First Australian country singer on the Moon

Reg Lindsay was one of the giants of Australian country music. Unlike a great many country singers, in his day, he was a real stockman (which is what we call a cowboy, in these here parts). He only thought about a musical career after being injured while riding a bull at a rodeo. While convalescing, he spent a lot of time listening to country music on the radio, and was inspired to enter a talent contest. Some successful recordings won him a radio show, and later a television program, and in the 1950s and 1960s he became the face of country in Australia.

Reg_Lindsay

Image: Curly Fraser (State Library of New South Wales), via Wikimedia Commons

In my country, “country” means, first and foremost, Slim Dusty. Reg Lindsay was his contemporary, semi-rival, and brother-in-law (their wives were sisters). Reg was, no getting around it, by far the better singer of the two. Yet Slim’s Aussie twang and his songs of the outback are remembered and loved, while Reg’s smoother baritone is increasingly forgotten.

This should not diminish Reg Lindsay’s achievement. His best-known song was “Armstrong”, about the Lunar landings. Not the most obvious theme for a country singer, but appropriate in a way. Reg Lindsay was the first Australian artist to perform at the Grand Ol’ Oprey, in 1968, and is now honoured with a plaque on Nashville’s “Walkway of Stars”. Such recognition, to a stockman listening to country radio while recovering from a rodeo accident, would have been unimaginable.

Lindsay was a pioneer, first Australian country singer on the Moon.

Here he is on a much more down-home, ordinary-life, country-music-staple theme. Hello blues!

  • Artist: Reg Lindsay
  • Album: Country Music Comes To Town
  • Track: A1 “Hello Blues”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl
  • Label: EMI
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: OEX-9647
  • Year: Unknown (mid-1960s?)

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

 

 

 

The lover writes

There was a man, a German soldier. It was the First World War, and he had been captured by the army of Tsarist Russia. Then there was a revolution, and the Tsar was overthrown. Then there was a civil war. All the while the man remained a prisoner, in Siberia. But a Russian woman fell in love with this enemy alien, and the two married and, in 1920, they had a child. The father was able to take his new family back to Germany, and there the child, Rita Streich, was trained in music. She became a promising soprano.

rita

Image: Pinterest

The tide of history meant that Streich, born in the Soviet Union, made her professional debut in the Germany of the Third Reich, in 1943. The Nazi regime ceased to exist two years later, but Streich was still able to sing, and did so on both sides of what became the Iron Curtain.

She was most famous for her operatic roles, but Streich was also a master of the romantic lieder of the 19th century.

This is a recording of a song written by Franz Schubert, “Die Liebende Schreibt”, which roughly translates as “the lover writes”. I have mused elsewhere about the troubled, mixed up, messy life of Schubert. He, too, was a survivor of war and turmoil. This song was written in 1819, when Europe had been bled white by the wars of Napoleon.

Perhaps it is only fitting that Rita Streich, herself the product and survivor of war and turmoil … what is the right word? Lives. Inhabits. Just is. I don’t know, but there is a communion here. Two artistic souls who have known trouble come together in a short song which carries in it the beauty and the sadness of the world.

  • Artist: Rita Streich (soprano), Geoffrey Parsons (piano)
  • Album title: On Wings of Song
  • Track: A3 “Die Liebende Schreibt”
  • Composed By – Franz Schubert
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: His Master’s Voice
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: OASD 7557
  • Year: Unknown (late 1960s?)

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

 

 

Cow bells

Richard Strauss. Heard of him? Somehow, I got it into my head that there was a Strauss family, headed by Johann Strauss, he of “The Blue Danube” and many another waltz. And that Johann was the genius, and Richard the honest trier. A worthy but lesser Strauss, like Leopold Mozart, or Hank Williams Jr, or Julian Lennon. And so, I never paid Richard Strauss much attention.

Why I love Planet Vinyl is that my preconceptions are so often debunked. Richard Strauss was in no way related to the waltz-meister. Nor was his music anything remotely like the fine Hapsburg confections of Vienna’s golden era.

You probably know “Also sprach Zarathustra”, the building, booming trumpets and timpani which ushers in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey? Well, that was Richard Strauss. And he did so much else besides, including this challenging, haunting, alluring work: An Alpine Symphony.

VARIOUS

You can hear the cowbells. Image: The Telegraph

This monumental piece of music is not a symphony at all: rather it is a long series of impressionist tone poems. Taking about 50 minutes to perform, it tells the story of setting out into the mountains at dawn, climbing to the summit, and being caught by a fierce storm, before descending to safety as the sun sets. There are 22 sections, which all bleed into one another without a break. There are few dominant tunes, and the music ebbs and flows and different motifs (there are about 60) play over the top of each other. There is no way on God’s good earth that the whole sprawling thing should work. But it does!

I knew nothing about this piece when I randomly chose this record, and played it on headphones while reading a book. I soon put the book aside, and just listened to the whole thing, entranced.

Here is an excerpt. It is one of the more peaceful sections, in which the climber passes through a high meadow where cattle are grazing – you can hear the cow bells – and then gets lost in thick bushes before finding open air above the treeline. Unfortunately, An Alpine Symphony, is one of those large works for which an excerpt, to invert the usual formula, is less than a fraction of the whole. Try this out, but if you are interested in music, and its ability to wordlessly tell a story, please: find a full recording, close your eyes, and just listen.

  • Composer: Richard Strauss
  • Performers: Rudolf Kempe, conducting the Dresden State Orchestra
  • Album title: The Orchestral Music Of Richard Strauss, Volume 4
  • Track: Extract from “Alpine Symphony, Opus 64”.
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: World Record Club
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: S/5626
  • Year: 1974
  • First performed: 1915
  • This recording: 1971

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

Those Rambunctious Monkees

They are the Pinocchio of pop music, The Monkees. The four members were brought together by the producer of a television show. They were hired as actors, to play the roles of members of a fictional band. The show, and the music in it, became enormously popular. In the late 1960s they were seriously likened to The Beatles. Some wit dubbed them “the Pre-Fab Four”.

monkees_tv_guide

Image: TV/Tropes

Pinocchio-like, there was some deceit involved. In the first two albums credited to The Monkees, the members of the “band” did not actually play the music – they sang the vocal tracks, but that was all. They wanted to play, but weren’t allowed to. That came later – this artificial creation, this made-up pop group, won artistic control.

Pinocchio-like, they were transformed into a real band.

You can understand why The Monkees wanted to be free, but their early, semi-artificial records stand up well. Okay, mostly. Hearing Davey Jones reciting sentimental poetry is like being having luke-warm treacle poured over your head. Twenty seconds gives you the picture …

But mostly, it is great – bouncy pop, with the odd harder rocker and some hints of musical theatre. Here is a fun track from their second LP, all about the complexities caused when the object of your affections has, annoyingly, a family.

  • Artist: The Monkees
  • Album title: More of the Monkees
  • Tracks: B3 The Day We Fall In Love (extract); A5 Your Auntie Grizelda
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: RCA
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: COS 102
  • Year: 1967

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

 

 

Distributed in health-food stores

Back in the 1980s, there was a thing called “New Age”. It was a not-quite-religion, a mish-mash of spiritual practices and beliefs all broadly rejecting materialism and suggesting people slow down. Sort of Buddhism-lite, for prosperous Californians. It was a bit self-centred – long on attending health spas and short on volunteering at soup kitchens – but basically harmless.

My main objection to New Age stuff was olfactory. New Age markets and shops and such were invariably accompanied by the heating of essential oils and the burning of incense. Fine for those who like it, but incense makes me sneeze and get a sinus headache – it is almost instant. Hard to connect with your previous lives, dude, when you feel like someone is tightening a G-clamp across your temples.

wh smaplerThere was also a thing called New Age music. In hip circles, to call music “New Age” was a bit of an insult. There was truth in the caricature: dolphin calls echoing over synth washes, with maybe the odd didgeridoo and Tibetan musical bowl to add street cred. Incense of the ear.

But the best of it what got labelled New Age was worth a listen. The format offered talented musicians an opportunity to break out of the restrictions of commercial music. They could turn the volume down, riff on a theme and see where it led, trusting that listeners would give the sounds a fair go. If this sounds a bit like jazz, it is: a lot of the best practitioners of New Age had some jazz in their past.

One label which did New Age well was Windham Hill Records. They started out in the late 1970s in – you’ll never guess – California. A guitarist, William Ackerman, was asked to record some of his tunes on cassette for friends, and radio stations picked them up and vinyl records followed. Ackerman’s girlfriend, Anne Robinson, was a skilled graphic designer: she created a distinctive minimalist look for the label: avoiding rainbow tie-dye cliches she created restrained images, framed in white.

Windham Hill became underground-popular – initially the records were “distributed in health-food stores and book stores” – then broke into the almost mainstream. Billboard magazine, for well or ill, created a “New Age and Contemporary Jazz” chart, and Windham Hill became its star label for many years.

It all seems long ago and far away. The label was sold, then sold again, then merged, and now exists somewhere in the “legacy” section of the Sony catalogue – which is better than not existing at all.

This LP was a sampler, released in Australia in 1985. I discovered it, a few years later, at a dark time in my life. I was couch surfing, and in a bad place. One of the couches (my eternal thanks to the people who provided it) was in a room with a record player. There were not many records, but this was one, and I played it a lot. It is soothing, relaxing – all that stuff – but I also loved the folky-jazzy-“who cares, really?” style.

It is music which says: “just be”. You can call it “New Age” if you like, or “Contemporary Jazz”, or something else altogether. Okay, not “Easy Listening”. But just listen.

  • Artist: William Ackerman
  • Album title: An Invitation To Windham Hill (Various Artists)
  • Track: B4: “The Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Windham Hill Records
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: ‎WHA 1
  • Year: 1985

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

 

Admire the calligraphy

Hearing the traditional music of China is like admiring a piece of calligraphy hanging in a temple. It is beautiful, no question. Clearly, great skill is required in its execution. But it can’t be escaped that this is a minute fragment of a rich and complex culture. The daunting truth: without a lifetime’s study and a gift for languages, you never will fully understand.

512px-Wang_Xianzi_Imitation_by_Tang_Dynasty

Image: Taito Ward Calligraphy Museum, public domain

But still, we can admire.

I visited China with my wife nearly 20 years ago. I remember once, on a street in Xian, stopping and listening to a busker, a young man playing traditional tunes on an instrument, the name of which I do not know, but it’s a distant cousin to the violin. The melodies and rhythms were unfamiliar, but the man played with passion, and there was no denying the beauty of it. Another Chinese man, listening beside me, gave me a nod and a smile. It was one of those wordless moments: he was proud of his people’s culture and pleased that a stranger was appreciating small part of it. If he had been Australian, he might have said: “Not bad, eh?”

This track is similar in style, though with a small orchestra. It from a compilation of folk tunes by various artists. As is often true of Chinese products, the English translation on the sleeve is a bit wobbly. This tune is “10 Miles Fragrant Of Blooming Olea”.

I do not pretend to Chinese scholarship, but I can help a bit. A “Chinese mile”, the li, is only about one-third of the English mile, and is now standardized as equal to 500 metres. “Olea” refers to Sweet Osmanthus, a small tree which grows widely in Asia. As its name suggests, this tree has fragrant flowers. Literally the tune should be called “five kilometers of nice-smelling Osmanthus trees”, which is worse than the original.

So, ignore the name. Close your eyes. It is spring, in the Chinese countryside, and the trees are in blossom. Just listen.

  • Artist: Unknown
  • Album title: Kweilin Scenery | Famous Chinese Light Music (Various artists)
  • Track: A4 “10 Miles Fragrant Of Blooming Olea”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: Fung Hang Record Ltd
  • Made in: Hong Kong
  • Catalogue: FHLP 201
  • Year: Unknown (1970s?)

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