Coming soon – an in-depth look at Connie Francis

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To me, Connie Francis is the Queen! Of all the great vocalists who appeared on the musical scene in the 1950s, she is the brightest jewel, the unparalleled leading female singer and the only female rival to both Sinatra and Elvis.

Connie has recorded more than 2500 songs, in a variety of styles and languages – she is versatile beyond compare, and absolutely everything she has done on record is vocally perfect.

 

A young Connie in the late 1950s

A young Connie in the late 1950s

 

Connie released 46 albums of music in the USA between 1958 and 1969 (and that excludes movie soundtracks and compilations!). Her first single came out 1955, her last album of new music came out 1996. Connie was one of the first female rockers, but she could just as easily sing big band swing, show tunes, Italian and Spanish themed songs, country and MOR pop. She made theme albums of Irish and Jewish favourites, two children’s records, several albums of movie songs and whole albums dedicated to composers like Burt Bacharach and Les Reed. She covered the 1978 Eurosong Winner “A Ba Ni Bi” (in 1978) and the perennial Bob Seger favourite “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll” (in 1989).

 

Connie photograped in 1985

Connie photographed in 1985

 

Her collected discography is vast and varied to the point of schizophrenia, but what is most amazing is that she could handle anything, and did – very well! She made albums for any foreign market, but her career in Germany is worth an article all of its own; she made her first German single in 1960, the last “So Nah” (a duet with Peter Kraus) in 1992.

I have long lost count of the many hits collections of Connies music – and they all more or less contain her best known singles from 1958 until 1969. I will however, look into all her great albums, also those made in the 70s, 80s and 90s. It’s these albums that show off her many sides as a singer and they all contain great music that deserves to be heard by everybody. Her three US number ones (“Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool“, “My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own” and “Don’t Break The Heart That Loves You“) + other well-known hits like “Who’s Sorry Now” and “Lipstick On Your Collar” are just a tiny fragment of her recorded works – so I will put the spotlight on other parts of her legacy, hopefully this will be of interest to you!

Did you know that Connie was the first singer to record “When Will The Good Apples Fall” (better known in the version recorded by The Seekers)? In 1968, Jeannie C. Riley hit big with her story song depicting life in the “Harper Valley PTA” – but did you know that Connie the same year recorded a similar themed tune called “Satan Place“? Did you know that Connie recorded a disco version of her old hit “Where The Boys Are” in the late 1970s?

Stay tuned – an in-depth look at the great Connie Francis will appear on this site in the near future!

 

Connie Francis in 2016

Connie Francis in 2016

Looking back at 2016….

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The first thing that strikes me when looking back at 2016, is that some of the stuff I said I was going to write about didn’t happen…. This is due to too much else going on, and thus some announced articles are still in the can, but will be published in due time.

The musical year 2016 has already been called the worst ever; nothing to do with records published but due to the fact that we have lost so many great talents these last 365 days.

January got off to a terrible start – when I woke up to the news that Natalie Cole has passed away last new years eve. During this year we lost musical greats such as David Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey, Leonard Cohen and George Michael… The movie and entertainment business wasn’t spared either – during the last two weeks of December, three great ladies all left us: Zsa Zsa Gabor (at age 99), then Carrie Fisher and the next day her mother Debbie Reynolds….

 

Glenn Frey: Founding member of the Eagles and solo artist

Glenn Frey: Founding member of the Eagles and solo artist

 

I was especially heartbroken by news of Natalie, Glenn and George – they were all artists I have listened to for years, I own every record they ever made, and I am so sorry there will be no more music from any of them.

 

Gone way too early; George Michael (1963-2016)

Gone way too early; George Michael (1963-2016)

 

Despite growing up in the 1970s, I was never a big fan of sci-fi movies, and so I have actually never seen Star Wars, and my affection for Carrie Fisher is based on all other aspects of her career except Princess Leia. Her mother, Debbie Reynolds is much more up my alley – a classic pop singer who acted in movies, shows and made some really great records in the 50s and 60s.

 

Mother & daughter, they died one day apart: Debbie Reynolds (1932-2016) & Carrie Fisher (1956-2016)

Mother & daughter, they died one day apart: Debbie Reynolds (1932-2016) & Carrie Fisher (1956-2016)

 

As for Zsa Zsa Gabor (1917-2016) – she’s in a league all of her own. Her beauty, quick remarks and her 9 husbands are all part of her legacy, she is a celebrity of the highest order, and known much more for being just that than for any of the many movies she appeared in.

 

The glamourous Gabors: Eva, Magda, mother Jolie and Zsa Zsa

The glamorous Gabors: Eva, Magda, mother Jolie and Zsa Zsa

 

She certainly has the genes of the rest of her family; her glamorous mother Jolie (1896-1997) lived to be a hundred. Her equally glamorous sisters Magda (1915-97) and Eva (1919-95) both lived long and gilded lives. These three sisters and their mother have made more headlines than any other acting family ever, and they continue to be a source of humour and joy years after their passing… They just don’t make’em like that anymore!

I hereby wish all my readers a Happy New Year – keep checking back in during 2017 also!

 

 

 

Christmas gifts – a hot tip

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Sometimes you kind of rediscover singers you used to listen to a lot, but haven’t for a long time…. Such was the case when I recently re-accquainted myself with the great Janie Fricke (born 1947).

Janie was all over the airwaves in the late 70’s and 80’s here in Norway, and she even made it to one of the country festivals in Norway, receiving thunderous applause for her electrifying concert there.

I always liked her, and to my own amazement I found out that it was really a long time since I had listened to any of her music. Janie started out as a jingles-singer, and she is technically perfect. Her voice can be adapted to any kind of music, and she has vocal control way beyond another other country singer (except, maybe Connie Smith). She can singer the most tender kind of ballads, she can rock with the best of them, and she can be as down-home country as you’d ever want. Added to all of it, a slight southern twang in her voice – and you get the picture.

Her versatility may have worked against her, as by being able to sing absolutely anything she is also vocally a little hard to categorize, and might therefore not always be instantly recognizable.

I of course wanted to check out if there were any new albums by Janie out there that I didn’t already have, and that’s how I found the two collections I will recommend as a Christmas gift:

Janie's first 4 albums 1978-80

Janie’s first 4 albums 1978-80

 

Her first four albums (released 1978-80) have been collected onto a 2-CD package. They are: “Singer Of Songs” (1978), “Love Notes” (1979), “From The Heart” (1979) and “I Need Someone To Hold Me When I Cry” (1980).

 

Janie's next 4 albums (1981-84)

Janie’s next 4 albums (1981-84)

 

But it doesn’t stop there; her next four albums (released 1981-84) have also been repackaged onto another double CD, they are: “Sleeping With Your Memory” (1981), “It Ain’t Easy” (1982), “Love Lies” (1983) and “The First Word In Memory” (1984).

For a reasonable price, you can get the 8 first albums by this great singer, containing a total of 80 tracks, 21 of them placed high in the country singles charts also.

For any lover of 80’s country and/or great singing in general – these two packages belong under any Christmas tree! If you never heard Janie Fricke sing, you should treat yourself to a great listening experience. If you’re a long time fan like me, you probably know most of the music here, but will still be overjoyed by the fact that these albums are now available again!

 

 

 

 

HOT (the female trio, not the condition)

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The 60s and the 70s were certainly the decades of female trios…. The most famous ones are maybe The Supremes and The Three Degrees, followed by The Ritchie Family, Silver Convention and many others.

And while a lot of people will remember the great 1977 hit “Angel In Your Arms” – the name of the group who originally sang it might have been long forgotten. They were called Hot, and consisted of a black girl, a white girl and a latin girl – quite an Oreo combination!

 

hot-gold-record

Hot in 1977 with gold records for their biggest hit “Angel In Your Arms”

 

Hot released 3 albums, starred in their own movie and the three ladies had careers in music both before and after their time in Hot.

Stay tuned – a closer look at Hot will follow in a short time on this site.

 

Coming up – a closer look at Maxine Brown

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Not too well known, but forever cherished by anyone who’s ever heard her sing – Maxine Brown is a true hidden gem within the music business.

Whether she was actually born in 1932 or 1939 is not important – the magic sound of her voice is where the focus should be.

 

Maxine Brown, ca. 1963

Maxine Brown, ca. 1963

 

From her breakthrough hit single, “All In My Mind” (1960) and up to today, Maxine is a stunning singer whose vocal technique makes her stand apart from any other singer in the business.

 

This site will soon give you a closer look at the career of this great singer – who has left behind way too few records for a girl who’s been around for 55 years. Stay tuned for an update in a few days!

 

Maxine on stage, 2013

Maxine on stage, 2013

 

From summer into autumn….

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I am very much a summer person, and living in Norway it is sometimes challenging to accept that our summer lasts only about four months. I also find that my taste in music in summer is maybe a little lighter than the rest of the year. Summer music might be old 70s disco, light pop and stuff that is just commercial, makes for a fun listening experience, and make me forget that the lyrics often are of the silly “shoo-bi-doo, la-la-la” variety. It is just something in the background, and we can all just hum along (or dance!)

Slowly easing ourselves into autumn, my taste in music veers towards stuff that might be enjoyed inside, with candles lit or maybe a fire in the fireplace. Not that it isn’t commercial or danceable, it is just that when the days get darker, my musical needs seem to change.

So you are hereby warned – my next posts will probably be mostly about music that will have some kind of autumnal touch to it….

 

 

 

 

Some unlikely, strange Norwegian cover versions

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Cover versions of international hits are quite common – every country seem to have some local stars who at one point or other, have recorded their own version(s) of some international hits.

Looking back at Norwegian pop music history during the last 50 years, I find that there are some truly strange stuff out there; by that, I mean that occasionally Norwegian singers have not only made Norwegian language versions of an international soul/disco hit, but in doing so, they have also stepped way, way out of their usual musical habitat – for reasons unknown to me. But they are still great fun!

So just for the fun of it – here’s a closer look at some very well-known songs AND their Norwegian versions as well:

 

Gloria Gaynor “Never Can Say Goodbye”: was recorded by Anne Karine Strøm in 1976 as “Jeg kan ikke gå i fra deg”.

Anne karine Strøm - not quite the Norwegian Gloria Gaynor

Anne Karine Strøm – not quite the Norwegian Gloria Gaynor

Anne Karine Strøm (b. 1951) started out as a child star in the early 1960’s. She had a great career in the 1970’s, which included two winning entries in the Eurovision Song Contest (1974 and 1976) and the release of 5 solo albums. She was also at various times married to two prominent Norwegian musicians; Frode Thingnæs and Ole Paus. She has also worked as a feature journalist in a magazine in addition to her singing career in Norway and Sweden.

Equipped with a soft, beautiful voice with a limited range, her take on “Never Can Say Goodbye” should maybe have been left in the can. It is such a stylistically departure from everything else she has recorded, and listening to it leaves you in shock rather than surprise. But always a trouper, she gets credit for at least trying to make sense of the five minutes of Norwegian disco – with a very clumsy lyric….

 

Gloria Gaynor “I Will Survive”: was recorded by Hanne Krogh in 1979 as “Jeg er fri”

Hanne Krogh - definetely NOT another Gloria Gaynor either!

Hanne Krogh – definitely NOT another Gloria Gaynor either!

The great Hanne Krogh can look back on 45 years as one of Norway’s most versatile and best-loved singers. Just about everything she does is high quality, and musically she is a national institution. Her Christmas concerts are always sold out, and her recent tours with three fabulous tenors have been a great success. Her first solo album came out 1978, and this version of the Gaynor classic appeared on 1979’s “Nærbilde”. Great as she is in every way, disco is not a style Hanne Krogh should be associated with, and “Jeg Er Fri” stands out as the strangest item in a long and prosperous recording career.

 

Pointer Sisters “Fairytale”: was recorded by Kirsti Sparboe in 1976 as “Et lite eventyr”

Vocally improvement on a Pointer Sisters classic: Kirsti Sparboe did it!

Vocally improvement on a Pointer Sisters classic: Kirsti Sparboe did it!

La Sparboe came on the scene in the early 1960’s and together with Wenche Myhre, she was the uncrowned queen of Norwegian pop during that decade. In the 1970’s she branched out in several other musical directions, doing more adult contemporary stuff and different styles. She basically retired from recording after her 1983 single that combined Norwegian versions of Melissa Manchester’s “Come In From The Rain” and Louise Tucker’s “Midnight Blue”.

This track, recorded 1976 is an interesting one. When the Pointer Sisters made “Fairytale” in 1974, it was yet another musical style that the sisters tried out, and they managed to get a country hit with it! Their version is a little slow and could have benefited from a bit more energy…. And that’s what Kirsti Sparboe gave it! By picking up the tempo a little and also giving it a tighter arrangement than the original, the song comes off as more of a pop tune. Add to it maybe the greatest vocalizing Sparboe has ever done – and you get a totally wonderful version, and for once the lyrics actually do tell a story, it’s not all about making lines rhyme…. Unlikely as it seems, if you need to improve on a Pointer Sisters track – you need Sparboe to do it, and here’s the proof!

 

Patsy Gallant “From New York To L.A.”: was recorded by Gro Anita Schønn in 1977 as “Star”

The late, great and much missed Gro Anita Schønn (1950-2001) sang "Star" as if it was her own life story....

The late, great and much missed Gro Anita Schønn (1950-2001) sang “Star” as if it was her own life story….

The most glamorous of all the 1970’s pop stars in Norway, Gro Anita Schønn was no stranger to cover versions at all, a big chunk of her recorded legacy actually consists of international hits done in Norwegian. This version of the Patsy Gallant hit is one that stands out. “From New York To L.A.” does get another English title, but the word “Star” is an essential part of the story. Always technically perfect, no matter what she was singing, Gro Anita this time seems to realize that these lyrics tell a story that she could really relate to.

Schønn stopped recording in 1983 and for the last 18 years of her life, she lived as a recluse, not appearing in public, denying all kinds of interviews and she made just two brief appearances on TV during these years. All of it added up to not being comfortable in the limelight at all, and much like the “star” in the song, she seemed content to have the spotlights turned off….

 

Laura Branigan “Hollywood Wives”: was recorded by Kate Gulbrandsen in 1984 with the same title

Kate Gulbrandsen in the early 1980's - before she won every contest she entered

Kate Gulbrandsen in the early 1980’s – before she won every contest she entered

Kate came on the scene in the 1980’s, and she certainly was a breath of fresh air musically. Equipped with a powerful, yet girlish voice she made a string of singles that are all way overdue for a CD compilation. She was also a frequent contest winner; in 1985 she won “Talent 85”, singing “Første Forsøk”. She participated in an Egyptian song festival in 1986, and her winning entry was “Fire Of Love”. In 1987 she won the Norwegian outtake for the Eurovison Song Contest and represented Norway singing “Mitt Liv” and a little later she won the World Song Festival in Tokyo singing “Carnival”. She released two albums in the late 80’s and after that sort of dropped out of the spotlight for a number of years. She has had a comeback in recent years, doing a more countrified kind of material…

The theme song from the TV series “Hollywood Wives” was originally done by Laura Branigan. Kate’s version has the same arrangement, but the song benefits greatly from Kate’s vocal – she sounds much more like one of the characters in the series than Branigan’s big, booming powerful voice was able to convey.

 

Eartha Kitt “C’est Ci Bon”, Diana Ross “I’m Still Waiting”, Alan O’Day “Undercover Angel”: these were all recorded by Grethe Kausland on her 1978 album “A taste of….”. Her versions are all great improvements on the originals. This girl was one of the greatest musical comedy stars Norway ever had – and vocally she is a singer of stunning flexibility, range and power.

This album was Grethe Kauslands first as an adult - and won her the coveted 1978 Spellemannsprisen. Well deserved too...

This album was Grethe Kauslands first as an adult – and won her the coveted 1978 Spellemannsprisen. Well deserved too…

Kausland (1947-2007) was a child star in the 50’s and from the 1970’s and for the rest of her life she was the greatest musical comedy star on any Norwegian stage. She also had a great voice, with a “black” sound – and she could be really soulful when given the right kind of songs. The three tracks mentioned above are all premium examples of that. She does “C’est Si Bon” in a disco kind of way, but the other two are similar to the originals. She is way above Diana Ross vocally on “I’m Still Waiting”, while “Undercover Angel” is imbued with so much soul and feeling that it comes off as a totally new song.

 

Yvonne Elliman “If I Can’t Have You”: was recorded by Ingrid Elisabeth Johansen in 1978 as “Hvis du går din vei”

Ingrid Elisabeth Johansen's 1978 album

Ingrid Elisabeth Johansen’s 1978 album

Despite a long and varied career in Norway and Germany, Ingrid Elisabeth actually isn’t all that well-known in Norway. She has been in several bands, done musicals and worked as a featured singer with several big bands, she has released several singles, participated in different TV shows and competed twice in the Norwegian outtakes for the Eurovison Song Contest. Her only album came out 1978, and of the 10 songs, 9 are cover versions – and “If I Can’t Have You” is maybe the strangest one…..

Her voice is a little rusty, with a slight rasp and she is much more comfortable singing ballads and soulful bluesy stuff than this Saturday Night Fever track. However, she does a great job on it, though the song is marred by some incredibly clumsy Norwegian lyrics! No stranger to cover versions, some of the other stuff she recorded is much better suited to her voice; she did Norwegian versions of Bonnie Tyler’s “It’s A Heartache”, Jackie DeShannons “Blue Street” and Elkie Brooks’ “Pearl’s A Singer”.

Very talented but sadly neglected by record companies, the time is way overdue for a collection of Ingrid Elisbeth Johansen’s recordings! This album is digitally available though, so go search it out!

 

This article could probably have included dozens more strange cover versions, but those listed above will do it for now….

It proves that for all the talent involved, even the best of singers can either strike gold or fall flat on their faces, all in the name of trying to get a hit record – or just make a great cover.

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