JERRY LEWIS: THE DAY THE SONGS CRIED
In 1956, fresh from his split from Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis recorded an album of standards (i.e. 'the songbook' as it's now cloyingly referred to). Titled "Jerry Lewis Just Sings", it featured arrangements by the eminently respectable Buddy Bregman conducting a big band of top-tier Hollywood studio musicians. Lewis financed the record himself, after all the other record companies passed on the opportunity. He sold the finished product to Decca who released before the end of the calendar year. The cover of "I'm Sitting on Top Of the World" was a surprise hit, climbing to number 12 on Billboards pop chart. All in all, the experiment appears to have been a successful one for Lewis, though he never repeated it.
As readers of this blog may know, I've had a curious love/hate thing with Lewis since my childhood, when I initially learned to adore him (via 'The Bellboy', 'The Errand Boy', and 'The Telethon Boy'), then learned to despise him when he was incredibly mean to a person I knew who asked for an autograph in a restaurant (my friend was, like, fourteen at the time and Lewis viciously berated him for being rude and interrupting his meal). Over the years, I've collected stories of all kinds about Lewis the ogre and fused them in my head with his on-screen persona, the result being a wonderfully toxic mixture of the funny and monstrous that makes the work much deeper. To me, Lewis is funnier in many ways if you're aware of the dreadful prick lurking behind that demented little boy exterior. And the sentimental Jerry, horribly on view in so many of his most misguided movies, becomes entertaining in a whole other way--he's monstrous in a way that few other entertainers have ever been.
Despite my enduring fascination with the man, I had never heard 'Jerry Lewis Just Sings' though I was aware of its existence. And then the other day, I was driving around listening to the Sinatra station on my Sirius radio when on came a recording the likes of which I'd never heard. An abrasive, stiff, unswinging singer with poor pronunciation and no feel whatsoever for the lyrics he was singing was doing "Come Rain Or Come Shine", the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer classic. The singer even at times sounded a little like...Jerry Lewis? Really?
I've since listened to the album at least a dozen times--it bears deep listening sessions--and I'm quite confident in saying that it's probably the worst thing Lewis ever did (though of course we don't have "The Day The Clown Cried" to view). But, as with all things Lewis, what's awful about it also makes it kind of great. You'll dig what I mean upon hearing the below. Ladies and gentleman, I give you Joseph Levitch's version of 'Come Rain or Come Shine'. Get ready, get set...hit it, Joey!
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 2:41 PM