Thursday, July 9, 2009

Only You (And You Alone)

Louis Armstrong and The All Stars
Recorded September 8, 1955
Track Time 3:12
Written by Buck Ram and Ande Rand
Recorded in Chicago
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; JManny Klein, Pete Candoli, Vito Mangano, trumpet; Trummy Young, Si Zentner, trombone; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Arthur Herfurt, Harry Kelee, alto saxophone; Babe Russin, Donald Ruffell, tenor saxophone; Billly yle, piano; Arvell Shaw, bass; Barrett Deems,d rums; Benny Carter, arranger, conductor.
Originally released on Decca 9-29694
Currently available on CD: It's only on a hard-to-find Ambassador disc, Moments to Remember, as well as on the soundtrack to a movie of the same name
Available on Itunes? On a cheapie compilation titled simply The Best of Louis Armstrong

Here's a forgotten Armstrong tune that really shouldn't be forgotten. It's Armstrong's cover of the 1955 Platters hit, "Only You," a song that was a natural fit for Pops, complete with a warm vocal, a stirring trumpet solo and a swinging arrangement by none other than Benny Carter. To me, it's ripe for rediscovery in a romantic comedy or a TV commercial or something.

Unfortunately, it's been cast to the Siberia reserved for Armstrong's mid-50s Decca recordings. Armstrong's early 50s pop covers are still in print and still quite popular ("La Vie En Rose," "Kiss To Build a Dream On," "I Get Ideas," etc.) but around 1954, Decca lost its way. It's not really the label's fault; popular music began making the shift towards rock and roll and Decca responded by having Armstrong cover a bunch of rock-ish material like "Sincerely," "Pleding My Love" and "Ko Ko Mo," the latter with requisite 1955 "ooh-wah" chorus. Meanwhile, across town at Columbia records, Armstrong was recording timeless masterpieces like Plays W. C. Handy and Satch Plays Fats.

And when you really think of it, those Columbia albums just about put a halt on Armstrong's pop cover recordings for a while. After a stint with Columbia, he began recording timeless standards for Norman Granz's Verve label in 1956 and 1957. When he went back to Decca, it was to re-record old hits for his Autobiography as well as concept albums of "angel" tunes and religious works. From there it was off to do ancient material for the Audio Fidelity label, Duke Ellington songs for his collaboration with Duke, more older songs on his album with Bing Crosby and material Dave Brubeck wrote for a show he wanted to put on Broadway...definitely not works destined to be number one on the pop charts.

(Of course, the irony of it all is the next time Armstrong did step foot to record two contemporary songs with hopes of maybe having a hit record, he did just that, landing in the #1 spot with "Hello, Dolly.")

But to go backwards, Decca tried a bunch of stuff out in 1954 and 1955 and though there's some lovely moments, they just about bombed in terms of sales. And for the last 55 or so years, it's like someone put a memo on these records in the Decca vault "PLEASE DO NOT REISSUE THESE SIDES." Universal has emptied out there vaults time and again for Armstrong compilations but they never, ever touch the mid-50s sessions, including the collaborations with Gary Crosby. And because of that, "Only You" has languished...(cue the dramatic music)...until now! (Applause applause applause)

Anyone born with a pair of working ears in the 20th century knows about "Only You." It was a big hit for The Platters, written by their manager Buck Ram and featuring the lead vocals of Tony WIlliams (not the drummer). It reached #3 on the charts and since then has become one of the truly timeless tunes of that period. Here's a YouTube video of it if you're somehow not familiar with it...or not quite sick of it, either (and it even has the lyrics on it so call Grandma over and start singing):


Isn't that charming? Well, "Only You" hit the charts on July 3, 1955...and Decca was hot on its trail, having Armstrong record it in Los Angeles on September 8, 1955. Armstrong didn't do many Los Angeles studio dates so it's nice seeing the names of familiar L.A. studio men like Pete Candoli, Manny Klein, Skeets Herfurt, Harry Klee and Si Zentner. Of course, the All Stars are mixed in as well (this would be Barney Bigard's next-to-last stand with the band as he left four days later). And give it up for Benny Carter! It's a shame Decca didn't utilize Carter more often on Armstrong's records as he really turned in some nice arrangements for this date. Alas, all we have are these four songs and the 1966 soundtrack to A Man Called Adam, which mostly featured the All Stars doing their thing without much input for King Carter.

Anyway, so there's your background. Here's how it came out that September day in 1955:


Now do you see what I mean? Isn't that ripe for rediscovery? It's a perfect little 1950s Pops Does Pop record. I'm always sucked right in by Carter's swaggering introduction before it gives way Pops tremendously affecting vocal. He clearly loves the song (you can hear him smiling). In the late 50s, he would sometimes praise rock and roll in the press as being "beautiful"; I think this is the kind of stuff he had in mind. The breaks are ripe for his righteous rephrasing, such as singing "Baby, Only You" all on one pitch in the first chorus. Carter's signature reed writing also gives Armstrong a plush carpet to sing on, before the powerful Los Angeles brass takes a short interlude to allow Pops to get his chops together. The brass drops out and the reeds take over for a few bars, setting up the stage for Pops's relaxed trumpet entrance.

It's a short solo but damn, there's a lot of information. There's a touch of melody, some rhythmic floating, a neat double-timed phrase, some powerhouse repeated notes and a terrific, descending break. As great as the trumpet solo is, I love hearing Armstrong off-mike singing that resounding "Ohhhh, Only You" immediately after pulling the horn from his mouth. Clearly he stepped back for his solo...and he couldn't wait to rush back to resume his vocal. He sings beautifully (dig his range on the word "destiny"), throwing in a baby for good measure before the end. Such a lovely record. Only Pops...

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A quick note to thank those who came out to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem Tuesday night as Loren Schoenberg and I preached the gospel of Pops to about 25 "curious listeners," all of whom it seemed got the message. It was a great time and I'm really looking forward to doing it again for the next two weeks, Tuesday, July 14 and Tuesday, July 21. I'll be discussing Armstrong's 1930s output on the 14th and his 40s work on the 21st so it should be a lot of fun. So if you're in the NY area, stop by because the Museum is really doing wonderful things (Jon Hendricks tonight!) and needs all the support it can get (the event is free and begins at 7). Thanks!

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