The Number Ones is a new column where I’ll review every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present. It is, in other words, a shameless ripoff of the great British blogger Tom Ewing’s long-running column Popular, in which he’s spent more than a decade doing the same thing with the UK charts. (Popular is so good. Start with Ewing’s masterpiece on the Sugababes’ “Freak Like Me” and work your way backwards.) Since there have been more than 1,000 #1 singles, I’ll do one of these every day, or as close to every day as I can manage. And in a nod to Ewing, I’ll give all of them a grade, from 1 to 10.
Tommy Edwards – “It’s All In The Game”
HIT #1: September 29, 1958
STAYED AT #1: 6 weeks
In 1911, a Chicago bank president named Charles G. Dawes wrote a piece of instrumental music called “Melody In A Major.” He showed his sheet music to a friend, who then took it and got it published, and it became a popular piece of sheet music. 14 years later, Dawes was elected vice president of the United States of America under Calvin Coolidge. And in 1951, the same year that Dawes died, a Brill Building songwriter named Carl Sigman used “Melody In A Major” as the basis for “It’s All In The Game,” a song about the fickle and difficult nature of love. People like Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole recorded versions of the song, and so did a Virgina-born singer and songwriter named Tommy Edwards.
Edwards took that 1951 version of “It’s All In The Game” into the top 20, but he didn’t hit #1 with it until seven years later, after other singers like Elvis Presley had made hits with songs that Edwards had written. Carl Sigman’s son Michael wrote this article about how his father, who hated rock ‘n’ roll, and the MGM Records A&R Harry Meyerson, who hated it more, figured out a way to gently plug doo-wop backing vocals and slight, twangy shards of electric guitar into a new version of one of their own old songs, making a huge hit in the process. That means that, unless Joe Biden secretly ghostwrote “Gangsta’s Paradise” or something, Charles G. Dawes is the only future vice president to get a writing credit on a #1 single.
The song is about how love can be difficult but how it all works out in the end: “Once in a while he will call, but it’s all in the game / Soon he’ll be there at your side with a sweet bouquet.” Edwards sounds distantly content, as though he’s watching all this drama from above and taking a quiet delight in it. You can hear him smiling. There’s no severity in the song, which means the stakes are low. But on a sheer surface level, it’s awfully pretty.
BONUS BEATS: The UK singer Carmel recorded a version of “It’s All In The Game” in 1987. Here’s the video, which features a young Alfred Molina and an even younger Emma Thompson exchanging a whole lot of mournfully serious glances and acting way harder than you’d expect anyone to act in an ’80s music video: