Random Runners-up: ‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’, by Gene Pitney

I’m running a new feature this week – a moment in the sun for the singles that didn’t quite make it to the top. These aren’t particularly long-running, or unlucky #2 singles. They may not even be particularly good… They all simply peaked in the runners-up position.

Today’s random runner-up…

‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’, by Gene Pitney

#2 for 2 weeks, behind ‘Little Red Rooster‘ and ‘I Feel Fine‘, from 3rd-17th Dec. 1964

It reminds me of ‘I Believe‘, with its strong, deliberate chords in the intro. It also reminds me of Roy Orbison’s boleros – his mini-operas – ‘Running Scared’ and ‘It’s Over‘ that grow and grow to outrageously dramatic conclusions.

I’m gonna be strong, And stand as tall as I can, Yes I’m gonna be strong, And let you run along… Gene’s gonna put a brave face on a break-up, gonna look his girl in the eye, smile, and walk away. But, as he finally admits in the final line, as the crescendo crashes: After you kiss me goodbye… How I’ll break down and cry….!

He gives it everything, does Mr. Pitney. It is a song for blowing away the cobwebs, for getting you out of bed on a winter’s morning. It sounds a little old-fashioned, especially considering the songs that kept it off the top, but when someone performs a song like this, with gusto and volume, you’ve got to tip your hat.

Our first two runners-up, The Spencer Davis Group and Connie Francis, had already had #1s. Gene Pitney hasn’t, and he’ll have to wait a good long while for his one and only chart-topper. He scored ten Top 10s between 1963 & ’68, bookended by what are probably his most famous songs (i.e. the ones I know): ‘Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa’ and ‘Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart’.

Random Runners-up: ‘Mama’ / ‘Robot Man’, by Connie Francis

I’m running a new feature this week – a moment in the sun for the singles that didn’t quite make it to the top. These aren’t particularly long-running, or unlucky #2 singles. They may not even be particularly good… They all simply peaked in the runners-up position.

Today’s random runner-up…

‘Mama’ / ‘Robot Man’, by Connie Francis

#2 for 1 week, behind ‘Three Steps to Heaven‘, from 23rd – 30th June 1960

A double-‘A’ to double your pleasure. Except… I haven’t missed these OTT pre-rock intros. Strings swirl, soar, flutter and fly – you know the score. Even in 1960 this sounded old-fashioned. When the evening shadows fall, And the lovely day is through… Darkness falls, and Connie Francis gets to thinking about a lost love. Not a boyfriend, though… Her ‘Mama’.

Connie Francis had two chart-toppers in 1958, the all-time classic ‘Who’s Sorry Now’ and another double-‘A’ in ‘Stupid Cupid’ / ‘Carolina Moon’. They were great rock ‘n’ roll singles (OK, ‘Carolina Moon’ was a bang-average ballad, but still). This though… this is not for me. It’s beautifully sang, gorgeously orchestrated, all that kind of thing, but no. I give thanks that the days of overwrought dramatic ballads hitting #1 are long gone.

‘Mama’ was from Francis’s album ‘Italian Favourites’. She is Italian-American, although she apparently couldn’t speak the language fluently and had to get a tutor to correct her pronunciation as she sang. And perhaps she was ahead of the curve… In a few months Elvis would return from his stint in the army by belting out ‘It’s Now or Never‘ and ‘Surrender‘ – both based on old Italian hits.

Had this made it to #1 then the most interesting thing about it would have been that it was sung largely in a foreign language – not many chart-toppers can claim that – and that it was four minutes long (making it the longest #1 up to that point.) But it didn’t, so all that is moot.

Luckily for us, just before ‘Mama’ lulls us into a stupor, we can flip the disc and enjoy ‘Robot Man’. It’s Connie Francis ™ rock ‘n’ roll by numbers – a mix of ‘Stupid Cupid’ and ‘Lipstick on Your Collar’ – but it’s more than welcome. Plus it’s got a bizarre B-movie sounding intro because, well, robots.

Connie’s sick of ‘real life boys’ giving her grief, so she wishes she could have a robot man. (Or, as Connie sings it in her New Jersey-by-way-of-Alabama twang, a roo-bot mayun.) That way, she wouldn’t have to put up with any of his human shit. We would never fight, Cos it would be impossible for him to speak!

But, if science fiction has taught us anything it is that robots don’t stay obedient for long. They will learn, they will evolve, and they will enslave us. Soon Connie will be chained to a bucket and mop, reminiscing about flesh and blood boys whose worst fault was that they didn’t phone.

Another runner-up tomorrow…

Random Runners-up: ‘Gimme Some Loving’, by The Spencer Davis Group

I’ll be trying out a new feature this week – drumroll please – Random Runners-up! Yes, a moment in the sun for the singles that didn’t quite make it to the top. These aren’t particularly long-running, or unlucky #2 singles. They may not even be particularly good… They all simply peaked in the runners-up position.

I used random.org (the website you never knew you’d need) to generate five random dates from between the start of the UK singles chart in November 1952, through to our most recent chart-topper in September 1973. I then checked what record was sitting at #2 that week and, as long as it wasn’t a record that had been at, or was heading to, the top of the charts, I chose it.

First up…

‘Gimme Some Loving’, by The Spencer Davis Group

#2 for 1 week, behind ‘Good Vibrations‘, from 24th Nov. – 1st Dec. 1966

Hey! Not a bad way to kick things off! Listen to that organ blast out like a train that’s just spotted the bridge up ahead has collapsed. Hey! The Spencer Davis’s had had two #1s in 1966 – ‘Keep On Running‘ and ‘Somebody Help Me‘ – but for my money this is the best of the three. Hey!

Well, my temperature’s rising’, Got my feet on the floor… Crazy people knocking cos they want some more… Steve Winwood’s having a party, and everybody wants in. This is a song that hums, throbs, positively trembles with energy. It’s a song for Friday night, for casting off the cares of the week and shaking your ass.

I would have bet good, good money on this being a Motown cover… But no. It was written by the boys in the band – Steve, his brother Muff, and, of course, Spencer Davis. Which makes ‘Gimme Some Loving’ surely one of – if not the – finest example of sixties blue-eyed soul around. (Dusty excepted… Obvs.) It would go on to have a second-wind following its inclusion in The Blues Brothers movie some fifteen years later.

I won’t write as much about these songs as A) I don’t have time and B) they weren’t #1s. Still, this song doesn’t need much analysing. Just get up and start shaking something. It should have been a chart-topper, surely it should, but when the record that holds you off the top is ‘Good Vibrations’ then you probably have to say ‘fair enough’.

Another #2 will be along, same time tomorrow…

336. ‘Young Love’, by Donny Osmond

We’ve heard this one before, haven’t we…?

Young Love, by Donny Osmond (his 3rd and final #1)

4 weeks, from 19th August – 16th September 1973

Cast your mind all the way back to early 1957, when blue-eyed, all-American heartthrob Tab Hunter was crooning his way into the hearts of many with his own version of ‘Young Love’. I wasn’t keen on it then – and I quote: “I’ve listened to ‘Young Love’ several times now, trying to find something to like about it, but I can’t do it. It’s insipid. And that’s it” – and I ain’t much keener on it now.

It’s a pretty faithful cover – the same lullaby guitar and lyrics, with a few strings thrown in for that trademark Osmond schmaltz. Donny sounds like… Donny. It’s not as teeth-grindingly terrible as ‘The Twelfth of Never’, but it’s no ‘Puppy Love’. Who’d have thought, when I gave ‘Puppy Love’ it’s glowing review, that it would wind up being the best of Donny Osmond’s three chart-toppers!

No, I’m going to play nice. Yes, this is complete tripe, but as I say every time: I am not the target audience for it. Same way that I will not be the target audience for New Kids on the Block, Boyzone, Westlife or 1 Direction, when their times come. Plus, it’s a song by a fifteen year old kid. No way would I want any of the stupid things I did, said, wore, or released on 7” vinyl around the world, aged fifteen, held against me. I’ll let him be…

But then, oh Jesus, he starts talking. Even Tab Hunter didn’t go this far… Just one kiss, From your sweet lips, Will tell me that our love is real… Donny, son, you’re making it really hard for me to not write terrible things about you… You just know that this was the exact moment in the song where girls across the country leant in to give their Donny posters a good hard snogging.

It’s short, at least, two and a half minutes and we’re through. That’s it as far as this young man’s solo chart-toppers are concerned, though he does have one more #1 coming up soon with his brothers in tow. I feel we need write no more.

Except, I guess it’s interesting that back in the fifties, at the same time as Tab Hunter took this to the top first time around, right on the verge of the rock ‘n’ roll revolution, that it was common for artists to cover songs from the twenties and thirties. Connie Francis took ‘Carolina Moon’ to the top, Bobby Darin did the same with ‘Mack the Knife’, while Tommy Edwards used an old melody in ‘It’s All in the Game’. This disc marks the first time, of many, that a former #1 will return to the top as a cover version. And, scarily, the 1950s are to the 1970s what the 1930s were to the ‘50s…