Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Today’s 45 survived the Great Meltdown. By the time I got it, paying full price, I had good needles, so it was never Ground to Dust, though I played it plenty. It even made the Top 40, peaking at #6 in 1963. And its artist is one of the great male vocalists of all time.

Why is this 45, despite its fame, getting the Great Vinyl Meltdown treatment today? February 15 will be the 43rd anniversary of the death of Nat “King” Cole, and he was a huge figure in my musical formation. My parents introduced me to him via “Send for Me,” a single that belonged to my grandparents. I got to hear it only when we were visiting them in Shoals, Indiana. That song, a 1957 hit, was unavailable on 45 by the time I heard it in the early 1960s, so I didn’t hear enough of it.

When “Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer” (Capitol 4965) hit the Top 40 on May 25, 1963, my parents told me who the singer was, and they bought me the 45. While the B side, “In the Cool of the Day,” didn’t impress me much, “Lazy” was exactly the kind of tune I enjoyed. The idea of girls in bikinis already intrigued me, and I liked going to the drive-in movie. I didn’t quite get the insinuations of the song, but the summer spirit was upon me in 1963.

It’s a clever song, and its provenance deserves a mention. One of its writers, Charles Tobias (1898-1970), co-wrote “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” and “Merrily We Roll Along.” Apart from him, though, the situation is sketchy. As you can see, the 45 credits H. Carste as co-writer of “Lazy.” Hans Carste, a German composer, is listed as the writer of just two tunes connected with ASCAP, and neither of them is “Lazy.”

ASCAP gives co-writing credit to Hans Bradtke, who wrote “Calcutta,” a #1 hit for Lawrence Welk in 1961, with Lee Pockriss and Paul Vance, the two men responsible for another bikini song, “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini.” Those two also wrote “Leader of the Laundromat,” and boy am I getting far from the core of this story.

The third songwriter listed by ASCAP is Hans Haring, another German composer whose ASCAP crosslisted songs are almost all in German, save “Lazy.”

Given two Hans to choose from, it seems that the label-maker for Capitol Records failed to get the right Hans, ignored another Hans and assigned credit to the Hans that was left. Unless, of course, Hans Carste is an alias for one of the two right Hans and no one at ASCAP figured that out.

Seriously, something is curious about the writing credits. The original sheet music lists Carste as the composer, and neither Bradtke nor Haring is mentioned. ASCAP’s records seem to be in error.

Speaking of the label, you can see a number written in pencil. At least three times, after I learned to write my numbers, I decided to count how many 45s I owned. Rather than simply count the records, I wrote a number on each one, perhaps so I wouldn’t lose track. The second time I did it, I didn’t put the records in the same order (there was no order; it was really tough to find a song I wanted to play), so I scratched out the old number and wrote a new one. There are numbers on all of my original 45s, though the scans of the black labels I’ve featured before now didn’t show the pencil marks well.

The orchestra leader on “Lazy,” Ralph Carmichael, became Cole’s main collaborator for the 1960s, after which Carmichael turned to gospel music and became known as the primary creator of the Contemporary Christian sound.

The track was recorded on April 11, 1963, with Lee Gillette as producer. Born in 1912 in Indianapolis, Gillette grew up in Peoria and Chicago. Among his first productions for Capitol was “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette),” the iconic Tex Williams hit that adds a twist to today’s story. He also signed Tennessee Ernie Ford to Capitol and produced “Sixteen Tons.” Gillette became a close friend of Nat “King” Cole, so much so that, upon Nat’s death, he took early retirement from Capitol. He did little work after that, though in 1981 he produced some work by Alvino Rey. In August, 1981, Gillette fell at his California home and died that same month.

Unlike almost any other producer I mention, Lee Gillette will make an audio appearance when you play the recording. That’s because some preliminary chatter from the recording session was left on this track. I am a real sucker for studio chatter; knowing what happened just before the people involved made music history fascinates me as a peek into another world. The interactions often show the personalities of the performers, as is the case this time. I hope you don’t mind that I left the preliminaries on for you. The song starts 30 seconds in. The track is taken from the Capitol Collector Series, CDP 7 93590 2. It’s a great collection, and it deserves to become part of your collection.

You can find a hundred biographies of Nathaniel Coles, so I’ll keep this bio short: he was born in Alabama in 1919 (year seemingly confirmed at last), became a superb pianist, led the King Cole Trio, started singing more, switched from jazz to pop, smoked constantly (you can see video of him performing, smoking) because smoking helped him hit low notes. Which leads me to the reason for this post.

On February 15, 1965, my parents were watching the news. Five-year-old caithiseach didn’t watch the Huntley-Brinkley report often, but when my dad told me that Nat “King” Cole had died, I stopped whatever I was doing and paid attention. His death from lung cancer, caused by smoking, gave me something to fret about, since my parents smoked at the time. Now, when I listen to his final recordings, I can hear the toll taken on his voice by smoking. The rasp in his voice is the sound he was after, but it’s the sound that killed him as well.

What mattered most to me, though was that Nat wouldn’t be making any more records. I didn’t know about his family, and I didn’t think to grieve for anyone but him. He was the first musician of whose death I became keenly aware, and learning that this great voice had been stilled took me to a place I had never before visited. When I assimilated the news of his death, I went to my record player and put on today’s song.

Nat “King” Cole, Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer

45 label scan

1 comment:

stackja1945 said...

I remember this song. Interesting trivia to go with the listening now.
Regarding German names another even if he is a Croat, Ivo Robic singing the song Morgen has come to me. I have two German friend who like to sing along with the Ivo song and Lolita on the other song Semann.