Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Imagine: Ray Davies - Imaginary Man (BBC documentary)

Have just finished watching the above BBC TV documentary about Ray Davies and a review in the Independent, readable here, gets it roughly right, so I probably won't say too much more. The review ends:
if there was a lingering sense that Davies was being indulged, that his nostalgia was slipping into downright despondence, we could forgive him on the grounds that he has done so much for us.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The Valentines - Christmas Prayer

As a reluctant nod to the season, herewith Christmas Prayer, a lesser-known Valentines track from 1955 - at least it isn't on the Collectables Best of collection that I have. I first came across it on a UK compilation  of Christmas-related songs from "the Roulette family of labels" on the now-defunct Westside label, which issued quite a lot of doo wop.

As the Collectables CD of the group's Rama recordings includes an amusing but hardly essential snippet of song in praise of Boston DJ Joe Smith, I'm surprised by Christmas Prayer's absence. It was released at the time and an A side, and it isn't just a novelty: the rough edge to the singing and harmonising is highly pleasing to these ears, despite the corny saxophone quote ("jingle all the way") just in case anyone should be in any doubt about the seasonal nature of the song.

I presume Richard Barrett, the man who discovered Frankie Lymon, and later achieved fame as a producer, is the lead vocalist, and we're definitely talking gospel-inflected, soul-anticipating mode. And it sounds like there was a bit of leeway in the harmonising too - it's not that the singing is ragged, just that it doesn't sound rehearsed to death, and that another take might have been different again. Anyway, have a listen and see what you think.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

"Was there a LP soundtrack for Three Hats for Lisa?"

 I see from the magic of statcounter that someone who googled the above question today was directed to the Gnome Thoughts ... 25 post on this blog rather than, say, post 3, which is all about the film. Presumably google picks up words from the labels on the right as well as the posts, which is unfortunate, but if that person should chance to revisit this blog then I think I'm fairly safe in saying: no. There wasn't. I've certainly found nothing online and have searched thoroughly.

Ah, you say, but what's that image above?

Mark, King of Rockabilly, Mark

I can't pretend I listened to every single edition of Mark Lamarr's BBC Radio 2 show Shake Rattle and Roll - too much non-Carl Perkins rockabilly for me - but I am very sorry indeed to see it go.

Last night I listened to the final edition, which will be accessible for a week on the Radio 2 website here. He has circulated an email about his resignation, readable in full at the end of this post, but towards the end of last night's show he acknowledged that Shake Rattle and Roll had a "tiny but dedicated" audience, with the clear implication that the BBC were no longer able to tolerate the "tiny" part of that. Er, isn't that rather the point of the BBC?

It is a great pity, not only because of his presenting style (the true voice of an enthusiast) but because there sure won't be much chance of hearing almost any of the tracks he played anywhere else on the Beeb - the odd Bo Diddley number, perhaps, on Paul Jones' blues show, but that's about it.

Last night was all listener requests, and the final track was an inspired choice as a sign-off, one which I knew well but never, ever imagined I would hear on national radio ... well, never anywhere but there, and a final, fine example of his tradition of playing a doo wop number as a closer.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Took-off Earl (Ian Whitcomb's new radio show)

This is to alert readers that Ian Whitcomb's peerless radio show has moved from Luxuria to XM 24. My post about his Luxuria programme, readable here, still holds good, although the blurb on the XM 24 website here says it rather more succinctly:

The Ian Whitcomb Show is an hour-long fun fest featuring an eclectic and exciting panorama of American and British popular songs, ranging from Tin Pan Alley ragtime through 1920s crooners and dance bands to raunchy pioneer 1950s rock ‘n’ roll. Join host Ian Whitcomb, 1960's Brit Invader, music historian and ukulele maven, on The Music Summit.
Details of the currently free to download podcast version here.
Shows run for one hour rather than two but  the shorter format, or perhaps a different hand on the production tiller, or something, makes the shows sound a bit tighter.

And either his voice has suddenly become richer and deeper or the quality of broadcast microphone employed has drastically improved with his transfer - or both? I shall forbear from using the word "slick" as it's still the essential Ian, although I suspect this version of the Ian Whitcomb Show will gain more converts among people who don't already know much about some of these genres. Which can only be a good thing: as I said in my earlier review:
Whitcomb's awareness of the deep, tangled roots of popular music means that he is able to make the most illuminating comments in his show en passant, seeing the sort of connections others wouldn't
so why not download a few shows and get yourself illuminated? The most recent programme is entitled Whistlers, Yodellers, Zithers and Such, featuring, among others, The Waikiki Swingsters, the Pan American Marimba Band, Reginald Dixon, Guy Mitchell ... and Rolf Harris. Now that's what I call eclectic.

At the time of posting you can also download shows about accordion music, what he calls "Transcendental Tunes" (more Mills Brothers and Flanagan and Allen than the Lemon Pipers) and others. His British Invasion Revisited show studiously avoids the Beatles in favour of the names less often played and towards the end of  he let slip a detail which will be of interest to regular readers.

Apparently, when the New Vaudeville Band's Winchester Cathedral first became known in the States, so many people assumed it was Ian that eventually he got tired of denying it and went along with it, even singing it in his act, thus adding to the already impressive list of his musical and literary achievements over the years  "self-confessed surrogate Alan Klein." How many others can make that claim, even today?

Actually, I've just listened to the programme again and it seems his impersonation actually took place in the happy no-time between Geoff Stephens' intention to make the New Vaudeville Band flesh and the actual hiring of members. So who can blame him for spying a gap in the market?

"With it" to a certain extent: the Lemon Pipers

For a while I though it was so obscure there might not be an image of the above album cover online, but of course there was. I bought it, I suppose, because of the Marble Arch brand. Marble Arch was Pye's quality (ie the records were sonically good) budget label, a reassuring sign because the very first album I bought was Donovan's Fairytale in that form. Marble Arch covers always had white bars at the top and bottom and you were informed of key song titles.

So the series was easily identifiable, the records themselves were substantial - ie fairly heavy pieces of vinyl, even though the running time was never overgenerous. Donovan's album had a few tracks knocked off, for example, presumably so that, a la the Fabs' American issues, there might be eventually be enough material to enable a new album to be fashioned out of those offcuts.

But other than the reassurance of the tried and trusted label, whatever made my ten or eleven year old self decide that my next purchase had to be an album devoted to the Lemon Pipers?

I must have heard and liked Green Tambourine, and at some point, during some family holiday, my immediate elder brother told me he had just heard a broadcaster announce, just before playing Rice Is Nice, also by the Pipers, that he didn't really look this newfangled pop but that "One must be 'with it' to a certain extent."

But that was about it. I knew nothing else by them and I hadn't particularly hungered and yearned to hear more. Nor can I remember the act of buying the record or seeing its cover - as had been the case with Fairytale - tantalising me from the window of a now-vanished shop. And if you look above, you'll see that Marble Arch's graphics team hadn't exactly pushed the boat out for this American act.

And pretty soon I had sold the album on, to a sister of a schoolfriend, if I remember correctly. I don't know what she made of it, as I never met her, though I can probably date the transaction to 1970 at the latest - or maybe even 1969, the year of the album's issue. And I haven't thought much about the album, or the group, in the intervening forty years: when Green Tamourine crops up in a compilation or on the radio it's a pretty period piece, but I only half-listen.

So why am I writing about this album now? Blame the magic of the internet, and spotify in particular. I was compiling a vaguely psychedelic playlist and remembered one of the songs from the album whose title, at least, spoke about the times: Love Beads and Meditation, and I listened to a few other songs I dimly remembered from the LP I'd quickly recycled.

And my verdict: no, not a neglected masterpiece, but what with the overfamiliarity of more well known artists of the time, it felt refreshing to hear those who had attempted to cadge a lift on the bigger names' coat-tails. That song title sort of gives it away that the Lemon Pipers were not unaware of the Beatles' existence but there are other songs which owe clear debts to individual tracks by the Fabs. And it's good to hear them after all this time: to hear, for example, Shoeshine Boy which, like the Bonzos' Equestrian Statue, is a "response", shall we say, to Penny Lane. And actually Love Beads and Meditation may owe more to the group who also stayed with the Maharishi in India, the Beach Boys. And then we have Jelly Jungle (Of Orange Marmalade), though this is less druggy than it might appear, more about the fantasy world two lovers can inhabit.

The one incongruous track on the album was Turn Around and Take a Look, which seemed corny, though I can sort of hear they may have been going for a Lovin' Spoonful-type feel (their labelmates back in the States, in fact). And I think Paul McCartney admitted Good Day Sunshine on Revolver "borrowed" from Daydream, so no one is innocent.

The others I don't remember, though I can see they included a cover of Wasn't Born to Follow.

Having written the above, I realised I ought to find out something about the group, so headed for wikipedia, as you do, where I see that Turn Around and Take a Look was an initial and unsuccessful attempt by a band member to come up with a hit song, and that many of the group's songs were by Brill Building writers Paul Leka and Shelley Pinz. When their Green Tambourine was a hit, their record company, Buddah, put pressure on the group to stay in the bubblegum genre. An article by Larry Nager, here, quotes band member Larry Nave on "the duality of the Lemon Pipers":
We were a stand-up rock 'n' roll band, and then all of a sudden, we're in a studio, being told how to play and what to play.
They left Buddah in 1969 and later "dissolved", which seems an appropriate term. But there is a small footnote: three band members,
Bartlett, Walmsley and Nave formed Starstruck, whose recording of a Lead Belly song, "Black Betty" was reworked by Super K Productions producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz, and released in 1977 under the name of Ram Jam, featuring Bartlett.
That was a big hit in the UK, and I actually heard it sung live a few months ago, by Joe Brown. Whose success predated the Beatles. Ee, it's all cyclical. And members of Beatle-influenced 10cc worked with those producers. But rather than getting lost in my own jelly jungle of connections, a final quote, taken from the wikipedia page, taken from the book Bubblegum Is The Naked Truth.
It was the Pipers’ way with a tough-pop gem in the under-four-minute category which was most impressive by far: "Rainbow Tree", "Shoeshine Boy" and especially "Blueberry Blue" each sported a taut, musical sophistication worthy of The Move and, dare I say it, even the Magical Mystery Beatles.
A lightly clad truth, but very pleasing pop nonetheless. Here's Shoeshine Boy:

Monday, 13 December 2010

Now We Are One

If the title of this post has already made you think of Dion and the Belmonts' Teen Angel ("Our love is young,/Now we are one") then congratulations: you've probably arrived at the right blog.

If, however, it doesn't, then it's statistically likely that you have been directed here by google images and are in search of non-existent David Bowie downloads and will leave after - eh? Wha - ? Ohhhh ...

Ee, they might have had the courtesy to allow me to finish my sentence, at least. Anyway, for those happy few who remain, in order to mark today's anniversary (One Glorious Year of Blogging), for one day only the title image for this blog will be the original photograph of the Cheapo Cheapo Records shop by Laura Appleyard (see her flickr photostream here) without my embellishments.

Though that wasn't the original title image: I used a detail from a Medallions publicity photograph - Vernon Green's eyes - as, I think, the first, or one of the first, pictures to indicate what that these posts would be about. After all, if anyone held the secret of pismotality, the mystery at the heart of doo wop, it had to be the man who coined the word.

As I've explained elsewhere, I took Pismotality as a username on the Steve's Kewl Doo Wop Shop website simply because my own name, Tony, had already been taken, but I've retained it as much of what I write is about doo wop - plus it makes my work easier to find via google.

I can't remember just when I made the change of title image, but it may have reflected the blog's expansion from doo wop, once all the available Kewl Steve material had been reposted, to all the music of my formative years - and at one time or another Cheapo Cheapo Records, late of Soho, held just about all the albums I had ever bought - or borrowed from my local library back home in Scotland - so it seemed ideal. And the fact the shop had closed down also made me want to commemorate it. I still miss it a great deal.

As there is now a year's worth of blog posts to ferret through, for the busy executive here is a - well, not a top ten, exactly, but a quick list of some entries which may be worth reading if you like anything you've already read here. Well, I enjoyed writing them, anyway, although I appreciate that that may not of itself be an infallible guarantee of quality.

Golden Teardrops - this is my original piece about the record from the ol' Doo Wop Shop board, but with a commentary added when it was reposted here in December 2009. I began to realise that blogs were about going wherever your inclination dictated, which in this case involved an artist who had used a cover from  Springboard International's Original Oldies  series as inspiration. The reason? I first heard the Flamingos' classic - guitar overdubs and all - on a compilation in that series. Also I accuse a (probably) innocent man over the theft of Lou Reed's doo wop collection. The post was just going that way.

You Have Two (I Have None) - an attempt to capture another great doo wop recording, but at least I have the humility to cite Robert Pruter. Warning: may contain unnecessary traces of Elizabethan poetry.

14 Karat Soul - a longish piece about the best young doo wop group I ever saw in live performance, including The Mysterious Case of the Gesture at the Neck. I still say I was singing in tune.

A Wreath for Cheapo - the most substantial piece about the importance to me of the vanished Cheapo Cheapo Records shop.
The TRUE Story of How I Fell Out of Love with Donovan - reassessing a former hero, but Gently, gently, with love.

On Again! On Again! or Strangers on a Train - Jake Thackray in my life, despite my immediate elder brother's objections. (But can you trust someone who mistook a Bolan fan for his wife?) Plus my time alone with the great man: now it can be told.

Stand By Me Part One - first of two posts exploring the origins of Ben E King's song, looking at the singer's early doo wop years and the signficance of Clyde McPhatter during this period. Part Two focuses more on the song's gospel roots and the beginnings of soul with Sam Cooke and others.

They Turned Me On - Part Three: Hubert Gregg - from a series celebrating the broadcasters who opened my ears to a world beyond pop. I'm happy to say that Hubert Gregg's widow, Carmel Gregg, has read this and seemed to like it.

Aurelian Chimes - not - various  doo wop records and their personal significance.

[Add title which punningly alludes to all songs mentioned] - a farewell of sorts to a friend via thoughts about the music he liked.

Billy J, don't be a - eeeeeuuurgh! - the title says it all, or as much as can be said without spoiling the piece.

Gnome Thoughts ... 3 (Three Hats for Lisa) - the best film ever - well, sort of.

Gnome Thoughts ... 8 (Waterloo Sunset) - what it means to me and why Wordsworth may be involved. Oh, and Stanley Spencer.

Gnome Thoughts ... 11 (Well At Least Its British) - a long piece about Alan Klein's neglected 1964 solo album in the context of other comic songwriters. Links at the end to other Klein-related posts.

What? Oh, go on, then. As you've been good.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Reflections in a Golden Teardrop [note to self: think of better title later]

I started writing this blog one year ago tomorrow, which prompts a post-length period of reflection: is there anything I have learnt? Any wisdom to pass on to regular readers, other bloggers or those considering a blog?

Spoiler alert: No. Well, not really. Not much, anyway.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Breakfast Special aka We Are the Eggmen

Guided Missiles

As a postscript to recent entries linking rock'n'roll to the atomic age, here's a doo wop recording well known to me which is both a cash in and a fresh take on the subject.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Danny Dyer's Chocolate Homunculus

This clip from last night's episode of the UK sitcom Peep Show demands a wider audience. And it's music-related (after a fashion), thus qualifying for this blog. In later reviews of sitcoms over the decades the phrase "Danny Dyer's Chocolate Homunculus" will, I am sure, rank alongside Alan Partridge's "Monkey Tennis."

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 36

With the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon's death coming up, I'd like to share my memories of that time, even if this turns out to be an exercise exclusively of interest to me. Other options are available, such as the LENNONYC podcasts where those directly involved with Lennon are asked how they reacted.

Gnome Thoughts ... 35 (If John had stayed with Mimi)

This is a very simple, not to mention infantile, idea which could be catching, if any Beatle people are reading this. Hey, maybe it could even be a competition, with some kind of marvellous prize which I haven't yet bought - but it'll be great, believe me.

Anyway, the idea has certainly been floating around in the recesses of my mind for some time, demanding to be shared with others. So here goes.