OH

i dont think i want to do this blog any more. it was a stupid idea.

bye

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40. “CHRISTMAS ALPHABET” – DICKIE VALENTINE

Weeks at number one: 3 (16th December 1955 – 20 January 1956…..and if this looks like more than three weeks….it is…..the Whole Record Industry took time off at christmas, the slackers) / Length: 2m07s / Label: Decca

Notable for…being the first proper christmassy number one

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 3 : Dickie began the year with a number one, and he comes back to us now with more lilty lift-pop, sharing the same dotted-crotchet rhythms in the melody, which are grouped into what i might call iambic hexameter….but i’m not sure if that exists, and even sure that this is it..

WORDS ~ 2 : An acrostic poem made musical, complete with necessary bumbling word-order manipulation. Also this line: “S is for old Santa, who makes every kid his pet” is not really what christmas is about for me.

VOICE ~ 7 : Oh Dickie

STRUCTURE ~ 1 : Spells out Christmas twice. Doesn’t have a chorus.

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 4 : yeah, fine, I think. Its kinda hard to hear cos there’s a man fixing our toilet upstairs and a man fixing our washing machine downstairs

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 0 : Oh Dickie

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 1 : it’s like a sitcom Christmas special: the same as a normal episode, but without any of the good bits, and a horrible sense of morality

CATCHYNESS ~ 3 : Stupidly wordy, and whenever I try singing it I just get diverted into ‘Finger Of Suspicion’, which probably says something

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 1 : It’s hard to tell in early October, but I’m pretty sure I hate it

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 1 : Basically I love Dickie Valentine, but I’ve tried to imagine a name sleazier than his, and I don’t think it can be done. He’s a Royston Vasey inhabitant in waiting. Actually “Royston Vasey” is a sleazier name.

OVERALL ~ 25/100

Spotify here, lyrics here, or buy it: CD or mp3

39. “ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK” – BILL HALEY AND HIS COMETS

Weeks at number one: 5 (25th November – 16th December 1955) / Length: 2m12s / Label: Decca

Notable for…being the most important(?) song so far, probably…the most influential, is what i mean really

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 6 : Having spent the last three years (in blog time) waiting for something exciting, here it is: THE BIRTH OF MUSIC!!! Only not really. The melody has three phrases, the “clock strikes one” bit which rises, and the “broad daylight” bit which goes down, and the “gonna rock, gonna rock” bit which plays on two notes. so calling them UP and DOWN and MIDDLE, the tune goes like this: UP, UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, MIDDLE, MIDDLE, DOWN. This system is useless. But it looks a bit like a cheat for Sonic, so try it.

WORDS ~ 7 : The birth of math-rock?

VOICE ~ 5 : Not exactly the visceral cry of rebellion, with some kinda showbiz-y inflections still there, that kind of thick throat-led male voice which maybe comes from opera or something(?). Johnnie Ray is much more modern.

STRUCTURE ~ 3 : Guitar solo higher up the bill than you’d expect or want

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 2 :  “Gabler made the drums sound huge: He “placed three microphones around [session drummer Billy Guesack’s] drum kit, and asked him to hit rim-shots on the snare drum, in order to produce a heavy backbeat,” Miller wrote.” Funny, because ‘huge’ isn’t the word I’d use. Flabby, maybe, echoey deifnitely, and pushed way too high. You want compact, claustrophobic tension from rock’n’roll, and that’s not what we’re given. Also if you’re going to make that guitar so loud, you should probably give the guitar to someone who’s learnt how to play it

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 6 : I think one thing you could say is that this song proves that the 1950’s were an age of cinema: whilst this wasn’t even Bill Haley’s first rock’n’roll song (see below), it was the first one to be used in a film, and that’s what counted. Maybe also you could say that it was lucky that you couldn’t actually see Bill Haley in the film. Pictures show him looking older than his true age (29), and with the physique and dress sense of a fat man who doesn’t dress very well. The Comets’ success sort of fizzled out after they made a couple of their own films, and its no shock that their successors were younger, prettier, and cooler

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 3 : Listen to the guitar solo in ‘Rock Around The Clock’. Then listen to the guitar solo in ‘Rock The Joint’, a Bill Haley single from three years earlier (it starts at 0:41 in this video). Or if you don’t want to listen to it, I’ll tell you: they are note-for-note identical. And this song by Hank Williams uses basically the same melody. It is the first rock’n’roll number one in the UK though. Does that count for something?

CATCHYNESS ~ 9 : Wonderfully!

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 3 : It’s easy to understand what people saw in it, but hard to get excited about it now

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 5 : It’s a welcome relief from show tunes, but in its own way just as dull and cynical. This is what I will later say about ‘punk’

OVERALL ~ 49/100

Spotify here, lyrics here, or buy it: CD or mp3

38. “HERNANDO’S HIDEAWAY” – THE JOHNSTON BROTHERS

Weeks at number one: 2 (11th – 25th November 1955) / Length: 2m35s / Label: Decca

Notable for… the only number one with the name Hernando.  haven’t looked that up

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 6 : Originally written for ‘The Pajama Game’, a beautifully titled 1954 musical. This is not an original cast recording: This video might be something a bit more like that.

WORDS ~ 7 : Some audacious & original rhymes. A combo like “Sillouhettes”/”castanets” would make even renowned rapper MF DOOM proud. The middle eight is very context-specific: without having seen the musical, ‘Uncle Joe’ won’t really mean much to you

VOICE ~ 6 : Homophony galore. But is that the beautiful sound of brothers? No. It’s the beautiful sound of three unrelated men.

STRUCTURE ~ 4 : It’s fine, okay?

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 6 : Castanets: not a surprise. But I find the sparseness impressive

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 5 : As with yesterday’s, it’s hard to believe that the people singing the song have any experience of the type of goings-on documented in the song. But they go in whole-heartedly, and that’s what matters

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 3 : Look, I spent all day writing a song, and recording it. And then it turns out the song is rubbish. Which is a shame, because that means I wasted my day completely. So I don’t really wanna write much. Which is a shame, because I like this song.

CATCHYNESS ~ 6 : Yeah, sure

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 2 : No, sure

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 3 : The man who named this band after himself, Johnny Johnston, began a career in jingle-writing less than a year later. He wrote “Beanz Meanz Heinz”

OVERALL ~ 48/100

Spotify here, lyrics here, or buy it: CD or mp3

37. “THE MAN FROM LARAMIE” – JIMMY YOUNG

Weeks at number one: 4 (14th October – 11th November 1955) / Length: 2m21s / Label: Decca

Notable for…Jimmy Young was the first act to score number one hits with their first two singles. His third and last single reached no.3, so a pretty great chart record.

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 4 : What I dislike is the length between the melodic phrases, which makes the words seem a bit stilted. With a more capable tune it could all sound a bit more off-the-cuff and better suit the storytelling mode.

WORDS ~ 7 : Character study of a work-hard play-fair cowboy who you might find somewhat two-dimensional (at most). But the wordplay is inventive, and I have never experienced better use of poetic license than that required to enable the rhyming of “coyote” and “outshoot”.

VOICE ~ 7 : unbelievably cute when he holds that last note. cho kawaii

STRUCTURE ~ 5 : A1-A2- B-A3-B-A3….the numbers mean the same tune, but different words. I don’t know if that’s how they do it in real music books.

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 4 : So much potential for sound effects and production quirks goes largely untapped. C’mon, what right-minded producer wouldn’t stick in at least a gunshot or two?

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 2 : Talking about a cool person is not the same as being one, and it’s hard to believe that this Man would’ve been mixing with Jimmy Young’s crowd

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 3 : Shares its name with a film form the same year, so presumably it featured in that, and presumably Jimmy Young’s version wasn’t the original. Let me look it up… Al Martino had a version that got to no.19…probably his was the film one

CATCHYNESS ~ 7 : Satisfyingly

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 5 : It’s like he’s telling the story of my life

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 4 : Inhabits a land of cliches, from “the ladies” to “the fearless stranger”, everything and everyone is tropes

OVERALL ~ 48/100

Spotify here, lyrics here, or buy it: CD or mp3

36. “ROSE MARIE” – SLIM WHITMAN

Weeks at number one: 11(!) (29th July – 14th October) / Length: 2m16s, but that’s just an estimate, because there seem to be an infinite amount of recordings of this song, and I haven’t been able to confirm for sure which one is the chart-topping one / Label: London

Notable for…being number one for pretty much a quarter of a year, and the first number one artist named after a type of physique

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 5 : It uses these chords: I, IV, V, vi, and sometimes III. The best one is the III, cos it’s a little unexpected. But not that unexpected at all really. (If you don’t know which chord it is, it happens at 1:10 in the YouTube one.) This is not interesting for you, I know that. basically i want to be able to hear what chords are in a song without playing along, and at the moment i can’t do that. so i’m gonna try and play along with all the songs and find what chords are in there, and eventually i’ll understand them a bit more and notice them better. so bear with me. The melody is all over the shop.

WORDS ~ 1 : The only line of interest is the faintly angsty “sometimes I wish I’d never met you”, but you get the sense that it was likely a matter of obeying a rhyme-scheme rather than attempting to create even a brief illusion of depth

VOICE ~ 6 : He does some great jumps. I don’t know what the tcchnical term for that is, where you sort of switch from normal voice to falsetto mid-syllable, jumping an octave in the process. Dido does it a lot. Or did. I don’t know what she does now.

STRUCTURE ~ 3 : It’s kind of weird to have the vocals starting where they do: not on the root but on the dominant major, which gives the impression of joining the song halfway through. This can be a great little trick, giving a kind of unescapable, infinite air, but I don’t think it achieves anything here other than being a bit off-putting

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 5 : I really like the upright piano riffs, which come and go like an efficient waiter: not overbearing, but always arriving exactly when you need him, and sometimes before you even realised you did. The slide guitar is nice here too, like a competent sous-chef

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 2 : It’s from an operetta written in 1924 and set in the Canadian rockies

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 1 : It’s from an operetta written in 1924 and set in the Canadian rockies

CATCHYNESS ~ 3 : There’s too much yodelling to really nail down the tune, and so what sticks are the vocal inflections, but not the song as a whole.

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 3 : Wikipedia says he was labelled ‘countrypolitan’ and that’s really the problem here: he’s too laid back and too assured. He sounds like he’s already got the girl, basically

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 4 : Here’s something: I was just thinking how on the picture in the YouTube video, he looks a bit like John Travolta, and so if anyone should play him in a biopic it should be him. And then I was thinking how John Travolta is a scientologist. And then an advert came up on YouTube for a ‘scientology exposed’ video! This song gives me the creeps

OVERALL ~ 33/100

Spotify here, lyrics here, or buy it: CD or mp3

35. “DREAMBOAT” – ALMA COGAN

Weeks at number one: 2 (15th – 29th July 1955) / Length: 1m48s / Label:HMV

Notable for…being the shortest number one so far. Youngest act so far also (23).

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 5 : I’m back at Uni now. You can’t expect me to write as much. That’s just a warning. I’ll also be thinking harder in non-blog time, so you can’t expect me to be as cogent. I’m just saying.

WORDS ~ 4 : ‘Dreamboat’ is a beautiful word. What imagery does it conjure for you? For me, it is a beautiful kayak made of clouds, lined on the inside with wicker, and smelling of bread candles. (I’ve never smelt a bread candle, but Roz frequently tells me they are wonderful things, and so they have acquired a mystical power to me now.) The rest of the words in this song are not so hot, and sticking in the same semantic field (seas, canoe, shore) just edges it close to the murky waters of Novelty Ocean.

VOICE ~ 1 : Even before the first syllable has left her mouth, been recorded onto tape, been mastered and digitised, been distrubuted to CD shops across the globe, been bought by a middle-aged Lancastrian, been uploaded onto YouTube, been recieved by your computer, and been emitted through a speaker or pair of headphones, and reached your outer, middle and finally inner ear, and been converted to an electrical signal and transmitted to your brain and percieved as sound, it’s clear that Alma Cogan’s voice is something most people will either love or hate. People who love it are probably idiots who have done too much drama and think things are funny if you say them in a Scottish accent. no offense.

STRUCTURE ~ 3 : ABAB, but practically AAAA. Technically maybe something more like ABACABAC…..maybe.

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 6 : My undoubted favourite bit is the “do-do-doo-dup” riff. It’s warm and cosy, and full of love. I have a little theory that certain emotions are best expressed in music by not words, but just vocals….just the sound of singing. I will tell you a little more about it some day, but not now. Not now. The other best bit is the oriental (???) syncopated piano (???) stabs from 0:20 – 0:30. The other other best bit is the “boop-de-wha-wha!” backing vox at 0:55.

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 3 : There’s something my Dad says to me sometimes, when I go around singing ABC, or ABBA, or anything from more than twenty years ago. He says, “why do you sing music from my generation? I never sang music from my parents’ generation: I thought their music was sad”. I think the difference is that these songs are practically pre-pop, and that the gap between my dad and his just happened to contain probably the fastest, most brutal era of pop development so far.

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 2 : The Beatles called her “Auntie Alma”, which is in one way amazing, and in another way slightly sad: she was only eight years older than Ringo. McCartney has said of Cogan: “”We’d known Alma as the big singing star. We never interacted musically, she was a little too old for our generation, not much probably, but it seemed like an eternity, so I never took her seriously musically. She was old-school showbiz.” Alma Cogan died in 1966, aged 34.

CATCHYNESS ~ 5 : Has that cutesy singalong factor also found in songs like “I’ve I’d Known You Where Coming I’ve Baked A Cake”, and other such mulchy ad-fodder.

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 4 : Although I don’t like her voice, I am glad she’s happy. Because I’m not mean like that.

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 3 : “I would sail the seven seas with you / Even if you told me to go and paddle my own canoe” – my diagnosis? bad babysitting!! either: dangerously low self-worth, or: dangerously clingy.

OVERALL ~ 36/100

Spotify here, lyrics here, or buy it: CD or mp3

34. “UNCHAINED MELODY” – JIMMY YOUNG

Weeks at number one: 3 (24th June – 15th July 1955) / Length: 2m40s / Label: Decca

Notable for…I’m pretty sure this song has the record for being number one’d by the most different acts…I think that The Righteous Brothers, Robson & Jerome and Gareth Gates have made a top-hit of it…should have looked it up really…but its like a test

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 7 : We all know this song as a classic I-iii-IV-V progression, which is used by about a hundred million billion songs, but most specially this one. *waits three minutes* … wasn’t that amazing. Anyway, the exciting thing here is that actually the chords are something more like I6 – IVmaj7 – V….I don’t know exactly, but more jazzy anyway. The fact that it has “melody” in the title might make you think that there was something about the melody, but in I think it’s more to do with there being nothing in the lyrics interesting enough to warrant being the title. And the “unchained” bit is kind of confusing too: it’s chained. (is it annoying when I do that? I mean, when I link to songs without telling you what they are? Because maybe they’re a song you already know…or maybe you’re playing the video for the song which this post is meant to be ABOUT, and the unexpected new video creates a horrible dissonance in your beautiful, velvety ears? I’m sorry. I’ll be better.) The actual reason it’s called “Unchained” is made explainable by this:

In case it isn't clear, this is the poster for the film "Unchained", which this song is the theme for. What it has to do with "convicts slugged in their cells by other convicts" is not known to me. As you see, the story is "ripped from the searing pages of Reader's Digest", something not on enough film posters these days

WORDS ~ 3 : Abstract nouns and personal pronouns galore. Only Morrissey can do that and make it be not boring. And he can only do it sometimes. And he can only do it because when he does chuck in a concrete noun, it’s a fantastic one, like ‘patio’, or ‘headmaster’. Not ‘river’, which is about the dullest noun this side of ‘sea’…..which is also here. But, knowing the prison context does allow a bit of backstory to creep in

VOICE ~ 6 : Reassuringly straightforward, relaxed without cockiness, and just generally wonderfully likeable. I’m quite impressed.

STRUCTURE ~ 4 : From the more famous renditions, the obvious difference is that it’s in a different time signature (!4/4 rather than 6/8!) and it’s much faster. Also, a less famous bit is the middle eight, which is really terrible.

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 7 : Actually the best bit in the song is something I don’t think is in the modern versions: the ghostly “unchain me, unchain me” backing vox, which only happen once as the song sticks it up a semi-tone…..which I think might be the first trucker’s gear change so far?!?!?! It’s the first one I’ve noticed, anyway, and that is ATC (All That Counts).

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 4 : Oh, this is that Jimmy Young! The one who DJed on radio 2 for one thousand years. He was quite young, aged 24, at this time, but according to a website: “Jimmy Young’s relaxed vocal delivery had a lot of appeal to housewives during an era in which record buying was beginning to become dominated by teenagers.” Obviously that’s a shame, but I feel like maybe that isn’t true of this portion of his career. I need to find a book on record buying demographics (because I mainly need it for my dissertation)

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 4 : Not the actual original recording from the film soundtrack, which was by an American dude called Todd Baxter, which isn’t especially good. Better is this quite beautiful, largely instrumental version, from the song’s composer. But I think that Young’s rendition, whilst not spectacular, could fairly mount a claim to being at least the best version of the 1950s.

CATCHYNESS ~ 6 : I don’t know how, because the melody has das wanderlust (that’s German for a love of hiking, I think), and the lyrics are practically an invitation to amnesia, but something about this song is just indescribably sticky. And beautiful.

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 2 : He’s in the prison, right? He’s not out yet? With this assumption made, I think the 6/8 version works so much better, because it feels infinitely slower, and although I’ve not yet spent time in the slammer, I’ve heard that tempus doesn’t exactly fugit in there

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 4 : Another English theft of an American hit, and more band-wagon jumping, but unlike Eddie Calvert, they do at least make it possible to distinguish between the recordings, and there’s a cozy charm here that it’s difficult to dislike

OVERALL ~ 47/100

Spotify here, lyrics here, or buy it: CD or mp3 (customers who bought “Unchained Melody” by Jimmy Young also bought “The Climb” by Joe McElderry)

33. “CHERRY PINK AND APPLE BLOSSOM WHITE” – EDDIE CALVERT

Weeks at number one: 4 (27th May – 24th June 1955) / Length: 2m24s / Label: Columbia

Notable for…The previous version of these hit was a Cuban band doing a song written by a Frenchman soundtracking an American film), so here’s Englishman Eddie Calvert to mustard it right up…

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 4 : It really is the same as the previous one, down to the last uninspired trill

WORDS ~ 2 : see previous

VOICE ~ 5 : I struggle to find much difference in technique or ability, except Calvert has a habit of stopping notes a little more bluntly than Prado, which breaks up the fluidity a bit. Basically to Calvert’s I can imagine a brylcreemed man kissing a woman on the cheek of the face, whereas to Prado’s I envision a rolling ocean of naked flesh, cavorting and carressing until the word ‘sex’ loses all meaning, because its the only state of existence. But that’s what I imagine most of the time anyway

STRUCTURE ~ 4 : Sensibly shortened

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 2 : Less reverb than Prado’s = less underwater sounding, which I thought was the whole point. And much less dense. And less dynamic variation

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 3 : One thing to its credit – there is a bit more percussion in this one. And percussion is cool

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 3 : Are you taking the piss, reader? Nah, actually it is quite original still because mambo is so fresh. At least he had the guts to rip off a kinda cool song, and its not completely ruined….just sort of robbed of all its joy

CATCHYNESS ~ 2 : see previous

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 2 : mild dance

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 2 : I don’t understand the point of it, and I don’t see why you’d buy it unless you were a massive racist, or hated fun, or both

OVERALL ~ 29/100

Spotify here, or buy it: CD or mp3

32. “STRANGER IN PARADISE” – TONY BENNETT

Weeks at number one: 2 (13th – 27th May 1955) / Length: 3m05s / Label: Philips

Notable for…being the first song I’ve reviewed partly whilst watching Grand Designs. I don’t watch it that often. It’s not a bad programme by any means, but I’m just trying to watch less TV generally.

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 5 : That the melody seems to have no idea where its headed acts as an embodiment of the wide-eyed bewilderment expressed in the words, ready to change its gaze at the faintest twinkling of a distant star.

WORDS ~ 6 : Cheekily similar to Don Cornell’s Hold My Hand in theme, but you have to applaud the audaciously lame extended rhyming (“stranger in paradise”/”danger in paradise”) and the stratospheric metaphor: “somewhere in space I hang suspended”

VOICE ~ 2 : A higher range than most males singers of the time, apart from the ‘teen idol’ type, and with a passion that tends towards the latter, resulting in the Kirk Van Outen effect: a full-grown man being excessively emotional can sometimes look a bit lame. Plus his strange pronunciation is off-putting. Is it Italo-American? Is that the problem?

STRUCTURE ~ 3 : Waffley as the Birdseye factory

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 2 : Arrhythmic mess or delicate beauty? You decide.

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 5 : As with the previous song, there’s a sense of the Sixties approaching, but the kind of lavish, big-budget, loved-up faux-psychedelia that heralded the beginning of the end of a period of genuine innovation, as showbiz recaptured its stranglehold on entertainment. So it’s not very sixties at all, is, I guess, what I’m saying.

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 3 : I’m beginning to see that this category is a bit pointless for this time, because originality just wasn’t on the radar at all. This is music aimed at adults who (think they) know what they like, and will buy records that sound like records that they like.

CATCHYNESS ~ 3 : yeah, i mean.. kinda?

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 2 : Maybe it’s because the song is about being wowed to the point of dreamy distraction, but I found that I quite frequent stopped focusing on this song

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 4 : You know those little eye-worms you get that float around when you shut your eyes? I thought that if I ever made a film about a genius composer (Beethoven, Brahms, Lou Bega, etc.), his eye-worms would be in the shape of treble-clefs. Form an orderly queue, wealthy American film producers

OVERALL ~ 36/100

Spotify here, lyrics here, or buy it: CD or mp3