13 October 2010

George Quaintance (Part One)

George Quaintance Photo

Lest Old AcQuaintance Be Forgot:
The Legacy of
George Quaintance
by Donny Jacobs

FAREWELL TO A TITAN
The death of George Quaintance from a fatal heart attack on November 9, 1957 has brought sadness throughout the entire physical culture world. For many years a portrait painter, Mr. Quaintance began to do physique work just as a hobby. With the publication of his first group physique study, "Havasu Creek", in the first issue of Physique Pictorial, the name of Quaintance caught the country by storm and an insatiable demand for his work began. A perfectionist, he drove himself unmercifully, slaving days and nights(and taking Benzedrine to stay awake) to finish a painting or a sculpture piece. His body couldn't take the beating, and his health broke down many times . . . still he was driven by the indomitable drive to create . . . throughout the world, he has been acclaimed as the trailblazer of a (male nude art) culture which has been almost ignored for twenty centuries . . . but Quaintance will never really die. In each of his paintings, he has put something of himself; it is almost as if he played out his life before its time by giving up so much of himself. Few have been able to leave a legacy so rich as he has.

This eulogy, written in late November 1957 by Bob Mizer, legendary physique photographer and publisher of the seminal Gay magazine Physique Pictorial, was a fitting tribute to a man who, like Mizer, was a true pioneer. Today there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of artists who specialize in casting an erotic allure over the nude male form. These artists think nothing of depicting two or more nude males in graphically sexual poses. However, in the 1940s, when George Quaintance began creating art for a Gay male sensibility, homoeroticism wasn't graphic. It couldn't be. Attraction between two men could only be hinted at, because to actually visualize it was illegal. Being Gay was illegal, too.

So George Quaintance worked within the limits, turning out dozens of mildly homoerotic compositions for his largely Gay male clientele to drool over clandestinely(a clientele who hid behind the socially-sanctioned guise of "physical culture" enthusiasts) . . . but how he did it! Such vibrant color! Such mastery of light and shadow! Such elasticity of line! He was the first American painter who placed depictions of male-on-male desire on the same level as classic landscape and portrait artistry. George Quaintance's stellar craftsmanship has stood the test of time beautifully, and even though the best of his work in oil paint now looks quaint and dated, its restrained eroticism exerts a magnetic pull that fascinates to this day. A Quaintance painting is proof that what they say is true: Leaving certain things to the imagination can be ever so much sexier than showing it!

Spartan Soldiers, 1956
1956: SPARTAN SOLDIERS

Honolulu-based erotic artist Douglas Simonson knows a thing or two about implied eroticism: His stylish renderings of native Hawaiian, African and South American men are in the Quaintance tradition of emphasizing physical beauty over graphic sexuality. Rarely does he veer into pornographic territory. "I've been familiar with Quaintance since probably the early '70s," he told me recently. "I wasn't particularly influenced by him in terms of artistic style, (but) like Tom of Finland and a few others, he inspired me simply by having been a portrayer of the male nude at a time when almost no one had the courage to do so."

George Quaintance has been mistaken for Hispanic, no doubt because so many of his paintings feature images of Latino men; others have clamied that he came from French-Canadian roots. Whatever his ethnic background, he was a country boy, born and raised on a farm in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. His birthdate was 3 June 1902. When he wasn't busy helping his parents with farm work, he drew pictures every chance he got; the lush country setting inspired him. Some rural parents would have frowned on such unmanly activities, but fortunately for George, the Quaintances saw fit to encourage them; when he begged for art utensils, they sent away for some. Young George was overjoyed when the set of pencils, brushes and paints arrived. He began using them straight away to hone his budding talents.

At the age of 18, he traveled to New York City and enrolled at the Art Students League, a prestigious academy that Norman Rockwell, Jackson Pollock and Maurice Sendak would later attend. There he studied painting, drawing and both classical and modern dance.  His family was very wealthy, and able to fund his studies. Upon graduating, Quaintance embarked on a career as a commercial illustrator, sculptor and professional portrait painter. Some of the landscapes he painted during this period (such as 1925's "Home On The Farm") still turn up occasionally at art auctions. He also created superb Art Deco sculptures, an example of which appears below. However, his most lucrative work came from freelancing as an illustrator for movie magazines; believe it or not, the man who'd become famous for his male nudes drew "girlie" pin-up art during his early career. He was capable of far more ambitious things, though; in 1933, during a trip back home, he fulfilled his mother's request to paint a religious mural for her church in Stanley, Virginia. The tableau, which features a stunning rendition of Jesus Christ, still exists.

Quaintance Art Deco

But George Quaintance was like a fountain overflowing with creative energy; visual art could not contain his talent. In the 1920s and '30s, he toured the vaudeville circuit with a dance troupe called the Collegians. He also taught tap dance and ballet for a time. By the late 1930s, he had re-invented himself as a hairdresser based in Hollywood. He designed coiffures for major movie stars like Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swanson and Helen Hayes (years later, he would style the haircuts of his male models). Working in the film colony apparently triggered directorial ambitions within him; periodically, he would return home to Virginia, round up some local talent, and stage elaborate musical revues that he wrote himself. By the early 1940s, he had also became interested in photography. George Quaintance was nothing less than a wunderkind, trying his hand and excelling at any number of creative endeavors. The one endeavor he didn't excel at during this period was marriage. A hasty union with one of his vaudeville dance partners, Miriam Chester, lasted less than a year.

If there's one thing George Quaintance's biographers can all agree on, it's the fact that he was a Gay man. Why on Earth would he marry up with a woman? He no doubt did so for one of the reasons Gay men still wed hetereosexually: Societal stigma placed on homosexual relationships; family expectations; the shame-based desire to force himself Straight; the delusion that his attraction to other men was just a phase. Certainly, Gay marriage wasn't even dreamt of in the 1930s: Men were expected to marry women, and that was that! Homosexual orientation was even less well understood then than it is today(the word "Gay" was relatively new, decades away from becoming common parlance). Nobody knew what it was, and few people knew what to call it, so it was easy for everyone to pretend that it didn't exist. As many Gay as Straight people took up this absurd pretense, and many still do.

If George Quaintance was one of these pretenders, he proved unable to make believe for very long. He found the female body aesthetically pleasing, but it held no erotic appeal for him. The male body was what excited him. In fact, his passion for male bodies was so strong, he would discover that he needed more than one lover at a time to satisfy it! When he began mixing business with pleasure later on in his life, that passion would come to dominate the kind of artwork he produced.

The Falconer, 1957
1957: THE FALCONER

Several years after his marriage dissolved, Quaintance began studying physique photography under Lon Of New York, among others. Lon Hanagan, whose work is highly revered today, was one of the pioneer physique photographers. While tutoring him, Hanagan took advantage of Quaintance's painting skill; in those days when total male nudity in commercial photographs was verboten, fig leaves had to appear over a nude model's genitalia(I kid you not). Taking paintbrush in hand, Quaintance diligently added these modesty-preserving adornments to many Lon of New York photo sets.

In all likelihood, Hanagan introduced Quaintance to the man who'd become his life and business partner. Puerto Rico-born Victor García had been one of Hanagan's models. By the mid-1940s, Victor and George had set up housekeeping together. This relationship would last until the end of Quaintance's life, but not without amendments! In 1953, their pairing would turn into a ménage à trois after Quaintance added a third man, Angel Avila, to their household. Quaintance had hired Avila to model for a series of matador studies. Evidently, García didn't cotton to the three-way relationship, and Avila moved out; however, he would have to learn to adapt. There would continue to be another man (usually a physique model, and usually Latino) in Quaintance's life and home up until his death. Eventually, Victor García fully embraced polyamory and took a second lover himself. Tall, Nordic-looking Tom Syphers kept him company when Quaintance's amorous attentions strayed. By 1956, Garcia, Syphers, Quaintance and whoever his new flame of the moment was were all living and sleeping together at Rancho Siesta, an Arizona property which became the latter's studio and business headquarters.

Coral Reef, 1956
1956: CORAL REEF

Much of importance happened before George Quaintance's love life took such an exotic turn, though. In 1948, he and Garcia relocated from New York to California. Quaintance had decided to concentrate on physique photography and paintings, and he no doubt had heard of the thriving bodybuilding scene at Venice Beach(then known as Muscle Beach). He wanted to be in close proximity to the best male specimens. By 1951, Quaintance had set up a mail order business in order to market his product; he'd been honing his male nude technique since the early '40s, and now he believed he finally had something commercial to offer. The first compositions he offered for sale were "Havasu Creek", "Young Stallion", "Kanaka Fisherman", "White Captive", "The Crusader", "Pearl Diver", "In The Arms of Morpheus", "Night In The Desert" and "Dashing."

He mainly advertised through Bob Mizer's Physique Pictorial, the most famous of several precursors to today's Gay skin mags. There was really no other place suitable for advertising the kind of work he did! His physique paintings typically featured semi-nude male couples or groups of men, captured in suggestive attitudes or poses. When they wore pants, the trousers were skintight, with visible bulges in the crotch. Although he necessarily eschewed frontal nudity, Quaintance pushed the envelope as far as he dared. The result was paintings that were considered much too daring for general exhibition. Truth be told, concentrating on the male nude destroyed George Quaintance's chances for a career as a mainstream artist; the stigma placed on homoerotic art was that strong. However, once his mail order business became as lucrative as it did, he might not have cared much.

The prints and slides he made of his provocative paintings sold like hotcakes! He and Victor García could barely keep any in stock. Quaintance's online biographers Ken Furtado and John Waybright have attempted to explain the huge appeal his artwork had for Gay men in the '50s. They wrote: "Quaintance's male physique paintings (made) casual nudity among men . . . so expressive and so connotative, with never a (penis) to be seen, as to assume a potency previously associated only with pornography."

To non-sympathetic eyes, it proved to be quite potent indeed! His painting "Aztec Sacrifice", which depicted two bare-bottomed Indian braves dying from arrow wounds, touched off a royal furore among postal authorities when it appeared as a Physique Pictorial cover image in August 1952. Its distribution was reportedly banned in some locales. The controversy gave Bob Mizer lots of headaches, but it undoubtedly helped send Quaintance Studio sales figures through the roof.

Sunrise, 1953
1953: SUNRISE

"The Legacy of George Quaintance" concludes with Part Two.

George Quaintance (Part Two)

George Quaintance Photo

Lest Old AcQuaintance Be Forgot:
The Legacy of
George Quaintance
by Donny Jacobs

Quaintance’s world is a largely female-free dreamscape of perfectly-muscled glamour boys showing their bodies to one another but never doing anything so salacious as kissing. This is a utopia of good clean fun and, fifty years ago, was more than enough to pack an erotic charge for men starved of homoerotic imagery. From our perspective today it looks rather innocent . . . Quaintance (shows) us as much naked flesh as possible, (while) always ensuring that a shadow, wisp of smoke or trail of cloth falls across the forbidden area (this also ensures that your eye is drawn to that very place).

This assessment of George Quaintance's oeuvre comes from artist and blogger John Coulthart. While valid as far as it goes, it understates Quaintance's importance to the field of Gay erotic art. He was arguably the first American artist to adapt homoerotic scenes into a true art form; despite their suggestiveness, his compositions aren't "dirty pictures" by any stretch of the imagination. He was the first artist to portray men in Levis as sexy. He was the first artist to eroticize masculine archetypes such as the cowboy, the Indian brave, and the matador; without him, The Village People might never have been concieved! Like The Village People, Quaintance wasn't just selling homoeroticism, either. He was selling male iconography, as well as the romanticism that was attached to it.

George Quaintance was much more than a pin-up artist. He was a serious craftsman. The main purpose of his paintings was to depict sexual attraction between men, but that wasn't enough to make them legitimate works of art, and he knew that. Accordingly, he presented most of his male images against a backdrop of exotic cultural, mythological, pastoral or historical themes. What was going on behind the hunks was almost as interesting to look at as the hunks themselves.

"Mr. Quaintance is a devoted student of the folklore of (American) Indians and of the North and South American continents and has . . . prepared several dramatic paintings illuminating (them)", noted his publicist in 1953. "In the year to come, Quaintance will be working on a new series of Western paintings . . . his models will be men of the land, Navajo and Apache Indians, young ranchers and rodeo stars, and that fascinating cross-breed of Indian and Spaniard known as Mexican." These new paintings would be some of his most memorable: "Sunset" with its rambunctious outdoor shower scene, "Navajo", a more tranquil depiction of men bathing; "Saturday Night", probably the first time a Gay Western bar was depicted on canvas; the lakeside nudes of "Lake Apache"; and such smouldering chiaroscuro masterpieces as "The Bandit" and "Noise In The Night." Quaintance claimed that, on average, his compositions took "two weeks to a month to complete."

The Bandit, 1953
1953: THE BANDIT

Much has been written about the aggressive machismo of George Quaintance's male figures. This is certainly an exaggeration! His men were masculine enough, but they looked anything but macho. Like photos of Quaintance himself, they exhibited a visible blend of male and female. He conveyed this blended look through languidly effeminate poses and gestures, hard bodies with soft and fluid curves, and androgynous-looking faces . . . not to mention those Brylcreem-slick Tony Curtis hairstyles! "George Quaintance's men did look more angrogynous," agrees Douglas Simonson. "He was into those soft, 'blend-y' kinds of lines." The impossibly butch, Straight-acting men that Tom of Finland favored were nowhere to be found in George Quaintance's world. You could never imagine one of Tom's leathermen camping it up, but picturing a Quaintance cowboy with a switchy walk wasn't hard to do at all.

The idea of Gay men being persons of neutral gender(an idea that many Gay men reject to this day) was strongly embodied in George Quaintance's paintings. The combination of subtle androgyny with less-subtle homoerotic suggestion is probably what gave his artwork its unique appeal. Yes, there were artists who could draw the male figure as well or better than he did, but few could make them look so indentifiably Gay! On the other hand, there were physique artists whose drawings of men looked so stereotypically Gay, they were off-putting. Quaintance knew how to put the right elements together. His ability to create images of men that came across as both masculine and homosexual was ahead of its time; and unlike most of today's homoerotic artists, he knew how to convey Gay male sexuality without needing to show males engaging in sexual activity. Whether Quaintance would have if he could have is a question worth pondering: Would have wanted to tamper with his winning formula?

Lake Apache, 1954
1954: LAKE APACHE

Quaintance's tantalizing way with male nudes became internationally popular among an underground community of Gay erotica collectors, and even though he's not as well-known as he once was, it has remained so. His nudes influenced nearly every physique artist who came after him, most notably Harry Bush, Etienne, Japanese erotic art legend Sadao Hasegawa, and Quaintance's most successful imitator, Tom of Finland. Finland, now recognized as the preeminent Gay erotic artist of all-time, is renowned for taking physique art into territory far more sexually explicit and aggressivley macho than Quaintance had ever dreamt of; even so, he was following a path that George Quaintance blazed.

It was his association with Physique Pictorial that made George Quaintance's reputation as a physique artist. His ads appeared right next to the contents page in early issues; many featured a dramatically-posed photo of himself, his well-developed biceps bulging out of a tight black sport shirt. (His marcel-waved hair was immaculate, of course.) He sold original paintings priced between $50.00 and $1,000.00, with photo prints and color slides at $1.50 a pop; a set of six slides was a bargain at $5.00(although these prices were considered rather hefty in the 1950s). A mere 25 cents would buy you a catalog of Quaintance model photos. He also penned occasional how-to guides on figure drawing for PP. His physique drawings graced every cover from November 1951 until October 1953, when Bob Mizer began opting for photographic covers. (The censorship uproar over "Aztec Sacrifice" may have precipitated this change.)

Aztec Sacrifice
1952: AZTEC SACRIFICE

By popular demand, Quaintance paintings graced the Fall 1956 and Fall 1957 covers. Tom of Finland had debuted in PP by that time, and the two artists would surely have competed for cover honors for the rest of the decade had it not been for Quaintance's untimely death. But Quaintance didn't limit himself to a single outlet: in addition to Physique Pictorial, his work was featured on the inside and outside of Adonis, Vim, Demi-Gods, Body Beautiful, Grecian Guild Pictorial, Your Physique and other '50s physique periodicals. He was so popular, all the muscle mag editors wanted to work with him. Some of them commissioned him to do paintings of major bodybuilders of the day like Everett Sinderoff, John Farbotnick and Steve Reeves, who went on to find fame as the definitive cinema Hercules. These cover paintings are so dynamic, they fairly leap off the page; they easily rank with his best non-commissioned work.

Hollywood-based "Art-Bob" and Andrew Kozak were early imitators of the Quaintance style, as well as his main rivals for space in Physique Pictorial. By 1955, Mizer seemed to be favoring the cartoonish style of "Art-Bob" over Quaintance's more sophisticated renderings, but by then the man from Shenandoah Valley had more mailorder customers than he could handle. "Business has grown to fantastic proportions in the last few months," he wrote to a friend in the early '50s. "I'm practically out of my mind trying to keep up with it!" In addition to the highly popular color slides of his oil paintings, Quaintance sold nude sculptures and male physique greeting cards. These latter keepsakes were the precursor of the Gay sex greeting cards sold today; the set of twelve 4 X 9 color images was marketed toward the end of 1957, shortly before his death. Among them is one of his campiest compositions: A drawing of an impish blond man whimsically posed naked inside a giant champagne glass. It's an excellent example of how George Quaintance liked to infuse his work with an unambiguously Gay sensibility.

Quaintance Calendar Boys
1957: QUAINTANCE GREETING CARDS

He almost always painted from photographs, and at any given time, a bevy of hunky male models were either disrobing or posing in his studio. His first regular model was Fred Boisiewick, who posed for early physique studies like "Crusader" and "Pearl Diver". Later on, the aforementioned Angel Avila became one of his favorite camera subjects. Other Quaintance models included British bodybuilder Ron Nyman, Jim Shoemaker, Jim Glasper, Bill Bredlau, Bob Kirkwood, Syrian emigré Ahmed Dene, Bob Jewett, Mexican model "Edwardo", George Coberly, Zaro Rossi and, infrequently, Quaintance himself, photographed by his lover, Victor García. He captured them all on canvas (and sometimes in bed, too) at Rancho Siesta, the studio he opened in Aztec Park, Arizona, sometime in 1953.

By then, George Quaintance had modified his personal appearance to reflect his interest in the Western man. He enthusiastically reclaimed his rural roots, adopting an early version of the Gay "clone" look which would become so popular in the 1970s: Boldy-colored western shirts, Levis, bandannas, and elaborately-tooled cowboy boots. His heart problems notwithstanding, he exercised regularly and maintained a trim and solid physique; all the better to show off the skintight clothing he increasingly favored. A strawberry blond toupée concealed what was left of his thinning brown hair; baldness wouldn't become a fashion statement for another 25 years or so, and at any rate, the former celebrity hairstylist couldn't bear to have anyone glimpse his bare scalp!

Red Dust, 1955
1955: RED DUST

The mailing address of Rancho Siesta was listed as Box 192, Phoenix, Arizona(zip codes had yet to be invented in the '50s). However, by 1957 Quiantance was again based in Los Angeles, listing his original Terminal Annex post office Box. Then, suddenly, he was gone. Bob Mizer announced Quaintance's fatal heart attack in the Winter 1957 issue of Physique Pictorial, shocking the many fans of his work. Mizer's obituary cited strain of overwork as the probable reason for his death, but the possibility of a serious drug addiction was also hinted at. He may have moved back to Los Angeles to seek treatment; the full circumstances surrounding George Quaintance's sudden demise have never been revealed and probably never will be. His body was cremated.  It was reported that no funeral was held, but Victor Garcia's nephew disputes this claim: He remembers attending the service with his mother.

His estate, including countless photographs, sculptures and approximately 60 oil paintings, was left to Victor García and García's other lover, Tom Syphers. Somehow, most of this material ended up in the Tom of Finland archives, where it was found by Richard Hawkins, a photographer friend of Quaintance. From the art collection of two Hawaiian brothers came near-complete set of color negatives. These treasures belonged to another friend of Quaintance's, and they've all been restored. They are the source of most of the Quaintance artwork now in circulation, and they're also the basis of a long-overdue Quaintance retrospective that Germany's Taschen imprint will publish later this year.

So much of what comes out of the Gay arts community these days can be classified as "gotcha" art. Labeled "queer art" by those who create it (an insult both to Gay people and to artistic traditions), it's designed to shock, and can be counted on to be heavy on explicit sexual content and negative stereotypes. The classic work of George Quaintance serves as a reminder that Gay art doesn't have to come across that way. In addition to being provocative, depictions of same-gender sexuality can be subtle, beautiful, noble, fun and altogether fine. Even more important, the male nude, rendered with his kind of exceptional skill, can be every bit as respectable and valuable as any female nude.

In the 1940s and '50s, nobody could imagine Gay visual erotica being shown in a mainstream gallery; now such exhibits happen all the time. In fact, a retrospective of physique photos taken by George Quaintance and Victor García recently had a showing at a Paris art gallery. The artist would no doubt have greeted this renewed focus on his work with both pleasure and disappointment; after all, he didn't make his name as a photographer. He would've wanted the attention focused on his oil masterpieces. A major Quaintance painting exhibition is certainly long overdue; there's no American physique artist who's more deserving of the honor.

Shore Leave, 1952
1952: SHORE LEAVE

Thanks to Douglas Simonson, Ken Furtado 
and John Waybright.

See the complete surviving Quaintance Collection at:
 www.georgequaintance.com/
Vintage photo of George Quaintance by Edwin Townsend, courtesy of the Finter-Salvino Archive.  Watch for The Art of George Quaintance, a deluxe hardcover volume to be marketed by Taschen Books this Christmas.

22 September 2010

Annette Funicello (Part Three)

Annette Prom

The Disneyland Diva
Annette:
A Musical Reunion with America's Girl Next Door
An AndruCharlz Production
Reviewed by AndruCharlz
Additional Production and Remix by Donny Jacobs

Years ago, near the end of a 1975 "American Bandstand" reunion show, the guests (all "Bandstand" and Caravan of Stars tour veterans) took turns "roasting" and insulting the show's longtime host, Dick Clark . . . all except one! Even when goaded by her onscreen boyfriend Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello sweetly refused to join in on the ragging.

That in itself shows why Annette was and is so unique, and, to today's generation, so improbable. Throughout her roughly 40-year career as a celebrity, she was nice! And Miss Ann stayed nice, no matter what temptations came her way. Sure, she knew that millions of boys were tuning in "The Mickey Mouse Club" only because "Annette's startin' to get big knockers," as a gang member in the 1978 movie Grease joyfully proclaimed. Everybody on the Disney backlot knew it, but she just smiled and stayed on the high road. She kept to that path even when it might've helped her career to veer off of it.

Part of it was her loyalty to Walt Disney, the beloved "Uncle Walt" who discovered her at a dance recital in 1955. However, most of it was her determination to model wholesome behavior, no matter what kind of snarky or suggestive shenanigans were going on around her. The teen exploitation movies she starred in between 1963 and 1967 seethed with surfside sexuality, but nobody ever wondered about her character's virginity! When she had to play a drunken scene in the awful hot rod flick Thunder Alley, it wasn't remotely believeable; it was obvious that she didn't even know how to act drunk. When Connie Stevens and Frankie Avalon were going potty mouth in the PG-rated reunion movie Back To The Beach, even when a male co-star flashed his thong bikini'd butt cheeks in her face, Annette's onscreen demeanor was never less than 100% ladylike. She always came out smelling like a rose.

Annette Reunion

Speaking of Annette and reunions, let's now discuss Annette: A Musical Reunion with America's Girl Next Door. First released in 1993, this 2-CD set is the best-yet compendium of the Disneyland Diva's music career, and Walt Disney Records' ultimate aural tribute to Uncle Walt's favorite niece. Because it's a Disney project, it focuses almost entirely on her work for that company: her Disneyland and Buena Vista singles, and her musical performances from Disney movies and TV shows. The track listing just barely acknowledges her songs from beach party movies. (Actually, those songs are controlled by Disney as well; producer Salvador "Tutti" Camarata frequently had Annette re-cut production numbers from the soundtracks of her American-International films.)

When a singing career was first proposed for Annette, she wasn't sure she had the ability to even carry a tune. Fortunately, she had a boyfriend at the time named Paul Anka, a dynamic singer and performer who ended up being to her what Frank Sinatra had been to Sammy Davis, Jr: The best vocal coach around! Anka rehearsed her and built up her confidence, and during 1959-60 at least, the results spoke for themselves: Five Top 40 hits, including two Top Tens! First came "Tall Paul" (#7), followed by "First Name Initial" (#20), "O Dio Mio" (#10), Anka's "Train of Love" (#36), and "Pineapple Princess" (#11). Miss Ann has also credited Tutti Camarata for being especially patient and encouraging with her in the studio. He kept the mood light and fun. Tongue-in-cheek Pop songs, more often than not penned by Bob and Dick Sherman, and a zany background chorus led by Gloria Woods helped make her recording sessions enjoyable, too.

Annette Smile

Disc One of A Musical Reunion, my favorite of the two discs, covers the years 1959-61. It includes the aforementioned Top 40 hits, as well as lower-charting singles and worthy tunes from movie and TV soundtracks. This disc gives you a candid picture of teenage Pop during that time, far more accurate than you usually get from anthologies of big hits. Kicking off with the frantic "Tall Paul", it treats you to six more historic tracks from Annette, the actress's 1959 debut album. Why historic? This was "Bubblegum Rock," nearly a decade before that term was invented! Even more significant is the fact that Annette Funicello, a teenage girl, pioneered the sound. Ironically, we remember Bubblegum Rock today as a genre that was almost completely male-dominated.

Surprisingly, considering how little confidence she had in her vocal abilities, the best tracks on Disc One are the ballads. Annette's girlish winsomeness is a perfect fit for "O Dio Mio," the equally Italian "Mia Cara, Mi'Amore" and the Jimmie Dodd composition "Lonely Guitar", which was featured several times on the Disney TV series "Zorro". Her reading of "My Heart Became of Age" is just adequate, but when she sings "Please, Please, Signore" and the Spanish-language "¿Amo Qué Paso?" she brings believable passion and melancholy to the lyrics.

The disc's uptempo selections are a mixed bag. Among the highlights are "Wild Willie," the wickedly satirical "Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy," and the Paul Anka-penned "It's Really Love, Dear" (which, minus the words, later morphed into the theme song of "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson"). There are even two tarantellas based on Italian folk melodies: "Dream Boy" and "Lucky, Lucky, Lucky Me." (I've heard Connie Francis's version of the latter tune, and hearing Miss Ann's rendition made me wonder what would've resulted if "big-sister" Connie and "kid-sister" Annette had ever gotten together on a single! Unfortunately, we'll never know.) These waxings, tinged with boppin' Rockabilly rhythms and tasty Neapolitan orchestrations, showcase the Disneyland Diva at her best.

Unfortunately, the disc's low points are the fake Hawaiian songs. Many Annette fans would disagree, but they absolutely made me cringe! They come dangerously close to kitsch. "Hawaiiannette," "Luau Cha-Cha-Chá," "Strummin' Song" (heard here in demo form) and even "Pineapple Princess" are much too cute for their own good. The material only improves when Annette dares to do an authentic Hawaiian tune, "Song of the Islands"; with Big Band accompaniment; she swings it, as if it were "Mack the Knife" and she were Bobby Darin (she imitates him right down to the staccato "Ho! Ho!" shouts). At least this number bears a faint resemblance to Rock 'n' Roll! The rest don't even come close.

True, the album that featured most of these tracks, Hawaiiannette, was a best-seller in 1960, but it hasn't aged well. If you enjoy records so campy they make your eyes roll, that collection certainly fits the bill; however, Annette was capable of more substantial music-making. Fortunately, she got the chance to rock out more convincingly in the second phase of her recording career.

Annette Apple

Disc Two covers that second phase, the years 1961-65. As noted before, it barely acknowledges the Avalon/Funicello beach movies; there's one track each from the soundtracks of Beach Party (the title song), Bikini Beach (the song "Bikini Beach Party"), Pajama Party ("Stuffed Animal" . . . so that's where you got the name, huh, Don?) (editor's note: Yup!) and Muscle Beach Party ("Surfer's Holiday"). What little surf music there is was well-chosen, though; these Bubblegum fusion efforts sound great. Annette's aggressive readings of uptempo surf and hot rod sides made a provocative contrast with her good girl image.

Again, though, the high points are her ballads. The lovely stereo remake of "How Will I Know My Love" (her first single), the sublime tango argentino "Canzone d'Amore" (performed with accordionist Gianni Mazzochi), and the demo version of "Just A Toy" (from Walt Disney's production of Babes In Toyland) prove that what Paul Anka told her was true: she did know how to sing! Not only that, she could sell a song.

On "The Monkey's Uncle", her silly but fabulous collaboration with The Beach Boys, La Funicello is the center of attention; try they do, but the Wilson brothers' famous harmonies can't upstage her. Miss Ann also holds her own with The Wellingtons, a more traditional harmony group (and singers of the delightful "Gilligan's Island" TV theme); they support her on "Merlin Jones, The Scrambled Egghead", a madcap single from a madcap 1963 movie. "The Parent Trap", a tune recorded to promote the hit 1961 Hayley Mills film vehicle, finds her sharing the vocalist's booth with Babes In Toyland co-star Tommy Sands and acquitting herself like a Broadway musical veteran.

Baroness of Bouffant

The Baroness of Bouffant also does a good job revamping familiar chart hits. Her version of "Music! Music! Music!" is far less saccharine than the 1950 Teresa Brewer original; the Bubblegum gloss she applies to Chubby Checker's 1961 smash "Let's Twist Again" does the tune good; and her quite adorable take on The Ska Kings' 1964 regional hit "Jamaica Ska" was novel enough to become an instant cult favorite. In 1987, Annette would reprise this proto-Reggae dance number for the soundtrack of Back To The Beach. Especially notable is her confident reading of "Blame It On the Bossa Nova" which, believe it or not, puts Eydie Gormé's performance to shame. That's mostly because Annette didn't deliberately sing it off-key, like Eydie did! Tutti Camarata deserves credit, too, though, for toning down the cacophonous Bob Mersey arrangement that clobbered the eardrums of Ms. Gormé's fans.

The finest uptempo track on Disc Two is "Walkin' And Talkin'", a vintage Bubblegum rocker that hails from a 1962 concept album called Teen Street; Miss Ann's performance really sparkles in a new, pristine stereo remix. This disc does have its share of clinkers, though: "The Rock and Roll Waltz", "The Flapper Flip," "The Rock-A-Cha" and . . . "Rock-A-Polka" ??? Yipe! These dated-sounding tracks from the 1962 Dance Annette collection try too hard to capitalize on dance crazes, or worse, create them out of whole cloth. "I Can't Do The Sum", for which La Funicello portrays a housewife trying in vain to balance her budget, is a competent reading of the Victor Herbert showtune, but taken out of its Babes In Toyland context, the song fails to impress. Obviously, the box set compilers included it to show how our favorite Mouseketeer was capable of handling "serious" music; but had they passed it over, few fans would've missed its absence. A couple more surf 'n' sand rave-ups would've substituted nicely in its place!

Annette's final single for Buena Vista Records in 1965 was another showtune called "Nowhere To But Up". It was the title song of a Broadway musical that had flopped a few years earlier; one of the composers, Stanley Ralph Ross, would go on to write scripts for the "Batman" and "Wonder Woman" TV series. This Phil Spector-ish beat ballad got a first-time stereo mix that was almost good enough to end the disc on . . . almost, but not quite. Instead, the disc and the box set close with a performance by Head Mouseketeer Jimmie Dodd: His 1956 single "Annette", written for and performed in a "Mickey Mouse Club" serial of the same title. This new version features overdubbed spoken tributes by Paul Anka, Shelley Fabares, Frankie Avalon, Tommy Sands and, at the very end, Mickey Mouse!

Anyone listening to them now might think these tributes were just a sweet gesture on the part of Annette's show business colleagues. Actually, they were expressions of love and concern for a woman who, everyone close to her knew, was fast succumbing to the ravages of multiple sclerosis. "Walkin' And Talkin'" is a painful song to hear today, because the Disneyland Diva has now completely lost the ability to walk and talk. The lady who deserves to be called Queen Mother of Bubblegum Rock (and who belongs in the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame) has gone into permanent seclusion; cared for 'round the clock by her devoted husband, Glen Holt, she's just a shadow of the vivacious actress, singer and Skippy Peanut Butter pitchwoman she once was.

That her friends cared enough to record what will ultimately be an audio kiss goodbye reinforces what I said at the beginning: Throughout her time in the public eye, Annette Funicello never stopped being the nicest of nice girls, even when not-so-nice people were satirizing and criticizing her for it. She earned the affection we all feel for her. Although her current circumstances are sad, she's still one of the best-loved Pop culture icons of the 1950's and '60s. Even though it's not a perfect compilation, Annette: A Musical Reunion contains many tuneful reasons why she deserves to be.

Annette Autograph

03 August 2010

Connie Francis (Part Five)

Connie Smiling

Lipstick On Your Collar
. . . and 59 More Reasons Why Connie Francis Belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
by Donny Jacobs

Lipstick on your collar/Told a tale on you
Lipstick on your collar/Said you were untrue
Bet your bottom dollar/You and I are through
'Cause lipstick on your collar/Told a tale on you*
*Copyright 1959 Anne-Rachel Music(ASCAP), administered by Chappell and Company.

When you think about the stars of early Rock'n'Roll, women's names don't immediately spring to mind. Instead, you remember male stars like Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and, of course, Elvis. There were plenty of women on the scene, though. You had femme songwriters like Deborah Chessler, Dorothy La Bostrie and Beverly Ross. You had femme members of otherwise male vocal groups like Rosalie Hamlin of Rosie and The Originals, Janet Vogel of The Skyliners and Zola Taylor of The Platters. You had non-Rock women who dabbled in the new sound, like Sarah Vaughn, Kay Starr and Patsy Cline. You had dozens of R & B female vocal stars like Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker and Faye Adams. You had youngsters like The Teen Queens, The Bobbettes, and The Chantels, setting the stage for a Girl Group explosion in the early '60s. You had up-and-coming talents like Jackie DeShannon, Jo-Ann Campbell and Brenda Lee, who flew under the radar in the beginning; and you had a smattering of successful Rock'n' Roll women like Connie Francis.

From the time she first began recording in 1955 until her first big Italian-language hit in 1960, Connie was a Rock act. She cut Rock'n'Roll singles and performed them at Rock'n'Roll venues. Then she shifted gears. The public's overwhelmingly positive reception to "Mama" and, following in rapid succession, the Country-flavored "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" and "My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own" prompted her to concentrate on the Adult-Contemporary market. She correctly perceived a stronger fan base among Adults, and decided to cultivate it.

Contrary to what you may have heard, though, this Brooklyn-born Jersey girl never stopped cutting Rock tunes; she just didn't do it as often! At one of her last sessions for M-G-M Records, she covered "Reuben James", the 1969 hit for Kenny Rogers and The First Edition. A few months earlier, she'd seriously considered recording "Angel Of The Morning", which later charted for Merrilee Rush and The Turnabouts. Rock'n'Roll remained on the menu of music styles Connie Francis offered up to her fans, along with Country, Jazz, Latin, Pop standards, showtunes, children's songs and International repertoire.

True, albums that concentrated on Rock material were few and far between after 1959; but through the 1960s, Connie featured many Rock tunes on albums and singles that were released both inside and outside the United States. Here's a CD box set's worth of those tunes for your consideration:

Mister Twister
(John Berry, Don Covay, Mark Lewis)
Co-written by Soul legend Don Covay, "Mister Twister" is arguably Connie Francis's finest Rock'n'Roll record: it's a whole lot bluesy and a little bit spicy, with a bitchin' cha-cha beat that won't quit! Like Petula Clark's French chart-topper "Ya Ya Twist", it's one of the best Chubby Checker-inspired songs you've probably never heard. A Black male vocal group accompanies Connie on this side, but unlike when other White acts of the period harmonized with Black singers, her voice doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. The brothers are in the groove, and Sister Francis is right up in there groovin' with them! Connie was as much at home with Black musicians as she was with the decidedly whitebread Mitchell Ayres Orchestra, with whom she cut tunes for Armed Forces radio.

The Tiger And The Mouse
(Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman)
The 1950s was the golden era of Rockabilly, and several of Connie's hits fall into that category: Certainly "Stupid Cupid" and "Lipstick On Your Collar" do. Here's one slice of blue-eyed R & B that got away. "The Tiger And The Mouse" was cut as a possible follow-up to "Lipstick" but never released; Connie had no trouble nailing the song, but something about it didn't suit her. A pair of takes were completed at two separate sessions, but neither met with her satisfaction. If only she had decided to bear down on this Pomus/Shuman number instead of on "No One"(more about which will be said later).

Looking For Love
(Hank Hunter, Stan Vincent)
One of the few bad recordings Connie made during her M-G-M tenure was the 45 RPM version of "Looking For Love". The theme of her third movie was a highlight of the film soundtrack: Featuring Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and other assembled backing voices, it was a funky boogaloo with a wild sax solo. Klaus Ogermann's swingin' arrangement was recycled when she re-cut the song for the soundtrack album. For some unknown reason, she and producer Danny Davis decided to wax a third version .  After an aborted attempt in Nashville, New York arranger Alan Lorber came up with a new orchestration they liked; but the lugubrious march-time master they completed was just awful.  It wasn't Rock'n'Roll, either (Ace Records' inexplicable decision to include it on a recent Connie Francis Rock retrospective notwithstanding), but somehow it got pressed up as a single. The public's response was decidedly lukewarm. When executive producer Bill Levenson forced me to accept this dog of a track on Connie's Souvenirs box set in 1996, it left a very bad taste in my mouth. Now it pleases me to call your attention to the cut I wanted programmed in its place; the movie version of "Lookin' For Love" is one of the best '60s Pop/Rock album cuts you'll ever want to hear.

Eighteen
(Brad Boobis, Neil Nephew)
Connie was much too convincing as a teen sexpot caught up in a maelstrom of hormonal lust when she recorded "Eighteen", her strongest bid for radio airplay prior to the release of "Who's Sorry Now?" If the track had featured any more of her libidinous squeals, it might've been banned for suggestiveness!

Telephone Lover
(Eddie Curtis)
The best thing about this jazzy rocker from Connie's Dance Party album is the comedic monologue she opens the song with: Why don't you come over to my house and talk me more of that sweet talk, hmmm? Darling? Hel-lo? Hel-lo? Hel-lo? It's a playful nod to the Big Bopper's 1958 smash "Chantilly Lace". Iconic though it may be, JP Richardson's record actually pales in comparison: He couldn't sing R & B like Connie, and he didn't have the Apollo Theatre's music director Sammy Lowe putting his studio band though its paces. Lowe's strategic use of strings and horns on this track is very effective.

Plenty Good Lovin'
(Connie Francis)
There was such a thing as a Rock 'n' Roll orchestra in the '50s, but the group playing on "Plenty Good Lovin'" certainly isn't an example of one. It's the kind of Swing-era big band Kate Smith would've been comfortable with 20 years earlier! Despite Ray Ellis's anachronism of an arrangement, Connie's song lyrics about hotrod cars and twangy guitars are bursting with '50s Rock sensibility; she delivers them with a winking eye and a cocky swagger.

It'll Never Happen Again
(Tim Hardin)
This is the lesser of two Tim Hardin songs Connie recorded with producer Pete Spargo in the fall of 1966. Clearly aimed at the same people who bought Little Anthony and The Imperials hits, it's something of a throwback to her '50s Rock ballad style.

It Happened Last Night
(Leonard Whitcup, Earl Wilson, Slugger Wilson)
There's undoubtedly an interesting story behind this song, one that has yet to be told. Here are the facts: In 1962, gossip guru Earl Wilson helmed a popular nightlife column for The New York Post; titled "It Happened Last Night", it ran until the early 1980s. Somebody, possibly Connie's manager, may have thought she'd do well to get in his good graces. Whatever the case, she agreed to cut a song that Wilson and his son had written to capitalize on his column's notoriety. All concerned probably expected a throwaway album track, and indeed it did end up on an LP(Second Hand Love). However, the track turned out great! Don Costa wrote a swirling Rock-a-Tango arrangement, and Connie graced it with a joyfully effervescent performance.  In addition to the album exposure, M-G-M Records featured the tune on an extended play disc; in a review published on 14 July 1962, Billboard enthused that it "could give the EP the kind of action normally reserved for a single."  That didn't happen, probably because plugging "Last Night" more aggressively would've invited nasty quid pro quo accusations!  Yet even 48 years later, this wonderful waxing all but screams its hit record potential.

Connie 5

You Always Hurt The One You Love
(Doris Fisher, Allan Roberts)
A surprise UK hit, pulled from the Who's Sorry Now? album by M-G-M Record's British branch. Take note of how Connie introduces Country music phrasing as she nears the climax of this Rock ballad remake: You always break the ki-indest heart/With one hasty word you can't even re-member. If you're looking for stylistic purity, don't expect to find it on a Connie Francis album! The woman simply loved to blend styles. Her adventurous spirit never failed to confound critics with narrow concepts of what Rock'n'Roll should sound like.

Capatosta Sweet
(Leo Chiosso, Sandro Taccani)
Underneath the bubbly exterior of Connie Francis lay a dormant Punk Rock princess! Atypical songs like "Capatosta Sweet", with their raw interplay of drums and guitar, brought that secret side out in her. "Sweet" was issued in Italy on the flipside of "Aiutami A Piangere", one of La Franconero's continental hits. Rocking singles like this one, written as well as sung in a foreign language, helped spread the genre's popularity outside the English-speaking world. Connie wasn't the only recording artist who tailored product for foreign export this way, but the massive international following she commanded made a big difference in sales and airplay.

Where The Boys Are
(Howie Greenfield, Neil Sedaka)
Connie and her vocal coach Joe Sherman worked exceptionally hard on the voice tracks for "Where The Boys Are." She'd sung movie music before (in the films Rock, Rock, Rock, Jamboree, The Big Land and The Sheriff Of Fractured Jaw), but this was her first big movie theme; she wanted it to be perfect! This hit single previewed the slightly more nasal singing voice she'd start using regularly by the mid-1960s. While there's far more Pop than Rock'n'Roll influence in "Boys"(and the version cut for the movie isn't Rock-influenced at all), no retrospective of teen sounds from the early '60s would be complete without this international blockbuster. Like it or not, frothy ballads were an essential part of the early Rock scene, especially for women performers.

Tommy
(Hank Hunter, Stan Vincent)
By 1964, the kind of swooning Rock ballad Connie was famous for in the '50s and early '60s had fallen out of favor; few composers were even writing them anymore. However, when her staff songwriters Hunter and Vincent wrote a new song in this mold and played it for her, she couldn't resist cutting it. The vintage 1958 groove of "Tommy" all but begged for her indelible imprint. Hiring The Tokens to sing back-up, Connie produced it herself and sneaked it onto the flipside of her next single, a contemporary Pop ballad. Ironically, that ballad predated the Rock era: It was a lush update of Eddy Howard's 1952 smash "Be Anything".

Robot Man
(Sylvia Dee, George Goehring)
"Robot Man", a tune Connie despised with a passion, is typical of Rock novelties that were popular in the late 1950s; other examples include Sheb Woolley's "Purple People Eater", "Transfusion" by Nervous Norvus, and Dickie Goodman's wild science fiction send-ups. As her audience matured, she stopped cutting these kinds of records, but at the beginning of her career, she waxed no small number of them. Concetta Franconero was the kind of professional who never let personal tastes influence her choice of material, and who never gave any song less than her best efforts. Here, those efforts paid off with a British best-seller.

Toward The End Of The Day
(Leo Delibes, Ray Ellis, Al Stillman)
The only Rock ballad producer Ray Ellis is known to have written for Connie is a stone keeper: A langorous slow dance number that was guaranteed to get teenage couples necking furiously. A more staid Neapolitan version of "Toward The End Of The Day" appears on Connie's Italian Favorites album.

Fallin'
(Howie Greenfield, Neil Sedaka)
"Fallin" is one of the all-time great Habanera Rock songs, as well as one of the sexiest performances on record by a '50s Rock singer. Get that image of a poodle-skirted, pony-tailed Connie out of your mind! This is La Franconero coming across like Sophia Loren, oozing dark glamour and dangerous curves. Her bee-stung lips and mambo hips are extending an offer you can't refuse: "Wanna dance? The name ain't 'baby', though, it's Connie . . . Miss Francis, if you're nasty!"

Are You Satisfied?
(Homer Escamellia, Sheb Wooley)
My, what bad habits Concetta Franconera got into, performing Jazz standards on the "Startime Kids" TV show in the early '50s! That was no doubt where her downward slide into sultry Blues belting began. Underage performances in sleazy nightspots also took their toll, so it's no surprise that by 1955, she could lay down a shockingly mature vocal track like this one. Never before and seldom since has the character of a brazen hussy been conveyed so convincingly on wax! Having sunk to such melodic debauchery, it was only a matter of time before Connie added sinful songs like "Baby's First Christmas" and "Yiddishe Momme" to her repertoire . . .

Playin' Games
(Mark Barkan, Hank Hunter)
This album cut from Connie's 1965 For Mama album hails from the same sessions that produced her hit "I'm Gonna Be Warm This Winter". If both songs call to mind Del Shannon records, that's no accident: Shannon's regular music director, Bill Ramal, handled the arrangements. "Playin' Games" is one of many Connie Francis performances that could qualify as Country or Rock.

The Lovey Dovey Twist
(Eddie Curtis)
The most frantic rocker La Franconero ever recorded gathered dust in the tape vaults for three long decades. When Bear Family Records finally unearthed "Lovey Dovey Twist", inferior aural quality couldn't dull its sassy bite. There's simply no other Connie Francis record like it! When she's not reminiscing wickedly about a Twist-crazed boy named Chris who moves every-which-a-way (background singers all but hyperventilating behind her), Connie is tantalizing you with suggestive Southern belle repartée: I can Twist a while for you, honey . . . I mean to tell you, sugar. Noooo, not even for money, honey! Well, all right, then, just dig me. The overall suggestiveness of "Lovey Dovey Twist" is no doubt what nixed its release; it's obviously a Dance Party album outtake, but one that most other artists would surely have pressed up as a single.

No Better Off
(Bobby Elgin, Bert Keyes)
Connie's most ambitious Habanera Rock recording(one which might've taken Latin America by storm had anybody thought to dub a Spanish version) was hidden away on her 1965 album For Mama. She invests it with the raw passion that Latin music demands, and Bert Keye's thunderous Rock-a-Tango arrangement still packs a wallop 45 years after he wrote it.

I'll Get By
(Fred Ahlert, Roy Turk)
Like "You Always Hurt The One You Love", this cut from the Who's Sorry Now album was culled for 45 release in England, where it scored a hit. Connie's alternately lazy and aroused vocal, caressed by Tony Mottola's murmuring guitar chords, is a blessing for the ears; it's like a very satisfying cup of coffee that lasts a long time.

Connie 6

"Lipstick On Your Collar" continues with Part Two.

Connie Francis (Part Six)

Connie Smiling

Lipstick On Your Collar
. . . and 59 More Reasons Connie Francis Belongs in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
by Donny Jacobs

Hey, Ring-A-Ding!
(Eddie Curtis)
This penultimate track from the Dance Party album starts out sounding incredibly goofy, but it ends with a powerhouse vocal finale. Connie Francis, that tiny wisp of an Italian woman, could coil and uncoil her singing voice like a Slinky toy: she'd charm you with an adorable Shirley Temple delivery one minute and stun you the next with a burst of mighty Maria Callas volume. That's what she does on "Hey, Ring-A-Ding", a song best described as half-lullaby/half-Blues shout! Not such a great tune for Twisting, really, but unforgettable once you've heard it.

It Would Still Be Worth It
(Clint Ballard, Jr, Fred Tobias)
Connie's stunning vocal performance on this number (recorded in 1960, but unreleased in the United States until 1987) demonstrates how she masterfully combined raw passion with fragile vulnerability to give her Rock ballads maximum aural impact.

Too Many Rules
(Don Stirling, Gary Temkin)
String sections were a given on femme Pop product in the early 60s', but then as now, seldom do they compliment Rockabilly rhythms! Try as he might, arranger Cliff Parman can't keep the strings on this track from sounding extraneous. Fortunately, Connie has no trouble rising above the distraction; she sells the parents-just-don't-understand premise with a cheesed-off vocal so convincing, you can practically see her pout.

No One
(Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman)
This was a song Connie had trouble capturing, and unfortunately, the version released in January 1961 was one of her failed attempts. Never before had a Doc Pomus song sounded so bland! To be fair, Brenda Lee's version, issued four years later, really wasn't much better. Little did the public know that in the M-G-M vaults lay a sublime, Hawaiian-flavored take of the tune, cut with Ray Ellis back in October of '59. On that near-masterwork, which wasn't released for nearly 30 years, Connie's keening tones compete with a steel guitar for the most poignant aural expression you've ever heard.

Don't Cry On My Shoulder
(Bennie Benjamin, Sol Marcus)
Never issued in the United States, "Don't Cry On My Shoulder" was the British flipside of "Mister Twister". Connie's background vocalists are a tad too loud for my taste, but not even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir could overshadow her surefooted reading of this movie soundtrack-calibre Habanera rocker.

Don't Ever Leave Me - Japanese version
(Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Kenji Sazanami)
When Connie felt it was time to dive back into the competitive Rock'n'Roll swimming pool, she didn't fool around. She engaged one of the hottest production teams in the business, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, to help limber up her backstoke! The swingin' pachanga rocker they crafted for her made a big splash internationally; on the hit Japanese version, she once again used her little girl voice to good effect.

Without Your Love
(Howie Greenfield, Neil Sedaka)
This kind of four-handkerchief ballad requires a big orchestra in order to be fully realized. Still, even with spare backing by a Rock combo, Connie takes ownership of this excellent Greenfield/Sedaka song, drawing maximum pathos out of the lyrics. Had her version of "Without Your Love" been released, even in this spartan form, it would easily have bested a rare recording by Wendy Hill, which topped out at #111 Pop in the fall of '61.

Let's Have A Party Tonight!
(Hank Hunter, Stan Vincent)
Connie's showcase rocker from the film "Looking For Love" pulled hit singles for her in Germany and other foreign territories. It sounds like a remake of "Vacation", recorded after the studio cats had knocked back a few Tequila shots! Miss Francis was a tee-totaller, of course, but she didn't need alcohol in order to make this kind of uninhibited music.  Recent RRHOF inductee Jeff Barry provides the funky bass counterpoint to her wailing lead.

Don't Turn Around
(Howie Greenfield, Neil Sedaka)
Connie's pull-out-all-the-stops vocal on "Don't Turn Around" makes Gloria Gaynor's histrionics on "I Will Survive" sound embarassingly amateurish. This is what truly emotive singing sounds like, and this is the kind of song that brings it out. If Connie had to name the best Greenfield/Sedaka tune she ever recorded, I'd bet this feminist anthem would be a top contender for that title.

Lipstick On Your Collar
(George Goehring, Edna Lewis)
"Lipstick On Your Collar" is a song that fairly begs for embellishment with the comedic facial expressions and animated hand gestures Connie has long been known for. There was no acting-out at the recording session, though; that great singing voice of hers was the only interpretive tool needed. Her biggest original Rock'n'Roll hit is a full-bodied mambo that roars along on a Rockabilly-fueled piston engine; George Barnes lay his claim to Rock'n'Roll immortality with one of the wickedest guitar solos on wax.

Connie 1

Valentino
(Kadish Millet)
Concettina plays the Convent schoolgirl in love with a thuggish street urchin, singing to a track that's heavily marinated in Latin seasonings. Over the next few years, hundreds of Girl Group songs would be cast in a similar mold. Although "Valentino" appears on most copies of her American More Greatest Hits compilation, it was never a hit in America. The song's Apache dance rhythms caused quite a stir in French-speaking territories, though.

Johnny Darlin'
(Eddie Curtis)
Jive, Connie, jive! A tough-as-nails, finger-wagging rocker from the Dance Party album. Lady Gaga wishes she had material this good!

Mail Call
(Fred Karger, Sid Wayne, Ben Weisman)
This stomper was written for Connie to sing in her final M-G-M film, 1965's When The Boys Meet The Girls. Although "Mail Call" seems very Nashville in orientation, it was recorded on a Hollywood soundstage. She belts it out good and strong in an early scene where her character distributes mail to a group of young men. This song would not have sounded out-of-place in an Elvis Presley comedy from the same period.

My Best Friend Barbara
(Hank Hunter, Neil Sedaka)
Jump back, honey!  Connie confronts a garishly-dressed boyfriend-stealer in this sprightly rarity from the Neil Sedaka songbook.

We Have Something More
(Emilio Daniele, Mickey Gentile, Jenny Lambert, Luciana Medini)
An English adaptation of an Italian Pop song ("Di La Verita") gave Connie a swingin' Rock-a-Tango flipside for the American release of "Don't Ever Leave Me." The Italian composers are listed here for the first time.  Her ebullient vocal reading sparkles so brightly, it's no wonder "We Have Something More" charted in its own right. "No Better Off" was cut at the same Mickey Gentile-produced session, but held back for use as an album track.

Stupid Cupid
(Howie Greenfield, Neil Sedaka)
This is the song that established Connie's Rock'n' Roll credentials. It also kicked off her very rewarding professional and personal relationship with Howard Greenfield and Neil Sedaka, Rock'n'Roll's answer to Rogers and Hammerstein. Country legend Patsy Cline was evidently quite impressed by Connie's recording; two years after its release, she essayed her own version of "Stupid Cupid" for a rare Armed Forces radio broadcast. Believe it or not, La Franconero sang it better.

Part Of The Wind
(Tim Hardin)
Connie poured a lot of Soul into this bluesy snippet of a song from the Tim Hardin songbook; Hardin probably pitched it to her directly, as he was an M-G-M labelmate at the time. To date, a rare 1995 South African compilation is the only place you can find it.

Linda Muchachita
(Bill Newman, Don Stirling, Javier Valdés)
This Spanish translation of "Pretty Little Baby" (a track from Connie's 1962 album Second Hand Love) became a favorite of Chalypso dancers in Latin America. What they say about south-of-the-border diversions is true: They tend to be spicy! Maybe that's why our multilingual songbird gave "Linda Muchachita" a more flirtatious interpretation than you'll hear on the English original.

My Dream
(Richard Hayman)
The Platters recorded a song with this title in 1957. Even though the title is identical and it would've fit right into their repertoire, Connie's recording is of a different number altogether. More evidence of her Rock ballad mastery, "My Dream" hails from the same Hollywood sessions that produced "Valentino" and "Teddy".

Look At Him
(Ellie Greenwich, Tony Powers)
The late Ellie Greenwich, who regularly sang background for Connie in the early '60s, co-wrote this delightfully bouncy number. However, she didn't produce it, as has been erroneously reported.  It was produced by Danny Davis at the same New York recording session that yielded "If My Pillow Could Talk" and "You're The Only One Can Hurt Me."  Concettina's playfully pugilistic reading fits "Look At Him" like a (boxing) glove.

Connie 2

"Lipstick On Your Collar" concludes with Part Three.