Saturday, December 31, 2011

ALONE - Judy Garland

YEAR: 1957

LABEL: Capitol

TRACK LISTING: By Myself, Little Girl Blue, Me and My Shadow, Among My Souvenirs, I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues, I Get the Blues When It Rains, Mean To Me, How About Me?, Just A Memory, Blue Prelude, Happy New Year

BONUS TRACKS: Then You've Never Been Blue (studio outtake)

IMPRESSIONS: Here we have a relative rarity: a Judy Garland concept album. The only other one I can think of is "THE LETTER". This is what I like to call one of those great old "slash your wrists" albums which would make a terrific companion to those Sinatra albums "ONLY THE LONELY" and "IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS". This is also probably why it's the only Judy Garland album I own. The songs are themed around loneliness and melancholy blues but many of the songs are paradoxically arranged in a rather peppy upbeat manner; sort of like Judy is depressed but trying to put a brave face on it all. La Garland is in fine voice and still at the top of her game. And the fog-enshrouded, overcast beach on which Judy stands in her pearls and yellow coat strike the perfect mood before you even drop the needle on the album.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: By Myself, Little Girl Blue, Among My Souvenirs, I Gotta Right To Sing the Blues, I Get the Blues When It Rains, Mean To Me, How About Me?, Just A Memory, Happy New Year

FACT SHEET: ALONE is Judy Garland's third 12-inch LP for Capitol Records. The album was arranged by Gordon Jenkins and produced by Kingston Trio producer Voyle Gilmour (!).

Friday, December 30, 2011

NEVERMIND - NIRVANA



YEAR: 1991

LABEL: DGC / Geffen

TRACK LISTING: Smells Like Teen Spirit, In Bloom, Come As You Are, Breed, Lithium, Polly, Territorial Pissings, Drain You, Lounge Act, Stay Away, On A Plain, Something in the Way

BONUS TRACKS: Endless Nameless (hidden track on some copies of cd)

IMPRESSIONS: This is the biggie; the atomic blast of grunge. I do actually think that it deserves that title even though it's not even my favourite Nirvana album and I always preferred Pearl Jam's "TEN". "NEVERMIND" is also an album which I rarely listen to; due to the obvious toll of overfamiliarity from its constant play back in the day. However, "Smells Like Teen Spirit", derivative of the Pixies as it may be, I still never tire of hearing. . . it has still not lost any of its power and, as a fan of the Pixies as well, I have to say it out-Pixies them. The Pixies never produced an anthem to equal "Teen Spirit". I think one of the things which keeps "NEVERMIND" from getting much rotation with me nowadays is that it is just a little bit too "pop hooky" for me; songs like "Come As You Are" and "Lithium" got so much radio play because they were filled with pop hooks; Kurt Cobain realized this which is why he wanted the album to sound "extra-heavy". However, brilliant songs like the disturbing "Polly" and the chilly "Something in the Way" or even the manically silly "Territorial Pissings" are always welcome with me.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Smells Like Teen Spirit, Lithium, Polly, Territorial Pissings, Something In the Way

FACT SHEET: NEVERMIND is Nirvana's second album. Butch Vig (later of Garbage) is the producer. The album has been certified diamond (10 million copies) and has sold over 30 million worldwide. Kurt Cobain described the album as sounding like "the Bay City Rollers getting molested by Black Flag". The original working title for the album was "Sheep". The iconic album cover photo features three-month-old Spencer Elden. Because the child's penis is visible, Geffen prepared an alternate cover but Kurt Cobain would only accept a sticker covering the penis which read: "If you're offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile". "Territorial Pissings" begins with bassist Krist Novoselic singing an excerpt from "Get Together" out of tune.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

MERRY CHRISTMAS - Johnny Mathis

YEAR: 1958

LABEL: Columbia

TRACK LISTING: Winter Wonderland, The Christmas Song, Sleigh Ride, Blue Christmas, I'll Be Home For Christmas, White Christmas, O Holy Night, What Child Is This?, The First Noel, Silver Bells, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, Silent Night

IMPRESSIONS: This has to be one of the greatest Christmas albums of all time. A perennial listen every December I've been alive, this was Mathis' first and best Christmas album (and he's made a few, let me tell you). This is one of those handful of albums which I can't go a Christmas season without listening to.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Every single one of them.

FACT SHEET: MERRY CHRISTMAS was Johnny Mathis' sixth album (not counting a "greatest hits" as well as his very first Christmas album. It was produced by Columbia mogul Mitch Miller and features Percy Faith and his Orchestra. The album repeatedly made the top of the charts hitting #3 in 1959, #10 in 1960 and #12 in 1962.
RAMONES - The Ramones

YEAR: 1976

LABEL: Sire

TRACK LISTING: Blitzkrieg Bop, Beat On the Brat, Judy Is A Punk, I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend, Chain Saw, Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue, I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement, Loudmouth, Havana Affair, Listen To My Heart, 53rd & 3rd, Let's Dance, I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You, Today Your Love Tomorrow the World

IMPRESSIONS: The foundation document of punk rock. Deservedly considered one of the most influential albums of all time. Listening to it today, it perhaps startles the listener to hear just how slow it is. Back in the day, it was considered to have a tempo which was ridiculously sped up but after the days of thrash and speed metal, the album seems positively laid back. Which is something of a plus since now the naysayers can actually open their ears and listen to the terrific songwriting going on here. Besides the immortal "Blitzkrieg Bop", "Beat On the Brat" and "Judy Is A Punk", another favourite of mine is the horror-film inspired "I Don't Wanna Go Down To the Basement" which only features three lines in the lyric (as well as only three chords) and is hilariously the longest song on the album!

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Blitzkrieg Bop, Beat On the Brat, Judy Is A Punk, Chain Saw, Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue, I Don't Wanna Go Down To the Basement, Havana Affair, Listen To My Heart, 53rd & 3rd, Let's Dance, I Don't Wanna Walk Around with You, Today Your Love Tomorrow the World

FACT SHEET: RAMONES is the Ramone's first album and is considered the start of the punk rock genre in music. The album was particularly championed by the British who would shortly take inspiration from it to create their own monumental punk rock movement with the Sex Pistols, the Clash et. al. The iconic cover photo was taken by Roberta Bayley and was made in a passport photo machine. Critic Robert Christgau described the album this way: "For me, it blows everything else off the radio." The Ramones got their name from Paul McCartney's use of the pseudonym "Paul Ramon" when checking into hotels.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

SINGS MERRY CHRISTMAS MUSIC - Perry Como

YEAR: 1956

LABEL: RCA/Camden

TRACK LISTING: Twas the Night Before Christmas, The Twelve Days of Christmas, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S, Joy To the World, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, The Christmas Song, That Christmas Feeling, I'll Be Home For Christmas, Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles), Jingle Bells, White Christmas, Winter Wonderland

IMPRESSIONS: From the dim, dark mists of the past, this Perry Como Christmas LP (with the cover shown above) was in my mother's record collection and I heard it at a very young age. Then somehow it disappeared! Then one day around 1979, I was shopping at Two Guys department store with my grandfather and what to my wondering eye should appear but this long-lost and dimly-recalled album (this time with the white background album cover). I snapped it up with fiendish glee (as well as the Bing Crosby "MERRY CHRISTMAS" album mentioned further down) and brought it home. Dropping the needle down on the outer groove, the saccharine-sweet sounds of the violin on the opening track flooded me with memories as I listened to "Twas the Night Before Christmas"; this is still my favourite rendition. Como's "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is also probably my ultimate version of the "traditional" version of this song. As I listened to the whole album, all these previously forgotten songs immediately sprang from the back of my cranium in instant recognition. Rarely can you buy this feeling. And that's why I've got this album posted here. It's another which brings back that nostalgic old Christmas on Linwood Avenue with the wood-panelled walls and the Lionel trains.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Twas the Night Before Christmas, The Twelve Days of Christmas, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S, Joy To the World, Frosty the Snowman, I'll Be Home For Christmas, Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles), Winter Wonderland

FACT SHEET: PERRY COMO SINGS MERRY CHRISTMAS MUSIC is the slightly unwieldy title of Como's first Christmas album which went through several editions in the early days of the LP. First in 1956, Como's previously released Christmas recordings were gathered together by RCA Victor in a 10" LP using this title in 1951. RCA then released the current version of the album as a 12" LP (with a couple additional songs) in 1956. The version of the album released on the Camden label (an RCA subsidiary) with the above album cover is the one I remember and was released in 1961. The album features Ted Weems and his Orchestra.

Friday, December 23, 2011

WASTED . . . AGAIN - Black Flag

YEAR: 1987

LABEL: SST

TRACK LISTING: Wasted, T.V. Party, Six Pack, I Don't Care, I've Had It, Jealous Again, Slip It In, Annihilate This Week, Loose Nut, Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie, Louie Louie, Drinking and Driving

IMPRESSIONS: This is a rather brief sorta "greatest hits" of Black Flag featuring the more "listener friendly" anthemic punch-your-head-through-a-wall songs and leaving out the more "difficult and demanding" material of the group. This is the album you want when you're in the mood for rage and boneheaded song topics. This is NOT a slam on the album but is meant as a compliment. There are sometimes in one's life when you just need to unleash some aggression and Black Flag is always there to help. I don't even drink beer and I wanna slam a beer can into my forehead to "Six Pack"; and there's no denying the everlasting charm of "T.V. Party". Now I dearly love Henry Rollins but my favourite singer for Black Flag has to be Keith Morris and his odd pronunciation. My favourite Black Flag song, after all, is "I Don't Care" sung by Morris.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Wasted, T.V. Party, Six Pack, I Don't Care, I've Had It, Jealous Again, Slip It In, Annihilate This Week, Loose Nut, Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie, Louie Louie, Drinking and Driving

FACT SHEET: WASTED. . .AGAIN is a "best of" collection released after the band's breakup in 1986. Considered to be one of the first hardcore punk bands, Black Flag was formed by guitar/songwriter Greg Ginn in Hermosa Beach, California in 1976. Vocals on "Wasted", "I Don't Care", "I've Had It" and "Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie" are by Keith Morris. Vocals on "Jealous Again" are by Ron Reyes. Vocals on "Six Pack" and "Louie Louis" are by Dez Cadena. Vocals on "T.V. Party", "Slip It In", "Annihilate This Week","Loose Nut" and "Drinking and Driving" are by Henry Rollins.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

SMALL CHANGE - Tom Waits

YEAR: 1976

LABEL: Asylum

TRACK LISTING: Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen), Step Right Up, Jitterbug Boy, I Wish I Was in New Orleans (In the Ninth Ward), The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me), Invitation to the Blues, Pasties and a G-String (At the Two O'Clock Club), Bad Liver and a Broken Heart (In Lowell), The One That Got Away, Small Change (Got Rained On With His Own .38), I Can't Wait To Get Off Work (And See My Baby On Montgomery Avenue)

IMPRESSIONS: Life on the road was taking its heavy toll and Tom Waits was drinking heavily during this time period and that sure comes through on this album. In his own words, Waits "...tried to resolve a few things as far as this cocktail-lounge, maudlin, crying-in-your-beer image that I have. There ain't nothin' funny about a drunk [...] I was really starting to believe that there was something amusing and wonderfully American about being a drunk. I ended up telling myself to cut that shit out." This is an album which goes a long way toward cementing Waits' image as a sad sack drunken piano player in a cigarette-smoke-filled dive with a voice that sounds like Louis Armstrong and subject matter that sounds like Raymond Chandler. However, no matter how sick Waits was at the time owing to his alcoholism, he still manages to inject quite a lot of humour in the proceedings preventing the album from being a total downer. The classic hilarity of "The Piano Has Been Drinking" and the deft wordplay of "Step Right Up" are prime examples. The sound is pure skid row with piano, stand-up bass, saxophone and drums accompanying Waits' patented "unreliable narrator"; there is also an occasional appearance by strings which anacronistically counterpoint with Waits' growl.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen), Step Right Up, Jitterbug Boy, I Wish I Was In New Orleans (In the Ninth Ward), The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me), Invitation to the Blues, The One That Got Away, Small Change (Got Rained On With His Own .38), I Can't Wait To Get Off Work (And See My Baby on Montgomery Avenue)

FACT SHEET: SMALL CHANGE is Tom Waits' fourth album. It was surprisingly successful making it to #89 on the Billboard Top 100: the highest ranking until 1999's "MULE VARIATIONS". The superb cover photo features Waits in the dressing room of a topless go-go dancer thought to be professional showgirl Cassandra Peterson (aka Elvira, Mistress of the Dark) but I'm practically certain it ain't her. It looks nothing like her and she would've had bright red hair so it's most certainly another of those bogus internet rumours. "Tom Traubert's Blues" utilizes "Waltzing Matilda" although it slightly changes the melody; Waits has said that Tom Traubert was "a friend of a friend" who died in prison.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

RIB TIPS & PIG SNOOTS - Andre Williams

YEAR: 2000

LABEL: Soul-Tay-Shus

TRACK LISTING: Jivin' Around (Hit Version), Rib Tips Pt. 1 & 2, You Got It and I Want It, Do It Pt. 1 & 2 (Take 1), Pearl Time, Pig Snoots Pt. 1 & 2, Grapevine Pt. 1 & 2, Bassology, Hard Hustling, Soul Party a Go Go, Do It Pt. 1 & 2 (Take 2), Soul Groove, Loose Goose, Sweet Little Pussy Cat, Black Bull, Chicken Thighs, Jivin' Around (Alternate Take), I Wake Up Crying, Rudibaker's Christmas Wish

IMPRESSIONS: Any devotee of "Incredibly Strange Music" should be familiar with Andre Williams. His musical style has ranged from soul R&B, funky punk and sleaze rock. A truly wild cat. The music contained herein features a very strong groove throughout and features Williams' patented "talk-sing" approach. Even though most of his better-known songs are not here, this album does include some of my favourite Williams tracks including "Sweet Little Pussy Cat", the raunchy sax-driven rocker "Rib Tips", the dotty "Pig Snoots", funkified almost spy music-like "Jivin' Around" and even a delightfully dotty yuletide classic "Rudibaker's Christmas Wish". Yelllllllll-o baby, wanna dance?

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Jivin' Around (Hit Version), Rib Tips Pt. 1 & 2, You Got It and I Want It, Do It Pt. 1 & 2 (Take 1), Pig Snoots Pt. 1 & 2, Grapevine Pt. 1 & 2, Bassology, Loose Goose, Sweet Little Pussy Cat, Chicken Thighs, Rudibaker's Christmas Wish

FACT SHEET: RIB TIPS & PIG SNOOTS is a compilation of rare and unreleased tracks from the vaults of Avin, Sport and Wingate Records recorded between 1965 and 1971. Orphaned at age six, Williams was raised by what could be called his "aunties of the evening" until moving to Detroit where he struck up a friendship with Fortune Records owners Jack & Devora Brown. He joined the group "The 5 Dollars" in 1955 and then recorded as Andre Williams & the Don Juans". In 1957, Williams had a #9 hit with "Bacon Fat" whose success led the Browns to sell the rights to Epic Records; this successful single would be followed by "Jail Bait". Since these songs featured Williams "talking" instead of singing, he decided that was a better approach. In addition, Williams co-wrote Stevie Wonder's first single "Thank You For Loving Me" in the early 60s as well as the 1963 Five Du-Tones hit "Shake A Tail Feather" which would also be covered by Ike & Tina Turner. Williams would also supervise albums made by Motowns "The Contours", become manager and roadie for Edwin Starr and write songs for George Clinton's bands Parliament and Funkadelic. In the 1980s, Williams' drug addiction would cause him to become homeless. He would make a comeback in 1996 with the album "Mr. Rhythm" (a nickname bestowed on him by Redd Foxx) as well as 1998's "Silky" (which has been called "the world's sleaziest album ever"). Williams occasionally goes by the name "Rudibaker" or "Rutabaga" in which he speaks in a gravely voice .

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

PIECES OF EIGHT - Paul Page

YEAR: Unknown

LABEL: Unknown

TRACK LISTING: China Nights, When Sam Goes Back To Samoa, Beyond the Reef, The Reef Is Calling, Matey, Pieces of Eight, Ports O' Call, My Fiji Island Queen, Let's Have A Luau, Castaway, Sweet Someone, Bali Hai, Maui Chimes, Chicken Koona Kaai, Pacific Farewell Medley (Now Is the Hour/Phillipine Farewell/Sayanara/Maururu A Vai/Aloha Oe)

IMPRESSIONS: The sound of the (rather small-sounding) gong leads us into the halcyon days of the tiki/exotica craze of the 1950s and early 60s when Don the Beachcomber ruled the themed-restaurant/bar biz. Paul Page was an ex-model and radio DJ who performed in various of these tiki lounges and named his albums after whatever tiki lounge in which he was appearing. Thus we have PIECES OF EIGHT; named after the tiki lounge on Fiji Way at Marina Del Rey. No singer, Page intones verse inspired by Don Blanding's classic 1928 book of "beach bum" poetry "VAGABOND'S HOUSE" over instrumental Hawaiian-sounding backgrounds provided by the steel guitar of Bernie Kaii Lewis and the vocalizing of the Island-Aires (who actually sound more like the Sons of the Pioneers than any South Sea singing group). Page is the epitome of the middle-aged white guy "haole" in his captain's hat who fell in love with the South Pacific during and after World War II. If that's your idea of a good time (and it certainly is mine), then this album'll be a really good listen!

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Actually, the whole damn treasure chest of songs, matey!

FACT SHEET: Paul Page is an ex-model, newspaper editor, radio personality, fine arts painter and tiki exotica lounge act. During his stint performing in various tiki lounges, Page cut several albums named after each restaurant in which he was appearing in order to have something to sell to the punters. In the words of Paul Page interviewer Dominic Priore: "Paul Page sounded like none of them. What he accomplished in these individualistic recordings was unique. Completely based in a Hawaiian sound, his songs end up sounding like Polynesian sea shanties, with spoken word dramatics coloring the dynamic mix."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

SO - Peter Gabriel

YEAR: 1986

LABEL: Geffen

TRACK LISTING: Red Rain, Sledgehammer, Don't Give Up, That Voice Again, In Your Eyes, Mercy Street, Big Time, We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37), This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)

IMPRESSIONS: Here is another album I associate strongly with college as it is one I listened to constantly on my long commute to and from Glassboro State College. It is also an album which marks the exact moment of the end of the chapter of my life at Rustler which closed in May 1986. I remember the first time I listened to the album was during my morning drive to college and I hadn't even looked at the album notes. When "Don't Give Up" came on and I suddenly heard a voice that sounded like my idol Kate Bush I nearly drove off the road in surprise! The songs "Mercy Street" and "Red Rain" also hit a very strong chord with me; I don't really know why. I recall one summer night while I was waiting to go out, I strolled around my yard in the dark with "Mercy Street" playing on my headphones in my cassette Sony Walkman. It's a very peaceful and soothing song which is almost hypnotic and it stills affects me that way.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Red Rain, Sledgehammer, Don't Give Up, That Voice Again, In Your Eyes, Mercy Street, This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)

GUEST ARTISTS: Stewart Copeland (hi-hat on "Red Rain", drums on "Big Time"), Kate Bush (vocals on "Don't Give Up"), Youssou N'Dour (vocals on "In Your Eyes"), Jim Kerr (backing vocals on "In Your Eyes"), Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (backing vocals on "In Your Eyes"), Laurie Anderson (co-writer/vocals on "This Is the Picture [Excellent Birds]), Nile Rodgers (guitar on "This Is the Picture [Excellent Birds])

FACT SHEET: SO is Peter Gabriel's fifth album and his most commercially successful at quintuple platinum status. The album was produced by Daniel Lanois who worked on ambient recordings with Brian Eno as well as producing successful U2 albums. "Red Rain" was inspired by a recurring dream Gabriel had of swimming in red water; the song uses a lot of dream imagery and is a part of the "Story of Mozo": several songs which include the wandering character Mozo. "Red Rain" is one of Gabriel's favourites of his own songs. "Sledgehammer" is Gabriel's most successful single which also won an MTV Video Award for best video. The song features world music and Motown influences as well as use of the shakuhachi. "Don't Give Up" deals with economic hardship with Kate Bush dueting on encouraging and supportive counter-lyrics. "In Your Eyes" became a monster hit in 1989 after it was used in the film "SAY ANYTHING...". "Mercy Street" is dedicated to poet Anne Sexton and takes its title from her 1969 play. SO is the first Peter Gabriel album to have a title. Legend has it that the record label complained that Gabriel had to come up with a name for the album because all his others had none; Gabriel reportedly answered "So." However, Gabriel has said in interviews that the title actually means nothing; he simply liked the shape and form of the two letters. When SO was remastered to cd in 2002, "In Your Eyes" was moved to the final song on the album as Peter Gabriel originally intended; the limitations of vinyl had caused the song to be originally placed as the first song on side two. I will admit that this explanation makes no sense since the length of side two is not altered whether the song appears first or last on side two. I prefer the original track order. SO was awarded a retroactive Penguin Award for 1986 album of the year in 2010.
BREAKING HEARTS - Elton John



YEAR: 1984

LABEL: Geffen/MCA

TRACK LISTING: Restless, Slow Down Georgie (She's Poison), Who Wears These Shoes?, Breaking Hearts (Ain't What It Used To Be), Li'l 'Frigerator, Passengers, In Neon, Burning Buildings, Did He Shoot Her?, Sad Songs (Say So Much)

IMPRESSIONS: This album strangely has a lot of associations for me: a) it's a major Rustler record, b) it is strongly associated with my friend Paul and c) it is strongly associated with college. I had always liked Elton John but it wasn't until becoming friends with Paul at my new (and first) job at Rustler Steak House that I became a big fan. Paul was a huge fan and would have Elton John playing a great deal on our many road trips. The BREAKING HEARTS album was the first new album that came out during this time and I really got into it. As for the college association, I actually bought the vinyl LP at the college store at Glassboro State. Back then, before I owned a cd player, I would tape the record onto cassette and the BREAKING HEARTS album was on A LOT in my car tape deck during the long commute back and forth to college. It contains a few of my favourite Elton songs: "Burning Buildings", "In Neon" and "Restless" and its an album I'm quite fond of.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Restless, Slow Down Georgie (She's Poison), Who Wears These Shoes?, Breaking Hearts (Ain't What It Used To Be), Li'l 'Frigerator, Passengers, In Neon, Burning Buildings, Did He Shoot Her?

FACT SHEET: BREAKING HEARTS is Elton John's 18th studio album. The album features the "classic lineup" of Davey Johnstone (guitar), Dee Murray (bass) and Nigel Olsson (drums). This would be the last Elton John album to feature Dee Murray on bass before his death in 1992 and the last album to feature Nigel Olsson on drums until 2001's "SONGS FROM THE WEST COAST". BREAKING HEARTS is also the first album since VICTIM OF LOVE not to feature a string section or horn section on any track. The album went platinum and featured 3 singles: "Who Wears These Shoes?", "Passengers" and the #5 hit single "Sad Songs (Say So Much). The album was recorded by Elton's future wife Renate Blauel.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

THAT'S HOW RHYTHM WAS BORN - The Boswell Sisters

YEAR: 1995

LABEL: Legacy/Columbia

TRACK LISTING: Rock and Roll, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Louisiana Hayride, Shuffle Off To Buffalo, Sophisticated Lady, Song of Surrender, Sleep Come On and Take Me, That's How Rhythm Was Born, The Sentimental Gentleman from Georgia, Coffee in the Morning and Kisses in the Night, Forty-Second Street, Minnie the Moocher's Wedding Day, The Darktown Strutters' Ball, If I Had A Million Dollars, It's Written All Over Your Face, Charlie Two-Step, Trav'lin' All Alone, St. Louis Blues, Dinah, The Object of My Affection

IMPRESSIONS: I first saw and heard the Boswell Sisters in the odd little 1932 film "THE BIG BROADCAST" around 1979 on my local PBS TV station and I fell in love with their early-30's girl group sound which obviously had a huge influence on the later Andrews Sisters and countless other female trios. No less a personage than Ella Fitzgerald loved the Boswell Sisters and particularly idolized Connee Boswell; Ella patterned her singing style after her. Born in Louisiana, the Boswells not only had an authenticity but also didn't take themselves too seriously resulting in an easy, relaxed singing style. This cd compilation, which I believe I picked up unsuspecting in a "Nobody Beats the Wiz" store is a solid representation of the Boswells at the peak of their career. And the art deco design of the cover puts you immediately in the proper frame of mind.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Louisiana Hayride, Shuffle Off To Buffalo, Sophisticated Lady, Sleep Come On and Take Me, The Sentimental Gentleman from Georgia, Coffee in the Morning and Kisses in the Night, Forty-Second Street, Minnie the Moocher's Wedding Day, The Darktown Strutters Ball, If I Had A Million Dollars, Trav'lin' All Alone, St. Louis Blues, Dinah, The Object of My Affection

GUEST ARTISTS: The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra

FACT SHEET: The Boswell Sisters were Martha (who played piano), Helvetia or "Vet" (violin, banjo & guitar) and Connee (cello, saxophone & guitar) who were renowned for their intricate vocal harmonies and rhythmic experimentation. They recorded for Victor and Okeh Records before cutting sides for Brunswick Records between 1931-1935 which are generally considered milestones in vocal jazz. Connee reworked the melodies and rhythms of popular songs; melodies were slowed down or rearranged, major keys were changed to minor and rhythmic changes were experimented with. The Boswells were one of the few artists allowed to alter popular songs for their recordings as music publishers and record companies pressured performers at the time not to change the arrangements of popular songs. Connee Boswell's legs were paralyzed from a childhood accident and she changed the spelling of her name from "Connie" in the 1940s because it made it easier to sign autographs. The Boswell Sisters signed to Decca Records in 1936 but only recorded three records before ending the group. Connee went on to have a successful solo recording career at Decca. All the recordings on this album derive from the period between the years 1932-1935.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

EDEN'S ISLAND - Eden Ahbez

YEAR: 1960

LABEL: Del-Fi

TRACK LISTING: Eden's Island, The Wanderer, Myna Bird, Eden's Cove, Tradewind, Full Moon, Mongoose, Market Place, Banana Boy, The Old Boat, Island Girl, La Mar

IMPRESSIONS: A cornerstone of the lounge/exotica genre. With his Christ-like long hair and beard, his Far Eastern philosophy and his barefoot beach bum lifestyle, Eden Ahbez was a hippy long before there existed such a thing. This album features the tropical instrumentation integral to exotica lounge music of the 50's and early 60s much like the works of Les Baxter, Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman and scads of others. No real singer, Ahbez intones poetically over half of the instrumental tracks. My favourite song (and something of an obsession) is "Full Moon" which one night, when I was feeling particularly lost and pensive, I played on endless repeat for hours in my car as I drove around during a gorgeous summer night with my car windows all open and the twinkling stars swirling overhead. The song probably prevented me from walking in front of a bus.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Eden's Island, The Wanderer, Myna Bird, Eden's Cove, Tradewind, Full Moon, Market Place, La Mar

FACT SHEET: EDEN'S ISLAND is Eden Ahbez's one and only album. It wasn't a success. Only years later during the 90's lounge music boom did the album gain notoriety; until then it was only a much sought-after relic by those rabid record collectors interested in "incredibly strange music". Eden Ahbez (born Alexander Aberle in Brooklyn) hit it big when his song "Nature Boy" was recorded by Nat King Cole and went to number one in the Billboard charts in 1948.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

HAPPY HOLIDAYS: I LOVE THE WINTER WEATHER - Jo Stafford

YEAR: 1955/1956

LABEL: Hanover Music Corp.

TRACK LISTING: Happy Holiday, Winter Weather, Sleigh Ride, By the Fireside, I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm, Jingle Bells/Winter Wonderland, Toyland, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, March of the Toys, The Christmas Song, I Wonder As I Wander, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night, Hanover Winter Song, It Happened in Sun Valley, June In January, Whiffenpoof Song, Baby It's Cold Outside, The Nearness of You, Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!, Moonlight In Vermont, Happy Holiday (Reprise)

IMPRESSIONS: There's just something about Christmas in the 1950s! One of the best voices to evoke this fifties yuletide feeling is Jo Stafford; her smooth croon is so incredibly warm when singing the slow romantic ballads designed to snuggle up in front of a ski lodge fireplace with such songs as "Moonlight In Vermont", "The Nearness of You" and "June In January". However, Stafford also excels at the up-tempo swing contained in "Winter Weather", "It Happened In Sun Valley" and "Let It Snow!". This album (or should I say "albums") makes a perfect listening companion with Dean Martin's "A WINTER ROMANCE".

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Winter Weather, Sleigh Ride, By the Fireside, I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm, Jingle Bells/Winter Wonderland, The Christmas Song, I Wonder As I Wander, It Happened In Sun Valley, June In January, The Nearness of You, Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!, Moonlight In Vermont

GUEST ARTISTS: The Starlighters (vocals), The Norman Luboff Choir (vocals)

FACT SHEET: HAPPY HOLIDAYS collects two of Jo Stafford's albums: "HAPPY HOLIDAY" (1955) and "SKI TRAILS" (1956). The album features Paul Weston and His Orchestra; Paul Weston was Jo Stafford's husband.

Monday, December 12, 2011

MERRY CHRISTMAS - Bing Crosby

YEAR: 1955

LABEL: Decca/MCA

TRACK LISTING: Silent Night, Adeste Fideles, White Christmas, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Faith of Our Fathers, I'll Be Home For Christmas, Jingle Bells, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, Silver Bells, It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, Christmas in Killarney, Mele Kalikimaka

IMPRESSIONS: Maybe the number one venerable Christmas warhorse, this collection of Bing Crosby's Christmas 78's probably signifies Christmas more than any other. Bing stumbles the most with his overly dour and deadly heavy version of "Faith of Our Fathers"; however his equally serious renditions of "Silent Night" and "Adeste Fideles" come across with a great deal of warmth. Bing is more at home with the lighter material like "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" and his pairings with the Andrews Sisters are so classic that Barry Manilow did a note for note recreation of "Jingle Bells" with girl group Expose and Frank Sinatra did a similar "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" with Cyndi Lauper. The "ethnic" Christmas novelty songs "Christmas In Killarney" and "Mele Kalikimaka" are both great fun as well. And all this, of course, is wrapped around the biggest selling Christmas single of all time; even though this version is NOT Bing's original recording it IS the better one. Bing's Christmas album is also the perfect soundtrack to play while you're giving your children a Christmas beating.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Silent Night, Adeste Fideles, White Christmas, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, I'll Be Home For Christmas, Jingle Bells, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, Silver Bells, It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, Christmas In Killarney, Mele Kalikimaka

GUEST ARTISTS: The Andrews Sisters (vocals on "Jingle Bells", "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" and "Mele Kalikimaka"), Carol Richards (vocals on "Silver Bells"), The Ken Darby Singers (vocals on "Silent Night"), The John Scott Trotter Orchestra (on "Silent Night", "Faith of Our Fathers" and "I'll Be Home For Christmas")

FACT SHEET: The original version of Bing Crosby's "MERRY CHRISTMAS" album was released by Decca Records in 1945; it was a collection of individual 78 rpm records collected together in a sleeved album. In 1949, after the introduction of the LP, Decca released "MERRY CHRISTMAS" as a 10 inch LP containing 8 songs. In 1950, the album was then released as a 45 rpm box set. Finally, the complete album as we now know it was released as a proper 12 inch LP in 1955 and the current cover featuring Bing in his Santa cap. In 1986, the album was issued on compact disc by MCA Records (Decca's parent company) and in 1992 Universal Music Group (MCA's successor) changed the name of the album to "WHITE CHRISTMAS" and that is the version available today. The PROPER title for the album though is "MERRY CHRISTMAS" and no Johnny-come-lately record label is going to change that in my mind; especially since the current version has much worse sound quality than the earlier 80s MCA cd; this probably owes to the fact that the original 1940s acetates and glass masters and the 1950s tapes were probably destroyed in the 2008 fire on the Universal Studios lot. "Adeste Fideles", "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Faith of Our Fathers" were recorded on June 8, 1942. "Jingle Bells" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" were recorded on September 29, 1943. "I'll Be Home For Christmas" was recorded October 1, 1943. "Silent Night" and "White Christmas" were recorded March 19, 1947. "Mele Kalikimaka" was recorded September 7, 1950 and "Silver Bells" was recorded September 8, 1950. "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas" and "Christmas in Killarney" were recorded on October 1, 1951.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

THE CHRISTMAS SONG - The Bunny Hoppers



YEAR: c. 1975

LABEL: Rocking Horse Records

TRACK LISTING: The Chipmunk Song, Santa Claus Rudolph & Us, The Childrens' Party, Trains & Boats & Candy & Drums, The Candy Kids Christmas Caper, Sing A Song of Christmas, The Reindeer Rocks, Sitting On Top of Christmas, That's How It All Began, A Christmas Package Wrapped In Love

IMPRESSIONS: This is one of those children's Christmas records you picked up at the supermarket in the 70s. And that's what I did. Staying at my grandparents' house in Pennsauken, I went to the Holiday supermarket with my grandmother and picked up this Chipmunks "homage". Although obviously one of the countless Chipmunks ripoffs out there, this one actually was pretty good and got frequent play from this 10 year old. The usual "sped up" Chipmunks voices served for the three "Bunny Hoppers" while a deep-voiced baritone voiced Santa. This was not the first nor last Christmas record I would pick up at the Holiday supermarket in my 70s youth. So watch out!

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Is there any way not to choose ALL of them? Oh well then . . . . Santa Claus Rudolph and Us, The Childrens' Party, Trains and Boats and Candy and Drums, The Candy Kids Christmas Caper, Sitting On Top of Christmas, That's How It All Began, A Christmas Package Wrapped In Love

FACT SHEET: Are you kidding? Well actually, this album is one of the rarest "unknown band" recordings done in the 70s. The Chipmunk-like sped-up vocals actually belong to John Lennon, Elton John and Neil Sedaka! As something of a lark, these three (owing to Elton's friendship with Lennon as well as his championing of Sedaka's 70's comeback through his own Rocket Records) decided to record a children's Christmas album in such a way that their voices would not be recognized. Enter: chipmunk voices. This bit of trivia is not generally known other than a small mention in Philip Norman's biography of Elton John under a monumental listing of Elton John's complete recordings. It has also been rumoured that the album features drumming by Ringo Starr.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

WORDS & MUSIC - Benny Hill

YEAR: 1972

LABEL: EMI

TRACK LISTING: Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West), Anna Marie, Broken-Hearted Lovers Stew, Colleen, Rachel, The Beach at San Tropez, Suzy, Ting-a-Ling-a-Loo, The Dustbins of Your Mind, Fad-Eyed Fal, Ted, Tour Guide, Interview (featuring Lesley Goldie), Making a Commercial, The Birds and the Bees

IMPRESSIONS: I first had my brain warped by the discovery of Benny Hill at the age of 11 when he was first syndicated in the U.S. on Channel 29 every night at 11pm. My schoolmates and I never missed an episode and we'd even audiotape the shows (this was before VCRs, know-nothing tots) and memorize them for school lunchroom hijinx. Sometime a year or so later, I stumbled across the Benny Hill LP and snapped it up (I was already a fan of MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS and had those albums as well). There was nothing like hearing good-quality stereo versions of the songs we knew from the fuzzy UHF broadcasts of THE BENNY HILL SHOW.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West), Anna Marie, Broken-Hearted Lovers Stew, Colleen, Rachel, The Beach at San Tropez, Ting-a-Ling-a-Loo, Fad-Eyed Fal, Ted, Interview (with Lesley Goldie), Making a Commercial, The Birds and the Bees

GUEST ARTISTS: Lesley Goldie

FACT SHEET: This album goes by almost as many titles Led Zeppelin's fourth album. Originally known as "BENNY HILL SINGS ERNIE (THE FASTEST MILKMAN IN THE WEST)", the album was released after the success of Benny's hit single "Ernie" at Christmas 1971; this is the single that kept T. Rex out of the number one spot on the U.K. music chart. The vinyl album I got originally was called "WORDS & MUSIC" but it was also known as "THIS IS BENNY HILL". To make matters more complicated, the cd version I bought in the 1990s is just called "ERNIE" but it has the same cover photo as "WORDS & MUSIC"; (the original "ERNIE" LP had different cover artwork. Whew! The music tracks ("Ernie" through "Fad-Eyed Fal") are studio recordings while the spoken-word comedy tracks ("Ted" through "The Birds and the Bees") are all audio taken directly from "THE BENNY HILL SHOW" television programme and feature a live studio audience.

Friday, December 9, 2011

LED ZEPPELIN - LED ZEPPELIN


YEAR: 1971

LABEL: Atlantic

TRACK LISTING: Black Dog, Rock and Roll, The Battle of Evermore, Stairway To Heaven, Misty Mountain Hop, Four Sticks, Going To California, When the Levee Breaks

IMPRESSIONS: The monster. What's to say about this album? A rock solid listen from stem to stern. All this and the angelic voice of Sandy Denny as well!

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: All of 'em.

GUEST ARTISTS: Sandy Denny (vocals on "The Battle of Evermore"), Ian Stewart (piano on "Rock and Roll")

FACT SHEET: LED ZEPPELIN is Led Zeppelin's fourth album. It is not entitled "LED ZEPPELIN IV" although that is how it's usually known (owing to the numerical names of their first three albums); it has also been known as "FOUR SYMBOLS", "THE FOURTH ALBUM", "RUNES", "ZOSO" (after Jimmy Page's "rune"), or "UNTITLED". At 32 million sold, the album is one of the best selling albums in the world with 23 million sold in the U.S. making it the third best-selling album in the U.S. The four runes were created by the four band members to represent themselves. Jimmy Page's rune (which looks like "ZOSO") he claims he created himself; some say it is a symbol for Saturn dating to 1557. John Paul Jones' rune is a circle intersecting three vesica pisces called a triquetra from Rudolf Koch's "BOOK OF SIGNS" representing confidence and competence. John Bonham's rune is three interlocking rings (also from Koch's book) which represents mother, father and child (but also is the logo of Ballantine beer). Robert Plant's rune is a feather inside a circle is a design the singer created based on a supposed symbol from the lost civilisation of Mu. Sandy Denny also has her own "rune" appearing in the credits list in the liner notes: three triangles touching at their points. The famous cover features a 19th century painting purchased by Plant at an antique shop in Reading, Berkshire affixed to the wall of a partly-demolished suburban house; the cover was chosen by the Royal Mail in January 2010 as one of their ten "Classic Album Covers" stamps.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

SOUTHERN ACCENTS - Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

YEAR: 1985

LABEL: MCA

TRACK LISTING: Rebels, It Ain't Nothin' To Me, Don't Come Around Here No More, Southern Accents, Make It Better (Forget About Me), Spike, Dogs On the Run, Mary's New Car, The Best of Everything

IMPRESSIONS: My favourite Tom Petty album (not that I have that many of them in my collection to choose from -- I only have 3 not counting greatest hits and live stuff). This is the album where Petty famously broke his hand by punching a wall in frustration because he couldn't get the sound he was looking for on "Rebels"; he required hand surgery and pins to put his hand back together.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Rebels, It Ain't Nothin' To Me, Don't Come Around Here No More, Southern Accents, Make It Better (Forget About Me), Spike, The Best of Everything

GUEST ARTISTS: Garth Hudson (keyboards), Jim Keltner (percussion), Richard Manuel (vocals), Jack Nitzsche (strings, string arrangements), Jimmy Iovine (producer), Robbie Robertson (producer), Dave Stewart (bass, guitar, keyboards, sitar, vocals, producer)

FACT SHEET: SOUTHERN ACCENTS is Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' sixth album. The cover painting is by Winslow Homer. The album took three years to make and was originally meant to be a concept album about southern attitudes and identity; however only the songs "Rebels", "Southern Accents" and "Spike" deal with that theme. Album closer "The Best of Everything" was not only produced by "The Band's" Robbie Robertson but also features Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel; the track is one of the last recordings made by Manuel before his suicide in 1986.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

MY FAIR LADY - Original Soundtrack

YEAR: 1964

LABEL: CBS

TRACK LISTING: Overture, Why Can't the English?, Wouldn't It Be Loverly, I'm Just an Ordinary Man, With A Little Bit of Luck, Just You Wait, The Rain In Spain, I Could Have Danced All Night, Ascot Gavotte, On the Street Where You Live, You Did It, Show Me, Get Me To the Church On Time, A Hymn To Him, Without You, I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face

BONUS TRACKS: (from the later CD version): Servants Chorus, Ascot Gavotte (Reprise), Intermission, Transylvanian March, Embassy Waltz, Just You Wait (Reprise), Finale, Exit Music

IMPRESSIONS: I always associate this movie with Christmas because back around 1980 for a few years the pay channel "Prism" would show it at Christmastime. I was given the vinyl LP of this soundtrack by my friend Ed Jacoby. A few years later, I was involved in my high school production of MY FAIR LADY along with my friend Paul (who is now an award-winning acting coach/director/casting agent) who played the role of Alfred P. Doolittle so I have a definite soft spot for the musical. I don't like hardly any Broadway musicals so this is one of the few. Purists will no doubt scoff at this point because I've got the film soundtrack up here instead of the "real" Broadway soundtrack album with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. Well, I actually own both. And while the 1956 original Broadway cast recording does have the wonderful performance by Julie Andrews (who was screwed out of the movie role but got her revenge by winning the Oscar for MARY POPPINS), truth be told Rex Harrison's performance of the songs is better in the film version than the Broadway recording. Doubtless this derives from the fact that he had that many more performances under his belt to hone his song delivery for the movie. That being said, BOTH versions are excellent . . . but I'm not going to be redundant and post BOTH albums of the exact same songs here. At least not anytime soon!

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Why Can't the English?. Wouldn't It Be Loverly, I'm Just an Ordinary Man, With A Little Bit of Luck, Just You Wait, I Could Have Danced All Night, Ascot Gavotte, On the Street Where You Live, Get Me To the Church On Time, A Hymn To Him, I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face

FACT SHEET: MY FAIR LADY is the original 1964 soundtrack album to the film. It features Rex Harrison, Marni Nixon, Audrey Hepburn (spoken dialogue), Wilfrid Hyde-White, Stanley Holloway, Bill Shirley (dubbing Jeremy Brett's singing), Mona Washbourne and Gladys Cooper. The Warner Bros. orchestra is conducted by Andre Previn. The film is based on the George Bernard Shaw play "PYGMALION" and won eight Academy Awards.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

THE LAST MONTH OF THE YEAR - The Kingston Trio

YEAR: 1960

LABEL: Capitol

TRACK LISTING: Bye Bye Thou Little Tiny Child, The White Snows of Winter, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, All Through the Night, Good Night My Baby, Go Where I Send Thee, Follow Now Oh Shepherds, Somerset Gloucestershire Wassail, Mary Mild, A Round About Christmas, Sing We Noel, The Last Month of the Year

IMPRESSIONS: Here is another of those priceless Christmas records from my childhood; very few mean more to me than this album. In first or second grade I took the record into school because I loved it so much and we were supposed to bring in our favourite Christmas records to play in class. While waiting outside for the bell to head into the building, the record slid out of the sleeve and whacked edge-on on the sidewalk; resulting in a chip out of the record's edge which took out the first few seconds of the first song on each side of the record. In 1992, Capitol Records finally re-issued the album on cd. I secretly bought it (this was in the summer) and popped it into the cd player. I then told my mother to come into the living room and listen to this new cd I got. When the first few notes of "Bye Bye Thou Little Tiny Child" began playing, she literally burst into tears of joy. THAT'S how much this album means to my mother and to myself.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Bye Bye Thou Little Tiny Child, The White Snows of Winter, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, All Through the Night, Go Where I Send Thee, Follow Now Oh Shepherds, Somerset Gloucestershire Wassail, A Round About Christmas, Sing We Noel, The Last Month of the Year

GUEST ARTISTS: David "Buck" Wheat (bass, guitar)

FACT SHEET: THE LAST MONTH OF THE YEAR is the Kingston Trio's eighth album. This is the original trio consisting of Dave Guard, Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds. Besides doing vocals, Dave Guard plays banjo, guitar and bouzouki, Bob Shane plays guitar and banjo and Nick Reynolds plays tenor guitar and bongos. And like all the others, this album was produced by Voyle Gilmour. The album is generally considered the trio's most ambitious musically and, perhaps for that reason and the fact that it doesn't consist of the usual run of the mill Christmas songs, it was the first Trio album to fall below expected sales projections. In the words of Nick Reynolds: "It wasn't your standard Christmas album. That's why we called it 'The Last Month of the Year'. It was a pretty complicated little album, some very intricate stuff. Dave (Guard) brought in a lot of the arrangements with stuff like bouzouki instrumentation; Buckwheat (David Wheat, the Trio's bassist) played some wonderful gut-string guitar. We really worked hard on that one, laying down a lot of the instrumental tracks before we did the vocals, working on harmonies over and over. David (Guard) was responsible for a lot of that album, but we all brought things in... Musically, it came off very well; it just didn't sell." Allmusic critic David A. Milberg calls the album "An essential part of any Christmas album collection, these are true Christmas folk songs, from spirituals to Old English rounds."

Monday, December 5, 2011

SINGS SONGS OF CHRISTMAS - Mahalia Jackson


YEAR: 1995

LABEL: Sony

TRACK LISTING: O Holy Night, What Child Is This?, Silver Bells, No Room at the Inn, O Come All Ye Faithful, O Little Town of Bethlehem, A Star Stood Still (Song of the Nativity), Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, The Holy Babe, Sweet Little Jesus Boy, The First Noel, What Can I Give, Silent Night Holy Night, Go Tell It On the Mountain, Joy To the World, I Wonder As I Wander, Mary's Little Boy Child, White Christmas

IMPRESSIONS: The true "Voice of an Angel" is Mahalia Jackson; not some precocious British bitch who blew her voice out years ago by singing improperly! Ahem. Y'ain't have to be religious to appreciate gospel music; that's like having to be French to eat pizza! That's silly! All you have to do is listen to the beautiful voice of Mahalia Jackson singing both gospel Christmas carols as well as more traditional Christmas songs and your Christmas is complete. As said when discussing the Grant's A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS VOLUME 3, Mahalia's version of "Silver Bells" is my favourite version of the song. Now, I usually don't like to put up recent compilation cds of "greatest hits" etc. but this one features the highlights of Mahalia's past Christmas albums so I erred on the side of inclusion; this cd features a pretty equal mix between less familiar gospel tunes and the usual suspects of Christmas songs.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: O Holy Night, Silver Bells, No Room At the Inn, O Come All Ye Faithful, A Star Stood Still (Song of the Nativity), The Holy Babe, The First Noel, What Can I Give, Silent Night Holy Night, Joy To the World, I Wonder As I Wander, Mary's Little Boy Child, White Christmas

FACT SHEET: MAHALIA JACKSON SINGS SONGS OF CHRISTMAS is a compilation album which draws together material from her previous Christmas albums. The cd features recordings from 1955, 1956, 1962 and 1968. "The Holy Babe" is a version of "Go Where I Send Thee" which can be heard on the Kingston Trio's classic "THE LAST MONTH OF THE YEAR" album.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS VOLUME 3 - Various Artists


YEAR: 1969

LABEL: Columbia

TRACK LISTING: Do You Hear What I Hear? - Robert Goulet, It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas - Leslie Uggams, Angels We Have Heard On High - Percy Faith Orchestra, I'll Be Home For Christmas - Johnny Mathis, The Real Meaning of Christmas - Ray Conniff Singers, Three Wise Me Wise Me Three - Jim Nabors, Christmas Chimes - Andre Kostalanetz Orchestra, Christmas Lullaby - Cary Grant, Handel: For Unto Us A Child Is Born from The Messiah - Eugene Ormandy & the Philadelphia Orchestra & Temple University Choir, Christmas Story - Burl Ives, Silver Bells - Mahalia Jackson, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - Ed Sullivan Orchestra, Some Children See Him - Diahann Carroll, What Child Is This? - Mitch Miller & the Gang, Christmas Chopsticks - Bobby Vinton

IMPRESSIONS: This is one of my favourite Christmas albums of all time since I grew up with it. It's probably the one album which immediately floods my mind with memories of my childhood decorating the Christmas tree and setting up the Lionel trains. It contains my favourite versions of several Christmas carols: Robert Goulet's "Do You Hear What I Hear?", Andre Kostalanetz's "Christmas Chimes" (which is actually "Carol of the Bells") and Mahalia Jackson's "Silver Bells" as well as the best recording of Handel's "For Unto Us A Child Is Born" I've ever heard. There's the delightfully cheesy swinging 60's orchestrations of "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus". However the absolute treasure of the album is Cary Grant's "Christmas Lullaby" which often brings me to tears. Apparently this ultra-rare track was Cary Grant's one and only 45 rpm record made for Columbia for Christmas 1967; it was recorded by Cary after the birth of his daughter with Dyan Cannon as a special message to her.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Every single one of 'em!

FACT SHEET: A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS VOLUME 3 is a compilation of previously released Christmas music that Columbia Records manufactured exclusively for Grants department store. In total, there were 8 volumes released and they could only be purchased at the long-defunct Grants store.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

QUIET VILLAGE - Martin Denny

YEAR: 1959

LABEL: Liberty

TRACK LISTING: Stranger In Paradise, Hawaiian War Chant, Coronation, Sake Rock, Paradise Found, Firecracker, Martinique, My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua Hawaii Cha Cha Cha, Tune From Rangoon, Happy Talk, Pagan Love Song, Laura, Quiet Village

IMPRESSIONS: The father of lounge. As a kid, I remember this album was in my mother's record collection as long as I can remember. I never once listened to it. In fact, years later in the 80s, my mother got rid of a bunch of these records. Who knew a scant few years later they'd be selling for top dollar during the exotica/lounge music boom of the 1990s!

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Stranger In Paradise, Coronation, Sake Rock, Paradise Found, Martinique, Tune From Rangoon, Pagan Love Song, Laura, Quiet Village

FACT SHEET: QUIET VILLAGE is Martin Denny's eighth album. Martin Denny was brought to Honolulu, Hawaii by Don the Beachcomber in January 1954; he would stay on and form his own combo in 1955 playing at the Shell Bar at the Hawaiian Village on Oahu. The original combo featured Denny on piano, Augie Colon on percussion, Arthur Lyman on vibes and John Kramer on string bass. Denny accidentally discovered his trademark sound (which gave birth to the exotica craze) while performing at the Shell Bar; the space featured a large pool of water with rocks and palm trees surrounding it. During one number, he noticed that frogs were croaking along with the music and would in fact stop when the music stopped. What he thought was just a coincidence happened again the next time he started playing the song. As a joke, members of the band started making exotic bird calls during the song. Denny thought nothing of it until he started getting requests for the song with the frogs and bird calls in it. Denny's recording of Les Baxter's song "Quiet Village" sold a million copies and became a gold record. The song actually first appeared on Denny's first album "EXOTICA" in 1956 but the song was released as a single in 1959 when a DJ started playing it on the radio; Denny's eighth album hurriedly included the song at the end and was titled "QUIET VILLAGE" in response. Arthur Lyman had left the combo by this time to start his own group. The album "QUIET VILLAGE" features Martin Denny (piano, celeste), Augie Colon (bongos, congas, bird calls), Julius Wechter (vibes, marimbas, percussion), Harvey Ragsdale (string bass, marimbula), Raymond Alexander (percussion), Jose Bethancourt (percussion) and John Frigo (string bass). The famous cover photo is by Ivan Nagy and features model Sandy Warner "the Exotica Girl" who appeared on all Martin Denny's album covers before this.

Monday, November 28, 2011

EH, PAISANO!: 100% ITALIAN-AMERICAN CLASSICS - Various Artists

YEAR: 1997

LABEL: Rhino

TRACK LISTING: That's Amore - Dean Martin, Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare) - Domenico Modugno, Mama - Connie Francis, Angelina & Zooma Zooma - Louis Prima, Mala Femmina - Jerry Vale, Pepino the Italian Mouse - Lou Monte, Spanish Eyes - Al Martino, Eh Cumpari - Julius LaRosa, Cara Mia - Jay & the Americans, Piove (Ciao, Ciao Bambina) - Domenico Modugno, Runaround - The Three Chuckles, Just a Gigolo & I Ain't Got Nobody (And Nobody Cares For Me) - Louis Prima, Here In My Heart - Keely Smith, For the First Time (Come Prima) - Tony Reno & the Sherwoods, Al Di La - Emilio Pericoli, Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing - The Four Aces featuring Al Alberts, Darktown Strutters Ball (Italian Style) - Lou Monte, Innamorata (Sweetheart) - Jerry Vale

IMPRESSIONS: I owe my possession of this cd to one person: my friend Peg. For those who don't know, I met Peg in 1992 at my job at Sizzler when she was about 60 years old. Born and raised in South Philly, she was Italian to the bone and she soon became not only a close friend but a second mother to me. Each Monday (my day off for years and years) I would drive over to her house where we'd watch movies, bullshit and cook and eat homemade Italian food from homemade pasta (yes, we would start with flour and egg and run them through the pasta machine) to stuffed artichokes to "past and peas". So of course when I saw this cd come out I had to buy it and bring it over. This is the perfect album to listen to while diving into a bowl of "rigatoons"; it specializes in easy listening Italian-American hits from the 1950s and early 1960s and which can be heard fairly regularly in any Godfather or Martin Scorsese movie. Peg knew all the words in Italian that began Domenico Modugno's #1 hit single "Volare" and she'd always sing along. She didn't like Connie Francis -- she called her "the cry baby" -- so we'd usually skip her. Lou Monte's "Pepino the Italian Mouse" has a special place in my heart because, at one time, Peg discovered that she had a mouse in the house. She found this out because the mouse had nibbled at her bowl of fried chili peppers. So, of course, I said it must be an Italian mouse and he was dubbed "Pepino". Then of course there's the classic "Eh Cumpari" which both Peg and I would sing along with at the top of our voices. Peg died in 2009 and I've yet to get over it. I can't hear this album without immediately being transported back to her kitchen on Florence Avenue when I'd put this cd on as Peg "put the water up" to cook the pasta for dinner.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: That's Amore - Dean Martin, Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare) - Domenico Modugno, Mala Femmina - Jerry Vale, Pepino the Italian Mouse - Lou Monte, Spanish Eyes - Al Martino, Eh Cumpari - Julius LaRosa, Cara Mia - Jay & the Americans, Piove (Ciao, Ciao Bambina) - Domenico Modugno, Runaround - The Three Chuckles, Al Di La - Emilio Pericoli, Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing - The Four Aces featuring Al Alberts

FACT SHEET: Uh, dese are some Italian songs!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

AESOP'S FABLES THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS WAY - The Smothers Brothers

YEAR: 1965

LABEL: Mercury

TRACK LISTING: Overture - Aesop's Fables Our Way, The Greedy Dog, A Fox (Maybe I'd Better Stay Me), The Boy Who Cried Wolf, A Fly (Maybe I'd Better Stay Me), The Dog and the Thief, A Worm (Maybe I'd Better Stay Me), The Farmer and His Sons, The Fox and the Grapes, A Jellyfish (Maybe I'd Better Stay Me), The Bird and the Jar, A Mosquito (Maybe I'd Better Stay Me), The Two Frogs, A Car (Maybe I'd Better Stay Me), Aesop Knew (Reprise)

IMPRESSIONS: This is another of those albums inseparable from my childhood. I was listening to it as long as I can remember and is one of those albums which immediately rocket me back to an age of single digits when I'd sit on the floor with my portable record player and drop the needle onto sublime silliness. Even the very lettering of "AESOP'S FABLES" on the album cover have become iconic to me and I occasionally utilize that font when I'm coming over all nostalgic. This, of course, was assuredly my first encounter with Aesop's Fables and you actually do get the real story interspersed with Smothers Brothers antics. One of my most beloved records from my kid-dom.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: All of 'em.

FACT SHEET: AESOP'S FABLES is the Smothers Brothers' seventh album. All the songs were written by John McCarthy. Unlike many Smothers Brothers albums, AESOP'S FABLES was recorded in the studio without a live studio audience. In 2002, Universal Music and Laugh.com re-released the album finally on compact disc.

Friday, November 25, 2011

ULTIMATE COLLECTION - The Sons of the Pioneers

YEAR: 2002

LABEL: Hip-O Records

TRACK LISTING: Way Out There, Tumbling Tumbleweeds, There's A Roundup in the Sky, Empty Saddles, Blue Prairie, One More Ride, So Long To the Red River Valley, Cool Water, I'm an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande), The Hills of Old Wyomin', Blue Bonnet Girl, Ride Ranger Ride, Echoes From the Hills, I Follow the Stream, My Saddle Pals and I, Song of the Bandit, I Wonder If She Waits For Me Tonight, Chant of the Wanderer, Riders in the Sky, The Lillies Grow High, The River of No Return

IMPRESSIONS: Every once in a while you need an album of cowboy songs.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Way Out There, Tumbling Tumbleweeds, Empty Saddles, Blue Prairie, So Long to the Red River Valley, Cool Water, I'm an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande), Echoes From the Hills, I Follow the Stream, Song of the Bandit, Chant of the Wanderer, Riders in the Sky, The River of No Return

FACT SHEET: In 1931, an Ohio truck driver and fruit picker named Leonard Slye entered a singing contest on an L.A. radio show called Midnight Frolics; he would later change his name to Roy Rogers. A few days later, he was invited to join a group called the Rocky Mountaineers. In September 1931, Canadian Bob Nolan answered a classified ad for a "Yodeler for old-time act, to travel. Tenor preferred" and joined the Rocky Mountaineers now led by Slye. Nolan only remained in the group a short time and was replaced by Safeway warehouse worker Tim Spencer; however Nolan remained in touch with Slye. In the spring of 1932, Slye and Spencer left the Rocky Mountaineers to form a trio which quickly failed. After passing through a series of short-lived groups, Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer formed the Pioneers Trio in 1933 with Nolan performing on string bass and Rogers on rhythm guitar. Shortly after they added fiddle player Hugh Farr who also added a bass voice to the vocals. During a radio broadcast an announcer made a remark which led to the group changing their name to the Sons of the Pioneers; the announcer said that the men were too young to have been pioneers but could be sons of pioneers. The name was well-received and stuck. Bob Nolan actually wrote many of the songs which have been considered traditional cowboy songs such as "Tumbling Tumbleweeds", "Way Out There" and "Cool Water".

Thursday, November 24, 2011

OPUS EPONYMOUS - Ghost

YEAR: 2010

LABEL: Rise Above Records

TRACK LISTING: Deus Culpa, Con Clavi Con Dio, Ritual, Elizabeth, Stand By Him, Satan Prayer, Death Knell, Prime Mover, Genesis

IMPRESSIONS: What a scary bunch of Swedes! Much has been made about this anonymous band's Satanic credentials; whereas other bands might merely play at Satanism, this "group of nameless ghouls" may actually walk the walk. I don't really care either way because the music on this album is such a catchy batch of 70's-sounding prog metal with more hooks than Col. Henry Blake's fishing cap. No less a personage than the Hetfield himself touts the band as his new favourite and wore a Ghost t-shirt at the "Big 4" concert in Sweden. Not really a "heavy" metal album, comparisons have been made to Mercyful Fate and a strong influence by Blue Oyster Cult (particularly evident on the chorus to "Ritual"). "Death Knell" sounds like Blue Oyster Cult and the Moody Blues had a satanic love child. "Satan Prayer" is a devil-hymn whose melody is so pop-masterful that it sounds like something you'd get if the Beach Boys had sold their souls to the Devil! Then there's the frequent use of the same "haunted house" organ which Vic Mizzy used to score "THE GHOST & MR. CHICKEN and an album cover which recalls the artwork for Tobe Hooper's TV mini-series "SALEM'S LOT". How could you not love this album?!? The "Hail Satan" angle somehow doesn't seem gimmicky but instead comes over as sorta sincere while at the same time there's nothing remotely scary or unsettling about this album because it's just so poppy, melodic and fun. It's more like a Halloween party than a black mass. I really don't know how an album can sound sincerely satanic and like it's taking the piss all at the same time? But I know I like it. Blogcritic Chris Beaumont said "There are moments where the music reminded me visually of The Blind Dead films. Odd, I know, but there it is." There, I think, is the crux; OPUS EPONYMOUS is completely Satanic in the way that Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY is - only for the entertainment value. I still don't know. Their matter-of-fact lyrics sound like they could very well be praising Satan while they paradoxically sound so darn wholesome in their vocal harmonies; maybe that's the tip-off that sneaky old Lucifer is definitely involved, eh? Wow, what a complex album for a straightforward dumb ole metal album.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Con Clavi Con Dio, Ritual, Elizabeth, Stand By Him, Satan Prayer, Death Knell, Genesis

BONUS TRACKS: Here Comes the Sun (only available on the Japanese version)

FACT SHEET: OPUS EPONYMOUS is Ghost's first album. Ghost is a band from Stockholm, Sweden whose members are not credited on the album and who wear masks and costumes when performing; this has led to widespread speculation that the members are really practicing Satanists who wish their identities to remain concealed. The lead singer (sometimes referred to as Papa Emeritus) wears a skull mask and a cardinal's robes while the rest of the band appears wearing hooded, monk-like robes. The rumour on the street is that there could be members of Watain and Repugnant involved. The song "Elizabeth" is about the fabled "Bloody Countess" Elizabeth Bathory.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

RITES OF PASSAGE - Indigo Girls

YEAR: 1992

LABEL: Epic

TRACK LISTING: Three Hits, Galileo, Ghost, Joking, Jonas and Ezekial, Love Will Come To You, Romeo and Juliet, Virginia Woolf, Chickenman, Airplane, Nashville, Let It Be Me, Cedar Tree

IMPRESSIONS: A co-worker named Maureen got Cheeks and I into the Indigo Girls around 1991. This was the first "newly released" Indigo Girls album I ever bought and I remember being apprehensive that it would be a letdown after the superb songs found on their earlier albums. The Indigo Girls have never managed to release a "perfect" album; their previous cds feature absolute masterpieces alongside songs which I usually never listen to and RITES is no exception. It certainly stands up right alongside their debut INDIGO GIRLS and NOMADS INDIANS SAINTS and actually features a perfect first 6 tracks but then starts to wear thin with a needless Dire Straits cover and some forgettable songs suddenly appearing. Nonetheless, RITES is a great album with judicious application of the skip button.

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Three Hits, Galileo, Ghost, Joking, Jonas and Ezekial, Love Will Come To You, Airplane, Nashville, Let It Be Me

GUEST ARTISTS: Lisa Germano (fiddle), Ronan Browne (uilleann pipes on "Three Hits" and "Cedar Tree"), Donal Lunny (bouzouki, bodhran on "Three Hits" and "Cedar Tree"), Budgie (drums and percussion on "Three Hits" and "Chickenman", marimba and claves on "Virginia Woolf"), Jerry Marotta (drums, percussion), Jackson Browne (backing vocals on "Galileo" and "Let It Be Me"), David Crosby (backing vocals on "Galileo" and "Let It Be Me"), Jai Winding (piano on "Ghost"), Michael Kamen (string arrangements and conductor on "Ghost"), The Roches (backing vocals on "Virginia Woolf" and "Airplane")
FACT SHEET: RITES OF PASSAGE is the Indigo Girls' fourth album. "Romeo and Juliet" is a cover version of a Dire Straits song.