Thursday, October 04, 2012

Two Sides of Tin Pan Alley

The Tin Pan Alley label went through more different styles of music than most song-poem labels. Partly this was because it existed for a long period, a period during which musical styles changed quickly and with wild differences. But they also appear to have made an effort to keep up with the styles of the day more aggressively than many labels.

A Sterling record may sound like something from 5-10 years earlier, and a Halmark record may sound (if it sounds like anything ever released) like something from 30 years earlier. But a Tin Pan Alley record is likely to sound in the neighborhood of what might be on legitimate releases from the same year it was released, although often the quality of the music and lyrics would be several steps below those legitimate records, particularly on the records from beyond about 1962. Today, two records from perhaps eight years apart, which share nothing in common except for the label on which they appeared.

First up, someone named Tony Miller, with what may be his only appearance on a Tin Pan Alley record, or any song-poem record, and it's a really good, fun one, too. "That's the Way It Goes" appears to date from about 1958, and it bounces along in the pop-rock-rockabilly hybrid feel of more than a few 1957-58 records, with a trebly guitar leading the way, and a doo-wop bass singing what sometimes seem to be almost random oom-boppa's, and a rhythm section that wouldn't have been out of place on dozens of records I can think of. I like this a whole bunch - maybe you will, too:

"Don't Say Goodbye" is on the flip, and this one begs for a doo-wop arrangement that never shows up. Although this is clearly the same band as on the other side, and they do their jobs well enough, I don't think this one is nearly as inspired as its partner in vinyl.

Let's flash forward eight years, now, to roughly 1966:

By 1966, and going forward for the next few years, Tin Pan Alley had morphed into a low-fi, lower budget house of garage rock and, for lack of a better term, garage pop. Many of these records are ridiculously minimilist, are often poorly played, and feature amatuerish singing - I've shared more than a few of them. They don't sound like most of the biggest hits of the mid '60's, but they do share something with the more homemade sounding of the hits of the era. The records I've posted by Mike Thomas

"Dreamy Eyes" by Cathy Mills, barely qualifies for the above description, and some listeners may disagree that it has any overlap with the pop of the era at all. But in it, I do here some of the simple-as-a-garage-band quality, and to my ears, it also has some of the Vo-De-Oh-Do feel that can be heard in some of Herman's Hermit's hits, and which was just coming into vogue in early 1966. Not to say that it's very good - it's fairly ridiculous, but at least in a fun sort of way.

"Come Home to Me" is the sort of pleading ballad that could have been released at any point from the mid '50's, well into the '60's. But this record is remarkable for containing a fairly early reference to missing a soldier who is in Viet Nam. The number on this record fairly well places it as being from late '65 or early '66, well before most pop records (Barry Sadler's being the big exception), or indeed any other song-poem I've heard, were making lyrical reference to that conflict.

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