6. Robert Goulet, You and Me Against the World (1976)
“Robert Goulet out, Steve McQueen in!” In addition to being name checked in Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love, one of the great songs in Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kelban’s peerless A Chorus Line score, singer and actor Robert Goulet might best be remembered for creating the role of Lancelot in Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot, for his starring role in The Happy Time, the Kander & Ebb musical which won him the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical in 1968, or for winning the 1962 Grammy Award for Best New Artist. He might be remembered for his roles in Louis Malle’s Atlantic City (1980), Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988), or his guest starring appearances with Lucille Ball on The Lucy Show (1967), or Alice (a two part episode—no less—that aired in 1981).
But one thing that is certain is that the dashing Mr. Goulet, who died in 2007, will definitely not be remembered for his version of You and Me Against the World, which in its slick, jet age swagger manages to suggest a bottle of Vitalis hair tonic, the go-to hair product for the hypermasculine Kennedy-era set. The song was written by Kenny Ascher and Paul Williams, who gave us The Woman in the Moon and Watch Closely Now from A Star is Born (1976), and was a ubiquitous AM radio hit by Aussie lark Helen Reddy in 1975. Of course in timely Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore fashion—the Martin Scorcese film was released the year before—Helen made the song about her kids (“I love you mommy!”), but Mr. Goulet makes it about something else: Las Vegas! Indeed in his resonant, pack-a-day Kent 100 baritone, the song evokes nothing as much as a long walk through the cavernous corridors of Caeser’s Palace at sunrise after a misspent night at the craps table.
For the sake of transparency, I have a more personal way of remembering Mr. Goulet—a specific memory that might be the cause of some mild embarassment if I were the kind of person given to being embarrassed by such things, or really anything. You see Robert Goulet was the first concert I ever went to! And here’s the best part: it was in the round! Yes—I saw Robert Goulet in the round! It was 1975. I was spending half the summer at Lincoln Farm, a socialist work camp in Roscoe, New York and the camp director, for some bizarre reason, decided to send a bunch of stoner teenagers who listened to Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull to see tuxedo-clad Robert Goulet in the round. As I recall there was gripin’ a-plenty, but to be completely forthright, I had a great time (I was younger, maybe nine or ten). When folks brag about their first concerts, I’m proud to say, “Goulet!”
I have always had a thing for Cher—how could I not? The Cher of my childhood and adolescence was the apotheosis of glamour and L.A.-style fun, but without the eventual downward spiral that seemed to eventually engulf almost anyone else you admired at that time. Yes she had some talent, but she would have been the first one to tell you that she wasn’t the best at anything, yet it somehow added up to a great big career and seemingly, a modicum of personal happiness. And the images! More than any other aspect of her work, I was rivited by the world she created collaboratively with the great portrait photographers—Richard Avedon, Francesco Scavullo, Norman Seeff, Harry Langdon, Annie Liebovitz, and on and on.
Photographed by Avedon for Vogue, November, 1966
But there is something else about Cher other than looks and luck: her intellect. Though she may not have graduated from high school, Cher is exceedingly quick witted and quotable, and I have gotten a kick out her knack for the one liner since forever. Generally candid, suprisingly unpretentious, and significantly more capable of laughing at herself than most divas I’ve had the pleasure (or displeasure), Cher has consistently propagated amusing bits of flotsam and jetsam—Cherisms if you will—and I have been mentally collecting them like errant bugle beads from a Bob Mackie creation since I was a youngster. You see, though I can’t clearly remember my multiplication tables past the sevens anymore, I can tell you exactly what Cher said to TV Guide in 1976. I recognize that depending on your point of view, this might be nothing to brag about.
After the jump are 10 Things Cher Said—Cherisms—along with some incredible images (all scans courtesy of cherlove.net)
Cher photographed by Norman Seef, 1975, for the “I’d Rather Believe in You” LP
May 17th marks a year since Donna Summer died so unexpectedly, having kept her illness a secret to even those she regarded as dear friends. At the time, her passing was widely reported but regrettably limited in scope, as so much of it boxed her in as the “Queen-of-Disco,” essentially burying her with a mirrored ball tied to her feet (which Donna would have loathed). Is there a rule that obituaries have to be fact-based, un-celebratory things? In these digital days, anyone can grab a comprehensive fact sheet off the Internet in less time than it takes to sing the first line of the Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder/Pete Bellotte collaboration I Feel Love, one of the most influential records of all-time that essentially created the template for electronic dance music. I knew Donna and worked with her over the years. I wanted to share my feelings about her in way which more accurately and emotionally reflects her impact, not just for me personally, but on popular culture as a whole.
To be sure, Donna Summer was, along with the Bee Gees (whose Robin Gibb died the same week), the artist who most completely captured the spirit of what was first affectionately then derisively called “Disco” music in the late 1970s. But what gets obfuscated in yoking the singer to the “Queen-of-Disco” sobriquet is her true range as an artist. ”Disco” died in 1979 because the homophobic, racist majority felt threatened by what was an unabashed celebration of African-American and gay urban culture, forcing “Disco” to shape-shift into the more generic, less descriptive, less gay “Dance Music.” But it is important to remember that at the time, Disco was R&B music. The fact that MacArthur Park or Dim All The Lights don’t sound like today’s soulless, machine-made R&B, (thank God), doesn’t change the fact that Donna Summer was one of the most successful R&B singer of the late 1970s and 1980s.
Thinking back, my first memories of meeting Donna have the dreamlike quality of one of her 20 minute musical suites. It was 1989: a good year for Donna Summer, having just scored her first major hit in several years with the up-tempo, Stock, Aiken,Waterman-produced single This Time I Know It’s For Real, which had been a worldwide, multiformat, success. I knew the chart positions in every country because, at the time, I was working for the head of public relations, an imposing and not all together nice woman named Tracey Nicholas Bledsoe, at Warner Music International, Donna’s label, and it was my job to know. Additionally, I was tasked with assisting Tracey and looking after Donna and her husband, Bruce Sudano, while they were in New York for promotion, which never actually felt like a task because Donna and Bruce were real people, down-to-earth and kind.
One afternoon Tracey was busy and asked me to take Donna and Bruce to the Roseland Ballroom for a radio show soundcheck. It was what was referred to as a “track date,” meaning that Donna would be singing live to a prerecorded track. That day was the first time I heard Donna Summer’s voice live and I will never forget it. There were other recording artists there, (I remember Debbie Gibson, specifically asking for “more wet reverb” as she rehearsed her number one ballad Lost in Your Eyes) as well as venue and radio people and technical folks milling about in a mode of general chaos and noise. Donna got up for soundcheck and began to sing Love’s About To Change My Heart, the second single from Another Place and Time. The track began and Donna sang softly at first, the voice lost amidst the ballroom’s din: “I never needed someone/cause I always led a life of my own…” Instantly you could hear a pin drop as heads whipped around, immediately identifying the unmistakeable sound of that voice. The room became hushed—the group’s rapt silence creating an atmosphere of reverence and respect. The song continued, building, growing, Donna standing with one hand on her hip, casual, in jeans with a big hat, big smile, and that sound just emerging from her body with seemingly no effort at all. She gave hand signals to the sound guy to adjust her levels: a secret language. The rest of us just stood and listened, stunned. ”How does a person even do this?” I remember thinking. The voice: clear, brilliant, rich, thrilling. The song’s crescendo, each note moving up a half-tone on the scale till it reaches the payoff, the “money note”: “Love’s about to change, change, change, my….heart.” I looked at Donna’s face. It seemed to say “nothing to it,” but to us, the audience, the flock, it was everything: it was sublime, the essence of Donna Summer’s artistry, and it was only the sound check!
An ad for Bogdanovich’s masterpiece “The Last Picture Show” (1971)
By 1973 Peter Bogdanovich was one of Hollywood’s true wonder boys. I have heard it expressed thusly—and I paraphrase: “taken as a group, Peter Bogdanovich’s first three major films, The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, and What’s Up, Doc? are as fine as any first three films any American director ever made.” Indeed, Bogdanovich’s early work revealed a gift of Wellesian proportion that should have presaged one of the great careers of all-time, but it didn’t because of what happened after those films: Peter Bogdanovich lost his mojo and made a series of flops—Daisy Miller, Nickelodeon, Saint Jack, At Long Last Love, et. al.—films that were inpenetrable even to his most ardent admirers. Occasionally he would make a film that was pretty good (Mask), or serviceable (Noises Off), or a curiousity (The Cat’s Meow), but since 1973 the erstwhile wunderkind has primarily distinguished himself as a dynamic and passionate film historian and occasional actor. His books about personal heroes like John Ford, Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, and Orson Welles are essential to both scholars and film buffs and will certainly define his legacy at least as much as his own movies.
I love a book by Mr. Bogdanovich that was published in 1985 called Pieces of Time, a compendium of essays from Esquire magazine, most of which dated from the 1960s and 1970s, in which he recounts experiences, chance meetings, or long term relationships with some of the greatest film artists of the classical period . One piece that I love in particular is called the Best American Films of 1939 which, in addition to being the year Bogdanovich was born, is frequentlly referred to by film geeks and others with the predilection to sit around and debate the subject as the greatest year in Hollywood’s history. To illustrate how impressive a year 1939 was, here is a partial list of the films that did not even make the director’s list: The Wizard of Oz; Intermezzo; Goodbye Mr. Chips; Dark Victory;Made for Each Other;The Hunchback of Notre Dame;Wuthering Heights; and, because Bogdanovich cheats and lists six films in tenth place, either Gunga Din; Destry Rides Again; Midnight; Union Pacific; Northwest Passage; or Gone With the Wind.
See Peter Bogdanovich’s Top Ten list after the jump.
God bless Barbara Walters! For a great deal of the population, the 83-year-old news veteran has simply always been there, like our favorite sad song or a beloved shrub. Having announced her imminent retirement yesterday, Barbara will soon have plenty of time to focus on other interests—like cooking. Should she venture into the kitchen, her thoughts may very well drift back to her mother’s stuffed cabbage recipe. She clearly loves this recipe as I’ve found it in two cook books that were published 25 years apart, which either means that the stuffed cabbage was, indeed, a very special dish in the Walters household, or that Barbara was simply too busy to be bothered changing her response when asked for a recipe.
In either case, I’m sure you join me in wishing Ms. Walters only good things as she retires from public life. I only hope that between bites of her mother’s stuffed cabbage someone has the temerity to ask the eternally intimidating journalist what kind of tree she’s been all these years!
I must warn you that as written, Barbara’s mother’s cabbage recipe has a rather imposing yield—28 rolls to serve 14! I’m not sure whether Barbara had a very large family, whether Barbara’s mother was the kind of gal that fed the neighborhood, or whether she would freeze some, but serving 14 seems a little intense. If you’re good at math you can make the desired adjustments. If you’re like me and that would be way to complicated, you can ask a friend or loved one to help you with the figures.
Barbara Walters’ Mother’s Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
2 heads (2 pounds each) green cabbage
6 quarts boiling water
3 pounds lean ground chuck
Salt to taste
3/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons celery salt, or to taste
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup crushed, unsalted crackers
3 cups chopped onion
1 12-ounce bottles (2 cups each) chili sauce
1 12-ounce jar (1 cup) grape jelly
1/4 cup water
1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Lightly grease one 11 1/2 x 12 x 2 1/4-inch roasting pan or two 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pans.
2. Cut out and discard hard center core of cabbage. Place cabbage in large kettle. Pour 6 quarts boiling water over it. Let stand until leaves are flexible and can easily be removed from head, about 5 mintues. Remove from hot water and separate and drain leaves. If necessary, return cabbage to hot water to soften inner leaves. Repeat with second cabbage.
3. In large bowl combine meat, salt, pepper, celery salt, ketchup, eggs, and crackers. Mix with hands just until mixture is well combined.
4. Using a 1/4-cup measure, scoop up a scant 1/4 cup of the meat mixture. With hands, form into rolls 3 inches long and 1 inch wide, making about 28 rolls in all. Place each meat roll on a drained cabbage leaf. Fold top of leaf over meat, then fold in sides and roll on a drained cabbage leaf. Fold top of leaf over meat, then fold in sides and roll into an oblong. Continue rolling remaining meat rolls and cabbage leaves.
5. Spread chopped onion evenly in bottom of pan(s). Arrange cabbage rolls in neat rows on top of onion.
6. For Sauce: In a 2-quart saucepan, combine chili sauce, grape jelly, and 1/4 cup water. Heat over medium heat, stirring, until jelly melts. Pour over cabbage rolls. Cover pan tightly with foil.
7. Bake for 2 hours. Remove foil. Brush rolls with sauce. Continue to bake, uncovered, 20 to 40 minutes or until sauce is thick and syrupy and cabbage rolls are glazed. Spoon sauce over rolls and serve.
This shocking recipe, which calls for both margarine and frozen orange juice from concentrate, was thoughtfully sent to me by my friend and Stargayzing reader Jana Marimpietri. It seems that Jana’s grandmother Bessie Marimpietri from Portage, Indiana was herself a devotee of celebrity recipes—and may I say way ahead of her time. In fact, she clipped them regularly, which is a good thing because if she hadn’t then Jana might not have been able to collect them and send them along to me!
Though Marie Osmond’s orange chicken sounds absolutely awful, it does have one thing going for it beyond its provenance from the collection of Bessie Marimpietri of Portage, Indiana: it’s looks really easy and if you’re anything like me, simplicity when cooking is a significant motivator to actually making an effort!
So here it is via the original clipping from the January 23, 1990 issue of Star Magazine: Marie Osmond’s Orange Chicken!
One of the regrettable consequences of the end of the Easy Listening/Middle-of-the-Road (M.O.R.) era and the reign of singers who rarely, if ever, wrote their own material, is the complete absence of incredible cover songs like the ones I have aggregated herewith. It was only in the period where the interpreter was king, and the bizarre period just afterward as these singers struggled to hang on to their chart position in the face of the tsunami of rock ‘n roll and FM radio, that you might even chance to encounter an otherwise perfectly agreeable singer like Rita Coolidge making the unfortunate decision to cover Tempted by Squeeze. While it is quite likely that you still hear the original Squeeze single from time to time (and it still sounds amazing, by the way), I am willing to venture that you won’t often hear lovely Rita’s misguided version. And isn’t that why you read Stargayzing, anyway?
Here is my carefully curated list, numbers one through five!
1. Rita Coolidge, Tempted (1983)
In addition to the cachet of being married to the (legendary and very sexy) Kris Kristofferson for most of the 1970s, Coolidge enjoyed several big hit song including top-10 versions of Jackie Wilson’s(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher and Boz Scaggs’ We’re All Alone toward the end of the decade. In addition, few people remember that she handled vocal duties on All Time High, the theme from 1983′s Octopussy, and arguably the most turgid James Bond theme ever recorded. Additionally, many will remember her memorable acting work in Kristofferson’s A Star is Born wherein she somehow managed to be fairly unconvincing playing herself in the Grammy Awards sequence! The memory of her stepping up to the podium with Tony Orlando in that scene makes me chortle with glee as I imagine the film’s creators self-satisfied as they concurred that they had, indeed, created rock ‘n roll verisimilitude and captured the raw excitement of the starry Grammys!
Unfortunately, by the early 1980s as the bland but organic sounding adult contemporary record of the late-1970s gave way to the bland but synth-drenched balladry of the 1980s (The Lady in Red, anyone?), and many artists who were really folkies underneath found themselves increasingly lost in a sea of drum machines, shoulder pads, and big hair. Rita’s version of Tempted is at once perfectly pleasant and completely awful, which is a particularly vexatious paradox. In Rita’s defense, this is the first time I have been able to understand every word of the famous song. On the other hand, I fell asleep, which would suggest that listeners should avoid driving or operating heavy machinery while tapping their toes!
I’ll be serving additional installments of these awesome, unbelievable covers every few days so let me know how I’m doing. Believe it or not a great deal of research goes into curating a list this bad! So here we go, in no particular order:
Naturally I’m a huge Bassey fan and understand that being gloriously dramatic is as vital a quality of the Bassey gestalt as beaded dresses and money notes, but there is fine line between awesome over-the-top Bassey and bad/good over-the-top Bassey. If this seems a bit confusing, try reading Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp (you’ll be back reading Stargayzing before you finish the introduction).
Shirley comes from the great generation of singer/interpreters whose meat and potatoes was singing great songs written by other people (in music publishing parlance, this was known as covering an “outside song”). Every Breath You Take is definitely a great song written by a brilliant songwriter, but betwixt the idea and intended result lies Dame Shirley’s cover of Sting’s epic ballad about obsession and surveillance. Shirley’s version really brings out the true creepiness of Sting’s song.
This is bad/good Bassey to the nth degree and like sonic wolfbane, I used Bassey’s misguided collection of covert tunes to keep the spectre of Grunge music from darkening my door in the suddenly-so-long-ago 1990s. I ask you: could Kurt Cobain’s adenoidal, disaffected wimper really hold up against Shirley’s Welsh windstorm?
In 1997 Hollywood Records released Loungeapalooza, an uneven attempt to breath some ironic energy into lounge music (or maybe it was to make fun of it). The real irony turned out to be that Steve and Eydie’s completely sincere reading of Soundgarden’s classic Black Hole Sun was good on its own terms. Hearing the pair wrap their silky voices around some of Chris Cornell’s stranger lyrics (“call my name through the cream/and I’ll hear you scream again”), adds immeasurably to the fun. The fact that they approached this song with such respect suggests to me an unimpeachable sense of their own identity.
Though Steve and Eydie are sometime dismissed as too-Vegas or as Easy Listening old timers if they’re recalled at all, I admire their class and professionalism. After all, very few artists cleave to their own truth no matter what, and Steve and Eydie have never tried to be anything other than what they are. The fact that they never tried to be hip made them hip. In that sense they were the Arlo Guthrie of pop; cool because they never pandered to trends or deviated from their own sense of what was authentic for them. To appreciate how hard this may be to accomplish in the face of the fear-based thinking that generally accompanies diminishing record sales, one need think no further than Madonna, who has spent the last 15 years in a misguided attempt to chase radio trends with increasingly forgettable (and frequently insane) results. Unfortunately for Madonna, none of her crappy records are crappy enough to be compelling. In fact, records like Hard Candy,American Life, and MDNA, are the one thing that is worse than bad if you’re Madonna: they’re boring.
The willowy Susan Anton shot to fame in the late 1970s in a commercial for Muriel cigars and parlayed that exposure into a multimedia career that included TV, film, and recording work (not to mention a much publicized relationship with the much older and much shorter Dudley Moore). Anton is probably technically the best of the group of late-1970s TV starlets who sought recording careers, an elite sororiety which also included Lynda Carter, Cheryl Ladd, and Barbie Benton, but that doesn’t mean her instincts are unassailable, as this frantic cover of Dylan’s Forever Young quickly reveals. In my hyperactive fantasy life, I like to think that much of Anton’s musical moxie comes from years spent singing each night in her living room with paramour Dudley Moore, an exceptional pianist, as he adoringly accompanied his lovely lark whilst telling her she was going to be the next Linda Ronstadt in slurred but convincing Arthur-esque monologues.
It is a true pleasure to spend a few minutes with Anton’s fevered Forever Young. While many singers are drawn to the songs potential as a hymn-like Great Acting Moment, in Susan’s well-manicured hands Dylan’s prayer becomes less a tribute to the world’s children than to her own Vegas-tinged vibrato, which I actually consider to be a vast improvement. Her abject lack of soul leaves room to think about other things, less urgent things, like her amazing flowing blonde hair, which I hope you will find as relaxing as I do. Believe me, I’m no Dylan fan—fine, he’s a poet—but I’d rather listen to Susan’s belting blast over Dylan’s death rattle any day of the week. So sue me. Have I mentioned this is is a live performance?
5. Liza Minnelli and Luciano Pavarotti, New York, New York
While I could easily have created an entire blog post solely devoted to the most outrageous Liza Minnelli cover songs of all-time (her version of John Lennon’s Imagine, anyone?), it is actually Luciano who is the fish out of water here. Liza was still in her fine mid-1990s post-Betty Ford fighting form, but Luciano is just a quivering lump of bearded vibrato. The Italian tenor has a terrible time navigating his way around the Kander and Ebb standard, reminding us repeatedly why opera singers singing pop songs can lead to such memorably awful results. Luciano’s performance here is the musical equivalent of Aretha Franklin wheezing her way through Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s Turandot at the Grammys a few years later, but in reverse, (ironically filling in for an ailing Pavarotti). You’ll need Aretha Franklin to fill in for you after you see this!
Here are a few of my favorite moments to look out for: Pavarotti’s awkward attempt to swing gently; his bizarre pronunciation of words like “stray,” and “I’ll make a brand new star of it,” when he means to say “I’ll make a brand new start of it,” (and why couldn’t someone as extensively multi-lingual as Pavarotti say the letter “t”?; Liza’s jazzy little “you keep sayin’ it…” background part at 1:15; and, of course, her fantastic, joyful exhortation “go Luciano, GO!” when the opera singer does indeed go for his big money note on ”my leetle town bluss”. Though Luciano was lucky enough to have Liza pulling him through the song, in the end, even Liza moving at full throttle couldn’t tug this whale into New York, New York harbor!
By the way, ignore the fact that the entire clip repeats itself (unless you want to watch it again immediately which, to be honest, I couldn’t blame you for). You see, this was by far the best quality version I could find and the ability to watch it consecutively without the bother of touching the mouse is actually an advantage.