A young Catholic wife’s lament

To say that “Padre” is a sentimental song like saying that Donald Trump may prove an unfortunate choice as American president. It is a 1950s pop weepie, sung here by the actor Erin O’Brien, but also a hit for Toni Arden and later performed by many another, including Marty Robbins and Elvis Presley.

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Erin O’Brien (image Bud Lewis, via Wikipedia)

The song is, as they say these days, heavily gendered, so the lyrics change depending on whether the artist is male or female. For Erin and Toni, it is a young Catholic wife’s lament. She is telling the Parish priest how her happy marriage is threatened by a gorgeous, possibly Protestant, hussy who has caught the eye of her to-date loyal and lovin’ man.

Then she came along
And sang him her song
And won him with honeyed lies
She of the golden eyes
Now it’s my heart that cries

I did warn that it was sentimental.

O’Brien had no need of method acting to be convincing. Born in Los Angeles in 1934, she was one of 14 children. She was first married at 17. Her brothers and sisters were (I’m not making this up) Sean, Denis, Tighe, Petrice, Mavourneen, Kevin, Eileen, Kathleen, Timarie, Vernon, Sheila, Tessy-Lou, and Michael. Guessing that she counted the odd rosary as a girl?

Erin O’Brien was a genuine star in her day, though more as an actor than a singer, but she does a nice job of tugging at heartstrings here.

  • Artist: Erin O’Brien
  • Single Title: Padre / Honey Boy
  • Track: Side A “Padre”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Coral
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: CK-3619
  • Year: 1958

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

 

Long candle?

Someone in France has just paid me five Australian dollars for a Jerry Lee Lewis compilation LP issued 51 years ago. What makes it more impressive is that the postage was another $22.00. It doesn’t seem as much in euros, maybe. But it does show a love for the music of this feral cat of a man which I now fully understand.

shakin

I had always thought of Jerry Lee Lewis as kind of a poor-man’s Elvis. I only knew a few hits, and one of those had the misfortune of being ruined by a television advertisement in the 1970s. There was a snack food comprised of equal parts salt, fat, corn-starch and yellow food-dye, something like the Cheesy Poofs which appear on South Park. Anyway, they carried a jingle which went “Goodness, gracious GREAT balls of cheese!” This has made it hard for me to appreciate “Great Balls of Fire” ever since.

So I had low expectations when I picked up this compilation LP, released in the mid-1960s, but given a clean and played loud, it was like being smacked in the face with a live catfish. The thumping boogie piano, the yowling exuberant singing, the utterly unrepentant tom catting lyrics (“She’s too cute to be a minute over seventeen!”): it’s exciting and wild and quite unlike anything I have ever heard.

Lewis himself is like a South Park character. Married seven times (once to his 13-year-old second-cousin), he is a drinkin’, drug-abusin’, gun-totin’ redneck. Astonishingly, born in 1935 and burning both ends of the candle ever since, he is still alive. Long candle, I guess.   He was arrested while waving a gun outside Gracelands in 1976, and once accidentally shot his bass player in the chest. Not, in short, someone you would especially want your daughter to marry. But, man, what a performer.

I love this record so much I can’t stick to one song, so I am going with two sides of what was a 1960 single. The A side is a soulful, imaginative take on the blues standard “John Henry”: The B side is more typical, a rockabilly number, “Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes”. Meantime, the LP is on its way to France, where soon there will be a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.

  • Artist: ‎Jerry Lee Lewis
  • LP Title: Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On
  • Track: Side 2, Track 2 “John Henry”; Side 2, Track 3 “Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: London
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: HAA 8251
  • Year: 1965 (both tracks originally released 1960)

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.

Where good doggies go

Yesterday, driving my daughter to her soccer game, I found myself trying to explain Elvis. This isn’t easy. There is the 1950s fireball, who melded R&B and country and CFM sexuality, and changed everything. There is the long decline into bloated, jump-suited, self-parody. There is the piratical “Colonel” Tom Parker, who both made Elvis a star and robbed him blind. There are the good movies, and all the terrible ones. An extraordinary talent, often squandered.

7083 Label APersonally, I was not there until the dismal end. By the time I was old enough to be aware of Elvis, he was well into his deep-fried-peanut-butter-sandwich period, and then he was dead, and “Elvis” became a pastiche: sideburns and sunglasses and loopy conspiracy theories. I had to rediscover Elvis by putting aside prejudice, just listen, and look for the good and forgive the dross.

A girl called Betty did. She once owned this EP, and cared enough about it to put her name on the label. And she must have played this record a lot. The whole thing is worn, but by far the most worn is the title track. The crackle and pop shows that this is the song Betty really loved.

7083 Label A CU

In the long history of sentimental popular songs, there can be few challengers to “Old Shep” as the most lachrymose and over-the-top of them all. A man sings of his dog, the friend and companion of his youth, who rescued him from drowning, and who finally passed on to (a prickly theological point this) wherever it is that “good doggies go”. And somehow, this slop succeeds. Elvis sings with conviction. You believe him. Clearly Betty did.

This EP came out in 1956, but many years earlier “Old Shep” had provided Elvis with his first public success as a singer. As a boy he entered a junior talent show, and sang this song, and came first. He won five dollars. Colonel Parker was not yet on the scene, which is just as well – Parker would have taken a cut of $4.50.

  • Artist: Elvis Presley
  • EP Title: Old Shep
  • Side 1, Track 1: “Old Shep”
  • Format: 7” EP 45 rpm
  • Label: RCA 20044
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1956

 

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

A western, and sad

We did not have a television at home when I was a boy. This was the 1970s, when TVs had become pretty much universal in Australia, but my Mum and Dad did not approve of this trend. Although I didn’t like it at the time I am grateful for their non-conformity now. Much of my love of music and literature stems from reading, listening to the radio and to records.

Another good thing about not having a television was that when there was something on which we wanted to watch, we would go to someone’s house, and visit and have dinner and watch it together – it was a social experience, a bit of an event.

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Elvis. This was before he invented the deep-fried peanut butter sandwich

One of the first films I can remember seeing on a colour television (which, young ‘uns, only came to Australia in 1976) was an Elvis Presley film, a western called Flaming Star. There are a lot of seriously dreadful Elvis movies, but this was one of the good ones. I remember little about it except that it was a western and sad, and that it had a wonderful theme. My recollection is that the music crops up in fragmentary form repeatedly in the film, and then plays in full over the closing credits.

This track was originally released in 1960, soon after the movie. It was only a modest hit, and is more-or-less forgotten. I found it on a rather tacky compilation, Elvis in Hollywood. It is buried among much more famous numbers, like “Viva Las Vegas” and “Rock-a-Hula Baby”, and I suspect “Flaming Star” only got included because it fit the album’s concept. For mine, though, it is the standout. It is a sad, poignant song about mortality, a young man fearing he will die before his time. The sombre song is in tension with the up-tempo, almost jaunty arrangement, but somehow the mix works.

Elvis Presley is one of those artists whose myth is so gargantuan, so ridiculously overblown, that it obscures his art. Tracks like this help us understand what all the fuss was about.

  •    Artist: Elvis Presley
  •    LP Title: Elvis in Hollywood
  •    Side 2, Track 3: “Flaming Star”
  •    Format: 12” LP 33⅓ rpm
  •    Label: RCA ‎– VPL1 7130
  •    Manufactured in: Australia
  •    Year: 1976 (original release 1960)

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs. Most are only a few dollars, and I am open to offers.