Big-band love songs get the spoken-word treatment, at last

Big-band love songs get the spoken-word treatment, at last

For years, The A.V. Club has delved into cinematic history’s dustbin with Films That Time Forgot, but far more records are released every year than films. If cinema has a dustbin of forgotten films, music has a giant Dumpster. In our new Albums That Time Forgot feature, we examine records few people would remember.

Artist: Franklyn MacCormack and the Russ Garcia Orchestra

Album: The Torch Is Burning: The Poetic Voice Of Franklin McCormack

Label: Liberty Records, 1958

Wait, who? A longtime broadcaster based in Chicago, Franklyn MacCormack was known for his soothing overnight radio show, which featured “quiet hour tones designed to tie memories to.” WGN Radio described it as “an oasis of listenable music for the ears of those who must burn the midnight oil.” (Wow, listenable?!) He was sort of like a Delilah for the first half of the 20th century, only he read sentimental poetry on the air. The story goes that a young MacCormack covered some dead air during a broadcast by grabbing a nearby book of poetry and reading it. The next day the station was inundated with requests for more schmaltz, and MacCormack had found his niche. 

Eventually Liberty Records—home to Henry Mancini and “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)”—released The Torch Is Burning, featuring MacCormack doing spoken-word versions of love songs like “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “You Go To My Head,” “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” and many others, his velvety voice backed by syrupy strings from the Garcia orchestra.

From the liner notes: “Whether you know him for his radio and television shows, recordings or motion pictures, we are sure you will be pleased that we have brought Franklyn MacCormack into your home again, with all the poetry, nostalgia and passion for which his voice is so famous.”

Key songs: Album opener “Why Do I Love You,” a Mary Carolyn Davies poem that was MacCormack’s signature. After hearing it, listeners have essentially heard all of The Torch Is Burning, as each song repeats the template of MacCormack’s breathy sentiment accompanied by swelling string arrangements. But hey, fans of standards like “I’ll Remember April” won’t find similar versions anywhere else.

Can easily be distinguished by: The buxom blonde on the cover with yearning in her eyes. Also, the complete misspelling of MacCormack’s name on the cover (“Franklin McCormack”). Way to go, Liberty Records. (Subsequent prints of the album cover corrected this error.)

Sign that it was made in 1958: MacCormack’s bio on the back cover mentions he “has been featured on all four major radio networks.” The back cover also touts The Torch Is Burning was recorded in “TRANSISTORIZED SPECTRA-SONIC-SOUND…the ultimate in High Fidelity.” The description of Spectra-Sonic-Sound (also the title of a Nation Of Ulysses song) is pure hi-fi-era hooey, touting its low signal-to-noise ratio and advising listeners “use the RIAA equalization curve.” Please note its “frequency response is from 20 cps to 20,000 cps.” 

Filed Under: Music

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