Saturday, July 23, 2005

My First Reel

Per Michael's request, in response to my "listening list" a few weeks ago, I have posted several files to the gmail.com site which is linked to the left and above.

Without a doubt, my favorite of this batch is "Jamaican Rhumba" by Percy Faith and his Orchestra, and here's a little story to go with that number, as well as "Jungle Fantasy".

In late 1952, my dad bought one of the first reel to reel tape recorders which was on the market, a Concertone behemoth. The company was based in California, and when the machine arrived, it came with a reel of tape already on it. The tape contained five complete songs, all of them studio recordings, banded with leader between the tracks, plus a short accordian and tuba polka at the end of the tape, literally running out at the end of the tape. There was nothing written on the tape or the box.

My parents recognized the singer on the first song on the tape as Doris Day, and also assumed this was an outtake, as she can be heard complaining about how she "goofed it up again" at the end. The other songs were unknown to anyone in the family. Two of them were Latin styled instrumentals, one was a rather horrid song, featuring a male vocal with chorus and orchestra, and one was a nice recording featuring a female singer and orchestra.

I came into the world eight years later, and grew up with this tape, along with dozens of other, home recorded tapes, many of which predated my existence. I found the same fascination with this strange, intriguing studio recorded tape as my brother had before me, but neither of us ever learned anything more about it. My favorite tune on the tape was the first of the two latin numbers - this was undoubtably because it had the same melody as a song called 'Mango Walk", which was featured on one of my favorite kids 45's (a record of songs of many lands, in this case, Jamaica or Trinidad, I think). I mean, it was the exact same song, chorus and verse. Since I'd already grown up with some calypso music, that probably also made this one a favorite me, too.

Flash forward to sometime in 2003 or 2004. During a conversation with my brother, we come to realize that the internet may be able to tell us something about what's on our tape. Very quickly, we're able to determine that all three of the vocal performances on our tape were released, perhaps in other versions, on the Columbia label, in 1952, one by Doris Day with Percy Faith, one by Guy Mitchell with Mitch Miller's orchestra, and one by Rosemary Clooney with Percy Faith! The two female releases were even hits in Billboard!

Okay, so we thought, that leaves the instrumentals. What did Percy Faith release in 1952 or so. This took a little more time, but eventually, we discovered the titles of our two mystery songs, Jamaican Rhumba (that's the "Mango Walk" one), and "Jungle Fantasy". The following Christmas, my brother and I surprised each other when each of us gave the other the reissue of the Percy Faith album (from 1953) which contained those two recordings.

We've even discovered that at least three of the five tracks on the tape have errors or differences from the released version (the accordian piece at the end has errors, too), making it likely that this was some sort of reel of "good but not perfect" takes from a Columbia recording session or sessions!

And if that's not cool, I don't know what is!

So anyway, I've uploaded both of those songs (from the released version - I'm keeping the outtake versions for myself), as well as a third song from the CD (Wow! Wow! Wow!) that I greatly enjoyed. While there are some of Percy Faith's hits that I enjoy, particularly "The Song from Moulin Rouge", most of his records are fairly sedate. This stuff, on the other hand, I find to be positively infectious (in the case of "Jamaican") and intense (in the case of "Jungle").

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Other Songs

In addition to the Percy Faith songs, detailed above, I also uploaded two songs from 1960 and one from 1959.

"Pineapple Princess" is goofy and cheesy, but it pulls me in with the stereotypical hawaiian arrangement, and a better than usual vocal from Annette. This is really the only record of hers that I love.

"Bumble Bee" is the other end of the spectrum, a weird, almost spooky arrangement, far more poppy than I'd expect from Lavern Baker. I first heard this, many years ago, on a poorly recorded reel to reel tape of a poorly received AM radio broadcast. That could be the kiss of death, but what I heard through the muck intrigued me, and once I got a better copy, I was not disappointed.

"My Heart is an Open Book" is a left-field hit from a guy who only had a couple of hits. That this was a top three smash is yet another reason that I wish today's music and charts were more varied and unpredictable (and contained more interesting music....)

Hope any and all who are listening enjoy them!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Perfect Record, Part Two


At the risk of making it appear that my idea of a "perfect record" has to involve what one might call "rural instruments" playing instrumental dance music (which is not the case), I'm here to write about and offer up for auditory perusal another of my choices for the "perfect record" record prize, another one whith involves rural instruments playing instrumental dance music.

For me, this one dates back to the great Nordic Acoustic Dance Music craze of the late 1980's, which took place solely in my head and on my turntable, around that time - I had a bunch of favorites of this type 'round about then, and this was my favorite of all. The record in question is "The Norway Reinlander" by "Harmony Orchestra USA (a group so named, one surmises, apparently to distinguish its august members from those in the similarly named "Harmony Orchestra Sierra Leone" and "Harmony Orchestra Tasmania").

As you can see, above, the record is dated 1948, around the dawn of time for 45's, but perhaps it came out on 78 first. The leader of the group is named Alfred Almestad, perhaps the least suprising thing about a record that sounds like this. The record is, as always, posted at the gmail site linked to the left and above.

Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean.....

What a glorious noise it is. A bit like a polka, a bit like something I'd expect to hear in Germany or Switzerland (or perhaps I'm just showing off my ignorance of those countries' folks music), and played with much more gusto than a lot of albums managed over the course of 45 minutes!

I love the interplay of the various instruments here, and the way they variously complement each other - at one moment, the piano has the melody, at another run through of the same section, the violins or the accordian may be the primary instrument. There is a point near the end (about the 2:40 point) where the piano cuts through all the other instruments and can be heard playing the most basic of parts, far less of a part than it had been playing earlier, yet for that moment it is the key sound on the record. Guess I'm just strange, but I live for moments like that.

The vibrato on the violins, in particular, when they play the sustained harmonies, gives them a wonderful, emotional feeling, and the interplay of the accordion and the piano throughout reminds me of the wonderful sound of the organ/piano duets heard on the earliest Bob and Ray shows, from around the same time as this record.

But pulling this record apart doesn't do it any favors. This is celebratory, passionate music, surely reminiscent of the homeland in the title, one which causes me to think of the rural lands of northern Wisconsin that so many Nordic folks found similar to their homeland, and the home to a favorite town of mine, similarly named to part of the title of the song.

It's got a melody I can whistle or hum to myself for days on end, with not a dead moment. Although the record seems like it's going to keep going and going, with yet another performance of one of its themes, when it's over, I wish it was still going and going.

Just about the last place in the USA which I'd expect this record to be from is Oakland.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Cheesy!

For the first time in this forum, but certainly not the last: Today's item cannot be bought anywhere, and never could. In this case, it's even possible (though perhaps not all that likely) that I have the only original recordings of this song that exist.

I have bought hundreds of home recorded reel to reel tapes over the years, containing every manner of recorded material - albums of classical, pop, country, MOR, jazz, etc., radio and TV broadcasts, college lectures, commercial demos, even studio rehearsal tapes. Then there are a whole bunch of family and personal recordings, generally my favorite type of material to find on a reel of tape.

And a bunch of tapes I found just over a decade ago form, as a group, my favorite batch of home recorded reels in my collection. I guess I'd call them "The Moreland Tapes". There is one song from this batch of tapes already out there on the web, along with a more detailed description of these tapes, and that description, and the song "Reputation" (in two versions) can be found about 4/5ths of the way down the following page:

http://www.ubu.com/outsiders/365/05-1.html

Today's song is also from this batch of tapes, and carries the unlikely title of "Head Cheese". It's available at the gmail site linked to the left and above. In fact, it was the words "Head Cheese", written on one of these boxes which caught my eye, during the sale at which I purchased these tapes. "What the Hell...." I think was a good approximation of my thoughts, at that moment.

The brief version of the story of these tapes is that there were apparently a group of friends, most of them not professional musicians, who gathered together (perhaps much like my musical friends and I gather together from time to time), to make music, write, perform and/or record songs, between the early '50's and the early '60's. Whether these were just for personal enjoyment, or designed as demos for some (probably) failed attempt at selling their efforts, I don't know, but at least a half dozen people sing lead on the songs heard on these tapes, with varying styles of musical backing.

The contents of the tapes (and there are about 6-8 of them) are, for the most part, very well documented on the tape boxes, and some songs are heard several times, while others are performed only once or twice.

My favorite songs in this set of recordings are those sung in whole or in part by a young woman who was apparently the daughter (or at least a relative) of the one man in the group who was clearly a professional musician (others may have been, but I only know for sure that this one - Don Moreland - was). Her name was Marigail Moreland, and she sings a couple of songs, including "Reputation" and "Head Cheese", along with the adult musicians.

While "Reputation" is simply a stellar song, fantastically arranged and unique in performance, "Head Cheese" is altogether goofy, maybe even stupid, a child's song in writing level and performance, rescued from the the doldrums of musical hell suggested by those terrifying words by the sheer exuberance of the lead singer, and the good fun that everyone involved seems to be having.

I'd never say this is a great recording (there are several better, I suppose, even amongst these "Moreland" tapes), but it's a damn good time, and as with everything from these relaxed, friendly sessions, the love and enjoyment between participants comes through. And I just adore the singing of this young woman, who I know nothing about, except her name, and that (per the web) someone with the exact same, rather odd name, once worked on a 1960's Z-Movie, one which went on to be featured on MST3K. I'd certainly love to know where life took her.

As I wrote in the title of this post, this is REALLY cheesy stuff, with lyrical phrases that were probably cliches by the time the song was recorded - February 6, 1954, according to the tape box - and a really corny conclusion to the song, and yet the song still runs around in my head from time to time, 10 years or more after I first heard it.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Odds and Ends

Two fake hit singles from the past that we invented during conversations this weekend:

"Are Those Your Personal Grapes" by Eight Foot Bulb
(this strikes me as being perhaps a James Brown style funk record)

"Have You Ever Tried to Get Rid of an Igloo" by "V'nectarines"
(I have no idea...)

And now, the moment no one's been asking for, Bob's listening list for June. Last month's listening was heavily impacted by having gathered together some of the hits of 1960 for an upcoming poll I'll be doing for friends, as well as renewing my love of a few song-poems ("s-p"), and finally, getting around to listening to a very interesting Latin-American influenced Percy Faith album from 1953.

I'd be happy to send any of the following to the gmail site, should anyone reading this request it. Here's the list:

1.) In God We Trust - Jeff Reynolds (s-p)
2.) Wow! Wow! Wow! - Percy Faith
3.) Pineapple Princess - Annette and the Afterbeats
(just an aside to say that I really wish there was a radio station which would play a mix such as the above three)
4.) Be American - Harold Duncan (almost a s-p)
5.) This Little Girl of Mine - Ray Charles
6.) My Heart is an Open Book - Carl Dobkins, Jr.
7.) Jungle Fantasy - Percy Faith
8.) Sleep - Little Willie John
9.) Bumble Bee - LaVern Baker
10.) Zoomba Zoomba High Kicka Zoomba - Norris the Troubadour, Seaboard Coastliners (s-p)
11.) Dance By the Light of the Moon - The Olympics
12.) Jamaican Rhumba - Percy Faith
13.) Someday - Rodd Keith (s-p)

Friday, July 01, 2005

It's "Getting Hit on the Head" Lessons in Here.....


So far, I've offered up records that, however odd they may be, I also find marvelous through and through - musically, emotionally, intangibly, etc.

But now, I've chosen to write (and not for the last time, I'm sure) about a record I love primarily because of its complete and total weirdness. As you can no doubt tell from the above, this is a kids record, one which I can recall being in my possession (or perhaps it was my brother's, first), as far back as I can remember. (As always, it's available at the gmail site, linked to the left, with the instructions at the top of this screen.)

Several records from my childhood collection will no doubt make their way to this forum, and there were plenty of them that I thought were weird (and a few I considered scary), even in early childhood. But this was weirder than most of the others. For one thing, it's FIFTY FOUR SECONDS LONG!!! It's the whole side of the single, and it times out at well under a minute! I can literally see the spaces between the groove as it moves towards the center of the record.

Just as odd is the performance of the song. First, there is the fact that (to me, at least), it sounds like we join the song in progress, almost in mid-breath of the singer, and certainly after some sort of music has already been played.

Then there is the deeply weird lead vocal, the overly peppy chorus, singing in such jolly spirits about being conked on the head (I particularly like the happy way they sing "He's a grouch", which is repeated three times), and the wacky sound effects. Not unheard of in kids records, but the feel of this one is sort of different, and the sudden ending just makes it weirder.

In addition, although the singer is presumably a cartoon character, singing about an occurance which is not uncommon for cartoon characters, I have no clue who he's supposed to be. Most of the kids records I've ever seen, if they are in character, have the name of that cartoon personality on the label, whether it's "Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans sing..." or "Popeye Sings....". But this one is by "Don Elliot and the Cartoon Cowboys".

This last point sent me, quite recently, for some answers. There is a famous Don Elliot, who is apparently primarily known as a jazz trumpet player, but who is also listed as a vocal talent in some searches, and was one of the hipsters behind the Chipmunks-meet-Bebop project "The Nutty Squirrels", in late 1959. So I'll assume this is the same guy.

But I still don't know what the hell led to this record, or who it was that listened to it and said something along the lines of, "yup, that's perfect - that'll be GREAT for our next kids' 45"...

Portrayal of Exuberance

I don't have a long story to tell about this one. For one thing, I have no memory of where I got it, although I think it was around 1986 or so. And for another thing, I only have the vaguest of ideas of what is being sung about - I'm sure that, if I were to be able to learn the title of the song, it would be nothing similar to the title "Spring Song" with which I've labeled the recording.

The first thing to say is that, perhaps more than anything else in music, I love the sound of children singing. The second is that this song, and others, proved to me that it wasn't necessary for me to understand what they were singing for me to love certain recordings of children singing.

I can't seem to find this record right now, so I don't have a picture of the label. But the label of the 10" record this song comes from is written almost entirely in Russian, as are all of the songs on the album. None of the other songs stood out as anything I needed to hear more than a few times, but near the end of the second side, I heard this marvelous, chugging accordian (or whatever it is), with lower notes provided either by the same instrument or something else (it sounds almost like a pump organ), and I was immediately captivated.

And then the singing began....

What a marvelous, unrestrained and inspired vocal. It is life-affirming, exciting and adorable, too, unihibited and wonderfully emotional. And then, just when that was getting really good, a whole chorus of like-minded, and like-voiced kids join in to sing a refrain, in each case made up of what I think is a part of each verse the soloist had just sung.

That paragraph really sums it up. This is just a wonderful sound - three minutes or so of absolute exuberance, which I find completely intoxicating. As with the other posts, have a listen, at the gmail site linked at the left side of this screen (follow the sign-in instructions).

I once had a friend take the song to a relative who spoke Russian, and she returned with a written description of what the song was about, rather than a translation. I no longer have that description, but as I recall, the song is about Spring in some unnamed town: courtship and other related happy, youthful Springtime experiences. Sounds like the right story for this music to me.