Concert Highlights–Bobby Rydell featuring City Rhythm Orchestra at Damrosch Park, 7/6/2016

Bobby Rydell at Lincoln Center Midsummer Nights Swing, July 6, 2016
Bobby Rydell at Lincoln Center Midsummer Nights Swing, July 6, 2016 (photo: Russ Titelman)

Not sure who was more excited to meet Bobby Rydell backstage at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing series at Damrosch Park on July 6, me or Russ Titelman.

A few years older than me, Russ was no less starstruck in the presence of early 1960s teen idol Rydell after a great, mostly pop standards set with Philadelphia’s City Rhythm Orchestra, songs including several Sinatra staples and a Bobby Darin tribute, the only Rydell hits being “Wild One” and “Volare.”

“It goes back to my childhood!” Russ marveled, except that Rydell’s set had contemporary relevance for him as well, as he also sang “Teach Me Tonight,” the 1950s Sammy Cahn-Gene De Paul standard that Russ just recorded with Holly Cole.

After the show–and our meeting with Rydell–Russ, who’s famously produced the likes of Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, recalled the impetus for the Cole cut, within both Sinatra and Darin contexts. Turns out he was a guest of Quincy Jones at the 1984 sessions in New York at A&R studio for Sinatra’s L.A. is My Lady album, which Jones was producing. Michael Jackson was there, so was late Broadway musical luminary Michael Bennett (A Chorus Line), and among the stellar musicians in the band was George Benson.

“Mr. S sang ‘Teach Me Tonight’ and ‘Mack the Knife,’” Russ recalled. “On a break I suggested to George that we do ‘Beyond the Sea’–one of my very favorite songs and the B-side of Darin’s ‘Mack the Knife.’ He said he already had an arrangement. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and he answered that Frank Foster, who had written the ‘Mack the Knife’ arrangement for Sinatra, had written him a big band arrangement of ‘Beyond the Sea.’ When I heard that, I said, ‘We’re doing it!’ Mr. Foster said it was one of his favorites of all his arrangements!”

Russ still considers the version of “Beyond the Sea” that he produced for Benson’s 1984 album 20/20 the best ever.

Rydell, meanwhile, sang both “Beyond the Sea” and “Mack the Knife” outdoors at Lincoln Center, not to mention Sinatra’s “The Lady is a Tramp” and “I’ve Got the World on a String.” He was equally at ease singing Darrin and Sinatra.

YouTube Discoveries: Lesley Gore’s “She’s a Fool”

Thanks to YouTube, I’ve been pretty much stuck on automatic replay–albeit via manual click, not like the old record player I had as a kid that had a mechanism for playing one side of a platter over and over.

In today’s case, of course, it’s a Lesley Gore hit, to be precise, “She’s a Fool,” still my favorite hit of her lot.

Three things stand out about “She’s a Fool.” First and probably foremost, it represented a marked change in tone from the two hits that preceded it and established Lesley’s career, “It’s My Party” and it’s chronological and thematic follow-up “Judy’s Turn to Cry.” These two songs were catchy teen girl romantic angst and revenge pop of the highest order, yet severely typecasting to the point that Les was in danger of being a two-hit wonder at best.

With “She’s a Fool,” however, she suddenly became all but grownup intense, thanks to her incredible singing, for sure, but also a Quincy Jones production that drives the point home.

The above version was a remaster. Here’s the original mono single:

Notice that there’s really very little to the song. One melodic verse/chorus repeated once then modulated up, then another modulation up on the final chorus fadeout. No break instrumentally or structurally, but a riveting arrangement featuring handclaps, bluesy piano bed, insistent string zooms and the hint of horns–and that sinister male exclamatory nonsense-syllable undercurrent of what I always heard as “Sack-a-dula!”

About as simple as it gets, but so striking that it propelled Lesley to her next big hit, her signature proto-feminist anthem “You Don’t Own Me.” The rest, sadly, is now history, but forever an enduring one.

Here’s one last clip of her singing it live:

And by the way, isn’t she beautiful?