31. “CHERRY PINK AND APPLE BLOSSOM WHITE” – PEREZ “PREZ” PRADO AND HIS ORCHESTRA

Weeks at number one: 2 (29th April – 13th May 1955) / Length:  3m02s / Label: HMV

Notable for…being the first (and last?) Cuban number one….aaaaAND for being number one on the date 5/5/55…..if I was a bit more conceptual, and wrote for Pitchfork, I would probably rate it a ‘5’ for everything. But I’m too serious to do that. This is too important.

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 4 : Gymnastic mambo experiment, with a kind of flaymboyant sixties-ness to it. There’s only really one strong melodic phrase, so most of the song is polyfilla (that’s a little joke there, because it’s filler, and it’s also polyrhythmic. i realise that’s not really a joke)

WORDS ~ 2 : Here are some better titles for this song: “Tooting On The T-Horn”, “Mambo Infinity”, “Billy Bongo’s Jazz Rocket”, “Indisputable Gravy”, “See-Through Avocado”, “El Funkadente”, “Squeakers Anonymous”, “Test Match Overhaul”, “South American Food”, “The Fourth Dalmatian”, “Worm Warfare”, “The Correspondent”, “Canberra!”….when I spoke to the now dead Perez Prado, he said that he preferred all of my titles, and wished he could go back to change it, even if it meant he wouldn’t get the chart success (which seems unlikely). He also said that he really enjoyed my blog, and that he wished more people read it, and especially COMMENTED on it. I felt like he might have said all of these things in an attempt to flatter me into giving him a higher score, but I took it all at face value, because I think there isn’t enough trust in this world, and I don’t want to make it worse.

VOICE ~ 6 : If a trumpet can take up hobbies, which it can, then Prado’s does yoga – allowing it to contort into back-breaking bends and hypnotically supple hip-gyrations.

STRUCTURE ~ 3 : Turns out I like mambo for about ninety seconds

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 4 : Woody (not wooden), strong

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 7 : This was the theme for Underwater!, which was a film, and: “For its world premiere, the film was projected on a submerged movie screen at Silver Springs, Florida, and the invited guests were encouraged to don aqualungs and bathing suits so that they could watch the picture while swimming.”

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 5 : Mambo is so hot right now, and Prado’s T-Horn is summat else

CATCHYNESS ~ 2 : It has that “I KNOW WHAT THIS SONG IS!” type intro that is a guaranteed dance-floor rusher, but beyond that its a bit too spaced-out to be interested in all that pop malarkey

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 4 : Once you know it’s from an underwater film, the heavily reverbed trumpet suddenly becomes a sexy submarine of some kind, tooting its way into your pants. By which I mean, it creates imagery.

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 3 : I have to hate it, because it kept probably the best instrumental of all time off number one (i don’t mean that): TOM HARK

OVERALL ~ 40/100

Spotify here, or buy it: CD or mp3

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30. “GIVE ME YOUR WORD” – TENNESSEE ERNIE FORD

Weeks at number one: 7 (11th March – 29th April 1955) / Length: 3m10s / Label: Capitol

Notable for…first number one by someone born in Bristol. No, not that one, this one. (Fact: there is a Bristol, TN and a Bristol, VA, and they’re right next to each other! How weird is that?)

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 5 : I’m going to have to start learning/remembering things about music theory so I can explain why some chords are cool, and some aren’t. But there are some really cool ones here. Points if you can guess which ones

WORDS ~ 2 : “word/word”, “die/I”, “you/do/true/you”, “remain/vain”. INSPIRED. or is that insipid

VOICE ~ 5 : I didn’t expect him to look like how he looks like (or did look like). I guess because I think: low voice = haggard face. Listen to “Sixteen Tons” especially, and it doesn’t sound like the product of a well-groomed, handsome man. More like a specially trained grizzly bear. But his voice does not suit this song, because he can’t do hysterical, and that’s pretty much the only emotion required in music like this….desperation

Ernie always felt more secure when holding his guns

STRUCTURE ~ 4 : I tell you what’s a good song: ‘Needles and Pins’, by The Searchers.

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 5 : At times the strings approach a kind of spy theme spookiness, but as always, there’s too many of them. The piano is echoey nice

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 3 : Maybe it’s because I heard “Sixteen Tons” before this song, but I had him down as a grizzly mountain man, or a kind of working-class-hero type. But on this evidence, he’s nothing more than a run-of-the-mill country-crooner who happened to suit “Sixteen Tons” down to a tee, and elsewhere struggles to contort his limited voice into the required emotional positions.

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 1 : Sorry, Ernie, but you must have known

CATCHYNESS ~ 4 : I’m not actually listening to it right now, because I’m listening to The Searchers (and this is what it says on the back of their LP ‘Needles and Pins’: “When the historians get around to compiling a complete picture of just how pop music was in the early 1960s, they’re going to have to devote plenty of space to The Searchers – four young Liverpool musicians – who carved quite a name for themselves in the charts with many of the songs on this album.”), and I only just about remember the Ernie Ford song, despite listening to it five times at least in the last two days. And that’s because it’s not catchy. And for that reason I give it ‘four’ out of a possible ten for catchiness.

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 3 : I’ve heard it too many times before, the same message by a similarly sincere man. (For what it’s worth, I think that the album ‘Needles and Pins’ by The Searchers is no more than a footnote in pop history. The title track is stunningly brilliant, but the only other decent song in it is “Some Other Guy”, which is perfectly merseybeat, inc. wonky harmonies and ropey guitar solos.)

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 3 : Giving your word is bad. Giving your word is kind of opening the door for abuse of that commitment should you ever change your mind. Don’t do it girls

There’s a Searchers song called “Sea Of Heartbreak” which has exactly the same verse melody as “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Allright”….now that’s a good song

OVERALL ~ 35/100

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

29. “SOFTLY, SOFTLY” – RUBY MURRAY

Weeks at number one: 3 (18th February – 11th March) / Length: 2m28s / Label: Columbia

Notable for…being in that select group of stars possibly more famous for their impact on Cockney dialect than their recording career (see also: Eartha Kitt, James Blunt)

plus cos I’m posting this a day late, have a bonus rendition by a man:

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 3 : So I’m here doing my first ever cross-stich, eating crumpets, watching the news about the blitz, and listening to “Softly, Softly” by Ruby Murray, and just generally feeling like some-one living in a past assembled by someone who doesn’t really know when things happened, or whether people ate crumpets at any time in the past.

WORDS ~ 4 : Chill out, she says. No lusty thrusty rushing. Commendable. but “leave me never” is a bad set-up rhyme

VOICE ~ 5 : I read that her voice is weird because she had a throat operation as a child. And there is something weird about it, that I can’t put my finger on. Something slightly raspy maybe, like those people who speak through their throats because they smoked too much. But actually not like that at all. It’s quite eerie, but in a very space-age way. More than anything though, the performance is strangely flat, lacking in dynamic subtlety: guess whether she might sing the words “softly, softly” in a loud or quiet voice?

STRUCTURE ~ 3 : ABAA, which cleverly stands for ‘as boring as always’

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 3 : Cheesier and stringier than a Cheesestring, which is impressive because Cheesestrings are made with 100% real cheese.

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 3 : Not smokey or suave, but just like it says: soft

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 5 : She has a space-age voice

CATCHYNESS ~ 3 : This is might least favourite category, because it’s quite hard to describe catchiness. And I never want to use the phrase ‘ear-worm’, because it’s dumb, and makes me feel a bit sick just from the image. It’s the sort of thing they have in South America, I imagine.

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 3 : Not in a way that makes you directly relate to the song exactly, but I find myself wanting Ruby to have a successful career, and live much longer than she actually did, which was less than sixty-two years. This was her only number one, but she did chart lots more, as with the ingeniously titled “If Anyone Finds This, I Love You”…..that title reminds me of the music of Black Terror

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 4 : I’m pleased by the lack of eyelid-batting. I guess the maybe just the mic didn’t pick it up.

OVERALL ~ 36/100

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

28. “MAMBO ITALIANO” – ROSEMARY CLOONEY

Weeks at number one: 3 (14th – 21st January, 4th – 18th February 1955) / Length: 2m33s / Label: Philips

Notable for…being banned from ABC’s media outlets for having lyrics “void of good taste”….I don’t blame them

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 2 : “Bob actually wrote it on deadline, scribbled hastily on a paper napkin in an Italian restaurant in New York using the wall pay-phone to dictate the melody, rhythm and lyrics to the recording studio pianist, under the aegis of conductor Mitch Miller.”

WORDS ~ 0 : “Bob actually wrote it on deadline, scribbled hastily on a paper napkin in an Italian restaurant in New York using the wall pay-phone to dictate the melody, rhythm and lyrics to the recording studio pianist, under the aegis of conductor Mitch Miller.”

VOICE ~ 2 : basically the more she gets into the more i hate it- a shame because I really liked this one

STRUCTURE ~ 3 : “Bob actually wrote it on deadline, scribbled hastily on a paper napkin in an Italian restaurant in New York using the wall pay-phone to dictate the melody, rhythm and lyrics to the recording studio pianist, under the aegis of conductor Mitch Miller.”

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 3 : nice solo bit…..I need to learn what different instruments sound like. It will make my writing better.

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 1 : All glitz and no glam

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 3 : There have been a few sort of ‘world’ influenced hits – like little postcard songs I guess – but this makes a better attempt to bring the music back as well as the tastelessly crass stereotypes

CATCHYNESS ~ 5 : Desperately

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 0 : I would rather dance to the arrythmic buzzing of chainsaws slicing off my kneecaps

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 3 : Mambo is Cuban, originally kinda Afro-Cuban, so not Italian at all. Which means, maybe, it’s a comment on the melting-pot nature of New York, where a new craze comes along every day and gets adopted and adapted by various different ethnic groups until what belongs to who is indecipherable amongst the beauty of a truly multicultural society. But then you see Bob Merrill was the man behind “She Wears Red Feathers”, and you realise that this is literally back-of-the-napkin stuff from a man who can scarcely be bothered to use real words, let alone make a cogent observation on the impact of immigration on American music.

OVERALL ~ 22/100

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

27. “FINGER OF SUSPICION” – DICKIE VALENTINE

Weeks at number one: 3 (7th – 14th January & 21st January – 4th February…. knocked off the top both times by the same song…… find out which tomorrow!!!) / Length: 2m51s / Label: Decca

Notable for…being the soundtrack to a vague 9/11 conspiracy video!:

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 7 : Shares the kind of swoony, loved-up ambience of “You Belong To Me”, a kind of improv-sounding melody that, when you actually listen to it, is beautifully avoiding repetition through little tricks and turns

WORDS ~ 7 : There’s something undeniably ingenious about pop songs that have a situational angle: an extended metaphor running through the core of the song around which the rest of the lyrics can be easily filled in. In this case, it’s a “love as crime” angle, and Dickie Valentine plays the love-struck detective determined to discover who has been stealing his heartbeats and taking away his sleep. What’s he gonna do to the guilty one? Put them in jail! What’s jail? His arms! It’s brilliant. Downside: not much material… there are two verse and two choruses, but only seven original lines in there.

VOICE ~ 6 : Standard in good and bad ways.

STRUCTURE ~ 5 : ABA(inst.)AB

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 6 : Could so easily fall into attention-grabbing big band flooziness, but modestly remembers where we are (Popland) and keeps its clothes on

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 5 : You don’t get so many ‘Dickies’ these days… was there a specific date at which parents-to-be simultaneously realised that giving your child a name synonymous with genitalia might not be the best way to secure their future well-being? See also: Fanny

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 3 : Perfection of the croon-pop form, right down to the ludicrous stage name and playful lyrics – but about to become an endangered species. I know I keep saying this, but I can’t wait til rock’n’roll

CATCHYNESS ~ 6 : I could sing it after hearing it once, and that’s not some weird gift I have – it’s just quite catchy.

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 5 : An angle would normally be an emotional distancer, but crime is one thing almost as emotional, so it’s still pretty good

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 5 : The girl’s clearly in charge here, but patriarchy wins out in the power-relationship of law enforcer/criminal

OVERALL ~ 55/100

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

YEAR END: 1954

Songs: 11

Average song length: 2m51s

Average total score: 40.27 (down 0.8 from last year)

Best song: Undeniably this:

Secret Love” – Doris Day (65/100). Spotify here, lyrics here, or buy it: CD or mp3

Worst song:

I See The Moon” – The Stargazers (19/100). Spotify here, lyrics here, or buy it: CD or mp3

Highest average category: Words (4.73)

Lowest average: Originality (3.36)

26. “LET’S HAVE ANOTHER PARTY” – WINIFRED ATWELL

Weeks at number one: 5 (3rd December 1954 – 6th January 1955) / Length: 2m47s (roughly….it’s a two-parter, totalling over five minutes, but i’m only counting the first half (i.e. the A Side), which is FAST, whereas the second half is SLOW, and less suitable for a party) / Label: Philips

Notable for…first black number-oner! and only female instrumentalist number one EVAR

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 7 : It’s an instrumental medley of classic hits, and by classic hits I mean there’s only one song I recognise (“When the Red Robin….”), but they all sound pretty good. Harmony provided by guitar (quietly) and mainly just by some phenomenal piano playing (if it is just one piano)

WORDS ~ 6 : What an incredible title! I refuse to look up if there was a preceding “Let’s Have A Party”, or a follow-up “Let’s All Have An Alka-Seltzer And Try To Remember Where Our Pants Are” (but if I did look it up I would find that Atwell had five hits beginning with the word “Let’s”

VOICE ~ 7 : Honky-tonk piano is a beautiful sound, and I don’t know why any-one still makes or plays normal pianos. If you have a day to spare, start with tack pianos, move on to prepared piano, and spend a beautiful wikipedia day

STRUCTURE ~ 6 : It’s a medley, all the songs are the same key and tempo so it blends together pretty well

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 6 : It would be hard to make that piano sound bad, I would guess

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 6 : Ragtime is really brilliant, one of my total favourites

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 2 : A medley of old songs, done old-style, by some old lady, in the olden days

CATCHYNESS ~ 5 : Pretty catchy, but it’s a medley: that’s sort of cheating

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 5 : I do really really want a party now

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 4 : Kind of a shame that with so much talent, Atwell is the ragtime equivalent of a Wedding Disco DJ

OVERALL ~ 54/100

Spotify here, or buy it: CD or mp3

25. “THIS OLE HOUSE” – ROSEMARY CLOONEY

Weeks at number one: 1 (26th November – 3rd December 1954) / Length: 2m22s / Label: Philips

Notable for…first number one to later be number one for a different person….

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 5 : Vigourous is the word I’d use – it reminds me of old scout songs (i was not in scouts), but avoids the negatives of that connotation by….

WORDS ~ 5 : ….balancing out the gung-ho positivity with a set of lyrics so morbidly depressing they’d have Nick Cave spinning in his grave (which is where he sleeps). Basically: its about an old man with a dead family, in an old house, who doesn’t want to fix up the house, because he’s only going to die anyway.

VOICE ~ 6 : R.C. is as professional as you might have come to expect of our 50’s stars by now, but the real star of the show is the poop-inducing gravel-voiced fellow who pops up in the chorus, with an impressive amount of vigour for someone apparently at death’s door.

STRUCTURE ~ 5 : Rattles by like a runaway mine train: dark and fast

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 7 : wikipedia on Stuart Hamblen, who wrote this song: “Some of his post-conversion songs depict a rather wrathful version of the Gospel, sung with such good-natured high spirits that they have an ironic appeal to the non-religious.” Certainly here (and this is a post-conversion song) there is a bizarre juxtaposition between the racey, kitchen-sink production and the haunting moribundity of the lyrics. The instrumental verse is especially MENTAL

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 4 : Completely defies judgement, so i’ll give it a four

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 6 : Mid-way between Country and RnR, but with a raucous energy that points forwards not back

CATCHYNESS ~ 6 : More than anything this has a kind of knee-slapping infectiousness to it, so whilst you might not remember it afterwards, you’ll remember that you liked it

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 6 : The ludicrous lack of correlation between the music and words make it impossible to cry over, but it does make me VERY HAPPY INDEED

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 5 : prrrobably the first song that doesn’t sound brazenly commercial, but it was written by a freaky-deaky Christian

OVERALL ~ 55/100

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

24. “MY SON MY SON” – VERA LYNN

Weeks at number one: 2 (5th – 19th November 1954) / Length: 2m40s / Label: Decca

Notable for…oldest female number-oner so far (haven’t checked that)

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 2 : Nothing to write home from the war about. the “my son my son” bit reminds me of that famous song where Homer eats crisps in space

WORDS ~ 4 : For the generation who considered Vera Lynn their definitive sweetheart during the ’39-’45 war (if you can call it that….Eric hobsbawm (sp) tells me to consider 1914 – 1945 as one period of constant conflict), here she is a decade later seeing that same generation though their latest trauma: their children growing up. not exactly the battle of britain i guess, but the war still lingers here: the emphasis on safety and the preciousness of life makes it clear that the completion of childhood is not something to be taken for granted, and there’s an overall air of gratitude that is hard not to find at least a tiny bit touching, in some lame, old-people type way, like how they think pasta is a novelty

VOICE ~ 2 : Did you know ‘Vera Lynn’ is an anagram of ‘Very Lame’?

STRUCTURE ~ 2 : a sort of ABA thing, i guess. mercifully short

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 2 : Vocals way too loud, also the male choir is absolutely RIDICULOUS

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 1 : Oh, imagine if your mum bought this record and made you listen to it, and she cried whilst you both sat there and said: “I know I might not always show it, Mark, but I do love you…..and I do want you to do find your way in life…I just can’t see a future in this music thing…..not that you’re not talented, cos you are…..and god knows you practice enough(!)…..all I’m saying is that it can’t hurt to have a back-up plan…….people will always need sinks mending…….and if nothing else you’ll save yourself some money doing your own plumbing….what does Carol say?”

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 1 : “old to begin”

CATCHYNESS ~ 2 : Its more of a catchy sentiment than melody….if that makes any sense at all. that’s the bit i’ll remember, i mean

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 2 : Maybe in thirty years i’ll understand,or something

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 3 : Number one for remembrance day….(???)….maybe i’m too cynical but probably the prime demographic for this record was grieving war-mothers

OVERALL ~ 21/100

Spotify here, lyrics here, or buy it: FIVE DISC CD BOX SET! or mp3

23. “HOLD MY HAND” – DON CORNELL

Weeks at number one: 5 (8th October – 5th November, 19th – 26th November 1954) / Length: 2m48s / Label: Coral

Notable for…featuring in (and being Oscar nominated for) ‘Susan Slept Here’, which if this clip is anything to go by, is an incredible film that I would like to watch very soon:

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 5 : Pleasantly playful… and more than four chords in this era is a real treat

WORDS ~ 5 : Seedy as a bunch of non-seedless grapes, but still somehow adorable. Don promises a girl (presumably) nothing less than IMMORTALITY, and all she has to do in return is hold his hand. His sweaty, cankerous, lizard-like hand. What’s that in your pocket, Don, you filthy old man? You disgust me

VOICE ~ 7 : An especially good bit is the sort of faint melisma on words like “spell”, “Eve”, and “immortal”  – he’s not quite hitting the notes properly, but does he care? Of course not

STRUCTURE ~ 4 : Fine. It’s the sort of song that you imagine still plays, infinitely, reverb tinged, in some empty house in the mid-west, the last remnant of a dust-buried, near-mythical age……(or like that bit in “Girl, Interrupted”, you know the bit…..[if you don’t know the bit, just say])

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 3 : I am so sick of violins right now….i think they have been in every song so far bar one…and when you have strings all the way through the song, are they really the best instrument to use for the solo? Seriously, it makes such a difference to hear a different sound, even just for a verse

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 4 : obviously with these old songs its pretty different whether its cool now, or whether it was cool then…but i’m working on the assumption that real coolness is kind of timeless….and this song has lasted okay. the delivery is really spot on i think

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 5 : “Pass through the portal now / We’ll be immortal now”…..about the most futuristic couplet in ALL POP HISTORY

CATCHYNESS ~ 5 : five out of ten (i did not sleep much last night)

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 3 : three out of ten (maybe not even at all)

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 2 : It’s scummy that a song can use religious metaphor for maximum Christ-appeal, but simultaneously be more than a little bit blasphemous….. because to Don Cornell the Garden of Eden was “never so grand” as what he’s experiencing now: i.e. a boner. Smite him, Lord, and smite him quick

OVERALL ~ 43/100

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