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

 

 

 

 

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.

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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

 

 

One minute to midnight

We make a bit of a hash of New Year’s Eve in Australia. There is a tradition that on this night, you go out, drink heavily, and watch fireworks. No different to many places, I know, but here in the southern hemisphere, it is high summer. The day is often hot, and lots of people will be sun-struck and shicker well before sundown. So when the crowds gather, there is often a nasty edge in the air.

Events are managed better now than they used to be, and drunken brawls are not such a fixture, but even so – an over-rated festival, methinks. Perhaps reflecting this, there is nothing like the number of songs celebrating New Year’s Eve as there are for Christmas. There is “Auld Lang Syne”, my dear, but not a huge deal else.

Holiday_Inn_poster

Image: Movpins

Here is one exception. Like “White Christmas”, Bing Crosby performed “Let’s Start the New Year Right” in the 1942 film Holiday Inn. It is a tight Irving Berlin number, smoothly performed by Bing and the John Scott Trotter orchestra. Flimflam, in truth, but pleasant, and there is a place for that. Happy New Year!

 

  • Artist: Bing Crosby
  • EP Title: White Christmas
  • Track: A2 “Let’s Start the New Year Right”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: Festival
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: DX-10,212
  • Year: 1961 (original release 1943)

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

 

 

Hurry back to your seat

It is 1957. You are sitting in a cinema in Melbourne, Australia, and it is Interval. Younger folk may never have experienced an “interval” in a cinema, but it used to be a thing, equivalent to half time at the football. As the house lights brighten and you rise, contemplating whether to buy an ice-cream, a fruity baritone voice floats over the PA.

This announcement was a custom acetate recording, a 78-rpm metal disc covered in black lacquer. These were used to record radio advertisements, theatre announcements and the like. In this case, the management want the punters not to hang around too long in the foyer, ruining the cinema’s screening times.

7133As you will have picked up, you were seeing The King and I, the 1956 film version of the Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical. This is a much-loved production, still being performed around the world. Personally, I’m not sure why it has such an exalted place in the canon, but millions disagree with me and it has some good moments.

Maybe, in 1957, the magic would have been stronger, and I would have rushed the next day to buy this EP. I have chosen one of the less-famous numbers, a song of love and gentle melancholy. The singing credit is given to Deborah Kerr, but along with the other songs in the film it was actually sung by Marni Nixon.

Now, grab your ice cream and get back to your seat. The movie is about to start!

Recording 1

  • Artist: Unknown
  • A side: “Interval, King & I”
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, acetate, mono
  • Label: Broadcast Exchange of Australia (BEA)
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: none
  • Year: Unknown (probably 1957)

Recording 2

  • Artist: Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner
  • EP Title: The King and I
  • Track: A2 “Hello, Young Lovers”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: Capitol
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: EAP 1-740
  • Year: 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.

 

 

 

Jamming with le dieu

Sidney Bechet was among the very first improvising soloists in jazz. He was a Creole, born in New Orleans in 1897, and so a contemporary of friend and rival Louis Armstrong.

Bechet started out on the clarinet, but while touring Europe in 1919 he discovered the soprano saxophone, and made it his own. He pretty much invented jazz saxophone, and was an astonishing and inventive stylist. He was not, however, an easy man to get along with, and for many years what a biographer delicately calls his “erratic temperament” prevented him from gaining the full success he deserved.

sidney_bechet_freddie_moore_lloyd_phillips_gottlieb_00521

Sidney Bechet in 1947. Picture: Library of Congress, via WikiMedia Commons

However, he mellowed with age, and in 1950 he settled in France, and there became a genuine star. Very popular among bohemian intellectuals, in Existentialist circles he was known as “le dieu” (“the god”).

Here is one of his works, recorded in duet with trumpeter Jonah Jones, with their take on the Fats Waller tune “Squeeze Me”, recorded in Paris in 1954.

  • Artist: Sidney Bechet and Jonah Jones
  • EP Title: Sidney Bechet – Jonah Jones
  • Series Title: Paris by Night
  • Track: B1 “Squeeze Me”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, mono
  • Label: PYE International
  • Catalogue: IEP008
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1960 (recorded Paris, 1954)

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

 

Lighter on the syrup

A little while ago, Planet Vinyl explored a dance tune, “Tango Desiree“, the work of a slick orchestra led by one Ricardo Santos. I couldn’t find out much about Santos, and mused:

His records came out on Polydor, a Dutch label, and were first released in Germany. I suspect that Santos was a German band leader from Dusseldorf whose real name was Reinhardt Schmidt.

Wrong in the particulars, but on the right track. Another Santos work has come up, so I decided to dig a bit deeper, and can now reveal the truth about the identity of the mysterious Senor Santos.

santos

This is him. Not very Latin looking, it’s fair to say. His real name was Werner Müller, and he was born in Berlin in 1920. He was a composer and conductor of great success, both in classical and what was called “contemporary light music” from the 1950s on. A fine website dedicated to the cocktail lounge music of this period, Space Age Pop, says of Müller:

In an odd flip-flop, several collections of French, Italian, and other national tunes Müller recorded for Decca were released in Europe under the name of “Ricardo Santos,” but in the U.S. under Müller’s own name.

Nothing odd about it, really. In the 1950s, a German name carried some baggage in much of Europe. It was not quite so personal in the States. Whatever, Santos-Müller was an arranger and band leader of great skill. Some of his arrangements put too much maple syrup on the pancake to my taste, but that he knew his craft is undeniable.

This EP, Holiday in Italy Vol. 2, came out in 1956, when shellac 78 rpm records were still what most people bought and played. Hence this grave warning on the back sleeve:

santo-cover-7010-detail

As the title implies, Santos had already been on holiday in Italy before, and also went on holidays to France, Japan, Mexico and Brazil. Nice work if you can get it.

This track, a lively and engaging take on the Italian standard “Funiculi-Funicula” is lighter on the syrup than most, and showcases the full, rich sound which Santos-Müller mastered.

  • Artist: Ricardo Santos And His Orchestra
  •  EP Title: Holiday in Italy Vol. 2
  •  Track: A1 “Funiculi-Funicula”
  •  Format: 7” 45 rpm
  •  Label: Polydor, 20 521 EPH
  •  Manufactured in: Australia
  •  Year: 1956

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