As the decade got underway the charts started to see some new kids on the block from the UK. One such notable, was the youthful Helen Shapiro, a young schoolgirl aged just 14, hit the charts with the aptly titled ‘Don’t Treat Me Like A Child’, followed up by two massive number 1 hits, You Don’t Know and ‘Walkin’ Back To Happiness’. Shapiro walked right into the limelight in 1961 and was voted Britain’s ‘Top Female singer’ the following year.
The boys also started to really hit the pace with Billy Fury hitting the top 10 best selling singles of 1961 with the majestic ‘Halfway To Paradise’ and his version of ‘Jealousy’. Fury had released the brilliant self-penned ‘Sound Of Fury’ the previous year but was persuaded to cover other peoples material by the ever commercial Larry Parnes.
Johnny Leyton also hit the big time musically with the Joe Meek produced ‘Johnny Remember Me’ momentarily distracting him from his ‘day job’ as a successful actor appearing as Ginger in ‘Biggles’ and going on to appear in some massive Hollywood films such as The Great Escape, Von Ryan’s Escape and Krakatoa, East Of Java.
Eden Kane also managed to get the 6th top selling song of 1961 with ‘Well I Ask You’. Kane toured frequently with the big names of the day, Billy Fury, The Beatles and Cliff Richard and was often accompanied by his road manager brother, Peter Sarstedt, who later went on to have a massive hit with ‘Where Do You Go To My Lovely?’
The US influence on the charts was still apparent in 1961, with Elvis releasing hit after hit promoted by what essentially were hour-long videos ie. his films.of ‘Wooden Heart’ was to be the biggest selling song of 1961 accompanied by a fistful of others as well, including, ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’, Surrender’, His Latest Flame and Little Sister. Elvis was back from the army and in full hitmaking mode but some thought that his dangerous Rock and Roll image had been left with his shaven greased hair on the floor of the army barber’s in Fort Chaffe, Arkansas. Other American artists such as the Everly Brothers, Del Shannon and Bobby Vee toured regularly in the UK and justifiably managed some big sellers during 1961.
1961’s Top 10 UK singles.
#1. Wooden Heart by Elvis Presley.
Elvis’ ‘Wooden Heart’ sat at the top of the charts for 6 weeks between March and April 1961 and featured in his first film after his army release ‘GI Blues’. Some thought the army had changed Elvis and the ‘Hillbilly Hellcat’ had lost his mojo. Whilst that may arguably have been so, he certainly hadn’t lost his ability to make hit records with some 4 releases in the top 20 best selling singles of 1961; Wooden Heart, Are You Lonesome Tonight? Surrender, His Latest Flame / Little Sister.
#2. Runaway by Del Shannon.
Del Shannon’s big, big voice and sound took the UK charts by storm assuring him second biggest single of ’61. Runaway is still one of the most loved songs of the 1960s, often featuring on ads and soundtracks. Shannon was a frequent visitor to the UK shores on the star-studded package tours and would record an album in 67 with Rolling Stones producer, Andrew Loog Oldham.
#3. You Don’t Know by Helen Shapiro.
1961 was a big year for the 14 year old from Bethnal Green, giving the ‘little girl with a big voice’ her first number 1 in August of that year. The single was to sell over 1 million copies earning Shapiro her first gold disc.
#4. Johnny Remember Me by John Leyton.
John Leyton backed by the Outlaws and produced by Joe Meek had their first Number 1 record and totally 5 weeks at the number 1 spot. One of the finest examples of a ‘death disc’ Johnny Remember Me was actually banned by the BBC due to the nature of the material. Spike Milligan described the song on Juke Box jury as ‘The Son of Ghostriders in The Sky’.
#5. Walking Back To Happiness by Helen Shapiro.
The incredibly talented Helen Shapiro was to get her second number 1 of the year with the wonderful ‘Walking Back To Happiness’ and earned herself a second million-selling gold disc. Inexplicably the record did nothing in the US reaching only number 100 on the Billboard charts.
#6. Well I Ask You by Eden Kane.
Eden Kane took ‘Well I Ask You’ to the number 1 spot. Kane, whose real name Richard Sarstadt, was one of a trio of brothers all in the music business, it was under the guise of Eden Kane that he reached the pinnacle of the UK charts in August 1961.
#7. Walk Right Back by The Everly Brothers.
Don and Phil Everly were to have a total of 4 UK chart number ones with a total of 13 UK top 10 hits. Their gorgeous southern harmonies were unmistakable throughout the 1960s. Walk Right Back was unusual in that it consisted of only one verse but who cared, the Everlys could sing the telephone book and make it sound like heaven.
#8. Are You Sure? by The Allisons.
‘Are you Sure’ was the song that won the United Kingdom the second place in the 1961 Eurovision Song Contest. Upon release, it also managed to top the charts and made the Allsons; Bob Day and John Alford a household name. The single went on to sell over 1 million earning The Allisons a golden disc.
#9. Halfway To Paradise by Billy Fury.
Billy Fury‘s signature tune was a Carole King and Gerry Goffin song initially recorded by Tony Orlando in the US. ‘Halfway To Paradise’ was to stay on the charts for some 23 weeks, however, it never actually made the number 1 spot. Frustratingly this was to be the case for all of Fury’s career, despite having some 26 top 40 hits he never quite managed the number 1 spot.
#10. Are You Lonesome Tonight by Elvis Presley.
Elvis’ version of the 190s classic ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ was to spend some 15 weeks in the charts peaking at the number 1 spot for 4 weeks in April of ’61. Elvis recorded the song as a favour to Tom Parker, as it was the Colonel’s wife’s favourite song.
The 1961 charts reflected a mix of styles that were catered for in the early ’60s before the British beat boom hit; classic crooners like Matt Monro and Frankie Vaughan were rubbing shoulders with the likes of Billy Fury and Elvis Presley. Trad Jazz was still very much part of the soundtrack to people’s lives with Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball and Johnny Dankworth all having chart success. The likes of Shirley Bassey and Petula Clark were still commanding high record sales for every release with Petula Clark’s Sailor and Romeo selling particularly well that year. There was also a new sound emerging from Detroit with the success of Motown.
The writing was on the wall for the rest of the decade, England was about to start swinging; The Avengers was aired for the first time, The Beatles were playing at the Cavern Club for the first time and the coolest of the cool, the E-type Jaguar was about to hit the road!
Spring Chicken 1961 Favourite.
My Kind Of Girl by Matt Monro.
One of Britain’s greatest singers. Sinatra on Matt Monro “If I had to choose three of the finest male vocalists in the singing business, Matt would be one of them. His pitch was right on the nose; his word enunciations letter perfect; his understanding of a song through.”