Saturday, 9 December 2017

All-New* 2017 Christmas Quiz

Welome to the All-New 2017 Pismotality Christmas Quiz. (*Quiz may include traces of revised questions from earlier quizzes; always read the label.) Post your answers in Comments - I will read them and publish them after the answers are posted on 28th December. Sadly there are no tangible prizes.


1 " 'Oh why don't we play cards for her?' he sneeringly replied."

 a) Name the song in which this enquiry features. b) Alright, Smartypants, now find a likely link to George Layton.

2 "Levitation's as easy as pie / Come on and hold hands with me in the sky." 

Who or what links these lines to Michael McIntyre, The Female Eunuch and an alleged bribe by an MP's wife?

3 True or false: at the height of the British Invasion, Freddie Garrity's group played in Canada, and the band was introduced by Dick Cavett. The elderly Groucho Marx, Cavett's guest, was called onstage and upon seeing the endless sea of faces in front of him, momentarily inhaled, in the manner of Neil Kinnock at Sheffield, and smote his breast, declaring to a delighted crowd: "I'm a Dreamer, Montreal!"

4 Who perpetrated these song lyrics?

a: "Are you blind to the winds of change?"
b: "We were at the discotheque, / Dancing to the Sex-o-lettes ..."
c: "Now that I know you socially / Obviously I'll fall heavily."


5 "One mint julep was the cause of it all." 

Yes, yes, we all know it's the Clovers, nobody's impressed, shut up. What I was going to ask - no, really, wait a minute, I've got it - what is the name of the 70s seasonal rites of passage song in which the aforesaid cocktail also features and how many years separated the lovers?

6 "It's just my job, five days a week."
"A five minute break is all you take"
"He's been workin' and slavin' his life away."

Name these labour-intensive songs and the artists.


7 "You're always window shopping but never stopping to buy."
"Stand in the mirror - dig yourself."
"I kept buying china until the crowd got wise."

Identify these examples of conspicuous consumption (thwarted or otherwise).  

8 Three songs about children but three separate questions to answer.

"Mr McCann was a practical man,  [BLANK] was his only son." In what sense could this song be called streetwise?
"There'd be no one there to raise them / If you did." Who penned this out of this world lyric?
"We'll have a kid / Or maybe we'll rent one." What's the narrative connection to Yellow Submarine?


9 "I'll tune into you, you tune into me"
"I'm a country station, I'm a little bit corny"
"Sit you down, father. Rest you."

Name the radio-related songs in which these lines feature. (If the first one eludes you, oh, I dunno, use a bit of common.)


10 "I meet the man who owns the ghost train, he says 'You're just great / I'll pay you top class wages if you'll just step through this gate.' "
"Remember a holiday in a north of England town, / You slept in a room upstairs in a bed of eiderdown." 

Why do these sound like a Mayorally humiliating spectacle?

11 Who are the newsworthy illiterates:

"He never ever learnt to read or write so well / But he could play a guitar"
"Talking on the phone is not my speed, / Don't send me no letters cause I can't read"

12 Who are the wrappers:

"I will bring you happiness, / Wrapped up in a box and tied with a yellow bow"
 "Save the girls upstairs for later ... Wrap them up in Christmas paper"


13  "He's Very Good With His Hands."

What's the composer's link with Little Ern?


14 Identify these canine ditties:

"Solving crime's his asset, / Which ain't too bad for a long-eared bassett"
"Old MacDonald he made us work / But he paid us for what it was worth"
"I turned around to solve this mystery / And who d'ya think was sittin' next to me?"


15 They say you shouldn't mix your drinks - or indeed drink and drive - but why do Bonaparte Shandy, Cherry Cola and unmarked cars belong together?

16 How did a lord transform Brutus while claiming to be a vagabond king?

17 a) Which song was no walk in the park even (if a certain amount of ham was involved)? 
b) On a related note, explain how Ricky and Suzy are linked to a poetic Picket.

18 Kool and the Gang; the Idle Race and Julie Felix.  How did I know there was a link between these three? I decided there was. But what is it?

19 Big Jazza is to Dion as [BLANK] is to Chubby Checker. 

20 Wodehouse's Madeline and Donovan's Geraldine. What is locking them together?

Spare the Rod (1961 film with Max Bygraves)

Directed by Leslie (father of Barry) Norman, who produced The Cruel Sea, and starring Max Bygraves as an idealistic teacher, the young Richard O'Sullivan as a pupil, plus Geoffrey Keen and Donald Pleasance, this is a film to slot in with Violent Playground and other late fifties/early
sixties British films which illuminate the times.

Based on a novel by an English teacher, the writer wanted Trevor Howard as hero but the film is pretty well done in any case. Bygraves does a decent job although I don't think he's a great actor. I read that the film took a while to be made, in part because there was a suggestion earlier that some of the teachers took a perverted relish in administering punishment. That was dropped - and in my opinion it's quite enough that a group of people are so terrified of losing their authority they fear any change to their system. The film also suggests that some of the worst offenders drifted into teaching for security and resent their position (those Armstrong and Miller spoof teacher recruitment sketches are not so far from the truth in my experience).

The story essentially concerns Bygraves's efforts over a term as supply teacher to reach his class of unruly fiften year olds. Things move to a head with a riot when a cane-loving teacher who has been locked in the toilets overreacts, calmed down by Bygraves, but the main thing is that the film doesn't overstretch itself, either by pretending kids are feral beings beyond redemption or that one man has the power to change everything in a term - though it does end on a note of hope which rings true.

Nevertheless, I do wonder what Trevor Howard or possibly Stanley Baker (who plays a Juvenile Liaison Officer in Violent Playground, mentioned above, from a James Kennaway screenplay) might have done with the part. 

You can read more about Violent Playground here.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

In praise of Rock & Roll Graffiti (1999)

If, like me, you've been tantalised by the many clips on youtube of a TV show entitled Rock & Roll Graffiti, the good news is that most of that show, hitherto available only as an expensive DVD box set, can now be obtained on two reasonably priced 3 disc sets; I'm based in the UK and bought them from America for around £14 each. These are the covers to look for:

For those unfamiliar with this show, DJ/producer Larry Black and singer Gene Hughes of the Casinos (Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye) assembled a number of rock'n'roll, pop and soul stars of the late 50s and early 60s in a TV studio in 1999, got them to reminisce over several days about their experiences and sing one or two of their most famous songs, backed by a versatile and sympathetic band called Sons of the Beach. With the performers given the dignity and context they deserve but don't always receive the results are, at times, deeply moving and never less than thoroughly entertaining and informative.

No one who remains a major star participated - you get Mary Wilson, for example, rather than Diana Ross, and Frankie Ford rather than Jerry Lee Lewis - but this is a golden opportunity, nevertheless, to see some performers given what may have been a final chance to shine in optimal surroundings. Singing in front of their peers in an atmosphere charged with warmth rather than competitiveness seems to bring out the best in them: with so many experiences in common, not least the indignities of touring, they "get" each other, if even they only met during the show.

This is something remarked upon by several of them: Len Barry, returned after some unspecified illness or problem, talks of a sense of family, gesturing and adlibbing an extra line in his rendition of One Two Three: "I've grown up loving all of you."

So this is much more than your bog standard oldies show; it's a chance to savour and celebrate the achievements of artists who may have been overlooked in the wake of the British invasion - or simply by time - and to hear them tell their stories, share their common sufferings and joys. It's part discussion group, part concert and I can't think of an equivalent in the pop/rock'n'roll field, although Larry Black is behind many similar ventures for country musicians.

Regarding the obvious affection on display, I suppose there is also an element of what is remarked upon in the book Doo-Wop: The Forgotten Third of Rock'n'Roll. I don't have it to hand, and I know some enthusiasts have raised questions about its general accuracy, but there is one detail worth recalling. In the introduction the authors, child pyschologists in their day jobs, describe the typical reunion of a doo wop group on some nostalgiac radio programme: the familiar gibes resurface but they are now purely affectionate, all sting gone as there is no competition anymore, only a common need to celebrate a shared past whose worth can only now be fully appreciated.

And even if the performers on Rock & Roll Graffiti might tend to be regarded by an uncaring world as footsoldiers rather than generals in the Pop Army, most were still in the business when the show was recorded and all have stories to tell. There are some great performances here: Ketty Lester, who left singing early on (when her son began to bond with the sister who'd been looking after him) sings Love Letters and the effect - on her and those watching, is deeply moving.

Assessing the singing dispassionately, you might notice the sense of strain at certain points but that doesn't matter: she is reclaiming her status, at a show organised by a DJ who played her record year after year after year, in front of a later star (Mary Wilson) who talks of how, after hearing the record for the first time, she knew every word. This reminds me of an earlier post, readable in full here, which quotes from a newspaper article in which Tom Sutcliffe took issue with an account of Paul Simon singing The Sound of Silence at a recent concert:
I don't think I'd have described Simon's voice as "faultless". He's 70 years old now and it isn't what it was ... but that hardly mattered. Its frailties were integrally part of the emotional content of the show.

Here's the youtube clip of Ketty Lester, although be aware that the original is 4:3 and this is blown up (and considerably inferior to the DVD image anyway) so you're not getting the whole picture:

The above is undoubtedly one of the highlights but be assured there are many similar moments.

I suppose part of the reason why I find this show so compelling generally is that it confirms what fans of this music have always known: that it's not just the big, lasting names who matter. When a 45 has an effect on you, it stays - and it is not a trivial thing. No siree, as Larry Black might say.

There's another sense, too, in which you're not getting the full picture from youtube. The fuller response to Lester's performance cannot be seen on this clip: artist after artist embraces her, and her own joy and disbelief at such a reaction to that long-ago song is plain to see; earlier she had modestly expressed puzzlement about being invited to participate in such a show. (The image at the top of this post, a videocap from the DVD itself, shows John Buck Wilkin and Mary Wilson reacting during Love Letters.)

There are many other moments in the show which could be pointed out but I'll content myself with a few. In addition to his hit She Shot a Hole in My Soul (produced by Buzz Cason), Clifford Curry sings a great version of Under the Boardwalk; Dave Somerville (of the Diamonds) calls "Author! Author!" when he finishes Little Darlin' - it's Maurice Williams, no less, on the piano - and Ray Peterson sings The Wonder of You with audibly depleted vocal power, but no less touching for all that, especially when he tells his anecdote of Elvis Presley asking his permission to record The Wonder of You:
"You don't have to ask me - you're Elvis Presley."
"Yes I do, because you're Ray Peterson." 
Peterson also reveals that the writer intended it as a song to his God, not his woman.

Other highlights include Dee Dee Sharp singing Mashed Potato Time as though it's the most important and vital song in the world - and at one point, entirely without rancour, she says to Gary Paxton, the man behind Monster Mash: "You ripped that off real good." Mention must be made, too, of the joi de vivre of the house band's backing singers, especially Etta Britt, now a solo artist in her own right.

So my tip is: investigate the songs available on youtube but be aware that almost none of the discusssion element is present there. For that you will need to buy the DVDs. But if you are the kind of person who chooses to read this sort of blog then I don't think you'll be disappointed.

To close, here is a more substantial excerpt on youtube from the part of the show to be seen on Disc 7, commercially available only on the expensive full box set version, as far as I can tell. It features some of the discussion common to all discs and includes Frankie Ford doing a great rendition of Sea Cruise. Unlike Love Letters, the houseband and singers are involved, and you can see that there is even a kind of folk club element to proceedings, as most of the other stars sing along to the chorus, and many have mikes.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

A.A. Milne Part 3 (Lovers in London)

Possibly anticipating renewed interest in his work with the release of the film Goodbye Christopher Robin, Bello Books have recently reissued a range of titles by A.A. Milne, available as ebooks or print on demand copies.

For those already acquainted with his writing for adults, the most intriguing among these will undoubtedly be Lovers in London. A collection of pieces originally written for the St James Gazette, one of the many evening papers hungry for material when the likes of Milne and P.G. Wodehouse were starting out in the early 1900s, it didn't have much success when originally published in 1905. Milne later took pains to ensure it wouldn't resurface, so it's no surprise to discover that it's not exactly a masterpiece, but its reappearance after over a century is still worth celebrating.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

A.A. Milne Part 2 (Goodbye Christopher Robin)

I have now seen Goodbye Christopher Robin, the new film exploring the relationship between A.A. Milne and his son. As mentioned in the previous post, the screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce has preempted criticism from those who might have read Ann Thwaite's biography of Milne:

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

A.A. Milne Part 1

There is likely to be a renewal of interest in A.A. Milne when the film Goodbye Christopher Robin is released this Friday. Neglected novels and short story collections have already been reissued by Bello and a new biography is in the pipeline, although I can't imagine how this could possibly replace Ann Thwaite's superb and comprehensive A.A. Milne: A Life. (The forthcoming book, by Nadia Cohen, was credited as the source of a rather skewed piece about Milne in the Sun a few days ago, which does not inspire confidence.)

Monday, 25 September 2017

Radio adaptation of That'll Be The Day on BBC iplayer

A radio adaptation by Ray Connolly of his screenplay for the 70s film That'll Be the Day has just been broadcast and will be available - to US and UK listeners alike - on BBC Radio iplayer for one month. Above is the image used to illustrate it on the BBC website.

As would be expected from the original writer it's a pretty faithful adaptation, although the different medium does bring about a change in emphasis: with Jim as narrator, the reasons for his actions can be made more explicit. He talks, for example, of detecting a sense of triumph in his best mate Terry when the latter occasions Jim's humiliation at a university dance, which helps explain Jim's later decision to sleep with Terry's girlfriend on the eve of his own wedding - though he also admits he did it partly because he could.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

No No Place Like Home, no Peep Show (sort of)

Listening to the first episode of Robert Webb's memoir How Not to Be a Boy, serialised this week on Radio 4, I was surprised to hear a reference to No Place Like Home. Of all the sitcoms in all the world this was the one which inspired him to become a performer - or at least set the seal on his decision.

Not that he offers an unqualified tribute to the writing ability of Jon Watkins. Watching an episode of the show in the afterglow of his own comic triumph in a school play, the young Webb is far from uncritical:

Monday, 21 August 2017

Tommy Hunt on Spencer Leigh's On the Beat, BBC Radio Merseyside

Have just heard, and strongly recommend, a fascinating interview with Tommy Hunt, one of the two last surviving members of the Flamingos from their glory days, on  Spencer Leigh's ever-dependable On the Beat programme on BBC Radio Merseyside. It was broadcast yesterday and will be available on BBC iplayer for another 29 days; it's radio rather than television so I believe US readers can also access it; the iplayer page is here.

As ever, Spencer's wide-ranging musical knowledge helps him draw the best out of his subject, a man who is an important part of several strands of music history - and, remarkably, still performing at the age of 84. He will be appearing at London's 100 Club in October.

 He was born, we learnt, in a carnival tent in Pittsburgh - his father was a jazz drummer - but he is now living in Pontefract in Yorkshire, of all places, having fallen in love with a woman at a theatre in Wakefield. The marriage has not survived but he is still there - a perfect location for a Northern Soul legend.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Bill Putnam and Universal Recording

One significant name was left out of the recent series of posts about the Flamingos' early work: Bill Putman, who ran Universal Recording. The technical quality of the Flamingos' Chance and Parrot sides reflects the fact that both companies used Putnam's studio at 111 East Ontario Street, situated off Michigan Avenue. He would have engineered their tracks, although presumably label bosses Art Sheridan and Al Benson would have been the respective producers. Johnny Keyes' memoir Du-Wop places Putnam in the studio when the Magnificents were recording Up On the Mountain early in 1956:

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Flamingos # 17: Get With It & I Found a New Baby

The Flamingos had a larger backing band than usual for two numbers in their final session for Al Benson's Parrot Records. The website devoted to the Parrot and Blue Lake labels notes:
They had been recently performing with Paul Bascomb's group at Martin's Corner on the West Side, but Al Benson preferred to use a studio band led by Al Smith on the date. A four-horn front line (Sonny Cohn, trumpet; Booby Floyd, trombone; Eddie Chamblee, tenor saxophone; and Mac Easton, baritone sax) lent a big-band atmosphere to the two uptempo numbers: "I Found a New Baby," which was held back from release, and "Get with It."

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Flamingos # 16: I'm Yours & Ko Ko Mo

[Marv Goldberg]

The Flamingos' second (and final) session for Parrot also yielded some notable sides. The pick of the bunch is the ballad I'm Yours, even though it was only a B side for their cover of Gene and Eunice's Ko Ko Mo.

Flamingos # 15: I Really Don't Want to Know

Some time ago in this very blog I dared to suggest that Robert Pruter's assessment of the remaining song from their first Parrot session was mistaken. Mr Pruter had claimed that the arrangement on the country song I Really Don't Want to Know "drags and sounds confused" - but now I'm inclined to think he may be right.

Flamingos # 14: If I Could Love You

"Swoonsome" is the term which springs to mind for the opening of If I Could Love You, though not in the teen idol sense. Right from the start the combination of guitar (Lefty Bates) and sax make this little number too darned sensual ever to cross over: if there wasn't an "exotic dancer" present in the studio, those boys must have had awfully good imaginations.

Flamingos # 13: On My Merry Way

On My Merry Way was also recorded at the Flamingos' first session for Parrot. Robert Pruter describes it as  "a routine jump written by the ubiquitous Chicago nightclub entertainer Walter Spriggs." There is certainly no crossover potential here: it is as far removed, in subject matter and feel, from Dream of a Lifetime as you could get. After a token attempt at reasoned argument -
I want you by my side
Hey-ey, can't we compromise?
- the song lurches into another area entirely. Imagine Pat Boone trying to wrap his tonsils around lines such as these:

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Flamingos # 12: Dream of a Lifetime

There was no dramatic change to the Flamingos' sound when they switched their allegiance from Chance to nearby Parrot Records. Nate Nelson had not yet joined the group; that awkward jobshare which would ultimately force McElroy out was some months in the future.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Flamingos # 11: Listen to My Plea

Listen to My Plea was one of the last sides the Flamingos recorded for Chance. An earlier attempt at the song during their Christmas Eve session in 1953 must have been deemed unsatisfactory as they remade it the following year. The website devoted to the label states:

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Flamingos # 10: September Song

September Song was well on the way to becoming a standard by the time the Flamingos recorded it in 1953. Written for the 1938 Broadway  musical Knickerbocker Holiday, its fame had recently been boosted by inclusion in the film September Affair (above) although many singers including Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine had already tackled the number in the forties.

It's hard to single out a version which might have served as a particular inspiration for the group. The Ravens' 1948 attempt might seem a likely suspect, given that Robert Pruter has accused them of imitating the Ravens on another occasion, but Sollie McElroy brings more passion to the lyrics than Maithe Marshall's rather dreamy caressing of them, beautiful as that is.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Flamingos # 9: Blues in a Letter & Jump Children

The Flamingos' penultimate session for Chance took place on Christmas Eve 1953 and consisted of four sides: Blues in a Letter, September Song, Jump Children (aka Vooit Vooit) and Listen to My Plea.

The first, "a stone solid blues", is primarily a vehicle for Johnny Carter, as the rest of the group don't have much to do beyond the requisite early 50s R&B vocal group moaning; unlike the similar Plan For Love there is no attempt by Sollie McElroy - or, indeed, Carter himself - to embellish the song with falsetto.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Flamingos # 8: Hurry Home Baby

Hurry Home Baby is the only song from the Flamingos' first session yet to be discussed in this series, although Robert Pruter's succinct dismissal has already been quoted:
... an imitation Ravens number that made nobody forget about the Ravens.

Flamingos # 7: You Ain't Ready

Guitarist Lefty Bates can be heard to good effect on You Ain't Ready, another side from the same August 1953 session as Plan For Love. He may not get a solo, but after the whole band have set up the song he can be heard momentarily on his own before Sollie McElroy's vocal, and later his playing under Red Holloway's exuberant saxophone solo gives it even more bounce and interest; small wonder, according to his own testimony, that everyone wanted him on their sessions.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Flamingos # 6: Plan For Love

Plan For Love is an interesting performance in the context of the Flamingos' other work at this time, although it's not hard to see why this bluesy number wasn't a success when released.

Recorded around August 1953 it is, unusually, a Johnny Carter lead. It's also distinctive because two falsettos are heard during much of the song. Sollie McElroy's is the main one, I believe, with Carter joining him as other duties permit. It's an interesting and unusual effect, although the combination of the two voices is less pleasing,  to my ears, than Carter's solo decoration on so many other sides.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Flamingos # 5: Someday, Someway

As pulpit denunciations of faithless lovers go, Someday, Someway is rather lighthearted, which suggests that Sollie McElroy is buoyed up by the thought that retribution must surely follow:

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Flamingos # 4: If I Can't Have You

If I Can't Have You was recorded by the Flamingos in 1953 and reworked three years later, during their stint at Chess Records. The arrangements on the two versions provide compelling evidence of that musical sea change mentioned earlier:

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The hottest exhibition ever curated?

A Guardian report today about a new exhibition of artefacts associated with Philip Larkin suggests all manner of revelations await its visitors.