Dinah Shore and Frank Zappa

Those lists of tips for writing a good blog invariably stress the importance of provocative titles. I had half a mind to entitle this post “If you’re not bisexual now, you will be once you’ve seen this video clip” but that would have been silly. The clip in question, though, does feature two breathtakingly attractive creatures. Frank Sinatra here shows that insouciance, that devilish masculinity with just a hint of vulnerability that blew the socks off the bobbysoxers. His duet partner is the beautiful Dinah Shore, all grace and feminine dignity but relaxed enough to laugh delightedly at her partner’s impromptu gags. Forgive my gender stereotyping: this clip was of its time. I offer it here because it is, quite simple, joyous. It makes me happy, not least because both singers are technically unimpeachable. Sinatra, in particular, in between his clowning, is in marvellous voice. He and Shore rattle through a medley of standards and the only criticism I can offer is that one could wish that it went on longer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJ2aEqXyCz0

They round off the medley with Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer’s You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby, which is a wonderfully catchy number. One of my favourite renditions of this song is from 1961. Bobby Darin’s is an appealingly louche performance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPRmy7zfjYo

The arrangement is a delight: those grunting horns and the twangy electric guitar. Darin’s producers on this occasion were Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun, who worked closely with Darin for a number of years.

To many people these days, Frank Zappa is remembered primarily for giving strenuously peculiar names to his children. This is a shame, for Zappa was one of the most challenging musicians of the latter part of the twentieth century. One of Zappa’s sons was given the name Ahmet (which at the time might well have been thought peculiar, though these days the name is far more common in the West) after the very Ahmet Ertegun who produced Darin, and, indeed, championed Zappa.

In some of Zappa’s early records there are reminiscences of that Ertegun-produced sound world that can be heard in some of Darin’s records, and others of the period: the twangy guitar in particular. The similarities are fairly superficial, to be sure: Zappa was too much his own man for it to be otherwise. But it is there, nonetheless, particularly in the first album Freak Out and the later Ruben and the Jets.

I’ve picked this track as an example. It’s not the best illustration for the point I’ve been making (away to youtube with you) but this song makes me laugh. All together now: I wanna hear Caravan with a drum solo.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Q1xRZERXlM

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Posted in Popular music
6 comments on “Dinah Shore and Frank Zappa
  1. T E Stazyk says:

    Very interesting (and delightful) juxtaposition of sounds and styles–and amazing talents. Would that Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and that ilk would take heed!

    • G.H.Bone says:

      Thank you Mr S. I am fascinated by these unexpected connections. Indeed, I first became interested in Zappa after coming across a record, in the classical section of a shop, entitled “Boulez conducts Zappa”. I had a vague notion that Zappa was some sort of heavy metal guitar hero (that rumbling sound you hear now is FZ turning in his grave) and I knew that Pierre Boulez was an impeccably serious and high minded composer and conductor.Thus intrigued I wandered over to the pop music section of the shop and found a Zappa LP called “Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch”. I asked the shop assistant if he’d play a bit for me (that was back in the day when record shops did that sort of thing) and I was absolutely spellbound.I became a fan immediately.

      As for Miley and Justin. I’ve heard nothing of the former (all I know her is that she, apparently, twerks), but have sampled the latter on youtube, just to see what all the fuss was about. I’m not sure that it’s for me, but it might be worth remembering that Bobby Darin started out as a teenage pop sensation and went on to make some really excellent records. Who knows what they might achieve?

  2. JDB says:

    “Dinah Shore and Frank Zappa” is provocative in and of itself! I did a double take when I saw it and, when I began reading the first paragraph and saw the reference to SInatra, I wondered if the title was a major typo. What an absolute treasure that clip is; it is truly, as you note, joyous. I love Dinah’s subtle forward head thrusts from 0:56-0:59, timed to the brass section, when she sings the line “I’ve got you under my skin” for the last time. And while I’m anti-smoking in every possible way, I have to say that Frank’s cigarette is an indispensable prop. Have you seen the longer (7 minutes +) black and white version of this on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GA-PtV76zI8), even though it still doesn’t satisfy the desire for more…thanks so much for posting.

    I’d never known Ahmet Zappa was named for Ertegun…very interesting! (Love your description of the Zappa kids’ names as “strenuously peculiar”).

    • G.H.Bone says:

      Hah. Yes, I couldn’t resist the juxtaposition of Dinah and THAT Frank. Thank you for providing the link to the longer clip which is very enjoyable despite the poor visual and sound quality. Also “of its time” is that ad for Chesterfield cigarettes at the end!

  3. kurtnemes says:

    Thanks so much. I grew up watching the Dinah Shore show and listening to by brother’s copy of Absolutely Free. I didn’t know until college when I discovered Petrouskha, that Zappa stole a few bits from it in “Status Back Baby.” Delightful, and I loved his last album–yellow shark, too as well as much of the stuff in between. I think he will hold up longer and better than Diana but maybe not Sinatra. Great blog.

  4. G.H.Bone says:

    Thank you! Growing up listening to Dinah Shore and those early Mothers of Invention album must have really stretched your ears. You mention Petroushka, but of course there’s also a bit of Rite of Spring (the opening bassoon melody) in “Duke of Prunes” on that same album. And don’t forget the quotation from Holst’s Planets suite before the instrumental section (“Invocation & Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin”) following “Call Any Vegetable”. Your comment made me go back to listen to “Absolutely Free” for the first time in some years. By golly, it’s thrilling stuff.

    I’m glad that you mentioned “Yellow Shark”. That’s such an excellent record. I find it very touching that Frank seemed finally to have found a group of musicians who really understood his music (and could play it!) The earlier orchestral records (the two LSO records and the “Boulez conducts” album) are interesting and enjoyable in their way, but “Yellow Shark” is better performed and more refined: it showed that Zappa could stand, without qualification, alongside the “serious” avant-garde composers that he admired. It’s such a shame that Zappa didn’t live longer so that he could work more with the Ensemble Modern, but at least he got to hear these excellent committed, sympathetic performances by a group that was clearly both at home with the seriousness and the madcap, abrasive humour of his artistic vision.

    Thanks again for dropping by and commenting.

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