Thursday, July 28, 2016

SHG: Marty Robbins: "A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation"

Marty Robbins: “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation”
Entered the chart on: 4/27/1957
Peaked on: 6/3/1957
Weeks at #2: 1 week
Song at #1: “Love Letters in the Sand” by Pat Boone

For the record, I was singing “A white sport coat and a pink crustacean” along with this long before I knew there was a Jimmy Buffett album by that title. So there!

So the story goes, Mitch Miller, feeling a bit guilty about cheating up and coming Arizona country singer Marty Robbins out of a #1 hit by giving his debut tune—“Singing the Blues”—to white-bread Guy Mitchell to sing, lent Robbins musical director Ray Conniff and his orchestra for this one tune as a peace offering. The result was an almost-chart-topper.

My grandparents, being Grapes of Wrath people, were huge country music fans, so I heard lots of Marty Robbins while visiting them. I had somehow forgotten that this song was his, though. Is it because of the Conniff? Johnnie Ray certainly didn’t fare well against his orchestral accompaniment, but Marty was performing his own song. Time to refresh my memory of this one, so let’s see how he fares.

Marty is one of those singers that’s absolutely infuriating to someone like me who struggles with his singing. He makes hitting the high notes sound so easy. He was also blessed with a very pleasing upper register, lacking in the piercing, strident quality that makes, say, Slim Whitman so offensive to many listeners.

That’s not so much of an issue with this tune, it doesn’t show off his high range to the degree that some of his other hits do. Still, he hits all the notes very precisely without sounding “technical.” Or like “your dad singing,” as some have accused Perry Como of resembling. And he delivers the bittersweet message of the tune, a man stood up by his date, without becoming mawkish or histrionic.

This definitely sounds a lot less country than I’m used to from Robbins. This is more of a rock-inflected pop song, very in step with the times, with some pleasing but not overwhelming electric guitar. The bit half-way through, where the male backing chorus take over the melody, comes across as a bit corny, almost like the tune turns into something out of a Victorian operetta all of a sudden. I guess Conniff couldn’t resist leaving his smudgy fingerprints on this somehow.

This was Marty’s biggest hit until he stayed true to his artistic vision and made the album he always wanted to: an album of old-time cowboy and gunfighter tunes. The result was a #1, career-defining song that people still know and love to this day.

I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Rating: 4

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