Mozart for shopping malls

There are times when putting on a record whisks you though time and space, and places you down in an achingly familiar yet strange world. Suddenly you are watching Sunday television sitting on a beanbag in a shag-pile carpeted lounge-room. It is 1973. The theme music from the shows of this period is distinctive, evocative. You can almost smell the faint linger of cigarette smoke in the drapes, see the burnt-orange tiled coffee table.

waldoIt is now hopelessly daggy, even a bit tasteless, especially when lovely music from the past has been put through a crushed velvet mangle and served with a prawn cocktail. Mozart for shopping malls. My dad, a classical music purist, hated this “classics up-to-date” style with the fire of a thousand suns. Listening now, even on open-minded and inclusive Planet Vinyl, ya have to admit it: he had a point.

But, hey, it was of its time. It gave musicians a living. And it transports me back to a world in which there were wholesome black-and-white television shows about show-jumping, macramé pot hangers and English country houses. There are worse places.

  • Artist: Waldo De Los Rios,
  • A Side: Mozart: Symphonie N° 40 En Sol Mineur K. 550 – 1er Mouvement (Allegro Molto)
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Hispavox
  • Made in: Belgium
  • Catalogue: 2022 004
  • Year: 1971

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

 

Poor old Johnny Ray

Poor old Johnny Ray …

This was a first line of “Come On Eileen”, which was a huge hit in the early 1980s for a UK band, Dexy’s Midnight Runners. I loved the song, but I was a teenager and had no idea who Johnny Ray was, so asked my Dad.

“Hmmph. He was a pop star. He was the first of the Screamers,” he said.

Ray 1956 aPuzzled, I asked what he meant. It emerged that it wasn’t Johnny Ray who screamed, but his young female fans. You know the hysterical screaming which made the Beatles pretty much inaudible when they played live? Apparently this meme started with Johnny Ray.

My Dad was a conservative soul. He loved music, but he believed it had reached perfection in the works of J.S. Bach, and been going downhill ever since, with the possible exception of Gilbert and Sullivan. So, he was never going to approve of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, or indeed Johnny Ray.

He had a point about the screaming, mind.

That was all I knew about Johnny Ray until I bought this 10” 78rpm disc. It is one of the “G.S.” collection, and came out in 1956. This was right at the end of shellac as a popular medium, and shows that “G.S.”, though fond of jazz and swing, liked the emerging pop of the fifties as well.Ray AM

The record stands as a monument of this transition. A jazz classic, Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, is given a doo-wop treatment by a rising rock star. The B-side is altogether different: in “Walk Along with Kings”, Ray shows himself a strong singer of a straight gospel which even my Dad could not disapprove of.

But I would wager this record against a mint condition copy of the first release of “Love Me Do” that it was “Ain’t Misbehavin’” that G.S. bought it for.

  • Artist: Johnny Ray
  • Title: Ain’t Misbehavin’
  • Track: Side A “Ain’t Misbehavin’”
  • Format: 10” shellac disc, 78rpm
  • Label: Coronet KP-032
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1952

Chopped and pickled

I will admit to having low expectations when I picked up this single. The name Jive Bunny, and the image of said bunny in a Hawaiian shirt aboard a Polynesian war canoe – not promising. Apart from anything else, rabbits are a major pest in Australia. Anyone who grew up in a rural area here, and has seen the damage they do, absolutely hates rabbits.

jive bunnyMore to the point, I vaguely remembered Jive Bunny as an early exponent of the sample: pinching fragments of music from various places, chopping them up like veggies in a food processor and producing something new. Often, vegetable goop. The folk purist that once I was frowned on such practices, and though I have long moved on the ghosts of old prejudices die hard.

Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, to give the full name, was a partnership between a radio announcer, Ian Morgan, and the owner of an electrical appliance store, John Pickles. They got together in the UK in the late 1980s, and put together sampled sounds over a driving disco beat. Old hits, chopped and pickled, you might say.

But Planet Vinyl is all about getting past pre-conceptions, and frightful covers.

Just listen! And I did, and there is actually a lot to like about Jive Bunny. The A-side, “That’s What I Like” is a parfait of rock tunes built around the theme to Hawaii Five-0 (hence the shirt and war canoe). It is a bit silly, but undeniably fun and danceable. That is all it sets out to be, and it succeeds.

I prefer the B side, though, which has less clowning and hangs together better. It features the John Anderson Band, a swing outfit which worked the dance circuit playing Glenn Miller numbers in the 1980s. “Pretty Blue Eyes” is a tight, swing number, discoed up a bit, and it is fun and danceable, and avoids the cheesiness of “That’s What I Like”.

Don’t think critically: just jive, bunny.

  • Artist: Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers
  • Single Title: That’s What I Like
  • Track: Side B “Pretty Blue Eyes”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Music Factory, MFD 002
  • Manufactured in: UK
  • Year: 1989

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

 

Odd and proud of it

One of the better things to happen in Australian music back in the 1980s was a band called Mental As Anything. In the slang of the day, to say someone was “mental” was an insult. It implied eccentricity and stupidity rather than mental illness, but even so it was a bit unpleasant.

The Mentals, as they became known, took defiant ownership of the term. Singing quirky songs about life on the creative, dope-smoking fringes of suburban Australia, they were odd and out there and proud of it.0057 Plaza A

One of the band was Martin Plaza – not his real name, it’s a place in central Sydney – and he released a solo album in 1986. A single from it, a version of a 1960s Brit pop hit “Concrete and Clay”, made the top ten in Australia.

But Planet Vinyl is all about found sound, the unexpected, the unfamiliar, and that is what lies on the B side. “New Suit” is a song about a man who has bought a second-hand suit, and thinks he looks pretty sharp in it.0057 Plaza B

My new suit, it looks so good
My new suit, it fits so well
My new suit, I think you will agree
My new suit, looks good on me

A silly, lightweight song which didn’t even get on the album – but it is just the sort of whimsical, fun celebration of the ordinary which the Mentals did so well. I love it.

  • Artist: Martin Plaza
  • Single Title: Concrete and Clay
  • Track: Side B “New Suit”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: CBS BA 3404
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1986

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

An emancipated minor

Nineteen eighty-seven was my first year at university. Like a lot of people at this stage of life, I struggled a bit. I moved to a big city, and into a share house. I received a very modest government stipend: $87.30 a week, which even in those days was not much. Rent was $45 a week, and most of the rest went to support various breweries.

0038 Tiffany 1987 AI was a bit lost and a lot insecure, and a tad pretentious. I was into earnest, save-the-world journalism, high literature and alt-folk music. Nothing wrong with any of that, but there is a lot wrong with sneering at what you dismiss as commercial, popular, mainstream. I don’t remember this record, but if I noticed it I would have responded with an eye roll and some choice adjective. Probably “derivative”. That was a safe, one-size-fits-all putdown.

Embarrassing memories, but I had the good fortune to work through all this stuff with only family and friends to notice. Unlike Tiffany.

Tiffany Renee Darwish is almost three years younger than I am. So when this record came out, she was not yet sixteen. That would be tough even if you were supported by parents who managed to be both caring and streetwise. As it was, Tiffany Darwish’s parents had divorced when she was a baby, and her mother and step-father struggled for control over her career, and her cash. At one stage she took legal action (unsuccessfully) to be recognised as an “emancipated minor”.

This record was her biggest hit, an eighties-pop reworking of a sixties number, Tommy James’ “I Think We’re Alone Now”. It is a teen love song about the need for privacy. The lyrics are pretty lightweight, and the arrangement is standard pop-rock of the era, but it is well sung by a teen who can have had very little time properly alone.

That Tiffany Darwish’s career suffered as a result of her family dramas is not surprising. What is commendable is that she has persevered singing, song writing and acting, at times to critical acclaim though without much commercial success. She supports gay rights, and does not appear to have become bitter and twisted. To have done all that after growing up in public: that really deserves respect.

And the song? It is derivative, but it is a nice, danceable pop song. Well done to an emancipated minor.

  • Artist: Tiffany
  • Title: “I Think We’re Alone Now”
  • Format: 7” 45 rpm
  • Label: MCA 7-53167
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1987