#979: Too Many Rules by Connie Francis
Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero was born on December 12, 1938. Francis was born in the Italian Down Neck neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey. She spent her firsts years as an infant and toddler in Brooklyn before the family moved back to New Jersey during her childhood. From the age of three, George Franconero recognized his daughter’s promising talent and insisted she start taking accordion lessons. However, her musical ingenuity wasn’t advanced by playing the accordion. An impoverished roofer, her father convinced Concetta to appear on stage at the age of four at the Olympic Amusement Park in Irvington, New Jersey. She played her accordion and then sang Anchors Aweigh in English and O Solo Mio in Italian. When she was ten years old she won third place The Ted Mack Amateur Hour radio for singing St. Louis Blues at the Mosque Theatre in Newark. Growing up in an Italian-Jewish neighborhood, Francis became fluent in Yiddish, which would lead her to later record songs in Yiddish and Hebrew.
By 1952, at the age of 14, Concetta found herself making demonstration records (demos) for publishers, who would then pitch these yet-to-be published songs to the most popular singers of the day. Before that first four-hour demo session was over, Concetta knew, for certain, that if she were ever to find her place in the sun, it would surely begin in a recording studio. That same year she won a spot on The Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout Show, on which, every Christmas, rather than featuring the usual adult singers, Godfrey would highlight child performers instead. It was at the rehearsal for that show that Godfrey, having a tough time pronouncing her Italian last name, summoned her over to his desk. “Whew! Your last name, Connie — it’s givin’ me a headache. Why don’t we just give you a good ol’ easy-to-pronounce Irish name like, lemme see. . . what about Francis? Hey, that sounds good to me. . . let’s make it, ‘Connie Francis’, OK?” “Oh no, please, Mr. Godfrey,” Franconero pleaded, “my father’ll have kittens. Couldn’t you please try to pronounce my last name just for tonight? And tomorrow, I’ll talk to daddy, and maybe he’ll let me be. . . what was that name again you just said. . . ? O.K., Connie Francis, it is.”
Amateur shows were the rage of 1950’s TV, and the talented young Connie Francis soon found a home on a weekly kiddie variety show, NBC-TV’s The Startime Kids. (In the YouTube.com link in the previous sentence, Connie Francis is the girl singing in the middle of the trio). Produced by a former hoofer named George Scheck, it was a program on which she would appear every single week for the next three-and-a-half years. When Startime had its run, Scheck became Connie’s personal manager, and would continue as such for three decades.
In 1955 Francis got a recording contract with MGM. She recorded nine singles in a row that all failed to chart. One exception was “Eighteen” which made the Top 30 in Ottawa and Top 20 in Toronto in the summer of 1957. Meanwhile, Francis was hired to record the vocals for Tuesday Weld’s “singing” scenes in the 1956 movie Rock, Rock, Rock, and for Freda Holloway in the 1957 rock and roll movie Jamboree.
In the fall of 1957, Francis enjoyed her first chart success with a duet single she had recorded with Marvin Rainwater called “The Majesty Of Love” which climbed to # 93 on the Billboard Hot 100. On October 2, 1957, MGM gave Connie Francis one last chance to make a hit record with a song called “Who’s Sorry Now?” Francis agreed to record the song due to her dad’s gut feeling the song could become a hit since adults knew the song as a Top Ten hit for Isham Jones in 1923. George Franconero was certain teens would respond to the song if it had a modern musical score. Francis, who did not like the song at all and had been arguing about it with her father heatedly, delayed the recording of the three other songs during the session so much, that in her opinion there was no time left on the continuously running recording tape. But her father insisted, and when the recording “Who’s Sorry Now?” was finished, there were only a few seconds left on the tape. The single went unnoticed like her earlier releases – just as Francis had predicted. But on January 1, 1958, Dick Clark featured the song on American Bandstand. Dick Clark announced that day: “Here’s a new girl singer, and she’s headed straight for the #1 spot!” This was a very unusual thing to say as there were no female rock ‘n roll singers who had a #1 hit record anywhere in North America. There were traditional pop singers in 1957 like Debbie Reynolds who had a #1 hit called “Tammy”. But the newer crop of female singers, like Connie Francis, were struggling to chart singles into the Top 30, never mind the Top Ten or get a #1 record. In 1957’s year-end Top 100, Billboard listed sixty-nine songs by male solo recording artists, but only ten by female solo singers. Another seventeen singles in the Top 100 for ’57 were by male vocal groups. However, by the summer of ’58 “Who’s Sorry Now?” was a million seller. Francis had become a household name. In April 1958, “Who’s Sorry Now” reached # 1 on the UK Singles Chart and # 4 in the US.
Following the success of “Who’s Sorry Now”, Connie Francis embarked on a nonstop manic-paced schedule, filled with endless recording sessions, appearances on every TV variety show in existence, and record-breaking appearances at the nation’s top nightclubs. At “The Greatest American Nightclub” of them all, New York City’s, Copacabana, she became the biggest female draw for the next 11 years. Throughout the 60’s, she continued to break all attendance records at Hollywood’s famous Coconut Grove, the Lincoln Center, the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach, Blinstrub’s in Boston, The Elmwood Casino in Ontario, the Concord Hotel in the Jewish Castkills, The Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, and countless others. She was named “America’s Sweetheart of Song,.” Francis became the dream girl of every young man, the secret sister of every teenage girl and the ideal girl almost every parent in America wished their daughters to emulate.
“Who’s Sorry Now?” would be the first of 15 Top Ten hits for Connie Francis in the USA. For the next four years, she was voted the “Best Female Vocalist” by American Bandstand viewers. It would not be until June 1960 that the first female rock ‘n roll era singer to have a #1 hit in America would be Francis herself with “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool”. Among the string of hit records she charted into the Top Ten were “My Happiness”, “Lipstick On Your Collar”, “Frankie”, “My Heart Has A Mind Of It’s Own” and “Where The Boys Are”.
“Too Many Rules” was the B-side to one of a string of Top Ten hits she had called “Together”. A minor hit in the USA, “Too Many Rules” peaked to #10 on the Vancouver charts.
With the advent of rock ‘n roll teen culture in the USA and in Canada was redefining sexuality. By 1961 kissing, hugging and other mild physical forms of affection were done quite frequently in public — in the hallways at school, in automobiles, and other local hangouts like record hops and soda shops. These outward expressions were almost accompaniments to most dates because of the increase in privacy the automobile, drive-in movie theaters and traditional movie theaters. In fact, the ideas of “necking” and “petting” were prolific and understood by everyone who participated in dating. Definitions for these terms differed with every source though. But in general, necking was defined as “caresses above the neck,” and petting involved “caresses below” the neck. “Heavy petting” involved unzipping pants, dresses and skirts, just short of “going all the way.”
In the song “Too Many Rules”, Connie Francis sings about not getting home ’til 2:10 a.m. Her parents tempers fly as staying out that late at night in 1961 was understood to mean the couple were very likely “petting” or worse. The scandal of teenage pregnancy was every parents fear for their teenage daughter. And so many rules for how to go out on a date, and under what circumstances, were established by society to keep America’s daughters respectable. In her 1988 book From the Front Porch to the Back Seat, Beth Bailey notes that millions of teenagers in the 1950’s went on one or more dates per week. These teenagers started dating at a young age too. If a girl of thirteen years had not started dating yet, she was considered a “late bloomer” by societies standards. In his book, A Girls Guide to Dating and Going Steady, Tom McGinnis observed that during the 1950’s into the early 60’s, it was common knowledge, at least for girls, that there was a process to the whole courtship ritual. There were stages that had to be passed through in preparation for a possible lasting relationship. First, when girls were young they were to associate with boys in the playground and not seriously form any romantic relationships with them. Then girls could progress to flirting and talking to boys. This could lead next to going out on double-dates. Double-dates were used to initiate the whole dating process because it created a more open environment conducive to easy conversation. The initial shyness of young couple could be eased away by the presence of other company, especially if the double date was a “set-up” or a blind date for one couple. After double dating, it was next possible to move onto single dating if there was a mutual interest. After a number of single dates the couple would begin to start “going steady.”
In the song’s lyrics the parents have set up a protocol regarding use of the telephone if her boyfriend calls her:
When you call me on the telephone,
it’s not my own,
they’ve made it known.
One of the rules in the house was that there was a strict time limit to how long she could talk to her boyfriend on the phone for.
“Too Many Rules” did well in selected radio markets across North America. These included #1 in Syracuse, NY, #4 in Calgary, and #8 in San Francisco, Dallas and Houston. It climbed to #10 in Vancouver. The following year Connie Francis enjoyed another four Top Ten singles including her #1 hit “Don’t Break The Heart That Loves You”. But after 1962 her record sales slumped. After 1964 Connie Francis failed to chart any more singles into the Top 40. The British Invasion had knocked another early rock ‘n roll era recording artist out of the spotlight, at least on AM radio.
Nonetheless, Connie Francis’ total record sales of single and album releases between 1957 and 1969 had topped 100 million by 1997. Connie Francis released 72 singles in North America, 55 singles in the UK, 75 singles in Germany and 34 more singles internationally. In Vancouver, Connie Francis charted 37 songs into the Top 50 on either CFUN or CKWX. She topped the charts in 15 countries and around the world has charted singles in six different languages. In 1967 at a formal dinner presided over by Canada’s Prime Minster, Lester Pearson, Miss Francis was distinguished with a Golden Heart statuette commemorating her selection as the Female Vocalist of the Century. In 2009, Francis received a star on the Italian Walk of Fame in Toronto, Ontario.
In August 2017 Connie Francis anticipates the release of her autobiography, Among My Souvenirs (The Real Story).
June 19, 2017
Will Price, Rock, Rock, Rock, Vanguard Productions, 1956.
Francis, Connie. Among My Souvenirs (The Real Story), Concetta Literary Corporation/Baker & Taylor Publishing Services, 2017.
Roy Lockwood, Jamboree, Warner Brothers, 1957.
Connie Francis, American Bandstand, ABC, 1958.
Francis, Connie. Who’s Sorry Now? St. Martin’s, New York, 1984.
McGinnis, Tom. A Girls Guide to Dating and Going Steady. Doubleday, New York, 1968.
Bailey, Beth. From the Front Porch to the Back Seat. John Hopkins, Baltimore, 1988.
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