The name suggests a gangster

Muggsy Spanier. The name suggests a gangster from the Al Capone era, but Francis Joseph “Muggsy” Spanier was a musician. Given that the mob controlled all the best nightclubs in those days, and that, like Capone, Spanier was a native of Chicago, they might have crossed paths.

Muggsy played the cornet. The what? It’s a cousin of the trumpet – same basic design but a bit smaller, and the tube is differently shaped, and has a mellower sound. For many years it was the preferred instrument in jazz bands. The trumpet was all a bit bold and, well, brassy.

Spanier was just outside the absolute top flight of jazz musicians in the 1930s and 1940s. He played with the big guys: Fats Waller, Sidney Bechet, Bob Crosby, many more. Just didn’t quite crack the A-list, but surely not through lack of talent.

Trumpet playing evolved, and that instrument became king in jazz. The cornet – well, it’s still around, but a minority thing. But, man, does it sound great? Certainly in the hands of Muggsy Spanier it does. This is a 1941 recording, a shellac cutting of a sort of Dixieland-meets-swing version of a gospel tune, “Little David, Play Your Harp”. Actually, no harp is played, but there are lots of horns, played with skill and exuberance. Just listen, especially to Muggsy on the cornet.

  • Artist: Muggsy Spanier And His Orchestra
  • A side: Little David, Play Your Harp
  • B side: Hesitating Blues
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Decca
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: Y5972
  • Year: 1941

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

Pitch, control, mood, mastery

I am not often lost for words – just ask my wife and children – but it does happen. As here. The Planet Vinyl shuttle has taken us to meet Frank Sinatra. Nothing bad about that. Except, what do you say?

I could write a lot. But this is a music blog, where brevity is the soul of wit. And what short, pithy thing can you say about such a giant of popular music? So I did the modern thing, and crowd-sourced, putting out an appeal to friends and colleagues for some thoughts on Ol’ Blue Eyes.

MoonlightsinatraGreg Champion, a legend in Australian country music circles, and who this year won the Tamworth Country Music Festival Songmaker Award, was kind enough to share his thoughts:

Frank. The superlatives run dry. Did he ever hit a note he didn’t intend to? His pitch, control, mood, mastery – knew no limits. Of all the gushing that’s been written about him, I feel his finest thing is his ability to take a classic song, make it his own, put his own stamp on it, and come up with a new work of art. Too much Frank is never enough.

Amen. And this track illustrates all of the above. My vinyl is the B-side of a 1970s single, but the track first appeared much earlier. A concept album of sorts, a selection of songs touching on the moon, Moonlight Sinatra came out in 1966. Title is a nice pun; album could so easily be tacky. But it isn’t. From the slightly sleazy opening bars to the final note, this is a polished, mesmerizing recording. Just listen.

  • Artist: Frank Sinatra
  • A Side: Strangers In The Night
  • B Side: Oh, You Crazy Moon
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl
  • Label: Reprise
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: 0470
  • Year: 1971 (original release 1966)

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

Mozart for shopping malls

There are times when putting on a record whisks you though time and space, and places you down in an achingly familiar yet strange world. Suddenly you are watching Sunday television sitting on a beanbag in a shag-pile carpeted lounge-room. It is 1973. The theme music from the shows of this period is distinctive, evocative. You can almost smell the faint linger of cigarette smoke in the drapes, see the burnt-orange tiled coffee table.

waldoIt is now hopelessly daggy, even a bit tasteless, especially when lovely music from the past has been put through a crushed velvet mangle and served with a prawn cocktail. Mozart for shopping malls. My dad, a classical music purist, hated this “classics up-to-date” style with the fire of a thousand suns. Listening now, even on open-minded and inclusive Planet Vinyl, ya have to admit it: he had a point.

But, hey, it was of its time. It gave musicians a living. And it transports me back to a world in which there were wholesome black-and-white television shows about show-jumping, macramé pot hangers and English country houses. There are worse places.

  • Artist: Waldo De Los Rios,
  • A Side: Mozart: Symphonie N° 40 En Sol Mineur K. 550 – 1er Mouvement (Allegro Molto)
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Hispavox
  • Made in: Belgium
  • Catalogue: 2022 004
  • Year: 1971

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs


Five things I did not know about Ella Fitzgerald

Five things I did not know about Ella Fitzgerald

  1. She was born in 1917 in Virginia, but moved with her mother to New York State as a child, part of the Great Migration of African Americans seeking a better life in the northern states.
  2. Her mother died in a car crash in 1932, when Ella was only 15. She fell out with her stepfather and became homeless for a time.
  3. Her first hit was a version of a children’s rhyme “A Tisket A Tasket”, released in 1938
  4. In 1954 she was three days late to a tour of Australia, because she and three other black tour members were not allowed to board their flight from Honolulu to Sydney.
  5. She was active in the Civil Rights movement and refused to perform at segregated venues.


Something I did know: Ella’s was one of the great singing voices. This is one of her back catalogue. “I’ll Never Be Free” was a minor hit for her in 1950. Singing with Louis Jordan and his fine band, Ella makes it just shine.


  • Artist: Ella Fitzgerald
  • A side: “Dream a Little Dream of Me” (with Louis Armstrong)
  • B side: “I’ll Never Be Free” (with Louis Jordan)
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Decca
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: Y6302
  • Year: 1950

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs



Jungle king

If the highest purpose of music writing is to make the reader open up to music which has not previously had much appeal, then the best music writing I have ever encountered appears in a sci-fi novel about a giant rat with magical powers.

King RatChina Mieville is an endlessly inventive writer of imagined worlds, inhabited by preposterous creatures: walking talking cacti, convicted criminals whose legs have been replaced by steam engines as punishment, giant moths which feed on human thought … and those are just the easier ones to describe.

He is a Londoner, and some of his stories are set there. Sort of. It is real London, but also charged with dark magic, warring ghosts, the fiendish and the impossible. One of the London stories is King Rat. It features a character, Natasha, who is a Drum and Bass DJ. Mieville describes her, at her computer and working on her art:

She scrolled through the selection and plucked a favourite bassline from her digital killing jar. She had snatched it from a forgotten reggae track, sampled it, preserved it and now she pulled it out and looped it and gave it another life … This was the backbeat, the rhythm of tortured music. She loved it. Again her hands moved. A pounding beat joined the bass, cymbals clattering like insects. And the sound looped. Natasha moved her shoulders to the rhythm. Her eyes were wide as she scanned her kills, her pickled sounds … they segued smoothly into the rolling bass, the slamming drums.
This was Jungle.
The child of House, the child of Raggamuffin, the child of Dancehall, the apotheosis of black music, the Drum and Bass soundtrack for a London of council estates and dirty walls, black youth and white youth …

All of which brings us to DJ SS, who came into the world as Leroy Small. Growing up in Leicester, he got into break-dancing in the 1980s and began making a name as a scratch DJ while still a teenager. He became a pioneer of the rave scene in the UK and one of its early stars. He set up a vinyl record label, Foundation Records, which became a leader in Jungle and put out hundreds of releases, of which this is one.

5002 label

Okay. I am a white guy in middle age, and my first musical love was folk and roots. Jungle and its many cousins will never be my first choice of listening. But having read King Rat, I half understand. I sort of get it. I can appreciate the skill of the work and the point of the whole thing. If you know and like this style of music, you will need no convincing. But if, like me, the Jungle is foreign , still give it a go. Turn up the volume, emphasize the bass, and just listen.

  • Artist: DJ SS
  • Release title: S Files (Case File 2)
  • D Side (release is two discs): Let It Go
  • Format: 12”, 45 rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Formation Records
  • Made in: UK
  • Catalogue: FORMLP014CF2
  • Year: 2004


Those Rambunctious Monkees

They are the Pinocchio of pop music, The Monkees. The four members were brought together by the producer of a television show. They were hired as actors, to play the roles of members of a fictional band. The show, and the music in it, became enormously popular. In the late 1960s they were seriously likened to The Beatles. Some wit dubbed them “the Pre-Fab Four”.


Image: TV/Tropes

Pinocchio-like, there was some deceit involved. In the first two albums credited to The Monkees, the members of the “band” did not actually play the music – they sang the vocal tracks, but that was all. They wanted to play, but weren’t allowed to. That came later – this artificial creation, this made-up pop group, won artistic control.

Pinocchio-like, they were transformed into a real band.

You can understand why The Monkees wanted to be free, but their early, semi-artificial records stand up well. Okay, mostly. Hearing Davey Jones reciting sentimental poetry is like being having luke-warm treacle poured over your head. Twenty seconds gives you the picture …

But mostly, it is great – bouncy pop, with the odd harder rocker and some hints of musical theatre. Here is a fun track from their second LP, all about the complexities caused when the object of your affections has, annoyingly, a family.

  • Artist: The Monkees
  • Album title: More of the Monkees
  • Tracks: B3 The Day We Fall In Love (extract); A5 Your Auntie Grizelda
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: RCA
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: COS 102
  • Year: 1967

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs



Brisbane boys, briefly

It is our national day, here in Australia. Imaginatively called “Australia Day”, 26 January is the anniversary of the proclamation of a British penal colony, New South Wales, in 1788. The date is becoming increasingly contested. Indigenous people resent it, calling it “Invasion Day”. There are more prosaic reasons for wanting a change. Australia is a federation of states, of which NSW (though the oldest, largest, richest and most powerful) is only one. The presumption “NSW = Australia” is simple common sense in NSW but it annoys the rest of us mightily.

aust day

All class, Australia Day is. Image: Adelaide Now

So, the date is becoming a battle in the culture wars. The odd thing is that until twenty years ago, no one really cared much about Australia Day. It was a a public holiday like Labour Day and the Queen’s Birthday: a welcome day off, but otherwise something about which people knew little and cared less.

Me, I am not big on flag-waving. I love my country, but my country drives me mad. I am a proud Australian, but often Australia makes me sick with shame. I imagine that this is pretty much how every thinking person feels about their homeland. Still, it seems appropriate to mark Australia Day with something Australian. Well, kinda Australian.

The brothers Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb were born on the Isle of Man. In the late 1950s, the family migrated to Australia. It was in Brisbane that the brothers Gibb began performing as the Bee Gees, and it was here that they had their first hit, “Spicks and Specks”, in 1966.

The Gibb boys are best remembered for their 1970s disco period, but they were more of a soft rock band before then. And they were good, they really were. Lovely tight harmonies, excellent song-crafting, polished arrangements. The lyrics, not so strong. But still, this disc from their pre-disco era stands up well. “Mr. Natural” didn’t chart anywhere much except Australia, and this track, the B-side, never even made it onto an album – but it is a good pop song.

Okay, let’s face facts. In 1967, which is to say as soon as they possibly could, the Bee Gees returned to the UK. But for a decade or so, these Manx-born Britons who went on to become one of the most successful pop bands in recording history, lived in suburban Brisbane. Does this make them Australian? As Australian as many other things we claim in these parts. It doesn’t matter much to me.

  • Artist: Bee Gees
  • A Side: Mr. Natural
  • B Side: It Doesn’t Matter Much To Me
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Spin
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: K-5492
  • Year: 1974

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs