‘Look at That Girl’, by Guy Mitchell – 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 Three is by the artist that I’ve ‘discovered’ the most over the past year. I’d heard the name ‘Guy Mitchell’ before, but didn’t know any of his songs. His career was the 1950s – he was a regular in the Top 10 between 1952-’59, with four #1s along the way. ‘Look at That Girl’ was his 2nd, and I’ve picked it as I think it was the 1st ‘modern’ pop song (verse-chorus etc) to top the charts, and it was also the first to feature a guitar solo! Plus, he had a voice every bit as sexy and smooth as Elvis. Enjoy!

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Look at That Girl, by Guy Mitchell (his 2nd of four #1s)

6 weeks, from 11th September to 23rd October 1953

Ladies and Gentlemena, we are finally rocking and rolling. The invasion is here!

Not at first, mind. We begin on familiar territory. We’ve got the jaunty guitars from ‘Don’t Let the Stars…’ and Mitchell’s previous #1, ‘She Wears Red Feathers’ (compared to which this is ten times better!), and some trumpets (or clarinets, or bassoons, whatever…), and Mitchell’s voice still sounds like he thinks he should be singing a comedy number.

Look at that girl, she’s like a dream come true… Ah look at that girl, can blue eyes be so blue…? But this is no simple song of longing. No, Sir. It turns out the girl is already his. We think. With each word my heart just skips, oh if I could kiss those lips… He’s keeping it ambiguous. Maybe they’ve got a thing going. Maybe not.

And as the song goes on – we start to rock. And I don’t mean ROCK (tongue out, fist raised). I mean ‘rock’, like it’s 1953. There are hand-claps. Mm-hmm. And a guitar. Woo! And Mitchell has a little call and response with the backing singers, when they take the lead lyric Look at that girl… and he quips back I don’t believe it they’re making it up! And then there are the lyrics: the kissing, the holding her tight… Pass the smelling salts…

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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. That’s right. Solo. In a symbolic move, the trumpets begin the solo and play it in tandem with the guitar for a couple of bars, before the guitar takes it over completely.

And having said that Mitchell sings the song with a slight giggle in his voice, after the 3rd or 4th listen it works. He’s having a good time. We’re having a good time. He’s a nice singer – he sounds like he could be belting it out if he wanted to, but he doesn’t. The song doesn’t require belting out (That’s something old Eddie Fisher could have learned to look out for…)

If you stick with this blog for long enough, you’ll soon see I’m a sucker for a straight-up, unpretentious pop song. A couple of verses, couple of choruses, a solo and a final verse. Maybe a key change. Then finish. The sort of song that sounds simple but is pretty darn hard to get right. (I say, having never even attempted to write a song in my life). This is one such song. And I like it. It’s my favourite so far.

‘Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes’, by Perry Como with The Ramblers – 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…

Next up is Perry Como, with ‘Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes’ – another song that surprised me with its upbeat tempo (and funky trumpet solo). And like Kay Starr, he was another artist with enough about him to make it out of the pre-rock age alive…

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Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyesby Perry Como with the Ramblers (Como’s 1st of two #1s)

5 weeks, from 6th February to 12th March 1953

One of my biggest chart bugbears, back when I started chart-watching, was one-week number ones. In the late ’90s and early ’00s it seemed like there were a never ending parade of songs waiting to shoot straight in at number one, only to be replaced by another brand new song a week later, as if record companies had worked it all out beforehand in some sort of dastardly pact. And I assumed that it never used to be that way, that ye olden charts were creaky, slow moving things where records languished at the top for weeks and months. Which is true to an extent – Al Martino had nine weeks, and wasn’t alone in having that length of stay, while later in 1953 we’ll reach the song which still holds the record for most weeks at number one…

But what we have here is a fourth new chart topper in as many weeks. It turns out that the record buying public of the pre-rock era were just as fickle as those in 1999! Perry Como, though, did halt the turnover and kept this jaunty little tune at the top for a month and a bit. That’s star quality shining through.

This track is a welcome relief after its overwrought predecessor. Perky guitars, a lively brass section, and tongue-twister lyrics: Love blooms at night in daylight it dies don’t let the stars get in your eyes or keep your heart from me for some day I’ll return and you know you’re the only one I’ll ever love delivered in just the one breath. This seems to have been a thing, a gimmick almost (at least it seems gimmicky to modern ears), as Kay Starr was at it in ‘Comes A-Long A-Love’. It’s not vocal gymnastics of the Mariah Carey kind; more lyrical gymnastics, if such a thing can exist.

We’ve also heard similar lyrics already in this countdown, in that Como is telling his sweetheart not to forget about them, or to stray, while away. The best bit of it all, though, is the trumpet solo. At least I think they’re trumpets; I really can’t tell one brass instrument from the other. Anyway, they put me in mind of the oompah band at a German Bierfest.

The one downside to the song is the backing singers, The Ramblers. They’re just a bit… barbershop, in that they are basically there to repeat verbatim the line that Como just sang. In case some one missed it? I don’t know. And their one bit of improvisation is to sing what sounds like pa-pa-papaya between lines. Are they imitating the trumpets? Is it just gibberish? Are they actually singing about papayas?

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Perry Como (American! Died aged 88! The run continues!) is the biggest name to top the chart so far. I’d say, at least. Both of the female chart toppers were new to me, Al Martino was known to me solely as the singer of the first ever UK #1, and Eddie Fisher had entered my consciousness due to his ladykilling (the romantic type of ladykilling, that is). Perry Como was a big star and I could have named his biggest hit (‘Magic Moments’, fact fans) without looking it up. And after looking up his discography it’s clear that if the the charts had begun earlier he would have racked up a load more hits – he was scoring US #1s throughout the ’40s. Now, in 2018, he’s no longer a household name, a Sinatra or Presley, I wouldn’t have thought. Very few of these stars from sixty-odd years ago are, I suppose.

‘Comes A-Long A-Love’, by Kay Starr – 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…

First up: only the 3rd song ever to top the UK charts, in January 1953, and the song that showed me that the pre-rock years weren’t just going to be a procession of melodramatic ballads and perfectly-pronounced pop. Miss Kay Starr, take it away…

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Comes A-Long A-Love, by Kay Starr (her 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 23rd to 30th January 1953

Snazzy! And jazzy! I really thought – and more fool me – that these pre-Rock ‘n’ Roll hits would be dull, twee, chaste… one step up the danceability chart from hymns, basically. How wrong I was. It wasn’t all bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover.

Though bluebirds do feature in this song, they do so as a symbol of being in love and suddenly becoming aware of the world around you. Birds! Flowers! The sun! Comes A-Long A-Love suddenly though you never sang you’re always singing… Comes A-Long A-Love suddenly chimes you never heard begin a-ringing… The lyrical message being that falling in love will make you a better, livelier person.

Kay Starr’s voice is in complete contrast to the Jo Stafford record that went before. It’s husky, then sing-songy, she pauses where you least expect it and then rushes through tongue twister lines phrases like petty little things no longer phase you, which I’ll bet you can’t say five times fast. You might even say she’s flirting with the listener… And, yes, a quick search shows Ms. Starr was quite the little minx (that’s what they called them in those days). Those eyebrows! What didn’t they suggest! This song could be seen as a challenge – she’s daring you not to fall in love with her.

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But again, it’s another song that paints love in a positive light. Three number ones in and nobody’s had their heart broken… Even lonely old Al Martino was hopeful that his lover would say ‘yes’. That’s something I’m going to look out for: the first ever reference to heartbreak in a UK number one hit. And, again, Kay Starr enunciates so damn well. This isn’t an easy song to sing, but she makes it sound like she’s ad-libbing her way through it. I’ve got to hand it to these old-timers, before the days of auto-tune, because they really could sing. Gran was right all along…

Some bits do jar, slightly. Starr uses ‘Mister’, and ‘Brother’, in a way that you wouldn’t these days. And the aforementioned reference to being in love and seeing bluebirds is a bit of a Disneyfied image. It must have been easy for songwriters, at the birth of modern pop music – love is great, you see bluebirds, do-bee-do – before people discovered cynicism. So far, though, all three number ones have been recorded by American artists. Perhaps that explains the saccharine sentiments! As everyone knows, Americans are sickeningly positive. How brilliant would it be, then, if the first UK recorded #1 turned out to be a piece of proto-Morrissey miserabilism…

One final thing I’ve noticed, while looking up these first three UK chart toppers, is how long they all lived. Jo Stafford died in 2008, aged ninety. Al Martino died in 2009 at eighty-two. Kay Starr died in November 2016, having reached a grand old innings of ninety-four. That means two of them outlived Michael Jackson, who wouldn’t have his first number one hit for another twenty-eight years. They were made of sterner stuff in those days, mind.

56. ‘Young Love’, by Tab Hunter

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Young Love, by Tab Hunter (his 1st and only #1)

7 weeks, from 22nd February – 12th April 1957

I’ve been bigging up the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll to the top of the UK charts for so long – especially back when we were plodding through all those dreary, brow-furrowingly earnest pre-rock ballads – that this next statement goes against every instinct I have…

By the time it got to the top of the UK charts, rock ‘n’ roll was over. Finished. Defunct. Obsolete.

I recently claimed that the rock era began on 11th January 1957, when bona fide teen-idol Tommy Steele sneered his way to a week at the top. I’m now claiming that the rock era ended on 22nd February 1957, when this limp little record grabbed a scandalous seven weeks at the top.

Because, by God this is bland! That this made it into the record books before Elvis, before Buddy Holly, before Jerry Lee and all the rest doesn’t make sense. It is a rock ‘n’ roll record – there’s a guitar riff and solo, drums, oohs and aahs and all the rest. Plus, the lyrics are all about two kids falling in love for the first time. And it’s called ‘Young Love’!

They say for every boy and girl there’s just one love in this whole world, And I-I-I know I’ve found mine… Young love, First love, Filled with true devotion…

But it’s delivered in such a soppy way that I refuse to acknowledge this as any kind of rock and/or roll. Tab Hunter’s voice is deep and sonorous, but in pictures he looks like the all-American boy next door: rosy-cheeks, blonde curls, blue eyes, church on Sundays, part-time job in the gas station. Your mum would have liked him as much as she would have disliked Tommy Steele. I can imagine a young Cliff Richard taking notes as he planned his assault on stardom a couple of years later (and there are a lot of similarities between Hunters voice here and Cliff’s on, say, ‘Living Doll’). And note the role-reversal – now it’s the Americans giving us staid and boring while the Brits grin and wink! Fittingly, this was #1 on the day my mum was born. I say ‘fittingly’, because she has just about the blandest taste in music going (and is a huge fan of Sir Clifford of Richard).

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And that’s about it. The shortest entry yet. At least, that was going to be it… Until I did my customary Wikipedia-based research about Tab Hunter. Turns out this American-as-apple-pie captain-of-the-school-football-team was – dum dum dum – gay! Is gay, he’s still alive, aged eighty-six. He had to cover it up for most of his career, obviously, and had fake flings with Debbie Reynolds and Natalie Wood among others to throw the newspapers off the scent. Which adds a bittersweet layer to his one and only UK chart topping single, and the lines about boys and girls falling in love.

I’ve listened to ‘Young Love’ several times now, trying to find something to like about – I usually love me a bit of rock ‘n’ roll – but I can’t do it. It’s insipid. And so that’s it. Rock is dead. If it ever existed. Obviously, the top of the pop charts is never the place to look for cutting edge music, but I’m surprised there wasn’t a bit more of an explosion, with some real rockers, before the sell-out began. Or maybe I should just accept that lines were always blurred, that rockabilly merged with blues which had merged with jazz which had merged with the music of the cotton fields to create rock ‘n’ roll over several decades, and not in an afternoon. No more attempting to pinpoint the birth of a musical movement to a particular record.

Anyway, in my next post… The moment skiffle was born!

(Edit: Tab Hunter sadly passed away shortly after this post was published. The Guardian published this obituary, touching on some of the themes mentioned above.)

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.

26. ‘Let’s Have Another Party’, by Winifred Atwell

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Let’s Have Another Party, by Winifred Atwell (her first of two #1s)

5 weeks, from 3rd Dec. 1954 to 7th Jan. 1955

I wrote in the intro to my last post that Rosemary Clooney was finally getting our pulses racing – or our toes tapping, at least – and here comes Winifred Atwell to keep up the momentum.

It’s another piano-led song. Well, I say ‘piano-led’; it’s nothing but piano. Winnie and her piano, bashing out a selection of boogie-woogie and ragtime standards in extremely short order. According to Wikipedia we are getting classics such as ‘Broken Doll’, ‘Lily of Laguna’ and the ‘Sheik of Araby’ served up with a verse here, a snatch of chorus there, then on to the next one. I don’t recognise any of the featured tunes – though I’m pretty sure one of them was played by an ice-cream van in days of childhood yore.

It’s jaunty enough, but the effect of squeezing so many different tunes into a couple of minutes means it’s a bit of an odd listen. They’re all played in the same ragtime tempo, so there are no segues: it’s straight from one song into another with no time to draw breath, before we screech to a halt with dum-didley-dum-dum… dum-dum. But hey, it’s the first medley to top the charts, and off the top of my head, I’m not sure if there will be another one until Jive Bunny in thirty-five years’ time. On Spotify, the track is listed as having a Part I and Part II, the former being all of these old hits strung together while the latter is a much-more sedate number, even featuring a bit of guitar. I think, though I’m unable to confirm, that only the first part counts as the record that hit #1. Maybe Part II was the B-side.

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Anyway, all of this nonsense about which part is blah blah blah pales wildly into insignificance when it is revealed that Ms. Atwell was… black! Born in Trinidad & Tobago, before moving to the States and then to London, she becomes, a little over two years into their existence, the first black artist to hit the top of the charts. It’s a big moment, and worth taking a moment to reflect on this happening at a time when, say, landlords could stick a ‘No Blacks’ sign in their windows with impunity and, in the USA at least, Winifred Atwell wouldn’t have been allowed on the same public transport as her fellow chart-toppers. Just because this is the frothiest of throw-away records shouldn’t render it any less significant.

In fact, it’s almost ironic that she achieved this historic landmark with a medley full of old music-hall hits. The sort of hits that were big in even less enlightened times. The sort that might have been sung by men in black-face, to howls of laughter (seriously, Google ‘Lily of Laguna’ to see just what kind of song it is…) In a way, she is reclaiming them, and making them popular on her own terms.

And with that, I’ll descend from my high-horse, and conclude by saying that we will be hearing from Winfred Atwell again soon. She was huge in the early to mid-1950s (played for the Queen, didn’t you know!), and definitely seemed to have a winning formula. Hey, if it ain’t broke… ‘Let’s Have Another Party’ was the follow-up (somewhat inevitably) to ‘Let’s Have a Party’, and was followed up by another medley, the wonderfully titled ‘Let’s Have a Ding-Dong’. All good, (very) old-fashioned fun!

 

22. ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’, by Frank Sinatra

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Three Coins in the Fountain, by Frank Sinatra (his first of three #1s)

3 weeks, from 17th Sept to 8th Oct 1954

From a one-hit wonder to a… lots-of-hits wonder?

We’ve flirted with fame so far in this countdown – Doris Day is a household name, Johnnie Ray, Perry Como and Frankie Laine were very big in their day. But this is different. This is Sinatra.

I feel I should give him a fanfare, or something. Maybe emboss this post with a gold border (does WordPress run to such extravagances?) When I scan down my list of Number Ones, certain artists stand out. Artists that I should perhaps put a little more effort into introducing. You know who I mean: Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Busted… The biggies.

But then, these stars don’t need no intro, really. Everyone knows who they are. Frank Sinatra died when I was twelve. His last real chart presence was twenty years before that. His music is old. But still your average Joe off the streets could have a stab at naming three of his hits: you’ve got your ‘My Way’, your ‘New York, New York’, your ‘Fly Me to the Moon’… Your ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’?

Has anyone listened to ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’ since 1954? I certainly wouldn’t have heard it, had it not popped up on this list. And, to be honest, it’s a very low-key first appearance for Ol’ Blue Eyes. It’s not a very Sinatra-y song.

It starts with a flourish of cymbals, which makes it sound as if it’s from a film soundtrack (it was). And then, musically, it’s nothing that we haven’t heard before. Maybe that’s the problem – twenty-two songs in and, with a few notable exceptions (for better or for worse) they’re starting to merge into a gloopy, sentimental mush.

Three coins in the fountain, Each one seeking happiness, Thrown by three hopeful lovers, Which one will the fountain bless?

The song tells the story of three lovelorn young men, chucking coins into the Trevi Fountain. I do like the fact that we get a bit of a story, in amongst the usual trite lines. The line: Three coins in the fountain, Through the ripples, how they shine, is a particularly nice one, painting a picture of a summer’s night in Rome.

Sinatra keeps us in suspense. Who will be the lucky lover? Just one wish will be granted, One heart will wear a Valentine, Make it mine, Make it mine, Make it mine! But we never find out. The song ends on a cliffhanger. It’s probably for the best – keep ’em wanting more, eh?

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Personally, I don’t think this song suits Sinatra’s voice. When you think of Sinatra you think of the laid-back delivery, the knowing eye, the glass of brandy in hand… This number is a little too earnest, and I don’t think he’s giving it his all. The line: Which one will the fountain bless? is particularly awkward. This was a strange time for Sinatra, career-wise: he was no longer a teen-idol but hadn’t yet gone down the Vegas residency, Rat-Pack road. ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’ encapsulates this strange mid-career limbo quite well.

And that’s it, really. I feel I should write more… This is Frank Sinatra, for God’s sake. But it’s a lacklustre song. Which begs the question: why was this one of only three chart toppers for the guy? Hitting the top-spot is often a question of timing, I suppose, and plenty of other acts have also reached #1 with efforts far from their best.

21. ‘Little Things Mean a Lot’, by Kitty Kallen

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Little Things Mean a Lot, by Kitty Kallen (her first and only #1)

1 week, from 10th to 17th Sept 1954

And so we arrive at mid-September, eight and a half months into 1954, and we have had but five number ones this year. In my capacity as a fully qualified chart geek, I have the means by which to compare and contrast this with other years. And, for example, by this point in 1953 we had had 10 #1s. By the 10th September 2000 (the year with the highest turnover of chart toppers in chart history) we’d had an unbelievable 30 #1s! And in 2017 we were back down to 10 #1s. Interesting? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Anyway, the 6th number one of 1954 takes a low-key approach. Kitty Kallen has a dusky voice, and little in the way of accompaniment aside from a – thankfully understated – violin and something that tinkles (a timpani?). Oh, and there’s a trumpet. Still, though, this is a nice respite after the fervour of ‘Such a Night’ and the mini-operetta that was ‘Cara Mia’.

Lyrically, the idea is that small signs of affection are more important than grand gestures: Give me you arm as we cross the street… Call me at six on the dot… Touch my hair, as you pass my chair… Little things mean a lot… This girl don’t need diamonds or pearls, champagne, sables or such. No, Sir. Cos honestly honey, they just cost money. And since we’ve had song after song full of strangely metaphorical approaches to describing love – seeing little birds, talking to stars – as well as the usual soppy stuff – hearts melting, longing or breaking – this is an interesting detour. It’s cute and knowing, and quite ahead of its time. Modern love songs go in for a lot of the ‘savouring the little moments’ kind of stuff: sitting on the grass, drinking wine out the bottle, holding your loved one’s hair back as they puke (c.f. James Arthur, 2016). Perhaps we can class this record as ahead of its time.

Kitty Kallen 1944 Metronome Archive Photos

The only time that Kallen gets serious is for what is as close as the song gets to a chorus: Give me your hand when I’ve lost the way, Give me a shoulder to cry on… And she is guilty of singing these lines in a THIS IS THE IMPORTANT BIT SO I’M SINGING A BIT LOUDER way that literally everyone seems to be doing in 1954. But at least the ending is sedate: repeat the title, bit of trumpet, fade. Nice

And so that was Kitty Kallen’s first and only UK Number One. I like that – one song, one week. Done. Your name goes down in history. Had she stalled at #2 – perfectly respectable, that, a number two hit – I might never have heard of her. Not that she’s the first – we’ve already covered Jo Stafford’s and Lita Roza’s solitary weeks at the summit – and she won’t be the last. But, unlike Stafford and Roza, this was Kallen’s only ever UK hit. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have our first one-hit wonder. She was much more popular in the US, this being her fourth number one over there. It was her last, though. ‘Little Things Mean a Lot’ seems to have been pretty much it for Miss Kallen. And it almost goes without saying by this point that she died at the grand old age of ninety-six, just two years ago.

20. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra

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Cara Mia, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra (both Whitfield and Mantovani’s 2nd of two #1s)

10 weeks, from 2nd July to 10th Sept 1954

The last time I wrote about David Whitfield, when his first number one followed on from Frankie Laine’s rockabilly number ‘Hey Joe’, I might have mentioned something about it being one step forward and two steps back…

But for this to follow on from rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Johnnie Ray, and the gloriously suggestive ‘Such a Night’ (OK, yes, Doris Day did return to the top for a big old spell in between but let’s not allow that to get in the way of my indignation!) – it’s more a case of one step forward, ten steps back! One step for every week this record spent at the top! The difference between this and ‘Such a Night’ is massive. This is pre-rock. If such a thing ever existed, if it could be captured and bottled or defined in a dictionary, then this would be it. The Sex Pistols were punk, Oasis were Britpop, David Whitfield was pre-rock.

Shrill backing singers? Check. Overwrought vocals? Got it. Proper enunciation? Yep. Big bastard of an ending? Oh boy. Seriously, check out this ending. It has three stages. Whitfield comes in for the final verse like he means it, an octave up on previous lines: All I want is you, for ever more… Then comes the final line for which he amps it up even more: TILL THE END OF… And the note that he hits for the final TIIIIIMMMMMMEEEEE!!! cannot be natural. Its impressive, yet horrifying.

I have nothing new to write about David Whitfield. He’s of his time, and who am I to judge? People at the time clearly enjoyed it: very, very few records have ever reached double figures in terms of weeks at #1. ‘Such a Night’ only got one week. And he died young, unlike so few of his contemporaries, aged just fifty-four in 1980. We should also drop a mention for Mantovani, of violin and rhyming-slang fame, from whom we won’t be hearing again in this countdown. The violins in this song sound identical to those in his first chart topper. Mantovani’s signature strings.

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Though the sharp-eyed among you will currently no doubt be thinking ‘Now just wait a minute here!’ Because back a few posts ago I mentioned that every record thus far had been conducted by someone and their orchestra, and that these conductors – Paul Weston, Hugo Winterhalter et al, never seemed to get credited and were deleted from any chart statistics. So why is Mantovani getting a credit here? To be brutally honest… I dunno. Maybe it’s because this, more than any, is a super operatic, orchestral record and they feel that that should be recognised. Maybe it’s because Mantovani already sneaked a week at the top with his own song, ‘Moulin Rouge’, and so was slightly more renowned than your run-of-the-mill conductors. Maybe Mantovani was just really concerned about his legacy and so paid someone to stick him in the records. Who know? But if I were Paul Weston, I’d be pretty pissed off.

Before finishing, I want to mention a thought that struck me a few posts ago. It seems that in the mid-1950s there were very few ways for people to hear the music that was in the charts without buying it. No MTV (duh!), no Top of the Pops, no YouTube, no nothing. Radio consisted of a handful of stations, very few of which played pop music. Pirate Radio hadn’t got going yet. Perhaps you could have listened to ‘Pick of the Pops’, on the BBC Light Programme, but even that wasn’t first broadcast until 1955. It just seems so alien to me, to us, that you might only know of a record as a listing in a magazine and have no idea how it sounded until you went out and bought it.

Although, this might explain how certain songs managed to top the charts in the first place…