Thursday, 30 August 2012

Flamingos' Decca sides "fit for purpose" - ineffectual blogger's shock claim

The above says it all, really: having listened a few more times to the ten available tracks the Flamingos recorded for Decca in between Chess and End, I'm warming to them. A bit. So here is a bit more about them. And here are the relevant details from Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks page about the group.

30335 The Ladder Of Love (NN/PW)/Let's Make Up (TH) - 6/57 (release dates and lead vocalists)
30454 Helpless (NN)/My Faith In You (NN/PW) - 10/57
30687 Where Mary Go (NN/PW)/The Rock And Roll March (JAC) - 7/58
30880 Ever Since I Met Lucy (TH)/Kiss-A-Me (NN) - 5/59
30948 Jerri-Lee (NN)/Hey Now! (TH) - 7/59

JAC = Jake Carey
NN = Nate Nelson
PW = Paul Wilson
TH = Tommy Hunt

That Love Is You was also recorded for Decca but not released; it was later redone for End Records.

I have read that because Nate Nelson had a solo contract with Checker (a subsidiary of Chess) the Decca recordings were "virtually quashed by legal complications" (Robert Pruter's Chicago Doo Wop) so I don't know to what extent these tracks were known at the time.

But more interesting now is to speculate about how they might have sounded with other hands to tweak the sound, make decisions about what to add or not to add. It's well known that the version of I'll Be Home which Chess issued was recorded in the company's office studio after a redone version in a proper studio was rejected as sounding "plastic" to the Chess brothers. Without altering the substance of the group's contribution, which shines through in most cases, I can't help thinking that some of the Decca sides could be so much better, could sit alongside their Chess recordings at least.

Nevertheless, I find myself being drawn to Kiss-a-Me. Although there is a female chorus, it's used fairly well: at the end group and female voices seem to blend together, rather than the female chorus overwhelming the Flamingos. If you see them as a slightly overcompensating substitute for the departed Johnny Carter it sort of makes sense. In fact, if you judge Kiss-a-Me for its effectiveness as a record for slow dancing or smooching - the title promises as much, after all - then you could even say there is little to criticise about it. Nate Nelson's lead is beautiful and histransition from smoothness to moments of passion is well done, and there is undoubtedly a sense of continuity with earlier records: you are in that distinctive Flamingos world, a place of echoes and dreams. Incidentally, the music was composed by the same person who wrote Till Then, a hit for the Mills Brothers and later revived in the doo wop era.

Although the version of Jerri-Lee I have is in the lowest of fi, it sounds very appealing: think there is a Latin tinge but it's honestly hard to make too much out. Interesting that the jump sides with Tommy Hunt - Hey Now! and Let's Make Up are quite gutsy - Ever Since I Met Lucy is more poppy but the singing gives it a bit of an edge. I still say The Rock and Roll March is corny but in a slightly misconceived, slightly out of time Ravens kinda way: that group, great as they were, recorded lots of novelties which didn't quite hit the target.

I think I've come to the end of what I can usefully say about them. I happened to be listening to the Moonglows' Baby Please (Chance Records) a couple of days ago, and for the first time really appreciated the musical backing, so I think in future posts I may write in more detail about the Flamingos' and Moonglows' Chance sides. With Baby Please Red Holloway is really like another voice, a costar, on the recording. I note from the Chance discography website, here, that much the same lineup were behind the Flamingos for Golden Teardrops.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Street Corner Soul final episode now on BBC iplayer

The final episode of Street Corner Soul was repeated last night on Radio 2 and will be available on BBC iplayer for one week - link here. Again, another highly enjoyable and recommended episode, with some titbits of information I had forgotten about.

Did you know, for example, that Maurice Williams' Little Darlin' and Stay were both inspired by the same girl and written when Williams was about fourteen? Or that the Five Satins' All Mine (a particular favourite) was only acapella because the band didn't show up? The issue of ripoffs (in the matter of songwriting) was only dealt with briefly at the end, as was the impact of the British invasion, but given the time available I still say that this series was as good as could be hoped for.

For example, Steve Propes was on hand to talk about Dootsie Williams and Dootone, so there could be no compolaints about the quality of interviewees throughout the series: everyone who is prominent on the internet was there. (And Maurice Williams himself was interviewed.)

Members of the Chantels - as in the Channel 4 series The Voice - recreated Look Into My Eyes, still sounding pretty good, all those years on: like the Flamingos, another example of church-inspired singing which wasn't gospel but which influenced doo wop. The Chantels were produced by Richard Barrett (both are pictured top), and it's interesting to discover that, as with Frankie Lymon, their hits were the result of numerous takes: the groups who recorded on tiny labels may not have had the opportunity to try for perfection, but some of the genre's biggest hits were the result of people like Barrett.

And for those still lamenting the loss of Mark Lamarr's show from Radio 2, it was good to hear Jesse Belvin's Goodnight My Love at the end, a fitting farewell and signoff from this exemplary series. I hope that it inspired at least some listeners to go out and find some of this music, or reminded others (like me) of its importance. If it is a dying art, then at least these four half hours give some indication to the novice of why it demands to be celebrated.

Friday, 24 August 2012

The Flamingos on Decca

More thoughts about the Flamingos - in particular their time at Decca Records (image from Marv Goldberg's highly recommended Flamingos page).

In between their stints at Chess Records in Chicago and George Goldner's End Records in New York, where they recorded the smash I Only Have Eyes for You, the Flamingos recorded a few sides for Decca in 1957-58, without much success.

What's odd about this is that even though the material is public domain in the UK it has not been issued on CD, as far as I know, with the exception of Ladder of Love, which can be found on the Jasmine CD Dream of a Lifetime (Rhino, willing to license material, had already issued it in the US on their Best of compilation). The Jasmine CD set is otherwise comprehensive for the group's pre-End work, so the omission is surprising.

I hadn't heard any of the other Decca sides till today but now I think I may have an explanation for their absence from CD. From the evidence of what's available on youtube, with the exception of Ladder of Love they're - well, variable, to put it kindly.  Some of the material and arrangements, are square. Like, uh, L7, Daddio. Kiss-a-Me and Helpless have female backing singers (white?) added to sweeten the mix. Kiss-a-Me isn't too bad but the climax of Helpless is dire: the voices of the Flamingos themselves are inaudible. It's a pity, because you can imagine how those songs might have been done with more restraint at Chess.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Programme about Parrot Records on Juke in the Back

While still Flamingos-minded after the previous posting, you can currently stream Matt the Cat's Juke in the Back episode about Chicago-based Parrot Records, the group's second label, on the PBX website here; sound quality is very good. There are only a couple of Flamingos sides featured but the show has a representative sample of the short-lived label's R&b and doo wop output and is an ideal introduction to its musical riches.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Doo wop documentary Street Corner Soul Episode 3 now on BBC iplayer for one week

What? No, that's just a screengrab. Find a direct iplayer link for Street Corner Soul Episode 3 here, assuming you are reading this within a week of its posting. I'm going to drop any pretence of critical assessment of this radio documentary series and simply urge you to listen to it if you want to learn, or to learn more, about doo wop. Each episode is on BBC iplayer for a week and you should be able to access it in America  as well.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

More info about You Have Two (I Have None) by the Orchids

Do I need an excuse for another reposting of a piece about the Orchids' sublime You Have Two (I Have None) aka Happiness? Well, as it happens, on this occasion I have one.

Looking on the net for lyrics to the song (couldn't find any) I came across a thread about another song, I See the Moon, on the excellent mudcat site, an invaluable resource for comparing and contrasting folk song variations and the like. If you are British and of a certain vintage - or if you are a Dennis Potter fan - you will know that rather strange recording by 50s vocal group the Stargazers.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The first and last picture show: Sister Suzie Cinema on Soundcloud

Good news if, like me, you love the acapella group 14 Karat Soul: the soundtrack for Sister Suzie Cinema is now available on streaming site SoundCloud.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

So take THAT, Galton and Simpson ...

Joyce Carol Oates in an interview published in the Guardian today:

Is there an art form you don't relate to?

Situation comedy on TV or stage. It distorts the complexity of the human soul.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Street Corner Soul Episode Two now on BBC iplayer

The second episode of Street Corner Soul has now been broadcast and will be available on BBC iplayer for one week. If you haven't heard the series and are even vaguely interested in doo wop I strongly recommend it.

Waterloo Sunset performed by Ray Davies at Olympics Closing Ceremony

Waterloo Sunset was the highlight of the Olympics' Closing Ceremony for me. Not sure how much the surrounding acrobatics, nor the (literal) flagwaving added to the song, but that's not really the point: it's an anthem, and it was great to see it being celebrated.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful - last chance!

I have just read that there will be a final performance of Reasons to Be Cheerful at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank on September 9th - click here for booking details. Below is an extract from an earlier post about seeing the show at Stratford East.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Country Girl and Jake Thackray documentary

Country Girl is my favourite Jake Thackray track, from the above album. Or LP, as we used to cry them.

I've written about it, and him, in more detail earlier on this blog, but it occurs to me just now that the beauty of this song is that it is both lyrical and mildly bawdy, that perhaps the two sides of his songwriting find perfect balance here. Okay, it probably won't get a BBC studio audience chortling - it's not a straight laff-o-rama - but it celebrates sex, nevertheless, as the more comic songs do, and it bears out his friend Colin Watson's claim that sexuality in his songs is a metaphor for the life force: without the prospect of a "good-looking boyo" what would life hold for the country girl? One line is enough to illustrate the confinement of her life otherwise:

Monday, 6 August 2012

Tops with Felix

I love this particular clip, this performance. You can't quite see that it's introduced by Julie Felix, so presumably it comes from one of those Saturday night BBC Light Entertainment shows of the sort favoured by Bill Cotton - think she had a series called Once More With Felix - but it could so easily have been Cliff or Rolf or Cilla doing the honours. It was included in a recent repeated compilation show of Motown acts at the BBC.

Why is it so good? Well, it sounds like the vocals are live for a kickoff, even though with those mikes for the backing singers you can't be sure. And Levi Stubbs' mike seems to pick up every note, despite its being tossed back and forth all the time.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Street-Corner-Solicited Testimonials

In an effort to shame the BBC (no, I don't really think it'll work either) below are extracts from two reviews of the original broadcast of Street Corner Soul (to read earlier post about the programme, click here).

And I suppose I have to admit that the second review also hints at why this repeat may have been curtailed. Whatever doo wop enthusiasts may feel about the form, it is unlikely that there will be a worldwide conversion - or reconversion - to this form of music at this late stage.

And whatever the plaudits for Jersey Boys - a musical I saw and enjoyed - doo wop it ain't, even though doo wop songs feature early on: it's a turbocharged, brightened, poppified thing, accurately reflecting what the Four Seasons brought to the form. And good luck to it; I have just recommended it to Clarke, in fact.

No, the nearest I have got to seeing what I'd consider a a doo wop musical was Sister Suzie Cinema, almost thirty years ago; Kat and the Kings, which I remember discussing with Clarke on the Kewl Steve board (you can read it here) was a big disappointment for me when I eventually saw a revival in London; I walked out after the first half.

This is getting away from the point of the post but I'll briefly say why. The revival was at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn and I got the impression, rightly or wrongly, that the performance were making it more feelgood than it might have been. Also, the instrumentation meant there wasn't much of a chance to enjoy the singing. Yes, yes, it wasn't staged for the likes of me and the rest of the audience were enthusiastic and I was probably the only walkout.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Lou Reed's Record Collection

The Word - a magazine I ought to have read more often than I did - is shortly to be no more; its final edition is in UK shops just now.

Others will be better placed to eulogise; I only mention it because skimming through its last hurrah reminded me of an early post on this blog, and a matter which has been occupying me on and off for some time, namely the content of Lou Reed's record collection, stolen in the sixties.

In an interview with John Medd in the final edition of The Word he mentions a few artists presumably among those purloined, and it's gratifying to see that he liked "anything by the Flamingos" and the Diablos' The Wind, a near neighbour of Flamingos recordings at their ethereal best: