Songs That Should Have Been #1… ‘Please Please Me’, by The Beatles

The Stargazers, Don Cornell, The Johnston Brothers, The Dream Weavers, Jerry Keller…? Nope, me neither. But they’ve all had the honour of topping the UK singles chart.

How well a single performs in the charts can be influenced by various things… promotion, star power, tastes and trends, time of year… pure luck. And that most fickle, unpredictable of  factors: the general public. Do enough of them like your song to make it a smash? Or will they ignore it, and let it fall by the wayside?

I’m taking a short break from the regular countdown to feature five discs that really should have topped the charts. Be it for their long-reaching influence, their enduring popularity or for the simple fact that, had they peaked a week earlier or later, they might have made it. (I’ll only be covering songs released before 1964, as that’s where I’m up to on the usual countdown.)

Next up… A record that changed the course of popular music?

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Please Please Me, by the Beatles

Reached #2 in February 1963

As with Elvis, I don’t need to go giving The Fab Four any extra number one singles. By the end of their chart careers, they’d had seventeen of them. And as much as I love this single (if it had been one of their #1s it would probably be in my Top 5) , and as much as I wish that this had been their first ever chart-topper, that isn’t why I’m including ‘Please Please Me’ in this mini-countdown.

I touched on it in my last post, on the mega-long running #2 hit ‘Stranger on the Shore’, but the charts of the 1950s and ’60s were a tad confused. There wasn’t just one of them, for a start. You had the ‘Melody Maker’ chart, the ‘NME’ chart, and the ‘Record Retailer’ chart. None of which offered a complete overview of a week’s sales – they all conducted ‘surveys’ of selected record stores over the phone…

‘Please Please Me’ hit #1 in the NME chart (which had the largest circulation) and ‘Melody Maker’ chart, but it only reached #2 in ‘Record Retailer’, which was the one that the UK Singles Chart chose to follow. So, it may well have been the biggest selling single at some point; we’ll just never know for sure… The history books record it as having stalled behind Frank Ifield’s dull-as-dishwater ‘The Wayward Wind’ for two weeks.

It’s far from the only single to have suffered this unfortunate fate – it wasn’t until 1969 that the UK charts were unified into one – but it’s a landmark single from the biggest pop group in history, with one of the very best middle-eights, ever… So enjoy.

‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI – 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…

My penultimate choice is one that pays homage to my homeland – Bonnie Escocia. It’s a song that, at the time of writing, I suggested should become our new national anthem. With the advantage of hindsight… I still think that’s a great idea. This is a record that sounds like it was recorded on a cocktail of Irn-Bru, soor-plooms, the Best Of ‘Oor Wullie’ and just a splash of Buckfast Tonic Wine. It’s a wild and zany chart-topper, that makes no sense and yet complete sense. One more time then… Och Aye!

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And so on we roll towards the United Kingdom’s seventy-seventh chart topping single. And it’s a song that I’ve never… No, wait… Ah! I know this… We all know this…

Hoots Mon, by Lord Rockingham’s XI (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 28th November – 19th December 1958

Dooooo-doo-doo-do-do… Dooooo-doo-doo-do-do… It’s an intro that smacks of slightly misplaced grandeur, like an aged diva swishing onto the stage before slipping on a banana. We know what follows is going to be absurd. And, oh boy, it is…

Na-nana-na-nana, Na-nana-na-nana, Nana-nanananana… Na-nana-na-nana, Na-nana-na-nana, Nananananananana… Apologies for my woeful attempts to render this riff using the medium of ‘na’s. The minute this starts playing you will know it.

It’s an instrumental, and it’s been a while since we featured an instrumental. I make Winny Atwell’s ‘The Poor People of Paris’ our most recent lyric-less number one, and that was two and a half years back. And it is undeniably catchy. It bores its way in on the first listen and will, I’m sorry, remain for days. And days. And days. There are key-changes, oh yes! And the bass! One of my main complaints about the rock ‘n’ roll numbers we’ve heard so far is that, while there have been some undeniable classics – your ‘Great Balls of Fire’s, your ‘That’ll Be the Day’s and your ‘Rock Around the Clock’s – they’ve all sounded a bit light to modern ears. Listen to this, though, especially through headphones. It fills your ears, in a way that makes it sound like a modern record. Every instrument – the throbbing bass, the slapdash drums, the natty organs – are, if you’ll forgive the cliché, turned up to eleven. And a half.

Actually, I called this an instrumental; but it’s not quite. There are a few words, shouted out above the clatter, foremost among them being: There’s a moose loose aboot this hoose… and It’s a braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht… Then there are the Och Ayes! thrown in towards the end and the big Hoots Mon! upon which the record ends. Yes, this is, as they say in theatre circles, The Scottish Number One. All we’re missing is a ‘Help ma Boab!’

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The ringleader of Lord Rockingham’s XI was a man named Harry Robinson, a Scot if ever there was one. But, being from Scotland myself, I’m not sure how I feel about this record, and the manner in which it reduces the culture, language and heritage of my homeland to a handful of trite, drunken catchphrases…

Actually, screw it. It’s as catchy as crabs and a hell of a lot more fun than some of the more ‘official’ Scottish songs – ‘500 miles’ (Jings!), ‘Scotland The Brave’ (Crivvens!), ‘Caledonia’ (Shudder… and boak!) In fact, I think that this song I hadn’t ever properly listened to until twenty minutes ago should become our new national anthem, in place of the dirge that is ‘Flower of Scotland’. And when I fulfil my manifest destiny in replacing wee Nicky Sturgeon as First Minister, that’ll be the first act I sign into law.

Anyway, file this record under ‘complete and utter novelty’. It’s no coincidence that it hit the top spot in the weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year. Lord Rockingham’s XI wouldn’t go on to much more success and so for the first time, I think, we have two (semi) one-hit wonders replacing one another at the top of the charts. File this also under ‘British Rock ‘n’ Roll’. It’s something that I’ve long been noting – the gradual handing over of the rock ‘n’ roll baton from the US to the UK – and with this anarchic British track following soppy efforts from The Everly Brothers and The Kalin Twins the transition may be complete.

I’ll finish by reminiscing on how this song stirred in me a long-discarded, foggy memory of a commercial for something or other, way back in the late eighties or early nineties… I knew I knew this song, but I didn’t know how I knew it – if you catch my drift. I suppose whatever it was will be forever lost in the mists of time… Actually, no it won’t. The advert was for Maynard’s Wine Gums, back in 1993. Thanks, internet.

‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra – 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 the one song, out of the 129 covered, that I’m happiest about discovering. Mambo isn’t a style of music that I’m very familiar with, and a trumpet-led instrumental wasn’t the type of record that I expected to blow me away. But, hoo boy, it did. ‘Sexiness’ was in short supply as we plodded through the very earliest UK #1 singles – with the focus on pure and proper romantic declarations from frightfully earnest young singers.  David Whitfield, Eddie Fisher and Vera Lynn I’m looking at you… But ‘Prez’ Prado… well, this disc just oozes sexiness. Listen to that low, low note he hits at strategic moments throughout this song, and try to tell me that it doesn’t put the filthiest thoughts in your mind! I named this as ‘Best Song’ in one of my recaps, and need no excuse to revisit it again here…

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Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra (his 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 29th April to 13th May 1955

I’ve given instrumentals a hard time so far in this rundown. The lack of any lyrics creates a barrier, for me, between the song and the listener. You can listen to a Mantovani record and think “Isn’t that a nice melody”, but the fact that there are no words to tie it to a particular feeling or experience in your life means that the record is that step further removed from you. Like a film beautifully acted but in a language you cannot understand.

Having said all that… I’m going to prove myself massively wrong with this post. The fourth instrumental to top the UK Singles chart is also, by far, the sexiest record to top said singles charts. And there are no words. Well – there are no words aside from ‘Huh!’, ‘Hah!’ and ‘Oooh’. Which is a large part of this track’s said sexiness.

Following on from ‘Mambo Italiano’ (which wasn’t really a mambo, but hey), the UK was clearly in some sort of Latin fever in early 1955. Though perhaps not, as a quick glance at the chart for the week Perez ‘Prez’ hit the top shows only one other record that sounds vaguely Latino… A different version of ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’ (which we’ll meet very soon at the top of the charts). But, for the purposes of this narrative, let’s say that the UK – finally casting off the shackles of rationing and wartime rubble – wanted to shake some booty and, while perhaps not quite ready for straight up rock ‘n’ roll, turned to some equally raunchy mambo. Further evidence towards my idea that rock ‘n’ roll didn’t just arrive with ‘Rock Around the Clock’ – it was slowly filtering in through Rosemary Clooney’s giggle, Winifred Atwell’s boogie and Johnnie Ray’s yelps. And Perez ‘Prez’ Prado’s trumpet.

Except the trumpet that makes this record isn’t being played by the man on the credits. We’ll get to that in a second. First – this record has perhaps the most intense intro we’ve heard yet. Basically it’s BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM on a load of trumpets and cymbals, before the rhythm kicks in. The lead trumpet was played by a man called Billy Regis, who absolutely makes this record by drawing out one note in particular over and over again, by sliding it down then up in a manner that sounds a little bit drunk, a little bit woozy, and that, most importantly, would allow a couple in a Southend ballroom to draw that little bit closer for a second, before the main melody jumped back in.

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Prado was more of a conductor, I guess, and it is his ‘Huhs’ and ‘Hahs’ that can be heard as he exerts his charges to squeeze every drop of sexiness from their instruments (that sounded ruder than I intended – you know what I mean). There are also some other trumpets (I guess they are trumpets) playing notes so low that it’s almost obscene. I recognise them from Lou Bega’s classic cover of ‘Mambo No.5’, from another golden age of Latin music in the UK charts, which we won’t be getting to for a long, long time. Incidentally, Perez Prado recorded the original version of that song, too.

But the final word has to go to Billy Regis, whose trumpet ends the record. He reimagines the bombastic ending – from which so many earlier chart-toppers have suffered – and it works so much better without lyrics. THIS IS THE END OF THE SONG becomes DOOO DOOO (pause) DOOOOOOOOO, and it again 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.

‘Huh!’ and, indeed, ‘Hah!’

‘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.

97. ‘Poor Me’, by Adam Faith

Time for another quickie with Adam Faith? Oo-er, that came out wrong. What I mean to say is that, for the second time in three months, Adam Faith has come and gone in less than two minutes. (That didn’t sound much better…)

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Poor Me, by Adam Faith (his 2nd of two #1s)

2 weeks, from 4th – 17th March 1960

His first chart-topper – ‘What Do You Want’ – clocked in at one minute thirty eight seconds; this one goes on for a much more leisurely one forty-six. Two #1s that take less time combined than many songs do on their own. And the similarities between the two don’t end there – ‘Poor Me’ rollicks along at the same tempo, and borrows the exact same lightly plucked strings (which were, lest we forget, nicked from Buddy Holly), as Faith’s first number one.

And yet… This is a different beast altogether. ‘What Do You Want’ was a standard pop song: a perky verse-verse-bridge kind of number. ‘Poor Me’ has a much darker edge to it. For a start there are the ghostly backing singers: AaaahAaaahAAAAAAhAaaaaah, their voices rising and falling like the soundtrack to a fairground’s haunted house. Then there are Faith’s vocals. He sounds grumpy, angry even, and he mumbles his way unwillingly through the opening lines. It’s a song about a lover cursing both his luck and his ex, a man wallowing in his misery. Sorry thoughts leaping around my head, It’s been heard and it’s been said that, You tried, To date another guy, Didn’t hide, Didn’t even try, Cheating me with lies again, Making me remember when… Brutal stuff, eh? No sugar-coating here! Poor me, indeed.

In fact, Faith is so pissed off that he may have been hitting the sauce in an effort to forget. I mentioned in my post on his previous #1 that his pronunciation was unique at the best of times; but here he’s also slurring his words like a man on day five of a three-day-bender. I had to check online to make sure I had the lyrics quoted above correctly (I did) and had to give in completely when it came to the bridge: I used to hold you baby, So tight, Each night, That’s right… Because that’s not what it sounds like on record (Try ‘I used to hold you by the, Soft hands…)

Come the end, Mr Faith has really given himself over to despair and is possibly reaching for the shotgun under the bed: Why oh why, Do voices say to me, Sit and cry, That this was meant to be, Love’s unkind and love’s untrue, Oh why did love pick out you, For me, For me, Wa-ha, Poor me, Poor me… Jeez. This is by far the mopiest, whiniest, most depressing record we have met on our countdown. We’ve had some heartbreak up to now; but nobody has wallowed quite as long or as deeply as Adam Faith here. The first Emo chart-topper, decades ahead of its time? Maybe I wouldn’t go that far; but it is a fascinating record. On first listen it sounds like a hastily knocked-together and derivative follow-up to a debut #1; but repeated listens reveal it to be a much more complex and, dare I say, challenging song than ‘What Do You Want’.

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And that’s that as far as Adam Faith’s chart-topping career goes. By the mid-60s he had moved into television work and made a good career out of it – acting steadily until his death in 2003. According to Wiki – and God I really hope this is true – his final words, uttered on his deathbed following a heart-attack, were: “Channel 5 is shit, isn’t it? Christ, the crap they put on there. It’s a waste of space.” As final words go they are up there with the very best, alongside “Kiss me, Hardy” and Oscar Wilde’s quip about the wallpaper, and anyone who has spent any time watching British television will surely agree with the sentiment.

The very eagle-eyed among you will perhaps also have noticed that, while ‘Poor Me’ had a fortnight in the top-spot, if you add up the days between the 4th and the 17th March you get…thirteen. Unlucky for some. There’s a simple enough explanation: on 10th March the ‘official’ chart switched from the NME to Record Retailer, which was published one day earlier, and so Adam Faith lost twenty-four hours at the top. Poor him.

96. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley

We’ve only just started with 1960, yet suddenly it’s March! Time flies! And it seems that if the early sixties is going to have an on-running theme at the top of the charts, then said theme will be ‘Whimsical’.

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Why, by Anthony Newley (his 1st of two #1s)

4 weeks, from 5th February – 4th March 1960

Because this is another gossamer light record, as ethereal and floaty as its predecessor: ‘Starry Eyed’. Here the chimes come from a xylophone, or maybe a glockenspiel, or any other instrument with bars that you might strike with a little furry ball on a stick. I’ll never let you go, Why? Because I love you… I’ll always love you so, Why? Because you love me… There are a lot of questions in this record, lots of ‘Why?’s, and the answer to every single one is that Newley loves his girl, or that she loves him. It’s a lovey-dovey song; a song to make you gag.

The lyrics to this #1 are, quite frankly, a cheesefest. And super simple. I think you’re awfully sweet, Why? Because I love you… You say I’m your special treat, Why? Because you love me… Anthony Newley’s voice is reedy, and clipped. Slightly camp. I’m picturing him as a bit of a dandy, nice mustard chinos and a tartan jacket, something eye-catching in the buttonhole, serenading his objet au desire from the lamppost outside her bedroom window. Yet somehow he just manages to keep the song from tipping over into silly territory. He is very earnest, with buckets of boyish innocence to spare, and this just about carries the day.

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A couple of moments do threaten to ruin things completely. When the backing singers launch into their couple of lines like a tipsy Broadway chorus you can really picture, and are almost blinded by, the shine coming off their manic grins. And Newley’s final lines are particularly cloying: I love you, And you love me, We’ll love each other dear, Forever… You can imagine twelve-year-olds up and down the land theatrically retching, fingers in mouths, when their older sisters dropped this 7” on the gramophone. It’s amazing to think that three months back – just five chart-toppers ago – Bobby Darin was singing about a mass-murderer. And now this. Who says there’s no variety at the top of the pop charts, eh?

At best this #1 could be described as ‘cute’; and at worst as ‘positively vomit-inducing’. But I’m willing to give Newley the benefit of the doubt as he is so very earnest, so utterly proper throughout, that he simply must mean what he says. The pictures thrown up by a quick image search don’t really show him as a foppish man-about-town, more as a bank clerk with hair slightly longer than his manager might think appropriate. He did, though, manage four marriages, one of them to no less a glamazonian as Joan Collins, and so who knows? Maybe this simple little love-ditty helped in that regard. He’ll be back at the top before long, so we’ll save any further bio for then.

One final thing of note… I just noticed that we are in the middle of another long run of male-led number one hits. Shirley Bassey was the last woman to top the charts, a year ago now (though there was a female member of The Platters after that), and we’re going to have to wait another year to hear the next female voice on this countdown! 1960 will join 1957 as a lady-less year at the top of the UK Singles charts. An interesting quirk? Or a sign of a crushing patriarchy? If today’s ‘Guardian’ had been around in 1960 there would have been opinion pieces, that’s for sure…

92. ‘Travellin’ Light’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows

We waited a long time for Cliff to make his first appearance at the top of the UK singles chart; we didn’t have to wait long for him to return. Seven weeks, to be precise. You better get used to this…

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Travellin’ Light, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows (Cliff’s 2nd of fourteen #1s / The Shadows 2nd of twelve #1s)

5 weeks, from 30th October – 4th December 1959

‘Travellin’ Light’ treads very much the same path as ‘Living Doll’ did. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that they were recorded during the same session, within minutes of one another. It’s jaunty, it’s stripped-back… It’s, again, surprisingly minimalist. It’s a cooler record than its forbear – it would be a tough struggle to be less cool, in all honesty – as seen through the missing ‘g’ at the end of ‘Travellin’. Cliff don’t need no proper pronunciation.

His voice is light and airy, with an eerie echo. Got no bags and baggage to slow me down, I’m travellin’ so fast my feet ain’t touchin’ the ground… You can imagine him strolling alongside a dusty highway, or riding with the hobos on an empty freight train carriage. It’s a very American sounding recorded, steeped in the atmosphere of the open prairie, from Britain’s foremost rock ‘n’ roller.

And there’s something quite endearing about this song, something that ‘Living Doll’ lacked. The lines: No comb an’ no toothbrush, I got nothin’ to haul… And: I’m a hoot and a holler, Away from paradise… give it a nice homely feel. Cliff sounds relaxed, as if he’s just jamming with his buddies. The one time it does veer into cheese-territory is at the end of the bridge: I’m carrying only, A pocket full of dreams, A heart full of love, An’ they weigh nothing at all… We get it, we get it – you’re racing home to the girl you love. Whatever…

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Actually, the more I listen to this song, the more I can see an incongruity between the music and the lyrics. Music: laid-back, chilled, goin’ nowhere in a hurry. Lyrics: all about rushing to get back to ‘see my baby tonight’. The two don’t really go together. But, hey, I don’t think this type of pop song is ever designed to be put under very intense scrutiny. It is what it is; and I like it a lot better than I did ‘Living Doll.’

Still though, The Shadows (who are now properly ‘The Shadows’, having dropped ‘The Drifters’ due to legal reasons) get another chart-topping credit without having to do an awful lot. One acoustic guitar pins the whole song together. Someone shakes a tambourine. The same, dreamy surf guitar that gave us the solo in their first #1 is back, purring away in the background  with little ad-libbed guitar licks, improvised morsels of music more complex than they need to be, which suggests the guitarist – Hank Marvin, I’m guessing – may have been feeling a little restricted in his role.

To conclude, then. This is better, cooler even, than ‘Living Doll’. And yet… It’s still very safe. We are still to meet Cliff the Rock ‘n’ Roller and, by this point at the tail-end of the 1950s, looking ahead at his chart-toppers to come, I’m not sure if we will. Cliff the Rock ‘n’ Roller may already be dead and gone.

89. ‘Only Sixteen’, by Craig Douglas

Following on from Cliff, it’s another British rock ‘n’ roll disc taking up a considerable residency at the top of the UK Singles chart. Unlike Sir Cliff, the singer is completely unknown to me…

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Only Sixteen, by Craig Douglas (his 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 11th September – 9th October 1959

But first, a question. Why, oh why, couldn’t British rock ‘n’ roll acts of the 1950s take themselves seriously? Why does every rock ‘n’ roll chart topper from a British artist have the whiff – nay, the stench – of the Victorian music hall, of Skegness pier about it? Why weren’t we cool?

I make Craig Douglas the 5th UK-born rock ‘n’ roll chart topper, and the four previous – Tommy Steele, Lonnie Donegan, Lord Rockingham’s XI and Cliff – have made the top by blending simple rock melodies with a lot of silliness. OK, ‘Hoots Mon’ was a novelty record so we can perhaps let Lord Rockingham’s XI off. Lonnie Donegan was a pioneer in terms of his sound but old-fashioned when coming out with lyrics like ‘two old ladies sitting in the sand, each on wishing that the other was a man’. Tommy Steele camped ‘Singing the Blues’ right up, while ‘Living Doll’ was barely more than a nursery rhyme. (A very creepy nursery rhyme, but still). And you can trace this theme – this current of candyfloss that runs through our British hit singles – way back into the pre-rock days. The US was giving us ‘I Believe’; while the UK was replying with ‘I See the Moon’.

I suppose the big question is… (and I’m deliberately excluding women like Ruby Murray and Shirley Bassey as, while British and while quite classy, they definitely weren’t rock) what will be the first truly cool, suave and sophisticated British recorded rock ‘n’ roll record? Well, I can reveal… It’s not ‘Only Sixteen.’

This is more jauntiness, more end-of-the-pier winking and gurning. There’s whistling, and a guitar plucked so precisely that I think it might be a banjo. She was only sixteen, Only sixteen, I loved her so… Douglas’s voice is slightly shrill, quite posh and, to be honest, fairly average. It doesn’t quite fit the song. It sounds a bit like the dreaded David Whitfield, but a David Whitfield who’s debasing himself in an attempt to sing rock ‘n’ roll…

We’d laugh and we’d sing, And do the little things, That made my heart glow… Craig had a fling with a lass; but it didn’t last. She was too young to fall in love, I was too young to know… So far, so ‘Jackie Magazine’. Then comes the punchline: Why did I give my heart so fast, It never will happen again, I was a mere lad of sixteen, I’ve aged a year since then… Oh! Hahaha – he thinks he’s all grown up. At seventeen! The folly of youth.

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Yeah, it’s a cute line and all, but I don’t think it’s quite enough to build a whole song around. Plus, with that voice, I’m having trouble imagining that Craig Douglas was seventeen when he recorded this. *Plot twist* He was! But come on – look at that picture. That lad of sixteen must have had one hell of a paper round. And while we’re at it – Craig Douglas just isn’t the name of a chart-topping star. Craig Douglas lives next door to you, and is someone you avoid making conversation with on your way to the car in the morning.

I think we should just file this under ‘Of It’s Time’ and be done with it. ‘Only Sixteen’ isn’t a terrible record – it’s quite pleasant, really – but it won’t live with you long after hearing it. Craig Douglas is still with us, however – aged seventy-seven – and still tours, though his recording career didn’t last the Beatles-led cull of ’63.

To finish, and to illustrate my point about US singers being that much cooler than their British counterparts, just listen to Sam Cooke’s version of this song. It’s technically the original, though they were released around the same time, and has exactly the same melody and lyrics… But, you see what I mean? I think I may have finally put my finger on just what the difference is, though: the huge gulf in coolness between British and American stars. The Sam Cooke version, you see, doesn’t have Any. Bloody. Whistling!