Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Filmy Tones of Film-Tone

Before I share this week's EP, I wanted to make sure that anyone reading this blog knows that I posted an entire song-poem album to the WFMU blog over the weekend. That post can be found here.

And now, on with the countdown:

The Film-Tone label is one of the murkier ones in the song-poem world. I posted a single Film-Tone song early on in this project, but today we have a full EP. ASPMA has documented a link between this late '50's label and the 1960's Star-Crest label. There's no suprise there - both feature arrangements which were long out of date, sung in a sort of sterile style.

But Star-Crest tended to feature a soloist singing what were clearly demos, often barely rehearsed, backed by a pianist or at best a minimal combo (I posted a full Star-Crest album here, a few years ago). At Film-Tone, on the other hand, they went in the other direction, featuring a small combo (piano, guitar and sax, here), and almost always (on the records I've owned and/or heard) a mixed trio of voices - usually fairly intricate in arrangement and (almost) well rehearsed, even - as you'll see - when the choice to use this vocal combo clashed with the lyrics.

Every Film-Tone record I'm aware of is a 45 EP, and although some actually have a name of the orchestra on them (plus "vocal trio"), the three I own do not, reading just "vocal trio". There are a couple of winners here, if you're willing to wade through two others which are quite tepid. The final track, in particular, should prove very entertaining.

The first one, "I Don't Think I Could", does feature some heartfelt, painful lyrics, but the performance is fairly soulless, and it's perhaps my least favorite of the four:

With "The Moonlight, The Prairie, And You", things take a definite step up, in my opinion. Maybe I'm just a sucker for this sort of thing, but this actually sounds like something one might hear on a nostalgic album of "songs from long ago". That it was actually written in the late '50's, commissioned, song-poem style, adds a level of weirdness that I enjoy.

Herve LaPlume's "Send Me Away with a Smile" is notable mostly for the melody, which seems to have been constructed almost entirely from random notes, and I'm amazed that the trio gets through it with as few errors as they do. I don't think I could have sung it:

The award winner here, though, has to be "Steppin' On the Gas". First of all, am I wrong, or do these lyrics make no sense, particularly the line after he's been stopped by an officer: "I had to do some speeding or pay a fine, you see"? Also, what is the line after "the car sped down the highway"?

Those specifics aside, these lyrics are an endless source of pleasure to me, as is the peculiar decision (alluded to above) to use the mixed trio - with the two women on lead for most of the performance - to sing a song which is written from the view of a man.


Anonymous said...

They must've sight-read it, because there's no way to memorize that sort of Pythagorean vocal melody.

Stuart Shea said...

I think the weird lyrics (pay a fine OR step on the gas) is referring to the idea that if he wants to avoid a fine, he'll have to outspeed the officer.

As to the next line, "Hawed when you should have geed"? What the hell.m

Darryl W Bullock said...

Once again, a lovely puddle of mush.

Incidentally I have a Star Crest album from 1961 - New Favorites of Tony Rogers (not listed at AS/PMA) which features a few two or three-piece band performances, rather than the simple piano demos on the Robert Ravis album, although these are nothing like as sophisticated as the Film-Tone recordings.

Bob Purse said...

Thanks for the reminder about there being a bit more music on some of the star-crest albums - I should have remembered that, as one of my favorite song-poems is from a guitar-piano-voice star crest album. I've changed the text accordingly!

Sammy Reed said...

The words "I know 'gee' and 'haw'" are part of a song called "Unemployment Woes" by Clifford Cox.
So I guess "gee and haw" is some old expression. I wouldn't quite know what it means, though.
But yeah, I think the words are "and 'hawed' when it should 'gee'".

Graham said...

I will agree that 'Stepping on the Gas' is a weird one and I cannot figure out that you pointed out, though I do think what the lyricst is describing is trying to run away from the cops... I am hoping you find the time to re-upload the rest, especially 'Send Me Away with a Smile', as I would love to hear the 'random notes' accompaniment.