Back in June 1944, Allied troops had just landed on the beaches of Normandy and were fighting their way inland. Somewhat appropriately, riding high in the charts at exactly the same time were Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters with “Pistol Packin’ Mama”.
Just behind it, Anne Shelton was serenading us with a song we’d pinched from the Germans, “Lili Marlene”, while film and singing star Deanna Durbin had the troops in her thoughts with “Say A Prayer for the Boys Over There”. For those who preferred to put wartime worries behind them there was always Glenn Miller and His Orchestra with “It Must Be Jelly (’Cause Jam Don’t Shake Like That)”.
All this and more can be gleaned from “The Missing Charts” which, through the labours of one man, the late Colin Brown, compiles sales figures from music publishers and record companies to provide us with detailed listings of the top-selling records in the decade before the Official Charts began in 1952.
The very first number one in 1940 was, not surprisingly, Vera Lynn (still with us at 96) with “We’ll Meet Again”, but there are a few surprises along the way. Yma Sumac, for instance, an exotic Peruvian soprano with a vocal range of well over four octaves topped the charts in May 1951 with “Virgin of the Sun God” while rhythm and blues stars Louis Jordan and Nellie Lutcher both enjoyed a respectable number of hits in those pre-rock’n’roll days.
Of probably more interest to music fans than the casual reader, it’s fascinating guide to the era when records were large, black and played at 78rpm.
Accompanying it is a four-CD set that has all the charts’ number ones up to 1949. The dominance during those years of American star Bing Crosby can be gauged by the fact that of the 104 tracks more than a third feature Bing, with young upstart Frank Sinatra getting a look in towards the end along with such other chart stalwarts as The Inkspots, Judy Garland and perhaps my favourite, the zither-led “Harry Lime Theme” by Anton Karas from Carol Reed’s classic “Third Man” film. The finest film theme ever.
British Hit Singles January 1940-October 1952: The Missing Charts (RockHistory) and The British Hit Singles January 1940-December 1949: 4-CD Set (GVC)are both available from magpiedirect.com