The unusual musical career of the tough-guy actor and lounge lizard.
Telly Savalas was an iconic star with quite the career – the best Blofeld in the best Bond film, important roles in The Birdman of Alcatraz, The Dirty Dozen, Horror Express, Buona Sera Mrs Campbell, Lisa and the Devil and Capricorn One, and of course the title role of the long-running and much-loved TV series Kojak.
It was during the height of his fame as Kojak that Savalas became an unlikely pop star. Hit singles from the stars of TV cop shows were a thing in the 1970s – David Soul had a pretty successful singing career on the back of Starsky and Hutch – but Savalas had actually recorded his first album a year before Kojak launched. 1972’s This Is Telly Savalas featured a stull from Horror Express on the cover and saw the actor working through popular songs of the era – I Walk the Line, I Shall Be Released, Sunday Morning Comin’ Down and others.
But it was 1974’s Telly that was his big musical breakthrough, with his cover of the Bread song If reaching Number One in the UK and Ireland’s singles chart. It led to appearances on Top of the Pops, with the bald Savalas oozing Seventies medallion man cool, as he smokes his way through the track while serenading an anonymous model. Here he is on German TV.
Well, not serenading as such. Savalas took the William Shatner approach to performing. By his own admission, he was no singer, but he could dramatically render a song. The results were arguably more novelty track than easy listening cover, but they work.
Savalas did, however, attempt to sing on some tracks, and the results are… well, they are actually pretty remarkable. His voice is strained and sounds as though it’ll crack at any moment, but his plaintive version of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling is quite something.
Savalas recorded six albums over eight years – not bad going, really. His last album came out in 1980, at which point he seemed to lose interest. A pity.
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