Thursday, November 3, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Keeping The Faith

by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Dee Dee Sharp Keeps The Faith (With Gravy on the Side) ... Leonard Cohen's "Darker" Rises ... Gaga as Donatella? ... Madonna and Idris Elba on "Sunset Boulevard?"

Now when the mash potato's finally through
There's lots of groovy, gravy things to do
Lots of lovin', kiss n' huggin'
I wanna ride that gravy train with you
Gimme (gravy)
On my mash potatoes
Gimme (gravy)
C'mon an' hold me tight
Gimme (gravy)
Baby, you're the greatest/So gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gravy tonight!


So sang the adorable Dee Dee Sharp, in the 1962 follow-up to her big-hit “Mashed Potato Time.”

This was the era of songs named after popular dances. Indeed, Dee’s first (un-credited) success was singing backup on Chubby Checker’s “Slow Twistin’” which was one of Chubby’s seemingly innumerable follow-ups to the phenomenon of “The Twist.”  (Other similar ditties included “The Loco-Motion” “The Wah-Watushi” “The Stroll,” “Mickey’s Monkey,” “Pony Time, “Hitch Hike, “The Madison Time.” I suppose, one could even throw in such as “Blame it On The Bossa Nova” and even “Vogue.” In the 1970s and early 80s it seemed almost every hit had the word “disco” in the title.
DEE Dee Sharp’s time at the top was impactful but relatively brief. That’s the music biz. Certainly it was back then, when artists were totally at the control of their labels.

(These days, some artists yearn for a bit of the stability — if not the rigid contracts — of the big labels.) 
Sharp, like many of her era began as a church singer, and in 1962 she released an album that was highly praised but didn’t move much on the charts.  It was titled “Songs of Faith.”  Her fans, who wanted gravy on their mashed potatoes, weren’t very hungry.
Now, ABKCO Records has re-released and re-mastered “Songs of Faith.” (The eleven-track CD includes “Vaya Con Dios,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “It Is No Secret What God Can Do” and “Climb Every Mountain” the blockbuster from “The Sound of Music.”)

Dee Dee today.
It is available now and nobody could be happier than the lady herself.  Sharp, who lives in New Jersey with her husband, says, “Truthfully, I have longed for this album to come out again. It’s been something of a secret desire of mine.  This is the kind of music I feel happiest doing.” 

Fans might be more familiar with Sharp’s “Do The Bird” but I’d suggest checking this one out.  It is beautifully sung and produced. And, as was the standard back then, “Songs of Faith” was recorded completely live with no overdubbing or technical tweaks.  Those were the days one needed a real voice.

Ms. Sharp is still active and in 2013 received a lifetime achievement award from the Artists Music Guild, handed to her by her old friend, Chubby Checker.
MORE MUSIC NOTES:  On Wednesday, December 14th, the one and only Tony Bennett visits New York’s Paley Center, for an evening of chat (Lester Holt will interview the icon), dozens of TV clips of Tony’s long career, and a sneak peak of his much-anticipated NBC special “Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best Is Yet to Come.” Call 866-777-8932  for ticket info.
... Leonard Cohen’s new album, “You Want It Darker” is topping charts all over the world, including Sweden and Ireland, where he has never scored a No. 1 disc previously. It also Cohen’s second ever Top Ten entry on  Billboard in his 50-year career.  (The recent profile on Cohen in The New Yorker piqued my interest in his music. Apparently I was not alone in my curiosity!) And yes, it’s a dark work, but not morbidly so — it’s thoughtful, soulful, a realistic lament about the inevitability of our mortal coil.
... LADY Gaga told the New York TimesDarryl Pinckney that when she released an album of jazz standards two years ago with the above-mentioned Tony Bennett, “My audience went, ‘Wait, why is she singing jazz?  What’s going on?’  Then they went, ‘Oh, because she can. Because she loves it.’  And jazz, a music invented by the African American community, is the greatest art form, I believe, to have ever come out of this country.”
Lady G, whose new album “Joanne” was just released, also said that as a child, she “did not process music in a racial or gender way.”  She just listened. And she identifies with those who are in any way dismissed, undervalued, fighting for their rights to live and love.  “When there’s justice and change, you start to see the cleansing of the soul and that is what I want for people, and I hope it is okay for me to say those things.”  Of course it is, honey!
Gaga has a full plate, aside from the new album. She will perform at the Superbowl Half Time Show, appear with the sensational Bruno Mars at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in Paris, and perhaps pop up as Donatella Versace in producer Ryan Murphy’s next “American Crime Story” series. This one takes on the tragic murder of Gianni Versace. 

On that project I’d advise Gaga to think carefully.  With her own penchant to go over-the-top, Ryan Murphy’s love of the grotesque (he is also the creator of “American Horror Story”) and Donatella’s boldly vivid appearance, Gaga might be a distraction from a true and tragic tale.  Always try to tread respectfully on the lives of the living and the dead. I mean, unless it’s Hitler. (You recall that Gaga won a Golden Globe for her performance in last season's "American Horror Story.")
“No, I am not sleeping with Madonna!”
AND for our final number: Just the other day, Madonna attended actor Idris Elba’s professional kickboxing debut in London. (Sure, it’s always handy for actors to have another skill, if the work ever dries up. But kickboxing?  How about carpentry?  Or clothes designing?)  Of course the gossips went into overdrive, suggesting that M and Idris are an item.  A speculation that Mr. Elba shot down instantly, tweeting out, “No, I am not sleeping with Madonna!”

However, a little bird whispered in my ear that if it’s not romance, there could be something else brewing between La Ciccone and Le Elba.

There is renewed talk of a movie version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, "Sunset Boulevard."  Especially now that Glenn Close is bringing the show back to Broadway soon.  Conventional wisdom has it that if such a thing happens, the brilliant Close would be the natural choice, having won a Tony award for her performance of Norma Desmond. 

But composer Webber, who chose Madonna for the screen version of “Evita” said just a couple of years ago that The Big M would be “perfect, just perfect” as Norma, on film. 
So, why not Idris Elba as Joe, the somewhat younger, down-on-his-luck writer who falls into Norma’s world of fantasy?  He can sing, folks, in case you didn’t know.  And Madonna can certainly sing. (She is splendid, vocally, in “Evita.”)

Yeah, yeah.  I know all about the “she’s poison at the box office” thing.  But she’s had her share of successes too, and a lot of the criticism has been unfair, in my opinion.
Sings, too.
But the birdie says that Madonna is as ambitious and hardworking now as the day she stepped off the bus in Manhattan, from Michigan in 1978, determined to — as she told Dick Clark three years later — “to rule the world.” 

Eh, maybe it was just some casual after-kickboxing chat. Maybe not.
"To rule the world.” 

Contact Liz here.