Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Frankie Avalon: "Muscle Beach Party: The United Artists Sessions" (2012) CD Review

Frankie Avalon might still be most known for the series of beach party films he did with Annette Funicello in the 1960s. Muscle Beach Party was the second of the beach movies, following Beach Party. There was also Bikini Beach, Pajama Party, and of course Beach Blanket Bingo. While well aware of these films, I haven't actually seen any of them. My introduction to Frankie Avalon came in 1978, watching Grease, then listening to the soundtrack over and over at a neighbor's house. His rendition of "Beauty School Dropout" is perfect, and is one of the film's highlights.

The first side of the original release of this record, then titled Muscle Beach Party And Other Movie Songs, comprises songs from the first two films. The other side was songs from other films, including Mondo Cane. So the two sides are very different - the first being beach and surf music, the second being more along the line of standards. This CD has eight other tracks, including four songs from the soundtrack to I'll Take Sweden (1965), which also starred Bob Hope and Tuesday Weld. These twenty tracks are all of Frankie Avalon's output with United Artists, recorded in 1964 and 1965.

"Muscle Beach Party"

The album opens with "Muscle Beach Party," the title song from the 1964 film. What really cracks me up about this song is the line, "Take a vitamin pill now" in the chorus, that that is one of the key elements when you "hustle the chicks." "Muscle Beach Party" is fun fluff, and yes, it has that distinct beach sound, that innocent, harmless mid-1960s rock feel.

Oddly, Annette Funicello released her own Muscle Beach Party album in 1964, as well as Annette's Beach Party in 1963.

"Surfer's Holiday"

"Surfer's Holiday" is more harmless beach music about going surfing, and gathering around a fire at night. But it also mentions that they worked after school to save money for this trip: "And all the kids knew that they had to have work before play" (so even the most uptight parents couldn't object to this song). "Surfer's Holiday" is a breezy tune, at less than two minutes long.

Both "Muscle Beach Party" and "Surfer's Holiday" were written by Gary Usher, Roger Christian and Brian Wilson (which of course explains The Beach Boys sound).

"Beach Party"

"Beach Party" is the title track from Frankie and Annette's first beach movie. And it's fun, with lines like "Surfin' all day and we're swingin' all night/Vacation is here/Beach party tonight." This song also features some nice work on guitar.

This is a version Frankie Avalon recorded for this original 1964 record, not the version from the film.

The same goes for "Don't Stop Now," this CD's other song from Beach Party. Written by Bob Marcucci and Russ Faith, "Don't Stop Now" is one of the best and most lively tracks from this collection. The Beach Party/Don't Stop Now single was released on Chancellor (Frankie Avalon's last single for that label), so he recorded the songs again for the United Artists LP release.

"Runnin' Wild"

"Runnin' Wild" was the last song on the first side of the original release, another song from Muscle Beach Party. It's a fast-paced bit of fun. Listen to those drums. The drummer must have been tired at the end of this one. Good thing for him this is another insanely short song; it starts to fade out after only a minute and a half.

"Days Of Wine And Roses"

Frankie Avalon does a really good version of "Days Of Wine And Roses," the famous song written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer for the 1962 film of the same name. This rendition features possibly Frankie Avalon's best vocal performance of the entire album, and some sweet backing vocals. This is a fairly simple arrangement, which is perfect - this is not overproduced.

"Don't Make Fun Of Me"

"Don't Make Fun Of Me" is a pretty cool and unusual tune about a boy who doesn't want his ex-girlfriend to hurt him with her "laughter and destroy the past." She has moved on and found someone new, but he hasn't, and sings, "Darling, I can't help it if I'll always be your fool/Just because I love you, that's no reason to be cruel." This is a good mid-1960s pop tune, and its sound is unlike the rest of the tracks.

"Don't Make Fun Of Me" was written by Howard Greenfield and Helen Miller.

"New-Fangled, Jingle-Jangle Swimming Suit From Paris"

"New-Fangled, Jingle-Jangle Swimming Suit From Paris" is certainly one of the stupidest, most vapid songs I've ever heard, and yet there is a definite kitsch appeal. This is a song in which he asks the president of the United States to step in and stop a girl from wearing a revealing bathing suit on the beach. "Don't let her do it, Mr. President/You gotta pass a law." Ah, the ridiculous innocence of the times (or rather, the presumed innocence of the times).

He then adds, "It's not that she's acting too bold/She's got a new-fangled, jingle-jangle swimming suit from Paris/I'm afraid she's going to catch a cold." And the backing singers join him in repeating "A cold, a cold." It's absolutely ridiculous, but I can't help but like it. Something might be wrong with me.

"There'll Be Rainbows Again"

"There'll Be Rainbows Again" is a slower, pretty tune from I'll Take Sweden. Written by William "By" Dunham and Bobby Beverley, this song features lines like, "People are the same the whole world over/One day you'll admit you're just a rover/Please come back and then/And then there'll be rainbows again." I really love this tune.

"The Bells Keep Ringin'"

"The Bells Keep Ringin'" is my favorite track from this collection. It's got that early rock 'n' roll feel, including those great deep backing vocals. And of course it has some wonderful saxophone. Like "There'll Be Rainbows Again," this one was written by William "By" Dunham and Bobby Beverley, and is from the film I'll Take Sweden. It even features a jaw harp. This is one of those perfect, fun party tunes.

CD Track List
  1. Muscle Beach Party
  2. Surfer's Holiday
  3. A Boy Needs A Girl
  4. Beach Party
  5. Don't Stop Now
  6. Runnin' Wild
  7. Nevertheless (I'm In Love With You)
  8. More
  9. Days Of Wine And Roses
  10. Moon River
  11. The Stolen Hour
  12. Again
  13. Don't Make Fun Of Me
  14. Every Girl Should Get Married
  15. New-Fangled, Jingle-Jangle Swimming Suit From Paris
  16. Here To Stay
  17. I'll Take Sweden
  18. There'll Be Rainbows Again
  19. Would Ya Like My Last Name
  20. The Bells Keep Ringin'
Muscle Beach Party: The United Artists Sessions was released on March 27, 2012 through Real Gone Music.

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