yummy yummy yummy julie london’s got love in her tummy

ANYTHING WITH “BEATLES” on it was hot prop­erty in the ’60s. Artists across the gamut of mu­sical genres and styles recorded songs bearing the Lennon-McCartney im­print. Along with the ex­pected rock and pop artists, the oc­ca­sional country and folk artist and even a jazz singer delved into the Fab Four’s song­book. Few of these non-rock artists en­joyed any no­table com­mer­cial suc­cess with these attempts.

By the end of the decade, the times they cer­tainly were a-changing and many MOR (middle-of-the-road) singers at­tempted to keep up with them by recording con­tem­po­rary rock and pop songs. They usu­ally kept to tried-and-true song­writers, like the Bea­tles, Bob Dylan, and Paul Simon—or at least to their “safer” songs.

But do you like it?
John: :Star Gold 5 Points 18  Star Gold 5 Points 18
Lew:    Star Gold 5 Points 18  Star Gold 5 Points 18
Neal:   Star Gold 5 Points 18

But by the end of the decade, just about any song by just about any rock artist, group, or song­writer was fair game! Of course, these older pop singers didn’t just crib the songs and their orig­inal arrangement.

 

“Julie is at her breath­iest and most sultry, seeming to sing not with her vocal cords, but rather to ra­diate a pro­to­plasmic sound.”

 

They had tal­ented, thoughtful if old-school arrangers trans­late the rock songs into music that sounded more palat­able to an older (white) de­mo­graphic. While this may sound easy, it was not—very few of these artists made a suc­cessful tran­si­tion from Tin Pan Alley music to the ‘new’ rock music, and for many, the at­tempts were em­bar­rassing. 1

This was only fair on the Cosmic Scales of Jus­tice as many rock & roll singers had been em­bar­rassing them­selves at­tempting to sing old-school stan­dards since the ’50s.

 

JulieLondon LifeMagazine Feb1957 500

Life mag­a­zine notes that Julie London’s turn from Hol­ly­wood ac­tress to pop­ular recording artist. Of course, this photo makes her look like a gor­geous movie star.

A kitsch-like quality

But until the Bea­tles and Dylan, there hadn’t been a sim­ilar pas­sion for MOR singers to in­clude rock & roll in their reper­toire. Sub­se­quently, there had been few in­stances where a Sinatra or a Clooney had made a bad pop record out of a good rock record.

Per­haps “bad” is the wrong term to use—perhaps I should say “inept,” as many of these singers recorded pro­fes­sion­ally com­pe­tent ver­sions of rock songs but showed a com­plete lack of un­der­standing of what was hap­pening in the world of rock music and so those songs came out sounding just plain wrong!

At least, they sounded wrong to the younger lis­teners who were buying the orig­inal rock records in the ’60s. Over the years, as lis­teners have em­braced an ironic take on the past, some of these wrong records have taken on a kitsch-like quality. Some have even be­come mod­estly col­lec­table among people who nor­mally only col­lect rock music.

 

JulieLondon AboutTheBlues LP 600

This is the Bill­board re­view of ABOUT THE BLUES: “This is an at­trac­tively made up package, with a cover that’s simple, yet catches the bluesy mood of the disc. Julie London, on these se­lec­tions, is at her breath­iest and most sultry, seeming to sing not with her vocal cords, but rather to ra­diate a pro­to­plasmic sound.” 2

Julie is her name

Julie Peck’s story is like a Hol­ly­wood movie come true: A beau­tiful young woman was dis­cov­ered while working a mun­dane job and signed to a movie con­tract! She changed her last name from Peck to London and ap­peared in more than twenty movies. Un­for­tu­nately, she never be­came a big movie star.

Ten years after her first movie, she was “dis­cov­ered” a second time, this time singing at a night­club. This time, she signed a recording con­tract with the fledg­ling Lib­erty Records and this time there was no wait for stardom. Her first single, Cry Me A River, was a Top 10 hit in 1955, which pro­vided the record com­pany with its first hit.

Un­for­tu­nately, Julie’s style of music was on the way out as rock & roll was on the way in and de­spite one fine record after an­other, she never had any­thing re­sem­bling a pop hit again. As a Top 40 recording artist, she was a one-hit-wonder!

London had more suc­cess as an album artist when her début album reached the Top 10 on Billboard’s LP chart in early 1956. Her next three LPs all made it into the Top 20 and she looked like she might be the fe­male Sinatra. Lib­erty took full ad­van­tage of her drop-dead gor­geous looks, which were ex­ploited to the max on the covers of her albums.

My fa­vorite Julie London album is ABOUT THE BLUES. When I was single (lo those many, many years ago), I was a bit of a Don Juan. If I brought a young lady to my apart­ment and wanted to woo her, I would turn the lights down and light a candle. Then I would put this album on the turntable and ask my date to dance with me. I con­sid­ered lis­tening to Julie London while dancing slow and close to be cre­ative foreplay.

 

JulieLondon CalendarGirl LP fc 600

JulieLondon CalendarGirl LP bc 600

Julie London’s third album was CALENDAR GIRL and fea­tured a deluxe, gate­fold jacket with Julie in twelve cheese­cake poses, one for each of the months of the calendar.

About the blues

Julie London was known for her husky, sexy voice and come-hither vocal style. About her singing, Julie said, “It’s only a thim­bleful of a voice, and I have to use it close to the mi­cro­phone. But it is a kind of over-smoked voice, and it au­to­mat­i­cally sounds in­ti­mate.” This is too much mod­esty: London’s early al­bums are among the most fas­ci­nating (and sexy) easy-listening records ever made.

Both her voice and how that voice was recorded up-close to the mic give those al­bums an in­ti­macy that has rarely been achieved be­fore or since. In­ter­est­ingly, they were not pro­duced by some lech­erous com­pany A&R man, but by her hus­band, song­writer Bobby Troup.

 

“It’s only a thim­bleful of a voice, and I have to use it close to the mi­cro­phone. But it is a kind of over-smoked voice, and it au­to­mat­i­cally sounds intimate.”

 

But after those first four al­bums, her au­di­ence of hip, white, male record-buyers in­ex­plic­ably stopped buying her al­bums in large num­bers. For the du­ra­tion of her recording ca­reer, she never reached Billboard’s Top 100 again! Nonethe­less, she con­tinued to record and Lib­erty stuck with her, re­leasing more than thirty al­bums through the end of the ’60.

This cul­mi­nated in 1969 with her final studio album, YUMMY, YUMMY, YUMMY, a record that was laughed at by every rock music fan who heard it for the next few decades. And then it be­came hip to like bad—I mean, inept—records.

 

JulieLondon Yummy LP 500

Com­pared to her early al­bums from the 1950s, this cover photo (prob­ably from 1968) and de­sign is unimag­i­na­tive. This album went straight to the dis­count sec­tion of what used to be called five-and-ten-cent stores and could be had for a mere 99¢.

Love in my tummy

Re­leased in March 1969, YUMMY, YUMMY, YUMMY fea­tured a typ­ical if un­ex­cep­tional cover with a close-up of the ever-lovely London. The album was pro­duced by Tommy Oliver, who had worked with easy-listening artists like Edie Adams, Vicki Carr, Doris Day, Eddie Fisher, and Joanie Sommers.

Oliver was good with com­pli­cated arrange­ments for or­ches­tras and get­ting a clean sound, which came in handy with the London album. His ex­pe­ri­ence in over­seeing the making of a rock album was as pro­ducer of the 1966 album JEFFERSON AIRPLANE TAKES OFF! and not much else. 

Listed below are the twelve songs on Julie’s swan song album. Each is ac­com­pa­nied by the artist most often or closely as­so­ci­ated with the song:

Stoned Soul Picnic                                          Laura Nyro
Like to Get To Know You                               Spanky & Our Gang
Light My Fire                                                   The Doors
It’s Nice To Be With You                                The Monkees
Sunday Mornin’                                               Spanky & Our Gang
Hushabye Moun­tain                                       Bobbie Gentry
The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Es­kimo)     Bob Dylan/Manfred Mann
Come To Me Slowly                                         Margo Guryan
And I Love Him                                                The Beatles
Without Him                                                     Harry Nilsson
Yummy, Yummy, Yummy                              The Ohio Express
Louie, Louie                                                       The Kingsmen

Just how in­eptly the songs are mis­con­strued by everyone in­volved with this album cannot be put into words. The record­ings must be heard to be believed—my fave may be “The Mighty Quinn,” but “Louie Louie” is a close second (both linked below). For­tu­nately, thanks to YouTube, that’s easy. Here are three standout (sic) selections:

 

A piece of the action

What fas­ci­nates me most about these record­ings is the total lack of ironic dis­tance in them: Oliver’s arrange­ments are tasteful, the band is made up of fine Los An­geles ses­sion mu­si­cians (that’s John Guerin and Hal Blaine on drums and Lyle Ritz on bass), and London seems in­volved in these per­for­mances, as if this is what rock and pop music should sound like if real singers like London sang them all the time!

This was a fairly common—and fairly condescending—attitude among the pre­vious, older gen­er­a­tion of record-makers (singers, song­writers, arrangers, pro­ducers, mu­si­cians, etc.). They hated rock & roll but were learning to like in­di­vidual rock songs. 3

But YUMMY, YUMMY, YUMMY doesn’t reek of that kind of an­i­mosity or con­de­scen­sion. Nei­ther does it reek of mere pa­tron­iza­tion. It just sounds like Lib­erty, London, and Oliver are doing their best—as they see it—to come to terms with the music that is selling in the mil­lions all over the world.

They simply wanted a small piece of that action.

They didn’t get it—the small piece of ac­tion or what the ‘new’ music was all about. In fact, in ways, some of these tracks sounded al­most sur­real in the jux­ta­po­si­tion of the two more or less dis­tant re­al­i­ties of the rock and easy-listening mind-sets!

As I stated, I was then and re­main a fan of Julie’s—especially those early titles—and was baf­fled that a singer of her class and dis­tinc­tion would stoop to this. YUMMY YUMMY YUMMY was con­sid­ered sub­stan­dard by dis­crete lis­teners for years and out­right jeered at by many se­rious rock fans.

 

JulieLondon CalendarGirl LP interior 600

This photo of Julie in bed looking like the cen­ter­fold of the still-new Playboy mag­a­zine takes up one half of the in­side of the fold-open jacket to the CALENDAR GIRL album (above). 4

Steamy erotic caramel

Today’s lis­teners are a very dif­ferent breed: YUMMY YUMMY YUMMY cur­rently en­joys a 4½-star rating (out of five) from Amazon cus­tomers. One such cus­tomer opens his 5-star rating with this:

“This product be­longs in the li­brary of any lover of cock­tail music or pop ver­sions of rock. In other hands, this work might elicit a snicker or two but in Julie London’s hands, it’s like lis­tening to the audio equiv­a­lent of warm caramel.”

As I also stated above, the times they were a-changing back then and the times they cer­tainly have been a-changing since then. At the other end is this re­view by J. R. Spencer, who gives the album a 3-star rating. Spencer is a real fan and the au­thor of Lady Lib­erty – The Julie London De­fin­i­tive Hand­book:

“Julie’s last album for Lib­erty Records was Liberty’s idea that her smoky, in­ti­mate voice could trans­form ridicu­lously in­ap­pro­priate ma­te­rial into steamy, erotic torch songs and was ap­par­ently too com­pelling to re­sist. How hu­mil­i­ating for such a gifted and beau­tiful jazz vocalist.

When I met Julie back in 1992, she men­tioned that she thought this album was a real joke. This album does qualify for the in­cred­ibly bizarre and camp status in re­ceived among col­lec­tors. Overall this is a good album, but just such a campy ex­ample of com­mer­cialism, and in my opinion an in­sult to Julie’s true great­ness as a jazz vo­calist and stylist.”

And those two ob­ser­va­tions are a good place to bring this piece to a halt! Ex­cept to say that after her ca­reer as a recording artist ended, Julie then en­joyed her greatest suc­cess as an ac­tress, star­ring as Nurse Dixie Mc­Call in the pop­ular ’70s tele­vi­sion se­ries Emer­gency! Her co-star was hubby Bobby Troup.

Few singers made a suc­cessful tran­si­tion from easy-listening to the 'new' pop music of the '60s, and Julie London was not among them. Click To Tweet

JulieLondon 1956 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of the page is of Julie London as an ac­tress in 1956. Whether or not it was from one of her movies that year (Crime Against Joe, The Great Man, or the rock & roll ex­ploita­tion film The Girl Can’t Help It) I don’t know. Nor do I care, as it’s a lovely shot of a lovely woman and that’s good enough for me.

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   There have been fans and col­lec­tors of ‘bad records’ made by singers who had no busi­ness singing, whether they were le­git­i­mate MOR singers or celebri­ties ex­ploiting their fame. Such singers have be­come a minor sub-genre in the field and are often iron­i­cally re­ferred to as ‘golden throats.’

2   Using the term “pro­to­plasmic sound” to de­scribe ABOUT THE BLUES is far more far-out than the folks at RCA Victor re­fer­ring to JEFFERSON AIRPLANE TAKES OFF! with the rather pedes­trian “jet age sound” blurb on that album’s back cover.

3   As an ex­treme ex­ample of this at­ti­tude, there is an in­fa­mous in­vec­tive that Frank Sinatra penned for the French mag­a­zine Western World in 1957. He called rock & roll “the most brutal, ugly, de­gen­erate, vi­cious form of ex­pres­sion it has been my dis­plea­sure to hear” and a “rancid-smelling aphrodisiac.”

Sinatra blath­ered on, claiming rock & roll “fos­ters al­most to­tally neg­a­tive and de­struc­tive re­ac­tions in young people. It smells phony and false. It is sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons and by means of its al­most im­be­cilic re­it­er­a­tions and sly, lewd—in plain fact, dirty—lyrics it man­ages to be the mar­tial music of every side­burned delin­quent on the face of the earth.” (Elvis His­tory Blog)

4   It’s doubtful that asking a woman of Ms. London’s stature to ap­pear in his mag­a­zine even en­tered Hugh Hefner’s mind at this time, as Playboy had al­most no cul­tural clout in the 1950s. Twenty years later and Playboy had that clout and the money and he made just such an offer to Linda Ron­stadt. She turned him down (and, alas, we are the poorer for it).

 

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People bought her records that didn’t even own a turntable!

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