JulieLondon 1956 close up 1500 crop

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:

 

Julie London Yummy Yummy Yummy 1969
Julie London - Mighty Quinn ( Quinn The Es­kimo ) - Bob Dylan / Man­fred Mann

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!