03 August 2010

Connie Francis (Part Five)

Connie Smiling

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

Lipstick on your collar/Told a tale on you
Lipstick on your collar/Said you were untrue
Bet your bottom dollar/You and I are through
'Cause lipstick on your collar/Told a tale on you*
*Copyright 1959 Anne-Rachel Music(ASCAP), administered by Chappell and Company.

When you think about the stars of early Rock'n'Roll, women's names don't immediately spring to mind. Instead, you remember male stars like Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and, of course, Elvis. There were plenty of women on the scene, though. You had femme songwriters like Deborah Chessler, Dorothy La Bostrie and Beverly Ross. You had femme members of otherwise male vocal groups like Rosalie Hamlin of Rosie and The Originals, Janet Vogel of The Skyliners and Zola Taylor of The Platters. You had non-Rock women who dabbled in the new sound, like Sarah Vaughn, Kay Starr and Patsy Cline. You had dozens of R & B female vocal stars like Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker and Faye Adams. You had youngsters like The Teen Queens, The Bobbettes, and The Chantels, setting the stage for a Girl Group explosion in the early '60s. You had up-and-coming talents like Jackie DeShannon, Jo-Ann Campbell and Brenda Lee, who flew under the radar in the beginning; and you had a smattering of successful Rock'n' Roll women like Connie Francis.

From the time she first began recording in 1955 until her first big Italian-language hit in 1960, Connie was a Rock act. She cut Rock'n'Roll singles and performed them at Rock'n'Roll venues. Then she shifted gears. The public's overwhelmingly positive reception to "Mama" and, following in rapid succession, the Country-flavored "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" and "My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own" prompted her to concentrate on the Adult-Contemporary market. She correctly perceived a stronger fan base among Adults, and decided to cultivate it.

Contrary to what you may have heard, though, this Brooklyn-born Jersey girl never stopped cutting Rock tunes; she just didn't do it as often! At one of her last sessions for M-G-M Records, she covered "Reuben James", the 1969 hit for Kenny Rogers and The First Edition. A few months earlier, she'd seriously considered recording "Angel Of The Morning", which later charted for Merrilee Rush and The Turnabouts. Rock'n'Roll remained on the menu of music styles Connie Francis offered up to her fans, along with Country, Jazz, Latin, Pop standards, showtunes, children's songs and International repertoire.

True, albums that concentrated on Rock material were few and far between after 1959; but through the 1960s, Connie featured many Rock tunes on albums and singles that were released both inside and outside the United States. Here's a CD box set's worth of those tunes for your consideration:

Mister Twister
(John Berry, Don Covay, Mark Lewis)
Co-written by Soul legend Don Covay, "Mister Twister" is arguably Connie Francis's finest Rock'n'Roll record: it's a whole lot bluesy and a little bit spicy, with a bitchin' cha-cha beat that won't quit! Like Petula Clark's French chart-topper "Ya Ya Twist", it's one of the best Chubby Checker-inspired songs you've probably never heard. A Black male vocal group accompanies Connie on this side, but unlike when other White acts of the period harmonized with Black singers, her voice doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. The brothers are in the groove, and Sister Francis is right up in there groovin' with them! Connie was as much at home with Black musicians as she was with the decidedly whitebread Mitchell Ayres Orchestra, with whom she cut tunes for Armed Forces radio.

The Tiger And The Mouse
(Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman)
The 1950s was the golden era of Rockabilly, and several of Connie's hits fall into that category: Certainly "Stupid Cupid" and "Lipstick On Your Collar" do. Here's one slice of blue-eyed R & B that got away. "The Tiger And The Mouse" was cut as a possible follow-up to "Lipstick" but never released; Connie had no trouble nailing the song, but something about it didn't suit her. A pair of takes were completed at two separate sessions, but neither met with her satisfaction. If only she had decided to bear down on this Pomus/Shuman number instead of on "No One"(more about which will be said later).

Looking For Love
(Hank Hunter, Stan Vincent)
One of the few bad recordings Connie made during her M-G-M tenure was the 45 RPM version of "Looking For Love". The theme of her third movie was a highlight of the film soundtrack: Featuring Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and other assembled backing voices, it was a funky boogaloo with a wild sax solo. Klaus Ogermann's swingin' arrangement was recycled when she re-cut the song for the soundtrack album. For some unknown reason, she and producer Danny Davis decided to wax a third version .  After an aborted attempt in Nashville, New York arranger Alan Lorber came up with a new orchestration they liked; but the lugubrious march-time master they completed was just awful.  It wasn't Rock'n'Roll, either (Ace Records' inexplicable decision to include it on a recent Connie Francis Rock retrospective notwithstanding), but somehow it got pressed up as a single. The public's response was decidedly lukewarm. When executive producer Bill Levenson forced me to accept this dog of a track on Connie's Souvenirs box set in 1996, it left a very bad taste in my mouth. Now it pleases me to call your attention to the cut I wanted programmed in its place; the movie version of "Lookin' For Love" is one of the best '60s Pop/Rock album cuts you'll ever want to hear.

Eighteen
(Brad Boobis, Neil Nephew)
Connie was much too convincing as a teen sexpot caught up in a maelstrom of hormonal lust when she recorded "Eighteen", her strongest bid for radio airplay prior to the release of "Who's Sorry Now?" If the track had featured any more of her libidinous squeals, it might've been banned for suggestiveness!

Telephone Lover
(Eddie Curtis)
The best thing about this jazzy rocker from Connie's Dance Party album is the comedic monologue she opens the song with: Why don't you come over to my house and talk me more of that sweet talk, hmmm? Darling? Hel-lo? Hel-lo? Hel-lo? It's a playful nod to the Big Bopper's 1958 smash "Chantilly Lace". Iconic though it may be, JP Richardson's record actually pales in comparison: He couldn't sing R & B like Connie, and he didn't have the Apollo Theatre's music director Sammy Lowe putting his studio band though its paces. Lowe's strategic use of strings and horns on this track is very effective.

Plenty Good Lovin'
(Connie Francis)
There was such a thing as a Rock 'n' Roll orchestra in the '50s, but the group playing on "Plenty Good Lovin'" certainly isn't an example of one. It's the kind of Swing-era big band Kate Smith would've been comfortable with 20 years earlier! Despite Ray Ellis's anachronism of an arrangement, Connie's song lyrics about hotrod cars and twangy guitars are bursting with '50s Rock sensibility; she delivers them with a winking eye and a cocky swagger.

It'll Never Happen Again
(Tim Hardin)
This is the lesser of two Tim Hardin songs Connie recorded with producer Pete Spargo in the fall of 1966. Clearly aimed at the same people who bought Little Anthony and The Imperials hits, it's something of a throwback to her '50s Rock ballad style.

It Happened Last Night
(Leonard Whitcup, Earl Wilson, Slugger Wilson)
There's undoubtedly an interesting story behind this song, one that has yet to be told. Here are the facts: In 1962, gossip guru Earl Wilson helmed a popular nightlife column for The New York Post; titled "It Happened Last Night", it ran until the early 1980s. Somebody, possibly Connie's manager, may have thought she'd do well to get in his good graces. Whatever the case, she agreed to cut a song that Wilson and his son had written to capitalize on his column's notoriety. All concerned probably expected a throwaway album track, and indeed it did end up on an LP(Second Hand Love). However, the track turned out great! Don Costa wrote a swirling Rock-a-Tango arrangement, and Connie graced it with a joyfully effervescent performance.  In addition to the album exposure, M-G-M Records featured the tune on an extended play disc; in a review published on 14 July 1962, Billboard enthused that it "could give the EP the kind of action normally reserved for a single."  That didn't happen, probably because plugging "Last Night" more aggressively would've invited nasty quid pro quo accusations!  Yet even 48 years later, this wonderful waxing all but screams its hit record potential.

Connie 5

You Always Hurt The One You Love
(Doris Fisher, Allan Roberts)
A surprise UK hit, pulled from the Who's Sorry Now? album by M-G-M Record's British branch. Take note of how Connie introduces Country music phrasing as she nears the climax of this Rock ballad remake: You always break the ki-indest heart/With one hasty word you can't even re-member. If you're looking for stylistic purity, don't expect to find it on a Connie Francis album! The woman simply loved to blend styles. Her adventurous spirit never failed to confound critics with narrow concepts of what Rock'n'Roll should sound like.

Capatosta Sweet
(Leo Chiosso, Sandro Taccani)
Underneath the bubbly exterior of Connie Francis lay a dormant Punk Rock princess! Atypical songs like "Capatosta Sweet", with their raw interplay of drums and guitar, brought that secret side out in her. "Sweet" was issued in Italy on the flipside of "Aiutami A Piangere", one of La Franconero's continental hits. Rocking singles like this one, written as well as sung in a foreign language, helped spread the genre's popularity outside the English-speaking world. Connie wasn't the only recording artist who tailored product for foreign export this way, but the massive international following she commanded made a big difference in sales and airplay.

Where The Boys Are
(Howie Greenfield, Neil Sedaka)
Connie and her vocal coach Joe Sherman worked exceptionally hard on the voice tracks for "Where The Boys Are." She'd sung movie music before (in the films Rock, Rock, Rock, Jamboree, The Big Land and The Sheriff Of Fractured Jaw), but this was her first big movie theme; she wanted it to be perfect! This hit single previewed the slightly more nasal singing voice she'd start using regularly by the mid-1960s. While there's far more Pop than Rock'n'Roll influence in "Boys"(and the version cut for the movie isn't Rock-influenced at all), no retrospective of teen sounds from the early '60s would be complete without this international blockbuster. Like it or not, frothy ballads were an essential part of the early Rock scene, especially for women performers.

Tommy
(Hank Hunter, Stan Vincent)
By 1964, the kind of swooning Rock ballad Connie was famous for in the '50s and early '60s had fallen out of favor; few composers were even writing them anymore. However, when her staff songwriters Hunter and Vincent wrote a new song in this mold and played it for her, she couldn't resist cutting it. The vintage 1958 groove of "Tommy" all but begged for her indelible imprint. Hiring The Tokens to sing back-up, Connie produced it herself and sneaked it onto the flipside of her next single, a contemporary Pop ballad. Ironically, that ballad predated the Rock era: It was a lush update of Eddy Howard's 1952 smash "Be Anything".

Robot Man
(Sylvia Dee, George Goehring)
"Robot Man", a tune Connie despised with a passion, is typical of Rock novelties that were popular in the late 1950s; other examples include Sheb Woolley's "Purple People Eater", "Transfusion" by Nervous Norvus, and Dickie Goodman's wild science fiction send-ups. As her audience matured, she stopped cutting these kinds of records, but at the beginning of her career, she waxed no small number of them. Concetta Franconero was the kind of professional who never let personal tastes influence her choice of material, and who never gave any song less than her best efforts. Here, those efforts paid off with a British best-seller.

Toward The End Of The Day
(Leo Delibes, Ray Ellis, Al Stillman)
The only Rock ballad producer Ray Ellis is known to have written for Connie is a stone keeper: A langorous slow dance number that was guaranteed to get teenage couples necking furiously. A more staid Neapolitan version of "Toward The End Of The Day" appears on Connie's Italian Favorites album.

Fallin'
(Howie Greenfield, Neil Sedaka)
"Fallin" is one of the all-time great Habanera Rock songs, as well as one of the sexiest performances on record by a '50s Rock singer. Get that image of a poodle-skirted, pony-tailed Connie out of your mind! This is La Franconero coming across like Sophia Loren, oozing dark glamour and dangerous curves. Her bee-stung lips and mambo hips are extending an offer you can't refuse: "Wanna dance? The name ain't 'baby', though, it's Connie . . . Miss Francis, if you're nasty!"

Are You Satisfied?
(Homer Escamellia, Sheb Wooley)
My, what bad habits Concetta Franconera got into, performing Jazz standards on the "Startime Kids" TV show in the early '50s! That was no doubt where her downward slide into sultry Blues belting began. Underage performances in sleazy nightspots also took their toll, so it's no surprise that by 1955, she could lay down a shockingly mature vocal track like this one. Never before and seldom since has the character of a brazen hussy been conveyed so convincingly on wax! Having sunk to such melodic debauchery, it was only a matter of time before Connie added sinful songs like "Baby's First Christmas" and "Yiddishe Momme" to her repertoire . . .

Playin' Games
(Mark Barkan, Hank Hunter)
This album cut from Connie's 1965 For Mama album hails from the same sessions that produced her hit "I'm Gonna Be Warm This Winter". If both songs call to mind Del Shannon records, that's no accident: Shannon's regular music director, Bill Ramal, handled the arrangements. "Playin' Games" is one of many Connie Francis performances that could qualify as Country or Rock.

The Lovey Dovey Twist
(Eddie Curtis)
The most frantic rocker La Franconero ever recorded gathered dust in the tape vaults for three long decades. When Bear Family Records finally unearthed "Lovey Dovey Twist", inferior aural quality couldn't dull its sassy bite. There's simply no other Connie Francis record like it! When she's not reminiscing wickedly about a Twist-crazed boy named Chris who moves every-which-a-way (background singers all but hyperventilating behind her), Connie is tantalizing you with suggestive Southern belle repartée: I can Twist a while for you, honey . . . I mean to tell you, sugar. Noooo, not even for money, honey! Well, all right, then, just dig me. The overall suggestiveness of "Lovey Dovey Twist" is no doubt what nixed its release; it's obviously a Dance Party album outtake, but one that most other artists would surely have pressed up as a single.

No Better Off
(Bobby Elgin, Bert Keyes)
Connie's most ambitious Habanera Rock recording(one which might've taken Latin America by storm had anybody thought to dub a Spanish version) was hidden away on her 1965 album For Mama. She invests it with the raw passion that Latin music demands, and Bert Keye's thunderous Rock-a-Tango arrangement still packs a wallop 45 years after he wrote it.

I'll Get By
(Fred Ahlert, Roy Turk)
Like "You Always Hurt The One You Love", this cut from the Who's Sorry Now album was culled for 45 release in England, where it scored a hit. Connie's alternately lazy and aroused vocal, caressed by Tony Mottola's murmuring guitar chords, is a blessing for the ears; it's like a very satisfying cup of coffee that lasts a long time.

Connie 6

"Lipstick On Your Collar" continues with Part Two.

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.

Connie Francis (Part Seven)

Connie Smiling

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

Vacation
(Connie Francis, Hank Hunter, Gary Weston)
The summertime hit of 1962, "Vacation" was the kind of rousing, rollicking Pop rocker you might imagine Nat "King" Cole singing. Then again, who else but Connie Francis could lay down such an exuberant vocal track? She cut it in Nashville during sessions for the album Country Music, Connie Style. Both the album and single versions rock out, but methinks the 45 RPM mono mix packs a wee bit more punch! Material with such broad market appeal let Connie split the difference between Teen and Adult Pop crossover.

My First Real Love
(Bobby Darin, Don Kirshner, George Scheck)
There aren't a lot of songs out there which list the late Don Kirshner as co-writer. You won't find too many female vocalist sides with Bobby Darin's overdubbed voice in the background, either. Connie's 1956 foray into Doo-Wop territory shares both distinctions, though. Her Gospel-tinged vocalizing on this and other early singles yanks the rug right out from under critics of her supposedly "whitebread" singing style.

Baby Roo
(Howie Greenfield, Neil Sedaka)
Connie is a natural comedienne, and the deadpan way she sings over this tuba-infested track is just hilarious. Droll Pop novelties like "Baby Roo" are the type of song snooty Rock historians like to pretend never existed. Never mind that even Elvis cut them sometimes(as anybody who's heard "Do The Clam" surely knows)!

Edge Of Forgiveness
(Ritchie Cordell, Sal Trimachi)
People who only associate the names Cordell and Trimachi with late '60s Bubblegum tunes might be surprised to learn that this sophisticated beat ballad is one of their compositions. It's perfect for Connie, and would've made an excellent single.

If I Didn't Care
(Jack Lawrence)
Ray Ellis's update of this vintage 1939 soaper is quite over-the-top, to say the least! The anonymous bass singer comes on like a cross between Paul Robeson and Big Daddy from Tennessee Williams' play Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. You can easily imagine teenage boys rolling their eyes at his hammy ad-libs and jeering every time Connie's remake played on the radio. She does manage to cut through the histrionics, though. Her fiery performance of "If I Didn't Care" just missed Billboard's Top Twenty in the Spring of 1959. To this day, it remains the definitive Rock'n'Roll treatment of the Ink Spots classic.

Whatever Happened To Rose Marie?
(Hank Hunter, Stan Vincent)
Connie brought a sassy Country girl sensibility to urban Girl Group rockers like this one, and the combination was always pure dynamite.

Saturday Night Knight
(Rod McKuen)
Rod McKuen's career as a songwriter has been wide-ranging, encompassing movie themes like the one he composed for The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, ambitious concept albums, and rare Pop singles like Jeff Barry's 1960 Decca single "Why Does The Feeling Go Away?". Connie sampled McKuen's songbook around the same time Jeff did, and found this twistable tune to wrap her Scarlett O'Hara singing voice around. First made available in South Africa, it has yet to gain worldwide release.

Send For My Baby
(Hy Heath, Fred Rose)
Connie claims she learned how to belt R & B from one-time boyfriend Bobby Darin, who coached her in Blues phrasing. However, long before meeting Darin, she was a teenage Jazz and Blues singer, paying her dues in nightclubs. Early singles like "Send For My Baby" gave her the chance to show off her formidable Red Hot Mama chops. Concettina once lamented that she couldn't sing R & B like LaVern Baker, the great Atlantic Records star of the '50s. I beg to differ, and so would anybody else who's ever heard this performance!

I Won't Be Home To You!
(Eddie Curtis)
Nobody would ever accuse Connie Francis of acting like a Mississippi Delta Black woman trapped in the body of a White Jersey girl! That isn't her style at all. However, listening to records like "I Won't Be Home To You" will make you wonder: Could there be an African-American strain in her Italian-American bloodline? Where does she get those Blues diva mannerisms from? The way she roars don't even call me on the phone! halfway through this cut evokes Big Mama "Hound Dog" Thornton at her most ferocious.

Lock Up Your Heart
(Ted Gary, Bernie Lowe, Kal Mann)
People who flipped over Connie's second hit single, "I'm Sorry I Made You Cry" found a track that made the topside sound positively lightweight in comparison. Tony Mottola's seriously soulful guitar licks combine with Connie's smouldering vocals to raise the temperature of this steamy Blues ballad up to fever pitch.  A stereo alternate take exists, but stick with the mono master: It's steamier!

I'm Gonna Be Warm This Winter
(Mark Barkan, Hank Hunter)
One of Connie's biggest international hits, "Winter" demonstrates how she didn't always need to belt lyrics when she wanted to rock out. The little girl voice she reversed for novelties like "Pretty Little Baby" was plenty potent enough to sell this musical Popsicle.

Teddy
(Paul Anka)
Although written for Annette Funicello, and later the subject of a publishing dispute between Connie and composer Paul Anka, Connie's 1960 recording of "Teddy" is the one most people remember. It's also the only version that became a Top Twenty hit. In retrospect, it's easy to read the yearning interpretation she gave the song as a warm-up for her performance of "Where The Boys Are" a year hence.

Someone Else's Boy
(Hal Gordon, Athena Hosey)
This flipside of "Breakin' In A Brand New Broken Heart" is better known to Connie's continental fans in its hit German version, "Schöner Fremder Mann". However, the original English version shows off its Rockabilly pedigree to better effect. In search of a more authentic Country sound, La Franconero followed producer Jim Vienneau back to Nashville after they cut "Someone Else's Boy" in New York City. Her first date at Owen Bradley's famous quonset hut studio yielded her bluesy 1962 single "Hollywood" b/w "He's My Dreamboat", as well as "Pretty Little Baby".

It's A Different World
(Jimmie Crane)
Although Connie Francis's love for vintage styles of music was well-known, that didn't mean she was hopelessly tied to the Pop sounds of the past. "It's A Different World" was her quite credible bid for dominance of the mid-'60s discothèque scene. It was a stylistic departure both for Connie and her music director at the record date, Jazz legend Benny Golson. Despite being sold in a beautiful picture sleeve, the single met with massive indifference; her ballad-hungry fans just didn't want to know from a Mod dance tune! Someday, I hope a hot young independent filmmaker licenses this groovalicious track for his hot new flick, and turn it into the cult smash it was always meant to be.

Connie Greek Style

Frankie
(Howie Greenfield, Neil Sedaka)
Some '50s Rock aficionados turn their noses up at lovelorn ballads like "Frankie"; they'd have you believe that blistering rockers like "Be-Bop-A-Lula", "Peggy Sue" and "Hound Dog" tell the whole story of Rock'n'Roll's fabulous first decade. The truth is that this kind of song, with its heavy appeal to teenage girls, was a staple of Rock'n'Roll radio back then. Nobody could sing these weepers better than Connie, either.

Ich Komm'Nie Mehr Von Dir Los
(Tobby Luth, Winfield Scott)
Using the name of a 17th century American war hero, singer/songwriter Robie Kirk wrote danceable Rock tunes like "Tweedle-Dee" for LaVern Baker and "Gee Whittakers" for Pat Boone, not to mention Elvis's 1962 smash "Return To Sender". He also wrote "Many Tears Ago" for Connie, but the song had a decidedly retro feel when M-G-M Records issued it in 1960. Few people regard it as one of her Rock'n'Roll recordings. Listen to this German version, though, with its foot-stomping, floor-shaking rhythm, and you'll hear the rowdiness her American A & R men failed to bring out.

You're Gonna Miss Me
(Eddie Curtis)
Black songwriter Eddie "Memphis" Curtis was Connie's strongest connection to Rhythm and Blues; it's a shame they stopped working together so early in her career. If she had cut more of his sizzling Blues ballads after "You're Gonna Miss Me", there'd be no question at all about whether she belonged in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. The benefits of their association didn't just flow in one direction, though. Curtis must've been over the moon at having his songs invested with such depth of feeling, not to mention the financial windfall he enjoyed as a result of pulling hits with an international Pop diva.

Groovy Movie Queen
(Colin Cooper)
Sounding like an Ann-Margret outtake from the soundtrack of Bye Bye Birdie, the ludicrous "Groovy Movie Queen" is an example of what later became known as Bubblegum Rock; Connie sampled it at its earliest stage of development, and did so often, if not always willingly! Girl singers like Connie, Annette Funicello and Dodie Stevens popularized this subgenre, which was later dominated by men.

Souvenirs
(Mark Barkan, Dick Heard)
Another catchy "urban cowgirl" record from Connie, with the late Ellie Greenwich quite prominent on backing vocals. For years, it was just an obscure album cut, but in 1996 "Souvenirs" was chosen for the title track of Connie's first (and, to date, last) American CD box set. Alan Lorber is credited with its lively rhythm arrangement, but to trained ears, it sounds more like the work of Lesley Gore's music director Klaus Ogermann. Regardless of who wrote the charts, the lyrics must've struck a familiar chord with Connie: She, like the song's protagonist, was fond of socking away keepsakes to remind her of happy events. That might explain the dewy-eyed reading she bestowed on this melancholy Mark Barkan composition.

Who's Sorry Now?
(Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, Ted Snyder)
Connie's first smash hit was a Rock/Jazz hybrid, the Dixieland era updated with Country-tinged vocals and Fats Domino piano triplets. It was a foretaste of the kind of fusion music-making she'd soon specialize in: Country mixed with Rock (1959's Rock and Roll Million-Sellers and Country and Western Golden Hits), Adult-Contemporary Pop spiced with Latin flavorings (1961's Never On Sunday), Folk music crossed with the Blues (1961's Folk Song Favorites), Rock blended with Jazz (1962's Dance Party), Italian and German Pop with a Country music sensibility (1963's Mala Femmena and German Favorites), showtunes with an International flavor (1966's Movie Greats Of The '60s) and Jazz fused with Country (1968's Connie And Clyde) or Brazilian music(1968's Songs Of Bacharach and David). That's the same kind of mash-up approach to music that gave birth to Rock 'n' Roll.

However, when the musical mash-up is heavy on Adult-Contemporary content, the Rock'n'Roll Hall Of Fame doesn't seem to like it. I suspect that's why important early contributors to Rock history like Pat Boone and Connie Francis are passed over for nomination time and time again. This is absurd! Any number of RRHOF inductees recorded a ton of Adult Pop: Dusty Springfield, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Billy Joel, Gene Pitney, The Righteous Brothers and Brenda Lee, just to name a few. And let's not even talk about those quasi-operatic ballads Elvis was fond of cutting! The amount of non-Rock material in an artist's catalogue should have no bearing whatsoever on his or her qualifications for induction. Nor should music industry marketing or public perception of genre classifications. All that should matter is an artist's record of Rock'n'Roll performances and its historical significance.

"There wasn't an original Rock'n'Roll hit before (1958) by any White girl singer," Connie observed in a 1991 interview. "Sure, there were cover versions of things by Georgia Gibbs (and others), but I don't think there were any original rockers by White girls before (I sang) 'Stupid Cupid'." Because Rock was born into an era of musical segregation, it's necessary to take note of racial distinctions like that. It's also necessary to fully acknowledge the role female performers played in popularizing Rock'n'Roll.

It's time to acknowledge Connie Francis as a member of the Rock revolution's First Wave. Her string of hits from February 1958 to October 1959 blazed a commercial trail for female Rock acts who followed in her wake. She was the undisputed Queen of the Rock'n'Roll Ballad: Her unforgettable performances of "You Always Hurt The One You Love", "You're Gonna Miss Me", "If I Didn't Care", "I'll Get By", "It Would Still Be Worth It", "Who's Sorry Now?" and "Don't Break The Heart That Loves You" set the standard for everyone else! Prolonging her career meant distancing herself from the kind of music that first brought her acclaim. However, a change in direction to more Adult-oriented fare didn't erase the essential contributions she'd already made to Rock history.

Nor did that change stop her from making new contributions, particularly in the form of fusion records. Rockabilly was all but dead by the early '60s, but Southern Fried Rock was the wave of the future. La Franconero pointed the way with down-home up tempo sides like "Hollywood", "Gonna Git That Man!", "Love Is Me, Love Is You" and "Over-The-Hill, Underground". Contrary to her reputation as a "retro" artist, Connie was very much ahead of her time in this respect, and guess what?  Girlfriend is still rocking in the country! On her most recent album, a 2000 tribute to Buddy Holly, she sings vintage Rockabilly classics saturated with Tex-Mex, Gospel and Country influences.

These reasons, in addition to the 60 recordings cited here, are more than enough to justify Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero's induction into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. Those of you out there who have the power to do it . . . what the Hell are you waiting for? Light a fire under your damn asses and git 'er done! Just like lipstick on the collar of a cheating boyfriend, your failure to honor this legendary lady will tell a tale on you!

Connie 7

In 1995, I was honored to co-produce and write liner notes for an historic box set called Connie Francis Souvenirs. From a hit singles standpoint, it remains the definitive retrospective of Miss Francis's M-G-M Records output. A definitive compilation of Connie Francis's Rock'n'Roll masters has yet to be marketed. Until one does exist, fans of her Rock recordings should seek out the following releases: Rock Sides(1957-64), Polydor Records 831698-2, released 1987; White Sox, Pink Lipstick And Stupid Cupid, Bear Family Records 15616E1 (5-CD box set), released 1993; Kissin', Twistin', Goin' Where The Boys Are, Bear Family Records 15826E1 (5-CD box set), released 1996; I Remember Buddy Holly, K-Tel Entertainment 3521, released 2000. All are highly recommended by Cantina staff.