Posts Tagged ‘Tony Bennett’

‘Oh, The Good Life . . .’

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

I ran an errand the other day for the Texas Gal, something so routine that I’ve forgotten what the errand was, but it brought me near the new home of Uff Da Records, St. Cloud’s only real record store. So I spent some time leaning over the CD tables.

Much of what I saw fell into two categories: Stuff I already had and stuff that didn’t interest me. But I persevered, looking for stuff that will fill small gaps. And I filled a couple. I scored What Is Hip, a two-disc Tower of Power anthology, and I found a greatest hits disc by Tony Bennett.

During the Great Vinyl Selloff a couple of years ago, I kept all ten my Tower of Power LPs, and I think I have all of the group’s 1970s work on the digital shelves. On the other side of the equation, I only ever had two Tony Bennett LPs, and they’re no longer here. Nor have I gathered much of his early work for the digital shelves (although I have his 1994 MTV Unplugged and his 2002 Playin’ With My Friends CDs). So the Bennett CD from Uff Da truly filled a gap, bringing me most of his hits from 1951 to 1972.

And I’ve realized over the past week that the sound of Bennett’s voice is one of the sounds of my childhood. Whether it was my interest in the easy listening sounds of the time or whether it was hearing the music in the background from adults’ radios and record players, Bennett’s 1960s work pulls me back; I hear “I Wanna Be Around” or “Who Can I Turn To,” and I feel the tug of years handing me memories and feelings that seem so distant and yet so immediate.

Oddly enough, Bennett’s most famous tune, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” doesn’t trigger that nostalgia. I guess I’ve heard it too many times in too many places for it to have the kind of weight that many of his other tracks do.

One of those heavier tracks was, for some reason, not on the CD I picked up the other day. The CD, released in 1997, is simply a repackaging of his 1972 two-LP hits album, with the tracks rearranged in chronological order. And it did not include “The Good Life,” which, for whatever reasons, is for me one of the most evocative of Bennett’s singles, as well as one of the more successful: During the summer of 1963, it went to No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 7 on the chart now called Adult Contemporary. I must have heard it a lot, because it takes me back to the early 1960s, not to a specific moment but to a sense of the times.

And I never really realized until this week, when I saw “The Good Life” was absent from the CD and I found a copy and then listened to the words, how melancholy a song “The Good Life” really is:

Oh, the good life, full of fun seems to be the ideal
Mm, the good life lets you hide all the sadness you feel
You won’t really fall in love for you can’t take the chance
So please be honest with yourself, don’t try to fake romance

It’s the good life to be free and explore the unknown
Like the heartaches when you learn you must face them alone
Please remember I still want you, and in case you wonder why
Well, just wake up, kiss the good life goodbye

It’s bittersweet, like so much else that’s attracted me over the years. Either I internalized the words without really knowing it, or else life just hands me these things because I need them. Anyway, here it is:

Saturday Single No. 547

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

A week ago, I wrote about San Francisco and its “lasting and perhaps pre-eminent place in American culture as a destination where one can alternately find or lose or sell or buy one’s self all with the purpose of being the best self one can be.”

Okay, so I was being a bit glib by the end of the sentence, perhaps not wanting to get too weighty on a Saturday morning. But it’s true, I think, that San Francisco has long been used by songwriters (and writers of all type, for that matter) as an ideal. And, as I noted last week, songs about San Francisco abound. I’m not sure how many sit on the digital shelves here, because when I sort the RealPlayer for “San Francisco,” I also get tracks recorded there.

But there are lot of them, starting with eleven versions of “San Francisco Bay Blues” and eleven versions as well of the tune that may be the quintessential song about the city, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” Now, eleven versions aren’t very many, and I was surprised that there weren’t more versions of the latter tune. After all, Second Hand Songs list 135 versions of the tune, and I’m sure there are some that are unaccounted for there. But eleven is what we have.

The first release is probably, to re-use a word, the quintessential version of the song: Tony Bennet’s 1962 release, which went to No. 19 in the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 7 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart. Elegant and controlled, Bennet’s vocal glides above an understated accompaniment, and as I listen to it this morning, I marvel – not for the first time – at Bennet’s voice and delivery.

We’ll take a look at some of the covers of the tune in the near future, but the only thing we need to listen to this morning is Tony Bennett’s 1962 version of “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” today’s Saturday Single.

Busy Times

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

Things got a bit busy around here over the past few days. I missed a Saturday post for maybe the fifth time – I’ve never bothered to count – in more than eight years of blogging. Friday, when I should have written the post, was filled with errands and some quiet time in the evening with the Texas Gal.

And Saturday, I was off early to Rob’s place in St. Francis, and then he and I headed off to Dan’s in the suburb of Plymouth for a nine-team Strat-O-Matic tournament. I brought the 1998 Cubs (with Sammy Sosa’s 66 home runs), and Rob brought the 1936 Yankees. Nine teams make for unwieldy divisions, so Dan organized a double-elimination tournament.

Rob’s Yanks won the whole thing, taking a winner-take-all game from the 1972 Athletics. My Cubs were the first team out, followed quickly by the 1975 Reds, captained by a fellow named Dean. He and I decided to play another game, which I dubbed the Small Consolation Championship. The Cubs won that one, 9-8, and Dan said that consolation play may be a regular feature in the future.

Anyway, that was Saturday: Baseball, old tales, laughter, snacks, beer and friendship. And then I spent the bulk of Sunday at the hospital with my mom. Some discomfort she’d been feeling seems to have a relatively simple solution, but it took some time at the hospital to figure that out. By the time I got her home – having gone back and forth between the hospital, her place and ours a few times during the day – the day was gone.

I spent yesterday doing laundry. And as far as today goes, my body and my soul both are saying I need to rest. So nothing will happen here in this space except this impromptu narrative of the past four days in our lives. I hope to be back at the keyboard tomorrow and offer something more substantial, but we’ll see what life brings.

Speaking of life, I told the RealPlayer to sort out the tracks for the word “life,” and among the tracks that showed up was Toots Thielemans’ 1967 take on the song “The Good Life.” The website Second Hand Songs tells me that the tune was written with the title “Marina” by French singer and guitarist Sacha Distel for a 1962 film titled Les Sept Péchés Capitaux (The Seven Deadly Sins). We may dig into that original and the more than fifty covers of the tune (with the English lyrics by Jack Reardon) on another day.

For now, though, here’s the 1963 version of the tune by Tony Bennett; it went to No. 18 in the Billboard Hot 100.

‘Now When I Remember Spring . . .’

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

“The Shadow of Your Smile” is one of those songs that to me sounds like life in the mid-1960s. I have no idea what version I heard back then, but I’ve known the song since it was released on the soundtrack to the 1965 movie, The Sandpiper. (And my knowledge of the song certainly came through hearing various versions on the radio, as there was no way at the age of eleven or twelve that I would have ever been allowed to see a movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.)

It’s a great song, a judgment supported by several things. The first is that the song earned composer Johnny Mandel and lyricist Paul Francis Webster both the Academy Award for Best Song and the Grammy Award for Song of the Year. Another indicator is that as soon as the song came out, covers began to proliferate and have continued to do so in the forty-eight years since, with the most recent listed cover at Second Hand Songs coming last year from Glen Frey.

Here’s what the song sounded like on the movie soundtrack:

Among the first covers of the song released was a decent performance by Barbra Streisand, off her My Name Is Barbra, Two . . . album, released in 1965. Other early covers that I’ve heard came from Peggy Lee and Astrud Gilberto, neither of which grabbed me much. Among my favorite artists, King Curtis covered the song for his album That Lovin’ Feeling in 1966, and a single by Lou Rawls went to No. 33 on the R&B chart in mid-1966. (I haven’t heard either version; the King Curtis album is supposed to be here somewhere, but I can’t put my hands on it this morning, and the single version by Lou Rawls seems to have been supplanted anywhere I look by a live version from 1966.)

Two versions of the song, those by Tony Bennett and Boots Randolph,  made the Billboard pop and AC charts. Bennett’s cover of the song entered the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1965 and went to No. 95 there while reaching No. 8 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Bennett’s version – which was released on his 1966 LP The Movie Song Album – is notable in that it’s one of the few I’ve heard that begins with the song’s verse, which serves as a prologue. Most versions of the song jump right into the portion that begins with the song’s title.

Randolph’s version of “The Shadow of Your Smile” hit the charts a year later, entering the Hot 100 in December 1966 and reaching No. 93 while going to No. 28 on the AC chart. The cover was also released in 1967 on Randolph’s Boots with Strings album.

Others who covered the song in the first couple years after it came out were Nancy Sinatra, Nancy Wilson, Maynard Ferguson, Bobby Darin, Connie Francis, Billy Vaughn, Jack Jones, David McCallum (better known for his role as Ilya Kuryakin on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Ahmad Jamal, Johnny Mathis, Johnny Rivers, Ferrante & Teicher, Barbara Lewis, Mary Wells, Trini Lopez and Shirley Bassey.  I don’t know all of those, but one of the interesting versions of those I do know is McCallum’s cover, which showed up on his 1966 album, Music – A Bit More of Me. As a classically trained musician, notes Wikipedia, McCallum “conceived a blend of oboe, English horn, and strings with guitar and drums” for arranger H.B. Barnum.

Here’s McCallum’s version of “The Shadow of Your Smile,” which to me seems to have some John Barry-ish/James Bond-ian flourishes at the start. Whether those came from McCallum or from Barnum, they’re entirely appropriate for one of the men from U.N.C.L.E.

And we’ll stop there for today. I’m likely to pick up Thursday with more covers, unless something else grabs my attention.