Quarter flash and three-parts foolish

It was 1981, and I was in my first year at high school. I remember vividly the daunting, huge school, a strange zoo of architectural styles. Old red-brick from before the First World War, the 1960s science block with leaky taps, a 1970s concrete brick library, and lots of lime-green portable classrooms.

All the buildings were islands in a sea of tarmac. Whoever decided that school grounds should be wall-to-wall asphalt deserves a special circle in Hell, stuck in one of their own schoolyards with a hot north wind blowing, wearing a scratchy polyester school shirt.

Another of my memories of 1981 is “Harden My Heart”, a big hit in Australia for a band called Quarterflash. This was their only success in this part of the world, and I had assumed that they had been a one hit wonder. Happily, I was wrong.

DSC01891Hailing from Portland, Oregon, the core of the band was a married couple, Rindy and Marv Ross. The band’s name came from a piece of old Australian slang, describing newly-arrived migrants from Britain as “one quarter flash and three parts foolish”. The band was previously known as Seafood Mama, so certainly an improvement.

“Harden My Heart” was their biggest hit, but they did continue releasing material and doing middling-well in the US.

Quarterflash disbanded in 1985, but they reformed in 1990, and with impressive persistence Rindy and Marv are still together, still performing and releasing new material.

This is the B side to “Harden My Heart”. Like the A side, it is a love song of no great lyrical originality, but the vocal and musicianship lifts it. Note the brief bass break half-way in. Rindy Ross both sang and played lead sax – the break allowed her to slip on her saxophone strap, and play the solo which follows.

  • Artist: Quarterflash
  • A Side: Harden My Heart
  • B Side: Don’t Be Lonely
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Geffen
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: GEF 49824
  • Year: 1981

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

 

 

Jamming with le dieu

Sidney Bechet was among the very first improvising soloists in jazz. He was a Creole, born in New Orleans in 1897, and so a contemporary of friend and rival Louis Armstrong.

Bechet started out on the clarinet, but while touring Europe in 1919 he discovered the soprano saxophone, and made it his own. He pretty much invented jazz saxophone, and was an astonishing and inventive stylist. He was not, however, an easy man to get along with, and for many years what a biographer delicately calls his “erratic temperament” prevented him from gaining the full success he deserved.

sidney_bechet_freddie_moore_lloyd_phillips_gottlieb_00521

Sidney Bechet in 1947. Picture: Library of Congress, via WikiMedia Commons

However, he mellowed with age, and in 1950 he settled in France, and there became a genuine star. Very popular among bohemian intellectuals, in Existentialist circles he was known as “le dieu” (“the god”).

Here is one of his works, recorded in duet with trumpeter Jonah Jones, with their take on the Fats Waller tune “Squeeze Me”, recorded in Paris in 1954.

  • Artist: Sidney Bechet and Jonah Jones
  • EP Title: Sidney Bechet – Jonah Jones
  • Series Title: Paris by Night
  • Track: B1 “Squeeze Me”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, mono
  • Label: PYE International
  • Catalogue: IEP008
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1960 (recorded Paris, 1954)

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

 

Twang!

Duane Eddy was one of the first rock ’n roll guitar heroes. He used the bass strings of his Grestch guitar (the one on the right on the album sleeve picture below) to play a melody line. This was recorded through an echo chamber to create a distinctive, almost grungy rock sound.

2977-coverEddy is best remembered for the theme to the detective show Peter Gunn, but he did a lot else, including movie and television soundtracks, and with his band The Rebels had a long string of huge hits, selling more than 12 million records between 1958 and 1963. Eddy’s ‘twang’ sound made him a rich man, and inspired legions of teenagers to learn guitar. Among his admirers were Jeff Lynne, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ry Cooder.

This track was his first release. It was only modestly successful, but it is a perfect jukebox number. The low-down guitar is complemented by a brassy, sleazy saxophone. It’s wild, and sexy. Imagine hearing this bursting out of the speakers in a small town diner in 1958. Twang!

  • Artist: ‎Duane Eddy,
  • LP Title: $1,000,000 Worth Of Twang
  • Track: B1 “Moovin’ ‘N Groovin’”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: London Records
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: HAA 7621
  • Year: 1962 (this track first released 1958)

The alt + obscure litmus test

The true test of whether a record is both obscure and alternative? You should be able to pick it up and look at the cover, read the words on it, and have no idea what is the band name, and what is the record title. Equal Local (which turns out to be the band) pass this test with flying colours with their 1981 12-inch EP, Madagascar. The words tell you nothing. The cover design is interesting, but also tells you nothing.

equal local madagascarThe only thing I did recognise when I found this record, nestled next to a water-damaged copy of Barry Crocker Sings the Movies, was the label. Missing Link has an honoured place in the history of Australian music (obscure and alternative sub-branch). It was a little indy label, putting out all sorts of adventurous music in the late 1970s and 1980s. Lots of musicians passed through different groups under different names, flowering briefly and then moving on to new projects.

There is a website, www.punkjourney.com which has some information about the Equal Local, though the music is nothing like punk. The site uses the label “post punk”, whatever that might mean, but the description of the music is on the nail: “Utilizing a funky pulse-like beat as a base, the band was free to lay hypnotic textures and a rich tapestry of styles over the top.”

In this track, “The Cult Of Simplicity”, the base line sets the scene. It feels like nighttime in a dubious city. Over the top, what I think is a synth (clean, high-pitched, unvarying) and what is definitely a saxophone (sleazy, improvising, dark), engage in a call-and-response. It is stark, moody, troubling. Personally I would call it experimental jazz, but who cares about the label: it is inventive, exciting work.

  •     Artist: Equal Local
  •     EP Title: Madagascar
  •     Track: B1 “The Cult Of Simplicity”
  •     Format: 12” 45 rpm
  •     Label: Missing Link, MSD 519
  •     Manufactured in: Australia
  •     Year: 1981

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs. Mention this code “MSD519” before 1 October 2016 to receive a free 7” disc of your choice (up to the value of $5.00) with any purchase.

 

 

Love and theft

Billy Vaughn was an American multi-instrumentalist and band leader, who had success in the 1950s and 1960s. These were days when a hot dance band could earn a living playing instrumental versions of popular tunes. It was the quality of the playing and the inventiveness of the arrangement, rather than new material, which was the selling point. Do something different, make it new.

0036 B side

This track, “Wabash Blues,” does that, but it also sounds weirdly familiar. Anyone who grew up when ABBA were giants, in the 1970s, will know what I mean.

ABBA’s 1974 single, the somewhat repetitively titled “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do”, begins like this:

“Wabash Blues” begins like this:

Slow down the tempo of “I Do x 5”, and it sounds like this:

Speed up the tempo of “Wabash”, and this is what you get.

Vaughn’s record was a hit around the world, including Sweden, in 1959, when Benny and Bjorn were teenagers. Bound to have heard it …

No problem in that. Music is, in Bob Dylan’s immortal words, a matter of love and theft. Everyone steals from everyone else. What matters is the end product. “I Do” is not ABBA’s finest work, but the sax is the highlight. And Billy Vaughn’s version of “Wabash Blues” is a delight. He takes a jaunty ragtime tune from the 1920s, turns it into something from a burlesque show, with wonderful sleazy sax.

  • Artist: ‎Billy Vaughn And His Orchestra
  • Single Title: Carnival In Paris / Wabash Blues
  • Track: Side B “Wabash Blues”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: London 45-HL-1566
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1959

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