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Nov 03

GUY MITCHELL – “Rock-A-Billy”

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#58, 12th May 1957

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.

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Comments

  1. 1
    wichita lineman on 30 May 2008 #

    Well, it’s got a backbeat of sorts but it sure ain’t Charlie Feathers. Guy sounds remarkably unconvinced, the gritted teeth are audible, the furrowed brow, the look over his shoulder wondering where the heck Bob Merrill went with his songs about cokeynuts and baby’s po-po’s. In fact the whole thing could be a parody, just less obvious and less nasty than Stan Freberg.

    “You know you’re gonna act like a crazy fool. Who cares? It’s cool.” The sound of the older generation patronising the younger in a nutshell. Could be a dry run for The Day Today’s “is this cool?” sketch – Guy clearly hates the expression as much as I do. I wonder if he ever sneered the word ‘funky’?

    I don’t think I’ve come across any other contemporary mainstream reference to Rockabilly – it’s always Hillbilly or Rock n Roll. We all know what it means now, but can anyone confirm if the general population knew what Rockabilly was in 1957?

  2. 2
    DJ Punctum on 30 May 2008 #

    Speaking of The Day Today, I recall Chris Morris’ enthusiastic championing of Mitchell’s 1988 “comeback” single “Have A Nice Day.”

  3. 3
    Duro on 24 Aug 2017 #

    I’m working my way through the 50s number ones and there is no way Mitchell’s subsequent okayish output exonerates the unforgivable ‘She Wears Red Feathers’.

    You know, just on the offchance you come to check the comments on a 60-year-old song 14 years later

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