Of all the pure pop stars of the late 1950s and early 1960s Frankie Avalon is perhaps the most derided. Well, it’s either him or Fabian.
Like Fabian he was Italian-American.
Like Fabian he was a product of un-hip Philadelphia.
Like Fabian he quickly supplemented his music career with a film career.
Like Fabian his music doesn’t give rise to revisionism, retrospectives, or cult-dom.
there is inherently pleasing pop in the best of his music.
Wikipedia: “Avalon was born in Philadelphia, the son of Mary and Nicholas Avallone … In December 1952, he made his American network television debut playing the trumpet in the Honeymooners "Christmas Party" sketch on The Jackie Gleason Show. Two singles showcasing Avalon's trumpet playing were issued on RCA Victor's "X" sublabel in 1954. His trumpet playing was also featured on some of his LP songs as well. As a teenager he played with Bobby Rydell in Rocco and the Saints … In 1959, "Venus" (5 weeks #1) and "Why" went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100. "Why" was the last #1 of the 1950s … Avalon had 31 charted U.S. Billboard singles from 1958 to late 1962, including "Just Ask Your Heart" (U.S. #7), "I'll Wait for You" (U.S. #15), "Bobby Sox to Stockings" (U.S. #8), and "A Boy Without a Girl" (U.S. #10). Most of his hits were written and/or produced by Bob Marcucci, head of Chancellor Records” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankie_Avalon
The great Cub Koda writing in Allmusic places Frankie in his musical context: “Discussing Frankie Avalon's career as a mover and shaker in 1950s rock & roll with anyone who takes their rock & roll even halfway seriously is to court derision. Avalon was the first of the manufactured teen idols, before Fabian and Bobby Rydell and the myriad of other pretenders to the throne who worked the turf with tight black pants and red, red sweaters to the fore while Elvis cooled his heels in Germany. In the late '50s and early '60s, post-Twist and pre-Beatles, these generally untalented pretty boys were the cardboard no-threat remnants of a post-Elvis age. But Avalon had a real musical background to go with the pretty boy looks, and was no drugstore teenager waiting to be discovered”.
“Generally untalented” is a bit rough (and just lazy stereotyping) especially when compared to what followed but Cub Koda is astute enough to point out Avalon’s usually unwritten difference, and that is, his musicality. Avalon was a child prodigy trumpet player, with a good ear for music.
And I suspect that gave him an edge.
He may not have extended himself but he knew what he was doing.
His active musical recording career was over by 1962 but he had proved himself a fair actor, and continued making films till the end of the decade. He still tours and has a popularity which is testament to just how popular he was in the early to mid-1960s …
I grew up watching the Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello beach movies on weekends which alternated with Martin & Lewis films, Abbott & Costello films, Francis films and, of course, Elvis films. Despite the fact that Frankie and Annette were too Italian, and too urban, it never struck me that they weren’t authentic sun, surf and sandy beach types. But, then again, as an inner-Brisbane suburban (not a contradiction but a Brisbane thing) child, the son of southern European migrants to Australia, Avalon and Funicello certainly reminded me of people who would flock to Margate beach at nearby Redcliffe, on weekends, when I was a kid.
And in the days before digital entertainment, air conditioning and planned distractions the summer trips to Redcliffe, when we weren’t going fishing, were a must. All the uncles, aunts and cousins would congregate for a few hours of good quality extended family time.
And it wasn’t our family that invented this festivity.
The beach was not a surf beach and the sand, by Australian standards, was fairly narrow (even at low tide) between water’s edge and the concrete steps that dropped from the grass verge to the sand.
On summer weekends, the dirt road that ran along the grass verge was awash, on either side, with Italians, Croatians, Greeks, Hungarians and Poles all set up with their tents, tables, chairs, blankets and their version of barbecuing – which was much more elaborated than the Australian sausage and bun.
The smells of all the international cuisines, the multitude of languages and dialects made the place a "little Europe" amongst the gumtrees and lantana.
It certainly wasn't everyday Queensland.
It wasn't familiar Australia.
Well, it wasn’t Anglo Celtic Australia.
It certainly wasn’t an Australia that was or is portrayed in popular culture.
With upward mobility and the improvement of inter-town roads the (mainly southern) Europeans eventually gravitated away from weekends at Redcliffe to the infinitely sexier Gold Coast or the posh Sunshine Coast and Redcliffe beach has become home to newer waves of migrants.
At least that is the way I remember it.
It seems to me that the music of Frankie Avalon would fit in with that environment.
I can now hear Frankie Avalon’s music (or something like it) coming from any of those tents in the 1970s, some 15 years after he had recorded it.
This was as rock "n" roll as that specific cultural generation got, well this and Elvis of course, "who must have been a southern European with his dark complexion and hair".
And, there is nothing wrong with that.
It seems Frankie's music is perfect manufactured pop and faux beach music and … prefect for a migrant’s faux Australiana beach going.
The Italians especially knew he had done good … he was one of them, he was a singer, he was a movie star, he was clean cut and he hooked up with the perfect Italian girl next door, Annette Funicello, in every other film.
Where he fits into American culture I leave for the Americans to analyse.
To me he is pure pop of an era I have fond memories of, despite the fact the era was over before I was born.
Would I put him on the turntable above Dion, Bobby Darin, Bobby Vee?
No, but I sure enjoy his music and look forward to discovering his albums.
This album was probably rushed in 1958 to capitalise on his late 1957 hit “DeDe Dinah” (#7US).
Not surprisingly the album is made up of hits of the day with a few songs from Frankie's musical memory, the odd contemporary track that took his fancy and some old trad pop songs for the "grown ups".
Avalon was never a rock ‘n’ roller but in true pop fashion Frankie’s pop veers to cleaner versions of the rock ‘n’ roll that was still consuming the youth. The stereotype, and lazy history is, that this made him palatable with the adults. There is a truth in that but his chart success indicates the kids bought his music as well.
Pop, by its nature, is designed to reach as many people as possible and everyone dabbles in it. Elvis had as much pop as rock 'n' roll, even in the 50s and Beatles probably had more pop than outright rock.
Avalon, decided that is where his talents best lie and never deviated but, eventually, followed the Bobby Darin route from rock “n” pop to all around entertainer.
This album is arranged by and conducted by Italian-American guitarist Al Caiola (at least one his albums is in every op shop) and produced by fellow Philadelphian Peter DeAngelis.
Peter DeAngelis and Robert Marcucci founded Chancellor Records and became one of Philadelphia's most successful writing as well as manager/producer teams in the late fifties and early sixties.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Oooh! Look-A There, Ain't She Pretty? – (Todd, Lombardo) – an old tin pan alley standard done by everyone that dates back to Fats Waller in 1936. There is some magnificent guitar work (not quite rock 'n' roll but hyper) that I assume is supplied by Al Caiola. It is complimented by some wailing saxophone.
- Short Fat Fannie – (Williams) – Larry Williams’ #5Pop, #1 R&B US from 1957. More hyper pop. Frankie is trying to pitch this in Bobby Darin rock 'n' roll territory. It is cute and it works. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Short_Fat_Fannie
- Young Love – (Joyner, Cartey) – country singer Sonny James had a crossover hit with this in 1957 #2Pop, #1 Country but Tab Hunter did a version which was released in the same months (January) as James’ version. Hunter’s version went to #1 Pop US. I love this song. It's a great tune (especially in its two hit versions). Frankie's version works also and he sings it with the right amount of youthful emotion. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_Love_(1956_song)
- Young and Beautiful – (Schroeder, Silver) – first recorded by Elvis for his 1957 hit film “Jailhouse Rock” … this was an album track (or rather an EP track as the film did not have a soundtrack album just an EP) and had Avalon and his producers thinking beyond just recent chart hits for song selection which I applaud (though Elvis' EP went to #1 in the short lived EP charts). Frankie copies the Elvis arrangement (well, no arrangement) and sings in lonely and sparse and it sounds great. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_and_Beautiful_(Elvis_Presley_song)
- Diana – (Anka) – Paul Anka’s N2Pop, #1 R&B US hit from 1957. Pure up-tempo pop that suits Frankie. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diana_(Paul_Anka_song)
- At The Hop – (Singer, Medora, White) – Danny & the Juniors #1Pop, #1R&B smash from 1957. Quite a good version but not distinctive. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At_the_Hop
- Honey – (Simons, Gillespie, Whiting) – an old Tin Pan Alley dong dating back to 1929 and a hit for Rudy Valee. A definite throwback but not too bad. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honey_(Rudy_Vall%C3%A9e_song)
- I'm Walkin' – (Domino, Bartholomew) – Fats Domino’s #4Pop, #1R&B hit from 1957. A good version of the great tune. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I%27m_Walkin%27
- Little Bitty Pretty One – (Byrd) – originally recorded by Bobby Day, and popularized by Thurston Harris in 1957 (#6 Pop, #2 R&B). Others have had subsequent hits with it : Frankie Lymon (#58 Pop US 1960), Clyde McPhatter (#25 1962), The Jacksons (#13 US 1972). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Bitty_Pretty_One
- De De Dinah – (Marcucci, DeAngelis) – the hit written for Avalon by his management team. Quite catchy though quite ridiculous. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DeDe_Dinah
- The Stroll – (Otis, Lee) – The Diamonds #4Pop, #5 R&B US hit from 1957. Filler here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stroll
- My Mom – (Donaldson) – The standard was written and composed by Walter Donaldson in 1932 and done by a few trad pop-sters (Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett) including Rudy Valee in 1932. Very safe and very traditional sounding.
- You're My Girl – (Cahn, Styne) – Written for the Broadway musical, "High Button Shoes”. Its first performance was by Mark Dawson and Lois Lee (1947) though actor Jack Webb does a spoken word version (Jack “talks” the lyrics of the song over easy-listening background music) in 1958. Trad …
Quite a good pop "n" roll album. It is trying to cover all generational bases but, when it moves, it is thoroughly enjoyable. I'd be happy to drink to this in the sunshine … I'm keeping it.
1957 DeDe Dinah #7 Pop
1957 DeDe Dinah #8 R&B
Oooh! Look-A There, Ain't She Pretty?
Short Fat Fannie
Young and Beautiful
At The Hop
Little Bitty Pretty One
De De Dinah
You're My Girl
sometimes I agree with Patty Duke ..
- Frankie Avalon, Fabian and Bobby Rydell still tour together as The “Golden Boys”.
RIP: Glen Campbell (1936-2017)