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

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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of imagined worlds, inhabited by preposterous creatures: walking talking cacti, convicted criminals whose legs have been replaced by steam engines as punishment, giant moths which feed on human thought … and those are just the easier ones to describe.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

 

Kali or an octopus

The uilleann pipes is a musical instrument of such extraordinary complexity it could only have been invented by the Irish.

pipesIt is related to the bagpipes, but you don’t blow into it. The uilleann pipes is inflated with a small set of bellows, strapped around the waist and the right arm. It has three sorts of pipe: the chanter (on which you play the melody) , drones, and also regulators. There are three of these (tenor, baritone and bass), and each one has a set of keys to play chords accompanying the melody. It is astonishing that this instrument can be played by anything short of the many-armed Indian god Kali. Or maybe an octopus.

2060 sleeve full

But played it is, and it is a beautiful instrument, quieter and more subtle than the bagpipes. Among the bands which kept is use alive was the Gallowglass Ceili Band, part of the Irish cultural revival. This track comes from an LP released in 1968, the same year as The Beatles’ “White Album” and the Stones’ Beggars Banquet. It was, in short, irredeemably square even at the time of its release. Just look at the bloke playing the pipes on the album sleeve.

2060 sleeve Pot-smoking flower child on the Summer of Love? Not so much.

Ah, but we respect all music here on Planet Vinyl, and we have a special place in our hearts for those dedicated souls who keep alive ancient traditions by playing impossible instruments. And Gallowglass could pump out a mighty tune. Just listen.

  • Artist: The Gallowglass Ceili Band
  • LP Title: Irish Night
  • Side 1, Track 4 “McDermott’s Reel”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, mono
  • Label: Hallmark
  • Catalogue number: Hallmark
  • Manufactured in: UK
  • Year: 1968

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

 

Unpretentious in Spokane

I used to be a journalist, and worked briefly for the best-selling tabloid newspaper in Australia. One of the expressions we used, and which I hated, cropped up if a financial institution collapsed, or a con-man was exposed. The story about the victims would gravely begin “They are the mums-and-dads investors …”

This has nothing to do with music, but it illustrates the strange nature of prejudice. I had an aversion –irrational, absurd – to a record by a band called “The Mom and Dads”. I had never heard of them, never heard their music: the name just pressed the wrong buttons because of bad experiences in a news room 25 years ago.

The Planet Vinyl motto is just listen! And The Mom and Dads, off-putting name and all, are worth listening to.

0053-a

They really were one mum/mom, whose name was Doris, and three dads: Quentin, Leslie and Harold. They hailed from Spokane, Washington. (The state, in the far north-west of the United States, not the angst-ridden capital city.) The four all had day jobs and played dance music, in all sorts of genres, out of hours. They did it well and gained a local following. One of their tunes, “The Ranger’s Waltz”, was picked up by a radio station in nearby Minnesota, and because the signal carried to Canada, suddenly The Mom and Dads became small-big, especially in Canada and Australia.

0053-bAnd they deserved their success. This was the beginning of the 1970s, and bucking all trends they played tight, old-style dance music, much of which was of their own composition. “The Ranger’s Waltz” is the best known, but I have gone for the B-side of that single. It is a fun boogie tune, in B flat, written by the band member called Quentin. It is called – they are unpretentious folk in Spokane – “Quentin’s B Flat Boogie”. And you know what? It’s great! Have a listen.

  • Artist: The Mom and Dads
  • Single title: The Rangers Waltz
  • Track: B “Quentin’s B Flat Boogie”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: GNP Crescendo
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: CNPK-4428
  • Year: 1971

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

More than one gay in the village

The Village People were a marketing concept before they were a band. A record producer, Jacques Morali, had the idea of a camp disco-dance act, which would draw on gay stereotypes. He secured a recording contract before he even had found anyone to fill the roles of dog man, biker, cop and the others. Despite this calculated beginning, what emerged was unique. in_the_navy

The period of the Village People’s success was short, just a couple of years, and in truth they were a one trick pony. All their music sounds pretty much the same.

Exhibit A:

That comes from “Manhattan Woman”. But you could mistake it for “In the Navy,” for which it was the B-side, or indeed pretty much any of their hits.

But, hey, on Planet Vinyl we don’t dis anyone who makes music, especially when that music brings joy to millions of people. You still see people jumping around to the Village People’s hits, and enjoying themselves hugely. The music is fun and danceable.

More than that, there is a subversive streak to the Village People which entirely missed me when I heard them on the radio back in the late 1970s. I thought “In the Navy” was, well, a song encouraging people to join the navy. But listening to the lyrics now, one appreciates a certain double-entendre goin’ down.

If you like adventure, don’t you wait to enter
The recruiting office fast
Don’t you hesitate, there is no need to wait
They’re signing up new seamen fast

They must have had fun coming up with all that, and they sound like they are having fun in the singing, too. Unlike the guy in Little Britain, there was more than one gay in the village.

  • Artist: Village People
  • Title: In the Navy
  • Tracks: A “In the Navy”, B “Manhattan Woman”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: RCA Victor
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1978

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

Jealous rage in musical form

Arthur Fiedler was one of the great popularisers. He hated the notion that classical and orchestral music were seen as the preserve of a moneyed, snobbish elite. He wanted the music he loved made available to everyone, and as director the Boston Pops Orchestra, that is exactly what he did. He took charge of the orchestra in 1930, as America slid into the Great Depression, and under his guidance the orchestra toured all over, giving low cost and free concerts, with a mix of lighter classics and orchestrations of popular tunes.

bpo-aPurists frowned, because that is what purists do to show their purity, but Fiedler’s program gave work for hundreds of musicians, and brought orchestral music to many thousands of people who would otherwise never have heard it. Actually, make that millions of people, because Fiedler also pioneered orchestral recording, making the first recordings of many light classical and orchestrated popular works.

Among them was this, the first ever recording of the tango “Jalousie”, made in 1935. Dramatic, powerful, explosive – a jealous rage in musical form – the disc sold more than one million copies. That is a lot of records, even now. Back then, for an orchestra, an astonishing feat.

In America, the Boston Pops recorded for RCA Victor. This is a British release, on His Master’s Voice, and the name used is Boston Promenade Orchestra. Perhaps “pops” was thought lacking in dignity for an HMV release? Whatever: this is a recording which is (rare mix) both  historic and sublime. Put on a red dress, clutch a rose between your teeth, and hit play.

  • Artist: Boston Promenade Orchestra [Boston Pops Orchestra], conducted by Arthur Fiedler
  • Title: Jealousy / Entry of The Boyards
  • Format: 12” shellac disc, 78rpm
  • Label: His Master’s Voice
  • Catalogue: C. 2861
  • Manufactured in: Great Britain
  • Year: c. 1935

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

World turned upside down

“In the dark times,” asked Berthold Brecht,

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.

3022He was right and wrong: right about the singing, but not about the subject matter.

Has the human race experienced a worse year than 1942? The world was at war: total war, vicious beyond all imagining, from the incineration of cities to industrial mass murder. It was a time when (Brecht again):

The earth no longer produces, it devours.
The sky hurls down no rain, only iron.

There was, in this dark time, plenty of singing. But for the most part the singing was in the vein of this sentimental, slow, delightful fox-trot from the British bandleader Sidney Lipton. It is pure escapism, slop about lovers strolling, superbly performed by Lipton’s famously skilled orchestra.

The only hint of trouble outside the concert hall is the line: “It doesn’t matter though the world is turning upside down”. And if it was 1942, and I was an air-raid warden, shivering in a stinking sandbagged trench, it is just what I would want to listen to.

  •    Artist: Sidney Lipton and His Orchestra, vocals Eddy Briant
  •    Title: “The Same Old Lovers’ Lane”
  •    Format: 10” shellac disc, 78rpm
  •    Label: Columbia, DO-2528
  •    Manufactured in: Australia
  •    Year: 1942

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs. Mention the code “PV003” to receive a free 7” disc of your choice (up to the value of A$5.00) with any purchase.