Diana, by Paul Anka (his 1st and only #1)
9 weeks, from 30th August – 1st November 1957
In which we encounter the best opening line in pop music history. Or is it the worst? I can’t really tell…
Paul loves Diana, and has written a song for her. How does he begin said paean to his one true love? What is his grand opening declaration? It’s: I’m so young and you’re so old, This my darling I’ve been told…
Phew! I’ll bet there was no holding Diana back after she heard that. And the lyrics that follow aren’t much better. You and I will be as free, As the birds up in the trees… I love you with all my heart, And I hope that we will never part… Hold me darling, Hold me tight, Squeeze me darling with all your might… (If I could add a puking emoji right here, I would) This is pure pop-song-as-love-letter-written-by-fifteen-year-old. Elsewhere ‘me’ is rhymed with ‘see’, ‘my lover’ with ‘no other’ and ‘arms’ with ‘charms’… It’s by far the tritest, most banal, utterly cheesiest song we’ve met in this countdown.
But wait… It turns out that this song, which sounds like it was written by a randy fifteen-year-old, was written by… a randy fifteen-year-old! (OK, Paul Anka was sixteen when it was recorded and seventeen by the time it hit #1, but for the purposes of this next paragraph lets imagine he wrote it in his bedroom, aged fifteen). See, Paul had a crush on a girl at church, called Diana, and was thus inspired to write a song entitled ‘Diana’. Simple! Quite how old ‘so old’ is I can’t find any info on. She was probably only nineteen, but part of me really hopes Diana was a forty-five-year-old cougar.
Musically this record is super-diluted rock ‘n’ roll. It sounds like a pastiche of rock ‘n’ roll as recorded for the ‘Grease’ soundtrack. There’s a cheesy sax riff and some ‘doobeedoobees’ from the backing singers. Actually, to refer to this as a ‘rock’ song sounds ridiculous – I take back that last sentence. This is pure, bubblegum pop – a genre we haven’t seen too much of so far (strangely enough for the pop charts) – and I’d put it along with ‘Dreamboat’ and ‘Look at That Girl’, and perhaps ‘Butterfly’, as the purest ‘pop’ chart-toppers thus far.
Earlier I described Guy Mitchell’s ‘Rock-A-Billy’ as a sherbet dib-dab of a song – a song that you can’t resist despite knowing that it cannot be good for you. Well, if that was a sherbet dib-dab, then listening to ‘Diana’ is like drowning in a swimming pool filled with Coca-Cola. And, just as with ‘Rock-A-Billy’, as much as you want to dislike this utter cheese-fest it worms its way in and doesn’t let go. You’ll be belting it out in the shower after a couple of listens, trust me. Then again, I am a sucker for a catchy hook and a silly-but-simple lyric. It’s harder than you think to write a song like this, I’ve heard…
Anka’s voice is pretty strong too – it simultaneously sounds like the voice of a fifteen-year-old, and that of a middle-aged bloke. And by the time he belts out the champagne line: OOOOH, pleeeeeaaasseee stay-eee by me… Diana… you’re won over. Actually, the way he lowers his voice to sing her name does indeed sound like a kid trying to impress an older woman. It’s quite clever, in a way. Anka won’t have any more #1s, but when you’re debut single hits the top and stays there for nine weeks do you really need any more? He’s had a long chart career but is perhaps more famous as a songwriter, having written ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ for Buddy Holly and ‘She’s a Lady’ for Tom Jones. Oh, and ‘My Way.’ So he did alright for himself in the end.
To end, it’s perhaps worth noting how quickly rock ‘n’ roll has diversified since Bill Haley announced its arrival at the top of the charts. In quick succession we’ve had the raw, proto-punk of Lonnie Donegan, a low-key and slightly tropical sounding debut for Elvis Presley, and now this. After a run of very samey sounding #1s, we are getting a little more variety at the top. And I’m excited to hear what will come next!