Young Love, by Tab Hunter (his 1st and only #1)
7 weeks, from 22nd February – 12th April 1957
I’ve been bigging up the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll to the top of the UK charts for so long – especially back when we were plodding through all those dreary, brow-furrowingly earnest pre-rock ballads – that this next statement goes against every instinct I have…
By the time it got to the top of the UK charts, rock ‘n’ roll was over. Finished. Defunct. Obsolete.
I recently claimed that the rock era began on 11th January 1957, when bona fide teen-idol Tommy Steele sneered his way to a week at the top. I’m now claiming that the rock era ended on 22nd February 1957, when this limp little record grabbed a scandalous seven weeks at the top.
Because, by God this is bland! That this made it into the record books before Elvis, before Buddy Holly, before Jerry Lee and all the rest doesn’t make sense. It is a rock ‘n’ roll record – there’s a guitar riff and solo, drums, oohs and aahs and all the rest. Plus, the lyrics are all about two kids falling in love for the first time. And it’s called ‘Young Love’!
They say for every boy and girl there’s just one love in this whole world, And I-I-I know I’ve found mine… Young love, First love, Filled with true devotion…
But it’s delivered in such a soppy way that I refuse to acknowledge this as any kind of rock and/or roll. Tab Hunter’s voice is deep and sonorous, but in pictures he looks like the all-American boy next door: rosy-cheeks, blonde curls, blue eyes, church on Sundays, part-time job in the gas station. Your mum would have liked him as much as she would have disliked Tommy Steele. I can imagine a young Cliff Richard taking notes as he planned his assault on stardom a couple of years later (and there are a lot of similarities between Hunters voice here and Cliff’s on, say, ‘Living Doll’). And note the role-reversal – now it’s the Americans giving us staid and boring while the Brits grin and wink! Fittingly, this was #1 on the day my mum was born. I say ‘fittingly’, because she has just about the blandest taste in music going (and is a huge fan of Sir Clifford of Richard).
And that’s about it. The shortest entry yet. At least, that was going to be it… Until I did my customary Wikipedia-based research about Tab Hunter. Turns out this American-as-apple-pie captain-of-the-school-football-team was – dum dum dum – gay! Is gay, he’s still alive, aged eighty-six. He had to cover it up for most of his career, obviously, and had fake flings with Debbie Reynolds and Natalie Wood among others to throw the newspapers off the scent. Which adds a bittersweet layer to his one and only UK chart topping single, and the lines about boys and girls falling in love.
I’ve listened to ‘Young Love’ several times now, trying to find something to like about – I usually love me a bit of rock ‘n’ roll – but I can’t do it. It’s insipid. And so that’s it. Rock is dead. If it ever existed. Obviously, the top of the pop charts is never the place to look for cutting edge music, but I’m surprised there wasn’t a bit more of an explosion, with some real rockers, before the sell-out began. Or maybe I should just accept that lines were always blurred, that rockabilly merged with blues which had merged with jazz which had merged with the music of the cotton fields to create rock ‘n’ roll over several decades, and not in an afternoon. No more attempting to pinpoint the birth of a musical movement to a particular record.
Anyway, in my next post… The moment skiffle was born!
(Edit: Tab Hunter sadly passed away shortly after this post was published. The Guardian published this obituary, touching on some of the themes mentioned above.)
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