Tag Archives: Vocal Pop

Vic Damone: The Lively Ones

Superb vocalist backed by sizzling Billy May charts

With Frank Sinatra having decamped to start his Reprise label, his former label, Capitol, signed the next best thing, Vic Damone. The Brooklyn-born Damone had the same working class roots as Sinatra, and after getting his first break on Arthur Godfrey’s talent show in the late ‘40s, he signed with Mercury. Damone had several hits with Mercury, as well as subsequently with Columbia, but in 1961 he began a five-year run on Capitol. This third long-player for Capitol, released in 1962, was also Damone’s second to pair him with arranger Billy May. The latter had worked with Sinatra in the late ‘50s on the seminal Come Fly with Me and Grammy-winning Come Dance with Me, and paired again with Sinatra for two more titles in 1961.

Entering the studio in 1962, Damone was an established star, and May was coming off a string of superb swing albums with one of Damone’s vocal role models. The result has the hallmarks of Sinatra’s great sessions – sizzling horn charts, swing surfaces, jazz underpinnings and thoughtful interpretations of material that leans heavily on standards. Winningly, however, this doesn’t sound like someone imitating Sinatra, as Damone asserted the beautiful tone of his voice on both ballads and up-tempo numbers. There’s none of Sinatra’s ring-a-ding-ding bravado here, and Damone sings with a friend’s smile rather than a pack leader’s wink.

Damone settles easily into the lush strings of “Laura” and “Ruby,” as well as the late-night feel of “Nina Never Knew.” He coasts smoothly through “Cherokee” and “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” with the band vamping energetically all around him, and swings both “I Want a Little Girl” and the album’s title track. The latter also lent itself to Damone’s summer replacement musical variety show, which he hosted for NBC in 1962 and 1963. The Lively Ones was previously available on CD as a two-fer with Strange Enchantment, but with the disc having fallen out of print, this digital download provides a value-priced option. Damone would record several more fine albums for Capitol before moving on to Warner Brothers, but this set is among his best. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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The Beach Boys: Becoming the Beach Boys – The Complete Hite & Dorinda Morgan Sessions

beachboys_becomingthebeachboysThe complete pre-Capitol session tapes

Before there was “The Beach Boys,” there was a garage band called the Pendletones, formed by three brothers, a cousin, a friend and a domineering father whose own show business dreams had never come to fruition. The harmony vocals of the 1950s and the surf sounds of the early ‘60s provided the ambitious Brian Wilson stepping stones to musical immortality, and these two discs of pre-Capitol sides paint the most complete picture yet of Wilson’s first steps towards the beach. From the Fall of 1961 until their signing to Capitol in the Spring of 1962, the Beach Boys recorded nine songs for Hite and Dorinda Morgan, with “Surfin’” b/w “Luau” released as a single on the Candix and X labels. The A-side charted at #75 nationally, but was a huge local hit on Los Angeles’ powerhouses KFWB and KRLA.

The group recorded additional material for the Morgans, including Beach Boys icons, “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfer Girl,” but only one other single, “Barbie” b/w “What is a Young Girl Made Of” was released in the U.S., and then with Brian, Carl and Audree Wilson singing under the name Kenny and the Cadets to pre-produced backing tracks. The rest of the recordings were consigned to the vault, coming to light only after the group had established themselves on Capitol. Omnivore’s two-disc set gathers together the pre-Capitol master takes and all of the extant session material, including demos, rehearsals, studio chatter, false starts, overdubs and alternates. At sixty-two tracks covering only nine songs, this set isn’t for the casual listener, but for fans who have imbibed every detail of the masters, it’s a welcome peek into the group’s embryonic creative process.

Among the most surprising elements of this set is the fidelity of the tapes. It may not match what Brian himself achieved at Goldstar and elsewhere, but even the demos are clean and the studio productions are quite crisp. That said, take after take of the same song, often with only minute differences to break up the repetition, is both a revealing and an exhausting experience. The sessions document the arduous job of capturing a perfect live take from a nascent group with no studio experience, the group and their producer gaining confidence on each track as they try it again and again. Though there was limited overdubbing of guitar leads and lead vocals (and for “Surfin’ Safari,” a ragged stereo mix), the core of these takes are a quintet posed around microphones, hoping that no one screws up.

“Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfer Girl” were reborn at Capitol (the former with reworked lyrics, the latter shaking off the morose tone of this early version), but the rest of the material failed to make the jump. Dorinda Hite’s “Lavender” is sung in acapella harmony for the demos and augmented by bass and acoustic guitar on studio takes. Hite’s “Barbie” is a novelty tune redeemed largely by Brian’s tender lead vocal and the production’s stereo mix; its flip “What is a Young Girl Made Of” is a frantic 50s-styled R&B song that even Brian’s lead vocal can’t redeem. Brian Wilson’s “Judy” is a bouncy pop tune written for his then-girlfriend Judy Bowles; the master take shows how the group filled out bare demos with Carl’s guitar and Brian’s sincere, enthusiastic lead vocal. Carl’s “Beach Boy Stomp” is a basic instrumental that picks up steam as the group plays it a few times, paving the way to “Stoked,” “Surf Jam” and “Shut Down, Part II.”

The set’s most revealing moment occurs at the end of six takes of “Surfer Girl.” Unable to play bass and nail down his vocal, Brian Wilson realizes that overdubbing would allow him to focus on singing. His request is curtly shut down by Hite Williams, who either didn’t understand its value, or didn’t want to pay for extra studio time. To add insult to injury, there’s an extra overdub with an unknown and uncompelling lead vocalist. No doubt this helped plant the seeds of self-production in Wilson’s head. Moments like this are a music archaeologist’s dream, and in a sense this entire set is like a dig through a museum’s archive. This isn’t something you’ll track through on a regular basis, but there are subtle, important discoveries to be made here, and you’ll enjoy having them pop up on shuffle. Some of this material was released on 1991’s Lost & Found, but this full rendering, packaged in a tri-fold digipak with a 20-page booklet and liner notes from James Murphy, is the one to get. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

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The Happenings: The Very Best Of

Happenings_VeryBestOfHarmony vocal pop from 1960s New Jersey

This New Jersey-bred quartet started with the novel concept of remaking hits in their own vocal harmony style. Cover bands may typically be relegated to bars, but the Happenings talent for picking and reshaping well-known material led to four Top 10 hits, two of which – the Tempos’ “See You in September” in 1966 and the Gershwins’ “I Got Rhythm” in 1967 – each rose to #3. The group’s sound drew on both 1950s pop and doo-wop, and the falsetto topped harmonies fit with contemporaries like the Four Seasons, Vogues and Tokens. The group had many bonds with the latter group, having them as producers, recording for their B.T. Puppy Label, covering their material (“Tonight I Fell in Love”) and even releasing a split album.

Varese’s sixteen track collection includes all ten of the Happenings’ charting singles, including the Jubilee-released “Where Do I Go / Be-In / Hare Krishna.” Missing is their first single (“Girls on the Go”) and their remaining singles for Jubilee, but filling out the lineup are well-selected non-charting singles, B-sides and album tracks. Steve Massie’s remastered sound crisply reproduces the super-wide stereo image of the original recordings, and the eight-page booklet includes liner notes by Dawn Eden. A deeper dive into the group’s catalog can be found on a two-fer of their first two albums, but most will find this sampling of their charming vocal pop to be a right-sized introduction. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

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Doris Day: The Love Album

DorisDay_TheLoveAlbumReissue of terrific 1967 album of standards

Doris Day’s success as an actress in the 1960s has often eclipsed her earlier renown as a vocalist, but it was with the big bands of the 1940s that she first became a star. Though her films fell out of step with the social changes of the late 60s, she found renewed success on television, and it was amid this transition that she returned to the studio to record a set of standards, newly orchestrated by Sid Feller. Having just parted ways with her longtime label, Columbia, the independently produced album was shopped around without success, and shelved until the UK Vision label dug it out of the vault in 1994. A 2006 reissued added three bonus tracks recorded in 1970 for a 1971 television special, and it’s that fourteen-track lineup that’s reproduced here.

Even with rock and pop having been pushed Tin Pan Alley off the radio, it’s hard to imagine there wasn’t a market for these superb performances. Day takes the songs at pensive tempos that highlight her superb control and the sweet tone of her voice. Feller’s use of a rhythm section, string quartet and woodwind player may have been motivated by economics, but it also created a perfect pocket for the vocals. The sound is full, but doesn’t require Day to compete with the arrangements. Day’s selections drew heavily from the songs she heard as a child, and the bonus tracks rework two of her catalog icons “It’s Magic” and “Sentimental Journey.” Liner notes by Will Friedwald round out a great package. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

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The Coasters: Coast Along with the Coasters

Coasters_CoastAlongWithThe Coasters return to what they do best in 1962

Much like their self-titled 1958 debut, this 1962 long-player collects a number of A- and B-sides and adds a few album-only tracks. After their diversion into standards with 1960’s One by One, the group returned to Leiber & Stoller’s songbook and a driving R&B production style for the sides collected here. The hits are “What About Us” and “Little Egypt,” but there’s a lot more to recommend this album. The nursery rhyme “(Ain’t That) Just Like Me” opens the album with a luscious stereo production that spreads out the quartet’s vocals, and their early version of “Girls Girls Girls” is more laid-back than Elvis’ take, with a limbo bass line and vocal punctuations that mimic a train whistle. The album-only tracks include the mismatched lovers of Pomus & Shuman’s “The Snake and the Bookworm” and a swinging cover of Willie Dixon’s “My Babe.” Most imaginative of all is the retribution of Leiber & Stoller’s beer-drinking, poker-playing monkey in “Run Red Run.” Everything here is in true stereo except for “Wait a Minute,” which is mono. The jokiness of the earlier Coasters records is lessened, but the interplay of their vocals will always make you smile. To get a broader look at their hits, try The Very Best of the Coasters; to go deep check out Rhino Handmade’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On: The Coasters on Atco. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

The Coasters: The Coasters

Coasters_CoastersThe Coasters’ 1958 debut LP

The Coasters first full-length LP is more an anthology than a purpose-built album, collecting half its fourteen songs from the pre-Coasters lineup of the Robins, and adding seven more by the first lineup to record under the Coasters name. Though the group changed more than half its members between the Robins and Coasters, the songs and production of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller provide a through line that gives the album an impressive consistency. The song list includes the group’s first four hit singles, “Down in Mexico,” “One Kiss Led to Another,” “Young Blood,” and “Searchin’,” alongside favorites “Smokey Joe’s Café” and “Framed,” and terrific, lesser-known sides “Wrap it Up” and the energetic “I Must Be Dreamin’.” The Coasters deftly combined deep R&B roots with a comedic approach that made their songs fun without turning them into novelties. You’ll smile every time you hear the Coasters, but you’ll never think of them as anything less than a consummate vocal group. To get a broader look at their hits, try The Very Best of the Coasters; to go deep check out Rhino Handmade’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On: The Coasters on Atco. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Frank Sinatra: The Concert Sinatra

Disconcerting 2012 remaster of Sinatra’s 1963 stage songbook

As has been noted widely, Concord’s 2012 reissue of this Sinatra title has provoked strong reactions among the vocalist’s knowledgeable fans. Originally recorded and released in 1963, this remastered edition remixes and rebalances the multitrack masters, and sharpens the individual tracks to the point of distraction. It’s interesting to hear the elements rendered so crisply, especially Sinatra’s vocals, but the separation, particularly between the voice and instruments, is unsettling. A great recording has an instrumental pocket into which the vocal fits, hand-in-glove, and earlier editions of this title show the pocket exists; this mix pushes Sinatra’s vocal forward, to the point at which the overall result is not cohesive. At times Sinatra sounds as if he’s overdubbed on top of the music, rather than the key player within it.

There’s no fault in Sinatra’s choice of material, which leans heavily on the Broadway stage compositions of Richard Rodgers, nor is there any problem with the arranging and conducting of Nelson Riddle, the enormous orchestra assembled on a Hollywood scoring stage, or the recording technology. Earlier editions of this title showed how Sinatra’s fluent interpretations and Riddle’s sympathetic backings worked in concert to create grandly emotional renderings of these songs. This re-master still contains each artist’s masterful work, but woven less tightly into a coherent whole. Lawrence Stewart’s original liners are augmented by new notes from Frank Sinatra Jr., and the original ten tracks are extended by a pair of bonuses that include the Van Heusen-Cahn “California,” originally commissioned by the state’s then-governor, Pat Brown.  [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

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Robert Davi: Sings Sinatra on the Road to Romance

Actor Robert Davi salutes Frank Sinatra

There’s a long history of actors branching into singing, some convincingly, some not so much. Actor Robert Davi, who sees himself as a singer who fell into acting, joins the former group with this salute to Sinatra. Davi shows that an actor’s expressive ability and top-notch accompaniment go a long way to recreating the character of Sinatra’s performances. Davi has a compelling baritone, and his enthusiasm for the material and the man are obvious. He’s deeply influenced by Sinatra – as would be just about anyone singing these songs at this point in musical history – but not imitative. He evokes Sinatra’s playful attitude without raiding every nook and cranny of the master’s style, leading the orchestra through swinging charts by Nic Tenbroek in the same Capitol studio Sinatra waxed some of his greatest sides. The song list is drawn primarily from Sinatra’s years with Capitol and Reprise – roughly mid-50s to mid-60s (only “Mam’selle,” from 1947, dips back into his Columbia years) – and weighs heavily to iconic swing sides. The ballads – “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” and “Here is That Rainy Day” – haven’t the desperate loneliness of Sinatra’s originals, though the latter’s heavy strings add a nicely orchestrated mood of brooding. Davi hasn’t the perfect vocal control of Sinatra in his prime, but he evokes the attitude with affectionate vocal inflections – a trombone-like slide, hummed note or snappy verbal aside – that bring the Chairman’s style back to life. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Tony Bennett: The Classic Christmas Album

Forty years of Tony Bennett’s Christmas recordings

Seventeen of these eighteen tracks have been selected by the vocalist from his catalog of albums and compilation appearances on Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album (1968), The Playground (1998), Our Favorite Things (2001), Christmas with Tony Bennett (2002) and A Swingin’ Christmas (2008). The album’s one previously unreleased title is a Marion Evans arrangement of the traditional “What Child is This.” Bennett appears in orchestral, big band and small combo settings, and though the original albums can still be found, this provides a nice sampling across forty years of his stylish takes on holiday standards. Bennett sings with a jazzy cool unparalleled by his peers or followers, and together with some hot charts (particularly those for the Basie band), he gives new life to these holiday chestnuts. The Bennett fanatic in your family may be expecting the monumental 73-CD Complete Collection under the tree, but the rest of the family will be satisfied by this warm collection of classics. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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Frank Sinatra and Count Basie: The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings

The Chairman meets the Count

The twenty tracks collected here pull together the original line-ups of 1962’s Sinatra-Basie: An Historical Musical First and 1964’s It Might as Well Be Swing. Both albums found Sinatra in superb voice, complete command of his material and leading Basie’s band from the singer’s seat. Unlike his early days as a big band boy singer, Sinatra doesn’t have to dodge and weave around the instrumentalists; Neil Hefti and Quincy Jones penned the arrangements in consultation with the vocalist, and the band hangs on his every word. Basie may have been the band leader, but once Sinatra opened his mouth, the instrumentalists took their cues from the Chairman.

By the early ‘60s, Sinatra was in the third phrase of his career – having transformed from big band singer to crooner to ring-a-ding-ding label owner.  In his late ‘40s, the feeling of freedom in his singing was never stronger. He dances through the lyrics as if he was singing extemporaneously, expressing himself rather than the thoughts of a songwriter, and the arrangements push him to great heights. Basie’s band (and for the second album, orchestra) swung hard, ranging from jazzy piano, bass and percussion interludes to full-out horn charts. The sections play with a coherence that’s sublime, and the soloists are given space to weave their own magic, including especially fine moments from flautist Frank Wess.

Sinatra’s records at Capitol may have represented his greatest sustained period of artistic achievement, but his years on Reprise often consolidated and exploited what he’d learned. His sessions with Basie, particularly the first, were a master class in tone and phrasing. Basie’s greatest artistic growth had similarly occurred in earlier decades, but he retained nealy unparalleled talent for accompanying a singer – supporting the vocals as the primary mission, but finding room for the band to be heard. Hefti and Riddle’s contributions can’t be overstated, picking songs and writing charts that allowed Sinatra and Basie to infuse new life into these iconic selections. Sinatra deftly punches, pauses and slides through the lyrics of “(Love is) The Tender Trap,” and with a transformation from Bossa Nova to 4/4, “Fly Me to the Moon” was established as a Sinatra standard.

Some material from the second session – movie and stage themes “More” and “Hello, Dolly!” – are lightweight compared to the collection’s better titles, but Sinatra and Basie still give their all. Concord’s reissue includes liner notes from Robin Douglas-Home and Stan Cornyn (featuring an interview with Quincy Jones), and newly penned notes by Bill Dahl, but the key is Sinatra: no auto-tune, no punch-ins, no splice jobs… just a supremely talented singer letting it all hang out in front of the world’s reigning swing band. To complete your collection of Sinatra-Basie collaborations, pick up the 1966 live album, Sinatra at the Sands, featuring Quincy Jones conducting the Count Basie Orchestra. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]