Hurry back to your seat

It is 1957. You are sitting in a cinema in Melbourne, Australia, and it is Interval. Younger folk may never have experienced an “interval” in a cinema, but it used to be a thing, equivalent to half time at the football. As the house lights brighten and you rise, contemplating whether to buy an ice-cream, a fruity baritone voice floats over the PA.

This announcement was a custom acetate recording, a 78-rpm metal disc covered in black lacquer. These were used to record radio advertisements, theatre announcements and the like. In this case, the management want the punters not to hang around too long in the foyer, ruining the cinema’s screening times.

7133As you will have picked up, you were seeing The King and I, the 1956 film version of the Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical. This is a much-loved production, still being performed around the world. Personally, I’m not sure why it has such an exalted place in the canon, but millions disagree with me and it has some good moments.

Maybe, in 1957, the magic would have been stronger, and I would have rushed the next day to buy this EP. I have chosen one of the less-famous numbers, a song of love and gentle melancholy. The singing credit is given to Deborah Kerr, but along with the other songs in the film it was actually sung by Marni Nixon.

Now, grab your ice cream and get back to your seat. The movie is about to start!

Recording 1

  • Artist: Unknown
  • A side: “Interval, King & I”
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, acetate, mono
  • Label: Broadcast Exchange of Australia (BEA)
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: none
  • Year: Unknown (probably 1957)

Recording 2

  • Artist: Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner
  • EP Title: The King and I
  • Track: A2 “Hello, Young Lovers”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: Capitol
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: EAP 1-740
  • Year: 1957

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

 

 

Never shoot first

Gene Autry was the first great singing cowboy of American popular culture. Not a type of performer you see much anymore. We still have western movies, but they tend to be grim and bloody, and there is not much time for singing around the campfire, faithful horse in the background, between two cardboard boulders.

It all seems tacky now, the world of the B-movie western, but hugely popular in its day, and Autry was a colossus of that world. Born in 1907, Autry became a star of radio, the large and small screens, and one of the most successful recording artists ever. He wrote or co-wrote hundreds of songs. (His biggest success? “Here Comes Santa Claus”.) He made 640 recordings, and sold over 100 million copies of his records. The man was, in consequence, worth a mint. He owned a TV station, a baseball team, a film studio – the works.

637px-Gene_Autry_Pinafores_radio_show_1948

Gene Autry with singing group The Pinafores, 1948. Image: CBS Radio, Public Domain, via Wikimedia

Autry’s persona was that of the straight shooter, the cowboy as patriot and embodiment of what was good and fine in American manhood. This can grate on a modern audience. For the guidance of the boys and young men who idolised him, Autry created the ten-point Cowboy Code, which begins: The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.

Just what a Boy Scout needs to know. Mind, there are some cops out there who could learn a thing or two from the Cowboy Code …

More important, the music was good. Autry’s mellow voice and easy guitar style stand up well. This is his take on “Buttons and Bows”, which was a hit for him in 1947.

  • Artist: Gene Autry
  • A side: Buttons And Bows
  • B side: Blue Shadows On The Trail
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Regal Zonophone
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: G25274
  • Year: 1948

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

 

 

 

Our Glad

She was HUGE. Her first name all you needed. That was her, the famous singer, the Australian girl who had gone to England and become a star.

It was the 1930s, when Australia was self-consciously claiming its place in the world. We loved an international champion. There was our great aviator, Charles Kingsford-Smith; our great cricketer, Don Bradman; our great racehorse, Pharlap. And there was “Our Glad”.

Who? Her star has faded, but Gladys Moncrieff, “Australia’s Queen of Song” was the Kylie Minogue of her day. Born in Bundaberg, Queensland, in 1892, she became the top leading lady in Australian musical theatre. A critic wrote of an early performance:

It was good to hear a crowded Australian audience acclaim the success of a slim, straight young Australian girl … It was a personal triumph in which hard work, talent and youth bore fine fruit.

By the mid-1920 she was earning 150 pounds a week, making her the highest paid entertainer in Australia. In 1926 she sailed to England, and after a few false starts again broke through: “Before the night concluded” wrote a reviewer, “even the dullest critic must have realized that a new star of amazing brilliance had climbed above London’s theatrical horizon”.

old spinning wheelShe also recorded nearly 100 gramophone records, and was the first Australian artist to regularly outsell recordings from abroad. This is one, her version of “The Old Spinning Wheel”, written by the great American songwriter Billy Hill.

She could really sing, our Glad.

 

  • Artist: Gladys Moncrieff with orchestra Conducted by Gil Dech
  • A side: The Old Spinning Wheel
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Regal Zonophone
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: G22098
  • Year: Unknown (c. 1934)

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

Young Turk

Torok is an unusual name for an American country artist of the 1950s. Country is usually the domain of the Anglo name: Nelson, Cash, Jennings, Parton. Even those not born with one used to put a suitable name on with the cowboy hat. Baldemar Garza Huerta did better as “Freddy Fender”.

Torok means “Turk” in the Hungarian language, and it was a surname given to people whose forebears had migrated there from Turkey in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. That empire was destroyed in the First World War, and in the wake of that defeat a Hungarian couple, Niklos and Irene Torok, migrated again, to the United States.

3331There, in Houston, they had a son in 1929. Mitchell Torok grew up listening to the music around him, took up guitar at age twelve, and by his 20s became small-big in country music. He appeared on the major country radio programs, and wrote song for many of the stars of the day, particularly Jim Reeves.

His biggest hit came in 1953 with “Caribbean”, a light-hearted stomper with a vaguely Hawaiian sound celebrating the beauty of ladies in Cuba and Haiti. It’s a fun song but I prefer the B side. One of Torok’s idols was the great Hank Williams (who died before his time earlier that year), and there is more than a hint of Hank in “Weep Away”.

Whoever bought this record loved this song – it has been played many, many times, and the shellac is battered and worn. Even through the rumble and scratch, this is a heartfelt performance.

  • Artist: Mitchell Torok
  • A side: Caribbean
  • B side: Weep Away
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: London
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: HL-1011
  • Year: 1954

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

 

 

Liquorice stick

On Sunday, my wife and I saw a jazz band, Sandra Tulty’s Swing Quartet. Australians all, and all stellar musicians: one of those jaw-dropping jazz ensembles, which sing, play multiple instruments, and take on solos without so much as raising a sweat. I was particularly impressed by the clarinettist, Michael McQuaid. He moved in and out of the music, soloing with extraordinary power and dexterity.

It reminded me of the great Artie Shaw – one of those musicians I have discovered through Planet Vinyl. Shaw was a contemporary of Benny Goodman, and they were built up as rivals, though the two men liked and respected each other. They were both Jewish (Shaw was an anglicization of Arshawsky) and they both took the jazz clarinet, the “liquorice stick” as it was called, into aural spaces no one had ever even thought of.

IMG_2241This is Artie Shaw’s recording of “Begin the Beguine”, released in 1938. The record has been played so often that the label is hard to read, but it once belonged to someone called Dawson. Whoever that was, they took good care of their records – the shellac still plays well, letting the smooth, sinuous clarinet sound shine.

  • Artist: Artie Shaw And His Orchestra,
  • Track: “Beguine the Beguine”
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac
  • Label: His Master’s Voice
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue: EA 2369
  • Year: 1938

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

 

 

 

 

After the movie finished

Australia and America have been close friends for a long time. It dates back to the Second World War, when Australia found itself facing a Japanese invasion. Traditionally, Australia had looked to Britain for protection. But Britain was in a desperate struggle for survival herself, and unable to help. So on 27 December 1941 the Australian Prime Minister, John Curtin, made one of those this-changes-everything speeches:

Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.

One result was a huge influx of US servicemen. At the peak, some quarter-of-a-million Americans were based here.

IMG_2240 (002)This gramophone record is an artifact of this period. Specially made, it has the same track on both sides. It was not allowed to be broadcast, and was played many, many times – note the wear around the central hole. And the music? An unknown brass band plays the first few bars of God Save the King (which was then the Australian national anthem), segueing into John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever”.

I think that this strange record was played at cinemas inside American military bases. In those days, it was routine for the national anthem to be played after a film had finished. The first section is a polite nod to the host country, before they launch into America’s national march – which, it must be said, is far and away the better tune.

  • Artist: Unknown
  • Title: God Save the King followed by Stars and Stripes, march
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac
  • Label: His Master’s Voice
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: Special Record No. 1
  • Year: Unknown (c. 1942?)

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

Early-model Bieber

Paul Anka was a sort of early-model Justin Bieber. A Canadian-born singer who became a star at a young age, and was a bit of a honey.

Paul_Anka_1961

Paul Anka in 1961. Photo Wikimedia

This was his first big hit: a love song in which a young man expresses his undying devotion to a lady by the name of Diana. Lyrically, Shakespeare it ain’t:

Thrills I get when you hold me close
Oh, my darling, you’re the most

Hmm. Even the start: “I’m so young and you’re so old”. In my experience, telling a girl you fancy that she’s old is not a great plan. If untrue, she will be offended. If true, she will be offended …

Never mind, the song was a one of the biggest hits of all time – something like nine million copies were sold, which in 1957 was a staggering number.

Paul Anka, happily, seems to have avoided the personal tragedy which is often the lot of the teen star. He reinvented himself several times, and remained active as a performer and composer for  some fifty years. Among his credits are the lyrics to Frank Sinatra’s signature song, “My Way”. He is still with us, and well into his seventies he is still performing. This is a guy whose first recordings came out on 78 rpm. If Justin Bieber manages something similar sixty years from now,  he’ll be doing pretty well

  • Artist: Paul Anka
  • Single Title: Diana
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, mono
  • Label: W&G
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: WG-XPN 496
  • Year: 1957

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