Sammy Davis Jr is part of my musical memory. He was always there.
“Samuel George Davis Jr. (December 8, 1925 – May 16, 1990) was an American singer, dancer, actor and comedian. He was noted for his impressions of actors, musicians and other celebrities. At the age of three, Davis began his career in vaudeville with his father and Will Mastin as the Will Mastin Trio, which toured nationally. After military service, Davis returned to the trio. Davis became an overnight sensation following a nightclub performance at Ciro's (in West Hollywood) after the 1951 Academy Awards. With the trio, he became a recording artist. In 1954, he lost his left eye in a car accident, and several years later, he converted to Judaism … Davis's film career began as a child in 1933. In 1960, he appeared in the Rat Pack film Ocean's 11. After a starring role on Broadway in Mr Wonderful (1956), he returned to the stage in 1964's Golden Boy. In 1966 he had his own TV variety show, titled The Sammy Davis Jr. Show. Davis's career slowed in the late 1960s, but he had a hit record with "The Candy Man" in 1972 and became a star in Las Vegas, earning him the nickname "Mister Show Business." … Davis was a victim of racism throughout his life, particularly during the pre-Civil Rights era, and was a large financial supporter of the Civil Rights Movement. Davis had a complex relationship with the black community, and drew criticism after publicly supporting President Richard Nixon in 1972 (although he later returned to being a Democrat). One day on a golf course with Jack Benny, he was asked what his handicap was. "Handicap?" he asked. "Talk about handicap. I'm a one-eyed Negro Jew." This was to become a signature comment, recounted in his autobiography, and in countless articles … After reuniting with Sinatra and Dean Martin in 1987, Davis toured with them and Liza Minnelli internationally, before he died of throat cancer in 1990”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sammy_Davis_Jr.
There has been a lot written about Sammy Davis Jr and his career (more links at the end), but, ultimately, of the central “rat packers”, he pegs just under Sinatra and Martin in terms of respectability. No cult surrounding his voice has developed around him like it has around Sinatra, and likewise, no cult of cool has developed around him like it has around Martin.
But, in many ways he was the Rat Pack ideal … the talented all-round entertainer that rode across the disparate styles (or rather musical personas) of Sinatra and Martin.
In an era when an entertainer had to be able to do a bit of everything Sammy gave 100% in everything he did, regardless.
Musically, like Sinatra, he tackled everything and unlike Martin, he probably shouldn’t have.
Frank knew he could, and Dean knew he couldn’t, but was happy in the space he created. Sammy, was the all-round singer, who gave everything a go, whether he knew it would work or not, and sometimes it wouldn’t. But, also, there were times when it shouldn’t have worked but by sheer force of personality it did, and he would surprise himself and everybody else.
Yes, Sammy could do it all. Sure Frank and Dean could sing, act and dance but Sammy did that and more.
That’s not to say he was as good as Frank and Dean (he wasn’t) but it’s like comparing Gods, and he dwelt amongst them comfortably.
Sammy was always “on” and that is a good and bad thing. Where Sinatra intellectualised his music and drew acclaim and Dean made lazy music a persona (and art form) and drew legions of fans, Sammy’s full throated voice (and accompanying bombast), hasn’t carried over to new generations.
In many ways he is the precursor to Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Whitney Houston or half the acts on “American Idol” and there is nothing wrong with that (perhaps) but contemporary audiences seem to like their trad pop singers with some shading.
Perhaps, that’s why he isn’t lionized …
“There may be no figure in American popular culture more maligned in death than Sammy Davis, Jr. The image of the diminutive entertainer, clad in open shirts and bell-bottoms, wearing beads and gold chains, and with an ever-present cigarette dangling from his mouth has superseded that of the incendiary talent, a triple-threat actor, singer and dancer who could hold his own opposite Frank Sinatra (and best him in the dancing department, natch). Davis was also a best-selling author, an impressionist par excellence, a civil rights crusader who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and not a bad drummer, either.”. https://theseconddisc.com/2011/01/reissue-theory-sammy-davis-jr-compiled-sammy-in-the-seventies/
So, when approaching Sammy you have to take the good with the bad and in a musical career spanning some fifty albums there will be gold and there will be tin. But, because he hasn’t been resurrected and analysed (musically) to any great extent half the fun is the search.
The other half is knowing that he is giving it 100%.
And, I’m sure there will be more gold than tin.
This album was rushed out to cash-in on Sammy’s big hit, “The Candy Man”.
Sammy’s career was in a slump circa 1970. He had signed to Motown (in April of 1970) and had been working on material (Marvin Gaye apparently wrote an album for him) though what was released (not the Marvin stuff) bombed badly. Meanwhile, composer and record company owner, Mike Curb had sold / merged his label “Sidewalk Records” with MGM, and in 1969, at the age of 25, had become president of MGM (and Verve) Records. Curb a fixture on the Hollywood film scene must have been happy to have a movie star on his roster. So, Sammy went to MGM. There he recorded “The Candy Man” (with Curb’s own musical group, The Mike Curb Congregation backing him) which, when released in 1972, became a big hit (Sammy’s only #1). His recent MGM sessions were raided as well as studio recordings MGM had bought from Motown, and this album was the result. (see trivia at end for session notes)
It all hangs together quite well and is a product of its time when trad pop singers were adding funk and up-tempo pop rock elements to their sound. And, they haven't copped out – everything has been contemporised. The album's track listing, typically, is aimed for broad appeal with, mainly, recent hits, and popular film songs … and I like it when trad pop singers tackle that material.
Arranger/conductor duties are in the capable hands of Don Costa who had replaced Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins and Billy May as Sinatra's go-to-man in the late 1960s.
Tracks (best in italics)
The Candy Man – (Leslie Bricusse / Anthony Newley) – (covered from the film “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”). Sammy takes this song and gives it everything. Apparently, Sammy didn’t like the song (allegedly, he did it at a time when he thought it might help him land the title role in the "Willy Wonka" film for which the song was written) and thought it too saccharine (well it is a song about "Candy" (sic)). However, he had recorded equally saccharine stuff before, had recorded quite a bit of Leslie Bricusse, and was friends with Anthony Newley, so perhaps that’s not the reason. Mike Curb’s fingerprints are all over this song (Curb’s own musical group, The Mike Curb Congregation is backing him and his ultra
MORoutlook at the time buys into this. Perhaps that’s what Sammy had a problem with. It’s horrible mush, but it’s well done horrible mush, catchy, and a deserving #1 hit. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Candy_Man
- This Is My Life – (Bruno Canfora) – This song was originally written by Italian Bruno Canfora. In 1968 Shirley Bassey performed the song ("La Vita") at the San Remo Music Festival in Italy with the songs’ Italian lyrics (by Antonio Amurri) partially rewritten in English by Norman Newell. It was released as a single the same year by her with an album of the same title. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_Is_My_Life_(La_vita)
- I Am Over 25–But You Can Trust Me – (Mike Curb / Mack David) – I believe this was first done by Sammy. Curb was 28 and Hollywood songwriter Mack David (the older brother of Burt Bacharach co-writer Hal) was 60. A lot of people won't like this song but there is some wisdom in it with the narrator basically saying, I've been through what you are going through so trust me.
- Have a Little Talk With Myself – (Ray Stevens) – recorded by the author, country singer Stevens, in 1970. Quite funky with some Stax like horns. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Have_a_Little_Talk_with_Myself
Willoughby Grove – (Danny Meehan / Bobby Scott) – Later covered by country singer Larry Jon Wilson in 1976. One of those introspective
MORsongs. Quite good.
- Take My Hand – (B. James) – a faux gospel number. Sammy belts it out with a forceful backing chorus. Nice.
- I'll Begin Again – (Leslie Bricusse) – a cover from the Scrooge (1970) soundtrack. One of those "I will …" songs so familiar to Broadway musicals.
- I Want to Be Happy – (Irving Caesar / Vincent Youmans) – written for the 1925 musical “No, No, Nanette” this has been recorded by everyone including Doris Day with Gordon MacRae (in the movie "Tea for Two", 1950) and Bing Crosby (1954). It has been given a funky treatment here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Want_to_Be_Happy
MacArthur Park – (Jimmy Webb) – Richard Harris’ big hit (#2) from 1968. This magnificent piece of
MORkitsch demands to be sung in full entertainment mode as only a traditional singer can do it without any irony, post modernism or wounded insecurity. Magnificent. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MacArthur_Park_(song)
Time to Ride – (Charles / Mack David) – A note on this song, “sometimes referred to by its alternate title “The Wild Rover” – was credited to the writing team of legendary lyricist Mack David and a mysterious ‘Charles’. ‘Charles’ was a pseudonym for Mike Curb himself, who had arranged Donny Osmond to record the song for Osmond’s debut solo album, The Donny Osmond Album (1971)”
MORfunk and quite pleasnat though not especially memorable. http://sammydavisjr.info/time-to-ride/.
- John Shaft – (Bettye Crutcher / Isaac Hayes) – Isaac Hayes worked with Sammy on his classic #1 hit from 1971. Sammy's version has extended lyrics. This is wonderful. It is not "street" but then again Hayes' original wasn't exactly "street" unless it was a upmarket Hollywood street. Sammy goes off. As an aside, maybe this is where Elvis got the phrase “Taking care of business”, a phrase he loved, used and immortalised in the 70s, though the phrase had been used elsewhere. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theme_from_Shaft
Thoroughly enjoyable … I'm keeping it.
1972 The Candy Man #1 Pop
The Candy Man
This Is My Life
I Am Over 25 – But You Can Trust Me
Take My Hand
- 25 November 1970 at Los Angeles: Sammy Davis, Jr. (ldr), Perry Botkin, Jr. (arr), Jimmy Bowen (pdr), Sammy Davis, Jr. (v) (a Motown session) – I Want To Be / Have A Little Talk With Myself / Willoughby Grove
- 18 January 1971: Sammy Davis, Jr. (ldr), Perry Botkin, Jr., Ernie Freeman (arr), Jimmy Bowen (pdr), Sammy Davis, Jr. (v) (a Motown session) – I'll Begin Again
- 19 August 1971 at Los Angeles: Sammy Davis, Jr. (ldr), Don Costa (arr), Sammy Davis, Jr. (v), The Mike Curb Congregation (bkv) – I Am Over 25 (But You Can Trust Me) / The Candy Man / Time To Ride
- 23 October 1971 at Los Angeles: Sammy Davis, Jr. (ldr), Don Costa (arr), Sammy Davis, Jr. (v) – MacArthur Park / This Is My Life
- 16 January 1972 at Los Angeles: Sammy Davis, Jr. (ldr), Isaac Hayes, Onzie Horne (arr), Sammy Davis, Jr. (v) – John Shaft (Theme From "Shaft")
- 18 February 1972 at Los Angeles: Sammy Davis, Jr. (ldr), Perry Botkin, Jr. (arr, con), Sammy Davis, Jr. (v) – Take My Hand
The open sleeve inner. Sammy with entertainment friends. Play spot the star ….