Tony Perkins - The Prettiest Girl In School (El; ACMEM135CD)
reviewed by Michael Macomber
Before Norman Bates, before the international acclaim Anthony Perkins received for his lead role in Alfred Hitchcock’s groundbreaking thriller Psycho, there was a young man named Tony Perkins who fancied himself a crooner. In 1956 and 1957, this callow youth recorded more than two dozen sides for the RCA and Epic labels, and scored a Top 30 hit with “Moonlight Swim.” Mixing light teen pop and adult standards, The Man Who Would Be Bates demonstrated a significant talent for song.
Perkins’ approach to the great composers displayed an innate understanding of the material. His reading of Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s “But Beautiful” is breathtaking. Supported by a deeply romantic arrangement courtesy of the legendary Marty Paich, Perkins tenderly caresses each line. The association with Paich served Perkins well, producing a fabulous self-titled debut LP. In addition to “But Beautiful,” the album also featured knockout versions of Cole Porter’s “Why Shouldn’t I,” George and Ira Gershwin’s “How Long Has This Been Going On,” and Mack Gordon and Harry Warren’s “I Wish I Knew.” The overall feel of this LP, included here in its entirety, compares favorably to similar works by Bobby Darin and Mel Torme.
The Perkins tracks aimed at the teen pop market had a touch of Al Bowlly about them. Thematically innocent, almost starry-eyed, they were a far cry from the rock and roll topping the charts at the time. The abovementioned “Moonlight Swim” is a sweet, twanging Hawaiian love ballad. “Rocket To The Moon,” despite the rockabilly title, is actually a swing number, with just the slightest hint of rock guitar in the bridge. Perkins comes closest to the rock idiom when he tries on his doo wop jacket, in delightful confections such as “Indian Giver,” “When School Starts Again,” and “Just Being Of Age.”
Perkins does his best work, however, in his tuxedo, singing those marvelous standards. His rendition of Paul Francis Webster and Dimitri Tiomkin’s “Friendly Persuasion (Thee I Love)” is devastating. He is smooth as silk on Irving Berlin’s “Better Luck Next Time.” Paired with big time arrangers from Neil Hefti to Buddy Bregman, from Buddy Cole to Frank DeVol, Perkins addresses the work of Mercer, Arlen, Fain, and many other notables, with style, class, and joi de vivre.