It’s tough to pull off romantic despair wearing a white cable-knit sweater and a bad toupee, but that’s the fix Frank Sinatra found himself in when some stylist (I’m guessing) told him that the whole tilted-fedora and shoulder-slung raincoat vibe was too old-school, and this was the tail end of the sixties, man, and everything was more casual. So poor Francis, with all the conviction he could muster, and a way-too-long shirt collar, and a sweeping Don Costa arrangement, sang the big Randazzo-Pike ballad “Forget To Remember,” a melody that owes not a small debt to Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.” It was typical Teddy Randazzo drama, and here’s where I have to say that “typical Teddy Randazzo drama” is a phrase that probably doesn’t contain much cultural resonance, because it’s not like that name is thrown about very often the way, say, Burt Bacharach & Hal David’s are, or even Bob Crewe & Bob Gaudio’s post-Jersey Boys, or any A-level Motown song-crafters’ you could mention. But for a while, Randazzo was a big deal angst-cranker, co-writing, producing and arranging records for Little Anthony & The Imperials and The Royalettes (the great “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle” and “I Want To Meet Him,” and two fine albums, especially The Elegant Sound of The Royalettes) and even for Jerry Vale, Georgia Gibbs, Tony Orlando and Steve Lawrence. In other words: an oddly-shaped career.
In the 1950s and early ‘60s, this would have seemed unlikely to anyone who saw Teddy courting a very young Tuesday Weld in Rock! Rock! Rock!, or caught him with his group The 3 Chuckles on television, or knew them as one of the more forgettable performers in The Girl Can’t Help It, or watched him play second-lead to Joey Dee in Hey, Let’s Twist! (his filmography is filled with exclamation points, but is otherwise decidedly unemphatic). So when he, Little Anthony & The Imperials and Don Costa, all relatively anachronistic in the Year of The British Invasion, hit the charts with “I’m On The Outside (Looking In),” it was surprising: how did this yearning ballad break through? Why, of all the doo-wop groups who had hits in the fifties and early sixties, were Little Anthony & The Imperials able to jump-start a second, and even more impressive, run of singles (so few doo-wop groups managed to cling to life, The Dells, The Jive Five, The Four Seasons if you want to count them, and why not)? When “Outside” hit the charts, the group hadn’t sat in the top 40 for a half-decade, since “Shimmy, Shimmy Ko-Ko-Bop” in 1959.
What Randazzo and his crew did was give Anthony’s aching tenor the spotlight on a series of the most gut-wrenching songs. Within around a year and a half, following “I’m On The Outside (Looking In)”: “Goin’ Out Of My Head,” “Hurt So Bad,” “Take Me Back,” “I Miss You So,” in order of release, and then, in case the point wasn’t clear enough, “Hurt” (there was also a song called “If I Remember To Forget,” which was later lyrically flipped for that Sinatra thing). Play all of them (not all written by Randazzo, but all of a piece) in a row, and add some album cuts (“Never Again,” “Make It Easy On Yourself” — not the Bacharach-David one — “It’s Not The Same”) and they become a classic ‘60s pop-soul torch album.
On an oldies PBS show, some talking head, a deejay maybe, said that at the time, Randazzo was going through a rough divorce, and he poured all his pain into that Imperials material, and I can believe that; these songs — mostly written with Bobby Weinstein — are pure agony, with lyrics so naked and simple, shorn of all frills, metaphor, allusions, wordplay: “I want you to want me/I need you so badly/I can’t think of anything but you.” That’s almost not even a lyric, it’s a letter you send your ex (I know: it’s not a break-up song, it’s an I-can’t-approach-her song, still pretty despondent and desperate). Look at those titles, and throw them on the dive-bar jukebox in your head. Or imagine that Sinatra, Randazzo and Costa made an album together in around 1967, instead of Sinatra going down the lonesome A Man Alone road with the songs of Rod McKuen: Frank did pour himself a short one and cut “Goin’ Out Of My Head,” and it’s a little too muscular, but you can sort of see what the album might have been like. The Chairman of the Board meets The Heartbreak Kid.