Off Topic Messages

Dick Haymes and the art of the ballad

Tue Nov 27, 2012 3:08 am

When Sinatra recorded his album "Nice n Easy" in March 1960, it was something of a departure. Firstly, it was the first Sinatra album to be built around a hit, even if the title song had little in common with the rest of the album (the same scenario occured in the mid-60s with the Strangers In The Night album). But, more importantly, it was the first time since his first album (The Voice, released by Columbia in 1945) that Sinatra recorded an album of ballads not obviously linked by theme. In The Wee Small Hours was about loneliness, whereas Only The Lonely was about despair. Nice n Easy was simply an album of beautiful love songs, lushly orchestrated by Nelson Riddle. Sinatra's performance and the orchestration seems to me to be inspired by a wonderful album by another great singer: "Rain Or Shine", recorded by Dick Haymes.

Haymes was a singer that never quite got the same level of fame as Sinatra. His baritone was deep and rich, with a wide vibrato that often got out of control in the singer's later years. His life was plagued by an addiction to alcohol and it was at one of his career and professional low-points that he signed with Capitol. His two-year marriage to Rita Hayworth had been a disaster and he was without either a film or record contract at the time, and at an all-time low.

In 1955, Haymes (who also started his career with the big bands) signed to Capitol and teamed up with arranger Ian Bernard for his greatest work, "Rain or Shine". Ian Bernard came from the Cool Jazz school and his arrangements for the album, despite being string-based, have remarkable harmonic depth, sometimes even Ellingtonian in its harmonic structure (Ellington would himself record a similar-themed album, Ellington Indigos). The deep, slightly dark arrangements are a perfect background for Haymes's simple, yet jazz-tinged, vocal.

The album begins with a retread of Haymes's signature song, "It Might As Well Be Spring" (from State Fair), but he had matured a great deal since his first recording and the recording is beautifully rich. I remember my Mum having this album on vinyl when I was a kid, and we used to have an old radiogram at the time. Haymes's voice would literally pulsate through the floor due to its full, dark, rich baritone. "Sping" isn't the only remake on the album, "The More I See You" and "Where Or When" (both highlights) were also recorded by Haymes on the Decca label in the 1940s. The songs on the album are all familiar standards, but Haymes manages to make them all fresh. Check out his wonderful phrasing on "The Very Thought Of You":

This is music to cuddle up in front of the fire to on a winters evening. The performances are uniformally superb, and the singer is totally in control from beginning to end - only in the little-known "Is There Something Lovelier Than You" does his vibrato spiral out of control. His performance of the title song "Come Rain or Come Shine" is remarkable, and "Where Or When" was clearly the inspiration for Sinatra's own rarely-heard ballad recording of the song from a year or so later (but unreleased until the 1970s).

Haymes only recorded two great albums for Capitol before ill-fortune and the self-destruct button took over once again. His follow-up to "Rain Or Shine" was "Moonglow", which was in effect "Rain or Shine Volume 2", and was almost as good. Haymes is one of the forgotten singers from the period, perhaps because his spell with a major label in the 1950s was so short, and yet his two Capitol albums are highly regarded by lovers of jazz vocals everywhere - even if they rarely get mentioned in general discourse. "The Complete Capitol Collection" 2CD gathers together both of these albums plus a handful of outtakes, single sides and unreleased masters (although I prefer the earlier, single disc "Capitol Years which features both albums but not the singles which break the mood set by the albums). For lovers of great music this is well worth the few pounds it costs. Haymes made a number of "comebacks" but never again recorded anything near the standard of his two Capitol albums. He died in 1980 after a long battle with cancer.

Re: Dick Haymes and the art of the ballad

Tue Nov 27, 2012 7:21 am

The man had a voice. His tone was so rich. I love "You'll Never Know" and "It's a Grand Night for Singing." It's kind of sad that save for Sinatra and Dino who managed some hits in the 1960s and Tony Bennett who stayed around long enough for a late in life comeback, that basically all pre-rock pop singers have been dumped from the mainstream. The idea that all these singers were vanilla and soulless has persisted too long. There was a reason Elvis came up and changed the mainstream; that doesn't mean that the mainstream was worthless before rock n' roll although too many believe that.

Re: Dick Haymes and the art of the ballad

Tue Nov 27, 2012 7:30 am

This is a wonderful post. I've come across this album before but have never picked up a copy. Your comments have inspired me to seek out a good pressing on vinyl, my preferred format for music from this era.

Thank you!

Re: Dick Haymes and the art of the ballad

Tue Nov 27, 2012 4:29 pm

I'm not big on the vinyl v CD argument, but have to say the original pressing of the album does sound gorgeous. That said, The Capitol Years CD is produced by Alan Dell and is also very very good.

Re: Dick Haymes and the art of the ballad

Tue Nov 27, 2012 10:37 pm

Thanks for this post, I think I will investigate!