Recap: #150 – #180

And so we pause…

These latest thirty #1 records represent perhaps the richest vein of pop music ever to have been hit upon in this country. Much of 1961 and ’62 was spent drilling different holes – occasionally coming up with a beauty (The Tornados); largely hitting a lot of bland MOR (Cliff, Frank Ifield.) But one day, in April 1963, the motherlode was discovered. Merseybeat.

This is the Merseybeat recap. The most homogenous sounding bunch of chart-toppers we are ever likely to meet. Young guys with guitars singing perky songs about falling in love, holding hands and getting into something good. It started with a triple whammy – a call to kids across the land – as Gerry & The Pacemakers and The Beatles arrived at the top of the charts. The Searchers, Billy J. Kramer, The Tremeloes and The Dave Clark Five all soon followed. That stretch, from April ’63 through to the summer of ’64 is probably the most consistent sounding year in UK chart history, one beat-pop number followed by another, with few exceptions and very few duds.

It’s definitely the strongest bunch of #1s yet, and it’s been very hard to pick which ones are merely great and which ones are utterly transcendent. Classics like ‘From Me to You’, ‘I Like It’, ‘Glad All Over’, ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’, ‘Have I the Right?’ and ‘I’m Into Something Good’ – which might have made the ‘Best Of’ at any other time – will have to just get left by the wayside. Whole chart-topping careers, those of Billy J., The Searchers, The Pacemakers and Cilla Black, have come and gone in a blink of an eye. For so long we plodded through mediocrity; now we wish things could slow down a little.

Of course, nothing that good can last forever, but I was surprised by how quickly the Merseybeat wave came, conquered and then receded. By July 1964, a harder sound had arrived at the top courtesy of The Animals and The Rolling Stones (Yes, we met the Stones for the first time! What should have been a headline becomes a footnote thanks to the brilliance of those around them.) Beat pop has slowly started to fragment in recent months, into full on rock (‘You Really Got Me’), rhythm and blues (‘It’s All Over Now’), experimental electro pop (‘Have I the Right?’) and easy-listening with a hint-of-Beat (‘(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me’.)

Out of the last thirty-one #1s, I can count only seven outliers. Seven discs that haven’t fit the Beat-pop/rock bill. Cilla’s two proto-power ballads, the best of which was ‘You’re My World’, The Pacemaker’s weird showtune swansong ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, a couple of leftovers from the previous era in Elvis’s ‘(You’re the) Devil in Disguise’ and Frank Ifield’s final, and most pleasing, #1 ‘Confessin’ (That I Love You)’. And, of course, the return of Roy Orbison. The Roynaissance. ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ was the sound of him meeting the Beat-revolution halfway; but his earlier comeback #1, the dramatic and operatic ‘It’s Over’, sounded completely out of place, and all the better for it.

roy-orbison---monument---color1-e23f5a1e868942826513ded7cdd783370ff3fda4-s800-c85maxresdefaultim-confessin-that-i-love-you-featuring-frank-ifield

Which leads me to the latest ‘WTAF’ Award, and a truly tough decision. Do I award it to The Big O, for ‘It’s Over’, or to Gerry & The Pacemakers for the bizarre, and perhaps fatal, decision to record a version of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’? I’m going to edge towards The Pacemakers – ‘It’s Over’ merely sounds out of place thanks to its surroundings; in the career of Roy Orbison it makes complete sense. Whereas I’m not sure anyone saw ‘YNWA’ coming. Still, it probably gets played ten times more these days than ‘I Like It’, and it means Gerry and the lads get a nice windfall any time Liverpool win a big match.

gerry-and-the-pacemakers-youll-never-walk-alone-1963-8

Choosing a record to crown as both ‘Meh’ and the Very Worst Chart-Topper is also a tough decision. There simply haven’t been enough terrible records to go around. It’s basically a straight shootout between The Bachelors ‘Diane’ and The Four Pennies ‘Juliet’. Two landfill Merseybeat records, cashing in on the day’s signature sound to make bland MOR; two records named after girls. I’ll give the ‘Meh’ Award to ‘Juliet’ and the Very Worst Chart-Topper to ‘Diane’, as The Four Pennies were merely boring, while I feel there was something sinister in The Bachelors perverting Merseybeat into a record for grannies. Like when Pat Boone released his metal-covers record, or when Tom Jones did Prince…

Before we settle what was the best of the best, one thing that did surprise me as I covered the past thirty-one chart-topping discs was that only three of them were recorded by Americans. Roy Orbison, of course, and one Elvis Presley, who you may remember from previous recaps. Back in my first recap, during the pre-rock days, I commented on how few British acts there seemed to be, and how the big US stars of the day – Kay Starr, Perry Como, Eddie Fisher et al – were bringing the glamour to bombed-out, over-rationed Blighty. Well, ten years on and much has changed. The Brits are the cool ones – it was they who were invading the Billboard Hot 100 across the Atlantic. Except, they were doing so with American-written songs. All The Searchers’ #1s were originally recorded by US vocal groups. Cilla and Sandie Shaw hit big with Bacharach and David numbers. ‘Do You Love Me?’ was a Motown number, while ‘I’m Into Something Good’ was written by Goffin and King. An interesting footnote to the British Invasion.

To the crème de la crème, then… The 6th Very Best Chart-Topper award. I’ve narrowed it down to a top five. ‘How Do You Do It?’, by Gerry and the P’s, for kicking this whole shebang off. Then The Animals, for announcing the end of Merseybeat a year later with the deep-throated, bluesy ‘The House of the Rising Sun’. They’re joint fourth. 3rd place goes to ‘You Really Got Me’ – in which the Kinks invented garage rock, power-pop and, oh yes, heavy metal – and generally grabbed us all by the bollocks and kicked us up the arse. Runner-up goes to the sublime ‘Needles and Pins’ by The Searchers – a moment of sad-pop melancholy in amongst the frenzy. I really wish I could argue a case for this being the very best but… I can’t. Not when The Fab Four are looking on.

Yes, five of the past bunch of chart-toppers were by The Beatles, with a further two written and donated to other acts by Lennon & McCartney. All of which were good-to-great #1s. (Sorry to disappoint, but I won’t have too many bad words to say about any of their seventeen chart-toppers.) One though, stands out above the rest. The one hundred and fifty seventh UK chart-topper, and the moment the world realised that they were in on something spectacular: ‘She Loves You’. Yeah, yeah… Yeah!

the beatles john lennon george harrison ringo starr paul mccartney 1280x1024 wallpaper_www.wallpapername.com_64

To recap the recaps, then:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability: 1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell. 2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers. 3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone. 4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley. 5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows. 6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else: 1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers. 2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton. 3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI. 4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven. 5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers. 6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra. 2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young. 3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway. 4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley. 5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield. 6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray. 2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra. 3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis. 4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers. 5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes. 6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.

The next thirty will take us from the tail-end of 1964 through to early ’66, and I doubt there will be anything like as clear and definable a ‘sound’ to the coming months. Popular music will continue to fragment. Starting with a brand new first at the top of the UK charts. It’s Motown, baby!

Recap: #121 – #149

To recap, then…

We’ve fallen into a bit of a slump, really, at the top of the UK singles charts. It happens… This is my fifth recap, and it’s another one without a defining theme to it. We’ve had ‘The Pre-Rock Recap’, and we’ve had ‘The Rock ‘n’ Roll Recap’ and we’ve had two others that were more a bunch of songs squashed together. It’s like throwing dinner parties: sometimes the guests all hit it off smashingly and other times everybody just sits around looking awkward.

If I was to fumble around for a one-word summary of the past thirty twenty-nine chart-toppers, I’d have to go for… ‘easy’. By and large they’ve been very easy listens – nothing too wild, nothing too experimental, no boundary pushing… I’m thinking ‘Moon River’, ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’, ‘Wonderful Land’, ‘The Young Ones’ – proper records the lot of them. Background music, though, rather than anything that really grabbed me. But maybe that’s just me…

Then there were the downright bland chart-toppers, of which the last few months haven’t been short: ‘Well I Ask You’, ‘Dance On!’ (such a promising title; so little going on), and Frank Ifield’s double-whammy of dull, ‘I Remember You’ and ‘The Wayward Wind.’ Lots of worthy contenders, then, for the latest ‘Meh’ Award… I’m going to give it to Cliff though, for the thoroughly snooze-inducing ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’ – a double ‘A’ for double the dullness.

1444315144-a30ba8d4cf695a5867db18bd869743e3-600x337

And, sorry, we can’t talk about ‘dullness’ without mentioning Elvis. This recap covers an unbelievable 5 (five!) chart-toppers from The King. ‘Little Sister’ / ‘His Latest Flame’ is an undeniable classic double-‘A’, don’t get me wrong, as is ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’. Except, that came with the hideous ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’ in tow, which took a lot of the shine off. No, it is his three most recent #1s that have really had the eye-lids drooping. ‘She’s Not You’ – OK at best. ‘Return to Sender’ – cheesy, though an undeniable guilty pleasure. And ‘Good Luck Charm’, with its pre-set boogie-woogie riff and half-arsed vocals, which had the temerity to spend five weeks at the top! I was seriously tempted to dish out Elvis’s 2nd Very Worst Chart-Topper award for this… But I can’t. Not when the worst charge you can level at it is that it’s Elvis on auto-pilot. And not when ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield, is barrelling its way towards you like a yodelling freight-train. I honestly still have nightmares about that record… It’s by far the worst of the past bunch.

FRANK-IFIELD-88-600x417

That is the big mystery of British music in 1962-3… why Frank Ifield? Why? He bursts out of nowhere to become the biggest star in the land for a year, and then… I’m pinning all my hopes on his final number-one, which is coming up shortly, redeeming the career of Frank Ifield for me. But I won’t be holding my breath.

Before we get to the next awards, a little love for the outliers. The discs that aren’t very bad, or incredibly good, or mad-cap, or even dull. Shirley Bassey (Dame Shirley Bassey, thankyouverymuch) with ‘Reach for the Stars’ / ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’, ‘Tower of Strength’ by Frankie Vaughan, ‘Michael’ by The Highwaymen, the bubble-gum bounce of ‘Walkin’ Back to Happiness’ and the irrepressible – no matter how much you want to repress it –  ‘Summer Holiday’. All perfectly acceptable, and all records that I enjoyed (re)discovering at the time.

Because so many of the recent chart-topping records have been planted firmly in the middle of the road, I feel that there is a very fine line between those few that stand out for being the best and those few that stand out for being the craziest. So, I think I’ll have to award my ‘WTAF’ Award, and my Very Best Award at the same time. Should ‘Nut Rocker’ go down as one of the best; or one of the craziest? Should ‘Telstar’ go down as one of the craziest; rather than the best? Maybe I should re-consider ‘Lovesick Blues’… It was an utterly crazy record, after all. Then there’s the gothic-romance-as-three-minute-pop-song of ‘Johnny Remember Me’

No, I’m going to stick with my gut, and dish the ‘WTAF’ Award out to Mr. B. Bumble and his Stingers, for turning The Nutcracker into a gloriously daft rock ‘n’ roll boogie. Hurrah!

And for the very best – the crème de la crème – I’ve whittled it down to four. In one corner we have The Everly Brothers final UK #1, ‘Temptation’. One the one hand it’s probably the hardest rocker of the past thirty twenty-nine, but on the other it feels like it shouldn’t really be here. It was so long ago that I had kind of forgotten that it would be in this recap. Next we have some real heartbreak in the form of Helen Shapiro’s ‘You Don’t Know’ – it still amazes me that that was the voice of a fourteen-year-old. Then it’s the towering ‘Telstar’, from The Tornados, sending pop music light years into the future. And finally our most recent chart-topper, and The Shadows last ever: ‘Foot Tapper’. I could give a good argument for any of them, but I know deep down which way I want to go… The very best chart topping single between July 1961 and April 1963 is… drum roll please… ‘Telstar.’

In case you’ve lost track, then:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability: 1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell. 2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers. 3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone. 4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley. 5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else: 1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers. 2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton. 3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI. 4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven. 5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra. 2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young. 3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway. 4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley. 5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray. 2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra. 3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis. 4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers. 5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.

Actually, looking at those winners, perhaps the word I was searching for to describe this phase of chart history was ‘Instrumental’. Of the past twenty-nine #1 hits, seven have been lyric-less. And really, this is the last hurrah of the instrumental hit because, looking forward, they are about to become a rare species indeed.

I mentioned in my last post that I have broken my own rules slightly here, by doing a recap one song early. But… there was method in my madness. Whatever we’ve been calling the past few years: the rock ‘n’ roll age, the post rock ‘n’ roll age, the 2nd wave of rock ‘n’ roll… One thing’s for sure. It’s over. And another thing that’s for sure is that when I do my next recap, I won’t be complaining about there being no definable ‘sound of’ the time. Because we are about to hit on one of the richest, most distinctive, most glorious eras in British music history…

 We are off to Liverpool.

(P.S. I’ve made Spotify playlist featuring all the #1s so far – I’ll update it every time I post. Follow it below…)

132. ‘The Young Ones’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows

We enjoyed/suffered through (delete according to personal preference) a Cliff-less 1961. But Britain’s great rock ‘n’ roll hope kicks off 1962 with… (pause for dramatic effect)… his most famous hit?

The-Young-Ones-1961-film-images-630814b5-6ace-499e-8614-12e90dccdd6

The Young Ones, by Cliff Richard (his 5th of fourteen #1s) and The Shadows (their 7th of twelve #1s)

6 weeks, from 11th January – 22nd February 1962

OK, there are the Christmas songs. And ‘Summer Holiday’. And ‘Congratulations’… Let’s just say that this is his most famous song not about festivities and/or vacations. Though this latest chart-topper is a celebration of sort – a celebration of being young!

Its starts with some Shadows ™ guitar, before Cliff comes in with his gossamer-light voice… The young ones, Darlin’ we’re the young ones, And the young ones, Shouldn’t be afraid… I am slightly loathe to admit it, but I have missed that voice of late… To live, Love, While the flame is young, ‘Cause we may not be the young ones very long… Any song performed by The Shadows and sung by Cliff can’t fail to be of a certain standard. It may well be cheesy, and the lyrics might be very trite, but downright bad? Unlikely.

And ‘The Young Ones’ does have its moments. I love the beat-band drum fills, while the guitars are very reminiscent of Buddy Holly’s mid-tempo hits – ‘Heartbeat’, ‘Maybe Baby’ and the like. Yet it’s far from perfect –  corny couplets like: Oh I need you, And you need me, Oh my darlin’, Can’t you see…? make sure of that.

And then there are the violins. Yep, Cliff’s gone orchestral. By the end the strings are swirling and cascading, drowning out Hank and Bruce’s guitars. (I can’t help wondering if this was one of those tracks, like the minimalist ‘Travellin’ Light’, on which The Shadows were a little bored…) I had to double-check that I was listening to the original version, rather than some kind of polished re-release… I’d see this as Cliff’s attempt to move away from teeny-bop discs like ‘Please Don’t Tease’ and ‘I Love You’ – his bid for adult-artist longevity.

7140gXm67-L._SL1280_

In that regard it’s a very clever record. The lyrics are about being young; and yet the production is very grown-up. It isn’t enough of a departure to alienate the screaming fifteen year-olds, but it’s classy enough to get grandma interested. And there’s a bittersweet edge to the closing lyrics that will appeal to mum and dad: And someday, When the years have flown, Darlin’ then we’ll teach the young ones, Of our own…

I wouldn’t call it a sell-out in the same way that Elvis prancing about in Lederhosen singing ‘Wooden Heart’ was a sell-out. Because, let’s face it, Cliff has never – in terms of his chart-topping singles, at least – managed to justify his tag as Britain’s foremost rock ‘n’ roller. From the opening chords of his first #1 he’s been planted firmly in the middle of the road. But… Something definitely clicked here, and his career has kicked up a gear. Thanks to its role on the soundtrack to Cliff’s movie of the same name, ‘The Young Ones’ had built up a staggering 500,000 pre-orders before its release, meaning that it rocketed straight in to the charts at Number One – only the 3rd single (and the 1st single not released by a certain Elvis Presley) to do so. It remains his biggest seller in the UK.

And its legacy was such that twenty years later it became the theme tune to BBC sitcom ‘The Young Ones’, in which Rik Mayall played a lisping, tantrum-throwing, anarchy-loving Cliff fan. The joke of course being that, by 1982, young people with any aspirations towards being cool couldn’t possibly be Cliff fans. But, the eighties are a long way off yet in our world. It’s January of 1962, Cliff and The Shadows are the biggest pop-stars in the country, and they’ve just scored their biggest hit yet. Though, as with all of us, they may not be the young ones very long…

‘A Woman in Love’, by Frankie Laine – 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 five: the King of Pre-Rock – Mr. Frankie Laine. Laine, along with Guy Mitchell, was the most consistent chart-topper before Elvis came along. His 1st #1 – ‘I Believe’ – still holds the record for most weeks at the top of the charts. ‘A Woman in Love’ was his swan song – one of his last big hits – and I remember thinking, when I wrote this post, that it felt as if it came out of nowhere. The swing and swagger of the big band on this record, and the glint in Laine’s eye as he sang it, were a world away from his earlier, painfully earnest ballads. I can’t say I’m a fan of all his work; but this is a great song…

s-l300 (2)

A Woman in Love, by Frankie Laine (his 4th and final #1)

4 weeks, from to 19th October to 16th November 1956

Look who’s back!

Almost three years since we last saw him, Frankie Laine is back at the top of the charts for one final hurrah. And it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that this is something of a re-invention.

I think this is the very first ‘big band’ #1 we’ve seen. It’s from the film version of ‘Guys and Dolls’, and I think it might be a tango, or a foxtrot (I ain’t no dancer). Either way, it begins with a bang, and then it starts swinging. Frankie Laine is a-swingin’.

Your eyes are the eyes of a woman in love, And oh how they give you away… Why try to deny, You’re a woman in love, When I know very well, When I say…

Who is this woman head over heels with? Well, Frankie of course. At least that’s what he thinks: Those eyes are the eyes of a woman in love, And may they gaze ever more into mine…

Contrast these lyrics with Laine’s last chart-topping single from December ’53. ‘Answer Me’ was all about him pleading for a sign that his lover was still, well, in love with him. In ‘A Woman in Love’ he doesn’t need any reassurance, any prayers answered. He knows she’s hot for him. The times they are a-changing.

And then we have one of the best musical interludes that we’ve heard so far in this countdown. The previous chart-toppers haven’t really gone in for solos, but this one does. The whole band gets stuck into a swinging little thirty seconds. There is a lot of swagger in this record. I’m quite enjoying sticking one-word labels on these recent #1s: Pat BooneCrooner, Anne SheltonTwee, Frankie Laine – Swagger! We’ve had an eclectic run of songs hitting the top spot recently, perhaps the most varied run of this countdown so far, but in a way they’ve all been very of their time. Popular music right on the cusp of the rock ‘n’ roll invasion.

The only thing that spoils this record is the finale. Frankie may have re-invented himself, but he still loves a big ending: Crazily, ga-aze, e-ever mo-ore into MIIIIIIINNNNEEE! Every time I hear an ending like that it sounds more and more old-fashioned. I can’t imagine there’ll be many more, though. Surely. But, overall, this is a small complaint. It’s a great song. Laine’s voice is as warm and as listenable as ever. He and Doris Day should have recorded a duet (*edit* they did – ‘Sugarbush’ back in 1952).

06cab955448883c79c5103ab82addae5--arthur-godfrey-singer

And so we bid farewell to perhaps the biggest of all the pre-rock stars. Four number one singles adding up to 32 (thirty-two!) weeks at the top. That’s pretty darn impressive, and leaves him at 5th place in the all-time list behind only…. I’ll give you a few seconds to guess… Elvis, The Beatles, Cliff and The Shadows. And, actually, I’m harping on about this being a ‘re-invention’ and a ‘comeback’ for Laine, but he hadn’t been anywhere. In the three years between his 3rd and 4th #1s he had still racked up a whole pile of top ten hits. He was huge. ‘A Woman in Love’ would, though, be his penultimate top ten single in the UK.

One final thought… This track made Frankie Laine the artist with the most UK #1s at this point. With four. It’s noticeable that we haven’t yet met an artist who has scored, or will even go on to score, more than four. These early charts were a very egalitarian place – songs only got to the top because they were… I don’t want to say ‘good’ because, well… let’s say: ‘universally popular’. The days of super-star idols, of huge fan-base acts whose every release races to the top of the charts – your Take Thats, Westlifes, Spice Girls – are still not upon us. But they will be sooner than you might think, and their arrival has a lot to do with this new-fangled thing called rock ‘n’ roll.

‘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…

s-l1000

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.

R-582429-1341876426-2330.jpeg

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!

guy-mitchell-look-at-that-girl-1953-78

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…

GUY_MITCHELL_SHOWCASE+OF+HITS-529846

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…

perry-como-with-the-ramblers-dont-let-the-stars-get-in-your-eyes-1953
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?

600x600

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…

R-3253615-1392841568-2094.jpeg

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.

kay-starr-cropped

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.

Recap: #91 – #120

Our latest recap takes us from October of 1959 through to July of 1961 – a shade under two years – our shortest burst of thirty #1s yet. But ahead of that I’d like to wish all you readers of the UK Number Ones Blog a very happy new year, and all the best for 2019. May it be a truly chart-topping year for you all!

How to sum up the past bunch, then? I’d perhaps go for a term that I used in earlier posts: ‘the castration of rock ‘n’ roll…’ Whereas in our previous recap we had huge, era-defining, rock ‘n’ roll chart-toppers from Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Bobby Darin, Connie Francis, and Elvis – Goodness Gracious! Everybody let’s rock! That’ll be the Day, my dream lover! – this past bunch has been a lot more gentile. More sedate. Slightly dull at times…?

We kicked off the sixties with a run of pleasant enough easy-listening pop-songs-with-rock ‘n’ roll-flourishes. A couple from Adam Faith. A couple from Anthony Newley. A return to the top for Michael Holliday. Lonnie Donegan losing all his fizz on ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’. Nothing particularly wrong with any of them – in fact I picked out ‘Starry Eyed’ and ‘Poor Me’ at the time as decent little pop records – but all a little homogenous. Then there’s Cliff, who may be the biggest star Britain has to offer at this time, but who has consistently struggled to raise a pulse with throwaway fluff like ‘Travellin’ Light’ and ‘I Love You’. So – plenty of blandness from which to crown our latest ‘Meh’ award winner. I’m going to roll the dice and give the trophy to ‘Why’ by Anthony Newley, for erring too much on the cute side, and for relying a little too much on a xylophone.

Talking of slightly bland, slightly disappointing records… We need to talk about Elvis. He’s back, fresh from the army, with four #1s in a little over six months. Which makes it four chart-toppers in the previous recap; four in this one. And while we still missed out on the truly raw, Sun Records Elvis; we were still getting plenty of vim and vigour on discs such as ‘Jailhouse Rock’, ‘One Night’, and ‘I Got Stung’ back then. Now, however, we’re getting granny-pleasing light opera on ‘It’s Now or Never’ and ‘Surrender’, and simpering (though heartfelt) ballads like ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ Elvis has lost his bite, and with him, it seems, so has rock ‘n’ roll as a whole. He has pretty much invented the modern pop superstar over the past few months, though. Every single release of his marching to the top of the charts and spending extended periods of time in residence at the summit. And it shows no sign of ending as we move into the next thirty discs. Elvis ain’t leaving the building just yet.

I don’t want to paint too bleak a picture of pop music at the dawn of the sixties, though. If you stop searching for the lesser-spotted rock song, you’ll find a pleasingly wide variety of other chart-toppers. Since October ’59, we’ve had Big Band sounds from Bobby Darin and ‘Mack the Knife’, jaunty doo-wop in the shape of Emile Ford’s ‘What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?’, fun novelties with ‘Running Bear’, piano rags with Floyd Cramer and the purest of pure pop in Johnny Tillotson’s ‘Poetry in Motion’. All these records fall into the ‘good – often quirky – but not worthy of honour’ category. Instead, we have to give credit to a real outlier – a record that squeaked a week at the top and really made me stop and think ‘Huh?’ I’m sure it will come as no surprise that the winner of this round’s ‘WTAF’ Award is ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven: a record that was simultaneously modern and meta, retro and nostalgic. And slightly smug.

Before I get down to the main awards – the best and the worst – it’s time for an honourable mention. ‘Sailor’, by Petula Clark, topped the charts for a single week back in February ’61. One week, out of the ninety-three it’s taken to cover the past thirty songs. But it was the only song in this recap to have been sung by a lady. Under other circumstances, ‘Sailor’ – a syrupy and somewhat old-fashioned ballad – might have qualified for the ‘Meh’ Award. As it is, the fact that it was sung by a member of the fairer sex is enough to make it stand out.

So, to the worst. Two songs immediately spring to mind, standing head, shoulders and torso above the rest. I was about to close the competition, call the bets off, after I heard Ricky Valance’s ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’ – the deathliest of death discs. But I hadn’t reckoned with us hitting Elvis’s ‘Lederhosen Phase’… ‘Tell Laura…’ is a truly awful song; but it’s a one-hit wonder, a novelty of sorts. ‘Wooden Heart’ is the sound of the world’s most famous singer, a sex-symbol the sight of whose pelvis once caused widespread swooning, serenading some puppets in German. And topping the UK charts for six weeks in the process. There can only be one winner…

Let’s clear our mind of that trash, though, as we have a Best Disc to pick. I’ve whittled the best of this bunch down to seven classics. We have: Bobby Darin’s ‘Mack the Knife’ for bringing along some classy swing. ‘Apache’ for reinventing the much-maligned (by me, anyway) instrumental. ‘Only the Lonely’ as the breakthrough for the ever-young voice of Roy Orbison. ‘Blue Moon’ for giving us a shot in the arm of frenzied, acapella doo-wop. And Del Shannon’s inventive yet timeless ‘Runaway’. But none of these discs – excellent as they are – quite make it. Two remain. I really want to hand the trophy to ‘Shakin’ All Over’, by Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, for being the one genuine rock ‘n’ roll disc here. A British rock ‘n’ roll disc, nonetheless, with a killer riff and sweat-drenched vocals. But. I am only human; and I can’t not award the Best of the Last 30 to… ‘Cathy’s Clown’ by the Everlys. Why? Just click on the link and listen, that’s why!

In case you’ve lost track, then:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability: 1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell. 2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers. 3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone. 4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else: 1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers. 2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton. 3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI. 4.  ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra. 2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young. 3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway. 4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray. 2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra. 3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis. 4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.

Our next thirty will take us right up to the dawn of Merseybeat – what those on the other side of the Atlantic call the ‘British Invasion’. Strap yourselves in. Before that, though… We wrapped this recap up with the Everlys, and we kick the next round off with none other than the…

120. ‘Runaway’, by Del Shannon

Hold up! Just before I pause for another recap, what’s this I hear? A late contender for best song?

p01bqsdv

Runaway, by Del Shannon (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 29th June – 20th July 1961

This is a song the greatness of which has long been recognised. I’m not sure I can add much more to the debate. ‘Runaway’, by Del Shannon, is a Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, ‘Rolling Stone’ Top 500-songs-ever kind of tune. It’s catchy, it’s innovative, it’s irresistible. It comes in all a-frenzy and lifts you up, up and away on a frantic piano riff. As I walk along, I wonder, What went wrong with our love, A love that was so strong…

Let’s break it down, shall we? I can now state – after an extensive bout of listening to said song – that the brilliance of ‘Runaway’ can be put down to three things. Of which number one is… The rasp in Shannon’s voice as he sings the chorus. I’m a-walkin’ in the rain, Tears are fallin’ and I, Feel the pain… He truly sounds heartbroken, singing at the top of his lungs as if it will help bring his runaway baby back.

Number two… The hook. Every classic pop song needs one. Here it’s simple enough: I wonder, I wa-wa-wa-wa-wonder… And just to be sure: Why? Why-why-why-why-why? Ask anyone to sing a line from ‘Runaway’ and I bet they recreate (probably quite painfully) Del Shannon’s falsetto on these lines.

And number three… The solo. This is the innovative bit. Because what in God’s name is that instrument? It sounds weird enough to my modern ears. To the unsuspecting people of 1961 it must have sounded like it was coming from another planet. It’s a Musitron – an early version of the synthesiser. And so we have what is technically the first ever electronic #1 single – around twenty years early! This is why I love the charts. The fact that it is a list of songs based solely on how many people have bought them. Nothing else. Anything can follow anything. Which means one month on from The Temperance Seven’s ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’ looking back to the 1920s, we have ‘Runaway’ and its crazed Musitron solo looking forward to the 1980s.

del-shannon-runaway-jody-hlx-9317-ex-73999-p

There are plenty other reasons why this is a classic, of course. But why bother trying to explain? It might be the chords, the minor key, the tempo… Or yes, it might be the solo, the hook or the voice. But some songs just have ‘it’ – that magic formula that ensures a timeless hit.

Del Shannon – AKA Charles Westover – had been in the music business since the mid-fifties, and ‘Runaway’ was his first and his biggest hit. He wouldn’t have any subsequent hits as big. I’m semi-familiar with his other work: ‘Hat’s Off to Larry’ is catchy enough, but I would recommend the brilliant ‘Little Town Flirt’ as his best song that isn’t you-know-what. He had several further Top 10 hits in his native US, and even more in the UK, but no more #1s. He descended into alcoholism and tragically shot himself in 1990, aged just fifty-five. Which helps add a further melancholy edge to his already pretty melancholy most famous song.

This is a brilliant Number One single – no doubt about it. It’s catchy, yet not banal. Familiar, yet innovative. Uplifting, yet sad. It is also – and perhaps this says more than anything I’ve written –  the first of our hundred and twenty number ones to have a ‘Behind the Lyrics’ feature on Spotify – the sort of honour only bestowed on pretty much every modern pop song but only the most classic of classic hits.