158. ‘Do You Love Me’, by Brian Poole & The Tremeloes

Our next chart-topper is, perhaps, a bit of a come-down after we scaled such euphoric heights with ‘She Loves You’. I suppose that is a hard act to follow. But The Tremeloes’ debut at the top isn’t without its merits.

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Do You Love Me, by Brian Poole (his 1st and only #1) & The Tremeloes (their 1st of two #1s)

3 weeks, from 10th – 31st October 1963

For the second chart-topper in three we get an intro that builds… You broke my heart, ‘Cos I couldn’t dance, You didn’t even want me around… in a way that strongly signals that this is a song about to explode (imagine a huge sign saying ‘Up-tempo Pop Song Ahead – 10 seconds’)… But now I’m back, To let you know, That I can really shake ‘em down… It might, off the top of my head, be the very first ever spoken intro we’ve heard on this countdown.

Anyway, the singer clearly went off and had some dancing lessons, or at least a shot or two of tequila, and he’s returned to let his girl know that he can, indeed, cut some shapes. The rest of the song’s lyrics are pretty nonsensical – standard dance music catchphrases from the fifties and sixties: do the mashed potato, you can do the twist, shake it up, shake it down, a little bit of soul now, do you like it like this… And of course, the big question, over and over: Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? Now that I can dance….? (Watch me now!)

I used to work in the bar of a bowling alley (as you do), and every Saturday night we’d have a live DJ (hi, DJ Brian) and this was, without fail, one of the last songs he’d play every week. Because there is no better song for yelling along to at the top of your voice, when it’s just past midnight and you’re drunk in a bowling alley, than ‘Do You Love Me’. Take the ‘Now that I can dance’ line, and the layered, ascending ‘Daaaaannnnn Daaaannnnnn Dannnnnnccceeee!’ I will find it impossible to dislike any song that employs this device. They could shove it in the middle of ‘God Save the Queen’ (the national anthem that is; not the Sex Pistols one) and it would work.

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This was, as perhaps you know, originally a Motown record, released one year before by The Contours. It had been a US #1, but hadn’t charted in the UK. I’ve put a link in for comparing and contrasting purposes. For what it’s worth – as with ‘Sweets for my Sweet’ a few posts ago – I like the Motown original a shade better as a song (the tempo is slightly slower, and I think it’s a song that works more effectively with a vocal group rather than with an instrument-playing band). But… The Tremeloes’ version does have an irresistible madcap energy to it – the last chorus, where all the band members yelp and yell over and under one another, is possibly the rawest five seconds of any chart-topper thus far.

The Tremeloes, and Brian Poole, were the first Beat chart-toppers not to come from the North-West of England (they were from Dagenham, just outside London). This was their second hit, and they would go on to score hits – with or without their lead singer Brian Poole – throughout the sixties. We’ll be meeting them one more time, with a record that’s the polar opposite of this. Though, I do have to say, ‘Do You Love Me’ is a record that wins you over by the end. It would have won me over quicker, I suspect, if I’d had a few before writing this post. ‘Do You Love Me’, if you’ll allow me a moment of metaphor, is like a sloppy, untrainable puppy that’s just made a mess of a houseplant. You want to hate it, and maybe get rid of it, but one look at its loveable eyes and everything’s forgiven.

137. ‘Come Outside’, by Mike Sarne with Wendy Richard

The charts of spring/summer 1962 have proven to be a little schizophrenic… We’ve veered from the safe ‘Wonderful Land’ to the zany ‘Nut Rocker’ to the bland ‘Good Luck Charm’, and now to this. How to describe this latest #1? This… This is a ‘Carry On…’ film distilled into a two and a half minute pop song.

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Come Outside, by Mike Sarne with Wendy Richard (their 1st and only #1s)

2 weeks, from 28th June – 12th July 1962

Mike Sarne is at a dance with his girl. She wants to keep dancing; he wants to get her outside for a spot of you-know-what. Little doll, We’ve been jivin’ all night long, Little doll, got a feelin’ something’s wrong, Cause it ain’t right to wanna keep on dancin’, There won’t be any time left, For romancin’… The chords are copy-paste rock ‘n’ roll, the backing singers straight out of a Neil Sedaka number.

It’s a novelty record; but it’s a very listenable novelty record. That’s one thing worthy of noting: so far all the ‘silly’ chart-toppers have still had a high level of musicianship and song-writing go into them. From ‘That Doggie in the Window’, to ‘Hoots Mon!’ to the aforementioned ‘Nut Rocker’ – they may have been at various points irritating, cloying and/or twee, but they were all still produced with the same level of skill and attention as a ‘straight’ hit single. Whereas, growing up as a child of the nineties, ‘novelty’ songs meant cheap and nasty tracks like ‘Mr Blobby’, ‘Bob the Builder’ and the ‘Crazy Frog’.

So, I wonder when we’ll have our first truly bad novelty chart-topper. ‘Come Outside’ certainly isn’t it. This is a loving pastiche of all that’s great about rock ‘n’ roll music, with a very British twist. You can tell that Sarne isn’t a natural born singer, yet he tries his best, plays it straight, and I love his sub-cockney accent. Richard, his co-star, doesn’t sing any lines herself – she’s there to voice her objections to his advances. ‘Vocal interjections’ are, I believe, the technical term… Sarne: Come outside… Richard: What for? S: Come outside… R: What’s the rush? S: There’s a lovely moon out there… R: It’s cold outside…

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This is a linguistic time-capsule of a record. When Richard shouts ‘Belt up!’ and ‘Give over!’, it suddenly sounds very old-fashioned, and I’m pretty sure that nobody has referred to ‘slap and tickle’ for at least thirty years. Plus, the reason that Sarne is so desperate to get his bird outside is because he’s promised her old man to have her home ‘bout  half past ten, which is peak-1962. By the final chorus Sarne has gotten very insistent – perhaps a little too insistent to these post-#metoo ears – causing Richard to shout ‘Lay off!’ and ‘Stop shoving!’. But, to be fair, she sounds like she could take care of herself, and come the end she’s given in very easily: Come outside… You are a one… Come outside… Oh all right… Come outside… Not for too long… The fade-out, in which the couple make their way out of the dancehall, bickering about how he needs a shave, is the high point of the whole disc.

Mike Sarne had a handful of minor hits in the UK, none of which came close to matching this debut. He went into acting, presenting and directing. Wendy Richard went on to become one of the most recognisable actresses on British television, starring in ‘Are You Being Served?’ (a show every bit as silly and camp as this song) and, of course, in ‘EastEnders’ for twenty-odd years. She died in 2009.

While I do like this record on its own merits; it also reminds me of lazy, hazy Saturday mornings a decade or so ago listening to ‘Sounds of the Sixties’ on Radio 2. My radio alarm would wake me to the voice of the late, great Brian Matthew – a voice, rich and syrupy, that I would happily have paid to hear read the phone-book. It was on one such morning that I heard ‘Come Outside’ for the first time, and it’s had a spot on my playlists ever since.

‘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.

126. ‘Kon-Tiki’, by The Shadows

As we continue our slow meander along the highways and bye-ways of 1961 –it does feel that this year is taking a little longer to get through than previous ones – it’s time for a little interlude.

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Kon-Tiki, by The Shadows (their 6th of twelve #1s)

1 week, from 5th – 12th October 1961

Picture, if you possibly can, the year 1961 as a TV variety show. On the bill are some huge, established stars – Elvis, the Everlys, Shirley Bassey – along with some new up and coming teen sensations – Johnny Tillotson, Helen Shapiro – and some quirky little gems – Floyd Cramer and The Temperance Seven. Maybe Cliff – who won’t actually be hitting #1 this year – can be the MC. OK? Well, to this weird mental image you can add the house band, the ones that pop up and play as the curtains drop and the scenery gets shifted. They are, of course, The Shadows.

‘Kon-Tiki’ is another instrumental. A lilting little slice of surf-rock. It’s got cool drum-fills, a nice crunchy, tinny edge to the guitars and a hint of reverb around the main riff. There’s a couple of call and response bits between the lead and the bass, and the ending has some gnarly (did they say ‘gnarly’ in the early sixties?) echo. It’s a decent enough record – I’m not sure that the Shadows made many poor ‘solo’ records – but when it ends less than two minutes in you’re left wondering… Is that it?

It’s far from being one of their bigger hits (I wasn’t particularly familiar with it before starting this post) and it kind of feels like filler. Something thrown together as the guys were jamming. A ‘B’-side, maybe? But hey, what do I know. It was a UK number one single; only the band’s second solo chart-topper.

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The Kon-Tiki was actually a raft used in a 1947 expedition across the Pacific Ocean by the Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl. ‘Kon-Tiki’ was chosen as it was an old name for the Incan sun-god. What all this had to do in inspiring the writing of this perky guitar instrumental is, to be honest, unknown. My best guess is that it sounds kinda tropical, kinda surfy, and could work well as the soundtrack to a sunset luau on the beaches of Hawaii. Compared to ‘Apache’, which really did conjure up images of Indian braves galloping across the plains, ‘Kon-Tiki’ is a little more abstract.

Maybe that’s fine, though. It’s a nice enough tune, a pleasant one-week interlude on our journey through 1961. It reminds us that The Shadows are still around, are still the biggest British band of the time. Maybe it needs no further meaning than that.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, it does feel like we’ve been lingering in 1961 for quite a while now. In actual fact, with twenty-one number one singles, 1961 has by far the most chart-toppers of any year yet covered. But that’s OK. It’s proving a nice place to be. Jazz, rock, showtunes, instrumentals… all genres are welcome here. And, if you thought it’s been eclectic recently; just wait till you hear what’s up next!

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.

54. ‘Singing the Blues’, by Tommy Steele and The Steelmen

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Singing the Blues, by Tommy Steele & The Steelmen (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 11th – 18th January 1957

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from doing this countdown, from listening to all these number ones of old, it’s that the ‘pre-rock’ era is a very hard thing to pin down. What was it? What did it sound like? Who were its biggest stars? And… when did it end?

Did it end in November 1955, when ‘Rock Around the Clock’ brought a teenaged frenzy to the top spot? Not really – that was a bit of a false dawn. Did it end in April ’56, when ‘Rock n Roll Waltz’ reached #1? Not really – the only thing rock ‘n’ roll about that song was the title. Was it when The Teenagers claimed a chart topper last summer? Not really – they may have been kids, but they were doo-woppin’ rather than rockin’.

So, I’m about to stick my neck out and make a bold claim. Are you ready? The 11th January 1957 marks the end of the ‘pre-rock’ era and the beginning of the ‘rock n roll’ era. In the UK at least. I can’t speak for anywhere else.

Why the 11th January 1957? Well, it’s when one Tommy Steele and his band The Steelmen (see what he did there?) hit the top spot with their version of ‘Singing the Blues’. Steele was the UK’s first rock ‘n’ roller, the pre-Cliff Richard if you will, and he grabbed this song away from Guy Mitchell’s nice-enough-but-somewhat-bland version, gave it a good shake and a slap, and ushered in a new era.

Not that you’d notice straight away. The song starts with the same plinky-plonky guitar and the same twee ba bum bum bums from the backing singers. And the trumpets and hand claps added to this version give it a slightly camp, Butlins-esque air. No, the one thing that makes this record rock is Steele himself: We-hell.. a-never felt…m’re like singin’ the blues… cos I never thought Ivrlose… yr love… dear

I’m not having a fit as I type – that’s really how he sings: like the last old man crawling out the pub. He’s slurring. He goes quiet, then loud, then quick, then slow. He sounds snotty, and bratty. When he delivers the lines The moon and stars no longer shine… The dream is gone I thought was mine… There’s nothin’ left for me t’ do, than cry-y-y OVER YEEW he starts off sounding quite posh and proper but ends the lines dripping in insincerity. He sounds like he’s taking the piss. You can picture him sneering and gyrating. It’s a world away from previous British male chart-toppers like David Whitfield, even Dickie Valentine. I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to say he sounds like a cross between David Bowie and Johnny Rotten. Seriously.

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And had I been a fifteen-year-old girl – Susan, let’s call me – sitting in the gloom and cold of January 1957, my heart would have gone a-flutter when this record dropped onto the turntable. Steele sounds like a bad boy; the sort that flicks ink-blots at the teacher and smokes behind the gym. He sounds much younger than Guy Mitchell while singing the same lyrics (Steele was twenty, Mitchell was thirty when they had their turns at #1) Susan’s mum would definitely have preferred Mitchell’s version. Her dad would probably have grumbled something about Steele needing a good stint in the army.

And so that’s it. In the two minutes twenty seconds it takes Tommy Steele to rattle through his version of ‘Singing the Blues’, we cross the Rubicon. There’s no going back from here. Steele’s star shone brightly and briefly – we won’t be hearing from him again beyond this solitary week at the top – but he did what he had to do, and changed the face of British popular music forever.

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.