One Random Single a Day #108: “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena” (1950) by Vic Damone

Yet another single where no image of the record sleeve, album art, or record itself are satisfying (or even exist online), so I must default to an image of the artist himself. It’s not worth much fuss, though. Vic Damone is an Italian-American traditional pop singer who released his debut single “I Have But One Heart” in 1947 to immense popularity. Soon enough, he wooed the pop ballad circuit enough to gain a number-one hit with his record “You’re Breaking My Heart”. While clearly indebted to Frank Sinatra for his smooth, delicate baritone vocals, the distinct cleanliness of his sound was definitely all his own. Although slow, sensitive love songs made up the majority of his early hits, he also made some big splashes as a performer during the heightened popularity of the big band era in the 1950s. It was also pretty cool to learn that he is still alive today, having battled a stroke and other health issues to live the up to his late eighties! Now, that’s pretty admirable.

Upon first listen, “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena” just sounded like a whole bunch of big band nonsense. When I researched a little further, however, I came to find out that this is actually a cover of a Hebrew song, originally written in 1941 by Polish emigrant Issachar Miron. While the original was quite a hit in Palestine, the folk group The Weavers recorded their own English-language arrangement, which went to #2 in the US in 1946. Damone recorded his own cover of the Weavers’ single – and here we are now! I listened to The Weavers’ version and Damone’s cover side-by-side and they are pretty much identical, save for the multi-layered vocals and slightly folkier rhythm. Damone’s version does contain some faceless female backup singers, but the arrangement itself is straight big band, no more and no less.

Even upon multiple listens, though, this song still is kind of nonsense. It’s fun and upbeat enough for an occasional listen, but I would not recommend listening to it multiple times in a row like I have. As Damone vibrantly advertises the exciting international party within the city square, the recording itself just runs out of steam rather quickly. About a minute into the track, one is already tired of the constant repetitions of “tzena, tzena, tzena” – much like one complains about “today’s music” being awfully repetitive and vapid. What’s more is that the song simply goes on for far, far too long – three minutes is a pretty lengthy time for a big band era song already, but even more when the bulk of it is just a constant repetition of the verses. It just folds upon each other needlessly, all the way until the penultimate key change, where everything is just overblown to the point of exhaustion.

I’m sure there are a ton of other big band & swing songs that are worse than this one, but the consistently uncreative repeat of itself is enough to sign me off this one for the rest of my life. It’s the kind of song that gets stuck in your head, but certainly not for all the right reasons. Damone even sounds pretty good, but his vocal delivery is just so engulfed in the overblown swing production and all-too-loud backup singers. It’s clear that the slower, softer ballads are more of his forte; if I ever feel the need to listen to another Vic Damone single again, I’ll be sure to make it one of those and stay away from “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena” as much as possible.

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