On 9 November 1952, the first ever UK singles chart was compiled for the NME, to feature in its 14 November edition. Nominally a Top 12, it comprised 15 singles because if two of them shared equal figures the publishers didn’t skip the position below. It was collated from the charts provided by 20 shops in London, but took an average instead of totting up all the sales. At any rate it was a reflection of the buying public’s shift from sheet music to tangible discs.
The first UK hit parade was dominated by American artists – 10 of them – with only three Brits getting a look in. Mind you, one of them was Vera Lynn, with three entries, still getting mileage out of hymns to Forces sweethearts. At the coveted original No.1 spot was Al Martino (pictured below), who later appeared in The Godfather playing Johnny Fontane, the chap all that horse’s head unpleasantness was about. Elsewhere, budding entertainer Max Bygraves got a look-in, taking the piss out of country and western star Frankie Laine who appears twice himself, and there was still room for bona fide legends Doris Day, Bing Crosby and Nat ‘King’ Cole. Taken as a whole, even from 1952, it’s like the soundtrack to every 40s romance you’ve ever seen.
So without further do, pop pickers, here’s the toppermost of the poppermost. Ahem.
12Johnnie Ray, ‘Walking My Baby Back Home’
Poor old Johnnie Ray. Sounded sad upon the radio, broke a million hearts in mono. Natalie Cole went one better and broke them in stereo with a ‘ghost’ duet of the song with her late dad Nat ‘King’ in 2008.
South East London boy Max’s hit was a comedy medley of western numbers ‘The Cry Of The Wild Goose’, ‘Riders In The Sky’, ‘Mule Train’ and ‘Jezebel’. The Goon Show‘s Eric Sykes chose it as one of his Desert Island Discs. That’d be a tough lifetime.
American tenor Mario was later immortalised in plasticine in the early Kate Winslet movie Heavenly Creatures. It’s what he would have wanted.
Vera Lynn became the first overseas artist to top the US charts with this one, unwittingly paving the way for One Direction. It would be come the biggest seller of the year.
The second of three singles in the debut chart for Dame Vera, truly the Rihanna of her era.
A traditional polka adapted by South African folk singer Josef Marais, ‘Sugarbush’ was a duet between two of the biggest stars of the day. Laine was smitten: “Doris was a great performer with warmth and expressiveness. It was one of the most pleasant recording dates I ever had when we sang together.” His thoughts on Bygraves are unknown.
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Orchestra leader Martin was born in Austria in 1918 but moved to England in his youth and became a bit of a war hero, joining the Intelligence Corps and booking bands to entertain the troops. And pop stars these days whinge about a few gigs.
The theme song for the movie ‘High Noon’, would you believe, although the original was sung by rhyming slang legend Tex Ritter.
We’re unlikely to forget Vera. She’s bloody everywhere.
This Curley Williams standard has been covered as recently as 2006 by happy-go-lucky rhythm and blues jester Van Morrison.
The lucky-starred Mitchell was married to Playboy model Elsa Sørensen, Playmate of the Month for September 1956. You remember the one.
‘The Isle Of Innisfree’ was recorded by legions of artists and featured as the theme song for John Ford movie The Quiet Man. Its writer was polymath Irish policeman Dick Farrelly.
Another jack of all trades, surveyor Sammy Gallop wrote the lyrics for ‘Somewhere Along The Way’. You needed several strings to your bow in the early years of the charts.
Jo Stafford had the big hit, but the definitive version of the song is surely Vonda Shepherd’s take in Ally McBeal. Surely.
Reflecting his later role in The Godfather, Martino was forced to go on the run after the Mafia bought out his management contract in the mid-50s. He holed up in England but returned in 1958 with a Mafioso pal oiling the wheels.
And here’s the full chart as a Spotify playlist: