43. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers

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It’s Almost Tomorrow, by The Dream Weavers (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 16th – 30th March / 1 week, from 6th – 13th April 1956 (3 weeks total)

Perhaps it’s time to christen a brand new era in popular music. I’ll call it: the ‘post-pre-rock age’! We’ve had the first wave of the rock ‘n’ roll explosion – the very first rock ‘n’ roll number one – but the waves have receded and we are stood on soggy sand waiting for them to return. And they will, they will… Just not yet.

What I mean is that, to all intents and purposes, we are still in the pre-rock age but that the rules have changed ever so slightly. Of course, the very top of the charts is never where you look for music’s cutting edge. You get to the top of the pop charts by being, well, popular, and by appealing to the largest number of people. But… even if you look at the Top 20 from the week in March ’56 that this latest song hit #1, there are very few records that stand out as being rock songs: Bill Haley is at #7 with ‘See You Later Alligator’, Lonnie Donegan is at #9 with ‘Rock Island Line’ (a skiffle track, admittedly, but still) and there’s a song called ‘Pickin’ a Chicken’ by Eve Boswell which sounds like a rock song involving a funky dance move (a la ‘The Twist’) but is actually just a pretty dull song about having a picnic. The rest is Sinatra, Jimmy Young, Slim Whitman

And, as with ‘Memories Are Made of This’ which preceded it, ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’ has elements of rock ‘n’ roll in it – enough, perhaps, to attract the youngsters but not enough to put off the old folks. Thus the gap between the worlds of Eddie Fisher and Elvis is deftly bridged.

Anyway, to the song. And after that big build-up, all that stuff about it being a brand new era in popular music, ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’ is a bit dull. The idea behind it is that the singer’s sweetheart is falling out of love with him, and that she will leave him ‘tomorrow’. And yet he hopes it will be otherwise… My dearest, my darling, tomorrow is near, The clouds will bring showers of sadness, I fear… ‘Emotions As Weather’ – the first chapter in ‘Cheesy Love Songs 101’. It’s almost tomorrow, but what can I do? Your kisses all tell me that, your love is untrue…

It’s a bit cloying, what with its backing singers and plinky-plonky pianos. A bit of a nursery rhyme, too – I can’t decide if it sounds more like ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ or ‘Away in a Manger’. And again, it’s another very simple #1. The production is very rich – the piano and backing singers turned up to 11 – but there isn’t much there. And, unfortunately, there’s a bit of a THIS IS THE END OF THE SONG ending: You’ll always be miiiiiiiiiiiine!

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But, in the ‘pros’ column there is a rather wonderful key-change – a very rock ‘n’ roll touch. I’m a big fan of a well constructed key-change. I can’t resist them. Who can? Its inbuilt in most people, I think. A Pavlovian reaction. And this is not just a key change, but a mid-note key change… Your love is untruuuu *key change* uuuueeeee. I’m not going to lie – it did give me a mild covering of goose bumps the first time I heard it. But that’s far and away the best thing about this song. A song which we could brand the very first rock ballad to hit the top of the UK Singles Chart, if it didn’t feel a bit of a waste to use up such an honorific title on such an average record.

This is The Dream Weavers only appearance in this countdown, and in the charts. They were big ol’ one hit wonders, you see. Though we should give them a shout out for being one of the few acts so far to have hit the top with an original composition. The Dream Weavers consisted of two high school friends – Gene Adkinson and Wade Buff (great name!) – and a rotating cast of back-up singers. Adkinson and Buff wrote ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’ themselves, and so are pretty unique among the forty-two songs that we’ve written about previously.

And we’ll leave it there for now. A simple love song – all key changes and not an orchestra in sight – but with familiarly mopey lyrics about rain and heartache, as well as a silly, bombastic ending. One leg in the new world; one leg stuck firmly in the past.

42. ‘Memories Are Made of This’, by Dean Martin

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Memories are Made of This, by Dean Martin (his 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 17th February to 16th March 1956

Sweet sweet mem’ries you gave to me…

This is one of those #1s that fall into the ‘I can sing a line or two before listening to it’ category. See also ‘That Doggie in the Window’ and ‘This Ole House’. At first I thought I might have sung this in my days as a primary school choirboy. But then, after listening more closely, I realised that the lyrics are perhaps a bit rich for a group of eight year olds.

Take one fresh and tender kiss, add one stolen night of bliss…

So, yeah… Then I got to thinking that the intro sounds a lot like the intro to ‘King of the Road’ – that sliding da dum dum dum guitar – which I definitely did sing in my primary school choir. So maybe that’s what I was thinking of.

Anyway. I wrote in the last post that we were having a bit of a minimalist phase in terms of our chart topping records, after the bombast of ’53 and ’54, and this track follows suit. There’s a guitar, some backing singers, and Dean Martin. It’s nice.

Lyrically, the song describes the ‘recipe’ for a happy life. Lots of ‘taking’, ‘adding’ and ‘folding’. With His blessings from above, Serve it generously with love… Which is fine. It actually reminds me a bit of ‘Christmas Alphabet’, in a way – another pop song as step by step guide. It is, though, a metaphor which can only go so far. The lines: Then add the wedding bells, One house where lovers dwell, Three little kids for the flavour… Stir carefully through the days, See how the flavour stays… Are either a little too saccharine, or a little too cannibalistic, to really work.

These lines, however, come during the middle-eight in which – and I may be going out on a limb here but bear with me – we have a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll chord progression. I am completely incapable of describing it in words, having no musical ability on which to base my idea, so you’ll just have to take a listen below to see what I mean. The very fact that this is a Verse Chorus Verse Chorus Middle Eight Verse Chorus (Ok, the chorus is one line, but still) kind of song is interesting in itself. It’s by no means a ‘rock’ song; but there’s a whiff of something there.

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And it’s another one of those occasions in which we tick off a musical legend’s sole moment at the top of the UK charts. Vera Lynn’s had her moment, Tony Bennett’s had his, now it’s Dean’s turn. It just seems right that he got there at least once. To be honest, I know very few concrete facts about about Dean Martin – I tend to get all the rat-pack type singers muddled up together – but I see that he sang songs that are probably more famous than he now is: ‘Volare’, ‘That’s Amore’, ‘Sway’… In fact, it seems safe to say that ‘Memories Are Made of This’ is Dean Martin’s most famous song in which he wasn’t hamming up his eye-talian side. It sounds like I imagine all Dean Martin records to sound like: laidback, slightly louche, very nonchalant… He sounds as if he’s phoning it in, to an extent, but that just adds to the appeal. ‘The King of Cool’, indeed.

41. ‘Sixteen Tons’, by Tennessee Ernie Ford

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Sixteen Tons, by Tennessee Ernie Ford (his 2nd of two #1s)

4 weeks, from 20th January to 17th February 1956

Hmmm… What’s going on here, then?

It is more interesting, I suppose, approaching these distant number ones – apart from the handful that I already knew – and not knowing what I’m going to get. It wasn’t always like this – for most of 1953 and ’54 the chart toppers followed a rather overwrought formula. Now they are growing much more eclectic.

But, at the same time, I feel ‘Sixteen Tons’ has been done before. We’re back on ‘Man from Laramie’, ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ territory here – back in the cheesy Western soundtrack album. This is what I expected from a man named Tennessee Ernie Ford, much more so than his earlier, bombastic #1: ‘Give Me Your Word’.

It’s a song about loading something… coal, I think… Loading sixteen tons of it, to be precise. You load sixteen tons, what d’ya get? Another day older and deeper in debt. St Peter don’t you call me cos I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store… The singer is a hard man; shovellin’ sixteen tons ain’t nothin’ to him, no Sir.

After describing his working day, he goes on to big himself up: raised by a lion, fightin’ and trouble are his middle names, if you see him coming then you better step aside etc. etc. One fist of iron, the other of steel, If the right one don’t get you then the left one will… It’s all a bit silly, but Ford sings it with tongue firmly in cheek. He even giggles at one point, as he delivers the line: Can’t no high-toned woman make me walk the line… He knows it’s silly – and the listener can enjoy it for what it is. But, importantly, he doesn’t disrespect the song. It’s skilfully done. I kind of wish it had been Tennessee Ernie singing ‘The Man from Laramie’, rather than stiff old Jimmy Young, as what that song dearly needed was a slightly looser delivery; a delivery with the eyebrows raised. I’ve had a look, but unfortunately can’t find any sign that he ever recorded a version.

The only musical accompaniment to the lyrics is a guitar/clarinet combo, some light drumming, and some finger clicks. It’s minimalist. In fact, almost all of the most recent number ones have toned down the orchestral accompaniment and the backing singers (‘Rose Marie’ and ‘Christmas Alphabet’, the simple guitar riff of ‘The Man from Laramie’ and ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’s castanets). Unfortunately, at the same time, ‘Sixteen Tons’ resurrects a technique that we haven’t heard for a while – the THIS IS THE END OF THE SONG! technique. We end on a long, drawn out repetition of the final I OOOOOWWWWEEEEEE MY SOOUULLL blah blah blah… line. It spoils the whole song, truly it does. The sooner this trick dies a death the better!

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Each time I’ve listened to this track over the past half hour, somewhere in the back of my mind is the nagging suspicion that I’ve heard this somewhere before. I probably have – it is Ford’s signature hit, after all. And it’s a simple song. So simple that it sounds like it might be… Nope, I can’t place it.

And on that note, we will bid farewell to Tennessee Ernie Ford. But don’t you worry about him. He had a long and distinguished career back in the US, in the Country & Western world, releasing albums such as ‘This Lusty Land’, ‘Great Gospel Songs’, ‘Civil War Songs of the North’ and, er, ‘Civil War Songs of the South’ (maybe it was a ‘Use Your Illusion’ I & II kind of thing?) Whatever, he had clearly found his niche. He also had a TV show – ‘The Ford Show’ – and a catchphrase: ‘Bless your pea-pickin’ heart.’

Yee-hah! Let’s leave it there…