July 21, 2013

Records From My Father, Part 1: "Make Love to Me."

I told you here that I was about to start a new project. I'm going to call it "Records From My Father." I inherited a big stack of record albums that my father bought in the 1950s and 60s and that were part of the home I grew up in. I didn't really understand what I was hearing and what these things meant to my father, who has been gone a long time.

I decided to listen to one album at a time — not that I'll endure all of them — and see what I think. I don't expect to recall my childhood memories or to reconstruct the inner life of the man who existed in ways that couldn't be understood by me at the time. I don't expect anything, really. The idea is simply to encounter these albums, because I have them, because he bought them, and because I know they have meaning, even though I don't think it is possible to find that meaning.

The first selection is "Make Love to Me," a 1957 collection of "standards" and "new pieces," sung by Julie London.


I pulled this one out of the stack because Julie London was my father's favorite singer. As a child, I had reason to believe that she was the most compellingly beautiful woman in the world. As I heard her singing, she was whispering. That was the gimmick: Whispering. Listening to it now, I hear how sexy it is intended to be to a man. I'm not sure whether it's completely subtle or a sledgehammer of sex. It's trying to be both in a way that would seem ridiculous or naive today, unless you could convince yourself that it's ironic. But it's not ironic.

The liner notes invite the listener — the male listener — to imagine Julie as an idealized young woman available for sex. Each song is connected to a city, even though the song lyrics are not about any particular place. The dreamy man — if he reads the liner notes — can picture himself in one city after another with the beautiful, love-seeking woman: "So steady your hand, pour the martinis — let your imagination go...."


My favorite song on the album was "Lover Man" — listen to it here — which the liner notes tells us is "Switzerland at sunset." I see little inked checks next to some of the songs — not including "Lover Man." I think I recognize my father's handwriting, and I assume he made cassette tapes and checked off the songs he wanted to copy. My second favorite is "Body and Soul," which did get a check.

How would I rate this listening experience? It did not take me back into the past. I don't remember hearing it or having childish ideas about what these songs meant. There's something wistful about thinking of my father feeling deeply attached to this kind of singing, which seems to be about teaching a young man how to "make love" to a woman. Key song: "Go Slow." (Not checked.) "Go Slow" supposedly takes place in Casablanca, according to the liner notes. "When love is slow, oooooh honey, what a tonic for my nerves." What a bad song! And when Julie does that "ooooh," she sounds a bit grossed out, like maybe it should be spelled "ew."


M.H. said...

Julie London was a very much the stylist of an era, the era's transition from big band and be-bop jazz to the new 'cool' jazz of the west coast sound.

She did not belt out songs. Rather her voice and style echoed the much earlier seductiveness singing of Marlene Dietrich but with with a bluesy cadence. No one in the 1950s ever sang quite like her, although many consider her singing as iconic of the early 1950s vision of the sex goddess.

Her voice was never strong enough to sing just any song, and many of her recordings tend to be so-so. However, for those who enjoy the music of heartache, seduction, wistful loneliness, and payback they are evocative of an era of blue neon lit basement cocktail lounges and small jazz combos. For those of us who enjoy vintage memories (even if they were before our times), Julie London is one of the greats.

Hopefully modern listeners will discover her great songs, and get a glimmer of why she was so popular. "Cry Me a River" is her classic, but I also love her renditions of Round Midnight, Two Sleepy People, Black Coffee and other Jazz standards.

Get a drink, turn down the lights, light the fireplace, and relax.

(Readers might try "The Best of Julie London" - many of her classics on a single CD).


victoria said...

I met Julie London when I worked at Universal Studios as a tourguide in 1973. Lovely lady, lovely voice. Her husband, Bobby Troup, wrote the iconic song "Get your kicks on Route 66" Nat King Cole. MMMMM

ddh said...

Julie London's style reminds me of Chet Baker (cf. "My Funny Valentine"). He, too, sang in almost a whisper against a spare instrumental accompaniment.

victoria said...

I absolutely love Chet Baker.Sweet, sassy, lovely voice

Elliott A said...

I feel that these types of windows into the past can give great insight into people from our vantage point of having maturity, having raised our own families, and having had careers. What makes us happy? What do we seek to fill in for that which is missing?

My father left me his collection of 78's, which although I own a turntable to play them, I haven't listened to in about 20 years. I did my own records of my father back in the late 80s after he died and I took the records. Although he was a multitalented individual, his musical ability was nonexistent. He could not sing at all, and he never was able to even achieve a rudimentary ability with a musical instrument. Yet he loved music, and perhaps my insight is that his love of external music made up for his lack of internal music. The albums are most classical standards from Tchaikovski to Stravinski along with classic singers such as Paul Robeson. He loved Opera, featured on a couple of the albums.

We really never have an opportunity to know our parents as they were when we were children since children see people through a different lens. These old records provide us that chance.

Duncan said...

Julie London, visible to a new generation as Nurse Dixie McCall on "Emergency" streaming at a Roku near you.

Her husband Bobby Troup plays a senior MD but Dixie McCall is seeing the younger Dr. played by Robert Fuller.