Crunch time

The strangely-named “The RAH Band” burst onto the scene in 1977, with a UK top-ten hit, a bouncy dance track called “The Crunch”.

Who were they, this peculiar ensemble, with their strange-sounds? The music industry newspaper Billboard provided the answer:

RAH notice

Billboard assumes its industry-savvy readers knew who Hewson is, and fair enough. You know his work, even if you have never heard the name. Born in 1943, he began a career as a producer and arranger in the late 1960s. He worked with the cream of pop music, most notably The Beatles (credits include “Across the Universe”, “I Me Mine” and “The Long and Winding Road”) but also The Bee Gees, James Taylor, Herbie Hancock, Supertramp, Diana Ross, Carly Simon, Art Garfunkel, Leo Sayer, Fleetwood Mac … it goes on, but you get the idea.

As The RAH Band, Hewson could relax a bit and have some fun – and that is what “The Crunch” undoubtedly is. It is a dance-floor packer without pretension. Just listen!

  • Artist: RAH Band
  • A Side: The Crunch (Part1)
  • B Side: The Crunch (Part 2)
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl
  • Label: RCA Victor
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: 102914
  • Year: 1977

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

 

 

 

 

When the bagpipes start up

Ever noticed that when the bagpipes start up, at a big military tattoo or a highland gathering, the bass note, the drones, tends to sound a bit wobbly, slightly out of tune?

Like this:

Same with sustained notes in the melody, especially high notes:

The Planet Vinyl shuttle has landed today in Bonnie Scotland. To be precise, we are at Redford Barracks, Edinburgh, on 18 May 1971. Performing are the snappily-named The Pipes and Drums and the Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. This will become a famous recording, selling more than seven million copies. It is the signature tune of the Scots Guards (as they are known to family and close friends), their arrangement of the hymn Amazing Grace.

Scotland_Forever!

“Don’t tell them the pipes are out of tune!” (Scotland Forever! 1881. Image: Leeds Art Gallery)

I decided, then, to find out. Is it just me, or does a massed pipe band actually sound a little out of tune. My musical friends inform me that, yes, by their nature bagpipes are never quite in tune with each other. Just how it is. Go with it.

And, were you a trembling adversary, a soldier standing in the line while the Scots Dragoons thundered towards you, sabres flashing, the slightly out-of-tune drones of the pipe band would be the least your worries.

  • Artist: The Pipes and Drums and the Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
  • A Side: Amazing Grace
  • B Side: Cornet Carillon
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl
  • Label: RCA Victor
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: 102078
  • Year: 1972

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

 

 

 

The wizardry of sheep shearing

There once were things called flexi discs. They were records, and you could play them on a turntable, but they were made of a thin sheet of vinyl. So thin that you could roll them up. Unrolled, they would still play. They were cheap to produce, and often included in magazines as a novelty. The Beatles put some out, for fan club publications, and these are now worth a mint. But the sound quality is not fantastic, and usually flexi discs were gimmicks, promotional materials of one sort or another.

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New Zealand travel poster c. 1936. Image: New Zealand Fine Prints

Here is one of those. It dates from the late 1970s, and promotes bus tours of New Zealand. It is, shall we say, a little try-hard. There are many excellent reasons to visit New Zealand. But the hub-bub of traffic in Auckland? The exciting modernity which is colour television? These are not what marketing folk call unique selling points.

This “sound journey through New Zealand” has its moments. Some nice Maori singing, the blub-blub of hot mud pools, the roar of a rugby crowd. And sheep. Yes, we are tantalized with the prospect of witnessing “the wizardry of sheep shearing”.

The disc does get one thing right: New Zealand genuinely one of the most beautiful and interesting places in the world. Among other things, there are an astonishing number of many fine artists, writers and musicians. Go there, do. Though maybe not on a bus tour.

  • Artist: Unknown
  • Title: Colonial Coachman: A Sound Experience of New Zealand
  • Format: 7”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl flexi disc
  • Label: Ambassador Records
  • Made in: Australia
  • Year: Unknown (1970s)

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

 

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

 

 

Reckless driving

Boy bands are the mayflies of pop music. More even than most in an ephemeral industry, time’s swift chariot presses close behind. Today, the object of the passionate love of a million teenage girls; tomorrow, the subject of universal derision.

Sometimes, a lad of strong character gets through it all, reinvents himself. Paul Anka, George Michael, (in my part of the world) John Farnham: but they are scarred survivors of an army which loses most along the march.

BayCityRollers1976RobBogaerts

Exhibit A: The Bay City Rollers. They started in Scotland the late 1960s as a Beatles cover band. In the hands of an unscrupulous manager, Tam Paton, they were raised to stardom, absolute lord-of-all-I-survey stardom. Then came the pop music career arc known as “Icarus”.

After peaking in 1975, with UK and US number one hits … well, the Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music takes up the story:

Disaster was heaped upon disaster. [Singer, Les] McKeown was charged with reckless driving after hitting and killing a 75-year-old widow, [guitarist] Eric Faulkner and [bassist] Alan Longmuir attempted suicide. Paton was jailed for committing indecent acts with underage teenagers.

Another member starred in a porn movie, another died from AIDS. You get the picture.

As is usual on Planet Vinyl, we will ignore the hits. “Money, Honey” was top ten in much of the world in 1975. Hard to see why, in retrospect – the Rollers here try to rock out, which ain’t their strength. The B-side is a lightweight love song, one of those “choose a woman’s name, add passion, stir” pop numbers. But they play and sing well, and the arrangement is skillful. They sound a bit like the Beatles cover band they started out as and which, in truth, they might have been happier and healthier staying. Money, honey, isn’t everything.

  • Artist: Bay City Rollers
  • A Side: Money Honey
  • B Side: Maryanne
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl
  • Label: Bell
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: BELL-10986
  • Year: 1975

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

 

Admire the calligraphy

Hearing the traditional music of China is like admiring a piece of calligraphy hanging in a temple. It is beautiful, no question. Clearly, great skill is required in its execution. But it can’t be escaped that this is a minute fragment of a rich and complex culture. The daunting truth: without a lifetime’s study and a gift for languages, you never will fully understand.

512px-Wang_Xianzi_Imitation_by_Tang_Dynasty

Image: Taito Ward Calligraphy Museum, public domain

But still, we can admire.

I visited China with my wife nearly 20 years ago. I remember once, on a street in Xian, stopping and listening to a busker, a young man playing traditional tunes on an instrument, the name of which I do not know, but it’s a distant cousin to the violin. The melodies and rhythms were unfamiliar, but the man played with passion, and there was no denying the beauty of it. Another Chinese man, listening beside me, gave me a nod and a smile. It was one of those wordless moments: he was proud of his people’s culture and pleased that a stranger was appreciating small part of it. If he had been Australian, he might have said: “Not bad, eh?”

This track is similar in style, though with a small orchestra. It from a compilation of folk tunes by various artists. As is often true of Chinese products, the English translation on the sleeve is a bit wobbly. This tune is “10 Miles Fragrant Of Blooming Olea”.

I do not pretend to Chinese scholarship, but I can help a bit. A “Chinese mile”, the li, is only about one-third of the English mile, and is now standardized as equal to 500 metres. “Olea” refers to Sweet Osmanthus, a small tree which grows widely in Asia. As its name suggests, this tree has fragrant flowers. Literally the tune should be called “five kilometers of nice-smelling Osmanthus trees”, which is worse than the original.

So, ignore the name. Close your eyes. It is spring, in the Chinese countryside, and the trees are in blossom. Just listen.

  • Artist: Unknown
  • Album title: Kweilin Scenery | Famous Chinese Light Music (Various artists)
  • Track: A4 “10 Miles Fragrant Of Blooming Olea”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: Fung Hang Record Ltd
  • Made in: Hong Kong
  • Catalogue: FHLP 201
  • Year: Unknown (1970s?)

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