I have a little problem with this edition of Fantastic Foursome. I usually try to include a video of the definitive version of a song, then offer four different renditions that you can listen to and vote on. The only problem with today’s song — “I Concentrate On You” — is that I’m not sure that there is such a thing as a definitive version. But this isn’t the first time that has happened, so let’s see what we can do about it.
It’s a Cole Porter song that was introduced in the musical film Broadway Melody of 1940, but even though that movie starred Fred Astaire he only danced to the song. The singing was handled by the ill-fated baritone Douglas McPhail (the subject of a future post) but I haven’t been able to find a recording of it, so I decided to go in a whole different direction. The video below is a more modern recording of the song, and it should please the many fans of Johnny Mathis.
In the years since its introduction the song has been recorded by lots of performers, many of them more than once. In some cases the singer went in a completely different direction in later recordings, like Frank Sinatra did with his 1967 version, working with Antonio Carlos Jobim for a Brazilian sound. Other good records include those by ladies like Ella Fitzgerald and Rosie Clooney, instrumentals by Stan Kenton and Oscar Peterson, and smooth traditional crooners like these.
Most of those who are reading this are aware that Leonard Nimoy recently died at age 83. He was best known as Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, but his accomplishments weren’t limited to helping create his iconic character. In addition to a long acting career on stage, screen, and TV, he was a director, a writer, a poet, a photographer, and a singer — which is our focus today.
A Boston native, Leonard Simon Nimoy began his acting career in the early 1950s but didn’t find a lot of success during that period. He made the occasional appearance on TV or in movies (once as an alien in Zombies of the Stratosphere) and was the lead in one forgettable ‘B’ movie, but he finally grew disillusioned and joined the Army. After returning to civilian life he again drifted into acting and began to find a little traction, but still didn’t really click until the mid-1960s when he landed a role with a new science fiction TV show.
Although Star Trek didn’t score big ratings during its 79-episode run on NBC, it did create the beginnings of what would be the public’s endless fascination with Nimoy’s character, the pointy-eared half-Vulcan Mr. Spock. But as the years passed and Star Trek became a sensation, Nimoy wasn’t always happy with being so identified with the role. Like most actors, he hated being typecast. He even wrote a memoir titled I Am Not Spock. But he eventually realized it was inevitable and made his peace with it, even writing a followup memoir titled I Am Spock.
While continuing to appear as Spock in later movies he also found a number of other successful roles, and he expanded his talents in other directions too, including launching a singing career. He’d already sung on camera in at least one of the original TV shows (video below) and eventually began to get serious about it. In all honesty his voice wasn’t exactly crooner-worthy, but he was determined and persistent, and before it was all over he’d generated a number of albums. While some of them were filled with gimmicky sci-fi music and the like, others included his honest attempts at covering familiar songs, usually country-pop or ballads. And if a few of them made you cringe, you still somehow got the idea that he always enjoyed himself.
In some ways, the girl group known as the Bobbettes was a typical one-hit wonder. (Although you might remember that I argued a while back that the term shouldn’t be used so negatively.) The Bobbettes did qualify for the sobriquet, with 1957’s “Mr. Lee” hitting #1 on R&B charts and even climbing into the Top Ten on pop charts, although later records all fell far short. But that’s still pretty good, when you consider that the group’s lead singer was only eleven when it all started.
That was young Reather Dixon, who joined with school friends and fellow glee club members Laura Webb, Helen Gathers, and sisters Jannie and Emma Pought to form a singing group they initially called the Harlem Queens. The girls were soon appearing in amateur shows at the Apollo Theater, making a big splash and attracting the attention of James Dailey, who helped get them a contract with Atlantic Records.
Daily also changed the group’s name to the Bobbettes to soften its image a little, and helped produce its debut record. It was a harmless little song about a teacher who the girls actually disliked, but in the song, “Mr. Lee” was made to sound good. (They later recorded a more accurate – and critical – version they named “I Shot Mr. Lee,” but it became one of the reasons they left Atlantic after the company balked at issuing it.) After “Mr. Lee” became a huge hit they were big-time stars, even touring with the likes of Clyde McPhatter, Frankie Lymon, and Dion & The Belmonts.
Over the next several years the Bobbettes did sell some records with songs like “Have Mercy Baby,” “I Don’t Like It Like That,” and a few others, and the girls certainly kept spinning out new releases. But they never again approached the popularity of “Mr. Lee,” and by the late 1960s had begun to evolve into a smaller group, sometimes singing background for others. By the 1970s the original Bobbettes had dissolved, although various members have reunited from time to time through the years for oldies shows.
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