When everybody sang the same songs

It’s Friday night, people. The weekend is here! Time for some music.

Ah, but not just any music. Tonight – and in fact for the past few days, ever since Raymond and I watched Cabaret for the first time in many years (inspired by The Guardian recently naming it the top musical of all time) – I’ve been thinking about music that was popular, and in fact overly popular, during my childhood and early teenage years, when my family lived right here at the Manse in Queensborough.

Now, Queensborough is very far removed from any of the music capitals of the world. But, my friends, we had a TV. (A battered old black-and-white model, but a TV nonetheless. With two, and then three, and later four channels!) And what came in on that TV (primarily on the CBS affiliate, WWNY in Watertown, N.Y., the only American station we got) were the variety shows.

And what happened on the variety shows? Well, a wide variety of people sang. A wide variety of people – but in my memory, a rather narrow repertoire of songs. As I remember it, you couldn’t turn on Carol Burnett (here’s that show’s immortal dentist sketch, by the way, just because it’s Friday night and why the heck not) or Ed Sullivan or any of those shows without Barbra Streisand or Steve and Eydie or Carol herself singing one of about half a dozen songs, to the point where you just groaned from the overfamiliarity of it all when they launched into the opening notes. Often they were songs that had been made popular by stage (and in some cases movie) musicals. Other times they just came from God knows where. And refused to go away.

Cabaret was a classic example. Liza Minnelli did it first and best, as you’ll have been reminded by the video atop this post, but that sure didn’t stop every other singer from belting it out whenever he or she got the chance on any of those variety shows. (And of course Liza herself belted it out quite a lot too.) Why did performers think that their audience wanted to hear them sing the same song that every other singer was also performing?

Well, it is a mystery. But since it’s Friday night and really we should have some music, let’s revisit a few of those chestnuts. And think back on how utterly inescapable they were through the middle and late 1960s and much of the 1970s.

Which of course were very good years, as Frank is about to tell us:

And then there was this one, sung by everyone from Elvis on down, but here is Miss Peggy Lee doing it:

And then this one, I believe mostly connected with Barbra Streisand but, possibly because I saw her sing it a few thousand times too many on the variety shows I watched in my youth, I opted for Shirley Bassey tonight instead:

Oh, but speaking of Barbra Streisand: surely I am not the only one who got thoroughly sick of her doing this one? (Even as I post it I feel like I should apologize in advance. The emoting is so over the top.)

Okay, I have to take a break from this stuff; Barbra and the clowns are just too much. Here’s a refreshing change: a period piece (from just the period we’re looking at) that we should have seen and heard a lot more than we actually did. Are you ready, boots?

All right, back to our main theme. And it’s time to close with the be-all and end-all of the songs that everybody sang. This is the absolute, ultimate song that everyone – and I mean everyone – in the middlebrow-entertainer category felt they had to perform through the middle and late ’60s. And you know, it actually is a pretty great song. But I get a kind of chuckle out of giving it over tonight to, out of all the hundreds of performers I could have chosen, none other than Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle. Enjoy!

4 thoughts on “When everybody sang the same songs

    • I was SO going to include this song! But then I realized I wasn’t sure whether it fell into the category of “Songs every MOR singer tackled on every variety show (and album)” or “Songs by a single artist that were so overwhelmingly popular as to be, for a time, utterly ubiquitous and inescapable.” That latter category’s a post for another day – but think Anne Murray and Snowbird.

  1. Jim Nabors… I remember the first time I heard him sing… I only knew him from Gomer Pyle.. I almost fell off my chair. Thanks for a great article; brought back all sorts of good memories – I’m a mean karaoke afficionado ;o)) – and if you still want to see that article on The Saturday Evening Girls, just send me an email and I’ll send it your way. Johanne.

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Johanne! And yes, I’m very interested in reading your soon-to-be-published scholarly article – congratulations again! – and have sent you my email address by Facebook message. Cheers!

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