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Robert Mitchum: The Singer




Calypso is Like So

"Like Dean Martin, his cohort in cool, Mitchum was — let's come right out and say it — multifaceted. [Calpyso is Like So] attests to that." — Nick Tosches, Martin biographer

See the music page for a list of Mitchum CDs and soundtracks available.

Fans in the know have already discovered Mitchum's calypso(!) LP called "Calypso is Like So." The year was 1957, and singers such as Harry Belafonte had made calypso red-hot on the music charts. Mitchum got bit by the calypso bug while on location in Trindad (or was it Tobago?) and took to wandering the beaches, serenading people with impromptu calypso songs. He came back to the states, made a record, and, unlike other endeavors, waited ten years for a second round. How does the album hold up? Well, songs like "Mama, Looka Boo Boo" and "From a Logical Point of View" — sample lyrics, "better marry a woman uglier than you" — reinforce the novelty appeal of the album but it must be conceded that Mitchum's fine, deep, mellifluous voice is custom-built for singing.

Good news, you don't have to haunt those LP bins for this nugget: The calpyso record is back in release on Caroline records. (Liner notes by Dino biographer Nick Tosches!) Besides the calpyso ditties, the CD version contains "Ballad of Thunder Road" and "My Honey's Lovin' Arms." And, of course, the cover features a squinty-eyed Mitchum, glass of rum in one hand, a vaguely native gal in a red dress in the background, and his shirt unbuttoned just enough to suggest "yeah, daddy-o, we're in the tropics."

Beyond calypso

Mitchum had his biggest musical hit with the theme song to Thunder Road, "The Ballad of Thunder Road," about "the mountain boy who ran illegal alcohol." The song spent 11 weeks in the top 100 of the pop chart in 1958, and when it was re-issued in 1962, racked up another 10 weeks on the chart. Mitchum also wrote "My Honey's Lovin' Arms" and "The Whippoorwill," the latter recorded by Keely Smith. Keely played Mitchum's girlfriend in Thunder Road, and in real life dueted on and offstage with jazzcat Louis Prima.

Mitchum's other recordings include an LP recorded for Monument records in 1967 entitled, "That Man, Robert Mitchum...Sings." The songlist includes "Little Old Wine Drinker Me," "Sunny," "Gotta Travel On," and "Wheels (Keep A-Rollin')." The album produced two singles (what collector's items those must be!). Johnny Mercer wrote the liner notes, saying, "The same carefree attractiveness that you find in his acting, you will find on this Monument album. The same independence of spirit. What some would call a 'maverick,' I would call a 'free palamino...'." The album has also been reissued, as a collector's import CD from Bear Family Records in Germany. The calypso songs are also on this album.

Mitchum's unknown recordings

Another, more exciting find is the previously unknown and unissued recordings on "Tall Dark Stranger," also from Bear Family records. On it, Mitchum sings jazz standards such as "Dinah," and "I Get a Kick out of You." It's no wonder they weren't released: some of the songs are incomplete, first-time run-throughs. The appeal of these songs is not only hearing Mitchum sing "I get no kicks from champagne," but his frequent "What the hell is the lyric?" or "Oh, shoot," as a song abruptly ends. Also on the CD, an unknown engineer(?) saying "We feel confident that you can do it," as Mitchum attacks "Dream a Little Dream" from memory. It's a shame he never took a serious stab at these songs. He sounds like a manlier Bing Crosby, not a bad thing at all.

Also on the CD, six songs from Rachel and the Stranger, including "Tall Dark Stranger," "Rachel," and "O-He-O-Hi-O-Ho."which Mitchum had recorded for Decca Records in 1948. These find Mitchum in much more confident voice, easy, relaxed, and very sure of himself. Also featured, Mitchum's version of the title song of Young Billy Young.The CD admittedly features less than forty minutes of music, but the packaging is to die for: a booklet featuring posters (many German) and notes on almost all of Mitchum's 126 feature films and selected TV productions. It's a must-have for any Mitchum fan.

Onscreen singing

If Mitchum's recording credits stop there, his onscreen singing credits don't. In films as early as Pursued (1947), he sings for the camera, specifically, "The Londenderry Air," and "The Cowboy's Lament."

Mitchum woos widow Shelley Winters
with song in Night of the Hunter
.

Observant film fans will also remember Mitchum's menacing, deep voice haunting The Night of the Hunter, in which he sings the hymns "Bringing in the Sheaves" and "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms." The latter song is the one that echoes over the hills in pursuit of the two small children. It's an eerily effective stand-in for the unseen Mitchum. Preacher Harry Powell even has a duet of "Leaning" with the equally religious Lillian Gish, when he keeps watch outside the house by night, and she keeps watch (with a rifle on her lap) inside. "What a fellowship," indeed.

Mitchum also sang "Tell Me Golden Moon," with Ann Blyth in the military romance One Minute to Zero. I always thought (erroneously) that he sang the title song to River of No Return.

Thanks to Jerry Roberts' book Robert Mitchum, A Bio-Bibliography for definitive information on Mitchum's recording career.

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