Worshippers at the shrine of the great and revered Tony Bennett often forget (willfully I imagine) that his career began in the early fifties under the tutelage of the very successful and now quite reviled Mitch Miller. In the young, recently renamed-by-Bob Hope Italian-American crooner, Miller saw a meatball of all meatballs and quickly slammed a bunch of hit records together, creating the first iteration of Tony Bennett; a good Italian local boy whose super-big voice and unabashed romanticism appealed instantly to the swooning housewives, soon-to-be housewives and soon to be divorced housewives. I say housewives instead of the young and availables because Bennett at this stage wasn't really seductive. He was overpowering. And we all know how bored and neglected housewives like to be overpowered. Or at least did back in the early fifties.
This isn't the Tony Bennett that many of us care about anymore and it may not even be friendly to dredge it up. But lets make it a constructive conversation by comparing the Benedetto of the early fifties to Swingin' Tony of the mid-to-late fifties. Below are two songs by two quite different Tony's. First his wildly popular (million-seller in fact) recording of "Because Of You", produced by Miller and arranged by--ewwwww--Percy Faith. And then my favorite of the early but hip Tony recordings, Cole Porter's "Ca C'est L'amour" as arranged by Neal Hefti. The stereo recording I've found of the latter on Youtube is quite stunning--dig the crisply miked drums and the well defined background singers--and Tony's performance is impeccable. According to Bennett, when Goddard Lieberson heard this particular recording he told his staff that this was precisely how he wanted all of their records to sound. This is seductive Tony, Tony looking for "the good life", the wandering cosmopolite who, when in Rome disregards the signs and the omens and does as the Romans do. "You know what that is", he asks at the end of this record. "That's love, that is." Cole couldn't have translated it better.
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