79. ‘The Day the Rains Came’, by Jane Morgan

So what do we have here, then, for the first #1 of 1959? Well, the intro is promising: trumpets, saxophones…? Some kind of brass section at least. Ba-da-da-da-da-da-da…Bum-bum-bum… I would describe it as an intro you could strip to, if that weren’t being slightly tasteless.

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The Day the Rains Came, by Jane Morgan (her 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 23rd – 30th January 1959

Does the rest of the song live up to this saucy promise? Well, no. Not if you truly were expecting some kind of chanson d’amour. The title kind of gives that much away. It’s a song about rain, flowers, and crop cycles: The day that the rains came down, Mother Earth smiled again… Now the lilacs could bloom, Now the fields could grow greener… Further lyrics follow about buds being born and rivers swelling.

It’s an extended metaphor of a song – all the nature that is blooming is mirrored in the love blooming between the singer and her beau. As the young buds will grow… So our young love will grow… Love sweet love… Morgan’s voice is prim and clipped, harking back to the era of Doris Day and Vera Lynn. She sings it crisply, and properly, but it does come across as rather old-fashioned. She’s no Connie Francis, that’s for sure.

It’s reminiscent in many ways of singers like Jo Stafford and Kitty Kallen, jazz-pop from the very earliest days of the chart. Listen to the bridge in particular, the lines that begin: A robin sang a song of love, A willow tree reached out to the heavens… and tell me that it doesn’t reek of 1954. And the ending… Oh the ending. Ms. Morgan absolutely belts it out – Raaaaiiiiinnn Sweeeeet Raaaaaaaaaaiiiiiinnnnnn! – in a way that nobody else on a chart topping record has done for years. Is this perhaps our first throwback record? The first chart-topper that is intentionally harking back to days gone by, years before acts like Showaddywaddy, Shakin’ Stevens and, erm, Oasis? It certainly wasn’t an old song, having been written, originally in French, and recorded in 1958.

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I don’t dislike this record. The instrumentation is great, with a real swagger to the drums and brass. It’s just a shame that the lyrics are so wishy-washy. It’s technically ‘The Day the Rains Came Pt I’, as Part II is the same song sang by Morgan in the original French. Which is better to listen to, in a way (as long as you don’t understand French), as you can imagine that she is singing the saucy lyrics that the music is crying out for.

This may also be the first occurrence in the UK singles charts of a ‘January Number One’ – a record that takes advantage of the usual post-Christmas drop in sales to sneak a week or two at the top. It was a regular thing from the seventies through to the nineties, and can still happen today – see Eminem’s ‘River’ from January this year. And I’ve mentioned before how much I admire a good ‘one song-one week’ chart-topping record. Jane Morgan hadn’t troubled the upper reaches of the UK charts, let alone the number one spot, before this and wouldn’t do so again. And – following on from Tommy Edwards, Lord Rockingham’s XI and Conway Twitty – I make her the fourth consecutive one (ish) -hit wonder chart topper!

To conclude, then. This is a nice enough diversion, a snazzy little jazz pop number; but one which sounds pretty out of place as the first #1 of 1959. Let’s get back on track, shall we…

21. ‘Little Things Mean a Lot’, by Kitty Kallen

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Little Things Mean a Lot, by Kitty Kallen (her first and only #1)

1 week, from 10th to 17th Sept 1954

And so we arrive at mid-September, eight and a half months into 1954, and we have had but five number ones this year. In my capacity as a fully qualified chart geek, I have the means by which to compare and contrast this with other years. And, for example, by this point in 1953 we had had 10 #1s. By the 10th September 2000 (the year with the highest turnover of chart toppers in chart history) we’d had an unbelievable 30 #1s! And in 2017 we were back down to 10 #1s. Interesting? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Anyway, the 6th number one of 1954 takes a low-key approach. Kitty Kallen has a dusky voice, and little in the way of accompaniment aside from a – thankfully understated – violin and something that tinkles (a timpani?). Oh, and there’s a trumpet. Still, though, this is a nice respite after the fervour of ‘Such a Night’ and the mini-operetta that was ‘Cara Mia’.

Lyrically, the idea is that small signs of affection are more important than grand gestures: Give me you arm as we cross the street… Call me at six on the dot… Touch my hair, as you pass my chair… Little things mean a lot… This girl don’t need diamonds or pearls, champagne, sables or such. No, Sir. Cos honestly honey, they just cost money. And since we’ve had song after song full of strangely metaphorical approaches to describing love – seeing little birds, talking to stars – as well as the usual soppy stuff – hearts melting, longing or breaking – this is an interesting detour. It’s cute and knowing, and quite ahead of its time. Modern love songs go in for a lot of the ‘savouring the little moments’ kind of stuff: sitting on the grass, drinking wine out the bottle, holding your loved one’s hair back as they puke (c.f. James Arthur, 2016). Perhaps we can class this record as ahead of its time.

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The only time that Kallen gets serious is for what is as close as the song gets to a chorus: Give me your hand when I’ve lost the way, Give me a shoulder to cry on… And she is guilty of singing these lines in a THIS IS THE IMPORTANT BIT SO I’M SINGING A BIT LOUDER way that literally everyone seems to be doing in 1954. But at least the ending is sedate: repeat the title, bit of trumpet, fade. Nice

And so that was Kitty Kallen’s first and only UK Number One. I like that – one song, one week. Done. Your name goes down in history. Had she stalled at #2 – perfectly respectable, that, a number two hit – I might never have heard of her. Not that she’s the first – we’ve already covered Jo Stafford’s and Lita Roza’s solitary weeks at the summit – and she won’t be the last. But, unlike Stafford and Roza, this was Kallen’s only ever UK hit. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have our first one-hit wonder. She was much more popular in the US, this being her fourth number one over there. It was her last, though. ‘Little Things Mean a Lot’ seems to have been pretty much it for Miss Kallen. And it almost goes without saying by this point that she died at the grand old age of ninety-six, just two years ago.

3. ‘Comes A-Long A-Love’, by Kay Starr

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Comes A-Long A-Love, by Kay Starr (her 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 23rd to 30th January 1953

Snazzy! And jazzy! I really thought – and more fool me – that these pre-Rock ‘n’ Roll hits would be dull, twee, chaste… one step up the danceability chart from hymns, basically. How wrong I was. It wasn’t all bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover.

Though bluebirds do feature in this song, they do so as a symbol of being in love and suddenly becoming aware of the world around you. Birds! Flowers! The sun! Comes A-Long A-Love suddenly though you never sang you’re always singing… Comes A-Long A-Love suddenly chimes you never heard begin a-ringing… The lyrical message being that falling in love will make you a better, livelier person.

Kay Starr’s voice is in complete contrast to the Jo Stafford record that went before. It’s husky, then sing-songy, she pauses where you least expect it and then rushes through tongue twister lines phrases like petty little things no longer phase you, which I’ll bet you can’t say five times fast. You might even say she’s flirting with the listener… And, yes, a quick search shows Ms. Starr was quite the little minx (that’s what they called them in those days). Those eyebrows! What didn’t they suggest! This song could be seen as a challenge – she’s daring you not to fall in love with her.

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But again, it’s another song that paints love in a positive light. Three number ones in and nobody’s had their heart broken… Even lonely old Al Martino was hopeful that his lover would say ‘yes’. That’s something I’m going to look out for: the first ever reference to heartbreak in a UK number one hit. And, again, Kay Starr enunciates so damn well. This isn’t an easy song to sing, but she makes it sound like she’s ad-libbing her way through it. I’ve got to hand it to these old-timers, before the days of auto-tune, because they really could sing. Gran was right all along…

Some bits do jar, slightly. Starr uses ‘Mister’, and ‘Brother’, in a way that you wouldn’t these days. And the aforementioned reference to being in love and seeing bluebirds is a bit of a Disneyfied image. It must have been easy for songwriters, at the birth of modern pop music – love is great, you see bluebirds, do-bee-do – before people discovered cynicism. So far, though, all three number ones have been recorded by American artists. Perhaps that explains the saccharine sentiments! As everyone knows, Americans are sickeningly positive. How brilliant would it be, then, if the first UK recorded #1 turned out to be a piece of proto-Morrissey miserabilism…

One final thing I’ve noticed, while looking up these first three UK chart toppers, is how long they all lived. Jo Stafford died in 2008, aged ninety. Al Martino died in 2009 at eighty-two. Kay Starr died in November 2016, having reached a grand old innings of ninety-four. That means two of them outlived Michael Jackson, who wouldn’t have his first number one hit for another twenty-eight years. They were made of sterner stuff in those days, mind.

2. ‘You Belong to Me’, by Jo Stafford

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You Belong to Me, by Jo Stafford (her 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 16th to 23rd January 1953

On first listen, this sounds like the music that used to play between scenes in Dad’s Army. January 1953 was less than eight years after the end of World War II, I suppose, but this song just sounds so old. On the other side of the coin – this was less than fifteen years before Sgt Peppers! It’s genuinely amazing to think of how much popular music changed in such a short time.

However, without wanting to go off down that road just yet – this is a fairly nice, sedate little after-hours number. In complete contrast to the first chart topper, this is a track that holds back. A guitar strums, and some saxophones (trumpets?) flutter between the lines. Imagine a smoky club, little tables, couples whispering sweet nothings, gangsters and their molls quaffing champagne in the booths that line the walls. Though a quick image search of Jo Stafford brings up some fairly prim and proper pictures of her in buttoned-up blouses. None of her draped across a piano for the benefit of rowdy mobsters, unfortunately.

The premise of the song is that, no matter where her lover travels – the pyramids along the Nile, the market place in old Algiers, the jungle wet with rain – he should remember that he belongs to her and that, naturally, she will be alone and pining until his return. This being 1953, I’m guessing that he’s travelling the world as part of the military, rather than simply on a jolly, and that might explain the song’s popularity in the day’s of National Service, and the Korean War.

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Despite the song’s understated quality and the jazz-bar feel, though, Stafford is still enunciating the lyrics like she’s being graded on her diction. That’s what is immediately standing out as I listen to these early number ones. Sure they sound dated, and they have a simplistic take on romance (think about it, how many modern pop songs are about simply being in love, requited or otherwise?) but what comes across most is how clear the lyrics are. Rock and roll must’ve ruined the way folks sang!

While this was a one-week number one, the song actually hung in doggedly at number two for the whole of Al Martino’s run at the top. It could have all been so different! But at least Jo can hold claim to being the first ever female singer to top the UK charts, though she never did so again.