Review: Ann-Margret – Songs From The Swinger And Other Swingin’ Songs / The Pleasure Seekers Original Soundtrack

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CD. Cherry Red

Both The Swinger and The Pleasure Seekers were lightweight mid-Sixties Hollywood attempt to capture the world of Swinging Youth – romantic comedies – or sex comedies, as such films were invariably, inaccurately labelled – that replaced Doris Day and Rock Hudson with a younger, slightly hipper cast, but which inevitably only bore the faintest of connections to what was actually happening in the real world. As such, they are essential artifacts of a time when the staid, middle-aged world began to be down with the kids.

Ann-Margret – who would mature into a respected actress but at this stage of her career was still very much the vaguely continental Sex Kitten (she was born in Sweden, but had grown up in America), and so would go the usual Sex Kitten route of combining acting with a vague singing career. On The Swinger, she contributed vocals to a handful of songs that appeared on the soundtrack; not enough to make up a soundtrack LP, unfortunately, even if you added in instrumental cuts from the film. Luckily, someone had the bright idea of getting her to record a handful of covers to fill out the LP.

The title track – written by the unlikely team of Andre and Dory Previn – is a suitably swinging number – entirely out of touch with pop music of 1966, and yet all the more entertaining for that.

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The other tracks from the film are equally entertaining – Swinger’s Holiday is a brash big band instrumental that you could picture strippers grooving away to (at least, they would if I owned a strip club), while I Wanna Be Loved is a smokily seductive ballad in which Ann-Margret channels Julie London with a degree of success, and Sacha Distel’s cool jazz favourite The Good Life is given an agreeable reworking, even if it’s not really a song for a young woman. Kelly’s Dance is a frantic slice of instrumental exotica, all tribal drums and bongo beats, while the popular standard That Old Black Magic closes out proceedings in a curiously traditional style.

Elsewhere, the non-film songs are even odder – it’s often as if the LP producers are trying to turn her into Frank Sinatra with a collection of dated light jazz numbers such as By Myself and unlikely efforts like the much covered More (the vocal version of the theme from Mondo Cane), which is given a somewhat discordant arrangement here. You Came a Long Way from St. Louis at least sounds like Nancy, rather than Frank, which is a step up. A raunchy version of Willie Dixon’s I Just Want to Make Love to You finally has a real swing – and notably, Ann-Margret’s performance on this is a lot livelier, suggesting that she too knew that the others were not worthwhile numbers for her.

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The Pleasure Seekers was lighter romantic fluff than The Swinger, and the music reflects the story of three girls looking for romance in Madrid. In other words, it’s very Latino, full of cha-cha and bossa nova numbers, the whole Latino world being one homogenous world in Hollywood’s eyes.

The theme song is a cute number belted out by Ann-Margret, and Everything Makes Music When You’re in Love is deliciously camp. The other vocal tracks are a bit disposable – Something to Think About is a dull ballad, and The Next Time is a forgettable, typical film musical number. But the majority of the album is instrumental big band stuff. And what stuff! Ever wanted a cha-cha version of Blue Moon? Well, here it is. And who could resist a track called Zig-A-Dig-A-Ding-Boom-Bah? Not me.

Elsewhere, it’s groovy bossa nova and lush ballads, making this a loungecore classic that is sure to liven up any cocktail party where your guests want to put down the Martinis and cut a rug to the glow of the lava lamp. If you don’t throw parties like that – well, shame on you.

While neither soundtrack – indeed, neither film – is really essential, there’s a lot of fun spread across this CD. It’s all lightweight, fluffy, disposable and was dated even before it was produced – and that somehow makes it all the more enjoyable.

DAVID FLINT

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