Just Walkin’ in the Rain, by Johnnie Ray (his 2nd of three #1s)
7 weeks, from 16th November 1956 to 4th January 1957
And, just like that, we zoom to the end of 1956. And we are reacquainted with another artist whom we haven’t seen for a while…
The last time we met Johnnie Ray, he was snatching a week at number one with the superb ‘Such a Night’. I voted it as ‘Best Record So Far’ in an earlier recap, it was that good. But that was almost three years ago, in the spring of ’54. Ray stood out like a sore thumb – a groaning, pleading, cavorting thumb – amongst the frightfully proper records that were topping the charts back then. Now we’re in somewhat more relaxed, ever-so-slightly more liberal times, it’s no surprise that Johnnie’s back.
The first thing that hits you, as the needle drops, is the whistling. It’s a whistly record. The first record featuring whistling to top the UK Singles Chart. And it’s another simple record – just Ray’s voice, his backing singers, and a guitar. It crossed my mind that it might be a pastiche of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, as the two songs do bear some similarities. ‘Singin’ in the Rain’s depressed, heartbroken brother perhaps?
Just walkin’ in the rain, Gettin’ soakin’ wet, Torturin’ my heart, By trying to forget…
The way Ray delivers that little ‘by’ is a thing of beauty. He barks it out, angry, heartbroken. You really believe him. As before, his voice makes the whole record. It’s not a regular voice, nor a technically perfect voice, but it is unmistakeable: raspy and croaky – he really does sound like man who’s been up all night, walking in the rain.
Anyway, his walk is a form of water-based therapy, perhaps, as he tries to get over his departed lover. Or maybe it’s water-torture, as there’s a masochistic edge to proceedings: People come to windows, They always stare at me, Shake their heads in sorrow, Sayin’ who can that fool be? He knows they’re watching, but he continues anyway. Lyrically, we are at a crossroads, in terms of male-recorded #1s. These the are self-flagellating lyrics that we have heard many, many times before, about how much pain he is in (see also ‘Here in My Heart’, ‘Outside of Heaven’, ‘Answer Me’, ‘Give Me Your Word’, I could go on…) BUT, unlike in those songs, there is no chance of a positive outcome here. Ray never mentions any hope that his love will return. He’s simply trying to forget. This, then, is more of the sugar-coated cynicism that started creeping into our chart topping records with ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love’ back in the summer.
By the end of the song, Johnnie is weepin’ and a-wailin’ in superbly melodramatic fashion. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s a crime that he gets looked over in the pantheon of rock ‘n’ roll pioneers/superstars. I can’t sing his praises highly enough. This is a great record (not as great as ‘Such a Night’, but still great). Of course, as I also mentioned in his earlier post, his being erased from the History of Pop Music had a lot to do with his homosexuality. And I did notice, the eagle-eared guy that I am, how there are no pronouns in this song. No hint as to the gender of his lost love….
Johnnie Ray will appear one more time in this countdown – fairly soon, in fact – and so I will stop myself from going on too much about how amazing he was. (Though he was) And to finish I’ll address something that’s been bugging me for a while. At the top of each post I always include a picture of the record I’m going to be writing about. And they all look the bloody same. Black vinyl with a little disc circle of colour in the middle (and even that dash of colour is predictable: Phillips records are always blue, Capitol are black, Decca are navy…) I can never seem to find a picture of the record sleeve and, when I do (the jpg that headers Johnnie Ray’s earlier entry, ‘Such a Night’, for example) they are just as bland as the disc. You may have noticed that I sometimes include a picture that looks like it could be the record sleeve -I’ve included the one for ‘Just Walkin’ in the Rain’ above. That’s actually the sheet-music cover, a relic from the days before everyone had gramophones – they would buy the score and learn to play it themselves at home. There were even sheet-music charts before the NME started the record chart upon which this countdown is based. Even more frustratingly, it seems that LPs and EPs did get colourful covers in the 50s; it was only singles that were left to languish in boring, beige paper slips.
Anyway, the point of mentioning this is… I know it looks dull and I wish I could do something about it. I can’t wait for the days when artists and labels actually care about standing out on the shelves, and start including pictures of the band or, shock horror, an artistically though-out design on the cover. Though I fear that may be several years off…