One of the undisputed kings of cool, Dean Martin is sometimes portrayed as a musical dilettante whereas nothing could be further from the truth. Despite his legendary laid back vocal style Martin took his recording career very seriously and as with his Rat Pack pal Frank Sinatra lengthy stints with Capitol and Reprise are evidence of a ferocious schedule as well as a life well lived.
For aficionados of masculine charm Dean represents an era when a sharp dressed man with an eye for the fairer sex was the very thing: his timeless hits include classics like “Sway”, “Volare " (Nel Blue Di Pinto Di Blu), “That’s Amore”, “Memories Are Made of This”, “You’re Nobody ‘Till Somebody Loves You” and “King Of The Road” but his facility with a European, often Italian ballad, a finger snapping delivery and a warm bravado shouldn’t camouflage his ability to pick and choose the right material, the best producers and players in town, and the entire entertainment package fingers him as an American icon. Also famous for his movies, his love of golf and the bon mot – “If you drink, don’t drive – don’t even putt” and his Dry Martini recipe – “plenty of ice, plenty of gin and just point yer glass towards Italy” – Dino has had plenty of Hollywood acolytes. For example: Playboy called him “the coolest man who ever lived.” Elvis Presley worshipped him. “He was the coolest dude I’d ever seen, period,” recalled Stevie Van Zandt, adding, “He wasn’t just great at everything he did. To me, he was perfect.”
Born Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio to an Italian-American family the young man had a real blue-collar upbringing. He worked in steel mills, had a spell as a boxer, flipped the aces in speakeasy establishments and learnt the art of blackjack and poker. Once he embarked on a singing career he styled himself after arch crooner Bing Crosby, using the less is more technique, majoring on force of personality and charisma to drive a song home. He met Sinatra in New York in the late 1940s and then built a nightclub act in Atlantic City with comedian Jerry Lewis, perfecting his timing and introducing audiences to a hyper version of 1950s street style.
Martin’s earliest work was for the small Diamond Records label in 1946 when he was already heading for his 30th birthday but Capitol Records, for whom he recorded 1948 – 1961, soon snapped him up. Dean’s easy listening with attitude came to the fore on Swingin’ Down Yonder (1955), a set of chestnuts warmed by a Southern sun. He made a bigger splash with the 1959 album Sleep Warm with arrangements by Pete King and orchestra conducted by Sinatra! This “beguiling set of lullabies for moderns” features “Dream a Little Dream, of Me”, a hit for Mama Cass and company in the next decade.
This Time I’m Swingin’!, orchestra conducted by Nelson Riddle is his first great album and greets the new decade under the banner ‘Full Dimensional Stereo’, for those who like their cultural signposts. Including “You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You” and a cracking take on the Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen vehicle “Imagination” this remains a suave period piece that is ripe for discovery and always looks impressive when strategically placed at the front of a discerning collection.
Dino: Italian Love Songs was a heartfelt throwback to his roots with the whiff of Roman streets and nods to operatic counter tenors declaiming “There’s No Tomorrow (O Sole Mio)” referencing and updating a tradition with aplomb. Lovely work. His last release on Capitol before joining Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records label is Cha Cha de Amor, notable for the Afro-Cuban rhythms and percussive skills of Carlos Mejia, Tony Reyes, Eddie Cano and Ramon Rivera. Listen to this with a crisp white open neck shirt, a tilted black Stetson Zephyr fedora and a decent cigar.
The globe trotting Martin gallivants to Paris for French Style (“Gigi, “La Vie En Rose”) then he’s in Espana and possibly Mexico for Dino Latino, a real cult curio arranged by Don Costa. Back in the USA we find Dean “Tex” Martin: Country Style and considering it’s still only 1963 and Beatlemania is about to poleaxe the States his choices are immaculate: Bobby Darin’s “Things”, Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line”, Hank Williams’ “Hey, Good Lookin’” for starters.
Enter producer Jimmy Bowen for Dean “Tex” Martin Rides Again with arrangements by Marty Paich and a liner eulogy from Merle Travis. Interpretations of Hank again, also of Eddy Arnold and Harlan Howard, maintain the easy paced countrypolitan approach.
Straddling the adult, teen and country market had built Martin’s reputation to the point where Dream with Dean made a dent. Here’s where “Everybody Loves Somebody” emerges and the lounge singing is taken to new heights. Once “You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You” had been re-recorded by Bowen, Martin found himself firmly as a triple-threat national star of stage, screen and television. Dean Martin Hits Again and the excellent (Remember Me) I’m the One Who Loves You were fine pop crossovers. The latter includes a timely version of Roger Miller’s hobo classic “King of the Road”, which Martin also makes his own, plus the pleasantly romantic “Red Roses for a Blue Lady”.
Dean’s ’65 Houston album is one for the connoisseur since it kicks off with Lee Hazlewood’s title cut and then pitches Dino in a swinging hipster persona. That break with the formula resulted in the artist releasing five albums in 1966, starring in three movies and hosting his own TV show. The Hit Sound of… is another essential discovery with more Hazlewood and nifty Billy Strange arrangements.
Happiness is… features a splendid version of Hank Cochran’s song for Patsy Cline, retitled “He’s Got You”, then Welcome to My World has the signature piece, “Little Ole Wine Drinker, Me.” So even at the height of psychedelia our man stuck to his tippling.
However, Gentle on My Mind is easy listening bliss with John Hartford’s track, Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, Hardin’s “April Again” and Bobby Russell’s “Honey” showing Dean in a more progressive light. Having discovered that his voice was naturally suited to interpreting Kris Kristofferson he added his inimitable styling to “For the Good Times” (on the album of that name) and bossed the songwriter’s “Kiss the World Goodbye” on Dino (1972).
The Bowen years throw up many interesting moments thereafter: try Dean’s version of “You Better Move On” or the bluesy country pop of “Since I Met You Baby” on the excellent The Nashville Sessions (1983). That was to be his last complete recording session, bar the rare on vinyl MCA single “L.A. Is My Home”.
With an artist of this caliber the live and collected works are failsafe. Live from Las Vegas and Live from Lake Tahoe are showstoppers and there are many classy compilations to delve into. Both The Best of… and Dino: The Essential… went Platinum. But for real investigation try any of The Bear Family’s career-encompassing projects or our box set via Hip-O Records, Collected Cool. This 4-CD marvel marks the compact disc debut of the Lake Tahoe concert and features several dozen tracks from his years recording for Capitol and Reprise. The set spans Martin’s nearly half-century career, ranging from late-'40s hits including “Powder Your Face With Sunshine (Smile! Smile! Smile!)” to the 1985 single “L.A. Is My Home.” Collected Cool also features a DVD of Dean Martin Live in London, filmed in 1983 at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. The concert aired on Showtime but has never been available on home video.
Curl up in front of a fire with any of these, mix yourself a Dry one and grab some Dean Martin movie action: we’d suggest The Young Lions (also starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift), the classic Rio Bravo – Howard Hawks directs John Wayne, Martin and company in a film rated the second greatest Western of all time in Sight and Sound’s 2012 critic poll! Ocean’s 11 is the archetypal Rat Pack flick but don’t forget The Sons of Katie Elder, Bandolero! (Dean seduces Raquel Welch) and 5 Card Stud, also starring Robert Mitchum.
That’s Dino – sheer class, total cool. What a dood…
Words: Max Bell
A compilation of Dean Martin's best love songs would be a wonderful thing to give or receive for Valentine's Day (when this compilation was released), or practically any other time of the year. Martin was a very endearing romantic, bringing across the warmth and understanding of love that only an Italian (or Italian-American) could accomplish. Amore compiles 15 of his best-loved ballads from the Capitol years of the '50s and very early '60s. That era was the bridge between his rather stodgy character of the '40s and '50s (when he played the straight man to Jerry Lewis' anarchic persona) and the late '50s (when he became a film star on his own, and the right-hand man of Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack). At Capitol, he was usually paired with great arrangers, and while he took a few years to develop a singing character of his own, his LP output from 1958 to 1961 included some real gems (This Time I'm Swingin'!, Sleep Warm) as well as some great singles. Amore does a fair survey of that period, but there are several omissions, some understandable and some confusing. First and foremost, this doesn't include any of his Reprise-era hits: "Everybody Loves Somebody," "Remember Me (I'm the One Who Loves You)," and "Send Me the Pillow You Dream On" (all of which were recorded during the mid-'60s and would've been perfect for this thematic disc). Secondly, it omits one of his two biggest Capitol hits, "Memories Are Made of This" (and a more romantic song you could barely hope to find). Admittedly, what's here is great, paced by his definitive "That's Amore," plus excellent versions of standards like "Just in Time," "Dream a Little Dream of Me," and "You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You." But that doesn't make the omissions any less perplexing.
Words: John Bush
It's hard to say which loomed larger in the mythology of Dean Martin's career, booze or broads, and while he may have been famous as the coolest drunk in show biz, he sang about love more than anything else, and ten songs about romance pulled from the Capitol Records vaults made up this compilation album released in 1966. Recorded between 1950 and 1958, these sides were originally released as singles or never appeared on record before Capitol issued this budget-priced album through its affiliated Tower label, and while most of the material is good, this is a real mixed bag once you get past the common theme of romance. "Rue de Mon Amour (Street of Love)" is the real surprise here, as it's one of the few songs that Dino actually wrote, and it's a fine atmospheric number about finding romance in Paris which gets a superb vocal treatment from the composer. Elsewhere, "I'm Gonna Paper All My Walls With Your Love Letters" gets a swinging Dixieland-influenced arrangement, "You Were Made for Love" suggests someone at the session was trying to nudge Dean toward rock & roll, "I Love the Way You Say Goodnight" is just a shade too sweet for its own good (especially the female backing chorus) and "I'll Always Love You" adds a Neapolitan touch to the proceedings. There are some fine performances of fine songs on board, but Happy in Love doesn't cohere especially well as an album, though it will certainly appeal to Martin completists as he's in great voice throughout.
Words: Mark Deming
It's hard to say if the title The Lush Years was meant to refer to the production and arrangements on these ten songs or was a "clever" reference to Dino's well-documented fondness for booze. But in any event, most of these cuts, drawn from the Capitol Records vaults years after Martin left the label, feature high production values and polished vocal performances from Martin, especially on the romantic "Be an Angel," the easy swing of "I Never Had a Chance," and the gentle heartache of "Where Can I Go Without You?" (though the latter has a very curious sax solo that nearly destroys the mood). The set also boasts a pair of rare cuts tied in with some of Dino's better film roles, "Rio Bravo" (a complete performance of a tune that appears only as a fragment in Howard Hawks' classic Western) and "Love Is a Career" (the latter recorded to promote the 1959 film Career, though it doesn't appear in the movie). The Lush Years was one of four albums Capitol released through its subsidiary label Tower to make use of single sides and unreleased tracks that had never appeared on one of Dino's LPs, and while this is lesser known material in Martin's repertoire, his confident and easygoing vocals are as strong as any of his hits from his Capitol era.
Words: Mark Deming
Dean Martin was one of the most laid-back men in show business history -- at least in the recording studio, where his easygoing vocal style demonstrated he could communicate volumes without breaking a sweat -- and the vast majority of his albums could have been given the title Relaxin' and it would have fit like a glove. This LP, released in 1966 and compiled from singles and unreleased takes Martin recorded between 1951 and 1961 during his tenure with Capitol Records, actually boasts a few relatively upbeat numbers, including "Cheatin' on Me" (which features a swingin' rock & roll-flavored arrangement) and the peppy novelty tune "Chee-Chee O Chee (Sang the Little Bird)." But most of the time Relaxin' lives up to its billing, and numbers like the Italian-influenced "In Napoli," the smoothly romantic "I Want You," and the pleading "Let Me Know" find Martin delivering the good with a smooth fire that warms like a glass of 20-year-old Scotch. Relaxin' may have been taken from a batch of material that never made it to one of Dino's "real" albums, but his performances are uniformly strong and the arrangements support his vocals with style and class -- it was one of the best of the four budget-priced albums Capitol released through its Tower imprint of Martin rarities.
Words: Mark Deming
With 1951's At War with the Army, Martin and Lewis earned their first star billing. The picture established the basic formula of all of their subsequent movie work, with Martin the suave straight man forced to suffer the bizarre antics of the manic fool Lewis. Critics often loathed the duo, but audiences couldn't get enough -- in all, they headlined 13 comedies for Paramount, among them 1952's Jumping Jacks, 1953's Scared Stiff and 1955's Artists and Models, a superior effort directed by Frank Tashlin. For 1956's Hollywood or Bust, Tashlin was again in the director's seat, but the movie was the team's last; after Martin and Lewis' relationship soured to the point where they were no longer even speaking to one another, they announced their breakup following the conclusion of their July 25, 1956 performance at the Copacabana, which celebrated to the day the tenth anniversary of their first show. While most onlookers predicted continued superstardom for Lewis, the general consensus was that Martin would falter as a solo act; after all, outside of the 1953 smash "That's Amore," his solo singing career had never quite hit its stride, and in light of the continued ascendancy of rock & roll, his future looked dim. After suffering a failure with Ten Thousand Bedrooms, Martin's next move was to appear in the 1958 drama The Young Lions, starring alongside Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando; that same year he also hosted The Dean Martin Show, the first of his color specials for NBC television. Both projects were successful, as were his live appearances at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas; in particular, The Young Lions proved him a highly capable dramatic actor. Combined with another hit single, "Volare," Martin was everywhere that year, and with the continued success of his many TV specials, he effectively conquered movies, music, television and the stage all at the same time -- a claim no other entertainer, not even Sinatra, could make.
Cha Cha da Amor was Dean Martin's last album for Capitol records before he left for Sinatra's Reprise label. Due to the fantastic success of Dean's previous album "This time i'm swingin" Capitol decided to pair Dean again with Nelson Riddle and his orchestra, Riddle of course had arranged so many of Sinatra's great Capitol albums and with him on board success was pretty much a guarantee. This album is very different beast to Dean's previous albums in that all the songs have been arranged with a Latin flavour. This is infact both a help and a hindrance to a certain degree. Whilst this shows how versatile Martin was as a performer, making diverse albums ranging from jazz to country, here sadly the music never really catches fire the way it should, don't get me wrong, this is a very listenable and likeable album but Riddle's arrangements are hampered by the style of music and his orchestra never really gets chance to cut loose like they did on the "This time i'm swingin" album or his great works with Sinatra. This isn't any fault of Riddle's work just that your so locked into the style and rhythm of the music there doesn't leave much room to play around with. Infact most of the tracks segue into each other with little variation in tempo or style leaving the listener a little bored at times,Pleasant but unexciting. This is still a good album but it's not one you'll probably want to listen and pay attention intently to all the way through. Martin is in fine form vocally and Nelson Riddle does his best with what he can do with the songs but neither showcases each other's talents to the fullest. Still recommended though.
Words: Russell C. Witheyman
Dino -- Like Never Before was the last of four albums Capitol Records released (though its Tower Records subsidiary) of rare singles and unreleased takes that Dean Martin recorded before jumping ship to sign with Reprise Records in 1961. Waxed between 1950 and 1954, most of the ten numbers on Dino -- Like Never Before are classic early period Martin, with a touch of his Bing Crosby influence evident around the edges and polished arrangements giving the songs the right accompaniment. While the sappy "Second Chance" and "One More Time" never quite get off the ground, Dino's lively reading of "I Ran All the Way Home" starts things off on solid ground, "There's My Lover" and "'Til I Find You" work despite overactive alto saxophone work by arranger Dick Stabile, and the easygoing "That's What I Like" was made for Martin's wink-and-a-smile delivery. Martin was still working with then-partner Jerry Lewis at the time these sides were recorded (many of which were cut for use in their movies), and his style would mature and mellow with the passage of time, but he's still in fine form on Dino -- Like Never Before, and this is a solid and enjoyable collection highlighting the early stages of his years in the spotlight.
Words: Mark Deming
Dean Martin waited two years following Swingin' Down Yonder before recording his second full-length LP, Pretty Baby (though, of course, he recorded singles, EPs, and film soundtrack material in the interim). This time, under the baton of Lee Gillette, he essayed a 12-song set of ballads, among them semi-standards (and Bing Crosby hits) like "It's Easy to Remember" and "Only Forever." He didn't seem nearly as involved as he had on the uptempo Swingin' Down Yonder, and the gimmicky female backup accompaniment undercut the romantic mood, making this a less satisfying album than it might have been. Still attempting to reconstruct his career in the wake of his breakup with Jerry Lewis, Martin doesn't seem to have focused yet on his potential as an albums artist, and this collection doesn't rank with those of competitors and labelmates like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.
Words: William Ruhlmann
Spanning two discs and 40 songs, The Capitol Years is the most thorough retrospective of Dean Martin's Capitol recordings. From "Memories Are Made of This" to "Return to Me" and "Volare," all of his major hits for the label are included, as are several album tracks, lesser-known singles, and a handful of rarities. The collection may have a few too many songs for some casual fans, but it's the only album that presents all the important Capitol tracks with care, thought, and first-class sound.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Universal Music TV’s 2010 compilation That’s Amore is a solid double-disc collection of 40 of Dean Martin’s love songs -- both swaying and swinging -- from throughout his career but with an emphasis on his ‘60s and early-‘70s recordings for Reprise, including bunches of covers of country and pop hits like “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” “The Birds and the Bees,” “Gentle on My Mind,” “For Once in My Life,” and “King of the Road,” which doesn’t quite fit the romantic mood of the rest of the compilation. A few stylistic hiccups like this don’t prevent That’s Amore from being a highly enjoyable sampler of Martin’s splashiest and more popular material -- perhaps not a definitive overview but surely an entertaining dose of primo Dino.
Words; Stephen Thomas Erlewine