Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Novel Saturday Night

Girl Singers
Clockwise: Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, Eartha Kitt, and Patti Page.

I thought it might be fun to visit some of the great novelty songs sung by some of the great women singers through the years. Now, for me, a novelty song was one that was meant to generate some interest because it was not in keeping with the other material sung by the performer. Often, they were meant to be funny, the comic relief amongst a seas of lovelorn ballads. In my first example, we have the magnificent Ella Fitzgerald singing a song which became a signature song, although it most certainly didn't have the weight or strength of some of her other material. A-Tisket-A-Tasket began as a nursery rhyme, sometime in the late 1800s. From their it developed into a kids song, where the kids would sing rounds, much like Row, Row, Row Your Boat. In 1938, Ella recorded her version of the song, which became a bit hit.

In 1951, Rosemary Clooney released Come On-A My House, a song written by Ross Bagdasarian and acclaimed playwright and novelist William Saroyan. It was thought to be influenced by an Armenian folk song. Bagdarsarian was better known by his stage name Dave Seville, the creator and 'leader' of Alvin And The Chipmunks. As far as I am aware, it was the only Pop song Saroyan ever wrote. And while Clooney was often noted for her gorgeous and lilting voice, singing songs of love and loss, on this one she donned an accent of some kind to sing a song about visitors and candy. The truly surprising thing? This song topped the charts in 1951, and was one of Clooney's biggest hits. Later in interviews and biographies, Rosemary admitted to never liking the song.

Patti Page was one of the most successful singers of the 1950s, selling millions of albums. She was a gifted singer, with a lovely, clear tone that often soared. Her big hits included Tennessee Waltz, Mockin' Bird Hill, And So To Sleep, but many will remember her for the recording of (How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window? It was written by Bob Merrill, who was also responsible for If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've Baked a Cake. Later, Merrill went on to write Broadway scores with partner Jules Styne, including a little show called Funny Girl, starring a young Barbra Streisand. But the decade before, he wrote this song for the lovely Patti Page.

The incredibly beautiful Miss Eartha Kitt was an actress, cabaret singer, and was perhaps best known many as the woman who played Cat Woman on the Batman television series. But she also had a lengthy singing career, and had her fair share of novelty songs. One she is best known for is the holiday classic, Santa Baby. She managed to combine the demure and coquettish to make for a sexy image that never went over the top. In 1953, she played it perfectly with the song I Want To Be Evil, a true classic.


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