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Listen to "The House of the Rising Sun"

Come Dance with Me - No. 2
Decca DL 4590

Cover of Come Dance with Me - No. 2 by Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra

Sammy Kaye led what was known during the Big Band era as a "sweet" band. A sweet band played pleasant, inoffensive music aimed at audiences who preferred their music to be in the background. Sweet bands were popular with people who liked to dance but weren't too good at it: they could count on rhythms varying from ballads to mid-tempo, but nothing too fast, too loud, or too energetic. No blaring trumpets, no extended improvised solos, no dramatic shifts in volume or tone--just the gentle, almost syruppy sound of saxes playing the melody in unison. Sammy Kaye's slogan was "Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye," but it was swinging like on the front porch, not like Duke Ellington had in mind when he wrote "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)."

Kaye's gift was for business, not music, which is probably why he was able to keep his band going pretty much continuously for almost forty years, long after most better bands had been eaten up by a shrinking market and weak management. He slipped easily from touring to radio, and then from radio to television, where he had a weekly series for years in which members of the audience attempted to conduct Kaye's orchestra as part of a contest.

He kept recording steadily through the 1950s, mostly for Columbia. These albums are standard sweet band fare, well made and dull as unbuttered toast. Then, around 1960, he switched labels, to Decca. His first few albums stuck to the same formula--in fact, the second was imaginatively titled Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye.

Around 1963, though, Kaye made the smartest musical decision of his career. He hired Charles Albertine, who'd made a name for himself as one of the more creative arrangeers in the business, working most of the previous decade for Les and Larry Elgart's band. Albertine had the Midas touch. He had a knack for injecting life into bands bogged down in a predictable formula. He'd given a manic energy to the Three Suns' later albums, adapting the combo's accustomed guitar-accordion-organ orchestration by introducing a strong electric guitar, a bass accordion, and a rock-influenced Hammond organ.

As you can hear on this track, Albertine retained the lead guitar and Hammond organ as essential elements of his new orchestration for Sammy Kaye's band. The guitar thwacks down a fast countermelody that pushes the band forward through the entire tune. Albertine brings the brass out of the background and lets them take the spotlight, carrying the melody through the first two stanzas. The saxes only come in on the second stanza, overlaying a second countermelody. Now we have three melodies running in parallel, way more complicated than anything to come out of the old Kaye records. There's still a trace of the sweet band, particularly on the third stanza, where the saxes take over the melody, but there's no chance Kaye would have let this driving rhythm and increasing intensity into the old "Swing and Sway" formula. Not to mention the rockin' organ solo that comes in after the third stanza, or the cymbal pattern that picks up on the sax countermelody.

This track really illustrates the impact of a good arranger. Not only does Albertine knock the cobwebs out of the old "Swing and Sway" sound, but he also brings an original approach to the tune itself. After all, when this album was recorded, "The House of the Rising Sun" was being treated with solemn respect by folk and rock groups such as Peter, Paul, and Mary and the Animals. But Albertine gives this old dirge a kick in the ass, too, speeding it up and turning it into a solid uptempo rocker.

This was Albertine's third album with Kaye, and he went on to arrange at least four others, including Swing and Sway in Hawaii, which is one of the best Space Age Pop Hawaiian albums around. As far as I know, all of them are long out of print and not single track has been included on a CD compilation yet. An honorary mention goes to Christopher Young, who included in his score to "The Big Kahuna" a version of Mancini's "Charade" by Si Zentner that's copped directly from Albertine's arrangement for Kaye.

Whether the credit goes to Kaye or Albertine, the albums the two collaborated on are distinguished not only by terrific arrangements, but also by a better-than-average selection of tunes. Along with then-current hits such as "The Girl from Ipanema" and "Hello, Dolly!," you'll find the theme from the musical version of "Golden Boy" done as a bolero and "Madrigal," a melody from the movie "The Chalk Garden." A later album, Shall We Dance?, includes smokin' covers of "Batman" and the themes from the films "Madame X" and "The Rare Breed."

There's definitely a solid CD's worth of great tracks waiting to be culled from the Kaye-Albertine albums (as there is from the Elgart-Albertine and Three Suns-Albertine albums). Until it comes out, though, it's off to the thrift stores for you.

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