Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Countdown, on "Paper"

As promised, here are the Top Ten of Blog Year 2008, in order. I apologize to Eastern Hemisphere readers for making you wait into midday on January 1.

10. Kim, Andy: Baby, I Love You
9. Highwaymen: The Gypsy Rover
8. Greene, Marlin: General of Broken Hearts
7. Hefti, Neal: Batman Theme
6. Mellencamp, Johnny Cougar: Under the Boardwalk
5. Kim, Andy: Be My Baby
4. Archies: Sugar, Sugar
3. McNamara, Robin: Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me
2. Pérez Prado and His Orchestra: Why Wait
1. ABBA: I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do

Again, Happy New Year to everyone.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008: Great Vinyl Countdown

Before I delve into reader favorites, I want to wrap up a couple of themes from Blog Year 2008 (which I could call BY1 if I wanted to feel self-important). First, I want to point out that I have reacquired a lot of my childhood 45s, but at this point I own about 50 of 300+ records. I suspect that total included about 50 LPs, but even so, there are a lot of 45s I can’t remember.

I do know some labels, and even some titles, of lost 45s. I owned titles on Argo and Wand, for example, and while I have perused discographies, I haven’t had success in recalling which 45s I might have owned. Roulette presents even greater difficulties, since I know a number of songs released on that label, and my memory of what I owned can become intertwined with the songs I’ve known.

I might have a bit more luck with Cub (an MGM subsidiary) and Soma (or is it SOMA?). If I dig out the proper memories there, I’ll tell you. I haven’t tried to find thorough discographies yet.

I blogged about “Beans in My Ears,” but in addition to the hit version, I owned the HIT version. I may buy it someday to compare the two recordings, but it’s not as critical as some songs I haven’t heard at all since 1972.

For example, there’s “Can’t See the Forest (For the Trees),” or something very similar to that. The 45 had a red label with a black serrated edge. That’s what I know. The phrase is such a cliché that search engines aren’t much help. If I get a Goldmine book, I may have a chance of finding the record, but for now, it’s a dead end.

Another cliché title, but this time, one with a melody I can recall, is “Holy Mackerel, Andy.” The obvious problem is that the title refers to Amos ‘n’ Andy, whereas the song may not be related to the duo. The singer sort of yells the title, then says, “Dig that crazy beat.” Overall, the song reminds me of “People Sure Act Funny (When They Get a Lotta Money)” by Titus Turner, but I can’t pin this one down.

And finally, I enjoyed a version of “Money Honey” that I had on a 4-song EP with a green label. This one makes for another rough, cluttered search.

If you have been reading the blog since early days, you know I posted two mystery sides from a 45 whose label fell off before I learned to read. While a couple of good educated guesses led me down some valid avenues of research, no encyclopedic pop musicologist stepped forward to solve the mystery. And so, my thirty years of sleepless nights continue. That would be my one disappointment about getting into this blogging thing.

Preamble over. Now, the results of the voting for the Great Vinyl Countdown.

First, note that the methodology used for the GVC is completely ridiculous. It’s not based on sales, or downloads (which would favor the later songs), or Arbitron ratings. I didn’t force a poll on anyone. So the votes came from readers who like to puzzle out lists of favorite songs.

Most of them like the work of Jeff Barry, so he is well-represented here. As much of his stuff as I featured on the blog, it still accounted for no more than ten percent of the available choices. So don’t blame me for that one.

Speaking of that, I didn’t vote. I did break a four-way tie for tenth place, ’cause it’s my blog, and I didn’t want to post 13 songs.

One thing I did was create an audio countdown of the songs. I split it into two files, 10-6 and 5-1, and they both run around 17 minutes. If you listen to it, you’ll hear the songs in order. For the sake of not spoiling the audio countdown for readers, I’ll post the ten songs here in alphabetical order now. I’ll list them in order at midnight, US Eastern time, on December 31.

When it comes to radio technique, I’m no jb or Yah Shure, so don’t expect an American Top 40 clone for this countdown. I could have tried to run it that way, but I wanted to include more background on the songs than such a format would have allowed. I sound much more community radio than Top 40 here, and my experience is in community radio anyway.

Here are the ten songs that ranked highest among voting readers. I received more votes than I expected, and fewer than I could accommodate, but it was fun to see what people liked, especially when such completely unpredicted choices as “Pony Boy” and “Uh Oh” emerged. Thanks for your votes, and here’s what you chose:

ABBA: I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do
Archies: Sugar, Sugar
Greene, Marlin: General of Broken Hearts
Hefti, Neal: Batman Theme
Highwaymen: The Gypsy Rover
Kim, Andy: Baby, I Love You
Kim, Andy: Be My Baby
McNamara, Robin: Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me
Mellencamp, Johnny Cougar: Under the Boardwalk
Pérez Prado: Why Wait

For Saturday, I’ll initiate a new weekly feature called 1950s Chart Quirks. Eventually I hope to expand it into a “This Week on the Charts in 195X,” but I am waiting for the legal blessing of the various charts compilers before I get too deep into that concept. On Wednesdays, I’ll alternate between profiles of music pioneers and female artists you may or may not know.

Thanks for your patronage in 2008. I’m looking forward to expanding your musical consciousness further in 2009, this time with songs that have actual legacies. Happy New Year, and I’ll see you Saturday!

Great Vinyl Countdown audio 10-6
Great Vinyl Countdown audio 5-1

ABBA: I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do
Archies: Sugar, Sugar
Greene, Marlin: General of Broken Hearts
Hefti, Neal: Batman Theme
Highwaymen: The Gypsy Rover
Kim, Andy: Baby, I Love You
Kim, Andy: Be My Baby
McNamara, Robin: Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me
Mellencamp, Johnny Cougar: Under the Boardwalk
Pérez Prado: Why Wait

Friday, December 26, 2008

2008: Final Vinyl

One thing I learned from traveling abroad is that some of the music is better “over there.” Nowadays, you can have the same experience if you listen to radio stations that stream online, but in 1979, no one had invented the internet.

So, to get you through to the Great Vinyl Countdown, here are two pieces I picked up in Mexico. In 1979, I went to Mexico for a four-week language course and a four-week homestay in Colima, the lovely capital of Colima, on the Pacific coast. My trip came on scholarship, thanks to the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, which rewarded my Spanish skills as measured by their National Spanish Exam.

During the summer of 1979, two songs dominated the discos. One was, to my dismay, the second-wave Mexican surge of a spring, 1979 US hit: “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. While I almost did not survive that second bombardment, the other phenomenon rocked my world: “Disco Samba” by Two Man Sound.

Two Man Sound was the brainchild of two Belgians, Lou Depryck and Sylvain Vanholmen. They took snippets of famous Samba tunes, including several by Jorge Ben, and turned them into a precursor to Stars on 45 that was as huge a hit in Mexico as Stars was in the USA in 1981. Two Man Sound managed to make the US disco chart as well, but I don’t have details.

All I know about this recording is that, no matter the type of party at which I play it, it draws everyone to the dance floor. Do come back to read the rest of the post when you’re done dancing.

Fast forward to 1980: I made enough friends in Colima that I was able to return the next summer without having to stay in a hotel. That year, the disco was playing a couple of songs I found intriguing. The Disco Era was over, and when people danced now, they sort of hopped up and down in place, because the beats were too fast for real dancing. The two big tunes were “Rock Lobster” by the B-52’s and “Rockabilly Rebel” by Matchbox.

Once I started looking for CDs of Matchbox material, the matter was confused by the appearance of a band called Matchbox 20, but it didn’t matter. Matchbox, a British act given to Buddy Holly covers, almost certainly failed to earn a US release for its wares. The UK and Mexican releases were on Magnet Records.

Matchbox consists of Graham Fenton (vocals), Steve Bloomfield (lead guitar, vocals), Gordon Scott (guitar), Fred Poke (bass) and Jimmy Redhead (drums). Some of the songs give Bloomfield writing credit, but I can’t confirm who wrote “Rockabilly Rebel,” because my LP is in a box in storage. This lineup is back together after some years apart, and they are playing all over Europe. Check them out.

Here’s a video version of “Disco Samba” that seems to have an overwhelming percussive element added. What the video has going for it is some stunning scenery, as well as some evidently Brazilian girls dancing in very short skirts.

And here’s Matchbox in a vintage lip-synch of “Rockabilly Rebel.” The video is truncated, unfortunately.

Finally, the stereo tracks on vinyl.

Wednesday, I’ll bring you the Great Vinyl Countdown of the ten most popular tracks from Blog Year 2008. See you then!

Two Man Sound, Disco Samba

Matchbox, Rockabilly Rebel

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

DJ for a Winter’s Eve

A note: I can extend voting for the Great Vinyl Countdown, my December 31 post, until December 26. I’ve realized that the math isn’t that hard. Here's what you need to know to vote.

I should be getting maudlin right now. Fourteen months ago, the cosmos bestowed upon me the idea of sharing the 45s I owned as a baby. I wrote out the 2008 post schedule that October. The songs I could feature, that is, the ones I had reacquired after the Great Vinyl Meltdown, filled out 51 weeks. I took that as an omen, and I plowed ahead into the blogging world. I don’t think I have ever enjoyed more any endeavor that involved a whole year and considerable work.

On the way, I learned a lot, thanks to my fellow bloggers and the Blogger Who Won’t, Yah Shure. I made fast friends with Bobb Goldsteinn, who was just an icon before last April. And most of all, I began to feel as if I exist apart from my little home-to-work-to-home niche, because I didn’t start with ten readers per week and end up with two. At least a few people out there have read much of what was essentially a childhood memoir.

Next year will be more of a straight music-history blog from caithiseach, but 2008 involved a lot of personal musing, and the gracious people out there never intimated that I was stupid for spilling my guts or that I was . . . boring. If you just scrolled through the chatter to get to the song, at least you didn’t insist on telling me so.

And while there are two more posting days for 2008, I have used up all of my childhood vinyl as of today. Well, that’s not quite true; I didn’t feature “Sugar Moon” by Pat Boone (#5, 1958) or “Old Cape Cod” by Billy Vaughn and His Orchestra (actually the B-side of “The Sundowners,” #51 in 1960). Those Dot records seemed redundant, given my prior mention of Boone, Vaughn and Dot. For Saturday, I’ll bring you two pieces of vinyl from my college years. But today marks the end of this year-long theme of grooves that shaped me.

So, here we go. In 1965, my parents upgraded our record player to a stereo turntable that had removable speakers that could be placed wherever I wanted around the room. Very cool. With these new possibilities, an idea occurred to my mom: since people were coming over for Christmas festivities, we could make their walk up to the house that much more cheery if we played Christmas music for them.

So, my dad, being the electrician that he was, took the speakers outside, wrapped them in plastic, and ran the wires through the window. Since I was on break from Our Little Saints Kindergarten, I was put in charge of the considerable pile of Christmas LPs and singles while my parents undertook more menial and less important tasks like buying groceries.

Late that afternoon, when Mom was at WiseWay getting last-minute ingredients, I went to work. It was dark out, thanks to the Winter Solstice, but there was a big plastic snowman on the front lawn, and it was cheerily lighted. The speakers were sitting behind an evergreen shrub that lived beneath our picture window, so no one would have known from where the music emanated.

The only problem I encountered was that I couldn’t hear the music. Of course, I was indoors, and the windows were shut against the winter chill, but I had to be sure the music was actually playing.

Didn’t I?

Well, Mom came home, and while she wasn’t upset about the music, she did tell me she could hear it from the street with the car windows closed. I thought that was fine, since the neighbors deserved to share in the special cheer that only music, especially Christmas music, could bring. Mom went back outside and used hand signals to tell me when the music had reached the correct volume. I was not to crank it again. So I didn’t.

When she came in again, she told Dad, “I was coming down the street, and “Christmas in Killarney” was all I could hear. Who was singing that song anyway, little caithiseach?”

I was surprised that she didn’t know what songs were on LPs she had bought. I told her it was Bobby Vinton. There’s nothing like having a guy nicknamed the Polish Prince belting out a tune chock-full of Irish clichés. The album, A Very Merry Christmas (Epic 24122), contained such gems as “The Bell That Couldn’t Jingle” and “Christmas Chopsticks.” It was a very multicultural set, between Asian and Irish themes and tales of differently abled musical instruments.

Bobby Vinton, of course, is not a no-name with a crummy Christmas LP as his sole claim to infamy. Bobby, born Stanley Robert Vinton in 1935, was huge in the 1960s, with 26 Top 40 hits for the decade, including the #1 hits “Roses Are Red (My Love)” (1962), “Blue Velvet” and “There! I’ve Said It Again” (1963) and “Mr. Lonely” (1964). He took “Blue on Blue” to #3 in 1963 as well.

One misconception about Bobby’s career is that he went away and suddenly reappeared in 1974 with the #3 bilingual (English-Polish) smash “My Melody of Love.” In fact, he charted twice in 1972, so his hit hiatus was a mere three years. By the time his chart run really ended in 1975, he had logged 31 Top 40 entries. Not too bad for a Pennsylvania kid.

And what’s up with his hometown, Canonsburg, Pennsylvania? Whenever I look up one of those male crooners, he’s from that town. Perry Como, Bobby and all four of the Four Coins hail from Canonsburg. That’s six Top 40 vocalists out of 8,000 people. That would be the equivalent of 6,000 Top 40 singers from New York City, and I don’t think there are even half that many.

The song he was singing when Mom came home was written by a triumvirate of tone: James Cavanaugh (1892-1967) wrote 212 ASCAP titles, many related to specific locales: Birmingham (Alabama), Buffalo, Cuba, Georgia, Bizerte, Harlem, Grand Central Station, Texas, Scottish Highlands, Maine, Latin America, Hawaii, Honolulu, Hoboken (New Jersey), Mississippi, Germany, New England, France, Argentina, Pago Pago, Dixie, Mexico, Japan, Tipperary and, of course, Killarney. Hmm. Cavanaugh wrote “You’re Nobody ’Til Somebody Loves You,” and he worked with people as distinguished as Chick Webb and Dean Martin.

John Redmond, author of 308 songs, wrote a number with Cavanaugh, and on his own, he showed a predilection for Hawaiian themes and the occasional Christian motif. A Cavanaugh-Redmond song written with Nat Simon, “The Gaucho Serenade,” was used in a number of films in the 1940s.

Frank Weldon, rounding out this group, penned 118 titles, including a number of the Cavanaugh-Redmond works. Two Cavanaugh-Weldon songs, “I Like Mountain Music” and “A Little on the Lonely Side” (the latter co-written by Dick Robertson), were also used in multiple films, in the 1930s and 1940s.

Produced by Robert Morgan, the Vinton album reached #13 on the Christmas LP chart. The album was selling like hotcakes while Bobby was at #1 with “Mr. Lonely.” But really, how could he be lonely when he had all those Irish folks doing jigs around him?

Now I’ll shift gears. For more than thirty years, it has been a New York City Christmas Eve tradition for a certain group of carolers to gather outside the former home of Irving Berlin, which is now the Luxembourg Consulate, at 17 Beekman Place. There, they regale the current residents with “White Christmas.” A couple of years ago, the event-coordination torch was passed to Bobb Goldsteinn, the writer of “Washington Square.” This year, as he mused on the event and the long-term significance of the tradition, he was given a song that expresses what the event means to him and to his fellow carolers.

Wednesday night, the Christmas Eve tradition continues, with the new song, which Bobb wrote in 45 minutes (the best inspirations happen quickly), sung as a prelude to “White Christmas.” The song is already recorded, and a video posted, so I will refer you to YouTube for the blog debut of “We HYMN ‘White Christmas.’”

And with those thoughts, I leave you to your celebrations of whichever seasonal event you choose. I am off to visit my dad, who contributed heavily to the home atmosphere that allowed me to collect so much vinyl and spend time enjoying it.

Saturday, I’ll bring you a pair of unusual songs I heard only during my summers in Mexico, one in 1979, the other in 1980. And a week from now, I’ll present the Great Vinyl Countdown as the final post of the original premise of the Great Vinyl Meltdown. Merry Christmas to you.

Bobby Vinton, Christmas in Killarney

Friday, December 19, 2008

Golden Angels in Little Boxes

A note: I’m getting some interesting Top Tens from my 2008 blog songs for the Great Vinyl Countdown, which will involve a reposting of the ten reader favorites. Don’t let others vote out your preferences! Here's what you need to do about it.

Christmas was taken seriously at my house, and at those of my cousins. I have video (Super 8mm transferred to DVD) that shows all of us gathering together, and there were a lot of us. My mom was the youngest of ten children, and while none of my uncles and aunts reproduced to that degree, there were plenty of cousins.

We all gathered at my grandparents’ house in Gary, at 340 Adams, half a block from the South Shore electric railway. At night, you could see sparks from the electrical contacts that reached up from the engines to the overhead wires. Across the street was a row of apartment houses, dark-brown brick, and all around us were two-story frame houses. My grandmother sold the house in 1969, and in 1971, the City of Gary demolished it, because the new owners had left the doors and windows open to the elements, and it had become uninhabitable. Soon, so many houses would reach that state that the city simply stopped tearing them down; some sat as wrecks for twenty years, which you know if you have ever driven past Gary on the Indiana Tollway.

But in the mid-1960s, everyone in Gary was working in the steel mills, drugs had not taken hold as the primary local commodity, and Christmas was a superb time to go downtown.

At some point, my parents received from my cousin Manetta an LP of Christmas recordings played on music boxes. A Music Box Christmas (Columbia 8498) used music boxes from the collection of Rita Ford, a Manhattan purveyor of antique music boxes, to bring extraordinarily high-fidelity recordings of music as people would have heard it just before the dawn of the Recording Era.

Nowadays, when you open up a jewelry box or anything that has a little mechanical device, you get a tinkly sound that reminds me of water dripping. Not so with the Ford music boxes. They existed to produce the full dynamic range of sound, a substitute for the not-yet-existent technology for recording musicians. While today’s little boxes play one song, these machines played cylinders or platters that could be swapped out, with new songs available at music stores. The larger music boxes undoubtedly served as the engineering prototype for the first cabinet-style record players of the 1890s.

Every year, the Christmas LPs came out after Thanksgiving, and this was my favorite. For the first several years, I managed not to destroy the cover, so I was able to recall its design. What stuck most in my memory was a golden, trumpet-playing, winged cherub, which hung in the upper right-hand corner of the photo. You can see the cover, and bid on a sealed copy of the LP, here.

After the LP lost the valiant battle to survive in the Great Vinyl Meltdown of 1972, every Christmas involved nostalgia for the family gatherings, for the wreath covered in Brach’s butterscotch candies that one of my cousins always made up for us, for my mom, and for that album. The song selection, which included tunes I have never heard elsewhere, the idea of very old technology creating new Christmas traditions in an era that gave us a lot of the traditions we now follow blindly, and the simple beauty of the song arrangements, all worked to make this a great album and a great memory.

And so, I met with a staggering surprise one day in the mid-1980s when I was walking through College Mall in Bloomington, Indiana. There, in the Christmas-music bin, sat the LP. As soon as I caught my breath, I grabbed the album and bought it. I went straight home and played it. My then-spouse probably had not seen anything like caithiseach transfixed, staring at the stereo. The rush to reissue music had not started, or perhaps I could say it started with this LP.

The following year, probably 1987, I found the album again on CD, with the cover smaller but intact. Had I seen the CD first, then the LP, I have no doubt that this would have been one of the few times that I would have bought the LP anyway. The whole package deserves the full-sized treatment.

After I got the CD, it seems that someone else in Bloomington got it, too: one of the radio stations used one of the songs in a number of commercials for a couple of Christmas seasons. Whatever. I was able to hear the music and smile at the memories, rather than be annoyed at the commercialization of the recording.

I am bringing you two recordings, one a song I’ve not heard elsewhere, “Monastery Bells,” the song I had most strongly associated with the album in the 14 years I did not have a copy. The other, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” displays the dynamic range of the 19th-century Regina music box to its best advantage.

I was pleased to learn a couple of years ago that someone is putting out tabletop music boxes similar to the old ones. They use flexible but durable plastic platters, interchangeable so you can hear a variety of songs. I think the sound is electronic rather than mechanical, but I won’t be able to confirm that until I visit my dad in a few days. A search is not showing me a model similar to the one his wife has. I won’t bother to bring up the subject again, but you can ask what I learned, sometime around the end of the year.

Next time, I’ll wrap up Christmas with a tale of the year I played DJ for the entire neighborhood. Then, post-Christmas, I’ll bring in a couple of odds and ends, and on the 31st is the Great Vinyl Countdown. The results are getting weird, so you need to vote!

Monastery Bells

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

L'affaire Santa

Have you voted yet for your favorite songs from the 2008 blogging year? Don’t let others vote out your favorites! Here's what you need to do about it.

When I wrote last February about my discovery of ten-inch 78-rpm records, I mentioned that I learned how Columbia 78s were constructed when one of my two Jimmy Boyd 78s broke. I didn’t talk about who Jimmy Boyd was at the time, because I had scheduled a discussion of him for today. The 78 that broke? “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (Columbia 39871).

Sure, you know the song. John Mellencamp did a ragin’ Cajun version of it. The Ronettes recorded a Spectorized version. Darn near everyone who has coughed up a Christmas album has recorded this evergreen. Spike Jones took it into the Top Ten, and Molly Bee squeaked into the Top Twenty, both in 1953. The 4 Seasons took it onto the Christmas chart in 1964. That’s it for chart action, except for thirteen-year-old Jimmy Boyd, who enjoyed two weeks at #1 in 1952 with this top-notch example of what my friend Seana’s father called “Christmas schlock.”

Never mind that Mr. G., Seana’s father, called “Silver Bells” and “Winter Wonderland” Christmas schlock as well. I love “Silver Bells,” partly because we sang it for our Christmas show when I was in the fourth-grade choir. I am nostalgic enough about that one that I found the original sheet music and took the time to arrange my own version on my keyboard. And as for “Winter Wonderland,” the absence of that song from Christmas would mean no Annie Lennox version, so forget deleting that one.

But “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” doesn’t strike me as the greatest stroke of genius ever to leak from Tommie Connor’s pen, nor was its sequel, “I Saw Mommy Do the Mambo with You Know Who.” Or “Binky Bonky the Old Gray Donkey.” Or even “The Biggest Aspidastra in the World,” which is amusing. No, I would have to give the most credit to Tommie’s rather large corpus of Ireland-related songs, but there’s some bias there.

If you haven’t heard Jimmy Boyd’s debut version of this song, you have the chance to do so now. Jimmy sounds young enough to believe that Santa and Mom are smooching, though by age thirteen he should be expressing concern about Mom’s infidelity, or at least he should be shocked into silence by the fact that Santa is really and truly in his house. Instead, he’s simply amused and wishes Dad could check out the spectacle. Never mind that Santa might go to the Great Sleigh in the Sky if Dad caught him.

Five-year-old caithiseach wasn’t as uptight about this song as I am now, but I still preferred the B-side, “Thumbelina,” to this one. Something I notice now is the terribly awkward chord progression starting through this part: “Oh what a laugh it would have been/If Daddy had only seen/Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night.” One time, I heard a recording where someone had revamped the progression and made it sound listenable (of course, I don’t know who did that one), but I wince every time I hear most versions.

Jimmy Boyd is, I would say, an acquired taste. But in 1952, he was all that. He was from Mississippi, but his family moved to California when he was two. When Jimmy was seven, his brother talked a country dance band into letting Jimmy sing and show off his guitar work. The crowd went nuts. He was given a weekly gig at $50 a pop, 200 times what his father had made each day when he was a Mississippi cotton-picker. Music fans of all ages went nuts over Jimmy.

When he recorded today’s song, he sold 2.5 million copies in the week it was released. He was as big as Miley, and, undoubtedly, as talented as any kid star of any time. Ed Sullivan loved him, had him on five times, and bumped adult guests to make room for Jimmy. Jimmy recorded hit duets with Frankie Laine and Rosemary Clooney. He wound up working with an incredible number of music legends, most of whom came to him for the privilege.

Then he did television, and films, and Broadway, and he married Yvonne Craig. Dang. All that, and a song (today’s hit) that was banned in Boston. They thought little Jimmy had brought sex into Christmas—what about the fact that the song featured a fictional character who detracted from the main message of Christmas? Hmm.

So, Jimmy has had quite the career. All told, he has sold sixty million records. Now, he can sell CDs, because The Best of Jimmy Boyd is available via Collectables Records. The collection doesn’t include “Thumbelina” or the other two sides I had on 78, but you can’t have everything.

A quick aside: Thanks to the West Virginia Surf Report, I discovered the perfect Christmas present for YOU. It’s a website that allows you to take any YouTube video, paste in the video ID (beginning after v=), and the site will show the video and attach to it the Benny Hill version of “Yakety Sax.” I could not find anything more bizarre to share with you than the Benny Hillifier. It’s much fun. Go here: Feel free to regift this one.

The next two posts will be about songs I owned on LPs when I was a kid. For Saturday, I’ll bring you a song I remembered primarily because of an angel on the LP cover. See you then, and don’t forget to vote in the Great Vinyl Countdown.

Jimmy Boyd, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Price of Obesity

Many of us have struggled with weight issues. My struggle was different from most. I overworked myself for a stretch of time during graduate school and found myself down to 102 pounds (46.5 kg or 7 stone, 4 pounds). When I realized that was not enough weight, the school dietitian put me on a 3,000-calorie diet. It was a lot of work eating all that food: breakfast consisted of a serving of oatmeal with wheat germ on it, milk and sugar; a banana; a serving of orange juice; an egg fried in butter with buttered toast; two waffles with butter and syrup; a serving of bacon, and fried potatoes. And a glass of milk with Carnation Instant Breakfast in it.

It took me a long time to eat those breakfasts, but they paid off, in conjunction with thousand-calorie lunches and dinners. In the four months I was on the 3,000-calorie diet, I gained a pound a week. But then I hit a plateau, and I dropped off the diet. But I did weigh 117 pounds. That was good, because with my body fat as low as it was, I was in greater immediate danger of organ failure than someone who was 100 pounds overweight.

Santa Claus seems to have the opposite problem. Although he is portrayed in the Rudolph special as being thin until he stocks up on fatty foods in late December, I have yet to see a photo of Santa in which he doesn’t have a pretty good heft to him.

Even so, it’s not kind of Augie Ríos to get in Santa’s face and call him ol’ Fatso, as he does in his other 1958 Christmas classic, “Ol’ Fatso” (Metro K20010). While many people have heard the A-side of this 45, in part because (as I neglected to mention on Wednesday) it reached #47 on the Hot 100, “Ol’ Fatso” didn’t chart, and it has not gotten the reissue attention that “¿Dónde está Santa Claus?” has.

That could be because Augie calls Santa a name and tells him to get his reindeer off the roof of Augie’s house. Augie seems to think that his presents appear out of nowhere, rather than from their true source, Santa. As a result, Augie gets no gifts the following year. He sings the song to let us know how badly he messed up. I, for one, am glad for the message, which prevents me from becoming too smug this time of year.

Though Augie paid the price for calling Santa fat, the experience of another kid shows that Augie’s description wasn’t inaccurate, just unkind. For, as Jeff Barry relates in a tune he composed with Artie Resnick in 1962, Santa was chubby enough to get stuck in his chimney. The result is that a whole bunch of toys aren’t going to get delivered. Jeff has to unload them on the neighbors, which can earn a kid great, though perhaps transient, popularity. The problem is that Santa will have to pay everyone overtime and buy the raw materials to remake all the presents for the kids who got stiffed because of Santa’s paunch.

That, my friends, is the true price of obesity.

Jeff’s version of the song is the unreleased demo, which you may not have heard before. Wendy Burton released the song on Columbia 42624 in 1962. That recording did not chart.

The writers of these tunes have been featured before. Jeff Barry, of course, is Jeff Barry, and Artie Resnick is one of his early mentors, whose credits include “Good Lovin’” (the Young Rascals), “Quick Joey Small” (Kasenetz blah blah) and, oh, “Under the Boardwalk” (Drifters).

“Ol’ Fatso” was the product of Gordon Irving, whose work I featured in the third post of the blog: “Mama from the Train.” Irving wrote a couple of other tunes for Patti Page, and he wrote the unforgettable “Unforgettable.”

Just so you know, “Ol’ Fatso” is the final childhood 45 I am sharing with you this year. The rest of the 2008 songs include one 78, a pair of childhood album cuts, and a single that was released in 1980. While I have new topics in the works for 2009, no music I discuss is going to be as dear to me as the songs I owned, then lost and recovered or salvaged at the time of the Great Vinyl Meltdown in 1972. On December 27, I’m going to run by you some descriptions of songs I can almost remember, in hopes that some will be part of your experience, and I can get them back into mine.

Since I discovered the WLS year-end countdowns around 1971, as well as the American Top 40 year-end gig, I have found such events worthy of my time. This year, I am going to do something similar on a far smaller scale.

I am going to list in a separate post all of the songs I have featured on the blog so far in 2008. (See below.) I request that you vote for your ten favorites, in order. Then, on December 31, which happens to be a Blogging Wednesday, I’ll post the resulting Top Ten for the blog year. If you must, leave your votes as a comment, but I would prefer that you vote secretly by email to me at caithiseach, so as not to influence others with your wise choices. Vote by December 22 to ensure inclusion of your opinions.

I will repost those ten songs on December 31. In the meantime, if you want to vote but missed some of the songs, let me know which ones you want to hear, and I’ll reattach old links on an as-needed basis.

I have composed a lot of countdowns over the years, but this one will actually have some lasting meaning to me, so I hope you’ll take a few minutes to work out your vote.

And while you wait for New Year’s Eve, enjoy whatever it is you eat this time of year. December is for socializing over food. February is for dieting.

Wednesday, I’ll bring you a child star of the 1950s who wouldn’t have gotten far today, amid the Mileys and Britneys. See you then!

Augie Ríos, Ol’ Fatso

Jeff Barry, Seventeen Million Bicycles


Great Vinyl Countdown!

Email caithiseach your ten favorites from his 2008 Great Vinyl Meltdown, in order. I’ll calculate the totals and blog about the Top Ten in a New Year’s Eve countdown. Voting deadline: December 22. If you don’t remember a song, email me so I can update the link for you.

The Gypsy Rover
Land of Beauty
Mama from the Train
People Sure Act Funny
Mystery 45 A
Mystery 45 B
Midnight Sun
Moon in the Afternoon
Snow Train
When the Sun Goes Down
You Can’t Fool an Angel
Don’t Be Cruel (Masaru Wada recording)
Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer
Washington Square
Blue Monday
Walking to New Orleans
Why Wait
Uncle Tom Got Caught
Wishful Thinking
That Background Sound
Now It’s All Over
General of Broken Hearts
If It Takes a Fool
La Dee Dah (Ha Ha Ha)
You Don’t Wanna Hurt Me
Face from Outer Space
Lonely Lips
My Dad
Shake Me I Rattle
Hello Trouble
Can't Hang Up the Phone
Hello Trouble
Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh
Gee (Roomates (sic))
Answer Me, My Love
Please Love Me Forever (Cathy Jean)
Gee (Pixies Three)
After the Party
Genie in the Bottle
Satellite Sadie
Baby I Love You (Andy Kim)
Be My Baby (Andy Kim)
Sugar, Sugar
Jingle Jangle
A Summer Prayer for Peace
Simple Steps
Ala Carte
Peter and the Wolf (Sterling Holloway)
Monster Shindig
76 Trombones
Gary, Indiana
Close the Door Gently
Hello, Dolly!
Born to Be with You
Skin Divin’
(Her Name Is) Toni
Since Gary Went in the Navy
What I Did This Summer
Do You Know What Time It Is
A Boy with a Dream
He Don’t Need You Like I Do
Girl of My Best Friend
Hey, Baby
Whisper to Me
Funny Bone
Batman (Jan & Dean)
Batman Theme (Neal Hefti)
Montego Bay
Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me
Under the Boardwalk (Mellencamp)
Tighter, Tighter
Are You Ready?
How Do You Do?
Back When My Hair Was Short
Beans in My Ears
Go Charley Go
Reason for Love
Tutti Frutti (Art Mooney)
C’est toi que j’aime
You Mostest Girl
Uh Oh
The Wheel
Golden Ruby Blue
Sweet Little Baby I Care
Have You Had a Change of Heart
Mickey’s Monkey
My Little Marie
I Don’t Believe Them
Are You Trying to Tell Me Somethin’
(The Land of) Bobby Beeble
Slowly He Sank into the Sea
Experiment in Terror
Old Boris
Old Rivers
Laughing Over My Grave
Funny Way of Laughin’
A Boy in Buckskin
Pony Boy
Where Do You Work-A John
Big Rock Candy Mountain
I Found Love with You
Glenn & Kennedy
Siamese Cat Song
I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do
No Privacy
Twinkle Toes
Happy Xmas
¿Dónde está Santa Claus?
Ol’ Fatso
Seventeen Million Bicycles

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Where the Heck Is Santa Claus?

When you’re two years old, and you know that Spanish has upside-down question marks, you clearly have been exposed to the vast world community. Unless you are a native speaker of Spanish, of course. I sure wasn’t.

One of my early musical gifts from my mom was a 45 with a blue-and-silver label, with a lion’s head on it. I can’t remember a time when the single didn’t have a crack running through it, but it was one of those marvelous cracks that behave well enough to let you play the 45, if you get the two edges of the crack even enough.

Even though the song was about Santa Claus, I didn’t reserve this one just for Christmas. Oh, no, I cranked this little rocker whenever I was in the mood for some Latin vibes. (This was before I got my 78 of “Why Wait” by Pérez Prado y su Orquesta.)

The record had an ¿ on the label because the title of the song was a question, and it was asked in Spanish. Awesome, ¿no? I dug listening to this little kid ask his mamacita where Santa was. I played the record bunches of times, babying that crack for ten years. Then the sun took my ¿ away with the rest of the vinyl-styrene lump that used to be my record collection.

Though I forgot some of the records (and I’ll try to elicit your help with a few at year’s end), I never forgot this one. I started doing searches for “¿Dónde está Santa Claus?” on CDnow, and there I found a version completely in Spanish by a young lady named Tatiana. That was not what I sought. My version was bilingual, sung by a little boy with a gravelly voice.

Then, one day, holy cow, CDnow had a Christmas compilation CD that included the version I needed. I bought myself that CD for Christmas. And research showed me that the single was by Augie Ríos, Metro K20010, from 1958. Then began the search for that blue-labeled original, preferably sans crack. (How many more readers will I get if I put “crack” in the keywords?)

Sure enough, I found the single. And the guy who was selling it kindly offered me a better-sounding DJ copy for less money. Since I was after authenticity, I did what you would expect: I bought them both. Metro Records is, of course, a subsidiary of MGM. The label looks a lot more slapped-together than those of such MGM artists as Connie Francis. I don’t care. The record is back where it belongs.

From my current perspective as a near-native speaker of Spanish, which I began to learn in earnest in 1976, I can see that the label would have had Spanish speakers shaking their heads at the silly gringos. While the words “dónde” and “está” have accent marks over the correct vowels (making the typists more accurate than my students), the marks face the wrong way, which makes me think that Metro’s French Music Department lent someone out to do the typesetting. The DJ copy has no accent marks and is missing the ¿. Sigh.

I won’t even go into how patronizing it sounds to hear about Santa clacking his castanets and calling his reindeer Pancho and Pedro. I still dig the song. And you will as well, in a couple of minutes, if you read fast.

Augie Ríos appeared on Broadway as a child actor, and he’s on IMDB as having appeared in an episode of the TV series Naked City. He recorded some other singles, according to this tasty bio (scroll down). The song was written by Gordon Parker, Al Greiner and George Scheck. Parker wrote some TV themes, and Greiner co-wrote Parker’s non-TV titles, as did Scheck. Scheck’s name is attached to some really old Italian numbers as well, which makes me wonder.

That’s all I have on this song, other than to say: Enjoy it! It comes back every year for a reason. I don’t mind that I don’t hear the periodic click of the needle passing over the crack on my original 45; the smooth CD transfer from the original tapes is heart-warming and—


Today, I heard “Carol of the Bells” on the radio, and I realized how much I miss the André Champagne commercial. I first heard it in 1971. I know it was 1971, because my cousin was housesitting for friends, and she invited me and Irish Sister over for a few days, shortly after SWAT Team Brother was born. That was the weekend the house was burglarized, and that was cool.

I knew it was The Season every year from then on when the ting of glasses came accompanied by this Christmas tune I did not know by name, and then came the quavery voice of the young lady narrator, a voice I learned to like based on familiarity. And then, one year in the late 1980s, the commercial simply did not come on. I have been flippant in this post, but I really did feel a sense of loss with the removal of this commercial.

I have the first version on my hard drive, but I don’t know if it can be viewed if I upload it, so here’s the second version, with Cold Duck added to the vast array of André products. You can still buy it, but remember, at $6 a bottle, you are not getting Dom.

Saturday, the flip of Augie’s single, about some fat guy. And why not—a song about the ramifications of said fat guy’s rotundity. Cheers!

Augie Ríos, ¿Dónde está Santa Claus?

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Post That Should Be Unnecessary

In the 1970s, Top 40 radio from Chicago was my sole source of new music. One positive thing about Chicago Top 40 was that, if a crummy song came on WLS, I could switch to WCFL, and in a pinch there was Oldies WIND and even Country WMAQ.

Another positive about the tight rotations of Top “40” was that, after awhile, I could learn to like songs I had dismissed at first. One such song was “Lady” by Styx; I had to get used to Dennis DeYoung’s voice. Another was “Bad Time” by Grand Funk; I heard the repetitive chorus a few times before I heard the intro and verse melody.

Two others that took time to cook in my head were “Fame” and “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.” I wasn’t a Bowie fan until then, and the wocka-wocka guitar of the latter song made my ears hurt. Not even the sax could overcome that and the not-so-fun vocal collaboration of Lennon and whoever was singing the harmony.

What those two song have in common, of course, is John Lennon, who was involved as writer and vocalist on both. I own those two 45s now. I learned to love the songs before they disappeared from the record stores.

I should not have to write this post because, as is the case with John F. Kennedy, Lennon’s birthday, October 9, should be the significant date we commemorate. Had he lived out his lifespan, the anniversary of his death would someday be of smaller note, and October 9 would matter more.

But it was seen to that Lennon would not be allowed to continue his artistic trajectory, that his wee son Sean would have to grow up fatherless, and that his wife would be a widow for more than a quarter of a century. It’s not fair, to him, or to us.

On December 8, 1980, I was in my third year at university. It was a Monday night, near the end of the semester. Rather than studying or sleeping, I was working. I had a job making pizzas for a national chain, and we were fairly busy that evening, thanks to hungry students who were finally cracking the books. Soon thereafter, the owner of the company would ban radios in his stores, because he called one and heard heavy metal blasting. But we could listen to the radio legitimately on December 8, 1980.

And so it was that, while I was tossing slices of pepperoni onto a pizza, the announcer on the Indianapolis rock station we always listened to, WFBQ, stopped the music and told us that John Lennon had been assassinated. It was shortly after 11pm. My boss, Keith, looked at me, his mouth open. I don’t know what I looked like. I remember thinking that this was a moment that we would mark as history. I feel guilty for not recognizing immediately all of the ramifications, all of the loss entailed in this act.

We left the radio on, in hopes of hearing more news. There really was nothing more to say. John was dead. Not quite instantly, which is awful. It had to cross his mind that he had said goodbye to his son and gone to work, and now he wasn’t coming home.

When we closed the shop, I went back to my dorm. My roommate, Ray, was asleep. On nights when there was big news to share, I woke him. In the early hours of December 9, he woke up enough to hear that John Lennon had died.

The next morning, I was awake and moving around when he sat up in bed, looking confused. He asked if I had told him anything the night before. I confirmed that I had, and a look that I remembered from the night before, at work, crossed his face. We were all stunned. Everyone in the dorm, in classes, at work. We had all been glad to hear John Lennon’s voice on the radio again, especially in a song as great as “(Just Like) Starting Over,” which had debuted in the Top 40 on November 1. Now, he would disappear again.

But he has not disappeared. I don’t have to tell you that. I’m glad we cherish him as he deserves. I know this Monday post will eat into the reading of my Saturday post, but I don’t care.

I was going to tack up “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” to accompany this piece, but since I have started a series of posts about nontraditional Christmas songs, it occurs to me that Lennon came up with a fine one of his own. Happy Christmas to you, John, and thanks for this song.

I won’t leave it up long, as you really should buy this if you don’t own it. Back to scheduled programming on Wednesday. Thanks for reading.

John & Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir, Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Next Big Reindeer Craze

As an indication of how this week has gone, let me tell you that, on Wednesday evening, I was walking toward my car in the parking lot of my apartment complex. The pavement was completely dry. Except, of course, for a saucer-sized spot of hard ice from a beverage that had been poured onto the asphalt. I skidded on it, hyperextended my knee, twisted my ankle, and landed on my hip. The good news: only one leg was involved. The bad news: that was the good news for the week.

I will contrast that story with the fact that, no matter how awful the economy is or how bleak a particular year may seem, I always have good memories of Christmas celebrations. Many people hate Christmas because they have to gather with people they don’t like, or they feel obligated to buy presents they can’t afford. I understand the pressures; I almost bailed on a Christmas event where my stepmom made me drive to the store six times in three hours for things she had forgotten she needed.

I am, therefore, grateful that my first seven Christmases were so darn good. I hope to capture some Super 8mm footage of those years and YouTube it so I can link to it on this blog. We’ll see how that goes.

Regular readers won’t be surprised to learn that some of my best Christmas memories involve music. I already posted audio of 1963, when I got an upgrade in audio equipment, as well as a bunch o’records. In 1965, Uncle Tom came over, and soon I heard a record playing. I ran to the record player, and it wasn’t on. I ran to the source of the sound, and I found a suitcase-sized Magnavox stereo with detachable speakers and an automatic Garrard record changer. Stereo. I had never heard stereo up close until then.

Most of my Christmas music was on LPs, and all of those LPs and every Christmas-themed 45 I owned succumbed to the Great Vinyl Meltdown. I owned a Bravo Records mono LP of Christmas music, a 20th Century Fox LP that included my favorite version of “Away in a Manger,” and two LPs that will get their due before Santa arrives this year.

I have managed to retrieve three recordings of Christmas-themed songs that I owned on 45 or 78. One of them was the flip side of Lennie LaCour’s “No Privacy.” At this time of year, three-year-old caithiseach was playing “Twinkle Toes (The Christmas Cha Cha)” (Lucky Four 1001) on a fairly regular basis.

Considering that one famous artist has rendered the term Amer***n P*e unusable by anyone but himself without a license, it strikes me as odd that Lennie LaCour could write and record a song that adds to the Rudolph mythos. This recording predates the 1964 Burl Ives television special, but it still plays off the Johnny Marks composition enough to be considered a derivative work for copyright purposes. I’m not going to dig to discover any possible lawsuits or settlements; I suspect that Twinkle Toes flew so far under the Reindar that Marks never learned of its existence.

The premise of the story is that Rudolph hooked up with Vixen, and the nose light that caused Rudolph so much childhood grief somehow showed up in Twinkle Toes’s hooves. Santa “gets more light from Twinkle Toes,” so the kid comes in handy on Christmas Eve.

I said last time that I remembered the name of the Lucky Four label, as well as this title, “Twinkle Toes.” I didn’t connect them until I searched for both of them and found intersecting links. I couldn’t remember the tune to “Twinkle Toes” until I put the 45 on, but after the first two guitar notes, the whole memory returned. I love it when that happens.

I discovered an odd thing about that purchase today. At Terry Gordon's Lennie LaCour page, there is a link to a label scan of “No Privacy.” “Twinkle Toes” is not scanned there, so I pulled out my 45 today. The “No Privacy” side looked familiar, so I compared it to the scan online. Sure enough, there is a handwritten “10” and a bit of tape adhesive on both the scan and the 45 I own. So, it seems that Udo Frank scanned the label, then either sold me the 45 by mail or unloaded it on a dealer. Either way, I own THE official copy of Lucky Four 1001.

I also learned more about Lennie LaCour. I said on Wednesday that he seemed to have let his compositions lapse with BMI. I was wrong. Wrong, I tell you! Despite having entered his name under various permutations, I gave up too soon. A BMI search for “Twinkle Toes” unearthed 31 titles, and I didn’t catch his version. Today, I looked up his co-writer for “Twinkle Toes,” Carrie Fraley, and it all became clear. Lennie is now an ASCAP writer, it seems (though I searched for him there as well), but his early material is registered with BMI. Carrie Fraley is still a BMI-listed writer, and she has 55 titles to her credit, including several more with Lennie. I couldn’t find any details on her.

I forgot to mention last time that Lennie’s big break came when he won a jingle contest for Orange Crush, the inimitable orange soda that I hereby endorse free of charge. Get yours at Kmart or selected Walmarts or, if you never moved out of Indiana, darn near any store in the state. Orange Crush distributed Lennie’s debut 78, “Rock N Roll Romance,” in 1955. Carrie Fraley co-wrote that tune, so their collaboration lasted a number of years.

Now that I have filled in that gap, it’s onward from the early 1960s. Once Lucky Four stopped being lucky for Lennie, he did what every Louisiana-to-Chicago music mogul does: he went to Milwaukee. There, he ran the labels Dynamic Sound and Magic Touch. He produced the Ethics, later known as the Invasion, and Attila and the Huns, whom Lennie renamed as Filet of Soul. Lennie got Chess records interested in the band, and when Chess didn’t want to release the album he had produced, Lennie bought the rights and released the album himself. The entire intriguing story is here.

Lennie did disco in the 1970s, and at some point in the 1970s he started billing himself as King Creole. He seems to have been on the trailing edge of most of the trends for which he wrote novelty tunes, but he’s getting a decent amount of respect these days.

Why? Check it out: Night Train International (Tuff City) just released (November 2008!) a 25-track CD compilation of Lennie’s work, Walkin’ the Bullfrog (Night Train 7160). You can find “No Privacy” and “Twinkle Toes” there. Lennie, as Lenny, contributed to the liner notes. At 76, he’s still going strong. I know what I’m getting myself for Christmas. If you like the 45 I put up here at all, you should make Lennie’s year by buying the CD as well.

So, that’s Lennie. He and I go back to 1962, though he doesn’t know it. I should write to him to tell him that I made a fool of myself when the family was talking about Rudolph and the other reindeer, and I brought up Twinkle Toes. “Who?” everyone asked. Oh, well.

I’m going to make a special post for Monday, then it’s back to business as usual with another oddball Christmas 45 I lost to the sun. See you Monday and Wednesday!

Lennie LaCour, Twinkle Toes

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Lucky Find?

When I began last October to write posts for this blog year, I didn’t know what would happen. Would I get tired of digging around for info on obscure artists and give up mid-year? (Answer: No.) Would I have so few readers that I would feel stupid for continuing? (Answer: I have enough readers that I don’t feel embarrassed, so thanks.) Would I stick to the premise or the schedule of songs I had set for myself? (Answer: Yes.)

And that leads me to this final month of caithiseach’s childhood 45s. As of now, it looks as if readers are comfortable with a couple of new directions for when I run out of home-grown vinyl. I have settled on these topics for 2009: ROM (Really Old Music, like Paul Whiteman and Billy Murray) for some Wednesdays, alternating with Women You Don’t Know on the others; Saturdays will recap the Billboard charts 1955-1959, which is a much more complex set of data than the Joel Whitburn books would indicate.

If you want to make a belated pitch for some of the other topics I offered a couple of months ago, I’ll consider rotating over three Wednesdays, but I intend to hit all of those topics eventually.

I am reflecting on where I’ve been and where I’m going because, from here on, every 45 is either the last or the almost-last of its kind. Today, we’re looking at the next-to-last 45 that I have (so far) recovered after losing it to the Great Vinyl Meltdown. This is a single I remembered from the day of the Meltdown on; I didn’t have to burrow through memories to find the label image. However, I remembered the label in one part of my brain, and I remembered the title of Saturday’s song in another, and it took an internet search to match the title to the label.

A couple of times this year, I noted that very common names (Michael Allen, Johnny Cooper) made research difficult. Also, having a mildly unusual name and no success (Davi) could lead to a big zero in search-engine hits. Today’s guy, by my reckoning, should have been discernible by name (Lennie or Lenny LaCour), though a listen to his 45 would make me wonder if people talked about him much.

It was gratifying, then, to learn that there were plenty of pages that refer to Lennie, gratifying both for research purposes and because he seems like an okay guy who deserves a bit of a nod from all of us. So, here goes.

My Uncle Tom would have brought me “No Privacy” by Lennie LaCour (Lucky Four 1001) in the first stack or two of cutout 45s I ever received. Lucky Four was a Chicago label, and I can get from my childhood house to the Chicago city limits in half an hour, so it didn’t take three years for this March, 1961 release to wend its way to the Big Top department store in Merrillville, Indiana. I owned the 45 for ten years, and I played the B-side with fair regularity at certain times of the year. “No Privacy” was a bouncy rocker in the caithiseach wheelhouse, but it faced a lot of competition and stayed in the lower rungs of the caithiseach playlist.

Then, it disappeared from the world in 1972. Rather, it disappeared from the above-ground world; I’m sure it’s sitting deep in a landfill, where in a thousand years it will be excavated, and the archaeologists will wonder what kind of complex device was used to play a piece of vinyl shaped like a Möbius strip.

The Lucky Four single, however, did not disappear from my mind. The label had four, um, lucky symbols: a wishbone, a horseshoe, a rabbit’s foot and a four-leaf clover. The label is tasteful, with a splash of red to set it apart from all those black labels. “No Privacy” didn’t stick with me; the title of the B-side did, and I’ll get to that Saturday.

“No Privacy” didn’t stick with listeners, either, despite a mention in Billboard, as Terry Gordon indicates. Lennie believed in the recording, it seems, as he jumped right back on that particular horse and released Lucky Four 1002 as “No Privacy” plus different B-side and different artist name. For 1002, from April, 1961, Lennie billed himself as the Big Rocker. (The Big Bopper was not long enough deceased to recycle that name.)

How did Lennie gain enough pull to get his single remarketed and himself renamed? Well, he founded the label. I think that’s pretty cool, by the way. I have wanted to found a record label for maybe thirty years, and I still haven’t gotten around to doing it.

Lennie actually has had a very interesting career as an artist and mini-mogul. I’ll give you some of the history today, and some Saturday.

Born in 1932 in Bayou Bredelle, Louisiana, Lennie wandered up to Chicago, where he recorded four singles in 1957, three for Academy, and one for Spin. He did a good portion of his own songwriting from the start. “No Privacy,” however, was a J. Richard-J. Burgess composition for which Lennie got some of the publishing. A fairly lengthy search produced no further information on these two songwriters. Lennie himself seems to have let his BMI compositions go to Database Heaven, which surprises me, considering his continuing role in music.

After some more Lucky Four releases, three as artist and as many as fifteen as owner/producer, Lennie moved on to Milwaukee to do more production work and songwriting. I’ll bring that part of his story to you for Saturday. Now, the song itself:

“No Privacy” is perhaps not the song one would lead with in an attempt to sell you on Lennie LaCour. Snippets of other material present him in a better light, but this is what I have available to work with, and it’s what I owned in 1962.

There are a couple of points to ponder about “No Privacy.” Messrs. Richard and Burgess essentially wrote new lyrics to the tune of “Little Brown Jug.” Granted, “Little Brown Jug” is a traditional tune, so there was no infringement that I can see, but then there’s the lyrics . . .

“No Privacy” is, as you may deduce, a tale of two lovers who can’t get any alone time. In that sense, it fits in the long line of such songs that eventually leads to Tiffany singing “I Think We’re Alone Now.” That’s fine. But it’s clear from Lennie’s voice that he’s not seventeen, or even nineteen. Ricky Nelson should have been singing this song, not a guy who sounds every bit the 29-year-old he is. Lennie is suitably expressive, and the song is fun in some ways, both intentional and unintentional, but when the 29-year-old protagonist is dodging the girl’s “old man,” we’re talking about an “old man” who is not old enough to be the singer’s father. Unless the girl is also 29, in which case, I think, she should move into an apartment of her own.

This guy and girl like sodas and shakes; she has brothers at home; her mother comes into the room to do some dusting; her old man “don’t nothin’ miss.” Someday, they’re “gonna live alone.” But he’s 29!

The song sports a very clean, perky guitar break that makes the song for me. I’m guessing that it’s Lennie playing it. In fact, Lennie put together a far better band than most tiny labels do. No out-of-tune sax like on “Motorcyle,” which came from Amy, a label that had some hits. You may not have as much trouble as I do with the lyrical premise; I’ve said before that I don’t suspend disbelief as easily as some, like when thunder and lightning occur together, in the distance, in movies.

I have to note that, just as with other singles that flopped, came to me, melted and reappeared via vinyl salesmen in this decade, I greeted the return of Lucky Four 1001 with great joy. If I could open my head with a can opener and have someone I trust peer in and read all the little memories of 45s I can’t remember, so I could look for them online, I would do it. 45s are just that much fun, and I just wish I had been smart enough to keep mine out of the sun in 1972.

For Saturday, expect the B-side of “No Privacy” and, with it, the ushering-in of a season you should have seen coming after I spent two weeks counting down to Halloween. See you on the flip side!

Lennie LaCour, No Privacy

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Art for Art’s Sake Vs. Utilitarianism

This post is going to touch on a concept I learned in graduate school, but don’t let that scare you away. It’s about music, and I won’t test you on the material. I won’t even put you to sleep.

I mentioned an “innovation” for this post, but I am starting the writing an hour after I wanted to upload the post, so screw innovation. I’ll get my point across the usual way, if you’re kind enough to follow the in-text music links at the appropriate moment.

What I want to bring up is the times that music, usually a great bonding material, creates isolation. Music bonds people instantly when, for example, someone walks through a store that is part of the exclusive selling chain for the new AC-DC album, and he picks up a copy of Black Ice just as someone wearing a ratty AC-DC t-shirt walks by. T-Shirt Guy nods knowingly at CD-Holding Guy. What T-Shirt Guy doesn’t know is that CD-Holding Guy, who is now writing a blog post about the moment, had no intention of buying that CD anytime real soon. But I did nod back.

I like almost all music, in the sense that I can find a redeeming quality in almost any track. My students (and I) are amused at my fondness for “Shake That” by Eminem, an artist I dismissed for a decade but now listen to voluntarily. I listen to his work without having given up my affinity for Pérez Prado and Howard Jones. It’s one big all-inclusive music world in caithiseach-land. But not everyone lands as firmly on the fence as I do, and taking a side in the world of musical politics leads to snobbery and even ostracism.

In college, we discussed the trajectories of literary movements, some of which lasted a century. To keep this really short, I’ll note that sometimes people thought art should be ornamental, a way to make life more beautiful, and at other times, people expected art to serve a social purpose. In Latin American Modernism of the late 1800s, the point was to be pretty. By the time César Vallejo came of age, poetry served to educate the masses, give perspective on how life could be better. In the 1990s, an Indiana University professor wrote a paper in which he took Wordsworth to task for not addressing the plight of the homeless. Sheesh.

So it has gone with recorded music, in much more rapid cycles. From the early “frivolous” tunes of the 1890s to serious hymns and patriotic World War I music, to the Charleston, to Depression commentary and patriotic World War II music, to 1950s love songs, to anti-war Vietnam music, to “Playground in My Mind,” and so on. At times, there is a mix of trends and attitudes toward music. I got caught in one such whirlpool in the 1970s. It wasn’t pretty.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that the 45s I owned when I was a toddler were all over the stylistic map. I developed a preference for bouncy, melodic music, but I didn’t limit myself. That broad exposure to music set me up to be completely comfortable with what they were playing in 1976, as you will soon hear: cue the music!

What I am going to say now will make more sense if you cue the music. That minute of music includes snippets of “Sail Along, Silv’ry Moon” by Billy Vaughn and His Orchestra and “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own” by Connie Francis. Those songs, and others I owned, put the alto sax and the classic 1-4-5 progression (the guitar in the Francis song) in my comfort zone. They made it very probable that I would take an instant liking to the third song in the clip.

So, on a Sunday morning in early April, 1976, WCFL in Chicago, the “other” Top 40 station in town, suddenly dropped into its rotation the new ABBA single. I heard it ten times in the next three days, then the song disappeared forever. From the first listen, I found “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” (Atlantic 3310) very pleasing to my musical palate. What I didn’t know was that absolutely everyone else I knew would hate it.

I blame the limitations of AM radio for part of the problem. WLS and WCFL, like many stations of their time, did something they called “compression” when they played songs. Someone at the station would take songs and speed them up a tiny bit, thus saving ten seconds per song, the equivalent of a short song and two extra valuable commercials over the course of an hour. The DJs claimed that compression didn’t change the sound of the song, but I knew better. Listen to this approximation of “I Do” (easily the hardest song title to type, ever) as it came out of the speaker of my clock radio in 1976: Cue the music again! (You can compare that sound file to the one at the end of the blog.)

Compression made most ABBA singles sound as if there were a bit of Swedish Chipmunk in the singers’ DNA, which is unfortunate, as you know if you have heard them sing at the proper speed. In 1976, most of the people I knew were casual enough about music not to notice the pitch difference, so they thought all the artists on the radio sounded a bit odd. It was only the sopranos, however, who really sounded bad. They, and Eddie Holman, who sounded like a lesbian when he sang “Hey There, Lonely Girl” on WLS in 1970.

The other aspect of the “I Do” issue, for my friends, is that they had not been exposed at an early age to Billy Vaughn and Connie Francis. I was able to enjoy all of the ABBA music I heard: rock(ish), Calypso, pseudo-classical, and jazzy stuff. The style of “I Do” was something with which I had no experience: schlager. All Europeans have been exposed to the stuff, via the Eurovision Song Contest and any number of releases by German singers. I didn’t know in 1976 that schlager was to be disdained. I liked the sax, the harmonies, and the structure of “I Do.” And when I finally heard the song in stereo, in a car with a good sound system, in late May, 1976, I fell for the voices and the sax.

Everyone shook their head in disgust and snickered to my face. I just pined for a song I had not bought while the 45 was available. I recreated it in my head, especially in biology class, when I was not intrigued by the lesson.

It was another 45 I let slip by. But one day in Shoals, Indiana, my brother (future Iraq veteran brother) found a copy at the Alco Dime Store. While everyone was up the hill at my Aunt Helen’s house, having a pre-Christmas dinner, I rigged my grandparents’ console stereo so it would play the 45 over and over, and I listened to the song 25 times.

When I went back up the hill, my siblings shook their head in disgust and snickered to my face.

I didn’t let them bother me, because they hassled me in numerous other ways already. But my credibility at school was dropping because I liked this song. What was I to do about that?

I kept liking the song, but I shut up about it. Those people were lost causes, not worthy of attempts at conversion. (I say that to mask the pain.)

This is where “art for art’s sake” comes in. “I Do” is a vase, meant to sit on a corner table, as “Sugar, Sugar” and a number of other Jeff Barry songs are meant to do. There is a place for the utilitarian song, like Edwin Starr’s “War.” But I, unlike a lot of people of my generation, am willing to devote three minutes and fifteen seconds to sonic delight with no redeeming qualities. It does occur to me that some of the people I know who think music must have a purpose are in the habit of plopping themselves down in front of Big Brother XLV or a Minnesota Timberwolves game. And no, friends, I am not referring to anyone who reads this blog.

A complaint (and praise) I have heard about the recordings of ABBA is that they are in control of what they do. In that aspect, I see their work as an attempt to produce pop in a classical form. I don’t mean orchestral rock in the style of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, but an attempt to be crisp in the performance of the songs. One such song, “As Good As New,” is documented as having given Madonna the idea for “Papa Don’t Preach.” And one of the most raw songwriters and performers you’ll ever hear, Kurt Cobain, often had ABBA cranking on the tour bus. Go figure.

In such company, I no longer feel bad about enjoying their music. I don’t listen to it to feed my brain, but it covers a multitude of wounds after a long work week. And something few notice is the depth: buried in many of the smooth songs is an instrument that lunges against its tethers. It takes some doing to tease the rage into the open, as in this case: Cue the music yet again!

That somewhat raw guitar is buried in the depths of an ABBA mix. I know where it is, of course, so it sounds obvious to me. I’ll be interested to know if the chord structure and occasional specks of other instruments and voices give it away, or if you are left wondering which song is its source. If you ask, I’ll tell you Wednesday.

So, I have always seen ABBA’s work as art without attempts at pretentiousness. Close to the other end of the spectrum I would place Bob Dylan, whom I respect for reasons that are basically the polar opposites of the reasons I respect ABBA. I thank Bob, for example, for singing in such a way that I always thought I could be a star, too.

The rock critics who grew up listening to the Vietnam-era music of the 1960s then became the judges who trashed ABBA at Rolling Stone and elsewhere. In 1981-82, I read in Rolling Stone something to the effect of “The Visitors is a pretty lousy album, but given the size of their stock portfolios, we should be glad ABBA is making any music at all.” Just Wednesday, I read about the ABBA corpus in a new Rolling Stone LP guide, and the consensus was that the albums were pretty good and worth acquiring. It’s funny what happens when the critics are people who listened to ABBA as kids, rather than Hendrix, the Stones and Dylan.

I don’t feel vindicated, per se, I just feel glad that there are people besides me who can handle art for art’s sake in the musical realm. I just hope they like Dylan and Eminem, too.

A final note: It intrigues me that the original sheet music for “I Do” includes a verse that ABBA never recorded. It’s no more significant than the rest of the lyrics, but it would be fun to hear it. Fun for me, and maybe not for you. Oh, well.

For Wednesday, I’ll bring you one of my childhood 45s, one I recovered after the Great Vinyl Meltdown, one that proves that you should never start a record label just to find a home for your own recordings. See you Wednesday!

ABBA, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pay Us, If You Please

Amid my collection of cutout 45s, there is a sprinkling of older children’s material on 78 rpm discs. They came from a visit to a house in Gary, where the growing-up children had outgrown their kiddie records. I don’t remember if these people were friends of my mother; they may have been an acquaintance we never visited. I believe money changed hands when the box of 78s came my way.

These weren’t just any old black lacquer discs. Some of them were Golden Records 78s, which had the distinction of being six-inch records with an LP-sized spindle hole (rather than the large hole common to American 45 releases). The Golden Records were, well, golden. I found them very appealing for that reason. Colored records have always caught my eye.

I also received at least three cowboy-related 78s produced by the Record Guild of America. I hope you will look at the scan here, but if you can’t, I’ll tell you that each side of the seven-inch record showed a color drawing with a Western theme, surrounded by an orange band filled with cattle brand markings. The song groove was pressed into clear plastic, it seems, that was glued to the drawing. One side of the record had a larger outer lip, which was subject to chipping, in part because the other side was trimmed to the size of the drawing, and there was not much support for the plastic. The songs were fun to listen to, but I haven’t tried to digitize them yet, so I have not heard them since maybe 1975.

The focus of this post is one particular Golden Record, one that eventually helped pave the way for artists to get more royalties out of movie companies. In case you or I ever sell something to the movies, this is a good precedent.

This disc, Golden Records D214, contained “The Siamese Cat Song” and “Bella Notte.” The cat song fascinated three-year-old caithiseach, because the vocals are so unusual, and because it was the only song I owned then that attempted to sound Asian. My version was sung by Anne Lloyd and Sally Sweetland, accompanied by Mitchell Miller and Orchestra.

These were not the Disney artists who performed the song for the animated film Lady and the Tramp (1955). That was Peggy Lee, singing the roles of both Si and Am.

This is, of course, the same Peggy Lee (1920-2002) who was born Norma Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota. The same one who sang “Fever” better than anyone else. The one who not only sang “The Siamese Cat Song” but co-wrote it with J. Francis Burke, whom I mentioned in January in reference to another of his compositions, “Midnight Sun.”

I wanted to talk about this legendary singer in another context. A bit less than twenty years ago, Peggy got annoyed at the money Disney was raking in from video sales of Lady and the Tramp, mostly because the company wasn’t paying her any royalties for the videos. She got a good lawyer and sued Disney. She won. This victory helped not just her, but many others who had not had the foresight in the 1950s to ask for royalties on video sales when they negotiated their contracts.

Since then, contracts for royalties have become much more vague about the specific media from which a performer or writer will receive royalties. The language these days sounds sort of like “royalties from any means of delivery, real or imagined, including multidimensional holography, on the Earth, the moon, and any other rocky or gaseous bodies in the known Universe, or in any unknown Universes yet to become known.”

Or something like that. And while such language may seem like overkill, you would be stunned at how many people aren’t being paid their cut of a sale simply because the images are imprinted on aluminum instead of celluloid. As much as some actors make, by comparison to the annual income of people who work 2000 hours a year, the idea that a company can stop paying its workers while it still rakes in the bucks strikes me as mildly unfair.

And since it is somewhat contradictory for me to present you with this very cool song free of charge and, thus, free of royalty payments, I will make explicit the always implicit request that you go out and buy the items you want to keep.

Between now and my Saturday post, people in the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. The holiday dates back continuously to 1863, when Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. Although people here now use the holiday to watch American football and eat incredible amounts of food, there is still room for being thankful for what we have. So, enjoy your holiday, and be thankful.

For Saturday, I will talk about what happens when you’re the only person you know who likes a song. I hope to try an innovation on that post while I’m at it. See you Saturday!

Peggy Lee, Siamese Cat Song

Friday, November 21, 2008

Remembering November 22

In the summer of 1963, when I was alternately groovin’ to “Yakety Sax” at the Dwyer Café and spinning my suddenly vast collection of 45s at home, I began to come down with increasingly frequent cases of tonsillitis. Mine was caused by herpangina, which is NOT related to that other herp, any more than a herpetologist is. I got it in my nose, and it blistered my mouth, and then it just cycled and recycled. My doctor told my parents that the next time my tonsils became infected, he was going to yank them. I remember those days.

I remember the car rides to Shoals, Indiana in the summer of 1963. I remember the amazing Christmas of 1963, when I received the previously mentioned Gaylord and the amazing Stutz Bearcat (photo 1 and photo 2), the first car I ever drove that could be financed, for $4 per month. I remember going to a woman’s house for nursery school, which we now call daycare. She had a lot of books, including some Deputy Dawg books, which were my favorites. Upstairs, in her son’s room, which we were allowed to visit on rare occasions, there was a plastic hand grenade. Fascinating. I liked going there.

Amid all those memories, there’s one I should have had but don’t. It’s not that I was ultra-political when I was three, but when you’re born into an Irish Catholic family that is only two generations into being American, you know your own, and when your own is president, you love him, even if you’re three years old.

I knew the president from the Zenith console television. I knew him from the newspaper. I knew the letters JFK when they appeared in headlines.

And November, 1963 has always been a complete blur to me. I have found it especially odd that today’s date, 45 years into the past, has left no traces alongside the Bearcat and the hand grenade.

Around 2000 or so, I began to pick at that puzzle, and I made a deduction. I knew that those tonsils came out in the fall of 1963. I knew how my first day back at nursery school went: Mom dropped me off as usual, but when she turned to leave, I felt a sudden panic. I remember the sensation vividly. I remember running to her, screaming. I remember the pattern on her coat. I remember the shade of her lipstick. I remember her hairdo. And I remember the shocked look on her face when I begged her to take me home. She did.

The separation anxiety came from my time in the hospital. At one point, my dad was sitting with me in the stark white room. I remember the railing at the foot of the bed. My dad told me he was going to the cafeteria for lunch. He left, and a nurse came in, turned me over and, despite vociferous protests, jabbed a needle in my butt. I told her she would hear about it from my dad. I guess they were trying to keep me from further infection. I didn’t care at that point.

After a period away from nursery school, the teacher called 942-14xx, the phone number we had (which I won’t complete here), and my mom handed me the red phone we had (very trendy; everyone else’s was black), and the teacher proceeded to try to entice me to return to school by inviting me to the Christmas party. My hopeful mother was watching me, and my flat “no” probably made her want to tear out her hair. But she had seen the look on my face. Did she do me a disservice by letting me stay home? I don’t know. But I remember being grateful.

My theory in 2000 was that I was in the hospital when President Kennedy was assassinated. I could find no other explanation for the vacuum in my brain surrounding that event and the funeral. But I had no way of knowing.

Recently I mentioned that my sister found our home movies in the attic in 2004. She also found a box that was full of papers that had been chewed up by nesting mice. She was going to dump it, but she decided to scoop out the nests, and amid all those scraps of paper, there was one big rectangle of paper that the mice had left completely untouched. It was my baby book.

Enter the Log O’Life.

My mother kept meticulous records of my early years. The last entry in the book is from 1967, when she fell prey to the illness that would take her life in 1970. Her early death kept me from learning more about my childhood, but she, and the mice, left the story for me to ready at Christmas, 2004.

I learned that I was put on a special formula that had to be refrigerated. The refrigerator malfunctioned without my parents’ knowledge, and I was given spoiled formula. I was six weeks old, and I spent twelve days in the hospital from that one. That set the tone for my abdomen, and I had to be rehydrated several times over the next three years.

Then came the tonsil drama. My final case of tonsillitis did occur in November, 1963. And between being miserable with tonsillitis and a fever, going into the hospital for treatment prior to surgery, and the tonsillectomy itself on November 25, my agenda was a bit crowded, and I didn’t have time to watch motorcades, news updates, or funerals.

When I exited the hospital, the world was a new, worse place. I do remember that. I don’t know that I had the wherewithal to be distraught enough at the president’s passing for it to have contributed to my existential angst, but all of my relatives were in shock, and I know I picked up those vibes.

Linked to those memories are my visits to Dunkenburger, a small chain located in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago, Indiana, and possibly elsewhere nearby. I remember eating at the Gary restaurant, and I remember asking my dad to drive me by the wreckage when the building burned.

In 1962, Dunkenburger offered as a promotion a 45 produced by Hi-Hat Records, a Gary label that I discussed in these pages in February. I got a copy, which came “compliments of Dunkenburger,” and was not for sale. The 45, BP-153, contained the voices of the “1st American in Orbit, Lt. Col. John H. Glenn, Jr. and Pres. Jack Kennedy.” The president spoke about Col. Glenn after he was recovered from the ocean, and the 45 celebrated the space milestone. The president was still in office when the 45 was released.

I played this 45 sometimes, but a conversation between two adults, with no music involved, got a bit old for two-year-old caithiseach. I remember playing it after the president died. And though the recording must be a matter of public record, you probably have not heard it. Col. Glenn mentions many historic facts, including the lights that greeted him in Australia. The president’s speech comes in about 5:50 into the recording.

As always when I think about this senseless murder, I wonder why the man could not have been allowed to live out his lifespan. Right now, he would be 91, and I could have scheduled this post for May 29, his birthday, rather than November 22. There are ways far simpler than assassination to rid ourselves of a president: one is to vote him or her out, one is to impeach and convict, and another is to sit back, wait, and thank God for term limits. I’m not even fond of the execution of deposed tyrants, though I support locking them up for the rest of their days.

Now, with a new president who breaks ground even more contentious than that of being the first Roman Catholic president, far too many tactless people have speculated on the dangers of being “first” in such a public way. Anyone who was alive in 1963 needs to work to ensure that the event I cannot remember from November of that year is never recreated in the person of any other president.

For Wednesday, I will bring you a song from a little yellow 78 rpm disc, and I’ll tell you about how the singer triumphed over Big Business to receive her just rewards. See you then.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Word Only a Five-Year-Old Could Love

I told you in July that my second personal attempt to buy a 45 in a store was my disastrous purchase of a 45 about Batman. My first foray into music commerce occurred a year earlier, and it’s time to tell that story.

My parents didn’t take me to see Mary Poppins. I don’t remember wanting to go to see it. I have never seen the film. But I did have contact with the biggest hit from the film, though it reached only #66 on the Hot 100. Did the song get WLS airplay, or did my cousin Bobby perhaps own the soundtrack LP? The song didn’t earn WLS airplay, and I’m not going to call Bob to ask if he had that album.

Maybe the Walt Disney show ran a clip of the song. That could well be how I was exposed to “Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious” by Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and the Pearlies (Buena Vista 434).

I remember very well the day that Mom and Dad took five-year-old caithiseach to the record store in Gary to purchase the 45. A small, suspicious part of me wonders if Mom and Dad were acceding to my request to buy the record, or if they wanted to see the look on the face of the store clerk when I asked for the record.

You see, I could say “Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious.” In 1965, the human race had not evolved to its current state, and only Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, two other kids and I could say that word. My parents couldn’t. (Now, of course, all humans can say it.) So maybe they made me ask for the 45 because they wanted it but could only point at it.

The very tall (five feet) woman (16 years old) who sold me the record couldn’t say it. Here is a transcript of our conversation:

Mom: Tell her what you want, Seán.
Me: I want “Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious,” please.
Clerk: You can say that? I can’t say that. Hey, Fred, come listen to this guy. Say it again.
Me: I want “Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious,” please.
Fred: Groovy. Hey Dexter, come check out this kid. Say it again.
Me: I want “Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious,” please.

So, I got “Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious.” I didn’t know many tricks, but I was good at that one. I took the record home and played it often. I played it enough that Uncle Tom felt encouraged to buy the whole soundtrack for me. We went shopping at Big Top, and when I wasn’t looking, he slipped the LP into the shopping cart. When he got me home, he showed me the LP. I was suitable impressed and grateful. And he paid full price, not a nickel a disc, as he paid for the 45s.

That trip may have been the time Uncle Tom let me drive the car in our neighborhood. He put me on his lap and let me steer. I drove into someone’s yard, despite his request that I turn to the left. He took over the steering wheel after that.

But even if I did my driving on another occasion, getting that LP made it a great trip. I bought into the whole Mary Poppins thing from a musical point of view, though I didn’t do anything like try to use an umbrella to fly.

When I became a Mary Poppins fan, I also became a Julie Andrews fan. I had no prior knowledge of who she was, but it turns out that Julie, born Julia Wells in 1935 in Surrey, was in a movie I did eventually see, The Sound of Music. We were singing that doe-a-deer song in school long before I knew about the movie, but that’s how it is with my knowledge of music. You won’t ever see me do a series on musicals, because I don’t get them so well.

Julie also appeared in a movie that my college pals and I liked a lot, 10. It happens that my roommate, Ray, was a great fan of everything Julie, so when the Bo Derek hype converged with his Julie Andrews fixation, you can bet we all went. And when Bo said to Dudley Moore, “Esta noche la paso contigo,” I said, “Oh, wow,” and several people turned to me and said, “What did she say?” By the time she translated it for Dudley, my friends knew what she was up to.

Ray had some difficulty with Julie’s appearance in the film S.O.B., because, as he put it, Mary Poppins should not be displaying her breasts. He’s probably right. Julie must really have been fond of her husband, to let him talk her into that. I do remember that neither Ray nor I refused to look at stills from the film.

Her absolutely amazing singing voice was damaged by vocal-cord nodules in 1997, and nearly silenced by her doctors, whom she sued for malpractice. She can sing again now, though I haven’t heard the post-op Julie.

As for the song, it was written by Robert (born 1925) and Richard (born 1928) Sherman, who formed the perfect Disney-score team in the 1960s. They are responsible for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Jungle Book and The Aristocats, among many other works.

I should mention Dick Van Dyke. As the male counterpart to “Mary” in “Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious,” Dick sings in a faux-Cockney accent that is not his real voice. As a Missouri native who grew up in Danville, Illinois, near where my step-grandmother met Burl Ives, with a short stint in Crawfordsville, Indiana, there’s no way he could put on a convincing accent from anywhere on the British Isle. Born in 1925, Dick appeared on Broadway and thus earned the lead role on the Dick Van Dyke Show. Johnny Carson was considered for the role, which would have made for some serious confusion unless they changed the name of the show.

You can hear Dick’s real voice in a full episode of his show, one featuring Henry Calvin, who scared me in Babes in Toyland. Or you can take my word for it: he’s not really Cockney.

That’s what I have on these people. I am proud that I can type “Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious,” and even more proud that I can still say it. Yep, I’ve still got it.

For Saturday, I will be presenting you with a rare recording of historical value. Trust me when I tell you that you will want to listen to this one. See you Saturday!

Julie Andrews et al., Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious

Friday, November 14, 2008

Debut 2B

Bill Erman made music careers possible for a number of people by venturing into the record-label business. In the case of Johnny Cooper, Bill was content to let Johnny’s compositions (“Rivalry,” “Bonnie Do”) serve as the A sides of the 45s. In both cases, however, Erman-penned songs filled the B side. Erman wrote both sides of “Little Bride”/“Dumb Dumb Bunny” for Johnny, as well as “While You’re Young”/“Diggity Doggity.” “Oreo” is a Cooper song, but its flip, “Flame of Love,” is credited on the label to Bill Erman, Johnny Cooper and Cal Starr (who registered just one other song). At the BMI site, Johnny is not given credit for that song.

So, despite having written only 44 songs, three more than Johnny Cooper, Bill Erman managed to represent himself well on Johnny’s singles. It could be that some of Johnny’s compositions came along after his Ermine years, of course.

Speaking of the label, photos of Ermine labels show lots of toying with the logo and design. The place to see them and all things Ermine is Terry Gordon's music site.

And now, “I Found Love with You” (Ermine 37), the other Johnny Cooper song I have owned for 45 years without playing it. I don’t have any reason why I ignored this one, either. We’ll see.

In retrospect, the sax intro would have pulled me in. It sounds a lot like Billy Vaughn, though, and three-year-old caithiseach would not have found this one as compelling as “Yakety Sax” or even the Billy Vaughn recording of “Old Cape Cod” I owned. Johnny’s voice is a bit better suited to “Rivalry,” as he has some trouble working with the slower 6/8 tempo of “I Found Love with You.”

Of the four sides I owned that have been sitting as a time capsule since 1963, I find this one the most disappointing, but really, can any song you’ve hidden away that long be a disappointment? I don’t think so. The mystery was fun while it lasted.

I do still own some songs I’ve not heard yet, including a 45 that seems to be of Finnish provenance. But these 45s are not from my Uncle Tom, or even from my childhood. If they turn out to be amazing when I finally play them, I will let you hear them.

For next time, I will bring you the first 45 I ever purchased. My Jan & Dean/Neal Hefti single was my second purchase; this one was my practice run. I did a good job for a new consumer. See you Wednesday!

Johnny Cooper, I Found Love with You