Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Temptations

Imagine the ignominy of having a hit single, only to have another group usurp your name and run away with it.

So it was with The Temptations, a white doo-wop group who put exactly one record into the pop charts, only to have Motown foist the better known Temptations on the world a few years later.

Interesting, because the English Drifters had to become The Shadows (The US already had The Drifters), and decades later, the American group Bush had to call themselves BushX when members of the long-defunct Canadian group Bush obtained an injunction against another Bush in Canada.

But The Temptations, nobody made a fuss, and now any mention of The Temptations brings to mind My Girl, Papa Was A Rolling Stone, Psychedelic Shack, Ain’t Too Proud To Be, that kind of thing. Any reference to the other Temptations has to be qualified with “white group,” or “New York group” or “the group that did Barbara.”

I got their one and only hit from The Doo Wop Box.

The Temptations:

Barbara – This is a text book example of doo wop. I don’t know how authentic it sounded when it was a hit in the summer of 1960, but now it could serve as a stand in example of the genre, except for one thing – the lead singer has a Nashville accent. I had a classmate in grade 6 named Barbara. She was contemptuous of me at first, but we were friends by the end of the year. In grade 7 she was in an all girls’ class, and after that she left the school, and I never saw her again. “Barbara my love…

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Brenda Lee

Brenda LeeBurton Cummings dreamed of Brenda Lee; he sang about it on Dream Of A Child. That must be worth something.

She is country, primarily, but she had more pop hits than country hits, and she did it without compromising. For the record, she had a total of 50 records on the Hot 100 between 1957 and 1973, but most of those songs appeared between 1960 and 1965. Some of them even pop up now and then on oldies radio (which is all internet based now) and not just I’m Sorry.

My collection comes from The Brenda Lee Story Her Greatest Hits, and various random singles that I picked up at various random places at various random times.

Brenda Lee:

Comin’ On Strong – Plays on the dichotomy between weakness and strength – it’s heartache that’s coming on strong, and most of us would think of heartache as a kind of weakness. From the fall of 1966.
Break It To Me Gently – Maybe that’s the Burton Cummings connection – Break It To Her Gently was the lead off track on Dream Of A Child. And we all know that there’s no way to do it gently. A song of desperation. From the winter of 1962.
That’s All You Gotta Do – It’s all so simple in pop music isn’t it? Only a few needs here, and nothing about taking out the garbage, but that rock and roll saxophone is all I need. Brenda's supercharged vocal doesn’t hurt either. From the summer of 1960 and flip side of I’m Sorry.
I’m Sorry – Her best known song, it hit number 1 in the summer of 1960, and kicked her career into high gear. It’s not The Platters record. But she’s just as sorry, and I can’t imagine what she’s done – or, rather, I can, and it’s scary. And if I’m right, then the song just won’t do it.
It Started All Over Again – More heartache, more not moving on. The B side of Heart In Hand, from the summer of 1962.
Heart In Hand – I’m Sorry redux, from the summer of 1962.
Is It True – A song about trust, and lack thereof, the lyrics notwithstanding. She confronts the whole rumour thing with the force of a hurricane. The drums help. From the fall of 1964.
The Grass Is Greener – It always is, isn’t it. From the fall of 1963.
Ride Ride Ride – Spunky, from the winter of 1967.
Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – When rock and roll was still learning how to deal with the holiday season, Brenda came along and showed everybody how to do it. From December, 1960.
Jambalaya (On The Bayou) – Brenda’s take on this oft-recorded Hank Williams country standard was her first release. She was 12, and that was in 1956. No other song about food is quite that popular.
Emotions – Not the Samantha Sang song. From the winter of 1961.
Just Out Of Reach – A hit for Solomon Burke, and covered by Percy Sledge and a host of others.
Anybody But Me – The flip side of Fool #1, from the fall of 1961.
We Three (My Echo, My Shadow, And Me) – Kind of gimmicky this one, isn’t it. A hit years earlier for The Ink Spots.
Thanks A Lot – From the winter of 1965.
I Want To Be Wanted – Straight and to the point. – From the fall of 1960.
You Always Hurt The One You Love – A dubious prospect, and a hit for Clarence Henry.
Too Many Rivers – A broken relationship. They can’t always be fixed, can they. From the summer of 1965.
My Whole World Is Falling Down – “I’m losing my baby,” she sings. Trust me, it only seems like it now, your world will be fine. From the summer of 1963.
Fool #1 – A song about falling for the wrong guy. From the fall of 1961.
Johnny One Time – I have to admit, this is unintentionally hilarious. I mean really, Johnny One Time? It’s such a damn good record though, that you move past all that and into the realm of raw emotion. From the spring of 1969.
All Alone Am I – Another of her heartbreak ballads, this one from the autumn of 1962.
Sweet Nothin’s – Cute, with cheesy organ. From the spring of 1960, this actually hit before I’m Sorry.
As Usual – From the winter of 1964.
Dum Dum – They’re just singing words, not some kind of insult. From the summer of 1961.
You Can Depend On Me – I’ll always be there for you. The Spinners did something similar on I’ll Be Around, and Chicago did it with Call On Me. From the spring of 1961.
Losing You – From the spring of 1963.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Dante & The Evergreens

Dante & The Evergreens Wikipedia, more unhelpful than usual, suggests that the Dante of Dante & The Evergreens (real name Donald Drowty) went on post-group to a successful award-winning songwriting career, but it fails to enlighten us further. What songs did he write? He doesn’t even have his own write-up. Google isn’t even helping me on this. So I can’t help you.

The group lost out in the Alley-Oop sweepstakes to The Hollywood Argyles, and besides Alley-Oop, they had one more hit on the top 100 called Time Machine, presumably not the Grand Funk song.

Dante & The Evergreens:

Alley Oop – Hero worship of the strangest kind. Alley-Oop was the name of a newspaper comic strip, before my time thank you very much, about a cave man. I’m not sure why Alley-oop got the honour, as opposed to, say, Mr. Abernathy or Scamp or Mary Worth. Maybe it was the monster killing thing. This is normally what one would call a novelty record, and while it’s usually the competing version by The Hollywood Argyles that ended up on the loony-tune albums, this record ends up in the same stylistic place. It was The Argyles who hit number one with this, the Evergreens’ version stalled at number 15, if you can call reaching number 15 on national top 100 “stalling.” From the summer of 1960.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

June, 1960

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald This is an abridged version of a box set called The First Lady Of Song. I did the abridging, and I still have 180 minutes of Ella.

Ella had a quite a few pop hits prior to 1955, and more after on the adult contemporary and R & B charts than on the hot 100, where she only had 4 records, two of which are on this collection.

If you know Ella Fitzgerald, there’s not much I can tell you. If you don’t know Ella Fitzgerald, then ditto.

Ella Fitzgerald:

Perdido – Ella? Ella? You there Ella? Quite a bit of the song goes by before she makes her (unquestionably regal) entrance. Quite the showpiece, recorded live.
Too Darn Hot – How the climate interferes with romance. Possibly the only song ever written that refers to the Kinsey Report.
Miss Otis Regrets – A tale of high society, heartbreak, violence, mob murder, and tea.
April In Paris – A jazz standard, and a hit for Count Basie in 1956.
Undecided – Also done by The Ames Brothers.
Can’t We Be Friends? – With Louis Armstrong. A song about romantic exasperation.
Bewitched, Bothered, And Bewildered – Love and unmitigated lust. I like the Doris Day version, but Ella’s is earthy where Doris is dainty.
Just A-Sittin’ And A-Rockin – Rocking in the old rocking chair…
I’m Just A Lucky So And So – Also done by Chuck Berry and Mose Allison.
A-Tisket A-Tasket – A remake of one of her signature songs.
Air Mail Special – A scat special.
I Won’t Dance
Summertime – The Gershwin classic, with Louis Armstrong.
Oh Lady Be Good
More Than You Know
Lush Life – Social disease…
Blue Skies – Great stuff by Irving Berlin. My favourite recording of this is by Dinah Washington.
Swingin’ Shepherd Blues – The Moe Koffman hit with words.
These Foolish Things – by Joni James originally. Also done by Etta James and by Bryan Ferry.
Travelin’ Light – Not the Cliff Richard song.
You’re An Old Smoothie
Makin’ Whoopee – The Tin Pan Alley standard.
How Long Has This Been Going On – Quite a while apparently…
Mack The Knife – Her biggest pop hit, from the spring of 1960. I don’t care for the way she does this, and I wonder why they put this out as a single.
How High The Moon – A big hit for Les Paul & Mary Ford, and a less big hit for Ella in the fall of 1960.
Black Coffee – Done well by Peggy Lee before her, and by The Pointer Sisters after. Ella’s version is suitably smoky.
Let It Snow Let It Snow Let It Snow – Cheerful, cheerful, cheerful. Also done my Vaughn Monroe, and a million others.
Get Happy – Judy Garland did this.
Heart And Soul – So many did this; a pop hit for The Cleftones and for Jan & Dean.
(If You Can’t Sing It) You’ll Have To Swing It
A Night In Tunisia – Jazz standard. Check out Dizzy Gillespie.
I Can’t Get Started – The frustration of everthing-works-for-me-but-this.
Don’t Be That Way
After You’ve Gone
Hernando’s Hideaway – Ella’s rendition of this brings out all the underworld seediness.
A Fine Romance - Also done by The Ames Brothers, a wonderful song of frustration.
Deed I Do
Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya
Can’t Buy Me Love – Ella takes on The Beatles, in her own inimitable style.
Day In, Day Out
Here’s That Rainy Day
(I’ve Got) Something To Live For
You’ve Changed – Good enough, but Billie Holiday’s version was heartbreaking.
Jazzy Samba – I prefer the instrumental.
It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing – Indeed it doesn’t..

Monday, December 20, 2010


I found both albums, Liberace’s Greatest Hits, and The Best Of Liberace, at Pyramid Records at around the same time, and I couldn’t decide which one to keep, so I kept both, and here they are. The only song that both collections had in common was I’ll Be Seeing You, and one was vocal and one instrumental, so not even that counts.

This is a gargantuan collection by one of music’s oddest performers, way too much Liberace considering that for all the greatest hits and best of of the titles, the only record of his that was anything like a hit any time from 1995 on was Unchained Melody, which reached number 20 on the UK charts in the summer of 1955, and which isn’t included on either LP.

It’s easy enough to say that Liberace is an MOR version of Little Richard; he was certainly flamboyant enough. But the resemblance is superficial; There was no way Liberace could express that kind of character in the type of music he did; Richard’s persona went right through the recordings. Adult contemporary just isn’t a medium for expressing extremeness.

And no, his first name was not Harold.


I’m Always Chasing Rainbows
Warsaw Concerto
Johnson Rag
Tchaikovksy’s Piano Concerto No. 1 – He does the intro.
I’ll Be Seeing You – A relatively rare vocal, and the truth is that he couldn’t sing all that well.
Beer Barrel Polka
“Moonlight” Sonata – Beethoven.
El Cumbanchero
Cement Mixer – Humour, of the lame variety.
Moon River – Mancini.
Mack The Knife – Weill and Brecht.
Over The Rainbow – From The Wizard Of Oz.
Theme From A Summer Place – A hit for Percy Faith.
Near You – A hit for Roger Williams.
Schubert’s Serenade – Shubert.
September Song
Never On Sunday – From the movie.
Love Letters – A hit for Ketty Lester, and later for Elvis.
Love Is A Many Splendored Thing – A hit by The Four Aces.
Tammy – A hit for Debby Reynolds, and for The Ames Brothers.
More (Theme From Mondo Cane) – A hit for Kai Winding.
Fascination - A hit for Jane Morgan
Little Things Mean A Lot – A hit for Joni James.
Gigi – A hit for Vic Dana.
Third Man Theme – From the movie.
I’ll Be Seeing You – Instrumental.
Me And My Shadow – Vocal.
As Time Goes By – From Casablanca.
Charade – Mancini.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

John Coltrane

John ColtraneCassettes were always a bit flaky, even in the predigital age. They were subject to hiss, which was largely, but not entirely, eradicated by the Dolby B noise reduction system, they were subject to (get this) wow and flutter, a term to measure (often not so) miniscule speed variations (as you can guess, wow was when it slowed down, flutter when it sped up), and the mechanism could deteriorate – the tape could tear or get caught in the spindle of the tape deck, the little spongy thing that held the tape in place would come lose, and, if used with equipment that was not maintained properly, the tape would get magnetized and the sound would deteriorate.

But tapes had one big advantage over LPs – you could make your own. And so was born the “mix tape.” I loved doing mix tapes (duh). I still do them, but I admit, even I do it digitally now.

But as I say, when they went bad they really went bad, and so it was that the collection by John Coltrane that I borrowed from the West Kildonan Library was bad – really bad. The sound was thin, like it had been recorded from another room – another building perhaps – and on one side only one channel worked.

But being the compulsive headcase that I am, that didn’t stop me from preserving it, and making it a part of my John Coltrane collection. I still have the copy of course, and it still sounds terrible, but at least I’ve supplemented it with a copy of The Essential John Coltrane, and I may even have a copy of the A Love Supreme album somewhere in its entirety. The other part of this collection is simply The Best Of John Coltrane, which features some of his pre – Love Supreme stuff.

John Coltrane:

Traneing In – A live version
A Love Supreme – His classic. This is a live version.

  1. Acknowlegement
  2. Resolution
  3. Persuance
  4. Psalm

My Favourite Things – Proof positive that even the dippiest song can be transformed into the coolest music in the world.
Giant Steps
Cousin Mary – Not the Fludd song.
Central Park West

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Charlie Rich

Charlie Rich
The wonderful thing about being a kid is the absence of preconceived notions – no prejudices. Growing up with my ear glued to top 40 radio I liked everything I heard just by virtue of it being on the radio.

That was until my adolescence. But then the “cool factor” came in. Hendrix was cool. Clapton was cool Three Dog Night were cool, and so was Grand Funk, Deep Purple, James Taylor, Cat Stevens. It wasn’t cool to like, say, The Carpenters or Paul Anka or The Stylistics or The Spinners or Glen Campbell.

Or Charlie Rich.

Rich hit the top 40 big time in the summer of 1973 with Behind Closed Doors, and I could have done without him. To me it was syrupy wannabe balladry, and it spoke to nothing in my adolescent mentality, except mediocrity.

Oh, but we grow up. And as an adult I make no apologies for my tastes, cool or not, and so it appears that in some ways I’m revisiting my childhood.

And Charlie Rich? Well, I’m still not his biggest fan in the world. But I can appreciate the nuances, listen with an open mind and open ears. And I am totally used to people looking at me incredulously and saying, what ARE you listening to…

His later stuff comes from Greatest Hits, but his early stuff comes from a two record set which was called, I kid you not, Two Record Set. That’s what it said on the label. It was one of those TV advertised types of LPs. You know the kind. Life’s Little Ups And Downs Came from somewhere else entirely.

Charlie Rich:

Mohair Sam – Our local Dick Clark was Bob Burns, and our local American Bandstand was Bob And The Hits, Teen Dance Party on weekdays. I watched it, or course I did, and that where I remember hearing this song. And I remember that when the band went silent at “fast talking good looking – thump – slow walking – thump –“ the dancers kept dancing to no music, and it seemed odd to me. It seems odd to me now, 35 years later – no respect for the integrity of the music. And the song? It turns country music on its head. I did not make the connection, I should tell you, when I heard Charlie Rich in the 70s, with this song. It was only when I picked up the aforesaid Two Record Set that I learned who did this. From the fall of 1965.
Everything I Do Is Wrong – A self-pity song, jubilantly done.
It Ain’t Gonna Be That Way – This is not working, so turn and walk away, with chorus.
Down And Out – Maybe, but it doesn’t sound like it.
Lonely Weekends – Rich’s first hit, from the spring of 1960, is a lively kick ass uptempo angry song about heartbreak. Recorded for Sam Phillips’ Sun label.
A Field Of Yellow Dasies
I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water – Another rendition of this song that was a hit eventually for Johnny Rivers. The tale of a poor sod who just can’t get straight.
Just A Little Bit Of You – Reminds me of She’s About A Mover.
I Can’t Go On – A come-back-to-me song. All about me, me, me…
I Need Your Love
My Baby’s Done Left Me – Another jaunty heartbreak song, a great example of blues inflected country-rockabilly.
That’s How Much I Love You – Charlie does Tin Pan Alley.
Unchained Melody – The arrangement is muted and the performance is understated. I’m not convinced that Charlie is the right guy to sing this, but it’s a darn sight better than Elvis.
The Wedding’s Over – Piano triplets underlie this tale of lost love.
I’ve Lost My Heart To You – A touching ballad about a misguided romance.
It’s Too Late – The Chuck Willis song. So many covers of this, and I was just listening to Derek & The Dominoes. Charlie has the whole string and chorus thing going on.
My Heart Cries For You – Charlie at his soulful best.
Apple Blossom Time – The chorus on this is female, or mixed perhaps. Another muted performance. I like Wayne Newton.
Life Has Its Little Ups And Downs – A lot hanging on a raise, though in my experience, a raise doesn’t make a huge difference to your bottom line. I made a point of picking up this song after seeing it in Dave Marsh’s The Heart Of Rock And Soul. And yeah, it was worth seeking out. An unusual song about, well, life’s ups and downs, and how a good relationship weathers them.
The Most Beautiful Girl – Musically this is country mush, but I like the idea – it’s a song of lost love, and his designation of her as the beautiful girl is genuine, and it’s just how he should feel. The song reached number 1 in late 1973.
A Very Special Love Song – The whole idea of expressing your love in music, - how interesting, and he nails it here. The follow-up to The Most Beautiful Girl, from the spring of 1974.
Since I Fell For You – An old song, done by The Harptones and a hit for Lenny Welch, updated for the 70s. From the winter of 1976.
My Elusive Dreams – Another country chestnut, originally a hit for David Houston & Tammy Wynette, and there’s a version by Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood. From the winter of 1975.
Every Time You Touch Me (I Get High) – If this were the only Charlie Rich song you heard you’d never guess that he was country. And the song? He could be singing about a new romance or a long-standing marriage. From the summer of 1975.
Behind Closed Doors – “No one knows…” … well I can guess. Still, I like the idea of singing about privacy, about boundaries, about, dare I say it? what’s sacred. From the summer of 1973, the song that made him a superstar.
All Over Me – “I’ve still got you,” he sings, “all over me.” Good that he’s not female. But I do think he should try to get over her.
I Love My Friend – A song about an ambiguous relationship, or perhaps an ambiguous song about an unambiguous relationship. From the fall of 1974.
America, The Beautiful (1976) – Short and sweet, Charlie’s tribute to the bicentennial.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

May, 1960

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Junior Mance

Not to be confused with Junior Walker (soul) or Junior Wells (blues), Junior Mance is jazz. He plays piano. You may never have heard of him, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t exist. He exists. He just turned 82.

Junior Mance:

Lilacs In The Rain – A wistful ballad. I picked it up on a random collection of tracks by jazz pianists.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Life In Three Songs

I read The World In Six Songs by Daniel Levitin and I didn’t think much of it. That’s partly due to the fact that I’m not much interested in the working of the human brain, or any human physiology; call me perverse. And his overall analysis left me unconvinced and underwhelmed. (I didn’t think much of his first book either.)

But if nothing else it inspired the title to this post, which is a slight diversion to talk about 3 songs that I have put into heavy rotation at my desk here. The easiest way for me to get to then is though YouTube so that’s how I’ve been listening to them, and all are new discoveries to me, though 2 have been in my collection for a while, in the case of Kristofferson, over 15 years. Anyone with a big collection will know exactly how that works…

Kris Kristofferson: When I Loved Her – This is from The Silver Tongued Devil And I, one of the two really superb albums he did at the beginning of his career (the other was his first, originally untitled, then reissued as Me And Bobby McGee, LP). The song for me is a combination of reality, fantasy, wishful thinking, narcissistic idealization of romance and out and out daydreaming. Lines to keep:

… and it felt like coming home
When I found her…

Loudon Wainwright III: Your Mother And I – Having lived through it, I can tell you that the hardest part of ending a marriage is telling the kids, and there haven’t been all that many songs written about that. Lightfoot’s If Children Had Wings is one of the prettiest and most poignant, but it’s more about the parent than the child. Tammy Wynette’s D-I-V-O-R-C-E is wonderful Nashville schlock, larger than life, melodramatic, and totally bogus, and Cher’s You Better Sit Down Kids, written by Sonny and rerecorded in the 70 by Sonny & Cher as a duo with only Sonny singing (you figure it out), one that’s played in my head quite a bit over that last few years, well it’s straightforward, but, it’s prose to Wainwright’s poetry. Your Mother And I bores right into the heart of the matter, is emotionally honest but not emotive, and tells the truth. Thanks to my friend and colleague DD who clued me into Wainwright through his Christmas song.
The Kinks: Better Things – Pure sunshine, no saccharine. I wonder if anyone but Ray Davies could pull something like this off. I’ve been spreading this around, and I’m spreading it more right here. This is for all my readers, and anyone else who could use it...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Billy Bland

“Bland” is probably not the best surname to have if you’re an entertainer, and yet there were two Blands who were, more or less, pop stars. Bobby Bland was the heavyweight, and he has his own post.

Billy was the lesser light, having had only one real hit record, plus 3 additional top 100 singles that didn’t make it higher than 90.

The collection that I have doesn’t have any of those 3 obscure songs, and I have no way of knowing what kind of collection this is, whether it’s really a “collection” at all or just an abridged version of some LP he may have released, or what. I found it on a series that’s somewhat difficult to describe – an Italian language numbered series, some featuring one artist, some featuring several. And because I don’t read Italian, I could not read the liner notes. So I am probably less informed than I could be about this.

Billy Bland:

Sweet Thing – Not the Van Morrison song. No kidding. Nursery rhyme lyrics with high pitched girls singing along, slightly reminiscent of Chubby Checker, who barely existed yet.
I Spent My Whole Life Loving You – Revenge is sweet. He sounds like Dee Clark on this one (and some others, now that I think of it). And who plays that organ?
Busy Little Boy – “…trying not to lose my mind….”
Steady Kind – Finally, going with the happy angle…
Cross My Heart – Morbid. Why would you hope to die? Bobby Vee did something similar, and Phil Ochs sang “cross my heart and hope to live…”
Mama Killed The Chicken – A tale of Mama gone bad. Sounds like Hully Gully. “You’re a little bitty chicken, but you gotta die…” Honest.
Let The Little Girl Dance – Our hero is about to relieve the little girl of her never-having-danced status. It’s all vertical. This loss-of-innocence tale was Bobby’s only real hit, in the spring of 1960.
You Took My Love For Granted – Always a problem..

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Henry Mancini

Henry Mancini I have a Pink Panther tie. I don’t remember, now, where I bought it. Comic ties were big around 15 years ago, more. The first one I remember seeing was a Mickey Mouse tie worn around the neck of a rather dysfunctional colleague whom I shall refer to as Martin Block. He had bought the tie at Harry Rosen and he paid about $65 for it.

I liked it, the tie, the idea of wearing Mickey Mouse in the context of what was otherwise highly professional dress and environment. But $65 would normally buy me about 6 ties, tax included.

But the prices came down, and the availability spread, and so I got the Pink Panther, and Peanuts, and Spiderman. That’s the coolest, Spiderman. I also got Batman, but it was a kid’s tie, too small for me, thought I struggled with it for quite a while before I retired it once and for all.

I still have it, the tie. And every time I put it on, and I still wear it now and then, I have to hum to song. I have no choice. Any reference to the Pink Panther, and it could be the cartoon, or it could be Peter Sellers, demands that the music be hummed.

The Pink Panther would not be the Pink Panther if not for the accompanying music. And we have Henry Mancini to thank for that. Mancini, king of the 60s soundtrack, had the amazing gift of capturing the feeling of a movie (sometimes a TV show) musically. He discovered what spy music sounded like, the music a worn-out married couple conjured up when they took a road trip across the country, he knew what a river sounded like, when the river represented restlessness and longing and ill-fated romance.

Facts: Wikipedia lists 34 soundtracks (or “Music from’s”), 37 non-soundtrack LPs, and 35 singles by Mancini. 14 of his singles made the Billboard Hot 100, the first in 1960, the last in 1977 (Theme From Charlie’s Angels). My collection comes from Pure Gold, This Is Henry Mancini, and The Best Of Henry Mancini, vol. 2.

And his name wasn't really Martin Block.

Henry Mancini:

Mr. Lucky – This is exactly what a certain aspect of the 60s sounded like – foxtrot rhythm, strings, and cheesy organ. But only Hank could do it like this. His first hit, from the spring of 1960 (and the movie).
Moon River – His signature tune, and the signature tune of the entire genre of “adult contemporary.” Johnny Mercer wrote the words which aren’t always necessary to convey the message of insatiable longing that this song represents. There are more versions of this than you can shake a stick at; everybody who does MOR had a crack at it. It was most closely identified with Andy Williams, who did it every week on his TV show, though it was not a hit for him. Danny Williams (no relation) put it on the UK chart, and Jerry Butler was the only other artist who put it on the US chart. From Breakfast At Tiffany’s, in the fall of ’61.
Baby Elephant Walk – I suppose that if a baby elephant were to make music while walking it would sound like this. Mancini at his playful best.
Experiment In Terror
Days Of Wine And Roses – Another song of fake nostalgia. That doesn’t, however, detract from the beauty of the melody, though the chorus doesn’t work all that well. A hit in the winter of 1963, and covered immediately by Andy Williams.
Charade – Life as a game of pretend. Weird percussion on this unsweetens the melody to good effect. From the winter of 1964.
The Pink Panther Theme – And here we are. Forget Moon River. Nothing says “Mancini” like this one. The poster boy for “slinky.” From the spring of 1964. • The Sweetheart Tree – Ok, the words are corny, and, as usual, the chorus idea leaves something to be desired, but that melody – oh my goodness. And is Hank playing that fairy dust piano?
Theme From “The Great Imposter” – From the spring of 1961. Not The Fleetwoods hit.
A Shot In The Dark – From another Peter Sellers movie. Peter Gunn redux from the summer of 1964.
Love Theme From Romeo And Juliet – I have trouble hearing this in the movie soundtrack, though admittedly it wasn’t performed by Hank. His biggest hit, his only to reach #1, in fact his only in the top 10. Irony: He didn’t write this one. And sure it’s syrupy, but you’d have to have a heart of stone to resist.
Two For The Road – This was a touching movie, a difficult theme. Read the lyrics on paper and they’d sound happy – but the tone of this is melancholy, which is appropriate. The solo violin reinforces the effect. The theme was a hit on the AC chart in 1967, but not on the Hot 100.
Theme From “Z” – Greek sounding, bouzouki and all.
Theme From Love Story – Romeo And Juliet redux. The movie was pure saccharine. From the winter of 1971.
Peter Gunn – Where it started. Set the standard for detective shows. It was a hit for Ray Anthony, and later for Duane Eddy, and it was covered by everyone from Jimi Hendrix to ELP, but it started with Hank.
Alright Okay You Win – Great dialog between the flute and the muted trombone. Peggy Lee did this one.
Soldier In The Rain
The Brothers Go To Mothers – From Peter Gunn. This is great 5 o’clock jazz.
Breakfast At Tiffany’s – The theme from the movie that gave us Moon River.
A Cool Shade Of Blue
Dear Heart – Another example of why intimate love songs ought not to be delivered by massed voices. From the winter of 1964 / 1965, the same time that Andy Williams was riding the charts with it.
It Had Better Be Tonight – From The Pink Panther. Sometimes there’s a moment, miss it and it’s your loss. Still, I prefer the instrumental version.
How Soon – About the transience of love
Midnight Cowboy – From the movie, the soundtrack of which Hank did not to; that was John Barry. The hit was had by Ferrante & Teicher. Henry Mancini
Moment To Moment
My Friend Andame
Dreamsville – Another cut from Peter Gunn
March Of The Cue Balls
Softly, As I Leave You – Always a nice song. My favourite is the hit version by Matt Monro, though Doris Day doesn't do a bad job either.
Lightly Latin
Hatari! – Hank goes to the jungle. From the summer of 1962.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Brothers Four

The Brothers Four
Greatest Hits by The Brothers Four was released in 1962 and it’s still available. Well, ok, many releases from 1962 (or any other such year) are still available. But there’s something different about a greatest hits collection. In most cases, particularly with artists whose careers kept going, old collections become obsolete, and they are superseded by newer, more complete, ones.

Some of these collections, though, take on a life of their own. One thinks of Ten Years Together by Peter, Paul & Mary, The Best Of The Kingston Trio, even Bobby Vee’s Golden Greats. I haven’t found a pattern; it may just be some kind of marketing intertia; it may be the popularity of certain albums that kept them in the second hand shops long into the CD era, it may be, at least in some cases, lack of a reasonable alternative, it may all of the above.

So it is with The Brothers Four. The Greatest Hits album. Released in 1962, it misses Hootenanny Saturday Night, a hit of sorts in 1963, and Try To Remember, from 1965. But it persists.

Besides the two that aren’t on the album, one of which I procured from a K-Tel style album of folk hits, the group had 5 top 100 singles, all in the first 3 years of the decade. Their style took its cue very much from The Kingston Trio, with an emphasis on making themselves sound as pretty as possible, and I think it’s difficult to be emotionally sincere in four-part harmony. That they don’t always succeed should not detract from the admirability of the effort.

The Brothers Four:

Greenfields – The juxtaposition of romance and environmental consciousness. The starkness of the arrangement and the mournful tone exceed even the saddest heartbreak. Prozac anyone? Their moment in the sun, this song reached number 2 in the spring of 1960.
Yellow Bird – The Mills Brothers hit from 1959.
Frogg No. 1 – This is a children’s song, which the groups attempts to salvage with “funny” asides. “You ain’t a frog, you’re a horny toad,” sings Molly Mouse. Indeed. From the spring of 1961.
I Am A Roving Gambler – Typical blues / folk fare. The harmony on “cards” is heartrending.
Theme From “La Fayette” – It’s anyone’s guess what “La Fayette” is. The song is a kind of lullaby.
Too Many Miles – A song about distance, and coping with separation.
Blue Water Line – A rallying song about preservation of historically significant property. Given the newspaper articles that continue to appear on similar subjects, even now, the song remains timely, if not particularly engaging.
Dark Tomorrow – This song about the hard life has a bit of a spiritual sound to it.
Green Leaves Of Summer – There are better versions of this song of the transience of youth. From the winter (figures) of 1960 / 61.
Eddystone Light – A bizarre tale of a lighthouse keeper who married a mermaid, told by the son, one of whose brothers got eaten…
My Tani – Song to an island girl. Which island? Not Montreal. From the summer of 1960.
Nine Pound Hammer – This Merle Travis song closes the collection, and picks up where Tennessee Ernie Ford left off. Check out John Prine on Common Sense.
Try To Remember – Just as they were becoming obsolete (though they are still around) the brothers snuck one last song into the top 100. Their take on this 60s perennial is surprisingly moving. My favourite, though, is Belafonte. From the fall of 1965.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

April, 1960

Friday, November 26, 2010

Buster Brown

I like the idea that Buster Brown’s real name was Buster Brown. Whoever wrote the Wikipedia article speculated that it was so. People seem to be able to find these things out; I wonder why the information for Mr. Brown is not available.

Buster is an interesting first name. Edith Anne (Lily Tomlin’s character) had a dog named Buster.

In any case, the Buster Brown that we are concerned with was neither a pair of shoes nor a comic character. Whoever he was, he managed to put 3 records into the Billboard Hot 100, two in 1960 and one in 1962.

Buster Brown:

Fannie Mae – This song cuts a groove that’s 10 miles deep. “Won’t somebody,” asks our hero, “tell me what’s wrong with me.” Nothing’s wrong with you pal, just keep rocking. The first time I heard this it was by Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, a group of Bruce Springsteen wannabes. From the winter of 1960.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Barrett Strong

Barrett Strong The first LP I ever got was The Beatles’ Second Album. One of the tracks was Money (That’s What I Want). I was 7 years old, and I thought that was pretty wild, nestled among all those love songs was a song of what seemed to unmitigated greed, a plain-spoken paean to materialism-on-steroids.

It is 46 years later, and the song amazes me no less. That the original was the kickoff record of what became the Motown empire makes it all the more astounding. The singer and co-writer was Barrett Strong, who, just as amazingly, never had another hit.

After Money, Strong retreated to a strong (sorry) song-writing career; he co-wrote dozens of Motown hits, including I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Papa Was A Rolling Stone, War, etc. But the fact that he put the first top 40 record for the company and was heard no more is as indicative of the unusual nature of the company as anything else I can think of.

Barrett Strong

Money (That’s What I Want) – Perhaps this was Berry Gordy’s theme song. It certainly was an auspicious beginning for the Motown empire, though the record itself appeared on the Anna label. (Most Motown records didn’t appear on Motown anyway; Marvin Gaye was on Tamla, Jr. Walker was on Soul, Rare Earth were on Rare Earth.) This song about what the music industry was really all about was recorded by more bands than you can shake a stick at: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Kingsmen, The Flying Lizards, to name (as cliché-ridden writers like to tell us) a few. I guess the temptation to set aside the pretense and sing about what was really close to their hearts was too hard to resist for so many budding millionaires. The song, I needn’t tell you, kicks ass, and Strong’s recording is as good as any, Lennon’s rip-the-heart-out delivery included. From the spring of 1960.

Monday, November 22, 2010

March, 1960

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Little Dippers

The Little Dippers
My parents were never big into music, although they did give all of us music lessons – piano for the girls, guitar for me. It was very rare that either of them – and by “either” I mean my father, I don’t remember my mother doing it ever – would sit down and listen to music.

They had a record collection that was fairly small. I remember some of what they had: John Charles Thomas, Caruso, Mario Lanza, The Fiddler On The Roof original caste recording with Zero Mostel, The Sound Of Music soundtrack, Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony, Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov, Gershwin doing Rhapsody in Blue and Concerto in F. I think they had 90% of that collection by the time I was born; it was a rare day when they would add anything.

I do remember, though, my father coming home, perhaps from a trip across the border, perhaps from a trip downtown, with an album by The Anita Kerr Singers. I’d never heard of them. It was an LP of vocal chorus performances of pop hits of the day, early 70s stuff; I only remember Blood Sweat & Tears. What do you think, he said, after playing a few tracks. Not as good as the original versions, I proclaimed, ever the critic. What do you expect, he said, it was only 99 cents? To him, the quality / cost ratio factor was obvious.

Having picked up, in my time, brand new copies of albums like Open Road by Donovan, Coming Of Age by The Five Man Electrical Band, Fragile by Yes, With A Little Help From My Friends by Joe Cocker, each for under $2.00, that aspect of critical analysis has not held up. And of course, the criteria for critiquing some particular song or LP (ok, CD) would vary from listener to listener, depending on what one paid for the merchandise. And don’t forget, professional critics pay nothing for their copies.

What does this have to do with The Little Dippers? They were The Anita Kerr Singers, that’s what. Kerr was incredibly active in the music world, and if you want details you can google her as well as I can, but her group of singers only ever had one hit, and that was as The Little Dippers. No idea why the name…

The Little Dippers:

Forever – Not the Marvelettes hit, which was also magnificently performed by Marvin Gaye. This Forever was a hit a few years later, in a steel guitar instrumental version, by Pete Drake. It’s country flavoured, a simple love song, fairly generic, and this recording works as background music, perhaps in an elevator, but I wouldn’t elevate it to dance room status. From the spring of 1960.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ron Holden

Ron Holden
I’m wondering how long I can continue to use cassette tapes. I have no choice really, I can’t possibly replace all this stuff with MP3 equivalents because my best guess is that 70% of it isn’t available. I don’t have the money to buy what is available, and if I start now and continue for the rest of my life, I won’t have time to convert the stuff manually, however efficient the software.

There was a column not long ago in the Gazette by someone who told of his inability to throw anything out, and among useless artifacts in his collection was a Sony Walkman. And the book I’m reading now, called Where Were You When … The Music Played? Features a picture on page 131 (year 1979) of the original Walkman, clunky looking thing, and asserts that it has been “superseded by the diginal iPod and MP3 player.” Indeed it has, I suppose, but I still have a Walkman (3 actually, one of which I have yet to open) and I still use it. And it’s getting so I feel ridiculous every time I have to switch tapes. But what can I do? People on the bus, they stare at me, or, actually not, they look away in embarrassment.

Ron Holden is on tape number 175.

Ron Holden

Love You So – A generic love song but decent early 60s soul. Very early 60s – the summer of 1960. This was Holden’s only hit, credited, according to Whitburn, to Ron Holden with the Thunderbirds.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ray Smith

Ray Smith does not have an entry in Wikipedia, and his name is so generic that he’s tough to Google. So I can’t tell you anything about him, apart from the fact that he had 2 top 100 records in 1960, of which I have one, and his sound his late rockabilly.

Ray Smith:

Rockin’ Little Angel – The angel of whom he sings is apparently an actual spiritual being, so perhaps this is a religious song. Hehe. I suppose one could even think of this as a sequel to the Mark Dinning song. What I don’t quite get, though, is how the angel up in the sky could be teasing him. I don’t suppose I’ll ever find out. This was from the winter of 1960.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dorsey Burnette

Dorsey BurnetteI happen to own every top 40 recording that Dorsey Burnette did, which is one song, and there are two others that made the hot 100 but not the top 40, and I don’t have those.

This for me was a rare instance of barter. Some dude had a conflict with the appraisers that he hired for an insurance claim. I didn’t do much for him, gave him some advice, spent some time with him, and he paid me in kind, singles to be specific.

One of them was Tall Oak Tree by Dorsey Burnette. I don’t remember the man’s name, but I remember the story. His insurance appraisers, by the way, were another source of records for me, and me, being the duplicitous type, heard the story from them also, and got something out of it from them too. (It’s described in Somethin’ Smith & The Redheads).
Dorsey, by the way, was Johnny’s brother, and he didn’t die as young, but he didn’t leave as much of an impression either.

Dorsey Burnette:

(There Was A) Tall Oak Tree – He starts by discussing creation and sin, and segues into an discourse about the environment. All this in just over 2 minutes. From the winter of 1960.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Monty Kelly

“Easy Listening” is pretty much a category that’s disappeared into the mists of time. Well wait, that’s not entirely true. We have Michael Bublé, but he’s a singer. The vocal variety is still around, getting a kind of weird revival every so often, but the instrumental kind, if it’s still there, I’m not aware of it.

It’s the kind of music our parents listened to, Mantovani, Lawrence Welk, Ray Conniff, Percy Faith, Hugo Winterhalter, Paul Mauriat, all of whom had top 40 singles. We called it elevator music, because it so resembled the Muzak that was played in elevators, office buildings, department stores.

One of the most ubiquitous of easy listening ensembles was 101 Strings, and we will get to them specifically later, but they had dozens of LPs over a few decades. One of their arrangers was Monty Kelly. Before his involvement with said orchestra, though, he made recordings under his own name. Only one ever made the charts.

Monty Kelly:

Summer Set – This bears a more than passing resemblance to some of what Billy Vaughn was up to in his prime. The title evokes images of women in straw hats, wearing cotton skirts and sitting at tables on terraces, sipping cocktails, with the ocean in the background, and the men in light suits, slightly Latin looking, and… ok never mind. This is from the spring of 1960, his only hit.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

February, 1960

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jimmy Jones

Jimmy JonesHow can anyone remember a guy with a name like Jimmy Jones? Maybe that’s why his chart career only lasted about a year, and only 2 of his 4 top 10 records reached higher than number 83, (top 10).

Jimmy Jones:

Handy Man – A kind of romantic Mr. Fix-It. One can only imagine. This was quite popular. From the winter of 1960. James Taylor covered it.
Good Timing – If I hadn’t been there and you hadn’t been there at exactly the same moment, we would never have met. We don’t think about it so much, but how much of our lives are based on this kind of serendipity? From the summer of 1960.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mark Dinning

Mark Dinning The Dinning Sisters were a recording group who had some hits in the 40s, and they had a brother named Mark, who had 4 top 100 records in the very early 60s, one of which reached number 1 and 3 of which never made it past the top 60. I got his one big hit from the American Graffiti soundtrack, where it sits safely ensconced between Chantilly Lace and Crying In The Chapel.

Mark Dinning:

Teen Angel - ”Teen” not used as a term of endearment, but in the sense of an actual spiritual being. It was Joey Reynolds’ Endless Sleep that first broached the subject of death, but nobody actually died in that song. It was Teen Angel that made the top 40 safe for tales of the bucket kickers, and what was the first of a genre that would include Tell Laura I Love Her, Last Kiss, Leader Of The Pack, and Laurie (Strange Things Happen) with its immortal (sorry) line: “A strange force drew me to the graveyard.” This was nothing more than rock music’s first real attempt to tackle serious subject matter, and while it gets an E for effort, the attempt was misguided, morbid, and silly. After a bit Dylan came along and showed everyone how to do serious content right. There are other songs called Teen Angel, that seem to be about living people, one by Dion & The Belmonts, one by Donovan. This one was number 1 in early 1960. “They buried you today… “ Sheesh.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Leigh Bell & The Chimes

It’s a mystery where I got this. Here I was thinking it was on one of the four volumes of Made In Canada, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Either way this group was from Toronto, and Leigh Bell was really Helen Baird. I learned that from The CHUM Chart book. It even says which high school she graduated from.

Leigh Bell & The Chimes:

Terry – Terry is a boy, perhaps his name is Terence. It only makes sense as Leigh was a girl. The Terrys I’ve known in my life were pretty much all girls. This was a Canadian hit, though I don’t know how far its popularity extended past Toronto, where it reached number 3 on the CHUM chart early in 1960. It seems to be based on what Mark Sten called the minor sixth turnaround chord pattern. He sites Angel Baby as an example, and this sounds very much like that.

Moments (Miles Davis)

Miles Davis Greatest Hits I no longer have a membership at the CSL Library, and I no longer own a 2003 Montana (or any Montana, or any vehicle). But last winter I had both those things, and I used my library card to borrow The Essential Miles Davis, a 2 CD set featuring highlights of the career of jazz legend Miles Davis.

Now as I’ve said before, I don’t really understand the language of jazz. I know that Davis is a legend because people say that he’s a legend; I understand the he changed the language of jazz and defined or perfected or redefined one genre after another, and I know this because I’ve read it in books and in liner notes, and because it’s the stuff of common wisdom. But I don’t know it from listening to his music, or any music, because, as I say, I don’t understand the language of jazz.

But I do know that I like listening to a lot of jazz, and I know that I am partial to bop, and more modern forms of jazz, and I was cruising in the aforesaid Montana one afternoon last winter, probably on the way to get the kids from school, and I had the aforesaid Miles Davis CD playing, and I was enjoying the sound from all 4 speakers, a kind of fake surround sound, and I was not thinking too much about it nor paying too much attention, and CD 2 was playing, and the track that came on was called Miles Runs The Voodoo Down, and I knew that it was from Bitches Brew, and as it played it insinuated itself into my consciousness, the rhythm mostly, because it doesn’t have much of what you’d call a tune, but it wasn’t just the rhythm by itself, also the way the drums play off against the guitar and bass and Miles’ trumpet sneaking in and around those rhythmic nuances, similar to how the song snuck up on me unaware, until it had me in its power, totally and completely. And it was unsettling in a way that any unexpected but moving experience is unsettling.

And here’s the thing. I will never hear it that way again. There’s no way to reproduce the surprise, nor the juxtaposition of life circumstances that combined to produce just that emotional effect on me at just that time. That was a moment. And sure you can reproduce the music, but you can’t reproduce the moment.

And my life is full of those. There are songs that I heard at a specific place or time, songs that hit me in just the right emotional place given whatever was happening right then, or whatever I was going through, or whatever I happened to be thinking about or experiencing. And the list is impressive: Because by The Dave Clark Five, Walls by Gordon Lightfoot, I Will Always Love You by Dolly Parton, Ready Or Not by Jackson Browne, Bright Side Of The Road by Van Morrison, One More Heartache by The Butterfield Blues Band, Dance With Me by The Drifters, and of course Moments by The Kinks.

And Miles Runs The Voodoo Down by Miles Davis.

And so often the effect is the opposite of what you'd expect, an exuberant song that hits you at the lowest point in your life, or the opposite, a song of heartbreak when everything is wondeful. Can't explain it.

Now the only thing I can say about Miles Davis is a paraphrase from Wayne of Wayne’s World: “I am not worthy.” The collection comes from Miles Davis’ Greatest Hits, which I picked up on vinyl at Pyramid Records and which is a strange concept, The Columbia Years 1955 – 1985, and Bitches Brew from Bitches Brew, the latter two from the West Kildonan Library, the former on CD, the latter on cassette.

Miles Davis:

Seven Steps To Heaven
All Blues Miles Davis The Columbia Years
Someday My Prince Will Come
My Funny Valentine
‘Round Midnight
So What
Bitches Brew
Blues For Pablo
Bye Bye Blackbird
Florence Sur Les Champs Elysées
Filles Des Kiliminjaro
Summer Night
Miles Runs The Voodoo Down Bitches Brew
Thinkin’ One Thing And Doin’ Another
Honky Tonk
What Is It
Water Babies

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bill Black's Combo

Bill Black's ComboI was going to write that this is an obscure album by an obscure group, but googling it and finding several references has convinced me otherwise. Apparently Bill Black’s Combo still lives (though I bet you’ve never heard of them) and so does the early 60s best of collection, called Bill Black’s Greatest Hits.

Bill Black played bass, and his was the ba-doop ba-doop ba-doop you heard on Elvis’ Sun recordings. He put together this group in the late 50s, and they put 18 records on the top 100. The last was in 1968, 3 years after Black died. The groups’s recordings are pretty similar, they all pretty much have the same chop chop rhythm, and they highlight sax, organ, and piano variously. Never guitar.

Bill Black's Combo

Do It - Rat Now – From the spring of 1963.
Josephine – From the summer of 1960.
Hearts Of Stone – The Jewels’ / Charms / Fontane Sisters / Blue Ridge Rangers hit. From the winter of 1961.
White Silver Sands – Their biggest hit, from the spring of 1960.
Blue Tango – A hit for Les Baxter. From the winter of 1960 / 1961.
Ole Buttermilk Sky – From the summer of 1961.
Royal Blue
Don’t Be Cruel – Black revisits the Elvis hit. From the fall of 1960.
Smokie – Part 2 – For some inexplicable reason, the group redid this song for their Greatest Hits album. It’s way faster than the original.
Smokie – Part 2 – The original. From early 1960.
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