The greatest pop voices of our time. Day 3: Johnny Mathis

February 22, 2011 • 4:37 am

If maple syrup could sing, it would sound like Johnny Mathis.  His voice has a soothing, liquid quality that I find in no other singer.  And think of all of his songs that have become standards—a few of the best are below.

Mathis started out as an athlete, and had to choose between singing and track.  Fortunately for us, he chose music.  And the guy is a trouper: he’s still giving concerts at age 75.

I’ve chosen three songs, two of them from live performances.  The first is my favorite: “A Certain Smile,” which first appeared in the eponymous 1958 movie, itself based on a novel by Françoise Sagan.  I’m putting up the recorded version, but you can also see the movie version here.

“Misty,” written by jazz pianist Erroll Garner, might be Mathis’s most famous song, and the most famous part is when his voice blends imperceptibly with the oboe at the end.  It’s most striking in the recorded version, but you can also hear the big high note in this live version, taped in 1973:

You might remember the Clint Eastwood movie, “Play Misty for Me,” in which a deranged fan repeatedly calls Eastwood, a disc jockey, requesting that he play the song.

The last selection features a young and shockingly skinny Mathis singing “It’s Not for Me to Say.” The YouTube notes claim it’s his first performance on the Ed Sullivan show.  He looks plenty nervous! (This version is truncated; the full recorded version is here.)

And don’t miss the recorded versions of “Chances Are” and “Wonderful, Wonderful.”

16 thoughts on “The greatest pop voices of our time. Day 3: Johnny Mathis

  1. I would put Nat King Cole in the maple syrup section. The opening lines of “When I Fall In Love…” are about as mellow as it gets, surely.

        1. No – according to various places on the interweb he did indeed write songs – eg “When a child is born” was written by Johnny Mathis.

  2. My partner and I (mostly she) arranged a do-it-yourself wedding, with both the ceremony (without benefit of clergy, thank you very much) and reception in her mother’s back yard. For entertainment, we just recorded a cassette tape of various tunes of which we were fond, taping over a previous recording of a Johnny Mathis album. The first time we listened to the tape, we heard all of the songs we wanted to play, then, after a few seconds of silence, I can’t believe that you’re in love with me. We considered that an excellent omen.

  3. Not to take away from the musicality of your favorite singers, I wonder how much of their sound might be thanks to their hard-working recording engineers? Those great, hulking ribbon microphones of the 40s and 50s have become highly prized, and much imitated, precisely because they can turn pretty much any source material into “maple syrup”.

    I’m a classical music recording engineer, and I prefer the exquisite precision of a fine German condensor microphone, but when I need syrup, say, on the double-bass section, I reach for a ribbon.

    Was it Marlene Dietrich who insisted on a certain type of diffuse lighting, which gave her face that smooth glow?

  4. Magnificent singer. Powerful big voices that remain soft are treasures.

    I realize now that Hugh Laurie most likely was ‘inspired’ by Misty when he wrote this song:

  5. We love Johnny Mathis too….
    http://www.baltimorenetradio.com will re-broadcast its 3 hour Valentine Special Tribute to Johnny Mathis and his incredible music and career on Sunday, February 27th from noon to 3:05pm (New York Time). It can be heard world wide to the delight of listeners all over the world. Baltimore Net Radio loves Mr Johnny Mathis!

    1. I’ve removed them since they did take up all that space. You can repost using the URLs as links to texts.

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