what Frank is listening to #81 – JOHNNY RESTIVO – Oh Johnny! – (RCA) – 1959
Johnny was very much the mould for the second generation rock stars:
- he was from the north (New York);
- he was very young (15 – born in 1943), and;
- he had a minor hit ("The Shape I'm In" – 1959 – #80) and then virtually disappeared (there were 2 albums and a handful of singles to his career).
He was also obviously Italian-American – and he kept his name (oddly). Italian Americans loomed large in late 50s / early 60s rock – Dion (Dion DiMucci), Bobby Darin (Walden Robert Cassotto), Fabian (Fabian Forte), Bobby Rydell ( Robert Louis Ridarelli), Frankie Avalon (Francis Thomas Avallone), James Darren (James William Ercolani), Jack Scott (Giovanni Dominico Scafone Jr.), Lou Christie (Lugee Alfredo Giovanni Sacco), Frankie Valli (Francesco Stephen Castelluccio), Johnny Rivers (John Henry Ramistella).
Johnny was one of any number of Elvis clones that came in his wake (he was even on Elvis' label RCA) though he tended to concentrate on the more pop and ballad parts of Elvis' career rather than the rock.
His rocky hit "The Shape I'm In" isn't on this album and isn't necessarily an indication of the material on this album from late 1959.
1959 was a pivotal year for rock:
- It was the year that "raw" rock 'n roll was forced underground (it still existed in the early 60s but not in such quantities in the national charts);
- Regional accents, also, were forced underground (everyone started to sound like a middle class white boy from the north);
- All the rough edges were smoothed out, the sexually suggestive lyrics were removed, the commonness of the music was put aside, and any threat was negatived.
Conspiracy theorists would have a field day. Within a year of 1959, either way, the first generation of rock was marginalised:
- Elvis was drafted into the army;
- Jerry Lee Lewis was banned (for marrying his 13 year old second cousin which was reasonably commonplace at that time in the South);
- Chuck Berry was jailed;
- Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash, as were The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens;
- Johnny Cash had pill problems;
- Little Richard gave up rock and turned to God (he vacillated backwards and forwards between the two over the years);
- Alan Freed – the DJ behind breaking a lot of rock acts – was investigated for payola and his career ended;
- others fled in England where they were killed (Eddie Cochran) or otherwise psychologically scarred as a result of accidents(Gene Vincent);
- many record stations were predicting that the "rock n roll fad" was over.
In this environment record companies weren't sure how to market up and coming rock singers. They tended to cover all bases – rock, pop and ballads. Much like the template that Elvis had set with his first long players in 1956. The difference is that with Elvis he was backed by a rock band whereas a lot of the late 50s acts were backed by orchestras – so while the music rolls it sometimes doesn't rock – ha ha.
This album is a good example of that:
- Most of the tracks are pop;
- The ballads are sweet;
- There are a number of non-rock songs included ("Last Night on the Back Porch" is a cha cha cha, "The Thing" is a Mitch Miller style ballad);
- The songs are slightly and innocently suggestive about chasing and kissing girls – certainly none of the catching and fucking as implied in Elvis's rock;
- There are sweet female backing vocals;
- The backing is an orchestra (Ray Martin and His Orchestra)
This isn't a big problem. As long as the tunes are good the music can be appreciated on its own merits rather that in comparison to first generation rock. The easiest 1959 comparisons are with Fabian and Cliff Richard – Johnny probably sings better than Fabian though Fabian had better material, and he probably sings as good as Cliff but again without the material.
- Come Closer – a nice little rocker.
- I Wanna Play House – the eternal 50s theme about playing house with a chick – playing house was a euphemism for rooting wasn't it?
- Boy Crazy -very early 60s pop. It could have come from an Elvis soundtrack .
- I Like Girls – just what the title says.
- Dear Someone – a ballad about singer responding to a female fan who had written to him – very weird – and very exploitive.
- Love- another good little rocker.
- Free – a pleasant ballad and written by Johnny.
To keep or not to keep – it's pleasant enough – I might keep it though it is tempting to sell for the resale value:
I Like Girls
The Shape I'm In
(originally posted: 29/08/2009)