Guy’s fourth No.1 gives me a chance to apologise – I threw my hands up in horror at his first, “She Wears Red Feathers”, and gave it a two. I was wrong: “Red Feathers”, and Mitchell’s work in general, won me over with its rakish joie de vivre. I was pretty new to the Fifties mainstream then – two months on, with even Guy rocking out (well, a bit) and acknowledging that the old game was mostly up, I’m sad to see it pass. Some of the first records that topped the charts were stiflingly boring, and fit very well with the stiff-collared decade of later reputation. But others were charming, or witty, or perhaps touching, and they were often surprising.
“How the fuck did this get to No.1?” is a question each generation must ask anew. But having all but eighty of the 964 number ones on my hard drive I have to say that few periods are more generally bewildering than the early 50s. After that things settle down, patterns emerge. Partly it’s a familiarity thing, but I’d guess the later 50s also saw the UK record industry wise up and realise who was buying the damn things (young people) and what they wanted (whatever was hot). Creating and riding youth trends is a fairly hard game to play but at least it is a game with ever more comprehensible rules.
And at this particular point the rule was ‘Make a rock and roll record’. Guy Mitchell and his team very reasonably interpret this to mean ‘Repeat the word “rock” as often as you can’ in a chorus he attacks with gusto. In between he gives us a handy primer on rockabilly history and tells us to “Wiggle like a trout”, clearly the song’s highpoint. It’s a slick track and will have pulled its dancefloor weight several times over, but it’s a little too hearty to swing, and a little too self-satisfied to delight.