Monday, April 25, 2011

Music Tastes

You youngsters under 60 years old missed out. As a teenager we would ride around in my Volkswagen (with no brakes), crammed full of people and suddenly we would hear this on the radio:

I told the witch doctor I was in love with you
doh doh doh
I told the witch doctor I was in love with you
doh doh doh
And then the witch doctor told me what to do
He told me

Oo ee oo ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang
Oo ee oo ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang
We would sing "The Witch Doctor" at the top of our lungs. And then the exotic "Purple People Eater" would blare, and our voices would blare even louder.
Well I saw the thing comin' out of the sky
It had one long horn, one big eye
I commenced to shakin' and I said "ooh eee"
It looks like a Purple People Eater to me.

It was a one-eyed one-horned flyin' purple people eater
One-eyed one-horned flyin' purple people eater 
One-eyed one-horned flyin' purple people eater
Sure looks strange to me.

Not only did you poor children miss out on these wonders, but you were not born early enough for "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" and "Please Mister Custer, I Don't Wanna' Go".

With this foundation in my repertoire it was only natural that I went to school to study music. There I learned that the music I listened to evolved from the Gregorian Chants through to old Gospel Music employing a basic four chord progression in a major key. And if I listened to "Singin' the Blues" I discovered that there was such a thing as a minor key.

I once read a short science fiction story about Shakespeare appearing in our current world. He found out that there was a college course on Shakespearean Literature, so he signed up for it. He flunked the course. He walked away bewildered. In his mind he meant what he wrote just as he wrote it. But they assigned deep and mysterious meanings to his words that he just couldn't fathom. He was completely lost trying to read his own words the way they told him to.

Sometimes we can destroy a subject by studying it too much.

My music tastes have changed since those early teenage days. In some ways I guess it could be considered more sophisticated. I love the jazz vocals of Mel Torme (known as the Velvet Fog) and appreciate the singing of Michael Buble. I am intrigued by Mannheim Steamroller, and appreciate the symphonic tones of Aaron Copeland, H. Owen Reed, and Heitor Villa Lobos -- and even that oddity Esquivel. Put a nice jazz combo in a restaurant, and I will sit there all night.

But in one way, my music tastes take a bit of a twist.  There is one other singer I like a lot.

His birth name was Francesco Peolo LoVecchio, His father was deeply involved with the Mafia, and his grandfather was gunned down by a rival gang. He started singing at the local church, and when he was 17 he was invited to sing at Chicago's Merry Garden Ballroom before a crowd of 5,000 people, and the crowd was so ecstatic that he had to give four encores. He said of that experience, "I was really nervous but I started singing 'Beside an Open Fireplace,' a popular song of the day. It was a sentimental tune and the lyrics choked me up. When I got done, the tears were streaming down my cheeks and the ballroom became quiet. I was very nearsighted and couldn't see the audience. I thought that the people didn't like me."

He ended up working with Rose Marie, Anita O'Day and became friends with Nat King Cole. He also became close friends with Perry Como, and Mr. Como would have to lend him money so he could travel to his performances. These were hard times. "I would sneak into hotel rooms and sleep on the floor. In fact, I was bodily thrown out of 11 different New York hotels. I stayed in YMCAs and with anyone who would let me flop. Eventually I was down to my last four cents, and my bed became a roughened wooden bench in Central Park. I used my four pennies to buy four tiny Baby Ruth candy bars and rationed myself to one a day."

In 1939 a program director told him that Francesco LoVecchio was too much of a mouth full and he needed to change his name. He did. To Frankie Laine.

Frankie continued to sing a various jazz spots until he was discovered by Hoagy Carmichael and got a record contract. But that pretty much went nowhere. He was singing at The College Inn in Cleveland when he sang a fifteen year old song named, "That's My Desire". People would line up just to hear him sing that song....and it led to a record contract with Mercury. 

Frankie was $7,000 in debt and he was astounded when his first royalty check was over $30,000. He paid everyone back, except that Perry Como refused to take the money. Frankie Laine continued singing jazz and had four gold records. 

Then he suddenly changed a little. He cut a new record with the lead song "That Lucky Old Song". It was a spiritual -- and that type of music just wasn't recorded back then. It became his fifth gold record. Then he recorded, of all things, "Mule Train" -- and to everyone's astonishment, the two albums, "That Lucky Old Song" and "Mule Train" became number one and two on the charts.

Frankie Laine, the popular jazz singer, found that he liked singing songs of the west. Some would consider it sophisticated Cowboy music -- with the twangs of guitars and banjos replaced with french horns and trumpets. He had a sophisticated voice that was rich with emotion, and it came through warm and crystal clear.

Frankie had 39 hit records featuring such songs as High Noon, I Believe, Cool Water, Ghost Riders in the Sky, The Cry of the Wild Goose, Rawhide, The 3:10 to Yuma, Jezebel, Gunfight at the OK Corral, They Call the Wind Mariah, and  Tumbling Tumbleweeds. If you have seen the TV series "Rawhide", that is his voice and music...and the movies "Gunfight at the OK Corral" and "The 3:10 to Yuma".

An interesting note. Frankie Laine was even more popular in Great Britain than in the U.S. and even topped Elvis in the charts at the height of Elvis' career and he broke all attendance records at the London Palladium. He was personally requested to perform a Royal Performance for Queen Elizabeth.

So, when I am in a down mood, I will drive down the road, plop in a CD of Frankie Laine and sing The Cry of the Wild Goose at the top of my lungs right along with Frankie.

He was 93 years old when he died in 2007.

Here is a You Tube link, if you are interested. Ghost Riders in the Sky


  1. Ghost Riders in the Sky was one of my favorites, but I had never heard of it until my *soon to be* husband played it on his guitar. This post brought back a lot of memories!

  2. I love Ghost Riders in the Sky. Also, all those songs in the beginning of the pots? we grew up listening to those because my Momma loved them. We used to chase each other around singing Pulple People Easter. To this day, my all time favorite singer is Gene Pitney. Which reminds me, I haven't listened to him in a while.

  3. Very interesting. The Shakespeare bit really struck a chord - mainly because I've always thought that most books are not written with all the meaning that teachers try to give them. Usually, a story is just a story. Hope you had a great Easter, Jerry!

  4. "Rawhide", immediately came to mind. Music is an interantional language,as far as I am concerned. But in your early years of music developement,,,were those round "clay cylinders" hard to handle and operate,,:)

  5. Great post, Jerry. I would agree with the reborn Shakespeare. I've often wondered after I have read a story and then hear all the mystical meanings supposedly contained therein: where do they get that?

    The Frankie Laine story also was good but wasn't that song "That Lucky Old Sun"?

  6. What a great story!! Even better when it's a true story :) Music is such a great thing - if I need a good pick me up, I listen to the "Oldies" that I grew up with since my parents never listened to the newer music of the 80's and 90's. Give me some Beach Boys, Beatles, The Monkeys, and whoever sings "Wild Thing" and I am one smiley girl! My daughter and hubby just doesn't know what to think when they see me singing along.. lol But then if I want a really soulful dramatic song I turn to musicals like Cats "Memory" or "The Phantom of the Opera", or any other Andrew Loyd Webber theatrical number. If I need to think, or concentrate on something, or sleep really well, I love classical music from Bach to Yanni. The only music I really don't like is hard rock like Pantera or Korn and the kind of Jazz that sounds sort of like a jam session where everyone is just sort of doing their own thing all at the same time. I try really hard to appreciate it, but I'm too much of a type A personality in that department lol! I just love music in general and am amazed at how it affects our lives and emotions and moods. Hope you have a great day Jerry! As always thanks so much for stopping by, I love hearing from you! :)

  7. The VW and the songs are a past I recall . In fact my kids laugh when I bellow out some of the early songs you quoted.. Music seems to help us all to smile. It resides in a different part of our brain, a spot of its own and that may be why we find it appealing when other things seem to fail us. This post is one that impacted and had me reflect. Thanks :)

  8. As a kid I saw Nat King Cole's final performance at the Circle Star Theater in San Carlos. He died within a week of that performance.

  9. Youngster under 60 here. But for some reason I know the words to Roger Miller's "You Can't Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd" which seems as deserving of accolades for lyrical genius at least as much as "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini", don'cha think?

    The other night my 14-year-old niece was listening to something, the lyrics to which went, "I wanna be a millionaire, so fricken' bad...".

    I guess the good lyrics are all used up now.

  10. I also remember all those songs; and technical miracle of listening to them on a hand-held transistor radio as well.

    Mom had a lot of Perry Como albums which she would play on the Hi-Fi (one speaker, pre-stereo). We also have a collection of bakelite 78's with Nelson Eddy singing Gilbert &* Sullivan hits and Spike Jones, "Cocktails for Two" with all the sound effects.

  11. You've brought back my childhood and adolescence! Frankie Laine was a real favorite at my house back then. My Dad was devoted to all things Western; he had a Louis L'Amour collection that filled a trunk, so he loved Laine's big, big voice on the Westerns. My mother loved the more romantic and nostalgic stuff. And I loved, and can still sing, all of his greatest hits. Now, I have to go straight to iTunes and start my download.

    You know, I think those goofy songs from our teens were FUN! The last of the "Good, clean fun," perhaps. Do teens these days know how to have fun in a group that doesn't involve drugs or alcohol?

  12. I'm giggling as I'm singing Purple People Eater to myself right now.

    Billy Collins says it best:

    Introduction to Poetry
    Billy Collins

    I ask them to take a poem
    and hold it up to the light
    like a color slide

    or press an ear against its hive.

    I say drop a mouse into a poem
    and watch him probe his way out,

    or walk inside the poem's room
    and feel the walls for a light switch.

    I want them to waterski
    across the surface of a poem
    waving at the author's name on the shore.

    But all they want to do
    is tie the poem to a chair with rope
    and torture a confession out of it.

    They begin beating it with a hose
    to find out what it really means.

    from The Apple that Astonished Paris, 1996

  13. Ah, I remember him well! His voice is quite distinguishable, don't you think?

  14. GREAT post Jerry! I do in fact remember those songs. One of my good friends loves Frankie Laine and told me that he was also a back up singer on a million hit songs by other people. Music, along with life in general, was much more simple in those days. There were so many great artists back then. These people could really sing...