Best of the Best
It was quite a shock to me after learning that the great singer Tony Bennett had decided to allow the public to know about his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Tony has been such an inspiration to many, and has been a consistent artist for decades within the musical world. Like Frankie Laine, Tony has always been a true interpreter of the lyric line in every song he sang.
Unfortunately, our list of great singers has significantly diminished over the years. The news about Tony’s diagnosis really encouraged me to think about our changing music landscape. Sure, there are a number of great pop singers out there, but, with exceptions of course, most seem to be more interested in singing around a strong poom-poom-poom beat and dressing outrageously, than focusing on vocal artistry. Many of today’s singers seem to me to be more intent on flaunting their vocal ranges in each song—like a roller coaster, rather than sustaining a classy vocal style that both touches and inspires listeners. Nat Cole, Billie Holliday, and Frank Sinatra didn’t need to demonstrate how many high notes they could hit while performing. Frankie Laine created his own rhythmic vocal signature. He didn’t rely on a computerized pattern. The more this seems to happen with singers, the greater the prospect this style will be imitated. Singers don’t seem to own a special “sound” or signature style anymore.
Frankie and Tony are two of the best examples of the best of the best when it comes to vocal excellence in class, ability, style, and melody. Thank God for recordings and the very few singers who still add class to their performances.
Recently, I have rediscovered on of my favorite Frankie Laine albums: Balladeer. This was a 1959 Columbia Records release. The songs on this album really inspired me when I first began collecting Frankie Laine recordings in the late 1970s. From the dynamic “Rocks and Gravel” to the haunting and melodic “Lucy D.” I used to listen to this album every day. “Rocks and Gravel” became one of the favorites of my wife, Marlene. She loves Frankie’s performance of this song. She even has it in her music files on her smartphone!
It’s been written that one of the songs from the album, “Lucy D,” is a melody that sounds like the later Simon & Garfunkel hit, “Scarborough Fair,” but depicts the murder of a beautiful young woman by her unrequited lover.
“New Orleans,” reminiscent of the earlier album by Frankie Laine and Jo Stafford, Portrait of New Orleans, would interestingly enough become “The House of the Rising Sun”—a mega-hit for the British Group the Animals, a few years later.
It is this type of singing excellence and class—and there are so many more examples—that we will miss, unless we have a resurgence of singers who are interested in promoting a vocal style rather than a dance step or funky look.
In the coming years, let’s hope that we encounter a resurgence of excellent singers that give meaning, once again, to the word “excellence.”