By Charles Berger
One of the biggest recording stars from the 1940s to the 1960s, Frankie Laine (1913-2007) did a concert in Sheffield, England in 1976. Before he sang the Hank Williams classic, “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” Laine stated that he had never been called a country singer. In fact, he was told, “You ain’t country”! Laine then added, “I’m from Chicago.” [Laine was inducted into the Goldmine Hall of Fame September 12, 2013.]
Yet, Frankie sang on the soundtracks of seven western films from 1953-1958 and 1974. Why would he be chosen from more than a dozen other pop singers of the day to perform these songs? I believe it’s probably because he could convince his audience that he was indeed country.
The seven are:
1953, “Blowing Wild” - After hearing Frankie’s 1952 hit “High Noon” (but sung by Tex Ritter on the soundtrack), director Mervyn LeRoy asked Laine to perform the film’s theme song, “Blowing Wild (The Ballad of Black Gold).” According to Laine in his autobiography, “That Lucky Old Sun,” he was hesitant to do it, as he believed the picture itself was most important and his contribution could be ignored or put to the side. The song did not make Billboard’s chart but was No. 23 in Cashbox. It charted No. 2 in the U.K.
1955, “Man Without a Star” – This is noteworthy because not only did Laine sing the theme song, Kirk Douglas actually sang two songs in the film. No chart action for this one.
1955, “Strange Lady in Town” - The film has Greer Garson as the “strange lady.” It failed to chart in Billboard but was No. 49 for one week in Cashbox. It charted No. 6 in U.K.
1957, “Gunfight at the OK Corral” – This terrific film starring Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster probably didn’t need Laine’s contribution but his vocal on the soundtrack made the film even more memorable. No chart action.
1957, “3:10 to Yuma” – Here again Frankie contributes greatly to this film which starred Glenn Ford and Van Heflin. It’s too bad Frankie wasn’t around to try to sing the theme song on the new 2007 version. Actually, his voice by this time was very weak. No chart action.
1958, “Bullwhip” – This minor film starred Rhonda Fleming and Guy Madison. It appears that Laine did not think much of the film, and he did not mention it in his book. No chart action, probably because it’s doubtful it was ever released as a single.
1974, “Blazing Saddles” – Mel Brooks called Frankie Laine and asked him to sing the theme song. Laine recalled that it took eight takes on the arrangement before the seventh one was finally approved. Frankie claimed he did not realize the film was a comedy, as he “was not familiar with Mel Brooks’ reputation.” As Brooks had directed only two films prior to this one (“The Producers and “The Twelve Chairs”) it seems Laine’s claim is not that unbelievable. No chart action again.