05 February 2008

Habanera Rock (Part Five)

When In Spain

The Return Of Habanera Rock
Rocking from Barcelona to Río de Janeiro 
with Cliff Richard, Bobby Rydell, Eddie Rambeau, 
Ben E. King and The Drifters
by Donny Jacobs
When In Spain
Cliff Richard with The Shadows
When he debuted on disc in 1958, Cliff Richard was little more than a hapless singer of unconvincing Rockabilly cover tunes. Who'd have guessed back then that he'd mature into one of the finest Pop vocalists of our time? If you have yet to become a fan of Sir Clifford, either of his Latin-themed albums of the '60s will be enough to start your conversion process. When In Spain was cut in Barcelona while the young singer/actor was wrapping up filming on his 1963 movie musical Summer Holiday. EMI Records apparently intended this set for the Latin-American market; every note is sung either in Spanish or Portuguese. If the arangements are anything to judge by, Castilian culture made a deep impression on Cliff, producer Norrie Paramor and instrumental backing unit The Shadows in a relatively short period of time. This LP is primarily a showcase for The Shadows' dazzling acoustic guitar skills. The sizzling flamenco licks they play behind Cliff's performances of "¿Quizas, Quizas, Quizas?", "Me Lo Dijó Adela" and especially "¿Quién Sera?" will have you up on your feet shouting Olé! The vocals aren't up to the same high level of artistry, but they're more than competently delivered; when Cliff rips into percolating versions of "Perfidia", "Frenesí" and "María No Más", the mood is authentic; throw your sombreros in the air, muchachos, because it's definitely time for fiesta! His sensitive treatments of "Tus Besos", and "Te Quiero Dijiste" will satisfy your craving for bolero romanticism, and his mournful rendtion of "Carnaval" from the film Black Orpheus is so moving, it will make you snivel. Cliff sings so well, in fact, it's easy to forgive Norrie Paramor's momentary lapses in taste: "Amor, Amor, Amor", weighed down by drippy, string-laden sentimentality, and "Solamente Una Vez" with its ill-conceived Nashville-meets-Barcelona fusion sound. This 1963 album was recently reissued in the UK; avoid that CD, because its low-fi, mostly mono mixes are execrable! Go for the crisp true stereo versions found on the original vinyl pressing.

Produced by Norrie Paramor

Forget Him
Bobby Rydell
Recording under the auspices of the late, great Kal Mann, with Bob Mersey and Dave Appell arranging, Bobby Rydell was responsible for three of Habanera Rock's biggest hits: "Sway," "The Cha-Cha-Chá" and his fabulous 1960 remake of Domenico Modugno's "Volare". This 1963 album, mostly recorded in London with Tony Hatch as music director, found him still crooning to Latin rhythms. Rock-a-Tango selections include "Hey, Everybody", "Darling Jenny", "Words Written On Water" and the superb "'Til I Met You". Rock-a-Cha-Chas appear in the form of "Since We Fell In Love" and the satiny-smooth "Wish You Were Here". Bobby rocks the pachanga with "It's Time We Parted", and he comes across like a Castilian cantador singing "Too Much, Too Soon", a thrilling habanera-pasodoble. Ironically, the album's one drawback is the title tune. While its jaunty Country-flavored melody translated into Top Ten sales, its Latin elements (especially its chunky cha-cha foundation) could have been exploited more boldly. That would've made "Forget Him" a far more memorable song.

Produced by Frankie Day

Concrete And Clay

Eddie Rambeau
The bossa nova had taken firm hold of American popular music by 1965, and this album provides evidence that it had also taken hold of former Swan Records recording artist Eddie Rambeau. His feather-light tenor was made for singing baiãoes and bossa novas, so producer Charlie Calello was smart to bathe the boy in Brazilian rhythms as often as he could. The carioca atmosphere is strong when Eddie performs "Yesterday's Newspapers", "I Fell In Love So Easily," "It's Not Unusual" "Save The Last Dance For Me", "Girl Don't Come" (a strong essay of the Sandie Shaw classic), the deliciously tropical "My Name Is Mud", and the exquisitely sexy "Baby, Baby Me." A Brazilian mood also infuses standard-issue habaneras when he sings the Beatles-inspired "I Just Need Your Love", the Peter Allen-composed "Same Old Room", and the kinetic title track. Often, Calello blends Brazilian and Cuban rhythms which, along with Eddie's masterful phrasing, enhances the jazzy mood that's conveyed on this wonderful fourteen-track collection. If you remember Eddie Rambeau as the co-writer of Diane Renay's back-to-back 1964 hits "Navy Blue" and "Kiss Me, Sailor", it won't surprise you to know that several of the aforementioned goodies sprang from his own pen.

A Bob Crewe Production
Arranged and Produced by Charlie Calello

Ben E. King Sings For Soulful Lovers
Ben E. King
The Spanish Harlem album established Ben E. King as an important new crossover act who specialized in fusing Blues-based vocals with Latin percussion and classical orchestration. With his second album, Benny lay claim to his crown as King of Habanera Rock. Surprisingly, it wasn't Leiber and Stoller, popularizers of the genre, who presided over his coronation. It was Ahmet Ertegun, better known for producing funky R & B sides by the likes of LaVern Baker, Ruth Brown and the original Drifters. Here, with assistance from ace arranger Klaus Ogermann (one year away from his studio triumphs with Lesley Gore), Ertegun crafts a fusion masterpiece. Benny rises to the occasion, singing with more confidence than we've ever heard him sing before. He might've been hesitant to record over the Brazilian baião rhythm Leiber and Stoller had devised for "There Goes My Baby" back in 1959, but now in 1962 he sounds cocksure:  Dude effortlessly tackles cha-cha-chás ("What A Difference A Day Makes") and sambas ("Because Of You"). He absolutely struts his way through "On The Street Where You Live", which Klaus Ogermann sets jumping with a potent Latin jazz kick. Benny's Rock-A-Tango rendition of "Moon River" is definitive; a better version of this Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer classic simply doesn't exist. By the time you get to the final track, a tango-tinged cover of Tommy Edwards' "It's All In The Game", one thing has been made crystal-clear: Other contenders might come close, but none would ever usurp the King!

Arranged and Conducted by Klaus Ogermann
Produced by Ahmet Ertegun

The Good Life With The Drifters
The Drifters featuring Johnny Moore
Despite consistently strong challenges from Jay + The Americans, The Drifters clung stubbornly to their status as flagship Habanera Rock vocal group of the '60s. They maintained their supremacy despite losing two remarkable lead singers, Ben E. King and Rudy Lewis. Johnny Moore stepped in to fill the breach after Lewis's tragic accidental death in May of 1964, and his supple voice is deservedly the centerpiece of this tasteful 1965 set of Latinized Pop standards. Since it was aimed at a supper club audience, The Good Life leans heavily toward MOR Pop, but a solid rhythm statement is made by Ray Ellis and Richard Wess's stylish Spanish, Brazilian and Cuban backdrops. Johnny's high-calibre renditions of showtunes like "Who Can I Turn To?", "As Long As He Needs Me" and "What Kind Of Fool Am I?" may have attracted critical plaudits, but Habanera Rock fans surely preferred the wild samba action on "Quando? Quando? Quando?", the shoulder-shaking bossa nova style of "Desafinado" and the fiery passion of "Temptation", a wartime Perry Como oldie done up pasodoble style. This detour into Nightclubland was a nice change of pace for the group; all the same, it's good to have an old-fashioned Rock-A-Tango like "Saturday Night At The Movies" in the mix. This lively Bert Berns production reminds us what the Drifters sound was really all about.

Arranged by Ray Ellis
Conducted by Richard Wess
Produced by Tom Dowd

Kinda Latin
Cliff Richard
Fans hungry for more of Cliff Richard's exotic Latin stylings had to wait for the 1966 release of this collection, but their long wait yielded rich rewards. Rather than repeat the folkloric approach of When In Spain, Norrie Paramor decided to enlist top British arrangers (among them the great Les Reed) in the cause of weaving a web of tropical sound around Cliff's voice. By now, that voice had been honed into a priceless gem; his phrasing on this record would do Sinatra proud. Singing in English this time, he sounds marvelous on boleros ("Come Closer To Me"), cha-cha-chás ("Blowin' In The Wind") and baiãoes ("Fly Me To The Moon") . . . and what a credit he is to the bossa nova! You'll swoon at Sir Clifford's sublime versions of "One Note Samba", "Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars", "Meditation", "Eso Beso", "Girl From Ipanema" and "Our Day Will Come". On a couple of tracks, the arrangements do tend to take center stage; Les Reed's big band treatment of "Concrete And Clay" kicks like an ornery Mexican burro, and Reg Guest's clever revamp of "Blame It On The Bossa Nova" blends rhumba rhythms with riotous mariachi horns. Bernard Ebbinghouse takes the honors for the excellent bossa nova selections. A truly flawless set of tunes, Kinda Latin is quite likely the finest Habanera Rock LP ever waxed. Put it on your list of must-haves!
Produced by Norrie Paramor


Jerry Maneker said...

These posts are simply superb! It never ceases to amaze me how much you know, and how you're able to integrate the material and also tell the back story on so much of it. These are thoroughly informative and enjoyable! Thanks so much.



Knowing the back story has something to do with my being an old goat who was actually alive when the story was unfolding . . .

Thanks for the kudos!