Tuesday, January 22, 2008


(Versión en español: http://granfusion.blogspot.com/)

One particularly challenging aspect of blogging on obscure singles will be that some of the songs have no written history. In those cases, I will be able to share only my anecdotes about my relationship with the songs.

Today’s song came close to fitting the no-history category, but I got lucky.

This 45 succumbed to the Great Meltdown, so I never saw it after 1972. It wasn’t a record I played all that often, either. So how did I manage to remember its name? Thanks to clever nomenclature provided by the artists, I managed to cling to the titles of the songs, and an internet search for the 45 eventually landed me a DJ copy.

The slick titles of the two instrumentals on this 45 are “Midnight Sun” and “Moon in the Afternoon.” Even when I was five or six, I had heard of the midnight sun, and I had often seen the moon in the afternoon. I supposed then that the titles had something to do with the music on the record, but now I can picture the band coming up with one quirky title to match an existing one and pairing the tunes on a 45.

Before I did my internet search for those titles, I could remember that the label had a fish logo on it. That memory didn’t help me remember the name of the label or the artist, though. Once I found web hits for the titles, I knew what I was looking for: “Midnight Sun”/“Moon in the Afternoon” by the Five Whispers (Dolton 61).

The label wasn’t as obscure as some I’ll be discussing this year. Dolton Records was the Seattle home to the Fleetwoods, the Ventures, Bonnie Guitar (co-owner of the label) and Vic Dana. Not the most amazing roster ever, but the Fleetwoods accounted for two #1 hits, and the Ventures had a close call at #2. The fish came from Dolton’s original name, Dolphin Records. Another label by that name already existed, so owner Bob Reisdorff (spelled correctly on the 45 and “Reisdorf” on Wikipedia) adjusted the name.

With “Come Softly to Me” and “Mr. Blue” by the Fleetwoods and “Walk—Don’t Run” by the Ventures making Dolton a national phenomenon, it would seem that the label’s other acts would get a lift from the fame. When the label moved to Los Angeles to become part of the Liberty organization, though, a lot of the less successful Seattle acts got dumped. In their place, new Los Angeles acts were signed, including the Five Whispers.

The key members of this instrumental group were two guitar-playing brothers, Bobby and Larry Black (born 1934 and 1936, respectively), who already had a long career under their belt by the time this single was cut. These Arizona-California boys played Western swing in the 1950s, Bobby as a steel guitarist for the likes of Webb Pierce, Hank Thompson and Bob Wills, and Larry on electric guitar as co-founder (with Bobby) of the West Coast All-Stars. They recorded under a number of different band names with drummer Jack Greenbach and opened their own studio. Bobby would eventually play with Commander Cody, Doug Sahm and Barbara Mandrell.

But in 1962, the brothers hooked up with Bob Reisdorff (1922-2002) as producer and recorded “Midnight Sun.” This dreamy guitar tune reminds me of a cross between “Sleep Walk” and an Enzyte commercial. I didn’t listen to it a lot; it was too slow for my five-year-old tastes. How was I to know it was written by legends?

Yes, this song is that “Midnight Sun.” With music by Lionel Hampton and J. Francis Burke and lyrics by the incredibly prolific Johnny Mercer, the song is a jazz standard. The Five Whispers version is a slow rock instrumental, so Mercer is not credited on the title. But when I was five, even a Hampton-Mercer pairing would have meant nothing to me.

What you have before you, then, is an attempt to update a classic tune that never really got its due in its original form. The Five Whispers version didn’t make the Billboard Hot 100, but it charted on Cash Box on October 20, 1962 at #100 and rose to #99 in its second week before disappearing.

Both sides of the 45 seem to have been released on CD in 2005 on Rare Instrumentals, Volume 5 on Canadian CAN-2305, but you can tell from the needle-drop I’m posting that I haven’t come across that CD yet.

Enjoy the tune and picture five-year-old caithiseach wrinkling his nose at the refusal of the band to crank it up and get him moving. I understand more now. Look for the other song Saturday. I’ll catch you on the flip side!

Five Whispers, Midnight Sun

Midnight Sun DJ Copy label


Girasole said...

I picture a quiet night at home. The dinner table, for 2, covered with empty dishes. Too much wine before and during dinner. Then a slow dance, to this song. More of that wine, and the musical twangs match the sway of the room. How sweet it is.

WESTEX said...

Love this 45. My copy is less than nice, but came to me in a massive trade for Sun 209.