‘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 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




A slice of pumpernickel

If George Michael, born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, is spanakopita transformed into white bread, what are we to make of the career of Arnold George Dorsey?

Performing as Gerry Dorsey, he was small-big in the UK in the 1950s. He was featured on television shows, and toured with Marty Wilde (best known now as father of Kim, but a star in his own right back in the day). Dorsey could sing, he had a powerful and expressive voice, but something was missing, that X factor which could elevate him to stardom. A new stage name, perhaps?

It had worked for his friend Marty Wilde, who had entered life as Reginald Leonard Smith. And so, perhaps the oddest makeover in stage name history occurred. Gerry Dorsey was rebranded, adopting the name of a real person, a German opera composer who had died in 1921: Engelbert Humperdinck. One of those ideas which is so silly it works.

0024 Humpy A 1970Under this strange moniker, white bread disguised as pumpernickel, Engelbert became a hugely successful singer of power ballads, selling millions of records. I have to admit that for me, the strange name makes it hard to take Humpy seriously. Just listen, though, and there is no denying that he was good at his craft: pop ballads with swelling orchestral backing. His producer in the 1960s was Gordon Mills, who also handled Tom Jones, and there is a lot of similarity in the arrangement and style of their records from this period.

Most of Humperdinck’s work is sentimental love songs. “My Marie” is a little unusual. It tells the story of a man who has been driven to despair by the poverty of his family. He tells the Marie of the title that he is heading off. He will either return before nightfall with all the money the family needs, or … we he doesn’t say, but suggests she should flee with the children, and remarry.

We never learn exactly what sort of errand the singer is intending. Not, one suspects, picking up the dry cleaning. Nor do we learn Marie’s opinion of this high-risk strategy which is likely to leave her destitute and a fugitive, and even less able to care for her children than before. Curiously, the original Engelbert Humperdinck is best remembered for the opera Hansel and Gretel, a story which also involves poverty and some questionable parenting choices.

But never mind. The song is not intended to be taken too seriously, and succeeds on its own terms. A nice slice of pumpernickel.

  • Artist: Engelbert Humperdinck
  • Single Title: My Marie
  • Track: Side A “My Marie”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Decca Y-9152
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1970

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