Who killed Eleanor Rigby?

According to the song, Eleanor Rigby

… died in the church
And was buried, along with her name

How did she die? The song gives no clues, though I used to be suspicious of Father McKenzie. But I now have a new theory. Eleanor Rigby was killed by a Moog.

moogThe Moog (which is pronounced to rhyme with Minogue, as in Kylie, rather than moo, as in cow) was the first synthesiser to be widely used. There were earlier machines – one of them, the Novochord, appeared on a recording in 1949 – but the Moog was the first one to be commercially viable, and in the late 1960s it became popular to set well-known tunes to Moog arrangements.

And so Marty Gold, a veteran arranger and producer with RCA Victor, recorded Moog Plays the Beatles. It was released in 1969. The Beatles were still together, the Moon landings were big news, and the Moog must have sounded exciting, space-age, the wave of the future.

And now?

Well, have a listen, with open ears, and make up your own mind. Was Eleanor Rigby was murdered by a Moog?

  • Artist: Marty Gold
  • LP Title: Moog Plays the Beatles
  • Track: Side 1, Track 1 “Eleanor Rigby”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Summit
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1969

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Sorta Country

Like quite a few great Australians, including Pharlap, Tex Morton was actually a New Zealander.

Born in Nelson in 1916, he started performing at 14, and enjoyed success with travelling bands, playing and recording country songs. In the early 1930s he did what all ambitious New Zealand musicians do: crossed “The Ditch” (the Tasman Sea) to try his luck in the larger market of Australia.2183 label

“Larger” is a relative term, of course – Australia was still a small country. But here Morton managed to make a living from his work, touring endlessly, doing tent shows and vaudeville, mixing in whip-cracking, jokes and sharp shooting with his music.

Like many country singers in this part of the world, how to sing was a problem. Singing American songs with an Australian accent tends to sound wrong, jarring. We speak with very flat vowel sounds, and that doesn’t translate well to singing.

2183 coverWhen Australian singers try to adopt an American accent, the result can be even worse: a kind of trans-Pacific accent which sinks somewhere near the Line Islands. But it can be done – just takes practice and trial and error, and Tex was a pioneer in this. In his early recordings he attempts a nasal Appalachian twang, but with time his voice becomes smoother, his delivery more assured: recognisably not American, but not jarring. Morton was among the first people to write and sing songs about the Australian experience with any success.

This song is not one of those – we’ll meet him again on Planet Vinyl soon enough, don’t worry – it is his take on an American comic song, “The Cat Came Back”. It appears on a 1970 compilation Sorta Country, put out by the budget label Summit in 1970. Originally released in 1961, it is funny, assured, well-played and sung, and is fitting for Tex Morton. When it was very tough to make a living form music, he kept on touring and singing and playing, developing his own style, through the Depression, through war, through the arrival of television and pop music, doing his own thing. He was the cat which kept on coming back.

2183 cover detail

  • Artist: Tex Morton
  • LP Title: Sorta Country (Various Artists)
  • Track: Side 1, Track 2 “The Cat Came Back” (first released 1961)
  • Format: 12” 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Summit SRA-250-177
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1970


Take a shower, lads

From the sublime to … the Shower Room Squad? Tragically, the individual identities of this vocal group is lost to posterity. They seem to have consisted of a piano player and a bunch of men who were either drunken idiots, or sober and trying to sound like drunken idiots. The few seconds of “atmosphere” before the first track is pretty unconvincing, so I suspect the latter.

Even by the standards of the early 1970s, the cover of this LP is crass almost beyond belief. 2044 SleeveBut like many a pulp paperback of the era, Sinful Rugby Songs doesn’t live up to the wickedness promised on the cover. If you think “Maggie May” is sinful, you probably don’t belong on a rugby team. Not only is there not much sin, there isn’t much about rugby, either. The version here of “If I Was the Marrying Kind” contains a few references to rugby terminology. Apart from that, these are British pub songs with the faintest whiff of laddish naughtiness thrown in.

But as the Planet Vinyl manifesto says, there is no such thing as bad music, because it is always a good thing that people make music.

I once heard a recording of the Brass Band of the SS performing some pompous military march. Not much to love there, but at least while they were puffing into their tubas those obersturmbannführern were not killing any one. In fact, making records was probably the single least harmful thing the SS ever did.

Back to the Shower Room Squad, and this pretty dreadful record.

Was it a good thing that, in the early seventies, yahoos would get pissed on beer while standing round a piano tunelessly singing mildly offensive songs? Clearly not – but what is the equivalent demographic doing now? They go to strip clubs and get pissed on red bull and vodka as deafening techno music is played, while looking grim and exchanging porn on their mobile phones.

The Shower Room Squad, at least, were singing.

  • Artist: The Shower-Room Squad
  • LP Title: Sinful Rugby Songs
  • Side 1, Track 2: “If I Was The Marrying Kind”
  • Format: 12” LP 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Summit SRA 026
  • Manufactured in: England
  • Year: 1970