Thursday, February 16, 2012

The #1 crush

Between the 40’s and early 50’s, big bands made a lot of success with their upbeat rhythms. But they also had slow, mellow songs, which were made famous by the sweet, melodic voices of crooners.

In the 50’s, kids continued to want romantic songs, but it was probably hard for them to relate to crooners in their 30’s/40’s. Teens needed idols that had the same age, which would sing about their romantic experiences or that special girl on their block.

Who would have thought that a crush for your younger brother and sister’s babysitter would give you a #1 hit in the US, UK, and #2 in Germany? Diana was one of Paul Anka’s first songs, and it launched him to stardom right away. When Diana Ayoub, 20 years old at the time, babysat for his younger siblings, he was only 15. She had no interest in him, which was probably better for Anka to express his unmatched feelings in a poem, and later turn it into a song. Diana sold over 10 million copies all over the world, only second to White Christmas, as the best selling single of all time. Nothing like starting your career at 16 with a #1 hit.

Anka proved to the world that he was here to stay, by recording You Are My Destiny the following year. By now, teens had endorsed him as a musical spokesperson for young love. And in turn, he embraced this role by writing more hit songs. And not only for himself. He also wrote It Doesn’t Matter Anymore for Buddy Holly, and for other artists, such as Pat Boone and Connie Francis.

 In 1959 he continued to be a success. He starred in his first movie, Girls Town, in which he sang Lonely Boy, another US #1. Right after that, Put Your Head On My Shoulder hit the charts. It only got to the second place in the US because of Bobby Darin’s Mack The Knife.

After making millions of kids dream of their school sweethearts, it was time for Paul to forget Diana and move on to have a real relationship. The one person that made him forget his platonic love for an older woman was Annette Funicello. She was one year younger than him, and at the time already a singer and a Walt Disney TV show presenter. The future star of beach-themed movies (along with Frankie Avalon), convinced Anka to write some songs for her next album. But before sparks could fly a bit higher, Walt Disney himself ended this starting relationship. Like always, it was all about appearances and professional image. Nevertheless, Anka did get one more hit when he recorded Puppy Love, inspired by this partially fulfilled passion.
Annette Funicello and Paul Anka

By the early 60’s, Paul Anka started to focus musically on the adult market. But his business smarts continued to blossom. He was already an underage millionaire, and made another bold move by buying the rights to his old masters. He also starred in more movies, hosted TV shows, wrote over 125 compositions (including the opening for The Tonight Show), and launched his own record label (Spanka).
He continued his career and today, is still a name mentioned in the music business. In 2007, Paul Anka released Classic Songs, My Way, with contemporary artists such as Jon Bon Jovi and Michael Bublé. I guess Anka will always be someone you can expect more from.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

YouTube Sensations: Sayaka Alessandra

In the 50’s, things were more simple. The small city groups and singers could launch for stardom by getting a DJ to play their record, cut at a small local studio. Small agents could find talent at sock hops, at a neighborhood garage, or at the nearest street corner. You get the picture. Even so, there must have been a lot of talented vocal groups who never had a shot, or could have come very close to making it to the mainstream galaxy of Rock n’ Roll stars, but never made it. A bad agent, or the lack of, lyrics that just weren’t good enough, or never being at the right place, at the right time. There are so many reasons for not making it to the top, that many harmonious voices were bound to fade away into oblivion.

Fast forward to the 80’s, when things really got to a much more commercial level. It was probably harder for the wannabe star. I would imagine that getting a top music company executive to listen to a demo tape was something almost impossible in a lifetime.

Jump forward to 2012. As you get out of the DeLorean lent by Marty McFly, things start to get simpler again. Although it’s still difficult to be noticed just by walking through the lobby of a big recording company, there are now ways to reach notoriety even for those who never thought about being known all over the world. We are now living in the digital world, where things can spread from Rio de Janeiro to Hong Kong like wildfire, in a matter of minutes. In other words, your 15 minutes of fame can be stretched for years. 

Ever since YouTube opened the doors of revolutionary communication, video sharing was never the same. And although not everything you see online deserves your full attention, there are many who make the most of this chance. I’d say that the smart ones are learning more and more how to make the most of this social tool. 

Sayaka Alessandra is one of these people. This former Sky Italia TV presenter started uploading videos around 2008. Although you would never imagine a half Japanese half Sicilian girl, who lived in places such as Bangladesh and India, sing 50’s/60’s hits, that’s exactly how she surprises us. A great Elvis fan, she has a very cool singing flavor with her deep intonations in some of her covers. It’s a delight to listen and see her home performances. And as you can see by the videos, it’s not just about the singing. She looks like she’s really having fun, which makes you enjoy the videos even more.

As she made success through YouTube, she went on to live performances, and recorded more songs. Some of the new ones are on her Myspace page and YouTube, and sound like that they were recorded in a studio. But I have to say, my favorite songs will always be the homemade videos that made her famous. Maybe someday, after she accomplishes her accolades, she might go back to basics.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Beyond the songs: Bobby Darin

Every once in a while, we come across an artist whose creativity is a little ahead of their time. In Bobby Darin’s case, it was time that caught up to him before his success. Walden Robert Cassottto was born in 1936, in the Bronx, NY. If you look up Rock n’ Roll singers or Doo Wop groups, you’ll notice that a lot of them started their careers while in their teens. When Bobby’s 1958 Splish Splash hit #1 in the R&B charts, he was already 21. Today, it’s probably a pretty normal thing for an artist to start making success in their early 20’s. But in a time where a lot of the groups had baby-faced members, it might have been a bit strange for somebody of Bobby’s age to be a teen idol. Right after that, Queen of the Hop also hit the charts. Although not a mainstream hit that you’ll hear much today, it’s a song that you can easily imagine playing on car radios at the time.

In the following year, Darin recorded Dream Lover and one of his most famous hits, Mack the Knife. The latter song was a daring adaptation of an old ballad called Moritat, and was his only song that reached #1 in the US and the UK. So every time you listen to Frank Sinatra singing Mack the Knife, remember Bobby Darin. This was also the song that made him part ways with Rock n’ Roll. He never really wanted to be a R&R star, and from the moment he won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year and was voted Best New Artist on, his main audience started to change from teens to adults. Instead of being compared to teen idols, he now entered the realm of Frank Sinatra and other internationally famous singers.

Bobby and Sandra Dee
In 1960, he set himself firmly in the adult market by recording Beyond the Sea. After that, there were some more hits, but none that repeated the initial success. While his singing career stagnated in the 60’s, he was very active in other areas. Since 1959, Darin started acting in movies. Some even with his wife at the time, Sandra Dee. In 1963, his performance in Captain Newman, M.D. earned him an Oscar nomination. He also dedicated a lot of time to campaign for Robert F. Kennedy.

The late 60’s was an emotional rollercoaster for Darin. He divorced Sandra Dee, Kennedy was assassinated, and he finally found out that his “sister” was actually his mother, and his “mother” was his grandmother. His self-esteem took a blow and he fought depression for some time.

Elvis and Bobby Darin

Frankie Avalon, Darin, Pat Boone, and Paul Anka
But Bobby Darin was a fighter from his early ages. This was blatant in his early career days, when he made a statement to Life Magazine in 1959: “I want to be a legend at 25”. In the early 1970’s, he wowed crowds in Las Vegas, receiving standing ovations, and starred in two NBC variety TV shows. He was making a grand comeback, and offers for shows were pouring in. Unfortunately, now time was really catching up to him. During his childhood, he had rheumatic fever, which forever damaged his heart. At 13, doctors said that one day he would need open-heart surgery. He had delayed this until 1971. Although it seemed that he would be OK, two years later he forgot to take antibiotics before a routine dental procedure, and an infection set in. That made a second heart surgery a necessity. But this time he did not recover.

Bobby died at 37. Too young for somebody who was much more than a singer or actor. Above all, he was a human being, who loved doing benefits and supported charities. He was a performer who stood out among the many names of entertainers of the 50’s/60’s. Not because of his songs, but because of his heart. Bobby Darin has no grave, because he donated his body to the UCLA Medical Research Center. Nevertheless, he will be remembered for a long time. Every time that one of his songs plays, we will listen to something much warmer than his melodies. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

One Hit Wonders: The Elegants

When I think of Italian music, the first thing that comes to my mind are songs that have become synonymous with Italy itself. Famous songs like Volare or O Sole Mio that have traveled the world through commercials and movies. I would never expect a Doo Wop hit from a group made up of Italian descendants. But what a pleasant surprise The Elegants gave us.

The group was formed in 1956, when lead vocalist Vito Picone and Carman Romano (both ex-Crescents), teamed up with Arthur Venosa, Frank Tardogono, and James Moschello. When Picone wrote Little Star in 1958, the boys from Staten Island, New York, became a sudden success. Their record sold over 2 million copies, and they rode that hit, touring in the US, Canada, and Mexico.

They continued to record ballads for different labels, but no other song repeated the success of Little Star. The Elegants had some different formations up to the 70's, and today Picone tours with his own ensemble of the group.