In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing 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.
These days, we regularly refer to Nashville country music as “pop-country,” and yet it’s been well over a decade since a country song hit #1. One of the fascinating things about these early chart days is that it can be tough to tell the difference between pop and country. Connie Francis, a Jewish singer from New Jersey who came up working with Brill Building songwriters, does not have a country star’s background. She recorded “Don’t Break The Heart That Loves You” with Don Costa, a producer best-remembered for discovering Paul Anka. She was as close as you could get to being a down-the-middle pop star in the early rock ‘n’ roll era. And yet “Don’t Break The Heart That Loves You” is very much a country song. It’s a good one, too.
“Don’t Break The Heart That Loves You” is a slow, string-soaked waltz, a ballad about the pain of being strung along. It’s not a breakup ballad; it’s a ballad about worrying that the person you’re with is always looking for something better: “Why do you flirt and constantly hurt me? / Why do you treat our love so carelessly?”
In a time when too many pop singers were content to sound chipper, no matter how sad the songs they were singing might’ve been, Francis leans into the song’s plaintive intensity. She sounds lost and vulnerable. She hits high notes with conviction. And she has just the tiniest bit of delay in her voice, landing her syllables just a millisecond after the beat. Like a true country singer.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s another country song that Francis recorded in 1962, a cover of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line”: