I’ll Be Home, by Pat Boone (his 1st and only #1)
5 weeks, from 15th June to 20th July 1956
Having just read back through my last post – poor old Ronnie Hilton – I feel I’ve been a bit harsh recently. So I’ve decided: I need to approach these records with emptier ears, by dropping all my modern inclinations and pre-conceptions and by just listening to the records. By realising the difference between a record that is bad, and one that I simply dislike. By being – and this is going to be an immense struggle for someone like me – less judgemental. Here goes…
I’ll be home… My darling… Please wait for me… We’ll stroll along together… Once more our love will be free… A piano plinks, a guitar strums, the backing singers hum. This is possibly the gentlest number one yet. And Pat Boone? Well, there’s only one word for what he’s doing. He is crooning. He is crooning the hell out of this record. This is dictionary-definition crooning
This is a post-pre rock/pre-rock n roll ballad, if you get what I mean. File it alongside ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’ from a few posts ago. The lyrics are a little more youth-orientated (some lines about meeting at the corner drug store on a Saturday) and the chord progressions are that of a modern pop song. I do quite like what he does with the words moo-ooo-ooon light and toge-e-e-ther, and the abrupt pause after the line My mind’s made up… There’s a playful hint to the song. But it’s way too saccharine. It reminds me of that ‘Father Ted’ episode, where Mrs Doyle wins a competition to meet a Daniel O’Donnell-esque singer (Eoin McLove – I’ve just checked). Eoin McLove would definitely have sung this song.
There’s also – abruptly and brilliantly – a spoken word section. Oh yes. Midway through, Boone draws up to the mic, and talks directly to us, making this the first in a niche group of #1 hits, along with classics such as ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’, and ‘Never Ever’ by All Saints. Darling, as I write this letter, here’s hoping you’re thinking of me… His love shouldn’t worry, he’ll be home soon (HOW MANY MORE of these male-led hits are going to be about pining for your loved one?? I get that these were days of war in Korea and of National Service but still – I doubt we’ll ever see a more dominant lyrical theme in any other era!) I’ll be home, to start serving you… That’s nice. It’s a nice (ish) song. There. Maybe not worth a 5 week stay at the top, but hey. I managed a critique without writing anything too biting. Well done me. But, wait a second…
A sinister under-belly requires tickling. You see, this particular song is an example of something that went on a lot in the fifties. Pat Boone, Frankie Laine, Elvis et al got rich and famous by recording songs written and originally recorded by black artists. Because they were white an’ wholesome, their records sold more. It was a big thing in the US; less in the UK (see Winifred Atwell and the record that succeeded this one at the top). ‘I’ll Be Home’ was originally recorded by The Flamingoes, a black doo-wop group. The B-side was a whitewashed cover of ‘Tutti Frutti.’ A sign of the times, but not great.
And the plot thickens further. Before this, I’d heard of Pat Boone for two reasons. One, was a line in a Snoop Dogg song (‘Beautiful’) where he claims a girl is too good and wants to stay home listening to Pat Boone, of all people. Two – Mr Boone (who’s still alive, aged eighty-three) is an ultra-conservative Christian. A proper Fox News, evangelising, pray-the-gay-away kind of Christian. I knew this, somehow, but didn’t know quite how bad it was. And it’s bad. Here are some of his greatest hits – all from Wikipedia, take from that what you will – which have nothing to do with his sole chart topping hit in 1956, but sure are amusing (make that terrifying):
A) He refused to star in a film with a star as sexy as Marilyn Monroe, as it would have compromised his beliefs. B) He has compared liberalism to cancer. C) He has compared gay rights activism to Islamic terrorism, and has campaigned against Democratic candidates with the claim that they want to turn Kentucky into San Francisco. D) He loves war, and has claimed that any opponents of the Vietnam War, and both Iraq wars, neither loved their country nor respect their elders. E) He – perhaps inevitably – believes that Barack Obama shouldn’t have served as President, due to his fluency in Arabic and his love for the Koran… Suddenly, all that money and recognition he stole off black artists in the ’50s starts to look even more sinister, no?
Hilariously, he was kicked off a Gospel Music show he hosted in 1997 after releasing an album of heavy metal and hard rock covers, including ‘Smoke on the Water’, ‘Paradise City’ and, oh yes, ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’. Tragically this album doesn’t seem to be on Spotify, but I’m including the link to his version of ‘Enter Sandman’ here. You have been warned…
I could go on but don’t have all day, and that did go slightly off topic. Apologies. Basically, Pat Boone, it was nice meeting you. You sound a bit mental. Onwards.