Johnny Mathis, The First Time Ever (I Saw Your Face)
File Between: Perry Como and Art Garfunkel
Comments: ”Easy listening” is often something of a misnomer. Not that any kind of music can’t be treated as muzak, as sonic wallpaper to a cozy if sterile existence — a listener can listen however a listener listens. But there are often immense depths of emotion expressed (if not always conveyed) in the music stereotypically dismissed as Grandpa Music, or maybe, in these days when Grandpa is just as likely to listen to Jimmy Buffett, as Great-Grandpa Music. (What a drag it is, etc.) Johnny Mathis, with his weepy, androgynous falsetto, was as likely to make Uneasy Listening as the inverse, and a handful of songs on this record live up to the spooky solitude he could on occasion master. Perhaps surprisingly, the most memorable song on the record is a vocal version of Nino Rota’s Godfather theme, with a lyric that (thankfully) has nothing to do with the movie but superbly fits the sweeping melody and Mathis’ aching vocal. Lyricized versions of the themes to A Summer Place and Brian’s Song are much less successful, and the album’s closing track, “Life Is What You Make It (Theme from Kotch)” is downright execrable. In between, there are covers of pop-soul tunes — the Stylistics’ “Betcha By Golly Wow,” the 5th Dimension’s “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All” — and current big ballads —the title track, “Without You” — and one surprising throwback to the swing era where Mathis got his start, Buddy Johnson’s “Since I Fell For You.” Its easy-rolling rhythm sticks out like a sore thumb in the middle of all the prissily-orchestrated early-70s soft rock, and you understand why the nostalgia circuit has such appeal once a performer’s hit a certain age.
A Keeper? That Godfather theme is certainly something (which isn’t to say it’s good, necessarily), and that alone is worth the price of admission.