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Frankie Laine: Big Voice, Big Heart

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Frankie Laine: Big Voice, Big Heart

When Frankie Laine released his first big hit song in 1946, he was at the forefront of a whole new genre of music. In an age when crooners carried the day, Laine – who would have turned 100 today – injected jazzy rhythm into his singing voice, moving away from a smooth croon and toward something that would, in the decade that followed, come to be known as rock ‘n‘ roll.

From today's perspective, "That's My Desire" doesn't sound a whole lot like rock music. In fact, it doesn't sound drastically different from the music of the crooners that came before it. But the spark of something new is there, with Laine sounding a little less like Sinatra and a little more like Elvis.

Within a few years, rock ‘n’ roll was becoming the hottest new fad, and Laine – unlike other popular singers who made their mark in the 1940s – liked what he heard. But rather than become Bill Haley's biggest competition, Laine went in a fairly unexpected direction. He became a cowboy singer.

Laine's 1961 album Hell Bent for Leather was a compendium of western classics, sung in his signature style. The pairing was so successful that Laine was asked to sing the theme songs to a number of cowboy TV shows, eventually becoming closely associated with the genre. In fact, the association was so strong that when Mel Brooks made the movie Blazing Saddles in 1974, Laine was the obvious choice to sing the theme song. When he made the recording, Laine wasn't aware that the movie would be a comedy – and he sang with all the serious intensity he would give to any other good cowboy song. The result was absolutely perfect.

Laine was too versatile to be fenced in by any one style of music. While he continued to sing country and western, he also recorded jazz, blues, pop, and anything else that suited his fancy. And he charted, too – a full two decades after his first hit single.

Frankie Laine died in 2007, 93 years old and at the end of a fantastic career that refused to quit. As late as 2002, Laine was still recording – his "Taps/My Buddy," produced shortly after 9/11/2001, was dedicated to the New York City firefighters, with all proceeds going to them. A singer with a great voice and a lot of heart – that was Frankie Laine.

Written by Linnea Crowther