It’s been several months since our last Fantastic Foursome, so I’ll remind everyone that it’s the Special Feature that presents a classic song in its definitive version and then gives you four different variations. You can listen to them and – if you’d like – vote for your favorite.
We seem to be featuring music from World War II quite a bit lately and we’re doing more of the same today, with a song written by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon (based on a poem by a young war bride). “You’ll Never Know” actually made its debut in the 1943 movie Hello, Frisco, Hello, where it was performed by Alice Faye. It won the Oscar for best song and she sang it again the following year in Four Jills in a Jeep, but even though it was considered by some to be her signature song, she didn’t make a record of it at the time.
That left an opening for crooners Dick Haymes and Frank Sinatra to cut records, although both had to do so with only a chorus behind them because musicians were on strike at the time. As an interesting side note, Sinatra’s chorus — the Bobby Tucker Singers — was sort of anonymous at the time, but Haymes was backed by the Song Spinners and the group made it on the label with him. Of course, “Coming In on a Wing and a Prayer” had hit #1 for the combo just before that, so that might have had something to do with it.
In any case, both versions did well but Haymes ended up with a #1 record so let’s say his is the gold standard. Other notable versions have included those by the Harry James band with a vocal by Rosemary Clooney, along with British songstress Vera Lynn, Doris Day, and even – much later – Alice Faye. In later years the song has been covered by everybody from a 13-year-old Barbra Streisand to Rod Stewart.
Here’s a video of “You’ll Never Know” by Dick Haymes, which I’ve nominated as the definitive version. Below that are four variations for you to enjoy, and you can then vote for your favorite.
Given the longevity of the GMC, I guess it’s inevitable that we would have featured multiple variations of Elvis. By that I don’t mean Mr. Presley himself — although he has made plenty of appearances here — but rather various other versions of the King. Among those already covered are several entertainers who were often compared to him, including Terry Stafford and Janis Martin, who was known as the female Elvis. We’ve also written about Elvis impersonators, but today we’re spotlighting Ral Donner, a guy who was sort of caught in the middle.
Chicago native Ralph Stuart Emanuel Donner grew up during the post-war years and — like many entertainers before him — was pointed toward music from an early age. He began singing in church as a child and by the time he was in his mid-teens was leading his own group, at one point even appearing on local TV with Sammy Davis, Jr. Within a couple of years he was gaining some attention nationally, eventually showing up in New York in 1959. But even though he was finding work on tour and had made a couple of records, Donner didn’t really make much progress until he cut a demo of Elvis Presley’s “The Girl of My Best Friend.” It was a song that had done well for Presley in Europe, but was only available on his album in the U.S., so Donner’s record producers saw an opportunity. (A similar situation occurred about the same time with singer Joe Dowell when he took a different Presley song to #1 — but that’s another story.)
Donner’s voice and singing style were reminiscent of Presley and it didn’t hurt that he was performing the King’s song, but even though it resulted in his first hit record it came with strings attached. Fans were intrigued and wanted to know more about him, and as he continued to issue records his popularity soared. In fact, his next record — “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Until You Lose It)” — reached nearly to the top of the charts. But it was all tied to his similarities to Elvis Presley, and even though Donner did admire the superstar he eventually chafed at being pigeonholed as an imitator.
Inevitably, things went downhill for Donner after that. He did continue to make records for a while and a few did well, but by the late 1960s he was spending most of his time working behind the scenes. Although there was renewed interest in Donner’s music after Presley’s death in 1977, the final irony occurred when he was chosen to provide the voice for the 1981 documentary, This Is Elvis. And as a postscript, Donner would also have a too-short lifespan — he was just 41 when he died of lung cancer in 1984.
I was looking back over some of the past GMC posts and it occurred to me that even though everything here is about nostalgia, it’s been a long time since I did a nostalgic piece centered around a personal experience. By that I mean posts like:
So here we go: I think we all have certain foods that we like — or don’t like — because of childhood experiences. For example, I hate liver and onions – ugh – to the extent that it makes me shudder just to type the words. On the other hand, it’s a given that there are plenty of things we like because of fond memories, but I’d be willing to bet that most of us also have a very special type of favorite. Let’s call it the odd couple — an unusual pairing of favorite foods.
As spotty as my memory usually is, I can nevertheless remember that my school had a cafeteria in the basement, and — as strange as it might seem now — I liked it. I always looked forward to tromping down the stairs and getting in line, all the while trying to identify the aromas wafting through the air. It wasn’t that I didn’t eat well at home. My mom did a good job (with the exception of liver and onions – ugh) but somehow everything just seemed better at school.
That said, I’ll confess that I’ve forgotten most of the specifics about the food, but one strong memory has stuck with me to this day. Whenever they served chili con carne it was invariably accompanied by a peanut butter sandwich. That’s right, just peanut butter on white bread. It might have been served for added protein in lieu of a meatier chili, but the funny thing is that I grew to like it and even tried to insist on it at home — with mixed results, but that might have made it even cooler. And some 60+ years later I still crave a peanut butter sandwich whenever I have a bowl of chili, even though I always get funny looks from others.
An odd coupling to be sure, but I bet lots of other folks have strange food quirks from their childhood. What’s yours?
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