Dreamboat, by Alma Cogan (her 1st and only #1)
2 weeks, from 15th to 29th July 1955
This is more like it! This is a pop song – a pop song as we would recognise one today. In our countdown so far I would count perhaps only Guy Mitchell’s ‘Look at that Girl’, and now this, as examples of The Modern Pop Song. No orchestras, no silly declarations of love, no grandstand finishes… Just a quick beat, a doo-doo-doo, and some lyrics about how in love the singer is.
I know this song quite well, and have it in regular rotation in my Spotify library, though I’m not sure how or why. I know next to nothing about Alma Cogan and, as you may have been able to tell from previous posts, I haven’t explored this era in popular music very extensively at all. It must have popped up as a suggestion – Spotify does love a suggestion – and I must have liked it enough to save it.
Anyway, know it I do. In fact, I don’t just know it – I love it! Cogan has this little flip in her voice at the start of every line, which makes her sound like an excitable school girl. And, for this song it really works. She’s got a crush, you see: You dreamboat, you loveable dreamboat, the kisses you gave me, set my dreams afloat… She’s besotted, and would follow the object of her desire anywhere – she would sail the seven seas, in fact: even if you told me to go and paddle my own canoe (I can’t help but think that sounds like a euphemism – ‘Just off to paddle my canoe darling, don’t wait up’).
There isn’t much else to ‘Dreamboat’ -it’s a fun little ditty. Cogan sings it well, with the perfect pronunciation we’ve come to expect but also with a light, playful touch that’s been missing from many of the number ones thus far. She sounds like she’s having a ball, as if she has a big, broad smile on her face while belting it out. Again, it’s a female singer having a good time. Contrast this with the song it replaced at the top – Jimmy Young’s painfully earnest take on ‘Unchained Melody’. Even in 1955 girls were having all the fun. It’s a noticeably shorter record than all the previous chart toppers as well, clocking in at well under two minutes, and that’s one of the most important things to consider when writing a brilliant pop song: make sure that it doesn’t outstay its welcome!
It’s a shame, I think, that this is Alma Cogan’s only song on this countdown. I like the cut of her gib. She was another young, British-born singer who, along with Ruby Murray and Dickie Valentine earlier in 1955, was dragging popular music away from old crusties like Vera Lynn and David Whitfield and towards the teenagers, towards rock ‘n’ roll. This is a song, essentially, about a hunk and his sweet kisses.
A quick look at Cogan’s Wiki throws up a colourful picture: the highest paid female star of the late ’50s, serial winner of the NME Outstanding British Female Singer award, and perennial visitor to the Top 10. Parties with Princess Margaret, Cary Grant and Noel Coward. An affair with a young John Lennon just as the Beatles were shooting to fame. And then dead at the tragically young age of thirty-four…
A life well lived, though cut far too short. I have a feeling that I’ll miss her even more – this ‘Girl with the Giggle’ – when we return to the bog-standard, plodding ‘pre-rock’ songs that I fear are still to clock up the charts, before rock truly lands.