Fri, 21 November 2014
About a year ago while in the New Jersey town of Iselin on business, I made an obligatory stop in Vintage Vinyl which – like Princeton Record Exchange a little closer to home – is my Cheers. Everybody knows my name. With more than 25,000 titles in my vast collection, I have been known to frequent record shops in every town I stop in – looking for the “Holy Grail” of long players, but not knowing what I have never found until I actually find it. On this day, in particular, I picked up a pristine (or, as we say in record collecting, “mint”) copy of Reflections by Anthony and The Imperials. A quick Google search on the iPhone revealed that the vinyl LP has never been available on CD or MP3. Flipping the album over to read the liner notes was more revealing: Nearly a dozen Teddy Randazzo compositions I had never heard before. Randazzo had a long association with The Imperials – composing and producing any number of chart hits for the vocal group. But once I got home and was able to give Reflections a spin, only then did I realize how truly special a recording it was. A fellow blogger – who is more expert in funk and soul than I am – puts the album in the appropriate historical context better than I ever could:
By the time the listener gets to Reflections, a soulful tour de force takes shape. The songs, the orchestrations, the singers take you to Shangri-La. This is some of the most beautiful music ever to come out of the 60’s. Teddy Randazzo made this world a much better place…
Little Anthony & the Imperials were ten years into their history when they recorded this elegant, slightly trippy pop-soul classic under the guidance of writer/producer Teddy Randazzo, who co-authored all but one of the 12 songs here and did for this quartet more or less what Jimmy Webb did for The 5th Dimension during the same period. There’s nothing really psychedelic about the music here, despite its coming out in 1967 — rather, it’s a cheerful mixture of lyrical soul sounds and sunshine pop, with an understated elegance and gorgeous harmonies (and tastefully restrained horn and string parts, with the occasional flute) supporting the impassioned lead vocals by Little Anthony. The resulting album is one of the most beguilingly upbeat soul records of its period, a match and then some for anything coming out of Motown for accessibility. What’s more, it hasn’t lost an iota of appeal across the ensuing four decades — [exuding] a warm, lingering glow reflective of its era.
No, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Tasteful, restrained... That’s the Teddy Randazzo I know. Comparisons to Jimmy Webb are certainly warranted. As good as Motown? That is a high compliment as this was released on Veep Records, the soul subsidiary of the largely white-ish United Artists conglomerate.
When I was growing up, I had never heard Teddy Randazzo the teen idol. I don’t recall ever hearing him sing. By the time I was born, he had largely abandoned that part of his career. He was content to write songs, create beautiful arrangements for strings and horns, and produce. And whenever he did any of these things, he created magic. Here are just a few Randazzo songs and productions of historical importance.
Many would be familiar with late period Steve Lawrence, the crooner who, in a duo with wife Eydie Gorme, filled the seats of Las Vegas showrooms night after night with their combination of schmaltz and nostalgia. But fewer may be familiar with the poppy, doo-woppy Steve Lawrence of earlier in his career. Arguably Lawrence would have had no career at all if not for his cover of “Pretty Blue Eyes,” written by Teddy Randazzo with his longtime songwriting partner, Bobby Weinstein. The song peaked at #9 and earned a place on the Billboard Top 100 Hits of 1960– making Steve Lawrence a household name.
Randazzo had a long association with Little Anthony and The Imperials. Although the group had been around in one form or another since 1957, they didn’t really begin to strike gold until their childhood friend Randazzo handed them the exquisite material for which they ultimately became famous – starting with “I’m On The Outside (Looking In”) in 1964 (peaking at #15) and followed almost immediately by “Goin’ Out Of My Head” later that same year (which reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100). The latter has been covered innumerable times. Not merely a favorite among singers for its haunting melody line and dramatic crescendo in the bridge – covered by singers as diverse as Dionne Warwick, Frank Sinatra, Tom Waits, and Queen Latifah – the song’s intriguing harmonic structure (i.e., the chords) also resulted in countless instrumental versions – from former Tonight Show bandleader Doc Severinsen to jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis to the champagne sounds of Lawrence Welk to the iconic version by guitarist Wes Montgomery (for which he was accused of selling his soul to the devil and abandoning the artfulness of jazz for the more lucrative mainstream pop). In fact, as far as “claims to fame” are concerned, according to The Songwriters Hall of Fame, “Goin’ Out Of My Head” has sold more than 100 million records and has been recorded by over 400 artists – ranking it in the top 50 most recorded songs in history.
It is worth noting here that among the many songs Randazzo and Weinstein wrote for The Imperials was one they ended up never recording. After “Goin’ Out Of My Head,” the songwriting duo’s most recognizable song is likely “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle,” which became a Top 30 hit for vocal group The Royalettes when a contractual dispute prevented The Imperials from tackling the song themselves. “Miracle” would hit again and again for such artists as Laura Nyro in the 70s and Deniece Williams in the 80s.
Randazzo composed “Hurt So Bad” for The Imperials, as well, and it did even better than “Goin’ Out Of My Head” from the same album – becoming both a Billboard Top 10 hit and Top Five R&B hit. But this is not the version most remember. If you were a child of the 70s, depending on the type of music your parents played around the house, you likely either remember the easy listening version by vocal trio The Lettermen or the more angst-laden version by pop-rock diva Linda Ronstadt. This song was also popular among both vocalists and instrumentalists with versions from artists ranging from jazzers Richard “Groove” Holmes, Grant Green, Ramsey Lewis, and Nancy Wilson to pop icon David Cassidy and current soul songstress Alicia Keys.
Yes, that’s what I’ve been trying to say. Teddy Randazzo made the world a better place.
Next time: Side 3: Teddy Randazzo The Producer…