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.

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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.

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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

You can honk your own horn!

Guest post by “Green Strobe”

“Excuse Me” is the final track on Alison MacCallum’s album of the same name, which turned out to be her last. A powerfully-voiced Australian blues/rock/soul singer, she released a couple of well-regarded albums, but is best remembered nowadays as the vocalist of the successful “It’s Time” jingle which emotively helped Gough Whitlam to victory in the 1972 Australian federal election.

whitlam_131011_getty

“It’s Time” was one of the great jingles. The T-shirts, not so much. Image via SBS

The single was issued in 1974, and the album in 1975. The single and its B-side are a pair of opposites – one an expression of love, the other a diatribe about a failed relationship.

0622 b“Excuse Me” is a lush number arranged in the mid-1970s manner, telling us how much she misses her other half. It’s rather unfair to say so, as the song predates Sherbet’s, but during the orchestral build-ups you may half-expect her to start singing “how-ow-ow howzat!”.

The B-side, “Honk” was not included on the album, making the single that much more attractive. And it’s pretty racy! A song of scorn directed at an ex-lover, the double entendre is not exactly subtle (it is on the Albert label) – “you can honk your own horn!”.

Rather explicit for the time, it takes a swing at male sexual gratification, mixing metaphors along the way (moving to sweets and gluttony, instead of maintaining the theme of lust and automotive and/or musical horn-blowing). It’s more of an upbeat tune, and brings to mind the angry feminism of the time – until you realise it was written by men! Pop svengali Simon Napier-Bell arranged, produced and (with Antonio Morales) wrote both sides. Nothing is ever what it seems…

  • Artist: Alison MacCallum
  • A Side: Excuse Me
  • B Side: Honk Honk
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Albert
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: AP-10476
  • Year: 1974

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

 

Coal miner’s daughter

Like any self-respecting country singer, Loretta Lynn was born into poverty in a colourfully named Kentucky hamlet – Butchers Hollow, in this case. The daughter of a coal miner, she was married at 13, though happily not to Jerry Lee Lewis. She does not quite complete the c.v., not having been to jail, but this is serious country cred.

Loretta_Lynn-Love_Is_the_Foundation

Image: Wikipedia

Though I knew the name and some of the hits, I had not realised how big a star Lynn was. Through the sixties and seventies she was a giant of country who also made the pop charts: “crossover” is the annoying term the marketers use. More to the point, she could really sing. She had that ability to sing sometimes maudlin material and carry it with sheer conviction. Given a half-decent song …

She also had a feisty, no-nonsense assertion on behalf of women: brave stuff in its day. Still needed, actually, judging by the news from Hollywood.

Here is one of her gutsy-sentimental songs, from the 1973 LP, Love is the Foundation, a declaration that this Southern Belle ain’t no doormat.

  • Artist: Loretta Lynn
  • Album: Love is the Foundation
  • Track: A4 “Just To Satisfy (The Weakness In A Man)”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: MCA
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: MAPS 7001
  • Year: 1973

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

 

A homogeneous plastic mass

When I was growing up, there was a thing called “Kraft Cheddar Cheese”. This revolting, yellow foodstuff was nothing remotely like cheddar. In fact, it did not have much to do with cheese, either. As kids, we called it “plastic cheese”, and we were actually close to the mark. The origins of Kraft Cheddar lie with either sacrilege or ingenuity – depends on your point of view. During the First World War, James L. Kraft, a Chicago cheese seller, began shredding all the husks and rinds and discards from the cheddar he sold, mixed in sodium phosphate as a preservative and – voila! – gave the world the wonder that is “American process cheese”. This is the stuff which, to this day, limply sags in the fast-food take-away hamburger.

kraft-singles-cheese-646

When it was first being produced, the people who made actual cheese went to court demanding that Kraft not be able to call this new substance “cheese”. They were half-successful. What came to be known as “American cheese” was defined as “a stable concoction of natural cheese bits mixed with emulsifying agents” which would form, in legal language “a homogeneous plastic mass”. (I am indebted to David Clark on Mental Floss for this background.)

All of which is completely irrelevant, except that when I first heard of the German experimental group Kraftwerk, I immediately thought of Kraft and plastic cheese. And in a strange way, the association is a good one. In the 1970s, Kraftwerk were pioneers in electronic music – pushing the new technologies of synthesised music into a deliberately machine-made minimalism. Their subject matter was, deliberately, the mundane products of modernity. Repetition, mechanical reproduction, the future: these were Kraftwerk’s themes.

And the amazing thing? It works! It takes a little getting into, but there is real art here, a jazz-like restraint amid minimalist self-parody. Kraftwerk takes “machine modern mundane”, takes Kraft singles (a plastic box of plastic cheese, each slice wrapped in plastic) and turns it into art.

No, I didn’t believe it could werk. But take the time to listen, more than once. This stuff is addictive, subtle, worth revisiting. Unlike Kraft Cheddar Cheese.

 

  • Artist: Kraftwerk
  • LP Title: The Man Machine
  • Side 1, Track 2: “Spacelab”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Capitol Records
  • Catalogue: ST-11728
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1979

Many of the records featured on Planet Vinyl are for sale on Discogs.