When I was still very young, my Dad was a popular singer in pubs and bars around South London. Often accompanied by his brother-in-law, he would entertain crowds consisting mostly of family and friends, belting out the big ballads of the day and favourites from the wartime years too. My parents also played music a lot at home, favouring the big voices, torch singers, and sentimental ballads. Despite my age, I also liked these songs, and heard them so many times that I knew the lyrics off by heart. Some of them pop into my head even now, and I thought I would share a few with you.
Younger readers please note. It is unlikely your parents were even born at this time, let alone you.
Not many people these days would know who Kay Starr is. She is still alive, now aged 94, but has not been recording for a very long time. In 1952, the year I was born, this American chanteuse had a huge hit with this song. My parents were still playing it some years later, and continued to do so right up into the 1970s. I still love it too.
Mario Lanza was an opera singer who also made the transition to acting in films. He enjoyed a career in music and film for a relatively short time though, as he died in 1959 aged only 38. During WW2, he entertained troops with his singing, and after the war embarked on a very successful career as an operatic tenor, very much the American version of Pavarotti at the time. He also starred in eight musical films, and achieved great critical acclaim. He was one of my Mum’s favourite singers, and she particularly liked this song, which sold over a million copies in 1950. So, this one’s for her.
I still get upset listening to it, as I can picture her enjoying it so much.
Some years later, my Dad started to rave about a new American female vocalist. He brought home her debut album, and played it over and over. Timi Yuro was from Chicago. Her unusual style attracted a lot of attention, not least from Elvis Presley, who became an avid fan. Despite her popularity, she became disillusioned with the business very quickly, and gave up recording in 1969. She is probably best known for one song, the 1961 smash hit, ‘Hurt’. It was a very big favourite of my Dad’s back then, and still sounds powerful today. Timi died of throat cancer, in 2004.
Before there was Elvis, and long before The Beatles, there was Johnnie Ray. Hard to believe now when you see photos from the time, but this young singer was a huge pop sensation and heartthrob, surrounded by the same fan hysteria that we later became so familiar with in the late 1960s. Despite being deaf and wearing hearing aids, Ray had a distinctive style, and rapidly rose to prominence on both sides of the Atlantic. His personal life was suitably tragic. Although he was gay, and had been prosecuted for soliciting men, he was also married to a woman for a short time, and tackled problems with alcohol abuse throughout his life. In 1960, he caught tuberculosis, and his health never really recovered after that. Nonetheless, he continued to perform, giving his last concert in 1989, before his death from liver disease the following year. This was his biggest hit, from 1951. Believe me, it was massive, and it still gives me a tingle.
There you have four very memorable songs from my youth. Each one of them were huge hits, from the biggest stars of the day. If they seem a bit dated now, all I can say is, “You had to be there”.