Tag Archives: bobby vinton

123) Bobby Vinton – “Mr. Lonely”

Bobby Vinton was a solitary figure in early ’60s pop.  He was born too late to be one of the classic crooners, but he was a little too old to fit in with his fellow teen idols.  He wanted to be a bandleader more than a singer, and his music bears few traces of contemporary influences – but his best record is a rock ballad.  His taste in material regularly see-sawed between the sublime (“Blue Velvet”) and the soporific (“Roses Are Red [My Love],” “There! I’ve Said It Again”). “Mr. Lonely,” one of Vinton’s rare writing credits, is one of the better ones, even if it doesn’t quite scale the heights of “Blue Velvet.”  Unlike “Roses” and “There,” the material doesn’t carry the bulk of the blame.  Instead, it’s Vinton’s singing that’s the problem.  He overemotes, particularly through the second half of the song, choking up during the verses as if staying alive long enough to sing the next line is some sort of unbearable burden.  Like Paul Anka’s “Lonely Boy,” the record comes off at best as insincere, at worst as parody.  It’s as if fame led Vinton and Anka to forget what loneliness really feels like, so they overcompensated with quivering sobs and self-pitying lyrics.  (Compare with Roy Orbison, whose perpetual melancholy always seemed sincere – perhaps because it also seemed like he was always trying to fight it.)

Even though it was released as a single in 1964, “Mr. Lonely” actually appeared on the same album as “Roses Are Red (My Love)” way back in 1962 – a lifetime in terms of the early ’60s pop discography. (For reference, Vinton put out five more studio LPs and a greatest hits compilation between the album Roses Are Red and the single release of “Mr. Lonely.”)  Appropriately enough for the backwards-looking pop star, his final number-one was a leftover from a time before the British Invasion, when easy listening and American pop ruled the charts.  Unlike most of his peers, Vinton continued to have a steady stream of mid-chart hits through the rest of the ’60s, sometimes scoring the occasional Top 10 single.  He wasn’t a teen idol any longer – the definition had changed and, besides, it’s not a good look past 30.  But of all the wholesome, smiling Bobbys, he was the last man standing. 5

Hit #1 on December 12, 1964; total of 1 week at #1
123 out of 995 #1’s reviewed; 12.36% through the Hot 100

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Filed under 05, 1964

103) Bobby Vinton – “There! I’ve Said It Again”

GEORGE: “Quite nice, but I don’t think the public will buy it.”
JOHN: “Get an old song and everybody does it again at the same time.”
PAUL: “Secretly, teenagers don’t want old songs brought back.”
RINGO: “Nice and smooth, ‘specially if you’re sitting in one night – and not alone.”

Unanimous miss.

-The Beatles rating Bobby Vinton’s “There! I’ve Said It Again” on BBC-TV’s Juke Box Jury, December 7, 1963.  (Via The Beatles Diary, Volume 1: The Beatles Years by Barry Miles.)

Plenty of number-one records become answers to pop music trivia questions for reasons that have nothing to do with the songs themselves.  What was the first song to hit number one on the Hot 100? Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool.” What song ruled the charts during President Kennedy’s assassination? Dale & Grace’s “I’m Leaving It Up to You.”  Who was the only Belgian artist to top the Hot 100? Why, that’s The Singing Nun, of course.  But alongside the firsts, whens and onlys is a factoid of somewhat sadder proportions: the last.  Lasts mean the ends of careers, whether from death, scandal, or just the inevitable slide into irrelevance.  Lasts mean failure to replicate past glories.  Lasts mean pop audiences have moved on.

“There! I’ve Said It Again” is a record that is best remembered for being the last number-one on the Hot 100 before The Beatles.  One could suspect the rock gods of selecting this record specifically to heighten the contrast between the English rockers and the sluggishness of early ’60s American pop.  Of all the early ’60s teen idols, Bobby Vinton was both among the oldest (then pushing 30) and the one who owed the least to rock and roll – his ambition had always been to lead a big band, as his father had done.  Vinton drew much of his material from his parents’ generation.  “There! I’ve Said It Again,” originally a 1945 hit for Vaughn Monroe, followed his take on the oldie “Blue Velvet.”  But unlike that mysterious, mournful ballad, “There! I’ve Said It Again” draws from the same saccharine-contaminated well as the “Roses Are Red (My Love).”  At least “There! I’ve Said It Again” has the benefit of lyrics that don’t sound like a child’s rejected valentine.

But while “There! I’ve Said It Again” may have been the last of the pre-Beatles number ones, it wouldn’t be the last time Bobby Vinton would see the top.  Vinton’s records had begun charting based more on sales than airplay, a typical sign that an artist’s target audience skewed older.  By appealing to adults alienated by the British Invasion and the harder rock that followed, Vinton continued to enter the Top 40 well into the ’70s, eventually starring in his own CBS variety show (1975-1978) and performing shows at his Blue Velvet Theater in Branson, Missouri (the town of Baby Boomers’ nightmares).  Nor did the triumph of The Beatles toll the death knell for chart pop aimed at adults. What “There! I Said It Again” does signify is the increasing rarity of number-one songs appealing across the generation gap.  Although niche genres like country and R&B would continue to be popular across a wide age range of listeners, pop as a whole was becoming even more striated.  The British Invasion made rock and roll viable again, while nostalgia artists profited from record buyers seeking a softer alternative.  Even middle-of-the-road pop split into two forks, with “bubblegum” on one side and “mature” pop on the other. Vinton managed to cling to success because he could read his audience.  When teenagers stopped buying his records, his material grew even more backward-looking, his arrangements more syrupy and overproduced.  Compared with The Beatles, “There! I Said It Again” is stodgy and sentimental.  But compared with Vinton’s post-Beatlemania singles, “There! I Said It Again” is positively rock and roll. 4

Hit #1 on January 4, 1964; total of 4 weeks at #1
103 of 979 #1’s reviewed; 10.52% through the Hot 100

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Filed under 04, 1964

98) Bobby Vinton – “Blue Velvet”

In my review of “Roses Are Red (My Love),” I made no secret of my distaste for that single’s amateurish lyrics, hackneyed musicianship and simpering vocals.  And although “Blue Velvet,” Bobby Vinton’s second number-one hit, sounds remarkably similar on a cursory listen, it far exceeds its predecessor.  At first, I feared that my enjoyment of the namesake movie had colored my attitude toward the song.  But after a few dedicated listens, the indisputable superiority of “Blue Velvet” made itself obvious.  Even the songs’ origins offer clues.  “Blue Velvet” was already a tested standard by the time Vinton recorded it, with Tony Bennett scoring a hit with it a decade earlier.  “Roses Are Red,” on the other hand, was plucked from a pile of rejected demos.  “Blue Velvet” also has a darker edge than Vinton’s previous hit – even discounting David Lynch’s penchant for exposing the malevolent undercurrents of pre-Beatles pop.  This isn’t a cooing ballad to a girlfriend, it’s something more ambiguous. Vinton’s girl has left him, but he doesn’t explain whether it was a break-up or a death.  I suspect the latter, as  the song’s final verse seems a touch morose for the end of a relationship:

But in my heart there’ll always be
Precious and warm, a memory
Through the years
And I still can see blue velvet
Through my tears

Of course, “Blue Velvet” could be interpreted either way, which is surely why it appealed to Lynch. This mysteriousness gives the record a haunting quality and a certain intrigue that would be lost if it were more literal. Even the standard early ’60s pop production doesn’t sound quite as heavy-handed as usual, and the faint chimes (bells? marimba? xylophone?) add a subtle pensive quality.  In short, this is how you introduce adult contemporary to a new generation: make it soothing but wistful, romantic but ghostly. 7

Hit #1 on September 21, 1963; total of 3 weeks at #1
98 of 977 #1’s reviewed; 10.03% through the Hot 100

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Filed under 07, 1963

74) Bobby Vinton – “Roses Are Red (My Love)”

When I first started this blog, I had planned on posting about once a day.  And for a while there, I did – I was between semesters and taken with the idea of my shiny new blog.  I was already 50 years and nearly 1000 number ones behind when I wrote my first review back in December, and I knew I needed to get cracking if I ever hoped to make progress.  But, naturally, posting daily gets difficult after a while.  School and work came back in session, and I got busy.  The quality of my posts wasn’t quite up to snuff.  I needed more time to think about each song, to develop an opinion, to get a handle on just what exactly I wanted to say about the track.  So I gave myself a little more time between each post.

Eventually, though, this little extra time has turned into posting only about once a week or so.  And while I’m still busy (albeit with looking for a job, rather than with actually working and studying), and while I still need extra time to think, I’ve also hit a bit of a rut.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m still excited about this project as a whole, and I think some of the most recent posts are among the best I’ve written.  But, frankly, this era in the pop charts is often maligned for a reason.  In the past, I was worried I was handing out too many high scores.  Now, I’m just trying to burn through some of these mediocre-to-poor tracks in search of a record I can actually get excited about.

Symptomatic of this chart fatigue is “Roses Are Red (My Love),” a song Bobby Vinton rescued from the demo reject pile. It would have been better off left to rest in peace.   The production, instrumentation, melody and vocals are virtually interchangeable with any other contemporaneous ballad crooned by a young male singer.  The main difference is the lyrics, which are somehow even worse.   The chorus is lifted wholesale from the old “Roses are red, violets are blue” chestnut, without even the benefit of a semi-clever twist (unless you count throwing in the occasional “my love”).  The verses, which describe the blossoming of a high school romance, are just as clichéd.  (That I just used the word “blossoming” proves that the pervasive hokeyness has started to infect my brain.)  The whole affair just seems really lazy – no surprise, given that the songwriter claims it was written in three minutes (running time of the record: 2:39).  In fact, the record’s so bland that I just spent two of the three paragraphs in this entry writing about something else.  If you want more of my thoughts on “Roses Are Red,” I refer you to any other entry I’ve written on teen idols.  3

Hit #1 on July 14, 1962; total of 4 weeks at #1
74 of 972 #1’s reviewed; 7.61% through the Hot 100

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Filed under 03, 1962