The Continuing Saga of Early Peter Allen Albums – Continental American (1975)

 

The front cover, with Allen looking pensively airbrushed and dear God, what is in that drink?

The back, showing the star attraction at Reno Sweeney’s in his native habitat.

1. Just a Gigolo (Schöner Gigolo) (Leonello Casucci-Irving Caesar)
The writing credits for this one, on the record itself, are to Leonello Casucci and Irving Caesar; and Caesar did adapt the original German lyric, by Julius Brammer, to the English version we all know.  But what if Brammer had used a German word for gigolo, rather than, well, “gigolo”?  Is there a German word for gigolo?  In any case, things would have turned out differently.  Allen opens here with the rarely heard verse, and Caesar’s lyric reveals that the eponymous gigolo is French.  So why doesn’t he describe himself with the French word for gigolo? And what is the French word for gigolo?

Sung in that fashion popular throughout the 1970s (and indeed into the present): small, world-weary opening; key change, expansive vocal repeat; extended ending, highest note reserved for the last.

2. Everything Old Is New Again (Peter Allen/Carole Bayer-Sager)
“When trumpets were mellow, and every gal only had one fellow” – pure nostalgia-land.  Trumpets were consistently less mellow in the ’20s and ’30s, and no research indicates that women were more inclined to monogomy.

The very, very slick and cheesy female backing vocals were arranged, not by Cissy Houston – who did the rest of the album – but by “Linda November”.  Who?  Who is this skilful servant of the Dark Arts?  And who are the uncredited singers?  Are they all Cissy Houston?  Are they Linda November?  The whole thing is artfully arranged; the band comes in gradually throughout the song, and the strings don’t arrive until the key change chorus at the end.

Bob Fosse chose, for All That Jazz, a much better and far less campy live version.  And oh my, Ann Reinking.  I need a lie-down.

3. The Natural Thing To Do (Peter Allen/Carole Bayer-Sager)
The Allen/Sager canon includes a great many songs that can be boiled down to this: I’m really selfish, baby, but that’s just how I am.  Hey, why are you leaving?

4. Pretty Pretty (Peter Allen – Hal Hackaday)
So far on these albums, every time Allen has teamed up with the lyricist Hal Hackady, the words have tightened up into something a little more crafted, with less free-association indulgence.  Which doesn’t mean the song isn’t dated and preachy; it’s a better-written, dated and preachy song:

Twinkle twinkle
weekend star
How you wonder who you are
Down below the world’s so high
Like a rhinestone in the sky
Oh my.

These songs only work when the singer reveals, at the end, that she is the “pretty pretty” girl. And even then they don’t always work.

Hal Hackady would have been, at this point in his career, working on his more-or-less-flop Broadway musical Goodtime Charley, with composer Larry Grossman.  In 1972 he wrote the lyrics for a bigger flop, Ambassador (yes, a Henry James musical) with composer Don Gohman, who later committed suicide.  It’s a pity Hackaday didn’t use his hard-won experience to talk Peter Allen out of mounting a crap musical.  Maybe he tried.

Oh, and the female lead in Goodtime Charley?  Ann Reinking.  Sweet, sweet Ann Reinking

5. Continental American (Peter Allen/Carole Bayer Sager)
Someone had too many Barcardis at the pressing plant, and Bayer Sager is here listed on the record label as “Bayer Sayer”.  She remains so for the rest of the album’s credits.  Is this the first recorded attempt at ’60s nostalgia?  Was anyone else finding the ’70s a little conservative, in the straitlaced year of 1974?  This is a better attempt at a longer song structure than the album’s later This Side Show’s Leaving Town.

Side 2

1. Just Ask Me I’ve Been There (Peter Allen)
First appeared three years earlier on the Tenterfield Saddler album, and in exactly the same spot.  This version has more backing, more singers, and it still refuses to take off.

2. I Honestly Love You (Peter Allen – Jeff Barry)
The opening chords are identical to those that will later begin the title track of I Could Have Been a Sailor!  Really, they are.  Am I the first to notice?  Is it deliberate?  What could it mean?

This oft-pilloried song (oft by Allen) is better than people think:  the singer really, really wants someone, but they’re both with another person, so it’s not going to happen.  He grabs the moment anyway and tells his never-to-be lover that he loves them.  There are far worse songs.  Curiously, this is billed on the actual record label as “I Love You, I Honestly Love You”, which, as titles go, would have been a bit much.

3. This Side Show’s Leaving Town (Peter Allen – Carole Bayer Sager)
With the marching band opening and closing, fading in and fading out, this is trying to be a grand opus, the kind of extended pop song that mars many a Billy Joel album. “Take me seriously,” the seven-and-a-half-minute duration says.  “I have something to say,” it says.  But the song, sandwiched between the grand intro and outro, is pretty mild:

Goodbye to the kid down the hall
He sure was fun
Been just like a daughter to me
That little one.

‘Cos hustlin’ is something I just can’t abide
Before we drown, and while we still got pride
This side show’s leavin’ town

And I can’t help but wonder: if Allen and Bayer Sager couldn’t abide hustling, why did they do so much of it, and get so good at it?  I want this song to be meaner.  Much meaner.

4. Just a Gigolo (Schöner Gigolo) (Reprise)
Frances Faye makes a welcome, tinkling appearance on a second piano, and contributes a yelping vocal in the background.  Much more fun than the first version, but it draws attention to how underpopulated the whole album is – only nine songs, one’s a repeat, and another’s from a previous album.

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4 thoughts on “The Continuing Saga of Early Peter Allen Albums – Continental American (1975)

  1. Blog GOLD PJC.

    I must confess to having downloaded ONJ’s I Honestly Love You to listen for what you wrote about. Here I was thinking it was the story of a sixteen year old chubby schoolgirl lusting after the girlfriended captain of the rugby team…:)! Yet, with your explanation “Here you are with yours etc” makes complete sense and I’m astonished I’ve never picked it up before. I guess we all look for our own things in ballads.

    And how about Just a Gigolo? It’s so raw if you close your eyes you’re in the room with them.

    • The insight is, I confess, not uniquely mine; Stephen MacLean makes the same observation in his bio ‘The Boy From Oz’. But I swear I noticed it too, on my own, really I did.

      And Frances Faye makes me wish I’d caught her live. I bet she was out, proud and naughty.

  2. Even I love Peter Allen with a passion, I’m still inclined to agree with smartly-attuned criticisms of his albums…and I have always thought this record seemed on the thin side. Later I read that Peter was at odds with A&M, and thought they only signed him to gain the royalties on his songs (should any ‘bigger’ stars choose to record them). Could be they pulled the plug on his work at a certain point, resulting in an abbreviated album, low on budget, high on cheap sheen. You were a little hard on “The Natural Thing To Do”, which I find particularly evocative–not of my life, heaven forbid, but of others I have known. Looking forward to reading more!

    • Many thanks for your comments, Jon (if I may address you by your first syllable). If that’s true about A&M’s attitude towards Allen’s albums, it doesn’t reflect well on their long-term strategy. I’d have thought that the success of Randy Newman, Paul Williams, Billy Joel and Neil Diamond – not to mention Carole King and Carly Simon – would have taught every 1970s record label to be kind to their songwriters. After all, you never know which one is going to become a superstar.

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