Posts Tagged ‘Tony Bennett’

‘Oh, The Good Life . . .’

November 21, 2018

I ran an errand the other day for the Texas Gal, something so routine that I’ve forgotten what the errand was, but it brought me near the new home of Uff Da Records, St. Cloud’s only real record store. So I spent some time leaning over the CD tables.

Much of what I saw fell into two categories: Stuff I already had and stuff that didn’t interest me. But I persevered, looking for stuff that will fill small gaps. And I filled a couple. I scored What Is Hip, a two-disc Tower of Power anthology, and I found a greatest hits disc by Tony Bennett.

During the Great Vinyl Selloff a couple of years ago, I kept all ten my Tower of Power LPs, and I think I have all of the group’s 1970s work on the digital shelves. On the other side of the equation, I only ever had two Tony Bennett LPs, and they’re no longer here. Nor have I gathered much of his early work for the digital shelves (although I have his 1994 MTV Unplugged and his 2002 Playin’ With My Friends CDs). So the Bennett CD from Uff Da truly filled a gap, bringing me most of his hits from 1951 to 1972.

And I’ve realized over the past week that the sound of Bennett’s voice is one of the sounds of my childhood. Whether it was my interest in the easy listening sounds of the time or whether it was hearing the music in the background from adults’ radios and record players, Bennett’s 1960s work pulls me back; I hear “I Wanna Be Around” or “Who Can I Turn To,” and I feel the tug of years handing me memories and feelings that seem so distant and yet so immediate.

Oddly enough, Bennett’s most famous tune, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” doesn’t trigger that nostalgia. I guess I’ve heard it too many times in too many places for it to have the kind of weight that many of his other tracks do.

One of those heavier tracks was, for some reason, not on the CD I picked up the other day. The CD, released in 1997, is simply a repackaging of his 1972 two-LP hits album, with the tracks rearranged in chronological order. And it did not include “The Good Life,” which, for whatever reasons, is for me one of the most evocative of Bennett’s singles, as well as one of the more successful: During the summer of 1963, it went to No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 7 on the chart now called Adult Contemporary. I must have heard it a lot, because it takes me back to the early 1960s, not to a specific moment but to a sense of the times.

And I never really realized until this week, when I saw “The Good Life” was absent from the CD and I found a copy and then listened to the words, how melancholy a song “The Good Life” really is:

Oh, the good life, full of fun seems to be the ideal
Mm, the good life lets you hide all the sadness you feel
You won’t really fall in love for you can’t take the chance
So please be honest with yourself, don’t try to fake romance

It’s the good life to be free and explore the unknown
Like the heartaches when you learn you must face them alone
Please remember I still want you, and in case you wonder why
Well, just wake up, kiss the good life goodbye

It’s bittersweet, like so much else that’s attracted me over the years. Either I internalized the words without really knowing it, or else life just hands me these things because I need them. Anyway, here it is:

Saturday Single No. 547

July 1, 2017

A week ago, I wrote about San Francisco and its “lasting and perhaps pre-eminent place in American culture as a destination where one can alternately find or lose or sell or buy one’s self all with the purpose of being the best self one can be.”

Okay, so I was being a bit glib by the end of the sentence, perhaps not wanting to get too weighty on a Saturday morning. But it’s true, I think, that San Francisco has long been used by songwriters (and writers of all type, for that matter) as an ideal. And, as I noted last week, songs about San Francisco abound. I’m not sure how many sit on the digital shelves here, because when I sort the RealPlayer for “San Francisco,” I also get tracks recorded there.

But there are lot of them, starting with eleven versions of “San Francisco Bay Blues” and eleven versions as well of the tune that may be the quintessential song about the city, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” Now, eleven versions aren’t very many, and I was surprised that there weren’t more versions of the latter tune. After all, Second Hand Songs list 135 versions of the tune, and I’m sure there are some that are unaccounted for there. But eleven is what we have.

The first release is probably, to re-use a word, the quintessential version of the song: Tony Bennet’s 1962 release, which went to No. 19 in the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 7 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart. Elegant and controlled, Bennet’s vocal glides above an understated accompaniment, and as I listen to it this morning, I marvel – not for the first time – at Bennet’s voice and delivery.

We’ll take a look at some of the covers of the tune in the near future, but the only thing we need to listen to this morning is Tony Bennett’s 1962 version of “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” today’s Saturday Single.

Busy Times

October 6, 2015

Things got a bit busy around here over the past few days. I missed a Saturday post for maybe the fifth time – I’ve never bothered to count – in more than eight years of blogging. Friday, when I should have written the post, was filled with errands and some quiet time in the evening with the Texas Gal.

And Saturday, I was off early to Rob’s place in St. Francis, and then he and I headed off to Dan’s in the suburb of Plymouth for a nine-team Strat-O-Matic tournament. I brought the 1998 Cubs (with Sammy Sosa’s 66 home runs), and Rob brought the 1936 Yankees. Nine teams make for unwieldy divisions, so Dan organized a double-elimination tournament.

Rob’s Yanks won the whole thing, taking a winner-take-all game from the 1972 Athletics. My Cubs were the first team out, followed quickly by the 1975 Reds, captained by a fellow named Dean. He and I decided to play another game, which I dubbed the Small Consolation Championship. The Cubs won that one, 9-8, and Dan said that consolation play may be a regular feature in the future.

Anyway, that was Saturday: Baseball, old tales, laughter, snacks, beer and friendship. And then I spent the bulk of Sunday at the hospital with my mom. Some discomfort she’d been feeling seems to have a relatively simple solution, but it took some time at the hospital to figure that out. By the time I got her home – having gone back and forth between the hospital, her place and ours a few times during the day – the day was gone.

I spent yesterday doing laundry. And as far as today goes, my body and my soul both are saying I need to rest. So nothing will happen here in this space except this impromptu narrative of the past four days in our lives. I hope to be back at the keyboard tomorrow and offer something more substantial, but we’ll see what life brings.

Speaking of life, I told the RealPlayer to sort out the tracks for the word “life,” and among the tracks that showed up was Toots Thielemans’ 1967 take on the song “The Good Life.” The website Second Hand Songs tells me that the tune was written with the title “Marina” by French singer and guitarist Sacha Distel for a 1962 film titled Les Sept Péchés Capitaux (The Seven Deadly Sins). We may dig into that original and the more than fifty covers of the tune (with the English lyrics by Jack Reardon) on another day.

For now, though, here’s the 1963 version of the tune by Tony Bennett; it went to No. 18 in the Billboard Hot 100.

‘Now When I Remember Spring . . .’

April 16, 2013

“The Shadow of Your Smile” is one of those songs that to me sounds like life in the mid-1960s. I have no idea what version I heard back then, but I’ve known the song since it was released on the soundtrack to the 1965 movie, The Sandpiper. (And my knowledge of the song certainly came through hearing various versions on the radio, as there was no way at the age of eleven or twelve that I would have ever been allowed to see a movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.)

It’s a great song, a judgment supported by several things. The first is that the song earned composer Johnny Mandel and lyricist Paul Francis Webster both the Academy Award for Best Song and the Grammy Award for Song of the Year. Another indicator is that as soon as the song came out, covers began to proliferate and have continued to do so in the forty-eight years since, with the most recent listed cover at Second Hand Songs coming last year from Glen Frey.

Here’s what the song sounded like on the movie soundtrack:

Among the first covers of the song released was a decent performance by Barbra Streisand, off her My Name Is Barbra, Two . . . album, released in 1965. Other early covers that I’ve heard came from Peggy Lee and Astrud Gilberto, neither of which grabbed me much. Among my favorite artists, King Curtis covered the song for his album That Lovin’ Feeling in 1966, and a single by Lou Rawls went to No. 33 on the R&B chart in mid-1966. (I haven’t heard either version; the King Curtis album is supposed to be here somewhere, but I can’t put my hands on it this morning, and the single version by Lou Rawls seems to have been supplanted anywhere I look by a live version from 1966.)

Two versions of the song, those by Tony Bennett and Boots Randolph,  made the Billboard pop and AC charts. Bennett’s cover of the song entered the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1965 and went to No. 95 there while reaching No. 8 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Bennett’s version – which was released on his 1966 LP The Movie Song Album – is notable in that it’s one of the few I’ve heard that begins with the song’s verse, which serves as a prologue. Most versions of the song jump right into the portion that begins with the song’s title.

Randolph’s version of “The Shadow of Your Smile” hit the charts a year later, entering the Hot 100 in December 1966 and reaching No. 93 while going to No. 28 on the AC chart. The cover was also released in 1967 on Randolph’s Boots with Strings album.

Others who covered the song in the first couple years after it came out were Nancy Sinatra, Nancy Wilson, Maynard Ferguson, Bobby Darin, Connie Francis, Billy Vaughn, Jack Jones, David McCallum (better known for his role as Ilya Kuryakin on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Ahmad Jamal, Johnny Mathis, Johnny Rivers, Ferrante & Teicher, Barbara Lewis, Mary Wells, Trini Lopez and Shirley Bassey.  I don’t know all of those, but one of the interesting versions of those I do know is McCallum’s cover, which showed up on his 1966 album, Music – A Bit More of Me. As a classically trained musician, notes Wikipedia, McCallum “conceived a blend of oboe, English horn, and strings with guitar and drums” for arranger H.B. Barnum.

Here’s McCallum’s version of “The Shadow of Your Smile,” which to me seems to have some John Barry-ish/James Bond-ian flourishes at the start. Whether those came from McCallum or from Barnum, they’re entirely appropriate for one of the men from U.N.C.L.E.

And we’ll stop there for today. I’m likely to pick up Thursday with more covers, unless something else grabs my attention.

And In This Corner . . .

March 16, 2012

Originally posted March 9, 2009

The Texas Gal and I stopped by the St. Cloud Armory for a little while Saturday afternoon and took in the craft show; there’s one in the armory every three months or so. We spent a pleasant time looking at jewelry and needlework, sampling jams and candies and checking out the paintings, some of them on old barn wood.

I hadn’t been in the armory for years, maybe since a Boy Scout event in the early 1970s. And I recalled the first time I was there: For an evening of All-Star Wrestling sometime in early 1965, I think.

It was when I was about eleven that I began watching the wrestling matches on television, shown here in St. Cloud on WTCN, the Twin Cities television station where I would have my internship in the mid-1970s. Professional wrestling in those days was very unlike today’s massive attraction. There were no gaudy costumes, no huge arenas, no huge paydays. But there were similarities: There were good guys to cheer, bad guys to boo, results were seemingly predetermined and the crowds loved it.

The prime good guy here was Vern Gagne (who, sadly, has been in the news lately), and the bad guys were The Crusher and The Bruiser, with all of them well-known in the Upper Midwest. And most Saturday evenings for a year or so, I’d park myself in the living room and watch an hour of wrestling. There were plenty of other wrestlers on the weekly show, too, guys working their way up the ladder of the American Wrestling Association, which Gagne happened to own.

And one of the regulars on the show was a wrestler with the unlikely name of Robert Goulet. I have to think it’s his birth name; I can’t imagine that anyone in the early 1960s looking for a wrestling stage name would have purposefully selected the name of Robert Goulet. I dunno. Maybe. But anyway, I saw Goulet wrestle on television a few times and I thought he was okay. He won, and he wasn’t all that flashy. (Even back then, flashy stuff didn’t impress me; I wanted to see guys go out and do their jobs and then sit down. The fact that the matches themselves were stagecraft – and I think I knew that, even then – didn’t bother me. Stagecraft was performance; flash was, well, flash.)

And one evening, the announcer on television said that Goulet would be wrestling the next week in St. Cloud. I pestered Dad for a while, and he agreed to take me. So the next Saturday evening, Dad and I went to the St. Cloud Armory and sat in folding chairs to watch some wrestling. I’m not sure how many matches we saw, but folks cheered and booed as the wrestlers did their work. I don’t recall anymore if anyone got thrown out of the ring onto the concrete. But I know Goulet was there: Somewhere in my boxes of junk is an autographed scrap of paper. “Robert ‘Bob’ Goulet” is how he signed his name, perhaps to diminish any possible confusion with that other fellow by the name of Goulet.

I don’t suppose I watched televised wrestling more than a year or so before I moved on to other interests. But it was part of my life for a brief time. So for a moment Saturday afternoon, the St. Cloud Armory wasn’t filled with tables displaying necklaces, embroidered towels and home-made candles. Instead, there was a wrestling ring surrounded by rows of folding chairs. The folks sitting in the chairs were booing. And over by the wall, behind the last row of chairs, a small boy with glasses was offering a pen and a scrap of paper to a large, sweaty man.

And here’s a little bit of what else was happening in early 1965:

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, March 6, 1965)
“Ask The Lonely” by the Four Tops, Motown 1073 (No. 27)
“New York’s A Lonely Town” by the Trade Winds, Red Bird 020 (No. 32)
“Paper Tiger” by Sue Thompson, Hickory 1284 (No. 41)
“If I Ruled The World” by Tony Bennett, Columbia 43220 (No. 56)
“When I’m Gone” by Brenda Holloway, Tamla 54111 (No. 74)
“Land of 1000 Dances” by Cannibal & the Headhunters, Rampart 642 (No. 97)

We have here, purposely, a rather odd mix: a few good pieces of R&B, a bit of surf music, a country-pop hit and one cover of a show tune.

“Ask The Lonely” was the second Top 40 hit for the Four Tops, it only went to No. 24, but it was the prelude to the Tops’ amazing run in the charts: In May, “I Can’t Help Myself” (known colloquially as “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch”) went to No. 1, the first of five Top Ten hits for the Tops in the next two years. (Included in that string is the remarkable consecutive trio of “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” and “Bernadette,” a run of three singles that few groups or performers can match.) The Tops remained a frequent presence in the Top 40 chart into the early 1970s, and their last hit came in 1988 with “Indestructible,” a tune that went to No. 35 after being used by the NBC television network for its coverage of the summer Olympic Games.

“When I’m Gone” was the second of three Top 40 hits for Brenda Holloway. The first was “Every Little Bit Hurts,” which went to No. 13 in 1964. “When I’m Gone” went to No. 25. And Holloway might be best known for the song that was her last hit and went only to No. 39: Holloway wrote – along with Berry Gordy, Jr., Patrice Holloway and Frank Wilson – “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” a song likely better known for the version recorded by Blood, Sweat & Tears on its second, self-titled album. (BST took the song to No. 2 in 1969.)

Cannibal & the Headhunters’ version of “Land of 1000 Dances” isn’t the best known. That would be the Wilson Pickett version that went to No. 6 in 1966. Cannibal’s version went to No. 30 a year earlier. According to writer Dave Marsh, Cannibal & the Headhunters were a Chicano quartet from East Los Angeles and learned the song after hearing it on a Rufus Thomas album; Thomas had gotten the song from the original single, written and recorded in 1963 by New Orleans musician Chris Kenner. (Kenner’s “I Like It Like That, Part 1” spent three weeks at No. 2 in 1961, but his “Land of 1000 Dances” did not make the charts.) With the live atmosphere of their recording, not to mention the odd shrieks in the background, Cannibal & the Headhunters, notes Marsh, earned a spot on the Beatles’ 1965 U.S. tour.

The Trade Winds have been in this space before. The duo of Vinnie Poncia and Pete Anders recorded a couple years later as the Innocence, and their single, “There’s Got To Be A Word” and its B-Side were the topic of a post in December. With “New York’s A Lonely Town,” Poncia and Anders – along with a group of top session players – managed to make a song about the East Coast into a (subdued) surfing anthem atop a Spector-ish background. The song edged into the Top 40, peaking at No. 32. (I’ve never been sure how to spell the group’s name. I’ve seen it as two words and as one. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits has “Trade Winds,” so I’ll go with that.)

If the presence of “Paper Tiger” and “If I Ruled The World” prove anything, it’s that nearly any kind of music could make the Top 40 in 1965. Thompson’s country-pop record – written by J.D. Loudermilk – was her fifth and last Top 40 hit, reaching No. 23. (She reached the Top Ten Twice: In 1961, “Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)” went to No. 5, and “Norman” went to No. 3 in 1962.) “Paper Tiger” and its like aren’t something I’d want to hear on a regular basis, but when it pops up among Sharon Jones, Bruce Springsteen and the Police, it’s kind of cool.

“If I Ruled The World,” which came from the Broadway musical Pickwick, was Bennett’s thirteenth and last Top 40 hit. It’s not a great song, but Bennett can sing most anything and make it sound good. The song went to No. 34 and was pulled from an album titled If I Ruled the World: Songs for the Jet Set, which All-Music Guide says was a concept album about travel similar in theme to Frank Sinatra’s 1957 album, Come Fly With Me.

A Dose Of Voodoo From 1962

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 15, 2008

Some of the folks from Bookcrossing, our book club, stopped by last evening for a soup dinner. The five of us filled ourselves on a Mexican rice and beef soup and a cabbage/potato/sausage soup – both creations by the Texas Gal – as well as an assortment of chips, dips and so on. And we talked for a couple hours about books and other stuff.

As happens when we all get together at someone’s home, our visitors scanned our bookshelves. It’s a cliché – one based in some truth, I suppose – that one can get to know a person by a close examination of his or her books. Given the mélange of titles on our shelves, I would guess that the only things that can be deduced about the Texas Gal and me is that we’re interested in a wide range of topics, both fiction and nonfiction, and that we dearly love books. (Both true, of course.)

But as our friends scanned our shelves, I noticed a title that I thought might be of some interest, so I pulled from the shelves and handed to them Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians, a 1961 volume by Mary Nash, reprinted in 1962 by the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club.

How many folks out there remember the Weekly Reader? I was surprised this morning to learn that it still exists. According to Wikipedia, the Reader was acquired in 2007 by The Reader’s Digest Association and continues publication. Wikipedia notes that the first edition of the Weekly Reader, for fourth-graders, came out in 1928, and by 1959, there were editions for kindergarten through grade six.

Wikipedia describes it thus: “The editions cover curriculum themes in the younger grades and news-based, current events and curriculum themed-issues in the older grades.” I recall seeing the Reader regularly during my days at Lincoln Elementary. I enjoyed it, I think, but then, I’ve always enjoyed reading almost anything.

And that includes the books I got through the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club. I probably still have ten I got through the club, some of which I remember quite well. One of those is Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians. The Mrs. Coverlet of the title is the housekeeper for the three young Malcolm children, and the reader learns that in an earlier title, while their father – evidently widowed – was out of the country on business, Mrs. Coverlet was also called away. Instead of staying with a neighbor as instructed, the children stayed in their own home, with some mild adventure ensuing.

In Magicians, the sequel, the Malcolms’ father is still away, and, after young Molly Malcolm secretly enters Mrs. Coverlet in a recipe contest, the housekeeper is offered a chance to compete in the contest finals in New York City. Determined that her charges be better supervised during her absence, Mrs. Coverlet arranges for spinster Eva Penalty to move into the Malcolm home.

All three children are stifled by the dour Miss Penalty, none more than the youngest, six-year-old Toad. Some time earlier, having found a comic book of horror stories, Toad had clipped a coupon and sent off for a book of magic spells. With Miss Penalty running the house rigidly, Toad devises what is basically a voodoo doll and confines Miss Penalty to her bed for the remainder of Mrs. Coverlet’s absence. Mishaps ensue, but things turn out well, of course. Scanning the book this morning, I remember enjoying the story. When I pulled the book off the shelf to show it to our friends last evening, however, one thing popped into my head:

How would parents react these days to a novel for children based on the ideas of magic spells and voodoo dolls? I would guess that there would be an effort to ban Weekly Reader and its book club from the classroom.

As far as I recall, no one blinked back in 1962.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1962, Vol. 2
“Up On The Roof” by the Drifters, Atlantic 2162 (No. 120, “bubbling under” the Billboard Hot 100 as of October 13, 1962)

“409” by the Beach Boys, Capitol 4777 (No. 76)

“Leah” by Roy Orbison, Monument 467 (No. 74)

“Stormy Monday Blues” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, Duke 355 (No. 54)

“Beechwood 4-5789” by the Marvelettes, Tamla 54065 (No. 32)

“Popeye the Hitchhiker” by Chubby Checker, Parkway 849 (No. 24)

“I Left My Heart In San Francisco” by Tony Bennett, Columbia 42332 (No. 23)

“It Might As Well Rain Until September” by Carole King, Dimension 2000 (No. 22)

“Only Love Can Break A Heart” by Gene Pitney, Musicor 1022 (No. 13)

“If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song)” by Peter, Paul & Mary, Warner Bros. 5296 (No. 10)

“Green Onions” by Booker T and the MG’s, Stax 127 (No. 6)

“Ramblin’ Rose” by Nat King Cole, Capitol 4804 (No. 3)

“Sherry” by the Four Seasons, Vee-Jay 456 (No.1)

A few notes:

“Up On The Roof” was the third Top Ten hit for the Drifters (“There Goes My Baby” in 1959 and “Save The Last Dance For Me” in 1960 were the first two), but the first since Ben E. King left the group and was replaced by Rudy Lewis. “Up On The Roof” eventually went to No. 5.

Roy Orbison’s “Leah” is an odd record. With its other-worldly sound, I’m surprised it got into the charts at all. It’s simply spooky, and the fact that it went to No. 35 still startles me. I mean, I like it, but I wouldn’t have thought the record marketable.

While Bobby “Blue” Bland never had a major hit, “Stormy Monday Blues” was released in the middle of a period when his records were at least reaching the Top 40. “Turn On Your Love Light” had gone to No. 28 in January of 1962, and the double-sided single, “Call On Me/That’s The Way Love Is” would reach Nos. 22 and 33, respectively, in early 1963. “Stormy Monday Blues,” while a good record, wasn’t quite as good as those. “That’s The Way Love Is” is a great record, and I think it’s nearly forgotten. (“Stormy Monday Blues” is tagged as a 1961 record because that was the session date, but it was in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962.)

Chubby Checker’s “Popeye the Hitchhiker” was another attempt to launch a dance craze, with the dance in question, I believe, based on extending one’s thumb and cocking one’s arm, as if hitching a ride. (Sadly, there seem to be no examples of the dance on YouTube.) “Popeye,” which went to No. 10, was the B-side to “Limbo Rock,” which I shared here in August.

“It Might As Well Rain Until September” was a pretty slight record, but it fit right in during 1962 and got as high as No. 22 on the charts. The artist, Carole King, showed up on the charts nine years later, of course, with “It’s Too Late” and was a presence on the charts into the 1980s.

I’ve always loved “Ramblin’ Rose” for some reason. It’s a pretty song, and of course, Nat King Cole had a great voice. This certainly wasn’t his best performance – that would have come on one or more of his jazz/R&B sides, but something about the song grabbed the nine-year-old whiteray in a way that none of the other records in this Baker’s Dozen ever has.