I’ve always liked Fabian as a result of watching films he made in the 1960s. Not just the teen films but his two films with Jimmy Stewart, “Mr Hobbs Takes a Vacation” (1962) and Dear Brigitte (1965), as well as his bit in The Longest Day” (1962). But my favourite, and I can’t count how many times I have seen it, is “North to Alaska” (1960) with John Wayne and Stewart Granger.
I love that movie.
He sang in some of those films, albeit briefly, so it was natural I would search out his vinyl. He was also from a period of music I quite like, the early 60s before the rise of The Beatles.
Fabian started off as a singer but his career as a singer (or at least as a hitmaker) was quite short (two years) whilst his film career (though never spectacular) kept him busy for 20 years or so.
Today’s audience when they think of him, if they think of him, think of him primarily as a singer, and part of the wave of clean urban rock pop (Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Vinton) that replaced the rough, ragged and regional rock of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, et al.
He was cast to a mould at the time …
As he says himself: “We were plastic, these plastic . . . things–not even people … They laughed at us. They wouldn't take us seriously as artists. They didn't think we could sing or perform or anything. To them, we were this low form of life. You can't laugh that off. Everybody craves respect. If people are looking down on you, all the money in the world doesn't really make you feel any better about it." http://articles.latimes.com/1985-05-13/entertainment/ca-10079_1_fabian
An aside: every cloud has a silver lining as Fabian goes on to say: "Don't get me wrong. It wasn't all bad. For a teen-age boy, you can imagine what it was like having all those girls drooling over you. That was heaven. Sometimes I was on top of the world. Me, this dumb kid from South Philly, got to be a star. I couldn't believe it." http://articles.latimes.com/1985-05-13/entertainment/ca-10079_1_fabian
It’s easy to say that this late 50s pop mould was a result of the threat of rock 'n' roll, which had become too much for parents. The music was cleaner, softer, pop-ier and less threatening.
And if you like (ridiculous) conspiracy theories it was a good time to make the move to something gentler: first generation rock had been silenced : Elvis was in the army, Jerry Lee was banned, Chuck was in jail, Buddy was dead, Gene Vincent had retreated to England, Eddie Cochran would be dead, Little Richard had turned to God …
But all of these rock n rollers being off the scene doesn’t really explain anything.
The new rock ‘n’ posters had to tread carefully. Elvis and his peers had opened a floodgate which threatened to (and did) change the world. That sounds dramatic but they did change the world and make it uncomfortable or unsettling for some … they also, certainly, changed the noise level on music.
So, perhaps this newfound softly softly was a natural societal reaction to the wild men of yesterday.
There is some truth to that, and, their lack of presence certainly meant the softer music options could come forward but, by the same token, Elvis himself liked his pop (and alternated it with his rock ‘n’ roll) and Pat Boone, always the softer option, had been a consistent hit maker since 1955.
Contrary to popular music history the wild men of rock still existed in the late 50s / early 60s – Link Wray, Bobby Fuller, all the frat rockers all over the States. They didn’t dominate the charts but they were there.
Fabian, and his crew (Frankie Avalon, James Darren, Paul Anka, Neil Sedaka, Bobby Vinton) weren’t anything new in rock 'n' roll terms. They were an extension of the Pat Boone logic … play it softer and try to appeal to the biggest audience.
And, savvy music producers and record labels pushed the logic and moulded or created the artists to pass it on to the public.
Despite that, and unlike Pat Boone and his posters, Fabian and his teen idol friends were brought up on the rhythm and rock of the early first generation rock ‘n’ rollers like Elvis. Also, Fabian and friends heard the sounds of the streets of the urban north … the black doo wop, the street corner singing, and the Italian (there were a lot of Italians amongst this crew) ballads of their households.
So there was rhythm and beat in there as well as the various sounds of their environment and ethnic backgrounds.
That was something new but to purists it was a sell-out of old school rock ‘n’ roll to record music by pretty boys who couldn’t sing
Okay, there was some truth in that as some of them couldn’t sing as well as the rockers or Pat Boone and the smooth popsters.
And, Fabian was tarnished with that brush.
Fabian had an Elvis-type face, including hair style and eye shadow but he couldn’t sing all that well. He could sing in key but without much range or vibrato, which is why he rarely holds a note. He didn't so much sing as speak in tune, or speak to the melody or talk with the rhythm. At the time he was criticised for it but it became the norm with Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and even John Lennon (perhaps) and today it is everywhere, though, there is usually a more complicated backing to hide the fact.
In Fabian's case songs were arranged to hide his shortcomings.
The rest he sold on attitude and looks.
But, that, combined with his light entertainment and B-film movie career, has done nothing to preserve or enhance his reputation with the music archaeologist or pop culture historians.
Criticism like “cookie cutter creation”, “puppet” or “cast from a mould” are used but it doesn’t matter because …
I like Fabian,
Though limited, I think he was quite underrated as a musician (and as a film star) because he has a nice voice and an appealing musical personality. Admittedly, saying Fabian is underrated is not saying much because any interest in Fabian is “up” from where he sits at the moment on the cultural capital pole.
Allmusic’s entire entry is, “Thanks to a series of performances on Dick Clark's American Bandstand, Fabian rocketed to stardom in the late '50s. With his stylish good looks and mild rock & roll, he became one of the top teen idols of the era; luckily, he had the support of the legendary songwriting team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, who provided him with "Turn Me Loose," "Hound Dog Man," and "I'm a Man," among other songs. Fabian's fame peaked in 1959 with the million-selling "Tiger" single; after that, he valiantly tried to become a movie star. When Congress fingered him as one of the performers who benefited from payola, his already-ailing career was given a nearly fatal blow; under questioning, Fabian explained that his records featured a substantial amount of electronic doctoring in order to improve his voice. After the hearings, he starred in some more movies in the '60s, without regaining the audience of his peak years”.
But what he was, was a well-rounded entertainer. His star only really shone for about two years in music and five years in film but the period he was working in (both in film and music) is a generally forgotten period between the wild days of 50s rock and the experimentation of 60s rock.
A period of innocence.
It’s easy to criticise those artists, or to forget them, but they were working with some exceptional songwriters and musicians (generally) and if you like the sound of that era, as I do, they made some beautiful music.
But, a lot of their material was second rate or rushed. A lot was not newly written. There was a tendency to go back to Tin Pan Alley and update an old tune … perhaps this was an easy way to fill an album, perhaps it was about royalties, perhaps the labels liked the tunes because there is the potential for the song to reach older listeners as well as the kids, or perhaps they didn’t have access to all the best new songs.
I mention that because Elvis rarely did Tin Pan Alley – songs like “Blue Hawaii” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight” being exceptions – Elvis, a non-writer, would dig back into his extensive memory music bag or would be able to pick songs from the hundreds or thousands sent to him to choose from.
Every writer wanted Elvis to record their songs – that’s money in the bank. So, I assume that acts like Fabian etc didn’t get as much new material from the songwriters. The songs tended to be ones Elvis didn’t want to do (“Turn Me Loose” here) as Pomus-Shuman and Leiber-Stoller have indicated.
As a side note: it wasn’t all one way traffic between the old and the new because it wouldn’t be long before Sinatra and other trad pop crooners were doing versions of rocks songs.
WIKIPEDIA: “Fabian Forte (born 1943) is the son of Josephine and Dominic Forte; his father was a Philadelphia police officer. He is the oldest of three brothers … Forte was discovered in 1957 by Bob Marcucci and Peter DeAngelis, owners of Chancellor Records. At the time record producers were looking to the South Philadelphia neighborhoods in search of teenage talents with good looks … Marcucci was a friend of Fabian's next door neighbour. One day Fabian's father had a heart attack, and while he was being taken away in an ambulance, Marcucci spotted Fabian. Fabian later recalled: He kept staring at me and looking at me. I had a crew cut, but this was the day of Rick Nelson and Elvis. He comes up and says to me, 'So if you're ever interested in the rock and roll business…' and hands me his card. I looked at the guy like he was fucking out of his mind. I told him, 'leave me alone. I'm worried about my dad.'" … However when Fabian's father returned from hospital he was unable to work, so when Marcucci persisted, Fabian and his family were amenable and he agreed to record a single … Frankie Avalon, also of South Philadelphia, suggested Forte as a possibility … "They gave me a pompadour and some clothes and those goddamned white bucks," recalled Fabian, "and out I went." "He was the right look and right for what we were going for," wrote Marcucci later”
This was Fabian’s first album and the mould was set … some newly written songs and some Tin Pan Alley songs (and one Elvis song) all sung in an Elvis type style and with some Elvis attitude, designed to make the girls scream and swoon … just quieter.
Fabian’s voice is a little thin, the backup singers are Jordanaires wannabees, and his band is a little all over the place …but … this album is fun and chockfull of Elvis Presley knockoffs making it quite endearing.
Eventually, Fabian became a more accomplished actor than a singer though he wasn’t highly regarded there either.
It’s a pity, because, ultimately, this pop rock is perfectly evocative of time and place and charming on its own level.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Tiger Rag – (Harry DaCosta )- This song has been done by everyone going back to 1917. Take your pick as to why Fabian did it. There was a trend towards rock guys doing big band trad stuff (Darin, Boone) so maybe why that’s why they dug deep? This is sung in harmony by Fabian and his backing vocalists. It is also one of two tiger themed songs (I assume because he had a big hit with another tiger song, "Tiger" in 1959 (#3)). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_Rag
- Hold Me (In Your Arms) – (Ricciuti, Ricci, Aquilino, Damato) – An original written for or chosen for Fabian. A lovely little ballad the chicks would have loved.
- Ooh, What You Do! – (Ed Marshall)- An original written for or chosen for Fabian. A mid tempo rocker. Pleasant.
- I Don't Know Why – (F. Ahlert, R. Turk) – another oldie dating back to 1931. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Don't_Know_Why_(I_Just_Do)
- Please Don't Stop – (Gordon Galbraith) – An original written for or chosen for Fabian. A totally enjoyable rocker, err mid-tempo rocker.
- Lovesick – (Ballard, Hunter) – An original written for or chosen for Fabian. Again, fun.
- Gonna Get You – (Gordon Galbraith) – An original written for or chosen for Fabian. Quite a hoot.
- Love Me, Love My Tiger – (Roy Straigis) – An original written for or chosen for Fabian.
- Don't You Think It's Time? – (Wayne-Raney) – This is a cover of the Elvis hit (Doncha' Think It's Time) from 1958 (#15). It also must have been the result of one those strange 50s song writing credits with pseudonyms, co-writer sell off or something. The song here is credited to Wayne and Raney, most contemporary credits to the Elvis song credit Brook Benton, and Clyde Otis, whilst old Elvis vinyl credits it to Otis and Dixon (Luther not Willie and sometimes written). But, it is all the same song. Maybe someone got a credit for correcting the slang, harrr. Fabian does the song well but the difference in singing styles between Elvis and Fabian is accentuated.
- Just One More Time – (DeAngelis, Marcucci) – An original written for or chosen for Fabian and another good one with some Scotty Moore type guitar.
- Cuddle Up A Little Closer – (C. Hoschna, O. Harbach) – This one dates to 1908 and sounds like it.
- Steady Date – (DeAngelis, Marcucci) – An original written for or chosen for Fabian and again, it suits him perfectly..
- Turn Me Loose – (Pomus-Shuman) An original written for or chosen for Fabian. And very much in the Elvis style with a hint of Gene Vincent. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turn_Me_Loose_(Fabian_song)
I enjoy this a lot and a couple of wines make it even better … I'm keeping it.
1959 Turn Me Loose The Billboard Hot 100 #9
1959 The Billboard 200 #5
Hold Me (In Your Arms)
Ooh, What You Do!
I Don't Know Why
Please Don't Stop
Gonna Get You
Love Me, Love My Tiger
Don't You Think It's Time?
Just One More Time
Cuddle Up A Little Closer
Turn Me Loose
with Frankie Avalon
- Fabian remembers the day he met his doppelganger. “My road manager told me that Elvis was on the phone and that he wanted to meet me. I asked him, ‘Why?’ He came up to my hotel room, which I couldn’t believe. I opened up the door, and there he was”. Fabian said that both of them appeared awkward at first; Elvis was said to be terribly insecure and felt threatened by others who could steal the spotlight. “We started laughing and joking around, and Elvis told me that he was learning karate. I had four other guys in the room with me. Elvis said, ‘Have your four guys surround me. I want to practice my karate.’ He wanted to do it, and he did it, and he got around them and knocked them all on their ass. He ripped his pants, by the way. I gave him a pair of my pants to wear home. That’s how I met Elvis Presley.” http://www.goldminemag.com/article/a-tale-of-two-idols-fabian-and-neil-sedaka
- On his films from his blog; “Fabian's early films rocketed him to stardom. He made his screen debut in 1959 in "Hound Dog Man", directed by Don Segal. He traveled iout of the country to make "Five Weeks In A Balloon" and "The Longest Day". He worked with two of our great screen giants in "North To Alaska" with John Wayne and "High Time" with Bing Crosby. Fabian was fortunate to have worked with the incomparable and gracious James Stewart in two films in his career, "Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation" and "Dear Brigette." He learned to surf with Tab Hunter in "Ride The Wild Surf" which has become a cult classic. More recent work includes being interviewed by Michelle Pfeiffer in the 1996, Jon Avnet directed film, "Up Close & Personal" … Fabian's role as a homicidal maniac in the TV production titled "A Lion Walks Among Us" directed by Robert Altman solidly established him as a versatile and powerful actor. This history making production was the first television show to run an hour without commercials”.