For the Valentine’s-themed Dr Sketchy at The Old Queen's Head I’d intended to use Chet Baker as my template and base the whole night around lush, romantic, lingering 1950s Cool Jazz. Even the most cursory glance at my set list shows I didn’t remotely stick to that idea! It would have felt too slow, downbeat and same-y if I had, but in honour of Valentine’s Day there are definite pockets of elegant swirling 50s make-out music amongst the more usual sleaze and kitsch musical selections.
A young Nico in her fashion model days
I played three versions of Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine”: the 1954 Chet Baker vocal, the 1952 Chet Baker instrumental and German angel of death chanteuse Nico’s striking 1985 interpretation. In 1964 when pre-Velvet Underground Nico was still a fashion model and occasional actress aspiring to be a singer, she scored a residency at The Blue Angel cabaret lounge on 55th Street in New York. Billed as “That Girl from La Dolce Vita!” she sang jazz standards backed by a trio of piano, bass and drums. One of her songs was “My Funny Valentine.” By then the song was already synonymous with the exquisite but corrupt James Dean of jazz Chet Baker: his version, whether sung or played on his trumpet, was so hushed, so brooding and desolate it was almost eerie. To me Baker and Nico (as an impressionable teenager I had crushes on both) always seemed like psychic twins: so beautiful and talented, so heroin-ravaged and doomed. They both exuded tragedy and ruined glamour. In his definitive Nico biography (The Life and Lies of an Icon, 1993) Richard Witts quotes Nico recalling:
“I first heard (My Funny Valentine) played by the jazz man Chet Baker. He played his trumpet and then he sang it. I thought this was very clever, like a beautiful magical trick. Do you know that Chet Baker introduced me to heroin? (Unsurprisingly, the journalist interviewing Nico asked her to clarify what she meant: did she actually shoot up with Baker?) No, no. I mean I first saw heroin. He first showed it to me. I was about 24 or so, in New York when I first started to sing – he was around. Of course everyone thinks I started when I was a baby. They know nothing. Chet Baker was so handsome, such a beauty, but he was in love with drugs too much to be in love with me. “
Young man with a horn: Chet Baker
Baker in 1959
Fast forward two decades: Chet Baker died on 13 May 1988, falling to his death from a hotel window in Amsterdam; Nico would be dead by 18 July 1988, dying of a cerebral haemorrhage after falling off her bike in Ibiza. On her last album (1985’s Camera Obscura) Nico played homage to Chet Baker and her stint at The Blue Angel by recording a stunningly bleak rendition of “My Funny Valentine.” Witts notes in his biography that Nico sings it in Baker’s key of C minor – the lowest she ever sang. Death, heroin, high cheekbones, doom and gloom: hope everyone had a happy Valentine’s Day!
Das Ich Dich Wiederseh (Taking a Chance on Love) - Marlene Dietrich Les Amour Perdues - Serge Gainsbourg The Man I Love - Hildegard Knef Someone to Watch Over Me - Jimmy Scott If I Should Lose You - George Shearing Hurt - Timi Yuro Life is But a Dream - The Harptones Sleep Walk - Henri Rene & His Orchestra Don't Do It - April Stevens Little Things Mean a Lot - Jayne Mansfield Directly from My Heart - Little Richard Stop Cryin' - Little Esther Your Love is Mine - Ike and Tina Turner Imagination - The Quotations Tight Skirt, Tight Sweater - The Versatones Night Scene - The Rumblers I Fell in Love - Mamie van Doren Bewildered - Shirley & Lee Sea of Love - The Earls of Suave Love is the Greatest Thing - Mae West Ebb Tide - Al Anthony I Fall in Love Too Easily - Angel Torsen Blues for Beatniks - John Barry (Beat Girl soundtrack) Dansero - Don Baker Trio The Point of No Return - Diana Dors It's Only Make Believe - Billy Fury Kiss Me - Dolores Gray Cherry Pink - Bill Black Combo Jezabel - Edith Piaf Makin' Out - Jody Reynolds Teach Me Tonight - Wanda Jackson Pop Slop - Bela Sanders That's What I Like - Ann-Margret Make Love to Me - June Christy That's a Pretty Good Love - Big Maybelle You Can't Stop Her - Bobby Marchan & The Clowns Crybaby - The Scarlets Revellion - The Revels Chattanooga Choo Choo - Denise Darcel Jungle Drums - Earl Bostick Beat Girl - Adam Faith (Beat Girl soundtrack) When Your Lover Has Gone - Chet Baker Killer - Sparkle Moore (screaming version) Take It Off - The Genteels Let's Go Sexin' - James Intveld Hot Licks - The Rendells Men - Lizabeth Scott Last Night - Lula Reed My Funny Valentine - Chet Baker (vocal) Smoke Gets in Your Eyes - Eartha Kitt My Funny Valentine - Nico My Funny Valentine - Chet Baker (instrumental) Cry Me a River - Dinah Washington I'm Through with Love - Marilyn Monroe I'm a Fool to Want You - Billie Holiday I Put a Spell on You - Nina Simone I've Been in Love Before - Marlene Dietrich No Good Lover - Mickey & Sylvia Moi je joue - Brigitte Bardot Uptown to Harlem - Johnny Thunders & Patti Paladin Hanky Panky - Nancy Sit Czterdziesci Kasztanów (Forty Chestnuts) - Violetta Villas
Speaking of Violetta Villas -- here's another treasure un-earthed by the sublime Polski sex kitten on Youtube (the title translates as "There is No Love without Jealousy"). I love the little Jayne Mansfield-esque coos and squeals she makes at the beginning.