Friday, 4 March 2011


S M A L L    W O N D E R   -  LSP-2996

1. Wait for me  (Sylvia Dee-Arthur Kent)  ar.:  Marty Manning 09.07.64
2. If you got a mind to  (P. Barrett-R. Maugeri) ar.: Charles Calello 08.07.64
3. Splish splash    (Bobby Darin-Jean Murray) ar.:  Teacho Wiltshire 07.07.64
4. He’s got everything  (Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman)  ar.: Sammy Lowe  + 09.01.64
5. Turn her down (Ben Raleigh-M. Barkan)  ar.: Teacho Wiltshire  07.07.64
6. Baby (When ya kiss me) – Jackie DeShannon-Sheeley – ar.: Sammy Lowe +

1. It’s not easy (Non è facile) (Bernabini; Eng. w: George David Weiss) ar.: Sammy Lowe + 10.01.64
2. Lipstick on your collar  (E. Lewis-G. Goehring)  ar.: Charles Calello  08.07.64
3. I’ll wait and wait  (Ben Raleigh-John Gluck, Jr.)   ar.: Sammy Lowe  + 10.01.64
4. Rubber ball  (A. Orlowski-A. Schroeder)  ar.:  Charles Calello 08.07.64
5. No one else will ever touch me (Come te non c'è nessuno) (Vassallo;  English words: Ebb)
6. How low is low  (Ben Raleigh-Jeff Barry)  ar.: Sammy Lowe  +

Released in the USA in December 1964

+  produced by Hugo & Luigi:

9 January 1964 – ‘He’s got everything’ arranged by Sammy Lowe
10 January 1964 – ‘It’s not easy’ and ‘I’ll wait and wait’ both arranged by Sammy Lowe
‘Baby (When ya kiss me) and ‘How low is low’ were probably recorded on the same dates, produced by H&L

the rest of the tracks were produced by Joe Rene:

7 July 1964 – ‘Turn her down’ and ‘Splish splash’ arranged by Teacho Wiltshire
8 July 1964 – ‘Rubber ball’, ‘If you got a mind to’ and ‘Lipstick on your collar’ arranged by Charles Calello
9 July 1964 – ‘Wait for me’ arranged by Martin Manning

Reading the chronology of Rita Pavone’s recording sessions in the USA one assumes that Rita went to New York in January 1964 in order to record an album that didn't actually come to fruition until later in the year.

At Rita's first US visit she recorded under the direction of Hugo Peretti & Luigi Creatore, a very experienced team of pop smiths who had produced hits like ‘The lion sleeps tonight’ by the Tokens (#1 in December 1961), ‘Can’t help falling in love’ by Elvis Presley (#2 in December 1961) and especially 'I will follow him’ by Little Peggy March (#1 in April 1963).

Hugo & Luigi had taken Little Peggy March (real name Margaret Annemarie Battavio) all the way to Number One so the RCA brass thought they might do it again with the little Italian rocker. Pavone recorded six songs produced by the duo -  all arranged by Sammy Lowe - and flew back to Europe. No one knows why the songs were not released. Maybe Rita was not ripe enough?

Rita returned to RCA Victor's A Studio on 24th Street only three months later, in May 1964, to start recording anew under the guidance now of Joe Rene, who ended up producing the whole ‘The International Teen-age Sensation’, her first US album which was released in July 1964.

By December 1964 , RCA decided they had enough material left over from the Joe Rene sessions and the earlier songs recorded by Hugo & Luigi to release another album which they called ‘Small Wonder’.

WAIT FOR ME – this was supposed to be the single that would take Pavone to the top of the Billboard charts but it never had a chance. Maybe because it was the wrong time to be singing about teen-age inadequacies when the Beatles were shouting their way to the top. Maybe because Rita’s articulation of the English language was not what it was supposed to be... that meaning Rita didn’t ‘belong’ to the American-teen-ager-way-of-life... she was a ‘foreigner’, she had an accent. Actually she was nothing more than a wop, a dago, derogatory words used to demean people from Italian extraction. Rita was ‘cool’ in Europe or South America, but in the US Rita was only another ‘wop’... and worse, a wop with an accent. That was unthinkable in the teen-age world. You might even be a wop like Frankie Valli (actually Castelluccio), Bobby Darin (Cassoto), Dion (Di Mucci), Bobby Rydell (Ridarelli), Fabian (Forte) , Connie Francis (Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero) but you could never have an accent. How could an American teen-ager dream with a girl who’s a wop? There was no way of hiding that fact. That was the main obstacle why Rita Pavone never ‘broke’ into the American market. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

IF YOU GOT A MIND TO – up-tempo energetic song. Beautifully arranged by Charles Calello. 

SPLISH SPLASHBobby Darin had taken it to # 3 at the Billboard chart in 30 June 1958. It makes no sense reviving it 6 years later sung by a girl with no command of the English language. It’s a very difficult up-tempo number for such a poor thing. I wonder who chose the repertoire for Rita to sing. The A&R [artist & repertoire] department was lacking in common/good sense. Try and pronounce ‘on my living room rug’ being an Italian and then you’ll know what I mean.

HE’S GOT EVERYTHING – First song ever recorded in the US by the Italian ‘wonder’. Rita stumbles her way through the song.

TURN HER DOWN – that’s my favourite song in the album by far. Orchestra arranger Teacho Wiltshire was very good in arranging the brass section and that is a winner in every sense.

BABY (WHEN YA KISS ME) – Jackie DeShannon wrote this song and recorded it herself in a more C&W style. Rita’s version has a little Latin flavour and it’s pretty good.

IT’S NOT EASY (Non è facile avere 18 anni) – there is not much information about this recording except that it was the second song recorded at the Studio A on 10 January under the production of Hugo & Luigi and direction of Sammy Lowe. It is an English version of a slow ballad that was her current hit in Italy then. Nothing special about that. Sometimes what is good in one language is poison in another.

LIPSTICK ON YOUR COLLAR – talking about wops, here’s a song that was first recorded by Italo-american Connie Francis and went to # 5 at the Billboard charts in 1 June 1959. Francis recording is a classic and still sounds pretty good today. Rita’s is not bad either, but it didn’t make much sense to cover a 1959 hit in 1964, when the Beatles and the British Invasion were all the rage. It looked like the A&R department was stuck in a 1958-1959 time warp. Connie Francis had been Bobby Darin’s sweetheart then. Both were also Italian-americans. Would there be any connection there or was it only a coincidence?

I’LL WAIT AND WAIT – Music based on 'Tales from the Vienna Woods' (1868) (G'schichten aus dem Wienerwal, Op. 325) by Johannes Strauss and English words by Ben Raleigh and John Gluck, Jr. That recording didn’t do much in the US but it was a sizeable hit for Pavone in her German-language version ‘Mein Jack, der ist Zwei Meter gross’. Maybe the Germans were more sympathetic to the Italian teen-ager, or maybe it was only because Strauss was, after all, an Austrian who spoke Goethe’s language.

RUBBER BALL - it’s in the same league as ‘Splish splash’ and ‘Lipstick on your collar’. ‘Rubber ball’ was # 6 at the Billboard charts in 12 December 1960 with Bobby Vee. Why should anybody have any interest in a cover done four years later?

NO ONE ELSE WILL EVER TOUCH ME (Come te non c’è nessuno) – the title is ridiculous for the 1964 scene. Teens weren’t that square anymore. The Italian version ‘There’s no one like you’ is so much better. Mr. Ebb, the man who wrote the English words must have been at a low ebb when he had this out-dated idea.

HOW LOW IS LOW – written by Jeff Barry & Ben Raleigh, it was recorded originally by Jamie Coe (from Detroit), in 1961; produced for ABC-Paramount Records by Sid Fuller with orchestra & chorus conducted by Dick Wolf. Rita Pavone recorded it in New York in January 1964 along with 'He's got everything' and 'I'll wait and I'll wait'. All three songs were arranged and conducted by Sammy Lowe.

What one learns at the end of this album is that Rita Pavone would never break into the US market because it is very difficult (not to say impossible) for a ‘foreign act’ to do it. The very few instances where a ‘foreign act’ broke into the US charts are so rare and spread apart that one comes to the conclusion that when that happens it is only a ‘whim’ of fate, something not explained by Science. How can one explain ‘Nel blu dipinto di blu’ (Volare) sung in Italian by Domenico Modugno being Number One at the Billboard charts for 5 straight weeks in April 1958? How about ‘Sukiyaki’ (Ue O Muite Aruko), sung in Japanese being # 1 at Billboard for 3 weeks in May 1963? And wonder of all wonders... how can one explain a lightning striking the same spot twice? That happened with the Belgian Soeur Sourire singing ‘Dominique’ in French in November 1963 while President Kennedy was being shot at in Dallas. The Singing Nun took ‘Dominique’ all the way to Number One at the Billboard charts and stayed at the top for 4 weeks. Is there a possible explanation?

Rita Pavone never broke into the US market but her two English-language albums were fodder for many-a ‘Frankenstein-albums’ in Brazil, Argentina and other places where the local record-buying public were more used to listening to songs they didn’t understand the meaning of. I, myself feel included in that sort of public. Being born and raised in Brazil I was an avid fan of Rita Pavone and her Italian records. Italian and Portuguese are Latin languages and one can quite understand the other. When RCA Victor released Rita Pavone’s first English-language album in Brazil I felt a little surprised. At first I thought it was ‘strange’ but after a few times listening to the record I was completely won over. ‘Small Wonder’ was never released in Brazil or Argentina but only ‘fragments’ of it as 'fillers' for LPs or EPs. By the way, here’s an exerpt of the liner notes of ‘Small Wonder’:

‘Only 5 feet tall weighing 80 pounds. Sparrow with Jackie Coogan eyes. This is an antology of teen-age hits of the past few years – from ‘Splish splash’ and ‘Lipstick on your collar’ to recent twisters It is no wonder that the ‘Small Wonder’ is the singing world new wonder.'

Rita recorded 'He's got everything' with Sammy Lowe's arrangements on 9 January 1964. Next day, Rita recorded 'It's not easy' and 'I'll wait and wait' which she later added German words and became 'My Jack der ist 2wei Meter gross'. Even though these songs were the first Rita recorded in New York, they were only included in her 2nd album.

Rita Pavone is photographed at RCA Victor's A Studio with producers Hugo & Luigi while she records what would be released as 'Small Wonder' later in the year. Billboard magazine 25 January 1964 says Rita flew out of the USA on 14 January 1964 to return to native Italy after a press party.  

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