Deep Dive: Penny Marshall & Cindy Williams, LAVERNE & SHIRLEY SING
When it comes to Rhino’s “Deep Dive” feature, it must be said that some dives are deeper than others, but this is about as deep as it goes: to celebrate the birthday of actress Cindy Williams, we’re shining a spotlight on a little LP entitled LAVERNE & SHIRLEY SING.
In the mid-1970s, few sitcoms were more successful than Laverne & Shirley, the Happy Days spinoff centered around the lives and times of Laverne DeFazio (Penny Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (the aforementioned Ms. Williams), two single women working as bottle-cappers for the fictional Shotz Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the late 1950s. Of course, as time passed, their professions changed, as did many other things about the show and its characters, but that’s what the state of things was when the sitcom first started, which is also when it began pulling in massive ratings.
Yes, the series was so darned popular that it spawned an album. Actually, it spawned two albums, but we’ll get to that in a minute. First, though, we really should focus on the album that brought us here today, one which probably seemed like a much better idea before it was determined that neither Marshall nor Williams had the sort of vocal chops that most music fans prefer for their favorite pop singers to possess.
LAVERNE & SHIRLEY SING is predominantly a covers album, one which features a number of immediately-familiar tunes from the era in which the series is set, including “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “All I Have to Do is Dream,” “Chapel of Love,” and “I’m Walkin’.” Most of the songs feature Marshall and Williams singing together rather than individually, so as to couch the fact that, although Williams’ voice is, uh, not horrible, it’s more than fair to say that Marshall definitely was never destined to pursue a lengthy stint as a singer, as is evidenced in particular on “Gonna Get Along Without You Now.”
Aside from the fact that it was always destined to annoy fans by not including the show’s theme song, the most notable thing about LAVERNE & SHIRLEY SING is the fact that it features two original tunes penned by a man who was destined to become an Oscar-nominated songwriter. At the time, however, he was merely a member of the show’s cast. That’s right: we’re talking about Lenny himself, Mr. Michael McKean, although he’s better known lately as Chuck McGill on Better Call Saul. It’s notable that not only are McKean’s contributions both top-notch, but one of them – “Five Years On” – is arguably the best track on the album. Granted, that’s not saying a lot, but it’s got some truly great harmonies. (Of course, it helps when you’ve got Melissa Manchester chiming in on vocals.)
This brings us to a quick footnote to close out our flashback: a few years later, McKean and his cohort on the series, David L. Lander, a.k.a. Squiggy, were responsible for the series’ second album, LENNY & SQUIGGY PRESENT LENNY AND THE SQUIGTONES. Alas, unlike its predecessor, it’s not part of Rhino’s catalog, nor is it even in print, but we can at least offer you a listen to what it was like, since the duo appeared on American Bandstand to promote it. As you can tell just from the performance below, it was head and shoulders above LAVERNE & SHIRLEY SING. Then again, what would you expect? It’s got Nigel Tufnel on guitar! And, no, Spinal Tap fans, that’s not a joke, as you’ll see if you watch and listen to the clip…
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