I was seven years old when Emile Ford and the Checkmates topped the Christmas charts in 1959, remaining at the No 1 spot well into the New Year. Not that, at that age, I really had much idea of what pop charts were. Nor at that age did I think too much about whether I liked a song or not–the radio was on pretty much all day at home, the song played every day, and entered my consciousness without my consciously either wanting or trying to learn it so that I’d found myself singing What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? simply because the song was popular.
And then I forgot about it. Until now, that is, when out of nowhere it came back to mind and–you know how it is–I found the song stubbornly lodged in my mind for an entire day. I’d remembered the melody, was surprised to find that I’d remembered much of the lyrics, but I had to resort to a web search to determine when the record was released and by whom it had been performed.
Born in Castries, Saint Lucia, in 1937, Emile Ford moved with his family in the mid-1950s to London where he taught himself to play a number of musical instruments, including guitar, piano, violin, bass guitar and drums; and was performing in public by the age of 20, with his first television appearances in 1958 on the Pearl Carr & Teddy Johnson Show, Oh, Boy!, and Six-Five Special. What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? was the first single released by Ford and his group, shooting to the top of the hit parade in December 1959 and remaining at that position for six weeks. Ford was to be the first Black British artist to sell one million copies of a single.
The song, penned by Joseph McCarthy, Howard Johnson and James V. Monaco in 1916, had originally been recorded, however, more than 40 years earlier, in 1917, by Ada Jones and Billy Murray. Both recordings, with very different arrangements, are great listening–we hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we do.