Sep 04

Popular ’61

Popular25 comments • 2,342 views

There’s a few big Popular entries coming up so I’m giving myself a spare day’s breathing space, which means it’s time for a year poll. To be moved to its proper place in a week or so.

I give every record on Popular a mark out of 10 – this is your chance to say which of the number ones of 1961 you’d have given 6 or more to. This year got three 9s from me – “Johnny Remember Me”, “Blue Moon” and “Moon River”. At the other end “Wooden Heart” and “I Reach For The Stars” got lumped with a 2. As ever, discuss the year in general in the comments…

Which Of The Number One Hits Of 1961 Would You Have Given 6 Or More To?

View Results

Poll closes: No Expiry

Loading ... Loading ...


  1. 1
    Tom on 7 Mar 2014 #

    11 out of 21 and I’d mark a few more higher now.

    I’m obviously not expecting this to make as much of a comments dent as the 1966 year poll, but this is a more interesting year than I remember – the height of Elvis’ UK success (if not his reputation) and part of the slightly shadowy ‘between rock’n’roll and the Beatles’ era which a bunch of people have been reassessing recently. It’s rather a strong group of songs, I think.

  2. 2
    Brendan F on 7 Mar 2014 #

    Runaway and His Latest Flame are two of my all-time favourites, not just of the pre-Beatles era. It’s interesting that Tower of Strength has maintained a strong rating but is way down at the moment (though obviously it’s still early days yet)

  3. 3
    thefatgit on 7 Mar 2014 #

    Voted for 9 of these. Del Shannon and John Leyton get the high marks (both 9s I reckon). A good year for Joe Meek-produced pop. “Wooden heart” and “Well I ask You” are the clunkers on this list.

  4. 4
    Kat but logged out innit on 7 Mar 2014 #

    7 for me – Tower of Strength vying with His Latest Flame for my favourite.

  5. 5
    enitharmon on 7 Mar 2014 #

    It’s a good list. Something is clearly happening here even if it will take a couple of years to find out what. It’s almost as if pop is trying to break out of a rut but doesn’t yet know which way to go.

    I gave Walk Right Back the benefit of the doubt as the other half of the double-A is a real turkey that might well have dragged the whole thing down.

    Don’t really get the hate for the Temperance Seven. Definitely something outside the mundane and one of my earliest fond pop memories.

  6. 6
    weej on 7 Mar 2014 #

    Didn’t look like much of a year, but going back through my votes I counted a whole twelve, so there we are. Aside from the obvious ones I went for both Helen Shapiros (some of the original scores I differ from the most too – pleased to see how well Walkin’ Back To Happiness is doing) Floyd Cramer (surely everyone loves this after it was used in ‘An Education’? No?) and The Temperence Seven, who are novel enough to get a ‘6’.

  7. 7
    Tom on 7 Mar 2014 #

    #5 with these early polls, I think low votes are as much “haven’t heard of” as “don’t like” (it’s a limitation of the poll system – ideally people would have ‘1-5’. ‘6-10’ and ‘No idea’ options for each song)

  8. 8
    Kat but logged out innit on 7 Mar 2014 #

    I kind of don’t want to listen to the Shirley Bassey in case it’s not, as I suspect, an S Club 7 reworking.

  9. 9
    punctum on 7 Mar 2014 #

    4 out of 21. I would have given a whole load of 5s. I was being fussy.

  10. 10
    lonepilgrim on 7 Mar 2014 #

    there’s a sense of passions straining against the leash in a lot of these songs. I’m very much taken with “Tower of strength” for its kitchen sink production and Frankie Vaughan’s manic performance. I like Floyd Kramer too. I’ve grown a bit tired of Helen Shapiro, which is probably unfair to her but hey-ho. Sailor is extraordinarily bad.

  11. 11
    Mark G on 7 Mar 2014 #

    Yeah I picked a lot this time but most would be exactly 6 points

  12. 12
    wichita lineman on 8 Mar 2014 #

    A big improvement on 1960 – I agree with Rosie, it feels like pop is trying to find a way out of a post R&R impasse. Eden Kane is possibly the most typical 1961 hit, without being any cop; Johnny Tillotson sounds antique already with it’s Paul Anka moves; Helen Shapiro is caught between the Alma Cogan and Sandie Shaw eras, she would go on to make better records. John Leyton and Del Shannon are 10s for me. The light country of Walk Right Back and On the Rebound have a great sense of playfulness – Temperance Seven and Shads too – which make ’61 and ’62 very enjoyable but also rather overlooked years. Not much here for Mojo readers.

  13. 13
    enitharmon on 8 Mar 2014 #

    It’s still very much an American-dominated chart and even the British acts are mostly American-imitators rather than reaching out for a distinctively British pop voice. The brief flowering of “cockney sparrers” Anthony Newley and Adam Faith didn’t really last long and there’s no sign of the specifically non-London Britishness that is about to explode just around the corner (now we are in a time when London seems more than ever to be everything that matters in all spheres of life it seems remarkable that that was ever the case). Sailor is of course an early manifestation of Europop which I don’t dislike as much as many populistas appear to, mainly because it’s an earworm and carries fond childhood memories. And despite her rough ride in these pages I always had a soft spot for Pet! Wichita is right – playfulness is the order of the year. Outstanding British entries here from Leyton and the Temperance Seven, both doing something outside the box in very different ways. Big surprise for me is, no Cliff in this list. If asked cold I’d have said that Cliff was the big British name of 1961, just as he was breaking away from his English Elvis image.

  14. 14
    wichitalineman on 8 Mar 2014 #

    I went to a David Hockney exhibition at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool last week which had a LOT of Cliff in it – I never knew Hockney was so smitten with him! Doll Boy was his nickname for him, and there was a sketch reminiscent of toilet graffiti that had something like DH hearts CR.

    Anyway, you’re not wrong Rosie, and the first #1 of the year was Cliff’s rather tepid I Love You, but none of his 1961-released singles went higher than #3: Theme For A Dream, Gee Whiz It’s You (an export-only single that sold enough copies here to reach #4), A Girl Like You and When The Girl In Your Arms Is The Girl In Your Heart.

    1961 was also the year Billy Fury became a proper star, after two years of minor hits, with Halfway To Paradise (#3), Jealousy (#2) and I’d Never Find Another You (#5). That was the closest he got to a Popular entry of his own.

  15. 15
    Ed on 9 Mar 2014 #

    Youthful Cliff enthusiasm presumably also the explanation for this: http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-26169718

  16. 16
    Ed on 9 Mar 2014 #

    @1 “slightly shadowy”: a deliberate joke, or Freudian slip?

    Here’s a great clip of vintage 1961 Cliff: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfoUprzjUaw

    And, for no particular good reason except that I happened to stumble across it yesterday, here are The Shadows – including Hank, but without Cliff – from the previous year:

    As a friend commented: “They look like Buddy Holly fronting The Clash.”

  17. 17
    wichitalineman on 9 Mar 2014 #

    Those US number ones in full. There’s a sluggish start but, with the exceptions of Joe Dowell’s Elvis cover and the Highwaymen, it gets more and more exciting as the year goes on. Pop is visibly working a way out of its malaise. Hello Goffin & King (Shirelles, Bobby Vee), Girl Groups (Shirelles, Marvelettes) and Motown (Marvelettes) all of whom picked up pace in ’62 and ’63:

    “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” Elvis Presley
    “Wonderland by Night” Bert Kaempfert
    “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” The Shirelles
    “Calcutta” Lawrence Welk
    “Pony Time” Chubby Checker
    “Surrender” Elvis Presley
    “Blue Moon” The Marcels
    “Runaway” Del Shannon
    “Mother-in-Law” Ernie K-Doe
    “Travelin’ Man”/”Hello Mary Lou” Ricky Nelson
    “Running Scared” Roy Orbison
    “Moody River” Pat Boone
    “Quarter to Three” Gary U.S. Bonds
    “Tossin’ and Turnin'” Bobby Lewis
    “Wooden Heart” Joe Dowell
    “Michael” The Highwaymen
    “Take Good Care of My Baby” Bobby Vee
    “Hit the Road Jack” Ray Charles
    “Runaround Sue” Dion
    “Big Bad John” Jimmy Dean
    “Please Mr. Postman” The Marvelettes
    “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” The Tokens

  18. 18
    Tom on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Poor old Eden Kane. He’s not THAT bad. Well, he’s got a good name anyhow.

  19. 19
    punctum on 10 Mar 2014 #

    What, Richard Sarstedt?

  20. 20
    unlogged mog on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Petula Clark had a properly good album last year, just in case anyone missed that. (!!!)

  21. 21
    punctum on 10 Mar 2014 #

    It probably had the best opening track of any album last year. Rest of it’s a bit hit and miss, though.

  22. 22
    wichitalineman on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Re 18: Eden Kane’s not that bad at all, but I’ve always thought Well I Ask You a very anonymous #1 – Forget Me Not, a #3 from ’62 does the same growling slo-mo thing much better. His last hit Boys Cry (#10 ’64) was terrific – v popular in the Andrew Oldham/Stones camp, as it had a very UK Spector production (dunno who produced it).

    Agree on Pet C’s sultry ‘comeback’ single last year, and Sailor’s gently rolling pre-rock charms make it a 5 for me.

    Poor Floyd Cramer too! What’s not to like? As Tom says, I can only assume most people haven’t voted for it because they haven’t heard it. Slip note heaven!

  23. 23
    IJGrieve on 21 Jan 2015 #

    Comments on the #1 hits of 1961 will appear here…

  24. 24
    IJGrieve on 21 Jan 2015 #

    For some crazy reason, I’ve made it my mission this year to listen to every UK #1 – well, since 1961 anyway, as I wanted to get to 2015 by the end of the year. Rather than cluttering up all the threads with my tossed-off reviews, I’m posting them all here.

    If some of my comments read a little oddly, it’s because I wrote them for posting elsewhere, and this is the repost:

    JOHNNY TILLOTSON – “Poetry In Motion”
    I have to mention ‘Popular’ again already, as I cannot better the way my main takeaway from this simple pop song is expressed there: “an aw-shucks glee at the female form”. This is no classic, but it has an unlikely charm that leads me to give it 7

    ELVIS PRESLEY – “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”
    This classic needs no introduction, but what’s easy to forget about if you’ve only been hearing this from clips played on the TV is how the spoken-word parts make the song. I’m seeking to balance personal preference and musical merit in the ratings – I concede that if I was aiming for objectivity this would be at least two points higher than the preceding track, but since I’m not: 7

    PETULA CLARK – “Sailor”
    After an uncharacteristically bright start, we begin to discover why 1961 isn’t regarded as a classic year in the history of pop music. This tedious plodder cannot be recommended to anyone, anywhere. 2

    THE EVERLY BROTHERS – “Walk Right Back”
    This isn’t much better. By far the best moment in this otherwise entirely unremarkable ditty is the first line of the chorus, and that’s primarily because it anticipates a far better song that we’ll be coming to in just a few years’ time! 4

    ELVIS PRESLEY – “Wooden Heart”
    To my knowledge the only Elvis #1 to feature an accordion (as well as some German lyrics). I probably need to have seen the film it came from (GI Blues) to really get it. It’s not the unlikeliest #1 of the year, though I still doubt it would have achieved the feat had anyone other than ‘The King’ been involved. It’s sufficiently endearingly daft for me to stretch to a 5

    THE MARCELS – “Blue Moon”
    The one #1 of this year that compels me to get out of my chair and move my feet. The “Bom ba ba bom ba bom ba bom bom ba ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang” intro is an all-time great, and the remainder of the song lives up to it. A little more oomph in the instruments and at such an earlier stage the top rating would have been irresistible; as it is, this still stands as the undisputed champion of this year’s number ones. 9

    FLOYD CRAMER – “On The Rebound”
    This jolly piano instrumental is a surprisingly energising, pleasant listen. 6

    THE TEMPERANCE SEVEN – “You’re Driving Me Crazy”
    It’s a thoroughly peculiar listen that somehow sounds far more dated than any other of this year’s #1s. Again, ‘Popular”s write-up is enlightening; apparently Temperance Seven’s stock-in trade was “pastiche of 1920s dance-band music”. Worth listening to for the experience but unlikely to be making a comeback anytime soon. 5

    ELVIS PRESLEY – “Surrender”
    This, on the other hand, sounds surprisingly modern – musically, anyway, until Elvis’ characteristic overblown vocals take centre stage. Despite the passion he does his best to imbue this with, the end product doesn’t work too well and it’s deservedly one of his less celebrated #1s. 4

    DEL SHANNON – “Runaway”
    Of all the 1961 number ones I think this is the one I’d heard the most before the project thanks to its radio play and inclusion on various compilations. It’s not a song I’d ever thought that deeply about before – it was just there, an “oldie”. It’s actually a rather peculiar composition, ahead of its time, with one of the earliest uses of a synthesiser-like gadget that I am reliably informed was called a “Muzitron”. Once again I find myself agreeing with Tom’s rating: 7

    THE EVERLY BROTHERS – “Temptation”
    The Everlys aren’t a name associated with musical innovation, but this too is a surprisingly futuristic-sounding piece of music. Not that, in this case, that’s a recommendation. I took an instant dislike to this track, and in particular the wails of “I’m just a slave, only a slave”. My biggest discrepancy in rating from Tom’s 2

    EDEN KANE – “Well I Ask You”
    Cruise-ship pop that doesn’t invite much comment either good or bad, so it’s no surprise that the name of Eden Kane has faded into the mists of pop history 4

    HELEN SHAPIRO – “You Don’t Know”
    A decent unrequited love ballad. If (like me before this project) the only song of hers you knew is the upbeat pop number that appears a few songs down, you might be surprised by the quality of the vocals on this. Other than that, the most striking this about this song is the “chirp chirp” string flourishes that seem at odds with the rest of the song. Still, probably deserves a bit more airplay than it gets 6

    JOHN LEYTON – “Johnny Remember Me”
    There was an odd fashion for songs about lovers who died young around this time, and this is one of those so-called ‘death discs’. Its sound is by now, inevitably, dated, and its singer’s name is by-now long forgotten – but, this is more than deserving of a listen 7

    SHIRLEY BASSEY – “Reach For The Stars”
    Awful ballad that gets hard to listen to towards the end. So dire that despite being a #1 hit it has never been covered. Easily the worst #1 of the year and it’s not as though there wasn’t competition 1

    THE SHADOWS – “Kon-Tiki”
    Another instrumental, not one of their most memorable outings. 4

    THE HIGHWAYMEN – “Michael”
    This is the ‘Michael, Row The Boat Ashore’ song that you may well have sung in assembly or at Sunday school. What it’s doing at #1 goodness only knows, though it’s far from the last such track we’ll encounter. I gave it an extra point for the whistling bit at the end 4

    HELEN SHAPIRO – “Walkin’ Back To Happiness”
    Starts off slow, but the highlight of the song at 0:16 (“I have loved you more each day”) kicks it up several notches into the most upbeat bubblegum #1 of the year. This should be right up my street, but somehow it doesn’t quite work and I cannot recommend it other than as a period piece. 6

    ELVIS PRESLEY – “(Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame”
    A simple, catchy, foot-tapping pop song which lacks the overblown vocals of Elvis’ previous #1, in fact it’s almost understated and I like it for it 7

    FRANKIE VAUGHAN – “Tower Of Strength”
    Musically and vocally, the title give you a very good idea what to expect. Though I marked down ‘Surrender’ earlier on for its overblown vocals, here they make the song, which announces its presence immediately and doesn’t let up for the (just over 2-minute) duration. Though the instrumentation is unmistakeably jazz, the overall impression is of a slice of rock ahead of its time 8

    DANNY WILLIAMS – “Moon River”
    Probably best known for being performed by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, confusingly this song was first recorded by Andy Williams (no relation). This is one, of probably many songs still to come, that would mean a lot more if I was around at the time, or if the film was meaningful to me. 6

    Other hits worth a mention
    I’ve actually sought to listen to the top 5 hits of each year, though only those that stand out in some particular way will get a mention here.

    Though there were some strong tracks among the #1s of 1961, the remainder of the top 5’s were unremarkable in the main. Hence, just three songs get a mention here:

    Bobby Vee – “Rubber Ball” – best of the bubblegum hits of 1961
    Jimmy Dean – “Big Bad John” – spoken-word story song, primarily of historical interest but sufficiently out of the ordinary to be worth a listen
    Temperance Seven – “Pasadena” – I prefer this to their #1, perhaps because it brings to mind Patrick & Eugene’s “Don’t Stop”

  25. 25
    CriticSez on 3 May 2016 #

    VERY strong year for me. Rounded down to the nearest whole number:


    All in the respective order. Far better than 1962.

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)

If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page