Due to a last minute change, "Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing" is incorrectly credited as being the instrumental version from Hollywood In Rhythm instead of the vocal version from Love Affair. In the liner notes, Don Cherry's "Band Of Gold" is mistakenly referred to as "Age Of Gold."
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Executive Producer: Jerry Shulman
Compilation Producer: Didier C. Deutsch
Mixing and Digitally Mastering: Tom Ruff, Sony Music Studios, New York
Project Director: Penny Armstrong
Packaging Manager: Gina Campanaro
Art Direction: Janet Perr
Cover Illustration: Daryll Zudeck
A&R Coordination: Tony Natelli
With more than 35 albums that ranked among Billboard's Top 100 in the Easy Listening category from 1957 to 1975, it was inevitable that a single volume of 16 of Ray Conniff's most requested songs would not be enough. So you might say putting together a second volume of 16 more top Conniff favorites was preordained.
There was nothing preordained, however, about Ray Conniff's super-success when he first started recording his kind of distinctive vocal/orchestral arrangements of classic pop songs in the mid-1950s. In fact, no one was more surprised than Ray himself. As much as he loved the great songs of Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley that had long dominated the "Hit Parade," he knew they were being increasingly clobbered on the charts by the onslaught of rock 'n' roll and other fresh musical styles of a new generation. But he also knew there was an audience which still loved the old songs as much as he didand would welcome new recordings that dressed them up a bit differently from everyone else. What he didn't realize at first was just how BIG that audience was.
Conniff came up with a unique blend of wordless voices backed by a small instrumental ensemble performing rhythmically crisp arrangements that were as great for dancing as they were for just listening. In effect, his singers "play" their voices as instruments. Female voices "double" with trumpets, clarinets, or high saxophones; male voices with trombones and low saxes. At first there were eight vocalists, but that eventually expanded to 25 close-harmonists. Instrumentally, Conniff quite naturally made use of brass and wind instruments, since he had spent a good part of his career up to then as a big-band trombonist and arranger.
Music was an important part of Conniff's life from the beginning. A native of Attleboro, Massachusetts, he grew up in a musical family (his mother was a pianist, his father a trombonist). As a teenager, Ray acquired a reputation as a first-class talent playing in local bands. When one of the bands needed some new arrangements, Ray volunteeredand then quickly signed up for a correspondence course to study arranging. He later studied more formally at the Juilliard School in New York.
His talents as a trombonist eventually landed Conniff jobs with the bands of Bunny Berigan, Teddy Powell, and Bob Crosby. Then, at age 24, he decided to organize his own band. It bombed. He lost little time rebounding as both a sideman and arranger for others, including Vaughn Monroe, Alvino Rey, and Artie Shaw. After a stint in the service during World War II, Conniff rejoined Shaw's newly reformed orchestra and began winning top notices for what some critics considered the best arrangements for the best of all of Shaw's bands. When Shaw disbanded, Ray moved over to Harry James.
But the glory days of the big bands were fast coming to an end for a combination of economic, social, and musical reasons. Conniff then went to work as an arranger for Columbia Records, working with such rising singers as Johnny Mathis, Guy Mitchell, Johnnie Ray, and Don Cherry. For one of Cherry's recordings ("Age Of Gold"), Conniff used a small wordless chorus to vamp the introduction. The recording not only became a million seller, but also paved the way for further Conniff blends of choral and instrumental sounds.
Within a few years, with albums such as 'S Wonderful, then 'S Marvelous and 'S Awful Nice, Conniff was the king of easy-listening vocal pop. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Begin The Beguine
Is there anyone young or old who doesn't know this Cole Porter classic? Yet how many really know what a beguine is? Caribbean in origin (specifically, from the islands of Saint Lucia and Martinique), it's a kissing cousin to the rhumba. Porter said he was introduced to the rhythm by Martinique dancers in Paris in 1933. He later admitted he thought at the time that "Begin The Beguine" would be a clever title for a song and jotted it down in his journal, along with a notation about the rhythm itself. The melody for this song came from an altogether different source several years later. Porter said the first four bars were inspired by the theme of a native dance he heard in the Dutch East Indies on a voyage to the Fiji Islandsand he took it from there. His song (unusually long at 108 measures, and without a verse) made only a modest impression when it was introduced in Porter's 1935 Broadway money-loser Jubilee. But three years later it unexpectedly became a gigantic pop hit through a swing recording by Artie Shaw's orchestra, tallying 18 weeks on the charts, six of them in the No. 1 spot. No, Conniff did not have a role in Shaw's historic 1938 recording (he didn't join the Shaw band until 1942). But there is more than a touch of the Shaw swing spirit in Conniff's driving arrangement.
Originally a Mexican song about the pleasures of kissing (with both music and Spanish lyrics by Consuelo Velazquez), Sunny Skylar's English-language version became a U.S. hit in 1943with Jimmy Dorsey's recording holding the No. 1 spot on the charts for seven weeks. Conniff gives it an easy going but rhythmically vivacious Latin beat.
Thanks For The Memory
No dreamy nostalgia trip here. The Conniff aggregation has livelier memories in mind for this Oscar-winning song from The Big Broadcast Of 1938. Most folks today think of it as Bob Hope's longtime radio and TV theme song, but Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin originally wrote it as a romantic duet for Hope and the marvelous (and regrettably forgotten) Shirley Ross. Robin at first had doubts about the song's potential, but Rainger bet him ten dollars it would be a hit. Rainger happily collected when the song went on to ten weeks on "Your Hit Parade," three in the No. 1 spotand it's remained the prolific songwriting team's most enduring (and endearing) standard.
Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing
Love has been called many different things in songs throughout the years (from "A Simple Thing" to "A Hurtin' Thing" and lots more). But Sammy Fain's theme for the 1955 movie of the same name charted in the No. 1 spot longer than any of the others after Paul Francis Webster put words to itand won the Oscar for Best Song to boot. Conniff even lets his usually wordless choristers give us all the lyrics.
It's Been A Long, Long Time
Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn were primarily churning out forgettable songs for low-budget, B-movie musicals during World War II, when Cahn suggested they have a song ready to welcome our servicemen and women back home at the war's end. They came up with this genial invitation to "kiss me once and kiss me twice and kiss me once again." Soon after the German and Japanese surrenders it was on "Your Hit Parade" for 14 weeks, five of them in the No. 1 spot. It would be the most profitable song the team ever wrote together.
Memories Are Made Of This
And what bright memories they obviously are, as Conniff once again refreshingly avoids the usual equating of memories with a lazy tempo. Dean Martin had the original No. 1 hit with this one in 1956, backed by The Easy Riders (who were actually the song's writers Terry Gilkyson, Rick Dehr, and Frank Miller).
Critics and audiences alike had trouble trying to understand why Rex Harrison would want to murder Doris Day in the 1960 movie of this title. But they had no trouble turning Jerome Howard and Joe Lubin's wistful theme into a song hit on its own, especially in Ray Conniff's lovely arrangement.
"A song of love is a sad song" say the lyrics, but that doesn't mean it has to be defeatistas Conniff's frisky version so neatly makes clear. Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer introduced the song in the bittersweet 1952 movie Lili.
Another take on the down side of love, this time with a clear-eyed country spin. The Conniff version beat out co-composer Ned Miller's own recording on the charts in '64.
Try To Remember
Few of us who were in the opening week's audience of The Fantasticks in 1960 (and the present writer indeed was) ever suspected the modestly staged fable would go on to be the longest-running Off-Broadway musical in history. But there was little doubt that this song would be remembered a long, long time, in or out of the show. And it certainly has, thanks in no small part to haunting arrangements like Conniff's here.
This Is My Song
In addition to being one of the all-time great comic actors and writer-directors, Charlie Chaplin was no slouch as a songwriter. "Smile" (from City Lights) and "Terry's Theme" (from Limelight) are his best known but this one from the Chaplin-Sophia Loren-Marlin Brando A Countess From Hong Kong (1967) fared better with the public than the film itself. Petula Clark's recording put it in the Top Ten and Conniff's lightly rocking version has held its own as a favorite too.
Red Roses For A Blue Lady
If the roses don't change her mood, Conniff's sparkling arrangement certainly should. Vaughn Monroe was the first to put this song near the top of the charts in 1949, and Wayne Newton, Bert Kaempfert, and Conniff all sparked a major revival in the mid '60s.
Perry Como had one of his last big record hits with this one in 1971. But few people know the song originated as a Mexican ballad titled "Somos Novios" with both words and music by Armando Manzanero. Sid Wayne ("Stolen Moments") wrote the English lyrics.
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
Love-at-first-sight has rarely been captured so captivatingly in melody as in this ballad by Britisher Ewan MacColl, who wrote it for his wife, Peggy, the sister of American folksinger Pete Seeger. Roberta Flack started it on its way to the top of the charts via the soundtrack of Clint Eastwood's Play Misty For Me, and it ended up winning her a Grammy in '72 for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year.
Seasons In The Sun
There's sunshine aplenty in Conniff's version of one of several songs by Belgian troubadour Jacques Brel for which America's Rod McKuen wrote English lyrics. The Kingston Trio's version won them a gold record in 1974.
Another English import, with words adapted from a poem by American-born literary giant T.S. Eliot (1888-1965). Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the song with Trevor Nunn for his long-running and record-smashing musical Cats (in its 13th year on Broadway as this album comes off the production line). Barbra Streisand helped put the song on the charts with her recording soon after the Broadway opening in 1982.
Notes by Roy Hemming
Classic Pop Historian and Critic
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