Posts Tagged ‘Biddu Orchestra’

‘The Summer Smiles . . .’

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Whiling away an hour the other evening, the Texas Gal and I sat in the living room with the television playing one of the forty or so available music channels. We listen to maybe ten of them, including adult alternative, current country, classic country, blues and the Seventies. We’d chosen the latter on that recent evening, as the Texas Gal puttered on her laptop and I made my way through Catching Fire, the second volume of the Hunger Games trilogy.

Then from the speakers came the first strains of Peter Nero’s version of the “Theme from ‘Summer of ’42’,” and I looked up from my book and looked back at a summer day in 1971. I wrote here once – in a post that has not yet found its way into the archive site – that on a rainy day during that summer, my workmates and I were told to remove from boxes about two hundred new file cabinets intended for use in St. Cloud State’s new Education Building. That is true.

I also wrote that we had a radio playing as we tore open boxes and set up file cabinets, and that, too is true. But I wrote that we heard on the radio the Peter Nero version of “Theme from ‘Summer of ’42’.” And that was probably not true. Nero’s single first reached the Billboard Hot 100 in October of 1971, eventually peaking at No. 21 in December. (It went to No. 6 on the Adult Contemporary chart.) So it’s extremely unlikely that we heard it that June day in the Education Building, where our radio was almost certainly tuned to the Twin Cities’ KDWB.

But something in my memory links that rainy day of unboxing file cabinets with the theme from The Summer of ’42. I’m still not certain after puzzling over this for a few days, but I think I’d seen the movie the evening before – I know I did see it that summer – and was still playing Michel Legrand’s elegant and melancholy main theme in my head.

I recall thinking as I left the theater that I should find the soundtrack to the film. I never did. I bought two records that summer: Stephen Stills and the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. And the soundtrack to The Summer of ’42 fell from my memory. I might have thought of it finding it when Nero’s version of the theme hit the charts in the latter portions of the year, but that’s doubtful. Although my fondness for mellow instrumentals and movie themes would never go away entirely, my eyes and ears in 1971 were mostly pointed at current and historical pop and rock. I wouldn’t buy an album that didn’t fit into those categories until late 1975, when I picked up a Duke Ellington anthology. And, as I said above, I never did buy Legrand’s soundtrack. (I did get Nero’s Summer of ’42 LP in 1992; I doubt it’s been on the turntable more than once.)

I went looking today, and learned – unsurprisingly – that the album is out of print. What did surprise me is that the price for a used copy of the CD can range from about $35 to more than $180. I also learned at Amazon that the album sold as the soundtrack to The Summer of ’42 isn’t really the soundtrack at all. Two customer reviews at Amazon point out that only two of the tracks on the album come from The Summer of ’42: The main theme in the video above and the end titles music. The commenters said that the remaining ten tracks on the CD come from Legrand’s soundtrack for a 1969 film, Picasso Summer. Given that and the price, I likely won’t bother with the CD.

Whether I have the CD or not, Legrand’s theme – also titled “The Summer Knows” after the lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman – remains a beautiful piece of music, and hearing Nero’s version the other day not only spurred me to look for the soundtrack, but it made me wonder about other covers. Most of the names that pop up are not too surprising: Frank Sinatra, Jessye Norman, Barbra Streisand, Nana Mouskouri, Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Vicki Carr, Mantovani, Henry Mancini. Some are unknown to me: Yuri Sazonoff, Bengt Hallberg and Arne Domnérus, Ali Ryerson and more. And Legrand did his own cover version on what seems to be a solo piano album, Michel Legrand by Michel Legrand, which came out in 2002. The most recent covers seem to be those from 2011 by singer Melissa Errico and jazz duo Roger Davidson & David Finck.

A couple of the covers were more interesting than most. An Indian-British producer by the name of Biddu Appaiah – he produced Carl Douglas’ 1974 hit “Kung Fu Fighting” – discofied Legrand’s tune in 1975 and released it under the name of the Biddu Orchestra. The record went to No. 14 in the U.K. and to No. 57 on this side of the pond.

And Maynard Ferguson recorded a – for him – fairly subdued version of the theme for his 1972 album MF Horn, Vol. 2. The LP went to No. 6 on the Jazz Albums chart.

As to which cover I prefer, I should note that I’ve not heard many of them in full. As I did some wandering around this morning, I was prepared to like Frank Sinatra’s cover, but I found it kind of lifeless. Legrand’s 2002 cover is a bit too ornate for the simplicity of the melody, with flourishes and runs that remind me of the piano style of the late Roger Williams (who released his own cover of Legrand’s theme in 1971). None of the covers I heard this morning really knock me out. But I do like Ferguson’s take on the tune.