Random Runners-Up: ‘Cloud Lucky Seven’, by Guy Mitchell

My third randomly selected #2 for the week brings us all the way back to the early weeks of 1954. Before Elvis, before the Beatles, before colour TV and motorways, there was Guy Mitchell…

‘Cloud Lucky Seven’, by Guy Mitchell

#2 for 1 week – 12th – 19th February 1954, behind ‘Oh Mein Papa’

I have a huge soft-spot for Guy Mitchell. Not only did he have a hunky, all-American boy next door vibe going on – see the pic above! – but during the early months of this blog, as I trawled through many overwrought and overblown, and often quite dull, pre-rock #1s, Mr. Mitchell would regularly pop up with something a bit more sprightly.

‘Cloud Lucky Seven’ came right in the middle of Mitchell’s four chart-topping singles, and is a pre-rock hit by-numbers. It’s almost unbearably jaunty, the backing singers sound like drunken relatives at a wedding, and there are horns. Boy, are there horns… It’s a bit jazz, a bit swing, very music-hall, and with no hint at the rock ‘n’ roll revolution that’s just around the corner.

What saves it from sounding ridiculous to modern ears is Guy himself. He isn’t, to be honest, the best technical singer. He’s no Al Martino, or Eddie Fisher, but his voice has a throaty, homely charm. He sounds like he’s having fun, as if he’s well-aware that he’s singing a load of tosh (see also ‘She Wears Red Feathers’) and being paid handsomely to do so.

Lyrically, the song is about love as clouds (that’s another pre-rock trick: love as birds chirping, fluffy clouds, twinkly stars…) Cloud one is where you land when you meet that special someone, while cloud lucky seven is the cloud nearest heaven… Which means… This is actually a song about getting laid?? Those pre-rockers were just as horny as those that came later, they just had to hide it behind bizarre metaphors involving clouds. Which means, as he belts out that there’s one more cloud to go…! it’s not only the best bit of the song; but you can almost hear the knowing wink. Guy, you sly dog, you!

Two more #2s to come…

23. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell

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Hold My Hand, by Don Cornell (his first and only #1)

4 weeks, from 8th Oct to 5th Nov / 1 week, from 19th to 26th Nov 1954 (5 weeks total)

So this is the Kingdom of Heaven? Is this is the sweet promised land? While angels tell of love, don’t break the spell of love. Hold my hand.

Right. Listen. This is the problem with a lot of these early number ones. It’s not that they are too old-fashioned, or too slow, or simply too boring (though plenty of them have been too old-fashioned, too slow and simply too boring) … It’s that most of them take this bizarrely extravagant approach to describing basic romantic feelings.

This is a song about asking someone to hold your hand. And I get that in 1954 there were strict limits on how suggestive you could get with your lyrics but… This is a three-minute extended metaphor explaining how holding someone’s hand can bring forth angels, plant you in the Garden of Eden, bring on the rapture, blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t mean anything.

Musically we’re accompanied by violins and a strumming guitar. I’ll let you know when this changes. And… I’m running out of things to write. Next!

No, that’s a bit harsh. This is Don Cornell’s moment. We won’t be hearing from him again. But, and I’m really sorry to say this Don, you are also part of the problem…

This song has a pretty playful, cheeky lilt to it, written in snappy little couplets. The line: This is the secret of what bliss is… is quite cute when you say it out loud. And at one point ‘portal’ is rhymed with ‘immortal’, which is clever. Guy Mitchell would have made a good job of this song. Sinatra would have given this number a little nod and a wink (it’s a much more Sinatra-y song than ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’) Cornell, though, maintains a firm baritone, and never quite relaxes into the song.

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The name Don Cornell sounds like that of a small-time gangster and, going by pictures from the time, he may well have been a (pretty smiley) small-time gangster. The same goes for Al Martino, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra (naturally) … Half the number one singles over the first two years of the UK charts seem to have been recorded by Italian-Americans. In fact, out of the eighteen acts to have topped the charts by November 1954, twelve were American. And I think this is historically significant – we weren’t just importing US-made music; Britain – war-ravaged, austerity-hit, nylon-rationed, Blitz-broken Britain – was importing American escapism in all it’s glitzy, white-teethed, suave glory. We were being sold the American dream, record by record.

19. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray

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Such A Night, by Johnnie Ray (his 1st of three #1s)

1 week, from 30th April to 7th May 1954

For the first time since beginning this blog, we arrive at a song that I know. And I don’t mean ‘know’ in the way I’d heard ‘Secret Love’ without realising, or in the way I knew ‘I Believe’ because of it’s chart domination. I know this song, I actively listen to it, and I love Johnnie Ray.

It’s a jaunty (that word again), quick-tempo song with a simple enough riff and some ‘ooby dooby’s in the background. Nothing too unusual there. But what makes it, and elevates it to a classic, are Ray’s vocals. Like Doris Day before him there’s an effortlessness to his voice that draws you in and yanks you along. But his voice is nothing like the clean-cut, honeyed tones of Miss Day. ‘Such a Night’ isn’t being sung here – it’s being ridden, it’s being humped… it’s being performed.

Ray has help in this performance from some seriously risqué lyrics. This is the story – and let’s remind ourselves that we are writing here about a record that topped the charts in April 1954 – of a one-night stand.

            It was a night, Ooh what a night it was, It really was, Such a night… It was a kiss, Ooh what a kiss it was, It really was, Such a kiss…. Just the thought of her lips, Sets me afire, I reminisce and I’m filled with desire…

This is pretty saucy stuff right here. It starts out as a kiss in the moonlight, but suddenly…

            Came the dawn, And my heart and her love and the night was gone… But I’ll never forget that kiss in the moonlight, Ooh, such a kiss, Ooh, such a night!

It’s clever really. Obviously they couldn’t go writing a song with lyrics that touched on anything more than kissing, but are we really meant to believe that they just kissed all the way till sunrise? By the end, given the way Ray is ooh-ing and aah-ing, the answer is pretty obvious. Ain’t no kiss ever that good. The BBC, and various radio stations across the world, responded by banning the record. The first example, then, of a song’s infamy equalling a #1 hit? See also: Serge Gainsbourg, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, anything by Eminem…

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But wait, it gets even better. While the song is about a woman, and all the pronouns female, Johnnie Ray was gay. Those are gay ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahs’ and ‘mmms’, sitting at the top of the UK Singles Chart. In 1954. When that sort of thing was very much illegal, and gay men were being hunted, prosecuted and made to choose between jail or chemical castration. Now, that is something.

This is rock ‘n’ roll. OK, the music here is more jazzy, swing, whatever, but I am putting it out there that this is the first rock ‘n’ roll record to ever make the top of the charts. This is rock ‘n’ roll in all but name, surely? That’s what makes this idea of the pre-rock era so difficult to figure out, why it’s so hard to label this strange era in popular music.

Johnnie Ray will go on to hit the top spot a couple more times, so I will wait until then to write more about just how amazing he was, and how it’s a crime that he doesn’t sit alongside Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly et al in the pantheon of ’50s music greats (*spoiler alert* him being gay might have had a lot to do with this.) I will, though, take the chance to recommend Elvis’s own version of ‘Such a Night’, recorded several years later. Remember a few posts ago, when I said that drums rarely define a record? Well, the King’s version of this record is one of the exceptions.

But, for now, let’s end by simply being thankful that this gloriously raunchy track sneaked a week at #1, ghosting in amongst all the schmaltzy easy-listening that preceded and followed it. Ooh. Aah. Mmm. Yes!

16. ‘Oh Mein Papa’, by Eddie Calvert

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Oh Mein Papa, by Eddie Calvert (his 1st of two #1s)

9 weeks, from 8th January to 12th March 1954

Perhaps, as we tick over into 1954, we should pause once again to take stock. Just what kinds of records were topping the charts in these distant, misty, slightly-eccentric, pre rock days…?

Actually ‘distant, misty and slightly eccentric’ might just sum up most of the records I’ve described thus far. They have been surprisingly varied in style: from proto-rock numbers to gentle instrumentals, from jaunty novelties to brow-furrowingly earnest numbers about unrequited love. In a way, though, they’ve all been a bit similar too: all very safe, very chaste and very… twee? To my modern ears, anyway.

And so, onwards – to another mammoth hit. It’s the third time in just over a year that a record has racked up nine weeks at the top, and the latest record to do so is… a trumpet instrumental.

Now. There are lots of instruments that can carry an entire song: guitars and pianos, obviously, along with saxophones and violins. Drums cannot usually carry an entire song, but I wouldn’t like to say it was impossible. Tambourines definitely cannot. And nor, it would seem, can trumpets.

I’m struggling to write much about this song. There’s a trumpet. There’s a simple guitar rhythm, with some backing singers shrilly harmonising and occasionally chanting the song title. Oh, and there’s an organ. As I wrote in my post about the last #1 to involve an organ (‘Broken Wings’), it lends a cheap, Blackpool seafront kind of vibe to proceedings. I suppose it could go down as the first ever foreign language number one, but there is only one line. Oh Mein Papa. Which I believe translates as ‘Oh My Daddy.’ Oh my, Daddy, indeed.

The tune isn’t even interesting. The one other instrumental we’ve covered so far, Mantovani’s ‘Moulin Rouge’, at least had a melody that buried itself in your brain after a few listens. So this, with no words and no melody, to my ears at least, has little going for it.

There are lyrics to ‘Oh Mein Papa’, which I searched out and listened to, courtesy of our friend Eddie Fisher – whose version reached #9 – lyrics about how lovely the singer’s father was, taking him on his knee when he was a nipper… And I suppose, when this backstory is taken into consideration, Calvert’s lone trumpet, parping out its melancholy tune, takes on a little more resonance. But then, that’s the problem with instrumentals as a whole: without lyrics, are they songs or simply pieces of music? And yes, yes, you can come at me with Beethoven, Mozart and all that lot; but we’re talking about pop music here. Pop music should be immediate and relatable, and I’m not sure it can be without lyrics. Or, at least, it’s difficult for it to be so without lyrics. Anyway, who am I to say? This track lorded it over all comers for over two months.

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Eddie Calvert himself, looks like an interesting character. He looks old-fashioned, even in contemporary photographs from the 1950s. His hair is heavily Brylcreemed and he has a roguish moustache (Oh nein, Papa!). He’s half jazz session musician and half black-market spiv. If you were given a choice of where he was from, and the choices were A) Chicago, Illinois or B) Preston, Lancashire, you’d go for A). But you’d be wrong. In almost every picture I’ve found he is clutching his trademark trumpet. He probably had a name for it.