‘Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes’, by Perry Como with The Ramblers – The UK Number 1s Blog Anniversary Special

This week marks the 1st anniversary of The UK Number 1s Blog (** Trumpet Fanfare**)! In the past year we’ve covered the period from Nov. ’52 to Nov’ 61, with 129 chart-topping songs featured. We’ve survived pre-rock, rode the rock ‘n’ roll revolution, and are now well on our way towards the swinging sixties… Thanks to everyone who has read, followed, commented and enjoyed.

To celebrate this milestone, I’m going to take a short break from the usual countdown to repost seven songs that I have really enjoyed discovering over the past year. These aren’t necessarily the best songs to have topped the charts – there’ll be no Buddy Holly, Johnnie Ray, Connie Francis, Elvis or The Everly Brothers (follow the links if you want to read about them) – as I’ve been listening to, and loving, those artists for years. This week will be all about the forgotten gems, the hits I’d never heard before, the songs that have slipped through the cracks…

Next up is Perry Como, with ‘Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes’ – another song that surprised me with its upbeat tempo (and funky trumpet solo). And like Kay Starr, he was another artist with enough about him to make it out of the pre-rock age alive…

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Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyesby Perry Como with the Ramblers (Como’s 1st of two #1s)

5 weeks, from 6th February to 12th March 1953

One of my biggest chart bugbears, back when I started chart-watching, was one-week number ones. In the late ’90s and early ’00s it seemed like there were a never ending parade of songs waiting to shoot straight in at number one, only to be replaced by another brand new song a week later, as if record companies had worked it all out beforehand in some sort of dastardly pact. And I assumed that it never used to be that way, that ye olden charts were creaky, slow moving things where records languished at the top for weeks and months. Which is true to an extent – Al Martino had nine weeks, and wasn’t alone in having that length of stay, while later in 1953 we’ll reach the song which still holds the record for most weeks at number one…

But what we have here is a fourth new chart topper in as many weeks. It turns out that the record buying public of the pre-rock era were just as fickle as those in 1999! Perry Como, though, did halt the turnover and kept this jaunty little tune at the top for a month and a bit. That’s star quality shining through.

This track is a welcome relief after its overwrought predecessor. Perky guitars, a lively brass section, and tongue-twister lyrics: Love blooms at night in daylight it dies don’t let the stars get in your eyes or keep your heart from me for some day I’ll return and you know you’re the only one I’ll ever love delivered in just the one breath. This seems to have been a thing, a gimmick almost (at least it seems gimmicky to modern ears), as Kay Starr was at it in ‘Comes A-Long A-Love’. It’s not vocal gymnastics of the Mariah Carey kind; more lyrical gymnastics, if such a thing can exist.

We’ve also heard similar lyrics already in this countdown, in that Como is telling his sweetheart not to forget about them, or to stray, while away. The best bit of it all, though, is the trumpet solo. At least I think they’re trumpets; I really can’t tell one brass instrument from the other. Anyway, they put me in mind of the oompah band at a German Bierfest.

The one downside to the song is the backing singers, The Ramblers. They’re just a bit… barbershop, in that they are basically there to repeat verbatim the line that Como just sang. In case some one missed it? I don’t know. And their one bit of improvisation is to sing what sounds like pa-pa-papaya between lines. Are they imitating the trumpets? Is it just gibberish? Are they actually singing about papayas?

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Perry Como (American! Died aged 88! The run continues!) is the biggest name to top the chart so far. I’d say, at least. Both of the female chart toppers were new to me, Al Martino was known to me solely as the singer of the first ever UK #1, and Eddie Fisher had entered my consciousness due to his ladykilling (the romantic type of ladykilling, that is). Perry Como was a big star and I could have named his biggest hit (‘Magic Moments’, fact fans) without looking it up. And after looking up his discography it’s clear that if the the charts had begun earlier he would have racked up a load more hits – he was scoring US #1s throughout the ’40s. Now, in 2018, he’s no longer a household name, a Sinatra or Presley, I wouldn’t have thought. Very few of these stars from sixty-odd years ago are, I suppose.

‘Comes A-Long A-Love’, by Kay Starr – The UK Number 1s Blog Anniversary Special

This week marks the 1st anniversary of The UK Number 1s Blog (** Trumpet Fanfare**)! In the past year we’ve covered the period from Nov. ’52 to Nov’ 61, with 129 chart-topping songs featured. We’ve survived pre-rock, rode the rock ‘n’ roll revolution, and are now well on our way towards the swinging sixties… Thanks to everyone who has read, followed, commented and enjoyed.

To celebrate this milestone, I’m going to take a short break from the usual countdown to repost seven songs that I have really enjoyed discovering over the past year. These aren’t necessarily the best songs to have topped the charts – there’ll be no Buddy Holly, Johnnie Ray, Connie Francis, Elvis or The Everly Brothers (follow the links if you want to read about them) – as I’ve been listening to, and loving, those artists for years. This week will be all about the forgotten gems, the hits I’d never heard before, the songs that have slipped through the cracks…

First up: only the 3rd song ever to top the UK charts, in January 1953, and the song that showed me that the pre-rock years weren’t just going to be a procession of melodramatic ballads and perfectly-pronounced pop. Miss Kay Starr, take it away…

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Comes A-Long A-Love, by Kay Starr (her 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 23rd to 30th January 1953

Snazzy! And jazzy! I really thought – and more fool me – that these pre-Rock ‘n’ Roll hits would be dull, twee, chaste… one step up the danceability chart from hymns, basically. How wrong I was. It wasn’t all bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover.

Though bluebirds do feature in this song, they do so as a symbol of being in love and suddenly becoming aware of the world around you. Birds! Flowers! The sun! Comes A-Long A-Love suddenly though you never sang you’re always singing… Comes A-Long A-Love suddenly chimes you never heard begin a-ringing… The lyrical message being that falling in love will make you a better, livelier person.

Kay Starr’s voice is in complete contrast to the Jo Stafford record that went before. It’s husky, then sing-songy, she pauses where you least expect it and then rushes through tongue twister lines phrases like petty little things no longer phase you, which I’ll bet you can’t say five times fast. You might even say she’s flirting with the listener… And, yes, a quick search shows Ms. Starr was quite the little minx (that’s what they called them in those days). Those eyebrows! What didn’t they suggest! This song could be seen as a challenge – she’s daring you not to fall in love with her.

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But again, it’s another song that paints love in a positive light. Three number ones in and nobody’s had their heart broken… Even lonely old Al Martino was hopeful that his lover would say ‘yes’. That’s something I’m going to look out for: the first ever reference to heartbreak in a UK number one hit. And, again, Kay Starr enunciates so damn well. This isn’t an easy song to sing, but she makes it sound like she’s ad-libbing her way through it. I’ve got to hand it to these old-timers, before the days of auto-tune, because they really could sing. Gran was right all along…

Some bits do jar, slightly. Starr uses ‘Mister’, and ‘Brother’, in a way that you wouldn’t these days. And the aforementioned reference to being in love and seeing bluebirds is a bit of a Disneyfied image. It must have been easy for songwriters, at the birth of modern pop music – love is great, you see bluebirds, do-bee-do – before people discovered cynicism. So far, though, all three number ones have been recorded by American artists. Perhaps that explains the saccharine sentiments! As everyone knows, Americans are sickeningly positive. How brilliant would it be, then, if the first UK recorded #1 turned out to be a piece of proto-Morrissey miserabilism…

One final thing I’ve noticed, while looking up these first three UK chart toppers, is how long they all lived. Jo Stafford died in 2008, aged ninety. Al Martino died in 2009 at eighty-two. Kay Starr died in November 2016, having reached a grand old innings of ninety-four. That means two of them outlived Michael Jackson, who wouldn’t have his first number one hit for another twenty-eight years. They were made of sterner stuff in those days, mind.

67. ‘Jailhouse Rock’, by Elvis Presley

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Jailhouse Rock, by Elvis Presley (his 2nd of twenty-one #1s)

3 weeks, from 24th January – 14th February 1958

Ready? This is another song that grabs you from the get-go – just as ‘Great Balls of Fire’ before it – and for two and a half minutes gives you a good shaking. 1958 really did get off to a storming start in terms of chart-toppers.

But whereas Jerry-Lee Lewis grabbed us with his opening lyrics; Elvis here – or rather his band – grab us with their intro. With that guitar and those drums. Durrrr-durr (dun-dun)…, Durrrr-durr (dun-dun)… The most instantaneous intro yet? I mentioned, recently, the start of ‘That’ll Be the Day’, and that the jangly guitar there was iconic. ‘Jailhouse Rock’ kicks off in a much less subtle way; but since when has rock ‘n’ roll been about subtlety?

This is the Elvis that people think of in the early days; before GI Elvis, or Movie Star Elvis, or Comeback Elvis or Bloated Vegas Elvis. Jailhouse Rock Elvis, and that iconic picture of him in his black and white striped T, frozen, mid-yelp, on his tiptoes. Type his name into Wikipedia – go on… – and what is the picture that introduces one of ‘the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century’? In a way, I’m sad that this wasn’t his first ever UK #1 – rather than the nice but very understated ‘All Shook Up’. Imagine this snarling guitar announcing Elvis’s arrival at the top of the charts.

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But… But, but, but. Those famous pictures of Elvis in a convict’s uniform (a very sexy, rock ‘n’ roll convict’s uniform, but still) gyrating outside the prison gates? They were promotional shots for the movie: ‘Jailhouse Rock.’ We are already in Movie Star Elvis phase here. ‘Jailhouse Rock’ was his 3rd feature film. The argument I put forward during his first stint at the top – that Elvis was ‘over’ before he got started, that if it ain’t his ‘Sun’ recordings then it ain’t worth shit – gains further ground here. Because this record is an early step into Cheesy Elvis. The music may be rocking; but the lyrics are nothing but a bunch of silly vignettes about prisoners dancing in a jail yard.

Let’s rock… Everybody let’s rock… Everybody in the whole cell block… Was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock… The warden throws a party, encourages everyone to get dancing, even if they have to dance with chairs, and madness ensues.

Two verses stand out for having more than a whiff of music-hall comedy to them – thereby somehow tying this classic record to the likes of The Stargazers’ ‘I See the Moon’, from the depths of the pre-rock era (that’s a connection I never thought I’d make). There’s the ‘gay’ verse, in which two prisoners – presumably male – proposition one another: Number 47 said to Number 3, Now you the cutest jailbird I ever did see, I sure would be delighted with your company, Come on and do the Jailhouse Rock with me… I’ve read some interpretations of these lines as a revolutionary moment in the history of popular music. Personally, I think the songwriters were just taking the piss.

And there’s the final verse: …The wardens lookin’ out, A chance to make or break… Bugsy turned to Shifty and he said ‘Nix Nix, I wanna stick around a while an’ get my kicks… They could have escaped, you see, but they were having such a good time. It’s fun, and silly, but I think it also gives this record slightly less authenticity when compared to immediate contemporaries such as ‘Great Balls…’ and ‘That’ll Be the Day.’

Still, though… this is an absolute cornerstone of music history. On Spotify, even today, ‘Jailhouse Rock’ is second only to ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ as Elvis’s most listened to track. And it was the first ever record to enter at #1 in the UK. That’s right. The sixty-five previous chart-toppers had all spent at least a week – often much longer – climbing to the top. Elvis barged right in there; he wasn’t waiting for no-one. And – give me a second as I put on my chart-geek hat – up until the 1990s entering at #1 on the UK Singles Chart was an honour reserved for the very biggest stars: Cliff, The Beatles, Elvis, Slade, Frankie Goes to Hollywood… um, Gary Glitter… or the BIGGEST records, like ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’. In the ’90s it became de rigeur, and in the early ’00s it was the only way to arrive on the charts. Nowadays, in the streaming era, it’s become slightly less common once again. But in 1958 it was unheard of. Only Elvis was that big.

To finish, something that I’ve come to realise since starting this blog: that ‘pre-rock’ didn’t just mean ‘pre-Elvis’. I used to think that ‘Rock Around the Clock’ kicked off the rock ‘n’ roll revolution before Elvis took over. But I’ve now seen that The King was actually kind of late to the party. And it’s been good to give Johnnie Ray, Guy Mitchell, Lonnie Donegan and Tommy Steele a bit of recognition, even if it’s been to the detriment of a singer that I was pretty well obsessed with in my teenage years. He may have been The King of it, but rock ‘n’ roll didn’t begin, or end, with Elvis Aaron Presley.

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.

15. ‘Answer Me’, by Frankie Laine

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Answer Me, by Frankie Laine (his 3rd of four #1s)

8 weeks, from 13th November 1953 to 8th January 1954 (including 1 week joint with David Whitfield, from 11th to 18th December 1953)

There’s something rather familiar about this record…

Having read the previous post, you know what this song is all about: heartbroken guy, on his knees, turning to the Lord as a last resort… all very melodramatic. This sticks very close to the structure of the David Whitfield version – it’s exactly the same length – but I must admit I like this version better. There’s just something about Laine’s voice: warm, beckoning, a voice I want to listen to, a voice I trust. Unlike Whitfield’s plummy whining.

Musically, this version is also a little less overwrought than its predecessor. The guitar strums that play us in are very reminiscent of ‘I Believe’, and the violins have been replaced by an organ and backing singers. It’s still pretty dull, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just that little bit more listenable. It’s got an American gloss, all glittery lapels and perfect teeth, that David Whitfield’s reserved, BBC World Service delivery was lacking. And the ending is still a bit much, though Laine holds it back until the final line rather than belting out the whole last chorus.

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We’re now a year into this countdown, believe it or not, and out of the past 37 weeks, Mr. Frankie Laine has been at number one for 28 of them. In many ways it is impossible to compare the charts of today with those of the early ’50s – in terms of how the data is collected, in terms of what data is included, in terms of how wide-ranging the chart data is – but if anyone does think that today’s streaming dominated charts are dull, slow-moving and dominated by the same handful of artists, I would suggest you tell them to thank their lucky stars they weren’t around in the autumn of 1953. Not only are the same artists dominating here; the same songs are, too.

In lieu of mentioning having anything new to say about the song, I thought I might give a little shout out here to the conductors. The ‘what’, you say? The conductors! Almost every chart-topping record by a solo act, as you may have noticed from the pictures I post at the start of every entry, has been conducted by someone and their orchestra.

So far, Monty Kelly has conducted the orchestra for ‘Here in My Heart’, Harold Mooney for ‘Comes A-Long A-Love’, Hugo Winterhalter did both Eddie Fisher’s chart-toppers, Mitch Miller was Guy Mitchell’s go-to guy for both of his, Johnny Douglas did the ‘accompaniment’ for ‘That Doggie in the Window’ (apparently it didn’t warrant a full-blown orchestra) while Stanley Black guided David Whitfield through ‘Answer Me’. Mr. Paul Weston, though, has been the most prolific so far: Jo Stafford’s ‘You Belong to Me’, as well as the Frankie Laine trio of ‘I Believe’, ‘Hey Joe’ and now ‘Answer Me’ coming under his baton. Only the Stargazers (presumably because they played their own instruments) and Perry Como haven’t had orchestral accompaniment. Mantovani got the credit as conductor for ‘Moulin Rouge’ because it was an instrumental.

If haven’t included these conductors in the titles of my blog posts it’s because, well, they aren’t included anywhere else. Most listings of UK Singles Chart #1s – Wikipedia and the Official Chart Company included – don’t mention them. And so I won’t either. I understand it from the point of view that the conductor is neither playing an instrument nor singing the song, and that if the conductor gets a credit then so should the violinist, the trombonist, the harpist etc. etc. But, at the same time, Paul Weston has been heavily involved in four number one singles so far – with more to come, presumably – totalling 30 weeks at the top. That would already be enough to make him joint 7th (with Justin Bieber) for most combined weeks at number one! It seems a little harsh that he is forever banished from the chart history books…