‘It’s Only Make Believe’ takes a male pop archetype ‘ booming, stirring, strident ‘ and flips it, so that each verse builds up not to a confident declaration but to a shattered, lonely howl. Twitty was a country singer by background and it’s as such he’s remembered, but this isn’t just a country song. It’s a synthesis of country, rock and roll, shoo-be-doo beat balladry and older pop crooning. The rolling piano rhythms might have coaxed lovers into one another’s arms in a different song ‘ here they give Twitty the momentum that allows him to confess, to shout out the lie he’s been living. (His hesitancy in the first lines, that fumbling for the word ‘everywhere’, is desperately effective.).
This is also the last No.1 of 1958. What it has in common with most of the others is a) quality, b) modernity. Which is to say that (Vic Damone aside), everything that topped the charts in ’58 seems clearly in debt to rock and roll ‘ in arrangement, in attitude, in risk-taking or playfulness or starkness. Eddie Fisher and the Dreamweavers had got to No.1 with records as lonely as ‘It’s Only Make Believe’ ‘ good records, too ‘ but compared to them Twitty sounds like he’s had a layer of skin peeled off. Their sorrow was something crafted and well-formed ‘ no less real, no less moving, but more carefully and delicately expressed. Twitty’s is immediate. Rock and roll wasn’t the first style to tap that immediacy, but for British listeners I’m guessing it might as well have been. What had gone before was portrait painting: rock and roll was a camera.