Remembering Eddie Fisher

I’m starting out a new feature today, remembering some of the biggest stars that we have met so far. The only requirements needed to feature here are that we have already covered your chart-topping careers on this countdown, and that you are dead…

On this day, then, nine years ago, Eddie Fisher – the King of pre-rock ‘n’ roll – passed away, aged 82. The first artist to score multiple #1 singles in the UK. An artist whose two chart-toppers came in the blink of an eye, in the first eight months of the singles chart’s existence. Numbers 4 and 10.

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First came the sombre ‘Outside of Heaven’, in which he stood outside the house of the girl he once loved. You can read my original post here.┬áIt’s sedate, proper… traditional.

Then came the equally sombre ‘I’m Walking Behind You’ – a duet with Sally Sweetland – in which he followed his ex to church on her wedding day. Again it’s sedate, proper, traditional… and pretty darn creepy when you listen carefully.

I struggled to really get his chart-topping singles when I originally wrote about them, and still do. He had a good voice, they were well-constructed songs… They were just so old-fashioned. Old-fashioned sounding even among their contemporaries, and incredibly old-fashioned when compared to where we are now in the countdown – slap bang in the middle of the swinging sixties (amazingly, given the way pop music has changed, we’re only actually thirteen years down the line in real time…)

What the songs do offer is an interesting glimpse into how music sounded before rock ‘n’ roll came along, and Fisher – along with Frankie Laine, Guy Mitchell, Johnnie Ray – was one of the biggest male stars of the late forties / early fifties. Only one of his singles failed to make the UK Top 10, while he enjoyed 25 (!) US Top 10s, including 4 #1s.

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He had quite the life outside of the recording studio, too. That is, yes, him with Elizabeth Taylor, his second wife (he was number four of eight for her). He left his first wife, Debbie Reynolds – Taylor’s best friend! – for her. It was quite the scandal, and proof that misbehaving pop stars weren’t a rock ‘n’ roll invention. He was married five times in total, and had four children over the course of them. The oldest of whom was the late, Star Wars great, Carrie Fisher.

So, if you can, take a moment out of your day, click on the links, and transport yourself back to 1953, when Eddie Fisher was crooning his way to the top of the charts and was, for a short time, the man with the most UK #1 singles in history.

Photo of Eddie Fisher

Eddie Fisher, August 10th 1928 – September 22nd 2010

10. ‘I’m Walking Behind You’, by Eddie Fisher with Sally Sweetland

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I’m Walking Behind You, by Eddie Fisher with Sally Sweetland (Fisher’s 2nd of two #1s/ Sweetland’s first and only #1)

1 week, from 26th June to 3rd July 1953

The first artist to top the UK singles charts twice.

I’m just annoyed that this is one of the songs that denied Frankie Laine his record. And it does seem a little odd that this one song, amongst all the other songs available, was the one that snatched a single week at the top, sandwiched between week after week after week of ‘I Believe’…

Anyway, before I head off down a swirling conspiracy theory tunnel, let’s just remind ourselves that this is what the record buying public do – they buy drivel and send it to number one. Drivel like this. This song is awful. Whereas I complained that Eddie Fisher’s first chart topper was dull and melodramatic (it’s quite a feat, I suppose, to be simultaneously dull and melodramatic), this is just plain creepy. The title doesn’t bode well, and the lyrics prove it to be true.

Picture the scene: (*sinister piano intro*) I’m walking behind you, on your wedding day… He is obsessed with his ex’s weddings, this guy. His previous chart topper had him lurking outside a church too. And I’ll hear you promise, to love and obey. But it’s OK, you see. He’s not stalking her; he’s merely giving her another option. If things go wrong, dear, and fate is unkind, look over your shoulder, I’m walking behind. She’ll be glad, I’m sure.

It would be unfair, though, to pin all responsibility for the creepy atmosphere here solely on Eddie Fisher. The backing vocals from Sally Sweetland are extraordinary. They float at a dog-whistle pitch far, far in the background. So far back that they echo. Backing vocals are traditionally, I had thought, recorded by someone stood behind, or next to, or at the very least somewhere in the vicinity of the lead singer. But it sounds as if Sweetland recorded her vocals from a warehouse down the street. It makes her sound as if she were an avenging angel, whispering down from the rafters into the ears of the spurned lover. Given the song’s subject matter, perhaps that was the intention.

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I guess I should mention here something which applies to all early the songs in this countdown. In the fifties the song was the thing, it seems, rather than the artist. The records that have topped the chart so far are, by and large, one of many versions of the same song. They’re just the most popular versions – the ones that made it to the top. For example, in 1953 alone, ‘I’m Walking Behind You’ was recorded by Frank Sinatra, Dorothy Squires, Jimmy Young and Eddie Fisher. ‘How Much is That Doggy…’ was recorded by Patti Page as well as Lita Roza. ‘Broken Wings’ was also recorded by Dickie Valentine and two chaps called Art and Dotty Todd. ‘Don’t Let the Stars…’ was recorded by no less than seven different acts before we count Perry Como’s chart topping version. Soon we’ll see an occasion where the two versions of the same song take turns at being number one.

So it’s unfair to paint Eddie Fisher as a creep with a habit of turning up at weddings uninvited. He just liked to record songs with lyrics about turning up at weddings uninvited. And I have to say that, while the sound and style of these early hits hasn’t sounded too dated to my modern ears (they mostly all follow the basic pop song formula: verse, bridge, chorus, solo, chorus…), the lyrics are really starting to grate. I wasn’t expecting any swears, or anything too sexy, but it’s all either been extremely saccharine, extremely melodramatic, borderline racist or just plain tame. Elvis needs to hurry along, and quick.

This is the last we’ll hear from Eddie Fisher in this countdown. And I have to admit the two songs I’ve heard so far haven’t inspired me to discover more of his back-catalogue. Except, as I was doing my ‘research’ for this post, I couldn’t help but notice his 1954 US #29 hit, simply entitled ‘Fanny’. Give it a listen, I assure you: it’s worth it.

But we can end this entry with a more heartwarming, and slightly more wholesome, piece of backstory. I had mentioned previously how all these early stars seemed to live well into their eighties and nineties. Well. Sally Sweetland, of the ethereal backing vocals, only went and lived up until 2015, to the grand old age of 103. Her husband had died a few years before that, and they had been together for seventy years! He had been the voice of Woody Woodpecker; and she had taught Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane how to sing. Well, there you go.