Sunday, March 8, 2009

Madison Time, Part 1

This evening, I feel just a twinge of pity for authors who are on the road while deadlines loom. I wanted to write this blog post 24 hours ago, but I had no way to post it, so I didn’t write. Today, I was going to spend the evening at my sister’s house in Illinois and write the essay, but I saw that the weather was going to get in the way of my return home. With 2-4 inches of slushy snow expected for Madison, Wisconsin on Sunday, I had to choose between driving this evening and getting past most of the storm, or writing and driving through all of it tomorrow.

So, I took the prudent path and drove on to Madison. That meant driving through heavy rain on the Tri-State Tollway, the signs for which somehow no longer mention that the governor of Illinois is Rod Blagojevich. Then, just north of Janesville, Wisconsin, a pretty solid fog set in.

This fog was not as bad as a fog I faced in northern Iowa about a year ago. That fog was not there, and then it was, coming on as a wall of white that stretched for forty miles. I wound up renting a room two hours from home, because my speed was down to 20 miles per hour at the time.

Tonight, I was able to drive at the speed limit of 65 miles per hour, thanks to clearly painted road lines. There was just one glitch. Some guy in a silver SUV came upon me at 70 miles per hour, then he tucked himself back into my lane one car length ahead of me. That’s fine; I don’t try to impede the progress of people who prefer to drive faster than I am driving. But once this guy got ahead of me, he panicked at the darkness and slammed on his brakes. I had to do the same. I passed him.

He slowed down to about 50, and I was well ahead of him for about fifteen minutes. Then he came whizzing back up and passed me again. Then he slowed down again. I passed him again, and the next time he caught up, I was exiting at Highway 151.

I am going to assume that this guy was just a crummy driver and not some sort of vigilante or bully. I will also assume that he was not a Madison driver. I have had nothing but good experiences in Madison; last Saturday, I stopped in town and visited Famous Dave’s, a barbecue joint I happen to like a lot. This was actually the 29th Famous Dave’s I have visited. If you’re playing at home, the photo of the restaurant and other pertinent details will be posted on my website in a few days.

And tonight, the people at the Red Roof Inn set me up nicely with wi-fi and everything else I need to write this post and upload it for your listening pleasure, and perhaps your reading pleasure, though this post is mostly an excuse for not posting 24 hours earlier.

Oh, just a tidbit before I start. While I was at my sister's spectacular new house, built by the hands of her significant other, I was helping the S.O. get his Surround Sound going. To test it, he was playing the satellite radio 1980s channel. I was doodling with the wires, and S.O. said, "That's 5.1."

A bystander, not a family member, commented, "No, that's the 1980s."

That's the sort of disconnect this day has brought.

This is meant to be a post on the charts from this week in 1955-59, but I want to post it before Saturday is gone, get some sleep, and start the slog home to Minnesota so I can undo the disorganization that a week away causes, in time for school to start an hour earlier on Monday, because we need the sun to stay out an hour longer, even though it is too cold where I live to do anything with that hour, and the mornings were getting just light enough that I could rise to go to school without feeling that most of the night was still ahead of me.

Well, then: what I do want to say now about the week’s charts is that, during this chart week in 1955, the biggest #1 hit of the Rock Era, prior to “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John, debuted on the sales charts. Let me note that the statement is a matter of interpretation. Guy Mitchell stayed at #1 for 10 weeks on the Jukebox chart with “Singing the Blues,” but as far as sales charts go, the longest run prior to Olivia belonged to Pérez Prado and His Orchestra with “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.”

I will do double duty on the charts next week, to make up for the lack of detail today, but I can give you a dose of detail on this song. First of all, Pérez Prado recorded many of his compositions and/or biggest hits at least twice, sometimes three times. In his corpus you will find a large number of recordings made in Mexico City around 1949-50. These recordings include the original versions of “Mambo no. 5,” “Qué rico el mambo,” known here as “Mambo Jambo,” Mambo no. 8,” and “Cerezo rosa,” literally “Pink Cherry Tree.” The first three songs were re-recorded around 1959, but “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” got its second treatment in 1954-55 for the film Underwater!

Pérez Prado didn’t write this tune; Louiguy, a Catalan composer, did, as “Cerisier rose et pommier blanc.” Mack David wrote English lyrics for the song, though the instrumental Pérez Prado version made no use of them. Alan Dale rode the coattails of the Pérez Prado version all the way to #14 with a 1955 vocal version. I was hoping to offer you that recording as well as the Pérez Prado versions, but I ordered the song too late. It may be waiting for me at home.

I am bringing you the circa 1950 Mexico City recording of the song, followed by a version (featuring Billy May on trumpet) that was recorded on August 23, 1954. Either that version was trimmed when the stereo version for the film was mixed, or the orchestra recorded a very similar version that was released in stereo in conjunction with the film.

I think of the Mexico City version as the essential version for several reasons. The orchestra was made up of Latin musicians (if my sources are correct), whereas Pérez Prado was obliged to use U.S. union musicians for the later recordings. The early version includes themes that are not brought into the 1954 recording. Finally, the ending of the older version has a jazzy chord structure that is replaced by a more pop chord blast at the end of the film recording. Less objectively, I knew the older version for ten years before I heard the mid-1950s versions.

Enjoy the songs while I sleep and then drive home. For Wednesday, I’ll talk about a European female singer who lives in one of the few places that is colder than St. Cloud, Minnesota. See you then!

Pérez Prado, Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, circa 1950

Pérez Prado, Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, 1954

Pérez Prado, Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, 1954-55 stereo

1 comment:

Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas said...

I remember listening to Kasey Kasem when "Physical" was number one. He'd often mention the Prez Prado song, comparing the run "Physical" had to other big hits.

At 12 or 13, something from the '50s was like something before time.

Be safe on the rest of your trek.