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

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



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)

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

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

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs. Mention the code “PV003” to receive a free 7” disc of your choice (up to the value of A$5.00) with any purchase.

‘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


I happened to pass by a music store

Marie Warder was a teacher, writer and pianist who grew up in South Africa. Not long after the end of the Second World War, she was walking on a street in Johannesburg.

I was about nineteen, newly married and very much in love, when I happened to pass by a music store one day, and was stopped in my tracks by the most glorious sound I had ever heard. I stood there on the sidewalk, leaning against the plate glass window for support, with my eyes closed; transfixed and impervious to impatient shoppers trying to pass by me, until the last strains of “I Only Have Eyes For You” had died away, and I could breathe freely again. Then I went in and pleaded for the entire 78 rpm record to be replayed … over and over again! Never had I heard anything so exquisite that it almost hurt.

The musician who had made such an impact on Marie was Freddy Gardner, an English self-taught saxophonist who had played in lots of the leading dance bands of the 1930s and 1940s, and was now emerging as a star in his own right.

Marie’s husband had a dance band, in which she played piano. They started including Freddy Gardner numbers in the sets. “It was fortunate that the two of us, as well as the sax player, could play by ear, because, in any case, it was not possible to buy the sheet music in Johannesburg at the time.”3058 label

Meanwhile, in another isolated part of the world, the person I only know as “G.S.” had also discovered the 10” shellac disc which so entranced Marie Warder. G.S. loved it too. You can tell from the label and the worn sound that it was played “over and over again”.

Freddy Gardner is regarded in jazz circles as one of the great improvisers, up there with the finest. He is not well remembered because he died young, suffering a fatal stroke when he was only 39, in 1950. Like many artists, he had lost five years from his career because of the war, and was coming into his absolute prime. The range he was able to extract from a saxophone was quite remarkable, and the new recording medium of long-play vinyl would have suited his music perfectly.

Still, he played beautifully, and people across the world, even in Geelong and Johannesburg,  heard and marvelled. The track I am sharing here is not the one Marie heard, “I Only Have Eyes for You”, but the B side of that disc, “In the Mood for Love”. I think it is an even better display of Gardner’s extraordinary talent.

My thanks to Marie Warder, whose reminiscences of Gardner are online and well worth reading.

Artist: Freddy Gardner, Peter Yorke and his Concert Orchestra
Title: I Only Have Eyes For You / In the Mood for Love
Track: B side, “In the Mood for Love”
Format: 10” shellac disc, 78rpm
Label: Columbia DO-3558
Manufactured in: Australia
Year: c. 1948

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

Tea, anyone?

Trevor Stanford was born on in 1925 in Bristol, the seaport in the west of England. A man born in that time and place was pretty much certain to go to war – Germany invaded Poland the day before he turned thirteen – and he did, serving in the Royal Navy. His military service saw him win the Distinguished Service Medal and, less glamorously, lose part of a finger in a bread slicer. This was of more than usual significance for Stanford, because he was a talented pianist.

After the war he adopted the stage name Russ Conway. To modern ears, that doesn’t much more exotic than his real name, but it worked for him. He played pianos in nightclubs and for dance rehearsals and then for Columbia records, accompanying some of the stars of the day, including Gracie Fields, before becoming a successful solo artist in his own right. He had more than twenty chart hits in the UK, including this one, China Tea, which was his own composition and which cracked the top ten in 1959. 0256 Label

There are hits from past years which are a puzzle, but you can understand the Conway’s popularity: his bouncy pub-piano style is fun, danceable, exciting. You can almost smell the Woodbines and taste the lager.

Note: The sharp-eyed blog follower might notice a hand written sticker, with the number 7, on the label. It is by coincidence – each day’s Planet Vinyl offering is chosen at random – but this disc comes from the collection of the person who put a similar sticker on the Eric Carle doo wop record I looked at a little while ago.

  • Artist: Russ Conway
  • Title: China Tea
  • Track A: “China Tea”
  • Format: 7” 45 rpm
  • Label: Columbia 45-DB 4337
  • Manufactured in: Great Britain
  • Year: 1959