Cross-over Man

Cross-over. It was a buzz term in music marketing, back in the 80s. Like many things from that decade it was applied cynically. Industry executives were worried that Micheal Jackson would not make them quite enough money because, well, he was black, n’ all.  So they hired Eddie van Halen, with impeccable redneck street-cred, to play the guitar solo on “Beat It”. This would ensure radio airplay in the Southern states, you see.

Just one of many examples of such cold calculation, which brought the whole idea of cross-over into disrepute. This is a shame, because, at core, music which crosses over between cultures, or even sub-cultures, is surely a good thing. Elvis. Dylan. The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. All cross-over in one way or another. It means reaching out, breaking down barriers of prejudice.

“Prejudice”: literally, to pre-judge, decide without a fair hearing. Which is to say, without just listening.

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Jim Reeves. Image: WikiMedia

Which brings us to Jimmy Reeves. “Gentleman Jim”, they called him. Starting out as a shrill hillbilly country singer, Reeves changed his singing style, brought in elements of pop, elements of swing jazz, and became something of a crooner – but still country, and in many ways much more than that.

Born in 1923, Reeves served a long apprenticeship working the country music circuit. He performed on the great radio shows of the 1950s, Louisiana Hayride and the Grand Ole Opry, and was already established in country before he broke through to the pop charts in 1957, with the hit “Four Walls”.

And did he cross-over, or what? It is one thing to record in Nashville and make the US pop charts. It is quite another to become a revered, genuinely loved artist across nations and cultures, most of which have never seen a Stetson hat outside of a movie theatre. And that is what Reeves did.

Reeves was listened to and loved – and is still remembered fondly if fan websites are anything to judge by – in the UK, in Norway, in the Netherlands, in South Africa (he was so big there that he recorded songs in Afrikaans), in India, in Sri Lanka, and in a whole host of other places you would not expect. Reeves died tragically young, killed in an air crash in 1964, but his music lived on.

The secret of  Reeve’s appeal? Part was his pure, smooth vocal style. Part was his ability to give emotional conviction to the (let’s face it) sentimental lyrics which are country music’s core. He was a Christian, too, and he expressed his faith in his music without being bombastic or preachy.

This track “Suppertime” is the B-side to a 1965 single. It is sentimental to the extent it needs a heart-health warning, but Reeves carries it off. He was already dead when the record was released, which makes the message all the more poignant: there is a loving God, at whose table all of us are welcome. Just listen.

  • Artist: Jim Reeves
  • A Side: How Long Has It Been
  • B Side: Suppertime
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: RCA
  • Made in: UK
  • Catalogue: RCA-1445
  • Year: 1965

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those Rambunctious Monkees

They are the Pinocchio of pop music, The Monkees. The four members were brought together by the producer of a television show. They were hired as actors, to play the roles of members of a fictional band. The show, and the music in it, became enormously popular. In the late 1960s they were seriously likened to The Beatles. Some wit dubbed them “the Pre-Fab Four”.

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Image: TV/Tropes

Pinocchio-like, there was some deceit involved. In the first two albums credited to The Monkees, the members of the “band” did not actually play the music – they sang the vocal tracks, but that was all. They wanted to play, but weren’t allowed to. That came later – this artificial creation, this made-up pop group, won artistic control.

Pinocchio-like, they were transformed into a real band.

You can understand why The Monkees wanted to be free, but their early, semi-artificial records stand up well. Okay, mostly. Hearing Davey Jones reciting sentimental poetry is like being having luke-warm treacle poured over your head. Twenty seconds gives you the picture …

But mostly, it is great – bouncy pop, with the odd harder rocker and some hints of musical theatre. Here is a fun track from their second LP, all about the complexities caused when the object of your affections has, annoyingly, a family.

  • Artist: The Monkees
  • Album title: More of the Monkees
  • Tracks: B3 The Day We Fall In Love (extract); A5 Your Auntie Grizelda
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: RCA
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: COS 102
  • Year: 1967

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

 

 

More than one gay in the village

The Village People were a marketing concept before they were a band. A record producer, Jacques Morali, had the idea of a camp disco-dance act, which would draw on gay stereotypes. He secured a recording contract before he even had found anyone to fill the roles of dog man, biker, cop and the others. Despite this calculated beginning, what emerged was unique. in_the_navy

The period of the Village People’s success was short, just a couple of years, and in truth they were a one trick pony. All their music sounds pretty much the same.

Exhibit A:

That comes from “Manhattan Woman”. But you could mistake it for “In the Navy,” for which it was the B-side, or indeed pretty much any of their hits.

But, hey, on Planet Vinyl we don’t dis anyone who makes music, especially when that music brings joy to millions of people. You still see people jumping around to the Village People’s hits, and enjoying themselves hugely. The music is fun and danceable.

More than that, there is a subversive streak to the Village People which entirely missed me when I heard them on the radio back in the late 1970s. I thought “In the Navy” was, well, a song encouraging people to join the navy. But listening to the lyrics now, one appreciates a certain double-entendre goin’ down.

If you like adventure, don’t you wait to enter
The recruiting office fast
Don’t you hesitate, there is no need to wait
They’re signing up new seamen fast

They must have had fun coming up with all that, and they sound like they are having fun in the singing, too. Unlike the guy in Little Britain, there was more than one gay in the village.

  • Artist: Village People
  • Title: In the Navy
  • Tracks: A “In the Navy”, B “Manhattan Woman”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: RCA Victor
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1978

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

Where good doggies go

Yesterday, driving my daughter to her soccer game, I found myself trying to explain Elvis. This isn’t easy. There is the 1950s fireball, who melded R&B and country and CFM sexuality, and changed everything. There is the long decline into bloated, jump-suited, self-parody. There is the piratical “Colonel” Tom Parker, who both made Elvis a star and robbed him blind. There are the good movies, and all the terrible ones. An extraordinary talent, often squandered.

7083 Label APersonally, I was not there until the dismal end. By the time I was old enough to be aware of Elvis, he was well into his deep-fried-peanut-butter-sandwich period, and then he was dead, and “Elvis” became a pastiche: sideburns and sunglasses and loopy conspiracy theories. I had to rediscover Elvis by putting aside prejudice, just listen, and look for the good and forgive the dross.

A girl called Betty did. She once owned this EP, and cared enough about it to put her name on the label. And she must have played this record a lot. The whole thing is worn, but by far the most worn is the title track. The crackle and pop shows that this is the song Betty really loved.

7083 Label A CU

In the long history of sentimental popular songs, there can be few challengers to “Old Shep” as the most lachrymose and over-the-top of them all. A man sings of his dog, the friend and companion of his youth, who rescued him from drowning, and who finally passed on to (a prickly theological point this) wherever it is that “good doggies go”. And somehow, this slop succeeds. Elvis sings with conviction. You believe him. Clearly Betty did.

This EP came out in 1956, but many years earlier “Old Shep” had provided Elvis with his first public success as a singer. As a boy he entered a junior talent show, and sang this song, and came first. He won five dollars. Colonel Parker was not yet on the scene, which is just as well – Parker would have taken a cut of $4.50.

  • Artist: Elvis Presley
  • EP Title: Old Shep
  • Side 1, Track 1: “Old Shep”
  • Format: 7” EP 45 rpm
  • Label: RCA 20044
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1956

 

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

A western, and sad

We did not have a television at home when I was a boy. This was the 1970s, when TVs had become pretty much universal in Australia, but my Mum and Dad did not approve of this trend. Although I didn’t like it at the time I am grateful for their non-conformity now. Much of my love of music and literature stems from reading, listening to the radio and to records.

Another good thing about not having a television was that when there was something on which we wanted to watch, we would go to someone’s house, and visit and have dinner and watch it together – it was a social experience, a bit of an event.

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Elvis. This was before he invented the deep-fried peanut butter sandwich

One of the first films I can remember seeing on a colour television (which, young ‘uns, only came to Australia in 1976) was an Elvis Presley film, a western called Flaming Star. There are a lot of seriously dreadful Elvis movies, but this was one of the good ones. I remember little about it except that it was a western and sad, and that it had a wonderful theme. My recollection is that the music crops up in fragmentary form repeatedly in the film, and then plays in full over the closing credits.

This track was originally released in 1960, soon after the movie. It was only a modest hit, and is more-or-less forgotten. I found it on a rather tacky compilation, Elvis in Hollywood. It is buried among much more famous numbers, like “Viva Las Vegas” and “Rock-a-Hula Baby”, and I suspect “Flaming Star” only got included because it fit the album’s concept. For mine, though, it is the standout. It is a sad, poignant song about mortality, a young man fearing he will die before his time. The sombre song is in tension with the up-tempo, almost jaunty arrangement, but somehow the mix works.

Elvis Presley is one of those artists whose myth is so gargantuan, so ridiculously overblown, that it obscures his art. Tracks like this help us understand what all the fuss was about.

  •    Artist: Elvis Presley
  •    LP Title: Elvis in Hollywood
  •    Side 2, Track 3: “Flaming Star”
  •    Format: 12” LP 33⅓ rpm
  •    Label: RCA ‎– VPL1 7130
  •    Manufactured in: Australia
  •    Year: 1976 (original release 1960)

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs. Most are only a few dollars, and I am open to offers.