1958, Music

Saturday Night with Mr. C (1958) by Perry Como

So before I get into any details I have to say that the edition I am reviewing here isn’t quite the edition on Google Play. There’s a different track listing though most of the tracks seem to be similar. Anyway…

Many music critics – particularly “rockist” critics of a particular generation – are obsessed with “concept” albums, i.e. albums which are not just a set of songs but songs organized around some unifying theme. And there have been numerous debates about when the “concept album” was born, with Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper usually getting the credit.

The reason I listened to Saturday Night with Mr. C, despite not liking this kind of pre-rock American pop music, is because it’s clearly a concept album: 45 minutes or so in Perry Como’s radio show. So that’s a big deal, right?!? It’s the first concept album!

Except no, it’s not. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, some of the first pop albums, such as Bing Crosby’s ’40s albums – which were actually collections of shorter records – were concept albums, that’s how they were marketed to compete with the dominant format at the time, singles. So the concept album actually existed for 20 years or so before “rockist” critics tried to invent it. That isn’t to say the ’60s albums weren’t something new – and they’re certainly more sophisticated than this record – but just that the idea of the “birth of the concept album” is a bit of a joke, as it was the same time as the birth of the album. Anyway, to the actual music…

Como does have a very classic voice for American pop, His popularity is easy to understand, especially if you think about the context.

But he is a very specific type of performer, and if you don’t go in for the kind of pop music that would make a ’50s American middle class couple happy, then there’s not much about him, except for his excellent tone, that will likely appeal to you.

The larger issue is that Como and the team behind him – and many, many other American pop singers – whitewash these songs so that they are palatable for that very white American audience. The most egregious example of this is “Birth of the Blues.” I don’t know who wrote it, but this song is the whitest thing ever, at least in this presentation. But it tells us the story of one of the great African American art forms. It’s hard to take that seriously, to put it mildly.

This is music for a very specific time and place and class and ethnic group. If you are not part of that, it’s hard to understand why you would care very much, except that it’s a concept album, albeit a really simple idea given that he had the radio show.


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