Perhaps the only way to follow the deafening silence that obscure Progressive Rock bands can ensure, is to balance it out with the warm glow of Variety show artists. We all love Dean Martin (don’t we?) here he is with the completely forgotten Caterina Valente and an easy chemistry that Deano had with all the women he came across. Disturbingly he died of emphysema on Christmas day 1993 aged 78 – a victim of his era’s ignorance about the perils of smoking.
Caterina Valente was an Italian born in Paris and although there’s not as much information about her as one might expect in relation to her successes, it seems that she might have been a multi-lingual, guitar playing, dancing actress with a powerful voice. Variety shows loved an all ’round talent, and Valente was certainly that, effortlessly singing in English, Portugese, French, German or Spanish and with an easy personality, you can find her smiling and comfortably holding her own in the company of Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Louis Armstrong and no doubt many others unpreserved.
Valente was a popular face on American Variety shows in the sixties but in Germany she was a Schlager star – in 1954 her German version of I Love Paris (Ganz Paris Träumt Von Der Liebe) sold 900,000 copies. I was fascinated to read that Schalger was a backlash against American Rock And Roll – the establishment rebelling against the trends. Those syrupy strings and simply expressed sentiments continue to horrify with their expert studio orchestras and professional arrangers, talented faceless recording engineers and pure vocal performances probably done in one or two takes with everything recorded at once- no mistakes, incredible sound, just the wrong sound for critical opinion. Listen to Caterina Valente’s Greatest Hits album, listen to the expertise – what other music can you despise and admire simultaneously.
In the archive, there has always been room for this kind of artist and rather than regarding such TV shows as pap, I see them more as a insightful look at the optimism of the age, uncynical times – harmlessly politically incorrect light entertainment. Where would we be in England without Morecombe And Wise and their guests – Shirley Bassey and her gowns, Nana Mouskouri and her glasses, music that touched and inspired your parents. In 1966 my Dad was 44, my Mum in her late thirties – they were people that remembered war and seeing them transfixed by these glitzy, colourful productions made possible by peace was something rather moving when put into perspective – there’s nothing quite like it and never will be again.