Tuesday, August 30, 2016

SHG: Connie Francis: "My Happiness"

Connie Francis “My Happiness” Entered the chart on: 12/15/1958 Peaked on: 1/19/1959 Weeks at #2: 2 weeks Song at #1: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by the Platters

Ah yes, Connie Francis. Until the 1990s, she was the most successful female soloist of the rock era. Bigger than Diana Ross. Bigger than Barbara Streisand. Bigger than Donna Summer. Bigger than Madonna.

By 1979, she was represented in the Rolling Stone Record Guide by a dismissive two-sentence review for a single greatest-hits package which received a rating of a bullet (zero stars). What happened for her to suddenly deserve such scorn?

Well, I suppose one thing might be Rolling Stones’ rock & roll attitude. Anything that smacked of artificiality, commerciality or bandwagon-jumping had them turning up their noses. The key to Connie Francis’ smash success was only partly due to her phenomenal, sorrow-laden singing voice.

Here lies the difference between her and the likes of Cathy Carr. While Cathy was struggling at Fraternity and a succession of other small, regional labels without the budget for A&R, Connie was being aggressively marketed to any potential artist willing to listen at MGM, who threw a ton of money at their investment.

Part of the result of this was that Connie was incredibly overworked. All her 50s and 60s hits were produced at mammoth days-long recording sessions. So the sorrow in her voice was probably not an act. I think it may have partly been fatigue*, which is why she sounded sad even on songs that didn’t call for it (Andrea Martin spoofed this on the fake record ad for 20 Depressing Hits by Connie Franklin [sic]). And MGM’s marketing towards all ages and ethnicities bordered on the crass (a sampling of Connie’s discography: Christmas With Connie, Rock ‘n’ Roll Million Sellers, Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites, Country Music Connie Style, Sings “Never On Sunday” and Other Title Songs From Motion Pictures, etc.).

While it’s true that commercial success is not a guarantee of artistic quality, especially considering the incredible volume of material that was churned out in such a short space of time, it’s obvious Connie could sing. She didn’t always get the grade A material her voice deserved, but then, that’s true of the 90s female soloists that supplanted her (believe me, we’ll get to them in time).

Enough stalling, let’s review this thing:

Good call on orchestrator David Rose (later of “The Stripper” fame) for knowing his bread-and-butter, giving Connie an a’cappella intro for her to sing. They’re also taking a a tip from Les Paul & Mary Ford, stunningly double-tracking her voice.

I’m really struck how wonderfully this is arranged. It builds to a crescendo, plinking piano and subtle saxophone rising out of the a’cappella intro, with the strings coming in very gradually and the choir only entering during the final verse. And none of it competes with Connie’s voice. Rose really knew his stuff!

What I was talking about earlier about Connie taking a happy song and making it sad kind of applies here, but there’s more to it than that. Unlike a lot of her later material, I think this song was selected specifically because it spotlighted her voice, and her personality, very well. The title is ironic, the narrator is actually sad because her lover is gone, and wants “[her] happiness” to return. Connie is a natural for this kind of tune.

Really, much, much better than I was expecting.

Rating: 4

*it’s since come out of the woodwork that Connie was suffering from bipolar disorder, which further explains this tendency, and suddenly turns that SCTV skit into a bit of a Funny Aneurysm Moment.

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