It had been a while since I arrived at a record about which I know nothing. Zilch. Nada. Until Frank Ifield came along. I should relish these moments of blissful ignorance. They are becoming rarer and rarer the further we move into the rock age…
Lovesick Blues, by Frank Ifield (his 2nd of four #1s)
5 weeks, from 8th November – 13th December 1962
Upon pressing play, however, and unleashing this next #1, I find myself wishing for a quick return to those halcyon times, just two minutes back, when I had never heard this song.
‘Lovesick Blues’ could be a decent song. It’s fun, it’s up-tempo. It’s got a strong hook and a funky trumpet. It’s a record with an old-world, showtune charm (it was originally written in 1922) and a super-sixties rhythm section. It’s cheesy, sure, but that’s OK. I can imagine it as the theme to a silly sitcom, or an Austin Powers movie. I could live very easily with this as a huge chart-topping record; if it weren’t for one very big problem…
The yodelling. Oh God, the yodelling. In my post on Ifield’s first number one – ‘I Remember You’ – I was surprised to find him labelled as a ‘yodeller’. He doesn’t yodel that much, I thought. One listen of ‘Lovesick Blues’, however, and my doubts are dispelled. Frank Ifield = Yodeller.
A Brief History of Yodelling. Originally used by Alpine herders calling to their cattle, or to send messages from one village to another, yodelling was gradually incorporated into traditional songs and stage shows. And then, for some reason, it crossed the Atlantic and made it into country music. We’ve had yodelling before in this countdown – without me even noticing it! – thanks to Slim Whitman in 1955. Once you start looking, the breadth and depth of yodelling around the world is quite terrifying. Switzerland is where it started, obviously, but it can also be found in the folk music of Romania, Scandinavia, Georgia, Central Africa and Hawaii… Hank Williams was a good yodeller. As was, believe it or not, Bill Haley (he gave it up when he jumped on the rock ‘n’ roll bandwagon.) The mind boggles.
I want, as I usually do in these posts, to quote some lyrics from this song, to explore some of the themes that are present etc. and so on. But to be honest, I can’t really focus on the words. Ifield rattles through the song at breakneck speed, adding twelve notes to a word when just one would do. It’s a song, I believe, about feeling blue when lovesick.
He’s a good singer, is Frank Ifield. He’s an excellent yodeller, if that’s your kinda thing. But when he hits that drawn-out final note… Oh boy. In the interests of fairness, I gave the Hank Williams version of ‘Lovesick Blues’ a go. But nope, I wasn’t feeling it. Little Richard recorded a version, and I love me some Little Richard, but, again, it ain’t doing nothing for me. Maybe the song’s just cursed… Plus, the ‘B’-side to ‘Lovesick Blues’ was a ditty titled ‘She Taught Me How to Yodel.’ I’ve put in a link, but I would urge you to only click on it if you are in a sound-proofed room with hard liquor to hand.
There’s clearly a reason why this is a very forgotten chart-topper; why this was the first #1 in a long time that I’d never heard before. I bet nobody’s listened to this for years… And for it to follow on from the sublime ‘Telstar’!? Talk about coming back to earth with a bump. You can still see the crater…
‘Lovesick Blues’ does, though, mark an important milestone in British chart history. Its second week at the top coincided with the chart’s 10 year anniversary. From ‘Here in My Heart’ to now. One decade; 142 chart-topping discs. That’s an average of one #1 every twenty-six days. From pre-rock, to rock ‘n’ roll, to post rock ‘n’ roll, to yodelling… If I continue at this rate I’ll reach the 1970s by next summer, the 1980s by 2022, the 1990s hopefully before the 2030s… Still with me…?