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10 UK No. 1 singles that had far-lesser U.S. success prior to British Invasion

A number of chart-topping songs in the UK were far less successful in U.S. prior to British Invasion.
A number of chart-topping songs in the UK were far less successful in U.S. prior to British Invasion.

It goes without saying that after the onset of the so-called British Invasion in early 1964, UK singers and groups saw many of their recordings dominate the American pop music charts, and many English singles were smash hits on both sides of the Atlantic.

However, prior to that time, even the very best of the chart-topping singles in Britain didn't fare too well in America -- if, indeed, they had any impact at all.

Actually, many of the recordings by such British recording artists as The Beatles and Gerry And The Pacemakers dominated the UK charts prior to 1964, only to have big-time success in the U.S. after the Invasion took hold. But prior to that, not too many British records had major success, even though many of them were released -- usually on different labels -- in America.

This article takes a look at some songs that reached the top of the British charts in the 10 years prior to the Invasion, but in each case, although they all managed to gain minor hit status is the U.S., they didn't get anywhere near the Top 10, or even the Top 20, in America.

Each of the 10 listed tunes reached No. 1 on at least one of the following British charts: NME (New Music Express), The Record Mirror or The Record Retailer. And the number of the U.S. chart listings below are derived from the Billboard Magazine's pop music charts.

Following are capsule summaries of those songs, and to hear any of them, simply click on the title:

  • "LIVING DOLL" (Cliff Richard, 1959; U.S. No. 30): This was the top-selling song of the entire year of 1959, and it spent six consecutive weeks atop the UK charts, beginning in late July. The singer, born Harry Rodger Webb in Lucknow, India, moved to England in 1948 at age 7. He is one of the top recording artists in UK history, and in a career spanning five decades, he had more than 100 chart singles, including 14 No. 1s. Despite that success, he only managed a career total of nine Top 40 hits in the U,S.
  • "CONFESSIN'" (Frank Ifield, 1963; U.S. No. 58): The singer-yodeler was born in Coventry, England, but he began his career as a teenager in Australia via his own radio and TV shows, and he was signed to Columbia Records in the UK in 1959. This jazz-pop standard was recorded many times, first recorded with different lyrics as "Lookin' For Another Sweetie" by Fats Waller in 1929. In 1930, it was renamed "Confessin'" with new lyrics by Al Neiburg, and it became a significant single for Louis Armstrong that year. Ifield's top success in the U.S. came with a No. 5 charter, "I Remember You."
  • "MARCH OF THE SIAMESE CHILDREN" (Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen, 1962; U.S. No. 88): Remembered primarily in America for his No. 2 Billboard hit "Midnight In Moscow" in early 1962, Ball was an English jazz musician and trumpet player. He was born in Ilford, Essex, and at age 14, he left school to work as a clerk in an ad agency, although he continued to take trumpet lessons. He began his musical career as a semi-professional sideman in bands, and beginning in 1953, he played trumpet in several British bands before forming his own group in 1958. This song -- from "The King And I" -- headed the NME chart on March 9, 1962.
  • "WALKIN' BACK TO HAPPINESS" (Helen Shapiro, 1961; U.S. No. 100): The London-born singer was only age 15 when she had this record, and its No. 1 status followed in the footsteps of her debut single ("You Don't Know"), which also topped the UK charts. Although it barely slipped into the Billboard Hot 100 as her only U.S. charter, it was No. 1 in the UK for four straight weeks, and it sold over a million copies.
  • "WHOLE LOTTA WOMAN" (Marvin Rainwater, 1958; U.S. No. 60): The vocalist, of part-Cherokee Indian heritage, was born Marvin Karlton Percy in Wichita, Kan., and he was a regular on Arthur Godfrey's TV show in the mid-1950s. Known for wearing outfits with an American Indian theme, his biggest American hit was "Gonna Find Me A Bluebird" (No. 18, 1957).
  • "LAY DOWN YOUR ARMS" (Anne Shelton, 1956; U.S. No. 59): This popular English singer provided inspirational songs for soldiers both on the radio and in person and at British military bases during World War II. She was born Patricia Jacqueline Sibley in London, and she began singing at age 12 on the radio show "Monday Night at Eight." By age 15, she had a recording contract, and at age 32, she had this four-week chart-topper, engineered by Joe Meek.
  • "REACH FOR THE STARS" (Shirley Bassey, 1961; U.S. No. 120): Even though her only significant U.S. single was "Goldfinger" (No. 8 in 1965), the songstress from Wales had much greater recording success in the UK. At age 16, she launched her career as a member of the touring show Memories of Al Jolson, and she was a nightclub singer in the early '60s. This big hit -- written by Austrian singer-songwriter Udo Jürgens with English lyrics by Norm Newell -- headed the Record Retailer chart for one week in September 1961.
  • "BACHELOR BOY" (Cliff Richard, 1962; U.S. No. 99): Another of his 14 No. 1 hits in England, this record barely made its way into the Billboard Hot 100. A superstar in his homeland, he never caught on big-time in the U.S, although he did manage nine Top 40 singles, most notably the No. 6 "Devil Woman" in 1976.
  • "THREE STEPS TO HEAVEN" (Eddie Cochran, 1960; U.S. No. 108): Several months after the singer-guitarist died in an auto accident in England, this was a posthumous No. 1 hit in the UK, but it only Bubbled Under The Hot 100 on the U.S. Billboard charts. Cochran was born in Oklahoma City, moved to Minnesota and then to California in his mid-teens. Also appearing in several movies, his most-remembered U.S. single was "Summertime Blues" (No. 8 in 1958), but in addition to his own hits, he played guitar behind many other artists. On this single, written by Eddie and his brother Bob, backing instrumentals were provided by Buddy Holly & The Crickets.
  • "DO YOU MIND" (Anthony Newley, 1960; U.S. No. 91): Although this song only reached No. 91 on the U.S. pop listings, it was No. 1 for four weeks in the UK, beginning on Feb. 6, 1960. The singer was born in London, and by age 14, he was working as an office boy for an insurance company. His successful pop music career began in May 1959 with the song "I've Waited So Long" (a No. 3 hit in the UK). A No. 6 song "Personality" was followed by two consecutive No. 1s, with "Why" -- originally a No. 1 U.S. hit for Frankie Avalon -- preceding this one, written by Lionel Bart and featured in the film "Let's Get Married."

[You may subscribe to Bill Herald's oldies pop music columns -- free of charge -- by clicking on "subscribe" near the top of the column, after which you will receive e-mail notification each time a new item is published.]

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