Posts Tagged ‘Percy Faith’

Sometimes It’s Not So Easy

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

On occasion, my fascination with easy listening music jumps out of the speakers and bites my ears.

I was puttering at the computer yesterday, posting a note or two on Facebook, checking email, keeping an eye on the news from Ukraine and scoping out the latest rumors about the Minnesota Vikings and the upcoming NFL draft. Keeping me company was the RealPlayer, chugging along on random and offering me some current Americana, some 1960s and 1970s pop, some 1950s R&B and the occasional bit of a film soundtrack.

And then came this:

I winced and then laughed at Ray Conniff’s pretty much clueless take on “Happy Days” (found on the 1976 album TV Themes), and then I took a look to see exactly how much music I have by Ray Conniff in the files. It turns out to be 227 mp3s. That means that Conniff should have been listed in the Top 20 artists I posted a few weeks ago, coming in at No. 15, just ahead of Richie Havens. Why wasn’t he? Because some of his albums were credited to just Ray Conniff, others to Ray Conniff & The Singers, others yet to Ray Conniff & His Orchestra and so on, and that inconsistency, along with my inattention to detail that day, kept Conniff off my chart.

Why so much Conniff? Because I do love – generally – easy listening music from the 1950s through the 1970s, probably in large part because the work of Conniff and his easy listening brethren reminds me of the years of Hula Hoops and Erector sets on through the years of madras shirts and eventually mood rings. So my love for the music is mostly nostalgia, but that’s a potent enough force as it is.

And then there’s the fact that some of the easy listening tunes in the stacks are pretty good music. In terms of execution, nostalgic weight and chart performance, it’s hard to beat “Theme from ‘A Summer Place’” by Percy Faith, which was No. 1 for nine weeks in 1960. There were many other decent easy listening pieces during the years of my youth; many of those are in my files; some, I have to assume, are not.

But it’s not at all difficult to find easy listening missteps like Conniff’s “Happy Days,” especially when the easy listening folks tried to translate pop-rock hits into instrumentals palatable for their audience (generally older folks, of course, as well as the unhip kids like me). And since pratfalls are often more fun than graceful success, I thought I’d wander through the collection and find some easy listening efforts that are not at all easy to listen to.

So here are a couple from 1969: A clueless take on Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie” from Billy Vaughn’s Theme From Love Story and a flighty version of the Doors’ “Touch Me” from Enoch Light & The Brass Menagerie, Vol. 1.*

I could dig further for hard listening, but I won’t. Instead I’ll close with a couple of covers that are interesting takes on popular songs. On his 1970 album Doc Severinsen’s Closet, the Tonight Show band leader of the time took some chances by covering a number of intriguing titles (including a cover I once shared here of “Court of the Crimson King”). The one that caught my ear this morning was his cover of the Chairmen of the Board’s “Give Me Just A Little More Time” (into which Severinsen incorporated a quote from “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” from the group then called Chicago Transit Authority).

And as I dug around in the 121 tracks I have from dual pianists Ferrante & Teicher, I came across their cover of Paul Simon’s “The Sound of Silence.” Ferrante & Teicher occasionally missed the sense of a song; there are some missteps in their work. But far more often than not, at least to the ears of this easy listening fan, they succeeded in translating pop songs into their own idiom. I think they did so with “The Sound of Silence,” which was on their 1969 album Midnight Cowboy.

*I was going to make it a trio of missteps from 1969 by including Franck Pourcel’s version of Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525”, which seems to have first been issued on the Bolivian release En El Anno 2525, but after a couple of listens, I’m liking it.

Instrumental Digging: 1950-1999

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

We continue today seeking the answer to a question sparked by our digging into instrumental music the other week: Which instrumentals ranked highest in the year-end listings in each of the decades of the 1900s? I looked at the years 1900-1949 late last week. Today, we’ll return to Joel Whitburn’s A Century of Pop Music and look at the more familiar music that came along during the years from 1950 to 1999.

1950s: The highest-ranking instrumental in any single year of the 1950s was the mambo “Cherry Pink & Apple Blossom White” by Perez Prado, which was the No. 1 record for 1955. The highest ranking instrumental for the decade as a whole was The Third Man Theme” by Anton Karas, 1950’s No. 3 record, which was No. 6 for the decade. Perez Prado’s record fell in at No. 10 on the decade list.

1960s: The highest-ranking instrumental in any single year of the 1960s was “The Theme From A Summer Place by Percy Faith & His Orchestra, which was the No. 1 single for all of 1960. When the Sixties ended almost ten years later, Faith’s record was the top-ranked instrumental for the decade, ranking second among all records during the 1960s to only the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” (Paul Mauriat’s “Love Is Blue,” which I featured last week, was the No. 3 record in 1968 and the No. 12 record for the overall decade.)

1970s: According Whitburn, the highest-ranking instrumental in any single year of the 1970s is “Fly, Robin, Fly” by Silver Convention, the No. 2 record for all of 1975 (behind the Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together”). I might disagree with Whitburn’s classifying the record as an instrumental, as the record has words: “Fly, Robin, Fly/Up, up to the sky.” But given that the vocals are more of a chant than anything else (and that similar chant-like vocals show up in other records classified as instrumentals), I’d concede. As to the highest-ranking instrumental of the decade, I have to guess, as not one instrumental made the Top 40 records of the 1970s. My guess would be “Fly, Robin, Fly,” based on its three weeks at No. 1, a span of time no other instrumental matched during the decade. (Three instrumentals spent two weeks at No. 1 during the 1970s: “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB with the Three Degrees in 1974, “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” by Meco in 1977, and “Rise” by Herb Alpert in 1979.)

1980s: The decade was a grim one for instrumental hits. Only three instrumentals were listed among the four hundred records that comprise the ten annual Top 40 listings for the 1980s. Of those three, the highest ranking was “Chariots of Fire – Titles” by Vangelis, which was the No. 15 record for 1982. (The other two ranked instrumental were from 1985: “Miami Vice Theme: by Jan Hammer and “Axel F” by Harold Faltenmyer, which came in at Nos. 24 and 37, respectively, in that year’s final listing.) And, as was the case with the 1970s, no instrumental made the list of the decade’s Top 40 records. One has to think, given the year-by-year rankings mentioned above, that “Chariots of Fire – Titles” was the decade’s highest-ranked instrumental.

1990s: If the 1980s were a dismal time for instrumentals in the charts, I have no words at all to describe the 1990s. Only one instrumental single made any of the ten year-end Top 40 listings: “Theme from Mission: Impossible” by Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen of U2 ranked No. 39 for the year of 1996 and would, most likely, be the decade’s top instrumental. And that brings this exploration to a whimpering halt.

Note: The linked video for “Fly, Robin, Fly,” is of the album track; the single ran about two minutes shorter, but I don’t own the single, and the only good video of the single has some NSFW artwork. As to the other linked videos, I’m reasonably sure that the linked videos from the 1950s and 1960s feature the original singles, and I have no certainty at all about the music in the linked videos from the 1980 and 1990s.

Saturday Single No. 292

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

In a note I appended to yesterday’s post, I mentioned the Ace Bar & Grill as the site of a minor epiphany. After finishing the note and sending the amended post out through the Intertubes, I realized that it was the second time in six weeks that I’d mentioned the establishment, which is one of the anchors of life here on the East Side of St. Cloud: I noted in a post at the end of March that my mother and I eat lunch at the Ace nearly every Friday.

And I wondered for the third or fourth time in a few weeks: How many other times have I mentioned the Ace? Given that my family has been dining there fairly regularly for more than fifty years, and given that much of my writing here is about the East Side and about the things that connect me with my roots, I must have written something about the pleasant niche in my memories where the Ace sits.

As I said, the question had been hanging around in my head for a while. So late last night I did a search through the EITW archives for earlier mentions of the Ace Bar, the Ace Cafe (which is what we sometimes called it when it was the Ace Bar & Cafe) and the Ace Grill, and there was nothing there. Not a word.

Well, there are some things to write about the Ace, some tales to tell that may not matter to anyone but me and the ghosts of East St. Germain. Given the restrictions I’ve placed on Saturday posts here at EITW, though, this isn’t the day to delve into those veins in the cavern wall. I think I’ll find ore enough there for more than a single post with one song.

Why? Well, I noticed something during the last two lunch stops at the Ace, something that did not surprise me at all. Last week, my mom – who is ninety – and I were seated as usual in the main dining room, a room that’s generally no more than hall-full at that time of day, and we started our lunch the way we almost always do: a glass of chardonnay for her and a pint of Fat Tire for me. As we sat and sipped our drinks, waiting for the waitress to return, I happened to hear the music coming faintly from the speakers in the high ceiling: The theme from “A Summer Place.”

It might have been the hit version by Percy Faith (nine weeks at No. 1 in 1960), but I’m not sure. It was followed by another tune from the early 1960s – I sadly have forgotten which one – also in an easy listening style. And then another. I kind of nodded. It made sense, given the general demographic of the noontime crowd at the Ace, which skews much closer to my mother’s age than mine.

On our visit yesterday, I paid more attention to the music than I had before. And as we ate our lunch, in between conversation with my mom, I heard an instrumental version of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose” and after a few more tunes, there came an instrumental version of Peggy Lee’s 1969 hit, “Is That All There Is?” (With its oddly stoic and disaffected lyric removed, the latter turns out to be quite a pretty song.) And all the songs were in a style that could well have aired on the FM side of St. Cloud’s KFAM fifty years ago when that station was the home of what was called “beautiful music.”

There’s a bar room at the Ace, of course. It’s around the corner and down a short corridor from the dining room where Mom and I have lunch. I’ve never spent any time in the bar at the Ace. From what I hear when I walk past that corridor, it’s a little bit louder, which is unsurprising, and I have a sense that a little after five o’clock on a weekday, it gets a little crowded with a mix of folks who work here on the East Side or stop by on their ways home from elsewhere. Now, I’ve got nothing against spending some time in a crowded bar room; I’ve done so on many occasions and will no doubt do so again.

But the bar at the Ace exists in current time. And when I’m at the Ace, that doesn’t feel quite right. The dining room, with its wood and brass and its murmurs of conversation and whispers of beautiful music, feels like elsewhen. Even though the entire place was reconfigured and rebuilt after a disastrous fire about twenty years ago, when I’m sipping my Fat Tire on Fridays, I can see the place as it was between forty and fifty years ago, when a young whiteray thought there weren’t a lot of better places to go in St. Cloud than the Ace Bar & Cafe.

I’ll dig into those memories soon, and we’ll see how much ore there actually is in that vein. In the meantime, let’s go back to the tune that got this slow train of thought moving the other week. Like so much of what shows up in this space – words and music alike – Percy Faith’s 1960 hit “Theme from ‘A Summer Place’” is romantic with hints of melancholy, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.