Here is a selection of songs performed by the great Frankie Laine.
Frankie Laine (1913 – 2007), born Francesco Paolo LoVecchio, was an American singer, songwriter, and actor whose career spanned 75 years, from his first concerts in 1930 with a marathon dance company to his final performance of "That's My Desire" in 2005. Often billed as "America's Number One Song Stylist", his other nicknames include "Mr. Rhythm", "Old Leather Lungs", and "Mr. Steel Tonsils". His hits included "That's My Desire", "That Lucky Old Sun", "Mule Train", "Cry of the Wild Goose", "A Woman In Love", "Jezebel", "High Noon", "I Believe", "Hey Joe!", "The Kid's Last Fight", "Cool Water", "Moonlight Gambler," "Love Is a Golden Ring," "Rawhide", and "Lord, You Gave Me a Mountain."
He sang well-known theme songs for many movie Western soundtracks, including 3:10 To Yuma, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and Blazing Saddles, although he was not a country & western singer. Laine sang an eclectic variety of song styles and genres, stretching from big band crooning to pop, western-themed songs, gospel, rock, folk, jazz, and blues. He did not sing the soundtrack song for High Noon, which was sung by Tex Ritter, but his own version was the one that became a bigger hit, nor did he sing the theme to another show he is commonly associated with—Champion the Wonder Horse (sung by Mike Stewart)—but released his own, subsequently more popular, version.
Laine's enduring popularity was illustrated in June 2011, when a TV-advertised compilation called Hits reached No. 16 on the British chart. The accomplishment was achieved nearly 60 years after his debut on the UK chart, 64 years after his first major U.S. hit and four years after his death.
A clarion-voiced singer with lots of style, able to fill halls without a microphone, and one of the biggest hit-makers of late 1940s/early 1950s, Laine had more than 70 charted records, 21 gold records, and worldwide sales of over 100 million records. Originally a rhythm and blues influenced jazz singer, Laine excelled at virtually every music style, eventually expanding to such varied genres as popular standards, gospel, folk, country, western/Americana, rock 'n' roll, and the occasional novelty number. He was also known as Mr. Rhythm for his driving jazzy style.
Laine was the first and biggest of a new breed of singers who rose to prominence in the post–World War II era. This new, raw, emotionally charged style seemed at the time to signal the end of the previous era's singing styles and was, indeed, a harbinger of the rock 'n' roll music that was to come. As music historian Jonny Whiteside wrote:
In the Hollywood clubs, a new breed of performers laid down a baffling hip array of new sounds ... Most important of all these, though, was Frankie Laine, a big lad with 'steel tonsils' who belted out torch blues while stomping his size twelve foot in joints like Billy Berg's, Club Hangover and the Bandbox. . . Laine's intense vocal style owed nothing to Crosby, Sinatra, or Dick Haymes. Instead he drew from Billy Eckstine, Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Rushing, and with it Laine had sown the seeds from which an entire new perception and audience would grow. . . Frank Sinatra represented perhaps the highest flowering of a quarter century tradition of crooning but suddenly found himself an anachronism. First Frankie Laine, then Tony Bennett, and now Johnnie (Ray), dubbed 'the Belters' and 'the Exciters,' came along with a brash vibrancy and vulgar beat that made the old bandstand routine which Frank meticulously perfected seem almost invalid.
In the words of Jazz critic Richard Grudens:
Frank's style was very innovative, which was why he had such difficulty with early acceptance. He would bend notes and sing about the chordal context of a note rather than to sing the note directly, and he stressed each rhythmic downbeat, which was different from the smooth balladeer of his time.
His 1946 recording of "That's My Desire" remains a landmark record signaling the end of both the dominance of the big bands and the crooning styles favored by contemporaries Dick Haymes and Frank Sinatra. Often called the first of the blue-eyed soul singers, Laine's style cleared the way for many artists who arose in the late 1940s and early 1950s, including Kay Starr, Tony Bennett, and Johnnie Ray.
I think that Frank probably was one of the forerunner of . . . blues, of . . . rock 'n' roll. A lot of singers who sing with a passionate demeanor—Frank was and is definitely that. I always used to love to mimic him with 'That's . .. my...desire.' And then later Johnnie Ray came along that made all of those kind of movements, but Frank had already done them. – Patti Page
Throughout the 1950s, Laine enjoyed a second career singing the title songs over the opening credits of Hollywood films and television shows, including Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, 3:10 to Yuma, Bullwhip, and Rawhide. His rendition of the title song for Mel Brooks's 1974 hit movie Blazing Saddles won an Oscar nomination for Best Song, and on television, Laine's featured recording of "Rawhide" for the series of the same name became a popular theme song.
You can't categorize him. He's one of those singers that's not in one track. And yet and still I think that his records had more excitement and life into it. And I think that was his big selling point, that he was so full of energy. You know when you hear his records it was dynamite energy. — Herb Jeffries
Even in the 1920s, his vocal abilities were enough to get him noticed by a slightly older "in crowd" at his school, who began inviting him to parties and to local dance clubs, including Chicago's Merry Garden Ballroom. At 17, he sang before a crowd of 5,000 at The Merry Garden Ballroom to such applause that he ended up performing five encores on his first night. Laine was giving dance lessons for a charity ball at the Merry Garden when he was called to the bandstand to sing:
Soon I found myself on the main bandstand before this enormous crowd, Laine recalled. I was really nervous, but I started singing 'Beside an Open Fireplace,' a popular song of the day. It was a sentimental tune and the lyrics choked me up. When I got done, the tears were streaming down my cheeks and the ballroom became quiet. I was very nearsighted and couldn't see the audience. I thought that the people didn't like me.
Some of his other early influences during this period included Enrico Caruso, Carlo Buti, and especially Bessie Smith—a record of whose somehow wound up in his parents' collection:
I can still close my eyes and visualize its blue and purple label. It was a Bessie Smith recording of 'The Bleeding Hearted Blues,' with 'Midnight Blues' on the other side. The first time I laid the needle down on that record I felt cold chills and an indescribable excitement. It was my first exposure to jazz and the blues, although I had no idea at the time what to call those magical sounds. I just knew I had to hear more of them! — Frankie Laine
Another singer who influenced him at this time was falsetto crooner, Gene Austin. Laine worked after school at a drugstore that was situated across the street from a record store that continually played hit records by Gene Austin over their loudspeakers. He would swab down the windows in time to Austin's songs. Many years later, Laine related the story to Austin when both were guests on the popular television variety show Shower of Stars. He would also co-star in a film, Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder, with Austin's daughter, Charlotte.
Other artists whose styles began to influence Laine at this time were Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong (as a trumpet player), Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, and, later, Nat "King" Cole. Laine befriended Cole in Los Angeles, when the latter's career was just beginning to gain momentum. Cole recorded a song, "It Only Happens Once", that fledgling songwriter Laine had composed. They remained close friends throughout the remainder of Cole's life, and Laine was one of the pall bearers at Cole's funeral.
His next big break came when he replaced Perry Como in the Freddy Carlone band in Cleveland in 1937; Como made a call to Carlone about Laine. Como was another lifelong friend of Laine's, who once lent Laine the money to travel to a possible gig.
He changed his professional name to Frankie Laine in 1938, upon receiving a job singing for the New York City radio station WINS. The program director, Jack Coombs, thought that "LoVecchio" was "too foreign sounding, and too much of a mouthful for the studio announcers," so he Americanized it to "Lane." Frankie added the "i" to avoid confusion with a girl singer at the station who went by the name of Frances Lane. It was at this time that Laine got unknown songbird Helen O'Connell her job with the Jimmy Dorsey band.
In 1943, he moved to California where he sang in the background of several films, including The Harvey Girls, and dubbed the singing voice for an actor in the Danny Kaye comedy The Kid from Brooklyn. It was in Los Angeles in 1944 that he met and befriended disc jockey Al Jarvis and composer/pianist Carl T. Fischer, the latter of whom was to be his songwriting partner, musical director, and piano accompanist until his death in 1954. Their songwriting collaborations included "I'd Give My Life," "Baby, Just For Me," "What Could Be Sweeter?," "Forever More," and the jazz standard "We'll Be Together Again."
In late 1946, Hoagy Carmichael heard him singing at Billy Berg's club in Los Angeles, and this was when success finally arrived. Not knowing that Carmichael was in the audience, Laine sang the Carmichael-penned standard "Rockin' Chair" when Slim Gaillard called him up to the stage to sing. This eventually led to a contract with the newly established Mercury records. Laine and Carmichael would later collaborate on a song, "Put Yourself in My Place, Baby".
Laine's influence on today's music can be clearly evidenced in his rendition of the Hoagy Carmichael standard, "Georgia on My Mind." Laine's slow, soulful version was a model for the iconic remake by Ray Charles a decade later. Charles would follow up "Georgia" with remakes of other Frankie Laine hits, including "Your Cheatin' Heart", and "That Lucky Old Sun." (Elvis Presley also remade several of Laine's hits, and his early influence on The Beatles has been well documented.)
In an interview, Mitch Miller described the basis of Laine's appeal:
He was my kind of guy. He was very dramatic in his singing ... and you must remember that in those days there were no videos so you had to depend on the image that the record made in the listener's ears. And that's why many fine artists were not good record sellers. For instance, Lena Horne. Fabulous artist but she never sold many records till that last album of hers. But she would always sell out the house no matter where she was. And there were others who sold a lot of records but couldn't get to first base in personal appearances, but Frankie had it both. — Mitch Miller
Both in collaboration with Jo Stafford and as a solo artist, Laine was one of the earliest, and most frequent, Columbia artists to bring country numbers into the mainstream. Late in his career, Laine would go on to record two straight country albums ("A Country Laine" and "The Nashville Connection") that would fully demonstrate his ability to inflect multiple levels of emotional nuances into a line or word.
His duets with Doris Day were folk-pop adaptations of traditional South African folk songs, translated by folk singer Josef Marais.
In 1954, Laine gave a Royal Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II which he cites as one of the highlights of his career. By the end of the decade, he remained far ahead of Elvis Presley as the most successful artist on the British charts.
John Williams recently said the following words about Laine:
Frankie Laine was somebody that everybody knew. He was a kind of a household word like Frank Sinatra or Bobby Darin or Peggy Lee or Ella Fitzgerald—Frankie Laine was one of the great popular singers and stylists of that time. ... And his style ... he was one of those artists who had such a unique stamp—nobody sounded like he did. You could hear two notes and you knew who it was and you were right on the beam with it right away. And of course that defines a successful popular artist, at least at that time. These people were all uniquely individual and Frank was on the front rank of those people in his appeal to the public and his success and certainly in his identifiability. — John Williams.
Beginning in the late 1940s, Laine starred in over a half dozen backstage musicals, often playing himself; several of these were written and directed by a young Blake Edwards. The films were: Make Believe Ballroom – Columbia, 1949; When You’re Smiling – Columbia, 1950; Sunny Side Of The Street – Columbia, 1951; Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder – Columbia, 1952; Bring Your Smile Along – Columbia, 1955; He Laughed Last – Columbia, 1956; and Meet Me in Las Vegas – MGM, 1956. The latter, a big budget MGM musical starring Cyd Charisse, features Laine performing Hell Hath No Fury.
On television, he hosted three variety shows: The Frankie Laine Hour in 1950, The Frankie Laine Show (with Connie Haines) 1954-5, and Frankie Laine Time in 1955-6. The latter was a summer replacement for The Arthur Godfrey Show that received a Primetime Emmy for Best Male Singer. Frankie Laine Time featured such guest stars as Ella Fitzgerald, Johnnie Ray, Georgia Gibbs, The Four Lads, Cab Calloway, Patti Page, Eddie Heywood, Duke Ellington, Boris Karloff, Patti Andrews, Joni James, Shirley MacLaine, Gene Krupa, Teresa Brewer, Jack Teagarden and Polly Bergen.
He was a frequent guest star on various other shows of the time, including Shower of Stars, The Steve Allen Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, What's My Line?, This is Your Life, Bachelor Father, The Sinatra Show, The Walter Winchell Show, The Perry Como Show, The Garry Moore Show, Masquerade Party, The Mike Douglas Show, and American Bandstand. In 1959 he made a guest appearance on Perry Mason in the title role as comedian Danny Ross in "The Case of the Jaded Joker."
In the 1960s, he continued appearing on variety shows such as Laugh-In, but took on several serious guest-starring roles in shows like Rawhide, and Burke's Law. His theme song for Rawhide proved to be popular and helped make the show, which starred Eric Fleming and launched the career of Clint Eastwood, a hit. Other TV series for which Laine sang the theme song included Gunslinger, and Rango. In 1976, Laine recorded The Beatles song, "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" for the documentary All This and World War II.
Laine performed at three Academy Awards ceremonies: 1950 (Mule Train), 1960 (The Hanging Tree), and 1975 (Blazing Saddles). Only last two of these ceremonies were televised. In 1981, he performed a medley of his hits on American Bandstand's 30th Anniversary Special", where he received a standing ovation. Later appearances include Nashville Now, 1989 and My Music, 2006.
Along with opening the door for many R&B performers, Laine played a significant role in the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s. When Nat King Cole's television show was unable to get a sponsor, Laine crossed the color line, becoming the first white artist to appear as a guest. Many other top white singers followed suit, including Tony Bennett and Rosemary Clooney.
In the following decade, Laine joined several African American artists who gave a free concert for Martin Luther King's supporters during their Selma to Montgomery marches on Washington, D.C.
Laine, who had a strong appreciation of African American music, went so far as to record at least two songs that have being black as their subject matter, "Shine" and Fats Waller's "Black and Blue". Both were recorded early in his career at Mercury, and helped to contribute to the initial confusion among fans about his race.
On June 12, 1996, he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 27th Annual Songwriters’ Hall of Fame awards ceremony at the New York Sheraton. On his 80th birthday, the United States Congress declared him to be a national treasure. Then, a decade later on March 30, 2003, Frankie celebrated his 90th birthday, and several of his old pals, Herb Jeffries, Patti Page and Kay Starr were welcomed to his birthday bash in San Diego, as each of them gave him a helping hand in blowing out the candles.
In 2006, he appeared on the PBS My Music special despite a recent stroke, performing "That's My Desire", and received a standing ovation. It proved to be his swan song to the world of popular music.
Laine died of heart failure on February 6, 2007, at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego. In a prepared statement, Laine's family said, "He will be forever remembered for the beautiful music he brought into this world, his wit and sense of humor, along with the love he shared with so many." A memorial mass was held February 12, at the Immaculata parish church on the campus of the University of San Diego. The following day, his ashes, along with those of his late wife, Nan Grey, were scattered over the Pacific Ocean.
While Laine's influence on popular music, rock and roll and soul is rarely acknowledged by rock historians, his early crossover success as a singer of "race music" not only helped pave the way for other white artists who sang in the black style, like Kay Starr, Johnnie Ray and Elvis Presley, but also helped to increase public acceptance for African-American artists as well. Artists inspired and/or influenced by Laine include Ray Charles, Bobby Darin, Lou Rawls, The Beatles, Tom Jones, James Brown, and many others.
He was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame 2008.
In 2010, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.
For his contributions to the music and television industry, Frankie Laine has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The music star is at the north side of the 1600 block on Hollywood Boulevard, the television star is at the west side of the 1600 block on Vine Street.
Enjoy Frankie Laine’s unique style!