26. ‘Let’s Have Another Party’, by Winifred Atwell

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Let’s Have Another Party, by Winifred Atwell (her first of two #1s)

5 weeks, from 3rd Dec. 1954 to 7th Jan. 1955

I wrote in the intro to my last post that Rosemary Clooney was finally getting our pulses racing – or our toes tapping, at least – and here comes Winifred Atwell to keep up the momentum.

It’s another piano-led song. Well, I say ‘piano-led’; it’s nothing but piano. Winnie and her piano, bashing out a selection of boogie-woogie and ragtime standards in extremely short order. According to Wikipedia we are getting classics such as ‘Broken Doll’, ‘Lily of Laguna’ and the ‘Sheik of Araby’ served up with a verse here, a snatch of chorus there, then on to the next one. I don’t recognise any of the featured tunes – though I’m pretty sure one of them was played by an ice-cream van in days of childhood yore.

It’s jaunty enough, but the effect of squeezing so many different tunes into a couple of minutes means it’s a bit of an odd listen. They’re all played in the same ragtime tempo, so there are no segues: it’s straight from one song into another with no time to draw breath, before we screech to a halt with dum-didley-dum-dum… dum-dum. But hey, it’s the first medley to top the charts, and off the top of my head, I’m not sure if there will be another one until Jive Bunny in thirty-five years’ time. On Spotify, the track is listed as having a Part I and Part II, the former being all of these old hits strung together while the latter is a much-more sedate number, even featuring a bit of guitar. I think, though I’m unable to confirm, that only the first part counts as the record that hit #1. Maybe Part II was the B-side.

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Anyway, all of this nonsense about which part is blah blah blah pales wildly into insignificance when it is revealed that Ms. Atwell was… black! Born in Trinidad & Tobago, before moving to the States and then to London, she becomes, a little over two years into their existence, the first black artist to hit the top of the charts. It’s a big moment, and worth taking a moment to reflect on this happening at a time when, say, landlords could stick a ‘No Blacks’ sign in their windows with impunity and, in the USA at least, Winifred Atwell wouldn’t have been allowed on the same public transport as her fellow chart-toppers. Just because this is the frothiest of throw-away records shouldn’t render it any less significant.

In fact, it’s almost ironic that she achieved this historic landmark with a medley full of old music-hall hits. The sort of hits that were big in even less enlightened times. The sort that might have been sung by men in black-face, to howls of laughter (seriously, Google ‘Lily of Laguna’ to see just what kind of song it is…) In a way, she is reclaiming them, and making them popular on her own terms.

And with that, I’ll descend from my high-horse, and conclude by saying that we will be hearing from Winfred Atwell again soon. She was huge in the early to mid-1950s (played for the Queen, didn’t you know!), and definitely seemed to have a winning formula. Hey, if it ain’t broke… ‘Let’s Have Another Party’ was the follow-up (somewhat inevitably) to ‘Let’s Have a Party’, and was followed up by another medley, the wonderfully titled ‘Let’s Have a Ding-Dong’. All good, (very) old-fashioned fun!

 

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25. ‘This Ole House’, by Rosemary Clooney

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This Ole House, by Rosemary Clooney (her first of two #1s)

1 week, from 26th Nov. to 3rd Dec. 1954

Now this is more like it! After an incredibly sedate run of number ones – seriously, nothing since early-May of this year has been enough to get even a toe tapping – we are rocking and a-rolling!

You probably know this song. I certainly knew of it, for a couple of reasons. One is that Shakin’ Stevens revived it in the early ’80s. The other is that I can recall, way back in the mists of time, reading an ‘Oor Wullie’ comic (link provided for non-Scottish readers) in which this song was playing at a party, the words changed to something suitably Scottish (‘This ole house ain’t got no lino’, perhaps). My grandparents kept piles of old ‘Oor Wullie’ annuals lying about, and so have no idea whether it was a new-ish comic strip parodying the Shaky version, or a vintage comic parodying this version. Amazing, isn’t it? Anyone who tries to tell you that the charts don’t matter, and that the songs which make number one don’t form the backdrop to our lives, is very, very wrong. Anyway. You will know this song, I assure you – it’s got a sort of nursery rhyme feel to it and goes a little something like this:

            * raucous piano, or maybe a harpsichord (???) or an organ *

        This ole house once knew his children, This ole house once knew his wife, This ole house was home and comfort as they fought the storms of life, This ole house once rang with laughter, This ole house heard many shouts, Now he trembles in the darkness when the lightnin’ walks about…

Yes, it’s the tale of a lonely old man. Clooney then goes on to detail the repair work that this house needs – the floor, the hinges, the windowpane, even the shingles (I’m pretty confident that this is the only #1 hit to reference shingle). But he needn’t bother, this lonely old man, as he: Ain’t gonna need this house no longer, He’s getting ready to meet the saints…

This is a strange ole song. In a musical landscape of mopey, flowery, boringly chaste love-songs this is a best-selling song about a man sitting in his dilapidated house, waiting for the sweet embrace of death. The piece de resistance is the line: Oh his knees are a-gettin shaky, But he feels no fear or pain, ‘Cause he sees an angel peekin’, Through a broken windowpane…

Like, seriously. WTF? – as they most certainly didn’t say in 1954. I love it. It’s weird, morbid, almost sadistic. It’s quite modern, in a way, the juxtaposition of upbeat music with some with very downbeat, depressing lyrics. It’s interesting, anyway, and a lot better than some of the guff we’ve had to listen to recently. The gulf between this record and ‘My Son, My Son’ – its predecessor at #1 – is what makes a singles chart so interesting. The next chart-topper can always be something completely different.

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Rosemary Clooney’s voice is standard, mid-1950s American. Polished, glossy, accessible. She even throws in a Westlife style key-change after the twangy piano solo which, if I’m not mistaken, is the first we’ve heard in this rundown. I, for my sins, love a good key-change. And we must mention her brilliantly deep-voiced backing singer – with his ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer, ain’t a-gonna need this house no more – who adds an even more bizarre edge to an already pretty bizarre record.

This was Clooney’s first of two number ones, the second of which will be coming up very shortly indeed. And, I can tell you now, it’s another cracker!

24. ‘My Son, My Son’, by Vera Lynn

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My Son, My Son, by Vera Lynn (her first and only #1)

2 weeks, from 5th to 19th Nov. 1954

You don’t meet many Vera’s nowadays, do you? You’d meet a Frank, a David and a Johnnie quite easily on your local high street. But a Vera’d be hard to come by. And a song titled ‘My Son, My Son’, which sounds like the name of a hymn? Sung by a Vera? I knew before ever pressing play that this would be a crusty relic of a record.

This is ‘If’, by Rudyard Kipling, set to music. My son, my son, you’re all I hoped you’d be. My son, my son, my only pride and joy… My son, my son, just do the best you can, Then in my heart I’m sure, You’ll face life like a man… I’m fairly sure that this song stands alone, out of the thousand plus UK number ones, in taking the form of a love letter from a mother to her son. So points for originality at least.

All the British-Recorded-Hit-Song-From-The-Early-1950s hallmarks that we’ve grown oh so familiar with by now are present: cut-glass diction, earnest delivery, sombre – oh so sombre – tone. I mused last time on why so many of these early chart toppers were by Americans. And on top of all the glamour, glitz and razzamatazz it probably just boils down to them being more fun. Listen to this, then the Kitty Kallen record from a few posts ago, and tell me which of the two singers you’d rather have with you on a night out…

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It’s clear, although it’s just occurred to me this very minute, that the record buying demographic in the pre-rock age were middle-aged. How else do you explain this, and David Whitfield? The music charts will soon be driven by youngsters, but not quite yet. Of course, in fairness Vera Lynn was a huge star, and had been since the 1930s. I mentioned Sinatra, and Doris Day, as still resonating today and, in the UK at least, Vera Lynn – the ‘Forces Sweetheart’ – has left a big old mark on popular culture. It’s only right that she grabbed her solitary #1 hit (she would have had a load more if charts existed for the ’40s) and I should try to find something nice to say about it. But…

One big problem with this song is that it sounds like a wartime release. A mother, tears in her eyes, watches as her son shoulders his rucksack and heads for the frontline, and mulls over how proud she is of him. But this was recorded nearly a decade after VE day! Maybe Vera knew her audience. More of that stoic ‘We’ll Meet Again’, off to the trenches stuff, eh Vera? Give ’em what they want! Maybe she was dying to re-invent herself, to try out some of this rock ‘n’ roll that everyone was banging on about, but the suits wouldn’t let her…?

Anyway, one final reason why I should try saying something nicer about this track is that Dame Vera Lynn is still alive at the impressive age of 100, and there is a chance (admittedly a very minute chance, but still) that she may read this. But… Nope, I can’t. Next!

22. ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’, by Frank Sinatra

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Three Coins in the Fountain, by Frank Sinatra (his first of three #1s)

3 weeks, from 17th Sept to 8th Oct 1954

From a one-hit wonder to a… lots-of-hits wonder?

We’ve flirted with fame so far in this countdown – Doris Day is a household name, Johnnie Ray, Perry Como and Frankie Laine were very big in their day. But this is different. This is Sinatra.

I feel I should give him a fanfare, or something. Maybe emboss this post with a gold border (does WordPress run to such extravagances?) When I scan down my list of Number Ones, certain artists stand out. Artists that I should perhaps put a little more effort into introducing. You know who I mean: Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Busted… The biggies.

But then, these stars don’t need no intro, really. Everyone knows who they are. Frank Sinatra died when I was twelve. His last real chart presence was twenty years before that. His music is old. But still your average Joe off the streets could have a stab at naming three of his hits: you’ve got your ‘My Way’, your ‘New York, New York’, your ‘Fly Me to the Moon’… Your ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’?

Has anyone listened to ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’ since 1954? I certainly wouldn’t have heard it, had it not popped up on this list. And, to be honest, it’s a very low-key first appearance for Ol’ Blue Eyes. It’s not a very Sinatra-y song.

It starts with a flourish of cymbals, which makes it sound as if it’s from a film soundtrack (it was). And then, musically, it’s nothing that we haven’t heard before. Maybe that’s the problem – twenty-two songs in and, with a few notable exceptions (for better or for worse) they’re starting to merge into a gloopy, sentimental mush.

Three coins in the fountain, Each one seeking happiness, Thrown by three hopeful lovers, Which one will the fountain bless?

The song tells the story of three lovelorn young men, chucking coins into the Trevi Fountain. I do like the fact that we get a bit of a story, in amongst the usual trite lines. The line: Three coins in the fountain, Through the ripples, how they shine, is a particularly nice one, painting a picture of a summer’s night in Rome.

Sinatra keeps us in suspense. Who will be the lucky lover? Just one wish will be granted, One heart will wear a Valentine, Make it mine, Make it mine, Make it mine! But we never find out. The song ends on a cliffhanger. It’s probably for the best – keep ’em wanting more, eh?

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Personally, I don’t think this song suits Sinatra’s voice. When you think of Sinatra you think of the laid-back delivery, the knowing eye, the glass of brandy in hand… This number is a little too earnest, and I don’t think he’s giving it his all. The line: Which one will the fountain bless? is particularly awkward. This was a strange time for Sinatra, career-wise: he was no longer a teen-idol but hadn’t yet gone down the Vegas residency, Rat-Pack road. ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’ encapsulates this strange mid-career limbo quite well.

And that’s it, really. I feel I should write more… This is Frank Sinatra, for God’s sake. But it’s a lacklustre song. Which begs the question: why was this one of only three chart toppers for the guy? Hitting the top-spot is often a question of timing, I suppose, and plenty of other acts have also reached #1 with efforts far from their best.

21. ‘Little Things Mean a Lot’, by Kitty Kallen

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Little Things Mean a Lot, by Kitty Kallen (her first and only #1)

1 week, from 10th to 17th Sept 1954

And so we arrive at mid-September, eight and a half months into 1954, and we have had but five number ones this year. In my capacity as a fully qualified chart geek, I have the means by which to compare and contrast this with other years. And, for example, by this point in 1953 we had had 10 #1s. By the 10th September 2000 (the year with the highest turnover of chart toppers in chart history) we’d had an unbelievable 30 #1s! And in 2017 we were back down to 10 #1s. Interesting? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Anyway, the 6th number one of 1954 takes a low-key approach. Kitty Kallen has a dusky voice, and little in the way of accompaniment aside from a – thankfully understated – violin and something that tinkles (a timpani?). Oh, and there’s a trumpet. Still, though, this is a nice respite after the fervour of ‘Such a Night’ and the mini-operetta that was ‘Cara Mia’.

Lyrically, the idea is that small signs of affection are more important than grand gestures: Give me you arm as we cross the street… Call me at six on the dot… Touch my hair, as you pass my chair… Little things mean a lot… This girl don’t need diamonds or pearls, champagne, sables or such. No, Sir. Cos honestly honey, they just cost money. And since we’ve had song after song full of strangely metaphorical approaches to describing love – seeing little birds, talking to stars – as well as the usual soppy stuff – hearts melting, longing or breaking – this is an interesting detour. It’s cute and knowing, and quite ahead of its time. Modern love songs go in for a lot of the ‘savouring the little moments’ kind of stuff: sitting on the grass, drinking wine out the bottle, holding your loved one’s hair back as they puke (c.f. James Arthur, 2016). Perhaps we can class this record as ahead of its time.

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The only time that Kallen gets serious is for what is as close as the song gets to a chorus: Give me your hand when I’ve lost the way, Give me a shoulder to cry on… And she is guilty of singing these lines in a THIS IS THE IMPORTANT BIT SO I’M SINGING A BIT LOUDER way that literally everyone seems to be doing in 1954. But at least the ending is sedate: repeat the title, bit of trumpet, fade. Nice

And so that was Kitty Kallen’s first and only UK Number One. I like that – one song, one week. Done. Your name goes down in history. Had she stalled at #2 – perfectly respectable, that, a number two hit – I might never have heard of her. Not that she’s the first – we’ve already covered Jo Stafford’s and Lita Roza’s solitary weeks at the summit – and she won’t be the last. But, unlike Stafford and Roza, this was Kallen’s only ever UK hit. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have our first one-hit wonder. She was much more popular in the US, this being her fourth number one over there. It was her last, though. ‘Little Things Mean a Lot’ seems to have been pretty much it for Miss Kallen. And it almost goes without saying by this point that she died at the grand old age of ninety-six, just two years ago.

20. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra

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Cara Mia, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra (both Whitfield and Mantovani’s 2nd of two #1s)

10 weeks, from 2nd July to 10th Sept 1954

The last time I wrote about David Whitfield, when his first number one followed on from Frankie Laine’s rockabilly number ‘Hey Joe’, I might have mentioned something about it being one step forward and two steps back…

But for this to follow on from rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Johnnie Ray, and the gloriously suggestive ‘Such a Night’ (OK, yes, Doris Day did return to the top for a big old spell in between but let’s not allow that to get in the way of my indignation!) – it’s more a case of one step forward, ten steps back! One step for every week this record spent at the top! The difference between this and ‘Such a Night’ is massive. This is pre-rock. If such a thing ever existed, if it could be captured and bottled or defined in a dictionary, then this would be it. The Sex Pistols were punk, Oasis were Britpop, David Whitfield was pre-rock.

Shrill backing singers? Check. Overwrought vocals? Got it. Proper enunciation? Yep. Big bastard of an ending? Oh boy. Seriously, check out this ending. It has three stages. Whitfield comes in for the final verse like he means it, an octave up on previous lines: All I want is you, for ever more… Then comes the final line for which he amps it up even more: TILL THE END OF… And the note that he hits for the final TIIIIIMMMMMMEEEEE!!! cannot be natural. Its impressive, yet horrifying.

I have nothing new to write about David Whitfield. He’s of his time, and who am I to judge? People at the time clearly enjoyed it: very, very few records have ever reached double figures in terms of weeks at #1. ‘Such a Night’ only got one week. And he died young, unlike so few of his contemporaries, aged just fifty-four in 1980. We should also drop a mention for Mantovani, of violin and rhyming-slang fame, from whom we won’t be hearing again in this countdown. The violins in this song sound identical to those in his first chart topper. Mantovani’s signature strings.

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Though the sharp-eyed among you will currently no doubt be thinking ‘Now just wait a minute here!’ Because back a few posts ago I mentioned that every record thus far had been conducted by someone and their orchestra, and that these conductors – Paul Weston, Hugo Winterhalter et al, never seemed to get credited and were deleted from any chart statistics. So why is Mantovani getting a credit here? To be brutally honest… I dunno. Maybe it’s because this, more than any, is a super operatic, orchestral record and they feel that that should be recognised. Maybe it’s because Mantovani already sneaked a week at the top with his own song, ‘Moulin Rouge’, and so was slightly more renowned than your run-of-the-mill conductors. Maybe Mantovani was just really concerned about his legacy and so paid someone to stick him in the records. Who know? But if I were Paul Weston, I’d be pretty pissed off.

Before finishing, I want to mention a thought that struck me a few posts ago. It seems that in the mid-1950s there were very few ways for people to hear the music that was in the charts without buying it. No MTV (duh!), no Top of the Pops, no YouTube, no nothing. Radio consisted of a handful of stations, very few of which played pop music. Pirate Radio hadn’t got going yet. Perhaps you could have listened to ‘Pick of the Pops’, on the BBC Light Programme, but even that wasn’t first broadcast until 1955. It just seems so alien to me, to us, that you might only know of a record as a listing in a magazine and have no idea how it sounded until you went out and bought it.

Although, this might explain how certain songs managed to top the charts in the first place…

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!

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!

17. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers

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I See the Moon, by The Stargazers (their 2nd of three #1s)

5 weeks, from 12th March to 16th April / 1 week from 23rd April to 30th April 1954 (6 weeks total)

And now for something completely different…

Imagine an East-End pub, filled with smoke and ruddy cheeks, a jovial barman rings the bell and calls for last orders over the hubbub… Last orders, and one last song. Old Mrs. Fozzywinkle sits at the piano, shouting down someone who’s just said something saucy, and then… The opening bars of ‘I See the Moon’.

Over the mountain, over the sea, back where my heart is longin’ to be… Please let the light that shines down on me, shine on the one I love… Thematically, we are treading familiar ground: it’s a tale of two separated lovers, one hoping that the other still thinks of them. We’ve heard it a few times in this countdown so far. But, beyond the lyrics, this is something else entirely.

The first thing that comes to mind is the scene in ‘Oliver!’, where Nancy leads the pub in a rousing chorus of ‘Oom Pah Pah’. This song isn’t quite as rowdy, or raucous, but it has an unhinged quality that none of the previous chart toppers have had. Even the novelty tracks that have gone before it – the likes of ‘How Much is that Doggie?’ and ‘She Wears Red Feathers’ – still felt as if they had been professionally recorded, perhaps over several takes. This song doesn’t…

The first verse is sung – horribly – in a fake German (Polish? Transylvanian??) accent, the voice cracking as it fails to reach the high notes, with voices roaring in approval in the background. The second verse takes the form of a skit – a plummy voiced announcer introduces a little lady with a tambourine, who proceeds to come in at the wrong cue not once, not twice, but three times. Once she gets going, the announcer asks her to sing quieter, then louder, presumably until everyone listening at home is guffawing helplessly at the ridiculousness of it all. It’s funny(-ish), in a pantomime kind of way. We’re back in the music halls, here. Actually, it reminds me of a ‘Comic Relief’ track – you know the kind recorded by Cliff Richard and the cast of ‘The Young Ones’, or by French and Saunders as the Spice Girls. It has that same sort of anarchic energy, and in that regard it’s quite ahead of its time. It’s a truly bizarre song.

And when you look back to The Stargazers previous #1 – the morose ‘Broken Wings’ – it sounds even more crazy. What happened? What went wrong? (Or right, depending on your tastes?) What in God’s name did they take before hitting the recording studio? At least it’s an interesting song, though I’m not sure I’ll be revisiting it once I’ve finished writing this post.

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Information on The Stargazers is hard to come by. There are at least two other bands with the same name: an Irish folk trio, and a rock ‘n’ roll revival group from the ’80s. An image search requires some discerning before you can work out which band is which. But the original Stargazers were pretty popular in their day – the NME voted them ‘Best Vocal Group’ for five years in a row. But – and this is something that’s just occurred to me – ‘pre-rock’, the competition for that title wasn’t fierce. There simply weren’t very many groups going. This was an era of solo stars.

One other little titbit of interesting info. I’ve unearthed regarding this song: the lyric I see the moon and the moon sees me was first used in a nursery rhyme from the 1780s. We are then, listening to both the 17th UK Number One hit, and the very earliest UK Number One hit. Mind-bending…

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.