Joe Pesci turns 81 today, and if you wanted to commemorate the occasion by watching one of the classic flicks in his filmography, it isn’t hard to find them: you’ve got Goodfellas on AMC, Casino on Paramount+, Home Alone on Disney+ and My Cousin Vinny on Starz, and that’s just to name four.
On the other hand, if you wanted to step a little bit outside the box, then today would be a perfect day to take a deep dive into Joe Pesci’s discography...and, no, we’re not joking: he’s got three albums out there, and they’re all streaming, just waiting for you to give them a spin.
Although he’s obviously best known as an actor, Pesci started his career in the entertainment industry on the musical side of things, and he did so when he was still a kid. At age 10, he was a regular on a television variety show called Startime Kids, which also featured Connie Francis.
“I would do impersonations and sing,” he told New York Magazine in 1991. “I would do a bit about Frank Fontaine’s character. You know, ‘How are ya, kid?’ I did Jackie Gleason. I did a routine where I was Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis singing together. I did Nat King Cole and Johnnie Ray and Eddie Cantor. Jimmy Durante was one of my biggies.”
Upon entering his 20s, he spent some time as a touring guitarist with Joey Dee and the Starlighters, even appearing as an extra in Dee’s movie, Hey, Let’s Twist! He also famously had a hand in the formation of the Four Seasons, introducing his buddy Bob Gaudio to a couple of other pals of his, Tommy DeVito and Frankie Valli. But what he really wanted to do was sing, which is precisely what he did, releasing a hodgepodge of singles before finally issuing his debut album, Little Joe Sure Can Sing!, in 1968.
The album is filled with a unique mixture of tracks, with songs by the Bee Gees (“Holiday,” “To Love Somebody,” “And the Sun Will Shine”) and the Beatles (“Got to Get You Into My Life,” “The Fool on the Hill,” “Fixing a Hole”) sitting alongside jazzier numbers like a cover of Mel Torme’s “Born to Be Blue.”
“It was a real big deal,” he said of the album in 1997. “I was very happy and excited, thinking, you know, that something had finally paid off for me. But I had singles out before that, maybe about five or six, that were under different names and different styles of singing. And I finally settled on doing ... a jazz-blues album, that I wanted to do, the way I wanted to sing.”
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Regrettably, despite releasing his cover of “Holiday” as a single, neither it nor Little Joe Sure Can Sing! managed to crack the charts, although the album – which was long forgotten for decades – did belatedly find its way into the public consciousness as a result of Pesci finding fame through his acting.
Pesci’s path to cinematic superstardom involved a series of stepping stones: from Raging Bull to Easy Money to Once Upon a Time in America to Lethal Weapon 2 to Goodfellas to Home Alone to My Cousin Vinny. By the time of that last one, though, he was unquestionably a Hollywood icon, one who was eventually able to parlay that success into a record deal with Columbia and release a new album, one with a title that played off the name of his character: Vincent Laguardia Gambini Sings Just for You.
It's a weird album, to be sure, offering a mix of comedy and big band jazz, but arguably the most interesting song on the record is “Wise Guy,” which was co-written and produced by the hip-hop production duo the Trackmasters and effectively finds Pesci rapping over top of the music from Blondie’s “Rapture” and delivering the immortal couplet, “It’s the b*tches / That’ll getchas.”
Alas, even with Pesci’s success as an actor, Vincent Laguardia Gambini Sings Just for You didn’t find an audience...or more specifically, it didn’t find enough of an audience to inspire Columbia to pursue a second album with Pesci. Whether or not he would’ve even wanted to record another album at that point in his acting career remains unknown.
What is certain, however, is that Pesci’s love of music remained as strong as ever. In 2016, he appeared in the documentary Jimmy Scott: I Got Back Home, in which he can be seen recording a version of “The Folks Who Live on the Hill.” This version – a duet with Pesci and Scott – can be heard both on the soundtrack to the film as well as on Pesci’s own 2019 album, Pesci... Still Singing.
Make no mistake: this is a gorgeous piece of work, a track which provides moments where you may actually struggle to tell the difference between Pesci and Scott, who Pesci had long acknowledged as one of his greatest vocal influences, and it makes you wonder how things might've been different for Pesci's more recent music career if he'd been able to do an album's worth of material like this rather than, say, the semi-novelty material of his second album.
Fortunately, the aforementioned Pesci... Still Singing finds our man Joe clearly having decided at long last to wholly embrace the sort of material that had inspired him to become a singer in the first place. It's an extremely entertaining album from start to finish, featuring a second duet with Jimmy Scott ("The Nearness of You") as well as a duet with Adam Levine on a jazzy version of Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour."
To really get a feel for what the album's all about, though, the best track is doubtlessly "If I Should Lose You," where Pesci is channeling every bit of Jimmy Scott that he can muster, and damned if he doesn't do that man's sound justice. It's one of those performances where you might actually - if only momentarily - find yourself thinking that it's a shame that Pesci's career as an actor took off.
What is legitimately a shame, however, is that he wasn't given the opportunity to balance both an acting career and a career as a jazz vocalist, because while his skills as the latter may only be fully evident on his most recent LP, it's clear that he did indeed have the stuff to pull it off, if only he'd been given the chance.
Will we ever get another album from Pesci? It's not impossible. After all, he's 81, he's not dead. But even if he doesn't think he's got another LP in him, at least with Pesci... Still Singing, he's had a chance to lay down a truly great piece of work. And as far as the others go... Well, they're at least worth sampling, to be sure. But this most recent one? That's a must-hear.