Tag Archives: World War Two

Victory at Pearl Harbor…

The significance of December 7, 1941 is something that most of our parents do not need to be reminded about. It was a shocking, indelible moment for them, much like September 11, 2001 was for another generation of Americans.

There are not many veterans of Pearl Harbor still with us. Not many left who saw the Japanese planes diving out of the sky, felt the concussions as great battleships shuddered, burned, and sank. Not many left who can stand on the observation deck of the USS Arizona Memorial, gaze at that sunken iron tomb and say, “I knew a guy who went down with that ship.”

On December 7th, we remember what was lost at Pearl Harbor: the lives, the ships, the planes – our national innocence.

But on this day, we should also remember the miracle of Pearl Harbor: the incredible effort that raised so many of those ships from the bottom of the harbor, patched them up – and sent them back into the fight. Only three of the ships that were bombed in Pearl Harbor on that day of infamy were forever lost to the fleet.

And of the 30 ships in the Japanese fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor, only one survived the war without being sunk.

The dynamism, optimism and resolve displayed by those military crewmen and civilians who, within months, raised and repaired the devastated wreckage of Pearl Harbor are qualities that Americans must call on once again to overcome our national challenges. Would that our leaders would spend less time sowing the fear of future attacks – and more time appealing to the better angels of our national identity.

“Can do” was the unofficial motto of the Seabees, the legendary Navy outfit that led the reconstruction effort at Pearl Harbor.

Where’s that American “Can do” spirit now?

P.S. Click here for a WWII-era Pearl Harbor song I found online. It may seem a bit too upbeat at first, but in the context of our ultimate victory at Pearl Harbor, it’s not too bouncy after all. It’s got that confidence and “Can do” spirit.

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Victory at Pearl Harbor…

The significance of December 7, 1941 is something that most of our parents do not need to be reminded about. It was a shocking, indelible moment for them, much like September 11, 2001 was for another generation of Americans. I don’t want to spend time here comparing those two disastrous attacks: one by a hostile state, the other by a handful of extremists. That’s for another time, another post.

This is a day of remembrance.

There are not many veterans of Pearl Harbor still with us. Not many left who saw the Japanese planes diving out of the sky, felt the concussions as great battleships shuddered, burned, and sank. Not many left who can stand on the observation deck of the USS Arizona Memorial, gaze at that sunken iron tomb and say, “I knew a guy who went down with that ship.”

On December 7th, we remember what was lost at Pearl Harbor: the lives, the ships, the planes – our national innocence.

But on this day, we should also remember the miracle of Pearl Harbor: the incredible effort that raised so many of those ships from the bottom of the harbor, patched them up – and sent them back into the fight. Only three of the ships that were bombed in Pearl Harbor on that day of infamy were forever lost to the fleet.

And of the 30 ships in the Japanese fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor, only one survived the war without being sunk.

The dynamism, optimism and resolve displayed by those military crewmen and civilians who, within months, raised and repaired the devastated wreckage of Pearl Harbor are qualities that Americans must call on once again to overcome our national challenges. Would that our leaders would spend less time sowing the fear of future attacks – and more time appealing to the better angels of our national identity.

“Can do” was the unofficial motto of the Seabees, the legendary Navy outfit that led the reconstruction effort at Pearl Harbor.

Where’s that American “Can do” spirit now?

P.S. Click here for a WWII-era Pearl Harbor song I found online. It may seem a bit too upbeat at first, but in the context of our ultimate victory at Pearl Harbor, it’s not too bouncy after all. It’s got that confidence and “Can do” spirit.

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Victory at Pearl Harbor…

(This was orginally posted in 2010.)

The significance of December 7, 1941 is something that most of our parents do not need to be reminded about. It was a shocking, indelible moment for them, much like September 11, 2001 was for another generation of Americans. I don’t want to spend time here comparing those two disastrous attacks: one by a hostile state, the other by a handful of extremists. That’s for another time, another post.

This is a day of remembrance.

There are not many veterans of Pearl Harbor still with us. Not many left who saw the Japanese planes diving out of the sky, felt the concussions as great battleships shuddered, burned, and sank. Not many left who can stand on the observation deck of the USS Arizona Memorial, gaze at that sunken iron tomb and say, “I knew a guy who went down with that ship.”

On December 7th, we remember what was lost at Pearl Harbor: the lives, the ships, the planes – our national innocence.

But on this day, we should also remember the miracle of Pearl Harbor: the incredible effort that raised so many of those ships from the bottom of the harbor, patched them up – and sent them back into the fight. Only three of the ships that were bombed in Pearl Harbor on that day of infamy were forever lost to the fleet.

And of the 30 ships in the Japanese fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor, only one survived the war without being sunk.

The dynamism, optimism and resolve displayed by those military crewmen and civilians who, within months, raised and repaired the devastated wreckage of Pearl Harbor are qualities that Americans must call on once again to overcome our national challenges. Would that our leaders would spend less time sowing the fear of future attacks – and more time appealing to the better angels of our national identity.

“Can do” was the unofficial motto of the Seabees, the legendary Navy outfit that led the reconstruction effort at Pearl Harbor.

Where’s that American “Can do” spirit now?

P.S. Click here for a WWII-era Pearl Harbor song I found online. It may seem a bit too upbeat at first, but in the context of our ultimate victory at Pearl Harbor, it’s not too bouncy after all. It’s got that confidence and “Can do” spirit.

$(KGrHqNHJBcE-dPs9M,cBPn+++hkMg~~60_57P.S.S. On this day, let’s remember one of the great WWII POW escape artists. If you have any pals who love The Great Escape or Shawshank Redemption, please point them toward the story of William Ash: Texan, RAF pilot, POW — and a guy who escaped the Nazi prison camps 13 times!

He’s the guy that inspired Steve McQueen’s character in The Great Escape.

Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1481088858/

Kindle ebook: (free to Prime members) http://amzn.com/B00AF4I0K8

Comments from authors on UNDER THE WIRE:

9780553817119What a splendid book! A young Texan brought up in the middle of the Depression who pulls himself up by his bootstraps, thereafter hikes to Canada to fly Spitfires for the Brits while America is still neutral. Just as the U. S. enters the war, he is shot down, and another exciting and terrible episode in his life begins. Living under terrible conditions he makes several attempts to escape until he finally succeeds in saving himself and many of his fellow POWs. This is a moving and heroic story of a young man who overcomes all obstacles with a sense of humor and succeeds in the end. Hollywood should snap this book up in a flash. Buy it, read it, enjoy it.

Charles Whiting, author of Hero: Life and Death of Audie Murphy

AshUNDER THE WIRE is a well-written and exciting memoir of wartime captivity that is packed with incident and vividly recreates the oft-neglected early days of Stalag Luft III and the now forgotten mass escape from Oflag XXIB, Schubin — a sort of dress rehearsal for the famous Great Escape. The author himself is one of the great unsung heroes of the Second World War, as are some of those whose adventures he records in this remarkable book. It also makes a refreshing change to read a memoir by someone who is politically literate and knew exactly what he was fighting against and what he was fighting for.’ There are passages in this book – particularly those concerning the political awakening of POWs and their determination to create a better post-war world – that make the reader want to stand up and cheer.

Charles Rollings, author of Wire and Walls, Wire and Worse

UNDER THE WIRE is everything I would expect from a memoir by Bill Ash — fast-paced, exciting and moving, but also colored by his mischievous sense of humor. He has a real gift as a storyteller — the characters and events come off the page as if we were meeting and experiencing them ourselves. Bill Ash was one of the great escape artists of the Second World War, and always managed to put himself in the centre of the action. He endured a lot, but never lost his essential humanity and zest for life, something that comes through very strongly in his book. That’s what makes UNDER THE WIRE such a joy to read — getting to know the irrepressible Ash and reliving his adventures with him.

Jonathan Vance, author of A Gallant Company: The Men of the Great Escape.

 

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Otto Graham: The Greatest Pro Football Quarterback Ever

Ottobanner1 ottobanner21390174447012-USATSI-7685836The NFL conference championship games that were played today were as thrilling and satisfying a pair of gridiron contests as a football fan could desire. It was great to watch two veteran quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning face off for the AFC title – and then enjoy the next generation of star quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, do battle for the NFC crown.

otto-grahamHowever, in the lead-up to these games – and undoubtedly in the two-week media hype extravaganza that will precede the Super Bowl, there’s one thing that will bug the hell out of me.

In all the talk about Manning and Brady and Wilson and Kaepernick and the great quarterbacks of all time – there’s one name that won’t be mentioned.

It’s the one name that should always be mentioned.

Otto Graham.

A couple of months ago I was listening to sports talk radio host Colin Cowherd hosting a discussion of the greatest NFL quarterbacks on his morning radio show. Cowherd had the nerve to say he didn’t want to hear about guys like Otto Grahama who played in the “no face mask era”.

JETS DOLPHINS AFC CHAMPIONSHIPWell, Colin, here’s proof that Otto Graham wore a face mask in the NFL.

(Later in this post, I’ll show why Cowherd’s comment proves there’s an even deeper gash in his NFL football knowledge regarding Graham and face masks.)

imagesThen, last month, The Los Angeles Times ran an article by Mike DiGiovanna ranking the top 10 sports records that’ll never be broken. Candidates were chosen from professional sports, the Olympics and major college sports programs – and the writer limited his choices to records set from 1940 on.

Otto_GrahamBut DiGiovanna did not find a spot on his list for the most unbreakable professional sports record of all post-1940. It’s a record that will always be held by Otto Graham.

After his brilliant college career at Northwestern University was interrupted – and his professional career was delayed — by his service in the Navy during World War Two, the great Hall of Famer Otto Everett Graham, Jr. played 10 seasons of professional football for the Cleveland Browns – and took his team to the championship game all ten years!

otto-graham-brownsThat’s right, ten out of ten.

Let me say that again.

Otto Graham played 10 seasons of pro football for the Cleveland Browns – and took his team to the championship game all ten years!

And he won 7 of those 10 championship games.

Can you imagine a more unbreakable sports record?

13543826d76ec7bffd208f621ebdb2adFrom 1946 to 1949, Graham and The Browns dominated the All-America Football Conference. Then, they joined the NFL in 1950. Did Otto and his Browns struggle as an NFL expansion team? Hardly. They simply ran off an unprecedented and unequaled string of 6 straight NFL title game appearances from 1950 to 1955.

After that, the legendary Otto Graham retired as a player at the top of his game. (Just like another Browns legend, Jim Brown, would do in the following decade.)

tom-brady-bill-belichickjpg-95e8c0ab5d279e48_largeIt drives me crazy to hear otherwise intelligent and knowledgeable football pundits talk about Tom Brady and Coach Bill Belichick as perhaps the most successful quarterback and coach combo in NFL history.

Really?

Brady & Belichick? Oh, please…

otto-graham-1Paul Brown was coach of the Cleveland Browns during Graham’s entire career. Did Brady and Belichick get to the title game 10 seasons in row?

Okay, let’s throw out the AAFC years and stick to Brown and Graham’s NFL years. Have Brady & Belichick gotten to 6 NFL championship games in a row? And Brown & Graham won three of those title games, including Graham’s last game, the 1955 championship. Like I said, Otto Graham went out on top.

And, for all you stats geeks, consider this:

hof-grahamWith Graham at QB, the Browns posted a record of 114 wins, 20 losses and four ties, including a 9–3 playoff record. And while many of Graham’s records have been surpassed in the modern era — he still holds the NFL record for career average yards gained per pass attempt with 9 yards per attempt. That’s not 9 yards per pass completion – that’s 9 yards per pass attempt.

Basically, Otto Graham was good for a first down every time he threw the damn football.

otto-graham-signed-image-3Graham also holds the record for the highest career winning percentage for an NFL starting quarterback, at 0.814. If winning is the greatest measure of a pro quarterback – Otto Graham was better than Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Terry Bradshaw, Tom Brady and all the others.

And he was tough as nails, Colin Cowherd.

In fact, Mr. Cowherd, for your information — Otto Graham played a role in ushering in the face mask era in pro football.

pro53chinOtto Graham led the Browns to 11 straight wins to start the 1953 season. (Their lone loss came in the season’s final game against the Philadelphia Eagles.) Late that season, in a game against the 49ers, Graham took a forearm to the face that opened a nasty, bloody gash it took 15 stitches to close. Was he done for the game?

No way. This was Otto Graham.

His helmet was fitted with a clear plastic face mask and he came back into the game — which The Browns won. Graham’s injury helped inspire the development of the modern face mask.

Browns HOF galleryAll right, I’ve had my say. Look it all up yourself. I’m tired of getting pissed off and wanting to throw things at the radio and TV when I hear all this yakking about the best NFL quarterbacks ever – and never any love for Otto Graham.

Now, onto the Super Bowl.

Peyton Manning is amazing. Russell Wilson is exciting. But Otto Graham was the best ever.

And I’d say that even if he weren’t a fellow Northwestern alumnus.00066

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BFD: Bing, Frank & Dean

BFD 2BING, FRANK & DEAN are a BFD.

200_p16405p6j13Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin dominated the American popular music landscape from the Jazz Age to the Rock & Roll Revolution of the 50’s. Listening to this collection of tunes (see below), it’s abundantly clear that in the mid-1920’s Bing was already plugged into black American jazz and rhythm and blues in the same way that Elvis Presley would later synthesize those same black influences – along with everything he learned from Bing, Frank (and in particular) Dean.

bing3Among 20th century singers, a case can be made that Bing is King. The development of the microphone made Bing’s vocal style possible. At a time when vaudeville singers like Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor were still belting it out to sing over the band, Bing caressed the microphone and used it to his advantage. Bing put a song across in deep, subtle, and dynamic ways that would not have been possible without electric amplification. Bing’s jazzy, relaxed and sophisticated vocal style influenced every pop, rock and jazz singer that followed – whether they knew it or not.

Frank-SinatraI thank my friend Dana for hipping me to Frank Sinatra back in our days at Northwestern University. In fact, the only song played on Dana’s Hi-Fi as often Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” was Sinatra’s “Come Fly With Me.”

My resistance to Sinatra owed a lot to politics and Sinatra’s uneasy reaction to rock and roll. But I should’ve known better than to reject one of the great vocal stylists in popular music history — and a champion of great songwriters.

Elvis Presley, the King of Rock & Roll, was smarter than that.

Dean_MartinYoung Elvis was a big Dean Martin fan. Of course, he was. Dean was the epitome of cool – and Dean’s smooth, effortless, yet exciting style – with his signature, sexy dynamics and boozy note bending became part of Elvis’ vocal arsenal as well. I hear a ton of Dean on Elvis cuts like “Love Me Tender” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”

All right, let’s get to the songs. Too bad nobody has a Hi-Fi anymore – because that’s how this music should be appreciated — with a mixed drink in hand, sharing it with your favorite girl. And/or your kids. It’s a BFD.

Click on the links below the song titles to hear the tunes.

1. Some of These Days (Bing)

images-2This record is often cited as a prime example of Bing Crosby’s ability to sing jazz. In 1932, Bing recorded his take on this Shelton Brooks song written in 1910 specifically for Sophie Tucker. Bing is backed on this cut by the Lennie Hayton orchestra, featuring a great solo by Crosby favorite Eddie Lang. Listening to Bing swing in front of a classic jazz band, you can easily imagine this tune coming up with the credits after an episode of “Boardwalk Empire”. Bing was at home in front of bands of all sizes and styles. He cut his teeth with jazz bands in the 20’s before becoming a fixture of swing bands in the 30’s. These bands were all about dance music – and Bing knew his role, always giving the band’s players plenty of space to solo, rock and wail.

In Bing’s early days, dance bands didn’t always employ a vocalist. In fact, when Bing began singing with Paul Whiteman’s band, he was required to sit holding a dummy instrument so as not to look odd to the audience. By the time Frank Sinatra came along, it had recently become the fashion for bands to feature a regular vocalist. And the vocalists, and not the bandleaders, eventually became the stars. As usual, Bing was a trailblazer. Bandleader Tommy Dorsey told Sinatra that the one singer he should listen to was Bing Crosby. Duh. As a kid, Frank had a picture of Bing taped above his bed.

“Sure, I’m a Crosby fan. Everybody’s a Crosby fan.”


Frank Sinatra

2. Stormy Weather (Frank)

“Frank Sinatra is the kind of singer who comes along once in a lifetime.

But why did it have to be my lifetime?”


Bing Crosby

Frank-Sinatra1 jpgFrank cut this Harold Arlen & Ted Koehler tune in L.A. in 1947 for a special V-Disc for the occupation troops overseas. Frank made a lot of V-Discs during the war. Ironically, the man with such an ear for melody was kept out of the war by a perforated eardrum, causing him to be classified 4-F (“Registrant not acceptable for military service”) by his draft board in ‘43. An FBI report released in 1998 showed that the doctors had also noted that Frank was a “neurotic” and “not acceptable material from a psychiatric standpoint.” This was omitted from his record to avoid “undue unpleasantness for both the selectee and the induction service.”

3. Memories Are Made Of This (Dean)

BTW — Dean was drafted into the army in 1944 and served a year in Akron, Ohio before being reclassified as 4-F and discharged, possibly because of a double hernia.

profile_imageNow back to the music. On this recording, it’s easy to hear how Dean’s vocal style had such a profound effect on young Elvis Presley. Dean recorded “Memories Are Made Of This” with Dick Stabile and The Easy Riders. They cut the track on October 28, 1955 and it was released a month later. The record hit #1 on the charts on December 3rd — just a week after its release and less than two months after it was recorded. Those were the days, huh? Came you imagine a recording going from the studio to #1 in less than two months now? And this was at a time when Elvis was tearing up the charts. I love the stripped down instrumentation: just a guitar and an upright bass. Not even a drum. Totally cool. Totally relaxed. Totally Dean.

4. Shoo Shoo Baby (Bing)

bing-crosby-32-big-broadcast-q-1-e1mtWritten by Phil Moore, “Shoo Shoo Baby” was a big hit for The Andrews Sisters. Bing recorded this live version with a big band for an Armed Forces Broadcast during World War Two. By the 1940’s, Bing had already enjoyed more than two decades of success in the music industry. In 1926, fledgling crooner Bing was singing on the vaudeville circuit in L.A. when he came to the attention of one of the greatest bandleaders of the era, Paul Whiteman (a.k.a. The King of Jazz), who hired him to join one of the most popular bands in America. Unlike the typical vaudeville shouters, Bing learned to work the mic (and the crowd), drawing listeners in with his groovy, jazzy, mellow dynamics. But Bing was evidently a bit of a rock star in his early days – and Whiteman had to fire his star vocalist in 1930 due to his repeated youthful peccadilloes. Bada Bing, Bing.

5. Ol’ Man River (Frank)

Frank_Sinatra_in_Till_the_Clouds_Roll_ByThis Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein tune from the Broadway musical “Show Boat” was recorded by Frank on a CBS Radio Broadcast in Hollywood in April 1945 and included on a V-Disc sent to the troops in the last year of the war. By 1945, Frankmania was raging, with bobbysoxers swooning and throwing their underwear on stage during his gigs. In ‘44, his shows at the Paramount Theater in NYC sold out the 3,600 seats inside and left 30,000 fans outside dying to get in. As with Elvis and the Beatles, riots, hysteria and frenzied fandom drove a wedge between parents and their teenagers. Frank also sang the song in the 1945 film bio of Jerome Kern, “Till the Clouds Roll By”. Capitalizing on Frank’s appeal with teen audiences, the film included two versions of “Ol’ Man River” — the first a straightforward version sung by African-American actor-singer Caleb Peterson and the second a “crooner version” performed by Frank as the film’s grand finale. Trivia note: Bing’s 1928 recording of the song for Paul Whiteman’s band became his first #1 record as a vocalist.

6. You Was (Dean)

160x120-hFGI love Dean’s playful duet with Peggy Lee on this song, written by Sonny Burke & Paul Francis Webster, and recorded on December 12, 1948. Who but Dean could deliver a lyric like “my heart is a spherical, lyrical miracle” with such easygoing self-assurance. (Dynamic moments like that – and performances like “Memories Are Made Of This” prove that Dean is the link between Bing and Elvis.) With his swinging playboy image, Dean was a master of the sexy male-female duet. If you dig this, check out Dean’s Christmas album classic, “Baby It’s Cold Outside”.

7. Pistol Packin’ Mama (Bing)

This 1943 recording by Bing and The Andrews Sisters was the first number record on the Juke Box Folk charts — followed onto the charts by the original version (recorded March 18, 1942) performed by Al Dexter, who also wrote the song.

8. Young At Heart (Frank)

Frank recorded this lovely, sentimental but swinging song, written by C. Leigh & J. Richards, for his 1953 album “This Is Sinatra”. Like so many classic Frank hits of the ‘50s, it was arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle, who perfected the lush orchestrations that showcased Frank’s voice at the height of its power and subtlety.

9. Ain’t That A Kick In The Head (Dean)

If there’s a quintessential Rat Pack recording – this is it, baby! Composed in 1960 by Jimmy Van Heusen with lyrics by Sammy Cahn, “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?” was recorded by Dean on May 10, 1960 with Nelson Riddle conducting the orchestra. Dean performed the song in the Rat Pack movie “Ocean’s 11”.

10. Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? (Bing)

Bing_Crosby_Photograph_C10039657Along with “Ol Man River”, this powerful balled carries the sad but true tale of working men – black and white – from the 19th into the 20th century. Written in 1930 by lyricist E.Y. “Yip” Harburg and composer Jay Gorney, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” became one of the most popular American songs of the Great Depression, best known through recordings by Bing and Rudy Vallee. Both versions were released right before Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s election to the presidency in 1932 and both records topped the charts. Bing’s recording became the best-selling record of its time: “an anthem of the shattered dreams of the era.”

11. Where Or When (Frank)

performance_24This recording captures Frank in concert in 1966 at The Sands in Las Vegas with Count Basie and The Orchestra — arranged and conducted by Quincy Jones.  Is that enough talent in one room? Frank originally recorded the song for his dark 1958 concept album “Only The Lonely”, a collection of songs that convey heartbreak and urban isolation with a moody film noir feel, including “One For My Baby” which closes out this post.

12. Open Up The Doghouse (Dean)

Nat-King-Cole-and-Dean-MartinThis one’s nothing but sheer, exuberant, naughty fun – if you can get past the utterly non-PC last verse. Dean recorded this song, written by R. Alfred & M. Fisher as a live duet with Nat King Cole, on September 7, 1954 with Billy May and Orchestra, arranged by Nelson Riddle. When I interviewed the great Wrecking Crew guitarist Glen Campbell for “Behind The Music”, he told me that when he played sessions for Dean at Capitol Records, Dean would show up after the band had rehearsed the tracks and knock his performances out quickly in front of a partying crowd of friends and entourage in the studio. Dean loved a live feel and came alive in front of an audience – and he liked to capture that vibe in the studio.

13. After You’ve Gone (Bing)

bing2Bing’s enduring image as a softhearted movie priest and Christmas special crooner has unfortunately overshadowed his trailblazing work as a jazz cat. Bing’s 1946 single “After You’ve Gone” is one of his lesser-known records — but it puts to rest any notion that Bing was a square. The track is drenched in New Orleans/Dixieland jump and jive. The song, written in 1918 by Turner Layton with lyrics by Henry Creamer, had been covered many times before Bing cut this version with Eddie Condon & His Orchestra (with new lyrics by Eddie Condon). It was later included on Bings’s 1951 album, “Bing Crosby & Some Jazz Friends”. Bing’s jazz friends on this track include Eddie Condon (guitar), Bud Freeman (tenor saxophone), Joe Dixon (clarinet), Wild Bill Davison (cornet), Bob Haggart (bass) and George Wettling (drums).

14. Come Fly With Me (Frank)

Here’s the song Dana Olsen introduced me to all those years ago, written by James Van Heusen & Sammy Cahn, arranged and conducted by Billy May for Frank’s 1957 album, “Come Fly With Me”. This is Frank and his groovy, hipster best. Martini anyone?

15. I’d Cry Like A Baby (Dean)

Dean recorded this easygoing yet plaintive S. Gallop & H. Steiner song on August 13, 1953 with Dick Stabile and Orchestra, arranged by Nelson Riddle. Cool, casual, groovy.

16. Now You Has Jazz (Bing)

Cole Porter wrote this song for the 1956 film “High Society” (which co-starred Bing and Frank), where it was introduced by Bing and Louis Armstrong and his band. Name a prominent singer or bandleader — and chances are that Bing worked with them at one time or another during his long career. Bing was the Great Collaborator.

17. In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning (Frank)

tumblr_m26obc0rhj1r6xvfko1_1280I just love this song, written by Bob Hilliard & Dave Mann. It’s one of my very favorite Frank tracks, arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle for Frank’s 1955 album of the same name. The albums that Frank made with Nelson Riddle comprise the apex of his recording career: Songs for Young Lovers, Swing Easy, In the Wee Small Hours, Songs for Swingin’ Lovers and Only the Lonely. Frank’s interpretations of the songs on these albums are so definitive that anyone who tried to cover these songs after him had to either consciously avoid sounding anything like Frank or give up and call their version a tribute. The singers who came before Frank, including Bing, found their interpretations erased from popular memory. Today’s best crooners, like Michael Bublé and Harry Connick, Jr. still can’t get out from under the weight of Frank’s indelible stylistic stamp.

18. You Belong To Me (Dean)

deanmartin03This is the suave, romantic Dino that every Italian-American woman in St. Rocco’s parish swooned over when his hits were played over the PA system during our annual Labor Day festival. Dean recorded this tune on June 12, 1952 with Dick Stabile and Orchestra, featuring Stabile on alto sax. Released only as a single, Dean’s recording reached #12 on the charts on September 6, 1952 – but it was still a hit at St. Rocco’s in the 60’s when I was a kid growing up. Of course, Dean and Frank were both Italian.

19. I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter (Bing)

bing-crosby_tieless_dm_1Written in 1935 by Fred E. Ahlert with lyrics by Joe Young, this is the song from which Sir Paul got the phrase “kisses on the bottom” for the title of his 2012 album. Bing recorded it for “Bing With a Beat” — his 1957 concept album featuring “hot” jazz and Dixieland arrangements by Matty Matlock, played by Bob Scobey’s Frisco Jazz Band. Which leads to a second Beatles connection. In a TV interview on the 20th anniversary of John Lennon’s passing, John’s friend Elliot Mintz referred to this album while talking about John’s interest in Bing’s music. According to Mintz, “Yoko gave him this old-fashioned jukebox and John stocked it with Bing Crosby records. People kind of expected him to have rock ‘n’ roll records in there, but it was almost totally Crosby stuff. There were three songs which John played over and over. I still remember them. They were Crosby with a jazz quartet from the ’50s, I think. He would banter and talk in the songs and John thought that was just the end. The songs were “Whispering”, “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”, and “Dream a Little Dream of Me”. Yeah, those were the songs, I can still see John listening to them.”

(Note: I checked to make sure, and yep – all three of those songs are on “Bing With a Beat”.)

20. I’ve Got The World On A String (Frank)

FrankSinatraWritten by Harold Arlen & Ted Koeler and recorded on April 30, 1953 for the album “This Is Sinatra”, this song is Frank’s first pairing with arranger and conductor Nelson Riddle. Riddle kept the band out of Frank’s way and used bass, reeds and horns to underscore and punctuate Frank’s phrasing. Working with Riddle, Frank honed his vocal style, connecting more with the emotional demands of each song and developing a self-assurance that allowed him to play with the melody and even change the songwriter’s words on occasion if it felt right. All of this is evident on “I’ve Got the World on a String.” Riddle opens with a big orchestral splash that quickly fades, leaving Frank to deliver the opening lines with spare accompaniment. Then – bang – the band jumps back in! And Riddle uses the drums in a way that seems to anticipate Rock & Roll’s backbeat. It’s a bold, dramatic start to one of the most successful collaborations in popular music.

21. Just In Time (Dean)

images-1Dean recorded this song, with melody by Jule Styne and lyrics by Comden & Green, on May 17, 1960 for his album “This Time I’m Swingin”. The orchestra conducted by – who else? — Nelson Riddle. Judy Holliday and Dean sang the song in the 1960 film, “Bells Are Ringing”. Honestly, when you hear a song like this – and you imagine seeing and hearing Dino perform it live onstage with a big band – it’s easier to understand why men and women of a certain age in the late 50’s and early 60’s had no need (or ear) for rock and roll. They were swinging, baby. And damn. I miss those fabulous horns. Don’t you?

22. It’s Been A Long, Long Time (Bing)

Annex - Crosby, Bing_05This 1945 song, composed by Jule Styne with lyrics by Sammy Cahn, became a major hit at the end of World War Two, written from the perspective of someone welcoming home his significant other at the end of the war. A recording by Harry James and his band went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on November 24, 1945 while another version by Bing — accompanied by The Les Paul Trio — was also working its way up the charts. Bing’s record replaced Harry James’ version at No. 1 on December 8, 1945. By the way, this is the kind of guitar style that my first guitar teacher, no doubt a big Les Paul fan, tried to teach 12-year old me when I only wanted to rock. Like Bing, Les Paul makes all his brilliance, tuneful, tasteful phrasing and dazzling chops sound so effortless.

23. Nice And Easy (Frank)

The song’s title says it all. Frank recorded this tune, written by Lew Spence/Alan Bergman/Larry Keith, for his 1960 album of the same name. Arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle. (Have I heard that somewhere before?)

24. You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You (Dean)

dean-martin1Another dreamboat Dino song on the St. Rocco’s Labor Day Festival hit parade. Written by Russ Morgan, Larry Stock and James Cavanaugh and published in 1944, the song was first recorded by Morgan himself – but the best known version is by Dean, who recorded it for his 1964 album, “The Door Is Still Open to My Heart”.  It reached #24 on the US pop chart, #1 on the easy listening chart — and #1A on the St. Rocco’s PA pop chart – next to “Volare” (1B) and “Everybody Loves Somebody” (1C).

25. Nice Work If You Can Get It (Bing)

BingCrosbyBing recorded this George & Ira Gershwin classic for his 1956 album, “Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings” – a collaboration between Bing and Buddy Bregman. At the time, Bregman was a 26-year old wunderkind arranger, record producer and composer. Bing was 53. (53? Yikes! That’s younger than I am!) The album was a stylistic departure for Bing: the first time he recorded an album with a hard-swinging orchestra like Frank was doing with Nelson Riddle at the same time. The songs on the album were among the rare few that Bing had never recorded before. Besides coming up with the idea of the album, Bregman also did the orchestrations and conducted a handpicked group of Hollywood’s best musicians to back Bing in the studio. The Variety reviewer wrote, “Altogether it is quite a musical package – muscular and tender, driving and romantic, pulsating and lyrical. For Bing Crosby, the artist, it is a somewhat different testament to add to the many already on record and, as you will hear, an ingeniously varied and durable one.” Time Magazine said, “After 22 years of making records for Decca — plus a few before even Decca latched onto him — Bing Crosby steps out with a handful of oldies on a new label, proves himself virtually indestructible.” Nice work if you can get it.

26. One For My Baby (And One More For The Road) (Frank)

imgfrank sinatra2Frank first recorded this boozy lament, written by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen, for his melancholy masterpiece LP, Only The Lonely” in 1958. Eight years later, he recorded this live version at The Sands in Las Vegas with Count Basie and The Orchestra, arranged and conducted by Quincy Jones. I can’t think of a better way to wrap up this post. Set ‘em up, Frank. Let’s hear one more for the road.

Dino Bing Frank TIMEX b&w

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My Book Report: “The Day of Battle”

daybanner1day banner 2Later this week I’ll be traveling with my family to Italy. We’ll stay in Tuscany near Florence for a week and then head southward in Tuscany, close to Umbria and the ancient town of Amelia – the place my grandparents left when they came to America in the early 1910’s.

pic_03Amelia grew up around an ancient hill fort known to the Romans and some scholars consider Amelia the oldest town in Umbria. Whether that’s true isn’t certain, but it is clear that over the centuries, Amelia has seen its share of war. Occupied by the Etruscans and then the Romans, the town’s ancient hilltop fortress was a strategic point in the Second Latin War (remember that one?) way, way back in 340-338 BC. In World War Two, Umbria became a battlefield as retreating Nazi troops, hounded by an inexorable American and Allied advance, slowly withdrew from Italy under fire.

00087703-451287_catl_500Knowing I was going to be exploring Tuscany and Umbria, a good friend gave me The Day of Battle, Rick Atkinson’s excellent history of the Italian Campaign in World War Two. It’s one of the best-written, most thoroughly researched and yet completely readable books on military history that I’ve ever read.

Atkinson knows that all good storytelling is anchored in compelling characters, and he presents a great dramatic cast in The Day of Battle – from icons like Ike and Patton to lesser-known generals like Mark Clark and Lucian Truscott, common soldiers like Audie Murphy and Bill Mauldin, and the writers and reporters who followed them into battle, including Ernie Pyle and Eric Sevareid.

combat

Lt. Hanley and Sgt. Saunders. My childhood heroes on “Combat”.

Atkinson recently released The Guns at Last Light: The War in Europe, 1944-1945 — the last volume in his Liberation Trilogy which began with the Pulitzer Prize-winning An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943. Most guys my age were introduced to the war in Africa by watching The Rat Patrol. And the movie The Longest Day fixed the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944 in our memories and imaginations. Besides, Sergeant Saunders and the rest of his squad on Combat landed on D-Day!

However, how many of us know that the U.S. 5th Army liberated Rome on June 4, 1944 – just two days before the Allies assaulted the beaches of Normandy on D-Day?

height.290.width.427The second volume of Atkinson’s trilogy, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, filled in the Italian gap in my World War Two consciousness vividly and profoundly.

dob-photosnotinbook-23

Eisenhower and 5th Army Commander, General Mark Clark, study maps of Italy after the conquest of Sicily.

Atkinson deftly portrays the colorful personalities and political pressures behind the decision to undertake the Italian campaign: the machinations of Winston Churchill, the diplomacy and determination of Franklin Roosevelt, and the taxed patience of a chain-smoking General Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander in the Mediterranean during the first stages of the invasion.

Atkinson lays out the three basic reasons that the Allies fought in Italy: to knock fascist Italy out of the war and to engage as many German divisions as possible, thus taking pressure off the Soviets on the Eastern Front and keeping Hitler from reinforcing his Atlantic defenses before the planned invasion of Normandy.

dob-photosnotinbook-25Atkinson points out that military historians have debated whether the Italian campaign was a sideshow and whether or not all the strategic objectives were met – but, as The Day of Battle makes grimly clear, the savagery of the relentless combat for every inch of Italian soil was no sideshow for the cold, wet and dirty soldiers who fought across the beaches, rivers and mountain ridges of Sicily and the Italian peninsula.

article-0-0850C347000005DC-407_634x454As an American with deep Italian roots, I’m almost shamed to admit how little I knew about the Allied invasion of Sicily, the horrors of the Salerno and Anzio landings, and the slugging, slogging war of attrition waged against desperate German defenders dug into heavily fortified mountain strongholds like San Pietro and Monte Cassino.

Cassino-mapAfter the hard-won Allied breakthrough at Monte Cassino, and the link-up with American troops that finally broke out of the misery and butchery of the Anzio beachhead, the road to Rome was open.dob-photosnotinbook-51

holl190After General Mark Clark’s columns rode into Rome along the same route taken by Caesar’s victorious legions, the Germans fought a long delaying action up the Italian boot.

While Umbria and Tuscany were spared the annihilation visited upon southern Italy — from Sicily to Naples to Monte Cassino — there was still a lot of hard fighting in the towns that I’ll be visiting on my family vacation.

Picture 1The evidence of that hard fighting is marked by the thousands of graves at the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial. Most of these soldiers died in the battles and skirmishes that took place in the 11 very long months after the capture of Rome and before the Germans in Italy finally surrendered on May 2, 1945. My family will be sure to visit this honored place to pay our respects to the men who liberated my grandparents’ homeland from Nazi tyranny.882906c0

cisterna-may44-1The son of a U.S. Army officer Rick Atkinson grew up on military posts, holds a Master of Arts degree in English literature from the University of Chicago, and has been a reporter, foreign correspondent, and senior editor for 25 years at the Washington Post. All of this has made him a well-rounded and knowledgeable storyteller with a military man’s intimate appreciation of war and soldiering combined with a reporter’s objectivity and a literary flair that makes his work special. Wherever the troops are fighting in The Day Of Battle, Atkinson finds connections to Greek and Roman myth and history that help to make his account transcendent.

The Day Of Battle is historical writing at its very best.

booksThe only drawback is that now I’ve got to read the other two volumes in Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy.

Alas. So many good books, so little time.

Forward, march!

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A Day at the Races: Birthday Fun at Santa Anita Park.

Club House and Grand Stand Santa Anita, Los Angeles Turf Club ArcadiaDSC_6796 - 2013-02-16 at 14-12-58DSC_6805 - 2013-02-16 at 14-18-03(Color photos by Steve Stroud.)

Damon Runyon would have loved it: a splendid day at Santa Anita, the crown jewel of So Cal horse racing.

RUNYON-DAMON-PHOTOOf course, Runyon was a New City habitué, following the ponies at Aqueduct rather than the historic track at the foot of the mountains in Arcadia, California.

But the guys and dolls who gathered at The Turf Club to mark our great friend Jim Newton’s 50th birthday were the kind of colorful characters that Runyon would have loved to populate his classic stories.

It’s fitting that Runyon was a newspaperman, because “Gentleman Jim” Newton — and so many of our dear friends who joined us at Santa Anita Park on Saturday, February 16th — are journalists who have toiled at The Los Angeles Times.DSC_6914 - 2013-02-16 at 17-17-59

the-lemondrop-kid-bob-hope-william-frawleyIt felt a bit like a scene from Sorrowful Jones or The Lemon Drop Kid as this Pulitzer Prize-winning group of writers and reporters were soon turned into a bunch of rabid horseracing railbirds.

My wife Victoria, daughter Evangeline and I were attending Santa Anita Park for the first time – nearly eight decades after the oldest racetrack in Southern California opened on Christmas Day 1934.
img_5288-dress-code-signMovie producer Hal Roach – the guy who brought us Laurel & Hardy and The Little Rascals – helped to open The Turf Club: the very same swanky section of the park that we gathered to celebrate Jim’s birthday.

We were all dressed appropriately for the venue — and ready for an afternoon of adventure at the track.

Carol "Lucky Lady" Stogsdil peruses the racing form in search of a winner.

Carol “Lucky Lady” Stogsdill peruses the racing form in search of a winner.

Henry "The Horse" Weinstein makes notes on his next wager.

Henry “The Horse” Weinstein makes notes on his next wager.

hollywood-park-inglewood-curtis-burnett-grantIn its glory days, Santa Anita attracted Hollywood luminaries including Betty Grable, Lana Turner, Jane Russell and Cary Grant. Bing Crosby and Al Jolson were among the stockholders. Spencer Tracy, Errol Flynn, and “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek have owned horses that raced at Santa Anita. (One of horses racing the day we were there is owned by pro golf great, Greg Norman.) Santa Anita was the place where, in 1940, the legendary racehorse Seabiscuit won the Santa Anita Handicap in his last start.

021912-opinions-history-internment-matsumoto-gallery-4-ss-662wOf course, historian Jim Newton was quick to inform me that from 1942 to 1944, Santa Anita Park was used by the U.S. government as a transport center for nearly 20,000 Japanese-Americans bound for internment camps like Manzanar in California’s Owens Valley.

Unlike those unfortunate internees during that infamous episode in Santa Anita’s history, we came to the racetrack voluntarily – and once we beheld the glorious view from the grandstand, gazing out across the exquisitely groomed grounds to that mountainous backdrop – it was hard to understand why, after more than 20 years of life in Los Angeles, we’d never been to Santa Anita before.DSC_6924 - 2013-02-16 at 17-54-54

Spending the day at The Turf Club made our Santa Anita experience even more special. You can’t find a better place to people-watch between races.

DSC_6807 - 2013-02-16 at 14-27-15Ordering a drink at the luxurious Turf Club bar or placing your bets at the club’s private wagering windows, it’s easy to conjure the excitement and glamour of Santa Anita’s heyday.

With its dress code strictly enforced and its aura of opulence and classic, old school charm, the Turf Club is a bastion of civilization in a rapidly changing time.

And then there are the horses.DSC_6734 - 2013-02-16 at 13-32-47

DSC_6749 - 2013-02-16 at 13-44-50Over the course of the 10 races that day, Victoria and I placed our wagers on thoroughbreds with names like God Of War, Smil’n From Above, Great Hot (an 8-1 shot that earned Victoria $80 on a $10 bet), Camille C, Jubilant Girl, Jesse’s Giacomo and Hard Buns.

DSC_6854 - 2013-02-16 at 14-50-43I should have bet on Judy In Disguise to win in the 8th race. My rock & roll instincts told me to go with the filly named after the 1968 hit song by John Fred and his Playboy Band (also covered by Gary Lewis & The Playboys later that same year) – but I second-guessed myself. Judy in Disguise won the race going away.

One of the horses was named Ghost of a Chance. C’mon. Really? How can you put your money down on a horse his owner calls a Ghost of a Chance?

By the time the last horse crossed the finish line, Victoria and I broke even betting on the ponies – but our day at races was a clear winner.

And here’s a sure bet.

It won’t be another two decades before we pay our next visit to Santa Anita Park.

Birthday boy Jim Newton celebrates a winner!

Birthday boy “Gentleman Jim” Newton celebrates a winner!

Our photographer, Steve "Shutter Bug" Stroud, at The Turf Club.

Our photographer friend, Steve “Shutter Bug” Stroud, at The Turf Club.

Our hosts, Jim & Karlene: the First Couple of Cool.

Our hosts, Jim & Karlene: the First Couple of Cool.

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