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Beatles Bizarre Vol. 2

May 19th, 2011 8 comments

Beatlemania coincided with a renaissance of novelty records, and so it is logical that many of these novelty records would concern themselves with The Beatles. Here is a batch of songs particularly about Ringo, as well as a recording Frank Sinatra made for Ringo’s wife Maureen, and a young Sissy Spacek totally going off John Lennon after being exposed to his luxuriant bouffant of pubic hair displayed on an album cover.

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Rainbo (Sissy Spacek) – John, You Went Too Far This Time (1968).mp3
Before she became famous as an actress, including her singing role as country singer Loretta Lynn, Sissy Spacek tried to become a folk singer, releasing a solitary single under the trite moniker Rainbo (which she apparently disliked) before being fired by her label for not being a best-seller. The John whom Sissy Rainbow addresses on this breathtakingly bad record would be Mr Lennon, and his transgression would be letting it all hang out post-coitally on the cover of Two Virgins, his avant garde nonsense recorded with Yoko Ono, who also appears naked on the cover.

Sissy loves John and forgives him many things, but she is not one who would endorse exhibitions of public nudity – and in this particular instance I am inclined to concur with her, purely on aesthetic grounds. John and Yoko were not attractive naked people. But if Lennon went too far on a record sleeve, then Spacek (and the chaps who wrote this bizarre thing, John Marshall and Ronald Dulka) overstepped the boundaries of musical decency with that chorus, which supposedly was meant to evoke the Beatles sound. In 1983 Spacek released a full country album, titled Hangin’ Up My Heart. She was fully clothed on the cover.

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Bonnie Jo Mason (Cher) – Ringo, I Love You (1964).mp3
Another future star recording Beatles-related material under a different name was Cher, who in 1964 sought to buy into the Zeitgeist by declaring her love for the drummer. Before her brief stint as Bonnie Jo Mason, Cherilyn Sarkasian sang backing vocals on classics such as The Ronettes’ Be My Baby, The Chiffons’ Da Doo Ron Ron and the Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling – and it was the producer of those songs, Phil Spector, who co-wrote and produced Ringo, I Love You. Then she recorded as plain Cherilyn (a song called Dream Baby which your faithful correspondent recently featured on the Star Maker Machine blog) and in a duo as Cleo to Sonny Bono’s Caesar. Within just over a year of releasing Ringo, I Love You, Sonny and Cher were stars. The Ringo anthem was backed with an instrumental titled Beatles Blues, a deliberately bad song placed to deter DJs from ignoring the A-side, as they often did. The ploy backfired: apparently radio DJs were thrown by Bonnie Jo’s deep voice and refused to play what they thought was a gay declaration of affection for the Beatles drummer.

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Ella Fitzgerald – Ringo Beat (1964).mp3
There were loads of Ringo-themed songs in the mid-’60s, apparently some 50 of them. They included The Rainbows’ My Ringo, Christine Hunter’s Santa, Bring Me Ringo, Treat Him Tender, Maureen by Angie & The Chicklettes, Al Fisher & Lou Marks’ Ringo Ringo Little Star, Three Blond Mice’s Ringo Bells, The Whippets’ Go Go Go With Ringo, Neil Sheppard’s You Can’t Go Far Without A Guitar (Unless You’re Ringo Starr), Ringo Did It by Veronica Lee, I Want To Kiss Ringo Goodbye by Penny Valentine, and Bingo Ringo by Daws Butler (who voiced Huckleberry Hound). Even Ella Fitzgerald got in on the act with Ringo Beat, a rather nice number written by Ella herself (one of her 27 compositions), which naturally features a “yeah yeah” reference and namechecks other contemporary popsters.

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The Young World Singers – Ringo For President (1964).mp3
Released in August 1964, the Young World Singers in their cover of Rolf Harris’ song sought to offer an alternative to Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater in that year’s elections for US president, evidently oblivious to the rule that disqualifies those not born in the United States from standing as candidates. And since Ringo was a Kenyan Muslim… In any case, it is doubtful that Ringo, who has acknowledged his limitations in intellectual pursuits, would have been a great president (though the US voters elected a man of even less cerebral qualities to the presidency in 2004).

Of course, it wasn’t cleverness the Young World Singers and the others engaged in the Ringo For President campaign were looking for in their candidate: “He’s our candidate ’cause he makes us feel so great. We could talk about war out on the big dance floor. Oh my gee, oh my gingo…if I could vote, I’d vote for Ringo!” Asked at a press conference in August 1964 about the Ringo For President campaign, Starr admited: “I’m not sort of politically minded.” Asked whether he would appoint the other Beatles to his cabinet, the conversation descends into a typical Beatlesque farce, with George interjecting: “I could be the door”, and John nominating himself to serve as the cupboard.

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Don Bowman – The Other Ringo (1966).mp3
In the early ‘60s, there was a popular cowboy hit titled Ringo, recorded by Bonanza star Lorne Green (the Cartwright patriarch), which Don Bowman parodied to coincide with the height of Beatlemania. Bowman notes the death of the old Ringo and the rise of the Beatle by the same name. He seems to be taken particularly with the length of Ringo’s hair. Bowman was a country singer, comedian, TV presenter and DJ who recorded this rather amusing novelty number for his 1966 LP titled Funny Way To Make An Album, which also included a song called Freddy Four Toes. Bowman clearly did not compromise his comedy with artistic credibility: other LPs were titled Fresh From The Funny Farm (1965), Recorded Almost Live (1966), Support Your Local Prison (1967) and Still Fighting Mental Health (1979).

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Dick Lord – Like Ringo (1964).mp3
Don Bowman wasn’t the only one to make the connection between Lorne Greene’s hit and the Beatles drummer. Dick Lord was not a porn actor but a comedian, and  remains one today. At the time of recording Like Ringo, Dick Lord was a close friend of the great Bobby Darin. I the song, Dick Lord’s girlfriend is rather obsessed with the Beatles man, and Dick Lord’s exasperation at being rejected by the obsessed fan turns to ingenuity as he adopts the Ringo look. Eventually Dick Lord’s girlfriend returns to Dick Lord, informing him tearfully that her Ringo infatuation is over. A great punchline awaits, and I shall not spoil it.

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The Bon Bons – What’s Wrong With Ringo? (1964).mp3
A persistent rumour has it that the Bon Bons were the Shangri-Las by another name. It is, alas, not true. What’s Wrong With Ringo was released before the Shangri-Las’ debut single, Remember (Walking In The Sand), was issued by Red Birds Records in September 1964. The Ringo song was released on the Coral label, the Decca subsidiary that had also issued records by Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline and The Vogues, but never had the Weiss and Ganser sisters under contract.The Ringo song was not the Bon Bons’ only release; also in 1964 Coral issued the follow-up single Everybody Wants My Boyfriend . Anyway, the question of the song’s title concerns the shortage of Beatles songs sung by Ringo. It seems the record-buying public did not share their concern, and so ignored this quite catchy girl-group record (which includes, of course, the “yeah yeah yeah yeah” thing).

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Frank Sinatra – Maureen Is A Champ (1968).mp3
This tribute to Mrs Ringo is not only a great novelty item, but also something of a historical artefact: it’s the first record to be catalogued on the Beatles’ Apple label – its number being Apple 1 (Hey Jude was the first Apple release, but it wasn’t catalogued). Only a few copies, some say only one, of Maureen Is A Champ were made before the master tape was destroyed, because this was a private recording to mark Maureen’s 22nd birthday. Maureen was a big Sinatra fan, so a train of events was set in motion, apparently by Beatles business manager Peter Brown, which involved the great Sammy Cahn rewriting Lorenz Hart’s lyrics for The Lady Is A Tramp, and Frank Sinatra – who by that point was a Beatles fan (and covered several of their songs) – singing the reworked number, with Cahn on piano. We can assume that when Ringo presented his wife with that special record on 4 August 1968, she probably was quite pleased.

Beatles Bizarre Vol. 1
More Beatles stuff

The Originals Vol. 28 – Sinatra edition

July 10th, 2009 11 comments

Frank Sinatra was a supreme interpreter of music. Even in the later stages of his career, when the arrangements often transgressed the boundaries of good taste, Sinatra still knew how to appropriate a song. One may well think that he was essentially a cover artist — after all, he never wrote a song — and much of his catalogue consists of songs more famous in other artists’ hands. But many of Sinatra’s most famous songs were first recorded by him, and often written especially for him, particularly by Sammy Kahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. The songs that were first recorded by others but became known as Sinatra standards are relatively few. About a dozen or so, by my count. This series has already examined My Way, New York New York and Something Stupid. Here are five other songs first recorded by others, some even had hits with them, but are now unmistakable linked with Sinatra.

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Bert Kaempfert – Beddy Bye.mp3
Frank Sinatra – Strangers In The Night.mp3

beddy_byeThe melody for Strangers In The Night featured in a theme written by German composer and arranger Bert Kaempfert (who had also produced the Beatles’ first recordings on Tony Sheridan’s record) for the 1965 movie A Man Could Get Killed. The Strangers In The Night melody was adapted for or had been adapted from a recording of the song which Kaempfert wrote as Fremde in der Nacht (video) for Croatian singer Ivo Robić, who also sang it in Croatian (some say that Robić wrote it and gave it to Kaempfert because he latter was supposedly out on his luck; an unlikely notion). The sequence of events is confused: Robić released the song in 1966, the year after Kaempfert scored A Man Who Could Get Killed.

Set to English lyrics by Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder, Kaempfert was involved in arranging Strangers In The Night for Sinatra, who recorded it on 11 April 1966. Sinatra didn’t want to record the song that would give him one of his biggest hits — so big, he could not exclude the song he called “a piece of shit” from his concert setlist, much as he tried. Audiences loved the song, applauding wildly even when a bemused Sinatra asked: “You like this song?” At the same time, he also acknowledged that “it’s helped keep me in pizza”.

Strangers In The Night produced an appalling travesty: in the public imagination, the lazily scatted doobee-dobeedoo (that was Sinatra mocking the song, descending into a gibberish that really says “fuck you”) has become associated with Sinatra more than his wonderful phrasing, the timing of his interpretation and the precise diction (listen to any Sinatra song, and you’ll understand every word; when speaking, Sinatra’s elocution was less meticulous in his speech). Still, “the worst song I ever fucking heard” won Sinatra a pair of Grammys (The Beatles’ Michelle won Song of the Year).

strangers_in_the_nightStrangers In The Night is now often billed as Sinatra’s great comeback song. But just a year before, Sinatra was Grammy-awarded for a song which we shall review in a moment. So it might only by the standards of sales, not quality, that Strangers In The Night marked any kind of rebound. Even then, many of Sinatra’s most popular songs performed poorly in the charts. None of his singles between Hey Jealous Lover in 1957 and Strangers In The Night in 1966 topped the Billboard charts. As far as I have been able to ascertain, the 1957 chart topper, hardly a Sinatra classic, was his only Billboard #1 during the golden period on Capitol. And that other Sinatra behemoth, My Way (which he also despised) reached only #27. In short, Sinatra’s success could not be measured by sales or chart placings.

Apparently the ad lib inspired the name of cartoon hound Scooby Doo. Playing rhythm guitar on the song is Glen Campbell (a musical Zelig of the ’60s), about whom Sinatra, not rarely an asshole, enquired: “Who’s the fag guitarist over there?” When the English version became a hit, Sinatra’s first chart-topper in 11 years, composer Ralph Chicorel accused Kaempfert of plagiarising his song You Are My Love (the claim was settled, to Chicorel’s dissatisfaction, out of court). Kaempfert might have been an easy listening merchant, but he was no hack. Songs he wrote or co-wrote include Nat ‘King” Cole’s L-O-V-E and Al Martino’s Spanish Eyes.

Also recorded by: Johnny Dorelli (as Solo più che mai, 1966), Mel Tormé (1966), The Sandpipers (1966), Johnny Rivers (1966), Jack Jones (1966), Petula Clark (1966), John Davidson (1966), Jim Nabors (1966), Vikki Carr (1966), Connie Francis (1966), Sandy Posey (1966), Barbara McNair (1966), Peggy Lee (1966), Fred Bertelmann (as Fremde in der Nacht, 1966), Johnny Mathis (1967), Andy Williams (1967), José Feliciano (1967), Dalida (as Solo più che mai, 1967), Jimi Hendrix (as part of Wild Thing at the Monterrey Fesival, 1967), Line Renaud (as Étrangers dans la nuit, 1969), Violetta Villas (1970), The Ventures (1970), Teddy Harold & Jeremy (1974), Bette Midler (1976), Mina (1984), Babe (as Stranac usranac, 1994), Los Manolos (1991), Manuel (1998), The Supremes (unreleased until 1998), Michael Bublé (2000), Paul Kuhn (2003), Nick the Nightfly & The Monte Carlo Nights Orchestra (2004), Cake (2005), Barry Manilow (2006), Dany Brillant (2007), Russell Watson (2007), Marc Almond (2007) a.o.

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Virginia Bruce – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3
Ray Noble & his Orchestra with Al Bowlly – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3
Frank Sinatra – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3
The Four Seasons – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3

born_to-danceSinatra was a marvellous interpreter of Cole Porter’s songs, and both of his solo versions of I‘ve Got You Under My Skin are superb (whereas his long-distance duet with Bono was embarrassing. “Don’t you know, Blue Eyes, you never can win” indeed.). The song was originally written for the 1936 MGM musical Born To Dance, in which Virginia Bruce vied with star Eleanor Powell for the affection of James Stewart. The film was the first to be entirely scored by Porter (and his first engagement for MGM), and featured another classic in the exquisite Easy to Love, crooned by Powell and, in an unusual singing role, Stewart.

The song was quickly covered by scores of crooners and orchestras, with Ray Noble and his Orchestra’s version, with the English singer Al Bowlly on vocals, scoring the biggest hit among various versions released in 1936. Two months earlier, in October, Hal Kemp and his Orchestra had a hit with it. Noble’s arrangement is superior, but Skinnay Ellis’ vocals, when they finally come in, are preferable. Bowlly met an untimely end in 1941 when the explosion of a Blitzkrieg bomb on London blew his bedroom door off its hinges, lethally smashing the crooner’s head (see the wonderful Another Nickel in the Machine blog for the full story).

swingin_loversSinatra first performed I’ve Got You Under My Skin as part of a medley with You’d Be So Easy To Love on radio in 1946 (some sources say 1943), but didn’t record it until 1956, with Nelson Riddle’s arrangement on the Songs For Swingin’ Lovers album (it is the version featured here; the built-up to the instrumental break is quite delicious). He re-recorded the song again in 1963, in full swing mode, on Sinatra’s Sinatra, an album of remakes of some of his favourite hits. In an international poll conducted in 1980, I’ve Got You Under My Skin was voted the most popular Sinatra song. In 1966 the song was a hit in the popified remake of the Four Seasons.

Also recorded by: Frances Langford with Jimmy Dorsey (1936), Shep Fields (1936), Hal Kemp & his Orchestra (1936), Eddy Duchin (1942), Erroll Garner (1945), Artie Shaw & his Orchestra (1946), Ginny Simms (1946), Frank Culley (1951), Eddie Fisher (1952), Stan Freberg (1952), Peggy Lee (1953), The Ravens (1954), Dinah Washington (1955), Ella Fitzgerald (1956), Georgie Auld (1956), Jimmy Callaway (1956), Shirley Bassey (1957), Anita O’Day With Billy May & His Orchestra (1959), Perry Como (1959), Louis Prima & Keely Smith (1960), Dinah Shore (1960), The Miracles (1962), Danny Williams (1962), Julie London (1965), The Four Seasons (1966), Gloria Gaynor (1976), Hank Marvin (1977), Chris Connor (1978), Rosemary Clooney (1982), Julio Iglesias (1985), Babe (1985), Neneh Cherry (1990), Dionne Warwick (1990), Frank Sinatra & Bono (1993), Guy Marchand (1998), Diana Krall (1999), Jamie Cullum Trio (1999), Neil Diamond (2000), Patricia Paay (2000), Echo (2002), Nick the Nightfly & The Monte Carlo Nights Orchestra (2004), Michael Bublé (2005), Danny Seward (2005), Steve Tyrell (2005), Michael Fucking Bolton (2006), Smokey Robinson (2006), John Pizzarelli with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (2006), Cídia e Dan (2008), Wilfried Van den Brande (2008) a.o.

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Ethel Merman – I Get A Kick Out Of You.mp3
Frank Sinatra – I Get A Kick Out Of You.mp3
Ella Fitzgerald – I Get A Kick Out Of You.mp3

ethelTrust Cole Porter to identify in his lyrical witticisms a yet undiscovered matter of science. As we now know, the emotion of love triggers a neurochemical reaction. So when Porter has generations of singers crooning about getting a kick out of you (or whoever the object of unrequited desire is), he gets them to rhapsodise about the intoxicating effect of oxytocin. The first to do so was Ethel Merman, whose voice is most unlikely to give you oxytocin overload.

The song was originally written for an unproduced musical titled Stardust, but languished for three years until a reworked version was included in the 1934 musical Anything Goes. This was Porter in his list-song pomp. Here he enumerates all the things that fail to give him a dopamine rush (he doesn’t give a flying fuck about a flying fuck, long before air travel became widely accessible), while in You’re The Top, from the same musical, he goes metaphor-crazy in cataloging all the ways his true love is, well, the top. While his brief did not refer specifically to Merman performing these songs, Porter did have her diction in mind when he included the line “it would bore me terrifically too”, just so that she could roll those Rs (alas not on the present version, but note how Sinatra accentuates the F instead). That line, of course, makes reference to cocaine — not a kick-giver, apparently — which for the 1936 movie version was replaced, incongruously, by Spanish perfume (not French and not quite in the same kick-giving league as a Class A drug).

songs_for_young_loversSinatra recorded the song at least three times, in 1953, 1962 (featured on Monday) and on his Live In Paris album, also in 1962 but not released until 1994. The earlier version is a jazzy guitar-based number in which Sinatra, just climbing out of career slump, treats the song with a certain decorum. He sounds nonchalant about all these supposed stimulants but is still sad because she obviously does not adore him. The song and the Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! album it came from marked Sinatra’s big comeback after a few years in the wilderness (partly due to his vocal cord haemorrhage in 1951 and his subsequent dumping by Columbia records), coinciding with his success on the big screen in From Here To Eternity. It was his first outing with Nelson Riddle, whom Sinatra had to be tricked into working with, Riddle’s recent success arranging Nat ‘King’ Cole’s Mona Lisa notwithstanding. It is said that in their long association, Sinatra rejected one eight of Riddle’s proposed arrangements.

ella_cole_porterThe big band swing recording from 1962 — when Sinatra was in his Rat Pack grandeur — has the singer brimming with hubris. Here her lack of adoration is not a big snag — using Sinatra terminology, she’s still a great broad. As for the cocaine: in the 1953 take he is blasé about cocaine; by 1962 he is instead left cold by the riffs of the bop-tight refrain. Ella Fitzgerald, in her utterly enchanting version (and do try to sing along to get an idea just how intricate her effortless vocals are), also refers to cocaine. Does Ethel Merman in her remake for the notorious 1979 disco album?

Also recorded by: George Hall (1934), Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra (1934), Bob Causer and his Cornellians (1934), The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra (1934), Leo Reisman and his Orchestra (1935), Eddy Duchin (1942), Johnny Dankworth Seven (1953), Johnny Hartman (1956), Ella Fitzgerald (1956), Shirley Bassey (1962), Anita O’Day with Billy May & his Orchestra (1959), Shirley Scott (1960), Nana Mouskouri (1962), Esquivel (1962), Sandie Shaw (1965), Dave Brubeck Quartet (1966), Alma Cogan (1967), Gary Shearston (1974), Anita O’Day (1975), Ira Sullivan (1979), Ethel Merman (1979), Rosemary Clooney (1982), Madeline Vergari (1984), Kim Criswell (1989), Jungle Brothers (1990), Dionne Warwick (1990), Tom Jones (1990), Tony Bennett (1991), Bobby Caldwell (1993), Diana Krall (1999), Lisa Ekdahl (1999), The Living End (2001), Dolly Parton (2001), Jamie Cullum (2003), Patrick Lindner & Thilo Wolf Big Band (2005), Steve Tyrell (2005), Leah Thys (2008), Lew Stone and His Band (2008), Patricia Barber (2008), Heike Makatsch (as Nichts haut mich um aber Du, 2009) a.o.

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The Kingston Trio – It Was A Very Good Year.mp3
Frank Sinatra – It Was A Very Good Year.mp3
William Shatner – It Was A Very Good Year.mp3

kingston_trioWhen Michael Jackson was a 12-year-old, he appeared on Diana Ross’ TV show, delightfully performing It Was A Very Good Year in mock-inebriated ring-a-ding-dinging rat-packer mode before dumping a fur-clad La Ross (video). Little Mike was clearly in on the joke of a small boy taking off a rather world-weary sentimentalist. What a showboy he was, and how poignant to see this child, from whom childhood was taken, singing that when he was two years old, he was four years old.

The original was recorded in 1961 with suitable gravitas by the Kingston Trio, right down to two melancholy but not downbeat whistle solos. It was written in ten minutes by Ervin Drake, who at 90 is still alive, with the trio’s frontman Bob Shane, the band’s last surviving member, in mind.

septemberSinatra heard the Kingston Trio record on the radio and liked it so much that he insisted on recording it, which he did on 22 April 1965 for his wistful September Of My Years album, with an arrangement by Gordon Jenkins. About to turn 50, the lyrics seemed appropriate for Sinatra (who, of course, was not yet finished with the game of romance; the following year he married the lovely, very young Mia Farrow). Sinatra’s version earned him a Grammy for best vocal performance, a title which he would defend the next year with Strangers In The Night. So much for the latter being a big comeback. The author and songwriter Arnold Shaw observed in It Was A Very Good Year a new maturity in Sinatra’s voice: “The silken baritone of 1943 is now like torn velvet.”

shatnerWhere Bob Shane is gentle, and Sinatra is all sombre introspection, William Shatner’s bizarre remake from 1968 is absolute comedy gold. It’s not as demented as his Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, nor does it have a primal scream as the end of Mr Tambourine Man, but it is bizarrely entertaining nonetheless. Weeee’d ride in limousines, or their chauffeurs would drive…when I…was…thirty-five. And then the crazy harps!

Also recorded by: Modern Folk Quartet (1963), Lonnie Donegan (1963), Shawn Phillips (1964), The Turtles (1965), The Barron Knights (1965), Wes Montgomery (1965), Gabor Szabo (1966), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (1966), Trudy Pitts (1967), Lou Rawls (1968), Ray Conniff & the Singers (1968), The Freedom Sounds feat Wayne Henderson (1969), Richie Havens (1973), Lee Hazlewood (1977), The Muppet Shiw (Statler and Waldorf, 1979), The Flaming Lips (1993), Homer Simpson (as It Was A Very Good Beer, 1993), Paul Young (1997), The Reverend Horton Heat (2000), Robbie Williams (in a troubling duet with Sinatra’s original vocals, 2001), Robert Charlebois (as C’était une très bonne année, 2003), Ray Charles with Willie Nelson (2004), Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band (2006), Russell Watson (2007)

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Kaye Ballard – In Other Words.mp3
Frank Sinatra – Fly Me To The Moon.mp3

kaye_ballardFor the first few years of its life, Fly Me To The Moon was known as In Other Words. The song was a staple of cabaret singer Felicia Sanders’ repertoire, but she didn’t record the song until 1959. The first recording of the Bart Howard composition was by Kaye Ballard, a Broadway star and later TV actress, in 1954. Her version is quite lovely; one wonders what Judy Garland in her prime might have done with it. The song was first titled Fly Me To The Moon on Johnny Mathis 1956 version.

Sinatra didn’t get around to putting down his take until 1964, on his record with Count Basie (reprised, as it were, on the 1966 live album with the great bandleader). Arranged by Quincy Jones, it became the definitive version. Examine the list of performers who recorded the song in the decade between its first appearance and Sinatra’s 1964 recording, and marvel at the idea that it isn’t a version by Mathis, Cole, Brenda Lee, Vaughan, Tormé or Jack Jones that you first think of, but Sinatra’s, as though he had given everybody else a headstart.

sinatraStill fresh in the collective memory, it enjoyed a second life at the time of the 1969 lunar explorations. Astronaut Gene Cernan, in pictures broadcast on TV, played the song on board of Apollo 10, whereby Fly Me To The Moon became one of the first pieces of music to be played in outer space. It is not true, as Quincy Jones has claimed, that the crew of Apollo 11, which actually flew to the moon, played the song after the lunar landing; Buzz Aldrin has denied the tale. Four decades later, South Korean cosmonaut Yi So-yeon reported having sung the song in space during her Soyuz TMA-12 Flight in April 2008.

Also recorded by: Johnny Mathis (1956), Chris Connor (1957), Frances Wayne (1957), Nancy Wilson (1959), Gloria Lynne (1959), Dion and the Belmonts (1960), Nat ‘King’ Cole (1961), The Barry Sisters (1961), Brenda Lee (1962), Joe Harnell (1962), Sarah Vaughan (1962), Mel Tormé (1962), Jack Jones (1962), Connie Francis (as Portami con te, 1962), Roy Haynes (1962), Tony Martin (1962), Dartmouth Injunaires (1962), Enoch Light & The Light Brigade (1963), Tony Mottola (1963), Julie London (1963), Earl Grant (1963), Perry Como (1963), Alma Cogan (1963), Laurindo Almeida & the Bossa Nova Allstars (1963), Helen O’Connell (1963), Dick Hyman (1963), Rita Reys (1963), The Downbeats (1963), The Demensions (1963), Patti Page (1964), Xavier Cugat (1964), Grady Martin and The Slewfoot Five (1964), Joan Shaw (1964), Matt Monro (1965), Howard Roberts Quartet (1965), Tony Bennett (1965), Doris Day (1965), Heidi Brühl (as Schiess mich doch zum Mond, 1965), Cliff Richard (1965), LaVern Baker (1965), Chris Montez (1966), Trini Lopez (1966), Bobby Darin (1966), Dudley Moore Trio (1966), Tante Emma (as Fremde in der Nacht, 1967). Wes Montgomery (1968), Bobby Womack (1968), Nicoletta (1968), Leslie Uggams (1969), Tom Jones (1969), Mitty Collier (1969),
Tony Bennett (1970), Oscar Peterson (1970), Mina (1972), Lyn Collins (1972), Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim (1994), Paula West (1999), Boston Brass (2000), Utada Hikaru (2000), Diana Krall (2002), Günther Neefs (2002), Julien Clerc with Véronique Sanson (as olons vers la lune, 2003), Tom Gaebel (as Schiess mich doch zum Mond, 2003), Agnetha Fältskog (2004), Dany Brillant (2004), Matt Dusk (2004), Westlife (2004), Nick the Nightfly & The Monte Carlo Nights Orchestra (2004), Steve Tyrell (2005), Bobby Taylor (2006), Michael Fucking Bolton (2006), Smokey Robinson (2006), Roger Cicero (as Schiess mich doch zum Mond, 2006), Ray Quinn (2007), Laura Fygi (as Volons vers la lune, 2008), Saw Loser (2008), Helmut Lotti (2008) a.o.

More Originals

Albums of the Year: 1950s

October 30th, 2007 3 comments

A new series of (more) old music. In an anorak-y moment, I decided to identify my top 10 favourite albums of all time. Variables such as subjective affection and objective quality aside, the challenge with such a venture is to not forget any contenders. So I sorted through my fairly extensive music collection, including stored away vinyl LPs, taking notes for my shortlist. But lots of old favourites have been lost in one way or another: so I trawled lists of album releases for each year on t’Interweb. And thus was born the entirely unoriginal idea of posting my top 10 favourite albums year-by-year on this blog. My monthly 3GB bandwidth limit would not allow me to post full albums, so we’ll have to make do with one or two songs per album.

Before I get bombarded with complaints about notable omissions: I can rank only those albums I actually know. Many artists are represented in my collection by way of compilations. So I can’t list artists of whom I might have a best of double CD sampler and a few individual tracks I have downloaded. My top 10s are also not representative of the “best” albums of the year. Some are, but others will be included simply because I like them, knowing well that they are not as innovative or influential as others I have listed.

I’ll kick off with the 1950s in one post. I have a fair amount of ’50s music, but very few albums. I think my list reflects that. I’ll also deal with the ’60s up to the year of my birth in one post. Thereafter, we’ll go year by year.

1. Frank Sinatra – Songs For Swingin’ Lovers (1956)
This is really Sinatra’s Pet Sounds, the album everybody points to as the definitive Sinatra album (until, in ten years time, the style authorities spot another definitive Sinatra album). I am unsure whether there is such a thing as a “definitive” Sinatra album. If there is, then Songs For Swinging Lovers is as good a pick as any. The concept is obvious, and with the theme being love, Francis is at his most exuberant. Our man did dejected better than most, but Sinatra in love was always great fun. This album also offers much evidence for all that talk about Sinatra’s phrasing. Just listen to You Make Me Feel So Young and imagine how less brilliant singers have interpreted the song.
Frank Sinatra – You Make Me Feel So Young.mp3
Frank Sinatra – Pennies From Heaven.mp3

2. Various – Singin’ In The Rain soundtrack (1952)
If I had to choose one DVD to take with me to exile on a desert island, I might very well pick Singin’ In The Rain. It is the perfect movie (except the ballet sequence is a touch too long. Still, Syd Charisse’s legs….mmmmm). The songs, a hotchpotch of numbers that had long ago appeared elsewhere (and in one case is a shameless rip-off of Cole Porter), range from the sublime — the title track or Good Morning — to standard crooning — You Are My Lucky Star (nonetheless a song I cannot help but croon along to). The orchestral score is very good indeed, but in the company of these exuberant songs, it is somehow intrusive. Stripped down to the show tunes, the album captures the energy of the movie, which is all you can ask from a soundtrack.
Gene Kelly – Singin’ In The Rain.mp3
Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor & Debbie Reynolds – Good Morning.mp3

3. Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue (1959)
Ah, I know what you’re thinking: this is Any Major Token Jazz Album. In a way, that would be correct. I used to listen to jazz a lot (mostly fusion of the Grover Washington Jr and Eric Gale variety, though), and now I rarely do. If I feel moved to play some jazz, Kind Of Blue-era Miles Davis is the guy I turn to. The kicker is: when I used to listen to jazz a lot, I rarely listened to Davis (whose Witch’s Brew-era fusion stuff actually turned me off his music), and never to Kind Of Blue, which I didn’t even own. So where to many people Kind Of Blue serves as an introduction to jazz, to me it is a late discovery. And a very happy one. It is the kind of album that you can relax to — a reading album — as well as listen to for those brilliant twists and turns. And don’t let anyone sell that revisionist nonsense about Kind Of Blue lacking innovation, a notion that can be bought only if one thinks that innovation must equal excessive wankery. For that, there are plenty of other Davis albums.
Miles Davis – So What.mp3

4. Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook (1956)
This was part of a series of Ella Fitzgerald’s songbook albums. Previously, she had recorded sets of compositions by George Gershwin, later she gave the songbook treatment to such canons as those of Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, Rogers & Hart and the Gershwins again. Her tribute to Cole Porter is the most popular, and rightly so. Much of it has to do with the quality of Cole Porter’s songs: the wonderful lyrical and musical wit of songs such as I Get A Kick Out Of You, the sweet romance of Do I Love You, the articulation of a desperate heart on Night And Day… I could listen to Porter all day, even if his songs are being performed by Alanis Morrissette and Robbie Williams, as on the De-Lovely soundtrack. Happily, that is not necessary — though the soundtrack’s version of Night And Day is quite wonderful — because Ms Fitzgerald has applied her musical stylings to the Porter catalogue. While none of the versions are necessarily the best available interpretations, Fitzgerald sustains a high measure of quality throughout, a consistency which few other singers working with the same material have matched — even Sinatra, at his best a great interpreter of Porter’s music, could get patchy.
Ella Fitzgerald – It’s De-Lovely.mp3

5. Frank Sinatra – In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning (1955)
During his Capitol years, Sinatra was apt to produce concept albums. Songs For Swingin’ Lovers was all about being in love, Come Fly With Me (1958) was a collection of travel-related songs, Only The Lonely (1959) was drenched in self-pity. Likewise, In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning paints a mood in line with the album title. Our man is in a reflective mood here, maybe after a solitary night of propping up a bar. Perhaps he is sharing his reflections with the bartender. Life isn’t necessarily bad, but is it really good? This isn’t an outpouring of self-pity, it is introspective. Few of this album’s songs rank among Sinatra’s biggest hits; you’ll find none of them on your average karaoke mix. This is an advantage: as you listen, you don’t wait for the big hits, but buy into the mood of the album, and join Francis in his introspections.
Frank Sinatra – What Is This Thing Called Love.mp3

6. Elvis Presley – Loving You (1957)
By 1957, Elvis was in his pomp. On his third proper album, he was still rockin’ and rollin’, but had also acquired a sense of musical subtlety. His cover of Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill” might have been a disaster if approached as a rock ‘n roll song. Elvis didn’t, and it isn’t. On “Teddy Bear” (with the excellent backing vocals by the Jordanaires), Elvis’ pleading sounds sincere, the silliness of the lyrics notwithstanding. In this way, the vocals are presaging the rock-pop of the Beatles rather than organic roots of rock, which find expression in songs such as Party and Got A Lot O’ Livin’ To Do. By now, our boy also had learned how to sing slow songs — not the crooning he’d later subject us to, but the sort of soulful, country-inflected music that let him casually show off his great voice, as on the title track. Elvis would still make a few good albums before going to Germany to do his duty to Uncle Sam, screw underage girls, and return as the Colonel’s cashcow by appearing in a long succession of astonishingly banal movies. Albums like Loving You (itself a soundtrack) remind us of how great Elvis really was before his descend into gimpdom.
Elvis Presley – Loving You.mp3
Elvis Presley – (Let Me Be ) Your Teddy Bear.mp3

7. Miles Davis – Porgy & Bess (1958)
Miles Davis was an objectionable human being. Scarred by his experiences, perhaps, but not admirable in any way but in his artistry. And it was here that Davis (unlike many, I will not refer to the man by his first name as if he was a pseudo-chum; I’d probably not have wanted to be his friend) revealed the beauty inherent in most people, even the obnoxious kind. That beauty rarely shone brighter than on his interpretation of Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess, a sensitive, almost tender take, aided by Gil Evans’ wonderful orchestration. Take “Prayer”, a song that passed me by entirely on the soundtrack LP my mother used to own. In the hands of Davis and Evans, it gently lures you into its depth, so much so that it comes as a something of a jolt when the thing ends. The standard number of Porgy & Bess, of course, is Summertime. It’s a song that invites, almost demands vocal stylings — it’s hardly possible to screw up singing it. All the more credit to Davis and Evans as they deliver a most evocative interpretation without recourse to the human voice.
Miles Davis – Summertime.mp3

8. Various – High Society soundtrack (1956)
The late ’40s and ’50s were the golden age of MGM musicals. High Society, the musical remake of the great Katherine Hepburn vehicle The Philadelphia Story (1940), did not represent the zenith of the genre. Bing Crosby was nothing on Cary Grant, and Sinatra (an otherwise fine actor) no match for the performance by James Stewart in the original. High Society is to be enjoyed purely for Cole Porter’s incredible songs: Crosby’s languid energy of Now You Has Jazz with Louis Armstrong, Crosby crooning with Grace Kelly about True Love, Sinatra and the wonderful Celeste Holm being sardonically envious about obscene wealth. And then there is the set’s absolute high point: Frank & Bing slaying each other with wit in Well Did You Evah, a duel of two iconic crooners in which neither manages to upstage the other even as they raise the stakes, culminating in that wonderful pay-off line by Sinatra: “Don’t dig that kind of crooning, chum”. Swellegant indeed.
Bing Crosby & Frank Sinatra – Well, Did You Evah.mp3

9. Various – An American In Paris (1951)
The film was not as good as Singin’ In The Rain, except for a few stunning setpieces (the charming street scene of I Got Rhythm, the big production of Stairway To Paradise, the lovely painting montage), but it was this Gene Kelly musical that won an Oscar. Arguably, the majesty of Gershwin’s eponymous symphony contributed to what the Academy might have mistaken for sophistication. It is the combination of Gershwin and the memorable set-piece songs — I Got Rhythm is so infectious, one needs self-control not to copy Kelly’s “aeroplane!” move — that create a hugely appealing album. The musical light-heartedness of songs like ‘s Wonderful provide the cream on the strawberries of Gershwin’s score. Or something.
Gene Kelly & Georges Guetary – ‘s Wonderful.mp3

10. Various – Gigi soundtrack (1958)
The last great MGM musical in the old tradition, Gigi came at a time when the genre was slowly dying. The film itself is a cutting satire on gender and class relations, cushioned of course by the obligatory Tinseltown glamour and conventional resolution. The music is key to the masking of the brutal commentary. Charming old Maurice Chevalier croons about little girls (as one could in those days without being considered a paedophile), the old Vichy collaborator and Louis Jourdan discuss the latter’s sense of disillusionment in It’s A Bore (Gaston, it would appear, was a depressive. Did Collette intend that?), and then there is the sweeping, montage-like title track. To me, the highlight of the film and soundtrack is the aging Chevalier and Hermione Gingold nostalgically recounting a date they had many, many years before. Chevalier misremembers with grand charm every detail (“You wore a gown of gold”), and Gingold corrects him (“I was all in blue”) before tenderly “acknowledging” that the old coot’s memory is indeed accurate. Gingold then recalls what a stud muffin the old man used to be, Chevalier responds with self-satisfaction: “Ah yes, I remember it well”, because that he actually has not forgotten. It is at once very funny and very touching. As a film and as a collection of music, Gigi eclipses that other Lerner & Loewe work, My Fair Lady.
Maurice Chevalier & Hermione Gingold – I Remember It Well (Gigi).mp3