September 1, 1965
“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” by Mel Carter
#1 on the Billboard Easy Listening Singles chart, August 28 – September 3, 1965
Not much is known about singer, pianist, and occasional actor Harry Noble, Jr. Little remains of his legacy apart from a 1954 album of Noël Coward songs, an appearance in the 1944 movie Step Lively, and a 2013 article written by his grandson, Harry Marks, born years after his namesake’s death. Yet despite not being an especially prolific songwriter, Noble did contribute one standard to the classic American songbook, one that became a Top 10 hit for two different artists in two different decades.
The ballad “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” debuted in 1952 as the first single by American singer Karen Chandler, who had previous earned some success under the name Eve Young. After hitting a slump at the end of the ’40s, however, she rebooted her career with a new name and a new label. Chandler’s warm delivery and clear-as-a-bell vocals on “Hold Me” acknowledge the lyrics’ inherent sensuality without veering into either syrupy or sex-kittenish territory. Her fresh-faced but mature reading, along with a memorable chorus, propelled the single to #7 on the American pop charts, while a rival version by Muriel Smith climbed to #3 in the UK.
The next time “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” hit the charts was a decade into the rock ‘n’ roll era, sung by an artist who had started out in religious music. Like many promising young gospel stars, Mel Carter crossed over to secular music with the help of Sam Cooke. Carter signed to Derby, the pop-oriented division of the Cooke-run SAR Records, whose other future stars included Bobby Womack, Billy Preston, and Johnnie Taylor. It was Carter who earned SAR’s biggest pop hit, however: the 1963 Cooke-penned single “When a Boy Falls in Love,” which just missed the Top 40 at #44. (Cooke’s own version was released as a posthumous single, hitting #52 in 1965.)
Soon after “When a Boy Falls in Love,” Cooke’s right-hand woman Zelda Samuels left SAR. Naturally, she took the label’s most promising young star along with her. At his new home, Imperial Records, Carter was recast as a traditional pop balladeer in the mold of Johnny Mathis. Despite his background with Cooke, this new role wasn’t much of a stretch for Carter. After all, the young singer ranked as SAR’s least R&B-influenced artist, and “When a Boy Falls in Love” was so poppy that Cooke had originally intended it for Pat Boone.
Carter’s “Hold Me” straddles the line between traditional pop and contemporary music. His version adds a backbeat filled with rolling triplets that nod to ’50s doo-wop and R&B, but it’s also drenched in florid symphonic production, including a backing choir. Carter’s vocals are a little too slickly polished and remote to be mistaken for soul, yet there’s just enough texture in his voice to give him a modern edge.
“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” would become Carter’s biggest hit, soaring to #8 on the Hot 100 and topping the Easy Listening charts. (He’d earn another Easy Listening #1 with 1966’s “Band of Gold” — not to be confused with the Freda Payne song of the same name — but the single only climbed to #32 on the Hot 100.) Despite charting a spot lower than Karen Chandler’s version, Carter’s “Hold Me” has supplanted hers as the best-known interpretation, if only because it was a hit during baby boomers’ formative years. Like Chandler, however — and Muriel Smith, and songwriter Harry Noble — “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” would prove to be Carter’s only brush with the pop Top 10. Yet perhaps it’s the limited career success of these artists that helped “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” endure as a romantic standard. By not being defined by a particular star writer or performer, the song stands on its own, free to be interpreted by anyone who wants to express their love.
It Was 50 Years Ago Today examines a song, album, movie, or book that was #1 on the charts exactly half a century ago.