Friday, August 09, 2013

Sad Songs I Am Listening To, Many By People Who Are Now Dead

I had forgotten about this guy...

This particular style of singing, with its exaggerated, but still in a certain sense somewhat earnest, affectation of passion and a soul in torment, has never really been imitated satisfyingly in the English-speaking world. I guess some soul singers go for this effect, but I generally don't like them. I suspect this is because I feel like everything about their performance is ultimately about them more than about me, which puts a different spin on the affectations. Julio Iglesias, who has sold 38 million records, slept with 5,000 women, driven the best cars and drunk the best wine and hung out in the most beautiful places in the world for the last 50 years and seemingly enjoyed every second of it, is decidedly not singing for or about himself, at least the way other people do. His job, for which he has a great instinct, is to use his talents and gifts for showmanship to express the passion and torment of others in a more pleasing and entertaining way than they are able to do themselves. Highly gifted entertainers grasp this without needing it spelled out for them.  

I generally find this group annoying, but I heard this song somewhere the other day--already I can't remember where--and it struck me as poignant. So I've been listening to it for the last few days. I still don't like any of the other Talking Heads songs that I know. This band was wildly important to a lot of people just a few years older than I am; by the time I was at the age where one is deeply susceptible to pop music whatever emotional power they exerted over young people seemed to be in decline, and it never made much of an impression on me. But for a brief time they really got to people.

I have to admit I think this is a great song. In fact I like quite a bit of Zooey Deschanel and the rest of her group's pop music. I did not want to succumb to the too-obvious charms of this woman, and for a long while I did not allow myself to do so, but she kept after me with a persistence that I found both touching and admirable; indeed I was almost flattered by her seemingly perverse determination to please me and bring happiness into my life, on which point most female celebrities of the moment doggedly maintain they will never stoop to do if they can help it.

While we are on the subject of performer's instincts as far as how to approach/deliver a song and present oneself as a vessel through which to articulate a more palatable version of your audience's sense of the world, hers are as good certainly as any mainstream pop star currently out there that I am aware of. She is filling a (presumably lucrative) niche in the popular culture that seems rather obviously to have been screaming to be filled, but that no one else seems to have had the right combination of instinct, personality, type of brain development (I suspect she is pretty smart by most standards outside the realms of professional mathematics and science) and connection to this particular corner of the culture to fill.

I haven't gone back to the 40s for a while. This first song was referenced in a short story I read ("Lost in the Funhouse" by John Barth--the mother sings a verse from it while they are in the car on the way to Ocean City on Independence day in 1943). The other selections here kind of followed from that. I like the voice of this singer Kitty Kallen here, whom I had never heard of previously. She was a serious looker too.

Going to have a bit of a Harry James fest here. This is another one that always puts me in a positive mood, no matter how far down into the existential abyss I am gazing. Terrific song.

Kitty Kallen again on another old favorite. Girl could sing.

This is a singer named Francey Lane, whom I find to have an interesting face, in that it looks to me more like the face of a woman born in the 1960s or 1970s than the 1920s. This clip (in which she sings while ironing dollar bills) is from a 1951 TV and is only one of two videos of her I have found, and the only one in which she sings.

The only other Francey Lane video I can find, evidently from the same TV program as she is wearing the same dress and interesting headpiece as in the other one. Here she is merely serenaded with a classic by future talk show host and game show producer Merv Griffin, who like so many of us got our start in the business as a singer.

Biographical information on Francey Lane is scant on the internet, but it seems she had something of a career on the fringes of real mainstream success, without ever really breaking through. Her name turns up in various projects or promotions dating from 1945 to 1956. Besides this TV appearance in '51 she appeared in two short movies as a singer ('45 & '52). She is probably most identified as a singer with the Johnny Long Orchestra. They put out a release of "Winter Wonderland" (1947) and an album of "College Favorites" (undated), at least. In 1949 Francey Lane had a hit song called "Easy Does It" and appeared on the cover of TV Guide. There are at least four different "busty" vintage promotional photos of her available for sale online. By 1953 she was posing with her arms and shoulders and neck covered up and was apparently heading her own orchestra. By '56 she was apparently still hanging on in the game (and was back to posing in strapless gowns) but her hair has been cut and the smile is forced and it isn't the same old Francey Lane I have taken such an interest in.

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