Connie Francis & Hank Williams Jr: Sing Great Country Favorites (CD)
At first sight, Connie Francis and Hank Williams Jr. wouldn't seem to have much in common, but Connie loved country music, and her voice blends beautifully with Hank Jr.'s on this duet album, rounded out here by a couple of alternate takes. Connie Francis and Hank Williams Jr. tackle a program of country favorites including Bye Bye Love, Send Me The Pillow You Dream On, Wolverton Montain,
Francis, meanwhile, was no stranger to country by 1964. As early as 1957, she had dabbled in country music, recording a duet, The Majesty Of Love, with Marvin Rainwater just before Who's Sorry Now. In 1959, while also conquering the worlds of rock 'n' roll, Italian music, holiday music, pop standards, and children's music, the versatile singer had also found time to cut 'Connie Sings Country And Western Golden Hits.
"That album was not a big success, but Francis was undaunted. Commissioning her Brooklyn-based songwriting team of Howard Greenfield and Jack Keller to write her a country-type song, and Francis had a worldwide hit with Everybody's Somebody's Fool in 1960. Thereafter, a country flavor was part of the mix in many of her recordings of the '60s, some of which were recorded in Nashville. ("The Nashville Sound," she notes, "can't be duplicated anywhere.") Not only were there hits like Breakin' In A Brand New Broken Heart, but also a second country album, 'Country Music, Connie Style'.
Hence, when Francis and Williams came together to cut 12 country standards that had bee arranged by Bill McElhiney under the production aegis of Jim Vienneau and Danny Davis, both can be considered to have been ready. This is not to say, however, that theirs was a natural collaboration in any sense other than that of corporate logic: Francis was MGM Records' biggest star, Williams, the son of their biggest country money maker, was probably their newest signing. It must have been hoped that glory would be reflected on both sides.
The track listing easily justified the album's billing of 'great country favorites'. Most of the songs dated from the previous ten years, and all were well-known in country circles. A few were equally well-known in the pop world. Hank Locklin's Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On had hit #5 country for him in 1958 and been revived by the Browns (#23) in 1960 and Johnny Tillotson (#11) in 1960. All three versions had also hit the pop charts. Wolverton Mountain by Merle Kilgore (who in later years would become Hank Williams, Jr.'s manager) and Claude King, had been a #1 country hit for King in 1962. Don Robertson and Hal Blair's Please Help I'm Falling (In Love With You) also had been a country #1 for Hank Locklin in 1960.
Endsley's Singing The Blues had spent 13 weeks at #1 country for Marty Robbins in 1956, while Guy Mitchell had scored the #1 pop hit for 10 weeks. Kendall Hayes's Walk On By had gone to #1,country in 1961 in a rendition by Leroy Van Dyke. Jimmy Work, who co-wrote Making Believe with Roscoe Reid and Joe Hobson, beat Kitty Wells for the top-selling recording, making #2 country to her #5 in 1955.
Don Gibson's Blue, Blue Day had topped the country charts for him in 1958 and gone to #14 for the Wilburn Brothers three years later. And Felice and Boudleaux Bryant's Bye Bye Love had gone #2 pop and #1 country for the Everly Brothers their first time out in 1957. (Francis had cut it for her first country album in 1959.)
Three of the four remaining tracks were, if anything, even better known. Lefty Frizell and Jim Beck wrote If You've Got The Money, I've Got The Time in 1950, the year that Frizzell took it to #1 country. (Jo Stafford had the pop hit.) Mule Skinner Blues, otherwise known as Blue Yodel #8, had been written by Jimmie Rodgers and George Vaughn and was one of Rodger's most popular tunes; the Fendermen had scored a #5 pop hit with their rendition in 1960. And the traditional song Wabash Cannonball, introduced by the Carter Family, had been a gold-selling hit for Roy Acuff in 1938. Even the less-well-known No Letter Today, a 1943 song by Frankie Brown, had been a #2 country hit for Ted Daffan and his Texans in 1944.
This latter technique, of course, has been a prominent element in recording arrangements for the past several years (ever since Floyd Cramer's 'Last Date'). These qualities, together with the song material and general sound - mark the album as Nashville-made."
(The extensively used voices, by the way, were those of the Jordanaires. Best known as accompanists to Elvis Presley, they were between assignments with the King - a couple of months before, they had helped him cut the soundtrack to his film 'Roustabout,' and only a couple of weeks after the Francis/Williams sessions, they'd be back in Culver City to sing Do The Clam, among other songs, for 'Girl Happy.')
As to the two primary singers, "Connie's very versatile singing brings the skilled nuance of the urban song to bear upon this material," Ackerman wrote, while, "On the other hand, Hank sings in the traditional country fashion." Both, he perhaps couldn't have added in 1964, sing tentatively. Francis, despite moments of the kind of assurance we associate with her, often sounds like she's trying to get it right rather than really enjoying herself. Williams for the most part displays competence but little real enthusiasm.
It's not also notable that the two show flair for different styles. Francis seems on firmest ground with the ballads, notably No Letter Today, which easily could have been one of her country-oriented singles. Williams, not surprisingly, given his later history, gets more involved with the uptempo material, much of which has the flavor of the Hank Sr. songs he'd spent so much time copying. He shows off a nice yodel on Singing the Blues, for instance, which is perhaps to be expected of a boy who spent much of his childhood singing Lovesick Blues.
For the most part, however, you can see why the teaming of Connie Francis and Hank Williams, Jr. did not turn into one of the legendary country duos. Just like in the movies, a musical couple needs a certain chemistry, and while Hank and Connie's first date showed them off to advantage, its qualities - and its sales - were not enough to inspire a second encounter.
Nevertheless, Francis, for one, remembers the album fondly. Though she cknowledges that it's one of her records that "nobody ever heard of," she calls it "a great album. That's my forte," she adds, "I do country better than I do anything else." And though Hank Williams, Jr. has branched out into a num-ber of genres since, the same can be said of him.
WILLIAM RUHLMANN, New York, May 1993
Article properties: Connie Francis & Hank Williams Jr: Sing Great Country Favorites (CD)
|Francis, Connie - Sing Great Country Favorites (CD) CD 1|
|01||Bye Bye Love||Connie Francis & Hank Williams Jr|| |
|02||Send Me The Pillow You Dream On||Connie Francis & Hank Williams Jr|| |
|03||Wolverton Mountain||Connie Francis & Hank Williams Jr|| |
|04||No Letter Today||Connie Francis & Hank Williams Jr|| |
|05||Please Help Me I'm Falling||Connie Francis & Hank Williams Jr|| |
|06||Singing The Blues||Connie Francis & Hank Williams Jr|| |
|07||Walk On By||Connie Francis & Hank Williams Jr|| |
|08||If You've Got The Money||Connie Francis & Hank Williams Jr|| |
|09||Mule Skinner Blues||Connie Francis & Hank Williams Jr|| |
|10||Making Believe||Connie Francis & Hank Williams Jr|| |
|11||Blue, Blue Day||Connie Francis & Hank Williams Jr|| |
|12||No Letter Today (alt)||Connie Francis & Hank Williams Jr|| |
|13||Wabash Cannonball||Connie Francis & Hank Williams Jr|| |
|14||Mule Skinner Blues (alt)||Connie Francis & Hank Williams Jr|| |
Connie Francis the female pop icon
Connie Francies was discovered at the age of eleven during a talent show, six years later she received a contract from MGM. Their first single ('Freddy') was released in 1955, which, like some others, initially went unnoticed.
It wasn't until 1958 that 'Who's Sorry Now' (built in 1923) became her first chart hit in the USA, followed by 54 more until 1969. In England the most successful singer of the 50s and 60s brought 24 tracks to the hit lists (1958 - 66), of her 35 German-language original singles, 23 placed between 1960 and 1970.
No other interpreter in the world used the time span after the heyday of rock'n'roll and the beginning of the beat era so cleverly. When Connie Francis' golden years were over, she stood up for UNICEF and went to Vietnam as a singing troop adviser.
Since 1960 she has also appeared in various US films, such as "Where The Boys Are' ('These Include Two', 1960), "Follow The Boys' ('Mein Schiff fährt zu dir', 1962), "Looking For Love' ('Ich wär' so gern verliebt', 1963) and 'When Boy Meets Girl' ('Boy of My Dreams', 1965).
In 1974, after a performance at the Westbury Theatre outside New York, she was attacked and raped - a crime from which she did not recover psychologically for many years. She made guest appearances again in the early 80s, but towards the end of the decade her unstable health again took its toll. After language problems during a show in London's Palladium, there were similar signs during a TV conversation on American television.
In 1991 Connie Francis collapsed during a concert in New Jersey. In 1992, several Francis titles in Germany experienced a renaissance: The Medleys "Jive Connie' and '(10, Connie, Go' shot to the top of the hit lists.
In 1993 she recorded the duets'Que Sera' and'So nah' in Munich with Peter Kraus for Sony's Herzklang label - in England a song from a TV series became a surprise hit:'Lipstick On Your Collar' from 1959.
From the Bear Family book - 1000 pinpricks by Bernd Matheja - BFB10025 -
The rock 'n' roll era was a boys club. Most of the top-selling artists were male: just a few female artists could go head-to-head with them. Of the women from that era, Connie Francis was by far the top-seller. Rock 'n' roll was testosterone-rich music, and Connie realized early in her career that she couldn't cut loose with a banshee rockabilly wail, but she could make very believable rock 'n' roll music that was true to her background and her unique talent.
Connie was born Concetta Maria Franconero on December 12, 1938 in Newark, New Jersey. Her parents had been born in the United States to Italian immigrant families. Connie's paternal grandfather arrived in 1905, carrying a battered concertina and little else. Connie sat on the stoop of their house, learning the folk songs from the old country. It soon became clear that she had talent, and began appearing at entry-level talent contests in and around New Jersey, singing and playing the accordion. Connie's father, George Franconero, took an interest in her budding career and took her to New York, trying to get her on a childrens' television show, 'Startime.' "We flagged down the producer of the show, George Scheck, who was hailing a taxi," Connie said later. "My father said, 'Would you listen to my daughter sing?' He said, 'I'm up to here in singers. I can't use singers.' That's when "the accordion saved my life." Scheck said that he would give her an audition if she played the accordion, and she was on 'Startime' for four years. Eventually, Scheck became her manager.
In 1950, Connie appeared coast-to-coast on 'Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts,' and was often on television over the next few years. It was Godfrey, incidentally, who suggested that she change her name to Connie Francis. By age fourteen, Connie was crossing the river to New York, singing demonstration discs for music publishers. In 1955, Lou Levy at Leeds Music financed a session with George Scheck, and they jointly took the masters around to the record labels. The only taker was MGM Records' A&R man, Harry Meyerson. One of the songs on the demo tape was one titled Freddy, and Connie was later told that Meyerson only signed her because his son's name was Freddy and he thought the record would make a good birthday present.
The early singles did little business, and Connie was handed to Jim Vienneau, who was related to MGM Records' founding president, Frank Walker. Vienneau was given the responsibility of bringing MGM into the rock 'n' roll era, and he found a song for Connie called Eighteen. It signalled a new direction and the initial response was promising, but it too failed to chart. After nine consecutive flops, Connie was told that she would get one last shot on MGM before being dropped. Two people guided Connie's career, George Scheck and her father, George Franconero. At her father's insistence, Connie recorded an old jazz age pop tune, Who's Sorry Now, with a double-tracked vocal similar to Patti Page. "My father," said Connie, "had an ear for what people would like from me that was uncanny. On that last session, he said, 'Here's a song I've been trying to shove down your throat for the last year-and-a-half.' I said, 'Don't tell me it's that 1923 song again. Did people actually write their names in 1923? I'm not doing it.' He said, 'Go ahead, have another bomb, and you end your career. I'm surprised they stuck with you this long. Tell you what. Do me a big favor. Pretend I'm gonna die tomorrow and this is my last wish. You pick out your usual three duds and throw this one in for me.'"
George Franconero was right, of course. Released in November 1957, Who's Sorry Now? got a little airplay around the country, but didn't take off until MGM's Philadelphia distributor, Ed Barsky, took a copy to Dick Clark. "Dick heard a sound in me that was totally different," Connie said later. "The reaction was just phenomenal. He played it every day for three months." Connie freely admits that she owes her success to Dick Clark and the repeated plays on 'American Bandstand.' If not for him, she would have been dropped when her contract was up. Who's Sorry Now? reached #3 in 'Cash Box,' #4 in 'Billboard,' and #1 in England.
Another revamped oldie was released as a follow-up, but did nowhere near as well. It was then that music publisher Donnie Kirshner suggested that she listen to two young songwriters he'd just signed, Neil Sedaka and Howie Greenfield. After Sedaka and Greenfield had played all their ballads, Connie said she wanted to hear something peppier. Neil decided to play Stupid Cupid (which, according to Howard Greenfield, was written for Sal Mineo, then promised to the Shepherd Sisters). Connie loved it, and Neil came along to Connie's June 18, 1958 session to play piano. Within a month Stupid Cupid was in the Top 20. The B-side was an older song that dated back to 1929, Carolina Moon. The combination became a double-sided smash, so it was hardly surprising that Connie turned to Sedaka and Greenfield for her next single, Fallin', but it stalled just outside the Top 30, prompting a return to the oldies. My Happiness, a Depression era song that had been a big hit in 1948, capped an incredible year when it became Connie's biggest hit to that point. 1958 was the year Connie Francis arrived, and she wouldn't be out of the charts for another ten years.
1959 opened with Connie considering songs for her next single. She liked one that veteran music publisher, Leonard Joy, sent over, Lipstick On Your Collar. Now she needed a B-side. "Howie Greenfield was my favorite lyricist," she told William Ruhlmann. "Any time a session came up I would sit in my office for days, morning 'til night, and listen to every publisher, every songwriter, but Neil and Howie never failed to come up with a hit for me. It was a great marriage. We thought the same way. Neil and Howie and I planned the song 'Frankie.' Neil would say, 'Okay, what you got on your mind, Concetta?' I said, 'Look at this. I made a list. All of these songs in the last three years, one third of them are names of people or places. One side of my new single, "Lipstick," will be uptempo so I'd like a real dreamy, slow dance ballad for the other side.' Neil said, 'Okay.' Within the next day, 'Frankie' was there." Who was Frankie? The story was put around that the song was a valentine to Frankie Avalon, who'd starred in 'Jamboree,' the movie for which Connie provided the ghosted singing voice of the female lead. Not everyone liked it, though. On April 15, 1959, Connie recorded it with arranger Ray Ellis. "The music starts, and just impromptu, I say, 'Frankie, wherever you are, I love you.' Ray Ellis said, 'This is too much for me. I can't handle this. This is such shit.' I said, 'It's on the record. The kids like that stuff. Just relax, I'm doing it.' He said, 'You ain't gonna have a hit.' I said, 'Let my mother worry about that.'" But a hit it was: a double-sided Top 10 smash. The same session also produced the follow-up, Eddie Curtis' You're Gonna Miss Me (Curtis would later write songs for Connie's 'Do The Twist' LP). The flip-side of You're Gonna Miss Me was Plenty Good Lovin', the first time Connie had placed one of her own songs on a single.
Just in time for Christmas 1959, MGM took the unprecedented step of releasing five Connie Francis albums at once. There was a Christmas album, a country album, an Italian album, a greatest hits album, and a collection of rock 'n' roll million-sellers. Truly something for everyone. From the rock 'n' roll album, we've taken Tweedle Dee, I Hear You Knockin', and the breakthrough hit for MGM labelmate Conway Twitty, It's Only Make Believe. And 1959, like 1958, closed with another Connie Francis song ascending the charts, this time a revival of a 1927 British song, Among My Souvenirs, which she'd found in a publication called 'The Musicians Handbook.' It reached #7 as the year closed. On December 12, 1959, Connie Francis turned twenty-one years old, and shortly before Christmas she reached one of the pinnacles of success in the popular music business when she sold out Carnegie Hall. In contractual discussions with MGM, she'd achieved an unprecedented level of artistic control over her recordings. She was twenty-one and she was in control of her life and career. The following April she received an award for Best Selling Female Vocalist from a record industry trade group, NARM (National Association of Record Merchandisers).
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