After listening to Percy Faith albums since I was about 7 or 8 years old (first album was Music of Christmas, the 1954 recording) until now, which means five and a half decades and some change, I've decided two things -
FIRST: I can't pick ONE favorite Lp
SECONDLY: I can pick THREE all time favorite Lp's. Narrowing it down to three has taken a loooong time... and I really have about a dozen desert island favorites...
Preface: I am not limited in listening so severely that all I listen to is Percy Faith; but my brain has long enjoyed the musical dimensions (this is getting deep) of a Percy Faith arrangement; perfection to my alleged musical sensitivities (really narrow but I'm going to follow this up, Real Soon Now, with a list of "artists who can do no wrong") for the oft stated reasons - a very rich orchestral sound but never "overblown" arrangements - arrangements that are deceptively simple sounding but they ARE NOT... there is a lot going on in a Faith arrangement, and his hallmarks of writing countermelodies that boosted the original songs to new heights, and the use of multiple banks of strings, zillions of embellishments, and most importantly, as he said in his interviews, HORIZONTAL WRITING. What this means is the orchestra is usually performing a LOT of different things in an arrangement, the parts are NOT in lock step, rather they are those exquisite countermelodies as well as exquisite harmonization (kind of like a string quartet which plays a different part "usually" for each instrument - and add to that scoring the different parts so that the melody, counters, harmonizations, embellishments, get bounced around all through the orchestra seamlessly - it has the effect of "setting my mind right" (doesn't seem possible) and I never get "listening fatigue" from countless hearings of a Faith arrangement. Play "stock piano part" and then play the concert piano version - you'll quickly know what I mean. THE MOST IMPORTANT HALLMARK OF PERCY FAITH'S WRITING/ARRANGEMENTS FOR MY LIFETIME O' LISTENING - HE NEARLY ALWAYS WRAPPED MELODIES WITH COUNTERMELODIES while not forgetting other parts of his writing. MUSIC FOR HER is the most intense example of this although it's in nearly every arrangement. A radio announcer said it was all the use of masses of strings. No it was not. Listen closely and you'll hear not just standard harmonizations and standing counterlines; he wrote SONGS that had a lot of us, in the early days, wondering when he was going to release an album entitled PERCY FAITH COUNTERMELODIES!
Here are my favorites after all this time (and a lot of people said, over all these years, that when they bought a Percy Faith album they "knew" they'd be getting excellence in Lp form, Faith "got" his audience as he said in an interview in, say, their college years and then they continued to buy loyally)... or as I looked at it (heard it?) I looked forward to hearing every Faith album, as it did really set my musical listening expectations, and with a pretty good aural (or should I say photographic) memory of music in my head, I often found myself listening to arrangements of tunes that fell far short of the deceptive complexities (complex but oh so great to listen to) - and would "fill in" the parts that SHOULD be there had the selection on the radio been Percy Faith.
MUSIC FOR HER - As I've long said, it's the richest sound that Percy Faith - or anyone else - ever got from a monophonic Lp; and Percy's daughter Marilyn was always delighted with the "old fashioned" repertoire - to the extent that she had a bet with me that it would never be reissued on Collectables on a CD, and I had a conversation that led me to believe it WOULD be - I was very pleased to win that bet (we didn't make it a real bet with money or anything; we were just delighted to have it reissued). I chose one selection from this album for a long forgotten CD collection (before anyone knew Taragon or Collectables would release the majority of Percy's Columbia catalog) on a GOOD MUSIC 2-CD set and it caused some worries, as Columbia/Sony could not find the tape! I was asked to provide half-track and quarter track open reel copies in the best possible sound that I could provide, but sadly, I had sold my Sony 650-D that had a set of half-track heads; I had a near-mint copy of CL 705 so I wasn't worried about ticks and pops) and just after sending the tapes got a most welcome phone call from GOOD MUSIC that the master tape had been found - the reason it was not readily found is that of all Percy Faith's albums, MUSIC FOR HER (CL 705) had never been used for any other "omnibus" reissues by Columbia itself, which was very unusual (I was told most of Percy's master tape boxes had all sorts of stickers on them to show what albums they appeared on besides the original; and this album had NONE.
AMERICAN SERENADE - A showcase for everything great about Percy Faith; the soaring string parts, the elaborate celeste/orchestra bell runs, the magic voices, vibes, flutes, and more. This was a true showcase of Faith's arranging, recorded so that you can hear every single part/instrument by engineer Chappie, and I have to add - this album was HARD AS HELL TO FIND particularly in stereo - I searched all over the metropolitan Washington DC area and also had Merit Music Shop in Manhattan looking for it and it took a long time to finally acquire a mint stereo copy.
BROADWAY BOUQUET - Perhaps, maybe, possibly, my favorite Percy Faith album though all three of these are my favorites; the album starts out with HELLO DOLLY! which is given a bright, but respectful treatment - and this album is "all strings" - so from the first song to the last it's wonderful. I asked Marilyn Leonard if - by chance - HELLO DOLLY! was included as a tribute to his wife Dolly (Mary). Asking Marilyn about that, here's the answer I got: MAYBE it was recorded for Dolly Faith (it was, darn it). The very best of Broadway's selections, given the incredibly majestic arrangements by the Percy Faith Strings (and the harp, and guitar have strings after all, though the celeste and orchestra bells that weave in and out of the arrangements aren't strings (gulp) we're treated to some wonderful music thanks to their inclusion. "Once Upon A Time" (from ALL AMERICAN) is beautiful and given the gentle emotional treatment of Percy Faith and his strings, well, it doesn't get much better than this. I first heard "Somewhere" (from WEST SIDE STORY) by Faith when I brought home my first "real" hi-fi (Fisher) system, in 1968 on the radio, in stereo, and was simply amazed at what a rich wonderful sound Mr. Faith achieved with STRINGS in multiple divisions doing many complimentary things for the melody. There is a lot of "pretty" in this album, and one of my favorites is "A Quiet Thing" from FLORA, THE RED MENACE - it's a quite, thoughtful treatment of a wonderful melody, something that the "rock rap disco" world never brought us in later years - ever. This album brings two strong elements together perhaps more than other Percy Faith releases - very strong, beautiful melodies by the original artists combined with Faith's incredible ability to enhance a song with his own very strong arranging, which contained his own styling, they became Percy Faith songs - for example SOMEWHERE would be pretty lacking in all respects, still a nice melody, but done in a "stock piano arrangement" with nothing but the melody and some simple chords and NO horizontal writing - many of us have seen some pretty wretched "stock" piano parts that seem intent on taking a beautiful song, a song begging to be embellished with Percy's "bag of tricks" - and trimming off all embellishments to the "Teaching Little Fingers How To Play" level of complexity (or worse). Seems I've read once or twice about music publishing "houses" where this was done. Right now I can hear another tuned percussion instrument in my head(!) in BOUQUET and BOUQUET OF LOVE but I'm not sure about this album. Believe it or not someone wrote some highly cricitical words about BROADWAY BOUQET years ago simply because on part of one selection (Fiddler On The Roof) had a tambourine. Big deal! That didn't make it "The Magnificent Tambourines of Percy Faith" after all. Still more people b*tched over the years because EXOTIC STRINGS had lots of non-tuned and tuned percussion. So what, says I, the strings were the star of the show.
Percy did another arrangement of SOMEWHERE for the full orchestra; it was first released on an omnibus collection for the Columbia Record Club. I don't like this version at all, the string orchestra arrangement from Broadway Bouquet seems more refined and - well - emotional.
Please send in your top Percy Faith (or any "popular music for orchestra" album titles and artists) and I'll gladly list them. I used to do this a long time ago in the "Percy Faith Newsletter" which I'd really like to reproduce for this web site but can't as there are so may things that have changed, and I don't have permission to use some of the articles any more. I don't know that they are of any significance at this point in time, anyway. Oh god, I got criticized because the newsletters of the early 90's carried too many death notices/tributes. I wanted to document the great contributions of artists of the genre, and not mentioning them and the wonderful recorded legacies they left us seemed very wrong. These worst newsletter criticism was when I was looking for a means to make a little money to keep the venture going; my mother had bought me a Laserjet printer to make the masters - big money - and I decided to offer a subscription based on "if you want it, pay for the next issue in advance." I got hate mail telling me I dast not take other people's money with such an irregular printing schedule. There was one other very negative experience - I had managed to buy three PF Columbia Special Products CD's at wholesale; I planned to sell them for $2-3 profit each to once again keep up with my costs and the costs of those distributing the newsletter around the world (it was no big deal, I think there were only 100 non-subscriber subscribers). Once again in email came two vile nastygrams, how DARE I try to make a few dollars profit, why wasn't I selling them at wholesale. Great! I would have had to provide packaging and postage. That I needed a little help monetarily by doing this fell on deaf ears. I believe my initial order was 60 CD's - and I ended up giving them all away.
- Bill 10/2014
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Note: use the above link, scroll down a page or two to see the audio/video/picture links and look for the "added 10/2014" additions toward the end of the list. Sorry, I gave out an absolute link to this page in my email which is a "no way out" page view.