Yes Tonight, Josephine, by Johnnie Ray (his 3rd and final #1)
3 weeks, from 7th – 28th June 1957
We’re picking up pace again with the 60th #1, after an ever-so-slight respite under the poppier grooves of Andy William’s ‘Butterfly’, as Johnnie Ray takes us a-rockin’ and a-rollin’ on his final (sob!) chart topper.
Promise me your lips are mine, Josephine tonight’s the time, I will squeeze and hold you tight, Pack each kiss with dynamite…
This is pure rock ‘n’ roll territory – squeezing (!) holding (!), dynamite kisses (!). I noted way back when, during the post on Ray’s first #1, ‘Such a Night’, that the raunchy lyrics and suggestive groaning would have been outrageous, and shocking, for the time. That was only three years ago – in May 1954 – but it already seems a long way off. By the summer of ’57, rock ‘n’ roll was here to stay and lyrics about ‘tonight being the night’ were very much par for the course.
Everything, Josephine, will be alright… I’m gonna give my lips to you, Don’t ask me if I want you ‘cos you know I do… Yes tonight, Josephine! Yes, tonight! Little imagination is required to imagine what will be happening ‘tonight’. Not a quiet game of Canasta, that’s for sure.
The rest of the lyrics are rather throwaway: I’ll be Jack and you’ll be Jill, I have loved you from the start, Kiss me quick – knock me out… I used the term ‘basic’ for the previous number one and I’m reluctant to use it again here BUT, as much as I love Johnnie Ray, this isn’t his most innovative recording. It’s fun, perky and a very worthy attempt at jumping on the rock ‘n’ roll bandwagon, but it’s not in the same league as ‘Just Walkin’ in the Rain’, which in turn was a step down from the seminal ‘Such a Night.’
Ray, too, sings it like he is aware of this. He doesn’t give it quite the same oomph as his earlier chart toppers. And while I know I mention it every time our Johnnie comes up… he was, after all, gay. And, if you are as gay as the day, then you aren’t going to put as much into a song about a ‘Josephine’ as you would into a song about a ‘Jonathan’, are you? Maybe that’s got something to do with Ray’s somewhat detached performance here? Or maybe he knew it just wasn’t as good a song…?
The best thing here, by far, is the backing singers. Backing singers have played a huge part in the history of the UK’s earliest chart topping singles; much more of a role than they play these days (does anyone have backing singers anymore?) Anyway, whereas most backing singers have been there for some oohs, aahs and the occasional bum-de-dum, Ray’s backers give us a – wait for it: Yip-yip-way-pa-de-boom-diddy-boom-diddy! At least, I think that’s what they’re giving us. There’s no way to be completely sure. But it’s utterly glorious.
If we include ‘Just Walkin’ in the Rain’ and ‘Yes Tonight, Josephine’, then we have now had nine consecutive chart-toppers which have all been variations on a rock ‘n’ roll theme. Never before have we seen such consistency in terms of the genre and style of our number one hits. Plus, they have all been recorded by male soloists and they have all been pretty much the same length: the trusty 2.5-minute pop single has suddenly appeared over the past few months. Plus, if we extend the reach to include Frankie Laine’s ‘A Woman in Love’ – which wasn’t a rock song – then I cannot think of ten chart-toppers I have enjoyed discovering and listening to as much these most recent discs. A Magic 10! I know I’ve called out the more recent ones for being a little basic, and Tab Hunter’s ‘Young Love’ was super-soppy; but when I think back to the depths of the pre-rock days I’d be lying if I said I’m not glad they’re long behind us! As this is the 60th #1, a recap will be up next, so I don’t want to go into much more detail than this – suffice to say that, glancing ahead, the run of rockers is set to continue for a while and – to be honest – long may it last!
I’ll end, then, by giving Johnnie Ray a big send-off. Out of all the artists we’ve covered on this countdown, he’s the one I knew the best and had already listened to extensively. He’s great, and it’s a crime that he never gets included in the list of the great early rock ‘n’ rollers. Beyond the three songs that made it to the top of the UK Charts I’d strongly suggest clicking on the links below and enjoying: his huge breakthrough hit ‘Cry’, ‘Let’s Walk That-a-Way’ – a sparkly duet with Doris Day, his cover of ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’, and ‘You Don’t Owe Me a Thing’ – a track released in between his final two chart-toppers, during this glorious spring of rock ‘n’ roll.
His popularity waned dramatically from 1959 onwards, especially in his native US and, while the same fate befell many stars of the forties and fifties once Elvis and then The Beatles had come along, it also had a lot to do with Ray’s homosexuality becoming more and more of an open secret-slash-scandal. He was also an alcoholic, and his addiction spiralled during the leaner years. He died in 1990. Our friend Kay Starr spoke at his funeral, while Tony Bennett described him as the ‘Father of Rock and Roll’. I couldn’t agree more.