Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Think peace

On the listserve Songbirds, a recent thread deals with the kind of rent-paying swill that a lot of otherwise perfectly fine singers were increasingly saddled with in the 1950s. One title in particular cropped up, a little something called "Pepper Hot Baby." In fact, the lyrics happened to be by an otherwise fine vocalist of the day, Jaye P. Morgan, who actually had a hit with this thing.

Singer Dick Noel, whose great '79 standards album has just been re-released in Japan, only had one significant hit on his own (not counting a couple with bandleader Ray Anthony), entitled "Hot Dog, That Made Her Mad." I've yet to hear it and I don't think I want to.

Jo Stafford was the only known singer (perhaps not even Crosby?) at a major label who did not have to pay for their sessions; thus, she once told me, she felt impelled to record just about anything that Columbia (make that Mitch Miller) threw at her. Therefore, she might have had a higher percentage of real schlaggers than any other great singer of that era, i.e. (early---and not their finest---Bacharach and David) "Underneath the Overpass," "Chow Willy" (!), "Someone's Been Reading My Mail," "The Temple of an Understanding Heart," etc. In retrospect she seemed to me not so much amused by this set of circumstances, as she was, a touch, bitter.

The singer with the lowest percentage of garbage in her discography is most likely Lena Horne. There might not be a single out-and-out clunker. Sinatra didn't do a lot of junk either, but took a disproportionate amount of flak for the immortal "Mama Will Bark" enacted under the aegis of (again) Mitch Miller, of whom the late jounalist and record producer Joel E. Siegel once wrote, was where American pop paused on its way down in the 1950s, long enough for rock and roll to get its foot in the door, or words to that effect.

Tony Bennett doesn't have a lot of love for his big (here's that man again) Mitch Miller-produced hit, "In the Middle of an Island," But, in retrospect, it doesn't strike me as alllll that dreadful. And Rosemary Clooney finally made her peace with the career-defining, "Come on-a My House," which the bearded one (M.M.)insisted she record. . .or else.

Compared to what's going down musically today, both songs strike one as compositions of near-Cole Porterian proportions.


Lee Hartsfeld said...

I'm replaying a series called "Early Burt Special" at my blog, and today's short playlist includes... "Underneath the Overpass." Which I defend as a fairly amusing novelty. Bacharach's own opinion is probably not as high as mine.

When I looked up your interview with Jo Stafford so I could quote from it, I noticed your post of today. And that you had put up "Underneath the Overpass." Ahead of me, I might add.

The Blogosphere works in weird ways!

Anonymous said...

Dr. C., aren't you forgetting Sinatra's recording of the immortal "There's a Flaw in My Flue"? (Written, on a bad day I guess, by Jimmy Van Heusen.) It came at me -- unfortunately not in sections -- as an extra on the CD reissue of "Close to You."

By the way, I love your blog -- have been lurking for years.

Anonymous said...

God, I love Jo Stafford! Oh that voice. Every note she hit sounded completely effortless.

She also recorded another Bacharach clunker titled "Indoor Sport" Co-writer was Fred Tobias.

Strongly disagree with you about the merits of "Temple of an Understanding Heart". This is a truly beautiful, atmospheric gem.