Karen Cooper Fairgate MacKenzie

I am not a TV soap kinda guy. Nothing against the soapies – they give work to lots of actors and entertainment to millions of people, and are mostly harmless. Give me Neighbours over the latest vile reality-TV blood sport any day. Anyway, not being a watcher of soaps, I had not heard of Michele Lee but she was seriously big. She appeared in all 14 seasons of Knots Landing, playing Karen Cooper Fairgate MacKenzie, a Texan society-matriarch with a string of husbands.

KFC etc

Karen Cooper Fairgate MacKenzie not, from the look of things, having a great day.

It is that for which Lee is chiefly remembered, but she did a lot of other stuff besides: as well as acting she was a singer, dancer, producer and director. One of her early successes was in the 1962 Broadway musical, Bravo Giovanni, about an Italian restaurateur facing bankruptcy because of a big “chain” eatery setting up next door. The production was primarily a vehicle for one of the star opera singers of the day, Cesare Siepi. Lots of booming baritone among the bocconcini and basil.

bravo

Bravo Giovanni was a Broadway hit show in 1962.

But for mine, Michele Lee’s lower-key take on the song “Steady, Steady” steals the show. Hints of Peggy Lee in the delivery – a strong, assured performance. Long before she became the First Lady of Knots Landing, Michele Lee had star quality. Just listen.

  • Artists: Cesare Siepi, Michele Lee
  • A Side: Cesare Siepi, “Rome”
  • B Side: Michele Lee, “Steady, Steady”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono, promo
  • Label: Columbia
  • Made in: United States
  • Catalogue: JZSP 57428
  • Year: 1962

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

Tough love

The Beatles throw a long shadow, such that other parts of the rich musical tradition of Liverpool can get a bit lost. Like many other ports and industrial centres, Liverpool drew waves of migrants in search of work. Each community brought their own music, and the result was a melting pot of influences from all over Britain and Ireland and beyond. This is not to gloss over the poverty, discrimination and sheer hard grind Scousers often faced, but there was creativity, solidarity and humour as well.

spinners guardian

The Spinners. Image: The Guardian

One face of Liverpool as the Singing City was the Spinners, a folk group (not to be confused with the Detroit soul outfit of the same name) which formed in 1958. The Spinners became a fixture on the folk scene, and then took their music to wider audiences. Their repertoire was a mix of their own original material, traditional songs, and the work of other songwriters. This is one, “Liverpool Lullaby”, written by fellow Scouser, Stan Kelly-Bootle. It is a song of tough love, and is funny, dark and tender, all at the same time.

Just listen.

  • Artist: The Spinners
  • Album: The Singing City
  • Track: B1 Liverpool Lullaby
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl
  • Label: Philips
  • Made in: UK
  • Catalogue: 6382 002
  • Year: Unknown (early 1970s?)

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

 

 

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

The unpasteurised milk paradigm

Humour is a funny thing. Beautiful music can transcend time and place and culture; humour, not so much. What is comedic genius to one audience can fall flat to another, be offensive to a third, mystify a fourth.

2059 label

I write parody lyrics to popular songs, and some get performed on a radio show, The Coodabeen Champions. The show is popular, and from time to time I have the joy of meeting someone who says “are you the Richard Evans who writes all those songs …” But it is a limited public. The theme is usually Australian Rules football, and unless you understand the culture, history, tropes and mythology of that sport, then the humour will almost certainly be lost on you.

Like unpasteurised fresh milk, humour is a wonderful thing, but it can’t travel all that far and has a short shelf life.

All of which is by way of introducing a mostly-comedy album, a live recording of various funny songs and banter, which came out in 1974. It is the work of Bob Hudson, an Australian folk singer who strayed into absurdist comedic songs, often half-sung, half-spoken. If you are familiar with Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”, that is the style.

Bob Hudson is better known now as a radio presenter than a musician. A bit of a renaissance man, Bob: he also did a PhD in archeology. Not making that up. But as a performer he had his moment in the sun. This album’s title track, “Newcastle Song”, was a number one hit in Australia in 1975. For a local musician to have a successful album, and even a hit single, drawn from original Australian material … this was not the first time it had happened, but it was pretty unusual.2059 sleeve front

However, forty-odd years on Hudson’s sardonic, slightly crass humour doesn’t stand up too well. In a smoky pub on a Sunday arvo in 1974, his set would have been side-clutching funny. Hudson’s skill is obvious – the audience is in the palm of his hand, his rapid-fire repartee is skillful, deft. The musicianship, both from Hudson and the supporting band, is strong. But funny now … nah.

Fortunately, as is often the case with mostly-comedy albums, there are some straight  songs included for light and shade. One of these, “Girls in Our Town”, became a minor hit for another Australian artist, Margaret Roadknight, and it still features in the folk repertoire.

But the track I like most is a quiet, spare song, “Who’s Your Friend”. It is about the experience of jealousy, when you are young and mixed up, and about the caution and the fear and confusion which stalk a party full of young people.

I did not laugh once, listening to this album, but with this sad, subtle song Bob Hudson wins me over.

  • Artist: Bob Hudson
  • LP Title: Newcastle Song
  • Track: Side 2 Track 1 “Who’s Your Friend? ”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: M7 MLF.083
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1974

This record, and hundreds of others, is for sale on Discogs.