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30
Sep 03

PEREZ ‘PREZ’ PRADO AND HIS ORCHESTRA – “Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White”

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#31, 29th April 1955

The intro to this is easily the most exciting sound to hit No.1 so far ? a slamming one-note trumpet fanfare that takes you into the tune’s gimmicky sliding-horn hook. Beyond that it’s hard for me to get much of a grip on “Cherry Pink” – it’s a stomping dance number but it keeps stopping and starting, and what’s that grunting man doing there? (Answer: harshing the buzz, mostly.) The ID3 for this MP3 describes it as “House”, which isn?t totally unreasonable: I don’t think I’d truly understand “Cherry Pink” unless I was giving it some on a 1955 dancefloor.

TENNESSEE ERNIE FORD – “Give Me Your Word”

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#30, 11th March 1955

The history books record it as the first ‘country record’ to top the British charts, but even Shania in full-on sitars-and-bongos mode would blush at claiming this one for Nashville. Tennessee’s chucklesome hick baritone is the only remotely downhome signifier here; everything else is slathering strings and dewy-eyed sentiment which could have been happily placed with Frankie Laine or David Whitfield. Maybe the plodding march-time rhythm is meant to be countrified, too – it makes for a dreary listen whatever.

29
Sep 03

RUBY MURRAY – “Softly, Softly”

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#29, 18th February 1955

Ruby’s real contribution to British pop culture is as rhyming slang for the national dish, ironic when you hear this spiceless outing, arranged as primly as it is sung. Murray’s pert and precise enunciation helps kill off a pleasant but treacly tune: her slightly odd accent the only mild interest in a modest two minutes.

ROSEMARY CLOONEY – “Mambo Italiano”

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#28, 14th January 1955

Italiana strikes again, but Clooney plays it for laughs and dances. The track kicks off with a sarkily comical ballad intro before quickly getting down to hoofing business. I imagine an iceberg of mambo tunes of which this novelty is the chart-topping tip – Clooney really gets her teeth sunk into it, though (check her feral “Ayyyy”s to hear how much she’s enjoying it). Her band follow suit, with a hammering piano break, and the whole thing wraps up before you quite have time to get irritated by it.

28
Sep 03

DICKIE VALENTINE – “Finger Of Suspicion”

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#27, 7th January 1955

Dickie is backed up here by The Stargazers, who redeem themselves for “I See The Moon” by doing a slick job on a flimsy but enjoyable crooner. The song is really little more than an extended chat-up line – “Someone broke into my heart and stole a beat or two / The finger of suspicion points at you” – but it’s smartly done, nobody overdoes things, at least until a nasty organ honk in the closing seconds. Valentine seems on this showing a fairly indifferent singer, but the slight strain and rasp in his voice makes for a winning performance of a song that might easily tip into unctiousness. 5

WINIFRED ATWELL – “Let’s Have Another Party”

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#26, 3rd December 1954

This is also a knees-up party record but of a whole different order. It’s a medley – nay, a megamix – of music-hall hits instrumentalised, mashed together and played sped-up on a piano. I imagine Grandma out of Giles cackling away as she thumps the ivories at some family bash. Winifred Atwell recorded about 800 of these. They all sound the same – think a one-woman 50s Scooter – and it was a devil to track the right one down. They’re pretty good though: you can tell why she had the Christmas party scene in a headlock this year. The version I found goes straight into its B-Side which has, rather wonderfully, a guitar overdub halfway through that took me absolutely by surprise. It’s there for no reason at all, it just plays along with a few notes then drops out again. I love it: it’s one of the first sightings of something great in British pop, the joy in a new noise for its own sake.

26
Sep 03

ROSEMARY CLOONEY – “This Ole House”

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#25, 26th November 1954

A word on teenagers and adults. It’s a truism to suggest that in the early 50s the “teenager” hadn’t been conceptualised; judging by these records, it’s also generally accurate. Nothing about them suggests they are aimed at anyone other than young adults, or simply adults. The subject is generally love – love treated not with an adolescent intensity or passion but usually with ticklish wordplay that we recognise is to be taken as grown-up, or sophisticated. When the subject isn’t love it might be faith, or parenthood, or in this case property.

OK, it’s a stretch to describe “This Ole House” as ‘about’ anything much: it’s a knees-up party record, meant for dancing and smiling to. As such it does its job with vim and charm – the pompous bass voice (representing the tumbledown house itself, I suppose) is a particularly fun touch. But there’s no sense in this dance that it’s something for the young to do, or that anyone can or should be excluded from it.

25
Sep 03

VERA LYNN – “My Son My Son”

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#24, 5th November 1954

My God My God. One of the defences of the sales-based UK charts I regularly offer is that it impartially reflects anyone who is buying singles, not just the people record labels and radios would like to be buying them. This means the charts can be regularly mugged by tots and grannies taking a fancy to a particular single. On paper this is a victory for unpredictability and punter power, in actual fact it means Dame Vera and “My Son My Son” can get to Number One.

If you asked most people with an interest in rock what pre-rock pop sounded like – the stuff that Elvis shimmied into destruction according to the official histories – they’d imagine something not unlike “My Son”. Sledgehammer production, tottering sentimentality, a complete and deliberate absence of youth: this one has it all! If there was ever a battle between this old music and that imminent new one then this was so defeated, so comprehensively annihilated that now it seems like an archaeological find, not an old enemy, not even quaint.

24
Sep 03

DON CORNELL – “Hold My Hand”

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#23, 10th October 1954

Cornell’s problem is that he sounds far far too pleased with his allotted lines – rhymes like “this is / bliss is / kisses”, which aren’t that witty and which come attached to an unremarkable slow-dance tune. Even so a different singer might have made them sound spontaneous: Don just coats them with grease and deep fries them. “So this is the Garden of Eden” – and no girls allowed, just Don and a mirror and a finely adjusted bow tie.

FRANK SINATRA – “Three Coins In A Fountain”

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#22, 17th September 1954

One of the many reasons I turned this project from whim to reality was that I reckoned it would give me a ‘way in’ to liking older artists more. Listening to Frank Sinatra in the context of lots of other less famous people doing sort-of-similar things would persuade me further of his genius. And it nearly worked, too. It’s reminded me of how distinctive Sinatra is, but “Three Coins?” isn?t a particularly great advert for him.

For one thing the song has no real drive beyond its central image – a pitfall of taking singles from musicals. It’s a beguiling and romantic image, but when the single ends the image is cut short when it needs to burst into cinematic life. Of course, I’m perhaps being unfair – to the moviegoer of 1954 it did just that. Even then though the record is flawed: the ripe arrangement is a bit unsympathetic to Sinatra, who is at his finest when he can afford to turn down his singer’s projection and almost be speaking (to the audience, to himself). “Three Coins” makes Sinatra fight the strings too much for my taste as it heads for the “Make it mine” refrain. The result is an oddly unsatisfying record.