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Music Reviews

Randy's Buttons

October 26, 1994

Bennett Reigns Supreme

Tony BennettTony Bennett, MTV Unplugged (Columbia 1994) -- MTV Unplugged features 20 classic numbers performed by the ageless Tony Bennett. With over an hour's worth of music built around the rich and charming stylings of Bennett, there's something for all age groups on this album.

Bennett, the son of an Italian-born immigrant grocer, was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in Astoria, Queens (New York City) in 1926. He grew up singing and drawing pictures, and to this day enjoys a flourishing second career painting under his given name. After three years in the Army, he began singing wherever he could, including clubs in Long Island City with visiting stars like Al Cohn and Tyree Glenn.

Eventually, his career started to take off. "My scuffling years began to end in 1949," he recalls, "when I auditioned for a review that Pearl Bailey was in at the old Greenwich Village Inn. Bob Hope heard me in the show and asked me to come up and sing at the Paramount Theater with him. He didn't like my stage name (Joe Bari) and asked me what my real name was. I told him 'Anthony Benedetto.' He thought a moment and said, 'That's too long for the marquis. We'll call you Tony Bennett.'"

A year later, Bennett was auditioned at Columbia Records by Mitch Miller; this audition launched a recording career that has now lasted over 40 years. In addition to his many stateside hits (such as "Because of You" and "Just in Time"), Bennett went international in 1961 when he won two Grammy awards (Record of the Year and Best Solo Vocal Performance -- Male) for "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."

Built around his many years on the stage, MTV Unplugged captures the classic Bennett style -- a smooth, effortless delivery, and total concentration and knowledge of his material. Says Bennett, "When you take a song on the road, you do it over and over again, you finally get so comfortable with it. And that's when it starts getting good, when it just becomes almost subconscious. Your concentration becomes so strong that you don't even think about it, you just do it. It's like Zen."

Tony Bennett trioRounding out the happy (almost triumphant) atmosphere on MTV Unplugged is Bennett's three-piece band, which consists of long-time collaborator Ralph Sharon on piano, Doug Richeson on acoustic bass, and Clayton Cameron on drums. With strong versions of songs like "It Had to Be You," "Fly Me to the Moon," and "A Foggy Day," MTV Unplugged shows that Bennett remains among the last purveyors of the "Great American Songbook."

However, the true highlight of the disc is his stunning 2:36 version of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Bennett gives a knockout performance of this lovely song, even though he's been doing it for over 30 years. And that's the mark of a true professional -- to deliver the goods consistently, even when he's working on familiar ground.

A colleague of mine (who is mostly into alternative music) says, "Bennett -- Ugh. That's lounge music." Not true. It's just plain good music. And it stands on its own. A singer could make a career out of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" -- but Bennett's done much more than that. If you saw Bennett's wonderful performance last year at the Tower Theater in Fresno, then MTV Unplugged will be a welcome reminder of that show. If you've never seen Bennett live, then it's time to get hip to him. Either way, buy MTV Unplugged.

ArbitronArbitron Radio Ratings -- According to newly-released information from Arbitron, the top ten radio stations in Fresno County for the Summer 1994 quarter (from June 23 through September 14, 1994) are as follows:

1. KMJ (AM 580) 11.9%
2. KBOS (FM 94.9) 10.4%
3. KSKS (FM 93.7) 6.9%
4. KOQO (FM 101.9) 6.1%
5. KRZR (FM 103.7) 5.8%
6. KFSO (FM 92.9) 4.5%
7. KJFX (FM 95.7) 4.5%
8. KJOI (FM 98.9) 4.4%
9. KNAX (FM 97.9) 4.3%
10. KTHT (FM 102.7) 3.8%

While KMJ (talk & news) continues to hold the number one spot, KBOS (CHR -- "contemporary hit radio") is quickly closing the gap. Will next quarter herald a new number one for the first time in recent memory? Stay tuned.

In the next tier, KOQO (Spanish) continues its meteoric rise, and now holds the fourth spot behind strong contender KSKS ("the new KISS Country"), which has held the number three spot for several months. KRZR's (AOR -- "album oriented rock") numbers increased again, obviously due to the loss of KKDJ.

KNAX ("today's hot Country") drops considerably (they were number 4 in the summer book), and KTHT (adult contemporary) bumps KSXY (adult contemporary) from its brief run in the top ten. Still holding strong in the middle of the pack are KFSO ("oldies"), KJFX ("classic rock 'n roll"), and KJOI (adult contemporary).

Now, let's have some plainspeak about the state of rock radio in Fresno. In a word, it sucks. KRZR is OK if you like metal and harder rock, but they never play any alternative acts. Adult contemporary is a gutless format that plays corporate-generated elevator music. KKDJ and KFSO are OK in small doses, if you want oldies. But just like those oldies stations that once played hits of the 40s and 50s, the rock oldies format will one day be eliminated.

No, the only future is a mix of old and new material that cuts across traditional formats. This format exists, and is called "AAA" (or "adult album alternative"). It's a free-wheeling blend, and always plays something different, both old and new.

I recently heard two of those stations in Pismo Beach (the "Otter" and the "Bear," FM 94.9 & 95.3, respectively), and was mightily impressed. There's tons of good new music out there THAT EVERY RADIO STATION IN FRESNO IGNORES.

WAKE UP!! PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR LISTENERS. Someone in local radio needs to have some balls and start playing good music instead the canned crapola playlist served up by nimrods in L.A. Mark my words. A storm is brewing in rock radio 'cause we're getting pissed. The change will only be for the better.

-- Randy Krbechek

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