400. ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’, by Julie Covington

Time for a proper show tune! The first, unless I am mistaken, since Shirley Bassey way back in 1961?

Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, by Julie Covington (her 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 6th – 13th February 1977

It’s a long one, too. Five and a half minutes, with nearly a whole minute of portentous introing before Julie Covington actually sings. It won’t be easy, You’ll think it strange… Gosh she sings it proper. When I try to explain how I feel… Musical theatre really stands out against pop songs, belted out as they are with cut-glass diction, aiming for the back row.

We’re approaching two and a half minutes, and still no appearance of the chorus. I have never seen ‘Evita’, neither on stage nor on screen, but I can sing this chorus. (I’ll show my age by saying I’m more familiar with Madonna’s version, which made #3 in 1996.) Come on Julie, love… Don’t cry for me Argentina, The truth is I never left you… It’s a love song, with all the usual trimmings, but about a country!

Show tunes also sound a bit strange divorced from their play, plonked into the singles chart. Who is she, and why is she singing about Argentina? Amazingly, this record was released well before ‘Evita’ debuted on the West End. Nobody had seen the show… and yet there was enough interest in this record to get it to the top of the charts!

To be honest, that first chorus was a bit underwhelming. I’m waiting for her to go around again, to really belt it out for the finale. While we wait – cause this is a record that isn’t afraid to take its time – a little bit of history. ‘Evita’, the musical by Andrew Lloyd-Webber, tells the story of Eva Perón, First Lady of Argentina between 1946 and ’52 and, since her death, official ‘Spiritual Leader of the Argentine Nation’ (with a fair few allegations of fascism thrown in from those who were against her).

Finally, a full four minutes in, and were back at the chorus. I’m ready for Ms. Covington’s big finale. But it never materialises… The orchestra does the soaring, we could be back in the charts of 1954, and I’m left a little bored. What a strange #1 hit… Bring back Dame Shirley. She’d have belted the life out of this.

Julie Covington never actually played Eva Perón on stage – she turned the role down – and when the show finally opened Elaine Paige took the part. Covington was a fixture on the West End stage throughout the seventies and eighties, but doesn’t seem to have done much in recent decades. Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s show tunes will be back, though – off the top of my head I can think of at least two more chart-toppers penned by him.

As this is the 400th (!) number one, I had planned to take stock, to see where we stood in the musical landscape. Except, this is a completely random one-week wonder that has no bearing on the real sound of the mid-seventies. In an ideal world, we could tell the story of British popular music tastes through every hundredth chart-topper. Number 100 would have been Elvis… (It wasn’t, it was Anthony Newley’s clipped and clicky ‘Do You Mind’), 200 would have been The Beatles… (It was! ‘Help’.) 300 would have been something glam… (Instead it was Tony Orlando’s sex-pest anthem ‘Knock Three Times’.) And 400 would have been a disco classic… Instead we aren’t crying for Argentina. Funny old things aren’t they, music charts…?

10 thoughts on “400. ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’, by Julie Covington

  1. Julie’s really an actress with a great voice rather than a singer who can act – she starred in hit TV show Rock Follies – and was seriously woke before woke was even a thing (she came to our Uni with a feminist play that turned me bright red with embarrassment, as I was not really up on quite such graphic material, at an age when all I was hoping was to hear a bit of Evita as an encore!). Anecdote ended! 🙂

    For me, this is the definitive version of a show-stopping anthem from a musical chock a block with great songs. Not The Shadows, nor Elaine Paige, not Madonna – who bothered to learn to sing proper – is better than this version. She’s living the words, and that’s always what I want from a singer, that you believe they believe the words. The B side Rainbow High is also from Evita and was pretty good, and her Alice Cooper cover follow-up Only Women Bleed is damn fine too. Barbara Dickson’s Another Suitcase In Another Hall was the next (gentle) hit from the show, and David Essex’ fabulous Oh What A Circus a year later as the singles generated so much interest the show got financed – not something Lloyd-Webber & Rice were guaranteed, having had just the one hit show before. Tim Rice, of course also had another number one coming up with the Abba boys..sung by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson. I love a good link! 🙂

    • Yes, I read that she chose not to play Evita when the play finally did get made, because of Peron’s right-wing politics.

      I dunno, it is a well made and very well sung piece of music, but removed from a show I have never seen it is kind of just… there. Amazing that it was such a big hit before the show even existed, though.

      And I listened to Madonna’s version for the first time in years while writing this, and she does sing it pretty well. She just doesn’t have the stage-school voice needed for a ballad like this.

      • Poor Madonna 🙂 Yes I love Madonna, and she really got the vocal training going for Evita, the movie, but…she’s never had what you call a show-stopping range 🙂

  2. This lady has a really good voice…this makes me seem rather shallow but I never warmed to show tunes.
    You are younger than I am but…we both grew up with the old leather face lady named Madonna. I guess that gives you a hint of my opinion of her lol… I never liked her voice, her songs, or her image…as I type this…she is probably sprouting her wings made of human skin and coming to get me.
    The short version? I never was a fan of her.

    • I think the problem with showtunes is that, away from the show, they seem a bit strange. Unless you know the show you might not enjoy them. That’s how I see this one anyway.

      As for Madge… I do like a lot of her stuff. And I love the fact that she’s 60 and still doesn’t give a flip. I think we might have to agree to disagree when it comes to her 13 (I think that’s right) #1s!

      • Yes a show tune taken out of context does take away from it.

        Madonna…I know I’m in the minority… I dont’ know why…even when I was a teenager I recoiled when I heard her. Now…her song Borderline is the only one I can stand…when I saw the video I said to my cousin…she will be huge…the last prediction I ever got right….and then she redone American Pie ‘sigh’…

        Now Cyndi Lauper I love…and other 80s female singers.

      • Yea…you know…maybe it’s because I don’t dance also and unless it’s soul or R&B…I never liked dance music….but yea turning the great American Pie into that… did not make me happy.

  3. Pingback: Recap: #391 – #420 – The UK Number Ones Blog

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