Along with Fabian and Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell was one of the “Boys of Bandstand,” a trio of Philadelphia-based pop singers whose appearances on the original American Bandstand rocketed each to teen idoldom in the lull between Elvis and the Beatles. It’s no accident that the students in Grease attend Rydell High. Like Fabian and Avalon, Rydell was a pop singer whose hits crossed over to mingle with rock ‘n’ roll tunes on Billboard’s Top 100. His biggest hit, “Wild One,” feints towards the pop-rock with which Bobby Darin began his hit-making, and Rydell’s second big hit, “Volare,” was a finger-snapping nightclub gem in league with Darin’s “Mack the Knife. Rydell and Darin’s paths often crossed in the middle of the Great American Songbook, which both vocalists covered extensively.
This pair of albums from 1961 (Rydell’s third and fourth original releases) fully indulges the vocalist’s love of (and talent for) singing classic American songs. Among the material are Tin Pan Alley and Broadway chestnuts by Arlen & Mercer, George & Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Stephen Sondheim, and the jazz standards “Frenesi,” “So Rare” and “The Birth of the Blues.” Rydell also found a strong attraction to material made famous by Al Jolson, including “Mammy,” “April Showers” and “There’s a Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder.” The arrangements swing nicely and Rydell is an enticing singer. He hasn’t the gravitas of the previous generation (Sinatra, Bennett, et al.), but the drama in his Broadway style give these songs some real verve.
In the summer of 1960, at the tender age of 19, Rydell launched a two-week stand at the Copacabana, a New York City it-club that had hosted the legends of nightclub entertainment. Greeted on the stage by a powerful horn chart, Rydell launched into a zesty take on “A Lot of Living to Do,” the swinging mambo of “Sway,” and a bouncy rendition of “That Old Black Magic.” He sounds confident and comfortable, and though every note isn’t pitch perfect, he more than makes up for it in joie de vivre. A fifteen-minute, thirteen-song medley fills the middle of the set, showing off Rydell’s range (both “Wild One” and “Volare” are worked into the mix) and his preternatural maturity as a showman.
The set’s hidden gem is “Don’t Be Afraid (To Fall in Love),” a ballad written by Cameo co-founder Kal Mann, and orchestrated with a terrifically moody horn chart by Joe Zito. Collectors’ Choice reproduces the original track lineups in stereo, reprints both front and back album covers, and adds liner notes by James Ritz with fresh remembrances from Bobby Rydell. It may strike some as odd to begin the reissue of Rydell’s catalog with his third and fourth albums, but as noted earlier, these songs cut deep into the heart of his artistic direction. For a tighter view of his popular chart hits, check out 2005’s Best Of, but for the seeds that would bloom into his long-term career as an entertainer, this is a great place to start. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]