Route 66 Song Of The Week anniversary edition:  Teri Thornton Sings Open Highway

Hello again, fellow road music lovers!  This being the end of the week of Route 66’s 89th birthday, we thought we’d treat you to something special:  a rendition of Nelson Riddle’s classic “Route 66 Theme” sung with lyrics.  To our knowledge, there is only one vocalist who ever recorded Riddle’s theme:  the late Teri Thornton.  It was the title track to her third solo album, Teri Thornton Sings Open Highway.  And courtesy of our audio clip below, you get to hear it!  (Sorry, there is no music video for this track.)  It has that just-right rhythm for road music, with Riddle’s swinging, sophisticated style – the epitome of 1960s cool.

One unabashed admirer remarked that Teri Thornton was probably one of the best-kept secrets of her time.  I heartily agree.  While in her prime, Thornton was no less than Ella Fitzgerald’s favorite female vocalist (that’s what Ella told Down Beat magazine) – and that’s really saying something.  Famed saxophonist Cannonball Adderley called her “the greatest voice since Ella Fitzgerald.”  Trumpeter Clark Terry worked with Teri on several projects early in her career.  Even better, the liner notes for this original vinyl LP album, her third and the only one for Columbia Records, were written by another jazz great and fellow Columbia artist – Tony Bennett.  Here’s what he had to say:  “Teri sings with life, feeling, intensity, intelligence, and taste.  She’s the first singer in years who doesn’t have any gimmicks, any tricks.  Instead, she’s endowed with perfect pitch, a three-octave range, solid training, and years of invaluable experience.  All this has made her create here a great album.”

With that intro, she sounds almost like Sarah Vaughan, doesn’t she?  But Thornton’s life and career, which began decades later in the history of jazz than “Sassy” Vaughan’s did, took a vastly different turn.

Teri Thornton (photo courtesy of Verve Records, Universal Record Group)

Teri Thornton  (photo courtesy of Verve Records, Universal Record Group)

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Route 66 Song Of The Week for April 1st:  Nelson Riddle vs. The Simpsons (April Fool!)

In this very strange day and age, we suppose such a thing was inevitable.  But really, could there possibly be a face-off of any kind between the venerable but long-deceased Nelson Riddle, composer of the famous “Route 66 Theme,” and Matt Groening, creator of that terminally irreverent and irritating cartoon series, The Simpsons, an animated celebration of All Things Dumbed Down?  And if so, who would win?  If you could even call it a win.

The by now 25-year-old cartoon series featuring a family of misfits has been a vehicle of satire for its creator, cartoonist Matt Groening.  Groening was drawing a newspaper cartoon called Life In Hell for the alternative weekly Los Angeles Reader when writer and producer James L. Brooks contacted him about creating some short animated skits for his then-current TV program, The Tracy Ullman Show.  That’s where The Simpsons debuted.  The cartoons were spun off into a separate series in 1989, and the rest was TV history.  The Simpsons has been steadily mocking popular culture and modern life ever since.  And the theme music, written by TV and film music composer Danny Elfman, is a Jetsons-sounding bit of whimsy that is instantly recognized all over the world.  (Thus, the power of American media.)

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Route 66 Song Of The Week: Martin Denny with Nelson Riddle’s theme and more

Great road trips require three things:  a great road, a great car, and excellent road music.  We already have the first – Route 66, the Mother Road! – and we can’t help you with the vehicle (muscle car, Mustang, or Mini – that’s up to you), but road music is another matter.

It’s gone cloudy and cool now here in Chicago at dinnertime, but earlier today the sunny weather was a whisper of spring.  Not a promise yet, mind you, just a hint.  The kind of mild, windless day that, despite temperatures in the low-to-mid 40s F., makes you want to roll out that road car (as opposed to the commuter car or family van) and go Somewhere.  And that always makes me think of Nelson Riddle’s great theme for the Route 66 TV series.  The show itself got a bit dated-looking over the intervening years; it’s obvious now that it’s a period piece, if only from the black-and-white episodes.  But the theme song … oh my, that one’s timeless.  Makes you feel like moving.  And so we have a jazz trio rendition for you, courtesy of Martin Denny.


But wait:  one good road song deserves another, and your road trip playlist ideally should be more diverse than just 6,600 versions of the Bobby Troup anthem or 66 reissues of Nelson Riddle.  Continue reading