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…

Behind the #1s – Paul Weston

Taking a break from the usual proceedings, I’m going to use this week to take a look at the folks behind some of the 210 #1s we’ve heard so far. The writers, the producers and, in the case of our first post, the conductors…

In the early days of the charts, when big productions and even bigger voices were all the rage, any self-respecting chart-topper needed an orchestra to back up them up. On the 45s of the time, nearly every #1 is assigned to both a lead artist and an orchestra. ‘Here in My Heart’, by Al Martino, with Orchestra under the direction of Monty Kelly… ‘Outside of Heaven’, by Eddie Fisher with Hugo Winterhalter’s Orchestra and Chorus…

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Perhaps for reasons of convenience, the Official Singles Chart don’t list the orchestra, or it’s conductor, for any of the early chart-toppers. Which is strange, I suppose, as in modern times we have no problem with crediting ‘featured’ artists on a dance or rap track. Maybe it’s because we don’t actually hear their voices… Whatever the reason, several men have missed out on their moment in the record books. Winterhalter and Kelly, Frank Cordell, Stanley Black, Harold Mooney, Mitch Miller…

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I’ve chosen Paul Weston as the frontman for this piece, though, thanks largely to his work with Frankie Laine. Weston was a Massachusetts born musician, who had been a pianist in a dance band, before becoming a song-writer and music director at Capital, and then Colombia Records. He conducted and arranged all three of Laine’s 1953 hits: ‘I Believe’ (still the song with the most weeks at #1 in the UK, sixty-five years on), ‘Hey Joe!’ and ‘Answer Me’. He also conducted on Jo Stafford’s ‘You Belong to Me’, Britain’s 2nd  ever chart-topper. Stafford and Weston had married not long before recording the song.

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Paul Weston with his wife, Jo Stafford

If Paul Weston were actually credited with his work on #1 singles, he would sit at joint 10th place in the all-time weeks at the top of the UK singles chart list with 29 weeks’ worth of chart-toppers, tied with ABBA and Take That, and one week behind Drake. Later in the 1950s he went on to do TV work, helped to start up the Grammy Awards, and worked for Disney. He passed away in the mid-nineties.

One conductor who did get credited on his hit records was the Italian, Annunzio Paulo Mantovani who, like all the best pop stars, went by just the one name: Mantovani. He was popular enough to score a solo, instrumental number one single in 1953: The Song from ‘The Moulin Rouge’, which had been a big hit in the cinemas that year. This success, and his subsequent fame is, I’m guessing, why he is the only conductor to be credited by the Official Charts Company, for his orchestral accompaniment on David Whitfield’s overwrought ‘Cara Mia’ in 1954.

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Mantovani, doing his thing

Conductors and their orchestras became less essential once rock ‘n’ roll arrived, but they still occasionally popped up on the more bombastic number ones. The last one I can think of was Shirley Bassey’s ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ / ‘Reach for the Stars’ double-‘A’ side from 1961, which was credited, on the vinyl at least, to Geoff Love and His Orchestra.

To the conductors, then, and their batons, which shaped the sound of the singles chart’s earliest years.

‘A Woman in Love’, by Frankie Laine – 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…

Song number five: the King of Pre-Rock – Mr. Frankie Laine. Laine, along with Guy Mitchell, was the most consistent chart-topper before Elvis came along. His 1st #1 – ‘I Believe’ – still holds the record for most weeks at the top of the charts. ‘A Woman in Love’ was his swan song – one of his last big hits – and I remember thinking, when I wrote this post, that it felt as if it came out of nowhere. The swing and swagger of the big band on this record, and the glint in Laine’s eye as he sang it, were a world away from his earlier, painfully earnest ballads. I can’t say I’m a fan of all his work; but this is a great song…

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A Woman in Love, by Frankie Laine (his 4th and final #1)

4 weeks, from to 19th October to 16th November 1956

Look who’s back!

Almost three years since we last saw him, Frankie Laine is back at the top of the charts for one final hurrah. And it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that this is something of a re-invention.

I think this is the very first ‘big band’ #1 we’ve seen. It’s from the film version of ‘Guys and Dolls’, and I think it might be a tango, or a foxtrot (I ain’t no dancer). Either way, it begins with a bang, and then it starts swinging. Frankie Laine is a-swingin’.

Your eyes are the eyes of a woman in love, And oh how they give you away… Why try to deny, You’re a woman in love, When I know very well, When I say…

Who is this woman head over heels with? Well, Frankie of course. At least that’s what he thinks: Those eyes are the eyes of a woman in love, And may they gaze ever more into mine…

Contrast these lyrics with Laine’s last chart-topping single from December ’53. ‘Answer Me’ was all about him pleading for a sign that his lover was still, well, in love with him. In ‘A Woman in Love’ he doesn’t need any reassurance, any prayers answered. He knows she’s hot for him. The times they are a-changing.

And then we have one of the best musical interludes that we’ve heard so far in this countdown. The previous chart-toppers haven’t really gone in for solos, but this one does. The whole band gets stuck into a swinging little thirty seconds. There is a lot of swagger in this record. I’m quite enjoying sticking one-word labels on these recent #1s: Pat BooneCrooner, Anne SheltonTwee, Frankie Laine – Swagger! We’ve had an eclectic run of songs hitting the top spot recently, perhaps the most varied run of this countdown so far, but in a way they’ve all been very of their time. Popular music right on the cusp of the rock ‘n’ roll invasion.

The only thing that spoils this record is the finale. Frankie may have re-invented himself, but he still loves a big ending: Crazily, ga-aze, e-ever mo-ore into MIIIIIIINNNNEEE! Every time I hear an ending like that it sounds more and more old-fashioned. I can’t imagine there’ll be many more, though. Surely. But, overall, this is a small complaint. It’s a great song. Laine’s voice is as warm and as listenable as ever. He and Doris Day should have recorded a duet (*edit* they did – ‘Sugarbush’ back in 1952).

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And so we bid farewell to perhaps the biggest of all the pre-rock stars. Four number one singles adding up to 32 (thirty-two!) weeks at the top. That’s pretty darn impressive, and leaves him at 5th place in the all-time list behind only…. I’ll give you a few seconds to guess… Elvis, The Beatles, Cliff and The Shadows. And, actually, I’m harping on about this being a ‘re-invention’ and a ‘comeback’ for Laine, but he hadn’t been anywhere. In the three years between his 3rd and 4th #1s he had still racked up a whole pile of top ten hits. He was huge. ‘A Woman in Love’ would, though, be his penultimate top ten single in the UK.

One final thought… This track made Frankie Laine the artist with the most UK #1s at this point. With four. It’s noticeable that we haven’t yet met an artist who has scored, or will even go on to score, more than four. These early charts were a very egalitarian place – songs only got to the top because they were… I don’t want to say ‘good’ because, well… let’s say: ‘universally popular’. The days of super-star idols, of huge fan-base acts whose every release races to the top of the charts – your Take Thats, Westlifes, Spice Girls – are still not upon us. But they will be sooner than you might think, and their arrival has a lot to do with this new-fangled thing called rock ‘n’ roll.

51. ‘A Woman in Love’, by Frankie Laine

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A Woman in Love, by Frankie Laine (his 4th and final #1)

4 weeks, from to 19th October to 16th November 1956

Look who’s back!

Almost three years since we last saw him, Frankie Laine is back at the top of the charts for one final hurrah. And it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that this is something of a re-invention.

I think this is the very first ‘big band’ #1 we’ve seen. It’s from the film version of ‘Guys and Dolls’, and I think it might be a tango, or a foxtrot (I ain’t no dancer). Either way, it begins with a bang, and then it starts swinging. Frankie Laine is a-swingin’.

Your eyes are the eyes of a woman in love, And oh how they give you away… Why try to deny, You’re a woman in love, When I know very well, When I say…

Who is this woman head over heels with? Well, Frankie of course. At least that’s what he thinks: Those eyes are the eyes of a woman in love, And may they gaze ever more into mine…

Contrast these lyrics with Laine’s last chart-topping single from December ’53. ‘Answer Me’ was all about him pleading for a sign that his lover was still, well, in love with him. In ‘A Woman in Love’ he doesn’t need any reassurance, any prayers answered. He knows she’s hot for him. The times they are a-changing.

And then we have one of the best musical interludes that we’ve heard so far in this countdown. The previous chart-toppers haven’t really gone in for solos, but this one does. The whole band gets stuck into a swinging little thirty seconds. There is a lot of swagger in this record. I’m quite enjoying sticking one-word labels on these recent #1s: Pat BooneCrooner, Anne SheltonTwee, Frankie Laine – Swagger! We’ve had an eclectic run of songs hitting the top spot recently, perhaps the most varied run of this countdown so far, but in a way they’ve all been very of their time. Popular music right on the cusp of the rock ‘n’ roll invasion.

The only thing that spoils this record is the finale. Frankie may have re-invented himself, but he still loves a big ending: Crazily, ga-aze, e-ever mo-ore into MIIIIIIINNNNEEE! Every time I hear an ending like that it sounds more and more old-fashioned. I can’t imagine there’ll be many more, though. Surely. But, overall, this is a small complaint. It’s a great song. Laine’s voice is as warm and as listenable as ever. He and Doris Day should have recorded a duet (*edit* they did – ‘Sugarbush’ back in 1952).

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And so we bid farewell to perhaps the biggest of all the pre-rock stars. Four number one singles adding up to 32 (thirty-two!) weeks at the top. That’s pretty darn impressive, and leaves him at 5th place in the all-time list behind only…. I’ll give you a few seconds to guess… Elvis, The Beatles, Cliff and The Shadows. And, actually, I’m harping on about this being a ‘re-invention’ and a ‘comeback’ for Laine, but he hadn’t been anywhere. In the three years between his 3rd and 4th #1s he had still racked up a whole pile of top ten hits. He was huge. ‘A Woman in Love’ would, though, be his penultimate top ten single in the UK.

One final thought… This track made Frankie Laine the artist with the most UK #1s at this point. With four. It’s noticeable that we haven’t yet met an artist who has scored, or will even go on to score, more than four. These early charts were a very egalitarian place – songs only got to the top because they were… I don’t want to say ‘good’ because, well… let’s say: ‘universally popular’. The days of super-star idols, of huge fan-base acts whose every release races to the top of the charts – your Take Thats, Westlifes, Spice Girls – are still not upon us. But they will be sooner than you might think, and their arrival has a lot to do with this new-fangled thing called rock ‘n’ roll.

15. ‘Answer Me’, by Frankie Laine

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Answer Me, by Frankie Laine (his 3rd of four #1s)

8 weeks, from 13th November 1953 to 8th January 1954 (including 1 week joint with David Whitfield, from 11th to 18th December 1953)

There’s something rather familiar about this record…

Having read the previous post, you know what this song is all about: heartbroken guy, on his knees, turning to the Lord as a last resort… all very melodramatic. This sticks very close to the structure of the David Whitfield version – it’s exactly the same length – but I must admit I like this version better. There’s just something about Laine’s voice: warm, beckoning, a voice I want to listen to, a voice I trust. Unlike Whitfield’s plummy whining.

Musically, this version is also a little less overwrought than its predecessor. The guitar strums that play us in are very reminiscent of ‘I Believe’, and the violins have been replaced by an organ and backing singers. It’s still pretty dull, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just that little bit more listenable. It’s got an American gloss, all glittery lapels and perfect teeth, that David Whitfield’s reserved, BBC World Service delivery was lacking. And the ending is still a bit much, though Laine holds it back until the final line rather than belting out the whole last chorus.

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We’re now a year into this countdown, believe it or not, and out of the past 37 weeks, Mr. Frankie Laine has been at number one for 28 of them. In many ways it is impossible to compare the charts of today with those of the early ’50s – in terms of how the data is collected, in terms of what data is included, in terms of how wide-ranging the chart data is – but if anyone does think that today’s streaming dominated charts are dull, slow-moving and dominated by the same handful of artists, I would suggest you tell them to thank their lucky stars they weren’t around in the autumn of 1953. Not only are the same artists dominating here; the same songs are, too.

In lieu of mentioning having anything new to say about the song, I thought I might give a little shout out here to the conductors. The ‘what’, you say? The conductors! Almost every chart-topping record by a solo act, as you may have noticed from the pictures I post at the start of every entry, has been conducted by someone and their orchestra.

So far, Monty Kelly has conducted the orchestra for ‘Here in My Heart’, Harold Mooney for ‘Comes A-Long A-Love’, Hugo Winterhalter did both Eddie Fisher’s chart-toppers, Mitch Miller was Guy Mitchell’s go-to guy for both of his, Johnny Douglas did the ‘accompaniment’ for ‘That Doggie in the Window’ (apparently it didn’t warrant a full-blown orchestra) while Stanley Black guided David Whitfield through ‘Answer Me’. Mr. Paul Weston, though, has been the most prolific so far: Jo Stafford’s ‘You Belong to Me’, as well as the Frankie Laine trio of ‘I Believe’, ‘Hey Joe’ and now ‘Answer Me’ coming under his baton. Only the Stargazers (presumably because they played their own instruments) and Perry Como haven’t had orchestral accompaniment. Mantovani got the credit as conductor for ‘Moulin Rouge’ because it was an instrumental.

If haven’t included these conductors in the titles of my blog posts it’s because, well, they aren’t included anywhere else. Most listings of UK Singles Chart #1s – Wikipedia and the Official Chart Company included – don’t mention them. And so I won’t either. I understand it from the point of view that the conductor is neither playing an instrument nor singing the song, and that if the conductor gets a credit then so should the violinist, the trombonist, the harpist etc. etc. But, at the same time, Paul Weston has been heavily involved in four number one singles so far – with more to come, presumably – totalling 30 weeks at the top. That would already be enough to make him joint 7th (with Justin Bieber) for most combined weeks at number one! It seems a little harsh that he is forever banished from the chart history books…

13. ‘Hey Joe!’, by Frankie Laine

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Hey Joe!, by Frankie Laine (his 2nd of four #1s)

2 weeks, from 23rd October to 6th November 1953

One thing you soon realise as you become a seasoned chart-watcher (OK, chart-geek), is that songs don’t do well on the charts just because they’re good. Being good often has no correlation to whether or not a song is a hit.

Of course, sure, there are plenty of songs that hit the top of the charts because they’re brilliant. We’ve already seen ‘I Believe’ – a stone-cold classic – and we’ll see many, many more as we meander down this long list of Number 1s.

There are also the catchy numbers: not always classics, but songs that hit the right vein at the right time (‘Look at That Girl’ being one such) and you can completely understand why they got to the top.

Then there are the novelty hits, the so-bad-they’re-good hits, the comeback hits, the posthumous hits… Songs hit the top for a hundred and one reasons.

But one of the most interesting reasons for a song hitting the top is what I am dubbing – for the very first time, right here – the ‘shadow hit’. Example: Frankie Laine has just spent 18 weeks at #1 with a monster hit. He releases ‘Hey Joe!’, a song nowhere near as powerful, nowhere near as epic, nowhere near as good, and within a fortnight it’s hit the top spot. Had he released ‘Hey Joe!’ first, would it have performed anywhere near as well…? I’m going to have to say ‘nope’.

Not for the first time, I’ll describe this record as a bit ‘musical theatre-y’. The ‘Joe’ of the title is the singer’s love rival, and the song is basically a two-minute long pea-cocking session, a listing of why the girl should ditch Joe and get with him. I can picture the two of them having a dance-off in a barn: Frankie Vs Joe, two parts ‘Oklahoma’, one part ‘West-Side Story’.

Hey Joe! She’s got skin that’s creamy-dreamy, eyes that look so lovey-dovey, lips as red as cherry berry wine… She’s a honey, she’s a sugar pie, I’m warnin’ you I’m gonna try, to steal her from you… Lyrically it’s a bit…rich. He and Joe, it turns out, were buddies. But no longer. Girls’ll do that to a guy.

It’s not terrible. It’s up-tempo, it’s jaunty (I don’t think I’ve ever written that word so often as since I started this blog), it’s diverting and doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s very wordy – again – and there’s another guitar solo: a genuinely trippy fifteen seconds with an effects pedal that is at least twenty years ahead of it’s time. It is completely different to ‘I Believe’, and nobody could have accused Mr. Laine of resting on his laurels.

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Late 1953 was a period of utter chart domination for Frankie Laine. Having seen that he had three chart toppers in quick succession, I looked up the actual charts for this period and, in ‘Hey Joe!’s 2nd week at the top, Frankie also had brand new hit ‘Answer Me’ (more on that to follow soon) at #3, ‘Where the Winds Blow’ at #5 and the record-setting ‘I Believe’ still at #6 in its 31st week on the chart. A chart which only had 12 places! Very few artists can claim to have ever had four songs in the top six.

So, there we have it. Our first ‘shadow’ number one. More will follow, don’t you doubt it, scurrying along in the wake of bigger, better hits. As an interesting aside, some sources list this song as ‘Hey! Joe’ – the ‘Essential Frankie Laine’ album on Spotify being one. But the Official Charts Company, which I feel compelled to go along with due to years of loyalty, have done away with the exclamation mark. And I think that’s a bit of a shame. What song title isn’t enlivened by an exclamation mark?

9. ‘I Believe’, by Frankie Laine

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I Believe, by Frankie Laine (his 1st of four #1s)

9 weeks, from 24th April to 26th June/ 6 weeks, from 3rd July to 14th August/ 3 weeks, from 21st August to 11th September 1953 (18 weeks total)

Boom! Nine number ones in and we’ve hit the big time. We are walking with UK chart royalty here.

I wish I could more clearly recall the moment when I first became interested in the music charts. I have foggy memories here and there: vague snatches of mid-nineties Top 40 countdowns aged ten or eleven. I remember knowing that No Doubt were #1 with ‘Don’t Speak’, and that The Verve were there with ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’. Which places my first wave of enthusiasm firmly in 1997, aged eleven. What sparked it? I don’t know. Maybe something as simple as watching Top of the Pops.

But then I lost interest for a bit aged thirteen or fourteen – the age when you lose interest in everything – and didn’t return until I was sixteen. Then I remember very clearly listening to the Top 40 countdown in a minibus on the way home from a scout camp, on one of the weeks that Will Young’s ‘Evergreen’ was at the top. And that was that.

My interest grew subtly; from simply knowing who was in the charts, to listening to them every week, to writing down the Top 10, Top 20, Top 40. My uncle had done the same thing for years – and every so often he would let me look through huge ring-binders full of several decades’ worth of hand-written charts, and peek into the cupboard where he had a copy of every number one single since the ’60s on vinyl, cassette or CD. By 2002, though, he was losing interest (it was, I suppose, a bit weird for a man in his fifties to be buying Atomic Kitten cassingles) and so perhaps in some sense I took over from him. I’ve never thought about it like that… We never discussed it or anything. He doesn’t know I do this. And I’ve not matched his level of stamina for the task. I’ve missed huge chunks, missed years’ worth of charts. I’ve dabbled in recording the albums charts, recording iTunes number ones, Spotify number ones, rather than the traditional Top 40… And now I’m writing this.

Anyway, the reason for this huge diversion ahead of describing ‘I Believe’ by Frankie Lane is thus: back at the start of my second wave of interest in the charts I used to pore over the Guinness Book of UK Hit Singles, absorbing chart stats and memorising the #1 singles from any given year. And one of the first chart stats that anyone learns – even people who have nothing more than a passing interest – is that the longest ever run at number one is held by ‘(Everything I Do) I Do it for You’, by Bryan Adams, which resided imperiously at the top for sixteen weeks in 1991. This is basic knowledge – like knowing one Shakespeare quote, or that Pi is 3.14 something something something.

Except. Everything we think we know is wrong. Bryan Adams holds the record for most consecutive weeks at Number 1. This song has the most in total.

It begins with a single guitar strum… I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows… Like all songs that have gone on to become something more than just hit records, it’s a simple song. Deceptively simple. But Frankie Laine is in complete control of the lyrics and the tempo, each line growing upon the previous one. The song is just one big crescendo – no verses, no chorus, just a list of things of every day miracles that make the singer ‘believe’. Every time I hear a newborn baby cry, or touch a leaf, or see the sky… Then I know why… I believe… Two minutes long. Done.

The obvious conclusion to draw is that this is a hymn – that the things he lists are those that seal his faith in God. But I’m not sure. I think he just believes in life. Though I am a massive atheist. Still, perhaps part of the song’s mass appeal is that it doesn’t mention ‘God’ as such. It leaves it open for the listener to apply their own personal convictions upon the song.

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The biggest surprise for me upon Googling Frankie Laine is that he’s a pudgy white guy. His voice makes it sound for all the world like he’s black. I can’t explain it, and wouldn’t want to get into some weird, racial vocal-profiling discussion, but listen and I’m sure you’ll agree. 1953 was Laine’s year on the UK singles chart, and he’ll go on to score another couple of chart toppers before this year’s out.

Anyway. This was a song that I knew, or knew of, but had never really listened to. And it’s very good. It sounds like the sort of song that should have stayed at number one for weeks on end. So often the general public get it wrong, sending utter turds to the top and letting genuine classics languish below. But they got it right here. And if someone came along tomorrow and gave ‘I Believe’ a tropical house makeover, with a verse from Justin Bieber, it would probably work. Not that I’m suggesting anyone tries that anytime soon…

But it should be so much more famous. Its chart run was broken twice, on both occasions just for a single week, and because of that Bryan Adams has all the glory and has passed into chart folklore. And that’s just not fair. #justiceforfrankie.