The word 'cool' is, well, really cool. It's one of the few slang words that's been around for decades and still means the same thing. A cool person is laid back, unflappable, really knows what's happening. Cool is used in music a lot; it's the ultimate compliment, so it strikes me as a bit ironic that the coolest of cool singers was not considered hip, wasn't really with it, but as more and more people are acknowledging, Dean Martin was the epitome of cool.
Dean Martin had a carefully cultivated image as a womanizer, a man about town and an alcoholic, none of which was true. He did have three wives (not at the same time), but he was a dedicated family man. He was not a party animal and although he often had a drink in his hand during his shows, it was a prop. Reportedly none of the "Rat Pack" (Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra) ever drank alcohol on stage. Sinatra and Davis did like to go on all-night binges after their shows, but Martin was not interested in joining them.
There is even a story, which I can't substantiate but sounds good, of a large party in Dean Martin's home at the height of his fame. Part way through, guests noticed Dean hadn't been seen for a while. After searching all over they finally found him in his room, alone, watching TV.
The image, of course is larger than life. Dean Martin has become a cultural icon, evidenced by the large number of Dean Martin "tribute artists" who make a living impersonating him. He was a comedian (with Jerry Lewis), actor and a born showman as well as being a singer. He excelled at all of them but it is often overlooked that he wasn't just a showman who could sing, he was a great singer. In fact he was one of the best popular singers of the era. He had a wonderful, resonant baritone voice, he could hit low notes like nobody else but mostly, he had a way with a song that made it all sound soooo easy. Nobody could sing Italian love songs like Dino, though many tried.
According to on-line biographies, Martin began his career in 1937 under his real name, Dino Crocetti, singing with bands in and around his hometown of Steubenville, Ohio. He anglicized his name in 1940 and moved to New York City in 1943 to play the nightclubs. He did make a few singles in 1946 and 1947 for small labels, Diamond and Apollo but then teamed up with Jerry Lewis, became a major star and began recording for Capitol in 1948. He was always considered a mainstream artist so his records are not particularly collectable, they don't command a lot of money, which is a good reason to collect them.
Dean Martin released about sixty LPs over his long career, not all of them are great but many are. He recorded pop hits, jazz, movie soundtracks and he was the only member of the Rat Pack to record country & western. He even recorded a duet with Ricky Nelson (when both were still alive), his co-star in the movie Rio Bravo. A good Dean Martin collection can have a lot of musical variety, and you won't go broke building it.
His recorded output falls into roughly three categories, most common are his 1960s hits on the Reprise label, there's a few movie soundtracks but for my money, his best are the recordings he made for Capitol. He had the best bands, the best arrangers, great songs and of course, those wonderful, high-ceilinged Capitol recording studios where all the singers and musicians played together, instead of having the vocals over-dubbed from a sound booth as was the later practice.
Some can be hard to find. His first album, Dean Martin Sings, released as a 10-inch LP on Capitol in 1953, certainly is. But even his last, an album of country songs called the Nashville Sessions released on Warner Brothers in 1983 doesn't turn up every day.
Now if you're of the rock 'n' roll generation, you may have to put up with your friends' derision, as I have, of appreciating the music of someone who is called a crooner. The term is often derogatory, applied to someone who has a great voice but no edge, nothing to say. Phooey. Some so-called crooners put across a song like nobody's business, and that's the essence of great singing. The best crooners, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Eddy Arnold come to mind, were first class artists and deserve to be treated as such. Most of all, they provide a transcendent listening experience. To paraphrase the song, that ain't a kick in the head.