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America’s Greatest Music: Beyond The Sea, etc. December 25, 2013

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Pop Culture.
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Bobby-Darin-Thats-AllThe past five days mark of the 55th Anniversary of some of the best records made over that span of time.  Starting on Dec. 19 1958, Bobby Darin and the in-house orchestra at Atco Records (a pop subsidiary label of Atlantic), conducted by Richard Weiss, cut the tracks for the album that arguably would define his career:  “That’s All.”

By this time, Darin had already established himself in the teen market with hits such as “Splish Splash” (1957) and “Queen of the Hop” (1958) and “Dream Lover” (1959), but everyone thought he was crazy when we wanted to cut an album for the adult market.  Nevertheless, the Atco executives green-lit the project, and in late December of ’58, these key tracks were cut, starting with what would become the biggest record of 1959, “Mack the Knife.”

Recorded on Dec. 19, 1958, this song was written by Bertholt Brecht for his famous “Threepenny Opera” (little known fact:  it was originally written in German) 30 years earlier, and Louis Armstrong had already given a bit of new life to the song with a hit of it in 1956.  But no matter who came before or later (Dean Martin did a live performance of it in ’59), Darin clearly owns the song with this definitive version, which remains an all-time classic to this day.

That same recording date, Darin also cut “That’s the Way Love Is,” which is also a fine record, and one that does an excellent job of nailing the feeling one feels when a guy has that one special woman in his life and how strangely all that works.

In between this aforementioned span of time, he also cut two other dynamite records, both being strong, jazzy versions of the standards “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise,” and “I’ll Remember April,” which are great for getting you up in the morning.

But the session was capped off with another definite pop record of the 1950s, and of Darin ‘s career:  “Beyond the Sea.”  The song was first recorded as “La Mer” by Charles Trenet in 1946, but Darin sang it to the English lyrics we all know and love today.  If ever somebody dear to you has been situated overseas, this song is the ultimate morale-booster, and it was recorded on Christmas Eve of 1958, 55 years ago today.

Oh, and the title cut was, ironically, the last track on this album: it’s arrangement is, er, rather unique compared to the more traditional arrangements of this particular standard.

America’s Greatest Music: The Diamond Anniversary of two Artie Shaw Classics November 18, 2013

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The legendary Artie Shaw and his band recorded two songs 75 years ago today that personified why he was one of the best of the best of that era or of any era.

Seventy-five years ago today, the great Artie Shaw recorded two of his greatest records.  No, not the greatest of them all, which of course is his venerable, timeless, “Begin the Beguine”, but these two are quite close to the top.

One of which is “Between A Kiss And A Sigh”,

While the other is “Deep In A Dream”.  Both feature the superb lyrics of a young Helen Forrest, who made her major league debut with Shaw’s band before moving on to Benny Goodman at the beginning of 1940.

Both recordings are wonderful in that they personify the difficult combination of music that exudes smoothness while at the same time maintaining a good, bouncy tempo.  These two tunes give the sensation of being in a high-brow Art Deco nightclub in the late 1930s, which is always the ideal of where one wants to be for a night on the town!

As far as the lyrics go, they are relatively simple compared to the unmatched eloquence of something penned by, say, Cole Porter or Ira Gershwin.  This particularly pertains to the former song, though the latter is not devoid of vivid lyrics.  One example:

“The smoke makes a stairway for you to descend:  You come to my arms; my this bliss never end!”

What this shows is that even songs that would by themselves not make the cut for the Great American Songbook are still timeless when given the right kind of arrangement and are paired with the right performer.  Obviously this is the case with both of these records.  But what is also shows is that even if their lyrics cannot match the poignance of Gershwin’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” or the vivid metaphors of Porter’s “You’re the Top,” they nevertheless are well-written enough to remind us yet again that when it came to writing songs and making music in general, these tunes were from a time when there was an embarrassments of riches — of great lyrics!

And on top of that, they’re just great records.

But wait, there’s more!  In addition to the two aforementioned hits, he recorded a few others on Nov. 17 , 1938 as well, such as his version of “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise,” the lyrics of which were written by none other than Oscar Hammerstein II in 1928.  But in typical Artie Shaw fashion, he scrapped the lyrics this time and concentrated on the music itself.

Disclaimer:  Artie Shaw recorded on RCA Bluebird.  What they show in the video is a mid-1950s Mercury label.  Why, I don’t know.  Furthermore, all of these tunes would have been cut and pressed on 78 RPM records, not 45’s, which were not introduced until 1949.

But I digress.  The band also recorded one of their versions of “Copenhagen” during this same session.

If that’s not enough, Artie Shaw and his band also cut a nice ditty in “Thanks For Everything”, surely a sentiment we love to share with friends, loved ones, and significant others alike.  Naturally, Helen Forrest’s vocals add just the right tough to this track.