Album Notes ~ Amy Duncan
We were one of the first families in our town to get a TV set, back in the ‘50s. From the day when that set found its place in our living room, I was addicted. Those early programs let an indelible impression on me – “Lights Out,” “Your Hit Parade,” “Playhouse 90,” “I Love Lucy,” “Kukla, Fran and Ollie,” “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” “What’s My Line,” and so many others. Perhaps because they were live, those shows had a simplicity and a directness that today’s TV fare lacks. One of them left a particularly happy mark on my memory; “The Perry Como Show.”
Just watching Perry every Saturday night in his famous sweater, hearing him sing in that unrattled style, was a precious escape from what I felt were the dire struggles of my teenage years. To me his voice was more comforting than a big plate of mashed potatoes and gravy – and that was comforting. Now that I’m a bona fide adult, and a jazz pianist and writer, I still enjoy Perry Como. And now I think I understand why this enjoyment has lasted over the years.
There’s no question that Como is a masterful singer – a discerning ear will immediately pick up his natural musicianship. He has infallible rhythm and pitch, phrasing that always pays homage to the lyric, and diction that is both clear and intimately conversational. His casual delivery belies the work that goes into every song. The voice, from pianissimo to fortissimo, is a good one. And yet it’s not skill, or even native talent, that ultimately makes us love Perry Como. It’s that one quality that’s so hard to put into words – heart. It’s the heart in Como’s music that evokes the good feeling that lingers on and on.
Recently, Como celebrated the 50th year of his career – a career he didn’t choose at first but into which he grew as naturally as if he had been born to it. His youthful ambition was to be a barber, and Como continued to carry his barber’s union card long after he had become a name in the music business – just in case.
A family man at heart, Como took his wife Roselle and their baby son Ronald along when he toured with the Ted Weems Band from 1937 to 1943, building a special bed for Ronnie in the back of his car. Later the Como family expanded with the arrival of daughter Terri and son David. Perry has described himself as being without ambition, and he credits Roselle as the driving inspiration in his career.
By the middle 1940s, Como’s relaxed and friendly singing style has propelled him to stardom. Harriet Van Horne of the New York World Telegraph described the Como of those days as “darkly handsome, pleasantly wholesome and mercifully unaffected.” What marked the beginning of a grandly successful recording career, which earned him the name “King of the Jukes,” was a contract with RCA Victor in 1943. His first million sellers, both of which appear on this set, were “’Till the End of Time” and “Prisoner of Love.”
A brief foray into the film industry put Como in “Something for the Boys,” “Doll Face,” and “If I’m Lucky,” for 20th Century Fox, and “Words and Music” for MGM.
What do I like best about Perry Como? The fact that he just sings the songs. In this age of word-twisting pyrotechnics and pretentious messing with the melody (often by people who don’t know the melody in the first place), Como’s straightforward approach is refreshing. And, truly, Como is more than just a singer. He represents an American ideal – the wholesome easygoing solid citizen – sometimes derided as out-of-date or corny. Como puts this ideal across with gentle dignity and sweetness, whether he’s singing a ballad, a novelty tune or a devotional song – without ever becoming maudlin or saccharine.
This four-record set, which spans Como’s career to date, is more than a collection of his biggest hits. It includes his first RCA Victor recording, “Goodbye Sue”; collaborations with Betty Hutton (“A Bushel and a Peck”) and the Fontane Sisters (“Hoop-Dee-Doo”) and a handful of newer songs, including “Send in the Clowns,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Michelle.”
Como’s personality and singing have been described as soothing, nonchalant, relaxed, unassuming, tranquil, mellow, subdues, intimate, cozy and more recently, “laidback.” The word “relaxed” has become almost synonymous with Como’s name. Perry himself was once quoted as saying, “I’m not relaxed, I’m just tired.” Nevertheless, after 50 years in the business, Mr. Relaxed doesn’t contemplate retiring. The voice still works, and he still loves to sing.
– Amy Duncan 1984
Telephone: (902) 698-9848