Saturday, October 22, 2005


Well, my mom's in the hospital, hopefully being discharged within days. She seems to be bouncing back like a champion, from a fairly major incident in the life of someone her age, and I'm so thankful for that, I can't even put it into words.

Anyway, I thought I'd post something a bit different than what has been offered up until now, as a way to pay tribute to my mother for the wonderful job she's done, and continues to do, in that role, as well as her amazing gifts and talents as a singer, and as a thank you for the wonderful musical education I was afforded, in childhood.

My mom is a soprano, with a history of singing and performance too long to go into here, but because of the wonders of home recording, available to those who chose to avail themselves of it (such as my parents), beginning in the 1950's, I have a treasure trove of recordings of just about everyone in my family, and particularly of my mother's singing.

The two songs I've uploaded are:

1.) "Depuis Le Jour", possibly the most romantic operatic piece I've ever encountered - it gives me chills just about every time - heard here as recorded in the living room of my family's apartment, in 1954 (you can occaisionally hear the upstairs neighbors moving furniture around upstairs, in apparent dissatisfaction with the racket coming from below).

2.) Proch's "Air and Variations", an unbelievably demanding and beautiful composition which I loved to hear when I was five, and still love today. This recording, which unfortunately both skips a neat, understanded piano intro, and ends as the last note is fading, was recorded in my mother's vocal teacher's studio, in 1965.

Hope this is to your liking. It's about as wonderful as it gets!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Happy Birthday, John

While the rest of the musical world is paying tribute to John Lennon, on what would have been his 65th birthday, by remembering his music and his causes, and amongst all of the radio tributes, I thought I'd post a few tracks that are, perhaps, not getting the airplay that "Imagine", "Come Together", "Twist and Shout" and "Born in a Prison" have gotten today (well, maybe the same amount of airplay that "Born in a Prison" got, since I have my doubts that that one was heard by too many listeners).

I'm a devotee of the "Get Back" tapes, the endless hours of recordings which captured virtually every moment that the Beatles were in the studio (or, for the first two weeks, the film set) in January of 1969. I know that for some people, these recordings are the perfect thing to encourage them to leave the room, but I have listened to them eagerly for years. At the Gmail site, there are three odd recordings from those sessions, and one rockin' version of a song that ended up on the "Let it Be" album.

The song from "Let it Be" is "Two of Us", heard here in a slightly incomplete form, as an uptempo rocker, a much better setting, in my opinion, than the version which was released.

Moving on to the true "outtakes"... The most well known is the improvised (and Lennon-led) song "Suzy's Parlour", a condensed version of which showed up in the film "Let it Be". This is the whole thing, though, in all it's ragged, loose glory.

Second is a goofy series of performances that three apparently drunk Beatles performed, after returning from lunch on January 10th, and after George had announced he was quitting the band effective immediately. John riffs on "Don't Be Cruel", and then the three of them wander around with some Bossa Nova songs for a few minutes, with Paul offering some ridiculous vocalizing, and a few lines from Elvis songs, as well. I find this little segment endlessly entertaining.

Finally is a song I might very well put in my top ten favorite Beatles songs, even though it was never released, and was, in fact, an improvisation. It's January 9th. George complains about the way the band is set up, and plays a few chords to demonstrate. Paul joins in on bass, continuing, even though George stops almost immediately, and leads the rest of the band into what becomes a rockin', if somewhat disjointed, song, a song poking very sarcastic fun at a politician, Enoch Powell, who was making news that week by making some extremely distasteful comments about Pakistani immigrants. The song is called "Commonwealth", and I'm posting it for John's birthday, even though it's Paul's improvisation, first because it's such a great little number, but also because John's addition to the song (the "Yes" shouts in the chorus, and a few other comments), help make the song much better, especially in that Paul cracks up a few times in response to John. (It is not, as some casual listeners have thought from time to time, proof that Paul holds racist views - he's clearly satirizing a racist.) I once wrote out the words to this song (as I heard them), including the points at which Paul mumbles gibberish, unable to think of a rhyme, and will happily send them out or post them, if anyone is interested.

Hope that some of these, if not all of them, are new to you, and that you enjoy them. Happy birthday John, wherever you are.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Latest in Song-Poems!

Here are a few comments about two tracks I've uploaded to the gmail site. I've been collecting song-poem records for nearly ten years now, and although my collecting had slowed to a crawl a couple of years ago, it is now going at full speed again, due to CDR trading and online buying.

(for those of you just joining the song-poem world, or not there yet, please see for an explanation.)

The songs I've uploaded are two of my favorites among my recent purchases. The first is "Be Optimistic" by Sammy Marshall and the Rays, on the "Roxie" label. Following a short burst of the chorus, this song opens up with a line which has to be among the least likely lyrics one would ever imagine opening a song called "Be Optimistic". But I'll leave that surprise for you.

In general, the song doesn't sustain that insanity level, but the main point of the song - which seems to be along the lines of "don't gamble, and don't believe in luck, but still, 'be optimistic' " - is muddled enough to make for a bizarre listening experience, especially since the singer barely describes anything good happening to you - prior to your arrival in heaven, that is.

Of course, that is to say that the Lord is involved, a message I could agree with, if the theology wasn't so completely black and white: is he actually saying that the bad news of the first verse happened because he "rolled them dice"? And is blind faith in God the very definition of Optimism? Apparently so. Well, um....

But above all, that opening verse, with it's combination of peppy presentation and sad lyrics, just floors me. All of the above is strongly enhanced, all that much more, by one of my four favorite song-poem singers, Sammy Marshall. (The glitches near the end of this MP3, by the way, are present on the record itself.)

The other disk is my very first 78 rpm song-poem purchase. At least I assume it's a song-poem - it's on a label said to be dedicated to such releases, "Stylecraft". On the other hand, maybe it isn't a song-poem - it sounds fairly professional, if odd in lyric and subject. The song is "The Grinder Man", performed by Frankie Day. I love the arrangement, and I'd also love to know exactly what the lyric "...knives and shivs..." means, as I'm not aware of the difference between the two. Perhaps a kind reader/50's gang member out there can clarify this point for me. I'm just glad to own a smoothly sung, demo performance of a tin pan alley-ish song which contains the word "shiv".


Pinky is a Loser

Hot off the turntable, it's a pair of fabulous recordings by Pinky Pinkston and the Dixie Drifters, two sides of the one 45. This has long been one of my favorite "way out there" record releases, one I've always figured to have been a vanity pressing, especially given the two addresses on the label, one in Chicago and one in rural Illinois.

On the other hand, I've recently learned that there exists at least one other Pinky Pinkston release, one which has been anthologized in the past, in a collection put together by Wavy Gravy, of all people, so many Pinky had some sort of musical career.

Such a concept is hard to fathom based on this record. This easily ranks at the bottom among the worst records in my collection (particularly when soul-challanged artistes as such Tony Martin, Fabian, Jay and the Americans, Benny Mardones, Yes, AC/DC and Billy Ocean are removed from consideration for "The Awfulness Awards", and are entered into the (sadly) far more competitive "Horrid But Successful Hitmakers Awards").

Yes, there are few obscure records in my collection which are more cringe inducing than Pinky's song "I Am A Loser", although one of the songs which is even worse is "Beggar Or A Clown", which is conveniently located on the other side of the record, and which also, just like "Loser", features a ferret being tortured, or perhaps that's Pinky's voice. I've yet to be able to make out every last word of these lyrics, due to the unique delivery of the lead singer. If my clock radio alarm were to switch on, and a radio station was playing either of these songs at that moment, I have no doubt whatsoever that I would be positively scared out of my wits.

There's something to be said for the random way that the "I Am a Loser" starts up, and the way that the band members sometimes seem to be playing different songs at the same time, but it is on "Beggar or a Clown" where the true incompetence shows up. Once it gets going, in addition to the spectacularly bad vocal, every now and then, the drummer pounds a bit harder, as if he's suddenly playing a polka, and the guitar solo at the end seems to be made up of almost randomly picked notes. Then the song simply comes to a stop, first with the guitarist deciding he's done, then with the drummer offering a final downbeat.

Perhaps you've noticed a lack of gender identification, on my part, for the Pinkster. Well, I was recently amused to discover, after years of enjoying this record with one of my oldest friends, that he (my friend) had always assumed that Pinky was of one particular (and marvelous) gender, while I had always thought of Pinky as the other (equally fabulous) gender.

I'll let the readers/listeners have a bit of fun listening (I certainly shouldn't be the only one to have the rare chance to listen to this record any time I want), and offer up their guesses as to whether Pinky is/was a lady or a gentleman. Please do tell!

I have no memory whatsoever of when or where it was that I came across this record, but given that the Chicago address on the label is not far from a highway I take every few days, the aforementioned friend and I went to that address one day, and found a rather upscale apartment in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, where the listing on the door did not show any sign of anyone named "Pinkston".