By Katherine Cole
Most of the obituaries for singer Patti Page, who died January 1st at 85, included that famous nickname — one I vaguely remember from when I was very young. Very, very young. As I learned more about Ms. Page, it became obvious that her pet name was a fitting one. Can you think of a better way to describe a woman who sold more than 100 million records and ranked as the number one female singer of the 1950’s?
Interestingly, her biggest hit was a happy accident. Patti had gone into the studio to sing a Christmas song, “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” . She needed a tune, any old song, to put on the “B” side of the single (back in those days, an artist often went in just to sing two “sides”–one was the supposed hit and the other was recorded simply because something was needed on the “B” or “flip” side of the 45 rpm record). Someone liked the sound of “Tennessee Waltz” and the rest, as they say, is history. “Tennessee Waltz” went on to sell more than ten million copies and is considered to be the first true crossover music hit. It spent months on the pop, country and rhythm and blues charts.
“Tennessee Waltz” was so popular that it became one of the two official songs of that southern U.S. state. In an interview with the New York Times, Ms. Page said she wasn’t sure what made it so beloved. “There’s a simplicity about it. Someone introduces their boyfriend to someone else, and now he’s no longer her boyfriend. It’s just a sad love song.”
Ms. Page recorded four number one hits in the ’50s and her success lasted well into the 1960’s. Her last hit was the Oscar-nominated “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” recorded for the Bette Davis movie of the same name.
Of course you can’t talk about Patti Page without at least one mention of “Doggie In The Window.” The novelty tune was a huge hit, but with its repeated barking sounds and silly lyrics, the song has been cited by many critics as an example of all that was wrong with pop music in the early 1950’s. While it is true that “Doggie” did little for Page’s artistic reputation, there is no denying that it is among her best-known songs. (Or that after watching this video it will probably be playing on repeat in your head for the next 24 hours. Viewer discretion is advised)
Patti Page is also credited as the first artist to use the recording technique known as vocal overdubbing. She pioneered the concept in 1947, when she sang a duet with herself on the hit “Confess.” Again, this success was somewhat unintentional. In a 1990 interview, Page explained that it all came down to money. “Because we had to pay for all the studio time, musicians and I had not sold any records or made any money. So, my manager (and) partner got the idea for me to do the echo on ‘Confess’ and so that’s how that came about.”
“Confess” was enough of a hit that Mercury was convinced to let Page try full four-part harmony by overdubbing on “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming.” The label for that record reads: “Vocals by Patti Page, Patti Page, Patti Page and Patti Page.”
Patti Page will be receiving a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award next month. Interestingly, she is the second of this years recipients to die since the award announcements were made last month. World music legend Ravi Shankar died the day after the the news was released.
For more on Patti Page and to hear my radio feature about her, click here.