The Stargazers, Don Cornell, The Johnston Brothers, The Dream Weavers, Jerry Keller…? Nope, me neither. But they’ve all had the honour of topping the UK singles chart.
How well a single performs in the charts can be influenced by various things… promotion, star power, tastes and trends, time of year… pure luck. And that most fickle, unpredictable of factors: the general public. Do enough of them like your song to make it a smash? Or will they ignore it, and let it fall by the wayside?
I’m taking a short break from the regular countdown to feature five discs that really should have topped the charts. Be it for their long-reaching influence, their enduring popularity or for the simple fact that, had they peaked a week earlier or later, they might have made it. (I’ll only be covering songs released before 1964, as that’s where I’m up to on the usual countdown.)
Next up… a song that I have to admit I don’t know terribly well. In fact, I listened to it for the very first time just before typing these words…
Stranger on the Shore, by Mr. Acker Bilk
reached #2 in January 1962
It’s a pleasant enough instrumental, by a clarinetist from Somerset… The theme to a TV programme of the same name. It sounds slightly dated, even for a record released in 1961. Not the type of song I’d usually rush to listen to… I’m including this disc in this mini-countdown for exactly the opposite reasons I included ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. ‘Stranger on the Shore’ isn’t revolutionary, or life-changing, or any of that… But it was a bloody persistent record.
It entered the Top 10 in December of 1961, and it remained, with a couple of drops and re-entries, a Top 10 record in the following… July! Over six months! It remained in the charts for a year. It was the first British single to hit #1 in on the Billboard Hot 100, two years before the British Invasion. It was also the biggest selling hit of 1962 in Britain, and is the biggest selling instrumental record in chart history. It was played in Apollo 10, on its way to the moon…
All the figures suggest that this should have been massive chart-topping smash… except the one that matters most. It never got higher than number two, held off in the most part by Cliff & The Shadows, ‘The Young Ones’. It did top the NME chart, but that wasn’t the official chart, and a lot more on that tomorrow, in my next shoulda-been-number-one post…
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