Monday, March 22, 2010


Annette Think of all those teen idols, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Tab Hunter, Tommy Sands, Bobby Vee, etc. They are all male. This was not a gender neutral phenomenon.

So were there any female teen idols? Well, I guess that depends on your definition. Dodie Stevens, though she was probably too young. Ok, Connie Stevens, Shelley Fabares, Little Peggy March, but it wasn’t the same. They didn’t appeal to guys the same way that the Bobby’s appealed to the girls. There is a PH.D.thesis waiting to be written. My best guess is that the guys did not fawn over these women; the girls were undoubtedly more interested in them then the guys were, and I am not alluding to any confusion regarding sexual preference.

Annette was probably the closest thing to the female version of teen idol. She was a movie star, started out as a mouseketeer, and ended up playing in dozens of Disney movies, beach blanket movies opposite Frankie Avalon. Her surname was Funicello, and they didn’t hide it exactly, but they didn’t use it up front and centre either. The unusual thing about Annette, though, was this: she couldn’t sing. On all her records she tended to sing noticeably off-key. I mean she tried, you can hear, but those notes just allude her.

She was less well known as a recording artist, though she had exactly 10 singles on the top 100 between over a 2 year period, starting in early 1959, all on the Vista label. (Actually Buena Vista, a subsidiary of Disney Records). The hits play out her persona; she sings of beach parties, surfing, pajama parties, California, having fun, being a girl, that kind of thing. The album I’ve got here was called The Best Of Annette, released on Rhino, bless its heart, back in the day when Rhino mattered. I picked it up at Records On Wheels. It was a picture disc, actually. The album had 4 of Annette’s 5 top 40 singles; none of the other singles were included. I have removed The Monkey’s Uncle, which I stuck onto a Beach Boys collection, and added Train Of Love, which I picked up somewhere else.


Tall Paul – He’s my all, she sings, in an exuberant expression of obsessivness. “With his king size arms,” she sings, “and his king-size charms” and the songwriters were busting a gut, hearing this on the radio. And what’s so great about tall guys, anyway? On the liner notes to the album, she specifically denied that it was about Paul Anka, who, she says, was not particularly tall. The size of his “charms” remains undocumented. From the winter of 1959.
Dreamin’ About You – This is the female equivalent of a Frankie Avalon. Smooth. Just slightly off key like usual, but still, great for dancing…
First Name Initial – She is singing of a pendant, a modicum of going steady. “I even wear it when I sleep” she says. No kidding. From the winter of 1960.
Indian Giver – Not the Bobby Curtola song, and not the 1910 Fruitgum Company song. It’s really amazing, isn’t it, how many songs there are with this title, and how unacceptable it would be now. The idea, of course, is you give something, then take it back. No idea where it came from “You said I’d be your pretty little squaw” she says off the top. Really. One of her worst vocals, too.
O Dio Mio – Literally translated as oh my God, Annette gets religion. Of course, it’s a prayer that her love will be requited, so all’s right with the world. From the spring of 1960.
Pajama Party – Singing about “the latest craze, having a party in your pjs,” “Grab your date” she says hidden away in all those lyrics. Wow. A mixed PJ party? Annette? Disney?
Jamaica Ska – What other kind is there. Give someone credit here. It was never a huge trend, but it surfaced here and there, think Millie Small’s My Boy Lollipop. This may have set the whole thing rolling. It was a hop skip and jump from this to Bob Marley. And just think, Annette Funicello
Train Of Love – Not the Johnny Cash song. Replete with train sounds, and that chug chug rhythm. From the summer of 1960.
California Sun – Later (I assume) a hit for The Rivieras. Not a hit for Annette though. All the idealization of California neatly wrapped up in one song. Line to remember: “The boys are frisky in old ‘Frisco.”
Beach Party – A great time will be had by all, surfin’ all day and swinging all night. I bet. The mythology continues…
Pineapple Princess #2 – I don’t know why it’s #2. Presumably there was a number 1. This song, which was a hit in the fall of 1960 takes the beach theme all the way to Hawaii, but I don’t know if “pineapple princess” is a complement. She seems to think it is, but then, she seemed to be oblivious to the double entendres in Tall Paul.
Muscle Beach Party – We have the beach party, which is a fairly generic celebration of sanAnnetted and sun and surf and swimming, we have Bikini Beach, (keep listening) and here we have the muscle beach party, on which the emphasis is on brute strength and crassness. What kind of fascist stuff is this anyway? There was a movie like this, and Frankie Avalon did the title track, this song, and he was not, as far as I’m aware, any kind of muscle man.
I Dream About Frankie – Obviously the reference is Frankie Avalon, her partner in movies, but I don’t know whether she really dreamed about him. If the relationship is anything like her pitch on this song, it’s doomed.
Bikini Beach – “All the chicks are bikini clad” sings a male chorus. The irony, of course, is that Annette herself never appeared in any of her movies in a bikini; Walt Disney wouldn’t allow it. A celebration of thinness and near-nakedness.
Swingin’ And Surfin’ – Who needs Hotel California when you have it so simple right here?

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