Once in a while, The Dick Van Dyke Show would find an excuse for its two stars — Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore — to break out in song, as though it wasn’t charming enough to watch Rob & Laura Petrie of New Rochelle play the sexiest couple on TV. Rob had the most enviable of lives, writing sketches for The Alan Brady Show in Manhattan, going home to Laura, whom he met when she was a teenaged hoofer in a U.S.O. revue. Their courtship began with a song-and-dance number, “You Wonderful You,” and as a settled suburban husband and wife, somehow they managed to bust out the tunes at the drop of a hat. The Dick Van Dyke Show is where I first heard “The Doodling Song” (I later found out that Peggy Lee and Blossom Dearie had cut in on disc), and when Jackie Cain, of the singing duo Jackie and Roy, passed away earlier this week, the first thing that crossed my mind was Rob and Laura’s version of Rodgers & Hart’s “Mountain Greenery.” Someone on the DVD staff was obviously pretty clued-in, because the Petries’ arrangement was modeled very closely on the ‘50s recording by Jackie and Roy.
Jackie Cain and Roy Kral were just cool enough. They weren’t as dazzlingly inventive as Lambert, Hendricks and Ross (who were like the Nichols & May of vocal jazz interplay), but they could take some surprising turns, and their records all sound filled with affection and playfulness, without the square, staged musical banter of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. You believed them as a couple, the way you bought into Rob and Laura: look at Jackie and Roy on the front and back cover of their By Jupiter & Girl Crazy album on Roulette. She’s barely draped in flowing light blue in one shot, trying to seduce his indifferent gladiator, and on the flip side, they’re a pair of cowpokes. It all should come off as ultra-corny, but somehow it doesn’t. It’s like they’re at some costume party, and you imagine that those costumes might come into play in imaginative ways later that night.
It’s a nutty discography; in the ‘60s, like so many singers who were trying to keep up, they zig-zagged all over the place, into bossa nova (“Samba Triste” and “Corcovado” on Verve’s Lovesick), covers of contemporary tunes by The Beatles (six Lennon-McCartney songs on Changes), even an album on Capitol called Grass (“The Electric Jackie & Roy”: more L-McC, plus Paul Simon, the Gibbs…). As those things go, they aren’t embarrassing, because they still have the low-key warmth of the earlier records, and on CTI’s Time and Love (1972), they nestle into a comfortable jazz-pop zone, but they aren’t the places to begin with Jackie and Roy. Since they bopped around from label to label, compiling something definitive would be a pain (although now Universal has the ABC-Paramount, Capitol, Verve and CTI stuff under their roof, which leaves Roulette and Columbia material to reckon with). Where you want to go is to the swinging, flirty ‘50s/brink-of-the-’60s sides.
There’s a whole Columbia LP of Andre and Dory Previn compositions (Like Sing, with “Sing Me An Abstract Song”) that’s worth seeking out, and some of J&R’s most Petrie-ish LP’s have been coupled for download, so you can easily grab such numbers as “Kiss and Run,” “How Are You Fixed For Love?,” “Fun Life” (“Let’s dig the scene and have our fling with it,” Jackie sings, “Because we’re young, let’s ding-a-ling with it”),” “Ooh! That Kiss,” “You Smell So Good” and “I Love You Real.” It was a sort of swank-hip thing, the straight-looking (until the inevitable later-’60s sideburns) guy at the piano, the girl who brought some pow to the affair. In the Jackie Cain NY Times’ obit, Kral is quoted as saying, “She was a voluptuous blonde, right out of high school. She was very convincing.” But the piece goes on to say that it was Cain who made the big move: “I leaned over and kissed him. A big, juicy wet one.” What you still hear in the records Jackie and Roy made is that matter-of-fact chemistry, their voices teasing each other. They were the musical Rob and Laura, all right. Just two crazy people together.