Released in 1998, Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just For You gave Joe Pesci fans the opportunity to listen to their favorite actor sing. Alas, the album was not well received and has since been largely forgotten. Thankfully, the powers that be saw fit to preserve “Wise Guy,” the Blondie-and-Mr.-Rogers sampling single, in a music video, which continues to pop up around the interwebs because frankly, who doesn’t want to watch Joe Pesci rap?
That campy masterpiece was enough to make me plop down $2.99 when I saw Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just For You (how can I shorten such a lovely title?) sitting in a used record store. Listening to the album as a whole, however, proved to be a different experience. Some of these songs are legitimately funny, like my favorite track, the big and brassy, “Take Your Love and Shove It.”
Like Pesci’s finest work in any medium, the song is a loud and elaborate “fuck you.” The snappy lyrics maintain this angry mentality, but Pesci’s cheery if critical asides to his backing band really make the song shine. Let me hear that tinkling piano! The pianist plays. That ain’t tinkling, that’s rolling! The pianist tries again. That’s fucking tinkling! Pesci exclaims. I knew you could do it! Yeah, Pesci’s being an asshole, but at least he’s a nice asshole! His breezy renditions of standards like “Old Man Time” and “Robbie Hood” feature the same loving heckling while existing as enjoyable romps in their own right.
Tracks like these elevate Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just For You beyond the typical Hollywood vanity project. Then again, the album itself isn’t a typical vanity project. Before gaining fame as an actor, Pesci had a career as a lounge act. In addition to his comedy routines with fellow Scorsese standby Frank Vincent, Pesci sang. He even released an album in the mid-1960s under the pseudonym “Joe Ritchie.”
Unfortunately, the rest of the album doesn’t prove to be as charming as these tracks. The opener, “Yo Cousin Vinny,” has the same indignation as “Take Your Love and Shove It,” minus the charming asides that keep the track from becoming too bitter. “Yo Cousin Vinny” is also the only track on the album to references My Cousin Vinny (discounting the Italian and Spanish language renditions of “Yo Cousin Vinny”). But aside from the lyrics mentioning a cousin named Vinny assisting his other cousins, there’s nothing connecting the track, let alone the album, to the film that supposedly inspired Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just For You.
Then there’s the aforementioned infamous “Wise Guy,” which Pesci plays so straight it’s hard to tell whether or not he’s in on the joke. Is the man pulling our collective leg with this rap routine, or does he actually believe it makes him a badass? Granted, that questionable obtuseness isn’t exactly atypical for the actor.
The rest of the album alternates between songs that showcase either Pesci’s anger towards the world (“I’ve Got News For You”) or his awkward sentimentality (“Twenty-One,” “What A Wonderful World”), but few songs combine these sentiments as well as “Take Your Love and Shove It” does.
Beneath his indignant bluster, Joe Pesci may very well be a sweetheart, but we love him for his anger. It’s fitting, then, that this album references arguably his most beloved role. Vincent LaGuardia Gambini was just as entertainingly angry as Goodfella’s Tommy DeVito,Casino’s Nicky Santoro, or even Home Alone’s Harry Lyme. But unlike those assholes, Vinny always tried to help others, even if his attitude got in the way. That mix of indignation and kindness serves Pesci well on the album’s best tracks. If he could have reconciled these two opposing sides of his personality, Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just For You could have been a masterpiece on par withMy Cousin Vinny. As it stands, the album ends up as more of “fuck you.”
Justin Geldzahler would appreciate Joe Pesci’s help in any situation, as he agrees that saying “fuck you” is often the best solution. But Justin is also a pussy, ergo the Pesci assist.