Yeah. That "Doggie in the Window" lady!
You're saying, "Ugh!" Of course you are. "The guy bothers to acknowledge the 6th year of the Illfolks blog because he wants to pay tribute to Patti Page??" Uh-huh.
The woman's never gotten much respect. Her image is White Bread. Anyone glancing at her hit song list sees a few kitschy songs with tourist-destination titles: "Old Cape Cod" "Allegheny Moon," "Tennessee Waltz." When I met Patti Page two or three years ago, she played a very modest venue. Her website hasn't been updated in a long time and she's pretty much retired now.
I'll tell you what I told Patti Page in person. What makes Patti Page the greatest, is what makes Muhammad Ali the greatest: versatility. Patti Page has not only recorded pop songs with panache and lilt, she's recorded jazz, country, Christmas, gospel and rock. As Michael Caine might put it, or Peter Sellers imitating him, "Not too many people know that." Obviously, so it has to be mentioned here!
One reason nobody knows, is the woman is humble. Her interest through her peak years was her family, especially her two adopted kids. She was just a working mom who liked to sing. She toured 40 weeks a year, she was prolific in the studio recording several albums a year...which meant that critics hardly noticed, and took for granted, the jazz concept albums, the torch ballad collections, or the rock cover songs. It was almost expected that a pop artist would do Christmas albums, collections of movie themes, religious stuff, novelty. It was only those who focused on one thing...that people really took notice of: Billie Holiday. Judy Garland. Marlene Dietrich. Patsy Cline.
Patti avoided parties, lived a suburban lifestyle, had no burning jealousies to drive her, and performed with the genial ease and gentle beauty that didn't set flashbulbs popping or make the front page of the pin-up magazines.
Judy Garland could belt. Billie Holiday had great phrasing on those jazz ballads. Rosemary Clooney and Ella Fitzgerald enunciated perfectly and were elegant interpreters of jazz and the American songbook…but you wouldn't hand them rockabilly, rock or C&W or even gospel. Julie London was fine for intimate vocals and had sexy album covers…but guess what, Patti Page had some very hot album covers, too! And she sang a much wider range than Julie London could.
Patti Page should be a Kennedy Center Honors recipient…joining such past winners as Perry Como (1987), Mary Martin (1989), Roy Acuff (1991), Lionel Hampton (1992), Morton Gould (1994), Benny Carter (1996), Loretta Lynn (2003), Julie Harris (2005), and George Jones (2008).
The stats on Patti Page are astonishing. Over 100 million records sold. 84 singles on the Billboard Top 100. Oh. And one Grammy. 1998. But she won it the first and only time she was nominated. It came about 50 years after her first hit, "Detour," and her pioneering first "double track" recording sessions. "Tennessee Waltz" is reputed to be the #2 single of all time, behind Bing Crosby's 'White Christmas." From 1948 to 1982 she always had a single in the Billboard Top 100. And while she was mostly considered either a Pop artist or a C&W artist, she remained the best-selling female artist of all time…and I don't think that title was taken away until the Madonna era.
Frankly, there are three reasons why Patti Page has not been given all the credit she's due. First, is "How Much is That Doggie In the Window." As much money and fame as it's brought her, it's also irritated critics and unfairly labeled her as just a mainstream-novelty performer. (PS, for years, she sang a PETA-type new version of the song, telling people to adopt not buy!) Second, she's middle-America, and the critics working for influential newspapers in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have never been kind to "people's choice" performers..even national treasures such as Carol Burnett or Red Skelton, or unpretentious writers such as John Steinbeck. Third, too often her record label or her producers were off the mark with what they gave her and how it was arranged. After her cool years at Mercury she moved to Columbia. Imagine if Mitch Miller had produced Simon & Garfunkel or Dylan at Columbia! Way too many of Patti's Columbia albums were ghastly-produced to the point of gassy middle-aged back-up singers and saccharine arrangements. From there, she drifted comfortably into country-pop, which was the only place for any woman of her age to get any work at all.
Your download? Oh, no, you DO NOT get "Tennessee Waltz" or the other familiar 40's stuff from Readers Digest compilations. You can imagine (and probably don't want) the Anita Bryant-type and Doris Day-type stuff she did. What you get are six examples (from entire albums available) of why Patti Page is (unjustly denied the title of) America's greatest female vocalist. You wouldn't expect her to do a good job on:
The sophisticated Gershwin track "They All Laughed."
The country classic "I Fall to Pieces."
A typical Tony Bennett-type early 60's double-tracked pop single "Just a Simple Melody."
The classic Cole Porter hooker ballad "Love For Sale."
One hell of a risk-taking gospel meltdown for "Motherless Child."
I've shaken hands and quipped with President Bill Clinton. I've been at parties with Rod Stewart and Elton John. I've had dinner with Batman (you can figure which one YOU think is the definitive actor in that part). I've been to Norman Mailer's place and spent an hour with Jim Carroll. Cool rockers, sexy superstars, and hip legends…I'm not exactly Piers Morgan but the list of celebs I've had contact with, from hours to lifelong friendships, is a pretty long one. The list does not exclude those who aren't "edgy." The book she autographed for me is on the shelf right next to the one signed by Jane Fonda. I treasure, warmly remember, and am so glad that I can say that I had a chance to meet Patti Page.
Six Examples of the Versatility of THE SINGING RAGE…Miss Patti Page Instant download or listen on line. No capcha codes, wait time, or whines about paying for a premium account.
UPDATE, SEPTEMBER 2012
As a comment left on this post alerted us, Patti just posted, September 2012, about the long silence of late, in live appearances and recordings.
Over the past year and a half I have not focused on performance or recording but have been more attentive to the doctors, nurses and thoughtful caregivers who have been helping me face several medical challenges. Throughout my life I never really gave much thought to my senior years. I was always able to hop on a plane, go out on stage and make music with the band. At this point I am no longer able to do that. My travels now are quite limited to North San Diego County, CA where I have called home for the past four decades. Although I feel I still have the voice God gave me, physical impairments are preventing me from using that voice as I had for so many years. It is only He who knows what the future holds.
Each and every day I am still hopeful that I might regain the strength I once had and resume a more active life. I thank all those well-wishers whose greetings and prayers touch me deeply, and I look forward to days of better health ahead.
Please keep me in your prayers as I will continue to pray for all of you.
UPDATE: January 1, 2013
Patti Page was set to finally receive a "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the Grammy organization on February 9th. She died on New Year's Day. The New York Times obit headlined her as the "Honey-Voiced 50's Pop Sensation." She was a sweet, kind lady. The last line of the obit is a quote from Patti: "“I’m sure there are a lot of things I should have done differently. But I don’t think I’ve stepped on anyone along the way. If I have, I didn’t mean to.”