The Perry Como Shows 1943 - On the Air SeriesPerry Como
The Perry Como Shows
 
Perry Como
& The Raymond Scott Orchestra
 
| CD Listing | Volumes One, Two and Three |
 
Today's music radio is prerecorded music. Once in a while, scanning the radio dial, we do happen on a live performance by an up-and-coming cult band or a venerable jazz artist; it can be either exciting or annoying to hear music performed in the studio at the moment we're hearing it. The best performers, of course, come to life before a live audience even an audience they must imagine, as listening from houses and cars. Others reveal a disheartening dependence of recording technology or the dazzle of a big stage show.
 
The Perry Como Shows 1943 - On the Air SeriesBut whether a contemporary artist thrives on live radio or falls apart under pressure will have virtually no impact on the artist's career. Live performance is a novelty in mainstream radio.
 
It wasn't always that way. The phonograph did predate commercial radio; for some years 78 rpm records presented the best technology for delivering music to the home. But with the radio craze of the twenties, radio and recordings began to struggle for dominance. The symbiosis represented by playing records on the radio, so familiar to us now, would then have seemed both technically cumbersome and unnecessary: bands and orchestras were delighted to play entire programs of live music for radio audiences equally delighted not to be changing records every three minutes. Thus did radio come to depend on live performance and thus did live radio become a crucial means of employment and exposure for artists in all musical genres.
 
Perry Como began radio broadcasting in the late thirties before he had scored a single hit. The radio shows collected here in fact provided Como with his first big springboard to recording success; as a recording star Como would continue to appear regularly on the radio. In the fifties he effectively made the transition to television first with a TV version of the brief radio shows from which these sessions are drawn, later with an hour-long variety show.
 
Como was born in 1912 in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. At the age of eleven, he became an after school apprentice to a Canonsburg barber; briefly he owned his own barbershop. But at nineteen, Como was offered a job singing for Freddie Carlone, a Cleveland bandleader. For three years he toured with Carlone, becoming popular with Midwestern audiences for his mellow, Crosby influenced crooning.
The Perry Como Shows 1943 - On the Air Series
 
In 1936, Como joined the Ted Weems Band, one of the most popular of the thirties. Weems' band performed in the tradition of the "sweet" as opposed to jazz dance bands of the twenties; even as other white bands like Jimmy Dorsey's and Glenn Miller's began to purvey a simplified version of black swing, Ted Weems band remained placid. Como's crooning fit right in but he did not make a strong mark as a recording artist during the thirties.
 
Shortly before these radio shows were launched, however, Weems' band broke up. The United States had entered World War Two; Como planned to return home and open another barbershop. But when CBS hired him for live radio, he settled his family outside New York and began to appear for fifteen minutes every afternoon on CBS shows that this collection is drawn.
 
Later in 1943. largely as a result of the success of these shows, Como would make a milestone appearance at the Copacabana; RCA would immediately sign Como to a recording contract; soon he would move to a nighttime radio show on NBC, RCA's affiliate, and enjoy enormous success as a recording artist. In 1945, Como would sell an unprecedented two million copies each of "If I Loved You" and "Till the End of Time." Between 1944 and 1955, only Bing Crosby among the male pop stars would have more hits; in the fifties, with the changes brought about by rock and roll, Como would move to television and continue to enjoy TV success through the early sixties. As late as 1975, "Perry Como's Forty Greatest Hits" would be a million-seller in England.
 
Thus on these shows we hear a Perry Como whose big success is only months away. He does not depart from the relaxed style he employed with Ted Weems' band; Como would in fact never attempt to compete with the jumpier swing band vocalists who were his contemporaries. His announcing and singing do not invoke the nightclub; politely he knocks on the listener's door at three in the afternoon. And despite the popularity in the forties of both black and white swing, this laid-back, serenading approach reached an audience of unprecedented size.  Looking backward to the pre-jazz days, pairing hits from the "sweet" dance band era and even from the turn of the century with new pop and show tunes, only barely flirting with jazz sensibilities, Como was uniquely able to appeal to two or three generations at once.
 
The Perry Como Shows 1943 - On the Air SeriesThe singing on Como's hit records would not develop radically from the style we hear on these shows. He ranges effortlessly from light baritone to tenor; the traces of old-fashioned, pre-microphone singing that we catch here might be eradicated later, but the vocal style is already mature and controlled. Characteristically he mixes the old and the new in his repertoire. Songs that would have appealed to an older generation include chestnuts like "Girl of My Dreams." "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes" is drawn from the early country music of the Carter Family an unusual choice for Como, but the song had recently been covered on the pop charts. He is careful to balance the :oldies" with hipper numbers like Duke Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," as well as brand new ballads like "Now We Know".
 
The Raymond Scott Orchestra, which served as the CBS staff band, takes over for a few numbers alone; they extend Como's laid-back approach. Scott himself was music director for CBS, and while he had hired jazz greats Coleman Hawkins and Benny Morton for recording sessions, he personally preferred the old-fashioned sweet style making his band the perfect counterpart to Como's singing. The orchestra's work on "My Blue Heaven" represents this jaunty, even-tempered approach perfectly. The World War Two period piece "Johnny Zero," however, approaches swing, especially in some of the solo work.
 
As this collection demonstrates, Perry Como was a natural for live radio, that once-essential venue for musical performance of every kind. His mellow singing and smooth announcing, holding out against the prevailing jazz-influenced pop vocals of his time, take us back not only to the bygone radio days but also to the pre-jazz roots of American popular song.
 
William Hogeland
 
The Perry Como Shows 1943 - On the Air Series
 
| CD Listing | Volumes One, Two and Three |

Composer Index
A Perry Como Discography 
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Friday, December 09, 2011