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Patti Page finds good fortune with unlucky number 13

Published:Sunday | January 3, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Performers in show business are said to be notoriously superstitious, but in Patti Page's career, there is one traditional symbol of bad luck that prove to be the most fortunate for her - the number 13. It was Patti Page's 13th recording, titled Confess, that became her first hit, and in the process, literally revolutionised the entire music industry.

Confess came about when Page overdubbed on the original singing version of the song, another of her voice, to make it appear as if she was harmonising with herself. One explanation given for the creation of this phenomenon was that on the day of the recording at Mercury Records, the studio's back-up singers were on strike, and so Page and the label agreed to adopt the 'gimmick'.

Interestingly, the backing voices were first listed as The Patti Page Quartet when the recording first appeared on the charts in 1948. The phenomenon of multi-voiced recordings eventually became an inspiration to succeeding generations of singers and enhanced many startling innovations in recording techniques.

The number 13 was again associated with Page when she passed away on the first day in the 13th year of the new millennium. Simply put, Page died on January 1, 2013, at age 85, which makes this article particularly timely, it being exactly three years since Page made the transition.

Patti Page was actually born Clara Ann Fowler, in Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA, on November 8, 1927. Coming from a poor family, her father being a railroad worker and her mother a cotton picker, Page received no musical training, and in fact, considered music and singing in her early years as just a hobby. Her extraordinarily smooth voice was, however, soon detected, and after encouragement from friends, she accepted an offer to sing country songs on a local radio station while in her teens.

It was this effort that led to her acquiring the name Patti Page, when one of the sponsors -The Page Milk Co - adopted her and labelled her after the name of their company. Upon leaving, she kept the name. Subsequent tours with bands around the country were gained for the talented songbird, valuable experience, and more important, a recording contract with the larger-than-life recording company, Chicago's Mercury Records in 1947. In the following year, Confess became the launching pad for her successful career.

Using the same formula during a five-year blitz between 1948 and 1952, Page had close to a dozen top-10 hits, mainly in the country ballad style, several of which reached No. 1, while copping fourteen million sellers by the end of the decade. It made her the most successful female vocalist of the 1950s.

 

MOST MELODIOUS

 

But success in terms of hits is perhaps one half of the true measure of a performer's ability. The other half includes vocal delivery, stage appearance and versatility, and Page possessed those in abundance. She was undoubtedly the most melodious female vocalist of her era. While more lauded female vocalists like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Celine Dion were known for their power and pitch, Page was melody personified - the performer who could mesmerise an audience with the minimum of effort, more like the Sam Cookes and the Nat Coles on the male side.

Following on the success of her first hit, Confess, Page had her first million seller, titled With Eyes Wide Open, I'm Dreaming, in 1950, on which she employed her double-voiced overdubbing technique. The very same year, she had her first No. 1 hit titled All My Love, and then again in that same year, she created history with Tennessee Waltz, which not only occupied the No. 1 slot for over three months, but triggered a violent debate in the Tennessee legislature, when a resolution to name it the State's official song was narrowly defeated.

 

MORE CONTROVERSY

 

The song was also responsible for the near-lynching of a popular Memphis columnist who expressed resentment at hearing it too many times. The ubiquitous Tennessee Waltz was quoted in the liner notes of one of Page's popular albums as "becoming an instrument of propaganda at the hands of the Chinese Reds, who, giving up their efforts to prevent it from being smuggled into the country and sold on the black market at fabulous prices, used it as evidence of the insecurity of American women who are liable to lose their men at the drop of a waltz beat".

Tennessee Waltz is still numbered among the best-selling singles of all times. Page's next set of No. 1 hits included I Went to Your Wedding and Doggie in the Window, both of which spent over two months in that position.

While many of Page's contemporaries fell victim to the rise of rock 'n' roll in the mid-1950s, she hit back, almost as if to jeer them with the slow rock 'n' roll piece - What a Dream, and then demonstrated her versatility with the uptempo rock 'n' roll piece - Everloving, in which she warned of the dangers of a one-sided love affair, as she sang:

"A one way love is a crying shame,

The kind of love that's a losing game.

You try real hard but it just don't pay

No matter what I do or say

Because my love is just one way.

A one way love is a one way deal

You cant explain just the way you feel

I wanna laugh but I got to cry

So every night I lie awake and listen to my poor heart die."

Page's versatility was unquestionable as she seemed perfectly at home with any type of song and any type of tempo. She proved this with the novelty songs, Doggie in the Window and Butterflies; the latin-flavoured - I Can't Tell a Waltz from a Tango and I Love to Dance with You; the tender waltz - Changing Partners; and the lively Hocus Pocus and I Cried. Page's last major hit on the Billboard pop charts came in 1965 with Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, from a film of the same name. She recorded and toured extensively thereafter, until she announced her retirement in September 2012, due to ill health. She passed away the following January.

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