Following on from Cliff, it’s another British rock ‘n’ roll disc taking up a considerable residency at the top of the UK Singles chart. Unlike Sir Cliff, the singer is completely unknown to me…
Only Sixteen, by Craig Douglas (his 1st and only #1)
4 weeks, from 11th September – 9th October 1959
But first, a question. Why, oh why, couldn’t British rock ‘n’ roll acts of the 1950s take themselves seriously? Why does every rock ‘n’ roll chart topper from a British artist have the whiff – nay, the stench – of the Victorian music hall, of Skegness pier about it? Why weren’t we cool?
I make Craig Douglas the 5th UK-born rock ‘n’ roll chart topper, and the four previous – Tommy Steele, Lonnie Donegan, Lord Rockingham’s XI and Cliff – have made the top by blending simple rock melodies with a lot of silliness. OK, ‘Hoots Mon’ was a novelty record so we can perhaps let Lord Rockingham’s XI off. Lonnie Donegan was a pioneer in terms of his sound but old-fashioned when coming out with lyrics like ‘two old ladies sitting in the sand, each on wishing that the other was a man’. Tommy Steele camped ‘Singing the Blues’ right up, while ‘Living Doll’ was barely more than a nursery rhyme. (A very creepy nursery rhyme, but still). And you can trace this theme – this current of candyfloss that runs through our British hit singles – way back into the pre-rock days. The US was giving us ‘I Believe’; while the UK was replying with ‘I See the Moon’.
I suppose the big question is… (and I’m deliberately excluding women like Ruby Murray and Shirley Bassey as, while British and while quite classy, they definitely weren’t rock) what will be the first truly cool, suave and sophisticated British recorded rock ‘n’ roll record? Well, I can reveal… It’s not ‘Only Sixteen.’
This is more jauntiness, more end-of-the-pier winking and gurning. There’s whistling, and a guitar plucked so precisely that I think it might be a banjo. She was only sixteen, Only sixteen, I loved her so… Douglas’s voice is slightly shrill, quite posh and, to be honest, fairly average. It doesn’t quite fit the song. It sounds a bit like the dreaded David Whitfield, but a David Whitfield who’s debasing himself in an attempt to sing rock ‘n’ roll…
We’d laugh and we’d sing, And do the little things, That made my heart glow… Craig had a fling with a lass; but it didn’t last. She was too young to fall in love, I was too young to know… So far, so ‘Jackie Magazine’. Then comes the punchline: Why did I give my heart so fast, It never will happen again, I was a mere lad of sixteen, I’ve aged a year since then… Oh! Hahaha – he thinks he’s all grown up. At seventeen! The folly of youth.
Yeah, it’s a cute line and all, but I don’t think it’s quite enough to build a whole song around. Plus, with that voice, I’m having trouble imagining that Craig Douglas was seventeen when he recorded this. *Plot twist* He was! But come on – look at that picture. That lad of sixteen must have had one hell of a paper round. And while we’re at it – Craig Douglas just isn’t the name of a chart-topping star. Craig Douglas lives next door to you, and is someone you avoid making conversation with on your way to the car in the morning.
I think we should just file this under ‘Of It’s Time’ and be done with it. ‘Only Sixteen’ isn’t a terrible record – it’s quite pleasant, really – but it won’t live with you long after hearing it. Craig Douglas is still with us, however – aged seventy-seven – and still tours, though his recording career didn’t last the Beatles-led cull of ’63.
To finish, and to illustrate my point about US singers being that much cooler than their British counterparts, just listen to Sam Cooke’s version of this song. It’s technically the original, though they were released around the same time, and has exactly the same melody and lyrics… But, you see what I mean? I think I may have finally put my finger on just what the difference is, though: the huge gulf in coolness between British and American stars. The Sam Cooke version, you see, doesn’t have Any. Bloody. Whistling!