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Review: Frankie Avalon, “Muscle Beach Party: The United Artists Sessions”

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By the time of 1964’s Muscle Beach Party, Philadelphia-born Frankie Avalon had already racked up some 31 hits on the U.S. Billboard charts, including two at Number One, “Why” and “Venus.”  On the urging of his Chancellor Records mentor Bob Marcucci, Avalon had welcomed the 1960s by diversifying his talents into film, appearing opposite John Wayne in The Alamo and Walter Pidgeon in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.  1963’s Beach Party, however, was something else altogether.  Directed by William Asher, later the creative force behind television’s Bewitched, the low-budget American-International picture spawned a virtual cottage industry.  Audiences flocked to see well-scrubbed Frankie and all-American Annette Funicello frolicking on the sun-kissed beaches of Southern California.  The teenage twosome would star in seven beach party movies together in less than three years, plus beach party movies of their own (in which the other half of the duo would cameo!)  Yes, Frankie Avalon had found a way to extend his teen idol years straight through the British Invasion, which brings us to Real Gone Music’s first-ever CD reissue of Avalon’s 1964 album for United Artists, Muscle Beach Party and Other Movie Songs, handily repackaged and expanded as Muscle Beach Party: The United Artists Sessions (RGM-0035, 2012).  This 20-track time capsule includes Avalon’s complete recordings for the UA label.

The musical history of the beach party films is far more complicated than any of the movies’ plots!  Due to Avalon and Funicello recording for different labels, both artists recorded their own renditions of the movie’s songs, and true soundtracks weren’t issued for most of the films.  (When La-La Land Records issued a soundtrack to Beach Blanket Bingo in 2010, it spotlighted Les Baxter’s score and the music-only tracks for the songs.  Frankie and Annette’s actual film vocals still couldn’t be released!)  “Competing” with Annette’s Buena Vista Records Muscle Beach Party was Avalon’s own United Artists LP.  The first side was dedicated to four of the Muscle Beach tunes and two reprises from the series’ first film Beach Party, while the second featured adult standards in supper-club arrangements.  Real Gone’s reissue proves that the first side, however, has aged better than the latter, and this is in no small part due to the contributions of one musical iconoclast by the name of Brian Wilson.

Roger Christian (“Don’t Worry Baby”) and Gary Usher (“In My Room”) co-wrote the score to 1963’s Beach Party and enlisted their pal, the erstwhile Beach Boys leader, to join them for the Muscle Beach Party song score.  Wilson, Usher and Christian wrote six songs for the film, three of which are heard here as performed by Avalon: the title song, “Surfer’s Holiday” and “Runnin’ Wild.”  (Dick Dale actually sang “Muscle Beach Party” in the movie, and Dale also performed “Surfin’ Woodie” and “My First Love.”  He joined Donna Loren for the onscreen “Muscle Bustle.”)

Wilson’s compositional stamp is evident.  “Surfer’s Holiday” is a bit reminiscent of “Sidewalk Surfin’” (coincidentally recorded by Funicello) which shares its melody with The Beach Boys’ “Catch a Wave.”  The rapid-fire “Running Wild” also recalls Wilson’s infectious, early Beach Boys work with the de facto guitar break.  “A Boy Needs a Girl” wasn’t written by the Wilson/Christian/Usher triumvirate but rather by Guy Hemric and Jerry Styner, but it fits in well and even recalls Wilson in his dreamy romantic mode (think “The Surfer Moon”).  After this enjoyable compendium of Beach Party tunes, Avalon turns to a brace of film-related songs aimed at adult listeners.

Join Frankie after the jump!

The change is apparent as the singer adopts a deeper voice, the cocktail piano begins tinkling and a female chorus begins to support him” on the Tin Pan Alley classic “Nevertheless (I’m in Love with You).”  Though these tracks aren’t on the whole as charming as those on the beach side, they’re not without interest, either.  Avalon is sensitive on a couple of Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer classics, “Moon River” and “The Days of Wine and Roses,” and turns in a winning performance of “The Stolen Hours.”  This song by Mort Lindsey and the team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman is one of the discoveries here, a neglected title tune from the 1963 United Artists remake of 1939’s Bette Davis-starring Dark Victory.  (Susan Hayward filled in for Davis in ’63!)  Less successful is the arrangement of the Mondo Cane hit “More,” with Frankie’s booming vocal less than a model of restraint!

Muscle Beach Party has been expanded by four non-LP single sides as well as another four songs from the soundtrack of 1965’s I’ll Take Sweden, in which Avalon starred opposite Bob Hope and Tuesday Weld.  The single “Don’t Make Fun of Me” finds composer Helen Miller sharing a few notes in common with Burt Bacharach’s “Walk on By,” but the collaboration with Howard Greenfield is a top-notch Brill Building effort.  The same team offered Avalon “Every Girl Should Get Married,” a catchy slice of pop with prominent girl-group style backing vocals.  It’s less sophisticated than “Don’t Make Fun of Me,” but no less enjoyable!

After a return to beach territory with “New-Fangled, Jingle-Jangle Swimming Suit from Paris,” a second cousin of “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” Avalon’s next UA single, “Here to Stay,” found him squarely in adult territory again with another romantic ballad.  The final four songs on the collection are from the I’ll Take Sweden soundtrack, with two songs apiece from the teams of William Dunham and Bobby Beverley, and Ken Lauber and Diane Lampert.  These four cuts complete this survey of the entirety of Avalon’s United Artists catalogue.  All are pleasant if unremarkable pop tunes, with the title song (“I’ll Take Sweden – ya ya ya!”) sweetly memorable.  “The Bells Keep Ringin’” is a fun throwback to “Mr. Bass Man” loaded with doo-wop onomatopoeia.

Real Gone has packaged Muscle Beach Party: The United Artists Sessions in the large digipak format favored by the label of late.  It includes a full color four-panel fold-out booklet with notes by compilation producer Tom Pickles.  Photos of Frankie and his screen sweetheart Annette illustrate the digipak.   Capitol Studios’ Kevin Bartley has done a fine job remastering the stereo tracks.  In every sense, this reissue lives up to the high standard frequently set by Real Gone in recent months.  This diverting and nostalgic journey with the perpetually tan beach boy Frankie Avalon is as much fun as, well, a trip to the drive-in!

Written by Joe Marchese

March 27, 2012 at 13:16

6 Responses

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  1. You forgot to mention Varese Sarabande Records excellent release “Summer Beach Party: Songs From The Classic Beach Movies of The 60s.” This collection features songs from many of the Beach Party films.

    Track List:
    1. Beach Party • Frankie Avalon
    From the movie Beach Party, 1963
    2. Secret Surfin’ Spot • Dick Dale
    From the movie Beach Party, 1963
    3. Don’t Stop Now • Frankie Avalon
    From the movie Beach Party, 1963
    4 Surfin’ And A-Swingin’* • Dick Dale
    From the movie Beach Party, 1963
    5. Pajama Party** • Annette
    From the movie Pajama Party, 1964
    6. Ride The Wild Surf • Jan & Dean
    From the movie Ride The Wild Surf, 1964
    7. Bikini Beach* • Cast
    From the movie Bikini Beach, 1964
    8. Bikini Drag • The Pyramids
    From the movie Bikini Beach, 1964
    9. Love’s A Secret Weapon • Donna Loren
    From the movie Bikini Beach, 1964
    10. Gotcha Where I Want You* • The Exciters
    From the movie Bikini Beach, 1964
    11. Record Run • The Pyramids
    From the movie Bikini Beach, 1964
    12. Surf Party • The Astronauts
    From the movie Surf Party, 1964
    13. Muscle Bustle • Donna Loren
    From the movie Muscle Beach Party, 1965
    14. How To Stuff A Wild Bikini** • The Kingsmen
    From the movie How To Stuff A Wild Bikini, 1965
    15. Girls On The Beach • The Beach Boys
    From the movie The Girls On The Beach, 1965
    16. It Only Hurts When I Cry* • Donna Loren
    From the movie Beach Blanket Bingo, 1965
    17. Geronimo • Nancy Sinatra
    From the movie Ghost In The Invisible Bikini, 1965
    18. Hot Rod Roadster • The Rip Chords
    From the movie A Swingin’ Summer, 1965
    19. Dr. Goldfoot & The Bikini Machine* • The Beas
    From the movie Dr. Goldfoot & The Bikini Machine, 1965

    *Previously unavailable on record
    **Previously unavailable on CD

    Cary Mansfield

    March 27, 2012 at 13:32

  2. No slight intended to that most enjoyable compilation, Cary! It, indeed, makes a fine companion to Real Gone’s new release and a cornerstone of any beach/surf music collection.

    Joe Marchese

    March 27, 2012 at 14:17

  3. Joe, has there ever been a release of the instrumental underscore (i.e not the song score) of Muscle Beach Party? I recall the scene of Lucianna Palluzzi (Annette’s big competition for Frankie!!) arriving at the beach for the first time to a bright, breezy, very 60’s instrumental break which I would love to hear one more time.

    rikdias

    March 27, 2012 at 16:58

    • Unfortunately, there has never been a commercial release of Les Baxter’s score for MUSCLE BEACH PARTY, but I wouldn’t lose hope…many film score labels of late have been mining Baxter’s American-International body of work, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see MBP high on one of those labels’ lists for reissue! Cross your fingers…

      Joe Marchese

      March 27, 2012 at 23:31

  4. Great review; nice to see a reissue of Frankie’s less-heralded, but still very interesting musical offerings!

    Vince

    March 29, 2012 at 06:50

  5. Great review!

    We’re linking to your article for Beach Party Monday at SeminalCinemaOutfit.com

    Keep up the good work!

    danyulengelke

    August 5, 2014 at 22:49


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