Every era needs its crooner, and in the early '60s, it was Bobby Vinton. Vinton's sentimental balladeering and orchestral, middle-of-the-road arrangements were a throwback to a decade earlier, before rock & roll had found its mass market. If Vinton is sometimes identified with a rock & roll audience, it's only because his music was bought by young listeners for a time, and because he still catches some airplay on oldies stations. What he sang was vocal pop, landing some of the biggest hits of the early '60s with "Roses Are Red (My Love)," "Blue on Blue," "There! I've Said It Again," "Mr. Lonely," and "Blue Velvet," the last of which has become his signature song in the wake of its notorious prominence in David Lynch's Blue Velvet.
Vinton originally aspired to lead a big band, and made big band versions of contemporary hits on his first recordings in the early '60s. When he began singing, however, he was quickly successful, reaching number one with "Roses Are Red (My Love)" in mid-1962. The syrupy, saccharine arrangements set the mold for his emotional, occasionally mournful hits throughout the early '60s. 1963 was his banner year, as he hit number three with "Blue on Blue," and then topped the charts with "Blue Velvet" and "There! I've Said It Again."
"There! I've Said It Again" was knocked out of the number one spot by the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand." But the British Invasion, surprisingly, didn't spell commercial death for Vinton, as it did for so many other balladeers and teen idols. Indeed, he had one of his biggest hits (and his final number one), the sobbing "Mr. Lonely," in late 1964. Although he didn't maintain quite the same superstar ranking, he was consistently popular throughout the next decade; between 1962 and 1972, in fact, he had an astonishing 28 Top 40 entries. Often he updated quaint 1960-era pop tunes such as "Halfway to Paradise," "Take Good Care of My Baby," and "Sealed With a Kiss." A couple of these, "Please Love Me Forever" and "I Love How You Love Me," made the Top Ten, which was quite an anachronism in 1967 and 1968.
Vinton seemed to have launched a major comeback in 1974 with "Melody of Love," which made number three, and enjoys the distinction of being the only major American hit single sung partially in Polish. Only one more Top 40 hit was in the offing, though. This probably didn't particularly bother Vinton, who had his own TV series for a few years in the late '70s, and could always count on lucrative gigs on the cabaret circuit.
While it's best known for its chart-topping title ballad, Mr. Lonely remains one of Bobby Vinton's most consistent and engaging albums, a product of the Brill Building pop formula at its most irresistible. Given the songwriting and arranging talent on display here -- Burt Bacharach, Garry Sherman, Charlie Calello, Robert Mersey, Bill Walker, and Stan Applebaum all make significant contributions -- it's easy to joke that Vinton's presence is almost superfluous. But for all the Polish Prince excess and schmaltz of his later years, in his prime Vinton was a superior pop singer, investing material like "A Thing Called Sadness," "Satin," and "Someone I Used to Know" with poignancy and sensitivity.