Lighter on the syrup

A little while ago, Planet Vinyl explored a dance tune, “Tango Desiree“, the work of a slick orchestra led by one Ricardo Santos. I couldn’t find out much about Santos, and mused:

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.

Wrong in the particulars, but on the right track. Another Santos work has come up, so I decided to dig a bit deeper, and can now reveal the truth about the identity of the mysterious Senor Santos.

santos

This is him. Not very Latin looking, it’s fair to say. His real name was Werner Müller, and he was born in Berlin in 1920. He was a composer and conductor of great success, both in classical and what was called “contemporary light music” from the 1950s on. A fine website dedicated to the cocktail lounge music of this period, Space Age Pop, says of Müller:

In an odd flip-flop, several collections of French, Italian, and other national tunes Müller recorded for Decca were released in Europe under the name of “Ricardo Santos,” but in the U.S. under Müller’s own name.

Nothing odd about it, really. In the 1950s, a German name carried some baggage in much of Europe. It was not quite so personal in the States. Whatever, Santos-Müller was an arranger and band leader of great skill. Some of his arrangements put too much maple syrup on the pancake to my taste, but that he knew his craft is undeniable.

This EP, Holiday in Italy Vol. 2, came out in 1956, when shellac 78 rpm records were still what most people bought and played. Hence this grave warning on the back sleeve:

santo-cover-7010-detail

As the title implies, Santos had already been on holiday in Italy before, and also went on holidays to France, Japan, Mexico and Brazil. Nice work if you can get it.

This track, a lively and engaging take on the Italian standard “Funiculi-Funicula” is lighter on the syrup than most, and showcases the full, rich sound which Santos-Müller mastered.

  • Artist: Ricardo Santos And His Orchestra
  •  EP Title: Holiday in Italy Vol. 2
  •  Track: A1 “Funiculi-Funicula”
  •  Format: 7” 45 rpm
  •  Label: Polydor, 20 521 EPH
  •  Manufactured in: Australia
  •  Year: 1956

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

 

A slice of pumpernickel

If George Michael, born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, is spanakopita transformed into white bread, what are we to make of the career of Arnold George Dorsey?

Performing as Gerry Dorsey, he was small-big in the UK in the 1950s. He was featured on television shows, and toured with Marty Wilde (best known now as father of Kim, but a star in his own right back in the day). Dorsey could sing, he had a powerful and expressive voice, but something was missing, that X factor which could elevate him to stardom. A new stage name, perhaps?

It had worked for his friend Marty Wilde, who had entered life as Reginald Leonard Smith. And so, perhaps the oddest makeover in stage name history occurred. Gerry Dorsey was rebranded, adopting the name of a real person, a German opera composer who had died in 1921: Engelbert Humperdinck. One of those ideas which is so silly it works.

0024 Humpy A 1970Under this strange moniker, white bread disguised as pumpernickel, Engelbert became a hugely successful singer of power ballads, selling millions of records. I have to admit that for me, the strange name makes it hard to take Humpy seriously. Just listen, though, and there is no denying that he was good at his craft: pop ballads with swelling orchestral backing. His producer in the 1960s was Gordon Mills, who also handled Tom Jones, and there is a lot of similarity in the arrangement and style of their records from this period.

Most of Humperdinck’s work is sentimental love songs. “My Marie” is a little unusual. It tells the story of a man who has been driven to despair by the poverty of his family. He tells the Marie of the title that he is heading off. He will either return before nightfall with all the money the family needs, or … we he doesn’t say, but suggests she should flee with the children, and remarry.

We never learn exactly what sort of errand the singer is intending. Not, one suspects, picking up the dry cleaning. Nor do we learn Marie’s opinion of this high-risk strategy which is likely to leave her destitute and a fugitive, and even less able to care for her children than before. Curiously, the original Engelbert Humperdinck is best remembered for the opera Hansel and Gretel, a story which also involves poverty and some questionable parenting choices.

But never mind. The song is not intended to be taken too seriously, and succeeds on its own terms. A nice slice of pumpernickel.

  • Artist: Engelbert Humperdinck
  • Single Title: My Marie
  • Track: Side A “My Marie”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Decca Y-9152
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1970

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

 

 

 

Listen without prejudice

Stage names are funny things. Sometimes a white sandwich loaf is re-labelled as a baguette, or pane de casa, or Tibetan mountain bread. And sometimes horiatiko psomi is re-labelled as … white sandwich loaf.

This is pretty much what happened to Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou. Born in London of Greek heritage, he became known to the world as George Michael. He was, first off, part of a boyband with possibly the stupidest name in the long history of stupidly-named boybands.Wham!

There is a 1948 movie called Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House, which stars Cary Grant as an advertising executive. It is a comedy, poking fun at American consumerism. A subplot deals with the Grant character’s struggle to come up with a slogan promoting a variety of tinned meat called Wham. It is obvious that Wham is actually Spam, and Spam is what you slice up and put in a white-bread sandwich.

blandings 2

Mr Blandings’ slogan. He basically pinches the idea from his black housekeeper, Gussie.

It is unlikely that whoever coined the band name Wham! was thinking about Mr Blandings. What they were thinking about is anybody’s guess. Anyway, George Michael has had to carry the burden of having been half of Wham! ever since.

“Faith” was the title track of his first solo album. I was intrigued to discover that while I have heard the song perhaps hundreds of times on radio, that the DJs don’t have to nerve to play the whole thing. There is an into, played on a church organ. Sounds like this:

But the Radio Rule (if you can hear it on commercial radio, you won’t find it on Planet Vinyl) dictates that we go for the B-side.

“Hand to Mouth” is lower-key, different. It is smooth synth-pop, but it is – well, it’s a protest song, about the gross inequality of American society. And it’s nicely done – the slick production draws you in, and the lyrics are sufficiently subtle that you only gradually realise that George is singing about violence, poverty and prostitution. It is, in musical form, the irony of American life, a polished Cadillac cruising past a crack house.0075 B label

One of George Michael’s albums was titled Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1. I don’t think there was ever a volume two, but clearly it was partly a plea for people to stop judging him for the early-1980s blonde tips and just listen. Do that, and you might discover unexpected substance in the white bread.

  • Artist: George Michael
  • Single Title: Faith
  • Track: Side B “Hand to Mouth”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Epic 6511197
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • 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.

The Iron Chef deception

There are crushing moments when illusions, fondly nurtured for years, are shattered.

  • Santa Claus isn’t real.
  • No Viking ever had horns on his helmet.
  • Chairman Kaga, the poncy Japanese playboy who used his personal fortune to create Kitchen Stadium and named his men the Iron Chefs, did not exist.
takeshi

The man crunching the capsicum is an actor. Still in therapy over this.

Not quite as devastating, because I have only just discovered his music, but it was still disappointing to learn that Chaquito, Rey del Cha-Cha-Cha (Chaquito, King of Cha-Cha-Cha), the band leader who produced this stunning Latin-swing EP, was an Englishman by name of  John Gregory.

When Swinging Cha-Cha came out, in 1958, Gregory had already been an important musician for a decade, though rather behind the scenes. He was staff arranger for Philips, providing the backing arrangements for the labels stars, including Cleo Laine.

Given the opportunity to put out his own dance records, he adopted a stage name (one of several – he was also known as Nino Rico). You could forgive a bandleader who had done twenty years of backroom arranging for becoming cynical and weary. Instead, as Chaquito, Rey del Cha-Cha-Cha, Gregory draws on his experience performing and in the studio, and produces as lively a Latin dance sound as you could wish to hear.7058 invert

This track, “Midnight Cha-cha”, features a trumpet solo from “Stan Rodriguez”. I have not been able to find out any more about him, except that he played on lots of Chaquito recordings, but one would not be astonished if he had really been born in Blackpool, as Stanley Rodgers.

But none of that matters. Imagine: it is 1958, and someone cranks up the radiogram.

Inauthentic? Yup, but there is more to life than authenticity. Just ask Chairman Kaga.

  • Artist: Chaquito, Rey del Cha-Cha-Cha
  • EP Title: Swinging Cha-Cha
  • Side 2, Track 1: “Midnight Cha-Cha”
  • Format: 7” EP 45 rpm
  • Label: Fontana TFE 17045
  • Manufactured in: Great Britain
  • Year: 1958

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