Aimee Mann is alive and well and playing bass

I feared for Aimee Mann. She was the lead singer, bass player and chief selling point of ‘Til Tuesday, a band which was, in the mid-1980s, the Next Big Thing. Until, suddenly, it wasn’t.

Another casualty of the star machine?

‘Til Tuesday was a Boston synth-pop outfit with a hint of punk, which burst onto the scene in 1985 with “Voices Carry”. With the help of a striking video featuring Mann, she of the platinum hair and wide eyes, it was a huge hit.

TT VC 1985

Industry executives looked at her and saw dollar signs. There was a rash of publicity. I remember reading a profile in Rolling Stone. There was a picture of Mann, looking moody. The caption: “C’mon, Aimee, how can someone who looks so good feel so alienated?” This remains possibly the stupidest thing ever written, even in Rolling Stone.

Early success was not replicated. Label heavyweights demanded hits. The hits failed to come, and the band fell apart under pressure. ‘Til Tuesday; gone Wednesday.

I looked up Aimee Mann, expecting a sad story of bitterness, break-up and drug abuse. I am happy to be completely wrong. She built a solo career, worked on film music and a variety of other projects, and still performs. She has won Grammy awards, done heaps of stuff. This is her in 2008: looking healthy and happy, a woman in control of her own destiny.

Aimee_Mann_October_2008 Against all expectation, Aimee Mann is alive and well and playing bass. Her most recent album is called Mental Illness, and it is, frankly, wonderful. I have bought the download — I encourage you to do the same.

Here she is, back in the ‘Til Tuesday days, with “Don’t Watch Me Bleed”, a B-side breakup song with angsty vocals and moody bass to suit the title.

  • Artist: ‘Til Tuesday
  • A Side: Looking Over My Shoulder
  • B Side: Don’t Watch Me Bleed
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Epic
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: ES 1057
  • Year: 1985

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

 

 

 

 

‘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 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.

8867_Vintage_Poster_New_Zealand_3_226x350

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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