When I was growing up Thursday nights at my mother’s house were better than heaven.
That is when The Carol Burnett Show was on. Any gay boy living in the ’70s will tell you that this show (and the Kraft recipe commercials that interrupted it) was instrumental in shaping their ever-emerging fabulousness.
Carol and the gang were a riot and musical guests were always a who’s who of gay icons: Chita Rivera, Carol Channing, Bernadette Peters and Jim Nabors, to name a few.
I remember being completely mesmerized when Carol introduced The Pointer Sisters. There they were, four beautiful glamorous characters — sister Bonnie was in the group at this time — in ’40s vintage dresses, Betty Grable hairdos and cherry bangles. To this day, next to the 1970s version of 1920s fashion, nothing makes me happier than the ’70s slant on the ’40s. And with a black-is-beautiful take on the era… kaboom, love!
The girls sang a 1940s-like version of Alder and Ross’s 1954 hit from The Pajama Game, “Steam Heat.” My mother loved it as much as I did and started telling me about The Andrews Sisters and how much she loved them as a kid and that I would probably like them, too.
So, that weekend my mom came home with a double Andrew Sisters Greatest Hits album. I was hooked. “In The Mood,” “Three Little Fishies” and “Rum and Coca-Cola” were in heavy rotation for quite some time. This of course was during the time of a popular ’40s revival with Bette Midler’s “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” hitting the top 10 and The Manhattan Transfer’s sophisticated scholarly take on Tin Pan Alley and the like were all over the airwaves. This was nostalgia for the parents and an introduction to a whole new musical world for the kids.
The Puppini Sisters are a new London-based novelty trio taking on the ’40s in the same way as Midler and The Pointers before them. Inspired by the music in the Canadian animated film, Les Triplettes de Belleville, founding member Marcella Puppini wanted to put together a musical experience that echoed the three-part harmonies and unison choreography of The Andrews Sisters and that vocal group’s own 1930s inspiration, The Boswell Sisters.
Joining her in vintage threads as The Puppini Sisters are Stephanie O’Brien and Kate Mullins; these girls are good. Belleville’s composer Benoit Charest produces the arrangements, so it has more of a smoky-bar feel than an upfront brass assault. Most of the recordings were done in Montreal with some of the same musicians from Belleville.
The girls win you over immediately with their sweet harmonies and with well-known songs like “Sisters,” “Mister Sandman” and “Heebie Jeebies” in their repertoire, how can they loose? Well, these are songs that have been done before and better. That the girls would even think of doing “In The Mood” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (From Company B)” seems silly. But I guess for a young generation that may have never heard these songs before, these are divine introductions.
Their versions of more modern-day tunes done in the style of yore are very inspired. If you’ve ever seen the now-deleted YouTube video from the 1960s of The Supremes singing on stage with The Andrews Sisters, you’ll get what magic can result from such an idea. Hearing Patti, Maxine and Laverne singing “Stop in the Name of Love” and Mary, Diana and Florence singing “Don’t Sit under the Apple Tree” is a hoot.
Similarly, The Puppinis’ inventive takes on ’70s classics like Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” really prove how timeless some songs are… how they can work in any genre.
But their versions of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” and The Smith’s “Panic” are mind-blowing surprises. “Wuthering Heights” gets a less dramatic rendering; it’s almost done as a sly lark. It’s got a peppy two-step feel with the girls flirting more than aching with desire. When they sing, “Heathcliff, don’t you know that it’s me?/ It’s Kathy / Now come on a’ home’a,” you die. It’s a very clever vocal take.
“Panic” just shouldn’t work but it does. It’s almost as if this is the way the song was always meant to be, and coming from this ardent Smiths fan, that’s the highest praise indeed. “Hang The DJ/ Hang the DJ/ ‘Cause the music that he constantly plays/ Says nothing to me about my life.” That lyric coming from the angelic harmonies of these retro broads just makes me grin ear to ear.