Instrumentals at Number One
Commentary by Theo Morgan-Gan

Over the years, 24 instrumentals have topped the charts. Russ Conway, Eddie Calvert and Winifred Atwell have done it twice, and the Shadows have done it a whopping five times. That's right – no singing – just instruments – or in the case of the last two, just computer aided plain dance music.

--1-- THE SONG FROM MOULIN ROUGE - Mantovani and his Orchestra
14 August 1953 for 1 week

The first instrumental track to claim the top spot did so for just one week, and was taken from the film Moulin Rouge. Annunzio Paolo Mantovani was born in Italy on 15 November 1905. He moved to England at the age of 16 with his parents. In the 1930s he formed his own orchestra, which began to be known for its 'cascading strings', and in the 1940s started formally recording with the legendary Decca label. He soon became as popular on record as he had been on radio. He recorded a US-aimed album in 1951, and a song from that album, 'Charmaine' reached the US Top 10 and sold a million copies. His first hit in Britain was a version of White Christmas, which hit #6 over Christmas of 1952 and spent three weeks on the chart. In 1953, with still enduring popularity, his version of the theme from Moulin Rouge, which starred Josť Ferrer as French painter Henri de Toulouse Lautrec on his knees, eventually hit #1 in its twelfth week. The song spent a lengthy 21 weeks on chart on its first run. It re-entered at #10 in November for one week, and a month later in December it spent a week at the bottom of the chart (#12). Percy Faith had the biggest hit version in America, but Mantovani once again hit the 10 and both versions sold a million. The orchestra went on to have a few more hits, until 1957, when the machine stopped. Mantovani, who backed David Whitfield on most of his recordings, died on 31 March 1981.

--2-- OH MEIN PAPA – Eddie Calvert
8 January 1954 for 9 weeks

The instrumental with the most weeks on top. 'The Man With The Golden Trumpet', Eddie Calvert was born 13 March 1922, Lancashire, UK and was the first British instrumentalist to score two #1s and to earn a US gold disc. Trumpeter Eddie Calvert's version of schmaltzy song Oh Mein Papa hit #1 in its fourth week on chart and was a soaraway success. Eddie Fisher recorded a fully vocal version, but for some this was far too emotional for them. Calvert's purely instrumental version was the perfect answer. Fisher had to make do with #9 here, while the roles were reversed in the States; Fisher's version hit the top, and Calvert's could only peak at #6.

This was also a monumental #1 of sorts – the first of what has come to be at least 75 #1s to be recorded at the now legendary Abbey Road studios.

Eddie Calvert died on 7 August 1978 in South Africa.

--3-- LET'S HAVE ANOTHER PARTY – Winifred Atwell
3 December 1954 for 5 weeks

This was the sixth hit for 'Queen of the Ivories' Winifred Atwell, whose series of popular hit piano medleys gave her 117 weeks on chart. Born on 27 April 1914 in Tunapuna, Trinidad, Atwell was the first black artist to top the chart. The chart-topping medley hit the summit in its second week, and is comprised of the songs: Another Little Drink Won't Do Us Any Harm, Broken Doll, Bye Bye Blackbird, Honeysuckle and The Bee, I Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight, Lily of Laguna, Nellie Dean, Sheik of Araby, Somebody Stole My Gal, When The Red Robin (Comes Bob Bob Bobbin' Along). 

29 April 1955 for 2 weeks

Demez Perez Prado was born in Cuba on 11 December 1916 and began to lead a Havana-based orchestra in the pre-Fidel Castro days, the Orquestra Casino de la Playa. He first recorded this song in 1951. In 1955, he was called upon to re-record it. Why? The makers of new film Underwater, starring Jane Russell, wanted it as their theme. He agreed, and the single hit #1 in its fsixth week on the British charts. It was even bigger in the States, where it resided for 10 weeks at number one. Prado had a few more hits until the late 1950s. He died on 14 September 1989 at the age of 72. In 1995, as a result of a Guinness beer advertisement, Guaglione, never before released in Britain, reached #2 and spent a formidable 24 weeks on chart.

27 May 1955 for 4 weeks

After some very heavy competition in the Top 20, Eddie Calvert's version of Cherry Pink… finally hit the top in its eighth week on chart. It helped Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White to become the only instrumental to be #1 in two different versions, and became the one with what is easily the shortest gap between versions hitting the top. Indeed, there was only one two week #1 in between these two. Funnily enough, this perhaps proved movies don't always lead to success – this version spent longer at #1 and had more time on chart. 

--6-- POOR PEOPLE OF PARIS – Winifred Atwell
13 April 1956 for 3 weeks

The second chart-topper for Ms Atwell from Trinidad hit the top in its fifth week. Atwell, actually a qualified chemist, went first to New York and then to London to study piano. She got her break upon realising boogie piano was more lucrative. She was 42 at the time this was number one – so a happy birthday for her, made even more happy by the fact that she was then the oldest female to top the chart, and is today still second, with only Cher ahead (54 at the time of her last chart-topper). This was also the second French instrumental to top the chart. Winifred died on 28 February 1983 in Sydney, Australia.

--7-- HOOTS MON – Lord Rockingham's XI
28 November 1958 for 3 weeks

Strangely titled party hit Hoots Mon hit the top in its sixth week, and became the first instrumental to reach #1 in more than two years, breaking the run of at least one instrumental atop the charts each year from 1953-56. That record was swiftly broken, starting with this, when at least one instrumental topped the chart in each of six consecutive years, from 1958-63. Harry Robinson had the luck of leading the band Lord Rockingham's XI, which was the house band for Jack Good's television show Oh Boy!. Their recording of Hoots Mon, based on a traditional Scottish folk song called One Hundred Pipers, was constantly plugged on the show, and became extremely popular. It is known as an instrumental, although it and the follow up Wee Tom contained a little spoken Scottish ("Hoots Mon! There's a moose loose about this hoose!"). Surprisingly, for the rockers' role in a single which sold over half a million copies, they were paid just £6 each to record it at Decca's studios in West Hampstead. The follow up spent a brief time on the chart, only hitting #16. Hoots Mon returned to the charts for one week in 1993 as a result of it being featured in a Maynard's Wine Gums advertisement – so it looks like Harry and co are set to remain one-hit wonders.

--8-- SIDE SADDLE – Russ Conway
27 March 1959 for 4 weeks

Russ Conway was born Trevor Stanford on 2 September 1927 and he joined the Merchant Navy at the ripe old age of 15 in 1942. Two years later in 1944 he had joined the Royal Navy. After having been involved in a somewhat vicious combat with a bread slicer which cut off the top of the third finger on his right hand Mr Stanford was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (though surely not for this escapade with a bread slicer?), so he became Trevor Stanford DSM. 

Whilst in service, Stanford had taught himself the piano, and soon began playing to clubs. Dancer Irving Davies recommended him to producer Norman Newell. The rest is history. Side Saddle hit number one in its sixth week. It lingered a while, spending 30 weeks on the chart, a run at that time second only to Frankie Laine's 36 weeks for I Believe, and still the most weeks on chart for a number one instrumental – though well outdone by Mr Acker Bilk's #2 hit Stranger On The Shore, which sold a million, spent an astonishing 55 weeks on chart and still remains one of the best selling singles of all time in Britain. 

Russ had started just as fellow piano player Winifred Atwell had done, with a series of hit medleys, in Conway's case, Party Pops and More Party Pops. Further success was still to come... 

--9-- ROULETTE – Russ Conway
19 June 1959 for 2 weeks

Russ hit the big time with this and thus became the only solo instrumentalist to have consecutive #1s. Just eight weeks after Side Saddle had dropped from #1, and with just two number one hits in between, this glided to the top in its sixth week. It helped Russ to spend the most weeks on the British chart in 1959 – an astonishing 79, a massive feat considering the chart was only a top 30 then, a run which pales today's acts who spend 40 weeks or so on the Top 75 in a year into insignificance. And of course, he was the biggest-selling artist of 1959.

Hits for Russ petered out in the mid-sixties. He suffered a nervous breakdown around that time, but was restored to full health and continued performing until well into his sixties.

Russ Conway died in December 2000, but many still fondly remember his nine-and-a-half-fingered piano playing.

--10-- APACHE – Shadows
25 August 1960 for 5 weeks

This was only the beginning for the massive Shadows, Britain's biggest band pre-Beatles. Hitting #1 in its sixth week, it got the Shadows off to a great start as they rocketed to fame. Well, not really their start, was this. They had actually previously featured on 11 weeks worth of #1 hits with Cliff Richard, credited with him. They were for one #1 with him, his first, known as the Drifters, but changed that name just as the American group of the same name (known for hits such as Saturday Night At The Movies) issued an injunction for name duplication. They still have the most #1s for any instrumental act in history and have the third most weeks on chart by any act, with over 700. The group comprised of Hank B. Marvin on lead guitar, Bruce Welch on rhythm guitar, Jet Harris on bass and Tony Meehan on drums.

The song was first heard by the Shadows when they were busy touring across Britain. A fellow artiste on the bill, Jerry Lordan, played them the ditty on his ukelele. Bert Weedon had already recorded it, but no one had any plans to release it. The Shadows jumped in with their version, which promptly knocked their own record, Please Don't Tease, on which they were credited as Cliff Richard's backing band, off the top. He was also their boss; the feat of knocking a manager/mentor off #1 is indeed rare – done also in 1999 when another male group, Westlife, knocked their manager Ronan Keating's debut #1 off the top with their second #1. The Shadows swept the annual awards polls in 1960; including being voted Britain's top Instrumental Group of the Year and Apache being voted the Record of the Year by highly regarded paper New Musical Express.

--11-- ON THE REBOUND – Floyd Cramer
18 May 1961 for 1 week  

Floyd Cramer was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, on 27 November 1933 and was actually pianist on Elvis Presley's early RCA hits. The "Nashville" sound of the late 50s and early 60s came to be based on the guitar style of Chet Atkins and Les Paul, the bass of Bill Black, the drums of D.J. Fontana and the piano of Floyd Cramer. This single - the follow-up to the US #1 First Date - hit #1 in its sixth week. Floyd never had a big hit again, with his subsequent two hits only hitting #36 and #46. Floyd died at the age of 64 on 31 December 1997. 

--12-- KON-TIKI – Shadows
5 October 1961 for 1 week

The Shadows fifth hit and their second #1. The line-up of the group on the recording is the same, but by the time it had peaked at #1 drummer Tony Meehan was replaced by the drummer from Marty Wilde's Wildcats, Brian Bennett. This proved to be a wise move, as the Wildcat's hits soon dried up, and the Shadows were still having Top 10 albums in 1990.

--13-- WONDERFUL LAND – Shadows
22 March 1962 for 8 weeks

The third #1 for the Shadows, showing no signs of slowing down. A second #1 for the Shadows to be written by Jerry Lordan, who himself had three minor hits in 1960. His talents clearly lay in songwriting though. The record had a distinctive horn section, cleverly arranged by Norrie Paramor – who coincidentally also produced the only instrumental with more weeks on top than this one, Eddie Calvert's Oh Mein Papa. It hit #1 quickly, in its fourth week. 

--14-- NUT ROCKER – B Bumble and the Stingers
17 May 1962 for 1 week

Reaching #1 in its fifth week after charting during the Shadows lengthy stay atop, Nut Rocker made history by being the first instrumental to replace another at the top. It created a classic from a classic, by refurbishing Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. B Bumble and the Stingers became the ultimate one-hit wonders – this was their only record to chart. Nut Rocker was re-issued in 1972 and was Top 20 once again, spending 11 weeks on the chart to bring the record's total to 26 weeks on chart.

--15-- TELSTAR – Tornados
4 October 1962 for 5 weeks

Alan Caddy, Heinz Burt, Roger Jackson, George Bellamy and Clem Cattini made up the Tornados, who played a wee ditty named after the American communications satellite that had been launched earlier in the year. The organ-driven tune reached #1 in its sixth week, and also raced up the USA charts to the top as well. The record spent 25 weeks on the chart. It was followed up by a Top 5 hit, and then a few flops. That was the end for the Tornados. 

--16-- DANCE ON! – Shadows
24 January 1963 for 1 week

Peter Gormley, the Shadows manager, was on the lookout for songs for the Shadows to record when he heard this one which came amongst the pile of tapes mounting on his desk. It was written by the three members of vocal group the Avons, who had a massive #3 hit in 1959 Seven Little Girls Sitting In The Back Seat and not much else. Their fourth and final hit came in early 1961 with Rubber Ball, a Bobby Vee cover, which could only muster #30 while his version was a big Top 5 hit, entering a week later. That same week a version also entered from Marty Wilde and his group the Wildcats, which beat the Avons again to peak at #9. Brian Bennett was then a Wildcat and later joined the Shadows, so this was the only kind of connection for the Avons with a #1 hit, which hit the top in its seventh week. The song was also later denied the chance to have a place on the rather exclusive list of songs to be Top 10 in an instrumental and vocal version, with Kathy Kirby's version only managing #11. It thus failed to join the likes of Oh Mein Papa (see earlier), Annie's Song, Amazing Grace (see later) and Don't Cry For Me Argentina.

--17-- DIAMONDS – Jet Harris and Tony Meehan
31 January 1963 for 3 weeks

For the second time in chart history, an instrumental song took over from another atop the charts. Terence 'Jet' Harris was born 6 July 1939 in Kingsbury, Middlesex and David Joseph Anthony Meehan was born in Hampstead on 2 March 1943, and thus with them knocking the Shadows off the top came another Shadows connection. Harris and Meehan played with groups on several hits in 1958, until Mr Cliff Richard took them on to play drums and bass for his backing band the Drifters who obviously became the Shadows. This one peaked at the top in its fourth week. After a further two big Top 5 hits that year, which actually both spent the same amount of weeks on the chart as their #1, the duo parted ways.

--18-- FOOT TAPPER – Shadows
29 March 1963 for 1 week

This one was quite a poignant and significant #1 in many ways. Firstly it was the final chart topper for the Shads, although they did continue to score a further 21 hits until 1981, including six Top Tenners. It was also a third consecutive topper for producer Norrie Paramor, and a second consecutive #1 for Bruce Welch as a co-writer, and as a performer – he of course featured on the previous Cliff Richard and the Shadows #1, Summer Holiday. This again broke another record – it was a second consecutive #1 from the same film, and a third in total from the feature presentation film Summer Holiday, the first from the film to hit number one being The Next Time/Bachelor Boy, another number from Cliff Richard and the Shadows. Other films went on to score just as good chart success, such as Grease and Saturday Night Fever in the late 70s, and most recently notable is Bridget Jones's Diary having 4 hits from the soundtrack on the UK Top 40 chart, but no film has come close to this one's incredible run of chart success. The soundtrack also hit #1 in the album charts for a massive 14 weeks. Finally, as the Shadows stopped making #1s, there ceased to be an instrumental #1 for some time… 

--19-- THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY – Hugo Montenegro and His Orchestra and Chorus
13 November 1968 for 4 weeks

The first instrumental to hit #1 in over five years did so in style. Montenegro was born in New York in 1925, and later moved to California after serving in the US Navy, and became well-known for scores such as for the film Hurry Sundown and the TV show The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He also acted as arranger and conductor for major calypso artist and label mate Harry Belafonte. This one was taken from a spaghetti western film, starring Clint Eastwood, and it featured Tommy Morgan on electric harmonica, Elliot Fisher on electric violin, Manny Klein on piccolo trumpet and Arthur Smith on the ocarina, which provided the unique introduction. A short while later Hugo narrowly avoided being a permanent fix in the one-hit wonder list by being one of just two artists to have their #1 follow up and last single hit the dizzy heights of #50.

--20-- ALBATROSS – Fleetwood Mac
29 January 1969 for 1 week

A massive hit here. Despite only spending a week atop, Albatross hit #1 in its ninth week, and spent a lengthy total this time around of 20 weeks on the chart. Then again the record was a bestseller in 1975, just failing to be the only instrumental (or single of any sort) to hit #1 twice, peaking at #2 and giving the record a total of 35 weeks on chart. The hits kept flowing for the Mac, and after the re-issue of Albatross the British group expanded to include three Americans who helped them to make the bestselling album Rumours, which took 49 weeks to hit the top of the albums listings and was one of the biggest selling albums of the 1970s in the UK.

--21-- AMAZING GRACE – The Pipes and Drums and Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
15 April 1972 for 5 weeks

After yet another lengthy gap between instrumental #1s, this time of three years, the first hit to feature the Scottish bagpipes and the act with the longest artist name to hit #1 hit the top in its third week. The traditional arrangement of Amazing Grace was already well familiar to pop fans in Judy Collins' vocal version, which spent a formidable 67 weeks on the chart between 1970 and 73, yet peaking no higher than #5. This version first appeared on the album Farewell To The Greys, a tribute to the Royal Scots Greys (2nd Dragoon) that on 2 July 1971 had merged with the 35th Caribiniers (Prince of Wales Dragoon Guards) to form a new regiment. At this time they were stationed in West Germany, unaware that an album track of theirs was gaining huge listener reaction after being played on radio, starting with BBC Radio Two. The huge reaction and public demand forced RCA to release it as a single. It spent 24 weeks on the chart initially, and after two more minor hits it re-entered at Christmas to give it a total of 27 weeks on chart. Combined with Judy Collins version, Amazing Grace has spent 94 weeks on chart to be the nation's second most popular ditty, after Frank Sinatra's My Way. 

--22-- EYE LEVEL – Simon Park Orchestra
29 September 1973 for 4 weeks

Oxford music graduate Simon Park led this orchestra. Park was born in 1946 in Market Harborough and began tinkling the ivories at the age of 5 in 1951.

Eye Level was the first television theme tune to rise all the way to #1. It was taken from the show Van der Valk, based on the detective thriller novels of Nicholas Freeling. Around the time of the first series, Eye Level was released but failed to make much of an impression, only hitting #41 in November 1972. Momentum gathered as viewing figures rapidly increased for the second series. It was quickly re-released by popular demand (just like the aforementioned). It thus hastily rose all the way in its third week of release and spent four weeks at #1, selling a million copies. After a few long breaks for instrumentals, the longest was now to come.

--23-- DOOP – Doop
19 March 1994 for 3 weeks

One of the most recent instrumental number ones harked back to an era even before the charts began. After a massive 20 year gap, another ditty with absolutely no vocal in it finally hit #1. Garnefski and Ridderhof, two producers from The Hague in the Netherlands achieved this with a strange fusion of 1920s Charleston jazz that was spruced up with the techniques of 1990s house. Despite being widely believed to be an instrumental, it must be noted that the title word is repeated relentlessly at one point in the song by excited flapper girls. After entering at #3 behind Mariah Carey's Without You, it jumped all the way to #1. After three weeks there, and another two weeks in the Top 5, it dropped quite rapidly. It became the 10th bestselling single that year, and the Doop boys look forever destined to end up on the ultimate one-hit wonder list after a follow up, Huckleberry Jam, completely failed the Top 75.

--24-- FLAT BEAT – Mr Oizo
3 April 1999 for 2 weeks

Quite surprisingly, this instrumental chart topper, the final one for the moment, is the only one to go straight to the top. But perhaps not so surprising really given the hype it received. Levi's, the jeans makers, were making yet another advertisement, and again was to use music and for the second time, after Stiltskin, decided to use a completely new tune. Early in 1999, adverts started being shown with this music.

The adverts featured a furry little bear called Flat Eric who became synonymous with the campaign and song. The most famous of these adverts was one where a man was driving along the road in his car, and next to him in the front of the car was little Eric. The car was stopped by the police, who demanded to look in the boot of the car. The man opened it up, and would you believe it, the man had filled the boot with neat piles of Levi's jeans. Of course, while all this was going on, that wee ditty was playing.

The record-buying public soon got used to it, and support built up. It was, to be honest, a tad on the repetitive side, so when it had to be played on the radio, the edit was a mere two minutes. It was of course a bit longer on recorded vinyl, tape or CD. The only vocal or spoken part is at the start, when a lady on the phone says: "Oh yeah, I used to know Quentin. He's a real jerk." But that can hardly exempt it from instrumental status.

 It crashed into the top spot, selling over 200,000 copies in its first week alone and 678,000 in total to make it the 9th bestselling single of 1999.

 Behind all this had to be a recording artiste of course. It was Quentin Dupieux, a French underground techno artist. After all this he bowed out of the mainstream voluntarily, saying he never intended to make mainstream music and it was always intended for the underground.

 Oh, and on top of that came the merchandising (bar those ever-so-radical engineered jeans): key rings, badges… and a puppet of the cute lil' character as well.

 So how long until the next instrumental #1? Well, dance music is always on the up, and a fair amount of those massive dance choons have not vocals whatsoever. So it can't be too far away…

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