The PIG and PERRY
In commemoration this month of his birth on May 18, 1912 – or perhaps of his death 88 May 12’s later – I duly Perried the www in order to gauge impressions made upon trusted candied ears by the life and croon-y art of that Canonsburg, PA barber Pierino Ronald Como…
from R. Stevie Moore, perhaps the only person ever to work with both Kramer and Como:
My only thoughts: Perry Como and Eddy Arnold were both important in balancing the artsy crooning of Bing and Frank with a more manly chart presence. Just as David Bowie needed Slade and Chuck Berry had to answer to Pat Boone, Como provided a populist setting for the perpetuation of many great songs.
Unlike most adult contemptuous crooners afraid for their careers with the advent of Elvis, the Perryman embraced rock by having the Everlys and Fats Domino on his show, even though Mr. Saturday's idea of "rip it up" usually involved a packet of Ovaltine.
Well, part of the tragedy of guys like Como is that his brand of good, tuneful, light pop ("Magic Moments," "Round And Round," "Catch A Falling Star," even 1970's sunny "Seattle") is all forgotten and dissed, simply because it wasn't "rockenroll." So Como's (admittedly modest but surely pleasant) accomplishments are lost to future generations, as are Herb Alpert's TJB, Jack Jones, Pet Clark's post-"Downtown" stuff, Mancini's Top 40 hits, et. al.
I was reading a Brian Wilson interview a couple of years back and when asked what he'd been listening to, Perry Como was one of the "easy listening" singers he listed. The next time I came upon a Como album in the dollar bin, I snatched it just to check it out (remembering very little of his records ...just the TV specials). He was a fine crooner – no match for Sinatra, Bennett, Nat King Cole etc.; a "pleasant sound" was what many wanted and that's what he had! I can't predict if his voice and those arrangements will cross many more generations as I think the others I just mentioned will.
Actually I have not one, but TWO Perry Como stories: A good friend of mine who was then known as Little Brucie Griffin was actually booked to be on The Perry Como Show at the age of four. His shtick was singing and playing the harmonica in blackface. Also my idol, jazz singer Jimmy Scott, a seventy-five-year-old negro dwarf who sounds like Billie Holiday, told me that Perry Como was his favorite vocalist. He may or may not have been joking, it was hard to tell.
Perry Como was one of the few singers who had nothing to prove with his voice. Every once in a while he'd let loose just to prove he could do it, but most of the time he just did his job: he quietly, comfortably hit the notes and sang the melody. No fuss, no affect, no attitude, no problem. Anybody who needs a lesson on how to get there (wherever there is) with a minimum of fuss just needs to listen to Perry sing "Round And Round." All you need to know about life is in there.
Among my earliest musical memories are hearing Perry Como singing "Round And Round" and "Hot Diggity" on the monophonic AM radio in my parents' '57 Plymouth. When I discovered Top 40 rock in the early '60s, I tossed aside Como as hopelessly uncool. But around the time I began broadcasting at WFMU in 1975, I encountered Mr. C's Greatest Hits in a used LP bin, and was sufficiently over my (then) prog-rock snobbery to recognize that the guy had style, class, charisma, and a soothing way with a song. I'll take him over Sinatra or Tony Bennett any day.
Other things about the Son Of The Barber: His fans are many and from all walks of life. The late Flip Wilson loved Como. So did country singer Don Williams. Sinatra didn't understand his appeal, but Crosby did and was flat out jealous. Dean Martin knew he could sing rings around Como, but that such a stunt would make him look bad. There would be no Andy Williams without Como's influence. Of course, Pat Boone's favorite singer of all time is Perry Como, which speaks volumes without actually saying anything. Less an icon than a popular artist, he wore well on TV, like a sleepy uncle who had to be begged to sing a ditty or tell a joke. A final word: "Como" is Spanish for "what?"
I talked to my grandparents on Mother's Day and the subject came up. They said, "Nobody ever had anything bad to say about Perry Como" (as opposed to many of today's stars). Of course, my grandfather related that he wasn't thrilled when he had to wake up at 5 AM one Saturday morning to take my aunt to the airport to see Perry off on a tour.
How could you not like him? I mean, what was there to possibly piss anyone off?