Nov 27, 2015

Helen Stays Up Late, Barbara Talks The Talk, Plus A Bevy Of Slow Grinds, Rozsa Gets Furious And A Stringy Swan-Girl Secret Song!


Are you bloated from Turkey Day? Did you gobble-gobble more than you should have? Or is your figure is svelte as Helen Grayco's?

Probably not, but then Helen had lots of competition growing up - being the tenth of eleven children born to her Italian Catholic parents (who'd obviously never heard of this) - plus, she got her first singing gig when she was just eight-years-old. "She sings Hollywood!" exclaimed her earliest fan Bing Crosby, and from there, she was on her way. She dabbled in movies for a bit, but she really hit her stride with singing, collaborating with Stan Kenton, Chuck Cabot, and fellow singer Spike Jones, whom she'd later marry. And let's be blunt, Helen was a dish. Which meant that every magazine was more than happy to boost sales by putting her on the cover:


Despite the fact that she was a mainstay on radio and TV variety shows, Helen only cut two LPs, including this Go Greyco Cheerful Exclusive! from 1957, "After Midnight," which features her posing oh-so-coyly on her bed for a night of low down dirty shame singing (yes, that must be it). The LP lives up to the cover. The saxophone gets a full work-out on several tunes (of course), like the steamy opener "Take Me In Your Arms" and "Black Coffee," both of which prove her ability to not only sing, but wring naughty-kitty innuendo from practically any word or syllable. Even her vibrato sounds racy.


Speaking of great pipes - and raciness, too! - let's give it up for the one and only Barbara McNair.


In the 1950s and 60s, Barbara was everywhere. Why? Because she wasn't just an accomplished chanteuse, she was an actress, too, so on any given week you could watch her sing on "The Steve Allen Show" or "The Bell Telephone Hour," or watch her perform in "I, Spy" or "MacMillan and Wife," to name just a few TV shows she did. Then you could sashay over to the movie theatre and watch her in "A Change of Habit" with Elvis Presley or "They Call Me Mister Tibbs" with Sidney Poitier. Oh, and she was also the first black woman - the first! - to host her own musical-variety show, "The Barbara MacNair Show." Not enough? Behold, for she also posed nude for Playboy in 1968:


I know, right? And if that weren't enough, she also cut several LPs, like this Beautiful Barbara Cheerful Exclusive! from 1960, "Love Talk," one of her earliest efforts in which she sings "All About Love" and "Kansas City," giving them a buoyant, jazzy kick, and "He's Just A Man," where her gift for subtle stagecraft brings out the song's aching want. It's a superb album - and it keeps growing on me each time I play it.


Meanwhile, blues singer-songwriter Andre Williams is giving you one of those seen-it-all, done-it-all smiles which tells you he's overcome every obstacle. Drug addiction, poverty, the childhood death of his mother; the list goes on. Yet this blues maven, who's also written hits for Stevie Wonder and Tina Turner, keeps on truckin'.


Even better for us, he's included in "Slow Grind Fever," a must-listen compilation which drops you into a seedy bar, kicks you into a dark alley , sends you home with a dangerous dame, then starts all over again. In other words, it's the perfect soundtrack for the best film-noir movie never made - and I want to see it! - with choice tunes from Big Maybelle, Eden Kane, Santo & Johnny, and, yes, Helen Greyco (as the dangerous dame) (of course).


Weren't we just talking about film-noir? As I've aged - though for some reason, I've never passed the age of thirty-five (just go with it) - I've come to appreciate film-noir anew, even more than I did as a teenager when I thought they were "It, goddammit. The be-all." I think everyone goes through that first phase with film-noir. Then years later, when you least expect it, they sneak back into your life and seem brand new, and a whole lot funnier (intentionally) than you remembered. One of them, "Desert Fury," starred this hot piece...


Who wanted to get up into this hot piece...


And I'll admit, it's not one of my favorites, even though it's lauded for being "a film-noir in color!" by overbearing cineastes (you know the type; the ones who insist that "Family Plot" is an essential part of Hitchcock's "oeuvre") (and it's not) (and by the way, don't you hate it when they pull "oeuvre" on you?) (I so-o-o want to tell them to stuff their "oeuvre" up their hamhocks) (but I'm too polite) (no, I'm not). AnywayI'mgettingofftrack, it may not be one of the best film-noirs, but it does have one of the best film-noir scores, thanks to Miklos Rozsa, the master of slow-boil mood and teeth-grinding tension. If you're a Rozsa fan - and I see you out there - this restored and expanded album is real treat.


The Secret Song Film didn't eat more than a small morsel or two at Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, just before, during and after, she served Thanksgiving up her nose. "Now that's something to be thankful for," she said, and really fast (and her eyes blinked a lot) (but she looked a-may-zing).


She's also thankful for a certain Icelandic songstress who reliably brings the weird on - no matter what day it is - as she does in her spanking new CD that's orchestral, yo, or an all-strings version of her newest CD. And if that doesn't keep you away from Black Friday stores, what will?

Did you know people eat swan burgers? That's just gross.

Gobble-gobble in the comments, if you like!

13 comments:

Daddy Squeeze Me! said...

Please more more more Barbara McNair! Please.

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

I can't get enuff of her, either! :D

Luis said...

Great stuff! Thanks

Larry said...

Happy Thanksgiving Cheerful. Thanks for the interesting post and great shares. I'm especially enjoying the Barbara McNair. Nice secret song file too.

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

You're welcome, Luis and Larry! Enjoy! :D

RayKay said...

Thank you!!! Love Barbara McNair!

tony said...

..Back from Black Friday madness..I am happy to see your current offerings which include Helen Grayco and Barbara McNair. Great voices!
I appreciate the homage (photo) to Lizabeth Scott who passed away early this year. If Gloria Grahame were alive, she would have loved this post. Thanks!

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Gloria Grahame! God bless that old snapper.

David Federman said...

Let's hear some of that thanks given to Helen Grayco, also. This is an incredible album. And here I thought she was merely the boss's wife.

jas1 said...

Whereever did you find Barbara McNair's "Love Talk"?? (It's easier to find Barbara Morrison than Barbara McNair!)

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Garage sales, flea markets, used record stores - you never what will turn up where!

Jack Gardner said...

Any chance of reposting the Helen Grayco album? It looks fabulously interesting but the link is no more

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Helen's back. Wnjoy!