Easter special

How many pop songs about Easter do you know?

It’s is a curious thing. There is lots of lovely church music for Easter, just as there is for Christmas. But popular music? Every man and his dog has released a Christmas album – there are so many in the op-shops of Australia that they effect Earth’s gravitational pull. But there is no “Rudolph the Red Nosed Rabbit”, no “I Saw Mummy Kiss the Easter Bunny”.

vaughan and erskineIf you want something rare, though, Planet Vinyl is the place to go.

In 1958, the great Sarah Vaughan teamed up with Billy Eckstine – not so well-remembered now, but a star singer and bandleader in his day – to collaborate on an album of Irving Berlin songs. One of them is “Easter Parade”, written by Berlin in 1933 and later a hit for Bing Crosby and Liberace, among others. Sage observers declare “The song is often considered to be one of the most popular Easter songs of all time”. Not sure that it has a great deal of competition, but it’s fun and happy and Sarah and Billy sing it beautifully.

Happy Easter from Planet Vinyl.

  • Artist: Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine
  • LP Title: Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine ‎Sing The Best Of Irving Berlin
  • Side 2, Track 4 “Easter Parade”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, mono
  • Label: Mercury
  • Catalogue number: MG 20316
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1958

Many of the records featured on Planet Vinyl are for sale on Discogs.

Yeah, I don’t know, it’s dubious

‎In Australia, Dexys Midnight Runners are remembered, but as a one hit wonder. “Come on Eileen” was huge, top of the charts for six or eight weeks in 1982. But they never had another hit here: not one. Which is odd, because in the UK they were big, and for years. They had seven singles which reached the top 40. They had three top-ten LPs.

I was an avid listener to pop radio back then. If I had heard anything else by Dexys, I am sure I would remember it. This is probably just a reflection of what I wished I could call “the appalling timidity of commercial radio in the 1980s”, except that things have actually got worse. Tune in to FM radio and you will still hear “Come on Eileen”, and other hits from 30-odd years ago, and absolutely nothing that you have not heard (and heard often) before.0317

Why? Radio is terrified of losing listeners. “Don’t play anything which might make people change stations,” is the philosophy. So: nothing new. Nothing old, either, unless everyone already knows it. No jazz. No classical. No country. No folk. No nothing. Strangely enough, this dismal approach is causing commercial radio to slowly die.

Community radio (a bit like college radio in the States) gives the lie to the “don’t lose listeners” approach. Community stations are run on volunteer labour and the whiff of an oily rag, much of the oil coming in the form of voluntary subscriptions paid by listeners. People pay eighty or one hundred dollars a year, and sometimes much more, to support community radio. I do this for PBS 106.7 FM, which is perhaps the weirdest and most wonderful radio station on the planet. If you don’t believe me, check it out.

The thing is, community stations are not allowed to have advertising. Their audiences are easily large enough to support a (modestly) profitable commercial operation. But to build that audience would require commercial radio to play interesting, different, engaging music, to challenge people and take them outside their comfort zone.

Maybe, just once in the hour, you could try something different. Flip the single, and see what the B-side to “Come on Eileen” might be.

Commercial radio. As a muted voice-over in this joyful, solos-all-round, soul-tinged instrumental declares: “Yeah, I don’t know, it’s dubious”.

  • Artist: ‎Dexys Midnight Runners & The Emerald Express
  • Single Title: Come On Eileen
  • Track: Side B “Dubious”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Mercury
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: 6059 551
  • Year: 1982

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.

That old black magic

I had never heard of Billy Daniels until this shellac disc – battered and scratched and with a crack running through it – came into my life. I was unsure whether it would even play, as the crack runs almost through to the label, but it worked okay. There is a noise, but no worse than a moderate scratch. And what a voice travels up the needle.

3075-a-sideDaniels was a genuine star in the 1950s. He was the first person to have a hit with “That Old Black Magic” – I have heard perhaps a dozen versions, but never his. He was the first African American to host a mainstream variety show on television in the United States. He worked the cabaret circuit, and was an early attraction on the Las Vegas casino show scene. It is said that he had mafia connections, which helped him get ahead. Probably true – how else to get a gig in Vegas? – but if so he was in good company.

What matters is that Billy Daniels could sing. On this disc he waxes between the casual and the impassioned, and he shifts style and tempo, and somehow this delivery lifts the (frankly lame) Tin Pan Alley lyrics of the song. It acquires an emotional power which it doesn’t really deserve. On this track, Daniels anticipates Tom Jones, even Elvis, and, like that old black magic, sends shivers down your spine.

  • Artist: Billy Daniels
  • Title: The Game of Love / I Still get a Thrill Thinking of You
  • Track: A side, “The Game of Love”
  • Format: 10” shellac disc, 78rpm
  • Label: Esquire Mercury, A-1106
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1951

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs. Mention this code “MSD519” to receive a free 7” disc of your choice (up to the value of $5.00) with any purchase.