Think of a list of the biggest artists in pop music from the 1950s and names like Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Nat King Cole quickly come to mind. But would you think to add Jackie Gleason to that list? You should, because starting in 1952 he released a string of massively successful albums of orchestral “mood music” — what we now refer somewhat derisively as Easy Listening.
Gleason, while not a composer or conductor in any traditional sense, had a deep love of music and took an active hand in a lot of the tunes that appeared on his television shows and albums — although I’ve read conflicting stories concerning the level of his involvement, I’m inclined to believe he did more than just “bring the checks” as was once said. His process often involved sitting down at the piano and painstakingly working on melodies one note at a time, while a musical director took notes and translated.
The first of Gleason’s albums, Music for Lovers Only, was originally issued by Capitol Records in 1952 as an eight-song, ten-inch LP. The album was a monster hit, selling half a million copies and spending a staggering 153 weeks in the top 10 of Billboard’s album chart. Clearly, Americans were in the mood for romance in the 1950s and Gleason ably provided the soundtrack.
Sadly, history has not been nearly as kind to Jackie Gleason’s music as it has Sinatra’s or Presley’s. His albums are viewed more often as collectible kitsch than as music to be enjoyed on its own merits. Nevertheless there is enough interest to account for multiple CD issues of Gleason’s music, and the most recent entry is Real Gone Music’s reissue of Music for Lovers Only (not the original LP, but the 16-track Capitol 12″ LP from 1955).
It’s a shame, too, because this music is perfectly enjoyable. It’s vintage orchestral pop, neatly arranged and played with professionalism. I swear I’m listening to this now and I can smell cigarette smoke mingled with perfume and champagne. If you can’t get in the mood with this stuff (or at least get real relaxed), then you may be beyond help.
Note also, if you will, the sound of a lonely trumpet cutting through the dreamy strings. That’s jazz great Bobby Hackett, who made a name for himself with Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman’s big bands in the ’30s and ’40s. His sharp, almost mournful tone keeps the proceedings from drifting away into a gauzy ether. Witness his impact on “Love (Your Spell Is Everywhere),” just to cite one example.
I’ve enjoyed Gleason’s music for years and I love that Real Gone reissued this album. No, I won’t be playing this in the car or at my son’s next birthday party. But hey, that’s not what this is for anyway. Look at that album cover and you’ll have no doubt what you’re supposed to do when this music is playing. Now if you’ll excuse me, the champagne is almost perfectly chilled…
(Music for Lovers Only is out now on Real Gone Music and is available on Amazon.)