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.
All four members of the Beatles had multiple solo #1 hits. That’s amazing. But it might be just as amazing that all three principal members of the Rat Pack also had #1 hits of their own — all with bad songs, all made long after their cultural peaks.
There’s a story about Dean Martin sending Elvis Presley a telegram the week that Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody” knocked the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” out of the #1 spot. Here’s what Martin reportedly told Presley: “If you can’t handle the Beatles, I’ll do it for you, pally.”
Martin was 47 when he recorded “Everybody Loves Somebody,” and he hadn’t scored a top-40 hit since 1958. He hated rock ‘n’ roll. (He had a teenage son who loved it, which probably didn’t help anything.) Martin had come up in entertainment through more traditional channels. He’d grown up in an Italian-singing family in Ohio — boxing, working in an illegal casino, and eventually singing in East Coast nightclubs. In 1946, he and Jerry Lewis started their vaudeville comedy act, which became a nightclub sensation and led to a whole series of buddy-comedy movies. And Martin had gotten over as a singer, too, his old-school crooning dripping with lechery and confidence, the wink in his voice always clearly audible.
Martin could be a tremendously charismatic force — I love him in the 1959 Western Rio Bravo — but that’s not the version of him that we hear on “Everybody Loves Somebody.” Instead, the song is pure schtick, Martin simpering over canned-sounding strings and defiantly generic backing vocals. The song itself had been around since 1947, and people like Peggy Lee, Dinah Washington, and Martin’s buddy Frank Sinatra had recorded it, but none of those versions had gone anymore. Martin sang it as a half-drunken wink-nudge, not even pretending at sincerity, and for whatever reason, that’s the one that hit.
Maybe things worked differently in the moment, but looking back on the success of a song like “Everybody Loves Somebody,” I hear backlash in action. The immediate supernova success of the Beatles was naturally going to lead to a whole lot of soundalikes, but it was also going to lead to a rush, among plenty of fans, to embrace what must’ve seemed like the opposite. In this case, that took the form of something predictable, sentimental, and traditional. Martin was a guy who fit the accepted mold of superstar entertainer — one that had been formed decades ago. He was probably 10 times the hedonist that any of the Beatles were, but that didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that the song sucked, either. It just mattered that he was familiar. Maybe that’s a strawman argument, but I can’t see a better reason for a song like this to catch on in 1964.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Dean Martin and Louis Armstrong — the two 1964 chart champions of old-timey, anachronistic counter-programming — singing together: