On Nov. 19, 1977, the highest ranked “new entry” for the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart was A Pauper in Paradise by Gino Vannelli. The LP debuted at #94 and, after 11 weeks, peaked at #33. A Pauper in Paradise was Vannelli’s fifth album and featured the Royal Harmonic Symphony Orchestra.
Born in Montreal in June of 1952, Vannelli had a musical upbringing. His father was a jazz singer and encouraged his son to take drum lessons. Vannelli liked jazz, but he also enjoyed the classical works of Debussy and Ravel. He studied music theory at the local McGill University, and his introduction to synthesizers brought the world of musical orchestration to his finger tips.
Vannelli first sang professionally at age 12 and had a short contract with RCA Records at age 16. A lucky break came in 1973 when, facing a return to Montreal from Los Angeles, Vannelli waited at the gates of A&M Records to talk to its president Herb Albert (of Tijuana Brass fame). The lore goes like this: Albert stopped his car and gave Vannelli a few moments to audition. Armed with only a guitar, Vannelli’s singing impressed the record executive into giving him a contract.
While the punk scene was growing in the UK in 1977, popular music in the US was all over the board with R&B and a variety of niche-rock sounds (Southern rock, progressive rock, folk rock, et al). Disco, with its rhythmic beats and shards of synthesizer sonics, was working its way into contemporary music arrangements. Vannelli had incorporated disco into his jazz-tinged ballads and R&B rockers. With A Pauper in Paradise he also went full-on orchestra, composing a four movement suite.
Although A Pauper in Paradise didn’t generate any singles, Vannelli received radio play on album-oriented FM stations. My favorites are “Mardi Gras” and “Valleys of Valhalla.”
(The embedded YouTube clip has the latter title misspelled —it’s Valhalla, as in the Norse mythological Great Hall where warriors who died in battle gathered.)