This is probably the first Tony Bennett album I heard back in the 1980s … and I'm not sure where that LP is now. Which annoys me as I don't like losing things. I have a vague recollection that I chucked it as it was little too scratchy and worn. In any event I picked this up the other day and am listening to it afresh.
Does anyone not know who Tony Bennett is? We all do, of course, at least for a couple of his signature tunes and renewed reverence as a Generation X swing kids icon. But there is more to Bennett than that … he was a (is a) consummate artist who was (is) forever testing the boundaries of expression within his vocal range. This is singing.
He is not as well known as Dean Martin of Frank Sinatra perhaps because like fellow traveller Guy Mitchell he never had a film career to successfully establish his face or image in the mind of the masses. He is however, with those three aforementioned, in the top rank of post-war "popular music" artists.
The beauty of his voice is that as he got older he changed his style ever so slightly to accommodate the changes in his voice with age. Sinatra the consummate master of vocalising (he practically invented modern pop phrasing) set the pattern by showing what can be done when age, alcohol, cigarettes or all three begin to affect the voice. Despite opinions to the contrary I am of the view that this is not a instinctive thing but an intellectual process. Bennett and Sinatra would study the arrangers charts and figure out what can and can't be done to elicit as much from a lyric as possible. Any fool with good vocal chords can sing but not all of them are "singers".
That's not to say that Bennett recorded one master work after another. There have been missteps and questionable choices but generally there is always a gem on his albums and occasionally an album soars from start to finish.
This album is one of those.
By way of bio, from wikipedia: "Anthony Benedetto was born in Astoria, Queens, New York City, the son of Ann (née Suraci) and John Benedetto. His father was a grocer who had emigrated from Podàrgoni, a rural eastern district of the southern Italian city of Reggio Calabria, and his mother was a seamstress. With two other children and a father who was ailing and unable to work, the siblings grew up in poverty. John Benedetto died when Anthony was 10 years old.
Young "Tony" Benedetto grew up listening to Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby as well as jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden and Joe Venuti. An uncle was a tap dancer in vaudeville, giving him an early window into show business. By age 10 he was already singing, and performed at the opening of the Triborough Bridge. Drawing and caricatures were also an early passion of his. He attended New York's High School of Industrial Art where he was studying painting and music, but dropped out at age 16 to help support his family. He worked as a copy boy and runner for the Associated Press in Manhattan. But mostly he set his sights on a professional singing career, performing as a singing waiter in several Italian restaurants around the borough of Queens".
He subsequently served and fought in France in Germany in WW2 (read up on him, it's interesting) and then took up singing again releasing some unsuccessful singles in the late 40s and then hitting it big with some pop songs in the early 1950s.
Allmusic accurately summarizes his career, thus far: "Tony Bennett's career has enjoyed three distinct phases, each of them very successful. In the early '50s, he scored a series of major hits that made him one of the most popular recording artists of the time. In the early '60s, he mounted a comeback as more of an adult-album seller. And from the mid-'80s on, he achieved renewed popularity with generations of listeners who hadn't been born when he first appeared. This, however, defines Bennett more in terms of marketing than music. He himself probably would say that, in each phase of his career, he has remained largely constant to his goals of singing the best available songs the best way he knows how. Popular taste may have caused his level of recognition to increase or decrease, but he continued to sing popular standards in a warm, husky tenor, varying his timing and phrasing with a jazz fan's sense of spontaneity to bring out the melodies and lyrics of the songs effectively. By the start of the 21st century, Bennett seemed like the last of a breed, but he remained as popular as ever".
I should add that in every interview I have ever read or seen with the man he comes across as a good natured, thoughtful and pleasant (to the point of simplicity) individual. It seems that his youth and war experiences affected him like so many of his generation.
This album was a sort of comeback – in the late 50s Bennett produced many artistically creative and critically lauded jazz sides which were unsuccessful. With this album he became a mature (at the age of 36) album artist. Though there are some outstanding songs on this album you can only really listen to it as a whole, as a mood is created across the album in the best tradition of the concept album.
"Concept album"? What? before the Beatles? No way.
Yes way … Sinatra pioneered the concept album and "song cycle" idea in the mid to late 50s.
Here, it is the mood, the thoughtful vocals, the perfect arrangements that make the album one of his best.
The punters liked it also:
the album went to #5 in 1962
1962 I Left My Heart in San Francisco Adult Contemporary #7 (the song stayed in the charts for 3 years)
1962 I Left My Heart In San Francisco The Billboard Hot 100 #19
He won two 1962 Grammy Awards for "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" : Record of the Year and Best Solo Vocal Performance, Male
Tracks (best in italics)
I Left My Heart in San Francisco – Cory, Cross – hello, if you don't know this track you are a dolt. One of the greatest of all popular ballads.
Once Upon a Time – Adams, Strouse – From the Broadway show "All American" … all musical theatre and all genius…
Once upon a time
A girl with moonlight in her eyes
Put her hand in mine
And said she loved me so
But, that was once upon a time
Very long ago.
Once upon a time
We sat beneath a willow tree
Counting all the stars
And waiting for the dawn
But, that was once upon a time
Now the tree is gone.
How the breeze ruffled through her hair
How we always laughed
As though tomorrow wasn't there
We were young
And didn't have a care
Where did it go?
Once upon a time
The world was sweeter than we knew
Everything was ours
How happy we were then
But, somehow once upon a time
Never comes again.
Tender Is the Night – Fain, Webster – a big soundtrack ballad.
Smile – Chaplin, Parsons, Turner – Chaplin wrote the music to this for his film "Modern Times",1936 – and if you haven't seen that and you think Jim Carrey is the bees knees you are a knob stick. Words were subsequently added and the song became a standard … and this is one of the best versions.
Love for Sale – Porter – Cole Porter wrote this, nuff said.
Taking a Chance on Love – Duke, Fetter, LaTouche – what it says.
Candy Kisses – Morgan – the Nashville country standard turned into a popular ballad beautifully.
Have I Told You Lately That I Love You – Rome – another big ballad.
Rules of the Road – Coleman, Leigh – pleasant but not up to the standard of the rest.
Marry Young – Coleman, Leigh – sage advice, maybe?
I'm Always Chasing Rainbows – Carroll, McCarthy – aren't we all … pithy comment yes but the lyric of the song is more evocative than anything I could write here.
The Best Is Yet to Come – Coleman, Leigh – "we're gonna taste of the wine, we're gonna drain the cup dry" ….. the equivalent of "hope I die before I get old"? Tellingly Tony giggles to himself half way through … he knows it's all shit?
Tasty yes. Late at night get a bottle of wine, red preferably, turn down the lights, sit down, put on the album, recline back and listen. It is a tonic for what ails you (well at least the wine is, and this facilitates the consumption of that).
Keeping … most definitely.
I Left My Heart in San Francisco
with Doris Day
with Judy Garland
Once Upon a Time [From All American]
Tender Is the Night
The Best Is Yet to Come
he is everywhere
(he is a good painter also)
(Originally posted: 15/11/2009)