September 5th – Perry Como – My Coloring Book

I have Will Friedwald to thank for this one.  His extraordinary tome A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers has cost me a fortune in CDs I had no idea I needed.

Like most people on this side of the pond, I was aware of only two Perry Comos. There was the man behind a lot of 40s and 50s hits (including his fair share of grim novelties like Hot Diggity which seemed to dominate the Radio 2 airwaves when I was growing up) and some, frankly, not hugely better pop tunes like Catch A Falling Star and Magic Moments – songs whose innate ickiness was only exaggerated by their sugary arrangements.  Then, in the 70s, he was the purveyor of some classic ‘easy listening’ (see below) hits like It’s Impossible and And I Love You So.

Well, it turns out there were (at least) two other Perry Comos.  Not only was he a massive American TV star in the 50s and 60s – but he also recorded a string of classy albums of standards throughout those decades as well.  More even than Rosie, Doris or Dean, it seems, his reputation still struggles to overcome a relatively small number of less than classic but inexplicably popular trifles.

In some ways Como embodies what has become known as Easy Listening.  Personally, I can’t bear the term – it’s so clearly coined in vague contempt of an audience that, the term suggests, doesn’t require much of its music.  It’s also a product of an era (in which, to an extent, we still dwell) that insisted that any (popular) singer who didn’t write their own material was somehow second best – this despite the fact the list of individuals who are both superlative singers and superlative songwriters is not a long one, or that actors have never been similarly criticised for not speaking their own words or dancers for not perfoming their own choreography.  If you sense a rant coming on then you’re right – but for now I’ll simply say that anyone who finds listening to Sinatra’s Only The Lonely or Peggy Lee’s Is That All There Is ‘easy’ then they, patently, have no soul – and that any music critic that brackets such singers (as record retailers still do) with Daniel O’Donnell should have their laptops confiscated before they can do any more damage.

So, back to the matter in hand.  Sadly those classic 50s and 60s albums of Mr Como’s have not been well served.  Some are available on CD but in poor
transfers.  Some of these are clearly needle drops for which there is no excuse since they are ‘official’ reissues and not cheap public domain editions.  Hopefully RCA (for whom Como recorded almost throughout his career) will put that right some day.  Meanwhile check this out.  I disagree with Mr Friedwald that Perry’s is the definitive version of this atypical Ebb and Kander tune.  I yield to no one in my advocation of Dusty on that score.  But Como does come out a long way ahead of Streisand whose version most Americans were first familiar with.  What Dusty and Perry have in common is that their versions let the song do the work, as it were, rather than gilding it with layers of unnecessary angst.  It’s all the more heartrending for that.

If this tempts you to find out more about Perry Como, the compilations are sadly still weighed down with questionable fare (Magic Moments? – I’m not so
sure).  Besiege RCA (or whoever owns them this week) and demand they honour the man’s legacy. keep urging me to start up a petition about something – perhaps now is the time.