Post by Michael Pendragon Post by Michael Pendragon
1) THAT'S MY DESIRE
This was Frankie Laine's first hit (and first gold record), in December of 1946 -- almost 17 years after he left home to pursue a singing career. Laine had been singing at Billy Berg's nightclub in Hollywood, but was basically a "house" singer who entertained between the featured acts (partially to help clear the house for a new set of patrons). One night, on the spur of the moment, he called for the audience's attention and announced that he was going to sing a "new" song for them (he meant "new to his usual playlist," as the song had been around since 1931. The audience, however, mistook it for a new song... and listened.
I've got 13 versions of this song by Laine: 6 records, 1 unreleased alternate take, and 6 live performances.
My favorite version is from his 1957 "Rockin'" album with Paul Weston's orchestra.
2) (WHAT DID I DO TO BE SO) BLACK & BLUE
Because Laine sang in "black" style, listeners who weren't familiar with his show at Billy Berg's assumed that he was black. Fats Waller's "Black & Blue" helped to further that impression. Back by Carl Fischer's Swingtet, it peaked at #27.
4) ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET
And the equally great version from the classic "Rockin'" album?
5) TWO LOVES HAVE I
This is a (relatively) laid back romantic number that peaked at #21 and brought Laine his third gold record. I've got two recordings of it by Laine. This is the hit one, backed by Harry Geller's ork.
Carl Fischer, btw, was Laine's pianist-musical director-song writing partner until his death in 1954. Their recording is from what was known as a "radio transcription" - radios generally didn't broadcast the actual records that were available to the public, but specially made electronic transcriptions. By the time Laine hit in the post WWII era, transcriptions were well on the way out. Laine's transcriptions had been thought lost, but 49 of them were discovered in a box in 1980 and reissued.
"Shine" dates back to 1910 and it purportedly celebrates a real-life personage known today only by his nickname, "Shine." Shine is said to have been a close friend of vaudevillian George Walker, and was with him during the New York City race riots of 1900. As in "Black & Blue," the lyrics imply that Laine is a black singer, although by this point, people knew what he looked like. Laine's version peaked at #9 and brought him his fourth gold record.
Oddly, the song has acquired a reputation in recent days for being politically incorrect. "Shine," it seems, was a derogatory term for persons of color at the time. However, assuming this to be the case, the song becomes a defiant stance against the racial prejudices of its day. The lyrics turn a racial slur inside out, by taking a negative term, "Shine," and recasting it in a positive light. The singer claims he is called "Shine," not for being a black man, but for having a bright, friendly, and extremely stylish personality. It throws the slur back in the faces of those who would use it as an insult, by turning it into something to be proud of.
7) MONDAY AGAIN
8) BABY, THAT AIN'T RIGHT (a.k.a. THAT AIN'T RIGHT)
9) YOU'RE ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS
10) AH, BUT IT HAPPENS
I've got two versions of this by Laine -- one's supposedly an unreleased alternate take, although I can't tell them apart. This one made it to #21, and Laine is once again backed by Carl Fisher's ork.
These are Frankie Laine's early hits from his first three years under contract to Mercury Records. Mercury was the first major label Laine recorded for -- he'd previously cut several sides for two"race" labels, Bel-Tone and Atlas. Laine was considered more of a jazz singer than a pop vocalist in those days. His pop phase would begin when Mitch Miller took over as A&R man at Mercury in 1949.
In the next post, I'll list some of my favorite non-hit FL records from this period, then continue alternating between his hits and non-hits.
1) BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU
2) BY THE RIVER SAINTE MARIE
3) SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN
Another favorite that appeared on the album I'd found in Maryland was "September in the Rain." The versions I've got are from 2 records, 1 transcription, and 1 live broadcast. The 1946 single backed by Mannie Klein's All Stars is my favorite; but all 4 versions are fantastic. The transcription, backed by Carl Fischer's ork is done in a similar vein (uptempo jazz), only slightly faster and shorter; the track from his 1958 "Reunion In Rhythm" album with Michel Legrand is sung as a ballad and includes the introduction; and the broadcast version (from "The Frankie Laine Show," a t.v. show filmed in England in 1954-55) is also done as a romantic ballad.
4) WEST END BLUES
I've got 4 versions of this song by Laine, all of which are fantastic. The first 2 are with Carl Fischer's Swingtet and put out by Mercury in 1946 -- one version was made for the French market with slightly different lyrics. There's a transcription backed by Paul Dunlap's ork that was made the same year, and another track from his "Rockin'" album in 1957.
I'm torn between the U.S. version with the Swingtet and the transcription.
5) WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS (AND DREAM YOUR TROUBLES AWAY)
6) ALL OF ME
7) PUT YOURSELF IN MY PLACE, BABY
Frankie Laine cut a lot of great records in 1947, which I'm not including here as they aren't among my absolute biggest favorites. This is one of those records, but I'm including it as it was written by Laine (lyrics) and Hoagy Carmichael (music). Carmichael was one of the people who gave Laine a big break in the mid-forties which ultimately led to his having a successful career. You'll recall that Laine became a success when he sang "That's My Desire" at Billy Berg's nightclub in Hollywood. Laine had worked at a defense plant during the second world war and had transferred to Hollywood as the war was coming to an end. After the war ended, he'd gone back to "scuffling" -- singing at various nightclubs "for coffee and donuts, and happy if I got the coffee," and sleeping on park benches. DJ Al Jarvis took him in, and he was soon making the rounds of the nightclubs, hoping that the various bands would call him up to sing a number with them. Slim Gaillard, who was playing at Billy Berg's called him up to do a number, and he picked an old Hoagy Carmichael standard from 1929, called "Rockin' Chair." As fortune would have it, Carmichael was in the audience that night and he flipped over Laine's take on it -- so much so that he talked Billy Berg into hiring Laine as a house singer. A few weeks later, Laine sang "That's My Desire," and the rest is history.
"Rockin' Chair" is one of my top 10 Frankie Laine records, but he didn't make his first recording of that until 1949, so it's going to have to wait for a future installment.
8) SINGIN' THE BLUES (UNTIL MY BABY COME HOME)
9) BABY, THAT AIN'T RIGHT
10) WE'LL BE TOGETHER AGAIN
1948 was the year of the musician's strike, so few recordings were made. Laine made a total of 9. "Rosetta" is my favorite. I've got 2 versions of this by Laine (1 single, 1 transcription), both backed by Carl Fischer's ork.
Listen for the cool passage toward the end where he tells the bass player to "walk it."
First, the hits...
1) (WHERE ARE YOU?) NOW THAT I NEED YOU
Backed by Carl Fischer's ork, this balled hit the #20 spot on the charts. It's only listed because it was a hit, as it's a solid, but minor entry in Laine's catalog.
2) THAT LUCKY OLD SUN (JUST ROLLS AROUND HEAVEN ALL DAY)
I've got 10 versions of this song by Laine (5 records, 4 broadcasts, 1 live concert perf.). My favorite version, as noted elsewhere, is the one from his 1957 "Rockin'" album with Paul Weston.
Here's the original, backed by Harry Geller's ork, and Judd Conlon's Rhythmaires:
And here's my favorite version:
"That Lucky Old Sun" has been one of my favorite records since I was two, and it ended up playing an important role in my life as a child. I believe I've told the first half of the story here before, so I'll just summarize it briefly:
When I was two and a half years old, my grandmother had called me "lazy," and my mother expanded on it by saying that was like "That Lucky Old Sun." I asked her what she meant, and she brushed my question aside, saying that it was just a song she knew. I told her that I not only knew it was a song, but that it was my favorite song -- I just didn't understand how it applied to my being lazy.
Now my mother didn't believe I knew the song (I as just a toddler, after all), so I told her that it was sung by Frankie Laine and that they not only played it on the oldies station I listened to, but that she was always singing it around the house. Mom countered that I might know a few snatches of the song, but that I certainly didn't know the whole thing from start to finish. I insisted that I did, so she had me sing it to her.
When I was finished, she admitted that I did know the song after all, and asked me what I thought it meant. I told her that the man in the song wasn't lazy. He'd spent his life getting up each morning, going to his job and working like the devil. And now he's gotten old and gray, and sweated till he was all wrinkled like a prune... and just wants it to be over; he just wants the pain and weariness to end so he can die, go to Heaven and rest in the arms of the Lord.
Here's the second chapter of that story:
From that point on, my mother would call me into the living room whenever Frankie Laine was going to be on tv ("The Ed Sullivan Show," "Laugh-In," "Playboy After Dark," "Mike Douglas," "Dinah!," etc.), and we'd watch him together.
Mom was also a Frankie Laine fan. I don't know if he was her favorite singer, but he was certainly one of her favorites. Each Autumn, when we'd see a flock of wild geese flying in their "V" pattern overhead, she'd look up and recite "My heart knows what the wild goose know, and I must go where the wild goose goes" as if it were a line of poetry by Walt Whitman (which, for many years I assumed it was).
Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was ten. She had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and such, and the cancer went into remission... for a few months. The following year, it came back with a vengeance and was now located in her bones.
She took us to lunch at the local Hardee's ("local" meaning two towns over) to break the news. She said that the odds of surviving bone cancer were much worse than probably any other kind -- about 1 in 25,000. I fought back my tears as best I could and asked her if that meant she was going to die, while my sister and brother (who were 9 and 7) just broke into tears. Mom quickly downplayed it (a bit), saying that she could be the 1 in 25,000 who makes it, and that we'd just have to pray for the best and wait and see.
From that point on, we never spoke about her dying. We'd talk about her illness, but always as though it were commonly understood that she'd eventually recover. I don't know if my siblings were taken in, but at 11, I was intellectually aware enough to know that she was getting steadily worse, and that the likelihood of her being that 1 in 25,000 was almost non-existent.
My music teacher was offering private lessons that August, and Mom signed me up. The lessons were given at the school where both he and my mother taught. The day of my first lesson, the Principal's secretary noticed her waiting in the hallway and called her into the office, offered her a seat and basically treated her like she was ready to keel over dead. She meant well, of course, but it made my mother uncomfortable. From then on, she'd drop me off, and have me wait in between the double doors by the Principal's office for her to pick me up. She'd arrive 5 - 10 minutes late, and I'd run out to the car (thereby avoiding the unwanted attentions of the secretary).
One day, as I got into the car after my music lesson, she told me that she needed to make a run to "Sally's." Mrs. Somebodyorother had asked her if she knew where she could get a certain kind of hook and eye attachment for a dress, and Mom had offered to check at Sally's for her. Sally's was a fabric outlet in the town next to ours. It was located in an old two-story building on the town's main street, and I always liked to play out imaginary scenarios about being a secret agent shooting it out with the bad guy while hiding behind the giant rolls of linen.
She apologized and offered to drop me off at home if I preferred, but I was like "Are you kidding? I love going to Sally's!"
After playing secret agent for 15-20 minutes, I went downstairs to check in with her. She was in a hurry to get out. I pointed out a lacy hook and eye set near the cash register, but she claimed she'd already seen it and that it wasn't the right kind. Mom continued to rush me out of the beloved store saying that there was going to be a special show on the radio that she really wanted to hear. The show was going to be on at some point between 2 and 2:30 (or somesuch half hour block) and that since it was already a few minutes after 2, she might have missed it.
It sounded a little fishy to me, so I proceeded to question her about the show as we hurried to the car. She just smiled and told me that if we haven't already missed it, I'll find out for myself. When we got in the car, she immediately switched on the local oldies station... which was playing their usual music. I told her that it didn't seem like there was going to be any special interview, but she just said "we'll see." And, being a fan of the music they played, I had no problem listening to it while she realized her mistake.
About a mile from our house, I heard the familiar opening guitar chords to "That Lucky Old Sun" (the 1957 version) come over the radio. Now Mom loved this song and would often turn up the volume a notch and sing along, but this time she took things to the extreme. As soon as the music started, she pulled the car over to the side of the road and practically shouted at me to roll up the window. Seeing that it was an August afternoon and that the temperature was probably up in the 90s, I asked her if she was sure she meant "up." She said something like "Yes! Up! Quick! Quick! Quick!," so I complied.
She then turned the volume up all the way -- literally all the way up. Once the windows were up, she started singing along with the song. Now I must have heard her sing that song hundreds, if not thousands of times over the course of my young life, but I had never heard her sing it like *this* before. For starters, Frankie Laine isn't known for being the quietest of singers, and even with the volume maxed out, I could still hear her voice loud and clear. She was literally pouring her heart and soul into it; and soon the tears were flowing down her cheeks.
I began crying as well (bittersweet/happy tears), because I realized what was going on. She had remembered my telling her what the song meant to me when I was two, and was singing it so that I'd know that she was okay with dying. She had fought the cancer long enough, and was tired of all the suffering and pain and just wanted it to be over, and to be at peace in the arms of the Lord.
When she was finished she looked at me and smiled through her tears. She was out of breath, but looked as though a 10,000 lb weight had just been lifted off her chest because -- she saw that I knew what she was doing. It was one of those rare moments where our thoughts were at one (like "grokking" or a Vulcan mind meld) and we *knew* what the other one was feeling.
We never had to say another word about it. Just over two months later she died in her sleep in a hospital bed that had been set up in our living room.
"That Lucky Old Sun" was Frankie Laine's first #1 record and his 5th to go gold.
3) MULE TRAIN
I've got 7 versions of this by Laine (5 records, 2 live broadcasts). My favorite is the original version, where Laine is backed by The Muleskinners, Mitch Miller & His Orchestra (The Muleskinners were just an in-joke reference to Miller's ork and chorus). "Mule Train" was Laine's second #1 record, knocking "That Lucky Old Sun" out of the top slot, and his 6th to go gold. It's also a wonderful snatch of Americana wherein listeners are given a peek into life on the American frontier by hearing a mule train driver tell of the various packages and letters he's delivering.
Here's the hit version: