The Understanding Angel

Pretty much everyone who celebrates Christmas will put an angel on the tree. Ever wondered why?

I was chatting on the phone to my stepmother yesterday, as I won’t be able to see her for Christmas. At her church she has been part of a group studying angels and how they have been depicted and understood (and misunderstood) over time.

It made me think of this recording. The Littlest Angel, by Charles Tazewell, was first published in 1946. It was hugely popular and remains one of the best-selling children’s stories of all time. It was adapted to all sorts of different media, including this sound version, read by actress Loretta Young.

It was a deluxe item: three shellac gramophone discs, held in paper sleeves in a heavy card folder. This was “an album of records”. When LPs appeared, each one held the same amount of music as an album of records, so an LP got to be called an “album”, even though it wasn’t.

LYTLALike many a much-loved children’s story of this period, The Littlest Angel is a tad twee to modern ears. But just accept that it is a sentimental Christmas story, and go with it.

Among the characters you will meet in the story is the Understanding Angel. When my parents were divorced, and my father married my stepmother, my brothers and sisters and I were all teenagers. We were distressed and confused and did not always express these emotions well. Not our fault – it was a difficult time and we were children still. But thinking back, my stepmother showed great patience and kindness, sometimes in the face of great provocation. She was, in fact, something like the Understanding Angel.

To my stepmother: this is for you.

Happy Christmas everyone.

  • Artist: Loretta Young, with Ken Darby Choir
  • Track: Whole album (three discs, six sides)
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Decca
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: DA 23452-4
  • Year: 1950

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

Birthday Elf unmasked!

One of the annoying things about being a parent is that, for years, Santa gets the credit for the best presents at Christmas. Same with Easter. If you grew up in rural Australia, where rabbits are loathed as a destructive environmental pest, letting the praise for the chocolate eggs go to a magical bunny is galling.

TipToeLabelSo, thank goodness that the creature on this record never caught on. Tip Toe the Birthday Elf. Yes, tune into the lyrics. The song is called “Happy Birthday to You”, but it is not the familiar version. Rather it is about another non-existent wretch trying to steal a parent’s thunder. His toe nails glow, or something, and he brings presents.

On the B-side, we meet this Tip Toe, who talks in a high squeaky voice, which at times morphs into a “mouse stampede” sound effect, said to be “Elf Talk”.

Planet Vinyl’s investigative unit can now reveal the shocking truth. “Elf Talk” is phoney! If you slow down Tiptoe’s supposed native tongue, it turns out to be some random dialogue from a radio play, a western, which features a horse which has gone lame having stepped in a “gopher hole”. And one of the voices seems to be that of Gene Autry. Have a listen.

So, dear Tip Toe you have been exposed as a sham. And the hole which crippled the horse? Probably dug by the Easter Bunny.

  • Artist: “Peter Piper” (Stephen Gale)
  • A side: Happy Birthday to You
  • B side: Birthday Party with Tip Toe
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Philips
  • Made in: unknown
  • Catalogue: B 21418 H
  • Year: unknown [early 1950s?]

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

 

 

 

 

Lie, cheat and hope for a miracle

It is a strange experience to revisit the Grimm’s Tales as an adult. When you hear them as a child, you just go with them. That’s the story: Red Riding Hood, Snow White, many others. The stories become so familiar that you don’t pull apart the elements. This is, perhaps, just as well. These stories are treasures of our shared culture, but don’t look to them for moral guidance.

Take the story of Rumpelstiltskin.

Here is what happens. A miller, hoping to win favour with the king, lies that his daughter can spin straw into gold. The king is fooled, and imprisons her. He demands she produce the gold or be killed. A mysterious dwarf appears and does a deal with the young woman: he will make the gold and save her life, but only in return for the woman’s first child. The king, fooled again, decides not to kill the woman but marry her instead. The new queen has a baby, and the dwarf appears and demands payment. The queen stalls for time, eventually manages to cheat the dwarf, and saves her child.

Moral? Lie and cheat, and with amazing luck you will get away with it and become rich. The queen’s love for her baby – though she had previously sold it – is pretty much the only admirable thing in the entire story.

The Brothers Grimm collected their famous stories in the nineteenth century, but they are much, much older. The reflect the moral world of pre-Christian Europe. The Christian faith has copped a lot of criticism in recent times. Fair enough. We deserve it. But the Grimm stories, when you look more closely, show what came before: a pagan world view which is cruel, violent, and ruthless.

Great stories, mind!

Here is “Rumpelstiltskin”, as read by “Uncle Mac” (real name Derek McCulloch, a popular BBC Radio presenter). This shellac recording was obviously intended to be played as a bedtime story for children. Pleasant dreams!

  • Artist: Uncle Mac (Derek McCulloch)
  • Title: Uncle Mac’s Bedtime Story – “Rumplestiltskin”
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: His Master’s Voice
  • Made in: England
  • Catalogue: B.D. 1095
  • Year: 1944

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

 

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

 

 

A tall man in a blue uniform

A little boy lost! Heroic police! A fruitcake competition! This child-safety record from New Zealand has it all. Music, jokes, and possibly the silliest “stranger danger” song ever performed.

7012One thing you won’t hear is a New Zealand accent. The record is undated, but it comes from a time when anyone seeking to make a living as an actor in the antipodes had to acquire a British accent. Thus it is that My Friend the Policeman sounds as if narrated by the Presbyterian Ladies’ College lacrosse coach. And the man who plays the honest bobby on duty at a country show – well, he must have taken elocution lessons.

Ah, but who cares. From the opening riddle, to the instruction to turn the record over, to the deeply entrenched gender-stereotypes, this bizarre record is a hoot.

  • Title: My Friend The Policeman
  • Author: Kay Mayo
  • Performers: Kate Harcourt, with Peter Harcourt and Marjorie Orchiston
  • Format: 7”, 45rpm, mono
  • Label: Kiwi
  • Catalogue: EA 168
  • Manufactured in: New Zealand
  • Year: Unknown

Many of the records discussed on this blog, and more than 1000 others, are for sale on Discogs.

 

 

 

That’s Daryl on the left

There are not many songs about engineers. I don’t mean engineer in the American sense – the guy driving an old steam locomotive, face black with coal dust, desperate to get the Ol’ 97 into Spencer on time. I mean the sort of engineer who sits at a draft board, pencils and protractor at hand, designing houses and bridges and viaducts and such.

My brother is an engineer of that sort, and so was my late father. And so, from time to time, the profession of engineering comes up in conversation. When it does, my wife, who enjoys singing, will often burst forth with:

I wanna be an engineer, my friend
I wanna be an engineer

And this is the sort of engineer who inspects concrete slabs.

D&O1975 The song is a childhood memory. As a girl my wife had a record called Hey! Hey! It’s Darryl and Ossie. “Daryl” was Daryl Somers, and Ozzie was an ostrich, or at least a puppet thought to resemble one. That’s Daryl on the left. The two were big on Australian television for the best part of twenty years.

I found a copy of Hey! Hey!, and my wife was very excited, but we found that the Unpasteurised Milk Paradigm applies to this, as to most comedy. Wonderful fresh, but it doesn’t last. Still, there is nostalgia value, and in honour of my family connections I have to play this track: quite possibly the only song ever written about civil engineering.

  • Artist: Daryl & Ossie
  • LP Title: Hey! Hey! It’s Daryl & Ossie
  • Track: A4 “Gonna Be An Engineer”
  • Label: Hammard
  • Catalogue: HAM005
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1975

He of the coon-skin cap

Before podcasts, before CDs, even before cassette tapes, there were read-along records. These were usually 7-inch discs, and they came in a sleeve at the back of a reader. You would read the book, while listening to the record.

They always started like this:

Often the first side would end like this:

Sometimes it was just a story. Sometimes there was a song as well, as on this Disney disc, which was all about Davy Crockett, he of the coon-skin cap.6014 label croppedThe King of the Wild Frontier, they called him, which is a bit of an odd title when you think about it. A wild frontier doesn’t have a king. If it did, it wouldn’t be wild or a frontier; it would be a settled monarchy. But let that pass.

The story side is a bit lame, but the song is good. “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” was the theme to the TV show about the K of the WF. It is performed by The Wellingtons who, I discovered, were a real band. They also recorded the theme to Gilligan’s Island, were back-up band to Jan and Dean, and toured with The Supremes and Stevie Wonder. In short, they could play.

This song is lyrically a tad trite, but for a theme song to a kids’ TV series, it goes well.

  • Artist: The Wellingtons
  • EP Title: Walt Disney’s Story Of Davy Crockett
  • Track: Side B “The Ballad of Davy Crockett”
  • Format: 7”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Disney, 360
  • Manufactured in: United States
  • Year: 1971

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