On July 27, 1940, Billboard published its first chart ranking the sales of recorded songs. So why not look back at the pop chart, such as it was, on this date, 77 years ago?
No. 1, “I’ll Never Smile Again,” Tommy Dorsey — To hear Frank Sinatra singing at age 25 is kinda crazy, because he barely sounds like the capital-s Sinatra we now know and remember him as. His voice is perfectly pleasant, but actually sounds a bit thin and (of course) untested. And the song itself is kind of a drag.
No. 2, “The Breeze and I,” Jimmy Dorsey — Adapted, according to YouTube, “by arranger Toots Camarata from Ernesto’s Lecuona’s “Andalucia Suite,” this is — um, interesting. The elder Dorsey brother’s biggest hit is a kind of ersatz Latin-ish horn-y big band tune (I mean, of course, the pop chart was pretty much all big band in the early ’40s), with an extremely odd, bassy and almost operatic vocal from Bob Eberly. The vocal doesn’t fit the song which doesn’t fit the vocal.
No. 3, “Imagination,” Glenn Miller — The record label conveniently lets you know that this is a “fox trot.” Ray Eberle’s vocal on this is strong.
No. 4, “Playmates,” Kay Kyser — Now, this has got some pep to it! The first record on this chart that I can imagine listening to at home, willfully, rather than just for a trip around the dancefloor — ironic, since it’s also the most uptempo of the lot as well. Okay, sure the choral “playmates” are a bit obnoxious, but Sully Mason’s a helluva singer, and I may need to investigate his catalog.
No. 5, “Fools Rush In,” Glenn Miller — Ah, Johnny Mercer! You’ve gotta love that he took as his title line a line from Alexander Pope (c’mon, I was a literature major). Miller’s version has got another outta-the-park Eberle vocal — damn, he’s good. And if you think this sounds familiar, it may be because you’re recalling Bow Wow Wow’s 1980 version, dreamily remixed by Kevin Shields for Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. When even Anabella Lwin can’t ruin your melody, you know it’s a strong one. And this one isn’t just strong, it’s swoon-worthy.
No. 6, “Where Was I?,” Charlie Barnet — A female vocal! Mary Ann McCall chimes in on this one, from the film ‘Til We Meet Again (which has a rather bonkers plot — just read its description!). Barnet could swing.
No. 7, “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” Glenn Miller — The first instrumental in the countdown, if you don’t count the chanted titular phone number. Apparently this one’s another fox trot. I guess I don’t know how to fox trot.
No. 8, “Imagination,” Tommy Dorsey — Dorsey’s arrangement of “Imagination” is a bit more genteel than Miller’s (above) and, to my ears, tame. Which makes it a bit dull. Young Sinatra sounds notably generic.
No. 9, “Sierra Sue,” Bing Crosby — Crosby was such a star that he was the rare vocalist to get his name above the title, over the bandleader’s. And one listen explains why: that voice, in its prime, was so silky smooth and commanding.
No. 10, “Make Believe Island,” Mitchell Ayres — The actual label credit on this is “Mitchell Ayres and His Fashions in Music,” which I think is amazing. We could use more “fashions in music”! Vocals from Mary Ann Mercer, not to be confused with Ms. McCall from #6 above. Her voice is a too prime and proper for a song that sways and undulates like this one, though.