Patti Page

Ask a senior citizen to name the top female vocalist of the 1950s, and they'll undoubtedly mention Dinah Shore, Doris Day, Teresa Brewer, and Rosemary Clooney. But if you give them enough time to consider it, many will say that Miss Patti Page belongs at or near the top of the list.

The fact is that during the 1950s, Dinah and Doris were bigger all-around "stars," but Patti ruled the pop charts. Some music historians point to her career as a series of novelty songs, but those are just a few of the hits. Page blended country/western sounds, novelty lyrics, super smooth pop sounds, and some highly innovative recording techniques to create an awesome variety of hit songs. In doing so, Page managed to score hits on the pop charts in three decades. But it was more than just variety, and definitely not novelty. Patti Page connected with the listener.

Page's first hit single is often identified as a "novelty" song, but that unfortunately overshadows the fact that her version of "Confess" featured two excellent vocal performances. The song was a 1947 pop hit for the duo of Doris Day and Buddy Clark on the Columbia label, and it was a "B" side hit at that. (The "A" side hit was "Love Somebody" which peaked at #1 in parts of the nation). As was the practice at the time, rival record companies rushed out competing versions using artists from their own stables. Because of slower distribution and shipping times in a pre-interstate USA, these competing versions would often sell surprisingly well. The local Woolworth's might not have the Day/Clark version, so the buyer would settle for the Tony Martin version. There was also some listener preference for certain artists and styles; a teenage male might prefer the vocal styles of The Mills Brothers, while a homemaker would opt for Nat King Cole.

Here's a list of the major labels and their offerings for "Confess:"

  • Capitol Nat King Cole
  • Columbia Doris Day & Buddy Clark
  • Decca The Mills Brothers
  • MGM Jimmy Dorsey
  • Manor The Four Tunes
  • RCA Tony Martin
  • Varsity Barbara Brown w/the Jimmy Valentine Orchestra

In addition to the above list, there were numerous local label versions, instrumentals, country/western, and black artist label versions that have more or less been forgotten over time.

At Mercury Records, which was a small player among the major national labels, Mitch Miller intended to have rising star Frankie Laine supply their offering. But Laine was unavailable (probably on the road) and so the talented Patti Page was pegged to give it a shot. Page had been under contract with Mercury for a couple of years but had failed to find success. Considering that Merc would sell some copies of "Confess" regardless of who recorded it,** it was thought that this might jump start Patti's career.

The original hit by Day and Clark was a duet, however when Page was in the studio, there was no male vocalist available. Mercury wasn't willing to pay for a fill-in. Rather than simply make a straight solo recording, Page suggested that she use two different voices and have them dubbed together.

It's generally reported that this was the first instance of an artist dubbing their own voice into a recording. While it was probably done prior to this, it is a fact that Page's recording of "Confess" was the first time it was done with any chart success.

The effect of having a singer "answer" herself on a record was quite a novelty (there's that dreaded word again) at the time. In the years since this became commonplace, although seldom presented as a "duet." Today it is more often than not that a vocalist will provide or assist with their own harmony via overdubbing.

Although the record originally attracted attention because of the curious new technique, Page's vocal skills were quite apparent to the buying public and the single reached a very respectable #12 on the charts in 1948.

** Mercury Records was true to its name for turning around cover versions; the label could crank out a competing version in a matter of hours, and had state-of-the-art equipment to press records faster than competitors.

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featured performance

February 2008 If there's any question that Patti Page was destined to be a performer, here's a recent video of Miss Page at age 80. Please note you have to click the little arrow thing twice.

Patti Page, continued from column at left

Patti's next hit came in 1950, a classic from the vault of American popular song, "With My Eyes Wide Open I'm Dreaming." The song was originally made popular in 1934 by Leo Reisman, along with a cover version by Isham Jones. Although the Page version topped out at #11 on the Billboard charts, it remained a popular seller for three months. Interesting bit of music trivia, as Page's time at Mercury was winding down in the late 1950s, she recorded another version of the song, and had some mild chart success with it in 1959.

This song was quickly followed by "I Don't Care if the Sun Don't Shine," from a long-forgotten Disney feature called Dan's Mom. The song was quite catchy and upbeat and sold solidly. A little more trivia here: "I Don't Care..." music and lyrics were penned by songwriting hall-of-famer Mack David. Page would hit the charts 15 years later with another movie theme with lyrics by David, the stunning "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte." The music for that number was created by the underrated Frank DeVol."

In August 1950 the floodgates opened shortly afterward, with number ones "All My Love," the massive hit "Tennessee Waltz," and "Mockingbird Hill." The latter two sandwiched a song called "Would I Love You (Love You, Love You)," which topped out at #4 nationally, but did reach #1 on many regional charts.

The run is quite impressive because two of the songs, "Tennessee Waltz" and "Mockingbird Hill" were up against competing versions from the incredibly popular team of Les Paul and Mary Ford. Les Paul's studio prowess was legendary even then, and the duo's recordings were technically superior to the cavernous sound created in Mercury studios. One advantage Page had was that her versions were first to market, and despite the factors mentioned previously in this article, discriminating buyers usually demanded the "original" whenever possible. The second advantage was that while Ford's vocals were indeed letter-perfect in both pitch and recording technique, they didn't have the character and nuances that grace a Patti Page recording. That is to take nothing away from Mary Ford -- one of the all-time greats -- it's just that very few ever came close to Patti Page in "connecting" with an audience. Her vocal performances created the feeling that she was singing just for the listener, and then listener was then sharing the experience with Patti. Her recordings weren't so much a "song" as they were an artist exposing her emotions to the listener.

There's nothing "novelty" about talent like that.

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To revisit last month's feature artist, Eddie Fisher, please click here.