Birthday Elf unmasked!

One of the annoying things about being a parent is that, for years, Santa gets the credit for the best presents at Christmas. Same with Easter. If you grew up in rural Australia, where rabbits are loathed as a destructive environmental pest, letting the praise for the chocolate eggs go to a magical bunny is galling.

TipToeLabelSo, thank goodness that the creature on this record never caught on. Tip Toe the Birthday Elf. Yes, tune into the lyrics. The song is called “Happy Birthday to You”, but it is not the familiar version. Rather it is about another non-existent wretch trying to steal a parent’s thunder. His toe nails glow, or something, and he brings presents.

On the B-side, we meet this Tip Toe, who talks in a high squeaky voice, which at times morphs into a “mouse stampede” sound effect, said to be “Elf Talk”.

Planet Vinyl’s investigative unit can now reveal the shocking truth. “Elf Talk” is phoney! If you slow down Tiptoe’s supposed native tongue, it turns out to be some random dialogue from a radio play, a western, which features a horse which has gone lame having stepped in a “gopher hole”. And one of the voices seems to be that of Gene Autry. Have a listen.

So, dear Tip Toe you have been exposed as a sham. And the hole which crippled the horse? Probably dug by the Easter Bunny.

  • Artist: “Peter Piper” (Stephen Gale)
  • A side: Happy Birthday to You
  • B side: Birthday Party with Tip Toe
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Philips
  • Made in: unknown
  • Catalogue: B 21418 H
  • Year: unknown [early 1950s?]

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

 

 

 

 

The lady vanishes

On a Cathay Pacific flight bound for Hong Kong, some years ago, I idly flicked through the entertainment channels on the small television in front of me. Among the options was an animated cartoon of Winnie the Pooh, familiar except that Pooh, Piglet and the rest were all speaking Cantonese.

Winnie the Pooh, created by English writer and humourist A.A. Milne in the 1920s, has become truly global. So much so that it is now risky to refer to Pooh, or to share an image of him, on social media in China. It could be taken as a slight against Premier Xi, you see, who is said to resemble Pooh.

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Image: ABC News

Milne also wrote several collections of verse for children. These were hugely popular in their day, but time has not been as kind. Listening to this EP, I can see why. Many of the poems, especially those about Christopher Robin, have a slightly-off sweetness. Others are, well, a bit creepy.

when wwvy

Image: Discogs

“Disobedience” tells of a possessive three-year old boy who demands that his mother never leave the house without him. One day, Mother does go out alone, and vanishes. Despite desultory efforts to learn what has happened, Mother is never seen or heard of again. The end.

As we say in Australia: bloody hell! Can’t see that getting published now. Mind, I had this record as a boy, and loved the poem, thought it clever and funny – nothing more. Maybe we overthink these things.

  • Artist: Poems by A.A. Milne, performed by David Tomlinson
  • EP Title: When We Were Very Young
  • Track: B2 “Disobedience”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: Children’s Record Guild Of Australia
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: R 53
  • Year: 1966 (first issued 1957)

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

 

 

That’s Daryl on the left

There are not many songs about engineers. I don’t mean engineer in the American sense – the guy driving an old steam locomotive, face black with coal dust, desperate to get the Ol’ 97 into Spencer on time. I mean the sort of engineer who sits at a draft board, pencils and protractor at hand, designing houses and bridges and viaducts and such.

My brother is an engineer of that sort, and so was my late father. And so, from time to time, the profession of engineering comes up in conversation. When it does, my wife, who enjoys singing, will often burst forth with:

I wanna be an engineer, my friend
I wanna be an engineer

And this is the sort of engineer who inspects concrete slabs.

D&O1975 The song is a childhood memory. As a girl my wife had a record called Hey! Hey! It’s Darryl and Ossie. “Daryl” was Daryl Somers, and Ozzie was an ostrich, or at least a puppet thought to resemble one. That’s Daryl on the left. The two were big on Australian television for the best part of twenty years.

I found a copy of Hey! Hey!, and my wife was very excited, but we found that the Unpasteurised Milk Paradigm applies to this, as to most comedy. Wonderful fresh, but it doesn’t last. Still, there is nostalgia value, and in honour of my family connections I have to play this track: quite possibly the only song ever written about civil engineering.

  • Artist: Daryl & Ossie
  • LP Title: Hey! Hey! It’s Daryl & Ossie
  • Track: A4 “Gonna Be An Engineer”
  • Label: Hammard
  • Catalogue: HAM005
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1975

Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?

“Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?” asked Charles Wesley, the great religious reformer and hymn writer. Like anything to do with religion, arguments about what music, if any, should be played church can be furious. There have probably been wars fought over it. Which is why this record is symbolic of a revolution. I know, I know. It is pink, has a picture of a harp, and is called Celestial Strings, performed by something called the Christian Faith Orchestra, directed by one Ralph Carmichael. Radical? Controversial? Well, so was Charles Wesley in his day.

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Ralph Carmichael was born in 1927, the son of an Illinois Pentecostal Minister. Musically gifted, he listened to the radio, and was struck by the beauty and excitement he heard there, but which he did not hear in church. “I was captivated by the chordal explosions I heard on the radio,” he later told an interviewer:

I felt a sadness that we didn’t have that in our church. Our church orchestra sounded weak and terrible by comparison. It was embarrassing. Why? Why did we have to settle? Why couldn’t we use those gorgeous rhythms, sweeping strings, the brass, the stirring chords? That started to control everything I did.

Carmichael became a musician, and tried to fuse his Christian faith with classical and jazz music techniques. Later he did the same with blues and rock music. Reaction was, to put it gently, mixed. He was denounced as a heretic (yes, really) for using guitars in worship. Some conservative pastors stopped the band mid-performance. Appearances on television drew the sort of hate mail my church gets for supporting gay marriage. But others loved it, and it caught on, and Carmichael is now regarded as the father of contemporary Christian music. He also made it in the mainstream: his skills as an arranger saw him work with the cream of American singers through the 1950s and 1960s, including Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Jack Jones, Sue Raney and especially Nat King Cole.

1063Celestial Strings is different again. It is a set of orchestral interpretations of old hymns. The music is restrained and evocative, woven around the harp playing of Kathryn Thompson. If it sounds cinematic, that is no coincidence: Carmichael had great success writing and arranging film scores. This track is an arrangement of a nineteenth century hymn, “My Redeemer” (the tune is very similar to “This Land is Your Land”). You can imagine it playing during a film scene: a soldier of the Civil War returns to his family farm, maybe.

  • Artist: Christian Faith Orchestra. Ralph Carmichael, Director. Kathryn Thompson, Harpist
  • LP Title: Celestial Strings
  • Side 2, Track 1: “My Redeemer”
  • Format: 10” LP 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Chapel Records LP 1524
  • Manufactured in: USA
  • Year: no date (late 1950s?)

Many of the records featured on this blog are for sale via Discogs

 

The unpasteurised milk paradigm

Humour is a funny thing. Beautiful music can transcend time and place and culture; humour, not so much. What is comedic genius to one audience can fall flat to another, be offensive to a third, mystify a fourth.

2059 label

I write parody lyrics to popular songs, and some get performed on a radio show, The Coodabeen Champions. The show is popular, and from time to time I have the joy of meeting someone who says “are you the Richard Evans who writes all those songs …” But it is a limited public. The theme is usually Australian Rules football, and unless you understand the culture, history, tropes and mythology of that sport, then the humour will almost certainly be lost on you.

Like unpasteurised fresh milk, humour is a wonderful thing, but it can’t travel all that far and has a short shelf life.

All of which is by way of introducing a mostly-comedy album, a live recording of various funny songs and banter, which came out in 1974. It is the work of Bob Hudson, an Australian folk singer who strayed into absurdist comedic songs, often half-sung, half-spoken. If you are familiar with Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”, that is the style.

Bob Hudson is better known now as a radio presenter than a musician. A bit of a renaissance man, Bob: he also did a PhD in archeology. Not making that up. But as a performer he had his moment in the sun. This album’s title track, “Newcastle Song”, was a number one hit in Australia in 1975. For a local musician to have a successful album, and even a hit single, drawn from original Australian material … this was not the first time it had happened, but it was pretty unusual.2059 sleeve front

However, forty-odd years on Hudson’s sardonic, slightly crass humour doesn’t stand up too well. In a smoky pub on a Sunday arvo in 1974, his set would have been side-clutching funny. Hudson’s skill is obvious – the audience is in the palm of his hand, his rapid-fire repartee is skillful, deft. The musicianship, both from Hudson and the supporting band, is strong. But funny now … nah.

Fortunately, as is often the case with mostly-comedy albums, there are some straight  songs included for light and shade. One of these, “Girls in Our Town”, became a minor hit for another Australian artist, Margaret Roadknight, and it still features in the folk repertoire.

But the track I like most is a quiet, spare song, “Who’s Your Friend”. It is about the experience of jealousy, when you are young and mixed up, and about the caution and the fear and confusion which stalk a party full of young people.

I did not laugh once, listening to this album, but with this sad, subtle song Bob Hudson wins me over.

  • Artist: Bob Hudson
  • LP Title: Newcastle Song
  • Track: Side 2 Track 1 “Who’s Your Friend? ”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: M7 MLF.083
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1974

This record, and hundreds of others, is for sale on Discogs.

Take a shower, lads

From the sublime to … the Shower Room Squad? Tragically, the individual identities of this vocal group is lost to posterity. They seem to have consisted of a piano player and a bunch of men who were either drunken idiots, or sober and trying to sound like drunken idiots. The few seconds of “atmosphere” before the first track is pretty unconvincing, so I suspect the latter.

Even by the standards of the early 1970s, the cover of this LP is crass almost beyond belief. 2044 SleeveBut like many a pulp paperback of the era, Sinful Rugby Songs doesn’t live up to the wickedness promised on the cover. If you think “Maggie May” is sinful, you probably don’t belong on a rugby team. Not only is there not much sin, there isn’t much about rugby, either. The version here of “If I Was the Marrying Kind” contains a few references to rugby terminology. Apart from that, these are British pub songs with the faintest whiff of laddish naughtiness thrown in.

But as the Planet Vinyl manifesto says, there is no such thing as bad music, because it is always a good thing that people make music.

I once heard a recording of the Brass Band of the SS performing some pompous military march. Not much to love there, but at least while they were puffing into their tubas those obersturmbannführern were not killing any one. In fact, making records was probably the single least harmful thing the SS ever did.

Back to the Shower Room Squad, and this pretty dreadful record.

Was it a good thing that, in the early seventies, yahoos would get pissed on beer while standing round a piano tunelessly singing mildly offensive songs? Clearly not – but what is the equivalent demographic doing now? They go to strip clubs and get pissed on red bull and vodka as deafening techno music is played, while looking grim and exchanging porn on their mobile phones.

The Shower Room Squad, at least, were singing.

  • Artist: The Shower-Room Squad
  • LP Title: Sinful Rugby Songs
  • Side 1, Track 2: “If I Was The Marrying Kind”
  • Format: 12” LP 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Summit SRA 026
  • Manufactured in: England
  • Year: 1970