Given its status as an anthem for swooning bobbysoxers, it seems surprising that “Mr Sandman” was originally sung by a man – baritone Vaughn Monroe, in fact. But when Monroe’s version tanked, Wisconsin four-piece the Chordettes snapped up the song and transformed it into chart gold, an era-defining number that spent seven weeks atop the US hit parade. Their sweet and sprightly harmonies, inspired by barbershop quartets and the Andrews Sisters, were ideally suited to its subject matter – a plea for a dream date, addressed to the folkloric figure who marshals sleep.

The song opens with the sound of producer Archie Bleyer slapping his knees in a buoyant, clockwork rhythm, before Lynn Evans, Margie Needham, Carol Buschmann and Janet Ertel chime in with an adept series of bell chords (a staple barbershop motif, in which each successive note is taken on by a different singer). But after a minute or so, the tinkling xylophone is replaced by a shuffling guitar and sax in the western-swing idiom that impart a new urgency. The recording took three days to perfect, and its sophisticated production made Bleyer – who turns in a mellifluous cameo as the voice of Mr Sandman himself (“Yeeees?”) – a formative influence on Phil Spector and the girl-group sound.

With its entreaties to a nursery-rhyme character and use of such 1950s slang terms as “peachy”, “Mr Sandman” is undeniably wholesome, yet at the same time it is impressively erudite: the Chordettes’ ideal man, apparently, is an amalgam of Pagliacci, the sad clown from Leocavallo’s opera (who would later rear his lonely head in Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown”), and the flamboyant pianist Liberace. Truly, they were more innocent times.

<< Influenced by: Bei Mir Bist Du Schön, The Andrews Sisters (1937)

>> Influence on: Everyday, Buddy Holly (1957)

|| Covered by: Linda McCartney (1977)

This piece is an omitted entry from the book 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die (Cassell) – consider it song no. 1002.

Mr Sandman | The Chordettes (1954)

Writer: Pat Ballard
Producer: Archie Bleyer
Label: Cadence
Album: n/a

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