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.
The story behind “Roses Are Red (My Love),” behind the way it saved Bobby Vinton’s career, is pretty great. Vinton was an old-school bandleader, the Pittsburgh-born son of Polish and Lithuanian immigrants who’d changed their name from Vintula. He’d released a couple of go-nowhere albums for CBS, and his label was getting ready to drop him. But in the meeting where the label heads were supposed to send him on his way, Vinton pointed out that his contract demanded that he release two more songs. He was right. He got to release those songs.
During that meeting, the possibly-apocryphal legend goes that the label execs left the room to talk to their lawyers. And when Vinton was alone in the room, he grabbed a demo from a pile of rejected songs. That demo ended up being “Roses Are Red (My Love).” Paul Evans, who wrote the music for the song, later claimed he’d written that music in three minutes, after joking that he was about to write a hit song. The result: a track that topped the charts for a month and turned Vinton into a bona fide pop star. Sometimes, in retrospect, accidents look like destiny.
Too bad the song in question is nowhere near as good as the story behind it. A country singer could’ve really made something out of “Roses Are Red (My Love),” with its narrative about a guy writing to an ex, looking at the pictures of her new baby, doting on the past. (It’s an evergreen story; something similar happens in Facebook and Instagram comments every single day. Just ask Jason DeRulo.) But Vinton sings it as a blank simper, over music that lopes airily in that personality-free early-’60s way. It’s total fluff, and not even agreeable fluff. It just hangs in the air, attracting no attention, demanding nothing.
BONUS BEATS: In Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, there’s a scene where Ray Liotta takes Lorraine Bracco on a date to see Bobby Vinton. Vinton, played by Vinton’s own son Robbie, sends the couple a bottle of champagne while he sings “Roses Are Red (My Love).” Here’s that scene: