Bits of Books - Books by Title
Yeah Yeah Yeah
The Story of Modern Pop
Gene Pitney wrote Rubber Ball (Bobby Vee), Hello Mary Lou (Ricky Nelson), He's A Rebel (Crystals), but sang other people's compositions, like 24 Hours From Tulsa.
Dion a heroin addict who disappeared from charts 1964 after a string of hits, then cleaned himself up and produced Abraham, Martin and John.
Roy Orbison the original Bad Luck Brian - wife killed in a bike crash, sons died in a house fire, then, right after his first hit for decades - You Got It - he died.
Murder Ballads/ Male Pride - Delilah, I Did What I Did For Maria, Indiana Wants Me.
First record producer was a Brit - Joe Meek. First to manipulate every element of the track - vocals, guitars, drums, backing singers - with Johnny Remember Me. Until he came along, records made by recording live performances.
Meek had serious issues - tone deaf, couldn't play an instrument, a very bad temper (fell out with everyone he worked with), and he was gay. Pop music was an escape from his demons. Parallels with Phil Spector - both outcasts desperate to prove themselves and both crashed and burned when the musical fashions changed.
'Wall of Sound' is actually an old term. First used in an 1884 NYT description of a Wagner performance at Bayreuth, Germany.
Meek's last effort was Honeycomb's marching song Have I The Right ("Come right back, I just can't bear it.") Spector's masterpiece was You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling - No 1 in both US and Britain. Spector got more and more eccentric until shot an actress; Meek shot his landlady and then himself in 1967.
Brill setup. You could write a song, find a publisher to buy it, someone to arrange it and musicians to record it, and do whole thing in a day, for $60. Sure a lot of crap, but it was a working system. Seemed industrialized, so snobbishly rejected by jazz/folk crowd. (Bob Dylan's spiteful summary as 'You love me, I love you, ooby, dooby, doo.'
Connie Francis and Brenda Lee made records that wouldn't scare their parents. The girl groups of the 60's didn't care what their parents thought. Shirelles Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Crystals Then He Kissed Me.
Girls not looking for a career - pop was something fun to do for a few years until they got married. Often anonymous - touring group completely different to recording group, and members of either could be switched at a whim.
Beatles self-penned Hard Days Night the beginning of the end for Brill Building system.
When British pop groups covered US girl group songs - Mannfred Mann Sha La La, Herman's Hermits I'm Into Something Good and Rockin' Berries He's Back In Town, it was the Brit version that was the bigger hit, even in the US.
Hard Days Night starts with a single never-heard-before chord - like a call to arms. Beatles were moving faster than anyone else could keep up. They basically signalled the final end to WW2 - end of National Service (conscription) in May 1963 - at the same time as first No 1 From Me To You.
Liverpool a melting pot - fuelled by the stewards and sailors who worked the trans Atlantic cargo ships and Cunard liners - brought back records and clothes that were seen nowhere else in Britain.
In 1961 400 groups playing in Merseyside clubs - parallel to New Orleans at turn of the century creating jazz.
Dave Clark Five released only 2 albums in Britain, but 12 in US - every single was the basis for another LP.
Stones were middle class kids acting tough whereas Beatles were working class kids tidied up by Brian Epstein.
Some people defined their worldview on whether they liked the Stones or the Beatles - Stones were Rock, Beatles Pop. Beatles white bread, lightweight.
Byrds led by Jim McGuinn, who was so obsessed with planes and pilots that he changed his name to Roger. He constantly talked about flying - he compared Byrd's music to sounds planes made at every press conference.
Eve of Destruction written by PF Sloan, who also wrote Turtles You Baby, HHs A Must To Avoid and Grassroots Let's Live For Today.
Gary Lewis was cute, and he was Jerry Lewis's son, so he got This Diamond Ring.
First song that all kid bands learned was Louie Louie a 3 chord song that the Kingsmen made a hit (No 2) but also recorded by Beach Boys, Otis Redding, the Kinks, the Sandpipers, Led Zepp, Motorhead and Grateful Dead - an anthem.
? and the Mysterions 96 Tears US No 5 1966.
1966 was first time that pop music started to be seen as culturally and artistically significant.
Lou Christie - about the screamiest singer of all time - sounded like the Franki Valli and Four Seasons in a garden shed. He eventually gave up pop to become a truck driver, and married Miss Great Britain.
The Troggs were cavemen. Wild Thing had three chords, the drums went thump, thump, thump and that was it. They should have been one hit wonders but Reg Presley turned out to be a good song writer With A Girl Like You, Can't Control Myself and Give It To Me. Then in 1994 Wet Wet Wet recorded a flower power song Presley wrote in 1967 - Love Is All Around - and the royalties made him a millionaire. Presley spent the whole lot on crop-circle research.
More books on Music
(Bob Stanley in London Times)
A few years ago I reviewed a DVD box set of Tony Palmer's mid-Seventies TV series All You Need Is Love. An epic history of 20th-century popular music, it ended with the ambient drift of Mike Oldfield's Ommadawn as Palmer gamely predicted the pop music of tomorrow.
By the time the series aired in 1977, punk rock was at its peak and Palmer's prediction - his entire series, even - seemed a grand folly. How could it have been anything else? It was like trying to capture lightning in a bottle. Pop music by its nature is unpredictable and ever-changing, and I concluded that it would be a fool's errand ever to attempt a written history; it would be out of date by the time it was published.
The day after my review ran, a publisher and a literary agent both got in touch to say I was wrong, that it could it be done, and that, as a pop obsessive, would I like to give it a go myself?
This was a challenge which dominated the next five years of my life, resulting in Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop. The narrative of how and why pop music developed hadn't been attempted for decades, and Tony Palmer stood before me as an example of how deeply you can dig and still get it wrong.
I knew I had to avoid other pitfalls, too, which may not have been so obvious to writers in the Seventies and Eighties. There were snobberies and anti-snobberies at every turn - soul and R&B historians tended to be afraid of that dread word 'manufactured'; the mod take on pop was basically a ranking of cool, scared of any mess; while the traditional rock history was largely suspicious of electronics, and even the intellect (with David Bowie as the key dividing figure).
The simplest way around this was for me to base my book on the charts, singles and albums, an engine of pop that dates back to the critical year of 1952. That was also the year when the first New Musical Express was published, and the first seven-inch, 45rpm singles were issued in Britain, with Al Martino's Here in My Heart at the top of the first hit parade.
Where to end the book became apparent as I was writing a list of contents. The year 2000 had always promised to be a line in the sand and so it proved, though not necessarily for musical reasons - the first number one of the new millennium was Westlife's cover of Seasons in the Sun, after all. But 2000 was the year iTunes was launched, with the iPod arriving a year later, rapidly ushering in the digital revolution and leaving the music industry - which had barely changed in almost five decades - in turmoil.
Since the dawn of the digital age great records have continued to be made, of course: the current number one act, Katy Perry, is a model pop star; Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines and Daft Punk's Get Lucky will be party regulars for years to come. Pop lives on. Yet there is little sense of community, and it has become easy to stop caring about the Top 40. Pop has become less wantable.
We are in a state of what writer Douglas Rushkoff calls 'present shock': the past is now a constant, re-fashioned to our current tastes and needs, while no one talks much about how music will sound in the future - the sense of pop's evolution and progression has gone. The feel and grain of the modern pop age, from the Fifties to the end of the Nineties becomes gradually harder to recall.
With Yeah Yeah Yeah, I wanted to capture how it felt to live through that era, through the bad and the ugly as well as the good. Context is crucial in understanding how and why pop developed, and can be easily lost in the digital age.
Most importantly, though, I didn't want to write a dry history of 'classic pop', leaving it 'sitting on its ass in a museum', to quote Claes Oldenburg.
My opinion on who has been influential in pop may not chime without everyone else's. No one in the world is going to read Yeah Yeah Yeah and agree with everything in it - not everyone likes Del Shannon or T Rex or the KLF as much as I do. But this is how the era felt to me, and how it has ruled my life, firing playground spats and pub arguments, filling my home with the iconography and detritus of pop music: posters, records, cassettes, biographies, ticket stubs, box sets, a lifetime of devotion.
I needed to get all this stuff out of my head and into a book, and the result was Yeah Yeah Yeah.
Drums, guitar, voices, and elation: the Beatles' 'She Loves You' is the essence of pop, a too-good-to-be-true, you-won't-believe-your-ears burst of youthful hilarity. Yes, hilarity; all those yeahs and oohs are about the singer finding out that someone loves his friend. The friend thought that she didn't love him - but the singer found out that she does! Ooh! It's wonderful, as happy and ridiculous as love. Bob Stanley's new book, 'Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyonce,' like the song it takes its title from, is an exuberant celebration of the silly and the sublime. Stanley, a British music journalist and co-founder of the pop group Saint Etienne, loves pop and has a deep, knowing respect for it. His book is comprehensive - some six hundred pages - yet nimble. He is pro-joy and anti-snobbery; his writing delights and surprises, and his description of the music makes you want to dance to it.
Books about rock and pop are plentiful; attempts to explain the entire development of pop - how it happened, and why - are not. Great pop, Stanley says, comes from tension, opposition, progress, and fear of progress. Among the tensions: those between industry and the underground, between artifice and authenticity, between the adventurers and the curators, between rock and pop, between dumb and clever, and between boys and girls. The best pop comes from juggling those contradictions rather than purging them - from taking the most interesting sounds from disparate places, modifying them, personalizing them, and making them new. Saint Etienne, Stanley's coed three-piece, has long embodied this philosophy: its buoyant, literate dance pop incorporates melodic sixties influences like the Beach Boys and girl groups; disco, folk, house, and other genres; dialogue from British realist cinema; and ingenuity: its cover of Neil Young's Only Love Can Break Your Heart is a melancholy delight, the perfect soundtrack to a mesmerized trance at home or on the dance floor. Stanley doesn't discuss Saint Etienne except for a brief note in the introduction. He dives eagerly into the story of everybody else.
The story of pop music is largely the story of the intertwining pop culture of the United States and the United Kingdom in the postwar era, he begins. As I bopped along, from jump blues to Elvis to skiffle, from soul to the British Invasion to Dylan to Haight-Ashbury and bubblegum and ska and glam and punk and Thriller and metal and hip-hop and Britpop and on and on, one song, marvellously evoked, stayed in my head all the way through. Stanley gives the song its due in Chapter 1:
There are a few intros in the pop canon that give you an adrenaline shot within a second - literally - of them starting up. . . . The hard, silver chord that opens 'A Hard Day's Night' is one; there's also the oddly dolorous but huge sound that opens T. Rex's 'Metal Guru,' the barely controlled bagpipe glee of the Crystals' 'Da Doo Ron Ron,' the cascade of Pepsi bubbles on Cyndi Lauper's 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.' Right at the beginning, there was the sharp double snare hit, followed by 'One two three o'clock, four o'clock rock . . . '
The way Stanley tells the story of Bill Haley and 'Rock Around the Clock' is characteristic of his approach: he evokes both the magic of the music ('an unfeasibly fast-picked guitar line . . . a total blast, like a double-speed 'Tom and Jerry' party piece - not violent, but exciting enough to make you laugh out loud') and the less magical humans who create it. Bill Haley may have invented rock and roll, but he was no pop idol: in 1957, when he went to tour Britain at the height of his fame, 'Thousands of fans met him and the Comets, the saviors of modern youth, at Southampton. They were expecting a sun god,' Stanley writes. Instead, they got 'Uncle Bill who was a bit too loud and sweaty at a wedding party, who had dark rings under his sleeves, making bitter, off-color jokes about his ex-wife.' So much for the American Invasion. (Then, in Chapter 2, along comes Elvis, who, with 'Heartbreak Hotel,' makes Americans realize that they have hormones that Haley, Eddie Fisher, and Perry Como are 'never going to stir,' and promptly takes over the world.) But Stanley isn't mocking Haley - he respects him, and he sees life as it is.
Stanley proceeds chronologically, but story by story: each chapter describes a group, genre, or time period that makes its own narrative whole. Thus the chapter on the Beatles goes from Quarrymen to post-breakup, with each ex-Beatle becoming a solo artist and somehow too much himself, and then as the next chapter begins you're back in 1961, at the dawn of Merseybeat. This jumping around, if disorienting, feels right - true to the integrity of each little world. As the book progresses, Stanley illustrates and celebrates the forces he'd referred to earlier that create brilliant pop, among them the intermingling of cultures and genres (the British discovery of American blues; early-seventies ska); industry (the Brill Building, Motown, and beyond; the hardworking musicians of ABBA); reactions against forms that had become too dominant (the rise of the singer-songwriter era, glam, punk); spontaneity and inventiveness (British teens becoming skiffle musicians, via washboards, buckets, and mops; the creation of hip-hop and break dancing in the South Bronx, via sound systems and block parties). Reading through the book, you feel modernity happening again and again, music expanding and shifting and growing richer, to dizzying, exhilarating effect.
The stories are full of underappreciated characters (the Shadows, Eddie Cochran, Joe Meek, Wanda Jackson, the Bee Gees) and songs (Fujiyama Mama, Sugar, Sugar) and unexpected views. For the American reader, this is in part because Stanley is British - he doesn't necessarily worship Buddy Holly or Johnny Cash or the Pixies the way most of us do, nor does he apologize for it. (Though he does suggest that he might someday love Steely Dan more than he does now.) When he's critical, it's often to point out what he sees as musical conservatism (Phil Collins, Live Aid, heavy metal), personal meanness (Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis), or unhelpful hype (British journalists' outsized role in the creation of Britpop). He has good taste, and sometimes it will match yours and sometimes it won't. He loves glam but is surprisingly acid about New Wave ('a slew of balding and/or bespectacled singer-songwriters emerged to take out their physical shortcomings on the public'). I was charmed by his crazy rhapsodizing about Christopher Cross's Sailing ('gorgeous,' and 'just like a flotation tank') until I read the things he had to say about Linda Ronstadt ('You're No Good' was 'overcooked and turned to slurry'), and about 'Double Fantasy,' one of the first albums I bought with my own money ('a thin stew of icky philosophies mushed in a blender'). (I guess I'm into gruel.) But he's always interesting and entertaining. Without coming across as a know-it-all, he connects many dots for us - as when he helpfully points out, in a footnote, the songs that feature or adapt the Bo Diddley rhythm, from 'His Latest Flame' to 'Magic Bus' to 'How Soon Is Now?,' or makes stern, smart observations about the parallels between Madonna and Prince.
Stanley is very clear about the correct spirit of rock and roll. Early on, he writes, 'When later generations coined the term 'rock 'n' roll lifestyle' . . . they did the innovators a bad disservice: first-wave rock 'n' roll was fast-moving, fun, disposable, and defiantly youthful, no time for cliche. There is more rock 'n' roll in the three minutes of passionate dishevelment in Barbara Pitman's 'I Need a Man' than the combined catalogues of Aerosmith and Motley Crue.' And 'The Stones were the Bartlebys of modern pop, and could be seen either as refuseniks, street-fighting men, or - forty years on - as libertarians, avatars of the new right. . . . Their nonchalance has been taken up by hundreds of bands in the last forty years, from the Doors onward, to excuse lethargy, tedium, childishness; it's been a serial abuse of the term 'rock 'n' roll.' You can love the Rolling Stones and still want to high-five Stanley for this. Right on.
In including all of pop history in Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!, or as much of it as he can, Stanley demonstrates that correct rock-and-roll spirit. You, the music-loving reader, get to embrace the genres and individuals you love as well as those you've spent a lifetime not learning about: Pink Floyd, say, or bubblegum, or the Eagles, or acid house. It's good to have the whole messy, sprawling family together. It gives you perspective. And perspective is a useful thing to have if you're a fan who's lived through the rise and fall not just of genres but of formats, and of the recording industry itself. Stanley ends on a hopeful note, finding promise in Missy Elliott's use of a tumbi in Get Ur Freak On and in the hints of the Chi-Lites, northern soul, and Blondie in Beyonce's Crazy in Love.
In an early chapter, Stanley writes that Phil Spector condensed pop to romance and sex, crushes and breakups, love and pride. For many people who bought his records, he gave the subject matter the backdrop it deserved: this was the stuff of life itself. Stanley's book gives all of pop its due; the many genres and artists he celebrates seem to be variations on expressing that stuff of life. Of the Beatles, he writes, 'The secret was nothing more than their fandom.' They were 'cultural omnivores' who, 'through their appetite for cultural newness and apparent fearlessness, seemed to speak a future language.' They listened to everything they could, they made those sounds their own, and they made them new. They said yeah.
In 1952 the first New Musical Express was published, the first 7in 45rpm singles were issued in Britain, the first portable record player - the Dansette - was launched, and, on November 14, the NME printed the first hit parade. These four media formed the very basis of modern pop, and the music would eventually catch up with their new, plastic thrill on Bill Haley's Rock Around the Clock three years later. For decades the charts would remain the closest we could get to a pop consensus and a sense of participation in popular culture.
The singles chart in particular - or the 'hit parade' as it was called in the Fifties, borrowing American terminology - had a special appeal to the British sensibility. It meant competition and excitement in league-table form, pop music as a sport. It would pit Frankie Laine against Johnnie Ray, Blur against Oasis, Brits against Yanks, Decca against EMI; it was fuel for a nation obsessed with train numbers and cricket statistics. The charts dictated what you heard on the radio, what you saw on TV, how high your heroes' stock had risen.
In 1952 Britain had little self-confidence and no reason to believe it could compete with the likes of pert, blonde, virginal Doris Day, square-jawed cowboy Frankie Laine, Italian operatic import Mario Lanza or Bing Crosby, king of the crooners and now twenty-odd years at the top. America was a country of conspicuous wealth and immaculately turned out stars of stage and screen; pockmarked Britain was still awaiting redevelopment seven years after the end of the war.
There was no suggestion whatsoever of an imminent, and remarkable, convergence of British and American pop culture. That was all yet to come. Let's try to picture pop music at the dawn of vinyl, in the days before rock 'n' roll, and see what we can learn from the very first hit parade. Though it was a Top 12, three positions were tied and so the first chart featured 15 singles.
1. Al Martino Here in My Heart (Capitol)
The voluble Italian American Al Martino had been a bricklayer and was injured at Iwo Jima in the war, but his dream was to emulate family friend Mario Lanza. Here in My Heart was his first single and went to No.1 in the States in June 1952, then spent nine weeks at the top in Britain - to date, only five singles have spent more weeks at the top.
You'd have expected Martino's career to be sustained, but his management contract was bought out by the Mafia and he fled to Britain, where he headlined the London Palladium and had regular hits for the next couple of years (including the epically tortured Rachel, No 10 in 1953). However, the London Palladium wasn't Madison Square Garden. He returned to the US in 1960, scored a few more hits (I Love You Because, US No. 3, 1963) and later starred in The Godfather. He did OK, but nothing was on the same scale as Here in My Heart.
2 Jo Stafford You Belong to Me (Columbia)
If the war had any positive effect on pop it was to create a desire to stretch beyond Anglo-American music hall and the big-band set-up. The British working classes had been sent to far-flung parts of the world and had come home with tales of mischief and exotica. This was reflected in a bunch of hits that had a foreign intrigue: Istanbul, West of Zanzibar, Cara Mia, Granada, Poor People of Paris. They made no concessions to ethnic accuracy (Rosemary Clooney's Mambo Italiano spoofed them neatly), but they scratched an itch we hadn't had before.
Best of the lot was You Belong to Me , a gorgeous travelogue-cum-love song floating on a jetstream of marimbas. 'Fly the ocean in a silver plane, see the jungle when it's wet with rain.' The performance from the American veteran Jo Stafford was cool, and worked a treat if you found restraint sexier than blatant emotion. Her delivery was languid yet precise and her pitching was perfect, but there was steel in her seduction: 'Send me photographs and souvenirs but just remember, when a dream appears, you belong to me.' You didn't mess with Jo.
3. Nat King Cole, Somewhere Along the Way (Capitol)
Cole had been a respected jazz pianist before switching to orchestrated ballads in the late Forties, cutting a long string of records that were purpose-built to couch and caress his extraordinary voice. Cole had the knack of sounding as if he was ad-libbing songs as he went along. There is a richness to Somewhere Along the Way and his restraint is similar to Jo Stafford's, but Cole was rarely a seducer. Usually he was to be found in the near distance, there to accompany the wooing of other couples (When I Fall in Love, Let There Be Love) or to tell stories of other unfortunates and outsiders (Ballerina, Nature Boy), but he was at his most effective when he had lost in love, was resigned and melancholy.
In Somewhere Along the Way you hear the deep-blue sounds of Roy Orbison and Scott Walker to come. At one point the brushed drums and understanding strings of the arranger Nelson Riddle leave him alone at the piano, briefly, to sing: 'I should forget, but with the loneliness of night I start remembering ... . everything.' And in that last 'everything' there's despair, possibly lust, a whole relationship wrapped inside three syllables. There is also more than a suggestion of soul. As much as Al Martino looked backwards, right back to Caruso, Somewhere Along the Way looks forward, to Marvin Gaye, to Luther Vandross, to R. Kelly.
4. Bing Crosby, The Isle of Innisfree (Brunswick)
Bing Crosby had been the King of the Singers since the late Twenties, the man who'd made an art form out of crooning. On the American charts he had accumulated 341 hits between 1931 and the release of The Isle of Innisfree , but this single didn't chart there at all and he would only have one more US Top 10 hit - True Love, a duet with Grace Kelly (UK No 4, US No 3,1956).
Irish ballads had been hits since the dawn of recorded music, there to provide a constant comfort, memories of the old world; they would remain an irregular chart presence right through to hits such as the Fureys' When You were Sweet Sixteen (UK No 14, 1981). Crosby had periodically recorded songs of old Ireland - Tobermory Bay, Danny Boy and Galway Bay, the last of which had been No 1 in the UK sheet-music charts for 22 weeks in 1948 - and The Isle of Innisfree similarly brims with nostalgia and the trauma of separation.
The catch is that Innisfree doesn't actually exist - William Butler Yeats created the Utopian Lake Isle of Innisfree in an 1888 poem, and the song's author, Dick Farrelly, borrowed its imagery. So when Crosby is singing from the heart of a city in which he can 'scarcely feel its wonder or its laughter' he is escaping into an imaginary wonderland.
5. Guy Mitchell, Feet Up (Columbia)
There was a remarkable number of songs about children in the decade after the war: Rosemary Clooney's Where will the Dimple Be? (UK No 6, 1955), Alma Cogan's Twenty Tiny Fingers (UK No. 17, 1955) and this raucous singalong. On Feet Up Mitchell wasn't shy in sharing his wayward past - 'I've been known to gamble, take a little drink . ... but now my rootin' tootin' days are done. Gotta be the man that he thinks I am, 'cos I love my son.' He dangles the poor kid in the air to 'pat him on the po-po'.
Feet Up was written by a man who could stake a claim to be the king of pre-rock, Bob Merrill. Legend has it that his first attempt at songwriting was rejected by a publisher as too complex, so he went home and wrote: 'If I knew you were comin' I'd have baked a cake, howdja do, howdja doo, howdja doo.' It became a US No 1 for Eileen Barton in 1950. By 1953 he was the bestselling composer in the world, with million-sellers such as (How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window, Mambo Italiano and Where will the Dimple Be?, all composed on a toy xylophone.
6. Rosemary Clooney, Half as Much (Columbia )
Of the female stars of the early Fifties, Kay Starr, Doris Day, Patti Page and Rosemary Clooney were dominant. Doris sang sweet, Patti sang country, Kay sang Comes Along a Love (UK No 1, 1953), a fabulous proto-rocker with a walking bassline. Clooney set herself up as more than a little saucy on Come On a My House, the biggest record of 1951. 'I'm gonna give you Easter egg,' she sang, licking her lips. 'I'm gonna give you everything.' Half as Much was a ballad written by country music's premier songwriter, Hank Williams, who would collapse and die on New Year's Day, 1953.
=7. Frankie Laine, High Noon (Columbia)
The Oscar-winning theme to the film in which sheriff Gary Cooper is 'torn between love and duty'. Though Tex Ritter sang it on the soundtrack, Frankie Laine had the hit - he was already the foremost purveyor of this sort of dark epic. What darkness there was in the music of 1952 came almost entirely from this square-jawed, geometric man with a letter-box mouth. Laine had won a marathon dance contest in 1932 and smashed the world record, going for 145 consecutive days. Everything he did was on this scale. His songs were pure Hollywood, set under swirling, swollen skies in bleak dustbowl settings: Cool Water, Where the Winds Blow, The Cry of the Wild Goose. Laine was pop's Gregory Peck, a tortured stoic, a lion with a thorn in his toe, not any old loser in love but a man who'd had his heart physically ripped out by Jezebel.
=7. Vera Lynn, Forget Me Not (Decca)
The Forces' Sweetheart of the Second World War had three songs in the first British hit parade. She had barely registered a sale since the end of the war, but Korea brought her back into the chart. In November 1952 President Elect Dwight Eisenhower flew to Korea to kick-start ceasefire negotiations and the war would finally end the following July. Forget Me Not was incredibly, impressively dirge-like - its melody recalled The Last Post and, though it started with a sprig of flighty strings, the tempo soon dropped like a stone. Lynne sounded distant, echoing, a ghost of Christmas Future; eventually the song simply faded away.
=8. Doris Day and Frankie Laine, Sugarbush (Columbia)
Had the chart existed this would have been a hit a few weeks earlier for Eve Boswell, a British-based, Hungarian-born singer. Boswell was a classically trained pianist who also played the saxophone and the clarinet, had mastered tap dancing and the odd ballet step, and would record an album (Sugar and Spice, 1956) that featured songs in nine languages. She once appeared on stage in Blackpool, jumping through a paper hoop while juggling. Her only hit would turn out to be the daffy Pickin' a Chicken (UK No 9, 1955). Doris Day, on the other hand, cut duets with Frankie Laine and Johnnie Ray, became a gay icon for her role in Calamity Jane, set up the Doris Day Animal League in the Seventies and had a son, Terry, who produced the Byrds and would have been a victim of the Manson Family if he had been at home one night in 1969.
=8. Ray Martin, Blue Tango (Columbia)
The other major difference between postwar Britain and postwar America was the Empire, or rather the end of it. Previously, the British working classes had had the option of escaping from their back-to-back terraces to Canada, India, Africa; you could make your way, reinvent your life. In 1947 India became independent and suddenly there were fewer places to visit. Our playground would have to be on our doorstep. This may explain the popularity of instrumentals. For one thing they were a way of avoiding mentioning the war - this made them safe choices for BBC radio. The orchestrated instrumentals were called 'light music', a melodic, digestible, atmospheric style that sat between pop and classical. The British band leader Ray Martin was your tour guide on Swedish Rhapsody' (UK No 4, 1953), a piece of music that was 50 years old and genuinely Swedish, but was chirpy in the extreme, much like his Blue Tango with its accordion, skipping strings and light South American pitter-patter beat.
This adult music would occasionally resurface, like a buried childhood memory, decades later, suggesting there was something in the British psyche that needed these soothing, atmospheric instrumentals - the Shadows' Wonderful Land, Fleetwood Mac's Albatross, 808 State's Pacific State.
9. Vera Lynn, The Homing Waltz (Decca)
At her Forties peak, Vera Lynn's main rivals had been the rumbustious Gracie Fields and the sweet, much younger Ann Shelton, wartime heroines whose careers turned to charity work in peacetime. Shelton scored a UK No 1 with the grinning, khaki-clad Lay Down Your Arms in 1956, just as the Suez crisis threatened to become a full-blown war.
=10. Vera Lynn, Auf Wiederseh'n (Decca)
Lynn's first hit of the year had been a much more rousing effort than the forlorn Forget Me Not. By November it was dropping off the chart, but Auf Wiederseh'n would turn out to be the biggest seller of 1952. It was also a No 1 single in America; Lynn was the first British act to achieve this feat. The song's romantic take on the Second World War Two was shameless - it even references We'll Meet Again - but it was mostly notable for its singalong qualities.
=10. Mario Lanza, Because You're Mine (HMV)
Because You're Mine was the first hit single as we know it, an actual piece of 7in vinyl. Lanza was an astonishing tenor who studied with the conductor Leonard Bernstein before making his stage debut, aged 21, in 1942. After serving in the war his career took off and by 1947 his voice was reducing people to tears at the Hollywood Bowl. The film producer Louis B. Mayer convinced Lanza that he could be a film star. He was right: in 1950 Lanza starred in The Toast of New Orleans, singing Be My Love, which became a million-seller; a year later he was the only possible candidate for the lead in The Great Caruso. However, Lanza's love of food and drink began to bloat him. Because You're Mine became his last million-seller, and by the time of his death in 1959 he was ignored. The perils of getting caught up in the machinery would run through the modern pop story - Lanza's rise and fall would find echoes in the lives of Marc Bolan and Kurt Cobain.
11. Max Bygraves, Cowpuncher's Cantata (HMV)
Along with his Mario Lanza albums, Elvis Presley's record collection included the soundtrack to The Pajama Game, the televangelist Jack Van Impe's Marked for Death: Can America Survive? and Max Bygraves's Singalongachristmas. Cowpuncher's Cantata was a medley of recent country-flavoured songs which, while its humour was fairly lame, at least signified the nascent presence of what the Daily Mirror called 'commercial folk music' in Britain.
12. Johnnie Ray, Walking My Baby Back Home (Columbia)
Arguably the most significant modern pop forebear was Johnnie Ray. He was raised in rural Oregon, where an accident at a Boy Scout jamboree left him deaf in his right ear. Unlike pretty much all his contemporaries, he was inspired by black singers such as Roy Hamilton, LaVern Baker and Ivory Joe Hunter to mix up pre-rock and R&B and create a sensation. Several things marked Ray out as something quite new. For a start he cut a less than manly figure, looking in urgent need of a nap as well as a square meal. Women unashamedly wanted to mother him and smother him. Then there was his hearing aid. Using these props he'd wind himself up with windmill arm movements until, climactically, he broke out in tears. 'I don't have a voice,' he explained to the Daily Mirror, 'I got a style.'
As a record of how audiences - Britain's first teen screamers - reacted to Ray's stage act, there's the 1954 Live at the London Palladium album. They sigh and gasp as if they are watching a saucy circus act. They scream for Such a Night, which he reprises, and reprises again. And he does this until you can hear girls shout 'Johnnie!', at which point modern pop comes alive.
The Johnnie Ray Fan club of Great Britain was interviewed - all of them were girls. Some were content to collect Ray's records; others knitted their own jumpers emblazoned with their idol's name. One had a piece of clothing, a sacred shred ripped from his body. Another particularly tough-looking girl had primitively carved Ray's name on her arm. A studio panel furrowed its brow and passed judgment. They agreed unanimously - it was a passing craze.
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