Frank Lamphere writes about Dean Martin, The Great Appeal Dean Martin More Popular Than Ever!
Each year since his death in 1995 there seems to be more and more "Dean Martin" everywhere you look. Infomercials by Guthy-Renker pushing the Best of the Dean Martin Variety Shows and the Celebrity Roasts, biographies (including those by his children Deana and Ricci, both whom are fine entertainers in their own right), Dino’s songs used in commercials and Super Bowls, a recent posthumous duets CD release, Martin and Lewis movies in boxed sets, a biographical Hollywood film about the phenomenal Martin and Lewis comedy team, and reports that re-releases of classic Dean Martin albums from the 1950s and '60s are selling in droves. What’s going on here? Is the world finally realizing something that we Dean Martin fans have always known? That great talent and great recordings can survive all the musical trends and sound as good to today’s listeners, as they did to our parents and grandparents. Just look at Tony Bennett who at 85, is perhaps more relevant today than he was fifty years ago during his hit making years, thanks to his continuing devotion to singing quality songs and in a style that has few practitioners. We continually read how this celebrity and that celebrity refer to Dean Martin as "The King of Cool", or how he was "The Very Definition of Cool" etc... I would like to briefly discuss Dean Martin’s vocal quality and singing style. And take the dialogue beyond "cool".
What is it that makes Dean Martin’s singing so appealing?
As a singer, Dean possessed a magnificently beautiful voice (see below). The rich tones that emanated from Dean's baritone were perfectly suited for early ‘50s ballads such as: You Belong To Me, I’ll Always Love You, and Where Can I Go Without You. According to music historians, Dean had a way of phrasing that borrowed from both Bing Crosby and Harry Mills (Mills Brothers). It is necessary to say that it was also very Mediterranean. In fact, Dean "defined" Mediterranean more so than any other Italian-American vocalist of his generation. Vocalists like Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Don Cornell, Vic Damone, Jerry Vale, Tony Bennett and others just didn’t come close to how musically "Italian", Dean Martin sounded.
The Dean Martin style consisted of slightly behind the beat phrasing and a natural bouncing quality that he used on easy swing and Dixieland numbers. There was the smooth yet heavy legato phrasing when a lyric needed a dramatic effect. There was the one-of-a-kind trilling he used in most of his recordings (approached in naturalness and quality only by that of Bing Crosby) that had such a great appeal to this writer.
Dean was a showman who had a natural charisma and wit to go along with his vocal abilities. He looked good when he sang. He was a handsome, tailored troubadour. On stage Dean had the persona of a laid-back entertainer with the ever present drink. the boozing image given credence by the borderline vocal slurs that were a big part of his 1960s singing style (Everybody Loves Somebody, The Door Is Still Open To My Heart, and Lay Some Happiness On Me). Likeable, believable, adored by women and admired by men. And unlike contemporaries Frank Sinatra and Mel Tormé, Dean, had a way of working that didn’t appear to take the performance too seriously. Whether developed or innate this stage manner seemed to tell the listeners "Hey, this ain't no big thing folks, I'm just like you". Probably unbeknownst to the audience, this aloofness had great appeal.
It was the afore mentioned qualities: the voice, the style, the manner, and the years of hard work in clubs and on the road, in the formative part of his career and undoubtably surrounding himself with the "right" people, that made Dean Martin such a musical success and incredibly successful in all other aspects of show business.
Fortunately, the fact that Dean Martin remains so admired and so commercial, will assure us that the products (recordings, movies, television shows, books etc...) will continue to flow, keeping all of the legions of us "Dino fans" happy, while a whole new generation discovers the great talent and musical magic found in Dean Martin’s recordings.
People have asked me over the years "Frank, who's your favorite singer?"
Tough question, that I have fielded many times. Here it is:
My favorite singer when primarily considering quality of repertoire and arrangements is Frank Sinatra. He was great. His whole organization for recording was great. Astoudingly so! Hard to come up with anything negative. He set the standard.
My sentimental favorite singer though, is without doubt, Dean Martin. Dino could sing a very mediocre song (a throw away) and to these ears, it usually still sounded great. The voice was so warm and masculine. It just didn't matter. Everything sounded good!
The vocal performance just had something that was listenable despite a sometimes "nothing" lyric. Pure beauty. More often than not, the people asking that question agreed.
That is powerful! Thanks Dino!
My favorite Dean Martin recording?
No question, "Everybody Loves Somebody" his big hit. The quintessential Dino vocal style on full display. Again, the lyrics were so-so. It just didn't matter!
Extra note- I will be releasing a "Dino tribute album" in early 2024. This will feature 4-5 jazz musicians (some of the best in the biz) backing me on 13 newly envisioned arrangements of songs recorded by Dean. Some, commonly associated with Martin, others a bit more obscure. We'll call them "optional listening" to Dean. Among the recordings are: the opening track Volare, I'll Be Seeing You, Sway, My Melancholy Baby, Besame Mucho, O Sole Mio, Smile and others.
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