Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


COMO, Perry

(b Pierino Como, 18 May 1912, Canonsburg PA; d 11 May 2001, Jupiter FL) Singer. He had a barber shop in his home town; auditioned for Freddy Carlone band '33, toured the state; joined Ted Weems '36 followed by broadcasts and records on Decca until Weems broke up his band. Como went to war '42; signed with Victor '43 and never looked back. His first hit was the Jerome Kern/Ira Gershwin song 'Long Ago And Far Away' (from movie musical Cover Girl '44); Como had 42 top ten hits in Billboard charts '44-58, his total US chart entries '40-55 second only to Bing Crosby's. His films '44-6 (Something For The Boys, Doll Face, If I'm Lucky) were noteworthy because Vivian Blaine and Carmen Miranda appeared in all three, but the big screen did not capture Como's personality. In '45 'Till The End Of Time' (from Chopin), 'If I Loved You'/'I'm Gonna Get That Gal', 'Temptation' (from Crosby film Going Hollywood), 'Dig You Later (A Hubba-Hubba-Hubba)' (from Doll Face) were all gold discs. In '46 'Prisoner Of Love' was no. 1, 'I'm Forever Chasing Rainbows' no. 7 (also Chopin), 'Surrender' another no. 1. 'Dig You Later', 'Chi-Baba Chi-Baba' (no. 1 '47) and a few others were novelties, establishing a whimsical sense of humour. He revived 1898 song 'When You Were Sweet Sixteen'; Weems's 'I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now' '39 with Como and Como's new version both hit '47. His fourth film Words And Music was a biopic of composers Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart '48 (and reportedly made Rodgers laugh out loud); 'Blue Moon', 'With A Song In My Heart', 'Mountain Greenery' were well sung. '49 hits included 'A - You're Adorable' and two songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein's hit South Pacific 'Bali Hai' and 'Some Enchanted Evening'. Como's hit duet with Betty Hutton was 'A Bushel And A Peck' '50; and he took 'If', an English song from '34, to no. 1 '51; in '52 the country song 'Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes' was one of his biggest hits ever. Another Rodgers and Hammerstein song, 'No Other Love', was one of his top tens '53, the melody from Rodgers's music for TV's WWII documentary Victory at Sea; in '54 the novelty 'Papa Loves Mambo' and ballad 'Wanted' were Como's eleventh and twelfth gold discs.

Then he became a bigger star than ever on TV, hosting a weekly hour-long variety show '55-63 of very high quality, with Mitchell Ayres as music director and Ray Charles contributing arrangements of Como/guest medleys. Another highlight was the request spot ('Letters'), with Como perched on a stool next to a music stand and a red rose, singing a few classy songs. His laid-back personality was captured on the intimate medium the way it could not have been in the movies; his cardigan and relaxed informality became an affectionate joke, charming nearly every household; the format was emulated by Andy Williams in the USA and Val Doonican in the UK, but the original was unique. The novelty 'Hot Diggity' and a ballad 'More' won gold discs in '56; 'Round And Round' '57, 'Catch A Falling Star' '58 were both rounds in form, both chart-toppers. 'Star' was written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss (b 20 January 1924, Brooklyn NY; d 14 November 2011). Lyricist Hal David had worked with Pockriss, now with a new partner Burt Bacharach provided a lovely no. 4 flip side, 'Magic Moments' (a no. 1 in UK). 'Delaware' (no. 22 '60), a novelty using names of American states, was Como's last gold disc for a decade. In June '70 he appeared live for the first time in 25 years: it was a triumph, with Charles and music director Nick Perito's audience-teaser 'If I Could Read Your Mind' (album Live At The International Hotel, Las Vegas). Later that year 'It's Impossible' became Como's twentieth gold disc; he commenced world tours at nearly 60. His annual Christmas TV show was an American institution. He had 26 top 40 entries in the UK '53-74.