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Sep 03

FRANKIE LAINE – “I Believe”

Popular15 comments • 2,835 views

#9, 24th April 1953

This was No.1 for some stupefying number of weeks – every time a record knocked Frankie off the top he would climb back up and give the hapless contender a battering. I got the impression it was considered some kind of statistical freak for a long time, a quirk of the fifties’ record buying habits (whatever they might have been). Listening to it though you can hear exactly why it sold so many copies: it has that domineering “I AM A HIT” presence that massive sellers often do. You might think it’s rubbish – and in a sense it is rubbish – but you know from the first listen that your opinion, or anyone’s, is perfectly irrelevant.

Frankie Laine delivers his heart-warming homilies with a clenched-teeth conviction that time has made somewhat laughable: when the drums come in for the last set of “I believe”s I think of purple Tango man tearing off his shirt and striding towards the Dover cliffs. Dispassionately, I admire “I Believe” and the way it presses all the buttons then available, but I can’t take it seriously, which is perhaps a shame – on the other hand I take Andrew WK entirely seriously and the principle is surely the same, so what am I really missing?

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Comments

  1. 1
    intothefireuk on 7 Nov 2007 #

    Frankie Laine’s totally committed, almost hysterical vocal is what elevates this above the ordinary. The song relies heavily on his delivery as there is very little in the way of backing – a subdued orchestra and restrained (for the time) choral backing vocals. It’s not the version I remember from my youth (that was probably The Bachelors) and it’s quite surprising to hear it sung with this much conviction but it’s strangely compelling hymn-like qualities (a song about faith that doesn’t mention either God or love) still have power (although apparently not, in the hands of more recent artists, of which more – much later).

  2. 2
    Marcello Carlin on 8 Nov 2007 #

    What makes it work is the very strong impression of a man crawling out of the wreckage, convincing himself with every ounce of power he can muster that it’s worth carrying on, that things will get better/turn the corner, that salvation is out there somewhere in the dark, no matter how long it takes him to struggle to reach the faint light; Laine puts in a performance here almost worthy of Paul Robeson. Again, the war, everyone pulling together to pull things back together – in that context the record would have been entirely understandable. In my context I hardly have to spell it out.

    The Bachelors’ 1964 number two cover was I suspect substantially more of an influence on the second version of the song to top the charts…

  3. 3
    Billy Smart on 19 Mar 2009 #

    Light entertainment Watch; Frankie Laine was too big a star to often appear on British television. These two appearances are lost;

    SUNDAY NIGHT AT THE LONDON PALLADIUM (VAL PARNELL’S …..): with Bruce Forsyth, Frankie Laine (1957)

    SUNDAY NIGHT AT THE LONDON PALLADIUM (VAL PARNELL’S …..): with Dickie Henderson, Frankie Laine, Juliette Greco (1957)

    Later appearances survive, however;

    CANNON AND BALL: with Frankie Laine, Suzanne Danielle (1982)

    FRANKIE LAINE: with Frankie Laine (1976)

    LOOKS FAMILIAR: with Lionel Blair, Frankie Laine, Anne Shelton (1982)

  4. 4
    Eli on 19 Dec 2010 #

    Very much a song of the Korean War – although I don’t think that had much to do with us Brits at all…

    Agree completely with the “I AM A HIT” presence; rather like the 50s equivalent of a Celine Dion megahit (have power ballads disappeared from our charts altogether now?). When I first heard this a few years ago, I didn’t think it was anything special. When I listened to it a few weeks ago I felt like a listener in 1953, and was won over by the song’s charms.

    But record sales were still superceded by those of sheet music – so this ‘only’ sold about 500,000 copies in all. Not what you’d expect from an 18-week #1.

  5. 5
    crag on 13 Apr 2011 #

    DESERT ISLAND DISC WATCH (Up to 11/04/11)

    Eva Bartok, Actor(1963)

    Stanley McMurty, Artist(2008)

  6. 6
    Tom on 28 Jul 2013 #

    It turns out that the MP3 I ISN’T the #1 hit record, but a different version with very different (full showtune-style) orchestration and a glibber, less committed vocal from Frankie – a later re-record I’d imagine. So this is unjustly undermarked!

  7. 7
    Billy Hicks on 28 Jul 2013 #

    Easy mistake to make, and still one to be cautious of in today’s Spotify era as a huge amount of hits right up to the 1980s now seem to exist in more recently recorded versions, taking a couple of clicks to find the right-sounding one. Normally it’s an unusually crisp and digital-sounding instrumental backing that gives the game away, although this isn’t always the case with some re-recordings done decades back.

    Can I guess that http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9hFSKOp9TM (or something similar) was the one you heard and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–j7wvtOi1s is the original 1953 hit?

  8. 8
    wichitalineman on 28 Jul 2013 #

    I Believe was one of a ton of vaguely religious hits in the fifties: Dickie Valentine’s I Wonder, David Whitfield’s The Book, Johnnie Ray’s If You Believe, Frankie Laine’s In The Beginning – stylistically, they are all similarly bug-eyed.

    Petula Clark’s barking mad (non-hit) The Sky is the funniest.

    The most sinister is Tony Martin’s 1956 no.2 hit Walk Hand In Hand – “walk hand in hand with me, God is our destiny” sounds rather Don’t Fear The Reaper in its intentions.

  9. 9
    Mark G on 29 Jul 2013 #

    And, of course “Answer Me”, which got banned for blasphemy (how dare you demand of our lord god etc..)

  10. 10
    Rory on 29 Jul 2013 #

    @7 Wow, that’s some contrast. I’d agree that the syrupy rerecording would be a 3, but the original has an earnest power that would take it to a 5 or 6 for me.

    Frankie Laine holds a special place in my memory, but for another song. Back when I was a fifteen-year-old eagerly waiting to hear the American Top 40 one Sunday in 1983, the local AM radio station that played it each week (7HT, for any middle-aged Tasmanian Googlers out there) was behaving very strangely. The DJ would announce Chris de Burgh’s “Don’t Pay the Ferryman” or Billy Idol’s “White Wedding”, and then play… “High Noon“. Again and again, all day. It was a stunt to promote the station’s “new mix” of “hits from the 50s, 60s, 70s… and today”, or whatever it was.

    Naturally, I kept checking the radio throughout the day to see if they’d come to their senses yet, and ended up with the words “do not forsake me oh my darlin’” etched forever on my brain. It’s meant I’ve avoided the song ever since, but also that all these years later I could instantly confirm that the correct recording wasn’t the one that came up first on YouTube.

    Did Frankie record an album called “Frankie Laine Butchers His Old Hits” or something? Tell me he didn’t do it to “Rawhide“. (Yep; there’s a stereo rerecording from 1960. But it’s not too bad.)

  11. 11
    Mark G on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Dunno, but he did record an album called “Hell bent for leather” which is a general trip-up for pop music quiz nights

  12. 12
    wichitalineman on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Re 9: The 50s equivalent of bleeping, or replacing ‘bitch’ with ‘chick’, was to replace ‘God’ with ‘love’.

    And, as with bleeping, I tend to prefer the version without the offensive language – Frankie Laine’s Answer Me, My Love being an unlikely twin of David Guetta’s Sexy Chick.

    Re 10: Rawhide was a very late Frankie Laine hit (in 1959), even though it’s possibly his best remembered. So the 1960 stereo recording may well be the original.

    I’d be more than happy to find a radio station that mixed “hits of today” with High Noon. And White Wedding, for that matter.

  13. 13
    Mark G on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Oh, I’d sort-of assumed (or mayme mis-read) that Barb Dix’s version of “Answer Me” was her own ‘re’vision..

    Another one where I prefer the non-banned revision would be “Purple Hills” D12

  14. 14
    Rory on 29 Jul 2013 #

    @12 The backing seems to be the same (apart from one being mono, one stereo), but it’s a different take on the 1960 “Rawhide” vocals – still good, though.

    It looks as if 7HT’s successor has dropped the fifties from its mix. Ah well.

  15. 15
    enitharmon on 11 Jun 2014 #

    Did I ever mention in the old comments that this is may have been the first number one I was aware of (as a record, not as a number one) and also the first I can recall a recording of at home? I’m sure I’ve mentioned at some point that my dad brought an old wooden gramophone (a stand-up piece of furniture, and electric rather than wind-up) with a load of shellac 78 rpm records including this, plus the same artist’s Answer Me, This Old House and The Man From Laramie, which I (aged 5 or 6) was allowed to play (and feel sophisticated) with for a while. Eventually, probably after we acquired a more up-to-the-minute record player in about 1961, the gramophone got turned into a bedside cabinet for me.

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