Chart Music Through The Years – 1961

Yes! Back thanks to an almost universal lack of demand, I stretch back the scalp of time and feast upon the mushy innards of the past – in this instance I return to the UK music charts. If you’re interested, you can read my original post here – https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/the-uk-top-40/

Greetings, Glancers! Let us twist our heads 180 degrees like a Reagan possessed and see what fell behind us in those heady, innocent days gone by. Hands up if you remember 1961? Not me! I am reliably informed that JFK became President of those United States, that man and chimp ventured off world into space for the first time, The Bay Of Pigs came and went, Catch-22 was released, Ernest Hemmingway died, and Ken first met Barbie. In the world of music, The Beatles performed in The Cabin club for the first time, The Supremes signed to Motown, Mick Jagger met Keith Richards, and rock music continued to challenge the scourge of Swing throughout the year. Indeed, the ten songs featured below suggest a shift in popularity between the old and new, with pop rock upstarts taking the top prizes over the crooners of the past. Looking at the these ten songs, I can’t say that I recognise any of them from the titles alone, but I do know eight of the artists. Lets get stuck in, kids.

  1. The Shadows: Kon-Tiki

The famous twanging guitar, clear and crisp. Yes, it does evoke shimmering images of beach side Caribbean lounging. There’s still a country twist in there too. That this ever made it to Number 1 in the charts is bizarre to me – not because it’s bad, just because. At under two minutes long it doesn’t go very far or ask many questions, but a mild diversion and still sounds good over 50 years later.

2. Billy Fury: Jealousy

Big ass bass and trumpets. String blasts. Sounds like a tango. Certainly a strange collection of tones and styles, offset by the clean, smooth vocals and dark lyrics. Melodies are all over the place though. In trying to go in a hundred directions at the same time, it feels disjointed.

3. Highwaymen: Michael

Whistling. Guitars. Ok, hallelujah. Another bizarre song to ever be in the charts. Nicely sung, has the famous melody, but boring and uneventful – of course plenty of people are into that sort of thing.

4. John Leyton: Johnny Remember Me

Sighing. Cowboy guitars and vocals. Interesting mix of vocals, haunting sound. It frequently feels like the tempo is changing, even though it isn’t. Galloping guitars. This is a good one, even though I don’t like this style of male vocal. This was pretty good, and pretty weird.

5. Shirley Bassey: Reach For The Stars

Scary strings intro. Young Bassey voice… doesn’t sound like the vocals I know her from. Until she hits the bigger notes. It’s a strange song that doesn’t have your typical verse, chorus structure. It’s dreamy and drifting and the melodies don’t have an addictive quality. Difficult to fault the ability of the singer of course, but the vocals at points are too loud and overblown for the music.

6. Elvis: Wild In The Country

Another adventure into Western territory for Elvis, this soothing ballad is straightforward – a soft guitar and humming vocal accompaniment for a gentle Elvis vocal. This feels like a lightweight song that would be easily forgotten if sung by anyone else -even with Elvis singing it feels uneventful, though there isn’t anything inherently wrong with it.

7. Cleo Laine: You’ll Answer To Me

Squealing violin. Stirrings of Stephen King nostalgia. More squealing violins. Suggestive of stabbing, based off the lyrics? Crazy ex or crazy mother? It has a certain charm, and the lyrics are quite funny.

8. Connie Francis: Together

More King nostalgia. Swaying swooning. The complete opposite of the previous song, but retains a certain similar charm. Although the lyrics do become possibly sinister. Spoken part. Not sure if this is happy, creepy, or sad.

9. Del Shannon: Hats Off To Larry

I’ve always liked Del Shannon. More lyrics about lost love. Starts slow, then gets into a ripping tempo with weird blips and Shannon’s trademark high notes. Addictive stuff, angry, but fun, good good.

10. Eden Kane: Get Lost

More funky rock n roll. Strange mix of whispers, growls, and Elvis for the vocals. This is pretty good too, not as instantly catchy as Shannon’s. What was that about a shotgun?

A very good second half of songs, any of which I’d be happy to listen to again. The group of songs are a fair reflection of what was popular and good in 1961, with the year’s top selling songs including other hits by Elvis and Shannon. I’m not even going to attempt to pick an alternate top 10 for 1961, primarily because they wouldn’t be too different from the artists listed above, and also because albums were not really a big deal yet – mostly collections of singles and covers and tracks not good enough to be singles. Feel free to leave a comment about any of the songs or artists from 1961, and let us know what you were up to then!

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