‘Greater commercial success expected …’

There is an entire continent of Planet Vinyl called Neverquite. This is where we find the recordings of those honest toilers in the vineyard of song who “never quite” made it big. There is sadness here, but less than you might expect. There are those who were crushed along with their dreams, and whose ghosts are bitter. But more often there is pride in having done something good, and a mature acceptance that failure in terms of fame and showbiz is not failure in life.

The patron saint of Neverquite is Dick Contino. He was a talented piano-accordionist from L.A., who had a hit or two in the late 1940s. He later became friends with crime writer James Ellroy, who wrote a novella about Contino. Right at the end Contino muses:

My career never regained its early momentum. Lounge gigs, dago banquets—I earn a decent living playing music I love.

So many artists who pop up on Planet Vinyl belong in this space: happy enough living in Neverquite.

Here is another. Jackie Lee. No, not the handsome young country singer of recent times. This Jackie Lee was female, born Jacqueline Norah Flood, in Dublin in 1936. She was a child prodigy, enjoying success first in Ireland and then after moving to London. She sang with dance bands and vocal groups and was a fixture on variety shows. She sang backing vocals on international hits, including Tom Jones’ “Green, Green Grass of Home”.

jackie_1

Jackie Lee. Image: The World of Jackie Lee

She had extraordinary vocal range, and she was good looking, and a decent actor. She seemed set for stardom  … but it never quite happened. If you are interested, some loyal fans have established a website, The World of Jackie Lee which tells her story. Meantime, have a listen to the two sides of this single, an Australian release from 1962.

There’s No-One In The Whole Wide World

(I Was The) Last One To Know

The website says of this record:

The fact that these … recordings were issued overseas suggests far greater commercial success was expected than actually happened.

Never quite … but she earned a decent living playing music she loved. Nothing wrong with that.

  • Artist: Jackie Lee and The Raindrops
  • A Side: There’s No-One In The Whole Wide World
  • B Side: (I Was The) Last One To Know
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: W&G
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: WG-S-1361
  • Year: 1962

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

 

 

 

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 man with the monocle

There was a time before microphones. Think about what that meant for a singer. You had to stand on stage in front of an orchestra, and your unaided voice had to reach the far corner of the hall. It is an astonishing thing: to sing with pitch, control, feeling, as well as power and volume. It requires talent, dedication and training, and technique.

OGt-TauberTopper

Richard Tauber in his dapper prime

Microphones changed singing. From the 1930s on, it was possible to front a band and sing, and let the microphone do the heavy lifting. You could focus on timing, timbre and expression. Paradox: the electronically amplified singer can sound more natural.

So to modern ears, operatic singing is a bit of an acquired taste. The power and volume of the natural, trained classical voice seems a bit odd, stylised, artificial. It is worth making the effort, though. Before the microphone, classical singing was singing. This was how it was done, how music sounded.

One of the early superstars of recorded music was Richard Tauber. He wore a monocle. Along with a silk top hat, it was his trademark. He did not need the lens to see. In fact – well-kept secret – monocles are completely useless for helping vision. They were only ever a silly fashion item. But Tauber had a squint in one eye, and the monocle disguised that, and made him look dapper besides.

More to the point, Tauber could sing. A measure of his popularity is that long after he died (of lung cancer, in 1948), when superior recording techniques allowed other tenors to share their art, Richard Tauber’s work continued to be reissued.

I have not been able to determine when this track – one of more than 720 he recorded – was released on shellac. Guessing mid-1930s? Nor do I know when the vinyl EP reissue, with this and three other songs, came out. Guessing late 1950s? All that matters: here is a voice than has pitch, control and feeling, as and can reach the far corner of the hall. Just listen!

  • Artist: Richard Tauber
  • EP Title: Richard Tauber Favorites Vol. 1
  • Track: A2 “Liebestraum” (Liszt)
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: Parlophone
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: REPO 7501
  • Year: Unknown

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

 

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

 

The lady vanishes

On a Cathay Pacific flight bound for Hong Kong, some years ago, I idly flicked through the entertainment channels on the small television in front of me. Among the options was an animated cartoon of Winnie the Pooh, familiar except that Pooh, Piglet and the rest were all speaking Cantonese.

Winnie the Pooh, created by English writer and humourist A.A. Milne in the 1920s, has become truly global. So much so that it is now risky to refer to Pooh, or to share an image of him, on social media in China. It could be taken as a slight against Premier Xi, you see, who is said to resemble Pooh.

Capture 1

Image: ABC News

Milne also wrote several collections of verse for children. These were hugely popular in their day, but time has not been as kind. Listening to this EP, I can see why. Many of the poems, especially those about Christopher Robin, have a slightly-off sweetness. Others are, well, a bit creepy.

when wwvy

Image: Discogs

“Disobedience” tells of a possessive three-year old boy who demands that his mother never leave the house without him. One day, Mother does go out alone, and vanishes. Despite desultory efforts to learn what has happened, Mother is never seen or heard of again. The end.

As we say in Australia: bloody hell! Can’t see that getting published now. Mind, I had this record as a boy, and loved the poem, thought it clever and funny – nothing more. Maybe we overthink these things.

  • Artist: Poems by A.A. Milne, performed by David Tomlinson
  • EP Title: When We Were Very Young
  • Track: B2 “Disobedience”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: Children’s Record Guild Of Australia
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: R 53
  • Year: 1966 (first issued 1957)

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