Posts Tagged ‘Henry Mancini’

‘A Time For Us . . .’

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

A quick glance this morning at the Billboard Hot 100 from July 26, 1969 – forty-eight years ago today – brought back a treasured memory from the following summer. Perched at No. 10 this week in 1969 was Henry Mancini’s cover of “Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet.”

During early August of 1970, I spent a week at Boy Scout camp as an instructor for Troop 112, which was sponsored by our church, St. Cloud’s Salem Lutheran. I was also the troop’s bugler, rousing our scouts every morning with a poor version of “Reveille” and easing them into their sleeping bags at night with “Taps,” a tune more suited for my skills.

On one of the evenings we spent in the pines of Camp Clyde (or perhaps Parker Scout Reserve, which became the camp’s name somewhere along the line), the boys in my troop asked me to play some music on my horn as we sat around a campfire. I was pretty good at playing by ear, so I offered them a few tunes we’d all heard on the radio over the past year. After about fifteen minutes, with my fellow scouts pretty attentive for adolescent boys, I decided to close my little show with the “Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet,” perhaps better known by that time as “A Time For Us.”

By the summer of 1970, I’d been playing my cornet for about six years, and I’d play for another two or three, but I don’t know if I’ve ever played any better than I did during those three or so minutes when I offered Nino Rota’s melody to my troop members and to those scouts at other campsites within earshot in the pine forest. As the last notes from my horn faded in the fire-lit dark, the scouts from Troop 112 were utterly silent. And a few moments later, over their silence, came faint applause from several directions, as scouts at those other campsites offered their appreciation.

Here’s Mancini’s version:

I can’t remember if I had read William Shakespeare’s play by 1968, when Franco Zeffirelli’s film version came out, the film for which Nino Rota wrote the theme that Mancini covered with his 1969 record. But I was certainly aware by then of the plot of the play; the budding romantic in me would have latched tightly onto the theme of doomed love. And the tune was beautiful, so when Mancini’s version hit the airwaves during the summer of 1969, I was a willing absorber.

Where did I hear Mancini’s record? All over the place, no doubt. The record was No. 1 on KDWB’s “6+30” for the week of June 23, 1969, so I’m sure I heard it as I was hanging around with my friends, even though I was still a few weeks away from bringing my grandfather’s old RCA radio up to my room from the basement to feed my burgeoning interest in Top 40 music. And I certainly heard it elsewhere, too. Not only did Mancini’s record spend the last week of June and the first week of July at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, it spent all of June and July on top of the magazine’s Easy Listening chart, which meant I would have heard it on the Twin Cities’ WCCO as well as on St. Cloud’s WJON and KFAM.

Mancini’s version of the tune was the only one to hit the Top 40, although Johnny Mathis placed a vocal cover – “Love Theme From ‘Romeo And Juliet’ (A Time For Us)” – at No. 8 on the Easy Listening chart. I don’t recall hearing Mathis’ version until I sought it out this morning, and although I’ve generally liked Mathis’ work over the years, I didn’t care for it. I pondered that, and as I did, I took a look at the digital shelves here and got a slight surprise: Of the nineteen versions of the tune here at the EITW studios, seventeen are instrumentals.

The only two vocal versions are by the Lettermen and Bobby Sherman. And even I shake my head at the latter name. The Lettermen, I can understand. Their version of the tune was on the 1969 album Hurt So Bad, an album my sister owned and that I listened to regularly in the basement rec room on Kilian Boulevard. But the Bobby Sherman version of the tune isn’t something I would have sought on its own; all I can figure is that when I looked for Sherman’s version of Bob Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings,” I found it on Sherman’s self-titled album from 1969 and “A Time For Us” came along as collateral damage.

Anyway, as the digital evidence points out, I prefer the Rota tune without the words. And it turns out the words we’ve heard so frequently for almost fifty years weren’t the original ones. The song was originally titled “What Is A Youth,” with lyrics by Eugene Walter. It was performed in Zeffirelli’s film by Glen Weston during the scene that sets up the first meeting of Romeo and Juliet at a party at the Capulet home. (The video of that scene – with the original performance of the original lyrics – cannot be embedded but can be seen here.)

Those lyrics – seemingly well-suited for the film’s setting in Renaissance Italy, have long since been pushed out of mass awareness by the lyrics crafted for the tune by Eddie Snyder and Larry Kusik. According to Second Hand Songs, those lyrics, with the song bearing the title “A Time For Us,” were first recorded in 1968 by Merrill Womach, a forty-one year old undertaker and gospel singer from Spokane, Washington. It was released on his 1968 album A Time For Us.

The first release of “A Time For Us” by a well-known performer followed quickly, according to the list at SHS: Shirley Bassey released her version of the song on her 1968 album This Is My Life, and the Lettermen followed with their version the next year. After that, SHS lists thirty-four more vocal versions.

As to instrumental versions, the first, says SHS, was Rota’s use of his theme in the film’s soundtrack under the title “In Capulet’s Tomb.” The first cover listed there came from Mancini, and the website lists forty-two more recordings under the title of “Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet.”

Add a few instrumentals recorded as “A Time For Us” and about fifteen versions listed in Italian, Portuguese and Finnish (!), and there are about a hundred versions of the tune listed at SHS. There are no doubt more out there. My favorite? The Mancini version, although I’m tempted to say that my favorite version is the one that I sent out among the pines one summer night in 1970.

One Chart Dig, August 1969

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

I’ve told the tale before: It was about this time of year in 1969 when I pulled the RCA radio that had been my grandfather’s from a shelf in the basement, took it up to my room and tuned it, most likely, to KDWB, the only Twin Cities Top 40 station that we could get in St. Cloud. After several years of ignoring pop music – though I heard it all around me – it was time to listen, and to learn.

Why then? I’ve addressed that question here at least once and thought about it many more times, and I’m still uncertain. Part of it was hearing the radio in the football locker room and wanting to fit in there. But part of it was just that the time was right, and I can’t explain that except to say that I was at a point where I needed something musically that I wasn’t getting from Al Hirt and John Barry and the rest of my regular listening.

So what did I hear that day or maybe that evening, when I would have tuned the radio to WJON just across the tracks or to Chicago’s WLS? Well, here’s the Billboard Top Ten from this week in 1969, forty-five years ago:

“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash
“Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & The Shondells
“Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond
“In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)” by Zager & Evans
“Put A Little Love In Your Heart” by Jackie DeShannon
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White
“Get Together” by the Youngbloods
“Laughing” by the Guess Who

That’s a hell of a Top Ten although I know many folks might want to edit out the Zager & Evans single. And as I scan the Billboard Hot 100 for August 23, 1969, I know nearly all of the Top 40 and most of the Hot 100. It’s when we drop below No. 100 and get into the Bubbling Under section of the chart that things become much less familiar. There were twenty-eight records listed in that week’s Bubbling Under section, and only one of them made it into the Top 40: “Sugar On Sunday” by the Clique, which went to No. 22. So what else was down there?

Well, I’m going to throw one onto the table today and probably deal out four more bubblers tomorrow.

Earlier in 1969, Henry Mancini had topped the Hot 100 for two weeks (and the Adult Contemporary chart for eight weeks) with the “Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet,” his sixth Top 40 hit. The follow-up was Mancini’s abridged version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata:

The record made it only to No. 87, which I think is too bad. I like it a lot, as it scratches my itch for easy listening while at the same time reminding me of the many times I tried to play the Moonlight Sonata (and I may try the piece again; my book of Beethoven sonatas is on the shelf on the other side of the room). Mancini would get back to the Top 40 in early 1971, when “Theme From Love Story” would go to No. 13.

‘And A Thousand Violins Begin To Play . . .’

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

The other afternoon, the Seventies music channel provided the background as I dozed for a while on the couch. I kept the volume low, but every once in a while, I’d wake up and listen for a moment, just to see how deeply into the decade the channel digs. (Not very deeply, generally.)

At one point, when I raised my awareness, I heard Roberta Flack: “The first time . . . ever I saw your face . . .” I went back to sleep, and as I did, a connection flickered between a movie and Flack’s record, which spent six weeks during the spring of 1972 at No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary chart (and went to No. 4 on the R&B chart). And as the song ended and the music shifted to something from 1979, I went back to sleep, remembering the connection.

The movie was Play Misty For Me, the tale of a late-night jazz disc jockey and a fan who regularly requests the classic Erroll Garner record “Misty.” Over the course of the movie, the fan goes from devoted listener to lover to demented slasher. The film, directed by Clint Eastwood – who plays the disc jockey – was the destination in late 1971 for the first date I had with my first college girlfriend. And it was the first time I’d ever heard of the classic tune “Misty.”

The tune was written by Garner (with lyrics added later by Johnny Burke) and was first recorded by the Erroll Garner Trio and released as a single in 1955:

Shortly after learning about the tune, I came across it in a guitar book I was using as a fake book for piano, and I began to put together my own arrangement. I tried several approaches, ranging from slow minimalism to a bouncy trip, sometimes decorating the tune with some added sixth and major seventh chords, but I never felt at home with the song, and quit playing it. It might have helped, I suppose, if I had ever sought out and listened to the numerous versions of the song that were available on record, but I never thought of that. And the next time I heard the song was a few years later when I heard what Doc Severinsen and Henry Mancini had done with “Misty” on their 1972 album Brass on Ivory.

That cover remains one of my favorites in a list that stretches back to a 1955 cover version by jazz pianist Johnny Costa. The list of covers offered at Second Hand Songs (not necessarily a complete list, but likely pretty good) starts there and goes on to the 2010 cover by the Sachal Studios Orchestra that includes traditional Indian instruments and a 2011 version by singer Michael Ball. Some of the more interesting names among the earlier instrumentals on that list are Toots Thielemans, King Curtis, Buddy Rich, Cal Tjader, Earl “Fatha” Hines and Stephane Grapelli.

When it comes to vocal covers, the list includes the performance that a lot of people might think is the essential version of “Misty,” the 1959 cover by Johnny Mathis that went to No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 10 on the R&B chart. Other noted names who’ve done vocal covers include Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Julie London, Keely Smith, Frank Sinatra, Marty Robbins, Lesley Gore, Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Timi Yuro and more. Not being very conversant with current jazz, either instrumental of vocal, I don’t recognize a lot of the names post-1980.

As to charting versions on or near the Hot 100, they came from Mathis, Sarah Vaughan, Lloyd Price, the Vibrations, Richard “Groove” Holmes and Ray Stevens. Of those versions, neither Vaughan’s standard 1959 vocal (No. 106 on the pop chart) nor Price’s 1963 big band version (No. 21 pop and No. 11 R&B) grab me much.

I didn’t care much for the twangy countrified version that came from Ray Stevens in 1975; I like it better now, but it’s never going to be my favorite version of the song. Other folks liked it well enough, though, as it went to No. 14 on the pop chart, No. 3 on the country chart and No. 8 on the AC chart.

The least familiar name among those that hit the charts with “Misty” is likely that of the Vibrations, a Los Angeles R&B group. I do like the classic R&B sound they brought to “Misty” in 1965 when their version went to No. 63 on the Hot 100 and to No. 26 on the R&B chart.

Next to Stevens’ version, jazz organist Holmes’ 1966 take on the classic tune did the best on the charts, going to No. 44 in the Hot 100, to No. 12 on the R&B chart and to No. 7 on the AC chart. Not long ago, I lucked into a collection of Holmes’ work, and I’ve been digging through that. While I won’t say that his take on “Misty” is my favorite – I tend to lean to Mathis’ classic performance – it’s awfully good.

‘Like A Wheel Within A Wheel . . .’

Friday, July 27th, 2012

After “Windmills of Your Mind” was used – as noted here Tuesday – as the main theme for the 1968 movie The Thomas Crown Affair, covers of the Michel Legrand tune came spinning from many places – in English, with the lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman; in French, with Eddy Marnay’s lyrics; in Dutch; in Danish (as “Sjælens Karrusel,” a 1970 single performed by Pedro Biker that I, sadly, have not yet heard); and eventually, in recent years, in Slovenian and Italian.

(Those are the languages listed today at Second Hand Songs, which is usually pretty comprehensive, but there certainly could be covers in other languages out there.)

The vast majority of the covers listed at Second Hand Songs are, of course, in English; the website lists seventy versions of “Windmills of Your Mind,” beginning with a 1968 cover by Merrill Womach, who is described at Wikipedia as “an American undertaker, organist and gospel singer.” I’ve never heard Womach’s cover, but other early covers I have heard include those from jazz drummer and singer Grady Tate, guitarist George Benson (who kicked the tempo up way too fast) and rock group Vanilla Fudge (who psychedelicized the tune) in 1969.

(The song has also been covered numerous times in French, too, with the most popular cover – if I’m reading things right – being the 1969 version by Vicky Leandros.)

Also in 1969, Dusty Springfield released the tune as a single, recorded during her brilliant Dusty in Memphis sessions; the record went to No. 31 on the Billboard chart in June of that year. I don’t recall hearing Springfield’s version, and the record doesn’t show up on the Twin Cities radio charts available at The Oldies Loon. But a couple of readers who stopped in this week – Steve E. and Marie – noted that for them, Dusty’s version is the definitive take on the song. Steve E. wrote, “For me, the song belongs to Dusty Springfield. Her version got a lot of airplay in Southern California in summer 1969, and I love both her vocal and the arrangement.”

Despite the large number of covers the song has generated over the years, only two versions of the tune have made it to the pop charts (through 2009, anyway, which is where my copy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles calls it quits). Springfield’s, as I noted above, got to No. 31, and a version by country/pop singer Jimmie Rodgers (“Honeycomb”) went to No. 123 in 1969. It’s not a bad cover, but it’s distinguished more by being Rodgers’ thirtieth and last record in or near the Hot 100 than by anything else.

The past decade has brought out quite a few covers of the tune. Of those I’ve heard, perhaps the most interesting was the trippy 2008 version released by the Parenthetical Girls, an “experimental pop band” (according to Wikipedia) from Everett, Washington. You’ll note I said “most interesting” and not “most listenable.” I also sampled recent versions of the song by singers Melissa Errico, Stephanie Rearick and by Barbra Streisand (from her 2011 album What Matters Most: Barbra Streisand Sings the Lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman), and wasn’t impressed by them, either.

So which is my favorite? Well, somewhere out there is an instrumental version of the tune that I heard on occasion, probably on what would now be called Adult Contemporary radio, right around the time the original version of The Thomas Crown Affair was released. I’m just not sure whose version it was. It might have been the cover by Henry Mancini off his 1969 album A Warm Shade of Ivory, but I’m not putting any money on it. In the absence of surety, I’ll go with Steve E. and Marie and enjoy Dusty Springfield’s take on the song.

From Henry Mancini To MFSB

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Among the least used books in my musical reference library is Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Top 10 Album Charts, and I’m not entirely sure why. Back in 2008, when I was doing a monthly look at music and events of 1968, I used the book for most of those posts, tracking albums through the year. Since then, however, I’ve rarely pulled it off the shelf.

I think it’s because the book has few surprises. I might not know right offhand what the No. 10 album was during the first week of April in 1970, but when I see that it was Willy and the Poorboys by Creedence Clearwater Revival, I think, “Yeah, that make sense.” Digging in a Top Ten list is not like digging in the Hot 100, where unknown gems reside in the lower depths.

But an occasional dip into the book might be fun, so I thought I’d take a look at the Top Tens from the first week of a few Aprils past. The book begins with Billboard magazine’s first comprehensive album chart in August 1963, so the first April in the book is from 1964. Here’s the Top Ten from April 4 of that year:

Meet the Beatles by the Beatles
Introducing . . . the Beatles by the Beatles
Honey in the Horn by Al Hirt
Hello Dolly! by the Original Cast
The Third Album by Barbra Streisand
In The Wind by Peter, Paul & Mary
Yesterday’s Love Songs/Today’s Blues by Nancy Wilson
There! I’ve Said It Again by Bobby Vinton
Peter, Paul & Mary by Peter, Paul & Mary
Charade (original soundtrack) by Henry Mancini

The second album on that list is the famous Vee-Jay album, now a valuable collector’s item, especially in stereo, with prices for a near-mint copy reaching as high as $40,000, according to the “Ask ‘Mr. Music’” feature at DigitalDreamDoor.com.  But according to Wikipedia, nearly every circulating copy of the record – and this is especially true for those labeled as stereo – is a counterfeit. That includes the copy that sits on my shelf. Oh, well.

As to that Top Ten itself, it shows the shift underway from middle of the road tunes, show tunes and soundtracks to rock and pop. I have half of those albums on the shelves – the Beatles, Al Hirt and Peter, Paul & Mary – and I’m a little bit interested in hearing the Nancy Wilson record.

As to the others, neither Hello Dolly! nor the Streisand or Vinton records interest me, but being a soundtrack geek, I like Mancini’s work for Charade a lot, especially the title tune. A single release of the title tune had gone to No. 36 earlier in 1964, and the soundtrack album peaked at No. 6 a week later.

Let’s jump ahead five years to the Top Ten albums from the first week of April 1969:

Wichita Lineman by Glenn Campbell
Blood, Sweat & Tears by Blood, Sweat & Tears
Ball by Iron Butterfly
Goodbye by Cream
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly
Donovan’s Greatest Hits by Donovan
Greatest Hits by the Association
Cloud Nine by the Temptations
Help Yourself by Tom Jones
Bayou Country by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Yes, there was a time when Iron Butterfly ruled the land. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard Ball, but I think I had a copy of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida at one time, and I know I had a copy of the group’s live album. Lots of folks did. Whatever Iron Butterfly I had on vinyl, though, I sold long ago. (I do have digital files of the seventeen minute album version of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and the single edit as well as the group’s 1970 album, Metamorphosis, which isn’t bad.)

As to the rest, it’s a decent set of records, and they all have a place in my stacks except for the Tom Jones album. I do recall the title track, “Help Yourself,” which went to No. 35 on the singles chart. The album peaked at No. 5.

And we’ll jump another five years to the first week of April 1974:

John Denver’s Greatest Hits by John Denver
Band on the Run by Paul McCartney & Wings
Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell
Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield
The Way We Were by Barbra Streisand
Love Is The Message by MFSB
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John
Rhapsody in White by the Love Unlimited Orchestra
Hotcakes by Carly Simon
The Sting (original soundtrack) by Marvin Hamlisch

Boy, that’s a jumble of stuff. The soundtrack to The Sting was notable for its resurrection of the music of Scott Joplin, and two more of those albums were connected with movies: The title track of the Streisand album was also the title track of the movie in which she starred with Robert Redford, and excerpts from Oldfield’s side-long suites were used in The Exorcist.

Beyond that, folks looking for classic albums could find two, perhaps three here: Band on the Run and Court and Spark are great records, and some will make the argument for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, but I’m not sure I’d be persuaded. As long-time readers might anticipate, I’m ambivalent about the John Denver album, and singles are all I really need of MFSB, the Love Unlimited Orchestra and Carly Simon.

Thinking about the way things sound, however, it comes to mind that nothing sounds to me more like 1974 than almost anything from Court and Spark, which peaked at No. 2. We’ll close this brief exercise with the title track.