What I Learned at Rydell High

Before there was tween boy bands, glee clubs, and Justin Bieber there was Bobby Rydell.  To be honest there really isn’t much of a comparison, but that puts him in modern language.

I stumbled upon Rydell on YouTube. I was searching the song “My Coloring Book” and he was the only male version of the song I could find. This is one of my favorite songs and Rydell’s version is often overlooked, but it is one of the best. After this encounter I immediately began searching for his records at all my vinyl stops.

FullSizeRender 7One of my first finds was Bobby Rydell…Salutes The “Great Ones.” Rydell was only 19  years old when he released this album. As the liner notes state, he was already a staple on such TV shows as the Perry Como TV shows and Red Skeleton shows as well as a sought after act at The Copa and The Sahara. Not to mention he had already garnered 4 top ten hits.

This album by Rydell takes an interesting turn in his small yet accomplished catalog. Saluting the greats that came before you is not just honorable, but it is quite daring. He was setting himself up for failure. He was singing songs that only the greats, like Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland sang with Broadway standards sprinkled in. How could he compare?

Rydell decided to play by his own rules, translating these songs into a “1961” vibe.

He opens the album with Al Jolson’s “Mammy.” A song that has been adapted in many different compositions. This is essentially a melted down version of “Rockabye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody.” He gives this song a boyish charm with a more modest aura.

He then goes into Sinatra’s “That Old Black Magic.” There is never another Sinatra, but Rydell again accomplishes this song with ease accompanied by a more rhythmic backing. He concludes side A with the Gypsy anthem “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Taking on Ethel Merman is like teetering off a cliff, but he did it with debonair and classic charm instead of Merman’s usually brashness.

FullSizeRender 6Side B contains some real gems starting with the Steve Allen penned “This Could Be The Start of Something New.” Again, Rydell’s arrangers placed the song at a speeder tempo. Instead of the gentler and special aura that only Ella Fitzgerald could give this song, Rydell gives this tune a remix worthy of American Bandstand or Shindig. The same concept can be found in his renditions of “So Rare” and “There’s A Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder.”

By the end of the album, Rydell easily wrapped all the ladies around his finger with “The Birth of The Blues.” This song demands answers with its perfectly timed pauses and the way Rydell places the lyrics in a “questionable” phrase. I think there were a few girls fainting at the foot of the stage.

This album is a perfect reflection of what was happening in music culture in 1961. Rockabilly was starting to hit and all the churches were worried about this new “rhythmic” music. The classic pop style of the greats was being placed on the back burner for this new rock and roll experiment.

Rydell attempts to touch both these audiences with this album. His crooning singing style fit in perfectly with the Dean Martins and Jack Jones’ of the time, yet he knew there was something else on the horizon. Although this album may not have been a huge success it is reflection of the development of music and the confusion that both artists and record companies were going through in this transitional time.

This album proposes an idea. It was experimental at the time when experiments were shunned. Rydell’s album not only serves as listening pleasure, but as an artifact of the evolution of modern music. Basically he gave the Great American Songbook and a light, but daring, Rockabilly twist.

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