Remembering Doris Day

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With the sad news that Doris Day has passed away, at the grand old age of ninety-seven, I thought it would be fitting to remember her two UK chart-toppers. I covered them in my countdown last year, but they are always worth a re-listen (follow the links below to read the original posts…)

Her first was one of the longest running #1 hits in British chart history – ‘Secret Love’, from the soundtrack to her hit movie ‘Calamity Jane’, which spent a whole 9 weeks on top in the spring/summer of 1954.

She followed this up two years later, with possibly one of the best-known songs to everĀ  have topped the charts, ‘Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)’

Of course, Day’s musical success went far beyond her two chart-toppers. She scored hits throughout the fifties, and she would have had several more had the charts begun before 1952. My favourite of hers, though, is her final UK Top 10, from 1964… ‘Move Over Darling’.

And it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t mention the fact that she got one of the most famous name-checks in one of the most successful movies ever… ‘Grease’ (which is probably where I first heard of her!) She most certainly was not brought up that way… Which was a big part of her charm, and her longevity. In 2011, for example, she became the oldest artist to score a UK Top 10 album featuring new material, aged eighty-nine.

RIP.

 

49. ‘Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera Sera)’, by Doris Day

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Whatever Will Be Will Be (Que Sera Sera), by Doris Day (her 2nd of two #1s)

6 weeks, from 10th August to 21st September 1956

Following on from one super-famous song is… another super-famous song. An even more super-famous song. One of the most famous songs ever?

Que sera sera, Whatever will be will be, The future’s not ours to see, Que sera sera…

People know these lyrics. Even today, sixty-two years on, I’ll bet if you stopped someone on the streets, even a fairly young person, and started singing that line they would be able to finish it. Go on – try it today. (I won’t be held responsible for any subsequent strange looks or slaps in the face).

But, having actually listened to the song, I now wonder if the lyrics are more famous than the recording. It’s very Italiany, with a flourish of guitars (mandolins?) at the start. It’s short and very simple – just said guitar, Doris Day, some violins and the mandatory backing singers. The singer asks her mother if she’ll be pretty and rich, then asks her sweetheart what lies ahead, then fields the very same questions from her own children. It’s a mantra for life: Que sera sera.

As I noted in her previous entry, Day has an irresistible voice. A proper voice, with all the proper enunciation and pronunciation; but with enough of a giggle, and a little huskiness, to make it the sort of voice you want to listen to. She only had two chart-toppers, but ‘Secret Love’ clung to the top spot for nine weeks while this one took up residency for six. There are plenty of acts with more #1s but far less time spent at the top. And as this is the last we’ll hear from Miss Day, let me take the time to point you in the direction of her 1963 classic ‘Move Over Darling’, a song I first heard as a pup on a ‘Steve Wright’s Sunday Love Songs CD’ and which I love to this day. It’s far superior to either of her chart-toppers too, IMHO…

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I’ve done my obligatory Wikipedia-based research and have turfed up two little interesting facts. This song, like ‘Secret Love’, was from a movie in which Day starred: Hitchcock’s ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ (it really doesn’t sound like a song from a Hitchcock film, but hey). And… the title is neither correct in French (which I – with a decent A-Level in said language – assumed it was), Spanish or Italian. It is, essentially, gibberish.

But, before we end, let’s step back and look at the bigger picture. I really feel that this, along with ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love’ before it, is ushering in a new era at the top of the UK chart. Two huge, well-known songs. This song has become a football chant, still used to this day, for God’s sake! Plus, Doris Day is still going strong, aged ninety-six, as is Pat Boone from two chart-toppers ago. These songs covered in this countdown are slowly growing more and more tied to the modern world.

Perhaps this song’s influence is best summed up by this tale. Every year I go to a German beer festival in Hong Kong. And every year, without fail, before the overweight men in nipple tassels, before the ‘Big German Horn Blowing Contests’ and before we do the YMCA on the tables, the band plays ‘Whatever Will Be Will Be’. And everyone sings along.

18. ‘Secret Love’, by Doris Day

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Secret Love, by Doris Day (her 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 16th to 23rd April / 8 weeks from 7th May to 2nd July 1954 (9 weeks total)

A dreamy intro… Is that a harp…? And is that running water, or just the quality of the recording? It’s very soft start to the 18th chart-topping record, and it’s not immediately obvious why this song straddled the very top of the charts for three whole months.

There are some mushy lyrics about the titular ‘secret love’, about being a dreamer, about only being able to tell the stars about how deeply in love you are… So far, so 50s.

But then. Boom. The chorus. I know this song. People know this song. NOOOOOWWWW I shout it from the highest hills, even told the golden daffodils, at last my heart’s an open door, and my secret love’s not secret, anymore…

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Day has a wonderful voice: with elocution as crisp and clear as any we’ve heard before, but without the stiffness and formality that has made some of the previous number ones sound old-fashioned. There’s a great warmth to it, and the way she jumps from softly purring the verse to walloping out the chorus is impressive. It’s effortless. You could say it’s star quality.

And surely she is the biggest star to have topped the charts thus far. Frankie Laine, and Guy Mitchell, were huge in their day but have largely been forgotten. People know Doris Day. Even today people will have heard of her, though they might not be able to pinpoint why. I, for example, knew this song without realising it. And everyone knows her next chart-topper, which contains some of the most famous lines in the history of popular music. But more on that later…

Probably the first time I ever heard of her was through ‘Grease’, and Rizzo’s mocking line ‘Hey, I’m Doris Day. I was not brought up that way…’ Day is held up by the Pink Ladies as straight-laced and old-fashioned – a girl who most certainly would not go to bed till she was legally wed. That, in a way, sums up this ‘pre-rock’ age and its stars who would, long before the turn of the next decade, seem painfully uncool next to Elvis and his kind.

Speaking of movies… Something about this recording gave me an inkling that it was from a movie soundtrack. Perhaps it was the orchestra, or the way the song doesn’t so much end as fade away to grey. Anyway, for each of these posts I make sure I listen to each song three or four times before doing any research on it (honest). But, lo and behold, ‘Secret Love’ is from a movie: ‘Calamity Jane’. Again: a film I’ve heard of – most people probably have – but have never seen. This is a sign of star quality, of true fame, no? When you are woven so deep into popular culture that people stop realising you’re there.

Two other little things to muse upon before we move onwards… At 3 minutes 40 seconds, this is a pretty long record. That’s pretty much the length of the average 21st century pop hit. Actually, these super-early chart toppers have routinely been hitting the three-minute mark. When I started listening to music I – no doubt influenced by the 2.5 minute wonders on my parents ‘Sounds of the ’60s’ cassettes in the car – assumed that songs started out really short and got longer and longer (at least until the 70s, when prog-rock came along and simply took the piss). But it appears that the average length of pop songs (as we know them, post-war, at least) actually started out at three minutes or longer and shrunk in the late fifties/ early sixties.

And the last thing (which is much more important than the average length of chart topping singles): you know how I keep referencing just how long these early pop stars seemed to have lived for? Well, Miss Day has only gone and topped them all. By still being alive! Ninety-five and still going strong (at the time of writing…) Well done her!