Bonnie & Clyde premiered on August 13, 1967, in New York City and became not only a surprise hit but one of the most successful motion pictures of the 1960s. Directed by Arthur Penn, it starred Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty as the 1930s gangster couple Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow who steal cars, rob stores and banks, hurt and kill people, and are - just as they intend to start a life away from crime - shot to death by a special police force.
The film was scored with period style music by Charles Strouse and featured a number of popular songs from that age as source music. Its huge success (the film won two Academy Awards( trig-gered renewed public interest in the music of the "Roaring '30s.- Quite a few artists picked up that trend and recorded '30s themed albums, some of them even more than hinted at their inspiration, like Mel Torme with A Day In The Life Of Bonnie And Clyde (Liberty, 1968) and Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg with Bonnie And Clyde (Fontana, 1968).
The success of the film obviously also came up during a meeting of the executives at MGM Records with their most important artist, Connie Francis, in March 1968. The singer, whose career was launched in 1958 with the revival of a song from 1923, "Who's Sorry Now?,- had, in a breathtakingly short period, become the most successful female singer the world over. She was the first vocalist that had decided, against fierce resistance of her label and management early on, to record her songs not only in Eng-lish but other leading languages. It was the start of a successful trend, although none of the artists that followed her idea were able to have the same success in worldwide markets that Con-nie gained with her German, French, Italian, Spanish and even Japanese-language recordings. This and her deliberate versatil-ity of style had made her an exceptional artist with a scope rang-ing from pop, rock 'n' roll, standards, jazz, country & western, songs from films and musicals to Christmas and even children's repertoire. With 300 million records sold, Connie Francis is still one of the most successful vocalists of all time.
With albums like Songs To A Swinging Band (1961), A New Kind Of Connie (1964) and Happiness - Connie Francis On Broadway To-day (1967), Connie had already demonstrated her appreciation of and talent for swinging tunes and the Great American Songbook. Either this or the irresistible wordplay of Bonnie/Connie may
have led to Francis deciding to record an album of songs from the 1930s. In those days, Connie was referred to as the "queen of MGM" and her contract, most unusual at the time, allowed her to decide for herself what she would record, with whom and what would end up on record.
Directly after the meeting, Connie enthusiastically started put-ting the project together. Creative and repertoire ideas came from, among others, her parents, George and Ida Franconero, her personal assistant Patrick Niglio, and MGM Marketing/Sales executive Lennie Scheer. To arrange it all, Connie chose the fan-tastically talented Don Costa (1925-83), who had worked with artists like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, and with whom she had already cooperated on sev-eral earlier projects. Her long-time musical director, Joe Mazzu, would also be part of the team.
Everyone must have dived headfirst into the project, because the recording sessions were scheduled only a few months out for May 1968. In a short time span unthinkable in today's music world, on May 6, 7 and 11, the whole album was recorded and issued not much later at the end of May 1968. The sessions were done live with orchestra - no playback or overdubs - and even today Connie still fondly remembers those creative days, the enthusiasm of everyone involved and the feeling to have created something truly special.
Connie commissioned the music & lyrics for the album's opener CONNIE AND CLYDE from Bob Arthur, musical director of The Ed Sullivan Show. The lyrics are an amusing melange of 1930s names, topics and language.
YOU OUGHTA BE IN PICTURES was originally written for the revue Ziegfeld Follies Of 1934 and recorded the same year by, among others, Rudy Vallee, the Boswell Sisters and Little Jack Little & his Orchestra. Don Costa gives the first 32 bars a fake nostalgic gramophone sound before jumping into broad, modern stereo, while the lyrics update the list of historic male hotties.
Connie obviously had fun with ACE IN THE HOLE, a song about the kind of fellow that can be found at any place and age: the con man boasting about his own importance and achievements.
WITH PLENTY OF MONEY AND YOU / WE'RE IN THE MONEY are songs from the pen of Harry Warren & Al Dubin and get straight to the main point of interest during the dark age of depression: money! The first one, carrying the sub-title "The Gold Diggers' Lullaby," was originally heard in the film Gold Diggers Of 1937, sung by Dick Powell over the opening credits, the second one is from Gold Diggers Of 1933 and was originally performed by Ginger Rogers.
The 1928 German-language original of JUST A GIGOLO was about the social decline of an ex-hussar of the Austrian-Hun-garian army who had to make a living as a gigolo after World War !. Most of those historic connotations were left off in the English version released a year later. Connie Francis' version simply tells the story of a male taxi-dancer sentimentally re-flecting on his better days. Her usual vocal perfection is pep-pered with a dash of appropriate irony.
The charming BUTTON UP YOUR OVERCOAT, basically a list of health recommendations for a loved one, was originally written for the 1928 Broadway show Follow Thru and recorded by Ruth Etting the same year. A year later, Helen Kane had even greater success with the song. The writers, Buddy DeSylva, Lew Brown & Ray Henderson, were also responsible for the 1928 song "Together," Connie's 1961 million-seller.
BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME, written for the 1932 revue New Americana, became the unofficial hymn of the Great Depression. It questions why those men who built the railroads and skyscrapers and were sent to the battlefields now had to beg for their bread when the work was done. A lot of the many recordings of the song were quiet and resigned. Connie opens her interpretation the same way, but then gradually spi-rals to a grand finale, emotionally belting out "Brother, can't you spare just one dime?" This is no begging anymore but a pow-erful cry for justice, projected with extraordinary vocal power.
MAYBE, first published in 1935, became a hit for the Ink Spots, Dinah Shore and Bobby Byrne. Like in Francis' first million-seller, "Who's Sorry Now?," the protagonist wonders if her "ex" mightstill be thinking of her and what he will do when his new flame turns her back on him. Might he come back ... maybe?
AM I BLUE?, originally written for the film On With The Show! (1929) and performed by Ethel Waters, is another vocal tour de force by Miss Francis, who questions whether she should really be blue now that her lover is gone and if she was ever happy with him to begin with. The brilliance of her performance not only shines during the strong-voiced sections but also the re-strained, intimate moments.
Gene Austin had a huge hit with PLEASE DON'T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I'M GONE in 1931. Connie had already performed the song live and on TV shows before singing it here to a fabu-lous blown-up Dixieland arrangement courtesy of Don Costa.
AIN'T MISBEHAVIN' is another Dixieland-flavored classic that 'Fats' Waller wrote for the 1929 revue Connie's Hot Choco-lates. Here, the other Connie can be experienced as a wall-flow-er that won't leave the house, won't look at any other man, only hoping "he" won't misbehave and will come home soon. Her tongue-in-cheek performance makes it obvious that she sym-pathizes with the song rather than with its message.
SOMEBODY ELSE IS TAKING MY PLACE was success-fully recorded by co-author Russ Morgan in 1937 and again by Benny Goodman with Peggy Lee in 1942. Connie's version was issued as single (MGM K 13948) and has the most pop-flavored arrangement of the album. It tells the story of a poor woman whose ex-lover has not only forgotten her but all the promises he made.
Although the versatile Miss Francis performs this and other tear-jerkers from the album, touching as ever, from the per-spective of a passive female victim, Connie & Clyde once more proved that in real life she was very much in-command and on an artistic peak. In the three short recording days, an album of the highest artistic degree was created at Columbia Recording Studios New York: a work that once more proved the exceptional position Francis held in the American entertainment business. Connie & Clyde is much more than just Connie's own favorite al-bum. It is a pop music milestone, unjustly overshadowed by her more popular chart hits, ripe for rediscovery today!
Wilfried Weiler, July 2011