‘Greater commercial success expected …’

There is an entire continent of Planet Vinyl called Neverquite. This is where we find the recordings of those honest toilers in the vineyard of song who “never quite” made it big. There is sadness here, but less than you might expect. There are those who were crushed along with their dreams, and whose ghosts are bitter. But more often there is pride in having done something good, and a mature acceptance that failure in terms of fame and showbiz is not failure in life.

The patron saint of Neverquite is Dick Contino. He was a talented piano-accordionist from L.A., who had a hit or two in the late 1940s. He later became friends with crime writer James Ellroy, who wrote a novella about Contino. Right at the end Contino muses:

My career never regained its early momentum. Lounge gigs, dago banquets—I earn a decent living playing music I love.

So many artists who pop up on Planet Vinyl belong in this space: happy enough living in Neverquite.

Here is another. Jackie Lee. No, not the handsome young country singer of recent times. This Jackie Lee was female, born Jacqueline Norah Flood, in Dublin in 1936. She was a child prodigy, enjoying success first in Ireland and then after moving to London. She sang with dance bands and vocal groups and was a fixture on variety shows. She sang backing vocals on international hits, including Tom Jones’ “Green, Green Grass of Home”.

jackie_1

Jackie Lee. Image: The World of Jackie Lee

She had extraordinary vocal range, and she was good looking, and a decent actor. She seemed set for stardom  … but it never quite happened. If you are interested, some loyal fans have established a website, The World of Jackie Lee which tells her story. Meantime, have a listen to the two sides of this single, an Australian release from 1962.

There’s No-One In The Whole Wide World

(I Was The) Last One To Know

The website says of this record:

The fact that these … recordings were issued overseas suggests far greater commercial success was expected than actually happened.

Never quite … but she earned a decent living playing music she loved. Nothing wrong with that.

  • Artist: Jackie Lee and The Raindrops
  • A Side: There’s No-One In The Whole Wide World
  • B Side: (I Was The) Last One To Know
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: W&G
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: WG-S-1361
  • Year: 1962

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

 

 

 

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

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

Mozart for shopping malls

There are times when putting on a record whisks you though time and space, and places you down in an achingly familiar yet strange world. Suddenly you are watching Sunday television sitting on a beanbag in a shag-pile carpeted lounge-room. It is 1973. The theme music from the shows of this period is distinctive, evocative. You can almost smell the faint linger of cigarette smoke in the drapes, see the burnt-orange tiled coffee table.

waldoIt is now hopelessly daggy, even a bit tasteless, especially when lovely music from the past has been put through a crushed velvet mangle and served with a prawn cocktail. Mozart for shopping malls. My dad, a classical music purist, hated this “classics up-to-date” style with the fire of a thousand suns. Listening now, even on open-minded and inclusive Planet Vinyl, ya have to admit it: he had a point.

But, hey, it was of its time. It gave musicians a living. And it transports me back to a world in which there were wholesome black-and-white television shows about show-jumping, macramé pot hangers and English country houses. There are worse places.

  • Artist: Waldo De Los Rios,
  • A Side: Mozart: Symphonie N° 40 En Sol Mineur K. 550 – 1er Mouvement (Allegro Molto)
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Hispavox
  • Made in: Belgium
  • Catalogue: 2022 004
  • Year: 1971

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

 

Five things I did not know about Ella Fitzgerald

Five things I did not know about Ella Fitzgerald

  1. She was born in 1917 in Virginia, but moved with her mother to New York State as a child, part of the Great Migration of African Americans seeking a better life in the northern states.
  2. Her mother died in a car crash in 1932, when Ella was only 15. She fell out with her stepfather and became homeless for a time.
  3. Her first hit was a version of a children’s rhyme “A Tisket A Tasket”, released in 1938
  4. In 1954 she was three days late to a tour of Australia, because she and three other black tour members were not allowed to board their flight from Honolulu to Sydney.
  5. She was active in the Civil Rights movement and refused to perform at segregated venues.

512px-Ella_Fitzgerald_in_September_1947

Something I did know: Ella’s was one of the great singing voices. This is one of her back catalogue. “I’ll Never Be Free” was a minor hit for her in 1950. Singing with Louis Jordan and his fine band, Ella makes it just shine.

3170

  • Artist: Ella Fitzgerald
  • A side: “Dream a Little Dream of Me” (with Louis Armstrong)
  • B side: “I’ll Never Be Free” (with Louis Jordan)
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Decca
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: Y6302
  • Year: 1950

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

 

 

Brisbane boys, briefly

It is our national day, here in Australia. Imaginatively called “Australia Day”, 26 January is the anniversary of the proclamation of a British penal colony, New South Wales, in 1788. The date is becoming increasingly contested. Indigenous people resent it, calling it “Invasion Day”. There are more prosaic reasons for wanting a change. Australia is a federation of states, of which NSW (though the oldest, largest, richest and most powerful) is only one. The presumption “NSW = Australia” is simple common sense in NSW but it annoys the rest of us mightily.

aust day

All class, Australia Day is. Image: Adelaide Now

So, the date is becoming a battle in the culture wars. The odd thing is that until twenty years ago, no one really cared much about Australia Day. It was a a public holiday like Labour Day and the Queen’s Birthday: a welcome day off, but otherwise something about which people knew little and cared less.

Me, I am not big on flag-waving. I love my country, but my country drives me mad. I am a proud Australian, but often Australia makes me sick with shame. I imagine that this is pretty much how every thinking person feels about their homeland. Still, it seems appropriate to mark Australia Day with something Australian. Well, kinda Australian.

The brothers Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb were born on the Isle of Man. In the late 1950s, the family migrated to Australia. It was in Brisbane that the brothers Gibb began performing as the Bee Gees, and it was here that they had their first hit, “Spicks and Specks”, in 1966.

The Gibb boys are best remembered for their 1970s disco period, but they were more of a soft rock band before then. And they were good, they really were. Lovely tight harmonies, excellent song-crafting, polished arrangements. The lyrics, not so strong. But still, this disc from their pre-disco era stands up well. “Mr. Natural” didn’t chart anywhere much except Australia, and this track, the B-side, never even made it onto an album – but it is a good pop song.

Okay, let’s face facts. In 1967, which is to say as soon as they possibly could, the Bee Gees returned to the UK. But for a decade or so, these Manx-born Britons who went on to become one of the most successful pop bands in recording history, lived in suburban Brisbane. Does this make them Australian? As Australian as many other things we claim in these parts. It doesn’t matter much to me.

  • Artist: Bee Gees
  • A Side: Mr. Natural
  • B Side: It Doesn’t Matter Much To Me
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Spin
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: K-5492
  • Year: 1974

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