Thursday, April 12, 2012

Who's Singing That 1960s Movie Song? It's Matt Monro, the "British Frank Sinatra"!

Although I know it's intended as a compliment, I've never cared that pop singer Matt Monro was once labeled the "British Frank Sinatra." I've always preferred him over Sinatra! Sadly, Monro never achieved lasting fame in the U.S., peaking with a couple of Top 40 hits in the 1960s. But I suspect many of you have heard his voice in films such as From Russia With Love, The Quiller Memorandum, The Italian Job (1969), and Born Free.

Monro, whose real name was Terry Parsons, was born in London in 1930. After a stint in the Army and working as a bus driver (one of his later nicknames was "The Singing Bus Driver"), Monro attracted the attention of popular pianist Winifred Atwell. She helped him secure a contract with Decca Records, where he first recorded as Matt Monro (it's often misspelled as Munro or Monroe).

His big break came in 1959, when George Martin (who would later produce the Beatles) asked for his assistance. Martin was working with Peter Sellers on a satirical album called Songs for Swingin' Sellers. To help Sellers master a Frank Sinatra imitation for the song "You Keep Me Swingin'," Martin asked Monro to sing a "guide track." When Sellers heard it, he decided he couldn't improve on it, so Monro's version of the song appears on the album (although he's billed as Fred Flange).

Monro and George Martin teamed up again on "Portrait of My Love," a 1960 ballad that hit No. 3 in the United Kingdom. Monro's follow-up, "My Kind of Girl," peaked at No. 5 in the UK, but also hit No. 18 on the Billboard Top 40 chart in the U.S. His biggest success, and only other Top 40 record in the U.S., was "Walk Away" (No. 4 in UK, No. 23 in the U.S.).

Concurrently, Monro began recording songs for films, working frequently with composer John Barry and lyricist Don Black (who co-wrote "Walk Away"). Monro was the first singer to croon a James Bond song when he sang the title tune over the closing credits of From Russia With Love (1963). He sang Barry's haunting song "Wednesday's Child" in the spy thriller The Quiller Memorandum (1966). However, the most famous Barry-Monro collaboration was the Oscar-winning 1966 title song from Born Free. Although Monro's vocal version is widely known, it was eclipsed on the pop charts by pianist Roger Williams' instrumental cover.

Matt Monro's sole venture into acting was in a supporting role in Satan's Harvest, a 1970 action film about drug smuggling in South Africa. It was written and directed by Monro's friend George Montgomery. It starred Tippi Hedren and Montogomery and included Monro singing "Two People."

Matt Monro died in 1985 at age 54 of liver cancer. There aren't many video clips of Matt Monro, but my favorite is the incredible medley below from the 1964 TV series Shindig featuring this amazing assembly of talent: The Righteous Brothers, Donna Loren, Chad and Jeremy, Matt, Tina Turner, and Neil Sedaka.

11 comments:

  1. I did think it was Frank Sinatra who sang "From Russia With Love" the first time I heard it as a kid. This is a great article about a singer I've enjoyed but did not know much about.

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    1. Gilby, Matt sounds more like Frank on certain songs and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is certainly one of them. Thanks for the comment!

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  2. Wonderful profile of Matt Monro. At times his voice was better than Sinatra as well. This is one of the best articles on Monro I have ever read. Thanks!

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    1. David, coming from a music connoisseur such as you, that's quite a compliment for Matt Monro. I wholeheartedly agree.

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  3. Rick, this was such a pleasant surprise to read! What an excellent profile of Matt Monro. He had such a smooth, lovely voice. Like too many, he died young, at the age of 55. Thank you for all of your research and especially for including the remarkable clip from Shindig. How awesome to have so many talented artists on the same show!

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    1. Toto, I wasn't a SHINDIG fan as a youth. I think I'd appreciate it now. For one thing, I have since become a Donna Loren fan (she did a Cafe interview) and she was a SHINDIG regular. In an interview, Matt Monro's son said his father didn't care for live television, instead preferring the recording studio--But he sounds amazing in that SHINDIG clip.

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  4. Rick, I know Sinatra but not this Monro guy. Am I showing my age?

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    1. Kim, your comment made me smile, as it could be taken a couple of ways! Matt Monro still has a sizable following among fans of the post-Big Band crooners. Someone mentioned him recently on Twitter, which prompted me to do this profile. I own several of his albums. My in-laws weren't familiar with Matt Monro, but became big fans after listening to his music on a trip.

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  5. Rick, what a pleasant surprise to read your wonderful article. I wonder if you know about Matt's daughter Michele, who has recently come out with a riveting biography of her Dad - titled Matt Monro: The Singer's Singer: The Life and Music of Matt Monro, published by Titan Books and saluted by Mojo magazine "There's never going to be a better Monro biography" Michele tells a never-before-told story of this iconic and endearing singer, whose songs have been ingrained in the public consciousness and are still sung and loved around the world, and whose talent was revered by friends and contemporaries including Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Bing Crosby, Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson and Sir George Martin.

    I'm helping to arrange a US trip for Michele for this May-June and I know she would be delighted to talk with you at some point if you're interested.

    Best,
    Katharine

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    1. Katharine, if Michele would be interested in doing a short interview for the Cafe, just e-mail me at classic.film.tv.cafe@gmail.com.

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  6. why is the video private when it is shown ?

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