Posts Tagged ‘Ray Conniff’

Saturday Single No. 161

June 3, 2022

Originally posted November 28, 2009

I’ve mentioned over the last couple years how my musical tastes were sculpted in part by the music my sister owned and listened to during her high school and college years. When she got married and moved away from St. Cloud, she took with her a small collection of LPs, many of which I’d come to love. If I wanted them close at hand again, I’d have to go find them.

The most important of those records were (and this is a slightly odd list):

Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane
Tapestry by Carole King
Music by Carole King
Teaser & the Firecat by Cat Stevens
For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her by Glenn Yarbrough
The Lonely Things by Glenn Yarbrough
Wildflowers by Judy Collins
Whose Garden Was This by John Denver
Mudlark by Leo Kottke
Circle ’Round the Sun by Leo Kottke
Traditional Jewish Memories by Benedict Silberman
Invisible Tears by Ray Conniff and the Singers

I was never systematic about finding them. I could have gone to Musicland in the mall or downtown to Axis in the months after my sister left home and found most of those, I think. I didn’t do that. Instead, I looked haphazardly over the years at flea markets and used record shops, finding a record every now and then, and replacing poor copies with better copies when I found them. (I’m currently on my fourth copy of Yarbrough’s For Emily.) It wasn’t until I began collecting vinyl in earnest during the 1990s that I also began to look seriously for those ten records.

By the time I went online in 2000, I had all but the Leo Kottke albums on vinyl. Eventually, I found and entered the world of music blogging, where I found some of the albums as digital files, most notably the John Denver album and the two Leo Kottkes. (Vinyl versions of those two Kottke albums now reside in my collection as well, thanks to Mitch and Bob, friends of mine and readers of this blog.)

As I entered last evening, the only albums from that list above that I did not have in digital format were the Ray Conniff and Traditional Jewish Memories. Even having a USB turntable was of no help, as my vinyl copies of those two albums are too worn to make for good listening, much less to make good rips.

So, as I do occasionally, I went to Captain Crawl, one of the two best search engines I know for music blogs (Totally Fuzzy being the other), and cast out my net for the Ray Conniff album. I found three blogs that had posted it recently, all – it appeared – from CD. I’d never seen a CD of the album in print, so I checked some online retailers. As I expected, the CD is out of print, but the album is available as a digital download here.

The music on the album is, of course, light and a little sappy. Some of the selections – “I Walk The Line” for one – don’t work well with the Conniff formula (though none of the tracks are as utterly clueless as Conniff’s version of “Photograph,” which I posted some time ago). But as sappy as the tunes are, they’re still old friends, and wandering through the album last evening was a pleasure. So here’s the Conniff version of “Singing the Blues,” the song that Guy Mitchell took to No. 1 for ten weeks in 1956. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

“Singing the Blues” by Ray Conniff and the Singers from Invisible Tears [1964]

Saturday Single No. 146

May 15, 2022

Originally posted August 22, 2009

Having spent two Saturdays this month looking at acquisitions during Julys past, I now turn my attention to Augusts gone by. This morning, we’ll wander from 1970 into the late 1980s, the years when my vinyl collection grew only a little.

In 1969, a few months before I began to spend most of my evenings listening to Top 40 radio, a song came along that sparked my interest in an unlikely choice of musician. Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” got radio play all over and at all times of the day. Cash’s recording of the Shel Silverstein-penned tune went to No. 2 and spurred me to buy – or pester my folks to buy, more likely – Johnny Cash at San Quentin, which only turned out to be one of the great live albums and the first country LP I ever owned.

The next August, it was back to the world of pop and rock. I picked up Best of Bee Gees and the Beatles’ Hey Jude (marketed some places as The Beatles Again.) In August 1971, as I spent my evenings scrubbing and polishing floors with my pal Mike at St. Cloud State, I picked up Stephen Stills and the original version of Jesus Christ Superstar. And I started college in late September that year.

In 1972, August saw me finishing my Beatles collection. And I find this morning that I misread a line in my database when writing about it earlier this month. I did in fact complete the Beatles collection with the purchase of A Hard Day’s Night. And I did buy a Beatles’ record during my trip to Winnipeg with Rick and Gary. But the record I bought north of the border was Beatles VI. No real harm done, I guess. It’s worth noting, though, that having started at the beginning of May 1970 with one Beatles album – Beatles ’65 – I got the seventeen remaining albums by the Fab Four in only a little more than two years.

The next two years, I added no albums to my small collection in August. In 1975, I found Ringo, almost certainly the best album by the former Beatle, and I received as a gift Joe Cocker’s spectacle of a live album, Mad Dogs & Englishmen. We skip a year and go to 1977, when two LPs came my way: I found in pile of radio station rejects at St. Cloud State an LP that offers an interesting performance of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” and then won a copy of the soundtrack to Star Wars by correctly answering – four times – a trivia question about the soundtrack of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The late 1970s and early 1980s sometimes brought lean seasons for record acquisitions; summers were especially slow, and I have no idea why. Maybe because we spent less time indoors listening to music? I don’t know. But it took another seven years, until 1984, for me to add to my collection in August. One evening that month, I saw the time-travel drama Somewhere In Time on television, and the next day I went out and bought John Barry’s soundtrack for the film. That was in Columbia, Missouri; I learned a few years later, oddly enough, that in the book on which the film is based, Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson, a key scene takes place in Columbia. I spent about two-and-a-half years altogether in Columbia, but I fell in love with no pictures of actresses from the late 1800s or early 1900s, and, sadly, no time travel ensued.

Back in Minnesota by August 1985, I received as a gift Bob Dylan’s Empire Burlesque. I was intrigued by the single “Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anyone Seen My Love),” which ­All Music Guide tells me went to No. 19 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.

From then, it’s on to 1988, when I picked up sixteen LPs, about half of them in Minot, North Dakota, and half on a summer visit to St. Cloud. The best of the bunch? Maybe Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks or Santana’s self-titled debut. The worst? Well, none of them were really bad; Dylan’s Shot of Love, is spotty, despite the presence of “Every Grain of Sand” and “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar.”

August 1989 found me back in Minnesota, living just north of the Twin Cities. I added twelve LPs to the shelves that month, with another Van Morrison, Beautiful Vision, being the best. The worst? That’s hard to say. Blood, Sweat & Tears’ fourth album, simply titled B, S & T 4, was a little lame. But most folks looking at that month’s list would look askance, I think, at Ray Conniff’s work, and I bought two records by the man with his orchestra and chorus.

One of those Conniff LPs brought back memories of the basement rec room in St. Cloud, with a young whiteray reading comics, maybe, or playing a board game as the mellow music came and went. Ray Conniff’s Invisible Tears was one of the albums on the stereo during those days in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1964, the title track had gone to No. 57 on the Billboard Hot 100, on its way to becoming today’s Saturday Single.

‘I’m Not S’posin’ . . .’

November 12, 2020

My sister’s record collection, the stuff she took with her in 1972 when she departed Kilian Boulevard and St. Cloud for marriage and a life in the Twin Cities, has been the topic of a few posts here over the years. And I’ve also explored my attempts to find, over the years, the twenty or so LPs that made up that collection.

One of those records, one she bought from the Record Club of America around 1965, was, I think, the acquisition that moved me twenty-some years later to recreate on my own shelves the collection she took with her. And it was also, I think, at least one of the reasons I continue to collect both the music of Ray Conniff and of the wider universe of mid-Sixties easy listening.

I never thought to ask my sister why she chose Conniff’s 1964 album Invisible Tears as one of her selections from the record club, (for about three years, we chose records from the club in alternate months), just as I never thought to ask her why she once chose the album Traditional Jewish Memories. But once the stereo found a permanent home in the basement rec room in 1967, both albums became part of my own regular listening, along with Al Hirt and the soundtracks of John Barry.

The tracks on Invisible Tears were covers of country and pop-folk songs: The title track was a No. 13 hit for Ned Miller on the Billboard country chart in 1964 (Conniff’s version went to No. 57 on the Hot 100 that year). Other tracks included “Honeycomb,” “Oh, Lonesome Me,” “Singing The Blues,” “I Walk The Line,” “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” That’s stuff, of course, that was made famous by other artists, folks I did not know about then.

And among the other tracks on the album was one titled “S’posin’,” which went:

S’posin’ I should fall in love with you
Do you think that you could love me too?
S’posin’ I should hold you and caress you
Would it impress you or distress you?


S’posin’ I should say “For you I yearn”
Would you think I’m speaking out of turn?
And s’posin’ I declare it
Would you take my love and share it?
I’m not s’posin’,I’m in love with you

S’posin’ I declare it
Would you take my love and share it?
I’m not s’posin,’ I’m in love with you

I’m not s’posin,’ I’m in love with you
I’m not s’posin,’ I’m in love with you

For some reason, the song fascinated the twelve-year-old I was, and I found myself humming or singing it as I went about my tweenage business around the house (which I’m sure was at least a little annoying to the other three occupants). I don’t remember if I had anyone in mind as I sang the song, anyone to whom I wanted to declare my ardor, but I imagine I did.

Then, a few years later, I fell into the Beatles, Chicago, Top 40 radio, underground progressive radio, and all the other musical stuff that’s followed me around for years. And until August 1989, for the most part, I forgot about Ray Conniff and Invisible Tears and “S’posin’.” That was when the album turned up in a box of stuff I picked up at a garage sale, tucked next to records by Peter, Paul & Mary, Roy Hamilton, Percy Faith, James Taylor, Joan Baez, and the Climax Blues Band. (An interesting mix, to be sure.)

The record wasn’t, as I recall it, in very good shape, but through the hiss and the crackle came the sounds from the basement rec room. I still liked most of it, although the continued use of the contraction in “S’posin’” now seemed a silly construct. (And it’s been silly for a long time, as the song, written by Andy Razaf and Paul Denniker, was first recorded in 1929 by Bob Haring & His Orchestra and was most recently recorded by Lesley Lambert in 2017.)

That was about the time, 1989 was, when my record buying became a little manic, and that was about the time – probably inspired by finding Invisible Tears – when I began to replicate my sister’s collection as well as to look for Conniff’s work and the work of other easy listening artists from the mid-1960s. (All of my sister’s collection, Invisible Tears included, is replicated on my digital shelves, as is a lot of the easy listening stuff.)

And I still don’t know why my sister chose the record more than fifty years ago, why it mattered to her then and why it still does. About ten years ago, when she and her husband passed on to me a box of LPs they’d decided were no longer essential, Invisible Tears was not among them.

Here’s “S’posin’.”

And here’s a playlist of the album:

Four At Random

May 15, 2020

We’re wandering through iTunes today, landing on four of the 3,900-some tracks I keep there and on my iPod.

First up is “I Want Candy” by the Strangeloves. The Strangeloves were a goof perpetuated in 1965 by Brill Building writers Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gotterher. As Dave Marsh notes in The Heart of Rock ’n’ Soul, they decided in the wake of the British Invasion that “if the public wasn’t interested in domestic acts, they’d reinvent themselves as foreigners.” So they became the Australian brothers Miles, Giles, and Niles Strangelove, claiming to “have taken their rhythmic ideas from aborigines and to have added Masai drums after hearing them while on an African safari. The goof worked, with the Masai drums – actually tympani – helping “I Want Candy” to get to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100.

We jump ahead to 2019 and “Moonlight Motel,” the most effective track on Bruce Springsteen’s Western Stars:

There’s a place on a blank stretch of road where
Nobody travels and nobody goes
And the Deskman says these days ’round here
Two young folks could probably up and disappear into
Rustlin’ sheets, a sleepy corner room
Into the musty smell
Of wilted flowers and
Lazy afternoon hours
At the Moonlight Motel . . .

Last night I dreamed of you, my lover
And the wind blew through the window and blew off the covers
Of my lonely bed,
I woke to something you said
That it’s better to have loved, yeah it’s better to have loved
As I drove, there was a chill in the breeze
And leaves tumbled from the sky and fell
Onto a road so black as I backtracked
To the Moonlight Motel

She was boarded up and gone like an old summer song
Nothing but an empty shell
I pulled in and stopped into my old spot

I pulled a bottle of Jack out of a paper bag
Poured one for me and one for you as well
Then it was one more shot poured out onto the parking lot
To the Moonlight Motel

As regulars here know, I love Springsteen’s work, but I have to admit that most of Western Stars left me unaffected, its subdued mood not really grabbing me. It held together thematically, but most of the tracks were just okay. I did, however, think that “Moonlight Motel” worked, and worked well.

Great Speckled Bird was a Canadian county band put together in 1969 by folk performers Ian and Sylvia Tyson. Named after the 1938 recording by Roy Acuff, the group released a self-titled album in 1970, You Were On My Mind in 1972 (billed as Ian & Sylvia & The Great Speckled Bird), and was credited on Ian Tyson’s 1973 album, Ol’ Eon. Wikipedia notes that the band continued to back the duo until their break-up in 1975. What we get this morning is a track from the 1970 album, “Long Long Time To Get Old.” The song is a series of vignettes, most of which end with the advice, “Remember this, children: If the good lord’s willing, live a long, long time to get old.” I guess it sounded profound in 1970.

Our final stop brings us one of those sappy things that I carry close to me and always will: “Somewhere My Love (Lara’s Theme from ‘Dr. Zhivago’)” by Ray Conniff & The Singers. The 1966 single went to No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent four weeks on top of the magazine’s Easy Listening chart. I heard it, no doubt, on WCCO from the Twin Cities and on KFAM from St. Cloud’s south side, and it became one of my favorite records from the mid-1960s. The song itself is also one of my favorites: there are twenty versions of the tune on the digital shelves by performers like Roger Williams, Ramsey Lewis, Ferrante & Teicher, along with – of course – the Conniff version and several versions by Maurice Jarre, who wrote the soundtrack for the film.

What’s Being Watched?

November 20, 2015

It’s been just more than four and a half years since I started putting my own videos up on YouTube. I started making my own videos because either the tunes I wanted to share here weren’t available at YouTube or because I didn’t care for the visuals that were available. And I decided to keep my stuff simple. As the audio is the point, my visual content is either a record jacket or label or a static visual I’ve created to illustrate the track.

(Most of the videos I make and upload to YouTube are for this blog. Every once in a while, there will be some back-and-forth on Facebook and I’ll make a video to throw into the conversation, but that’s happened maybe ten or fifteen times.)

It’s been interesting over these four-plus years to see which of my 346 videos attract the most interest. By a wide margin, the most-played piece I’ve put up at YouTube is “Bittersweet” by Big Head Todd & The Monsters, which as of this morning has been viewed 544,647 times. A total of 2,403 of those viewers have given the video/track a “thumbs up” and 72 folks have given it a “thumbs down.”

After that, the views drop off considerably, but the numbers are still pretty large. Here are the next ten:

“Love Has No Pride” by Bonnie Raitt, 99,661 views (426 thumbs up and 14 down)
“Rør Ved Mig” by Lecia & Lucienne, 95,321 (282 and 9)
“Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock & Roll” by Long John Baldry, 81,674 (547 and 14)
“Tangerine” by Eliane Elias, 79,843 (335 and 5)
“The Windmills Of Your Mind” by Michel Legrand, 78,556 (218 and 8)
“Misty” by Groove Holmes, 70,808 (181 and 2)
“Anything For Love” by Gordon Lightfoot, 68,557 (262 and 2)
“Ballad Of Easy Rider” by Roger McGuinn, 65,602 (277 and 3)
“Banana Boat (Day-O)” by Stan Freberg, 63,668 (437 and 2)
“Theme from ‘Summer of ’42’” by Michel Legrand, 60,926 (321 and 9)

It’s interesting that two of those top eleven are from Michel Legrand. And the presence of Stan Freberg in the top ten kinda tickles me.

I’ve put up as well a few long-form pieces and full albums. The most popular of those is the live version of “Nantucket Sleighride” by Mountain, which ranks thirteenth overall with 58,180 views (324 and 6) in the year-and-a-half it’s been up.

As in all counting statistics, longevity has its rewards. Most of those videos are from 2011 and 2012. The highest-ranked video from 2013 is Long John Baldry’s classic track (and I find it hard to believe there are fourteen folks who disliked it enough to give it a thumbs down). The highest ranked from 2014 is the Roger McGuinn track. The most-viewed video from this year is Billy Preston’s live version from The Concert For Bangla Desh of “That’s The Way God Planned It,” which ranks 33rd, having garnered 13,561 views (87 and 3) since it went up last March.

And we’ll close this with one of the videos I originally made to share on Facebook: Ray Conniff’s cover of Boz Scaggs’ “Lowdown” from Conniff’s 1976 album If You Leave Me Now. When I posted it at Facebook last March, jb of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ noted that the similarities between Conniff’s instrumental track and Boz Scaggs’ original were a little bit disturbing. As of this morning, it’s had 166 views (1 and 0).

Sometimes It’s Not So Easy

March 4, 2014

On occasion, my fascination with easy listening music jumps out of the speakers and bites my ears.

I was puttering at the computer yesterday, posting a note or two on Facebook, checking email, keeping an eye on the news from Ukraine and scoping out the latest rumors about the Minnesota Vikings and the upcoming NFL draft. Keeping me company was the RealPlayer, chugging along on random and offering me some current Americana, some 1960s and 1970s pop, some 1950s R&B and the occasional bit of a film soundtrack.

And then came this:

I winced and then laughed at Ray Conniff’s pretty much clueless take on “Happy Days” (found on the 1976 album TV Themes), and then I took a look to see exactly how much music I have by Ray Conniff in the files. It turns out to be 227 mp3s. That means that Conniff should have been listed in the Top 20 artists I posted a few weeks ago, coming in at No. 15, just ahead of Richie Havens. Why wasn’t he? Because some of his albums were credited to just Ray Conniff, others to Ray Conniff & The Singers, others yet to Ray Conniff & His Orchestra and so on, and that inconsistency, along with my inattention to detail that day, kept Conniff off my chart.

Why so much Conniff? Because I do love – generally – easy listening music from the 1950s through the 1970s, probably in large part because the work of Conniff and his easy listening brethren reminds me of the years of Hula Hoops and Erector sets on through the years of madras shirts and eventually mood rings. So my love for the music is mostly nostalgia, but that’s a potent enough force as it is.

And then there’s the fact that some of the easy listening tunes in the stacks are pretty good music. In terms of execution, nostalgic weight and chart performance, it’s hard to beat “Theme from ‘A Summer Place’” by Percy Faith, which was No. 1 for nine weeks in 1960. There were many other decent easy listening pieces during the years of my youth; many of those are in my files; some, I have to assume, are not.

But it’s not at all difficult to find easy listening missteps like Conniff’s “Happy Days,” especially when the easy listening folks tried to translate pop-rock hits into instrumentals palatable for their audience (generally older folks, of course, as well as the unhip kids like me). And since pratfalls are often more fun than graceful success, I thought I’d wander through the collection and find some easy listening efforts that are not at all easy to listen to.

So here are a couple from 1969: A clueless take on Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie” from Billy Vaughn’s Theme From Love Story and a flighty version of the Doors’ “Touch Me” from Enoch Light & The Brass Menagerie, Vol. 1.*

I could dig further for hard listening, but I won’t. Instead I’ll close with a couple of covers that are interesting takes on popular songs. On his 1970 album Doc Severinsen’s Closet, the Tonight Show band leader of the time took some chances by covering a number of intriguing titles (including a cover I once shared here of “Court of the Crimson King”). The one that caught my ear this morning was his cover of the Chairmen of the Board’s “Give Me Just A Little More Time” (into which Severinsen incorporated a quote from “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” from the group then called Chicago Transit Authority).

And as I dug around in the 121 tracks I have from dual pianists Ferrante & Teicher, I came across their cover of Paul Simon’s “The Sound of Silence.” Ferrante & Teicher occasionally missed the sense of a song; there are some missteps in their work. But far more often than not, at least to the ears of this easy listening fan, they succeeded in translating pop songs into their own idiom. I think they did so with “The Sound of Silence,” which was on their 1969 album Midnight Cowboy.

*I was going to make it a trio of missteps from 1969 by including Franck Pourcel’s version of Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525”, which seems to have first been issued on the Bolivian release En El Anno 2525, but after a couple of listens, I’m liking it.

‘All I’ve Got Is A Photograph . . .’

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 31, 2009

Every once in a while, I find a cover version of a favorite song that absolutely demands attention. This week, the song is “Photograph,” the Ringo Starr tune I posted here last week. Ever since I first heard Ringo’s original version in 1973, it’s been on a long list of favorites; it’s not in my Top Ten or maybe even Top 50, but if I were to, say, program a juke box with a hundred records, I think it would show up.

But that’s the original recording, the one I posted last week. I heard “Photograph” in concert once, on the first All-Starr Band tour in 1989. As the band played the tune, and later, when I heard the version on the live album recorded at a different venue, I thought the performance was a bit lumbering and a bit drum-heavy. But should I have expected anything different? There were three drummers during that performance: Ringo, Jim Keltner and Ringo’s son, Zak Starkey. I did like Clarence Clemons’ saxophone solo, though.

There aren’t a lot of covers of the song, which was a George Harrison/Ringo Starr composition. All-Music Guide lists more than five hundred CDs with a song titled “Photograph,” but lots of those are different songs. Among the artists or groups that AMG lists as recording the Harrison/Starr song are: The BB Band, Camper Van Beethoven, David Hentschel, Engelbert Humperdinck (his name seems to show up on a lot of these lists of cover versions) and Ray Conniff.

Conniff, who died at the age of 85 in 2002, was a long-time veteran of the easy listening wars. In the 1960s, his role, and the role of his Ray Conniff Singers, was to take pop hits and rearrange them so the songs would be acceptable to the moms and dads and aunts and uncles who didn’t understand the newfangled music. Conniff’s music was pleasant, safe and often saccharine. He had one Top 40 hit: “Somewhere, My Love,” also known as “Lara’s Theme” from the film Dr. Zhivago, went to No. 9 during the late summer of 1966. (It was No. 1 for four weeks on the Adult Contemporary Chart, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits.)

Our late-1960s record collection in the basement rec room had one Ray Conniff album: Invisible Tears, on which Ray and his singers take on the title tune, which was a country hit for Connie Smith, and eleven other songs of love. That album provided me with my first exposure to songs like “Singin’ the Blues” (Guy Mitchell’s No. 1 hit from 1956), “Oh Lonesome Me” (No. 1 on the country charts for Don Gibson in 1957 and as high as No. 7 on the split pop charts of the time) and Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line” (No. 1 on the country charts in 1956 and as high as No. 17 on the various pop charts). And I find that the sounds of that album today still bring pleasant memories and a sense of a time – as clichéd as this has to sound – when life was much less complicated.

That’s what I get when I listen to music by Ray Conniff that I’ve known for forty years. What happens when it’s new to me? Well, somewhere in blogworld the other day, I came across a rip of a 1974 album, The Way We Were, credited to Ray Conniff alone – no singers. Included were, along with the title tune, songs like “Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress),” “Top of the World,” “Loves Me Like A Rock” and, by golly, “Photograph.” Intrigued, I downloaded the album, and, to start, I clicked on “Photograph.”

I got no further, and I have no more to say.

“Photograph” by Ray Conniff from The Way We Were [1974]