Song written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley; performed by Anthony Newley
I don’t know if there ever really was a heyday of variety shows on American television, but I remember watching a fair number of them when I was young. Andy Williams and Sonny & Cher (together and apart- talk about a first experience with divorce) were definitely in the mix, but the absolute favorite was The Flip Wilson Show. Before Saturday Night Live, that was the epitome of hip and you were one of the cool kids if you could quote from the skits the next day. (I was too late for Laugh-In and the Smothers Brothers.)
For reasons mysterious, Anthony Newley was a guest once upon a time and, perhaps more mysteriously, I took to his performance immediately. He was Joe Cocker doing Tin Pan Alley, not that I knew what either of those was at the time. What I clearly understood was that here was someone different. To my youthful mind, this was eccentricity raised to the level of art. He seemed younger than Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby, though somehow part of their era.
At the time, I did what research I could about this person. That probably meant keeping an eye out for references to him in Time, TV Guide, and the newspaper. I asked around. I had just started paying attention to the larger credits on movies. There was that name again on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory– you mean he composes music, too?
I knew that the Beatles wrote their own songs and that was supposed to be a big deal. When people said it, they expected you to be impressed. I liked the music in Willy Wonka, so res ipsa loquitur. (I was forever running around speaking Latin as a child.) Of course, he wrote a lot of other music.
As for his singing,it still hits me right in the low notes. Even so, I find myself faced with two Anthony Newleys. Searching for him on YouTube brings up those wonderful videos, but his mannerisms draw the eyes. Then I close my eyes and wait a few bars- that’s someone else almost.
We talk about live performance and theater music as distinct from recorded music, as though the musicians did not bring their whole personality into the recording studio. What we really mean is that more mechanics and engineering has come between us and the artist. We feel a disconnect- a strange addition of noise to the message.
Even live, every artist brings their bundle of idiosyncrasies to their performance. We often treasure the tics and the outbursts as signs of purity in the art. When we turn our back on them later, those characteristics prove too easy to single out as complaints. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the singers who pre-dated rock. Most feel like bundles of odd touches- approaches that elevated their performances to greatness. Maybe that’s what moved us toward a rougher popular music, when we smoothed all the weirdness out of the earlier batch of performers.
What’s it all about?
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 146 more to go.
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