We had a fair amount of Dean Martin slander here recently, inspired by Casey Kasem appearing as Hitler at Martin’s 1974 roast of Don Rickles. For those of us growing up in the 60s, Martin was on TV with a variety show that came on past our bedtime. To the extent that he left much of an impression later on, it was as an avatar of the ring-a-ding-ding Vegas showbiz era. Fair or not, what seemed like casual cool to our parents and grandparents came off almost sadly decadent to our generation: a martini-swilling cad, the kind of guy who would order a steak well-done and pinch the waitress as she walked away, and later stub out his cigarette in what was left of the mashed potatoes.
But this post isn’t about Martin the martini-swilling cad, or the actor, or the TV personality, or the restauranteur. Instead, it’s about Martin the pop star—because he was a big one, and for quite a while.
I submit for your consideration that “when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore,” is among the most famous lines in all of American popular music. “That’s Amore” was Martin’s breakthrough hit, making #2 in 1953. We think of 1956 as a time when the rock ‘n’ roll era was blooming, but that winter, the earlier era was not yet over, and Martin hit #1 in Billboard with “Memories Are Made of This.” A far more unlikely #1 hit was “Everybody Loves Somebody,” which topped the Hot 100 for a week in August 1964, knocking “A Hard Day’s Night” from the top spot before being knocked out itself by the Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go.”
The success of “Everybody Loves Somebody” made Dean Martin into one of the superstars of easy listening. He would hit the Top 10 of Billboard‘s variously named Easy Listening charts with 22 straight hits through 1969, and rack up 11 gold albums in the same period. After “Everybody Loves Somebody,” he would hit #1 on Easy Listening four more times. “The Door Is Still Open to My Heart,” “You’re Nobody Til Somebody Loves You,” “In the Chapel in the Moonlight” and “In the Misty Moonlight” all made the Hot 100 too; “The Door Is Still Open” went to #6. “I Will,” which was #3 on Easy Listening, went to #10 on the Hot 100 late in 1965. Many of his other Easy Listening hits made the Hot 100 as well, and I know them from Mother and Dad’s radios, long before I had one of my own, including “Houston,” “Lay Some Happiness on Me,” and “Not Enough Indians. ”
Martin’s last charted single would come in 1983. “My First Country Song” scraped the bottom of the country charts in that year—although it wasn’t really his first. A version of Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind” was his last Easy Listening Top 10 in 1969; he also charted on Easy Listening with Merle Haggard’s song “I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am” and the country standard “Detroit City.” But apart from “Gentle on My Mind” and the album with the same title, country Dean didn’t really stick. The end of his chart heyday came swiftly; no more charting albums after 1972 or Easy Listening singles after 1973.
Dean Martin would remain a major star through the 1970s, although as he pushed past the age of 60, he slowed down, and he was in poor health for the last decade of his life. He died in 1995 at the age of 78. There was a revival of interest in his music when space-age pop and mid-century modern style became fashionable; today, his boozy charm summons up an entire constellation of images that has nothing to do with stubbing out a cigarette in the mashed potatoes.
On Another Matter: I am a big fan of Mitchell Hadley’s “It’s About TV,” and I am overdue thanking him for periodically shouting out my website, as he did in a recent Around the Dial post. Much as my website intends to illuminate our lives and times through music and the ways we listened, his discussions of classic television, especially his This Week in TV Guide posts, offer insights into how we once lived that can tell us something about how we live now. I am pretty sure we would not always draw the same conclusions, but our interest comes from the same general place. If you enjoy the typical run of pondwater here, you will enjoy his site also.