A cheery song about nitro-glycerine

The Guns of Navarone was a movie which came out in 1961. It’s a stirring tale of derring-do, set in the Greek Islands during the Second World War. A small team of commandos blow up the eponymous guns, so that the Royal Navy can rescue stranded British troops. It is a great action adventure, and the film was a huge success. And it had a theme, which played while the final credits rolled.

GunsofNavaroneHere on Planet Vinyl, there is no such thing as bad music. There are, however, bad lyrics, and these are Herculean in their silliness. A literal-minded person armed with a rhyming dictionary basically summarises the plot. We learn that thousands of soldiers are trapped. So:

Now is the problem how to rescue them
From a crushing defeat
When high on the cliffs
The Guns Of Navarone blocks His Majesty’s Fleet

So in the face of odds impossible
Secret saboteurs in a fisherman’s skiff
Headed for the cliff.

After some extolling of the bravery of said saboteurs, we hear how:

Come from the sea with nitro glycerine,
Nitro glycerine and a ladder of rope
And a thing called hope.
Six flies climb the Nazi spider web,
Carefully set the charge and the fuse,
So little time to lose


But, here’s the thing. It’s a good tune. And in Jamaica, they know a good tune, mon. A Kingston ska band, The Skatalites, turned “The Guns of Navarone” into a wonderful dance number. The tune entered the reggae repertoire, and many other fine bands have recorded versions, including The Specials – a politically radical UK band which made it into a protest song, about as far removed from the Dunkirk Spirit patriotism of the original as it is possible to imagine.

Check out the ska versions linked above, but first, listen to what they were inspired by. The capacity of music to morph, and of the human spirit to rework and reinvent, never ceases to amaze.

  • Artist: Mitch Miller and The Gang
  • Single title: The Guns of Navarone
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, mono
  • Label: Coronet
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: KS-468
  • Year: 1961

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


The big book of favorite old songs

“This is an age of Do-It-Yourself,” proclaims the sleeve note on this battered old LP, “not only for novice carpenters, plumbers and Sunday painters”. No indeed. Our copywriter – as ferocious a fan of alliterative adornment as ever clanged the keys of a QWERTY keyboard – goes on:

For millions of music-minded moderns, tired of being drenched by store-bought ‘n, factory made-music which gushes out of the radio and the television set, it is an age of Sing-It-Yourself. Business is booming for pianos, guitars and harmonicas, the “do-it-yourself” instruments.

 The big book of favorite old songs is become as standard in the modern home as black wrought-iron furnishings and foam rubber cushions. We are starting to sing again, in old-fashioned family style. It’s as healthy and nourishing as the big Sunday dinner at Grandma’s.

 And so this Long Playing songfest of old favorites to help get the fun started at your house. You don’t need a piano or guitar or harmonica. But if you have one, all the better. All set? Let’s everybody sing.

Oh well, the guy was just making a living.

2155-sleeveThe Hugo and Luigi whose names grace this album did much more than make a living. (Speaking of grace, you can imagine Grace Kelly as the elegant young woman on the right, but I digress.) Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore were huge in the recording industry in the 1950s. Seriously, Empire-State-Building huge. They were songwriters and producers, and oversaw recordings by Perry Como, Sam Cooke, and The Isley Brothers. Another production credit was a handsome young Southern boy by name of Elvis Presley, for whom they also co-wrote ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’.

So why would Hugo and Luigi, who can’t have been short of a crust in 1959 when this record was released, why would they have put out a DIY singalong record, running through standards from “Auld Lang Syne” to “When You and I Were Young, Maggie”? Not sure. But Grace Kelly and her pals can really sing. It is a nicely produced record – a bit straight-laced, like the folk on the cover, but there are lovely harmonies. One gripe. Lots of the tracks begin with a short intro from an electric organ. This sort of thing:

Much as I try to love all music and all instruments, that burst of Hammond makes me think I am trapped in a church service in 1978. So I have (not like me at all) edited out the organ intro to this track, an otherwise lovely rendition of “All Through the Night”.

Nice singing, for a bunch of novice plumbers.

  •     Artist: Hugo and Luigi with their Family Singers
  •     LP Title: Sing Along by the Fireside
  •     Track: Side 1, Track 6 “All Through the Night”
  •     Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  •     Label: Wing (Mercury) MGW 12207
  •     Manufactured in: United States
  •     Year: 1959

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

Take a shower, lads

From the sublime to … the Shower Room Squad? Tragically, the individual identities of this vocal group is lost to posterity. They seem to have consisted of a piano player and a bunch of men who were either drunken idiots, or sober and trying to sound like drunken idiots. The few seconds of “atmosphere” before the first track is pretty unconvincing, so I suspect the latter.

Even by the standards of the early 1970s, the cover of this LP is crass almost beyond belief. 2044 SleeveBut like many a pulp paperback of the era, Sinful Rugby Songs doesn’t live up to the wickedness promised on the cover. If you think “Maggie May” is sinful, you probably don’t belong on a rugby team. Not only is there not much sin, there isn’t much about rugby, either. The version here of “If I Was the Marrying Kind” contains a few references to rugby terminology. Apart from that, these are British pub songs with the faintest whiff of laddish naughtiness thrown in.

But as the Planet Vinyl manifesto says, there is no such thing as bad music, because it is always a good thing that people make music.

I once heard a recording of the Brass Band of the SS performing some pompous military march. Not much to love there, but at least while they were puffing into their tubas those obersturmbannführern were not killing any one. In fact, making records was probably the single least harmful thing the SS ever did.

Back to the Shower Room Squad, and this pretty dreadful record.

Was it a good thing that, in the early seventies, yahoos would get pissed on beer while standing round a piano tunelessly singing mildly offensive songs? Clearly not – but what is the equivalent demographic doing now? They go to strip clubs and get pissed on red bull and vodka as deafening techno music is played, while looking grim and exchanging porn on their mobile phones.

The Shower Room Squad, at least, were singing.

  • Artist: The Shower-Room Squad
  • LP Title: Sinful Rugby Songs
  • Side 1, Track 2: “If I Was The Marrying Kind”
  • Format: 12” LP 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Summit SRA 026
  • Manufactured in: England
  • Year: 1970