Showing posts with label Dean Martin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dean Martin. Show all posts

18 October 2019

Music in the Time of a Private Eye


Music in the Time of a Private Eye
by O'Neil De Noux

Research for my private eye series set in the 1940s-1950s drew me to YouTube to learn just how bad popular music was before rock and roll. The radio was filled with dreck. In 1947 Perry Como had a hit with Chi-Baba Chi-Baba and Al Jolson was still around with The Anniversary Song. 1948 gave up hits like MaƱana by Peggy Lee with a God-awful Spanish accent and The Andrews Sisters with the yodel polka Toolie Oolie Doolie. In 1949 we had a faux-western hit by Dinah Shore called Buttons and Bows where the "cactus hurts by toes" and Tommy Dorsey's brassy The Huckle-Buck. 1950 came with hits like Goodnight Irene by the Weavers and Perry Como was back with another polka Hoop De Doo. Wait, 1950 gave us Nat King Cole's Mona Lisa. Thank God for Nat.


The Weavers were back with a top hit in 1951 – On Top of Old Smokey. Lord, help us. Phil Harris had a big hit with The Thing (No, not from the 1951 movie The Thing from Another World, but a goofy novelty song). Perry Como was back with the sleep-inducing If and we had the tear-jerker Tennessee Waltz by Patti Page. I admit, I sorta like Tennessee Waltz.


1951 gave us the unforgettable Aba Daba Honeymoon by Debbie Reynolds and Patti Page's Mockin' Bird Hill, where the morning sun kisses roses on a windowsill. For some reason, I like Mockin' Bird  Hill. Hey, maybe I just like Patti Page. (I also like sugar songs like 1963 's Sugar Shack by Jimmy Gilber and the Fireballs and – please forgive me – 1969's Sugar Sugar by the Archies).

1951 hits did give us a good hit with Nat King Cole's Too Young, but watch out, it can put you to sleep. Tony Bennett's Because of You was OK, but not one of his best. He also had a hit with his cover of Hank Williams' Cold, Cold Heart but the original by Williams was far better. But that version was played on hillbilly radio stations. No way my cool cat PI would listen to country music, even though Hank Williams had dynamite songs.

The radio hits of 1952 were highlighted by Kay Starr with Wheel of Fortune and Vera Lynn's Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart and the Mills Brothers with The Glow Worm. Irish-American Rosemary Cooney gave us at hit with an horrendous Italian-accented Botch-A-Me.


According to Billboard, the No. 5 tune of 1953 was P.S. I Love You (No. Not the cool one by The Beatles – John was 13, Paul 11, George 10 and Ringo 13 at the time). This hit came from four singers wearing college freshmen beanies and sweaters with a big W on the chest. They were The Hilltoppers, hailing from Western Kentucky State College. At No. 2 sat another sleepy song, You, You, You by The Ames Brother.



Tony Bennett had a couple top hits in 1953 with Rags to Riches and Stranger in Paradise.

OK, what about Frank Sinatra? He was in a slump between 1946 and 1953. Dean Martin did have success with 1952's You Belong to Me and 1953's Sway. In 1953, he finally had a top 10 song with That's Amore at No. 2.


My private eye is saved by listening to jazz and rhythm and blues on the radio with New Orleans own Fats Domino's 1951 hit The Fat Man. Too bad my PI has to wait years for Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and so many others.



Antoine "Fats" Domino 1928-2017

That's all for now.
http://www.oneildenoux.com


04 January 2019

Stop Meddling in My Genre - Part 1


by Lawrence Maddox


Dean Martin, actor, singer,
Post Modernist?
From the 1950s through the 70s, Variety shows were TV's shining jewels. Seen as quaint, corny, and conspicuously dopey by today's standards, elaborately produced offerings like The Ed Sullivan ShowPerry Como's Kraft Music Hall, and The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour were hugely popular. The majority of Americans would tune in to see not just cultural shifts, like the Beatles' American debut or Nat King Cole breaking racial barriers, but also to catch the icons of the day step out of the roles they were associated with.  You could watch Orson Welles and Jimmy Stewart sing "Personality" with Dean Martin; marvel at the ultimate cross generational Christmas mash-up of Bing Crosby and David Bowie dueting on "The Little Drummer Boy"; gasp at eternally square Richard Nixon trying his hand at comedy on the televised height of Hippy-dom, Laugh-In.

Though now viewed as old-fashioned, by allowing the famous to escape their prescribed boxes and take part in the equivalent of modern-day mash-ups, these shows could also be seen as doing something new and inventive, all in the name of fun.  In Smoke and Mirrors, John Leonard wrote that "We've a more pretentious word today for such radical juxtapositions of the silly and sublime, random conjectures of blank incredulity and dreadful apprehension (nostalgia laced with contempt) an absurd snippet (Rise Stevens singing "Cement Mixer, Putty Putty"). Instead of novelty, we have post-modernism."

When the same approach is taken with literary genres like crime fiction, feathers can get ruffled. As John Leonard implies, mixing genres can be seen as a post-modernistic reshuffling of the deck.   I'd like to make the case that crossing genres was right there at the beginning, when 20th century American crime fiction was taking shape in the widely read and cheaply made pages of pulp magazines. After cajoling you with my cross-genre calculations, we'll talk with genre bending daredevil Earl Javorsky, author of the multi-faceted and endlessly riveting PI Charlie Miner series.

Fans of Quentin Tarantino's game-changing crime drama Pulp Fiction might be mislead into thinking that pulp fiction itself is synonymous with crime fiction.  Pulp magazines, and the novels they spawned,  weren't actually genre specific at all.  Pulp magazines were named for wood pulp, the inexpensive main component of their pages, and they were cheaper to buy than their highbrowed antecedents, the pricier "slicks." Popular from roughly 1900 until TV began rotting America's mind in earnest in the early '50s, the pulps dabbled in fantasy, sci-fi, horror, westerns, crime, and adventure. Populism ran rampant in the pulps, and literary merit took a backseat to entertainment, no matter how tawdry or fantastic. Want tales of a flying ace that fights zombies? Here's G-8 and His Battle Aces. How about a Los Angeles socialite who wears a backless dress and a domino mask to rob from criminals a la Robin Hood? Look no farther than Saucy Romantic Adventures for tales of the Domino Lady. There were few sacred cows, and popular elements would be plucked from different genres and scattered about, all in the name of commerce.

Using cheaper paper wasn't the only way pulps kept the cost down; they also paid writers less than what other markets offered. This allowed the pulps to catch some luminaries-to-be at the start of their literary trajectories.  Perhaps the first pulp superstar was Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose "Tarzan of the Apes," published in All Story in 1912, was a national phenomenon. It not only helped kick off Burroughs' influential career but was a fillip to all the pulps in general.  Many other notable fantasy authors took the pulp plunge, including Conan creator Robert E. Howard, and the brilliant sci-fi subversive Philip K. Dick.

Pulp also provided the means for many burgeoning crime authors to gate crash the zeitgeist. Though Dashiell Hammett first published in the much tonier Smart Set magazine, his Continental Op tales became an early staple of the uber pulp Black Mask starting in 1923.  The Continental Op was a detective for a Pinkerton-esque agency (Hammett himself had been a Pinkerton) , and he was the proverbial joker in the deck.   The Op was a master manipulator who cast a cold, calculating eye on his fellow man. The Big Sleep author Raymond Chandler, one of many hard-boiled authors who followed Hammett into the pulps, famously said that Hammett "wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before." David Goodis, whose Shoot the Piano Player became a New Wave masterpiece under Truffaut, prolifically contributed Western stories to the pulps as well as crime stories.

The pulps were like a cheap hotel, and with that many different genres checking in, there were bound to be some illicit hook-ups. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the so-called pulp adventure stories, and there were none more popular or cross-pollinated than The Shadow.  The Shadow character began life in 1930 as the eerie omnipotent narrator for the radio show Detective Story Hour,  which in turn was a product of Detective Story Magazine. Like Tarzan eighteen years earlier, The Shadow character grabbed America by the imagination and wouldn't let go. The Shadow Magazine began less than a year later. Popular novels, a radio show, and movies followed. Orson Welles, thirty years prior to joining Dean Martin's wobbly orbit, voiced an early version of The Shadow on the radio.

Author Walter B. Gibson was tasked with turning the sinister Shadow into a fleshed out character who could lead his own adventures. Since Gibson was writing for a detective pulp, The Shadow was placed in the world of crime, gangs, and murder. The Shadow operated like a detective, but also a vigilante. Many of his characteristics, like taking justice into his own hands and manipulating others like pawns, came directly from pulp characters like Hammett's Continental Op. Yet The Shadow was also a figure of horror who had the supernatural ability to cloud men's minds, though actual invisibility happened  only on the radio show.  Gibson said Bram Stoker's Dracula was an influence.  Sci-fi elements were also included when The Shadow would occasionally battle mad scientists and their inventions.  The influence of The Shadow can't be overstatedThe Shadow may also be unfortunately responsible for what I'll call "The Scooby-Doo Effect"; stories where the bad guys dress up as something spooky in order to scare away intruders, and would've gotten away with it if it wasn't for those meddling kids. The Shadow was a smorgasbord of genre elements, and so were the "hero pulps," such as Doc Savage, that it paved the way for.

Really, so much of what entertains us today began with pulp.  Bill Finger, who along with Bob Kane developed Batman, said "my first Batman story was a take-off of a Shadow story." Superman was inspired by Doc Savage. Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (aka Blade Runner) is sci-fi at its finest, but it's also a hard-boiled detective novel. Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter, the basest of Private Dicks. He's got a gun, a list, and police bureaucracy up the wazoo.  It's as if the other Burroughs (Beatnik William) used  his cutup technique, clipping at one story from Analog and another from Black Mask and pasting together this dystopic hybrid

Charlie Huston carries on the fine tradition of genre mixing in his thrilling Joe Pitt series. Starting with Already Dead in 2005, Huston's Pitt is a private detective working the mean streets of New York. Pitt is also a vampire who must negotiate his way among cops and dangerous vampire clans while solving cases. Huston has said he prefers to be called a pulp writer.

I'm fortunate to have author Earl Javorsky's take on mixing genres, among other topics, in my next installment.  His Charlie Miner books, Down Solo (2014) and Down to No Good (2017), are my latest hobby. Miner is an insurance fraud investigator who keeps getting killed, but that doesn't stop him from playing detective in his own deaths, or from helping Homicide Detective Dave Putnam with his cases.  Join Earl Javorsky and myself outside the box for part two.

Note: A technical issue isn't letting me respond to comments to my blog. This is a real bummer. Please continue to comment. I'll be reading what you have to say and yelling my appreciative responses at my computer screen until this glitch is resolved. Thank you and Happy New Year!