Phono, 2014 (Originally released 1957). Ray Anthony: http://www.rayanthonyband.com/
You have probably heard Ray Anthony’s music without realizing it. He made top-selling recordings of “The Bunny Hop” and the “Hokey Pokey” in the early 1950s that are still played at weddings. He had other big hits with TV show themes from the period, including Dragnet and Peter Gunn. His influence is wide-ranging in both television and movies. Anthony, born Raymond Antonini in Bentleyville, PA in 1922, moved with his family to Cleveland and there he took up the trumpet, starting his own band as a teenager. He joined the Glenn Miller Orchestra by the age of 18, then did a later stint with Jimmy Dorsey, as well as having a Navy band during World War II. After the war he signed with Capitol Records, and eased into a long career of touring and recording, intermixed with television and film work. If you’ve read this far, you may want to know that Anthony is still alive and working, at the age of 93. He and his orchestra have released 126 albums. Beat that.
For those of us who are of the boomer generation, easy listening music (as it has been characterized since the 1950s) is anathema. The movie Good Morning Vietnam’s verbal exchanges between the disc jockeys over what music to play were real, about massive shifts in aesthetic taste between those who lived through World War II and those who came after. Growing up, most of my friends despised all music that came before rock, but I had a few differences with them. Secret differences. I was exposed to easy listening through my parents, through the radio stations they listened to, the albums my mother owned (or borrowed from my Aunt Emily). I found the style interesting, sometimes enjoyable, and just one more genre that was worth pursuing in some measure, depending on my mood and inclination. The category itself is a construction (like all others) that includes non-jazz/non-classical orchestral music, some pop vocalists, and a range of other artists who were popular sellers in album format in the 1950s-1970s but didn’t fit other categories. Ray Anthony has come to fall into that category by default, being a bit too sweet to be considered big band jazz (although he has his moments).
This recent import combines two albums, both released in 1957, that show two sides to Anthony and his orchestra. Young Ideas is all instrumental, a collection of standards by Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and others, all played in a style that Glenn Miller would have found perfectly suitable. The album title is odd, considering that it’s all middle of the road big band material, at the sweet but classy end. No novelty tunes, no long solos, and no jive. Anthony displays his strong trumpet playing and the arrangements are tasteful, never gaudy. Four cellos are included for a more mellow sound than a big band is commonly known for. I could listen to this for hours.
The second album, Moments Together, removes the cellos and replaces them with the Ray Anthony Chorus, a cloying group of vocalists who sing partial lyrics, echo refrains, punctuate stanzas, run overtop of the melody, and make themselves a general nuisance. I wish he had kept the cellos. This style of vocalizing was popular for a period in the 1950s, but went out of style fairly quickly. Percy Faith and a few other easy listening stalwarts used it as late as the 1960s. Here it sounds dated, limiting to the music. The band performs a dozen more standards, Rodgers, Gershwin, and others, none of whom need the “woo--woo” and “ah--ah” of the Chorus for improvement. Now, in a different context of the same period, doo-wop, background vocals were vital to the style, often the most important part in simplistic music with few chords, insipid lyrics, and little instrumentation. Here it seems like syrup poured over ice cream. Too sweet by far.
Thus, Phono Records, a European label, has given us a mixed bag, and one that will not fully appeal to all. You can tell which half of the album I prefer, and you can decide for yourself if you like the vocal stylings of the Ray Anthony Chorus. As for Anthony himself, he should keep doing what he’s doing, since it seems to be working for him.
Personnel: Ray Anthony (trumpet, bandleader), with orchestra, the Ray Anthony Chorus, and unnamed cellists.
Tracks: Young Ideas: Moonglow, Why Do I Love You?, I Love You, Nice Work if You Can Get It, Lonely Night in Paris, Button Up Your Overcoat, You Turned the Tables on Me, Just One of Those Things, That Old Feeling, Coquette, Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams, Young Ideas. Moments Together: Love is Here to Stay, Careless, Everything I Have is Yours, Many Faces, Goodnight Waltz, No Other Love, Please Mr. Sun, The Things I Love, With You in Mind, Oh! What It Seemed to Be, In Time, If I Ever Love Again, Cello-Phane*, The Lonely Trumpet*.