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?