A Rockapaedia Obituary
Frankie Laine died aged ninety-three of heart failure on 6th February, 2007, at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, California, United States of America. A memorial mass was held on 12th February at the Immaculata parish church on the campus of the University of San Diego and the following day, his ashes, along with those of his late wife, Nan Grey, were scattered over the Pacific Ocean.
Frankie Laine was born Francesco Paolo LoVecchio on 30th March, 1913 in Chicago, Illinois, United States of America and grew up in the Old Town neighborhood. Frankie got his first taste of singing as a member of the choir in the Church of the Immaculate Conception's elementary school across the street from his North Park Avenue home. He later attended Lane Technical High School, where he helped to develop his lung power and breath control by joining the track and field and basketball teams. He decided that he wanted to be a singer when he missed time in school to see Al Jolson's then current movie, 'The Singing Fool'. Al Jolson would later visit Frankie Laine when both were filming pictures in 1949, and at about this time, Al Jolson remarked that Frankie was going to put all the other singers out of business. Even in the 1920s, Frankie's vocal abilities were enough to get him noticed by a slightly older "in crowd" at his school, who began inviting him to parties and to local dance clubs, including Chicago's Merry Garden Ballroom. At age seventeen, he sang before a crowd of 5,000 at The Merry Garden Ballroom to such applause that he ended up performing five encores on his first night.
Some of Frankie's other early influences during this period included Enrico Caruso, Carlo Buti, and especially Bessie Smith, a record of whose somehow wound up in his parents' collection. Another singer who influenced him at this time was falsetto crooner, Gene Austin. Frankie worked after school at a drugstore that was situated across the street from a record store that continually played hit records by Gene Austin over their loudspeakers. He would swab down the windows in time to Gene's songs. Many years later, Frankie related the story to Gene Austin when both were guests on the popular television variety show 'Shower of Stars'.
Shortly after graduating from high school, Frankie Laine signed on as a member of The Merry Garden's marathon dance company and toured with them, working dance marathons during the Great Depression. Still billed as Frank LoVecchio, he would entertain the spectators during the fifteen-minute breaks that the dancers were allowed each hour.
Other artists whose styles began to influence Frankie Laine at this time were Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, and, later, Nat "King" Cole. Frankie Laine befriended Nat in Los Angeles, when the latter's career was just beginning to gain momentum. Nat Cole recorded a song, "It Only Happens Once", that fledgling songwriter Frankie Laine had composed. They remained close friends throughout the remainder of Nat Cole's life, and Frankie Laine was one of the pall bearers at Nat King Cole's funeral.
Frankie's next big break came when he replaced Perry Como in the Freddy Carlone band in Cleveland in 1937. Perry Como had made a call to Freddy Carlone about Frankie Laine. Perry Como was another lifelong friend of Frankie Laine's, who once lent Frankie Laine the money to travel to a possible gig.
Frankie Laine's rhythmic style was ill-suited to the sweet sounds of the Carlone band, and the two soon parted company. Success continued to elude Frankie Laine, and he spent the next ten years "scuffling"; alternating between singing at small jazz clubs on both North American coasts and a series of jobs, including those of a bouncer, dance instructor, used car salesman, agent, synthetic leather factory worker, and machinist at a defense plant. It was while working at the defense plant during the Second World War that he first began writing songs, "It Only Happens Once" being written at that plant. Often homeless during his "scuffling" phases, Frankie hit his lowest point when sleeping on a bench in New York's Central Park.
Frankie changed his professional name to Frankie Laine in 1938, upon receiving a job singing for the New York City radio station WINS. The program director, Jack Coombs, thought that "LoVecchio" was "too foreign sounding, and too much of a mouthful for the studio announcers," so he Americanized it to "Lane" and Frankie added the "i" to avoid confusion with a girl singer at the station who went by the name of Frances Lane. It was at this time that Frankie Laine got unknown songbird Helen O'Connell her job with the Jimmy Dorsey band. WINS, deciding that they no longer needed a jazz singer, dropped him and with the help of bandleader Jean Goldkette, he got a job with a sustainer (nonsponsored) radio show at NBC. As he was about to begin, Germany attacked Poland and all sustainer broadcasts were pulled off the air in deference to the needs of the military.
Frankie Laine next found employment in a munitions plant, at a salary of one hundred and fifty dollars per week and quit singing for what was perhaps the fifth or sixth time of his already long career. While working at the plant, he met a trio of girl singers, and became engaged to the lead singer. The group had been noticed by Johnny Mercer's Capitol Records, and convinced Frankie Laine to head out to Hollywood with them as their agent.
In 1943, Frankie moved to California where he sang in the background of several films, including The Harvey Girls, and dubbed the singing voice for an actor in the Danny Kaye comedy 'The Kid from Brooklyn'. It was in Los Angeles in 1944 that he met and befriended disc jockey Al Jarvis and composer/pianist Carl T. Fischer, the latter of whom was to be his songwriting partner, musical director, and piano accompanist until Carl's death in 1954. Their songwriting collaborations included "I'd Give My Life," "Baby, Just For Me," "What Could Be Sweeter?," "Forever More," and the jazz standard "We'll Be Together Again."
When the Second Worl War ended, Frankie Laine soon found himself "scuffling" again, and was eventually given a place to stay by Carl Jarvis who also did his best to help promote the struggling singer's career, and Frankie Laine soon had a small, regional following. In the meantime, Frankie would make the rounds of the bigger jazz clubs, hoping that the featured band would call him up to perform a number with them.
In late 1946, Hoagy Carmichael heard Frankie Laine singing at Billy Berg's club in Los Angeles, and this was when success finally arrived. Not knowing that Hoagy was in the audience, Frankie Laine sang the Carmichael-penned standard "Rockin' Chair" when Slim Gaillard called him up to the stage to sing. This eventually led to a contract with the newly established Mercury records. Frankie Laine and Carmichael would later collaborate on a song, "Put Yourself in My Place, Baby".
Frankie Laine cut his first record in 1944, for a fledgling company called "Bel-Tone Records." The sides were called "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" and a wartime propaganda tune entitled "Brother, That's Liberty", though the records failed to make much of an impression. The label soon folded, and Frankie Laine was picked up by Atlas Records, a "race label" that initially hired him to imitate his friend Nat "King" Cole who would occasionally "moonlight" for other labels, under pseudonyms, while under contract to "Capitol", and as he had previously recorded some sides for Atlas, they reasoned that fans would assume that "Frankie Laine" was yet another pseudonym for "Nat Cole".
Frankie Laine cut his first two numbers for Atlas in the NatKingCole mode, backed by R&B artist Johnny Moore's group, The Three Blazers, which featured Charles Brown and Cole's guitarist, from "The King Cole Trio", Oscar Moore. The ruse worked and the record sold moderately well, although limited to the "race" market. Frankie Laine cut the remainder of his songs for Atlas in his own style, including standards such as "Roses of Picardy" and "Moonlight in Vermont".
It was also at this time that he recorded a single for Mercury Records: "Pickle in the Middle with the Mustard on Top" and "I May Be Wrong (But I Think You're Wonderful)." In it, Frankie Laine plays a peanut vendor at a ball game and can be heard shouting out lines like "It's a munchy, crunchy bag of lunchy!" The flip side features Frankie Laine, and is a jazzy version of an old standard done as a rhythm number. It was played by Frankie Laine's friend, disc jockey Al Jarvis, and gained the singer a small West Coast following.
Even after his discovery by Hoagy Carmichael, Frankie Laine still was considered only an intermission act at Billy Berg's. His next big break came when he dusted off a fifteen-year-old song that few people remembered in 1946, "That's My Desire". Frankie Laine had picked up the song from songstress June Hart a half a dozen years earlier, when he sang at the College Inn in Cleveland. He introduced "Desire" as a "new" song—meaning new to his repertoire at Berg's—but the audience mistook it for a new song that had just been written. He ended up singing it five times that night. After that, Frankie Laine quickly became the star attraction at Berg's, and record company executives took note.
Frankie Laine soon had patrons lining up to hear him sing "Desire"; among them was R&B artist Hadda Brooks, known for her boogie woogie piano playing. She listened to him every night, and eventually cut her own version of the song, which became a hit on the "harlem" charts. "I liked the way he did it" Brooks recalled; "he sings with soul, he sings the way he feels." He was soon recording for the fledgling Mercury label, and "That's My Desire" was one of the songs cut in his first recording session there. It quickly took the number three spot on the R&B charts, and listeners initially thought Frankie Laine was black. The record also made it to the number four spot on the Mainstream charts and although it was quickly covered by many other artists, including Sammy Kaye who took it to the number two spot, it was Frankie Laine's version that became the standard.
"Desire" became Frankie Laine's first Gold Record, and established him as a force in the music world. He had been over seven thousand dollars in debt, on the day before he recorded this song and his first paycheck for royalties was over five times this amount. Frankie Laine paid off all of his debts except one since fellow singer Perry Como refused to let Frankie pay him back, and would kid him about the money owed for years to come. The loan to Frankie Laine during the time when both men were still struggling singers was one of the few secrets Perry Como kept from his wife, Roselle, who learned of it many years later. A series of hit singles quickly followed, including "Black and Blue", "Mam'selle", "Two Loves Have I", "Shine", "On the Sunny Side of the Street", "Monday Again", and many others.
Frankie Laine was a jazz singer in the late 1940s and accompanied by Carl Fischer and some of the best jazz men in the business, he was singing standards such as "By the River Sainte Marie", "Black and Blue", "Rockin' Chair", "West End Blues", "At the End of the Road", "Ain't That Just Like a Woman", "That Ain't Right", "Exactly Like You", "Shine" and "Sleepy Ol' Rive". He enjoyed his greatest success after impresario Mitch Miller, who became the A&R man at Mercury in 1948, recognized a universal quality in his voice that led to a succession of chart-topping popular songs, often with a folk or western flavor. Frankie Laine and Mitch Miller became a formidable hit-making team whose first collaboration, "That Lucky Old Sun", became the number one song in the country three weeks after its release. It was also Frankie Laine's fifth Gold record. "That Lucky Old Sun" was something new to the musical scene in 1949: a folk spiritual which, as interpreted by Frankie Laine, became both an affirmation of faith and a working man's wish to bring his earthly sufferings to an end.
That Lucky Old Sun was knocked down to the number two position by Frankie Laine and Mitch Miller's second collaboration, "Mule Train", which proved an even bigger hit, making Frankie Laine the first artist to hold the Number One and Two positions simultaneously. "Mule Train", with its whip cracks and echo, has been cited as the first song to use an "aural texture" that "set the pattern for virtually the entire first decade of rock."
"Mule Train" represents a second direction in which Frankie Laine's music would be simultaneously heading under the guidance of Mitch Miller: as the voice of the great outdoors and the American West. "Mule Train" is a slice of life in the mid-19th century West in which the contents of the packages being delivered by the mule train provide a snapshot into frontier life: "There's some cotton, thread and needles for the folks a-way up yonder/A shovel for a miner who left his home to wander/Some rheumatism pills for the settlers in the hills."
The collaboration produced a run of top forty hits that lasted into the early years of the rock and roll era. Other hits included "Dream a Little Dream of Me", "Stars and Stripes Forever", "The Cry of the Wild Goose", "Swamp Girl", "Satan Wears a Satin Gown", and "Music, Maestro Please"."Shine", written in 1910 by Cecil Mack (R.C. McPherson), a ground-breaking African-American songwriter and publisher, was believed to be based on a real-life friend of vaudevillian George Walker, who was with him during the New York City race riots of 1900. The song takes what was then an ethnic slur, "shine", and turns it into what is essentially a badge of honor. It had been a hit for Frankie Laine's idol Louis Armstrong, who would cover several of Frankie Laine's hits as well.
"Satan Wears a Satin Gown" is the prototype of another recurring motif in Frankie Laine's oeuvre, the "Lorelei" or "Jezebel" song, both of which would be the titles of later Frankie Laine records. The song, which has a loosely structured melody that switches in tone and rhythm throughout, was pitched to Frankie Laine by a young song plugger, Tony Benedetto, who would later go on to achieve success as Tony Bennett. Frankie Laine recognized the younger singer's talent, and gave him encouragement.
"Swamp Girl" is another entry with the "Lorelei"/"Jezebel" motif in the Frankie Laine songbook. In this decidedly gothic tale of a ghostly female spirit who inhabits a metaphorical "swamp", the femme fatale attempts to lure the singer to his death, calling "Come to the deep where your sleep is without a dream." The swamp girl is voiced (in an obligato) by coloratura Loolie Jean Norman, who would later go on to provide a similar vocal for the theme song of the television series 'Star Trek'. The coloratura contrasts well with Frankie Laine's rough, masculine voice, and disembodied female voices would continue to appear in the background of many of his records, to great effect.
"Cry of the Wild Goose" would be Frankie Laine's last number one hit on the American charts and was written by folksinger Terry Gilkyson who would write many more songs for Frankie Laine over the next decade, and he and The Easy Riders would back him on the hit single, "Love Is a Golden Ring". "Cry of the Wild Goose" falls into the "voice of the great outdoors" category of Frankie Laine songs, with the opening line of its chorus, "My heart knows what the wild goose knows", becoming a part of the American lexicon.
Frankie Laine's influence on today's music can be clearly evidenced in his rendition of the Hoagy Carmichael standard, "Georgia on My Mind." Frankie Laine's slow, soulful version was a model for the iconic remake by Ray Charles a decade later. Ray Charles would follow up "Georgia" with remakes of other Frankie Frankie Laine hits, including "Your Cheatin' Heart", and "That Lucky Old Sun."
Frankie Laine began recording for Columbia Records in 1951, where he immediately scored a double-sided hit with the single "Jezebel/Rose, Rose, I Love You". Other Frankie Laine hits from this period include "High Noon", "Jealousy", "The Girl in the Wood", "When You're in Love", "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans", "Your Cheatin' Heart", "Granada", "Hey Joe!", "The Kid's Last Fight", "Cool Water", "Some Day", "A Woman in Love"), "Love Is a Golden Ring", and "Moonlight Gambler".
One of the signature songs of the early 1950s, "Jezebel" takes the "Lorelei" motif to its end, with Frankie Laine shouting "Jezebel!" at the woman who has destroyed him. In Frankie Laine's words, the song uses "flamenco rhythms to whip up an atmosphere of sexual frustration and hatred while a guy berated the woman who'd done him wrong.
"High Noon" was the theme song from the western motion picture starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. It had been sung by cowboy star Tex Ritter in the film, but it was Frankie Laine's recording that became the big hit. From this point on, Frankie Laine would sing the theme songs over the opening credits of many Hollywood and television westerns, becoming so identified with these title songs that Mel Brooks would hire him to sing the theme song for his classic cult film western spoof 'Blazing Saddles'.
At this time, Frankie Laine had become more popular in the United Kingdom than in the USA, as many of his hit records in the UK were only minor hits in his native country. Songs like "The Gandy Dancer's Ball", "The Rock of Gibraltar", and "Answer Me, O Lord" were much bigger hits for him abroad. It was also in England that he broke attendance records when appearing at the London Palladium, and where he launched his first successful television series, with songstress Connie Haines.
Mitch Miller teamed Frankie Laine with many of Mercury and Columbia's biggest artists. He scored hits with Patti Page ("I Love You for That") at Mercury, Doris Day ("Sugarbush"), Jo Stafford ("Hey Good Lookin'", "Gambella (The Gambling Lady)", "Hambone", "Floatin' Down to Cotton Town", "Settin' the Woods on Fire", and many others), Jimmy Boyd ("Tell Me a Story", "The Little Boy and the Old Man"), the Four Lads ("Rain, Rain, Rain") and Johnnie Ray ("Up Above My Head (I Hear Music in the Air)").
Frankie Laine scored a total of thirty-nine hit records on the charts while at Columbia and it is many of his songs from this period that are most readily associated with him. His Greatest Hits album, released in 1957, has been a perennial best seller that has never gone out of print. His songs at Columbia included everything from pop and jazz standards, novelties, gospel, spirituals, R&B numbers, country, western, folk, rock 'n' roll, calypso, foreign language, children's music, film and television themes, tangos, light operetta. His vocal style could range anywhere from shouting out lines to rhythm numbers to romantic ballads.
Both in collaboration with Jo Stafford and as a solo artist, Frankie Laine was one of the earliest, and most frequent, Columbia artists to bring country numbers into the mainstream. Late in his career, Frankie Laine would go on to record two straight country albums ("A Country Frankie Laine" and "The Nashville Connection") that would fully demonstrate his ability to inflect multiple levels of emotional nuances into a line or word.
Frankie's duets with Doris Day were folk-pop adaptations of traditional South African folk songs, translated by folk singer Josef Marais. Marais would also provide Frankie Laine and Jo Stafford with a similar translation of a song which Stafford seems to have particularly disliked called "Chow Willy". Although "Sugarbush" brought Frankie Laine & Day a gold record, they would never team up again.
In 1953 Frankie set two more records (this time on the UK charts): weeks at No 1 for a song, "I Believe", which held the number one spot for eighteen weeks , and weeks at No 1 for an artist in a single year. 27 weeks, when "Hey Joe!" and "Answer Me, O Lord" became number one hits as well. In spite of the popularity of rock and roll artists such as Elvis Presley and The Beatles, over fifty years later, both of Frankie Laine's records still hold.
In 1954, Frankie Laine gave a Royal Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II which he cites as one of the highlights of his career. By the end of the decade, he remained far ahead of Elvis Presley as the most successful artist on the British charts. See the "Chart of All Time" for details. "I Believe" is listed as the second most popular song of all time on the British charts as well.
"I Believe" marked yet another direction for Frankie Laine's music, that of the spiritual. A devout Roman Catholic from childhood, Frankie Laine would continue to record songs of faith and inspiration throughout his career; beginning with his rocking gospel album with the Four Lads, which, along with the hit song "Rain, Rain, Rain", included renditions of such songs as "Remember Me", "Didn't He Moan", "I Feel Like My Time Ain't Long", and "I Hear the Angels Singing." Other Frankie Laine spirituals would include "My Friend", "In the Beginning", "Make Me a Child Again", "My God and I", and "Hey! Hey! Jesus."
In 1953, Frankie Laine recorded his first long playing album that was released, domestically, solely as an album. Prior to this his albums had been compiled from previously released singles. The album was titled "Mr. Rhythm", as Frankie Laine was often known at that time, and featured many jazz-flavored, rhythm numbers similar in style to his work on the Mercury label. The album's songlist was made up of "Great American Songbook" standards. The tracks were "Some Day, Sweetheart", "A Hundred Years from Today", "Laughing at Life", "Lullaby in Rhythm", "Willow, Weep for Me", "My Ohio Home", "Judy" and "After You've Gone." The final number features a rare vocal duet with his accompanist/musical director, Carl Fischer. Paul Weston's orchestra provided the music.
Released as a ten inch in 1953, and a 12" in 1954, 'Portrait of New Orleans' features the talents of Frankie Laine, Jo Stafford and bandleader Paul Weston, a Tommy Dorsey alumnus who led one of the top bands of the 1950s. The album was a mix of solo recordings and duets by the two stars, and of new and previously released material, including Stafford's hits single, "Make Love to Me", "Shrimp Boats", and "Jambalaya." Frankie Laine and Stafford duetted on "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans", "Floatin' Down to Cotton Town", and "Basin Street Blues"; and Frankie Laine soloed on "New Orleans", "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?", and "When It's Sleepy Time Down South", along with a pair of cuts taken from his "Mr. Rhythm" album.
The album 'Jazz Spectacular' featured not only jazz vocals by Frankie Laine, but jazz licks on trumpet by a former featured player in the Count Basie orchestra, Buck Clayton, and trombonists J. J. Johnson and Kai Winding, and piano by Sir Charles Thompson. The tracks included several songs that had long been a standard part of the Frankie Laine repertoire over the years: "Sposin'", "Baby, Baby, All the Time", and "Roses of Picardy" along with standards such as "Stars Fell on Alabama", "That Old Feeling", and "Taking a Chance on Love". The album proved popular with jazz and popular music fans, and was often cited by Frankie Laine as his personal favorite. An improvised tone is apparent throughout, with Frankie Laine at one point reminiscing with one of the musicians about the days they performed together at Billy Berg's.
The Four Lads (Bernie Toorish, Jimmy Arnold, Frank Busseri and Connie Codarini) had begun as a Canadian-based gospel group, who first gained fame as the backup singers on Johnnie Ray's early chart-busters ("Cry", "The Little White Cloud that Cried"), but garnered a following of their own with songs such as "The Mocking Bird", and "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)". The album produced one hit, "Rain! Rain! Rain!", along with tracks such as "Remember Me", "I Feel That My Time Ain't Long", and "Didn't He Moan". The last four tracks were recorded during a later session.
'Rockin One' one of Frankie Laine's most popular albums, was reset with several of his former hits in a driving, brassy orchestration by Paul Weston and his orchestra. Two of the remakes ("That Lucky Old Sun" and "We'll Be Together Again") have gone on to become the best-known versions of the songs (supplanting the original hit versions). Other songs on this album include: "Rockin' Chair", "By the River Sainte Marie", "Black and Blue", "Blue Turning Grey Over You", "Shine", and "West End Blues". The album's title is less a reference to rock and roll than a reference to the Duke Ellington song of that same name. Unlike Mitch Miller, Frankie Laine liked the new musical form known as "rock 'n' roll", and was anxious to try his hand at it.
French composer/arranger Michel Legrand teamed up with Frankie Laine to record a pair of albums in 1958. The first, A Foreign Affair, was built around the concept of recording the tracks in different languages: English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The album produced a pair of international hits: "La Paloma" in Argentina, and "Não tem solucão" in Brazil. Other tracks included "Mona Lisa", "Mam'selle", "Torna a Sorriento", "Besame Mucho", and "Autumn Leaves."
Frankie Laine and Legrand teamed up for a second album of jazz standards, titled 'Reunion in Rhythm', with the vocals limiting themselves to English (and an occasional segue into French). Frankie Laine sang the complete lyrics, including the rarely reprised introductions, to such favorites as "Blue Moon", "Lover, Come Back to Me", "Marie", "September in the Rain", "Dream a Little Dream of Me" "I Would Do Most Anything for You", "Too Marvelous for Words", and "I Forget the Time". André Previn was the studio pianist on "I'm Confessin'", "Baby Just For Me," "You're Just The Kind," and "I Forget The Time."
Frankie Laine wrote the lyrics for the title song on another 1958 album, Torchin', which was also his first recorded in stereo. He was backed by trombonist Frank Comstock's orchestra, on a dozen classic torch songs including: "A Cottage for Sale", "I Cover the Waterfront", "You've Changed", "These Foolish Things", "I Got it Bad (And That Ain't Good)", "It's the Talk of the Town", and "Body and Soul". As with his Legrand album, he sings the entire lyric for each song.
A second collaboration with Comstock, also recorded in 1958, focused on intimacy. Conceived as a love letter to his second wife, actress Nan Grey, who appears on the cover with him, 'You Are My Love' is easily Frankie Laine's most romantic work. His voice was once described by a British disk jockey as having "the virility of a goat and the delicacy of a flower petal and both these elements are well showcased here, particularly the delicate nuances.
Frankie's recording of the wedding standard, "Because", exemplifies his delicate mode at its most exquisite. He opens the song a cappella, after which a classical, acoustic guitar joins him, with the full orchestra gradually fading in and out before the guitar only climax. Also among the love ballads on this album are versions of: "I Married an Angel", "To My Wife", "Try a Little Tenderness", "Side by Side", and a version of "The Touch of Your Lips".
Recorded in 1959, "Balladeer" was a folk-blues album and was orchestrated and arranged by Fred Katz. Frankie Laine and Fred Katz collaborated on some of the new material, along with Lucy Drucker. Other songs are by folk, country and blues artists such as Brownie McGhee, James A. Bland, Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter, and Hungarian composer Rudolf Friml. The closing track, "And Doesn't She Roll" was co-written by Frankie Laine and with its rhythmic counter-chorus in the background foretells Paul Simon's Graceland album two decades later. Included are renditions of "Rocks and Gravel", "Careless Love", "Sixteen Tons", "The Jelly Coal Man", "On a Monday", "Lucy D", "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny", "Stack of Blues", "Old Blue", "Cherry Red", and The House of the Rising Sun, which would become a hit for the British rock group, The Animals a few years later.
Frankie Laine's last four albums at Columbia, Hell Bent for Leather, Deuces Wild, Call of the Wild, and Wanderlust were arranged by a young John Williams.
An album of western classics by Frankie Laine established him as "a cowboy singer" for many young fans who grew up in the 1960s. The tracks include stereo remakes of several of his biggest western/great outdoors hits: "The Cry of the Wild Goose", "Mule Train", "Gunfight at O.K. Corral", and "The 3:10 to Yuma", as well as new material, including the western rocker, "Wanted Man", and a musical narrative, "Bowie Knife".
Frankie Laine's next album continued with the western theme on several of the numbers while following up on his last hit single. Most of the tracks of this album feature a gambling theme. "The Hard Way" is a story about a hard-luck case who is killed by a cannonball while fighting in the Civil War (for the Confederacy), only to wind up eternally shoveling coal in Hell. The second track is Stephen Foster's "Camptown Races" Other songs on this album include: "Luck Be a Lady" (from the hit musical Guys and Dolls), which Frankie Laine performed in an Off Broadway, touring company version of; "Get Rich Quick"; "Horses and Women" (which Frankie Laine may have supplied the lyrics to); "Deuces Wild", for which Frankie Laine provided the lyrics, and "Dead Man's Hand."
The album continued to play up Chicago-born Frankie Laine's western image with songs such as "On the Trail", based on the composition by Ferde Grofé, and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds", written by one of the founding members of The Sons of the Pioneers", Bob Nolan. The majority of its tracks focus more, however, on "the great outdoors", with titles such as: "Song of the Open Road", "North to Alaska", "Beyond the Blue Horizon", "Rolling Stone", and "The New Frontier", which appears to show Frankie Laine's support of President John F. Kennedy. The arrangements on many of these songs have an almost classical feel to them, reflecting the classical training of John Williams, who would go on to conduct the Boston Pops for many years.
'Wanderlust' was Frankie Laine's final album with Columbia Records. "De Glory Road" is one of both Frankie Laine's personal favorites. Other songs on this album include "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and a swinging version of Sigmund Romberg's Serenade, from the operetta, The Student Prince. Also included on this album is a version of "I Let Her Go"; an uncensored version of a song that figured prominently in his nightclub act, "On the Road to Mandalay", based on the poem by Rudyard Kipling; and a classic version of "Wagon Wheels" which he'd been singing (though not recording) as far back as his days with the Merry Garden Ballroom marathon dance company in the early 1930s.
Frankie Laine had met with Columbia officials to renew his contract on the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The meeting was cancelled, and neither Frankie Laine nor Columbia pressed to reschedule it. In 1963 Frankie Laine left Columbia for Capitol Records, but his two years there only produced one album and a handful of singles. He continued performing regularly at this time, including a South African tour.
After switching to ABC Records in the late 1960s, Frankie found himself at the top of the charts again, beginning with the first song he recorded, "I'll Take Care of Your Cares". Written as a waltz in the mid-1920s, "Cares" had become the unofficial theme song of the Las Vegas call girls, but was virtually unknown outside of the Strip. Frankie Laine recorded a swinging version that made it to number 39 on the national and number 2 on the adult contemporary charts. A string of hits followed including "Making Memories", "You Wanted Someone to Play With", "Laura (What's He Got That I Ain't Got)", "To Each His Own", "I Found You", and "Lord, You Gave Me A Mountain" (which was written by Marty Robbins). The last song was a number one hit on the adult contemporary chart and number 24 national, and proved that Frankie Laine was as big a hit-maker as ever.
Seeking greater artistic freedom, Frankie Laine left ABC for the much smaller Amos Records, where he cut two albums in a modern, rock-influenced vein. The first album contained contemporary versions of his greatest hits, such as "Your Cheatin' Heart", "That Lucky Old Sun", "I Believe", "Jezebel", "Shine", and "Moonlight Gambler." A re-recorded single of "On The Sunny Side Of The Street" reached the Cashbox "Looking Ahead" chart in 1970. His second album for Amos was called "A Brand New Day" and, along with the title song, was original material including "Mr. Bojangles", "Proud Mary", "Put Your Hand in the Hand", "My God and I", and "Talk About the Good Times". It was one of Frankie Laine's personal favorites.
Beginning in the late 1940s, Frankie Laine starred in over six backstage musicals, often playing himself; several of these were written and directed by a young Blake Edwards. His films were very popular in the United Kingdom, but this success failed to establish him as a movie star in the United States.
On television, he hosted three variety shows: The Frankie Laine Hour in 1950, The Frankie Laine Show with Connie Haines in 1954 and 1955, and Frankie Laine Time in 1955 and 1956.
In the 1960s, Frankie Laine continued appearing on variety shows such as Laugh-In, but took on several serious guest-starring roles in shows like Rawhide, and Burke's Law. His theme song for Rawhide proved to be popular and helped make the show, which starred Eric Fleming and launched the career of Clint Eastwood. Other TV series for which Frankie Laine sang the theme song included Gunslinger, and Rango. In 1976, Frankie Laine recorded The Beatles song, "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" for the documentary All This and World War II.
Frankie Laine performed at three Academy Awards ceremonies which were in 1950: Mule Train, in 1960: The Hanging Tree, and in 1975: Blazing Saddles.
Along with opening the door for many R&B performers, Frankie Laine played a significant role in the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s. When Nat King Cole's television show was unable to get a sponsor, Frankie Laine crossed the color line, becoming the first white artist to appear as a guest and forgoing his usual salary of $10,000.00 as Nat Cole's show only paid scale. Many other top white singers followed suit, including Tony Bennett and Rosemary Clooney, but Nat Cole's show still could not get enough sponsors to continue.
In the following decade, Frankie Laine joined several African American artists who gave a free concert for Martin Luther King's supporters during their Selma to Montgomery marches on Washington, D.C.
Frankie Laine, who had a strong appreciation of African American music, went so far as to record at least two songs that have being black as their subject matter being "Shine" and Fats Waller's "Black and Blue". Both were recorded early in his career at Mercury, and helped to contribute to the initial confusion among fans about his race.
Frankie Laine was also active in many charities as well, including Meals on Wheels and The Salvation Army. Among his charitable works were a series of local benefit concerts and his having organized a nationwide drive to provide "Shoes for the Homeless". He donated a large portion of his time and talent to many San Diego charities and homeless shelters, as well as the Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul Village. He was also an emeritus member of the board of directors for the Mercy Hospital Foundation.
Frankie Laine married actress Nan Grey in June 1950 and adopted her daughters Pam and Jan from a previous marriage. Their 43-year marriage lasted until her death. Frankie Laine and Nan guest-starred on an 18th of November, 1960, episode of Rawhide. They played long-lost lovers. Following a three-year engagement to Anita Craighead, the 86-year-old Frankie married Marcia Ann Kline in June 1999. This marriage lasted for the remainder of his life.
Frankie Laine settled in a hilltop spread in the Point Loma neighborhood of San Diego, where he was a supporter of local events and charities. In 2000 the San Diego Chamber of Commerce dubbed him "The Prince of Point Loma".
His career slowed down a little in the 1980s due to triple and quadruple heart bypass surgeries, but he continued cutting albums, including 'Wheels Of A Dream' in 1998, 'Old Man Jazz' in 2002 and 'The Nashville Connection' in 2004.
In 1986, Frankie recorded an album, 'Round Up with Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra', which made it to the classical charts. Frankie Laine was reportedly pleased and amused having also placed songs on the rhythm and blues, and popular charts in his time.
Frankie recorded his last song, "Taps/My Buddy", shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attack on America. The song was dedicated to the New York City firefighters, and Frankie Laine stipulated that profits from the song were to be donated, in perpetuity, to FDNY.
On 12th June, 1996, he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 27th Annual Songwriters’ Hall of Fame awards ceremony at the New York Sheraton. On his 80th birthday, the United States Congress declared him to be a national treasure. A decade later on 30th March, 2003, Frankie celebrated his 90th birthday, and several of his old pals, Herb Jeffries, Patti Page and Kay Starr were welcomed to his birthday bash in San Diego, as each of them gave him a helping hand in blowing out the candles.
In 2006, Frankie Laine appeared on the PBS My Music special despite a recent stroke, performing "That's My Desire", and received a standing ovation. It proved to be his swan song to the world of popular music.