Sunday, June 6, 2010

Connie Francis and Brenda Lee

It's summer, so I have on my hands the wanton luxury of spending a large block of time digging up facts. Facts on who, on this sunny Sunday afternoon? Brenda Lee and Connie Francis. Obviously, if you're over fifty, or merely under-fifty-and-neurotically-into-50's-pop-music-right-now, this is the post for you.

The first thing to do, for me, was to separate these two gals out, because damned if I didn't use their names interchangeably from time to time in the last 25 years of my life. Oops.

THIS is Brenda Lee... This is Connie Francis.

Totally similar. In fact, examine the similarities:

1) Tiny, tiny women? Check. (CF is five one and a half, Brenda Lee is FOUR FOOT NINE. That is so very, very tiny)
2) Names from 50's high school year books? Check. (Though CF was born "Concetta Rosemarie Franconero" and BL was born "Brenda Mae Tarpley")
3) Brown bouffant hair, heavily shaded eyebrows, large dark eyes, and bubble skirts? Check.
4) Constant chart presence in the late fifties and early sixties? Check.

And my favorite:

There's no accounting for how I could confuse the woman who sang "I'm Sorry" (that would be Brenda Lee) with the woman who sang "Who's Sorry Now?" (that would be Connie Francis). But I'll never confuse the two again, due to the actually somewhat embarrassing amount of time that I've spent today internet sleuthing about their lives and careers.

Let's start with Brenda Lee:

Brenda Lee was born in Georgia in 1944 and was singing professionally by the age of 10. And when I say 10, I mean 10-- not making the rounds of elementary school talent shows (which she did and I'm sure dutifully picked up her stack of awards afterwards), but singing in concert, on records, and on tv with one of the most incongruously placed voices you ever heard coming out of a ten year old. This tiny, tiny girl would walk out on stage in bobby sox and a Peter Pan collared dress, and open her mouth to a sound as big as the room. "Sweet Nothings" (1958) was a track that caught my ear on an oldies compilation, and I just couldn't get over the razor blade sharp delivery-- she can croon, but she can also nail an intro as raw as Little Richard, if the song calls for it. Primarily a country artist, her songs had pop crossover appeal and she seems to get lumped into the category of "rockabilly" a lot (which allows "golden age of country music deniers" to explain away a natural attraction to her voice, or why they like Johnny Cash, with "well, it's not REALLY country..." [but that's a post for another day]). The girl PUTS AWAY songs.

Take a listen:

"Sitting in class trying to read my book-- my baby gives me that *special* look" somehow comes off as innocuous in print, but listen to that girl sing it like her second marriage was on the rocks. I could just die. "Rockin Around the Christmas Tree", yet another success. The aforementioned "I'm Sorry" slows it down some from the girl rocker image, but she nonetheless sings the fool out of it.

Also, can someone take a picture of 10 year old me with Elvis doing a two step in the backstage of the Ryman? Anybody? That would work for me.

On to the second event:

Connie Francis was born in New Jersey in 1938. She was salutatorian from her high school, originally played an accordion in her act, and despite a beautiful face and a voice to match, had a series of disastrous releases before hitting it big with a cover of a 1923 release, "Who's Sorry Now". CF had misgivings about recording the song, which are pretty self-evident when you listen to the original 78 recording, but obviously things turned out for the best.

Neat thing about CF: she had relatively serious early relationship with Bobby Darin, who was at the time primarily a songwriter and worked on material for CF before her later success. How did that end? Well, I didn't see this coming:

"When her father learned that Bobby Darin had suggested the two lovers elope after one of her shows, he ran Darin out of the building at gunpoint, telling Bobby to never see his daughter again."

Thanks, Dad. Good job. Run Bobby Darin right out of my love life. Despite the fact that we are probably made for each other. Annnnnnndddd.... I'llneverforgiveyouforthisone.

Her good looks and chart success even led to a series of movie roles, including 1960's Where the Boys Are. Go on, get it, Miss Francis:

The big-footed man is Jim Hutton, 80s actor Timothy Hutton's pappy. Couldn't you just reach through the screen and hop in?

That's all I got on these two tiny dynamos of late fifties/early sixties pop. Hope it helps, though I still don't expect you to be able to tell the difference between the two of them at fifty yards or in a crowded grocery store, at least it's fun to look at old glamor shots of the gals. :)

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