In the decades past, in the early Autumn, the Husband & I have traditionally traveled a bit. This year we are too poor to even travel to other Portland neighborhoods. We have had major, marked, momentous, meaningful journeys in late September/Early October: Northern Italy, NYC several times, Vancouver BC, San Francisco. But, even in lean times we would pack up the dogs & rent a cabin on the Washington Coast.
Those trips to the coast were always rather perfect, really. We would bring books, magazines, whiskey, pot & a big stack of perfect beach CDs. There was nothing as sexy, seductive & special as playing the music of Julie London on the sound system, as waves crashed, the wind rattled the little WPA-era cabin that we frequently rented, & we would get a little drunk & a little dreamy while listening to London’s perfect music.
Now, in the 21st century, I also hear a perfect sound for my mind wrapping around this season of Mad Men. It could be made that the phrase “bedroom community” was coined with London in mind.
I love the economy of London’s singing. Her phrasing is spot on & yet surprising in its nuance. With her throaty, smoky voice, playfully seductive as any voice I have heard, London was a skilled temptress. But she never played the goddess. Her appeal wasn’t like an unattainable Rita Hayworth or Lauren Bacall. She cleverly cast herself as the not quite as wholesome, non-Doris Day girl, the chick at cocktail parties who would send every man in the room fumbling for his lighter whenever she reached for a cigarette. As a recording artist she was, perhaps more so than any other, entirely a product of her time. No wonder her career began in the mid-1950s, just as the USA was starting to discover sex as recreation, & ended in 1969.
The character London played on her albums was no pushover: My Heart Belongs To Daddy, An Occasional Man, Take Back Your Mink could reduce a real guy to jelly. When suggested that Nice Girls Don’t Stay For Breakfast, her closing line was “pass the jam”.
If you only know London for her 1955 gigantic hit -Cry Me A River, (despite 100s of other versions, London’s remains definitive), or for her role as nurse Dixie McCall on the long-running NBC series Emergency, you would be surprised by the depth & breadth of her recording career From 1955-1969. London released 29 studio albums, a live session & greatest hits compilations. Among the adult pop singers, she rivaled the biggest sellers of the day: Sinatra, Mathis, Streisand in terms of output, & easily out sold Fitzgerald, Vaughan, & Tormé.
I was slightly scandelized & somewhat aroused by the covers of my parent’s Julie London Albums. They seemed to have some relation to my father’s Playboy magazines. There was- Julie, featuring a seemingly naked London reclining in a wire mesh chair & Whatever Julie Wants with her sporting nothing but a mink stole. I think I don't understand the vetting process... why is Julie London not a Gay Icon or the basis for a drag persona?
London fully appreciated her vocal limitations & her ability to make the most of them: “It’s a thimbleful of a voice, & I have to use it close to the microphone. But it is a kind of over-smoked voice, & it automatically sounds intimate.”