Who is Bob Merrill?

Mainly because it was $3.95 at The Warehouse I bought a CD called The Fabulous 50s: 1954 on Sunday.  It’s hard for me to comment on the fabulousness(ness) of the 50s because I didn’t exist at the time, but from a pop music standpoint I think it would be fair to say that tastes have changed.  In particular I would say that the urge to do quasi Italian songs seems to have peaked in 1954, a bumper year for the genre which features: Dean Martin singing That’s Amore, Rosemary Clooney doing Mambo Italiano and Cara Mia by David Whitfield.

David who?  Cara Mia was a top ten hit in the USA, and was number one in the UK for 10 weeks.  It is exactly the sort of song I can imagine my Grandfather would have sung.  It is, well, it’s a bit over the top, a bit too much of the old angelic female choir accompaniment, and the vibrato tenor swooping around in a sort of operatic style above.  Still, ten weeks.  It was obviously pushing some buttons in Britain in 1954.  Talking about pushing buttons.

Rosemary Clooney
Rosemary Clooney

Mambo Italiano was written by Bob Merrill.  Isn’t the mambo a South American dance?  This was one of Ms. Clooney’s many “dialect songs”.  In case you’re not familiar with this genre it’s when you sing a song in a fake accent.  The most famous Australasian version of the “dialect song” being Shut Uppa Your Face by Joe Dolce.  Come on-a my house  was Clooney’s biggest hit.  She hated it.

Come on-a my house my house, I’m gonna give you Christmas tree
Come on-a my house, my house, I’m gonna give you
Marriage ring and a pomegranate too ah

A marriage ring and a pomegranate.  Man, these Italians are generous.  Mambo Italiano proves that you can get away with anything if it’s got a catchy tune.  How about Dean Martin doing That’s Amore?

When the moon hits your eye
Like a big-a pizza pie
That’s amore

Wait, what is amore again?  Amore also involves drool apparently.  Do they French kiss in Italy?

Please read this.  It’s very funny.

By far my favourite opening line on this album is sung by Dan Cornell on the song Hold My Hand.  After quite a bright flourish from the strings, Dan pipes up in a tone not dissimilar to Frank Sinatra’s delivery of  Love and Marriage:

So THIS is the kingdom of heaven!

Dan seems to be visiting heaven with his beloved.  Which leads to the triumphant line:

Pass through the portal now / We’ll be immortal now

Immortal and portal.  F**king brilliant.  What is this song about, anyway?  A double suicide?

Aside from a brief flirtation with god-bothering songs the foreign language theme continues with the Obernkirchen Children’s Choir performing The Happy Wanderer, and Eddie Calvert singing Oh Mein Papa.  Which is where the idea for this post started.

This reminds me of when I was quite young (about 10)and we went to the circus or the ‘Winter Show’ at the Newtown Showgrounds. There was a high wire act (tightrope walking, high pole etc) over the outside showgrounds area (not inside a tent). I remember looking up in awe at the woman performing. I don’t think there was a safety net but I may be wrong. At one stage she played trumpet ( or it may have been pre-recorded) and sang the song ‘Oh mein Papa’. This, on a clear cool winters night sent shivers up my spine. It was so moving that it stayed with me fo a long time (and is obviously still in my memory somewhere). Before performing this song she (a German or Czech)prefaced it by announcing that she was to sing it and then perform the high wire act in memory of her father who had died while performing a similar act. This was powerful stuff and, in a simpler age I prefer to think that it was all true and not a clever marketing stunt. The song I discovered later had been made very popular by American artists including Eddie Fisher but to me that performance in Wellington was the best.

The Wine Guy

Songs mean things to people.  In fifty years teenagers are going to laugh their arses off when they see the things that were popular in the charts in 2009, but those crappy songs are the soundtrack of my students’ lives, they’re the songs that they are dancing to in their bedrooms, making out to, writing down all the lyrics to on the back of their school books.  So perhaps if you laughed at the piece about Bob Merrill, like I did, you should now go and pay penance and read this.  Like I did.

Sorry Bob.

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō