“Love Songs Of The ’70s” (Decca)
“Romancing The ’60s” (Universal/Motown)
The success of Barry Manilow’s recent albums saluting the hits of past decades was bound to spur both rival record companies and veteran recording artists to get into the act. Donny Osmond and Frankie Valli, while normally not mentioned in the same sentence, are pop icons who have both stood the test of time and recorded hundreds of albums between them.
Here is an obvious indicator that time does not stand still. Baby boomer Donny Osmond turns 50 this month and already is a grandfather. He continues to display his boyish good looks.
The ’70s were the decade in which Osmond had most of his pop chart success and it is evident that he treats the hits of his competitors with the utmost respect, albeit with various results. He is surprisingly strong on Johnny Nash’s reggae- twinged “I Can See Clearly Now,” Al Green’s soulful “Let’s Stay Together” and Ace’s rather bitter “How Long.” He is out of his league on others, such as “You Are So Beautiful” and “Will It Go Round In Circles” which sorely miss Joe Cocker’s throaty growls and Billy Preston’s sense of irony. Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch”is a dreadfully turgid ballad no matter who sings it. Osmond, however, would make Barry Manilow proud of his cover of “Mandy” here.
At 70 years of age, Frankie Valli stills looks and sounds remarkably youthful. It would be foolish to think that he can still hit those high falsetto notes as he did in such Four Seasons’ classics as “Sherry,” “Dawn” and “Walk Like A Man” and Bob Gaudio, his longtime producer and partner, wisely does not ask him to wander into alto tenor territory here.
“Romancing the ’60s” starts out very slowly as Valli sounds very tentative on Bobby Vee’s “Take Good Care Of My Baby” and Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” but he quickly gets his footing back on Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem” and the Casinos’ “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye.” Some songs as “This Guy’s In Love With You” and “Call Me” are not taxing for most vocalists and thus they are softballs that Valli whacks out of the park.
He can, however, still pull off a tough song to croon such as Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted.” The standout cut that makes the album worth purchasing is “On Broadway,” with the cast of “Jersey Boys” happily playing the role of the Drifters behind Valli.
“Greatest Hits: Walking To New Orleans” (Capitol)
“Jump, Jive An’ Wail: The Essential” (Capitol)
When Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans in 2005, there was concern that the disaster had claimed the life of one of its most famous residents, pianist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Antoine “Fats” Domino. Happily, reports of Domino’s death were premature. He had taken refuge in Baton Rouge at the home of a fairly famous relative, Louisiana State University and current Oakland Raiders quarterback, JaMarcus Russell. If there is even a remote silver lining in the Katrina disaster, it is that it revived interest in Domino and his music. Last month NBC’s “Today” program had him in its studio to perform arguably his best known hit, “Blueberry Hill.”
Capitol Records has placed 30 of Domino’s best known recordings from 1950 through 1961 when he was under contract to Imperial Records (whose masters are now owned by Capitol) on one disc, making this CD a bargain in every sense. Unlike fellow pioneers Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, who banged the 88s with passionate fury and jumped up and down from the bench with a crazed fervor, Domino was content to play and sing in an understated yet very effective manner. He was also willing to share the musical spotlight with his band as is evidenced in such hits as “Ain’t That A Shame,” “Blue Monday,” “I’m Walkin’,” “I’m Ready” and “My Girl Josephine.” The last is one of the few tunes where Fats expresses bitterness, in this case from a chance encounter with an old girlfriend who has forgotten her roots.
Antoine’s fellow Crescent City native, the late trumpeter Luigi “Louis” Prima, proved that rocking soul knew no racial boundaries. Prima, a contemporary and friend of Louis Armstrong, was a brilliant bandleader but he became more famous for his sense of humor that reflected his Italian heritage (“My Marie, “Angelina” and “Felicia No Capecia”). He also showed his willingness to play the clownish singing partner to his wife, Keely Smith, on such duets as “That Old Black Magic” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”
Prima was also an influence on rock artists. David Lee Roth covered his version of “Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody” with almost slavish reverence to the Prima original, while Massapequa native and one-time Stray Cats leader Brian Setzer recorded “Jump, Jive and Wail” in his honor.
“The Essential Louis Prima” easily lives up to its title.