The best thing about a pop chart, about a list of the best-selling songs in any given week, is that anything can, technically, get to the top. Get enough people to buy it, download it, stream it, whatever, and you get yourself a #1 single.
Tears, by Ken Dodd (his 1st and only #1)
5 weeks, from 30th September – 4th November 1965
Which means, try as you might to apply some kind of sense to the ebb and flow of number ones, to christen new eras and to identify the overall ‘sound’ of a time, you’ll always get anomalies. Which means… In amongst The Beatles and The Stones, The Byrds and the Baroque, we have comedian Ken Dodd, covering a sentimental ballad, first written in 1929.
Tears for souvenirs, Are all you left me… Mem’ries of a love, You never meant… The rhythm floats by like a placid river, the guitar trills, the strings swirl… Tears have been my only, Consolation… But tears can’t mend a broken heart, I must confess… He sings it perfectly well, but not spectacularly. I’m picturing a busker on the banks of the Seine, accompanied by an accordion (this would totally work in French, and was actually based on an old French aria from the 1870s.)
Is it a parody? A novelty? I don’t know. What it definitely is is a throwback. This is pure music hall. It’s not cool and it doesn’t care. A record for your gran. It’s almost not worth writing any more about ‘Tears.’ It is what it is. Move on.
But. But, but, but… That really wouldn’t be fair. Because this isn’t a flash in the pan, one-week wonder. It’s a disc that lodged itself in at the top for five whole weeks – a length of time reserved solely these days for The Beatles. It was the biggest selling record of 1965. Let that sink in… In the year of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’, ‘Help!’, ‘Satisfaction’, and ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’; Ken Dodd’s ‘Tears’ outsold them all. It was the 3rd best-selling single of the entire decade, the only non-Beatles single in the Top 5. As of 2017, it still sat in 39th place on the list of best-selling singles ever. The middle of the road is always the best place from which to sell a record.
And then there’s the man behind the song. The voice that guides us through this tale of heartbreak and regret. Sir Ken Dodd, of the tickling sticks and the Diddy Men. Of Saturday night telly, Christmas pantos and the Blackpool lights. Of a type of humour and a style of show that was uniquely British. I know some of my readers are not British and… I don’t know if I can even begin to explain him. Look him up. I’m a bit young to have really been ‘into’ him, but my mum liked him. I think that this was the first record she ever bought… He died last year, aged ninety, having performed his final stand-up show just a few months earlier.
Not that this was his only musical success. He was a genuine chart presence throughout the sixties, with several other Top Tens. And I have to admit that, as I listen to ‘Tears’ now for the seventh or eighth time, with a glass (or two) of wine as I write, that this is a pretty nice song. A song that actually fits in quite well with the strings, and the lush production, found in the more ‘respectable’ pop songs of the time. (Plus – whisper it – I think I might be enjoying it more than the previous, overwrought #1, ‘Make It Easy on Yourself’…)
Anyway, before I get too carried away, and claim ‘Tears’ to be the most underrated pop song of the decade, or something, I’ll finish. And glancing forward… Ah yes, normal service is about to be resumed, with a vengeance.