Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Richest Songs in the World (BBC 4 documentary)


If you're like me - a reasonable supposition if you've elected to read this blog - then this TV documentary probably didn't seem the most enticing of prospects. Another excuse for a musical countdown: cue overfamiliar info, annoying celeb soundbites and those frustrating, miniscule fragments of the songs themselves which make you wonder why you're wasting your time when you could be, I dunno, writing a play or something.

Still, always a bit of manufactured tension to be savoured after you've allowed yourself to get hooked and fall to wondering just what songs will feature higher up the list - though to extract maximum enjoyment it's generally wiser to record this kind of show, not watch it live: that way you've got a fighting chance of skipping to the good, or goodish, bits without being driven crazy in the meantime by the aforesaid celebs' unremarkable musings or, worse, the portentous tones of a certain ubiquitous, rent-an-authority commentator.

In the event, however, he didn't feature, and in fact this show proved to be something a great deal better than the norm, which is why I'm writing about it below, and recommending that you catch it on BBC iplayer here, where it will be available to view in the UK until the 1st of February 2016. [updated link]

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas Quiz- Answers


As I'm going to be out later I am posting the answers to the Christmas Quiz now, but entries will still be accepted up to 10pm GMT today (Boxing Day). So go to the entry here if you still want to take part and don't click below to read the answers until you have submitted your entry via the Comments box in the Questions post. Good luck, everyone, and thanks for taking part - hands across the water, indeed. 

I have tricked out the answers with a few pics and youtube links, so even if you didn't outperform the others at least you will get a bit of diversion. I now feel slightly bad that I didn't contribute a prize - maybe next year. Okay, prepare yourself. And the blogger's decision is final, unless you can provide proof positive to the contrary (and no, self-adjusted wikipedia entries don't count):

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Valentines - A Christmas Prayer



As a reluctant nod to the season, herewith Christmas Prayer, a lesser-known Valentines track from 1955 - at least it isn't on the Collectables Best of collection that I have. I first came across it on a UK compilation  of Christmas-related songs from "the Roulette family of labels" on the now-defunct Westside label, which issued quite a lot of doo wop.

Quiz Time


 [ANSWERS CAN BE FOUND HERE]
Yes, already it's the annual Pop Quiz. If you've been listening to all the great DJs like Pete Drummond and John Peel and buying gatefold LPs, ideally while wearing a greatcoat bought from the Army and Navy Surplus Store, then you'll probably get all the answers. Well done in advance!
If, on the other hand, you've been listening to Alan Dell and David Jacobs on boring old Radio 2 then almost certainly you won't have a clue, and chances are you'll experience a lasting sense of humiliation if you attempt the questions below.

But don't let that put you off. This is merely a bit of fun to enliven the festive season.
Add your answers in the Comments section below, but do write in block caps at the top "not to be read by other participants", otherwise that will ruin the fun for everyone - all because you couldn't be bothered to obey one simple rule.

Just to be clear: there is no prize of any kind. It's just a bit of fun. Oh, and best of luck. And I really mean that. Ready?

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Snodgrass or Lost John



Today marks the third anniversary of this blog and I was all ready to do some reflecting on what it's all been for - and possibly some shameful admission of the amount of time I've wasted and why I ought never to write another word here and devote myself to Important Writing. But then I saw something and I thought: Wow! 


Now I don't know whether you will share my reaction, but I do know I want to record it for those who might. Ready? Okay.

Beat.

They're making a film of Snodgrass.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Ian Whitcomb


If you were turned on to Ian Whitcomb as a result of reading an earlier entry in this blog - or even if you've just alighted in search of information about him -  then you may be concerned to know that he is currently recovering from a stroke: details on the ukelelia site here. Luckily he and his wife Regina were at a restaurant two blocks from a hospital when it happened and Regina recognised the symptoms. He has already resumed broadcasting - I've just been listening to the second part of his Before the Beatles show - but get well cards can be sent to PO Box 451, Altadena, CA. 91001.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Jonathan Richman - Corner Store


Alright, it's not about a record shop as such but a Jonathan Richman song from the above album seems the most appropriate way of following the previous post. When the chorus, with its nonsense words, swells up for the first time (about 1.44 in) it seems stupid, old fashioned and odd - yet a joyous release, as though it does indeed embody the store, is the "ghost smell", the "old wooden smell" made audible, the shop magically - well, re-stored, I suppose you'd have to cry it.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Sound It Out (BBC 4 record shop documentary)


I commend unto you Sound It Out, a documentary about an independent record shop in Teesside. It was broadcast on BBC 4 yesterday, and will be repeated on Monday, and available on BBC iplayer here for the next six days. Nothing earth-shattering about it, really, just a warm and sympathetic look at the owner, the assistants, and a handful of the customers, but that's a plenty for me - and, it seems, many others.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Turn on, tune in, tape dropout


There have been various programmes on the radio to commemorate the fact that it's now ninety years since the BBC started broadcasting. This post isn't going to be a digest of them - though I register, without much interest, that Damon Albarn's recent soundscape met with less than universal acclaim - but I thought one series might be of particular interest to readers of this blog, as it's a history of radio in the US and UK, presented by the Beeb's American import Paul Gambaccini (above). You can find available episodes here and listen to them via BBC iplayer.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Parker final part


Have just realised that I haven't really put in much about my own response to Junior Parker. Already possessing the Rounder CD with all the Sun sides, I recently opted to buy the Complete Blues collection (below) instead of the all-encompassing Fantastic Voyage CD, as this seemed to have most of the sides represented in the songbook.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

More about Junior Parker



A bit more information about Junior Parker, his Sun recordings, and the circumstances which led to Sam Phillips claiming a cowriting credit for Mystery Train. I don't know who's who in the photograph below, which is taken from the sleeve of a 1990 Rounder CD collecting Parker's Sun recordings (not enough to fill an album) and related sides by James Cotton and Pat Hare. Does the group assembled below represent the totality of the Blue Flames? And which is guitarist Floyd Murphy?

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Feelin' Good Factor or Boogie Chillen's Twisting Chillen


Following on from the previous post about Junior Parker's Stand By Me, I happened to be listening to an old edition of Steve Propes' 45s Show  which included Henry Strogin's Old Folks Boogie While the Young Ones Twist.

This record, new to me, reminded me of an earlier Junior Parker recording, made for Sun Records. (The above is the album on which I first heard Parker's Feelin' Good back in the days when Charly put out records which sounded, as well as felt, good, but that's a topic for another time.)

Anyway, I investigated a little online and found there was a missing link between Parker and Strogin. More to the point, I also discovered that Parker had previous. As with his recording of Stand By Me, Feelin' Good wasn't exactly the fountainhead.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Don't Stand So Close By Me


 This is by way of a coda to an earlier post, here, about the origins of Ben E King's recording of Stand By Me. If you have read that - or even if you haven't - you may know that the famous song which is credited to King and Leiber and Stoller derives in part from a 1960 Soul Stirrers number called Stand By Me Father, cowritten by Sam Cooke - though that came in its turn from an early gospel song by Charles Tindley simply entitled Stand By Me. (With me so far?)

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Deborah Chessler



From October 23rd onwards, the highly recommended documentary series Street Corner Soul is to be repeated on BBC 6 Music - details of upcoming episodes here; details of episodes currently available to hear on BBC iplayer can be accessed here. Earlier posts about the series, an account of the rise and fall of doo wop as a force in popular music, can be found here.

I'm sorry to pass on the news that Deborah Chessler, composer of It's Too Soon to Know, has died. This 1948 Orioles hit is the number commonly credited with ushering in the doo wop era, so whether or not her name is known to you - and I wasn't aware of her until recently - she played a major part in musical history.

Two radio plays available on BBC iplayer



Love Me Do by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran
Everything Between Us by David Ireland

There aren't many drama reviews on this blog, unless the piece in question is in some way music-related. I've succumbed to the odd post about comedy when the urge has proven irresistible (annoyingly, these get more hits than my pronouncements about doo wop), but in the main I've tried to keep this blog as a logical extension of the online dialogue with Clarke Davis which sparked it off: music is the main focus. But I thought I'd break my rule today because I've just listened to a couple of plays still briefly available on BBC iplayer which seem an interesting pair of bookmarks. I greatly prefer one to the other but both are good fits for their respective slots.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Love Me Do: the Beatles '62 (BBC documentary)


I watched Love Me Do: the Beatles '62 last night, a documentary commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles' first single. It is available on BBC iplayer, here, until next Sunday. If you're like me, you will know most of the main points in this programme already: Brian Epstein buying up records; Pete Best replaced by Ringo who was temporarily replaced, in turn, by Andy White; the record which was a creditable start but far from a smash ... it's all in the numerous biographies which you've already read. If you're like me.

So why bother with this?

Monday, 1 October 2012

No, HE is Klang ... and he's mad as hell


I mentioned the film Sven Klang's Combo some time earlier, in a post about doo wop biopics. Three scenes have recently surfaced on a youtube clip, including the key moment when the group's new saxophonist plays a Charlie Parker-type solo during a torpid dancehall gig and finds that, instead of setting the woods on fire, it's politely tolerated by a puzzled audience, no more than that.

Unfortunately there are no subtitles for the clip but what I remember about seeing the film is that there was a lot of screen time devoted to the process of making music. This was not one of those films where music is really a backdrop: we see actually see them working things out. Benny Green, the broadcaster, jazz writer and a saxophonist himself, praised it in the highest possible terms in Punch.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Hard Boiled Eggs and Nuts (review of Stan Laurel play on BBC Radio 4)


Have just listened for the second time to Hard Boiled Eggs and Nuts, the Afternoon Drama about the early life of Stan Laurel. It will be available on BBC iplayer, here, until next Friday and it's well worth a listen.

Without looking at the various books about Laurel and Hardy I can't say offhand where available facts end and the writer Colin Hough's imagination begins. I daresay there will be others ready to do so, though you will have to seek them out for yourself.

What I can declare, however, is that it's a well crafted play which has precisely the right narrowness of focus to fit that forty five minute slot, and doesn't force in clunky references to Stan's future pairing: there are no later catchphrases casually dropped into the dialogue. True, here are delicate foreshadowings for afficionados in such matters as choice of music, or Stan's complaint to his father that the crude early films he is showing in his theatres don't have stories, but you don't really need to know anything about Laurel and Hardy to enjoy it.

Friday, 28 September 2012

"Run away" hits



I vaguely remember a discussion about My Friends by the Strangers and These Golden Rings by the Jive Five, two songs which share the same bridge, on the Doo Wop Shop board - not, alas, among the posts archived on this blog - which suggested that the question of authorship was a sore subject.

But they are both great recordings.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Things to do with Denver while you're dying



John Walsh is what we call in the trade a good writer. Quite apart from anything else, he knows how to pitch comedy, making it part of the bigger picture, concealing the craft which some other hands make all too obvious. I've read too many personal columns (mostly in the Times Educational Supplement) and heard too many similar pieces spoken on the radio (mostly by professional writers on the late John Peel's Home Truths) possessed of a leaden facetiousness which makes you feel that the writer has his knee on your chest, forcing you to put out with at least the semblance of a grin if you want this ordeal to come to an end.

Not so Mr Walsh. I am fond of saying, and have probably said it here before, that when AA Milne became deputy editor of Punch, his writing style was an innovation: freer and fresher than his forebears. When someone complimented him that his latest piece seemed to be "funny without trying" Milne admitted "That's what it tried to be." Nevertheless, that's the best way to describe what I feel about Walsh's book The Falling Angels.

Having read and enjoyed Are You Talking to Me?, his memoir arranged around twelve key films in his life, I sought out this earlier account of his childhood and the pull between Ireland and England, the place where his parents settled.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Off-Kilter for Company (does that even make sense?)


I can't help it. I know it was only a couple of posts ago but I have to watch the video for Shirley and Company's Shame, Shame, Shame again. There is another clip on youtube which appears to have a different male sharing lead, but I find myself drawn to this particular pairing, this near-meeting of the hips, if not the hipsters. I think it's because, like Archie Bell and the Drells, they "dance just as good as we want" - which is to say, probably not that good, actually.

But who cares? They are so palpably enjoying themselves that it doesn't really matter. And even if they are miming on this occasion, the sound of the record is so great that it excuses everything else. And although dancing is often equated with sex, there is something sort of decorous about the dancing here: they are together, surrendering to those jazz-crazed rhythms, but in a kind of companionship rather than a suggestion that they will be getting it on shortly.

Beat-less is now more


If you listen to Spencer Leigh's On the Beat programme via BBC iplayer, you may have been puzzled to find that the show appeared to start mid-interview with Gerry Marsden and later gave way to a football match. The problem has now been sorted - hooray! - and you can hear the show in its entirety (two and a half hours) on iplayer until Saturday, so hurry.



If you haven't heard it before, and if you like the range of music described in this blog, I recommend On the Beat as a regular listen. Although there are references to local gigs you don't need to be in Liverpool to enjoy his interviews nor the wide knowledge underpinning them. At the end of his interview, Gerry Marsden even says that Spencer knows more about him than he does himself.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Floating Boaters or But wherefore could not I pronounce "Hooray" or "Boo"?


The BBC are currently rerunning 35 year old episodes of Top of the Pops, its now sunken flagship pop show, in sequence. I initially thought I'd store them all on my TV's hard drive but weekly exposure to the programme has hardened my heart a little.

Maybe the Beeb has picked up the story just a little too late. At some point around this time these editions first aired Top of the Tops stopped being watched religiously in our house. On occasions when I was watching on my own I began to change the channel when a boring song was on, preferring to watch James Bolam in When the Boat Comes In. Then one day, lost to history, I became engrossed in the unfolding story and didn't change back after the requisite three minutes. Not sure whether that meant I had grown up or that part of me died that day. Or both.

New radio play about Stan Laurel


A few weeks ago I was, for the first time, inside the Panopticon, otherwise the Britannia Music Hall, in Glasgow: the place where a young Stan Laurel made his first theatre appearance, without the knowledge of his father, Arthur Jefferson. I didn't have a guided tour, was just there by chance when their Penny Bazaar was taking place, and later went to watch some Laurel and Hardy films there.

Both the stage and the back of the theatre were blocked off, so a certain amount of imagination was needed in order to get the full effect from this place of pilgrimage, but I'm very glad I went. There is a group dedicated to preserving it, and you can find more details here.


There are also some remarkable panoramic pictures on a linked site here, allowing you to see rather more than I was able, though you still don't get to see the actual stage; the above is a screengrab from that site. Someone told me that there is a redundant toilet block in the stage area - built before someone twigged that there was no plumbing for it - and that at some point the original stage area will once again be revealed; indeed, I remember a lot of relish about the prospect of smashing through the accretions, restoring the space to something like itself. (Am I allowed to say "accretions"?)

There are regular events at the Panopticon and a shop nearby, so if you live in Glasgow, or even if you don't, please support it if you can. Judith Bowers, who was behind the discovery, has written a book about it.


But back to this new play, which is the Afternoon Play on BBC Radio 4 on Friday, 28th September - more details here. There has, in recent years, been a radio play about Stan Laurel and his relationship with Oliver Hardy by Neil Brand, but according to the Beeb's advance publicity this new script by Colin Hough, cannily entitled Hard Boiled Eggs and Nuts, focuses on the relationship between Stan Laurel and his mother and is set in Glasgow in 1906. The proprietor of the Panopticon is featured so Laurel's debut may well be at the centre of the story. I've read most of the available material about the great pair over the years but can't, offhand, think how much imagination may be necessary to conjure up Laurel's early life, but the play should be an interesting listen.


I heard the radio version of Tom McGrath's stage play Mr Laurel and Mr Hardy a few years back, which I wasn't that keen on - maybe the stylised nature of it was less suitable for radio, though I have to admit that I saw the original stage production at the Citizens' Theatre in Glasgow and remember thinking that the delight of a carefully recreated dance from Way Out West at the end was a bit of a con, making the audience think they had had a better experience than what had actually unfolded over the last ninety minutes or whatever. Though there were moments when John Shedden, as Laurel, appeared uncannily like him. I had also seen him earlier in another play, at the King's Theatre, and one moment when he sat down to dine seemed to have all the characteristic, comic humility of Laurel. But I ought to read the script.


I remember Tom McGrath fondly, as there were occasions when he listened to my adolescent ramblings as though much wisdom, or at least much of interest, was contained therein. Once I was on the point of asking him about the play, and how much information there had been to draw on beyond John McCabe's two books (this was the early seventies). But I didn't - and now I can't.

There exists somewhere in the archives of the Glasgow Herald a photograph of Tom McGrath wearing half a dozen bowler hats, appealing for more as the original production involved smashing one of those at each performance. It made, as the Herald noted in a pleasing phrase, for "a hattish fetish." I hope I see that photo again some day.

I haven't yet listened to Stan, the Neil Brand radio play, though I did watch the TV adaptation. I know someone in the radio drama business who has a low opinion of the latter, and I can see that it does seem like it would be a perfect radio play, with Hardy's presence felt rather than seen. But before I knew it had been wrenched from a better setting what did discombobulate me about the TV version was that the actor playing Laurel had brown eyes. Brahn eyes! I ask yer! Brahn eyes! A small detail? Not when those piercing blue eyes stare out at you from every B&W still.


Lastly - as this post seems to have become a grab-bag of Laurel and Hardy-related memories - two more things.

One is that in my dominie incarnation I once took the chance to condense into fifteen minutes what I felt about the pair. It went well, partly because I put far more care and preparation into it than my normal lessons, shamelessly roadtesting it on numerous groups of students beforehand.

On the day itself, my colleague who'd kindly agreed to operate the slide projector didn't have an easy task because, despite the rehearsal, as I became more relaxed and felt the warmth of the audience's attention, safely distanced and indistinguishable in the semi-darkness, I added further thoughts as they occured, like the detail which has always touched me about Oliver Hardy, on tour in the UK in the fifties, going up a steep flight of stairs to get Ray Allan's autograph for his and Stan's collection. (I suppose you could say that Ray Alan returned the favour, as a photo of Stan provided the inspiration for the modelling of Lord Charles.)

After a student played a little bit of the sig tune to end proceedings and I had a strange feeling which transcended ego: while it was great to be showered with compliments - something which I never attracted, I may say, for my teaching - my overriding feeling while giving the assembly was that here was a chance to say, and to have others hear, how much these two people had meant to me, a chance to repay, at least a little, what they had given.

Which reminds me of the section which another colleague, head of Media Studies, said I should cut out of my draft of the talk, and so I did. He was probably right for such a setting but I remember the passage, which was extracted from Philip Oakes' novel about a film critic, called A Cast of Thousands, or something like that.


I recommend Oakes' novels - there's another called Exactly What We Want, which draws on his early days as a reporter - and his three volumes of autobiography, not to mention his memoir of Tony Hancock.


But I digress. The point is that the excessive piece of writing came from A Cast of Thousands (or however many it was) and concerned the film critic's then girlfriend or partner who was clearly not, after all, The One. And it all came down to Laurel and Hardy. She would watch in annoyed disbelief as he practically fell off his chair watching shorts like The Music Box and the critic realises that he can never explain the magic of those long-vanished days in the Californian sunshine nor the enduring appeal of Laurel and Hardy:

Like love, they were not part of her world.


Review of Hard Boiled Eggs and Nuts here


Postscript:


Another Stan Laurel play which ought to have been mentioned in this post is Stan Laurel: Please Stand Up!,  a one man show by Bob Kingdom

Having missed the chance to see it in an intimate theatre on my doorstep I was obliged to watch it in a less sympathetic space. But even if the laughs weren’t loud on that occasion, they were there, and the conversations in the bar at the interval showed that people were engaging with the play, which wasn't a straightforward biographical piece, nor an excuse to recreate film routines. The first act showed us a Stan who didn’t know who he was, followed by the mature Laurel in the second half and the two personae meeting at the end, giving the whole thing a satisfying and clear shape.

Kingdom also wrote the piece, which made me think about what Tim Fountain has said about writing monologues based on real characters – I don’t have his book to hand but the gist is: do all the research then forget it and make an instinctive leap towards what connects you and the character.


Mr Kingdom is currently touring with another one man show, An Audience with the Duke of Windsor - details here - but if Stan Laurel: Please Stand Up! gets another outing it is worth investigating.

Friday, 21 September 2012

The passing of Cheapo


A wonderful, painterly image of Cheapo Cheapo Records, late of  Soho, found online; another photograph provided the basis for the various images to be found at the top of this blog.

If you haven't already done so, you can click the relevant page above to read a series of posts about the demise of Cheapo, my favourite record shop, and how I found closure (of a sort).

All I need to add here is that the above photograph has the look of an Andrew Wyeth image and makes me marvel that I never realised just how steep Rupert Street is.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Farewell to the Dells





Have just read in Record Collector magazine that the Dells, who haven't performed since the death of Johnny Carter just over three years ago, are now going to bow out. Marv Goldberg's Dells page refers to one final gig at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in June of this year, so presumably the decision was taken not to do this.

Not a surprise - "his leaving has left such a huge void," says Chuck Barksdale of Johnny Carter's 48 years in the group which he joined after the Flamingos - although the demand is still there and "their voices remain in great shape", according to Garth Cartwright, writer of the Record Collector article, which draws on his book More Miles Than Money: Journeys Through American Music as well as a more recent interview in which Chuck Barksdale considers the group's achievement.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Don't fear the peepers


I'm guessing that the above image, taken from a well-known auction site, shows more recent packaging for the joke glasses in the previous post, manufactured by the same company. Unless they are a bootleg version of a popular product; I really don't know how cutthroat things are these days in the novelty industry. 

There is undoubtedly a greater facility with English on display here: one bona fide pun ("a real spectacle") and (perhaps) a hint of double entendre in the phrase "bi-focal fun" nestling in the red oval once needed to warn purchasers that what they were getting for their pennies was not a genuine aid to vision.

But it's odd: a slicker product but, I suspect, less memorable. Is it simply that this newfound evidence of an ability to handle language takes away our smirking sense of superiority? (As noted earlier, others online have been similarly tickled by the clumsy phrase in the previous packaging.) 

Or is it that "DARING! DON'T FEAR OF MY EYES" suits the product better, being suggestive of a child striving for a portentous phrase and making do with whatever rough assembly of words first comes into his head?

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Have no fear


One thing I didn't do before posting the previous entry was to check whether that singularly odd phrase "Daring - don't fear of my eyes!" had surfaced online. The answer is yes, and the toy I couldn't remember is revealed as a pair of extra large joke glasses. "Toy only!" the packaging warns, in case any purchaser with a genuine eye condition might be deceived, with tragic (or hilarious) consequences.

Reminds me of the story oft told by Barry Cryer and others about the notorious Windmill Theatre. Notices forbidding "artificial aids to vision" were prominently displayed - ie no binoculars for watching the static nudes. One gentleman had thought to buck the system, if that's the phrase I want, with magnifying lenses fitted into a pair of spectacles, but fell down a flight of steps and broke his arm (or something), because he had forgotten distances would be similarly distorted when he wasn't seated.

There also is a strange electronic track to be  found on soundcloud with that title and you can see the glasses modelled here. Saddest image to be found on the net, however, is that of the packaging without the spectacles.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

"You made blogging glance easy" and other unsolicited testimonials


In recent months my blog has attracted the attention of spammers - though as comments are screened before publication it's all a bit of a wasted effort on their part, I'm afraid. But I thought I would share some of their contributions anyway, what with it being a slow day and all.

A post about the Four Tops, for example, attracted this enthusiastic response:
It's a shame you don't have a donate button! I'd definitely donate to this excellent blog! I suppose for now i'll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to brand new updates and will share this blog with my Facebook group. Talk soon!
Alas, despite the warmth displayed above, there has been no further communication has been forthcoming from any quarter - and I haven't got round to adding a donate button so my critic's enthusiasm cannot be displayed non-verbally. My loss, I suppose.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Piggy Bank Love or A Babel of Green Shields


This Bonzos track hasn't attracted much attention - perhaps not helped by coming immediately before I'm Bored on the Gorilla album. But it's a good 'un, I think, and worth consideration here.

When I first heard it I quite wasn't sure where to place it. Who or what was it parodying, precisely? I think I've seen the Beach Boys mentioned somewhere, presumably because of the high voices, but it seems more like Penny Lane territory - though The Equestrian Statue does that more comprehensively.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Hal David


Read about the death of Hal David on the BBC's news channel and was surprised it wasn't mentioned in the subsequent news programme on the main channel. Doesn't it count as a major event, then? By way of compensation I searched my MP3 player for something to play as a kind of personal tribute, or reminder to myself of his lyrics; luckily there was Do You Know the Way to San Jose.

I remember once having a conversation with a former line manager about this song, someone of whom it might have reasonable to expect a degree of sensitivity to language, but no: for him the song was simply a jolly, bouncy thing and the lyrics a negligible part of that whole.

Even at an early age, I got it - and I think my first contact with the song was via that unlikely video of a donkey on a 1968 edition of Top of the Pops, which I'm guessing was got up by the BBC rather than provided by the record company.

Actually, not that unlikely - you could argue that the would-be stars are deceived by the thought of near-instant ("in a week, maybe two") gratification, like those poor translated boys in Pinnochio.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Flamingos' Decca sides "fit for purpose" - ineffectual blogger's shock claim


The above says it all, really: having listened a few more times to the ten available tracks the Flamingos recorded for Decca in between Chess and End, I'm warming to them. A bit. So here is a bit more about them. And here are the relevant details from Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks page about the group.

30335 The Ladder Of Love (NN/PW)/Let's Make Up (TH) - 6/57 (release dates and lead vocalists)
30454 Helpless (NN)/My Faith In You (NN/PW) - 10/57
30687 Where Mary Go (NN/PW)/The Rock And Roll March (JAC) - 7/58
30880 Ever Since I Met Lucy (TH)/Kiss-A-Me (NN) - 5/59
30948 Jerri-Lee (NN)/Hey Now! (TH) - 7/59

JAC = Jake Carey
NN = Nate Nelson
PW = Paul Wilson
TH = Tommy Hunt

That Love Is You was also recorded for Decca but not released; it was later redone for End Records.

I have read that because Nate Nelson had a solo contract with Checker (a subsidiary of Chess) the Decca recordings were "virtually quashed by legal complications" (Robert Pruter's Chicago Doo Wop) so I don't know to what extent these tracks were known at the time.

But more interesting now is to speculate about how they might have sounded with other hands to tweak the sound, make decisions about what to add or not to add. It's well known that the version of I'll Be Home which Chess issued was recorded in the company's office studio after a redone version in a proper studio was rejected as sounding "plastic" to the Chess brothers. Without altering the substance of the group's contribution, which shines through in most cases, I can't help thinking that some of the Decca sides could be so much better, could sit alongside their Chess recordings at least.

Nevertheless, I find myself being drawn to Kiss-a-Me. Although there is a female chorus, it's used fairly well: at the end group and female voices seem to blend together, rather than the female chorus overwhelming the Flamingos. If you see them as a slightly overcompensating substitute for the departed Johnny Carter it sort of makes sense. In fact, if you judge Kiss-a-Me for its effectiveness as a record for slow dancing or smooching - the title promises as much, after all - then you could even say there is little to criticise about it. Nate Nelson's lead is beautiful and histransition from smoothness to moments of passion is well done, and there is undoubtedly a sense of continuity with earlier records: you are in that distinctive Flamingos world, a place of echoes and dreams. Incidentally, the music was composed by the same person who wrote Till Then, a hit for the Mills Brothers and later revived in the doo wop era.

Although the version of Jerri-Lee I have is in the lowest of fi, it sounds very appealing: think there is a Latin tinge but it's honestly hard to make too much out. Interesting that the jump sides with Tommy Hunt - Hey Now! and Let's Make Up are quite gutsy - Ever Since I Met Lucy is more poppy but the singing gives it a bit of an edge. I still say The Rock and Roll March is corny but in a slightly misconceived, slightly out of time Ravens kinda way: that group, great as they were, recorded lots of novelties which didn't quite hit the target.

I think I've come to the end of what I can usefully say about them. I happened to be listening to the Moonglows' Baby Please (Chance Records) a couple of days ago, and for the first time really appreciated the musical backing, so I think in future posts I may write in more detail about the Flamingos' and Moonglows' Chance sides. With Baby Please Red Holloway is really like another voice, a costar, on the recording. I note from the Chance discography website, here, that much the same lineup were behind the Flamingos for Golden Teardrops.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Street Corner Soul final episode now on BBC iplayer


The final episode of Street Corner Soul was repeated last night on Radio 2 and will be available on BBC iplayer for one week - link here. Again, another highly enjoyable and recommended episode, with some titbits of information I had forgotten about.

Did you know, for example, that Maurice Williams' Little Darlin' and Stay were both inspired by the same girl and written when Williams was about fourteen? Or that the Five Satins' All Mine (a particular favourite) was only acapella because the band didn't show up? The issue of ripoffs (in the matter of songwriting) was only dealt with briefly at the end, as was the impact of the British invasion, but given the time available I still say that this series was as good as could be hoped for.

For example, Steve Propes was on hand to talk about Dootsie Williams and Dootone, so there could be no compolaints about the quality of interviewees throughout the series: everyone who is prominent on the internet was there. (And Maurice Williams himself was interviewed.)

Members of the Chantels - as in the Channel 4 series The Voice - recreated Look Into My Eyes, still sounding pretty good, all those years on: like the Flamingos, another example of church-inspired singing which wasn't gospel but which influenced doo wop. The Chantels were produced by Richard Barrett (both are pictured top), and it's interesting to discover that, as with Frankie Lymon, their hits were the result of numerous takes: the groups who recorded on tiny labels may not have had the opportunity to try for perfection, but some of the genre's biggest hits were the result of people like Barrett.

And for those still lamenting the loss of Mark Lamarr's show from Radio 2, it was good to hear Jesse Belvin's Goodnight My Love at the end, a fitting farewell and signoff from this exemplary series. I hope that it inspired at least some listeners to go out and find some of this music, or reminded others (like me) of its importance. If it is a dying art, then at least these four half hours give some indication to the novice of why it demands to be celebrated.

Friday, 24 August 2012

The Flamingos on Decca


More thoughts about the Flamingos - in particular their time at Decca Records (image from Marv Goldberg's highly recommended Flamingos page).

In between their stints at Chess Records in Chicago and George Goldner's End Records in New York, where they recorded the smash I Only Have Eyes for You, the Flamingos recorded a few sides for Decca in 1957-58, without much success.

What's odd about this is that even though the material is public domain in the UK it has not been issued on CD, as far as I know, with the exception of Ladder of Love, which can be found on the Jasmine CD Dream of a Lifetime (Rhino, willing to license material, had already issued it in the US on their Best of compilation). The Jasmine CD set is otherwise comprehensive for the group's pre-End work, so the omission is surprising.

I hadn't heard any of the other Decca sides till today but now I think I may have an explanation for their absence from CD. From the evidence of what's available on youtube, with the exception of Ladder of Love they're - well, variable, to put it kindly.  Some of the material and arrangements, are square. Like, uh, L7, Daddio. Kiss-a-Me and Helpless have female backing singers (white?) added to sweeten the mix. Kiss-a-Me isn't too bad but the climax of Helpless is dire: the voices of the Flamingos themselves are inaudible. It's a pity, because you can imagine how those songs might have been done with more restraint at Chess.
 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Programme about Parrot Records on Juke in the Back


While still Flamingos-minded after the previous posting, you can currently stream Matt the Cat's Juke in the Back episode about Chicago-based Parrot Records, the group's second label, on the PBX website here; sound quality is very good. There are only a couple of Flamingos sides featured but the show has a representative sample of the short-lived label's R&b and doo wop output and is an ideal introduction to its musical riches.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Doo wop documentary Street Corner Soul Episode 3 now on BBC iplayer for one week


What? No, that's just a screengrab. Find a direct iplayer link for Street Corner Soul Episode 3 here, assuming you are reading this within a week of its posting. I'm going to drop any pretence of critical assessment of this radio documentary series and simply urge you to listen to it if you want to learn, or to learn more, about doo wop. Each episode is on BBC iplayer for a week and you should be able to access it in America  as well.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

More info about You Have Two (I Have None) by the Orchids


Do I need an excuse for another reposting of a piece about the Orchids' sublime You Have Two (I Have None) aka Happiness? Well, as it happens, on this occasion I have one.

Looking on the net for lyrics to the song (couldn't find any) I came across a thread about another song, I See the Moon, on the excellent mudcat site, an invaluable resource for comparing and contrasting folk song variations and the like. If you are British and of a certain vintage - or if you are a Dennis Potter fan - you will know that rather strange recording by 50s vocal group the Stargazers.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The first and last picture show: Sister Suzie Cinema on Soundcloud


Good news if, like me, you love the acapella group 14 Karat Soul: the soundtrack for Sister Suzie Cinema is now available on streaming site SoundCloud.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

So take THAT, Galton and Simpson ...


Joyce Carol Oates in an interview published in the Guardian today:


Is there an art form you don't relate to?

Situation comedy on TV or stage. It distorts the complexity of the human soul.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Street Corner Soul Episode Two now on BBC iplayer


The second episode of Street Corner Soul has now been broadcast and will be available on BBC iplayer for one week. If you haven't heard the series and are even vaguely interested in doo wop I strongly recommend it.

Waterloo Sunset performed by Ray Davies at Olympics Closing Ceremony


Waterloo Sunset was the highlight of the Olympics' Closing Ceremony for me. Not sure how much the surrounding acrobatics, nor the (literal) flagwaving added to the song, but that's not really the point: it's an anthem, and it was great to see it being celebrated.