The old-school swingers may have been on the wane, but they didn’t go down without a fight. Vic Damone’s On the Street Where You Live dates back to 1956. Written by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner for the musical My Fair Lady, the show had enjoyed two years of huge stateside success and had recently opened in London, causing the single to surge up the charts. Ironic really, considering Loewe wasn’t happy with the tune and had wanted it removing before the musical was released.
It was the last number 1 produced by Mitch Miller, who had been responsible for many chart-toppers – Guy Mitchell’s She Wears Red Feathers, Look at That Girl and Singing the Blues, Johnnie Ray’s Such a Night, Just Walkin’ in the Rain and Yes Tonight Josephine, and Rosemary Clooney with the Mellomen’s Mambo Italiano. Mitchell hated rock’n’roll, probably because he knew his demand as a producer would drop.
He remains a divisive figure, for relying on novelty songs and adding gimmicks to records, and artists including Frank Sinatra resented some of his methods. There’s no denying his hit rate though, and his influence would remain. Miller helped conceive the idea of sound effects and soundscapes. Without Miller, there may not have been a George Martin, and without George Martin, there may not have been a Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Despite numerous versions of On the Street Where You Live, Damone’s remains the most popular. He was born Vito Rocco Farinola in Brooklyn, New York on 12 June 1928 to Italian emigrants.
Like so many others, he was inspired by Sinatra to become a singer. He dropped out of high school when his father was injured at work, and worked as an usher elevator operator at the Paramount Theatre in Manhattan. One day he met Perry Como, and seizing his opportunity, he stopped the elevator between floors and sang for him. Como was impressed and referred him to a local bandleader. From there, he went on to appear on and win an edition of Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in 1947, which was later used as a springboard for stardom by Marvin Rainwater and Connie Francis, who had also had number 1s in 1958.
Damone had a number of hits, and also began appearing in films, before going into the army, where he served with Johnny Cash.
Despite being written in 1956, Damone’s On the Street Where You Live sounds even older, and harks back to the first number 1, Al Martino’s Here in My Heart. Damone bellows out the vocals over a grand backing. Not much of a fan of musicals, the only part of this song I actually recognised was the famous opening couplet
‘I have often walked down this street before
But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before’
I think my dad liked to sing it when I was growing up, although I may be confusing this with any number of songs my dad likes to occasionally burst into.
I have to confess though that this song leaves me cold. Like many love songs in musicals, it lays on the sentiment way too thick, and after so many progressive number 1s this felt like a big, unnecessary step back. On the Street Where You Live enjoyed a fortnight at the top, but shared its second week with The Everly Brothers’ double A-side All I Have to Do Is Dream/Claudette.
Damone’s music, film and television careers continued into the 70s, when bankruptcy caused him to take up residency in Las Vegas. He was offered the role of Johnny Fontane in The Godfather (1972) but turned it down, and Al Martino accepted it instead.
Damone retired after suffering a stroke in 2002, the same year he released his final album.
He had some dodgy connections in his time. In his autobiography he revealed he was once dangled out of a hotel window by a Mafia member after breaking off his relationship with the thug’s daughter for insulting Damone’s mother. His life was allegedly spared when New York mob boss Frank Costello ruled in his favour. Damone’s daughter also once recalled that a bookie showed up insisting that Damone owed him a lot of money. The singer phoned Sinatra and asked him to intervene, but when ‘Ol’ Blue Eyes’ arrived on the scene, the bookie showed him a secret sign, which meant Sinatra had to keep out of it. Damone had to pay it all back.
By far Damone’s dodgiest connection, however, was President Trump, who counted him as a close friend. In May 2016, Trump offered to be a character witness for the singer during a legal battle with his stepdaughters.
Damone died of complications from a respiratory illness on 11 Feb 2018. He was 89.
Written by: Frederick Loewe & Alan Jay Lerner
Producer: Mitch Miller
Weeks at number 1: 2 (27 June-10 July)
Racewalker Les Morton – 1 July
Poet Alfred Noyes – 28 June