Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Frankie Avalon

Not Frankie Frankie Avalon was one of the Bobbies: Bobby Vee, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Curtola, Bobby Vinton, Bobby Sherman. His name wasn’t Bobby, but he was one of the Bobbies nonetheless.

He wasn’t the first; Tommy Sands came before him. So did Tab Hunter. Neither had a distinguished career as a hit-maker. Frankie was the first to last a few years, and put a few hits under his belt: 25 in the top 100, 14 in the top 40.

Some might say that Ricky Nelson was a Bobby, and he was a kind of teen idol, but he transcended that, even then. Or Bobby Helms – but he was somewhere else.

We like to hate the Bobbies. But I don’t hate the Bobbies. Not really. Not most of them. Not Frankie.

To be fair, he did do some dismal stuff. I have an album of his called Muscle Beach Party, on side 2 of which they have him performing standards like Moon River and Nevertheless, and he is totally out of his depth.

But a good producer can take a singer like Frankie Avalon, who has an aptitude for a certain type of song, and make it work. It was probably Dave Appel that produced Frankie Avalon, and he knew exactly how to present a song like Togetherness or Venus or Dede Dinah. And me, I can’t help liking it, no matter how much it sucks.

The picture is a Chuck Berry album, because I can’t find a picture of the Frankie Avalon album, but aside from the picture on the cover and the words “Chuck Berry” and the colour of the cover, it was exactly the same, part of the Quality Records series of Greatest Hits released around 1980, featuring reissues of artists on Chess, Buddah, Cadence, Cameo-Parkway, a few others, many of which were otherwise incredibly hard to find. Only in Canada.

10 tracks were from said Greatest Hits. The remaining tracks were from another Greatest Hits collection that I picked up on cassette at Pyramid.

Frankie Avalon:

Venus – With an angelic female chorus, harpsichord flourishes, and a longing dreamy delivery, Venus stands as a monument in the annals of teen pop. The Venus of the title refers not to the planet, but to the goddess of love. A number 1 hit in the winter of 1959. And not the Shocking Blue song (duh).
Why – This one’s a bit cloying, I have to admit, but still, I’ve heard worse. Not The Byrds song. Number 1 in the winter of 1960.
Dede Dinah – Frankie’s first hit. This was in the winter of 1958. This rocks a bit, so he hadn’t settled into his final wimpy style. Also, he’s got a kind of nasal thing going on here, an effect he used on his first few records.
Bobby Sox To Stockings – A song about growing up, sort of. Mostly it’s about dating and stuff. What symbols would they use now? What would the age be? They say kids grow up a lot faster. Soothers to cigarettes? From the summer of 1959.
Ginger Bread – A song to a girl named Ginger Bread. I don’t know if Bread is her surname. She every teenage boy’s dream: naughty but nice. From the fall of 1958.
A Boy Without A Girl – Like a fish without a bicycle? Like ham without eggs? A ballad from the summer of ’59 – the B side of Bobby Sox To Stockings.
Just Ask Your Heart – A song about finding our real feelings… From the fall of 1959.
I’ll Wait For You – A twist on the we-are-so-young theme. The male chorus sounds like it was lifted from a Frankie Laine session. From the winter of 1958 / 1959.
Don’t Throw Away All Those Teardrops – The notion of throwing away tear drops, it’s interesting. On the surface it’s a sweet love song, but go deeper, there is crying, sadness, an attempt to find meaning through love. From the spring of 1960.
Togetherness – It doesn’t get cornier than this, but you won’t find me dissing it. On the contrary, everything works here, the overblown vocal chorus, the silly lyrics (“between us we’ll have 20 fingers, 20 toes”), the xylophone lurking in the background, and, of course, Frankie’s understated singing. From the fall of 1960.
What Little Girl – More uptempo, and more nasal. From the fall of ’58, the B side of I’ll Wait For You.
You Are Mine – Everyone knows but you. Here is Frankie decked out with strings and all. It does not suit him. From the spring of ’62.
Where Are You – The setting is perfect, the only thing missing is you. An old story. This is really syrupy, with strings worthy of Nelson Riddle. Frankie’s voice isn’t big enough for this, and the song isn’t all that strong. From the summer of 1960.
Swinging On A Rainbow – Very jazzy, this one. One has to admire his ambition, or at least the ambition of those under whose control his career was. This is the B side of Why. From the winter of 1960.
A Perfect Love – Good luck. From the winter of 1961.
Two Fools – The song is a bit silly, but the sentiment of not being able to make a relationship work is very real. From the fall of ’59, the B side of Just Ask Your Heart.
The Puppet Song – Ok here is where we really get flaky. This is from Pinocchio, and it’s children’s music, plain and simple. The B side of A Perfect Love, and a minor hit in the winter of 1961.


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