One minute to midnight

We make a bit of a hash of New Year’s Eve in Australia. There is a tradition that on this night, you go out, drink heavily, and watch fireworks. No different to many places, I know, but here in the southern hemisphere, it is high summer. The day is often hot, and lots of people will be sun-struck and shicker well before sundown. So when the crowds gather, there is often a nasty edge in the air.

Events are managed better now than they used to be, and drunken brawls are not such a fixture, but even so – an over-rated festival, methinks. Perhaps reflecting this, there is nothing like the number of songs celebrating New Year’s Eve as there are for Christmas. There is “Auld Lang Syne”, my dear, but not a huge deal else.

Holiday_Inn_poster

Image: Movpins

Here is one exception. Like “White Christmas”, Bing Crosby performed “Let’s Start the New Year Right” in the 1942 film Holiday Inn. It is a tight Irving Berlin number, smoothly performed by Bing and the John Scott Trotter orchestra. Flimflam, in truth, but pleasant, and there is a place for that. Happy New Year!

 

  • Artist: Bing Crosby
  • EP Title: White Christmas
  • Track: A2 “Let’s Start the New Year Right”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: Festival
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: DX-10,212
  • Year: 1961 (original release 1943)

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

 

 

Rhyming slang

It is a misfortune perhaps unique in the whole of popular music. Barry Crocker was an Australian pop crooner in the early 1970s: something in the style of Tom Jones or Englebert Humperdinck. He must have sold truckloads of records, because it is a rare op-shop in Australia which does not have several of his LPs. He is up there with James Last and Nana Mouskouri.

This means, of course, that Barry Crocker is now hopelessly daggy, a fossil, a man whose record covers could be used to define “uncool”.

barry-crocker-lp

They don’t make satin shirts like the used to …

But that is true of lots of singers of yesteryear. No, Barry Crocker’s singular curse is that his name was used as rhyming slang for “shocker”, and the term stuck. You will hear a sports commentator say of a football player “He’s having an absolute Barry Crocker. Can’t do anything right!” The expression is entrenched, used by people too young to get the connection. Like a “Dorothy Dixer”, (which is an unchallenging question asked by a sycophantic journalist at a press conference), the “Barry Crocker”, meaning dreadful performance, is just part of the Australian vernacular.

All a bit unfair, really. As this track, a single he released in 1973, attests, Baz could sing.

0160-crocker-aA piece of trivia: one of the singers on backing vocals is Olivia Newton-John. In the 1970s, it was considered hilariously funny to call her Olivia Neutron-Bomb. Unlike the Barry Crocker, that joke has  not lasted.

  • Artist: Barry Crocker
  • Single title: Suzie Darlin’
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Festival
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: FK 5087
  • Year: 1973

He’s making a list …

Bing Crosby’s version of the Irving Berlin song “White Christmas” is the best selling recording of all time. First released in 1942, various versions of the single sold more than 50 million copies. Add in appearances on LPs, CDs and EPs (like this one) and you have total sales of something more than 100 million copies.

bing-3-rote

Consequently, you won’t hear it on Planet Vinyl.

We are going for another track from a Bing Christmas EP, first released in Australia in 1961. The price tag shows that this particular disc was bought from Allen’s music stores,  an institution in this part of the world for decades, in December 1965, for $1.60.

allens-sticker-further-roteAustralia was phasing in decimal currency at the time – the official change over did not occur until February 1966 – but despite the futuristic pricing this was a nostalgic purchase. Whoever bought this was a fan of the music of twenty years earlier, the swing-jazz of the 1940s. And it is a gem. The smooth tones of Bing, with the tight harmonies of the Andrews Sisters and the skilled jazz musicians of the Vic Schoen Orchestra, manage to make “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, not a song I really warm to usually, positively zing.

Thank you so much for visiting Planet Vinyl, as we come to the end of our first year. It’s been an amazing sleigh ride already, and I have a sack of vinyl, shellac and acetate I can’t wait to share. Happy Christmas!

  • Artist: Bing Crosby, with the Andrews Sisters and Vic Schoen and his Orchestra
  •  EP Title: White Christmas
  •  Track: B1 “F Santa Claus is Coming to Town”
  •  Format: 7” 45 rpm
  •  Label: Festival
  • Catalogue: FX-10212
  •  Manufactured in: Australia
  •  Year: 1961

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

No need to shout

It says a lot about the changed status of tobacco that as avuncular and wholesome a figure as Bing Crosby would appear on record sleeve smoking a pipe. Look at that jaw! Those kind twinkling eyes! The nice hat, and the colour-coordinated pocket handkerchief! This is as solid a slice of Middle America as ever practised his golf swing.bing

But Bing Crosby – and this is all that matters – Bing could sing. He was among the first singers to take advantage of the development of the electric microphone. Amplification freed the singer from having to produce the power and volume of an operatic tenor, just to be heard. Instead, a more quiet, intimate style of singing was possible – this is what came to be called crooning.

This is something a lot of rock bands could usefully learn. Let the microphone do the work. No need to shout.

Bing was the consummate crooner. His voice is warm, and expressive, and the arrangements were masterful. Yeah, the songs are mostly sentimental, but there is a place for that. This track, though is a bit of a break from White Christmas wholesomeness.

“Paper Doll” was a huge hit for the Mills Brothers in 1943 – really huge, they sold more than 10 million copies – and pretty much every singer of note recorded a version over the next decade, and inevitably Bing Crosby was among them. His take is superb, though the disc is a bit crackly, and it is best not to listen too closely to the lyrics. It is a jealous male song: Possessive Guy Spits Dummy after Failed Romance. Plenty of those around but this one is a bit creepy. He’s going to by a paper doll, “that I can call my own” and can’t ditch him for other men

When I come home at night she will be waiting
She’ll be the truest doll in all this world
I’d rather have a paper doll to call my own
Than have a fickle-minded real live girl

Makes her sound like an early-model inflatable woman, and it jars a bit coming from an upstanding gent like Bing. Just like him being a smoker.

  • Artist: Bing Crosby
  • EP Title: Memories
  • Side 2, Track 2: “Paper Doll”
  • Format: 7” EP 45 rpm
  • Label: Festival FX 10374
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1962 (recorded much earlier)

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

 

The Inn of Six Degrees of Separation

Six degrees of separation between Dr Barnardo and John Travolta.

  1. Thomas John Barnardo was an Irish philanthropist. DrbarnardoWhile training as a doctor in London in the 1860s, he became aware of the miserable plight of the many homeless children in the city’s slums. He established the first of “Dr Barnardo’s Homes” for children in that city in 1867. Providing housing and education for poor and disadvantaged children became Barnardo’s life’s work, and he gave up his original ambition to be a missionary in China.
  2. Someone who did go to China as a missionary was Gladys Aylward, who was an Englishwoman of strong Christian faith. She was in China in the chaotic Inn_Of_Sixth_Happyears leading up to the Second World War, where she did a lot of brave and humane things. Her experiences were the basis for a novel by Alan Burgess, called The Small Woman. In 1958, this novel was turned into a film, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman. The film, which was a huge success, ends with Aylward leading a group of dozens of Chinese children to safety, evading Japanese soldiers. While they march, the children sing “This Old Man” …
  3. Which was a children’s counting song with a nonsense chorus, the first written version of which dates from 1870, but which is certainly much older than that. The chorus goes:

With a knick-knack paddywhack,
Give the dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home

The song is now universally known, but had been relatively obscure until used in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, the soundtrack to which was a huge hit.

  1. Taking advantage of this popularity, Dr Barnardo’s Homes – by this time the most important charity caring for children in the United Kingdom and many other parts of the former British Empire, released a fundraising record, with some Barnardo’s children singing, and an orchestral backing provided by …0076 label
  2. Bill Shepherd, who was a well-known British bandleader and arranger. As you will hear, he was good: he takes a playground chant and using rich instrumentation and what was, for 1958, complex mixing creates something exciting. Bill Shepherd later spent a few years living in Australia, where he became a director of Festival Records and throughBGs that company met a young band called the Bee Gees. Shepherd liked the Gibb brothers’ work, and became their orchestral arranger. Throughout the late sixties, his arrangements were an integral part in the Bee Gees becoming an international success. His association with them ended in 1972, which meant that he missed out on being involved in producing the staggeringly successful 1977 soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever
  3. Starring John Travolta.SNF

 

  • Artist: Dr Barnardo’s Children and the Bill Shepherd Orchestra
  • Single Title: This Old Man (Nick Nack Paddy Whack) / The Inn Of The Sixth Happiness
  • Track: Side A “This Old Man (Nick Nack Paddy Whack)”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Pye Nixa 7N.15180
  • Manufactured in: England
  • Year: 1958

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

What matters is the jam

Folk music is my first love. Like a lot of first loves, we have had our ups and downs.

Folk music, you see, has a scene, and with a scene comes purists. Tedious people. I was at the more liberal and inclusive end of earnest debates about what could or should be labelled “folk music”, but still I was sucked into those pointless arguments, and didn’t see the core truth. Labels are what you stick onto a jam jar. What matters is the jam.

0028It was this song which got me into folk. I first heard it when I was maybe four.

It is a convict ballad, about a young man who is lead astray by a femme fatale. Sometimes the action is set in London, sometimes (as in this version) in Belfast. Always the singer is an honest lad doing an apprenticeship whose head is turned by the lovely young women described in the chorus.

Her eyes they shone like diamonds
You’d think she was queen of the land
And the hair that hung over her shoulders
Tied up with a black velvet band

The lyrics fascinated and puzzled me. What exactly was a black velvet band? I imagined it as something like the thick rubber bands that the postman put around letters. I also didn’t get the bit about “queen of the land”, and asked my Mum what it meant. She thought a bit, a settled with “it means they’re going to get married”. I still didn’t get it, but let it go.

Hearing the song, more than 40 years on, it is a bit hard to get excited. I know the song over-well – it is sung a lot in Australia, because the girl plants a stolen watch on the singer and he ends up being sent as a convict to Van Diemen’s Land, what is now Tasmania. This version is pretty stock standard, and full of the hearty roar which Irish folk bands felt obliged to deliver in those days.

Ah, but once I loved it, and ran around singing it in what I imagined to be an Irish accent. I even sang it in church, quietly and under the cover of the hymns, a small act of cultural rebellion on my part. Like the singer, I don’t think so highly of the girl with the black Velvet Band as once I did, but like the singer I will never forget her.

  • Artist: The Irish Rovers
  • Single Title: The Unicorn / Black Velvet Band
  • Track: Side B “Black Velvet Band ”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Festival DK-2208
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1968

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

 

 

I Wonder a Lot of Things

Eddie Carl was a doo wop singer. He seems to have had a few hits in the late 1950s, but they can’t have been that big because I can find out nothing about him. On the other hand, he must have made a bit of an impact, because he recorded in America on the Decca label, and did well enough there that he had a single released in Australia on the Festival label.

0292 Carl 1959 A compressedFestival is an important part of the history of recorded music in Australia. It started out in 1952 as one of the first labels able to press the then-new “microgroove” discs. It released local recordings, some its own and others in partnership with small local labels, and also bought the Australian distribution rights for overseas artists – Festival had the rights to Bill Haley and the Comets when rock’n’roll arrived in 1956, and from there it became a big player on the local scene.

The distinctive yellow and black Festival label is a familiar sight to record collectors in Australia. This one turned up at a church fete, one of a box of records which had once been part of someone’s collection – you can tell because the owner put little stickers on the label or each record with a hand-written number. This one was number 13.0292 Carl 1959 B compressed close up

This record was pressed in 1959, and it can’t have done especially well, as Festival did not issue another of Carl’s records, but the writer of the little stickers must have liked it – it sounds as if it was played a lot – and I like it too. Like a lot of doo wop, the interest here is in the singing rather than what is sung: the lyrics are fairly lightweight love songs. I have decided to go with the B side, I Wonder, I Wonder, which is sadder and stronger than the bouncy A side, The Wonderful Secret Of Love.

I wonder who owned this record, and whether they are still alive? I wonder how many years it had sat in a box, before I bought it and cleaned it and gave it a spin? I wonder what happened to Eddie Carl – he was around for a little while, because he crops up in doo wop anthologies? Perhaps he went by other names – a lot of doo wop artists changed stage names like they changed their undies. If you know a bit about doo wop and can tell me more, please get in touch.

One thing is clear, though: Eddie Carl really can sing, and the backing instrumentation is nicely arranged by Jack Pleis. Great, melodic pop music.

  • Artist: Eddie Carl
  • Title: I Wonder, I Wonder
  • Format: 7” vinyl disc, 45rpm
  • Label: Festival FK-3079
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1959