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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

Keely Smith Is Under Our Skin

A Discography

The Capitol Years

Keely on CapitolKeely With just 10 Desert Island discs, these three would be included. Even with all the experience she'd gained from working with Louis before these recordings were made, it's still surprising to think these were her real solo debut. So much has been written about arrangers Nelson Riddle and Billy May that there's no need to go on about them here, except to say Keely rose to the occasion of working with them.

As "something to do", we like to turn out all the lights and play When Day Is Done at top volume. It's impossible to tell if it's a Nelson Riddle song with vocals by Keely Smith or the other way around.

I Wish You Love (1957)
Capitol Records
Arranged & Conducted by Nelson Riddle

Keely's first solo album really was, as she puts it, "first class". Great songs and beautiful arrangements by Nelson Riddle make for a memorable disc. Personally, we like the song I Wish You Love but the lyrics, a nice, but uninspired list of things the singer wishes for her ex-lover, make it less than a classic. We can also easily take a quick nap during Mr. Wonderful and Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread), but otherwise it's one of her best. Riddle's Sinatra-esque arrangements for When Your Lover Has Gone and When Day Is Done are pop music classics.

Keely on I Wish You Love: "You know what happened when we sat down to select the songs? In those days, I didn't really talk to anyone but Louis. And we had a record producer named Voyle Gilmore and he played a bunch of standards and he said, "I want to play you a really pretty French song." He said, "I won't mean nothing and you won't do it in the album but I just thought I'd play it for you." And he played I Wish You Love. So, at the end of him playing all these songs I looked at Louis, I said, "Babe, I'll sing any 11 songs y'all want me to but I want to sing I Wish You Love." Mr. Gilmore said, "That'll never be a hit!" I wanted to sing I Wish You Love and Louis looked at the man and he said. "She's gonna sing that song!" and that's how we got it.

"Well, Nelson Riddle was given keys that I sang these songs in, and every one of those arrangements is a Nelson Riddle arrangement. Now, that is not a normal procedure for Louis Prima. Louis Prima used to write all the arrangements for our group. He always had say-so over everything. But I think because Nelson was Sinatra's arranger Louis decided not to try to tell this man what to do, just to go ahead and write. So that's why when people ask me about When Day is Done and When Your Lover Has Gone and things like that that have those up tempos, I always give Nelson the credit because those were his ideas. They came from his head, not Louis'. "I Wish You Love is really, truly Keely Smith. The others are a little step away from her."

Album cover
Politely (1958)
Capitol Records
Arranged & Conducted by Billy May

All three of Keely's Capitol albums are the reason we love her so much, but if it's possible to have a favorite of the favorites, it would be Politely, despite it's odd title. Arranger Billy May can swing and be sensitive at the same time and Keely is the perfect foil for his exuberance. There's not a bum song on the disc.

We find her lyric for I Can't Get Started somewhat revealing. Referring to her husband Louis Prima, she sings: I've been constructed by Louie "P". Not instructed, but constructed.

Keely on Politely: "Working with Billy May was a lot different than working with Nelson because Nelson is laid back and kind of quiet - until you cross him and then he can let you know who's boss. But he was very kind and very charming, and very tender with me - because I was so young - maybe not in age, but in experience and recording, and so forth, that he just, he kind of knew how to talk to me. And he knew I didn't talk to anybody but Louis. And he really treated me wonderfully. And Billy May, on the other hand, is sharp and smart and fast and witty, and was wonderful to work with - don't misunderstand me. He just scored my arrangements in the Sinatra album. And I love Billy. But it was a different album. You know the songs were treated differently. And it was a pleasure and a thrill to work with Billy May."

Album cover
Swingin' Pretty (1959)
Capitol Records
Arranged & Conducted by Nelson Riddle

O.K., so we have another favorite. This album swings a little harder than her previous Nelson Riddle collaboration, I Wish You Love, but it's just as sweet. There are many highlights but her There Will Never Be Another You is textbook post-Big Band Swing.

Keely on Swingin' Pretty: "You know what we did in Swinging Pretty? We recorded in Chicago actually, because we were working the Chez Paree, so Nelson came to Chicago. And Louis included our small group into Nelson's big band."

Album cover

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