Frank Ifield, the country yodeller with a powerful falsetto voice, became the first Australian to top the UK charts in July 1962. He was born in Coventry on the 30th November 1937 and at the age of nine he immigrated with his family to Australia. His career took off in 1957 when television arrived with his own show Campfire Favourites and the following year he came to prominence with the record “Whiplash”, a song about the 1851 Australian gold rush that later was used as the theme for a long running television series.
When national success came in November 1959 with the hit song “True”, he established himself as one of Australia’s top night club acts and also had a strong following in New Zealand. But now was the time return to the UK to try and break into the charts in his birth country. He signed with Columbia Records, a subsidiary to EMI Records, and soon started working with famed producer Norrie Paramor who was having great success with Cliff Richard and Helen Shapiro.
Ifield had his first hit record with “Lucky Devil” a cover of the USA hit by Carl Dobkins Jr when it reached number 22. This was followed by a lesser hit “Gotta Get a Date”. But the big breakthrough came in 1962 when he recorded a Johnny Mercer/Victor Schertzinger song “I Remember You” from the 1942 film The Fleet’s In. Adding the yodel changed the song completely and it went to number one in July where stayed for seven weeks and was the first British record to sell one million copies in the UK alone.
Shortly afterwards it was top of the charts in Australia. His follow up record was a cover of the Hank Williams classic, “Lovesick Blues”, coupled with the popular “She Taught Me To Yodel”. This record hit the UK number one in November and was only knocked off the spot at Christmas by Elvis Presley’s “Return To Sender”. His engaging falsetto voice became something of a trademark which no other British singer had at this period. When he recorded the 1956 hit of Cogi Grant, “The Wayward Wind” he became the first artist in British pop history to have three consecutive number ones. “The Wayward Wind” was eventually toppled by an up and coming group from Liverpool, The Beatles and “Please Please Me”.
It was their abrupt rise to fame that which was the start of the end for Frank Ifield and other British vocalists. Hits continued in 1963 with “Nobody’s Darling But Mine” stalling at number 4 and then an old Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald song from the 1930’s, “Confessin’” had him back at number one for three weeks. His next record was a poor cover of the Frankie Laine classic “Mule Train” and only reached number 25 but he was back in the top ten at the start of 1964 with a cover of the 1961 hit by The Everly Brothers “Don’t Blame Me”.
Other minor hits followed “Angry At The Big Oak Tree”; “Summer Is Over”; “Paradise” and “Call Her Your Sweetheart”. He became the most celebrated victim of the British Beat Boom that was sweeping the world and he never regained the seemingly unassailable position he enjoyed in the early 60s. The downward slide continued with Pantomime work and working men’s clubs before returning to Australia and cabaret performances. After lengthy bouts of illness he had an abscess removed from his lung in 1996 which permanently impaired his singing.
He instigated the Galston Country Musical Festival and became a patron for Music & Arts Talent Search (MATS).
Do you remember Frank Ifield?