Sunday, December 5, 2010

Henry Mancini

Henry Mancini I have a Pink Panther tie. I don’t remember, now, where I bought it. Comic ties were big around 15 years ago, more. The first one I remember seeing was a Mickey Mouse tie worn around the neck of a rather dysfunctional colleague whom I shall refer to as Martin Block. He had bought the tie at Harry Rosen and he paid about $65 for it.

I liked it, the tie, the idea of wearing Mickey Mouse in the context of what was otherwise highly professional dress and environment. But $65 would normally buy me about 6 ties, tax included.

But the prices came down, and the availability spread, and so I got the Pink Panther, and Peanuts, and Spiderman. That’s the coolest, Spiderman. I also got Batman, but it was a kid’s tie, too small for me, thought I struggled with it for quite a while before I retired it once and for all.

I still have it, the tie. And every time I put it on, and I still wear it now and then, I have to hum to song. I have no choice. Any reference to the Pink Panther, and it could be the cartoon, or it could be Peter Sellers, demands that the music be hummed.

The Pink Panther would not be the Pink Panther if not for the accompanying music. And we have Henry Mancini to thank for that. Mancini, king of the 60s soundtrack, had the amazing gift of capturing the feeling of a movie (sometimes a TV show) musically. He discovered what spy music sounded like, the music a worn-out married couple conjured up when they took a road trip across the country, he knew what a river sounded like, when the river represented restlessness and longing and ill-fated romance.

Facts: Wikipedia lists 34 soundtracks (or “Music from’s”), 37 non-soundtrack LPs, and 35 singles by Mancini. 14 of his singles made the Billboard Hot 100, the first in 1960, the last in 1977 (Theme From Charlie’s Angels). My collection comes from Pure Gold, This Is Henry Mancini, and The Best Of Henry Mancini, vol. 2.

And his name wasn't really Martin Block.

Henry Mancini:

Mr. Lucky – This is exactly what a certain aspect of the 60s sounded like – foxtrot rhythm, strings, and cheesy organ. But only Hank could do it like this. His first hit, from the spring of 1960 (and the movie).
Moon River – His signature tune, and the signature tune of the entire genre of “adult contemporary.” Johnny Mercer wrote the words which aren’t always necessary to convey the message of insatiable longing that this song represents. There are more versions of this than you can shake a stick at; everybody who does MOR had a crack at it. It was most closely identified with Andy Williams, who did it every week on his TV show, though it was not a hit for him. Danny Williams (no relation) put it on the UK chart, and Jerry Butler was the only other artist who put it on the US chart. From Breakfast At Tiffany’s, in the fall of ’61.
Baby Elephant Walk – I suppose that if a baby elephant were to make music while walking it would sound like this. Mancini at his playful best.
Experiment In Terror
Days Of Wine And Roses – Another song of fake nostalgia. That doesn’t, however, detract from the beauty of the melody, though the chorus doesn’t work all that well. A hit in the winter of 1963, and covered immediately by Andy Williams.
Charade – Life as a game of pretend. Weird percussion on this unsweetens the melody to good effect. From the winter of 1964.
The Pink Panther Theme – And here we are. Forget Moon River. Nothing says “Mancini” like this one. The poster boy for “slinky.” From the spring of 1964. • The Sweetheart Tree – Ok, the words are corny, and, as usual, the chorus idea leaves something to be desired, but that melody – oh my goodness. And is Hank playing that fairy dust piano?
Theme From “The Great Imposter” – From the spring of 1961. Not The Fleetwoods hit.
A Shot In The Dark – From another Peter Sellers movie. Peter Gunn redux from the summer of 1964.
Love Theme From Romeo And Juliet – I have trouble hearing this in the movie soundtrack, though admittedly it wasn’t performed by Hank. His biggest hit, his only to reach #1, in fact his only in the top 10. Irony: He didn’t write this one. And sure it’s syrupy, but you’d have to have a heart of stone to resist.
Two For The Road – This was a touching movie, a difficult theme. Read the lyrics on paper and they’d sound happy – but the tone of this is melancholy, which is appropriate. The solo violin reinforces the effect. The theme was a hit on the AC chart in 1967, but not on the Hot 100.
Theme From “Z” – Greek sounding, bouzouki and all.
Theme From Love Story – Romeo And Juliet redux. The movie was pure saccharine. From the winter of 1971.
Peter Gunn – Where it started. Set the standard for detective shows. It was a hit for Ray Anthony, and later for Duane Eddy, and it was covered by everyone from Jimi Hendrix to ELP, but it started with Hank.
Alright Okay You Win – Great dialog between the flute and the muted trombone. Peggy Lee did this one.
Soldier In The Rain
The Brothers Go To Mothers – From Peter Gunn. This is great 5 o’clock jazz.
Breakfast At Tiffany’s – The theme from the movie that gave us Moon River.
A Cool Shade Of Blue
Dear Heart – Another example of why intimate love songs ought not to be delivered by massed voices. From the winter of 1964 / 1965, the same time that Andy Williams was riding the charts with it.
It Had Better Be Tonight – From The Pink Panther. Sometimes there’s a moment, miss it and it’s your loss. Still, I prefer the instrumental version.
How Soon – About the transience of love
Midnight Cowboy – From the movie, the soundtrack of which Hank did not to; that was John Barry. The hit was had by Ferrante & Teicher. Henry Mancini
Moment To Moment
My Friend Andame
Dreamsville – Another cut from Peter Gunn
March Of The Cue Balls
Softly, As I Leave You – Always a nice song. My favourite is the hit version by Matt Monro, though Doris Day doesn't do a bad job either.
Lightly Latin
Hatari! – Hank goes to the jungle. From the summer of 1962.

1 comment:

Life Student said...

1) One day in developmental psych, the prof gave a very good class, then asked, "Are there any questions?" My hand shot up, and he nodded at me. "Yes?" And I asked, "Is that Kermit the Frog on your tie?" His reply was a stiff, "It was a gift from my son."

2) One word against the theme to Romeo and Juliet and I'll burn down your blog.

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