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 In most cases, particularly with artists whose careers kept going, old collections become obsolete, and they are superseded by newer, more complete, ones.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

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