As cowboy as an Arancini ball

I had always thought of Frankie Laine as a country singer. This was partly because the song of his which I knew best was “High Noon,” the theme song from the film of the same name. If you have not seen High Noon, I seriously recommend it: a cinema masterpiece, moody, tense and strange.

High Noon - 1952

What’s the time, honey? Image: Variety

Unlike so many films these days, High Noon is both tightly scripted and short. It’s a Western, of sorts. In and out of the story weaves the song: “Do not forsake me, oh my darling …” A gentle but rapid percussion lies under the melody. It is eerie.

So yes, I thought of Frankie Laine as belonging in the cowboy genre, an impression strengthened by album covers which show him wearing a Stetson and gun-belt.

FL as cowboy

Francesco Paolo LoVecchio does his best to impersonate a cowboy.

In truth, though he sang so well on High Noon and several other Western films, Laine was about as cowboy as an Arancini ball. He was born, in 1913, as Francesco Paolo LoVecchio in the Little Sicily area of Chicago. It ain’t even on the west side of Chicago!

For many years LoVecchio was a successful singer, without really cracking the big time. In 1938 he was persuaded to adopt an Anglicized name. A radio producer told him that LoVecchio was “too foreign sounding, and too much of a mouthful for the studio announcers”. As Frankie Laine, he kept on working, but it was not until 1946 that he had his first real breakthrough, with That’s My Desire.

 

I had no idea how genuinely HUGE Frankie Laine was. Especially popular in Britain, he sold more than 100 million records over his life time. Nor did I realise his extraordinary versatility. He sang rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, folk, country, and later rock ‘n’ roll. Even on this one shellac disc there is a powerful gospel song, “In The Beginning,” which backs a Sinatra-style big band crooner. It is this track, “Old Shoes,” I want to share, because it is a wonderful example of how Laine used his powerful, emotional voice to pour meaning into what is, in truth, a fairly lame Tin Pan Alley song. I still love “High Noon”, but Frankie Lane was a Picasso of the voice: he could take any style, and make it his own. Just listen!

  • Artist: Frankie Laine with Paul Weston and his Orchestra
  • A side: Old Shoes
  • B side: In The Beginning
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Philips
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: B 21947 H
  • Year: 1955

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

Lighter on the syrup

A little while ago, Planet Vinyl explored a dance tune, “Tango Desiree“, the work of a slick orchestra led by one Ricardo Santos. I couldn’t find out much about Santos, and mused:

His records came out on Polydor, a Dutch label, and were first released in Germany. I suspect that Santos was a German band leader from Dusseldorf whose real name was Reinhardt Schmidt.

Wrong in the particulars, but on the right track. Another Santos work has come up, so I decided to dig a bit deeper, and can now reveal the truth about the identity of the mysterious Senor Santos.

santos

This is him. Not very Latin looking, it’s fair to say. His real name was Werner Müller, and he was born in Berlin in 1920. He was a composer and conductor of great success, both in classical and what was called “contemporary light music” from the 1950s on. A fine website dedicated to the cocktail lounge music of this period, Space Age Pop, says of Müller:

In an odd flip-flop, several collections of French, Italian, and other national tunes Müller recorded for Decca were released in Europe under the name of “Ricardo Santos,” but in the U.S. under Müller’s own name.

Nothing odd about it, really. In the 1950s, a German name carried some baggage in much of Europe. It was not quite so personal in the States. Whatever, Santos-Müller was an arranger and band leader of great skill. Some of his arrangements put too much maple syrup on the pancake to my taste, but that he knew his craft is undeniable.

This EP, Holiday in Italy Vol. 2, came out in 1956, when shellac 78 rpm records were still what most people bought and played. Hence this grave warning on the back sleeve:

santo-cover-7010-detail

As the title implies, Santos had already been on holiday in Italy before, and also went on holidays to France, Japan, Mexico and Brazil. Nice work if you can get it.

This track, a lively and engaging take on the Italian standard “Funiculi-Funicula” is lighter on the syrup than most, and showcases the full, rich sound which Santos-Müller mastered.

  • Artist: Ricardo Santos And His Orchestra
  •  EP Title: Holiday in Italy Vol. 2
  •  Track: A1 “Funiculi-Funicula”
  •  Format: 7” 45 rpm
  •  Label: Polydor, 20 521 EPH
  •  Manufactured in: Australia
  •  Year: 1956

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs.