You’d think versatility would be a plus for a singer’s career, wouldn’t you? Well, tell that to Connie Francis. By leaps and bounds the most successful female singer of the early rock era, Connie has never even been nominated for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I could plead her case at length, but with nowhere near the eloquence of “Rockin’ Connie”, Ace’s new CD that showcases 28 sterling examples of this Jill-of-all-trades’ mastery of the genre she helped popularise and define.
Connie’s endless résumé begins with her career as a child performer in the early days of television, and she was still in her teens when she scored her first hit, ‘Who’s Sorry Now’, in 1958. By the end of the decade she had charted with a series of rockers, teen-angst ballads, old standards, Italian songs, even ‘God Bless America’. Her LP catalogue includes collections of Irish, German, Jewish, Spanish and, especially, Italian favourites, alongside sets devoted to folk, country, big band, waltzes, Christmas and kids’ songs. In the midst of this torrent of wildly eclectic concept albums, Connie also became a popular movie star, was a mainstay in nightclubs of the Vegas-Copa ilk and was ubiquitous on American TV, singing and performing comedy skits with older stars like Jimmy Durante and Jack Benny. This all-things-to-all-people approach may explain why few seem to recall that among the Hawaiian and Broadway releases were interspersed titles like “Rock & Roll Million Sellers” and “Do The Twist”.
Leave it to Ace to remind us. Compiled and annotated by Mick Patrick and David Bell, “Rockin’ Connie” delivers exactly what it promises. Connie rocks, all right. She also rolls, bops, stomps, twists and boogies, tackling rock-oriented material with the same gusto and conviction she applied to Neapolitan ballads and patriotic anthems.
No hulas or horas here. Connie faces down the big boys of early rock on covers of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and ‘Ain’t That A Shame’. Among the songwriters are such stalwart pop scribes as Neil Sedaka, John D Loudermilk, Phil Medley, Hank Hunter, Mark Barkan, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Connie particularly excelled on tunes in the girl group genre, as shimmering cuts like ‘My Best Friend Barbara’, ‘Don’t Ever Leave Me’ and several others aptly demonstrate.
Rarities abound, depending on your location. Due to Connie’s unprecedented global reach, some releases were unique to particular countries. UK fans will meet several American 45 mixes for the first time. This Yank is having a grand old time playing and re-playing the incredible overseas-only ‘Robot Man’ and a Greenwich-Powers gem, ‘Look At Him’, that we were denied back in the day. Of particular interest is ‘It’s A Different World’, produced by Tom Wilson concurrent with his Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel and Mothers Of Invention sessions. How’s that for rock cred?
As we’ve come to expect from Ace, the accompanying booklet is a treasure trove of rare photos, meticulous annotation and can’t-put-’em-down liner notes. Then there’s the music. Take it from me: “Rockin’ Connie” rocks!
by DENNIS GARVEY