Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Patience and Prudence

Popular music in the mid-1950s must have been a curious scene in the UK; the old guard (Frankie Laine, Vera Lynn, Perry Como, Guy Mitchell and their ilk) were still extremely popular, but were gradually being usurped by practitioners of the exciting new rock 'n' roll sound.  Certainly if you look back at a typical sales chart from the period, the mixture seems downright weird (for instance, if you look at a typical UK singles chart from 1956 it broadly appears that there's something of a power-struggle going on between two factions).  On the one hand there's plenty of what was considered "proper music" at the time (i.e. "classic songs" performed in a style pretty much unchanged since the turn of the century):  Doris Day, Slim Whitman, Mel Torme, et al) but also plenty of music from the new noisy rock 'n'  roll breed:  Bill Haley & His Comets, Little Richard, Elvis himself, Carl Perkins, that whole axis.

So one moment it's:

And the next it's:

But then there's loads of other stuff in there.  Orchestras were still popular (Perez Prado, Ronnie Hilton, Mantovani, Billy Vaughn, Mitch Miller etc.).  Winifred Atwell (who I'm planning on writing a whole "thing" on) was unbelievably popular with her various pianos.  Doo-wop groups (Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, Dion & the Belmonts, The Platters and so on) were gaining in popularity (while it might not have been considered quite so "dangerous" as rock 'n' roll at the time, it was probably deemed "degenerate" in some way or other, the 1950s were a very judgmental time when it came down to that sort of thing, after all).  Country singers from the USA were dabbling with the new sounds, incorporating elements of rock 'n' roll and doo-wop into their existing songs. Listening to a chart from the mid-1950s is a very confusing experience for anyone under the age of about 70, I would imagine.

AND while all that was going on, some recording acts got into the charts with records that didn't really fit into any category at all and those ones, of course, are the ones I'm interested in.  But where to begin?

Patience and Prudence (for me) are the obvious place to start, for loads of reasons.  I'm a bit obsessed with them because I think they occupy a unique place in the history of popular music; I was born in 1971, I've been fascinated with music and the music charts since about 1982, but I had never heard of Patience and Prudence until last year.  And that was a complete fluke.  It's like they've been airbrushed from the history of British pop, despite recording (and having the - albeit minor - hits with two very well-known songs.

Patience Ann McIntyre (born 1944) and Prudence Ann McIntyre (born 1945) were sisters who - as far as the UK is concerned - had two minor hits in 1956/1957 and then seemingly disappeared completely.  They have a Wikipedia page here that gives some interesting detail on how it all came about (short version:  their dad (Billy McIntyre) was a bandleader who took them to a recording session, they recorded some stuff, it was quite successful but then he decided he didn't want them in the public eye, so turned down subsequent work on their behalf, they went off and did something else instead).

Anyway, this is the song they're probably best known for.  Back in 1956, it reached no. 4 in the USA (and a comparatively lowly no. 26 in the UK):

It wasn't a new song even then (it was a Billy Rose number from 1926) and had been previously recorded by Irving Kaufman, Gene Austin, Frankie Laine and numerous others.  And it's been covered plenty of times since (by The Honeys, Fiona Apple, the Trash Can Sinatras, Alvin & the Chipmunks, the list goes on).  But this version must have struck a chord somewhere as it's the only version that ever got anywhere near being a hit single.

Patience and Prudence certainly had a unique selling point.  They were teenage sisters, as pure and wholesome as mom's apple pie.  They had lovely voices that blended perfectly.  But I don't think that makes them a novelty band.  They had...something else.  I've listened to about twelve other versions and none of them capture the song quite so well as the McIntyre sisters manage (brilliantly, the version that Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters do in "The Jerk" probably gets closest).  It's something to do with the voices and the production ("ethereal"?, "ghostly"? - it's has an atmosphere all of its own, whatever).

BUT all of this is just preamble to the song I really wanted to write about - Patience and Prudence's other "hit" - which is coming up next.

In the meantime, here's a few of the dynamic duo's other songs:

A Smile And A Ribbon:

Dreamers Bay:

Heavenly Angel:

I think they're all lovely songs and the sisters do them all perfectly.  But none of them can hold a candle to their other "hit", which I'm now about to write about in forensic detail.  Don't say you weren't warned.

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