400. ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’, by Julie Covington

Time for a proper show tune! The first, unless I am mistaken, since Shirley Bassey way back in 1961?

Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, by Julie Covington (her 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 6th – 13th February 1977

It’s a long one, too. Five and a half minutes, with nearly a whole minute of portentous introing before Julie Covington actually sings. It won’t be easy, You’ll think it strange… Gosh she sings it proper. When I try to explain how I feel… Musical theatre really stands out against pop songs, belted out as they are with cut-glass diction, aiming for the back row.

We’re approaching two and a half minutes, and still no appearance of the chorus. I have never seen ‘Evita’, neither on stage nor on screen, but I can sing this chorus. (I’ll show my age by saying I’m more familiar with Madonna’s version, which made #3 in 1996.) Come on Julie, love… Don’t cry for me Argentina, The truth is I never left you… It’s a love song, with all the usual trimmings, but about a country!

Show tunes also sound a bit strange divorced from their play, plonked into the singles chart. Who is she, and why is she singing about Argentina? Amazingly, this record was released well before ‘Evita’ debuted on the West End. Nobody had seen the show… and yet there was enough interest in this record to get it to the top of the charts!

To be honest, that first chorus was a bit underwhelming. I’m waiting for her to go around again, to really belt it out for the finale. While we wait – cause this is a record that isn’t afraid to take its time – a little bit of history. ‘Evita’, the musical by Andrew Lloyd-Webber, tells the story of Eva Perón, First Lady of Argentina between 1946 and ’52 and, since her death, official ‘Spiritual Leader of the Argentine Nation’ (with a fair few allegations of fascism thrown in from those who were against her).

Finally, a full four minutes in, and were back at the chorus. I’m ready for Ms. Covington’s big finale. But it never materialises… The orchestra does the soaring, we could be back in the charts of 1954, and I’m left a little bored. What a strange #1 hit… Bring back Dame Shirley. She’d have belted the life out of this.

Julie Covington never actually played Eva Perón on stage – she turned the role down – and when the show finally opened Elaine Paige took the part. Covington was a fixture on the West End stage throughout the seventies and eighties, but doesn’t seem to have done much in recent decades. Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s show tunes will be back, though – off the top of my head I can think of at least two more chart-toppers penned by him.

As this is the 400th (!) number one, I had planned to take stock, to see where we stood in the musical landscape. Except, this is a completely random one-week wonder that has no bearing on the real sound of the mid-seventies. In an ideal world, we could tell the story of British popular music tastes through every hundredth chart-topper. Number 100 would have been Elvis… (It wasn’t, it was Anthony Newley’s clipped and clicky ‘Do You Mind’), 200 would have been The Beatles… (It was! ‘Help’.) 300 would have been something glam… (Instead it was Tony Orlando’s sex-pest anthem ‘Knock Three Times’.) And 400 would have been a disco classic… Instead we aren’t crying for Argentina. Funny old things aren’t they, music charts…?