Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Perry Como - For The Good Times (1973/ No. 7/ 27 weeks/ RCA)

For me, the greatness of this quietly astonishing single lies in the disjuncture between the singer and the song. This isn't a glib exercise in cross-generational marketing - the modern world is full of unwelcome and trying "Tony Bennett sings Nirvana" promotions - but a surprising choice that adds depth both to the voice and the song.

Even a crate-digging pop swot such as myself finds it hard to find anything good to say about the fifties heyday of Perry Como. His Bing Crosby easygoing vocal stylings are clearly attempting the same sort of thing as Dean Martin. but while Deano generally achieves a state of soused insouciance, Como at best sounds bored by what he's singing, at worst lobotomised.

His early seventies commercial second wind is something quite different, though. The sense of ease is still there, but it now sounds like an emotional state that's been earned and has some life experience behind it, plus he's stopped singing irritating perky songs. There's a very slight waver in his voice now, making him sound grandfatherly. And RCA have clearly put their very best arrangers and players behind him, and some thought has gone into the selection of his material.

Who wrote 'For The Good Times'? Kris Kristofferson, that's who! A hippy cowboy! The really disconcerting line in this song is;

Lay your head upon my pillow
Hold your warm and tender body close to mine

This degree of intimacy - however unsalacious and matter-of-fact - is surprising from Como's mouth. You expect a Como love song to be palliative and general, a tabula rasa for the audience to draw their own tender feelings upon, not an actual song about a specific relationship. The framing context for this line shows what unfamiliar territory this is for the singer;

Don't look so sad
I know it's over
But life goes on
And this old world
Will keep on turning
Let's just be glad
We had some time to spend together

So these two people share a bed and are separating. In a Como context, this feels remarkably grown-up - in a rather uncomfortable way. Songs of lost love you expect, but the actual separation is surely too painful to go into.

The singer is clearly trying for a measured dignity and conciliation in his approach ("There's no need to watch the bridges that we're burning"), but is desperately clinging on to this last day together;

Hear the whisper of the raindrops
Blowing soft against the window
And make believe you love me,
One more time...
For the good times

The good times have gone really, but a perhaps a simulation of them can be constructed from their ashes. Note the vibraphone emulating the patter of the raindrops, one half of a melody line which it alternates with a chilled string section, supported in the background by a refracting guitar line. You'll eventually note the world's subtlest backing vocals once you've heard this a few times, too, female "Oooh-ooh"'s that seem to cradle the hapless singer.

The speculative second verse is almost unbearable;

I'll get along
You'll find another
And I'll be here
If you should find,
You ever need me
Don't say a word
About tomorrow or forever...
There'll be time enough for sadness
When you leave me

It takes the greybearded MOR dignity of Como to mask the country origin of the song, the tale of a deluded loser trying to hold things together: You must do what you think right dear and build a new life - but I can't, and will be here waiting for you.

The gentleness of the song can't completely muffle the pain. A song for beautiful losers.

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