Monday, November 16, 2009

More Mancini In The Seventies

Composer, conductor and arranger Henry Mancini (1924-94) was riding a wave of success as he entered the seventies – particularly following the number one hit success of his cover of “Love Theme From Romeo And Juliet” – and was consequently writing and recording at a pace that belies the calm exterior he always presented.

But while the film work was plentiful, the popularity of the many films Mancini worked on during the period never found the audience or the musical popularity of such earlier successes as Breakfast at Tiffany’s or The Pink Panther - even though, to his credit, Mancini took real chances with his film choices and was constantly escaping the expectation to produce the sparkling and witty light jazz he trademarked years before.

For whatever reason – and many of them probably had little or nothing to do with the quality or quantity of Mancini’s music – fewer Mancini soundtracks were issued in the seventies. But Mancini’s label, RCA, kept cranking out one Mancini record after another. These cocktail collections, often classified as “easy listening,” a musical genre that was as good as dead at the time, found Mancini exploring even more divergent musical paths than he had even surveyed in the past (though the batch of records listed below isn’t as “hip” as some of the others explored earlier).

Most of the records feature covers of one or more of the Mancini film themes that didn’t get full soundtrack albums, forcing anyone who liked Mancini the film composer to at least sample the Mancini orchestral records made for popular consumption.

But it was often on these records that enterprising listeners could hear how insightful and enthralling an arranger of other people’s music Henry Mancini could be. Because so many of the tracks that Mancini covered on these records were so well-known (standards, pop hits and other composers’ film themes), astute listeners are obliged to consider Henry Mancini less as a spectacular songwriter and more, much more, as one of the most remarkable arrangers of the twentieth century.

This list is my second attempt to note more of Henry Mancini’s albums from the 1970s, a period when his music didn’t get a whole lot of critical – or popular – attention. The handful of records listed here may be even less familiar than those from the previous post. But you really must marvel at all of the great music that Henry Mancini produced during the seventies…

Mancini Country (RCA, 1970): Like the previous year’s A Warm Shade of Ivory and Six Hours Past Sunset (with the great title song), the focus on Mancini’s “first ‘Country Music’ album” is mostly on his own piano playing; this time, though, as it explores a genuine country music agenda. The program covers the predictable (“Release Me,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Stand By Your Man”) as well as the pleasantly unexpected (“Let It Be Me,” made popular by the Everly Brothers and also done for RCA by Chet Atkins, “Almost Persuaded,” first made popular by David Houston, “Make The World Go Away,” made popular by Eddy Arnold and “The End Of The World,” a hit for Skeeter Davis produced by Chet Atkins). Mancini’s only contribution to the program is the wholly appropriate “Phone Call To The Past,” a variation of Gunn’s “Theme For Sam” with lyrics (that aren’t sung here) by Johnny Mercer. Like Ferrante & Teicher, Mancini’s piano caresses the melodies a little too delicately here, his touch being a bit more lace than the leather that’s called for. Mancini also doesn’t do the record any favors with orchestrations that are far too rich for the material and incompatible with the occasional country & western flourish. The Nashville trimmings are provided by electric bassist Harold Bradley (Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson), organ player Beegie Cruser (Chet Atkins, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash), steel guitarist Lloyd Green (Faron Young, George Jones, Warner Mack) and other Nashville studio pros like Pete Wade, Norbert Putnam and Jerry Carrigan. Bradley’s tic-toc electric bass in particular gives the album something of a Bert Kaempfert-goes-country sound that surprisingly negates Mancini’s otherwise dominant personality from the endeavor almost completely. Despite the pianist and arranger’s audible sincerity and the album’s genuine prettiness, Mancini Country is unlikely to appeal much to country music fans or convert those who never liked country music in the first place. (“Phone Call To The Past” is also featured as the B-side to Mancini’s 45-rpm single release of “Theme From Love Story.”)

Theme From “Z” And Other Film Music (RCA, 1970): Similar in nature to Mancini Plays The Theme From Love Story, which came out later in the year, this equally unimaginatively titled album is one of Mancini’s better collections of film themes. Mancini, “no newcomer to the film music scene,” as the album goes, here covers recent collaborator (on Me, Natalie) Rod McKeun’s moving “Jean” (from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), Alfred Newman’s surprisingly charming “Airport Love Theme,” a Basie-like version of Burt Bacharch and Hal David’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” (from Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid), the inevitable “As Time Goes By” (from Casablanca) and Jerry Goldsmith’s somewhat out of place “’Patton’ Theme.” Mancini also provides two particularly beautiful themes from his score to The Molly Maguires (whose soundtrack was issued in 1970 on Paramount Records), the exquisite main theme and “The Hills From Yesterday.” Aside from the tremendously invigorating and variegated orchestrations Mancini provides throughout, this collection scores extra points for exploring movie themes written by non-American composers such as Mikis Theodorakis’s “Theme From ‘Z’,” Stelvio Cipriani’s “A Man, A Horse, And A Gun” (from the spaghetti western The Stranger Returns) and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Love Theme From ‘The Adventurers’.” Credited soloists include Ethmer Roten on flute (“Jean,” “The Hills Of Yesterday”), Dick Nash on trombone (“Airport”), Jimmie Rowles on electric calliope (“Raindrops”), Ted Nash on alto sax (“Airport,” “As Time Goes By”), Art Smith on recorder (“The Molly Maguires”) and Mr. Mancini himself on piano (“As Time Goes By,” “Love Theme From ‘The Adventurers’”). But no credit is given for the exquisite acoustic guitar work heard throughout (notably on “Jean”) or to the compelling sensitivity provided by the unnamed electric bassist – although it’s likely Carol Kaye who plays on the Cipriani track. Highlights include the two Mancini tracks, “Jean” and “Airport Love Theme.” (“A Man, A Horse, And A Gun” was issued in 1968 as a 45-rpm single. “Theme From ‘Z’” backed by “Theme From The Molly Maguires” was also issued in 1970 as 45-rpm single. “The Theme From “The Molly Maguires” was recorded again by Henry Mancini in 1984 with James Galway on the excellent In The Pink and in 1990 on Erich Kunzel’s Mancini’s Greatest Hits.)

Brass On Ivory - Henry Mancini/Doc Severinsen (RCA, 1972): Paired together for the first of two recorded occasions, composer, pianist and arranger Henry Mancini collaborates here with The Tonight Show trumpeter Doc Severinsen on a late-night set of sleepy ballads. Or should we say snoozey? The feeling is so laid back it’s nearly somnambulant. Both of these Hollywood mainstays were going for something mellow (hella-mellow), or what liner notes writer Tom Paisley calls “a ‘love’ of an album.” Presumably this is meant to refer to the respect the two had for one another and their musical chemistry seems compatible too. But Brass On Ivory just never quite clicks. The pair covers the spectrum of the day’s mellow hits (“Brian’s Song,” “If,” “Never My Love” and “We’ve Only Just Begun”), mellow jazz standards (“Willow Weep For Me,” “Poor Butterfly” and “Misty”) and mellow Mancini classics (“Dreamsville” and a solid reflection on “Soldier in the Rain”). Mancini also contributes the album’s seemingly incomplete title track, written especially for Doc Severinsen, and the pretty “Sometimes,” a lyric (not sung here) written for dad by daughter Felice and set to music by Mancini himself (the Carpenters recorded the song for their eponymous 1971 album and, later, Peggy Lee and Shirley Bassey recorded it as well). Mancini’s orchestral and choral embellishments are often backgrounded here in favor of letting the soloists speak their placid though pleasant piece. But the arrangements are uncharacteristically gloomy at times, with “Brian’s Song” and, strangely, “We’ve Only Just Begun” sounding like little more than funeral dirges. The orchestra does kick up a notch, however, on the nicely refreshing after-hours take of “Willow Weep For Me” and the tired big band sound – a la The Shining - of “Poor Butterfly” (an old Broadway standard long-time Mancini associate Julie Andrews reinvigorated a few years before in 1967’s Thoroughly Modern Millie). These two tracks and the two new Mancini contributions make Brass On Ivory notable but not essential. (“Brass On Ivory” was issued as a 45-rpm single, backed by “Poor Butterfly.” Brass on Ivory was issued on CD in November 2009 by Wounded Bird.)

Big Screen, Little Screen (RCA, 1972): This is the first Henry Mancini album to wisely split the concept between film and TV themes. Later such examples include 1977’s Mancini’s Angels and 1978’s The Theme Scene and, like Big Screen, Little Screen, none of these are as successful as their promising concept might suggest. This one finds “Henry Mancini, His Orchestra and Chorus” (come on, it’s 1972 already!) assembled to reflect on mostly forgettable or regrettable theme music. Mancini covers the predominantly unknown film themes from Nicholas and Alexandra, Summer of ‘42 and Kotch. He also adds an icky choral version of his own country-ish “All His Children,” from Sometimes A Great Notion, and a surprising, yet de rigueur and rather stiff reading of Isaac Hayes’s “Theme from Shaft.” Side two, or the TV side, thankfully dispenses with the chorus for the most part but serves up duds like “Cade’s County,” the nearly parodic “Johnny’s Theme” (from the Tonight Show, featuring a great Basie-like rhythm, Mancini’s brilliantly conceived flute chorus and nice spots for Larry Knechtel’s organ, Jack Sheldon’s trumpet and Jerome Richardson’s tenor sax) and a strange old-timey take on All In The Family’s “Those Were The Days.” Mancini contributes his well-known “Mystery Movie Theme” to the TV side of the program (used as is again on Mancini’s 1976 album The Cop Show Themes) and a remarkably stunning arrangement of Quincy Jones’s superb “The Ironside Theme.” Hailed to the fore with an attention-getting gong (suggesting TV’s Kung Fu), Mancini’s “Ironside” – which is much better suited to The Cop Show Themes than “Mystery Movie Theme” – is a bravura performance that bristles with action and adventure, skillfully re-arranged by Mancini to up the ante on the tune’s inherent excitement. Studio pro Larry Knetchtel, who at the time was a member of Bread, offers a dynamic organ solo and the song goes out with the heart-pounding race of tympani rolls (suggesting another of TV’s action shows, Hawaii Five-O) that leaves you breathless and wanting more. Despite the album’s incoherent mix of styles and unfortunate choice of tunes, Big Screen, Little Screen is especially notable for Mancini’s typically brilliant readings of “Johnny’s Theme” and “The Ironside Theme” but, sadly, little else. (“Mystery Movie Theme” backed by “Theme From ‘Cade’s County’” and “Theme From Nicholas And Alexandra” were issued as 45-rpm singles. A 45-rpm single of “All His Children” featuring Charley Pride on vocals was also issued. Although Charley Pride sings the song on the original Decca soundtrack album Sometimes A Great Notion, the singer probably overdubbed his vocal on top of the choral version re-recorded for Big Screen, Little Screen for the RCA single release. The single’s b-side, “You’ll Still Be The One,” is a Charley Pride performance that does not include Henry Mancini.)

Brass, Ivory & Strings - Henry Mancini/Doc Severinsen (RCA, 1973): The second of two pairings of pianist, composer and arranger Henry Mancini with Tonight Show trumpeter Doc Severinsen, this record continues pretty much along the same lines as the first one with the two soloists emoting as such overtop a bed of Mancini’s luxuriant strings and choral oohs and ahhs. With the exception of Mancini’s “Love Theme For Laura,” from the 1973 film The Thief Who Came To Dinner, the whole album could be nothing more than outtakes from the previous year’s record. Who knows? The mood, again, is mellow. But this time the feeling isn’t as dirge-like as before. Both Mancini and Severinsen ratchet up the pulse a bit here to something almost human like, with playing that sounds a lot more involved than before – not unlike a better Al Hirt record of the period. Again, there are covers of the mellow pop hits of the day (“Ben,” the very C&W take of “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” “Without You,” “Make It With You”), Mancini originals (“Theme for Doc” and “Love Theme For Laura”) and a surprisingly high quotient of mellow jazz standards (“Round Midnight,” “Lover Man,” “Wave,” and “I Can’t Get Started”). The uncredited trombonist – probably Dick Nash – takes several solos (“Lover Man,” “Wave”) that let you know you’re clearly in the lush, verdant fields of Manciniland. Mancini himself sounds stronger and more meaningful on his piano statements here than he did on the previous album. Doc Severinsen sounds pretty good throughout, if occasionally out of place (and possibly added after the fact), particularly on “Make It With You,” “Wave” and “Love Theme For Laura.” Together, as before, Mancini and Severinsen fare best on the jazz standards; material they obviously have more of an affinity and an affection for. It’s not entirely the dud the previous album was, Brass, Ivory & Strings is still not as wondrous an outing as this pairing of Hollywood’s musical kingpins would have you to believe was possible. But with its wakka-wakka guitar and near-Blaxploitation groove, Mancini’s almost completely out-of-place “Theme For Doc” is the best thing here – and elicits a fairly exciting solo from the Doc himself. Surprisingly, this song never found life outside of this little known album, either as a single or as a film or radio hit.

Visions Of Eight (RCA, 1973): An odd and seemingly incomplete soundtrack for a forgotten and obscure film, Visions Of Eight focuses on eight different aspects of the 1972 Olympiad directed by eight worldly and significant directors of the period including Milos Forman, Kon Ichikawa, Claude Lelouch, Juri Ozerov, Arthur Penn, Michael Pfleghar, John Schlesinger and Mai Zetterling. Mancini adapts his approach to the diverse demands of the varying directorial styles and different story aims and comes up with some interesting – though not consistently satisfying – music; much more in line with other composers who were certainly influenced by Mancini’s. The Euro-feel of “Pretty Girls,” the electronic “Spaced Out” (which sounds like a cue right out of The Night Gallery) and “Warm Up” gives this album a bracing charm that’s most unusual for the typical Mancini project, suggesting that Mancini was as influenced by those composers throughout the world he undoubtedly mentored in one way or another. Mancini’s “Olympic Village” gets one of Mancini’s sparkling and witty travelogue themes (re: “Mégève,” “Summer in Gstaad”), which stands in stark contrast to the horrific terrorist attacks that occurred there at the time. Some of the melodies presented here like “Soft Flight,” “The Race” and the circus-like “Hurdles and Girdles” suggest ground Mancini has trod well before – but proves that he was the right man for such a peculiar job as this (Mancini’s protégé, John Williams, would prove to be equally adept in later years). Regardless, Mancini comes up with some predictably strong themes here that include “Ludmilla’s Theme” (for the Russian gymnast Ludmilla Tourischeva), the march-like “Salute to the Olympians” and, most notably, the “Theme For The Losers,” which differs greatly from Mancini’s earlier – and quite beautiful – “Theme For Losers” (from Me, Natalie). An odd album, to be sure, but not without its peculiar and numerous charms. (“Ludmilla's Theme” was issued as a 45-rpm single, backed by “Pretty Girls." "Olypmic Village" was also issued as a 45-rpm single.)

Country Gentleman (RCA, 1974): Despite the fact that Country Gentleman was recorded entirely in Hollywood four years after Mancini’s previous attempt at country music, Mancini Country, which boasted contributions from many Nashville studio pros, this album feels more authentic – and interesting – than its predecessor. Mancini covers country-ish pop songs of the day (Helen Reddy’s “Delta Dawn,” John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”), genuine country hits of the period including Red Steagall’s 1973 hit “If You’ve Got The Time,” which was derived from a well-known jingle for Miller beer, George Jone’s 1972 hit “A Picture of Me (Without You),” Ray Price’s 1970 hit version of Kris Kristoffersen’s “For The Good Times,” Roy Clark’s 1973 hit “Come Live With Me,” David Houston’s 1967 hit “With One Exception” and Tammy Wynette’s 1969 hit “The Ways To Love A Man” and a genuine country classic in Hank Williams’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” Mancini takes to the piano like a man on a mission, truly in the impassioned, gentlemanly spirit of the proceedings, nicely roused to a genuine country luster with the aid of James Burton’s guitar, Buddy Emmons’s steel guitar, Tommy Morgan’s harmonica and, most surprisingly, Larry Muhoberac’s organ. While Mancini’s lone contribution to the program is a country-fied movie medley including “All His Children” (from Sometimes A Great Notion), “Tomorrow Is My Friend” (from Gaily, Gaily) and “Dear Heart,” he contributes some dazzling arrangements to “Delta Dawn,” “A Picture of Me (Without You),” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “The Ways To Love A Man” and his own “All His Children.” The album’s highlight, though, is surely the funky “Delta Dawn,” featuring Crusader Larry Carlton’s fittingly wailing guitar, a version of the song that probably deserved to find life as a single. What Mancini displays on Country Gentleman is affection and devotion to a good melody and what he achieves is the blurring of the boundaries that genre classification often places on what is just a darned good tune.

W.C. Fields And Me (MCA, 1976): Even in Henry Mancini’s period-piece film scores, which seemed to become increasingly more prevalent in his Hollywood career, his sense of melodic invention could not be suppressed. Perhaps that’s why so many film producers wanted him for this sort of thing. This odd and obscure film, like Mommie Dearest several years later, is a biopic of a well-known actor out of the old Hollywood fighting personal demons while struggling with their evolving popularity in their chosen field. Mancini contributes three main themes here, of which this rather thin soundtrack album repeats several times too often with invasive and unnecessary scraps of Varlerie Perrine and Rod Steiger’s dialogue peppered throughout. Mancini’s main theme, heard here five times as an instrumental and once with lyrics (by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston” of “Mona Lisa” and “Dear Heart” fame) and a chorus under the title “The Joke’s On Me,” is a ravishingly gorgeous piece of music that deserves to be much better known. The waltz-like melody is carried by Willie Schwartz’s lilting clarinet, buttressed by Dick Nash’s signature trombone, and gets a melody by Mancini that suggests the past as much as it does the dichotomies of human nature the film strives to portray. The glitzy big band swing of “Welcome To Hollywood” gets two too many airings here – seemingly all the same – and the elegant “Carlotta’s Theme,” which also deserves to be better known, also gets three shots on the album. Mancini’s expert handling of the orchestral colors on “Carlotta’s Theme” is also evident on the brief cue “A Long Way From Philadelphia,” heard only once on the album. Despite too much repetition – and the needless and needless amount of dialogue – this little-known soundtrack album deserves to be heard to witness the beauty of Mancini’s main theme and “Carlotta’s Theme,” neither of which ever had much play elsewhere in Mancini’s discography or in the raft of Mancini covers performed by others. (“The Joke's On Me” was issued as a promotional 45-rpm single.)

Other records in Henry Mancini’s capacious seventies catalog include those previously covered hereMancini Plays The Theme From Love Story (RCA, 1970), The Mancini Generation (RCA, 1972), The Thief Who Came To Dinner (Warner Bros., 1973), Hangin’ Out With Henry Mancini (RCA, 1974), The Return Of The Pink Panther (RCA, 1975), Soul Symphony (RCA, 1975), The Cop Show Themes (RCA, 1976), Mancini’s Angels (RCA, 1977), The Theme Scene (RCA, 1978), Who Is Killing The Great Chefs Of Europe? (Epic, 1978) and ”10” (Warner Bros., 1979) – as well as these (compilations and re-packages not included):

Darling Lili (RCA, 1970)
Sunflower (Avco Embassy, 1970)
The Hawaiians (United Artists, 1970)
The Molly Maguires (Paramount, 1970)
Henry Mancini Live In Japan (RCA, 1971)
Mancini Concert (RCA, 1971)
Sometimes A Great Notion (Decca, 1971)
Mancini Salutes Sousa (RCA, 1972)
Oklahoma Crude (RCA, 1973)
The Great Waldo Pepper (MCA, 1975)
A Concert of Film Music (RCA, 1976)
The Pink Panther Strikes Again (United Artists, 1976)
Just You And Me Together Love with John Laws (RCA, 1977)
Revenge Of The Pink Panther (United Artists, 1978)

Several of Henry Mancini’s soundtracks that were not originally issued at the time, but have later turned up on CD, include a suite from The Night Visitor featured on CD credited to Elmer Bernstein for Midas Run (Citadel, 1971), Silver Streak (Intrada, 1976) and Nightwing (Varese Sarabande, 1979).

4 comments:

mr.alarm said...

I've been a big fan of Visions Of Eight (RCA, 1973)for years (I had it as an LP when it came out). As hard to find as the film is - I've yet to see it - the music is very accessible. "Theme for the Losers" is one of my all-time favorite pieces, and a brilliant conception to boot. Do you know the cover photo, which is very dramatic and slightly confusing considering the other more typical pictures of Olympians doing their sport on the inside? Was it perhaps an acknowledgment of the horrors that took place at the '72 Olympics?

du proserpio said...

Spectacular. I still promote the 1970s albums of Mancini to people regularly (most of whom cannot imagine anything like The Cop Show Themes or Symphonic Soul, and you've covered most, if not all, of the bases here. I've long wondered if ever the main theme from 99 & 44/100% Dead was ever released? I have the two different albums which have "Hangin' Out" with "Big Hank" whistling, but have long wanted a copy of the more engaging, martial-jazz sounding main theme from the film. Never seen anything else. Any clue?

Thanks, keep up the great work.

Douglas Payne said...

Thanks for the kind words du proserio. After I wrote this piece, Intrada briefly issued the complete soundtrack to 99 AND 44/100% DEAD!

http://store.intrada.com/s.nl/it.A/id.6608/.f

Unfortunately, the CD seems to be sold out already. It may be available on places like eBay.

Mr. Alarm: Excellent question. But I don't know the answer. The cover album cover art, great as it is, is very misleading. I would agree with your surmise about the horrors that took place at the '72 Olympics.

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