When singer Andy Williams died a week ago, it truly was an end of an era.
It is hard to imagine the power that the male crooners held over our pop culture — say — during the last 50 years or so. They sang the soundtrack of our lives. They helped those of us guys who needed a little extra “nudge” make our first feeble forays through the forests of femininity. They sang us through good times and bad times and back to the good times. They crooned our way through the sentimental photo album of life’s milestones.
Yes, they really did all of these things. Except I doubt if they ever really knew it.
The era of the male crooner is now gone. For my parents’ generation it was easygoing Bing Crosby and ring-a-ding-ding man Frank Sinatra. For guys my age we shared our lives with many of the great Italian crooners of the Baby Boom generation. Jerry Vale, singing “Pretend You Don’t See Her,” the ironic love theme from the uber-violent movie “Goodfellas;” Tony Bennett making us all want to visit the “city by the bay;” and Dean Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime.”
I always wanted to be Dean Martin. I thought he was the handsomest guy on television. What a voice he had. And our favorite singing barber, Perry Como, whose dreamy 1970 song, “It’s Impossible,” became the surprise hit of that hard-edged rock ‘n’ roll summer.
And so many other crooners, all now gone, come to my mind. Vaughn Monroe’s sublime “Dance Ballerina Dance,” Don Cornell’s robust 1952 bell ringer, “I’m Yours,” and Frankie Laine’s plaintiff “I Believe” are all standouts. And a tip of the hat to Vic Damone, Nat King Cole, Mel Torme, Brook Benton, Eddie Fisher and too many more to even begin to list.
There are still a few of the old-style crooners out there swinging for the fences. Jack Jones remains one of the most suave of all male crooners at age 74. And Bobby Vinton and Johnny Mathis, now both 77, each continue to sell out concert halls from coast to coast. And both are still in fine form and voice.
As many know, I host an oldies show on WSRK FM103.9 every Thursday night (since 1997). On the day we reported Andy Williams’ death I was prepared to do a mini-tribute to him on my show. I hadn’t listened to his records in a very long time.
When the “ON AIR” light came on that night I started the show with “Moon River.” I had my headphones turned way up and was completely surprised by the reaction I had to hearing this song for the first time in decades. The lush background vocals, the shimmering Henry Mancini instrumentals, and then, as if from a distance, I heard it. A soaring, boyish voice lightly adorning the violins with a pure tone that was positively intoxicating.
Williams essayed Johnny Mercer’s timeless lyrics in an ethereal yet powerful manner. I was lost in the song as I sat there in my dimly lit studio. I closed my eyes as the performance in my headphones swept over me. There I was again dancing up close with the girl with the pony tail at my Sidney High School sock hop in the ‘60s.
I was transformed through time to my living room in my childhood home, watching and laughing along with my parents at the antics and goings-on on the Andy Williams Variety Show. I found myself briefly transfixed by the image of Andy Williams singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” next to the closed casket holding Robert F. Kennedy’s body. There was Andy kibitzing with the charming Osmond boys later, and then his theater in Branson, Mo., of the same name as the very song I was listening too. I never did make it down to the “Moon River Theater.”
All of these sensory reactions to the song were powerful. And it all happened in less than three minutes.
When I took the headphones off after the song, my eyes were misty and my head cloudy. Gee, I never knew Andy Williams was that powerful. I mean, he was just a little guy with a high-pitched voice in a cardigan sweater wasn’t he?
No. He was more than that. Much more than that.
Thank you to Andy Williams, my huckleberry friend, and to all the crooners along the way who made growing up just a little bit easier for me.
I’ll catch you in two …
“Big Chuck” D’IMPERIO can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his “Oldies Jukebox Show.” You can find “Big Chuck” on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.