No surname necessary

Planet Vinyl welcomes and loves the obscure, the forgotten, the eccentric and the strange. But we do not discriminate. The best-selling female recording artist of all time? She too is welcome here. I speak of Madonna Louise Ciccone, born in the United States in 1958. By the time I was a teenager in the 1980s she was a global icon. Most people didn’t know she had a surname, nor was one necessary. She was loved and imitated from New York to New Deli, via Berlin and San Salvador.

madonna_la_isla_bonita_coverI was not a huge fan, but I always respected her endless capacity for innovation and reinvention. She was not the strongest singer going around. Her image was key, yet she was not especially good looking in conventional terms. But she was brave, and smart. She ransacked the music and iconography of the past, mixed it up with synth and production and dance and made it something new and exciting. It didn’t always work for me, but it sure worked for a lot of others.

0052-labelThis disc is one of the 300 million-odd records she sold over the years. “La Isla Bonita” is, no getting around it, lyrically lightweight, a montage of vaguely Latin, vaguely Caribbean clichés, not all of which make sense. There is reference to “A young girl with eyes like the desert”. Does this mean “huge and mostly empty”? Or perhaps, “full of sand”?

Later we learn that “when the samba played, the sun would set so high.” The sun can set in a range of well-worn ways, but high?

Oh, who cares? On Planet Vinyl there is a space for silly pop songs, and this is one of them, and if you just don’t listen too closely to the words it is a bright, gorgeous dance number.

  • Artist: Madonna
  • Title: La Isla Bonita
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Sire
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: 7-28425
  • Year: 1987

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



A basket of fruit on its head

Sting’s real name is Gordon Sumner. Bono’s real name is Paul Hewson. Madonna’s real name is actually Madonna, but you see where I am going. Many is the artist who has adopted a stage name for a bit of mystique.

A little while ago, I discovered the faux (but enjoyable) Latin jazz of Chaquito, whose real name was John Gregory.

3052 label A

This Ricardo Santos release is part of the G.S. Collection.

Of Ricardo Santos, whose orchestra put out this release in about 1958, I know little. He was a band leader, and had a fair bit of success in the 1950s and 1960s playing smooth, hint-of-gypsy-hint-of-Latin dance music. His records came out on Polydor, a Dutch label, and were first released in Germany. I suspect that Santos was a German band leader from Dusseldorf whose real name was Reinhardt Schmidt. I could be wrong: if anyone knows more about Herr Santos, please let me know.3052 label B

And the music? It’s good. Cognoscente of tango might find it a bit sanitised, westernised and, to be blunt, fake. And they would have a point. But it can still be enjoyed for what it is: polished and skilful dance music, with a basket of fruit on its head.

  • Artist: Ricardo Santos And His Orchestra,
  • Title: La Cumparsita / Tango Desiree
  • Track: B side, “Tango Desiree”
  • Format: 10” shellac disc, 78rpm
  • Label: Polydor H 49286
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: c. 1958

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

A material girl

Ah, the Eighties. The decade when marketing and pop music really hopped into bed, good and proper.

“We are living in a material world,” declaimed Madonna.

“Greed is good”, said Gordon Gecko, who didn’t actually exist though there were many like him.

Margaret Thatcher did exist, and ran a country, and she said “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families”.

I remember reading Time magazine in 1987. There was an article about how cosmetic surgery was becoming popular among young corporate achievers. I am quoting from memory, but there was one guy who said: “I can spend $10,000 on a new car to make myself feel good, or I can spend $3,000 on getting some wrinkles lifted”. Yes, it really was that shallow and revolting.Gibson front cover

Today’s record is from that period. Though I was there, I don’t remember the artist. She was not as successful in Australia as in her native America, which may have something to do with it. In the States she was huge, though. Debbie Gibson was a precociously talented singer and songwriter. She was signed to a manager at thirteen, had two top ten hits in the US when she 17, and the following year she became the youngest person ever to have written, produced and performed on a number one US single.

This album, Electric Youth, came out in 1989, and spent a month on the top of the US charts. Listening now, it is a little hard to understand the excitement. It is pleasant enough, a mix of synth-pop dance numbers with some slower ballads – I have chosen one these to share. It is sentimental, but well crafted. Gibson can sing. But it could be pretty much any girl pop act of the day.

gibson back cover

Debbie Gibson sharing the word that one Swatch just isn’t enough.

Wikipedia says of her:

In tandem with the second album, she created a perfume called Electric Youth that was distributed by Revlon, and other makeup essentials for young girls that were distributed nationwide through Natural Wonder Cosmetics, another of her sponsors at the time, among the first of artists to do so. Debbie’s trademark was her hats, usually black bowlers. She also made tight, rolled-up jeans and wearing vests over your T-shirt, friendship bracelets, and two Swatch watches popular as she is clearly seen wearing on the back cover of her popular Electric Youth album and in her “Staying Together” music video.

That was the Eighties. She was genuinely of her time. A material girl.

  • Artist: Debbie Gibson
  • LP Title: Electric Youth
  • Track: Side 1, Track 5: “Silence Speaks (A Thousand Words)”
  • Format: 12” LP 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Atlantic 81932-1
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1989

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