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

Teresa Brewer – A musical chameleon!

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Teresa Brewer has taught me a lesson; to never judge anything by its initial appearance! The first time I heard her sing, I didn’t like what I heard. I thought her voice sounded funny, with all kinds of squeeky yelps, a tinny sound and sobbing histrionics. I don’t remember what song it was, but it kind of turned me off, and I decided that I wasn’t going to be a big fan of hers….. This happened many years ago, and time and musical knowledge has changed my view on Teresa completely – so much so, that I now consider myself a big fan!

What I did discover was that Teresa has a very special kind of voice, and like all other really good singers, even she needs to be put in a musical setting that fits her voice and talent. At the beginning of her career, there was often a shortage of just that, and so she was many times recorded quite unfavourably. And some of the material she was handed, wasn’t really all that much either….

Luckily, Teresa managed to rise above the stuff she was forced to record at the start, and developed into one of the most versatile singers ever! She has recorded more than 600 songs, released albums of a lot of different musical styles and has proven that she indeed is one of the best and most versatile female vocalists in popular music.

Theresa Veronica Breuer was born on May 7, 1931 in Toledo, Ohio and died at the age of 76 in October 2007. As a child, Teresa had sung and danced on various shows and performed on both radio and TV. At the age of 18, in 1949 – she made her first record; backed by The Dixieland All-Stars, she released a single called “Copenhagen”. On the flip side of that record was the tune that forever will be linked to Teresa’s name: the incredibly catchy (and quite silly) “Music, music. music”. That song raced up the charts, and Teresa was immediately on her way to stardom. For the next 45 years, she would go on to have a very varied and extensive recording career, gracing a lot of different styles with her great voice. I will spotlight some of the fabulous albums she made, and hopefully also change the opinion that Teresa Brewer was a 50’s novelty singer who just sang cute and funny songs – she is so much more than just that!

 

A collection of all her recordings on the London label 1949-50

A collection of all her recordings on the London label 1949-50

During 1949 and 1950, Teresa recorded for a label called London. They put her in the novelty bag straight away, and she got to record a lot of those “cute & funny” songs for that label. In addition to “Music, music, music” her hits while on London also included “Choo’n’gum”, “Molasses, molasses”, “I beeped when I shoulda bopped” and “The thing”. Teresa comes off as a young, “not yet fully developed” singer, and some of the backing isn’t right for her voice; at times she appears to be loud rather than powerful. But in 1951, she changed labels and signed with Coral records. From there on, she would start making a long line of really great music that came out on several of her most cherished albums.

Coral records provided a much more sympathetic backing for Teresa, and while she didn’t quite get away from novelty songs, she did get to record a lot of different material – and hits kept coming! During her first 5 years on the label, she notched up no less than 13 Top 20 hit singles, they include: “Longing for you”, “Gonna get along without you now”, “Til’ I waltz again with you”, “Richochet”, “Jilted”, “Let me go, lover”, “A tear fell” and “A sweet, old-fashioned girl”. In 1956 she got the New York Yankees center field player, Mickey Mantle to appear as a guest on her recorded homage to him, “I love Mickey”!
Coral released six great albums during 1956-1961, showing off to great effect the many sides of Teresa: “Teresa” (1957), “Time For Teresa” (1958), “Miss Music” (also 1958), and “Heavenly Lover” (1960). She was at her swingin’ best on 1960’s “Teresa Brewer & The Dixieland Band“, and showed off her tender, sensual side on 1959’s beautiful collection of ballads, called “When Your Lover Has Gone“….

After her two last hits on Coral, “Have you ever been lonely” (1960) and “Milord” (1961), Teresa at first signed with Phillips in 1962 and spent 5 years on that label, later moving on to record for Flying Dutchman Records and Red Baron Records. From the early 60’s and up to the 90’s, Teresa made many truly great albums, and this is the period that I consider the most exciting (and important) of her career. She had earlier been labeled “Miss Versatility”, but from this point on, she would more than prove just how fitting that tag was!

On her 1960 album “Ridin’ High“, Teresa gets to do big band swing – and does she ever swing! This album shows her natural talent for jazz, one which she continued to develop. For about 5 minutes in the early 60s, Hawaii Music was quite popular, and several singers hopped on the wagon to record exotic and tropical stuff that was supposed to be Hawaiian style. Despite all their talent in other fields, you can easily just skip the Hawaiian outings by such terrific singers as Joni James and Connie Francis. Teresa made her album “Aloha From Teresa” in 1961, and it is no worse than any other releases in this awful genre, but we can easily say that songs like “Lovely Hula Hands” and “Princess Poo-Poo Ly” (no, it’s not about what you might think!) certainly are no highlights to be looking back on…

 

A big band swing album from 1961

A big band swing album from 1961

 

1963/64 gave us the albums “Terrific Teresa“, which is basically a pop record with a certain country flavour. She also made a covers album called “Golden Hits Of 1964” – which is just that. The first of these includes great stuff like “Like I Do” and “Am I That Easy To Forget”. The second sees Miss Tess putting her own special stamp on recent hits like “Where Did Our Love Go”, “Suspicion”, “My Boy Lollipop” and “The Girl From Ipanema”. Both albums are highly recommended, as they show off different aspects of Teresa to very good advantage.

Her 1965 album “Don’t Mess With Tess” is another album of swinging standards, like “You Came A Long Way From St. Louis” and “Down With Love”. Another album consisting of covers came out 1966 – called “Gold Country“. Teresa’s voice certainly is very well suited to country, and this album is stuffed with great versions of more or less well-known songs like “Evil On Your Mind”, “Make The World Go Away”, “Once A Day” and “The Tip Of My Fingers”.

 

Despite the glittering coctail dress and the tiara, this is just 100% pure country!

Despite the glittering coctail dress and the tiara, this is just 100% pure country!

Another country-flavoured album appeared in 1967, but this time with a Tijuana touch as well…. Called “Texas Leather And Mexican Lace“, it shows Tess sinking her chops into stuff like “Mexican Joe”, “Spanish Flea” and “The Wayward Wind”. This musical hybrid was a late 1960s fad, and as such it is one of the best examples you can find.

Upon entering the 1970s, we get to a really exciting period in Teresa’s career. On single releases, she re-recorded her old 1950 hit “Music, Music Music” twice: First as a rock song, and in 1976 she did it as an extended disco song, and proved that she could easily have been a disco diva as well if she’d chosen to!

The 1971 album “Teresa In London With Oily Rags” is a true highlight! The opening track, “Come Running” is nothing but hard rock, and at the end it turns into an almost gospel feverish ending, with Teresa really wailing in a way you’d not thought possible! Other standouts on this album are “Heading Out East” and a stunning interpretation of Kris Kristofferson´s “The Pilgrim Chapter”. The album closes with the quite long “Tomorrow Is Today”, on which she starts out backed only by a tinkering piano, but during the five minutes the track lasts it turned into a Heavy rock ballad. Truly one of her absolutely best albums, not only for the stunning vocals but also because it truly reveals what a diverse and magnificent artist Teresa is.

 

London obviously turned Teresa into a rocker of the first rank. A GREAT album!

London obviously turned Teresa into a rocker of the first rank. A GREAT album!

 

She followed this masterpiece with another stunning album, 1973’s “Singin’ A Doo-Dah Song“. By this time you wouldn’t know quite what to expect from Teresa, and she certainly gives a few surprises on this one too;  “Cotton Fields” is done very fast, and she also yodels a bit. “Guantanamera” is done with mandolins and Spanish guitars, and sung in Spanish. She does a great version of Kenny Loggins’ “Vahevala” and “Danny’s Song” (made famous by Anne Murray). Add to this two tracks mostly connected with Bessie Smith: “Cake Walking Babies From Home” and “You’ve Been A Good Ol’ Wagon” – and you get quite a varied musical package!

 

This 1973 album is stuffed with musical surprises! Obviously there is no end to what she can do!

This 1973 album is stuffed with musical surprises! Obviously there is no end to what she can do!

 

Next up was the 1975 album “Unliberated Woman” – which is in the country rock style. Stand out tracks from this one is “Some Songs” – very strange that this great little nugget didn´t get more airplay – and “Hang It Up & Let It Go” plus the slinky, funky “For The Heart”.  The final track is the nice rocker “Deep Is My Love”. The whole album once again proves that Tess, musically, by this point in her career could do absolutely everything!

 

This honky tonkin´1975 collection of country rock is also highly recommended!

This honky tonkin´1975 collection of country rock is also highly recommended!

 

1977 saw the release of yet another album, titled “Teresa Brewer´s New Album“. This time around she goes for an adult contemporary approach, and the album is a great collection of MOR songs. The song “Tonight I Sleep Alone” has been much praised, and rightly so. Musically, this was the first instance in popular music where the lyrics deal with the woman turning the guy down, telling him “put your clothes back on and get out of my house“… Teresa shows a flair for acting out the lyrics like a story, and this song is thus one of her true masterpieces, and one of the best recordings she ever did. The opening track “Moonglow/Theme From Picnic” is a song dating back to the 50s, but Teresa does it in a pop-disco mode, and it works very well as such! After Judy Collins turned “Send In The Clowns” into hit of the year in 1975, it has been much recorded. Teresa offers her version here, and it is done in a gentle and intimate way – bringing out a lot of beautiful nuances in the song. There is also a funny, gospel styled song called “Gonna Telephone Jesus”, as well as a disco versions of “Hello Dolly” and “I´ve Got You Under My Skin”.

 

This 1977 albums contains disco, gospel and an all time adult contemporary ballad masterpiece

This 1977 albums contains disco, gospel and an all time adult contemporary ballad masterpiece

 

Teresa ended the 1970s by releasing an album made with Earl Hines, called “We Love You, Fats” (1979). And this collection is dedicated to the songs of Fats Waller. The two of them conjure up everything that is great about Fats Waller, and they seem to be enjoying each others company in the studio. Teresa jumps head on into classics like “The Joint Is Jumping”, “Keepin´Out Of Mischief Now” and “Honeysuckle Rose” and does marvellous versions of all of them!

You´re gonna love Fats too when you hear what Teresa and Earl do with his songs!

You´re gonna love Fats too when you hear what Teresa and Earl do with his songs!

 

This album also in a way marked the starting point for the rest of Teresa´s career, as she continued releasing excellent jazz records all through the 80s & 90s. As a jazz singer, she is right up there with the best of them – and I bet Anita O´Day must have felt her as a strong competitor for the title of greatest white jazz singer ever!

During the approximately 50 years she made records, Teresa certainly did a little bit of everything – and obviously there was nothing that she couldn´t do vocally or musically.

Truly versatile, truly one of the greatest singers to ever live – truly and totally Teresa Brewer!

Singer & mum: Teresa in 1973 with her four daughters Mega, Susan, Kathleen and Michelle. Obviously, beauty runs in the family...

Singer & mum: Teresa in 1973 with her four daughters Megan, Susan, Kathleen and Michelle. Obviously, beauty runs in the family…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A personal tribute – Goodbye, Jackie Trent

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When Colin Gregory emailed me yesterday, to tell me his wife of the last ten years – Jackie Trent (1940-2015) – had died on March 21st, I couldn’t really believe what I was reading…..

I had a kind of “special” relationship with Jackie, and we kept in touch by email (at infrequent intervals) during many years. So even though we have never met in person, getting an email from Jackie always felt like hearing from a dear old friend. Whether she did this with all of her fans or just me, I don’t know. But she was thrilled to bits the first time I wrote her, and she immediately proclaimed me to be her No 1 Fan in Norway!

 

Jackie used to sign all her mails to me with "Love from Jackie - Big voice, big hair"! This photo shows the latter...

Jackie used to sign all her mails to me with “Love from Jackie – Big voice, big hair”! This photo shows the latter…

 

I guess some of you now wonder – who IS Jackie Trent? Even if the name might not be familiar, her music no doubt will be. As a songwriter Jackie collaborated with her then-husband Tony Hatch, and together they wrote a long list of songs that are now classics. Petula Clark had several hits in the 1960s that were written by Jackie and Tony. There can’t be anyone alive on planet Earth who hasn’t heard songs like “Downtown”, “I Know A Place”, “I Couldn’t Live Without  Your Love”….. In addition, they also wrote the theme song to the Australian TV-series “Neighbours” and the British football team Stoke City got the song “We’ll Be With You” written especially for them – and 40 years on it is still the teams personal anthem, being sung at each and every game. Tony & Jackie wrote more than 400 songs together.

 

Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent - what a team!

Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent – what a team!

 

Jackie the singer is another chapter in the musical life and career of the great Miss Trent. Jackie might joke about her “big voice, big hair” and while the hairdos changed through the years, the voice never did. Jackie was a tremendously gifted singer as well. The girl born as Yvonne Burgess in 1940, made her first record in 1962 – a single called “Pick Up The Pieces”. Renamed Jackie Trent, she was another one of the British big-voiced girls. I don’t know why, but a whole lot of the great caucasian and really soulful girl singers come from Great Britain: Dusty Springfield, Lulu, Cilla Black, Kiki Dee, Sheena Easton, Amy Winehouse, Adele etc., etc. And Jackie is right up there with the rest of them….

By 1963, Jackie was signed to the PYE label, and stayed with them for the next 11 years. And during this era, she made the bulk of her recorded legacy. While she (of course!) recorded her own songs, she also had a great eye for picking winners from other sources and her years on PYE is chock-full of vocal delights.

 

This is the one to get! 50 great recording by Jackie 1963-75

This is the one to get! 50 great recording by Jackie 1963-75

 

The PYE years provided Jackie with many musical highlights, and the collection pictured above is really the one to get. It proves once and for all that as a singer Jackie is just marvelous, and each of the 50 tracks proves it! Whether doing soft ballads or something powerful and up-tempo, Jackie is right on target. Her spectoresque treatment of Edith Piafs classic “If You Love Me, Really Love Me” sounds like it’s produced by the man himself. And while the music also here is indeed a wall of sound, Jackie cuts right through and delivers a truly powerful vocal. “Time After Time” is an old evergreen that has been done by hundreds of singers through the years. Jackies version is an updated one, making it sound like a completely new song, and another stunning vocal performance.

Phil Spector did produce the Ronettes version of “You, Baby” – but he and Ronnie Spector must have been tearing their (big) hair out when they heard what Jackie did with it. Her take on that song is true perfection! The title track was Jackies only charttopper, and it is still a classic 60s power ballad that has stood the test of time very well. Other highlights are “Love Is Me, Love Is You” (also recorded by Connie Francis in both English and German to great effect), “Goin’ Back” (Jackies version is in the same league as those recorded by Dusty Springfield, Eydie Gorme and Elkie Brooks – all of which are awesome!), “If You Go Away”, “Send In The Clowns”, “Corner Of The Sky” (from “Pippin”) and “Everybody Rejoice” (from “The Wiz”). If just one track has to be specially highlighted, it has to be the fabulous interpretation of Scott Walkers “Such A Small Love”. It is a perfect example on how lyrics, voice and music can perfectly melt together and create true magic. If this doesn’t give you goosepimples all over – nothing ever will!

 

Jackie on stage in 1971, no doubt flooding the audience with great singing

Jackie on stage in 1971, no doubt flooding the audience with great singing

 

After the mid-70’s, Jackie took a rather long break from recording – but she was still performing around the globe, both in concerts and in musicals. Examples of the latter being “Nell” (1969), “The Card” (1973), “Rock Nativity” (1976) and “High Society” (2004).

Jackie personally wrote me in late 2008 to tell me she was planning a new album, the first in more than 30 years. The plans came through all right, and “Trentquility” was released in 2009. It proves that Jackie had lost none of her talent, and her voice and interpretive skills are completely intact. The whole album is great, but the song that stands out is “Handbags And Gladrags”. Compare it with the more famous recordings by Chris Farlow and Rod Stewart, and you will see what dimensions Jackie brings to the intricate melody and cryptic lyrics. Another masterpiece!

 

Her 2009 album "Trentquility" turned out to be last collection of new recordings made by Jackie....

Her 2009 album “Trentquility” turned out to be last collection of new recordings made by Jackie….

 

Her legacy as a singer and composer is stunning, and new versions of Jackies songs are being made every year. She will be remembered as one of the truly great songwriters of the 21st Century, and rightfully so. She should also be remembered as the powerful but emotional singer that she was – a singing actress indeed. Jackie could go from a soft whispering to a big belting sound in a matter of just a few notes, and the kind of singer that she was is the kind you very rarely hear these days.

 

Jackie Trent - forever remembered with much love and admiration

Jackie Trent – forever remembered with much love and admiration

 

My very best to Jackies ex-husband and co-writer Tony Hatch – thanks for creating all that great music! My heart goes out to Jackies children Darren and Michelle, and her husband Colin. To you she was wife and mum, to me she was someone I admired tremendously, and it was always a thrill to get an email from Jackie. I will miss her Christmas greetings this year…..

 

 

 

 

Christmas Music – My own personal favorites

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It is the season to be merry & gay, light the lights, spend all your money on presents – and it is also the season where we get positively flooded by this strange phenomenon called “Christmas music”. It usually means that every artist who’s ever been signed to a label get the chance to release a record celebrating seasonal joy in their own way.

Much of it is quite good, even though the same dozen traditional songs seem to be done and re-done in every way possible. Teen idols like Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift did it, jazz legends like Ella Fitzgerald did it, great pop stylists like Connie Francis and Frank Sinatra did it, and the amount of Christmas records is absolutely staggering.

In this post, I will give a short survey of my own personal favorites – the Christmas records I do care to bring out every year, and which have been part of my Christmas celebrations every year for many years now. You might not agree which my choices, but since a lot of you obviously (like myself) have a great taste in music – these albums might float your boat as well!

I was first introduced to the wonderful voice of Jo Stafford when I was a kid – my mother was a big fan of Jo. Technically perfect, her voice is maybe the eighth wonder of the world. Her career stretches from the 1930’s and into the late 1970’s when she basically retired. She lived for another 30 years, dying at the age of almost 91 in July 2008. Her 3 albums of Christmas music are all good: “Happy Holiday” (1955), “Ski Trails” (1956) and “The Joyful Season” (1964). All available on CD and as downloads – the first two albums were put together and called “Happy Holidays – I Love The Winter Weather“.

Her 1955/56 seasonal records will no doubt put you in a cozy mood...

Her 1955/56 seasonal records will no doubt put you in a cozy mood…

The third one bears the caption “the voices of Jo Stafford”. The reason for this is that on several songs, she is multi-tracked and it sounds like an entire choir is backing her, but no – it is just Jo alone doing ALL the vocals. Truly special, and a great testament to her talent.

Joyful

If you are unfamiliar with Jo Stafford, I strongly suggest you check her out. There are plenty of records to choose from, and most of her orignal albums made from 1950 onwards, are available – in addition to lots of great collections of her work. To me, she is maybe the best singer ever – and coming from me, that is quite a compliment!

Another great singer from the same era, is June Christy (1925-1990). Her reputation as a jazz singer is formidable, but she still seems to be unknown to a lot of people. Quite a shame – she is another wonderful singer who’s left behind a marvellous legacy of music, and luckily most of her original albums recorded 1953-76 are all available. Her sole seasonal record was released 1961, called “This Time Of Year“. The misty Miss Christy however isn’t as joyful around Christmas, she seems to be rather introvert, thoughtful and even a little moody. Maybe the joyful season isn’t so joyful to everyone…? The record is jazzy, a little bluesy – with June’s warm voice front and center. It is a perfect record for those of us who have the ability to see that there are people who fall outside all the festive gaiety, who get even more lonely at Christmas, and June sings different kinds of Christmas songs for the not-so-happy bunch.

June Christy's very special 1961 album - looking beyond the joy and glitter...

June Christy’s very special 1961 album – looking beyond the joy and glitter…

It is a complex, adult look at the mixed emotions the holiday season can provoke, with intricate, tasteful charts to support June’s always immaculate phrasing. This album offers an antidote to the syrupy sentimentality of most holiday releases… but the Christmas blues never sounded so good!

Singers from the same era, whose Christmas records I would also recommend: Doris Day, Connie Francis, Frank Sinatra. If you like a more operatic kind of Christmas – my suggestions would be Joan Sutherland’s 1965 seasonal album “Joy To The World” or Renata Tebaldi’s great 1973 album, titled “Christmas Festival“.

Renata

Depending on your preference for music, you can get Christmas music done the country way, the choral way, the rock ‘n’ roll way, probably there is a rapper out there who’s done a kind of “diamonds fo’ my hoe” thing…. Madonna covered Eartha Kitt’s classic “Santa Baby”, and the Christmas albums released by Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Christina Aguilera show that the newer generations of pop divas also know how to put you in the right mood!

As for a soulful Christmas – I choose Patti LaBelle’s 1995 Christmas album, called “This Christmas“. Patti wraps her wondrous pipes around some more or less well-known songs, but the true stand-out is called “Angel Man”! This song alone is worth the price of the album, as it fuses everything you’d expect from Patti LaBelle with an inspirational lyric and a magnificent arrangement.

Oooh, that voice! Her 1995 Xmas album, containing "Angel Man"

Oooh, that voice! Her 1995 Xmas album, containing “Angel Man”

I hope your Christmas will be filled with music, laughter and love! And pass it on to those around you as well!

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