The Happiest! The Showbizziest!
If you only know the cheeky David Lee Roth cover of "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody" from 1985, do yourself a favor and seek out The Wildest!, a slice of '50s showbiz delirium that includes the more madcap Louis Prima original. Though paced a bit slower than the rock remake—it's almost a vaudeville bounce—Prima's "Gigolo" swings much harder, with a hipster's controlled giddiness. From his first entrance, Prima (1911–1978) drops alternately woeful and exuberant Louis Armstrong–inspired scatting, and his entreaties are matched by shoop-shoopy bandvocal catcalls and the honking saxophone of Sam Butera.
That song's combination of jazz and jive sent Prima's career into overdrive. Literally every track of The Wildest! sparkles with the combination of mugging-for-the-crowds irreverence and seriously disciplined execution that was his signature. You'll find "Nothing's Too Good for My Baby," a duet with Keely Smith that's notable for its choreographed wordless vocal tandems, and a jittery "You Rascal You" that is a showstopper. As Prima's vocals fall lazily off the beat, the rhythm section sounds as if it's chasing a scoundrel. Along the way, the rhythm shifts from typical lounge-act 4/4 to a New Orleans parade romp (complete with a reference to "When the Saints Go Marching In") to a barn-burning big-band shout-chorus finale.
This collection marked the end of several years of studio frustration for the New Orleans–born singer of Italian ancestry: Prima felt his recordings didn't get close to capturing the rollicking magic of his live act. According to the liner notes, when he heard The Wildest!, Prima knew he'd taken a big step forward. "This is it. This is three o'clock in the morning at the Sahara."
Released: 1957, Capitol
Key Tracks: "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody," "The Lip."
Next Stop: Keely Smith: I Wish You Love
After That: Perez Prado: Havana 3 AM
Book Page: 612