I was thinking the other day about what is was that made Frankie Laine so unique during his long career. It’s true, and I’ve written this before, that Frankie sang with emotion and passion. He felt every song lyric he sang.
One can be unique in show business, however, but not always enjoy a successful outcome. But Frankie’s entire delivery was part of the enticement. Early in his career In the 1940s, he would sing in theaters, nightclubs, and on radio. He was seen. He would run out onto the stage, use his arms and hands to stylize each song. He would show emotion on his face whether happy or soulful. Therefore, I surmised that it was this entire package that aroused the interest in the populace concerning Frankie Laine. He was unique; he was something people hadn’t seen since the days of Al Jolson. He had his own style—his own special delivery. Not one to stand passively and sing in front of the microphone as the crooners of his generation did, Frankie became an animated part of the song he was singing.
His early years were also an experiment in genres. Always a jazz and blues singer at heart, Frankie branched out with a “pop” hit “That’s My Desire,” which made him world famous by 1947. Further experimentation during these years led to his first and successful attempt at a cowboy song, “Mule Train.” It was settled. Frankie Laine could sing a multitude of genres and make them his own and be successful in doing so.
Soon, Frankie began to enhance his style. His delivery became part of his persona. During the 1950s, with Columbia Records, his voice became richer, his tone warmer, and his energy dynamic. During this period, his delivery escalated to enable him to portray each song. He made his voice a believable part of every song’s story. He was exciting. Again, he sang almost every genre of music available at the time: jazz, blues, ballads, fun songs, popular, standards, spiritual, inspirational, cowboy and gambling songs, gutsy working songs, songs sung in foreign languages, and he even dabbled in the new genre of rock-and-roll.
His voice was arguably in the best shape all during the 1950s. The songs he recorded during this period would come to define him as a musical star. It was also during this period that Frankie worked in movies—both acting in them and singing the theme songs for most of them and seven others. He also hosted his own TV shows during this era. (Of course, later on, Frankie sang the themes for the following television shows: Rawhide, Gunslinger, Rango, and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo.)
After his Columbia recording contract expired in the early 1960s, Frankie signed briefly with Capitol Records. While here, he recorded a host of beautiful inspirational and love songs. But because Capitol was busy promoting the new teen groups of the day, Frankie tried his hand at ABC Records. His two great classics “Making Memories” and “You Gave Me a Mountain” were recorded during his time at ABC.
Frankie’s delivery during this time can be best described as “poetic.” His phrasing was unmatched. His delivery went from expressively happy, to whimsical and thoughtful, to boldly dramatic and emotional as in the case of “You Gave Me a Mountain.” There are not too many singers who can cry while singing a song on live TV in front of a packed studio audience. Frankie was able to do this because he could channel his emotions and actually live the lyrics, the story being told. Much like a dramatic actor, Frankie was able to search his soul and delivery a performance no other singer could match.
For the rest of his career, more and more, Frankie came to be seen as the patriarch of the music business. His song deliveries were mellow, retrospective, emotional, and reflective of a life well lived. He experimented with singing songs written by a new generation of songwriters like Kris Kristofferson, Jack Segal, and Deane Hawley.
Of course, Frankie was always performed his hit songs, but he also embellished his concerts with new material. Most of Frankie’s TV guest appearances during this time were no exception. He would be called upon to sing one of his hits, but he would always sing a new song when he could do so.
During his early career, Frankie was branded as a “belter” of songs. In his later years, Frankie began to use his voice more for tone and warmth. His delivery changed, too. He didn’t need to use histrionics or deliver a song with so much physical expression. He still sang a variety of genres—even adding country music to the mix, but his style became more laid-back. Some wanted to hear recorded music in the style of the full-voice Laine they loved from the 1950s, but others, like me, appreciated all of his music, both old and new.
At the end of Frankie’s career, he became very much a man of the world. He was respected by his peers in the business as well as by a multitude of fans from all over the world. He had a special way of delivering every song he sang during all the stages of his wonderful career.
Frankie Laine delivered (and still is doing so through his recorded music). We are richer because of his “special delivery.” Frankie once summed up his career in this way: “It’s been a hell of a ride!”