Remembering Jerry Lee Lewis

Last time I did a ‘Remembering’ post, it was on the universally loved and cherished Olivia Newton-John, about whom nobody had a bad word to say. Jerry Lee Lewis, though…

We’ve met some wrong ‘uns in our journey through the chart-toppers of yore. Bad types with equally bad music (Rolf Harris), bad types with music that I couldn’t help but enjoy (Gary Glitter). Jerry Lee Lewis was possibly that baddest of them all. ‘The Killer’, so named because he had allegedly tried to strangle a teacher at his high school – or so he said – lived a life that would make your average, run-of-the-mill criminal blush. Drug arrests, assault arrests, two wives dead in suspicious circumstances and – the one that effectively ended his mainstream chart career before it had truly started – a marriage to his thirteen year-old cousin.

He was, in his own words, an unrepentant hillbilly. Unpleasant and aggressive towards his fans, his family, journalists, and other musicians. (When he met John Lennon, he did so after berating the Beatles and their peers as ‘shit’ from the stage. Lennon, legend has it, still kneeled down to kiss Lewis’s feet.) Why then, does he seem to have gotten away with it? Any current artist who did a quarter of the things Jerry Lee allegedly did would have been cancelled into the dust. Is it because it was all so long ago? Is it because people were more able to seperate art from artist? Or is it because he was just so good?

For, no matter how terrible a person he was, he is rock and roll royalty. One of the five deities: Chuck, Elvis, Buddy, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee. Elvis used his voice (and his body), Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry their guitars. Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard had their pianos, which put them at an immediate disadvantage, as pianos are not hugely conducive to rocking and rolling. Pianos are for classical music, for Beethoven and Mozart, for respectable ladies’ front rooms. You have to sit down to play them, and sitting down is the antithesis of rock ‘n’ roll.

So you have to do what Jerry Lee, and Little Richard did. Pound the keys, assault the keys, stamp on them, jump on them… Set the goddamn piano on fire if you have to. (Which Lewis allegedly did when angry at being lower down a bill than Chuck Berry. ‘Follow that, boy’, he said as he left the stage.) Which leads to Jerry Lee’s one and only British chart-topper: ‘Great Balls of Fire’.

Quite often, as with many genres, by the time rock ‘n’ roll made it to the top of the charts it had been diluted. Elvis’s first #1 was the smooth ‘All Shook Up’. Buddy Holly had one chart-topping rocker: ‘That’ll Be the Day’. Berry had to wait until the nonsense that is ‘My Ding-A-Ling’. Little Richard never had one. Which means that ‘Great Balls of Fire’ is probably the purest rock ‘n’ roll chart-topper. It’s unadulteratedly dangerous, and sexy. It has a title that is at once biblical, yet also sexual. Watch the live performance below, probably quite restrained by his standards, and listen to the shrieks form the audience every time he pauses, when he stands, and when he leers at them. The sweat on his brow, the glint in his eye. Anybody capable of that sort of performance was going to have a few skeletons in the closet. He was complicated, unpleasant, the ‘killer’, but he was rock and roll.

Jerry Lee Lewis

September 29th 1935 – October 28th 2022

Random Runners-Up: ‘Move It’, by Cliff Richard & The Drifters

Our final #2 of the week, and it’s back to the fifties. To a man we’ve met plenty of times before on these very pages…

‘Move It’, by Cliff Richard & The Drifters

#2 for 1 week, from 24th-31st Oct 1958, behind ‘Stupid Cupid’ / ‘Carolina Moon’

Cliff Richard, in 1958, was Britain’s answer to Elvis. That’s both true, and unfair. True, because he was young, good-looking, and extravagantly quiffed. And unfair, because nobody comes out well from a comparison with Elvis.

This was Cliff’s debut single, his first of sixty-eight (68!) Top 10 hits in the UK, over the course of fifty years. And if you are of a slightly snide disposition – and aren’t we all, sometimes – one could argue that this was the only true rock ‘n’ roll record from Britain’s great rock ‘n’ roll hope.

And it does rock. The opening refrain is great, reminiscent of Buddy Holly, and the purring, driving riff that succeeds it sounds genuinely exciting, almost punk-ish in its simplicity. In the autumn of 1958, it must have been thrilling to hear this growling out of some jukebox speakers, and knowing that the singer was from a London suburb, rather than Memphis.

The lyrics are pretty nonsensical, as all the best rock ‘n’ roll lyrics are… C’mon pretty baby let’s a-move it and a-groove it… while The Drifters sound the equal of any American group. (They wouldn’t become The Shadows until 1959, by which point they had accompanied Cliff on his first of many easy-listening #1s, ‘Living Doll’.)

The one thing that doesn’t quite sell this for me is Cliff himself… He just sounds a bit too nice. And I don’t know if that’s because I can’t seperate the goody-goody, God-bothering, Centre Court-serenading Cliff Richard from the eighteen-year-old version. Still, imagine Elvis mumbling and grunting his way through this…

As I referred to above, Cliff would go on to enjoy some reasonable success over the ensuing decades… I wonder if anyone who bought ‘Move It’ in October 1958 imagined that this hot young rocker would still be touring and recording in 2022, well into his ninth decade… As uncool as he is, I can’t bring myself to dislike Sir Clifford of Richard: he’s a bona-fide pop legend. I can’t say I’m looking forward to reviewing any of his three remaining #1s, though, but that’s a story for another day…

I hope you’ve enjoyed random runners-up week. The regular countdown will resume over the weekend, picking up in the summer of ’86…

‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI – The UK Number 1s Blog Anniversary Special

This week marks the 1st anniversary of The UK Number 1s Blog (** Trumpet Fanfare**)! In the past year we’ve covered the period from Nov. ’52 to Nov’ 61, with 129 chart-topping songs featured. We’ve survived pre-rock, rode the rock ‘n’ roll revolution, and are now well on our way towards the swinging sixties… Thanks to everyone who has read, followed, commented and enjoyed.

To celebrate this milestone, I’m going to take a short break from the usual countdown to repost seven songs that I have really enjoyed discovering over the past year. These aren’t necessarily the best songs to have topped the charts – there’ll be no Buddy Holly, Johnnie Ray, Connie Francis, Elvis or The Everly Brothers (follow the links if you want to read about them) – as I’ve been listening to, and loving, those artists for years. This week will be all about the forgotten gems, the hits I’d never heard before, the songs that have slipped through the cracks…

My penultimate choice is one that pays homage to my homeland – Bonnie Escocia. It’s a song that, at the time of writing, I suggested should become our new national anthem. With the advantage of hindsight… I still think that’s a great idea. This is a record that sounds like it was recorded on a cocktail of Irn-Bru, soor-plooms, the Best Of ‘Oor Wullie’ and just a splash of Buckfast Tonic Wine. It’s a wild and zany chart-topper, that makes no sense and yet complete sense. One more time then… Och Aye!

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And so on we roll towards the United Kingdom’s seventy-seventh chart topping single. And it’s a song that I’ve never… No, wait… Ah! I know this… We all know this…

Hoots Mon, by Lord Rockingham’s XI (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 28th November – 19th December 1958

Dooooo-doo-doo-do-do… Dooooo-doo-doo-do-do… It’s an intro that smacks of slightly misplaced grandeur, like an aged diva swishing onto the stage before slipping on a banana. We know what follows is going to be absurd. And, oh boy, it is…

Na-nana-na-nana, Na-nana-na-nana, Nana-nanananana… Na-nana-na-nana, Na-nana-na-nana, Nananananananana… Apologies for my woeful attempts to render this riff using the medium of ‘na’s. The minute this starts playing you will know it.

It’s an instrumental, and it’s been a while since we featured an instrumental. I make Winny Atwell’s ‘The Poor People of Paris’ our most recent lyric-less number one, and that was two and a half years back. And it is undeniably catchy. It bores its way in on the first listen and will, I’m sorry, remain for days. And days. And days. There are key-changes, oh yes! And the bass! One of my main complaints about the rock ‘n’ roll numbers we’ve heard so far is that, while there have been some undeniable classics – your ‘Great Balls of Fire’s, your ‘That’ll Be the Day’s and your ‘Rock Around the Clock’s – they’ve all sounded a bit light to modern ears. Listen to this, though, especially through headphones. It fills your ears, in a way that makes it sound like a modern record. Every instrument – the throbbing bass, the slapdash drums, the natty organs – are, if you’ll forgive the cliché, turned up to eleven. And a half.

Actually, I called this an instrumental; but it’s not quite. There are a few words, shouted out above the clatter, foremost among them being: There’s a moose loose aboot this hoose… and It’s a braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht… Then there are the Och Ayes! thrown in towards the end and the big Hoots Mon! upon which the record ends. Yes, this is, as they say in theatre circles, The Scottish Number One. All we’re missing is a ‘Help ma Boab!’

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The ringleader of Lord Rockingham’s XI was a man named Harry Robinson, a Scot if ever there was one. But, being from Scotland myself, I’m not sure how I feel about this record, and the manner in which it reduces the culture, language and heritage of my homeland to a handful of trite, drunken catchphrases…

Actually, screw it. It’s as catchy as crabs and a hell of a lot more fun than some of the more ‘official’ Scottish songs – ‘500 miles’ (Jings!), ‘Scotland The Brave’ (Crivvens!), ‘Caledonia’ (Shudder… and boak!) In fact, I think that this song I hadn’t ever properly listened to until twenty minutes ago should become our new national anthem, in place of the dirge that is ‘Flower of Scotland’. And when I fulfil my manifest destiny in replacing wee Nicky Sturgeon as First Minister, that’ll be the first act I sign into law.

Anyway, file this record under ‘complete and utter novelty’. It’s no coincidence that it hit the top spot in the weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year. Lord Rockingham’s XI wouldn’t go on to much more success and so for the first time, I think, we have two (semi) one-hit wonders replacing one another at the top of the charts. File this also under ‘British Rock ‘n’ Roll’. It’s something that I’ve long been noting – the gradual handing over of the rock ‘n’ roll baton from the US to the UK – and with this anarchic British track following soppy efforts from The Everly Brothers and The Kalin Twins the transition may be complete.

I’ll finish by reminiscing on how this song stirred in me a long-discarded, foggy memory of a commercial for something or other, way back in the late eighties or early nineties… I knew I knew this song, but I didn’t know how I knew it – if you catch my drift. I suppose whatever it was will be forever lost in the mists of time… Actually, no it won’t. The advert was for Maynard’s Wine Gums, back in 1993. Thanks, internet.

78. ‘It’s Only Make Believe’, by Conway Twitty

Before we begin writing anything about this record, let’s take a minute to appreciate the name of the man who recorded it… Mr. Conway Twitty. It’s a strange name – ‘Conway’ being quite rugged and windswept, and ‘Twitty’ being somewhat less so. It’s a name you don’t forget in a hurry; which I suppose is a good thing in show-business.

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It’s Only Make Believe, by Conway Twitty (his 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 19th December 1958 – 23rd January 1959

And note! I’ve finally – seventy-eight number ones in! – managed to locate some genuine cover art to stick at the top of my post. This, I am strongly led to believe, was the genuine cover that people would have seen in British record stores when they went to pick up their copies of ‘It’s Only Make Believe’.

To the song. A guitar strums… People see us everywhere… Another strum… They think you really care… Strum… But myself I can’t deceive… I know it’s only… Make… Believe… Conway loves a gal, but she ain’t lovin’ him back. Bizarrely enough, it sounds quite like the intro to ‘Runaround Sue’ – but that’s a story for another day.

My only prayer will be, Some day you’ll care for me, But it’s only Make… Believe… Is she using him to get back at an ex? Is she leading him on? Is she just a tease…? The reasons as to why they are leading this pretend-life remain tantalisingly out of reach. But Conway’s got it bad. His heart is a-achin’.

This is a rock ‘n’ roll ballad. We’ve toyed with the concept up to now. Was ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’ the first? Or was it ‘Young Love’? Or was it neither? Because this is heart on your sleeve balladry. This is the real deal, and the starting point for all manner of Bon Jovi / Aerosmith-type fist clenching, air-punching soft-RAWK. Not that it actually sounds anything like a late ’80s power ballad; but mark my words – the seeds are being sown. The lyrics are super-overwrought: lots of my all, my everything, I’d give my life for you etc. etc. But Twitty sells it, just about, with some top-notch wailing. You really believe that his heart is cracking in twain as he sings.

This is also, I’m pretty confident in saying, our first slice of country rock at the top of the UK charts. We’ve had country before – a bit of Frankie Laine here, a little Slim Whitman there – but this is rock ‘n’ roll with a country twang. The Eagles, Dolly and Shania, even Tay-Tay before she went basic, stem from this kind of thing.

I know, I know… That’s a very bold statement. But it’s useful, as we reach the end of 1958, to take a step back and admire the bigger picture. We’re over two years into the ‘rock’ age and, as I’ve commented on several recent chart-toppers, there is more and more of a fusion going on. Songs like ‘The Story of My Life’, ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’ and ‘It’s All in the Game’ topped the charts this year, and were all pop songs – hummable, easy listening numbers – with a distinct whiff of rock ‘n’ roll. The year started out with two utter classics – tracks one and two on Now That’s What I Call Rock N Roll: ‘Great Balls of Fire’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock’. Since then, though, the overriding theme of 1958 has been one of much ‘blander’ rock ‘n’ roll. And so ‘It’s Only Make Believe’, is in many ways the perfect track to round the year off – a rock song much more likely to appeal to mum, and gran, than the kids.

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The worst thing about this whole record is that Conway Twitty was not the singer’s real name. Boo! He was actually one Harold Jenkins, and apparently got his stage name after blindly opening a map and finding a town named Conway in Arkansas and one called Twitty in Texas. So far, so C&W. ‘It’s Only Make Believe’ was his only big success on the UK charts, so I make it three-in-a-row in the one-hit wonders stakes. He stumbled through the 1960s before becoming an absolute demon on the US Country Charts in the ’70s and ’80s, with hits like ‘Tight Fittin’ Jeans’ and ‘Red Neckin’ Love Makin’ Night’. Yee-haw! Best of all, he lived in a self-built multi-million dollar ‘country music entertainment complex’ called, wait for it… ‘Twitty City’. He died in 1993, aged but fifty-nine.

We’ll leave him here, caterwaulin’ us into 1959, the final year of the decade that gave us rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis, Buddy and Jerry Lee. Beyond that lie the 1960s, and nothing much of musical interest happened then. Did it?

77. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI

And so on we roll towards the United Kingdom’s seventy-seventh chart topping single. And it’s a song that I’ve never… No, wait… Ah! I know this… We all know this…

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Hoots Mon, by Lord Rockingham’s XI (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 28th November – 19th December 1958

Dooooo-doo-doo-do-do… Dooooo-doo-doo-do-do… It’s an intro that smacks of slightly misplaced grandeur, like an aged diva swishing onto the stage before slipping on a banana. We know what follows is going to be absurd. And, oh boy, it is…

Na-nana-na-nana, Na-nana-na-nana, Nana-nanananana… Na-nana-na-nana, Na-nana-na-nana, Nananananananana… Apologies for my woeful attempts to render this riff using the medium of ‘na’s. The minute this starts playing you will know it.

It’s an instrumental, and it’s been a while since we featured an instrumental. I make Winny Atwell’s ‘The Poor People of Paris’ our most recent lyric-less number one, and that was two and a half years back. And it is undeniably catchy. It bores its way in on the first listen and will, I’m sorry, remain for days. And days. And days. There are key-changes, oh yes! And the bass! One of my main complaints about the rock ‘n’ roll numbers we’ve heard so far is that, while there have been some undeniable classics – your ‘Great Balls of Fire’s, your ‘That’ll Be the Day’s and your ‘Rock Around the Clock’s – they’ve all sounded a bit light to modern ears. Listen to this, though, especially through headphones. It fills your ears, in a way that makes it sound like a modern record. Every instrument – the throbbing bass, the slapdash drums, the natty organs – are, if you’ll forgive the cliché, turned up to eleven. And a half.

Actually, I called this an instrumental; but it’s not quite. There are a few words, shouted out above the clatter, foremost among them being: There’s a moose loose aboot this hoose… and It’s a braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht… Then there are the Och Ayes! thrown in towards the end and the big Hoots Mon! upon which the record ends. Yes, this is, as they say in theatre circles, The Scottish Number One. All we’re missing is a ‘Help ma Boab!’

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The ringleader of Lord Rockingham’s XI was a man named Harry Robinson, a Scot if ever there was one. But, being from Scotland myself, I’m not sure how I feel about this record, and the manner in which it reduces the culture, language and heritage of my homeland to a handful of trite, drunken catchphrases…

Actually, screw it. It’s as catchy as crabs and a hell of a lot more fun than some of the more ‘official’ Scottish songs – ‘500 miles’ (Jings!), ‘Scotland The Brave’ (Crivvens!), ‘Caledonia’ (Shudder… and boak!) In fact, I think that this song I hadn’t ever properly listened to until twenty minutes ago should become our new national anthem, in place of the dirge that is ‘Flower of Scotland’. And when I fulfil my manifest destiny in replacing wee Nicky Sturgeon as First Minister, that’ll be the first act I sign into law.

Anyway, file this record under ‘complete and utter novelty’. It’s no coincidence that it hit the top spot in the weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year. Lord Rockingham’s XI wouldn’t go on to much more success and so for the first time, I think, we have two (semi) one-hit wonders replacing one another at the top of the charts. File this also under ‘British Rock ‘n’ Roll’. It’s something that I’ve long been noting – the gradual handing over of the rock ‘n’ roll baton from the US to the UK – and with this anarchic British track following soppy efforts from The Everly Brothers and The Kalin Twins the transition may be complete.

I’ll finish by reminiscing on how this song stirred in me a long-discarded, foggy memory of a commercial for something or other, way back in the late eighties or early nineties… I knew I knew this song, but I didn’t know how I knew it – if you catch my drift. I suppose whatever it was will be forever lost in the mists of time… Actually, no it won’t. The advert was for Maynard’s Wine Gums, back in 1993. Thanks, internet.

76. ‘It’s All in the Game’, by Tommy Edwards

If the previous two chart toppers have been ‘clickety-clacking’ and ‘rollicking’ respectively, then this next one is… not. Sorry. ‘It’s All in the Game’, by Tommy Edwards, is merely ‘sedate’ and ‘swaying’.

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It’s All in the Game, by Tommy Edwards (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 7th – 28th November 1958

Many a tear has to fall, But it’s all, In the game… All in the wonderful game, That we know, As love… This is a song about arguments, and how having them is part of being in love. About how a guy not calling you back is just a tactical move, a rook to bishop four. A song about not sweating it – ’cause it’ll all turn out right in the end. And you believe Tommy, you really do. He’s got a voice you’d trust.

You have words, With him, And your future’s looking dim… But these things, Your hearts can rise above… Pretty soon, according to Tommy, you’ll be back kissing and a-cuddling. In a way, it’s a very old fashioned song – counselling a woman to put up with a man’s vagaries and inconsistencies. Especially given that it’s a man singing it. You might get away with it in 2018 if it was a woman dishing out sage advice to her girlfriends; a sort of ‘Independent Woman’ type of song. (Though that was nearly twenty years ago and I think the underlying message of that song was that Beyoncé and co. weren’t taking no more shit).

Tommy Edwards, though, manages not to come across as patronising. He simply comes across as very, very smooth: a sort of omniscient father figure looking down at the trials and tribulations of couples in love. And it is, at least, an interesting angle to come from. We’ve had a few super-basic love songs topping the chart recently – ‘Diana’, ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’, ‘When’ – and it’s good to get a little cerebral every once in a while.

Then he’ll kiss, Your lips… And caress your waiting finger tips… And your hearts, Will fly, Away… If pressed, I’d have to add one more adjective to those that I used at the start of this post: ‘classy’. This is a classy song; the sort of song that George Clooney puts on as he pours a glass of wine for his date. I’m not sure if it’s a rock ‘n’ roll record, or a swing record, or just a plain old easy-listening disc. Edwards certainly croons the arse off it. Maybe it’s another of those new, hybrid songs – the fusion of rock and pre-rock that I mentioned back in my post on the Everly Brothers.

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‘It’s All in the Game’ is one of the (slowly dwindling) number of #1 hits that I’d never heard before. Though perhaps I should have as alongside this there have been Top 5 charting version by Cliff and by The Four Tops, as well as a highly respected version by Van Morrison. But somehow these had all passed me by.

What also almost passed me by is the fact that Tommy Edwards was black. Which makes him *drum roll please* only the second black male soloist to top the UK Singles Chart. Edwards would only go on to have one more, minor hit on these shores before dying in 1979, aged but fifty-seven.

One other fascinating little tit-bit before I go… The lyrics to ‘It’s All in the Game’ were written in 1951 but the melody was composed way back in 1911 by a Mr. Charles G. Dawes, who would go on to serve as Vice-President of the United States of America. Thus, when you press play on the video link below, you will be listening to the only #1 single to have been co-written by a US Vice-President. That is some Grade A trivia right there, people. Over, and out.

75. ‘Stupid Cupid’ / ‘Carolina Moon’, by Connie Francis

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Stupid Cupid / Carolina Moon, by Connie Francis (her 2nd of two #1s)

6 weeks, from 26th September – 7th November 1958

A double ‘A’-side, which again means double the songs to write about. I’d better get cracking.

Connie Francis is back at the top. Three months on from ‘Who’s Sorry Now’s six-week reign at #1, ‘Stupid Cupid’ arrives to spend – you guessed it – six weeks at #1. She may only have had two chart-toppers, but twelve weeks in total at the top is nothing to be sniffed at. It reminds me of Rosemary Clooney’s chart run from a couple of years ago: two quick-fire chart toppers by a sparky female lead…

In ‘Who’s Sorry Now’, Connie was enjoying a bit of schadenfreude at her ex’s expense. Now, in ‘Stupid Cupid’, she’s back in love. Except she doesn’t want to be…

We start with a staccato sax, chugging drums, and then: Stupid Cupid, you’re a real mean guy, I’d like to clip your wings so you can’t fly, I’m in love and it’s a cryin’ shame, And I know that you’re the one to blame, Hey, hey, set me free, Stupid Cupid… Stop pickin’ on me! There’s a twang in her voice to match the twang in the guitar, and the song bounces along nicely. It’s a very sax-heavy track – with a chunky little solo in the middle – and it seems that we might be having a bit of a ‘sax phase’ at the top of the UK charts with this following on from ‘When’. It’s nice, considering that we’ve already had plenty of guitar and piano – the three main rock ‘n’ roll instruments taking their turn to dominate.

As with ‘Who’s Sorry…’, the best bit of this record is the bridge. It seems to be the point in her songs where Ms Francis really lets loose, belting the lines out while losing none of her sparkle: You mixed me up but good right from the very start, Hey! Go play Robin Hood with somebody else’s hea-a-a-art… Cue handclaps and a shimmy.

By the end of the song, however, it turns out that her reluctance in love has been a bit of front: Since I kissed his lovin’ lips of wine, The thing that bothers me is that I like it fine… The little minx! And the way she lingers over the final ‘I like it fine’ is perhaps the most playful, nudge-nudge, wink-wink moment of any chart-topper so far.

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Which makes the flip-side of this disc all the more disappointing… ‘Carolina Moon’, to be perfectly honest, is a bit dull. I get that you want to show off the different sides to a singer’s range – though in the previous double ‘A’ both Lonnie Donegan tracks were pretty similar. ‘Stupid Cupid’ is simply a really hard act to follow.

The sax is gone, replaced by a harmonica, a plinky piano and swaying guitars. Carolina moon, Keep shinin’, Shinin’ on the one who waits for me… Now Connie’s sitting at home pining for a guy. Make up your mind, love… How I’m hopin’ tonight, You’ll go, To the right, Window… Tell him that I’m blue and lonely… Dreamy Carolina moon…

I know Connie Francis’s music quite well, but somehow I’d never heard this before. And I wasn’t missing much. Lyrically, this pretty old-fashioned. There was a surfeit of songs back in 1953 / ’54 where people were waiting patiently for their distant loved ones. There was even one – ‘I See the Moon’ by The Stargazers – in which the singer implored the moon to ‘shine on the one they loved’. These days we’re used to something a bit more immediate, though, a bit less passive. Don’t just sit at home relying on the moon to tell the man of your dreams that you love him! Get out there and make him notice you!

Francis’s voice is still very nice on this record, but it lacks bite. She definitely sings better when there’s a bit of sass in the lyrics. This is just an average rock ‘n’ roll ballad… I had a sneaking suspicion that this might have been a pretty old song resurrected for the rock age, a la ‘Who’s Sorry Now’… And I was right. Wiki tells us that it was originally a hit way back in 1928.

And with this double whammy, Connie Francis’s short-lived time as a UK chart-topper comes to an end. Mopey songs about moons aside, her two lead singles have been highlights of the year so far. One a ballad with a spikey twist, the other a rollicking ride of a pop song. I’ll link here to some of her better non-chart toppers: songs such as ‘Where the Boys Are’, ‘Lipstick on Your Collar’, ‘Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool’, and hands-down the raunchiest song recorded in 1959: ‘Plenty Good Lovin’ (sample lyric: People say he’s not too smart, But he knows the way to a woman’s heart, Plenty of things that he don’t know, But this boy shines when the lights are low…) Oh, Connie. You are awful! I have a suspicion that we’ll be missing you before long.

74. ‘When’, by The Kalin Twins

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When, by The Kalin Twins (their 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 22nd August – 26th September 1958

We’re really getting further into the realm of ‘Songs That I Know’, now. Out of all our 1958 #1s up to this point there has only been one song that I truly hadn’t heard before: Michael Holliday’s ‘The Story of My Life’.

And ‘When’ by The Kalin Twins was all set to become the second 1958 chart topper I had never heard before. But then I pressed play… And I know this. I think. I’ve heard it before. I think…

It begins with perhaps the most fifties intro ever. Clickety-clack-clack… and then… Sax-Sax-Sax-Woah-Woah-Woah. I’m possibly not doing the best job of describing it; just listen and you’ll hear what I mean. Images of boys in leather jackets and girls in polka dot skirts, spinning each other around at the juke joint while their friends sip milkshakes leap into your head. Play this intro to anyone on the street and ask what decade it comes from and they will say ‘Why, THE 1950s!’ with utmost, unshakeable confidence.

It almost, though, sounds too fifties. It sounds so fifties that it possibly couldn’t actually be from the 1950s. It sounds like fifties-by-computer-algorithm. Like filler on the ‘Grease’ soundtrack, like the background music in a Frankie & Benny’s. It’s kind of the same problem I had with Paul Anka’s ‘Diana’. And it’s a real chicken vs egg scenario: does it sound cheesy because it sounds so ubiquitous; or has it become ubiquitous because it always sounded cheesy and inoffensive?

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Anyway, enough of the philosophy. This truly has been the summer of the musical siblings, The Everlys followed by The Kalins. But whereas Don and Phil went on to become one of the most enduring and influential acts of the era; Herbie and Hal Kalin didn’t. They are complete and utter one hit wonders in the UK. And I love that. There’s nothing worse than a two hit wonder whose follow-up single limps to #38. Nope. Have your huge chart-topper, then leave it there. That way you can always claim that you could have been huge, had you been bothered… I’ve been less eagle-eyed when it comes to noticing UK chart firsts recently, but we have one here – the first ever twins to score a chart topping single. Bonus points if you can tell me the only other twins to do the same…

While I may have sounded slightly scathing when I described this record a moment ago; I am actually enjoying this track. It’s another sugar rush of a song – in the same vein as ‘Diana’ or ‘Rock-A-Billy’ – where you dive head first into a ball-pit filled with fruit pastilles, wine gums and the like, and come out buzzing but also feeling slightly grubby. Perhaps I should invent a new category of #1 for these posts: Songs It Is Impossible To Hate, No Matter How Much You’d Like To.

One thing does jar, however, and that is the high-pitched backing singers. They are super-shrill, tuned to almost dog-whistle levels. And I knew it reminded me of something, but it took me a minute to get there. EDDIE FISHER! Go back and listen to his 1953 #1 ‘I’m Walking Behind You’ and you’ll hear them. I don’t know what it is, but this is the 3rd post in a row in which I’ve mentioned Eddie Fisher – the man who put the ‘pre’ in pre-rock. He is a shadow that looms large, even after rock ‘n’ roll has long since blown those cobwebs away. If you have a spare minute, follow this link and remind yourself of just how bad it got during those dark, prehistoric days of 1953.

I realise that I am about to wrap this post up without having made any mention of ‘When’s lyrics. To be honest, I haven’t been paying attention, despite listening to it around six times in short order. Let me try once more… When, When you smile at me… When, When you kiss me right… I need you blah blah blah… I love you blah blah blah… I work with Japanese people, and these lyrics remind me of the sort of English banalities that get crowbarred into J-Pop songs. I’m thinking specifically of girl band extraordinaire AKB48, who regularly pepper their songs with trite English phrases: ‘I want you…’ ‘I love you…’ ‘Hold my hand…’

That is a truly bizarre comparison to end on: fifties one-hit wonders The Kalin Twins and 21st Century Japanese poppettes AKB48; but that’s where my mind took me. And it just goes to show that pop music is pop music, no matter the time or place…

73. ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’, by The Everly Brothers

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All I Have to Do Is Dream, by The Everly Brothers (their 1st of four #1s)

7 weeks, from 4th July – 22nd August 1958 (including 1 week joint with Vic Damone from 4th – 11th July)

We have an opening chord, then a pause… And then those voices. Those harmonious voices. The Everly Brothers certainly could harmonise.

Dre-e-e-eam, Dream, Dream, Dream, Dream…. Dre-e-e-eam, Dream, Dream, Dre-eam….

This is undeniably a classic, and most people will at least be familiar with the dream dream dream refrain. It’s also a very simple song. A song in which a lover, starved of attention from the object of his desires, turns to dreaming about her. All he has to do is dream. When I want you, In my arms, When I want you, And all your charms, Whenever I want you, All I have to do, Is dre-e-e-eam… You know what this song is going to be about just by glancing at the title. Simple. As.

I can make you mine, Taste your lips of wine, Anytime… Night or day… The Everlys sing (Is it Phil? Or Don? Or Both? Those harmonies are so damn tight they sound like the same voice) before delivering the classic line: Only trouble is, Gee Whizz, I’m dreamin’ my life away… Can we have a shout out for that ‘Gee Whizz’! So dorky; yet so appropriate. So ‘All-American-Boy-Next-Door’.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and make a bold statement. That this record, ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’, is the perfect fusion of rock and pre-rock. I’ve been continually mentioning that all through 1958 we’ve had a couple of rock ‘n’ roll #1s here, a couple of easy-listening, croony #1s there. Never before, though, have we had both styles melded together in the one record. This is it. This is where the previous seventy chart-topping records have been leading us. We’ve arrived. Bear with me…

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Musically, this is rock ‘n’ roll (very gentle, very country-tinged rock ‘n’ roll, but still) sung by a couple of fresh-faced young things. Don Everly was twenty-one when this hit the top spot, Phil was nineteen. But lyrically this is the same kind of schmaltz guys like Al Martino and Eddie Fisher were churning out back in 1952. Take the line: I need you so, That I could die, I love you so, And that is why… Melodramatic or what? I get that it’s trying to convey the helpless passion of a teenage crush; but I much prefer the cocksure swagger that The Crickets brought to ‘That’ll Be the Day’, or the cynical shrug of the shoulders offered by The Teenagers on ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love’.

How long have I known this song? I’ve no idea. Forever? It’s always been there; though it isn’t a song I’d ever rush to listen to. It’s just a little too much on the cheesy side for me, thanks. Structurally, it is an AABA song which I believe, though I’m no songwriter, is code for ‘a bit basic’. It will, though, always remind me of karaoke sessions from my days teaching in Thailand. Along with Andy Williams and The Carpenters, ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’ was one of the few English songs that my Thai colleagues knew. That’s quite a good barometer of a song’s fame, isn’t it? ‘It’s popular, but do they sing it at karaoke in Thailand?’

Personally, I see this record as Everly Brothers MK I. They’ve yet to hit their stride. They will be back at the top of the UK charts on three more occasions, each time with a song better than this one. They will return with a slightly harder edge, and with huskier voices. There will be no disputing that they are a rock ‘n’ roll act by then. In fact, the next time we hear from them they will be topping the charts with – hands down – one of the best pop songs ever recorded…

72. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone

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On the Street Where You Live, by Vic Damone (his 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 27th June – 11th July 1958 (including 1 week joint with The Everly Brothers from 4th – 11th July)

Oh Lordy, that intro! Whipping us right back to 1952. The crescendo that kicks us off here is almost identical to that which announced the very first UK chart-topper, Al Martino’s ‘Here in My Heart’Plus ca change…

Oooooh, the towering feeling! Just to know somehow you are near… Vic Damone howls the opening line as if on a mission to wake the dead. And then… we sit back down, chill out, and listen to a song about a man wandering down a street.

This is, of course, a song from ‘My Fair Lady’ – I know it well; without ever having heard this version. I’ve always thought of ‘My Fair Lady’ as the musical without any decent songs. Or without anywhere near as many decent songs as other musicals of similar stature. Apart from this song, and maybe ‘Wouldn’t It Be Lovely’ or ‘I Could Have Danced All Night, the others are short, semi-comic skits, while Professor Higgins’s numbers are almost early-form rap tracks.

Anyhoo… From ‘My Fair Lady’ it is, which makes sense in as much as the show debuted on Broadway in ’56 and in the West End two years later. Damone sings it well, with cut-glass, stage school diction, and goes from full-on belting it out – see above – to subtle, almost whispered lines like: People stop, and stare, They don’t bother me… On a technical level, this is ‘better’ singing than that of the young rock ‘n’ roll stars we’ve been hearing from recently, and my gran would certainly have preferred Viccy D to Buddy H. But it already sounds – and bear in mind it is only the summer of 1958 here – super old-fashioned. And again we have an easy-listening interlude after a couple of rock ‘n’ roll chart-toppers. This is definitely the ongoing theme of ’58.

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One problem – and this is one that regularly arises when stage songs are recorded away from the context of the show for which they were written – is that lyrically this song sounds pretty weird. It is essentially about a man lurking outside the house of a woman with whom he is besotted. Does enchantment pour, Out of Ev’ry door? No, it’s just on the street where you live… I’m getting flashbacks to Eddie Fisher’s ‘I’m Walking Behind You’. At least, though, when heard towards the end of Act I of ‘My Fair Lady’, this song is quite cute. Fisher, on the other hand, was just being a creep.

Another problem with stage-show songs being recorded as pop records arises here too: namely the question of how to finish. On stage you can’t fade out. But the flourishes that signal the end of the song in a show sounds trite and cheesy on record. Here they’ve gone for the flourish, and I can’t help but think there must have been a better way to end this song than with a plop!

But it is a diverting little interlude in UK Chart history, if nothing else. Showtune #1s don’t come along every day, and Vic Damone won’t go on to have much further success in the UK. I would have bet a large sum of money, before doing any sort of research, that Vic Damone was some sort of Italian-American, Rat-Pack type singer. And… of course he was. He idolised Sinatra, had various mob connections, married five times, and died earlier this year, aged eighty-nine. A life well lived, it would seem.

And note – yet another tie for number one. The third time it’s happened, and it will happen one final time before the decade’s out. I covered the reasons for these anomalies a few posts back – if you care to read further – but it does raise an important issue. Do we record Vic Damone’s ‘On the Street Where You Live’ as having spent a single week at the top? Or two weeks? Or one and a half? Questions, questions, questions…