03 August 2010

Connie Francis (Part Six)

Connie Smiling

Lipstick On Your Collar
. . . and 59 More Reasons Connie Francis Belongs in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
by Donny Jacobs

Hey, Ring-A-Ding!
(Eddie Curtis)
This penultimate track from the Dance Party album starts out sounding incredibly goofy, but it ends with a powerhouse vocal finale. Connie Francis, that tiny wisp of an Italian woman, could coil and uncoil her singing voice like a Slinky toy: she'd charm you with an adorable Shirley Temple delivery one minute and stun you the next with a burst of mighty Maria Callas volume. That's what she does on "Hey, Ring-A-Ding", a song best described as half-lullaby/half-Blues shout! Not such a great tune for Twisting, really, but unforgettable once you've heard it.

It Would Still Be Worth It
(Clint Ballard, Jr, Fred Tobias)
Connie's stunning vocal performance on this number (recorded in 1960, but unreleased in the United States until 1987) demonstrates how she masterfully combined raw passion with fragile vulnerability to give her Rock ballads maximum aural impact.

Too Many Rules
(Don Stirling, Gary Temkin)
String sections were a given on femme Pop product in the early 60s', but then as now, seldom do they compliment Rockabilly rhythms! Try as he might, arranger Cliff Parman can't keep the strings on this track from sounding extraneous. Fortunately, Connie has no trouble rising above the distraction; she sells the parents-just-don't-understand premise with a cheesed-off vocal so convincing, you can practically see her pout.

No One
(Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman)
This was a song Connie had trouble capturing, and unfortunately, the version released in January 1961 was one of her failed attempts. Never before had a Doc Pomus song sounded so bland! To be fair, Brenda Lee's version, issued four years later, really wasn't much better. Little did the public know that in the M-G-M vaults lay a sublime, Hawaiian-flavored take of the tune, cut with Ray Ellis back in October of '59. On that near-masterwork, which wasn't released for nearly 30 years, Connie's keening tones compete with a steel guitar for the most poignant aural expression you've ever heard.

Don't Cry On My Shoulder
(Bennie Benjamin, Sol Marcus)
Never issued in the United States, "Don't Cry On My Shoulder" was the British flipside of "Mister Twister". Connie's background vocalists are a tad too loud for my taste, but not even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir could overshadow her surefooted reading of this movie soundtrack-calibre Habanera rocker.

Don't Ever Leave Me - Japanese version
(Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Kenji Sazanami)
When Connie felt it was time to dive back into the competitive Rock'n'Roll swimming pool, she didn't fool around. She engaged one of the hottest production teams in the business, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, to help limber up her backstoke! The swingin' pachanga rocker they crafted for her made a big splash internationally; on the hit Japanese version, she once again used her little girl voice to good effect.

Without Your Love
(Howie Greenfield, Neil Sedaka)
This kind of four-handkerchief ballad requires a big orchestra in order to be fully realized. Still, even with spare backing by a Rock combo, Connie takes ownership of this excellent Greenfield/Sedaka song, drawing maximum pathos out of the lyrics. Had her version of "Without Your Love" been released, even in this spartan form, it would easily have bested a rare recording by Wendy Hill, which topped out at #111 Pop in the fall of '61.

Let's Have A Party Tonight!
(Hank Hunter, Stan Vincent)
Connie's showcase rocker from the film "Looking For Love" pulled hit singles for her in Germany and other foreign territories. It sounds like a remake of "Vacation", recorded after the studio cats had knocked back a few Tequila shots! Miss Francis was a tee-totaller, of course, but she didn't need alcohol in order to make this kind of uninhibited music.  Recent RRHOF inductee Jeff Barry provides the funky bass counterpoint to her wailing lead.

Don't Turn Around
(Howie Greenfield, Neil Sedaka)
Connie's pull-out-all-the-stops vocal on "Don't Turn Around" makes Gloria Gaynor's histrionics on "I Will Survive" sound embarassingly amateurish. This is what truly emotive singing sounds like, and this is the kind of song that brings it out. If Connie had to name the best Greenfield/Sedaka tune she ever recorded, I'd bet this feminist anthem would be a top contender for that title.

Lipstick On Your Collar
(George Goehring, Edna Lewis)
"Lipstick On Your Collar" is a song that fairly begs for embellishment with the comedic facial expressions and animated hand gestures Connie has long been known for. There was no acting-out at the recording session, though; that great singing voice of hers was the only interpretive tool needed. Her biggest original Rock'n'Roll hit is a full-bodied mambo that roars along on a Rockabilly-fueled piston engine; George Barnes lay his claim to Rock'n'Roll immortality with one of the wickedest guitar solos on wax.

Connie 1

Valentino
(Kadish Millet)
Concettina plays the Convent schoolgirl in love with a thuggish street urchin, singing to a track that's heavily marinated in Latin seasonings. Over the next few years, hundreds of Girl Group songs would be cast in a similar mold. Although "Valentino" appears on most copies of her American More Greatest Hits compilation, it was never a hit in America. The song's Apache dance rhythms caused quite a stir in French-speaking territories, though.

Johnny Darlin'
(Eddie Curtis)
Jive, Connie, jive! A tough-as-nails, finger-wagging rocker from the Dance Party album. Lady Gaga wishes she had material this good!

Mail Call
(Fred Karger, Sid Wayne, Ben Weisman)
This stomper was written for Connie to sing in her final M-G-M film, 1965's When The Boys Meet The Girls. Although "Mail Call" seems very Nashville in orientation, it was recorded on a Hollywood soundstage. She belts it out good and strong in an early scene where her character distributes mail to a group of young men. This song would not have sounded out-of-place in an Elvis Presley comedy from the same period.

My Best Friend Barbara
(Hank Hunter, Neil Sedaka)
Jump back, honey!  Connie confronts a garishly-dressed boyfriend-stealer in this sprightly rarity from the Neil Sedaka songbook.

We Have Something More
(Emilio Daniele, Mickey Gentile, Jenny Lambert, Luciana Medini)
An English adaptation of an Italian Pop song ("Di La Verita") gave Connie a swingin' Rock-a-Tango flipside for the American release of "Don't Ever Leave Me." The Italian composers are listed here for the first time.  Her ebullient vocal reading sparkles so brightly, it's no wonder "We Have Something More" charted in its own right. "No Better Off" was cut at the same Mickey Gentile-produced session, but held back for use as an album track.

Stupid Cupid
(Howie Greenfield, Neil Sedaka)
This is the song that established Connie's Rock'n' Roll credentials. It also kicked off her very rewarding professional and personal relationship with Howard Greenfield and Neil Sedaka, Rock'n'Roll's answer to Rogers and Hammerstein. Country legend Patsy Cline was evidently quite impressed by Connie's recording; two years after its release, she essayed her own version of "Stupid Cupid" for a rare Armed Forces radio broadcast. Believe it or not, La Franconero sang it better.

Part Of The Wind
(Tim Hardin)
Connie poured a lot of Soul into this bluesy snippet of a song from the Tim Hardin songbook; Hardin probably pitched it to her directly, as he was an M-G-M labelmate at the time. To date, a rare 1995 South African compilation is the only place you can find it.

Linda Muchachita
(Bill Newman, Don Stirling, Javier Valdés)
This Spanish translation of "Pretty Little Baby" (a track from Connie's 1962 album Second Hand Love) became a favorite of Chalypso dancers in Latin America. What they say about south-of-the-border diversions is true: They tend to be spicy! Maybe that's why our multilingual songbird gave "Linda Muchachita" a more flirtatious interpretation than you'll hear on the English original.

My Dream
(Richard Hayman)
The Platters recorded a song with this title in 1957. Even though the title is identical and it would've fit right into their repertoire, Connie's recording is of a different number altogether. More evidence of her Rock ballad mastery, "My Dream" hails from the same Hollywood sessions that produced "Valentino" and "Teddy".

Look At Him
(Ellie Greenwich, Tony Powers)
The late Ellie Greenwich, who regularly sang background for Connie in the early '60s, co-wrote this delightfully bouncy number. However, she didn't produce it, as has been erroneously reported.  It was produced by Danny Davis at the same New York recording session that yielded "If My Pillow Could Talk" and "You're The Only One Can Hurt Me."  Concettina's playfully pugilistic reading fits "Look At Him" like a (boxing) glove.

Connie 2

"Lipstick On Your Collar" concludes with Part Three.