Wednesday, October 19, 2016
ILL-USTRATED SONGS #33 Mel Torme swingin' the RED RUBBER BALL
No, it's not "Captain Spaulding," it's Mel Torme, no longer tormented by a stinker who is "not the only starfish in the sea."
If you want to know how the Rat Pack-types would do a jazz version of this folk-rock kiss-off, here it is. The mid-60's and late 60's were perilous times for lounge singers. Now "retro-cool," at the time they were becoming corny. They survived as best they could. After crooning "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime" in his typical insincere way, Dean Martin starred on a long-running barely-rehearsed comedy-variety show.
Sinatra, going morbid ("It Was a Very Good Year") simmered sourly about retirement, and went into some odd phase by hooking up with boyish Mia Farrow. Sammy Davis Jr. got cornier ("Candy Man") but mostly stayed in Vegas. His version of "Mr. Bojangles" wowed the crowds there, but it was Jerry Jeff Walker and Bobby Cole who dueled each other on the Top 40 singles charts.
The rest of the lounge acts and Rat Pack wanna-be's simply had to hep it up as best they could. Andy Williams, Jack Jones, Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Kate Smith and even George Burns covered whatever rock songs MIGHT be middle-of-the-road enough for the old fans and tolerable for anyone else listening. And so they did "Mr. Bojangles" or "Bridge Over Troubled Water" or "Hey Jude" or "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" or those awful hybrids like "Up Up and Away."
Paul Simon's stuff was easily covered, but not so easily swung (Sinatra's "Mrs. Robinson" is elsewhere on this blog). Mel Torme did a good job on "Red Rubber Ball." He was known as "The Velvet Fog" (and not too thrilled with the those who falsely called him "The Velvet Fag" or more accurately as he got older and more bulge-eyed, "The Velvet Frog.") Here, his voice actually has a lot more clarity and less of the soft burr.
Paul, born and raised in Queens, New York, and a big baseball fan, no doubt spent his early teen years playing with a specific "red rubber ball." It was what New Yawkers called a "Spaldeen." With hard balls and softballs not suited to street play, and a tennis ball lacking pop, kids bought a "pinky" instead. No, it was never actually bright red, but kids thought of it that way anyway. If you wuz a New York kid, you'd woik up an appetite playin' stickball with yer "Spaldeen," and then if you didn't have to drop into the "Lie-berry" to get books for skoo-well, you'd go home and have a bowl of "Piss-ketti."
Oh the nostalgia of red rubber balls, blue balls, finger-snappin' lounge singers, melodic pop songs, and getting over a break-up with a bitch.
RED RUBBER BALL - listen on line or download, no Zinfart passwords, no porn ads, no capcha codes.