640. ‘Tears on My Pillow’, by Kylie Minogue

Kylie does Grease!

Tears on My Pillow, by Kylie Minogue (her 4th of seven #1s)

1 week, from 21st – 28th January 1990

Well, no. Kylie’s never done ‘Grease’ – though she’d have made a good Sandy – and ‘Tears on My Pillow’ only ever features in the background of the original movie. But this record certainly has that feel about it…

It’s the final UK #1 to be produced by Stock Aitken and Waterman… pause for a moment to cheer/sigh (delete as appropriate)… though you wouldn’t particularly know it. It’s a shame that they don’t bow out with a Hi-NRG banger, but the chart Gods can be cruel. Like Jason Donovan’s stab at the sixties on ‘Sealed With a Kiss’, this is nothing more than karaoke. At least the trio bow out with a big hit for their chief muse, the lovely Ms Minogue. And in the big ‘Jason Vs Kylie Retro Covers Contest’ there can be only one winner: this one, because it’s Kylie.

There has been a bit of a retro wave sweeping the charts over the final year of the ‘80s. There was Jive Bunny, of course, but also those sixties covers from Jason, and Marc Almond with Gene Pitney. ‘Tears on My Pillow’ had originally been a 1958 hit for Little Anthony & The Imperials – one which failed to chart in the UK but had made #4 in the US. (There has of course been a completely unrelated ‘Tears on My Pillow’ at #1 in the UK, for Johnny Nash in 1975. Off the top of my head, I think this is the second time two different songs with the same name have made #1, after ‘The Power of Love’…)

This was from the soundtrack to Kylie’s big-screen debut ‘The Delinquents’, a Romeo and Juliet-ish tale of teenage love in ‘50s Australia. Apparently the movie isn’t great, but it continues a trend of forgettable films accompanied by number one singles (‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’, ‘When the Going Gets Tough’…) And it scored Kylie her fourth chart-topper in just under two years. Amazingly, this will be her sole nineties #1. A decade of fading chart fortunes, duets with Nick Cave, and a stab at something more alternative will keep her busy until a spectacular comeback in the early ‘00s. Still, she sneaks in, and in due course will join a select band of artists with #1s in three different decades.

If it feels like I’ve been padding this post out, blethering on about everything but the actual, largely forgettable, music then you’d be right. Let me pad it out a little more before finishing, then. Though I don’t remember this particular record, Kylie (and Jason) are pop ground zero for my generation: the first singers we remember from TV, from the playground, the first CDs we bought (more on that later…) The music may not have always been great, but this is nostalgic stuff for us older millennials. This rundown is suddenly getting quite real!


582. ‘Reet Petite (The Sweetest Girl in Town)’, by Jackie Wilson

The 1986 Christmas #1, then. And, giving Paul Heaton a run for his ‘best vocals of the year’ money, in comes Jackie Wilson. The late Jackie Wilson. With a song recorded over thirty years before…

Reet Petite (The Sweetest Girl in Town), by Jackie Wilson (his 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 21st December 1986 – 18th January 1987

One thing you’ve probably noticed if you’ve been following our chart-topping journey for a while is that when it comes to Christmas hits, all logic goes out the window (often along with taste and decency). Think ‘Lily the Pink’, ‘Two Little Boys’, ‘Ernie’, and ‘Long Haired Lover from Liverpool’… Think, if you can bear it, of ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’. Think, too, of the festive horrors still to come…

Luckily for us, though, while the appearance of ‘Reet Petite’ at Christmas #1 is clearly a novelty, this isn’t a saccharine twee-fest, or a misguided attempt at humour. Rather it’s simply a stonking, barnstorming, a-whooping and a-hollering classic re-release. It’s got nothing to do with Christmas, nothing to do with peace, love, or the blessed infant; it’s simply an ode to an ‘A’-grade hottie…

She’s so fine, fine, fine, So fine, fa-fa-fa fine… yelps Wilson… She’s alright, She’s got just what it takes… She fills her clothes, from head to toes, as well as being a tutti frutti and a bathing beauty. I don’t know about you, but I’m imagining a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Betty Boop. While the lyrics may be largely nonsensical, and often just exclamations stitched together into pidgin sentences, Wilson sells them with his trademark energy.

Is it a bit much? Maybe. Does it verge on gimmicky when he rolls his ‘r’s on the title line? Perhaps. But who cares when it’s just so darn exuberant, when it’s bursting at the seams with such fun. Wilson competes with the brassy horns, that are just as much the lead instrument as his voice is, and that constantly threaten to outdo him while never quite managing.

So, ‘Reet Petite’ is a great song, and a welcome addition to the Christmas Number One pantheon. Back in 1957, when it was Wilson’s first single after leaving his vocal group The Dominoes, it had made #6. It was re-released thirty years on after demand had grown following the screening of a clay animation video for the song on a BBC 2 documentary. I’ve included the 1987 video below… I don’t know if I’ve been spoiled by the Aardman standard of clay-mation in the 90s and ‘00s, but it’s a bit… odd. Slightly terrifying in places, too. Clearly you had to have been there.

Sadly, by the time Jackie Wilson scored his one and only UK chart-topper he had been dead for three years. He’d seen out his final years semi-comatose in a nursing home, after suffering an on-stage heart attack in 1975, and his star had fallen so far that he was initially buried in an unmarked grave. All of which makes his posthumous return to the charts, which coincided with his body being moved to a proper mausoleum, even more bittersweet.

This will kick off a strange era of re-releases, from adverts, movies and TV shows, several of which will go to #1 in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. But, here and now, 1986 comes to end. And a strange end it’s been: from hair metal, to indie lads, to a doo-wop classic. We head into the late-eighties next, with another abrupt change in direction…


581. ‘Caravan of Love’, by The Housemartins

Reintroducing that most niche of chart-topping genres: the festive a cappella #1…

Caravan of Love, by The Housemartins (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 14th – 21st December 1986

Following on from the Flying Pickets’ ‘Only You’ from three years before, The Housemartins give us more warm and fuzzy feelings for Christmas, using only their voices (and some finger clicks). Hand in hand we’ll take a caravan, To the marvel land… One by one we’re gonna stand up with pride, One that can’t be denied…

The lyrics are uplifting – everyone being free, the young and the old, love flowing – vaguely religious, but not preachy. The harmonising is beautiful, led by a spectacular lead vocal from Paul Heaton (imagine an angelic Morrissey…) My judgement may be clouded by the fact that I’m literally listening to his honeyed tones as I type these words, but is this the 1980’s best chart-topping vocal performance? The he’s my brother… line is the pick, up there with the finest fifties doo-wop.

Every woman, every man, Join the caravan of love… Stand up, stand up… It’s a clarion call, but is it for a revolution, or for God? The song had been written by one half of the Isley Brothers (Isley-Jasper-Isley) the year before, with religion in mind. The video for the Housemartins’ version makes the religious intent very clear: Heaton plays a preacher in a pulpit, and the band have crucifixes shaved into their heads… I’m normally one for the separation of church and pop; but this I can just about stomach, because it’s about love rather than sanctimony.

Speaking of Morrissey, this single-week number #1 represents one of the very few moments that ‘80s indie made the highest reaches of the charts (much like Europe flying the flag for hair metal last time out…) The Housemartins had made #3 earlier in the year with the jangly ‘Happy Hour’, and their albums had pithy titles like ‘London 0 Hull 4’ and ‘That’s What I Call Quite Good’. They were clearly going for the Christmas #1 here, ticking all the feel-good boxes, gaining support from both indie kids and their grandmas, but were foiled at the last by an even more unexpected hit… More on that next time.

They split in 1988, but this is just the start for two of The Housemartins… Heaton went on to form ‘The Beautiful South’, before going solo. In a fun coincidence, he is literally on top of the UK albums chart as we speak… Meanwhile bassist Norman Cook became a DJ and producer with Beats International and then as Fatboy Slim. And I can think of at least three ‘90s chart-toppers that he’ll account for…


528. ‘Uptown Girl’, by Billy Joel

We are now racing through 1983 – no chart-topper in the second half of this year will spend less than three weeks on top. And after six for Culture Club comes five for Billy Joel…

Uptown Girl, by Billy Joel (his 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 30th October – 4th December 1983

In my post on ‘Karma Chameleon’, I pointed out how that song took pleasure in its retro touches. Well, here the retro theme is not just maintained; it’s shoved front and centre. ‘Uptown Girl’ harks fully back to the doo-wop and male vocal groups of the late fifties/early sixties. The eighties are temporarily on hold. It’s a pastiche, yes, but one that’s lovingly done, and that’s certainly good enough to stand up on its own.

Uptown girl, She’s been livin’ in her uptown world… It’s a tale as old as time (or at least as old as the invention of social class structures…) A working class boy besotted with a high class lady (I’ve always liked the lyrical contrast between her ‘white bread world’ and this ‘back street guy’). In the video Billy Joel’s a well-groomed mechanic, with some impressively slick dance moves, and the object of his affections goes from being a pin-up in his locker to riding side-saddle on his motorbike in barely three minutes. It has strong overtones of ‘Grease’, which adds to the fun, campy feel of the song. The uptown girl is played by swimwear model Christie Brinkley. Life imitated art, and less than two years after meeting on the set of ‘Uptown Girl’ they married.

This is a great pop song, timeless in the best possible sense of the word, and one that defies too much critiquing. ‘Uptown Girl’ comes on the radio, and you sing along with the woah-oh-ohs. It’s non-negotiable. I’d even go so far as to say that using the word ‘uptown’ in a song title almost guarantees classic status. To date, there have been three ‘uptown’ #1s: ‘Uptown Top Ranking’ (a classic, dripping in attitude), this (a singalong classic) and another one, still thirty-odd years off, that I’m sure you can guess at (another great pop song).

(This has to be the biggest disconnect between ‘mood of song’ and ‘mood of record sleeve.’.. ever)

The fact that I still like this record is, actually, quite surprising. Not only have I heard it several thousand times (I’d imagine), I also suffered through Westlife’s cover version hitting #1 when I was fifteen. That’ll be along soon enough on this countdown, don’t worry… Actually, as Westlife hits go it’s not that bad – although that’s the very definition of ‘damning with faint praise’. And as if that wasn’t enough, a supermarket chain in Hong Kong, where I live, has used the tune of ‘Uptown Girl’ for an in-store jingle. And when I say ‘in-store’, I mean: In. Every. Single. Bloody. Store. Twenty. Four. Hours. A. Day. The poor checkout staff must suffer PTSD episodes every time they hear this original.

A song that can survive both Westlife covers and terminal overplaying as a supermarket jingle must have something truly great at its core. ‘Uptown Girl’ was good enough to give Billy Joel his sole #1 single in the UK, in marked contrast to his US chart career. I once read a theory suggesting that Joel isn’t as big in Britain because we already have Elton John to fill our piano-based balladeering needs. Which is an interesting theory, until you remember that Elton is as big in America as he is across the Atlantic. Whatever the reason, and despite not being short of hits, this was indeed Joel’s only chart-topper. But if you’re only going to have one chart-topper, you might as well make it a million-selling, 2nd biggest hit of 1983, 19th biggest hit of the decade kind of chart-topper…


397. ‘Under the Moon of Love’, by Showaddywaddy

In my last post, I wrote about how Chicago had forced me to take soft-rock seriously, to appreciate the subtlety, and the craft. ‘If You Leave Me Now’ was such a lovely, well-made song that it was beginning to work…

Under the Moon of Love, by Showaddywaddy (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 28th November – 19th December 1976

But here come Showaddywaddy to undo all their good efforts. There goes subtlety, flying out the window. In comes thumping, rollicking, primary-coloured rock ‘n’ roll. The 1950s, reimagined by a toddler on a sugar high. Without seeing a picture of the band, you can instantly imagine the comedy quiffs, and the colourful teddy-boy suits.

Let’s go for a little walk…! Under the moon of love! I offer you these lyrics as lead singer Dave Bartram delivers them, with an emphatic exclamation mark after each line, after each word even: Let’s! Sit! Down and talk! Under the moon of love…! He’s having a great time with this song, which means the listener – as long as they’re willing to leave their musical snobbishness at the door – enjoys themselves by the same measure.

I hate the concept of ‘guilty pleasures’. But, yes. ‘Under the Moon of Love’ is prime guilty pleasures material. ‘If You Leave Me Now’ is an objectively better piece of music, but I am enjoying this record ten times more. It’s fun, dammit! What I wouldn’t give for Showaddywaddy to invade the po-faced charts of 2021!

You were lookin’ so lovely… (Uh-huh-huh)… Because nothing says late-fifties doo-wop-slash-rock-n-roll like a well-placed ‘uh-huh-huh’… Under the moon of love! If you were being unkind, you could claim this as the final nail in glam rock’s coffin, the final fart of the corpse. The sound that can be dated right to the very start of this decade, in ‘Spirit in the Sky’ and ‘I Hear You Knocking’s fried guitar, through the huge-hitters like T Rex, Slade, Wizzard and The Sweet, down through Mud’s dancing, Gary Glitter’s prancing and The Rubettes’ falsettos. To this silly slice of rock ‘n’ roll revival.

Though to be fair, Showaddywaddy had been around since glam’s heyday, when their debut ‘Hey Rock and Roll’ peaked at #2. Since then they had revived Buddy Holly’s ‘Heartbeat’, and Eddie Cochran’s ‘Three Steps to Heaven’, while this, their only #1, kicked off a run of seven straight Top 5 hits lasting well into 1978, long after most of the big glam acts had fallen from the charts. They are still a-rocking to the this day, after a few line-up changes, on the oldies circuit.

As well as Eddie Cochran, they brought back the Kalin Twins’ ‘When’, and ‘Blue Moon’. But perhaps ‘Under the Moon of Love’ was the one that went all the way to the top simply because it wasn’t a big hit first time around. It was originally recorded by Curtis Lee in 1961, making #46 on the Billboard 100. It’s slightly better, in the way that originals usually are, while it was produced by an up and coming chap called Phil Spector.

Finally, Showaddywaddy’s turn at the top means we’ve now had a seven-piece (Pussycat), and two eight-pieces (Chicago and Showaddywaddy) atop the charts. Late ’76 seeing a reinvention of the term ‘big band’. But that run is about to come to an end, for the year’s final chart-topper is by a solo act. And I know it’s April, but we’re about to get a little festive…

349. ‘Sugar Baby Love’, by The Rubettes

I described the previous chart-topper – ABBA’s glorious ‘Waterloo’ – as a ‘sugar rush’ of a song. It is replaced now at the top of the charts by what I’ll call a ‘sugar overdose’ of a song.

Sugar Baby Love, by The Rubettes (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 12th May – 9th June 1974

Why does ‘Waterloo’ work, while this doesn’t? Both songs are constructed from the same ingredients: power chords, sturdy drums, backing vocals and a big glance back to the pop of the early sixties. But ‘Waterloo’ leaves you soaring, and ‘Sugar Baby Love’ leaves you feeling icky. I am not a songwriter; but if I was I bet I’d be forever chasing and missing that fine, fine line between ‘catchy’ and ‘cheesy’.

This record starts promisingly enough, with ‘Twist and Shout’ Aaaahs that overlap and ascend. But then, fifteen seconds in, a falsetto so high and piercing that it knocks you sideways arrives. Sugar baby love, Sugar baby lo-ove, I didn’t mean to make you blue… The singer is trying to suck up to his sweetheart, trying to apologise for an unspecified misdemeanour. If was them, I’d have stuck to a letter or a phone-call. You can imagine someone performing this outside a girl’s bedroom window at night – and hopefully getting the police called on them.

Yes, All lovers make, The same mistakes, As me and you… It is another sad milepost on glam rock’s descent into the hands of rock ‘n’ roll tribute acts. In 1974, Slade went harder, Bolan went experimental (and started missing the Top 10), while Bowie was starting to look towards soul sounds on ‘Young Americans’. The Rubettes know what side they’re on, though: the backing singers keep up a persistent shoo-waddywaddy, shoo-waddywaddy throughout (though Showaddywaddy themselves turned this track down when it was offered to them!)

And yet, I do have a very high-tolerance for cheesy pop. I can’t hate this song, no matter what it represents. My feet are tapping along quite happily. However, I have an extremely low tolerance for spoken word sections in pop songs and, of course, ‘Sugar Baby Love’ has to go there. People, Take my advice, If you love someone, Don’t think twice… **shudder**

The Rubettes were a group basically put together to promote this record, which had been recorded by session musicians (shades of Alvin Stardust). It had been written for the soundtrack of a rock ‘n’ roll, jukebox musical that never saw the light of day. Which means that singer Paul Da Vinci (not his actual name), whose falsetto makes such a statement in the intro, was never actually a member of the band. They had a few other hits, with titles like ‘Juke Box Jive’, which sound like filler from the ‘Grease’ soundtrack, and still tour to this day in various iterations, thanks to a big court case twenty or so years ago where all the members tried to get The Rubettes name for themselves… If I were them I’d have been fighting to become disassociated from it…

116. ‘Blue Moon’, by The Marcels

I really want to try to transcribe the intro to this latest chart-topper – what an intro, by the way – but am unsure that I will be at all able… Here goes…


Blue Moon, by The Marcels (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 4th – 18th May 1961

Bombombombombombababombabbomababamdadangeedongdangdingydongydang… There, that’s it. Give or take a couple of boms. Blue moon…! It’s certainly an intro with some life about it. A whole song, actually, that is bursting with a joie de vivre; with both vim and vigour. A real palate cleanser after *shudder* ‘Wooden Heart’. The bombombom intro-slash-refrain pops up over and over, while other voices, from dog-whistle high to comically low, shrill and soft, husky and clear, all intertwine and frolic around one another.

Seriously – this record, a set of drums and a bass-line aside, is all voice. Five voices in total, but you’d be forgiven for thinking there were more. It’s a work of art, I’d go as far to say, the manner in which these voices flirt and slide, the way in which they provide the riff and the rhythm section, as well as the actual lyrics. Lyrics that I’d guess you know quite well…

Blue moon, You saw me standing alone, Without a dream in my heart, Without a love of my own… Quite a sad song to be given such a cheery interpretation, you might think… Blue moon, You knew just what I was there for, You heard me saying a prayer for, Someone I really could care for… The singer wishes upon a blue moon (which is an actual thing, apparently – when there are two full moons in a calendar month the second is ‘blue’, though not literally) and lo! A lover appears before him… Blue moon, Now I’m no longer alone, Without a dream in my heart…

The lyrics are, in truth, pretty banal; but you don’t come to this song – to this version of ‘Blue Moon’ – for the lyrics. You come for the energy, the fizz and pop: the crazy fusion of doo-wop and barbershop. The very end of the song, where the highest note meets the final, lowest note – a doleful, drawn out Bluuuuuueeee Moon – brilliantly sums it all up. This is a mad record. And it’s only right that this song itself got to number one at least once. It’s a standard, recorded by everyone from Sinatra to Billie Holiday, Elvis to Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart to Bing Crosby, since its creation in 1934. Most of those artists took a slow an’ mournful approach to ‘Blue Moon’; but The Marcels went crazy and were rewarded with a huge, international, million-selling, rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame entering hit, and probably the definitive version of the song.


“Who were The Marcels?” I hear you cry. They were a mixed-race (mixed-race I say! The first group of their kind to top the charts!) doo-wop group from Pennsylvania whose star burned brightly – 1961 was their year – but briefly. They split a couple of years later and didn’t have very many follow-up hits. But, as I’ve said before and I’ll say again, if you’re going to be remembered for just one song, make it a good one.

I first became aware of this song as a track on the ‘Don’t Stop – Doo-Wop!’ CD I picked up 2nd hand years ago, and that I’ve made heavy mention of already in this countdown – see the posts on ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love?’ and ‘What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?’. Alas, I think this might be the final time I get to mention that album, as doo-wop #1s are looking rather thin on the ground from this point on. It’s not on Spotify, or YouTube, but if you ever see it hanging around a bargain bin it’s well worth picking up for the oh-so-nineties cover-art alone…

94. ‘What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?’, by Emile Ford & The Checkmates

What’s that I hear? Tick, tick, tick, tick… Is it a clock racing to the turn of a decade? From the Fabulous Fifties to the Swinging Sixties? Tick, tick, tick, tick… Or is it just the intro to this next chart-topper?


What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?, by Emile Ford and The Checkmates (their 1st and only #1)

6 weeks, from 18th December 1959 – 29th January 1960 (including 1 week joint with Adam Faith from 18th – 25th December 1959)

It begins with some ticks, and then the vocals swoop in. This is a Doo-Wop record in the truest sense: in that much of it consists of the backing singers – The Checkmates, presumably – going a-doo-wop bee doo be doo be doo-wop…

I love this song, I do. What with all the doo-wops, the key changes and the brilliant false ending I can’t see how anyone could fail to enjoy it. I first heard it on a compilation called ‘Don’t Stop – Doo Wop’, which must have been released in the early ‘90s and which I picked up in a second hand CD shop years ago. I think I mentioned it in my post on The Teenagers’ ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love’, which also featured on it.

The lyrics, though, to ‘What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?’ (abbreviated forever more into WDYWTMTEAMF because that is a hell of a title to type out in full)… Hmmm. Questionable. What do you wanna make those eyes at me for, If they don’t mean what they say… That sounds like the justifications of a sex pest: “She was askin’ for it, guv! Those eyes!” You’re foolin’ around with me now, We-ell you lead me on and then you run away… She does sound like a tease… Of course, during these enlightened #MeToo times, we know that no means no. In 1959 it was perhaps a different story. We-ell that’s alright, I’ll get you alone tonight… Ok… And baby you’ll find, You’re messing with dynamite… Oo-er. Sexual dynamite? Or is he just going to give the disobedient hussy a black eye?

I jest, I jest… I’m willing to give Emile Ford the benefit of the doubt, as he keeps this song the right side of jaunty throughout and, to be honest, you can listen to it several times – as I did – without ever noticing the slightly sinister lyrical undertones. And, in defence of the 1950s as a whole – a decade, don’t forget, in which certain professions were closed to women, in which hotels could stick ‘No Blacks, No Irish’ in their windows, in which gay men were being slung in jail, in which people could still be sentenced to hanging – there have been very few #1 singles that stand out as troublesome for the modern listener. Very few lyrics have veered away from the catchy or the bland. I’d perhaps nominate WDYWTMTEAMF  and Guy Mitchell’s ‘She Wears Red Feathers’, from way back when (i.e. 1953) as being the most ‘of their time.’


As I mentioned in my last post, this disc was one of the last two records ever to share the top-spot in the UK charts. I suggested earlier that the death of the joint number one was due to a wider range of sales figures coming in but now I’ve just realised another theory: there will never be two such similarly titled #1 singles sitting at the top of the charts. Think about it: people go in to HMV looking to buy ‘What Do You Want?’ by Adam Faith, take a quick glance at the shelves, and come away with ‘What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?’ by Emile Ford! Or vice-versa. Must have happened loads! Mystery solved.

WDYWTMTEAMF (that might actually be more of a pain to type than just writing it out in full) has quite the story, beyond this most famous of versions. It was written in 1916 (!) as a duet – in which the woman actually got to defend her wanton ways – and has been recorded by acts as varied as Shakin’ Stevens and former England, Barcelona and Tottenham manager Terry Venables. (Yes. Seriously.)

And so. We come to the end of the 1950s. And the start of the 1960s. Is this the last #1 record of the ‘50s, or the first of the ‘60s? Philosophical questions best left for another day. We are about to delve into a decade that will bring the most innovative pop ever recorded, the birth of modern rock, Merseybeat, Flower Power, psychedelica etc. and so on. So, I thought it might be interesting to gaze forward to the record that will be atop the charts on 31st December 1969, and to wonder at the advancements to come over the next ten years. Except. The final #1 of the sixties will be… ahem… ‘Two Little Boys’ by Rolf Harris. So… From a record with sex-offender lyrics to a record by an actual, convicted sex-offender. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the 1960s!

Let’s linger a while yet in the more innocent air of 1959, and end this post as Emile Ford (the first, and presumably only, St. Lucian to hit #1 in the UK – correct me if I’m wrong)  ended his sole chart-topping hit. Possibly the best ending we’ve heard yet. One more time, then: adoo-wop bee doo be doo be doo-wop be doo be doo be doo-wop be doo be doo be doo… Yeah!

82. ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’, by The Platters

I feel it is time to make one of my semi-regular proclamations about just where we are in popular music history. Remember back in March ’56 when I announced the beginning of the ‘The Post-Pre-Rock Age’ (i.e. after the pre-rock era but before the rock era had really got going)? Or when we killed off the first wave of rock ‘n’ roll in early ’57? Or when we passed through the ‘Age of Whistling’ a year or so ago? Well… What with The Platters’ stately ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ now grabbing a week at the top, all but one of 1959’s four chart-toppers have been ballads.


Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, by The Platters (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 20th – 27th March 1959

Elvis aside, we’ve had Jane Morgan’s ‘The Day the Rains Came’ (very jazzy, but still what I’d class as a ballad) and Shirley Bassey’s ‘As I Love You’, plus Conway Twitty’s ‘It’s Only Make Believe’ from the tail-end of last year further slowing things down at the top, and this record does nothing to change the tempo. I’m not sure that this four-month stretch qualifies as an ‘Age’ or an ‘Era’, but I feel confident enough in christening it ‘The Winter of the Ballad’.

I’ve been a bit harsh on ballads recently. I didn’t hate either the Jane Morgan or the Shirley Bassey efforts, but they did rather pass by without grabbing me. I think it’s because, while you can chuck a load of guitars and drums at a rock song and usually come out with something passable, ballads are a lot more delicate. They can be great, or they can go really, really wrong. Lay the strings on a bit thick, let the singer go a little too wild with the vocal gymnastics, or have the writers get too schmaltzy with the lyrics, and you’ve got a mess on your hands. But this… now this is a ballad that gets it RIGHT.

It starts slowly. No dramatic swirl of violins or crashing cymbals. Just a piano, and a voice. They… Ask me how I knew, My true love was true, Oh…. I of course replied, Something here inside, Cannot be denied… The singer is sure that his woman loves him; his friends are less convinced. The singer scoffs. But…

Yet today, My love has flown away, I am without… My… Love… His friends – who sound like dicks, by the way – laugh at him and his misplaced confidence. His reply? I smile and say, When a lovely flame dies, Smoke gets in your eyes…


What’s the difference then, between this ballad and the one it replaced at #1: ‘As I Love You’? If pressed, I’d have to say the lyrics. While Shirley Bassey was singing – albeit very beautifully – some trite lines about the thrill of being in love; this song employs some great imagery. Your heart’s on fire – smoke gets in your eyes and stops you from seeing clearly. The flame is extinguished; smoke gets in your eyes and makes you cry…

Still, though, there is a big, bombastic ending – the title of the song belted out at the top of the singer’s voice – which spoils things slightly. I just have to accept that it was the style of the time. It’s a great song, however; a classy song. A classy classic. And a ‘classic’ it truly is, having first been recorded back in 1933. It seems to have been something of a tactic in the late fifties – getting modern singers to record updated versions of songs from the twenties and thirties (Connie Francis did it on ‘Who’s Sorry Now’ and ‘Carolina Moon’, while Tommy Edwards borrowed an old melody for ‘It’s All in the Game’) to lure in both the kids and their parents.

This is The Platters’ one and only appearance at the top of the UK charts, but that does their reputation something of an injustice. They had had several Top 10 hits before this, and were the foremost vocal group in the US – quite an achievement considering that they were five black guys and a girl, and that this is the 1950s we’re talking about. They are still rolling on to this day, albeit with enough line-up changes to make The Sugababes look steady (Wiki lists ten past members).

Unlike the earlier tear-jerkers that have made up this ‘Winter of the Ballad’, I had heard this one before. I’m sure most people will have. It’s one of those songs that have become part of life’s backing track. And to know a song without knowing how you know it – as I’ve said before – is a sure-fire sign that said song is a stone-cold classic.

48. ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’, by The Teenagers ft. Frankie Lymon

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Why Do Fools Fall in Love, by The Teenagers ft. Frankie Lymon (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 20th July to 10th August 1956


The perfect antidote to our recent, saccharine-heavy chart toppers.


This is one of the very few songs we’ve covered so far that I don’t think I need to really describe. Surely everyone knows this?

Why do birds si-ing, so gay? And lovers await the break of day? Why do they fall in love?

It’s a breathless, relentless song: two minutes twenty seconds packed with vocal harmonies, scattish drums and a brilliantly aggressive saxophone solo. There are certain records that simply had to have topped the charts, so seismic are they in shaping the history of pop music. This is one of them. It’s a great record. A classic. I love it.

But… That’s not good enough. I can’t leave it there – the shortest post yet. Let’s do this track justice. Why is it such a classic?

Firstly, Frankie Lymon’s voice. One of the things I know about this track, without doing any research, is that Lymon was just thirteen when he recorded this song. His voice is perfect. Not technically perfect, mind: it cracks and breaks a couple of times. But perfect for a song about first love, about being in love and getting rejected and, rather than wallowing in self-pity and whining about how you’ll wait for ever and a day for your loved one (c.f pretty much every male-led #1 thus far), it’s about shrugging your shoulders and realising what a fool you’ve been. It’s a wonderfully cynical record. Lymon sounds just like a heart-broken teenage boy, full of hurt and bravado. Because he was.


Which brings us onto the second reason. This is a song for teenagers, by teenagers. Literally: it’s by ‘The Teenagers’. Lymon was the youngest of the five, but none of the others were any older than sixteen when this song hit the top spot. Bill Haley, on the other hand, was thirty. This is the next big step in rock ‘n’ roll’s evolution. While this is strictly a doo-wop record, I make it the 4th rock ‘n’ roll record to top the charts. And I’m being pretty generous in making it four. But, interestingly, the four tracks have all been lyrically very distinct. Bear with me. ‘Such a Night’ was all about sex, ‘Rock Around the Clock’ about partying (and maybe a little bit of sex), ‘Rock And Roll Waltz’ about uncool parents and now ‘Why Do Fools…’ gives us hormonal heartbreak. We just need a song about vomiting all over a friend’s back garden at a house party to get the full set.

Reason number three? This is the first song I’ve covered on this blog, I believe – and bear in mind that we are forty-eight songs in now – in which you can’t make out all the words. The line I quoted back at the start? I had to check the lyrics online. I thought it went And lovers who wait to play all day… And the line: Why does my heart skip a crazy beat? Before I know it will reach defeat… I always thought it was… it will re-tweet tweet… Whatever that might have meant in 1956. A basic cornerstone of rock music is slurred lyrics that you can’t immediately understand and which, more importantly, annoy your parents because they’re not sung PROPERLY!

The fourth, and final, reason…? Well, it’s just a great song. A summer smash. It oozes New York city: steam, water spraying from a sidewalk valve, the sun blasting down, the Jets and the Sharks… I dunno. I grew up in small town Scotland. I first really got to know this song after buying an old second-hand CD compilation called ‘Don’t Stop, Doo-Wop’. It was brilliant; twenty-odd fifties and sixties doo-wop tracks, a few more of which will feature in this countdown. I wish I knew what I’d done with it.

Unfortunately, this will be The Teenagers one and only appearance here. Not that they were one-hit wonders, though, as they followed this classic up with the excellently titled ‘I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent’.

Even more unfortunately – tragically, in fact – Frankie Lymon trod a very rock ‘n’ roll path following this early success. By 1957 he had struck out on his own, away from The Teenagers. Aged 15, however, he was also a heroin addict and a lover to women twice his age. His career was ended by this addiction, and by the simple fact of his voice breaking. He lost his only child when she was just two days old. He died of an overdose, in 1968, at the horribly young age of twenty-five, on his grandmother’s bathroom floor. I mean… That’s a grim tale. As trite as it sounds though, what better way to remember him than as a fresh-faced, fresh voiced kid singing about fools in love?

One more time then: Ooh-wa-ooh-wa-wa…