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.
Guy Mitchell – “Heartaches By The Number”
HIT #1: December 14, 1959
STAYED AT #1: 2 weeks
“Heartaches By The Number” is a jaunty song about despair, which is to say that it’s a country song. It’s a weird gift that the Nashville machine has: to put together a song about soul-ripping sadness and have it come out sounding like no big deal at all. “Heartaches By The Number” has whistling, an almost-ska rhythm, and a lyric about having your soul trampled over and over. And Guy Mitchell, the guy singing it, doesn’t sound the least bit bothered.
Mitchell had an unlikely route to country stardom. He was born in Detroit to Croatian-immigrant parents, and he served in the Navy during World War II. By the time he started making hits, he was past 30, which made him a rarity during an era when teenagers were mostly dominating the charts. Mitchell wasn’t long for country stardom, either; by 1961, he was starring in the NBC western Whispering Smith. So Mitchell had life experience. Maybe that’s why he’s able to sing about being destroyed over and over by the same lover who keeps leaving and returning, why he can make that sound like a pleasant afternoon’s work.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the version of “Heartaches By The Number” that Rosanne Cash and Elvis Costello recorded for Cash’s 2009 album The List: