My Son, My Son, by Vera Lynn (her first and only #1)
2 weeks, from 5th to 19th Nov. 1954
You don’t meet many Vera’s nowadays, do you? You’d meet a Frank, a David and a Johnnie quite easily on your local high street. But a Vera’d be hard to come by. And a song titled ‘My Son, My Son’, which sounds like the name of a hymn? Sung by a Vera? I knew before ever pressing play that this would be a crusty relic of a record.
This is ‘If’, by Rudyard Kipling, set to music. My son, my son, you’re all I hoped you’d be. My son, my son, my only pride and joy… My son, my son, just do the best you can, Then in my heart I’m sure, You’ll face life like a man… I’m fairly sure that this song stands alone, out of the thousand plus UK number ones, in taking the form of a love letter from a mother to her son. So points for originality at least.
All the British-Recorded-Hit-Song-From-The-Early-1950s hallmarks that we’ve grown oh so familiar with by now are present: cut-glass diction, earnest delivery, sombre – oh so sombre – tone. I mused last time on why so many of these early chart toppers were by Americans. And on top of all the glamour, glitz and razzamatazz it probably just boils down to them being more fun. Listen to this, then the Kitty Kallen record from a few posts ago, and tell me which of the two singers you’d rather have with you on a night out…
It’s clear, although it’s just occurred to me this very minute, that the record buying demographic in the pre-rock age were middle-aged. How else do you explain this, and David Whitfield? The music charts will soon be driven by youngsters, but not quite yet. Of course, in fairness Vera Lynn was a huge star, and had been since the 1930s. I mentioned Sinatra, and Doris Day, as still resonating today and, in the UK at least, Vera Lynn – the ‘Forces Sweetheart’ – has left a big old mark on popular culture. It’s only right that she grabbed her solitary #1 hit (she would have had a load more if charts existed for the ’40s) and I should try to find something nice to say about it. But…
One big problem with this song is that it sounds like a wartime release. A mother, tears in her eyes, watches as her son shoulders his rucksack and heads for the frontline, and mulls over how proud she is of him. But this was recorded nearly a decade after VE day! Maybe Vera knew her audience. More of that stoic ‘We’ll Meet Again’, off to the trenches stuff, eh Vera? Give ’em what they want! Maybe she was dying to re-invent herself, to try out some of this rock ‘n’ roll that everyone was banging on about, but the suits wouldn’t let her…?
Anyway, one final reason why I should try saying something nicer about this track is that Dame Vera Lynn is still alive at the impressive age of 100, and there is a chance (admittedly a very minute chance, but still) that she may read this. But… Nope, I can’t. Next!