While I was growing up in the early 1950’s and starting to become musically aware, I had no idea that the music I was hearing around our house was in a period of transition. But music is always evolving, even though we might not realize it while we’re living through a particular era, and it becomes more obvious when viewed through the magic lens of hindsight.
The age of the big swing bands was pretty much over by then – or at least was close to it – and the vocalists had taken over the spotlight. Many of them were former band singers, but there were some that had come up through other routes and I’m not sure if it mattered much at that point. Selling records was how success was measured, along with radio play and TV appearances, and some of those singers became big stars.
But music was continuing to change. Rockabilly and R&B were both beginning to rise in popularity in many areas, and eventually they would combine with other influences to create what would become the rock and roll revolution. It would mean the end of the huge popularity enjoyed by singers such as Frank Sinatra and Johhny Ray, who were regularly mobbed at personal appearances, much like today’s stars. But those vocalists who adapted – even if it meant doing some things they didn’t much like – still managed to have long, fulfilling careers.
Pierino “Perry” Como was one of those singers, and he learned fairly early in his career that he sometimes had to do songs that didn’t exactly thrill him. From his start as a singing barber in his Pennsylvania hometown, he managed to work his way up as a band singer, following that with working in clubs and regional radio. His smooth baritone was reminiscent of his idol, Bing Crosby, and he began to attract some notice. Eventually he hit pay dirt with his recording of “Till the End of Time”, from the movie A Song To Remember.
It was a smash hit and began a string of successful recordings that included “Surrender”, “Prisoner Of Love”, and others. He became so popular that he was given a radio show that in turn led to a spot on TV, as the host of the Chesterfield Supper Club. His hits continued, with best-sellers on “All At Once You Love Her”, “Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes”, and “TIna Marie”.
Although he was a huge star by now, he might have felt the changes occurring in pop music because he began to stretch himself by recording some quirky, playful tunes. A good example is “Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom)”, which might sound strange to us but was number one on the pop charts. The public loved Perry’s oddly-named songs, and a few of them, including “Ko Ko Mo” and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Doo”, ended up being some of his biggest hits.
Perry wasn’t crazy about doing novelty songs, but they kept him popular and as his career progressed he was smart enough to intersperse some tunes he liked a little better. He had hits on “Round and Round” and the Grammy-winning “Catch A Falling Star”, but by the close of the decade his star still began to fade. Although beloved by his fans, and known as a true gentleman throughout the industry, times were changing and Perry was not exactly the type to be a teen idol.
However, he continued to flourish for many years, selling countless millions of records and continuing to appear on his own and other TV shows. He even made a comeback of sorts in 1970 with a best-seller on “It’s Impossible”, and kept his legion of fans entertained with guest shots and specials. He continued making occasional appearances in later years but eventually retired to Florida, where he died in 2001. The singing barber from Pennsylvania will always be remembered as one of the greats, and as a star who successfully spanned several decades.