Sunday, July 31, 2011

Kenny Ball

Judging by the popularity of Oasis, the best thing that happened to the 90s was the 60s. And judging by the popularity of Kenny Ball, the best thing that happened to the 60s was the 30s. Retro has become retro.

In the words of Paul Du Noyer (In The City, page 90):

…the country was swept by a zany fad for strangely dressed men in bowler hats and waistcoats, plucking banjos, blowing clarinets and generally wowing a self-consciously eccentric student audience.

It was great fun when taken in the right spirit.

This is an eight track collection called Midnight In Moscow, credited to “Kenny Ball” though the original recordings were by “Kenny Ball And His Jazzmen.” It’s a pre-recorded cassette, and I have no idea whether it was ever released in any other format.

Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen:

I Love You, Samantha – The 60s sitcom Bewitched co-opted the name "Samantha" for all time, so it’s well nigh impossible to hear this song without conjuring up images of the domestic witch married to the advertising agent. From the winter of 1961.
Someday (You’ll Be Sorry) – How we console ourselves we our hearts are broken. It’s bogus, she won’t be sorry.
March Of The Siamese Children – I hate to think where they may have been marching to. From the winter of 1962. This was one of Ball’s few North American chart entries – it reached number 88 in the US, number 3 in the UK.
Midnight In Moscow – His signature tune, a good eight years before McCartney weighed in with Back In The USSR. This was an actual Russian song, with Russian words, but Ball wisely rendered it as an instrumental, and it’s a catchy tune beyond words. From the fall of 1961 (UK) or the winter of 62 (US), this was a top 5 hit on both continents.
Sukiyaki – I’m not sure how this happened, but Ball’s cover of the Kyu Sakamoto hit was a hit before the original. From the winter of 1963.
Rondo – A jazzed up arrangement of the Mozart’s Rondo a la Turk.
I Still Love You All – Good. We were concerned. From the spring of 1961.
From Russia With Love – Ball tackles Bond.
When I’m Sixty-Four – Ball is just the guy to cover this oddball Beatle track from Sgt Pepper.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Pepperpots

I had no idea that the men-dressed-as-women on Monty Python (you know, Mrs Premise, Mrs. Conclusion etc) were collectively called The Pepperpots. That’s funny. But I only found out because I was googling “Pepperpots” to learn what I could about this super-obscure instrumental band whose single I found at some second-hand shop so many years ago. I found nothing about what I was looking for, though the single is offered for sale at a few auction-type sites.

Quoted from Wikipedia:

The term Pepperpots refers to any of the middle-aged, matronly types played by the men of Monty Python. A pepperpot is usually somewhat overweight and wears a rather unflattering ensemble often topped off by a small, old-fashioned hat. She holds a small purse in her gloved hands, and is very often seen out and about, apparently running errands while her husband is at work. She usually speaks in a high voice that sounds very much like that of a man imitating a woman. The Pepperpots are given different names in various sketches: Mrs. Premise, Mrs. Conclusion, Mrs. Nesbitt, Mrs. Smoker, Mrs. Non-Smoker, Mrs. Thing, Mrs. Entity, etc.

The Pepperpots:

Ruby Dooby Du – An instrumental. Joannie Sommers did a vocal version of a song with this title; I don’t know if it’s the same one, though on YouTube it’s spelled “Ruby Duby Doo.” YouTube denizens are not known for spelling accuracy, so that means nothing. The song that Joannie did is apparently from the movie Key Witness. That tells me nothing.
Leatherjacket Cowboy – The B side, and another instrumental.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Vibrations

I have other stuff to write today. You’ll have to figure out The Vibrations on your own. Good luck.

The Vibrations:

The Watusi – There’ve always been songs about dancing and dances, but it took The Twist to make the world safe for rock and roll dances. The Watusi was one in a series, the hucklebuck, the jerk, the monkey, the boogaloo, the shingaling, the bus stop, the pogo stick, etc. I don’t know how one does the watusi, unless the Addams Family video is accurate. The Orlons and Ray Barretto also had watusi hits. The Vibrations’ record reminds me of no one so much as Hank Ballard, the original purveyor of the twist. From the winter of 1961.
My Girl Sloopy – An earlier version of a song that became better known by The McCoys as Hang On Sloopy, but The Vibrations got there first. The Yardbirds covered this arrangement. If I had to pick a version to dance to, this would be it. Class consciousness creeps into pop music. From the spring of 1964.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Jørgen Ingmann and his Guitar

When I hear Eric Clapton, I know that it’s Clapton, just from the style and sound of the guitar. Same is true (with appropriate adjustment for identity) of Carlos Santana, Roger McGuinn, James Taylor, Jimi Hendrix, Robbie Robertson. At the same time, there are hundreds, nay thousands, of world class guitarists whom I would not know without a program: Randy Bachman, Steve Howe, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend. Even Alvin Lee, he had speed and he had style, but I’m not sure that he was (is?) distinctive enough to be recognized without album credits.

All that makes me wonder about the oddball guitarists who sneak out of the pack to become featured soloists. I wonder how they did it, how they managed to distinguish themselves in a field where the competition is more than just overwhelming, who did they bribe or what amazingly serendipitous break did they get, who are they related to or what amazing feat of instrumentality did they perform to impress the impresarios?

And so we have an example, Jørgen Ingmann, a Danish musician who put 2 songs into the Billboard Hot 100, both of which are entertaining, but neither of which display the level of musical virtuosity that would explain Ingmann’s status as a featured soloist. I’m missing something.

Jørgen Ingmann and his Guitar:

Anna – Not the Arthur Alexander song, the one covered by The Beatles. I would tell you about the special Annas in my life but there haven’t been any, a music teacher maybe. From the summer of 1961.
Apache – A number one hit for The Shadows in 1960, but that was in England. It was Ingmann from Denmark who exported the song successfully to North America, and it was Ingmann who came up with that weird whooshing sound, which became a characteristic of cover versions from then on. From the spring of 1961.
Fourth Man Theme – Bastard child of Third Man Theme, musically and literarily.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Ramrods

RamrodsSo how many female drummers can you name? OK, Karen Carpenter, easy. Maureen Tucker, also good. Ever hear of Claire Lane? Founder of (and drummer for) the Ramrods. Remember that for your next trivia evening.

They only had one hit.

The Ramrods:

(Ghost) Riders In The Sky – So take the greatest melody you could possibly write, add lyrics that start off with an aura of mystery and grace, but wind up being miserably trite, and you have (Ghost) Riders In The Sky aka Ghost Riders In The Sky aka Riders In The Sky aka (Ghost) Riders In The Sky (A Cowboy Legend) etc. Vaughan Monroe put it on the chart in 1949, and Peggy Lee had a crack at it as did Frankie Laine, and The Sons Of The Pioneers, and Johnny Cash put it out relatively late in his career though while still on Columbia. It was the Ramrods, though, who came up with the only real way to salvage the song – get rid of the lyrics altogether, add sound effects that sound like the round up from hell, and play it as an instrumental, with guitar that sounds like Duane Eddy on steroids – more echo than the grand canyon, more tremolo than Jim Nabors. It was the only hit the group ever had, but it is recordings like this that make obsessions like mine worthwhile. From the winter of 1961.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Chuck Jackson

I have a friend who lives down in South Carolina and to her “beach music” is as natural as breathing. To me it’s mystery. I listen to what they call “beach music” and I hear middle of the road R & B. So I found an internet radio station that plays beach music all day, I had it on last Friday, all day. I’d been listening to Chuck Jackson the night before and when the DJ said “send in your requests!” I sent off an email saying hey! It’s Canada Day down here and I’m working. Can you play some Chuck Jackson? and lo and behold, not only did he play Chuck Jackson, but he said “This is for David up in Canada where they are observing Canada Day, formerly known as Dominion Day!” (Now how did he know that?) And he went and played a song called C’est Si Bon. I guess he figures we’re all French up here.

But it proves something. It proves that I was right.

Jackson was a great R & B singer, but he’s not very well remembered. He recorded for Wand, a label owned and operated by Florence Greenberg together with Scepter, and her labels were known for “teenage” music (The Shirelles) and pop music and lightweight R & B (B. J. Thomas, Dionne Warwick). Jackson had 21 songs on the top 100 between 1961 and 1968, including a few duets with Maxine Brown, but none got higher than 23. Only two of those made the top 40 at all.
All these songs come from The Scepter Records Story.

Chuck Jackson:

I Don’t Want To Cry – A breakup song, but the emphasis isn’t on the breakup, it’s on how it will make him feel. A perfect song, perhaps, to reflect a society in which we try to avoid feeling bad at all costs. The arrangement is not so different from what Ben E King was doing back then. From the winter of 1961.
I Wake Up Crying – The sequel? I guess he feels bad after all. Very bad, wallowing in self-pity I’d say. From the fall of 1961.
Any Day Now (My Wild Beautiful Bird) – I guess if you read the lyrics you’d think this was nuts. That’s why we don’t just read the lyrics. This is glorious; it’s what great R & B singing is all about. Elvis did this and he did a great vocal, but not like this. The arrangement with organ and the slightly Latin rhythm doesn’t hurt either. From the summer of 1962.
I Keep Forgettin’ – Some odd percussion highlights this tale of post separation adjustment. From the fall of 1962.
Tell Him I’m Not Home – On the surface this is just some dating trauma, but under the surface it’s about honesty, plain and simple.
Beg Me – Not likely. From the summer of 1964.
Since I Don’t Have You – Oft recorded, and a hit for The Skyliners in 1959. From the winter of 1964 / 1965.
The Silencer – The nexus between guns and women, musically a cross between James Bond and The Snake.
We Find Him Guilty – The strangest cheating song ever. The jury doesn’t just convict him, it stomps all over him, Chuck proclaiming his innocence the whole time.
Something You Got – A duet with Maxine Brown. From the summer of 1965.
Daddy’s Home – Ditto. You wouldn’t think this would work as a duet but it does. Originally by Shep & The Limelights, later covered by Jermaine Jackson (no relation, I assume). From the spring of 1967.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

March, 1961

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Maxine Brown

Record labels, collectors take them very seriously. To dilettantes like me they are a matter of curiosity and historical interest. Some have distinct musical styles; Motown comes to mind obviously, and there was the gutbucket soul of Stax, teen pop of Dot, Atlantic soul and Atlantic jazz. The Beatles were on Capital, and so were a number of British invasion bands, so we got to identify those swirling colours on the label with Merseybeat.

And so it is that label-wide anthologies make a certain sense. Decca did a several decades collection of its country hits, RCA did jazz, Atlantic has release more various-artist R&B anthologies than you can shake a proverbial stick at. Small companies do this too (though by the time the CD comes out, the label has long since been purchased by one of the global conglomerates, often through several layers of corporate reality).

I got my Maxine Brown collection (all 6 songs of it) from a collection called The Scepter Records Story. This was a label whose music was aimed squarely at the teen market, no crooners please. The most successful and best known early act was The Shirelles, but they also had The Kingsmen (on Wand, same company), Chuck Jackson, and Maxine Brown. Then they had Dionne Warwick and B. J. Thomas.

Maxine had 11 solo hits (plus 4 with Chuck Jackson) and the three biggest are here; for some reason the compilers threw two non-hits on here and left off 8 of the chart singles. I’ll never understand why they do things like that.

Maxine Brown:

All In My Mind – The arrangement of this is similar to the adolescent pop of Rosie & The Originals or Kathy Young & The Innocents, but Maxine was a real R & B vocalist. She sings here not just of insecurity, but of a premonition of bad times, and while she dismissed it with the adage that it’s all in her mind, just one listen to the edge in her voice tells us that’s she’s right all along. From the winter of 1961.
Funny – “Every time I pass your door,” she sings with incredible melisma on the word “door.” Do they not share a bedroom? Funny, I’ll say. From the spring of 1961.
Since I Found You – Her performance is a bit flat on this tale of starry eyed romance.
Oh No Not My Baby – Denial writ large. From the winter of 64/65. Rod Stewart covered this while he was still cool.
Baby Cakes – Really.

Friday, July 1, 2011

June In Review

I note with sorrow that some of the links I posted in May are already gone. That’s YouTube, your favourite videos disappear. It’s that Jackson Browne song, Two Of Me, Two Of You, whose disappearance saddens me most.

So the object lesson is this: catch them while you’ve got the chance. You won’t be sorry. Or you will, but I won’t know about it, unless you tell me.

In case you missed May: You Never Know Who’s Listening.

· Van Morrison: Real Real Gone – After rediscovering this and hearing it a few times I was struck by the obvious: this is basically a rewrite of Bright Side Of The Road. No matter – Van the Man can rewrite the same song hundreds of times, and I’ll be happy to listen to it every time.
· Cher: You’d Better Sit Down Kids – There are a billion gazillion quintillion nonillion wadillion smillion farillion breakup songs, but how many take the kids into account? (Forget Tammy Wynette for a minute, she’s country anyway). Sonny was breaking new ground with this. Odd that he gave it to Cher to do solo; perhaps he felt that his vocal limitations would prevent the song from reaching its emotional potential (though later he did a solo version on a Sonny & Cher album, and he acquitted himself very well).
· Loudon Wainwright III: Your Mother And I – Poetry to Sonny’s journalism.
· Burton Cummings: I Will Play A Rhapsody – Back in Winnipeg I knew people who had known Burton Cummings, he went to St. John’s High, the same school my parents went to, and everyone agrees that he was an arrogant SOB. Perhaps. I just know that he is an incredible musical personality, and I don’t know that he’s gotten his due. The original of this, with the harmonies on “I,” is breathtaking, but watching him play it solo is plenty inspiring.
· Bobby Darin: Reason To Believe – The incredible technology that gives us the confluence of social networking and YouTube life-sharing used here to present the worst flaws of analog sound reproduction. Matter meets anti-matter.
· "Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons": Grease – Let me start by saying that there was never a group called “Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons.” The group in question was simply The Four Seasons, or The 4 Seasons, or, on record labels, “The Four Seasons featuring the sound of Frankie Valli.” The original members, of course, have long since scattered to the four winds, (is that a group?), and what we have here is obviously a new ensemble, hired for the occasion, who, judging by their appearance on stage, ought to be called The 42 Seasons. (The odd thing is that for much of its existence, The 4 Seasons were a quintet.) It doesn’t matter, because Grease was a solo hit for Frankie Valli, and I don’t know what skating has to do with anything, but these Tribute On Ice videos are great fun.
· The Move: The Girl Outside – Never heard of The Move? Seeds of ELO – Roy Wood, drummer Bev Bevan, later Jeff Lynne. Think of The Beatles, The Move took that kind of pop to its extreme. The Girl Outside is stylistically Eleanor Rigby in excelsis, lyrically it’s more real life than we’d like to admit.
· The Rolling Stones: Love In Vain – The Stones have done ballads that are sweeter, and some that are raunchier, but none more poignant then this rendition of alleged soul-vendor Robert Johnson’s tale of alienation. Everything extraneous is removed, they strip it down to its bare essence, and create a moment of power and beauty. The original on Let It Bleed is best, but watching Ron Wood play slide is one of life’s small pleasures.
· Van Morrison: Days Like This – To quote myself: “I love the way Van Morrison uses a horn section and the way he uses his voice, and the way he uses them together. I love the way that he’s made a career out of singing songs of joy and happiness, (when he’s not whining about being rich and famous) without ever sacrificing his artistic integrity. He may be a miserable man (so I’ve heard, lawyers keep away please) but his music reaches a place in my heart that surprises me every time. … I like the black and white, and I love the way that he is twice the age of anyone else in the band and how little it matters.”
· Patti Smith: In Excelsis Deo: Gloria – When all is said and done, this may be Van Morrison’s finest moment.
· The Traveling Wilburies: End Of The Line – One of my kids graduated from Green Acres High, where Jim Crow is alive and well, and sitting through the proceedings I don’t know if I ever felt more alienated. I walked out of there wondering, among other things, who I’ve become, who I’ve been, wondering whether it’s me that’s gone off the rails or everyone else, and I walked home listening to The Traveling Wilburies, because that's what I happened to have with me. And this song came on, and it told me stuff I needed to hear at that exact moment, and the exuberance of it carried me home; my feet barely touched the ground and anyone who happened to see me was confirmed in his, or her, opinion of my eccentricity. Once again, it is the plebian pleasure of pop music that gives me the perspective I need, just when I need it...

(Rest in peace, Roy Orbison, George Harrison...)
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