130. ‘Tower of Strength’, by Frankie Vaughan

And so we resume normal service. Since I first listened to this next Number One single, in preparation for writing this post, I’ve been trying to place it. Trying to put my finger on what exactly is happening here… What box does this fit into? Why did it prove such a popular song in December of 1961…?

xo4c63c9oxj66j96

Tower of Strength, by Frankie Vaughan (his 2nd and final #1)

3 weeks, from 7th – 28th December 1961

What’s happening here is simple: Frankie Vaughan is singing a song – and having the time of his life doing so. This is an irresistible song – it barrels in the front door and wallops you over the head with a rollicking sax riff (you can have a saxophone riff, right?)… baaa da da-na da-na… And then in comes Frankie.

If I were a tower of strength, I’d walk away, I’d look in your eyes, And here’s what I say… If he were a tower of strength, a man of action, someone with a bit of backbone, he’d tell his wayward lover: I don’t want you, I don’t need you, I don’t love you anymore… Said woman would , cry, plead and beg him to stay. Simple. Except, plot twist… A tower of strength is something, I’ll never be…

That’s pretty much it as far as the lyrics are concerned. The main attraction here is the absolute gusto with which Frankie Vaughan belts his way through this song. He yelps, he growls, he hits some scandalously high notes, and he gives us the biggest finish we’ve had a number of years: I’ll… Ne-ver… BEEEE-EEEEEE! It’s the sort of ending that was done to death in the mid-fifties – the THIS IS THE END OF THE SONG! kind of finale – but in the right hands it can still sound superb. For some reason I’m imagining this scenario where the sound engineer and the producer are goading Vaughan, suggesting that he might not be up to singing this particular song, not able to hit all the notes, and Frankie just looks at them and says: “Press the red button, punks…”

FRANKIE-VAUGHAN-Tower-Of-Strength-Rachel-7

I first came across this song a few years ago when it appeared on my Spotify feed, and it lifts me every time it pops up on a shuffle. It’s the sort of tune you should throw on when you’re in a mid-afternoon slump, or nursing a mild hangover – an aural espresso. When it finishes, you draw breath, half-expecting to look around the room and see the lampshade swinging, pieces of paper floating to the ground, pictures on the wall knocked squint…

What I didn’t realise until now is that Vaughan’s version of ‘Tower of Strength’ was a cover. The original was released by one Gene McDaniels – an American soul singer. It’s a fine version, a slightly slicker, Sam Cooke-ish version, that was a big hit in the US – though it could only creep to #49 in the UK. But… There’s something so relentlessly likeable about this version, something so fabulously uncool about Vaughan’s dad-at-a-wedding vocals, that I’d say his is definitive.

Of course, we have heard from Mr. Vaughan before in this countdown. Way, way back in January 1957 – nigh on five years ago – with ‘The Garden of Eden’. A song which was, in its own way, every bit as weird as this. While a five year gap between #1s isn’t that odd; he has basically straddled the rock ‘n’ roll era – bookending it with his two chart-toppers. Very few of the chart stars from 1957 – Tommy Steele, Guy Mitchell and Tab Hunter were his contemporaries at the top the first time around – were still managing it in the early sixties, and so credit where it’s due. In total, Vaughan’s recording career lasted from 1950 through to 1987 and, again, that ain’t to be sniffed at. He was an old-fashioned type – the sort of Butlins holiday-camp performer turned everyman pop star that seems to be a constant trope in British music, no matter the era – think Dickie Valentine through to Olly Murs.

We’ll leave him here, belting out ‘Tower of Strength’ to his heart’s content. And while we won’t be hearing from Frankie again, our ears will still be ringing for some time to come…

55. ‘The Garden of Eden’, by Frankie Vaughan

Before I begin my next post in this countdown, I would just like to address something. The elephant in the room, if you will. As I mentioned back when writing about Guy Mitchell’s ‘Singing the Blues’, one of its weeks in the top spot was shared with the record that’s up next: Frankie Vaughan’s ‘The Garden of Eden’. It’s the second time we’ve encountered this situation, and it won’t be the last. Which begs the question… How did records end up sharing the top spot with such regularity in the 1950s? Well, the answer’s pretty simple. But it kind of whips the rug away from under this whole countdown. You see, the charts back in the early days of their existence simply weren’t very accurate.

Way back in my intro I mentioned that the concept of a ‘singles chart’ was introduced in November 1952 by the NME. And the UK Singles Charts company has since incorporated this chart into the ‘official’ chart – even though such a thing didn’t exist at the time. There were various other charts published every week in the 1950s: the Melody Maker chart, the Record Mirror chart, the Record Retailer chart… and the NME chart, which is recognised as the most comprehensive. But not completely comprehensive. There are still many bones of contention. Which I won’t go into here – they can be easily searched for online.

The number of record stores surveyed by the NME for their chart was surprisingly low and the methods very old fashioned compared to the instant downloading and streaming databases used in 2018 – they basically called up a bunch of record stores and asked them to keep a record of what they were selling. The first chart – topped by the record we met in my earliest post, Al Martino’s ‘Here in My Heart’ – was compiled using data from only 20 (twenty!) major record stores. And thus, every so often, because they were working from such a small sample, there were ties. David Whitfield and Frankie Laine in 1953, Guy Mitchell and Frankie Vaughan in 1957… In 1960, the Record Retailer Chart became the UK Chart Company’s chart of choice and there were no further ‘joint’ number ones (though there were still several contested number ones). Then in 1969 the British Market Research Bureau took over chart-compiling duties and steadied the boat further, while in 1982 chart compilation went digital. Since then, it’s been on the straight and narrow. 100% reliable.

So, while it may be distressing to some to discover the records that you have read about during this countdown may not actually have been the best selling records in a particular week, I thought it was only correct that I address the issue. And with that, today’s sermon is brought to a close. On with the next (presumed?) Number One Single!

s-l300

The Garden of Eden, by Frankie Vaughan (his 1st of two #1s)

4 weeks, from 25th January – 22nd February 1957 (including 1 week joint with Guy Mitchell from 1st – 8th February 1957)

So I press play on this record, ‘The Garden of Eden’ by Frankie Vaughan, and pretty soon I get to thinking that, from ‘Just Walkin’ in the Rain’ to this, I don’t think we’ve encountered such a run of similar-sounding songs. Here we have yet another male singer, with yet another performance involving guitar and vocals and not much else. I’m gearing up for another recap, so I don’t want to get too introspective right now, but it seems like we are settling into a groove which – glancing ahead at what’s to come – might last for a while yet.

I am not left thinking this for too long, however. This record is slightly deceiving. It does start off with a simple guitar strum, and with understated backing singers, but halfway through someone flicks a switch. We get trumpets, and a cymbal clash. Things escalate pretty quickly. The drums go up several notches, and suddenly the vocals are accompanied by a full-on big-band swing section. It’s a never ending crescendo, a key-change drawn out for two and a half minutes, and I like it! You can imagine this being performed on TV, the curtain opening to show Frankie Vaughan alone on stage. Then, as the song progresses, the lights draw further and further back to reveal, by the end, the full-blown orchestra that are bringing us to climax. It’s not rock ‘n’ roll, in terms of the sound, but it is in terms of the frenzied tempo.

Lyrically we are in somewhat stranger territory too. Recent number ones have been lovelorn, and wry. This is… well to tell the truth I’m not entirely sure what this is: When you walk in the garden, The garden of Eden, With a beautiful woman, And you know how you care… And a voice in the garden, The garden of Eden, Tells you she is forbidden, Can you leave her there?

It goes on… When you’re yearning for loving, And she touches your hand, Can you leave her to heaven, And obey the command, Can you walk from the garden, Does your heart understand?

It’s a parable, maybe. Resist temptation? Don’t resist temptation? I don’t really know what it’s about even after several listens. My best bet is that this is Vaughan explaining his behaviour to St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. “Yes, m’lord, I should have resisted the advances of that beautiful woman but, to be honest, she was far too hot…”

hqdefault

Without knowing any of this track’s backstory, I imagine it must have been pretty risqué to have had this many religious references in a pop song back in early 1957. Remember how, back in 1953, Frankie Laine and David Mitchell had remove the ‘My Lord’ from the title of their versions of ‘Answer Me’? But I can’t find mention of any controversy online. So that’s that.

Also of note is the fact that, once again, it’s a British artist doing the rockin’ and a rollin’. Vaughan was a Liverpudlian for whom this appearance at the top of the UK charts was the culmination of a few years of growing success – he was voted ‘Showbusiness Personality of the Year’ in 1956, and was one of the biggest stars of the late fifties. Pictures show him in dickie-bows and top-hats, so we know what kind of territory we’re in. And we will meet Mr. Vaughan again, in a few years, though I feel he has been somewhat forgotten over time, considering how famous he once was.