LADY (VINYL LP)
Jack Jones (Kapp Records, 1967)
I love Jack Jones. He was there at my entrance to the music of the Great American Songbook. I’ve related before that, early on in my exploration of “Sinatra & Friends”, I was able to tune in Nick Clooney on WNEW in New York during my early morning drive to work. I’ll never forget the sounds I heard coming through the static. One song I recall Nick spinning was the title track to Jack’s 1967 record Lady.
Jack Jones began his career as a vocalist in the early 1960’s, a time when dance music, pop vocal groups and Motown were the popular sounds. His brand of crooning was not what was topping the charts at the time. You may say, then, that Jack was “up against it” from the outset. But after a short, unsuccessful stint at Capitol Records, Jack landed at Kapp and released many classy albums throughout the decade. Now, you may have heard me just say that Jack was somewhat on the “outside” of popular music at the start of his career. That being said, his was the type of music that was best understood by the people at the Grammy Awards who saw fit to award him two in his early days. His stylish takes on “Lollipops and Roses” and “Wives and Lovers” netted him the Grammy for Best Male Pop Performance in 1962 and 1964, respectively.
But let’s get to Lady. This record is, to me, the quintessential record of a very specific subgenre. There are a handful of artists we can look back on that were successful at singing pop music with big band accompaniment at a time when increasingly-hard rock was coming to the fore. Through the British Invasion and now into the rise of folk-rock and psychedelia, Jones was attempting to still find a niche as a singer of pop songs, show tunes and standards.
1967 saw the release of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Release Me and The Last Waltz albums and Al Martino’s Mary in the Morning, all great examples of this mature vocal sound. But ’67 was also the year of The Doors’ first album, albums by Jefferson Airplane and The Velvet Underground, the debut from The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. So while Jack’s smooth song stylings may not have been heard by the masses, they were certainly still heard. And an album like Lady stands out, particularly when compared to almost everything else that was coming out at the time. It stands out not only for its distinction but also for its high quality.
Lady starts with the sumptuous title track. German Bert Kaempfert had become notable by 1967 not only as an international recording artist (“Wonderland By Night”) but also as a composer of vibrant and contemporary-sounding melodies that were being recorded by American singers after lyrics had been added. “Wooden Heart” (Elvis Presley), “Danke Schoen” (Wayne Newton), “L-O-V-E” (Nat Cole), the lovely “Almost There” (Andy Williams), “Moon Over Naples”, which became “Spanish Eyes” (Al Martino) and “Strangers in the Night” and “Over and Over (The World We Knew)” by Frank Sinatra.
“Lady” was provided lyrics by two men; Larry Kusik wrote the words for “Speak Softly Love”, the love theme from The Godfather and the song “Live Young”, that Troy Donahue sings over the opening credits of Palm Springs Weekend (1963). The other lyricist is the elusive Charles Singleton*. The urbane Singleton was also on hand to co-write the English lyrics for Kaempfert for “Strangers in the Night” and “Spanish Eyes”. Two other award-winning songs Singleton had a hand in were “Remember When (We Made These Memories)” by Wayne Newton and “The Wheel of Hurt”, a song that was supposed to be Margaret Whiting’s comeback song in 1966. “Lady” is a wonderfully elegant, romantic song that is evocative of a time and place that includes fine dress, fine food and classy settings.
“A Beautiful Friendship” is a perfect example of what Jack does best. It’s an excellent arrangement and orchestration and Jack sings it smooth. Beautiful strings and trumpet during the instrumental break. Ella Fitzgerald debuted this song in 1956. “Free Again” is the first of two dramatic stand-outs on Lady. The ironic lyrics celebrate a man’s freedom – “Lucky, lucky me, free again…time to have a party” – when really this freedom has come at a high cost. Like Tony Bennett, Jack Jones recorded bossa nova tunes but never devoted a full album to them and we are much the worse for it. Jack recorded Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Inútil Paisagem” as “If You Never Come to Me” the same year that Frank did on his album with Jobim. Some jazzy organ accentuates the second consecutive Frank cover as Jack swings through “Nice and Easy”. “Once Upon a Time” is another contemporary standard that Jack lends his golden throat to. This song from the 1962 musical All American has been recorded by almost every major singer of the Sixties.
“If You Go Away” is the other stunning dramatic piece on this record. Belgian Jacques Brel composed the tune and American poet Rod McKuen added the lyrics. This is the moment. Everything is hanging in the balance. There’s been a rift and the lovers look at each other across the room. The man is the first to weaken and, while not wanting to display the depth of his dependance on the woman, he can’t help but begin to describe to her what would happen to him if she left.
“If you go away, on this summer day, then you might as well take the sun away”
He becomes resigned to her going and Jack sings with the man’s desperation in his voice.
“If you go away, as I know you must, there’ll be nothing left in the world to trust. Just an empty room, full of empty space, like the empty look I see on your face. I’d have been the shadow of your shadow if I thought it might’ve kept me by your side.”
The divine “Girl Talk”, by Neal Hefti and Bobby Troup, is a lounge staple and Jones sings it effortlessly. Jack ends the record with the jaunty “It’s Easy to Remember” and it’s a buoyant manner in which to close an album as singers often like to end on a serious` and grand note. Great drumming and more jazzy organ here and Jack sees the song out with some snappy jazz phrasing.
Marty Paich and Ralph Carmichael are on hand to write the charts for Lady. Paich is well-known in the lounge/jazz world due mostly to his work with Mel Tormé and to his own recordings with his own band. Poor Marty has his surname spelled wrong on the back jacket of this record; “Paitch”. Marty’s son is a founding member of the group Toto. Carmichael is known to this writer for his work scoring Nat Cole‘s sumptuous “The Christmas Song”. Carmichael – who orchestrated and arranged Lady‘s title track – was a pioneering figure in the field of Contemporary Christian Music and had to endure the church’s lack of acceptance concerning his blending of gospel and jazz. Significantly for those who know, Carmichael founded Light Records, a label that was for a time the only Christian record company in the world. Carmichael gave gospel legend Andraé Crouch his start and subsequently every major Christian artist recorded for Ralph’s label. Carmichael wrote “Reach Out to Jesus”, a powerful song from Elvis Presley‘s 1972 Grammy-winning album He Touched Me. I was shocked to learn that, as of this writing, Ralph Carmichael lives on, aged 93.
Lady enjoyed a 25-week chart run which was not bad for 1967. It shows that there were still many sharpies out there buying smooth sounds by singers like Jack. The album peaked at #23 in the spring of that year. It was his last significant charting album. The single release of the title track was also his last of any note. “Lady” peaked at #39 and was his last Top 40 hit. It also topped the Adult Contemporary listings, becoming his third and last #1 song on that chart. Jack’s Lady album is a delight and if you can find it on vinyl in the wild, pick it up. It is one of a few perfect examples of a specific subgenre that emitted stylish tones and that still found eager – and no doubt sharply-dressed – listeners in an era saturated with psychedelia. And jeans.
* Charles Singleton sent me on a merry chase. Charles Fowler Singleton, Jr. was a songwriter from Jacksonville, Florida. With partners, he wrote many R&B songs in the ’50’s including Presley’s “Trying to Get to You” and also “Don’t Forbid Me” for Pat Boone. His Wikipedia page goes on to talk about “Strangers in the Night” and “Spanish Eyes”. From the outset, I was intrigued by a songwriter who could go from writing songs called “Booggeddy Booggeddy” and “Chock Fulla Love Baby” to working with a German bandleader on elegant songs like “Lady”. Turns out, there is more than one songwriter named “Charles Singleton”. In this rare instance, my good friends at Wikipedia have got it wrong. Allmusic.com, in their brief biography of “Charles Singleton”, made a point of saying that this person should not be confused with… That was my first clue. From there, I Googled “Charles Singleton” and came across a result at BMI.com, the site for the songwriters’ union. BMI listed several songwriters bearing this name. The author of “Don’t Forbid Me” is listed but the third “Charles Singleton” was the one I was looking for. For the record, our Charles has 108 “work titles” listed with BMI and the union is his “current affiliation”. His “CAE/IPI” number is 40561413. So, there you go.