“Singing The Blues” is an obvious smash – immediately memorable, modern enough to grab the rock’n’rollers, catchy and polite enough to hook everyone else too. The arrangements of these versions are very close (Mitchell’s is a bit brisker and busier), but the treatments are still worlds apart.
Guy Mitchell brings the tune the assurance of an old pop hand – even heartbreak is a bit of a chuckle for good old Guy, so in his hands it’s a stagey swoon to win over a coy could-be. And of course we fall for it – he’s so charismatic, his voice so sparkly, how could we not?
Tommy Steele gives us the fresher, more rockin’ treatment, but his record is hardly more authentic – in fact it’s bare-facedly, outrageously, preposterously mannered, and the manners in question belong entirely to one Presley, E.
Here’s how Mitchell sings the first verse of “Singing The Blues”:
Well I never felt more like sing’n’ the blues
Cos I never thought that I’d ever lose
Your love, dear
Why’d you do me this way?
And here’s how Steele sings it:
Weh-hell uhne’eh’el’orlike sinnuh blues
Cos I ne’eh’ought a’Ide’uhlose
Your love, dear
Why’cha do me this way?
Steele’s singing is not his natural voice, no, it is a very specific style he is attempting, and that style is ‘rock and roll’, as incarnated in the larynx and lips of Elvis. No consonant is safe with Steele around, words pool into one another in a shrugged gush of pre-meditated moodiness. Next to him, Guy Mitchell’s enunciations have the sharp edges and neat corners of, well, a square.
So if you wanted you could read Mitchell’s one week at the top and Steele’s two as a changing of the guard. But it’s not quite like that. Listen again to Steele’s first verse and you hear the rocker make up cracking – “your love, dear” sounds cockney; “do me this way” trails off in an arch near-falsetto. Tribute act he may have been but you can hear the Britishness creep through. Their records are very different but Mitchell and Steele have a lot in common – they’re both showbusiness lads, trying their best to make a fist of it in changing times and guess which way the wind is blowing. Tommy Steele’s guess sounds better at first, but he never had another No.1.