123. ‘You Don’t Know’, by Helen Shapiro

Rock ‘n’ roll is young people’s music. For the kids. At least it used to be, until all the rock ‘n’ rollers refused to die, kept touring well into their seventies, and the kids all started listening to rap. But indulge me… Rock ‘n’ roll is music for young people; and is at its best when being sung by young people. Like in this next chart-topper.

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You Don’t Know, by Helen Shapiro (her 1st of two #1s)

3 weeks, from 10th – 31st August 1961

This is a song about heartache and longing. About dreaming of, pining for, obsessing over someone in the way that only a teenager can. Some lovely girl-band Woaah-oo-wooah-oo-woaahs lead us into a tale of a girl who has a big old crush… Although I love you so, Oh you don’t know, You don’t know, Just how I feel, For my love I daren’t reveal, I’m so, I’m so afraid, You might not care… The object of her desire passes by in the corridor, yet he has no idea of what the sight of him with another girl does to poor Helen. Oh honey, we’ve all been there…

I don’t know about you but I’m listening to this record, picturing Miss Shapiro lying on her bed, hair done up in a bee-hive, diary open as she pairs her first name with the surname of her crush over and over again, a solitary tear rolling down her cheek…

We don’t quite reach peak teen-angst, though, until the bridge: I would tell you, If I believed that you might care someday, But until then, I’ll never give this away… Isn’t that just perfect? Of course she’ll never actually tell him; because nothing in this world beats the exquisite pain of unrequited love.

This record could be awful. It could sound ridiculous to anyone over the age of seventeen. But it doesn’t; it stays on the right side of all the melodrama and turns out glorious. Calling it rock ‘n’ roll in the intro was slightly misleading – this is a classy jazz-pop-ballad, all bass and strings. And the fact that Helen Shapiro was really just fourteen when this disc hit #1 gives the whole affair true authenticity. Yes, really. Her voice might sound deep and honeyed, and like she’s had her heart broken a million times; but she was just a child when this sent her to the top of the charts. (Her only previous hit – from earlier in 1961 – had actually been titled ‘Don’t Treat Me Like a Child’).

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This means that Miss Shapiro becomes, in a stroke, the youngest woman, and just the second-youngest artist of either gender, to top the charts. Only a thirteen year old Frankie Lymon back in 1956 can beat her – and that was with ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love?’, another song about teenage heartache that benefitted from being sung by actual teenagers (very literally, what with Lymon’s backing group being ‘The Teenagers’.)

It’s been a while, actually, since we had a rock ‘n’ roll disc being sung by anyone over thirty. Cliff, The Everlys, Del Shannon, Johnny Tillotson, even Elvis, were all still well within their twenties while performing on recent chart-toppers. Gone are the days of Bill Haley, Guy Mitchell, Kay Starr and the like pretending to be kids to get hits. Helen S. takes it to another level here, though – and remains, to this very day, the youngest female solo artist ever to reach #1 in the UK.

To be honest, it’s just nice to hear a girl’s voice again on this countdown. As great and groovy as recent songs have been, it’s all been a bit of a sausage-fest! Miss Shapiro will grab another #1 very soon and so we shall hold back from any bio until then. For now, simply close your eyes and think back to when you were fourteen, scribbling the name of your crush on the back-page of your notebook, a dreamy look in your eyes and a bucket load of hormones churning around your brain… Woaah-oo-wooah-oo-woaah… Those were the days…

122. ‘Well I Ask You’, by Eden Kane

Imagine the lounge bar of a hotel that’s seen slightly better days. It’s Thursday evening. The bar’s half-full. Eden Kane struts onstage to a smattering of light applause. That’s the vibe I’m getting here.

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Well I Ask You, by Eden Kane (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 3rd – 10th August 1961

It’s a song with a bit of a shimmy to it; a song with a knowing grin. Well I ask ya, What a way to treat a guy, What a way to cheat and lie, Because I wanted you… It’s a song about a break-up, with some no-punches-pulled descriptions… Well I ask ya, Did you have to beat me down, Did you have to go to town, And smash my world in two…?

Kane sings it well – gives it lots of little vocal flutters, puts a nice rasp into the We-e-ell I ask ya…, gives us a little Buddy Holly hiccup and an Elvis-ish Oh baby! It’s a hammy performance, which I know is an adjective usually reserved for actors but I feel it’s applicable here. The singer ain’t really heartbroken. Turns out he’s looking for revenge.

A-don’t think you’re getting’ away with it, You’re gonna pay me somehow, You cruelly wrecked my life, But oh you want me now… Maybe it’s just my sensitive little 2019 ears, but there’s something sneering in the singer’s tone as he delivers these lines, something a little sinister. Just you ask me, Get down on your knees and try… If you ask me, the girl’s probably better of out of it. Check your male privilege, Eden. We end with the song’s title on repeat: Well I ask ya… “This girl dares break up with me? We’ll see.”

Or, maybe I’m reading way too much into this little ditty. Maybe it’s an ironic study in masculine fragility? Kane is covering up his heartbreak with a shrug, a wry smile. “Her loss…” Lyrics have in general become a bit sharper recently, a little more biting, and this latest hit is simply following the trend. Think Adam Faith’s ‘Poor Me’, or Emile Ford’s ‘What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?’ Since rock ‘n’ roll came along, heartbreak has lost its allure. Faced with rejection in 1961, it simply won’t do to clasp your hands together a la Frankie Laine in ‘Answer Me’, praying for divine intervention in affairs of the heart. Now you need a shrug, a knowing wink and a sassy response. Well, I ask ya…

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Musically this disc isn’t pushing any boundaries. It’s polished enough, and actually pretty funky; but it’s a slight step back to the glossy male crooners that were lining up to top the charts back in the spring of 1960: your Anthony Newleys, Michael Hollidays and Jimmy Jones’s. Kane’s stage name was even inspired by the biblical tones in Adam Faith’s. ‘Eden Kane’ sounds slightly cooler though, perhaps a little more raffish, than any of those guys. Unlike say, Holliday, he doesn’t sound like someone you’d trust backstage with your teenage daughter.

Though I should immediately state that Kane is still alive and with us, aged seventy-eight, and hasn’t had so much as a whiff of scandal over the course of his career. (Just on the off-chance that he reads this and reaches for the phone to his lawyer…) He had a decent strike-rate with his singles in the early sixties – they either made the Top Ten or they failed to chart at all. By the middle of the decade, however, he had turned to acting. As an aside, we’ll meet his younger brother, Peter, right at the end of the 1960s with his very own chart-topping single. Actually, that’s worth considering – how many other siblings have topped the charts separately? Answers on a postcard…

The fact that my mind has wandered down these lines probably suggests that I’ve wrung everything I can out of this latest #1. A funky enough, but pretty much forgotten one-weeker from the summer of ’61. Moving on…

121. ‘Temptation’, by The Everly Brothers

We kick of the next thirty chart-toppers – and a whole New Year! – with the duo that claimed Best Disc from the previous thirty. Since ‘Cathy’s Clown’ the Everly Brothers have really hit their stride in moving away from their country roots, creating a signature sound that blends their gorgeous melodies with meaty drums and beefy, rock ‘n’ roll guitars. ‘Temptation’ is the latest glorious manifestation of this…

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Temptation, by The Everly Brothers (their 4th and final #1)

2 weeks, from 20th July  – 3rd August 1961

We start with perhaps one of the most instant intros we’ve heard yet. Frantic drums, guitar licks, yelps from the brothers, and a dirty little bass riff. Yeah Yeah Yeah Ah! You’re hooked from the off. You came, I was alo-one, I should have known, You were temptation… Cast your mind back to the cutesy mooning of ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’ and then listen to this. Don and Phil have truly grown-up!

Then the best bit of the whole song. They pull the same trick as on ‘Cathy’s Clown’ – after a calm, measured first verse they whip it up a notch or five… It would be… Thrilling! If you were willing… But if it can never be, Then pi-i-i-ty me… They way those lines are sung. That is temptation. It makes me want to kiss my fingers like a chef who has just tasted the perfect Béchamel sauce.

This is a song that was hidden away in the middle of the brothers’ Greatest Hits that I bought in my teens. A song that I’ve always liked but kind of allowed to pass me by whenever it popped up in a playlist. Getting the chance to properly listen to ‘Temptation’ – their fourth and (shock, horror!) final UK #1 – has allowed me to realise just how good it is. Just how good they were. This a full-on rock song: a heavy riff, banging drums and fevered lyrics about a siren leading Don and Phil astray, with the brothers going fairly willingly to their doom.

By the end, they are leaving the singing to their backing vocalists, who are possibly the most old-fashioned aspect of this record. I’m yours, Here is my heart, Take it and say, ‘We’ll never part…’ Shrill voices that we last heard on Eddie Fisher’s prehistoric early number ones. Then we end with the brothers singing about being slaves, before fading out with more frenzied, delirious Yeah Yeah Yeah Ah!s It really does sound like they are being driven mad with temptation. It really is a brilliant disc.

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I was shocked – shocked I say – to discover just two minutes ago that this is yet another #1 to have been written decades earlier. ‘Temptation’ sounds so modern, so daring, that I can’t imagine it having been written in 1933 and first recorded by Bing Crosby. But it was. You can listen to the original here – it’s very Arabian Nights, and not without its charms – but it’s a wonderful illustration of how much popular music has changed since the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll.

With that, then, the Everly Brothers take their leave. It seems criminal that they didn’t have at least another couple of chart-toppers… ‘Wake Up Little Susie’? ‘(Till) I Kissed You’? ‘When Will I Be Loved’? All worthy of a shot at the top. In a way, ‘Temptation’ may have hastened their descent from the top. Their manager was opposed to the song’s release, as he didn’t stand to make any money from such an old song’s publishing rights. When the brothers forced the single’s release through, he barred them from working with the songwriters who had helped to create pretty much every one of their hits thus far. So despite, or perhaps because of, the brilliance of ‘Temptation’, the Everly Brothers will only have a couple more British Top 10s following this, and will be a spent-force by the time Merseybeat rolls around. Except. Pretty much every star with a guitar from the sixties and beyond – The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, The Bee Gees, The Hollies and many, many more – will owe Don and Phil a huge debt.

We’ll leave them here, then. Picture them with their guitars slung over their shoulders, harmonising as they stroll into the sunset… (until they have a huge argument and refuse to work together for most of the 1970s… but hey, let’s not spoil the nice image.)