Monday, January 7, 2013

Friday Dance Party: Hush, Hush, Sweet Patti

Patti Page's rendition of "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" does not reflect the tone of the film.  She recorded the theme a year after the movie was released; it was her final visit to the Top 10.

Once again this week's Dance Party is inspired by a death, but in this case, I'm somewhat ashamed to admit, it's a person who meant absolutely nothing to me.  Of course, I was aware of her name, but truly, I would not be able to pick her out of a lineup, recently or even during her heyday. And I admit to finding her music, well, let's just say "not my cup of tea."

Patti Page
Page deserves some recognition, as she was one of the leading songstresses of the 1950s and early 60s. Her rendition of "Tennessee Waltz" is considered definitive, even though many, many other artists have recorded that snoozer.  Her version ranks as one of the all time top selling singles, and I mean TOP selling, right up there with Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." And Patti returned to the top 10 many times, for well over a decade, so attention must be paid.
Patti was not much of an actress, but she was enlisted to appear in Elmer Gantry, in which she sang snippets of gospel while playing a revivalist nun.

Page straddled pop and country, and
often charted in both genres.
But her music does absolutely nothing for me. Admittedly, her era is not one of my favorites, but even with that understanding, I find her songs just too simple. I will give her credit, as others do, for being the first to instigate a recording technique which would eventually revolutionize the recording industry. She did it by accident. The story goes that a musicians' strike was looming as she was going into the studio to record what would be her first big hit, "Confess." Instead of waiting for her background singers to become available, her producer, Mitch Miller of "Sing-a-long With..." fame, suggested she record her own backup vocals. 
Miller and Page share credit for inventing the
process of overdubbing.

He had the ability to record Page on acetate disc, then replay the recording as Patti sang the lead vocals. Thus, she became the first artist to overdub her own recording. She liked the result so much that she used the technique often in her career. All the musicians of today who not only sing their own backup, but also play all the instruments on their recordings, must count Patti Page as their antecedent.
This moment from a concert in recent years seems to reflect an energetic vocalist, but I was unable to find a single clip, early or late, in which Patti was truly dynamic.
I just wish Page's choice of songs were a little more sophisticated. But I suppose they fit her style, as she herself was pretty milquetoast. In researching this week's clip, I looked in vain for an instance in which she exuded any kind of energy or pizazz in any concert setting. I could find none. 
I cannot argue with her recording success, even
as I find her music rather dull.

Every clip out there presents a singer devoid of sparkle, and some of her performances are down right perfunctory. For a while, I became excited to learn that Patti had her final big hit with the theme song for the horror classic Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, but even her version of that one is a yawn. Once Page's style of music faded, she continued to record and to tour, and apparently her concerts were well-attended.
Page's "Live at Carnegie Hall" album won a Grammy in 1998.  Along with Ravi Shankar, she will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously at this year's ceremony.

I'm sure it's my own failure that I have such trouble appreciating her mix of pre-rock pop and dull country twang.
With Johnny Cash.
It's hard to believe, but even Patti's performance of her big novelty hit lacks verve. The song is one of the biggest novelty tunes of all time, and has the distinction of being the first #1 hit to have a question in the title. 
How much did she earn from that doggie? The song
was a smash, and became one of her signature tunes.

I suppose the song itself has some charm, but this week's performance of it, which comes from Patti Page's variety series in the 50s, doesn't have much sparkle. The dog, the boy, and the salesclerk all clearly wish they were someplace else. Me too.