brings us all the way back to the early weeks of 1954. Before Elvis, before the Beatles, before colour TV and motorways, there was Guy Mitchell…

‘Cloud Lucky Seven’, by Guy Mitchell

#2 for 1 week – 12th – 19th February 1954, behind ‘Oh Mein Papa’

I have a huge soft-spot for Guy Mitchell. Not only did he have a hunky, all-American boy next door vibe going on – see the pic above! – but during the early months of this blog, as I trawled through many overwrought and overblown, and often quite dull, pre-rock #1s, Mr. Mitchell would regularly pop up with something a bit more sprightly.

‘Cloud Lucky Seven’ came right in the middle of Mitchell’s four chart-topping singles, and is a pre-rock hit by-numbers. It’s almost unbearably jaunty, the backing singers sound like drunken relatives at a wedding, and there are horns. Boy, are there horns… It’s a bit jazz, a bit swing, very music-hall, and with no hint at the rock ‘n’ roll revolution that’s just around the corner.

What saves it from sounding ridiculous to modern ears is Guy himself. He isn’t, to be honest, the best technical singer. He’s no Al Martino, or Eddie Fisher, but his voice has a throaty, homely charm. He sounds like he’s having fun, as if he’s well-aware that he’s singing a load of tosh (see also ‘She Wears Red Feathers’) and being paid handsomely to do so.

Lyrically, the song is about love as clouds (that’s another pre-rock trick: love as birds chirping, fluffy clouds, twinkly stars…) Cloud one is where you land when you meet that special someone, while cloud lucky seven is the cloud nearest heaven… Which means… This is actually a song about getting laid?? Those pre-rockers were just as horny as those that came later, they just had to hide it behind bizarre metaphors involving clouds. Which means, as he belts out that there’s one more cloud to go…! it’s not only the best bit of the song; but you can almost hear the knowing wink. Guy, you sly dog, you!

Two more #2s to come…

Remembering The Everly Brothers

I wasn’t going to mark the sad death of Don Everly on Saturday… because I was under the mistaken impression that his brother Phil was still with us. When I realised that Phil had died in 2014 it became clear that they needed a ‘Remembering’.

When you can count The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel among the many acts you’ve influenced, then you must have had something special going on. (Keith Richards called Don one of the finest ever rhythm guitarists, while John Lennon and Paul McCartney used to pull girls as teenagers by claiming that they were the ‘British Everly Brothers’.) Their country-ish harmonies were a huge part of the rock ‘n’ roll years – go on, listen to them combine on ‘Cathy’s Clown’ below! Being brothers was a blessing – those harmonies – and a curse – they spend decades not recording, or touring, or even talking to one another…

The duo scored four UK number ones between 1958-’61, and I won’t repeat myself by talking about them again. You can read the original posts here:

‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’

‘Cathy’s Clown’

‘Walk Right Back’ / ‘Ebony Eyes’

‘Temptation’

Here are some great, non-chart toppers from the brothers… (Because I’m hastily throwing this together, I won’t follow my usual rules of the songs having to have charted in the UK. Let’s be crazy for an evening!)

‘Bye Bye Love’, 1957

Chosen for self-indulgent reasons… This was one of the very first – and very few – songs I mastered on the keyboard as a child. A simple tune (that’s probably why it was book one, song one of ‘Keyboards for Dummies’) beautifully rendered.

Bird Dog’, 1958

The tale of Johnny: who is the funniest, cheekiest, coolest dude in school – making him a bird – but who is also hitting on the singer’s girl – thus a dog. I picked this over the pair’s other, more-famous tale of high school woe, ‘Wake Up Little Susie’ (which is also great) because this one rocks just that bit more.

‘When Will I Be Loved’, 1960

Some good ol’ fashioned rockabilly. I love the heavy, deliberate guitars, and the insistent, almost tribal drums. They re-recorded it when they moved labels, to RCA, but the original was the one released. The newer version is bluesier – here’s a link.

‘Don’t Blame Me’, 1961

The Everlys loved a ballad… ‘Love Hurts’, ‘Let It Be Me’, ‘Crying in the Rain’… But I picked this cover of a ’30s standard for some of their greatest harmonies, the guitar work (not actually from Don or Phil, but Hank Garland), and the bridge where Don really lets loose…

‘I’m Not Angry’, 1962

Not a hit, I don’t think, coming at the end of their glory days. But how filthy and scratchy is the guitar here, in this tale of pettiness? The boys hope that the girl who just dumped them doesn’t get letters, or phone-calls, that her dress rips and her car won’t start, but they’re not angry… just sad. Whatever…

Remembering Rosemary Clooney

Another short trip back to the earliest days of the charts, when big-lunged men such as Al Martino, David Whitfield and Frankie Laine were dominating the #1 position with earnest declarations of love and faith. Elvis hadn’t arrived yet, Sinatra wasn’t the teen heart-throb of a decade before… The charts needed some sexiness, some fun…

Thank God for the girls, then. Girls like Rosemary Clooney. I’ve already posted on Kay Starr and Winifred Atwell, two contemporaries of Clooney, who brought a jazzy playfulness to their chart-topping records. But Miss Clooney, who scored Britain’s 25th and 28th #1 singles, went a step further, and brought mad-cap craziness to the pop charts.

First up came ‘This Ole House’, in November ’54. A raucous, honky tonk piano-led tale of a rundown house whose elderly inhabitant is waiting to meet the saints… There can have been very few hit songs to reference oiling hinges and fixing shingle… Here she is performing it live, and with slightly more restraint, in the ’80s.

Then just weeks later, she was back with an even better hit. Clooney was of Irish/German extraction, but that didn’t stop her hamming up an invented Italian side. The lyrics are basically nonsense, with nods to Italian, Spanish, Mexican and Neapolitan. (Sample lyric: Hey mambo, no more a-Mozzarella…) Again the energy and playfulness really stood out next to its dully earnest contemporaries. (See also her earlier hit ‘Botch a Me’ if you like the cod-Italian vibes.) ‘Mambo Italiano’ lives on in a way that few pre-rock hits do. It was remixed back into the charts in the early ’00s, and sampled more recently by Lady Gaga and Iggy Azalea.

Rosemary Clooney’s career trajectory was pretty standard for a post-war pop star. From singing with big bands, to a record label, to big hits and on to TV and films – her most famous one probably being ‘White Christmas’ alongside Bing Crosby. What wasn’t so standard was Clooney’s sleeping pill and tranquilliser dependency that developed through the sixties, that ended with her in psychoanalytic therapy for eight years.

She survived, though, came back and continued to record throughout the remainder of her life. Her final performance came just six months before she died of lung cancer in 2002. One of the pall bearers at her funeral was her nephew, George.

Rosemary Clooney, May 23rd 1928 – June 29th 2002

Remembering Winifred Atwell

In my ‘Remembering’ bits, I like to draw people’s attention back to artists from the dawn of the charts, from posts published long before anyone was actually reading this blog. Back we go, then, to 1954…

Winifred Atwell is a significant figure in the British charts as, when she scored her first #1 in late ’54 (a Christmas #1 before that was something worth noticing), she became the first black artist to do so. ‘Let’s Have Another Party’ – a medley of old music hall tunes – stayed at the top for five weeks. It is very of its time, but still a fun listen. You can read my original post here.

Some of the melodies in that record date from the the 1920s, so we are really looking a century back in time from our modern-day vantage point. Anyway, Winifred Atwell had arrived in the UK in 1946, from Trinidad via the USA, and had been accepted into the Royal Academy for Music, where she achieved the highest grades possible. She supported herself by playing boogie-woogie tunes in clubs around London, where she was spotted and signed.

Between 1952 and ’59, she scored fourteen Top 20 hits in the UK, many with wonderful titles such as ‘Flirtation Waltz’ and ‘Let’s Have a Ding-Dong!’ (You could say she was a suggestive performer, in that she released no less than five singles beginning with the word ‘Let’s…’) She did the Royal Variety, where she was invited to play privately for the Queen, who requested ‘Roll Out the Barrel’. (Ma’am does love a good knees-up!) On stage she would often start off by playing classical pieces on a grand piano, before switching to a battered old piano bought in a market for fifty shillings – her ‘other’ piano, which was credited on her records and which travelled the world with her – to bash out some ragtime tunes.

Her 2nd number one, ‘The Poor People of Paris’ is interesting – not because it sounds much different from her first – but because it featured as sound engineer a young Joe Meek, who would go on to produce three seminal sixties #1s (and who I did a post on a year or so back.) In the background, hovering above Winny’s piano, is a high-pitched whine which I thought, and pondered in my original post, might have been a Theramin, but which I have since read was probably a musical saw. Either way, you can hear the embryonic beginnings of ‘Telstar’ here, in the video below:

And this live performance, from a couple of years later, has Atwell banging away on her famous ‘other’ piano (I love her winks at the camera…)

By 1958, when this was filmed, her hit-scoring days were almost over – killed stone-dead, as so many artists’ careers were, by rock ‘n’ roll and then the swinging sixties. Still, Atwell remained a popular figure on TV variety shows and in concert. She moved to Australia, where she was a huge star, and where she lived until her death on this day in 1983. Her final performances, quite sweetly, were on the organ in her parish church.

Despite her music now sounding incredibly quaint, and her dressing like your aunt at a wedding, Winifred Atwell’s legacy lives on. Keith Emerson spoke of her influence on his music, while David Bowie also reminisced about hearing her rags on the radio as a boy. But the biggest example has to be Sir Elton John, who cites Atwell as one of the main reasons behind him wanting to learn piano.

Winifred Atwell, 27th February 1914 – 28th February 1983

Remembering Alma Cogan

I’ve covered 342 #1 singles since starting this blog. Some have been classics, some have been terrible, some have been by the most famous acts in pop music history, some have been by acts unknown to me until that moment… One of the singers I have been happiest to discover on my journey, is the singer of the 35th UK #1 single, Alma Cogan.

Born in East London in 1932, she went from singer-in-residence at a hotel, to the biggest British female star of the fifties. ‘The Girl with the Giggle in Her Voice’ – a nickname she earned after bursting into laughter during an early recording session – with huge frocks and a healthy pair of lungs – to listen to her early hits is to lose yourself in unpretentious pop perfection. Of which ‘Dreamboat’, her one and only chart-topper, is perhaps the perfect example.

(You can read my original post on it here.) Voted Outstanding British Female Singer by NME readers four times between 1956-1960, she scored hits throughout the decade by covering standards such as ‘Mambo Italiano’ and ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love?’, ‘Little Things Mean a Lot’ and ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’. Being a popular singer in the fifties and early sixties meant that she also recorded her fair share of novelties – ‘Never Do a Tango with an Eskimo‘ – and showtunes. But she sings them with such a twinkle in her eyes that you forgive even her cheesiest moments. Here she is, belting out ‘As Long as He Needs Me’ from ‘Oliver!’ (Apparently the part of Nancy was written with Cogan in mind, and she does have a fantastic cockney rasp in her voice, compared to other more stage-school actresses who have played the role.)

The swinging sixties killed off her chart-topping days, as they did to many stars of the fifties. But there is a fascinating coda to Alma Cogan’s career – her friendship with The Beatles…

Cogan’s star was waning and the Fab Four’s was on the rise, but they would still meet at the same TV recordings. She was the first person that Paul played ‘Yesterday’ to, and she allegedly had an affair with John. She also tried to relaunch herself back into the charts by covering some of the bands hits – her ‘Eight Days a Week’ is a particular moment of overblown brilliance.

For whatever reason, she couldn’t seem to reignite her singles career – in the UK at least – and died tragically young from cancer in 1966. She was just thirty-four. Which terrifies me, as I am thirty-four and I have neither enjoyed a decade-long singing career nor had an affair with a Beatle… Just what have I done with my life?

Here’s one of Alma Cogan’s later TV performances – a cover of ‘The Tennessee Waltz’ – as introduced by her (supposed) lover John Lennon. They do flirt quite heavily in this clip, I must say…

And if that doesn’t leave with a smile on your face, then I don’t know what medication to recommend…

Alma Cogan, 19th May 1932 – 26th October 1966

Random Runners-up: ‘Cool Water’, by Frankie Laine with the Mellomen

My special feature for the week is a moment in the sun for the singles that didn’t quite make it to the top. These aren’t particularly long-running, or unlucky #2 singles. They may not even be particularly good… They all simply peaked in the runners-up position.

Today’s random runner-up takes us back a good ol’ while…

‘Cool Water’, by Frankie Laine with the Mellomen

#2 for 3 weeks, behind ‘Rose Marie‘, from 5th – 26th August 1955

Before Slade or T Rex, before the Stones and the Beatles, before even Elvis himself, one man dominated the UK singles chart in its earliest days: Frankie Laine.

In 1953, the first full year of the singles chart, he scored three #1s that lasted at the top for a staggering twenty-eight weeks (!) This record was his 16th Top 20 hit in under 3 years. Everything he recorded turned to chart gold… Which perhaps explains the success of ‘Cool Water.’ It was a hit by default.

Or maybe its been so long since I reviewed a pre-rock single I’ve forgotten how dull most of them were. It’s a song from a Western, about a cowboy lost in the desert, dragging his horse, Dan, along in search of water. Cool, clear, water….

Dan can y’see that big green tree, Where the water’s runnin’ free…? Dan doesn’t answer because it’s just a mirage, and he’s just a horse. It’s very 1955, this song, and it fits right in with the spaghetti-western film-score feel of #1s like ‘The Man From Laramie‘, ‘Give Me Your Word‘, and the 11-week mega chart-topper that held this off top-spot, ‘Rose Marie’.

A few months after this hit #2, ‘Rock Around the Clock‘ would come along and that would be that. Rock ‘n’ roll would be here to stay. Frankie Laine’s chart-topping days would be numbered, although he remained a recording artist into the 1970s. In fact, he would re-record ‘Cool Water’ in 1961, for an album titled ‘Hell Bent for Leather’ (Is it just me, or does that sound more S&M than C&W…?)

Meanwhile, the Mellomen, who provide the actually quite cool deep-voiced Cooool Water… backing vocals, have also appeared on a #1 themselves: Rosemary Clooney’s ‘Mambo Italiano‘ earlier in the same year. A fun, catchy song that reminds us there actually were some great chart-toppers before Bill Haley and Co. came along.

One last #2 coming up tomorrow…

Remembering Vera Lynn

I had decided not to do a post on Dame Vera Lynn, who passed away yesterday, aged 103. She was, after all, representative of an era before the singles chart came into being. Born during WWI (just think about that for a second!), she began singing with dance bands before going on to become the ‘Forces’ Sweetheart’, singing traditional pop songs that kept spirits up among the public and the armed forces during the second world war. Plus, there are plenty of obituaries doing the rounds, by people who know much more about her than me.

278244fd90f7ae50a1da1be746f6a0bf

But, she did have a #1 single: ‘My Son, My Son’ in 1954. You can read my original post on that here. (I don’t think I was wildly complimentary about the song, but hey ho.) Plus, she was the first non-American artist to reach #1 on the US Billboard charts, with ‘Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart’, in 1952.

On top of that… I was doing some browsing in the wake of her death, and read some really interesting stories about her. For example, that she played an anti-heroin benefit gig with Hawkwind, organised by Pete Townshend, in the eighties. And that she rocked up to Brighton Pride aged 92, to support the Brighton and Hove Gay Men’s Chorus in another charity performance. And that she sued the British National Party for using her signature tune, ‘We’ll Meet Again’, in an ad campaign. (I suppose part of the reason I was going to avoid this post was because her legacy and her back-catalogue have been hi-jacked by nationalists and Brexiteers in recent years – but clearly Ms Lynn had no time for that nonsense herself.) Here is said signature song:

It would have been a massive #1 in 1939, had the singles chart existed. ‘We’ll Meet Again’ has reappeared in the British charts in recent weeks, after striking a resonant chord with those isolated during the Coronavirus crisis – making Dame Vera by far the oldest person ever to have a hit single.

So in the end I did decide to do a post on Dame Vera Lynn. And you’ve just read it. Normal service will resume tomorrow!

1592472929017

(Lynn, on a morale-boosting tour in 1942)

Dame Vera Lynn, 20th March 1917 – 18th June 2020

Never Had a #1 Hit… Ricky Nelson

I’m taking a quick break from the usual rundown to give a mention to the bands and artists that we will never meet at the top of the UK singles chart. If you were following along, wondering when (*insert name of your favourite act*) were going to finally appear in this countdown, then I got some bad news for you…

(I’ll do this in chronological order, with acts whom we would have met by now – i.e. in the fifties, sixties and early seventies.)

I wanted to include an early rock ‘n’ roller in this feature, and the obvious one would have been Little Richard. But, as legendary a figure as Richard was, a lot has been written about him since his death a fortnight ago. And, in terms of chart hits without reaching top-spot, one star of the late fifties and early sixties stands out even more…

6cdec6fc32669f6646e455bf6b4b9732

Look at those eyes! Nelson was quite ridiculously good-looking. The son of two well-known celebrities of the 1930s and 40s, he made his way in typical teen-idol fashion, first through radio sitcoms as a child, then TV shows and films as a teenager, and then, in 1957, he released his first single, aged seventeen. He scored tons of Billboard Top 10 hits, as well as two #1s, and while he wasn’t as successful in the UK, here are his five biggest:

‘Travellin’ Man’ / ‘Hello Mary Lou’, #2 in 1961

A pretty standard, Neil Sedaka-ish early sixties pop song for the first half of this double-‘A’, in which Nelson sings about the girls he has around the world. He’s got a little Eskimo girl in Alaska, and a China-doll in ol’ Hong Kong. Simpler times, simpler times…

A much better song on the flip side: a rolling country beat and a simple tale of falling in love with a pretty young gal called Mary-Lou.

‘It’s Late’, #3 in 1959

Great, light rock ‘n’ roll song, and a common theme for the time: a young couple stay out past their curfew, and dad’s gonna be mad. Ricky hopes this won’t be their last date…

‘Poor Little Fool’, #4 in 1958

Another fifties standard. His first US #1, and the new chart-topper on the first-ever Billboard Hot 100. Not his greatest song, though. A little dull. Nice enough. Next.

‘Someday’, #9 in 1958

Suspiciously similar in theme and sound to Connie Francis’s ‘Who’s Sorry Now’… The follow-up to ‘Poor Little Fool’ was an older country song given a light rock ‘n’ roll makeover, which is how around fifty percent of the chart-toppers in 1958 came about.

To be honest, Ricky Nelson’s biggest hits aren’t his best. I love his version of ‘Fools Rush In’, and his sarcastic seventies comeback ‘Garden Party’. And then there is the majestic ‘Lonesome Town’ – one of the 1950’s sparsest, most haunting hit records. As the sixties progressed, he dropped the ‘y’ from his name as the hit singles and big movie roles dried up. He struggled through a very messy divorce, and drug problems, before dying in a plane crash in 1985.

Hope you enjoyed this short interlude. I’ll do another three artistes-sans-#1s in the autumn…

 

Top 10s – The 1950s

Time for a Top 10… Usually I rank the ten best singles from a particular artist (last time it was The Kinks) but I thought I’d fiddle with my criteria a little, and rank my favourite #1 singles from an entire decade.

Starting with the singles chart’s very first decade. Back where it all began, when rock ‘n’ roll was but a twinkle in Elvis’s eye. The list is in chronological order – not ranked in order of preference – and to choose the songs I went back and read through my recaps to see which ones I dug at the time, live, as it were…

So, without further ado, the ten best #1 singles of the 1950s, according to me:

1. ‘Look at That Girl’, by Guy Mitchell – #1 for 6 weeks in Sept/Oct 1953

Only the 12th-ever number one single, from one of the decade’s biggest chart stars, and a runner-up in my first recap. This was the very first whiff of rock ‘n’ roll at the top of the UK charts (a very faint whiff, but still) and I think it appealed more than it probably should have because I’d waded through so much Eddie Fisher and Mantovani to get to it. Still, a catchy, upbeat tune. As I wrote in my original post:

“It sounds to me as if a battle is taking place here, between traditional easy-listening and the burgeoning rock ‘n’ roll movement. On the one hand you’ve got the usual twee backing singers and floaty trumpets, parping away at the end of each line; on the other you have the hand claps and the guitar solo.”

3dfa9028eb05e4f4072a50a1d556666a--american-artists-classic-rock

 

2. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray – #1 for 1 week in April/May 1954

Johnnie Ray was known for his emoting, which lent him two spectacular nicknames: ‘The Prince of Wails’ and ‘The Nabob of Sob’. But for his 1st of three #1s he was overcome with a slightly more enjoyable emotion… lust! By far the sauciest number one of the pre-rock era, I awarded it ‘Best Chart-Topper’ in my 1st recap. I’d go as far as saying it was the best #1 single ever… Until 1957 came along. My original post is here:

“…what makes it, and elevates it to a classic, are Ray’s vocals. Like Doris Day before him there’s an effortlessness to his voice that draws you in and yanks you along. But his voice is nothing like the clean-cut, honeyed tones of Miss Day. ‘Such a Night’ isn’t being sung here – it’s being ridden, it’s being humped… it’s being performed!”

cb7c74a231dcd2dd49842e43981cd00f--josephine-musicians

 

3. ‘Mambo Italiano’, by Rosemary Clooney & The Mellomen – #1 for 3 weeks in Jan/Feb 1955

I remember noting, back in the early days of the charts, that it felt like the girls were having all the fun. Guys were being boringly earnest – Al Martino, Eddie Fisher, David Whitfield all proclaiming overwrought, undying love over heavy orchestration. Meanwhile Rosemary Clooney, in her 2nd #1, was singing in cod-Italian about fish bacalao (which is Portuguese, but whatever.) It’s a song that resonates to this day, with a 00s remix and a 2011 pastiche by Lady Gaga. I named it a runner-up in my first recap:

“…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.”

clooney-94b833378517905808a9405ad88dff3bcfe05e4b-s900-c85

 

4. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra – #1 for 2 weeks in April/May 1955

Another saucy slice of Latin pop, which I named the very best song in my 2nd recap! Again, my opinion of it was probably exaggerated because of all the pre-rock easy-listening mulch surrounding it. It is catchy, though. Just you try not swaying along. Can’t be done! I tried summing up the record’s appeal in my original post

“…it 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.”

R-582429-1341876426-2330.jpeg

 

5. ‘Dreamboat’, by Alma Cogan – #1 for 2 weeks in July 1955

The 3rd #1 from 1955, making it officially the best year of the decade… (Hmm…) ‘Dreamboat’ is just a spectacularly fun pop song, sung with a giggle and a wink by perhaps the biggest British female star of the pre-rock age. As I wrote at the time:

“…there isn’t much else to ‘Dreamboat’ -it’s a fun little ditty. Cogan sings it well, with the perfect pronunciation we’ve come to expect but also with a light, playful touch that’s been missing from many of the number ones so far.”

de565d5d80ca47f8aae75ff675d21485--vinyl-records-singers

 

6. ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love’, by The Teenagers ft. Frankie Lymon – #1 for 3 weeks in July/Aug 1956

Regrets, I have a few… One of them being that I named this classic as a runner-up to Perez Prado in my 2nd recap. What was I thinking? ‘Cherry Pink…’ is great and all, but this is timeless. The first number one by kids, for kids – the Teenagers were all, you guessed it, teenagers – is one of the catchiest, golden pop moments of all time, let alone the decade. As I wrote

“… it’s just a great song. A summer smash. It oozes New York city: steam, water spraying from a sidewalk valve, the sun blasting down, the Jets and the Sharks… (I dunno. I grew up in small town Scotland.)”

Frankie_Lymon_and_the_Teenagers

 

7. ‘That’ll Be the Day’, by The Crickets – #1 for 3 weeks in November 1957

Perhaps the most obvious choice of the ten… What else needs to be said. Press play, gasp at the spectacular intro, and enjoy two and a half minutes of rock ‘n’ roll perfection…

“…Buddy Holly’s voice dances and flirts – toys, almost – with the listener. He coos, he pauses, he growls… The Crickets play tightly, but also very loosely. There’s a great, rough-around-the-edges feel to this record that contrasts with the polished cheese of Paul Anka’s ‘Diana’, whose bumper run at the top this track ended.”

13b76502b2e66b8af543e51889003212

 

8. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis – #1 for 2 weeks in January 1958

But… I didn’t name ‘That’ll Be the Day’ as one of the very best chart-toppers. Oh no. In my 3rd recap, that honour was reserved for The Killer. On any given day, I could wake up and prefer ‘Great Balls…’ to ‘That’ll Be the Day’, or vice-versa. What’s the point in debating?  These two records were nailed-on to make my 50’s Top 10. Pure rock ‘n’ roll greatness…

“…It’s just an absolute blitz, an assault on the senses, a two-minute blast which takes rock ‘n’ roll up another notch.”

jerryleelewis22

 

9. ‘Who’s Sorry Now’, by Connie Francis – #1 for 6 weeks in May/June 1958

A spot of schadenfreude in the decade’s sassiest #1 single. Connie got dumped, and is now taking great pleasure that the tables have turned on her ex in his new relationship. You had your way, Now you must pay, I’m glad that you’re sorry now… Who says girls in the 50’s were all sweetness and apple pie? The twang in her voice when she launches into the final verse is something to behold. As I wrote at the time…

“A lot of the female artists we’ve met previously on this countdown have been cute, and flirty, and fun to listen to – Kitty Kallen, Kay Starr, Winifred Atwell… But no girl has brought this level of spunk to the table.”

Connie_Francis_1961

 

10. ‘Dream Lover’, by Bobby Darin – #1 for 4 weeks in July 1959

Last up –  a record that encapsulates everything great about the 1950s, mixing rock ‘n’ roll with swing, doo-wop and a touch of pre-rock crooning, to create pop perfection. Another runner-up to Jerry Lee in my 3rd recap, but there’s no shame in that. In my original post, I wrote:

“…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.”

MI0002749454

And there we have it! The ten best #1 singles of the 1950s!