My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own
Connie Francis Swings The Nashville Sound
by Donny Jacobs
By December 1959, Connie Francis was indisputably a major star. Since her November 1957 debut on the national charts as the duet partner of Country and Western singer Marvin Rainwater, she’d scored thirteen hit records in North America, and three more in the United Kingdom. She’d been awarded Gold Records for her recordings of “Who’s Sorry Now?”, “My Happiness,” “Among My Souvenirs,” and the double A-side “Lipstick On Your Collar” b/w “Frankie.” She’d been voted Best Female Vocalist by the American Jukebox Operators, the Music Operators of America and the Automatic Music Industry of America. Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” poll, Billboard's and Cashbox's Disc Jockey polls and England’s New Musical Express poll had voted her either Most Popular or Most Promising Female Vocalist. With the Association of Record Dealers, she was the unqualified favorite . . . they named her Best Vocalist of 1959, hands down.
Within barely two years, she became one of the hottest musical attractions of the 1950s. Her Rhythm and Blues-tinged remakes of Tin Pan Alley classics, coupled with rockin’ originals penned by Howard Greenfield, Neil Sedaka and others was a winning combination that propelled her name up Pop music surveys around the world. Without a doubt, Connie was the Queen of Rock’n’Roll in its early years.
At that time, however, the music industry believed Rock’n’Roll to be a fad. George Franconero, Connie’s father and chief advisor, felt the same way. He didn’t believe his daughter could maintain her star status unless she expanded her audience. Mr. Franconero was adamant: She must overcome the public’s perception of her as “just” a Rock’n’Roll singer! Before 1958 was out, he’d convinced her to diversify her catalog.
No encouragement was needed for Connie to record her albums of Jazz and Pop standards, The Exciting Connie Francis and My Thanks To You; she'd always loved singing that kind of music. She also loved singing classic Italian tunes from her cultural heritage, though it took much prodding from Papa to convince her that recording Connie Francis Sings Italian Favorites was a smart commercial move. However, when she first began making records in 1955, Concetta Franconero was absolutely hostile to the idea of cutting songs in the Country and Western vein. She hated the music so much, she‘d turn off a radio rather than listen to it! It took the combined urging of her father and Rockabilly singing duo The Everly Brothers to change her mind.
As Connie tells the story, she met Phil and Don Everly on a promotional tour. When they learned of her distaste for their favorite sound, the boys trapped her inside the listening booth of a Cleveland record store and gave her a crash course in Country music connoisseur-ship. “In a little while, I got the message,” Connie later recalled to interviewer George Christy. “I fell in love with the swing of the music, and the lyrics. Where else can you find words with such special meaning? Just listen to lyrics like I’m gonna wash ‘I love you’ from the blackboard of my heart, and you can’t help but be 'sent' . . . I love the music now with all my heart.”
That music lesson took place in 1957, just before her string of hits began. Just in time, as it turned out! Her first chart single, “The Majesty Of Love” was a Pop/Country tune, and the flipside of her first million-seller, “Who’s Sorry Now?” was the Kitty Wells-styled “You Were Only Foolin'(While I Was Fallin‘ In Love).” From those modest beginnings, Connie Francis would mature into one of the greatest vocal exponents of the Nashville Sound.
Some musicologists claim that Country music is a “pure” song form that came to Tennessee's Appalachian Mountains with immigrants from the British Isles. At the Pop Culture Cantina, we take exception to that definition! Any music that incorporates African banjos, Hawaiian steel guitars and Gypsy tambourines is far from pure! We believe Country Music was born when Scotch/Irish balladry met up and started keeping company with rural Gospel hymns, 19th century minstrel show novelties, old saloon songs, Dixieland instrumentals, ragtime piano tunes, cowboy ballads, traditional Mexican music (itself influenced by French, Spanish and German styles) and increasingly through the 20th century, Afro-American Blues. In other words, it’s a mix of early American music styles, and the mixing was mostly done by working class White people from the South. When Country songs are recorded with Adult-Contemporary instrumentation and Gospel vocal backing, they’re said to have The Nashville Sound. This style was invented in the 1950s by Music City session players like Anita Kerr, Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer and Boots Randolph, and it’s the style Connie recorded in most often.
As Blues turned into Rhythm & Blues in late 1940s and early ’50s, Nashville’s traditionalists resisted absorbing its influence; however, they couldn’t stop younger musicians from playing Country music in a more brash and energetic way. By necessity, this style spun off into a new genre called Rockabilly, and with Elvis Presley at its vanguard, it set the world on fire for a few years. Soon renamed Rock‘n‘Roll, it went mainstream but after traveling North, it gradually became deracinated.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, Creedence Clearwater Revival and other Southern Rock bands reclaimed the music's roots in the early 1970s. By the 1990s, Rockabilly had been fully absorbed into commercial Country Music, drawing many original Rock’n’Roll fans into its fan base. In the days when Rockabilly/Rock‘n’Roll was regarded as Nashville’s redheaded stepchild, Connie Francis recorded numerous songs in the style; among them are her big hits “Stupid Cupid”, “Fallin’” and “Lipstick On Your Collar.” Today, they’d be called Country rockers. However, to earn her Country credentials in the 1950s and ‘60s, La Franconero first took the traditional route.
Taped at New York’s Metropolitan Recording Studio in the summer of 1959, Connie Francis Sings Country and Western Golden Hits was produced by Ray Ellis under Connie‘s supervision(per her highly unusual contract with M-G-M Records, she was executive producer on all her recording dates after 1957). Connie’s first long-playing Country music collection was heavy on Nashville standards, but did mix in some recent Country crossover hits like Marty Robbins’ “Singing’ The Blues,“ Bobby Helms‘ “My Special Angel,” Sonny James‘ “Young Love” and The Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love.”
This album and its predecessor, Connie Francis Sings Rock ’n’ Roll Million Sellers were waxed at the same time, and both LPs contain tracks that are interchangeable in terms of genre. Elvis Presley‘s “Heartbreak Hotel,” and “Don’t Be Cruel” were in the Pop and Country Top Ten lists concurrently, and the Rock’n’Roll ballads “I Almost Lost My Mind,” “Sincerely,” “Ain’t That A Shame,” “I’m Walkin’” and “It’s Only Make-Believe” would all score as remakes on the Country charts in later years. “Hearts Of Stone” was the kind of song nobody knew for sure about; was it Country, Pop or R & B? Versions of it appeared on all three charts! This musical identity crisis underscores how closely linked the genres are, and explains why early Rock and R & B stars like Ray Charles, Jack Scott, Gene Pitney, Del Shannon and Connie felt comfortable recording in the Country idiom.
For someone who just two years earlier didn’t know anything about Country music, Connie acquitted herself surprisingly well. Her essays of “Your Cheatin’ Heart,“ “Half As Much” and “Cold, Cold Heart,“ hits from the catalog of erstwhile M-G-M labelmate Hank Williams, are respectable if not outstanding. At this stage of her career, she sounds most authentic singing Country ballads, and her readings of the Patti Page/Pee Wee King crossover smash “Tennessee Waltz” and Hank Snow‘s 1955 Country chart-topper “Let Me Go, Lover,” are exceptionally poignant. Without question, the highlight of the set is her stunning version of the Thomas A. Dorsey Gospel favorite “Peace In The Valley.” Country and Western Golden Hits didn’t chart upon initial release, but sold well enough to merit a reissue in 1962. This wasn’t the kind of impact Connie had hoped to make with a Country music release, though. A single rather than an album would generate the response she wanted.
That single was, of course, 1960’s “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool,” a song she personally commissioned from Brill Building scribes Howard Greenfield and Jack Keller. At Manhattan’s Olmstead Studios on 14 June, she painstakingly oversaw the Joe Sherman/Arnold Maxin-produced recording session. The success of this release fulfilled several goals for Connie: It proved to her record company that female vocalists could score Pop hits with Country material; it furthered the goal of broadening her audience past teenage fans; it gave her a crossover Country hit(landing in the Top Thirty); it gave her father great satisfaction, since he’d been begging her for years to cut a Country single; it carved a niche for her in foreign markets like Germany(and initiated her much-noted practice of cutting songs in several different languages); and it gave her the #1 Pop platter she’d been craving since “My Happiness“ had stalled one position short.
While the iron was still hot, Connie struck gold again with her follow-up single, also penned by Greenfield and Keller: The exquisite “My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own.” Set to a habanera beat and featuring mariachi-style horns, this Joe Sherman/Arnold Maxin/Jesse Kaye production was recorded on both the West and East Coasts; there are numerous surviving takes and actually two different mixes available on 45. No matter which mix got played, the track's Tex Mex appeal proved irresistible to Pop music lovers. While “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” is the most successful Connie Francis record from an international standpoint, “My Heart” remains her all-time best-selling North American A-side.
Two years later, Connie achieved her goal of bagging a smash hit Country album. She was recording in Nashville by then, so Country Music, Connie Style was tracked at producer Owen Bradley's recording studio (later renamed Columbia) in the summer of ‘62; Jim Vienneau and Danny Davis manned the controls, and Elvis Presley’s backing group The Jordanaires joined Concetta in the vocalist’s booth. There were no Hank Williams tunes this time, but a host of classy compositions from the pens of Johnny Cash, Don Robertson, Don Gibson and Harlan Howard decorated her music stand. These men were the cream of Nashville songwriting talent in the ‘60s. The cream of Music City sessionmen were also on hand: Floyd Cramer playing his trademark slip-note piano, Boots Randolph blowin’ his "yakety" sax, Bob Moore on bass, Jerry Kennedy and Harold Bradley pickin’ guitar, and conductor Bill McElhiney serving up the same kind of whipped cream string arrangements he created for Brenda Lee’s records.
La Franconero proved herself worthy of their best efforts, pouring heart and soul into renditions of “I Fall To Pieces,” “I Don’t Hurt Anymore,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Someday, You‘ll Want Me To Want You.” Hearing the way she packs emotion into these numbers leaves no doubt as to why Country ballads are called “heart songs.” She distinguished herself on up tempo fare as well, clearly relishing the chance to sing Don Gibson‘s “Oh! Lonesome Me,” Ray Price‘s “Heartaches By The Number” (the song that inspired “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool”) and Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On.” Snow couldn’t have been anything but pleased with the spunky update she gives his 1950 freight train ode; she closes her remake with a cheeky ciao ciao bambino ad-lib. “I’m Movin’ On” begged to be released on 45, but the surprise hit single from this album turned out to be Connie’s re-gendered version of George Jones ‘s recent chart-topper “She Thinks I Still Care.”
When you give people what they want, they will definitely turn out for it! Country Music, Connie Style was a Top Forty blockbuster, ultimately becoming Connie’s fifth best-selling LP on this side of the Atlantic. Two years later, the Rock‘n’Roll queen re-assembled that album’s production team in order to cut Connie Francis and Hank Williams, Jr. Sing Great Country Favorites. Recording with the son of Country music’s greatest icon helped cement her credibility in Nashville circles; by the same token, recording with Connie Francis gave a promotional boost to M-G-M Records’ newest rising star. Connie's duet album with the man his fans call “Bochephus” is an upbeat affair; listening to their spirited renditions of Claude King‘s “Wolverton Mountain,” Roy Acuff‘s “Wabash Cannonball“, Jimmie Rodgers‘ “Muleskinner Blues,” Don Gibson‘s “Blue, Blue Day,” Leroy Van Dyke‘s “Walk On By” and Lefty Frizzell‘s “If You’ve Got The Money, I’ve Got The Time” makes you feel like you’re taking a buggy ride behind a pair of high-stepping thoroughbreds. Connie and Hank's breezy remakes of “Bye Bye Love” and “Singin’ The Blues” easily outstrip the versions she cut for her 1959 Country collection.
Connie Francis Sings “Second Hand Love” and Connie Francis Sings “For Mama” both made the Billboard album charts, and the Nashville Sound undoubtedly had a lot to do with it. Neither is technically a Country music collection, but what Country performances these LPs do contain are great! In addition to the Nashville-recorded title track, Second Hand Love boasts “Don’t Break The Heart That Loves You” and “Breakin’ In A Brand New Broken Heart”, two of Connie’s biggest Country/Pop smashes. Corn-fed Pop/Rock tracks like “Someone Else’s Boy,” “Too Many Rules” and “He’s My Dreamboat” convey a strong Music City sensibility, and “Gonna Git That Man” makes for ideal barn dance music. Cut in New York City during sessions for Connie’s Dance Party album, it’s one of the best Country rockers you’ll find anywhere; the arrangement is by Sammy Lowe, leader of the house band at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre. However, the sound of this record is far removed from the kind of music played at that legendary R & B show palace. Connie’s delivery on “Gonna Git That Man” is pure Nashville, there’s a sax player imitating the tarnation out of Boots Randolph, and the wicked Cajun-style guitar rhythm is tailor-made for Louisiana-style rug-cuttin’ . . . laissez les bons temps rouler!
The grooves of For Mama reverberate with the shuffle beat rhythms of prime cut Country items like “It Takes More,” “Whose Heart Are You Breakin’ Tonight?” “I Was Such A Fool” and “You’re The Only One Can Hurt Me.” A pair of Rockabilly tracks (“Playin’ Games” and “It’s Gonna Take Me Some Time”) are thrown in for good measure. These waxings sit rather incongruously beside grandiose orchestra ballads, a bossa nova rocker, two Bubblegum Pop ditties, a Broadway showtune and a number boasting a British Music Hall flavor, but if you can’t tolerate eclecticism, you have no business calling yourself a Connie Francis fan!
Record buyers didn’t respond as warmly to Connie Francis Sings Folk Song Favorites, and that’s a shame. Not every Folk record is Country and Western-oriented, but La Franconero’s preference for Dixie standards like “Oh! Suzanna,” “My Darling Clementine,” “The Boll Weevil Song”, “She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain”, “Careless Love” and “Red River Valley” ensured that hers would be. Her sentimental readings of “Beautiful Brown Eyes” and “The Ballad Of Aura Lee” stand out, as does a smouldering version of the Appalachian oldie “Every Night When The Sun Goes In.” This incandescent cut lies somewhere on the border between Country music and Jazz. Connie and M-G-M’s Nashville A & R man Jim Vienneau favored spare backgrounds for her Folk album, leaving lots of room for her to vocalize with The Jordanaires. Cliff Parman’s arrangements are appropriately rustic-sounding, with a five-string banjo prominently featured. This is a bonafide Connie Francis Bluegrass album, and it might have done better on the market had it been issued under that title.
Connie’s later Country music collections included 1965’s Jealous Heart, 1967’s My Heart Cries For You and her last for M-G-M, 1969’s The Wedding Cake. Unfortunately, none of them charted, despite high placings for their title tracks on the Adult-Contemporary charts(and despite “The Wedding Cake” giving Connie her first Country charter since “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” in 1960). However, that’s in no way a reflection of their quality; all three LPs are excellent.
The Jealous Heart album in particular shines like a priceless diamond due to the inclusion of such gorgeous waxings as “If You Ever Get Lonely,” “Do I?”, “Fair Weather Love,” remakes of Gale Storm‘s “Ivory Tower,” Connie Smith’s “Once A Day” (recorded in London with Petula Clark's producer Tony Hatch) and of course, “Jealous Heart." The latter song was originally a million-seller for Tex Ritter in 1945, but La Franconero's version is definitive. Marvelous arrangements by Don Costa, Alan Lorber, Ernie Freeman and Bill Justis add more polish to the gem. Recorded over a three-year period in New York City, Nashville, London and Hollywood(during work on the movie When The Boys Meet The Girls), this set places Connie Francis firmly in the ranks of legendary Nashville Sound artists like Patsy Cline.
Bob Morgan’s production of “My Heart Cries For You” suffers from an intrusive string arrangement, but that’s the worst thing you can say about the album he produced that bears the same name. Connie's intense, nuanced performances on this stellar Country ballad showcase present her voice at its broken-hearted best. You may never want to hear Gogi Grant sing “The Wayward Wind” again once you've sampled Connie’s soaring version. Likewise, her recordings of Jim Reeves’ “Four Walls” and Eddy Arnold’s “How’s The World Treating You?” all but wipe the originals from memory. Her dramatic interpretation of a second Arnold classic, “Lonely Again,” is magnificent, and she sings Jeannie Seely’s “Don’t Touch Me” and the obscure Hank Williams composition “There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight” with such earnestness, you’d swear she’s singing about her own life.
The mark of a true Country diva is the ability to make you believe the words of a song; on My Heart Cries For You, Concetta meets the criterion and then some. The sensitive orchestrations (excepting the title track) by New York arrangers Herb Bernstein and Joe Sherman complement her vocals beautifully. A handful of honkytonk selections are also superbly executed, and the best of them is Connie’s remake of her own remake of yet another Eddy Arnold best-seller, “Anytime.” With Ernie Freeman’s Hollywood orchestra surging behind her, she invests the song with a full-bodied warmth that's missing from her 1959 master.
By the end of the ‘60s, Connie was back doing most of her Country music recording in New York City and Hollywood. Fortunately, her Wedding Cake album sessions occasioned one more trip to Nashville. Although cut at Columbia Studios, this LP sounds nothing like earlier records she made there. Supervised by Jeannie C. Riley’s producer Shelby Singleton, Jr, it’s more Country Rock than Nashville Sound; the songs (mostly penned by the female team of Margaret Lewis-Warrick and Myra Smith) have a vaguely feminist orientation, and their stripped-down sound and sometimes controversial lyrics ride Connie to the edge of what would soon be called “Outlaw” Country music.
Two bristling Bluegrass workouts, “Another Page” and “You Know You’re Not Forsaken” (both cut in 1966) fit right into the new mood set by edgy selections like “What Momma Used To Do,” “Bettye Jo Marshall” and the non-LP flipside “Over-The Hill, Underground.” Connie lets her hair down and sings the livin’ daylights out of these numbers; her feisty, down-home delivery on them reveals a whole new facet of her artistry. Still, her melancholy and tender treatments of Folk-flavored ballads like “The Wedding Cake” and “Gone Like The Wind” leave the strongest impression; it’s no surprise that they were tagged as singles.
In-between albums, George Franconero’s baby girl was spreading Country Music, Connie Style all over the Billboard singles charts! In addition to aforementioned Top Ten hits like “Breakin’ In A Brand New Broken Heart,” “Don’t Break The Heart That Loves You,” “I Was Such A Fool”, “Whose Heart Are You Breakin’ Tonight?” and “Jealous Heart,” there were these unforgettable sides: “Empty Chapel"(flipside of the dance rocker "It's A Different World"), “If My Pillow Could Talk,” “Drownin’ My Sorrows,” “Wishing It Was You,” “The Biggest Sin Of All”, Tony Hatch’s “Love Is Me, Love Is You,” Howard Greenfield and Neil Sedaka’s “My World Keeps Slipping Away” and a fabulous cover of Tammy Wynette’s 1967 weeper “I Don’t Wanna Play House.”
German and Italian fans enjoyed original Connie Francis Country singles in their native idioms, such as "Lass Mich Bei Dir Sein," "Gondola d'Amore," and the wonderful "Nessuno E' Solo" featuring The Jordanaires. British fans were treated to “Waiting For You,“ a patriotic Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich ballad. It was unavailable in North America until the appearance of an alternate take on 1987‘s Connie Francis Rocksides compilation. Connie believed her 1968 Nashville Sound remake of Benny Goodman’s 1942 hit “Somebody Else Is Taking My Place” would be one of her biggest successes, but it slipped through the cracks somehow . . . a major loss! Anybody who loved "Who's Sorry Now" should've loved this single, too.
Abandoned in the M-G-M tape vaults were other great Country and Country Rock performances: “The Millionaire,” also waxed by its co-writer, Barry Mann; “One Tear Too Many” from the pen of "Lipstick On Your Collar" composer George Goehring; Bob Halley's jailbreak tune “The Ballad Of Bobby Dawn”; another Greenfield-Sedaka pearl titled “On The Outside Looking In,” a missed opportunity for Top Ten airplay if ever there was such a thing; Connie's all-time favorite song “Milk And Honey,” a shimmering outtake from her Wedding Cake sessions; and an incredible steel guitar stomper called “I've Got Reason To Worry,” recorded at the same Hollywood sessions as “My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own.” It sounds like a surefire smash, but Connie probably considered it too rowdy for her audience; in 1960, girl singers were expected to be demure, and this track is anything but! The authorship of "Reason To Worry" is unknown, but its lyrics all but scream Howard Greenfield's name.
La Franconero’s last Country recording for M-G-M Records was reportedly cut in London during sessions for her Songs Of Les Reed album; Reed produced a version of “Reuben James” for her that was slated for single release, but Kenny Rogers and The First Edition's waxing started climbing the charts before it could even get to the test pressing stage. Connie didn’t stop cutting Country tunes when her M-G-M contract expired. Her best indie label effort from the 1970s is a delectable Dixieland treatment of the old Jule Styne/Frank Loesser song “I Don’t Want To Walk Without You“; she lays on a performance that’s smoother than an iced mint julep after Sunday church service. However, her most successful Country release from that era is “Should I Tie A Yellow Ribbon?” an answer song to Tony Orlando and Dawn’s chart-topping "Tie A Yellow Ribbon 'Round The Old Oak Tree" from 1973.
Ten years later, Connie made a belated return to M-G-M (now Polydor) Records and to the Country charts with a rousing honkytonker called “There’s Still A Few Good Love Songs Left In Me.“ Co-written for her by Country singer Richard Leigh and old standby Howard Greenfield, it was waxed in Music City under the supervision of Harold Shedd; an “Entertainment Tonight” crew filmed her at the session. With head thrown back and a million-dollar smile on her face, she gave her comeback single the full Connie Francis treatment.
As recently as the year 2000, the Queen of '50s Rock'n'Roll was in Nashville cutting I Remember Buddy, a tribute album to Buddy Holly. She was joined at the session by singer/guitarist Sonny Curtis, The Jordanaires and Stuart Colman, best known as the producer of Rockabilly revivalist Shakin' Stevens' British smashes. Her deep appreciation of Southern music and musicians keeps her coming back to Music City for more. The feeling appears to be mutual, too; over the years, many Country artists have paid tribute to Connie by covering her Pop hits. Ernest Tubb’s “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool,” Marty Robbins’ “Among My Souvenirs,” Slim Whitman’s “My Happiness,“ Margo Smith’s “Don’t Break The Heart That Loves You,” Debbie Boone‘s “Breakin’ In A Brand New Broken Heart” and “My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own,” and “Who’s Sorry Now?” by Marie Osmond are a few of the more successful examples.
In 1993, the legendary lady dropped a minor bombshell in the lap of writer William Ruhlmann: “I do Country better than I do anything else,” she told him. How could this be? She excels at singing Jazz, Rock and Pop music in a multitude of languages and dialects. Yet the fact that all three of her #1 Pop singles in the United States are Country records supports her assessment. Universal Music (the successor to Polydor Records) seems to think the only specialty collections Connie Francis fans will buy are repackagings of her Italian-language recordings. Evidently, their catalog A & R department sees no point in marketing her Country sides. What planet are those folks living on? Country is traditional American music, and today in the 21st century, people all over the world love it more than ever before! In fact, audiences are fanatical about it, especially when it’s performed well.
“A simple, solid Country tune will always appeal to the public,” Connie informed RPM Magazine in 1984, “regardless of what’s going on with the rest of the charts." She's right! Just ask LeeAnn Rimes, Shania Twain, Reba McEntire, Gretchen Wilson, Faith Hill or Carrie Underwood. There’s plenty to like about Nashville’s current crop of female stars. How many of them, though, can compete with Concetta Franconero circa 1962 emoting over a feather-light string section, "teardrop" bass notes, a solemn vocal chorus, creamy slip-note piano licks and a shuffle beat rhythm? The Nashville Sound couldn’t possibly get any better than that!
Dedicated to Tony Benvenuto and Donnie Mesh.
Don Charles, AKA Donny Hampton Jacobs, was co-producer, annotator and liner notes writer of the 1996
box set Connie Francis Souvenirs on Polydor Records.