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 received-wisdom history of pop music is that things were shitty before the Beatles showed up. After the initial ’50s burst of rock ‘n’ roll rebellion, the pop industry watered things down as quickly as it could. (In most tellings, this twist in the story really takes hold around the time Buddy Holly dies.) We get a few years of grinning, unthreatening Brylcreem-haired teen idols, and then the Beatles and the British Invasion come along and make everything exciting and dangerous again.
Most days, I don’t buy it. It’s not like the Beatles invented pop-music excitement or innovation. There was lots of truly great pop music in the early ’60s, and plenty of that truly great music found its way to #1 — “Save The Last Dance For Me,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “Running Scared,” “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” “Fingertips (Pt. II).” Motown was already blowing up before the Beatles arrived, and its success would’ve revolutionized pop music regardless of what was happening in the UK. The girl-group boom was happening. Surf music was happening. If the Beatles had all died in a plane crash on the way to their American debut, we would still be listening to and arguing about pop music today.
But when you listen to the last #1 of the pre-Beatles era, it gets harder to argue with that whole narrative. In a lot of ways, Bobby Vinton was the antithesis of everything that the Beatles were. He was a presentable and scrubbed-clean matinée-idol type who was also a nostalgia-peddling slickster. And of the Vinton songs that made it to #1, “There! I’ve Said It Again” might be the worst.
“There! I’ve Said It Again” had been a hit before many of Vinton’s fans were even born. The Benny Carter Orchestra recorded the song, written by Redd Evans and David Mann, in 1941, and Vaughn Monroe had a hit with it in 1945. In its previous life, “There! I’ve Said It Again” had been a sleepily smooth orchestral-pop standard. Vinton sang it with an unctuous neediness, simpering over snoring woodwinds and dreamspace xylophones, the whole thing plodding over a deathly slow polka trot. The Beatles couldn’t come along and clear this away quickly enough.
As it happens, the British Invasion didn’t destroy Vinton’s career, the way they did with so many of his contemporaries. He was back at #1 before 1964 was over. But the face of pop was about to change with a brutal quickness, and it was about to change for the better.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Merle Haggard’s not-bad 1985 cover of “There! I’ve Said It Again”: