Mrs. Tom Hanks sounds just as luscious behind a studio microphone as she looks before a movie camera. She's best known as an actress (The Good Wife) and producer (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) — not to mention the wife of Tom Hanks — but Rita Wilson's childhood dream was always to lay down tracks as a singer. Wilson, 55, finally got to live out her songbird fantasy in May when she released her first CD, AM/FM. On it she reinterprets classic hits from the 1960s and 1970s, from "Come See About Me" (watch video above) to "Please Come to Boston."
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Wilson first heard these tunes, she recalls, on the radios of various family Plymouths, from the Batmobile-like Belvedere driven by her parents (Greek and Bulgarian immigrants) to the hatchback Barracuda in which she learned how to drive. Wilson recently explained to aarp.org why the AM/FM project is so close to her heart.
Q: How did you choose the songs you sing on AM/FM?
A: These were all iconic songs when I was growing up in Hollywood as a first-generation American. And they had to tell a story. I think of the music of the 1960s as innocent — it was fresh, and it was idealized — so that makes up the "AM" section. The "FM" section was inspired by the singer-songwriter era of the 1970s, when songs captured the singers' personal experience and love was much more about heartbreak. I was really trying to connect to the songwriters' point of view by retelling their stories in my own voice.
Q: There's something magical about listening to music on the radio.
A: Totally! The first car I bought was a 1971 Datsun 2000 roadster — a soft-top, no less! It was silver when I bought it, but I took it to Earl Scheib and had it painted cherry red for $99.95 — very cool. But my parents had a Plymouth Belvedere, which was a black convertible with those big fins. We called it the Batmobile, and it had a push-button radio. Back then, of course, you had no control over the radio dial in your parents' car: We'd be riding along and my mother would say in her Greek accent, "Zat song going to be hit!" I'd laugh and say, "Yeah, Mom, you know this music." But she was always right.
Q: What's "Wichita Lineman" doing on a CD sung by a California girl?
A: That was always an amazing movie playing in my head. I could see this lonely guy traveling miles across the Midwest plains, fantasizing about this woman he loved and hearing her voice in the telephone wires. I loved that! When ["Wichita Lineman" songwriter] Jimmy Webb came in [to the studio] and played piano on our version, I was honored — but it took all my acting skills to pretend I wasn't completely freaking out.
Q: Your husband, Tom Hanks, directed you in That Thing You Do, the 1996 cult classic about a "one-hit wonder" band in the 1960s. Has he ventured an opinion of AM/FM?
A: Tom and I have been married 24 years, and he's always known how important this is to me, so he's been both thrilled and supportive. He loves the music, and he has his favorite tracks.
Q: What are they?
A: You're not really going to make me tell you that, are you? No, I don't think I'm ready to divulge that!
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