Wednesday, November 19, 2008

'66: Lou Christie, Frank Sinatra

Lou Christie -- Lightnin' Strikes

So, which pop falsetto is your favorite? I suppose the most successful in the genre was, of course, Frankie Valli, but there's also Eddie Holman ("Hey There Lonely Girl") Larry Henley of the Newbeats ("Bread and Butter"), any of the Bee Gees, and Robert John ("Sad Eyes"). But Lugee Sacco, of Glen Willard, Pennsylvania, used his like no other. He sang his songs in a normal register but as they built to a crescendo in the chorus, he'd soar into his trademark upper register.

You have to hand it to composers Lou and Twyla Herbert for demonstrating a lot of gall, unmitigated or otherwise, in the lyrics -- here we have a guy demanding of his girlfriend the right to play around until they get married. Till then, if someone comes along he's attracted to...lightnin' strikes! Lou met Twyla in Glen Willard in 1959, when he was 15 and she was about 30. They established a successful songwriting partnership that saw him through a decade-long pop charting career in which he appeared on nine different labels -- and he still regularly tours in the 2000s, recently appearing with Lesley Gore. "Lightnin' Strikes" was released on MGM in late 1965 and hit #1 in mid-February of the next year, though Lou has said in interviews that the president of MGM Records hated it so much when he heard it, he threw the tape away. It was wisely released anyway.

The backup singers, Jessica James and the Outlaws (Denise Ferri, Bernadette Carroll ("Party Girl") and Peggy Santiglia (who had been with The Angels), immortalized the nonsense backup phrase "buppy-ah-ooh" (do they make these up in the studio as they go along?) Other notable ones in the genre can be heard on Bobby Pickett's "Monster Mash": "innashoo-wah-oo" and even Adam Ant's "Stand and Deliver": "a-diddley-quah quah." Christie returned the favor, doing the backup honors on JJ and the Outlaws' 1966 release, "We'll Be Makin' Out."

Frank Sinatra -- Strangers In The Night

When Frank Sinatra returned to the #1 spot in 1966, 5 months after daughter Nancy helped pave the way for him with "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'", it was a vastly different pop landscape than it had been in early 1955, the last time Frank had been to the top of the pops with "Learnin' The Blues"; accompanying him in the Top Five that year were Mitch Miller, the McGuire Sisters, the Fontane Sisters, and Cuban bandleader Perez Prado. That year, Bill Haley and His Comets had the first #1 rock record ("Rock Around the Clock"), Elvis became a phenomenon the next year, and the classic pop purveyed by Sinatra, Dean Martin, Perry Como and Bing Crosby started to take a back seat, sales-wise. When Sinatra returned to the top in 1966, he found The Beatles, The Cyrkle, The Rolling Stones and Dusty Springfield in the top five with him.

"Strangers in the Night" was an instrumental composed by Hamburg, Germany bandleader Bert Kaempfert, who had previously enjoyed two US #1 hits in 1960 ("Wonderland by Night" and Joe Dowell's "Wooden Heart," introduced by Elvis in GI Blues). Kaempfert had also composed "Swingin' Safari," used as the theme song for the 1960s incarnation of TV's The Match Game, and recorded Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers (the Beatles) in Hamburg in 1961. After Sinatra's label's public relations man Jimmy Bowen heard the instrumental, part of the soundtrack for the James Garner vehicle A Man Could Get Killed, he requested lyrics for the song, which he was sure Sinatra would record. By the time Sinatra had the song a few months later, the lyrics had already made the rounds of the recording industry and Bobby Darin and Jack Jones had already recorded it -- but radio picked up Frank's version and it rocketed to the top. 


The Music Director, WWIB said...

I know this was a historical dive deeper and more obscure than most care to bother with but note the Bee Gees references--

Historians can be hep too!

Budd_Majik said...


When it comes to great falsetto singers, you have to include the legendary William Hart, lead singer for the Delfonics. Just think of his soaring voice on tunes such as "La La Means I Love You" or "Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time."

wally creek said...

Re: "buppy-ah-ooh"

Reportedly in the case of The Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron", the songwriters didn't have a lyric at the time of writing and inserted that nonsense until English lyrics came to mind. In the end, they went with the nonsense lyrics. Writers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich seemed to write like this a lot!

Today, you modern songwriters can use the word verification thing for posting here for writing your own mysterious lyrics. Let's see, "unchabi" rhymes with . . . ?

Kohlrabi? Uh, maybe not.

Anonymous said...

I had the good fortune to back the late Bobby "Boris" Pickett on an impromptu "Monster Mash" at CBGB in 1979. He told the backing vocalists (one of whom was me) beforehand that the phrase used on the original session was "tennis shoe-ah-oooh". From the horse's mouth, so to speak.

Another classic pop falsetto: the Stylistics' Russell Thompkins Jr.