Sunday, January 29, 2023

Ray Ellis: Big Hits for Swingers (Atco 33-187; 1966). Or, When radio station stickers obliterate the liner notes.


For all my swingin' blog visitors: Big Hits for Swingers by Ray Ellis, a fun 1966 LP which managed to make its way from the music library of WTVN, 610 AM, Columbus OH, to my local St. Vincent de Paul thrift.  WTVN began operation in 1922 and is now known as "News Radio 610 WTVN."  And WTVN must have been playing adult-pop LP tracks in 1966.  And a monaural promo LP was the sensible type to send to an AM station.

I could classify this as easy listening, since a few tracks definitely qualify as such, but I'm going to put this in the category of big band-ized rock and roll.  I regard "big band-ized" r&r as an actual genre, and one which lasted for a good five or more years, and often in the realm of record-club boxed sets.  Imo, it deserves to be regarded as a movement unto itself, and of course it was all about presenting current pop and r&r songs in a style (or styles) familiar to those who grew up with Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, and Freddy Martin.  There is a Boomer tendency to make fun of any r&r presented outside of its original context, but not only do I see no harm in that sort of thing, I regard it as a tribute to 1960s r&r songwriting--to the adaptability of the songs.  But it has to be said, and the sooner the better, that I Got You Babe is an epic misfire, at least here.  Had it been arranged for comic effect (with its labored, thudding phrases), that would be another story, but  maybe Sonny Bono's song simply can't function outside of its original presentation.  And I'm tempted to not put Bono on a par with Leiber-Stoller, Burt Bacharach, Carole King, or John and Paul.  Not that Sonny would have cared about my opinion, but...

Meanwhile, what on earth is Wait Till We're Sixty-Five doing here?  I mean, the Stones, the Beatles, Roger Miller, the McCoys, and...On a Clear Day You Can See Forever??  I guess there's logic in that thread--if one is hopelessly stoned.

One of WTVN's DJs (see writing on back jacket) gave I Feel Fine a double "No," crossing out the title, to boot (to emphasize the two "No"s).  Whereas I think the track works surprisingly well in Ellis' treatment.  Unlike Babe, it swings.  The other written notes are a little mysterious: "Med Down (Builds)," for example.  Medium downtempo would be my guess, with a gradual tempo buildup, maybe.  "Med," "Down," "Med Down."  Oh, and "Med Up."  I wonder what this DJ didn't like about I Feel Fine?  The song itself?  The treatment?  We'll never know.

Maybe another DJ felt rebellious and played the track, anyway.

A little inconsistent in style, but I think this collection mostly fits very nicely into the big band-ized r&r category, and, as I said before, I think that counts as a real-life pop genre, though a genre likely regarded as too trivial to merit a heading.  Hey, it's part of the history of 1960s popular music, so it deserves to be documented.  Back in February, 2021, I described a group of '60s big band-ized r&r songs as "discotheque selections in the style of Enoch Light on Command and Si Zentner on RCA."  I guess I had yet to come up with "big band-ized."  Something tells me my label won't catch on, though it works for me.  

Don't forget to swing to these.  Or at least listen to these in a swinging mode.  In the long run, swinging is more attitude than action.  

DOWNLOAD: Big Hits for Swingers--Ray Ellis (Atco 33-187; 1966)

King of the Road


Hang on Sloopy

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

I Feel Fine

Ferry Cross the Mersey

I'll Never Be Lonely Again

Flight to Mexico

Portrait of Jan


I Got You Babe

Wait Till We're Sixty-Five


Sunday, January 22, 2023

Sunday evening gospel: The King's Heralds Quartet and Del Delker--Old Hymns of Faith (Chapel Records LP 1220; 1953)


I'd hoped to get this up earlier--as in, this morning.  However, though this 10-inch, clear-red-vinyl thrift gift from Diane (Thanks, Diane!) is in quite good shape for a 10-inch gospel LP from 1953, there were a number of minor clicks which escaped VinylStudio's declicker software (because of its bass-protection feature).  And so they had to be manually removed in MAGIX.  Slightly time-consuming, but worth the time when the music is this good.

The King's Heralds Quartet (aka The King's Heralds) is a superlative singing group which I wrote about last Sunday.  This time, the quartet is augmented by contralto soloist Del Delker.  As far as five-member quartets are concerned, I've always regarded five-part harmony (such as a four-part song or hymn with a descant) as simply an instance of augmented four-part harmony.  The essential texture is the same.  "Four-part harmony with an extra voice" is how I regard vocal quintets, so I don't find any problem with gospel quartets which, for whatever reason, boast five members.  A fifth part is just icing on the four-part cake.  You wanted to know all of that, I'm sure.

And the group manages to present fourteen titles in the space of a 10-inch LP, which is impressive, no matter how it's managed.  And, as before, the singing is radio-quality quartet vocalizing--in other words, the best possible.  Conservative song choice, conservative presentation, but in gospel terms, that's the best of all possible worlds.  (Well, except for modern "praise" music--the less said, the better.)  I was a bit surprised to discover that Help to Carry the Good News by Lewis Edgar Jones (not to be confused with Lewis Ellis Jones of There Is Power in the Blood fame) is from 1911, since it sounded more modern to my ears.  "Modern," as in, the 1940s or 1950s.  Then again, it's consistent in style with gospel numbers of the 1910s by Charles H. Gabriel and Alfred H. Ackley, so...

The quartet is the same as last time: Bob Edwards, first tenor; Bob Seamount, second tenor; Wayne Hooper, baritone; and Jerry Dill, bass.  Plus, Del Delker, contralto soloist.  Masterful performances and excellent early-1950s fidelity, though I would have preferred a greater variety of keys.  But that's a tiny complaint, really...

And great to have a recording of Ira Sankey's 1885 Let Him In, and in such a fine rendition--one of my favorite gospel numbers.  In all, this collection presents a nice balance between "standard" and "gospel" numbers (the latter of the type which used to show up in Sunday School hymnals).  Examples of gospel hymns: Let Him In, I Do Believe, My Name in Mother's Prayer.  Standard hymns: This Is my Father's World, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Lord of the Sabbath (And Its Light).

DOWNLOAD: Old Hymns of Faith--The King's Herald's Quartet And Del Delker (Chapel Records LP 1220; 1953)

Let Him In

Christ Receiveth Sinful Men

My Faith Looks up to Thee

On the Cross

This Is My Father's World

Faith Is the Victory

Just as I Am

When I survey the Wondrous Cross

Help to Carry the Good News

Lord of the Sabbath

Come, Holy Spirit

I Do Believe

Lift Him Up

My Name in Mother's Prayer


Thursday, January 19, 2023

J. Lawrence Cook--Piano-Roll Rock "N Roll (Mercury SR 60083; 1959)


                                                                                              Photo from the Made In Chicago Museum website.

Today we have J. Lawrence Cook (1899-1976), an incredibly prolific maker of piano rolls (the most prolific, says Wikipedia), accompanied by Tony Mottola on guitar, George Duvivier and Milton Hinton on bass, and Osie Johnson on drums.  Personnel info courtesy of Doctor Jazz.

A very fun album, though its brand of binaural stereo is a bit annoying to my ears--the sound is strictly left/right channel, with no sense of depth.  I was almost tempted to sum the channels, but I didn't.  Oddly enough, some Cook originals in the mix, along with Sheldon Harnick and Jery Bock's Oh Yeah, a minor success for Steve Lawrence, whereas "John" (Johnny) Mercer's Bernadine was a number one hit for Pat Boone.  I probably have his version, though my collection is too big at the moment to be sure.

The highlight has to be Rock Around the Clock, which has two things going for it: 1) It's a fine version, and 2) it's an example of the song as originally written, prior to its reinvention by Bill Haley.  Haley completely changed the introductory verse (which initially sounded a bit like The Syncopated Clock in minor mode, as it does here) and used a broken A Major triad in root position (A, C#, E) instead of the as-written A-B-C# in the chorus.  Actually, the original sheet music is in the key of F, but there's no rule which dictates staying in the lead sheet key.

And, if you've followed my blog for a while, you know that I regard Rock Around the Clock as performed by Haley (vs. the tune as written), as a sure indication that Haley was eager to find his "own" Rock the Joint.  Haley revamped RATC with Joint in mind.  (That came out weird.)

Anyway, a number of RATC recordings presented the song as written, or nearly as written, including Artie Malvin's Waldorf fake hit, which has its virtues but can't hold a candle to the "Gabe Drake" version on SPC, which appeared all over the budget-label world.

Cook was a veteran of the jazz age of the 1920s, having been buddies with Eubie Blake, so you might think he'd have had a little trouble with rock and roll (aka, in this case, rock 'n roll), but clearly this was no problem for him.  The 60-year-old J. Lawrence beautifully mixes the player-piano tradition/sound with the feel of rock and roll, and if a couple of the results are amusing (to me, at least)--such as All Shook Up and Hound Dog--it's just the novelty of hearing these numbers in perforated-piano-roll fashion.  And I wonder if anyone else in cyberspace has ever typed "perforated-piano-roll fashion."  And... nope!  A Google check says no.  Not surprisingly.

"This is a true stereophonic disc record," says the back jacket, but binaural isn't really stereo as we know (or expect) it.  I'd have loved the middle-channel stereo experience on this one, but the music is beautifully arranged and rendered, so I can't complain too much.

Oh, and this is one of the "Wacker Series" Mercury releases.  At least, it has "Wacker Series" rubber-stamped on the back.  Discogs lists 24 examples of same.  I have no idea what it means, save for Discogs' speculation that "Wacker" was derived from the address of Mercury's headquarters.  It almost sounds like the designation for a novelty series.

DOWNLOAD: Piano-Roll Rock 'N Roll--J. Lawrence Cook (Mercury SR 60083; 1959)

Rock Around the Clock


All Shook Up

Searching and Dreaming

Why Do Fools Fall in Love

My Ship

Hound Dog

Oh Yeah

Wake up Little Susie

The Swingin' Shepherd Blues

The Walk

Nice Little Girl

J. Lawrence Cook, piano roll; Tony Mottola, guitar; George Duvivier and Milton Hinton on bass, and Osie Johnson on drums


Sunday, January 15, 2023

Sunday morning gospel: Garden of Prayer--King's Heralds Quartet (Chapel LP 1211; 1953)


Superb, and superbly professional, gospel quartet singing from 1953.  At the time, the King's Heralds Quartet (credited as "The Kings Heralds" on the front jacket--no "Quartet" or apostrophe) consisted of Robert Edwards, first tenor; Robert Seamount, second tenor; Wayne Hopper, baritone; and Jerry Dill, bass.  This ten-inch Chapel Records LP, pressed on clear red vinyl, is another Diane thrift-gift (Thanks, Diane!), and I somehow guessed that the singing would be of the top-caliber radio quartet type, a la The Old Fashioned Revival Hour Quartet.  And I was correct!

The quartet started in 1927 in Keene TX, and proceeded to become (you guessed it) a radio quartet for the Voice of Prophecy.  You can read more about them at Wikipedia, whose entry I was initially unable to find, because I was Googling "King's Heralds Quartet," whereas the Wikipedia entry is "King's Heralds."  Sometimes, using quotation marks is an advantage, because it brings up exact matches, though in this case I should have simply typed the three words, minus quotes.  Oh, well...

The selections can't be beat--Ira Sankey's terrific There'll Be No Dark Valley is always a joy to hear, and I'm always pleased whenever Whispering Hope shows up on a sacred album.  Written in 1868 by Septimus (Listen to the Mockingbird) Winner (aka, Alice Hawthorne), Whispering Hope is an early instance of an ordinary popular song becoming a sacred favorite--a near-hymn, you might call it.  It seems destined to never become a "standard" hymn--hence, it doesn't show up all that often in gospel songbooks and hymnals (at least in my experience), but it is nevertheless one of the classic "old songs."  Or, at least, was.  Come 2023, who knows?

To the King's Heralds...

DOWNLOAD: Garden of Prayer--The King's Heralds (Chapel Records LP 1211; 1953)

The Beautiful Garden of Prayer

The Old Rugged Cross/When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (Medley)

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

The Lord's Prayer

Still, Still With Thee

I Need the Prayers

There'll Be No Dark Valley

Whispering Hope

Praise to the Lord


Friday, January 13, 2023

Twist Around the Town--Tommy Navarro and the Sundialers (Urania UR-900; 1961)--Great Twist-ploitation sounds!


Sorry for my three-week absence.  I was sick for most of that time with what I'm mostly sure was a respiratory infection (I've had so many, I know them by heart).  Luckily, and uncharacteristically, my system managed to fight it off without medical intervention, though I came awfully close to visiting the local Urgent Care center.  Having a home nebulizer probably helped.  Anyway, I'm back and mostly healed...

Another Twist-ploitation LP today, and a fine one--and yet another Diane thrift gift (thanks Diane!).  And you may be wondering, Aren't I tired of these things, already?  No, not at all!  First off, these LPs tend to be a heck of lot of fun; even the low-to-no-budget examples (like today's) are unusually well performed.  Twist LPs, more often than not, are good ol' R&B of the rocking type (which explains how some outfits were able to recycle 1940s sides as Twist efforts)--in other words, Black rock and roll, which earns a separate category simply because things were far less integrated in the 1950s.  To put it mildly.  We always need to keep in mind that "rhythm and blues" was actually simply a marketing category, at least initially--it referred to music that sold to a Black audience.  Thus, Bing Crosby's White Christmas was an R&B hit.  Seriously.

And I have what I guess is an unusual philosophy regarding pop music crazes like the Twist: Namely, that such crazes merit in-depth study due to their sheer volume.  This may be counterintuitive, but I don't believe in reducing pop music trends to four or five representative samples, simply because I doubt that any craze can be thus narrowed down--at least, not accurately, as there is always greater diversity/variety than we'd ever expect.  Also, it can be much fun to document the common features of, say, budget Twist-ploitation LPs like this one.  Such standard features as the desperate PD-mining for Twist-trumental tracks (Casey Twist, taken from And the Band Played On, and Around the Town Twist, taken from The Sidewalks of New York).  And I fully expected Casey to be a rip of Casey Jones, but I was way off track--it's taken from the line, "Casey would waltz with a strawberry blonde."  And the title track--who could've guessed its source?  I didn't, and maybe because The Sidewalks of New York, despite its Mitch Miller revival, isn't the kind of song that springs to mind.

The Twist Around the Town liner notes are your typical try-to-make-a-cheap-product-sound-respectable type, but they're unusually literate, and thus they lack any hilarious grammar-crunching phrases.  Rats.  But the essay does seem to help confirm something I've strongly suspected: Namely, that the Twist was so well-received within and outside of rock and roll because it was a safe sort of music--R&B without the sort of suggestive lyrics which had so many White parents up in arms (and, to be fair, there were a lot of super-suggestive lyrics in early r&r), and because the music, which was virtually a revival of the big band boogie-woogie craze, was so endlessly adaptable.  Anyway, the notes try to convince us that the Twist was as much beloved by adults as by teens, though I'm not convinced.  (Would budget liner notes lie??)  But Urania is to be commended to providing a complete, if repetitious, essay instead of what we'd expect on the back jacket--i.e., photos of other Urania offerings and a series of big-font "We provide the best in modern audio"-type bragging.  Blurb-wise, we get a humble, small-font "Urania records are full range high fidelity recordings, etc." notice.  Very tasteful of Urania.  Very restrained.  Refined, even.

But the most interesting thing, maybe, is the apparent swiping of recent chart hits, plus the use of Summertime, which is somehow still under copyright today (remember when PD was a thing?).  Now, maybe Urania cleared Bricks and Bones (a Twist-ation of Ray Charles' Sticks and Stones), and Jackie Wilson's Lonely Teardrops and I'll Be Satisfied, but then again, maybe it figured that this under-the-radar effort could get away with Twist-isizing four non-PD numbers.  The retitling of Sticks and Stones suggests as much, but who knows?  The back jacket credits, at first glance, seem to be giving Tommy Navarro composer credit for the songs he performs, but I think Urania was simply designating the performers (Navarro vs. The Sundialers).  Or maybe it was attempting to convey that Navarro's numbers were predominantly originals and not swiped hits.  Maybe all this was simply the usual budget-label carelessness.  So many fascinating possibilities.

More fun than it has any right to be!  Enjoy:

DOWNLOAD: Twist Around the Town (Urania UR-900; 1961)