From Mr. Apollo to Eleanor Bron

The recent death of Neil Innes, one of the key figures in the Bonzo Dog Band, sent me searching for this 45 (hopefully you know where yours is):

That’s Neil, second from the right, with Vivian Stanshall on his right and Larry “Legs” Smith on his left.

Mr. Apollo was the Bonzo’s attempt at a follow up single to their 1968 hit “I’m the Urban Spaceman”. It’s a sort of cross between David Bowie, in his “The Man Who Sold the World Phase” (think “Width of a Circle”, for those familiar with that album), and a jingle for a household cleaning product, if that makes sense. But then not making sense was a point of pride for the Bonzo’s.

For those unfamiliar with this gem, here it is:

I can’t recall where I picked this up, but it is a Swedish release on Liberty. The back of the sleeve lists a Top 10, which I am guessing is a top 10 for records released by EMI, which apparently distributed many labels, in Sweden, at least. While most of the artists are household names (to one of my age/peer group), many of the songs listed are unknown to me:

Maybe some of my British or European friends (note: I guess you can’t very well call the Brits Europeans anymore) will know these songs.

Succumbing to a Bonzo mood, I took down my copy of Ginger Geezer: The Life of Vivian Stanshall (again, I assume you can lay your hands on your copy to follow along), for some idle browsing:

The book, though a sad tale as his life’s story plays out, is excellent in its depiction of the era and the peculiar way in which the Bonzo’s (did not really) fit into the rock music world of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Because they were not really a rock band.

More on this at some future point, but one item that caught my attention in the book has to do with a fellow who managed them for a while, Gerry Bron: his name appears on this record:

“Bron Music” appears under all the Liberty logo stuff. I believe this means he was also handling the publishing for at least this song, and thus would have a cut of the royalties on sales of this record, and of any recordings or performances of the song done by other artists (or sheet music sales, for that matter). Though typically a canny play by band managers, I’m guessing that Gerry did not make a fortune by enticing Mantovani or Herb Alpert or whoever to record this tune.

The reason Mr. Bron’s name caught my eye was that the book also revealed that his younger sister was the actress Eleanor Bron, famous (to those in the know) for her role in the the 1967 film, Bedazzled, in which she played the unattainable Wimpy’s waitress Margaret Spencer, with whom the short-order cook Stanley Moon (Dudley Moore) is infatuated. Stanley gives up his soul to George Spiggot – the Devil – played by Peter Cooke, in return for seven wishes, all (or most, anyway) of which are attempts by Stanley to . . . attain Margaret. It is truly a masterpiece.

Here is Eleanor as Margaret with Dudley Moore as Stanley in the film observing a piece of modern art with which Stanley is hoping to impress the (in this wish-episode) intellectual Margaret:

She has amazing eyebrows. My wife Anne wonders if she’s ever met Eugene Levy.

Here is one of my favorite bits from the movie, where Stanley asks George to make him the adored object of Margaret, with the result that he is cast as a pop music star appearing on a live telecast, only to be eclipsed in Margaret’s eyes by the lead singer of the newest sensation, Drimble Wedge and the Vegetations, played of course by Peter Cook:

Eleanor Bron had appeared in Help! and Alfie before Bedazzled, and soon thereafter was cast in Women in Love. She has had a varied career in film and on stage, ranging from serious drama (Chekhov, Shaw, Ronald Harwood) to TV comedy (notably portraying Patsy’s mother on Absolutely Fabulous, who “scattered bastard babies across Europe like a garden sprinkler”). She also was the voice of British Telecom for a period beginning in 1985, her voice being featured in such messages as “The number you have dialed has not been recognized, please check and try again”. Her Wikipedia entry says this message and others can still be heard, which let’s all hope is true.

Bron was memorialized in the song “Tom Courtenay” by Yo La Tengo, the lyrics of which talk of “dreaming about Eleanor Bron/In my room with the curtains drawn”.

And to bring this full circle, Yo La Tengo included “Mr Apollo” in a “Shotgun + Medley” on their album Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics, a collection of cover songs that originated during on-air appearances during fund-raisers for WFMU, a great, eccentric independent radio station out of East Orange, New Jersey. (I swear I was not aware of this when I began this post).

We have now exceeded the minimum (and maximum) daily requirement of silliness and irony.

The Record I Couldn't Bring Myself to Give Away

While Xmas shopping (and I really did buy records for other people) I came across this gem:

And it didn’t even cost the $2.50 that the sticker suggests had once been demanded. I am guessing that this record was never bought before, as Radio Shack (true geeks will recognize the Realistic logo as coming from that haven of cheap electronics) probably gave them away with appropriate purchases.

The record, opened but still in its shrink-wrap, was released in 1971; though per Discogs, it is a rerelease of a recording that goes back to around 1960.

How any of us have gotten along without this record is a mystery. Why go all the way down to the basement to listen to the dulcet tones of your clothes dryer, when you can hear it in full “20 to 20,000 CPS Audiophile” quality on your living room stereo console (of course you have a solid mahogany, or at least imitation wood-grain, console, over by the pedestal ash tray).

The back cover, below is . . . a bit hazy. That is actually how it looks, like an out of focus photograph. But I suppose the demand to get this disc out into the hot hands of today’s discerning audiophiles was too great to retake the picture.

Wondering about the provenance of this find, I looked it up on Discogs and actually found a review, by an audiophile fellow, who took great pains to discuss the quality of the pressing, the depth of the vinyl used in the pressing, the frequency response range…and ultimately a somewhat sad assessment that this pressing was not up to the original release, relative to the startling realism embodied in the original release.

There’s an old saying that you can’t vaudeville vaudeville, and some variation of that surely applies here . . .

The Record I Couldn't Bring Myself to Give Away

While Xmas shopping (and I really did buy records for other people) I came across this gem:

The record, opened but still in its shrink-wrap, was released in 1971; though per Discogs, it is a rerelease of a recording that goes back to around 1960.

How any of us have gotten along without this record is a mystery. Why go all the way down to the basement to listen to the dulcet tones of your clothes dryer, when you can hear it in full “20 to 20,000 CPS Audiophile” quality on your living room stereo console (of course you have a solid mahogany, or at least imitation wood-grain, console, over by the pedestal ash tray).

The back cover, below is . . . a bit hazy. That is actually how it looks, like an out of focus photograph. But I suppose the demand to get this disc out into the hot hands of today’s discerning audiophiles was too great to retake the picture.

And it didn’t even cost the $2.50 that the sticker suggests had once been demanded. I am guessing that this record was never bought before, as Radio Shack (true geeks will recognize the Realistic logo as coming from that haven of cheap electronics) probably gave them away with appropriate purchases.

The extensive copy on the back cover is not credited, which is a shame, as the anonymous copywriter put his/her shoulder into the effort, perhaps trying to fill out the entire space. The essay has the peculiar tone of a high school composition:

“Every sound has its own story to tell.”

“Captured in its purest form, sound does indeed become an exciting and meaningful auditory experience. “

“Then, too, sound brings all kinds of associations.”

I particularly like “Then, too”, a lazy attempt to connect the ensuing catalog of associations to the limp evocation of sound “in its purest form” in the preceding paragraph. Who amongst us has not made use of this classic connective tissue in our (long-ago) school days?

The catalog of sound associations has its own rewards for the diligent peruser:

“Water running in a bathtub could recreate those dreaded Sunday nights when the very thought of a bath was like facing torture.”

This was written in 1960? Perhaps a traumatizing childhood memory for the writer, dating back to the pre-war era (the big one, WWII, as Herbert T. Gillis would say)?

“Hearing an audience’s applause at a theater might remind you, by inversion, of the time you played a role in a school production and forgot your lines, plunging the audience into deadly silence.”

Well, if I wasn’t sold on the LP before, I’m plunking my nickel down now. This “inversion” of applause into a well-nurtured memory of humiliation has an almost Nabokovian flavor, like something Charles Kinbote would have written in Pale Fire.

As the satisfyingly lengthy liner notes come to a close, we (ensconced in our comfortable living room wing-chair, in the requisite smoking jacket and ascot, a restorative glass of sherry in hand, the final tones of “Chain-Drive, Overhead Door” floating out from our hi-fi, recalling afternoons in Paris discussing musique concrete with Varese and the gang), are advised of a scintillating opportunity:

“It would . . . make a good parlor game to see if these sounds, removed and isolated from the contexts in which they originated, could be quickly and accurately identified.”

Wow, get Milton Bradley, Hasbro and Parker Brothers on the phone, this is our big chance!

Of course, we’ll have to include a pamphlet explaining what a “parlor game” (or even a parlor) is.

Wondering about the provenance of this find, I looked it up on Discogs and actually found a review, by an audiophile fellow, who took great pains to discuss the quality of the pressing, the depth of the vinyl used in the pressing, the frequency response range…and ultimately a somewhat sad assessment that this pressing was not up to the original release, relative to the startling realism embodied in the original release.

Here is his review: https://www.discogs.com/No-Artist-Live-Mechanical-Sound-Effects-In-Stereo/release/2264509

There’s an old saying that you can’t vaudeville vaudeville, and some variation of that surely applies here . . .

Three Jobs Should be Enough

A story about working . . .

Literary Yard

By: Joel E. Turner

Three jobs should be
enough, I mean none of them is what you’d really call a job, not
like when I was clocking in at the refractory plant, lifting heavy
shit to make bricks, running a hydraulic press. Before I got that lay
off letter from headquarters – Moon Township Pennsylvania, can’t
make that up. Bring you back if there is sufficient demand. Being an
A-rated tech don’t mean shit, I guess.

Better off out of
there anyway, I seen old guys at the Eagle Lodge coughing out their
life from the asbestos after twenty years. They say it ain’t like
that anymore, but still.

The lady at the
coffee joint, she’s alright, tad on the nervous side. Laughed my
ass off when that buzzer for the drive-through went off, she jumped a
mile, bent over trying to figure out the damn spresso machine. Niece
left…

View original post 1,960 more words

Foolish Records (the end of Xmas vinyl)

Let’s go straight to the top here with one of the most foolish records to grace the top 40. “They’re Coming to Take Me Away” was concocted by Jerry Samuels, a recording engineer/producer/songwriter and released under the nom de plume Napoleon XIV, and got to #3 in 1966 on the Billboard charts.

Anyone between the ages of 60-70 does not need me to describe this manic recitiative. For those of a younger age, who do not understand what a novelty record is, please go to YouTube and look this one up. I cannot be responsible for educating you on everything.

The B-side of this 45 is the same song backwards. On the label, the title and credits are backwards as well, i.e., mirror-imaged. Thus:

There is also an LP available, the track listing of which is worth perusing:

Side 1
  1. “I’m In Love With My Little Red Tricycle”
  2. “Photogenic, Schizophrenic You”
  3. “Marching Off To Bedlam”
  4. “Doin’ The Napoleon”
  5. “Let’s Cuddle Up In My Security Blanket”
  6. “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!”
Side 2
  1. “Bats In My Belfry”
  2. “Dr. Psyche, The Cut-Rate Head-Shrinker”
  3. “I Live In A Split Level Head”
  4. “The Nuts On My Family Tree”
  5. “The Place Where The Nuts Hunt The Squirrels”
  6. “I’m Happy They Took You Away, Ha-Haaa!” (by Josephine XV)

You can find out more about Mr. Samuels and his career (apparently still working as a booking agent) at his website (http://www.jerysam.com).

Two comedy lp’s also appeared under the Xmas tree this year. The first, I’m not sure I really dig, to use the parlance of the time (1959):

Though it really is a fantastic cover. I’m not a Lenny Bruce devotee, so I’m not sure if this offering isn’t one of his better ones, or perhaps his humor was better appreciated in person . . . or I’m just not hip enough, which doesn’t seem possible given how often I listened to this Del Close and John Brent masterpiece during my formative years:

If you’ve never heard this, again, off to YouTube with you.

The other comedy LP I received is truly a classic, though besmirched by Mr. Cosby’s terrible behavior (which is no doubt why an unnamed friend gave it to me):

This was Cosby’s first lp, and he certainly was a comic suited to the medium. Many of my age group will remember Noah’s dialogue with God: “What’s a cubit?”

The last record in this tedious recounting of Xmas surfeit is by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs and is not “Wooly Bully” (or “Little Red Riding Hood”, for that matter). It is “Ju Ju Hand”:

Wow, with the picture sleeve and everything. Imagine my surprise that it sounds EXACTLY like “Wooly Bully” with different words. It was released in 1965, on the heels of the wild success of WB, and got to #26 on the US charts, which tells you something about . . . well, it definitely tells you something.

“Wooly Bully” to this day evokes a shudder for me, as in my sophomore year of college, I lived in a dormitory wing that was apportioned to the DKE fraternity. They couldn’t fill all the rooms, so the four rooms on the first floor were populated by non-DKE’s like me.

When the DKE’s had their “Hell Week”, their pledges were all required to live in the basement of the dorm and a turntable was set up to play “Wooly Bully” at ear-shattering volume over and over. (I moved out).

This was, of course, the fraternity that gave us Brett Kavanaugh.

Xmas Vinyl Part 3: Jazz with Mongo, Charles and Sonny (Ra, that is)

El Pussy Cat is an excellent lp from Mongo Santamaria, released in 1965 on Columbia. It was his first LP after the the smash hit Watermelon Man! (45 and LP of the same name) in 1963. Much as I love Mongo’s version of that Herbie Hancock classic – I have the 45 on Battle, and play it regularly – overall, I’d rate El Pussy Cat as the better LP. There is more of an Afro-Cuban feel and more of a jazz vs pop-boogaloo sound.

The title track is a bit goofy, with fake cat mewling, but the groove was striking enough that it was covered by a couple of noted ska artists: Roland Alphonso (1965) and Bad Manners (1980). The prolific session drummer Sandy Nelson also covered it in 1965 on the Drum Discotheque lp, but then Sandy Nelson covered just about everything.

The cuts are all originals from various members of the band, including Bobby Capers (alto/baritone sax and flute), Marty Sheller (trumpet), Hubert Laws (flute and tenor sax) and Carmello Garcia (timbales and drums).

Afro-Cuban music was a big influence on pop music and jazz in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, from “Louie, Louie” to “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” to the great hits produced by Bert Berns (e.g., “My Girl Sloopy” by the Vibrations, “A Little Bit of Soap” by the Jarmels, “Twist and Shout” by the Isley Brothers, “Tell Him” by the Exciters).

There is an excellent bio/documentary out now about Bert Berns, which is disappointing only in its failure to highlight by name such great Afro-Cuban artists as Mongo and Teacho Wiltshire, the latter of whom arranged many of Berns’s records.

Here is a link to the trailer for Bang! The Bert Berns Story.

https://bit.ly/2Ib2XIW

With Charles Lloyd, are we more in the mainstream of jazz than with Mongo? I guess you’d have to say that, but as with many great artists, Charles Lloyd has covered so much ground that to label him at all is a mistake.

Listening to this made me realize that I need to seek out more of his work. The quartet is outstanding – Lloyd on tenor and flute; Keith Jarrett on piano; Ron McClure on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums, and the four extended pieces give them all room to stretch out.

Lloyd blows hard at times, and beautiful at all times on this record, often evoking Coltrane and Ornette Coleman on the tenor. The bio on his website says that “at the height of his career in 1970, Lloyd disbanded the quartet and dropped from sight, withdrawing to pursue an inner journey in Big Sur.” This was his last record before that period began.

Lloyd returned to the jazz world in the early 1980’s and is still touring today.

With apologies to Wynonie Harris, a true R&B pioneer, this 45 release of his 1946 78 RPM single “Dig This Boogie” b/w “Lightnin’ Struck the Poor House” is all about the debut of a young pianist named Herman Blount, soon to be known to this, and who knows what other, worlds as Sun Ra.

“Dig This Boogie” is a hard-swinging number, with Sun Ra leading the intro over Harris’s propulsive drumming. The B-side is a more laid-back tune, with sax and trumpet complementing the vocals.

This reissue was created by Modern Harmonic for Record Day 2017 on red vinyl with an initial pressing of 1000. What makes this even sweeter is the cover art by Cal Schenkel, the Philadelphia area native who is most noted for his work on the covers of Frank Zappa/Mothers of Invention recordings.

Cal is still very much active as an artist, and you can see more of his artwork and purchase it here. http://www.ralf.com/galerie/

The record is a bit of a curiosity, but it is just one more element in the amazing mosaic of Sun Ra’s work. Some may view him as an eccentric or an outsider, but for someone who charted his own path more than perhaps any other jazz artist, he had a deep grounding and appreciation for the music that went before him, whether R&B, big band jazz or bebop.

His live shows were legendary, and a free jazz brawl with someone dancing in a chicken costume (there were always costumes) might be followed by a stomping and faithful rendition of a Fletcher Henderson chart. (I saw that show). He was a hell of a pianist and a constant composer.

From the late 60’s to the early 90’s Sun Ra (or Sonny, as his friends called him) and the core of his Arkestra lived in a house in Germantown, Philadelphia. I remember looking him up in the phone book around 1977; there was the listing “Ra Sun GE8-9007”.

Around the same time, I was working as a substitute teacher in the Philadelphia School System and met another sub who had played oboe with Sun Ra for a while. He said it was great, because there weren’t too many gigs for a jazz oboe player; though he left as the scene was a bit bizarre at the Germantown house.

I promise there will be only one more Xmas music post, but it is the one you have been waiting for, featuring that great artist….Napoleon XIV

Xmas Vinyl Part 2: R&B – JB, SAR Compilation, Eddie and Ernie

You gotta start with James Brown:

A Soulful Christmas was released in 1968 which was a key transition time for JB as his work took on more of a political punch and his sound moved to the stripped-down vamps that would result in hits like Mother Popcorn and Funky Drummer (just to mention a few) in the years to come. After the death of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, Brown performed shows in Boston and Washington DC that were heralded for calming racial tensions and encouraging black pride within a non-violent context. Brown then recorded “Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud”, a civil rights anthem that saw its first release on this album. The other stand-out track is “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto”, which includes a shout out to Hank Ballard (“The Twist”, “Finger-Popping Time”, etc.) who was an early influence on Brown’s raucous sound and co-authored the song.

Much of the rest is good Christmas background music – original songs with Christmas themes and licks from Christmas songs woven in. There’s a lot of vibes, which I suppose sound sort of like bells. Anyway, this is a great record for R&B fans in the Christmas season.

Next up is Looking Back, a compilation of recordings from the SAR label in the early 1960s. As the back cover of the record recounts, the label was run by Sam Cooke and J. W. Alexander. Sam did a heck of a job as a producer and got some outstanding gospel and R&B performers onto wax.

Most R&B fans will be familiar with The Valentinos, aka The Womack Brothers, who, having watched the travails of Cooke and others who crossed over from gospel, decided to rename themselves for the pop/R&B market. Their biggest and first hit, “Looking for a Love”, was a reworking of a gospel song by the Womack Brothers, “Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray” (also on this compilation) and got to #8 on the R&B charts in 1962. It was later the first chart hit for the J. Geils Band, who recorded it for their 1972 LP The Morning After.

Track listing from Looking Back

More famous is “It’s All Over Now”, which the Rolling Stones famously released as their first number one hit just before the Valentino’s version came out in 1964. The story is that Bobby Womack was not happy about the Stones stealing their song – until he got his first song-writing royalty check for it. The Valentino’s version is quite different than the Stones’ and is more similar to renditions by Ry Cooder and The Grateful Dead

Half of the album tracks are gospel cuts, leading off with R. H. Harris with His Gospel Paraders singing “Somebody”. Harris was a huge figure in gospel music who led the Soul Stirrers in the 30’s and 40’s (Cooke joined the Soul Stirrers as lead singer in the 50’s). The three songs from the Soul Stirrers here are after Cooke had left, and feature Johnny Taylor on “Stand by Me Father” and Jimmy Outler on “Looking Back” and “Time Brings about a Change”.

Many non-gospel fans will know Johnny Taylor for such later funky songs as “Who’s Making Love”; but Outler never had much of a secular singing career. He is a powerful singer with a rough, appealing voice in the Wilson Pickett vein. His performances here are a treat.

And finally, we have a male singing duo, the Simms Twins (Bobby and Kenneth) in the tradition of duos from the fifties such as Marvin & Johnny, Don & Dewey, and Robert & Johnny. They remind me of a sweeter version of Sam & Dave; a little bit of the Impressions, and also a duo from Jamaica, The Bluesbusters (see below) – here’s a record of theirs I got a few years ago – check them out!

Finally, we have Time Waits for No One by Eddie and Ernie. This is a compilation on Cairo Records (as is Looking Back), and features a duo that never really made it on the national record scene.

There are some similarities to The Sims Twins duo featured on Looking Back, but Eddie and Ernie were on the scene just a couple of years later, and have more of a Stax/Volt sound. They are often compared to Sam and Dave. They were based in Phoenix and seem to have spent a good deal of their career there, eventually joining a local group, Phoenix Express in 1971.

The songs are worth a listen, especially “Time Waits for No One” and “Falling Tears”. I feel like the songwriting is not that strong on some of the cuts; maybe in the right hands they might have made it bigger.

Next Up: Jazz . . . .and then I’ll get to what everyone (i.e., no one) is waiting for: comedy and novelty records.