The Fifth Beatle

If, like me, you grew up listening to the Beatles you may have wondered about the strange-sounding “piano-or-is-it-a-harpsichord” solo on the song “In My Life,” on the Rubber Soul album. It goes like this:

This was the work of the “Fifth Beatle,” George Martin, so called because of his work playing, producing and arranging many of the Beatles’ finest recordings. Both classically-trained and open-minded, Martin engineered subtle soundscapes which complemented and enhanced the band’s work, especially Paul McCartney’s melodies – including “In My Life”. Hunter Davies reveals the secret to that puzzling keyboard sound in his book The Beatles Lyrics (which I recommend as a fascinating insight into both song-writing generally and the Beatles canon in particular):

The music is greatly helped by what sounds like a harpsichord, tinkling away like a Bach minuet, giving it a classical timeless quality. This was George Martin, on a piano with the sound speeded up.

rubber soulHere is the solo, slowed down by 25% (very nearly the same as playing a 45rpm record at 33⅓), the speed at which it was originally played.

(Full disclosure: this processed segment was taken from a different, stereo release. This meant I could separate the piano from the other sounds, such as the drum track.)

Nice enough. Dignified. But it has nothing of the magic which the speeded-up version drops into the finished song. And here is the whole song – as released. The record has been bashed about a bit, but that is okay. It shows that someone once loved this LP, and played it over and over. Just listen.

  • Artist: The Beatles
  • Album: Rubber Soul
  • Track: B4 In My Life
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: Capitol-EMI
  • Made in: USA
  • Catalogue: T 2442
  • Year: 1965

Karen Cooper Fairgate MacKenzie

I am not a TV soap kinda guy. Nothing against the soapies – they give work to lots of actors and entertainment to millions of people, and are mostly harmless. Give me Neighbours over the latest vile reality-TV blood sport any day. Anyway, not being a watcher of soaps, I had not heard of Michele Lee but she was seriously big. She appeared in all 14 seasons of Knots Landing, playing Karen Cooper Fairgate MacKenzie, a Texan society-matriarch with a string of husbands.

KFC etc

Karen Cooper Fairgate MacKenzie not, from the look of things, having a great day.

It is that for which Lee is chiefly remembered, but she did a lot of other stuff besides: as well as acting she was a singer, dancer, producer and director. One of her early successes was in the 1962 Broadway musical, Bravo Giovanni, about an Italian restaurateur facing bankruptcy because of a big “chain” eatery setting up next door. The production was primarily a vehicle for one of the star opera singers of the day, Cesare Siepi. Lots of booming baritone among the bocconcini and basil.

bravo

Bravo Giovanni was a Broadway hit show in 1962.

But for mine, Michele Lee’s lower-key take on the song “Steady, Steady” steals the show. Hints of Peggy Lee in the delivery – a strong, assured performance. Long before she became the First Lady of Knots Landing, Michele Lee had star quality. Just listen.

  • Artists: Cesare Siepi, Michele Lee
  • A Side: Cesare Siepi, “Rome”
  • B Side: Michele Lee, “Steady, Steady”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono, promo
  • Label: Columbia
  • Made in: United States
  • Catalogue: JZSP 57428
  • Year: 1962

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Hardrock and Coco and Joe

Gene Autry, the first of the great singin’ cowboys of American popular culture, was also a dab hand at a Christmas tune. His biggest ever success was one: “Here Comes Santa Claus”.

3064This is another, now pretty much forgotten, but a huge hit in its day. Released in 1951, “Thirty-two Feet – Eight Little Tails” was backed with “Three Little Dwarfs”. It was something like a two-song concept album, riffing on the theme of Santa’s sleigh. The numbered feet and tails refer to the reindeer doing the pulling, but my fave is the B side, in which we learn about three extra passengers in le traîneau magique du Père Noël. The song is as fluffy as an reindeer’s tail, but it is good, harmless fun.

Happy Christmas to my fellow Christians. Happy holidays to those of different faiths, and the agnostic and atheist too. We all have our place, here on Planet Vinyl. Regardless of belief, can I share the old Christmas prayer? “Peace on Earth, and goodwill to all”. Man, do we need that right now?

  • Artist: Gene Autry with Carl Cotner and his Orchestra and Chorus,
  • A side: Thirty-Two Feet – Eight Little Tails
  • B side: The Three Little Dwarfs
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Columbia
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: DO-3509
  • Year: 1951

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Carmen was a boy

Carmen Dragon was the stage name of, well, Carmen Dragon. Slightly unusual name, especially for a male born in California in 1915. His first claim to public notice was as the composer of a theme song for his local high school. A local newspaper gave the composing credit to “a high school girl, Carmen Dragon”. Even in our more gender-fluid times, you can understand the mistake. But this Dragon was made of tough stuff, and he thrived in California, bringing his musical talents to the emerging film industry, and establishing himself as a leading composer and arranger of film scores.

Dragon SpainHe also served as conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra, which performed for decades on a radio music program introducing classical music to primary school audiences, and the HBSO also recorded several LPs. This is one of them, and I will admit that I had low expectations. The cover is a tad tacky. Scratch that: bigly tacky. With the Spanish theme and the toreador on the sleeve, I was expecting lots of castanets and mariachi brass. There is a bit of that, but it is subtle, used well. This is a fine recording of classical music, the pieces all chosen around a theme which is not overworked.

This is my favourite track, an arrangement of Manuel de Falla’s ballet piece “Ritual Fire Dance”, which was written in the year of Dragon’s birth. It is dramatic and beautiful.

  • Artist:, Carmen Dragon, conducting the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra
  • LP Title: Echoes Of Spain
  • Side 1, Track 2: “Ritual Fire Dance”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, mono
  • Label: Capitol Records
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1955

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Five things I didn’t know about Dave Brubeck.

Five things I did not know about Dave Brubeck.

  1. He studied for two years to be a vet, before his zoology professor told him: “”Brubeck, your mind’s not here. It’s across the lawn in the conservatory. Please go there. Stop wasting my time and yours.”
  2. During the Second World War, while Brubeck was serving in the US Army, he helped organise the first racially integrated army band.brubeck
  3. His most famous number, “Take Five”, is the best-selling jazz single of all time.
  4. The album from which it came, Time Out, was the first jazz album to sell one million copies. That album is notable for unusual time signatures. “Take Five” is in 5/4, while the track featured below, “Blue Rondo a la Turk” is in 9/8.
  5. In 1951, Brubeck was badly injured while swimming in the surf in Hawaii. For a time it was feared he might never play music again. (Perhaps Brian Wilson’s aquaphobia was mere prudence?)

One thing I did already know, because it is folklore among Australian journalists. When Brubeck arrived here for a tour in 1960, he was asked possibly the dumbest question ever raised at a press conference: “Mr Brubeck, how many musicians are there in your quartet?”

Dave Brubeck was one of those rare musicians who was both seriously experimental, pushing the boundaries of his art, and hugely popular. Tune in to “Blue Rondo a la Turk”, which was inspired by the rhythms of Turkish folk music, and you will understand why.

  • Artist: ‎ The Dave Brubeck Quartet
  • LP Title: Time Out
  • Track: Side 1, Track 1 “Blue Rondo A La Turk”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Columbia
  • Manufactured in: Japan
  • Catalogue number: YS-214
  • Year: 1964 (original release 1959)

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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

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‘It’s Miss Helen’s turn now’

After the First World War, Rudyard Kipling wrote beautiful short story, The Gardener, about a respectable middle-class Englishwoman, Helen Turrell. She is unmarried, but has an illegitimate son, Michael. Helen keeps up the pretence that Michael is her nephew, and the village pretends to believe it. When the war comes, Michael volunteers, and is sent to the killing grounds of the Western Front.

A month later, and just after Michael had written Helen that there was nothing special doing and therefore no need to worry, a shell-splinter dropping out of a wet dawn killed him at once. …  By this time the village was old in experience of war, and, English fashion, had evolved a ritual to meet it. When the postmistress handed her seven-year-old daughter the official telegram to take to Miss Turrell, she observed to the Rector’s gardener: “It’s Miss Helen’s turn now”. .

The same terrible ritual played out in Australia. The casualties of that war were on a scale almost unimaginable now. Nearly 70,000 men, out of a population of four million, were killed. The equivalent number for modern Australia would beIt was always the arrival of a telegram, ostensibly from the King, which let a community know that “It’s Miss Helen’s turn now”.

0281 label aSuvla Bay was one of the battlegrounds of Australia’s first major engagement, on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey, and the song tells of the news reaching a woman that her lover has been killed there.

This recording was made in the 1960s by Reg Lindsay and his wife Heather McKean, who were stars in Australian country music at the time. The song is much older, however. It first became a hit in England in 1948, and its origins are mysterious. The Sydney Sunday Herald of 23 January 1949 reported

London songwriters are mystified about an Australian song “Suvla Bay,” which has suddenly become the rage of Britain. Sheet music copies credit both, the melody and the lyric to “Jack Spade.”

But Jack Spade cannot be found. There is some doubt whether he is even an Australian. The BBC has made the song the hit tune of the month. Every “pop” singer and dance band leader is asking “Who is Jack Spade?” The copywriters of the song are the Irwin-Music Company. They claim that “the Jack of Spades” (a name often given in the profession to an unidentified composer) is alive and lives in England, but will give no other details.

Suvla Bay is a sad waltz, and there is much talk of sorrow and duty and playing one’s part. It sanitises the experience of grief, perhaps, but it is a good song, an attempt to capture part of the Australian experience of war. One detail is wrong. The news would not have arrived by letter. It was always a telegram.

  • Artist: ‎Reg Lindsay and Heather McKean
  • Single Title: Suvla Bay
  • Track: Side A “Suvla Bay”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Columbia DO-4547
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1965

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