Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Nat King Cole - Where Did Everyone Go? (1963)

It's interesting the way Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole influenced each other's music. Cole was the first of the pair to pick up on arranger Gordon Jenkins, a man whose heavily dramatic string charts defined him as a leading instrumental voice of his era. Cole tapped Jenkins to score his gorgeous Love Is The Thing album in 1957, which preceded Sinatra's first collaboration with Jenkins on Where Are You? by several months.

But it was Sinatra who came up with the idea of using Jenkins' haunting style to underscore an entire album of thematically-linked melancholy ballads. The first of these, Where Are You? is the most classic of them, but there were several others, including No One Cares, All Alone, September Of My Years, and She Shot Me Down.

By 1963, the first three Sinatra-Gordon "theme albums" must have left enough of an impression on Cole that he decided to try one himself. The result was Where Did Everyone Go? an album that stands as one of Cole's best and most deeply moving albums.

When Cole first employed Jenkins, the pairing resulted in two highly romantic (and popular) albums, Love Is The Thing and The Very Thought Of You. For their third outing, Cole and Jenkins moved into the realm of religious music with Every Time I Hear The Spirit. But this forth effort takes its cue from Sinatra's albums about loneliness and alienation and it's similar to them right down to the title, the cover art, and the achingly sad sound.

This represented a major stylistic change for Cole. Gone are sweet-natured love songs like "Mona Lisa" and jaunty tunes like "Rambling Rose." In their place are dirges about loneliness, alienation, and depression. While nothing is overtly political, these songs can now be seen as a metaphor for the turmoil Cole endured throughout his career (more on this below). It also makes you wonder what he might have gone on to do had he not died less than two years after this album's release.

Cole's vocal style might seem ill-suited to a "dark night of the soul" album like Where Did Everyone Go? As a singer, he was warm and smooth, and not known to go for grand gestures. Yet that's the key to why this LP works so well. Cole holds back. In doing so, he speaks volumes with the emotions he doesn't display.

Cole didn't have Sinatra's way of dousing his listeners in waves of feeling, so he goes in the opposite direction. He sings these songs "straight," with a stiff-upper-lip and a plastered-on smile. The juxtaposition between his restrained vocals and Jenkins' weepy strings creates a dramatic tension that makes these songs of heartbreak and loss seem even sadder. Cole sounds so paralyzed by depression that it seems like he's "Laughing On The Outside (Crying on the Inside)," to quote one of the song titles.

This concept, which was popularized in the opera Pagliacci, was later picked up by Smokey Robinson for several of his songs including "Tears Of A Clown," "The Tracks of My Tears," and "I Gotta Dance To Keep From Crying." It's probably not a stretch to say that Robinson was influenced by this album. Because early rock critics pitted older vocal music against then-new rock'n'roll, people assume it didn't have much of an influence on what came later. It did, and it shows up everywhere from Motown to the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds.

Like Pet Sounds, sales of Where Did Everyone Go? didn't match Cole's previously albums. Not by a long shot. The LP didn't make the Top 40 albums chart and its lone single, the title track, didn't chart at all.

But you get the feeling that Cole recorded this album more for artistic reasons than commercial ones. By the time this LP was released, Cole had racked up 50 hits on the Hot 100, and that was just in the rock era (from 1955 onward). He'd also placed ten albums in the Top Ten on the Billboard albums chart.

The album that immediately preceded Where Did Everyone Go? was Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days Of Summer, which reached #14 and spawned two hit singles: The title track (which hit #6 in May of '63) and "That Sunday, That Summer" (which got to #12 that August). So by the time of Where Did Everyone Go? Cole didn't really have much to prove commercially. This was an impressive achievement considering he was the first African-American entertainer to become a major mainstream star in both the worlds of music and television.

On his way to the top, though, Cole was assaulted onstage and never could find a national sponsor for his TV show. It's telling that with all that success in his rear view mirror, Where Did Everyone Go? is what Cole chose to give to the world.

If you've never dug deep into Nat King Cole's work before, this is an excellent place to start. Besides the first-rate performances and arrangements, the songs play against each other well. Keep in mind, though, that this album ranks with Phil Ochs' Pleasures of the Harbor and Nick Drake's Bryter Layter as one of the most mournfuk-sounding orchestral pop records ever made. The more I listen to it, the more I wonder if its string arrangements didn't influence those two albums.

The title song is one of the best things that Cole ever sang. It's got a clever lyrical construction that contains a surprise (skip the next line if you want to keep it a surprise). Like Squeeze's "Up the Junction" and Pink Floyd's "The Final Cut," "Where Did Everyone Go?" builds its case little by little and only reveals its title in its last line -- by which point it packs an emotional wallop. The words were penned by Mack David, the older brother of Burt Bacharach collaborator Hal David. The elder David gets overlooked because of the bigger success of his younger brother, but he had his hand in several important songs, like "Baby It's You," "It Must Be Him," and "I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine."

The rest of the tracks hold their own too. Some of the best include Cole's rendition of "Am I Blue?" (which is usually associated with Billie Holiday), "When The World Was Young" (done later by Sinatra), and "I Keep Going Back To Joe's" which Cole introduced with this album.

This is the stereo mix from CD, which looks to be out of print since it's going for crazy prices used. I have a mono vinyl copy I might post in the future if I can clean up the sound enough. But for the stereo edition, I recommend listening with headphones, where it feels like you're drowning in Jenkins' strings and Cole's sorrow. It's hard to imagine anything further removed from "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days Of Summer," which had to have been Cole's intention.

Related posts:
June Christy - Something Cool (1954; 1991 Edition)
Frank Sinatra - In the Wee Small Hours (1955; 1998 UK Remaster)
The Four Grads - From This Moment On (1956)
Eydie & Steve - Cozy (Mono Mix, 1961)
The King Sisters - The Answer Is Love (1969)

Track list:
1. Where Did Everyone Go?
2. Say It Isn't So
3. If Love Ain't There
4. (Ah the Apple Trees) When The World Was Young
5. Am I Blue?
6. Someone To Tell It To
7. The End Of A Love Affair
8. I Keep Going Back To Joe's
9. Laughing On The Outside (Crying on the Inside)
10. No, I Don't Want Her
11. Spring Is Here
12. That's All There Is

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Trouser Press - Issue #78 (Oct. 1982)

What a difference a few words can make. There was a single sentence in this issue of Trouser Press that had a marked effect on my life. Reviewing Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom, Scott Isler wrote the following about the album:

"But it can't -- or rather won't -- be ignored, just as the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds (another album of brilliant compositions that eluded the public upon release) had to be redeemed by history."

This observation, which was tucked at the end of the review, got me to think seriously about the Beach Boys at a time when few people in my high school age/peer group) were thinking along such lines. Even though I already owned the Endless Summer collection and knew Brian Wilson had a reputation as some sort of eccentric genius, I'd never heard anyone speak of him and Elvis Costello in the same breath.

Yes, I know that in 1982 Lester Bangs, Dave Marsh, and Robert Christgau might have been having conversations about both these songwriters. But I'm talking about high school kids here -- the ones that bought records and set the pace for what was and wasn't cool. And in 1982, the Beach Boys were not particularly liked among either the new wave/MTV cliques or the stoner/Judas Priest crowd (in fact, that latter might just beat you up for even mentioning "wimp music").

I actually remember being at a party and talking about the Beach Boys to a girl who was a huge pop music fan and even she got angry with me and asked "Can we talk about something else?" Her annoyance was typical of the kids in my generation. You have to remember that in 1982 there was no Internet and no CD box sets with elaborate liner notes. So it wasn't easy to find intelligent critical assessments of Pet Sounds. The only info I could find back then was in the original "Rolling Stone Record Guide," where the LP earned only a four-star rating (out of five) and the group's career afterwards was pretty much written off.

Since the lyrically dense and musically complex Imperial Bedroom was my favorite album at the time, I decided I had to get Pet Sounds. In the pre-CD era, this wasn't easy to do. The chain record stores didn't stock it, and the indie stores were too hopped up on post-punk to make room for it. Again, this might be hard to fathom now, but that's the way it was.

Eventually, I did find a used reissue copy of the album in an independent shop known for its eclectic stock. But when I brought it home I realized it was in mono. Strange. I was bewildered as to why any 1966 album by a major label band wouldn't have been in stereo. But after calling a record collector friend who gave me the lowdown on this (which I'm sure everyone knows these days), it became one of my favorite records ever. And, of course, in a few years everyone would know since the album was regularly at the top of countless "best albums ever" lists and middle school teachers were playing it in class to demonstrate orchestral sounds to their students.

But in the early 1980s, Elvis Costello>Brian Wilson was the kind of connection you could only find in Trouser Press, especially when it came to Scott Isler, who had the most assured grasp of rock history of any of the regular writers. Ironically, as life went on, I ended up spending far more time listening to the Beach Boys and other surf-related music than I ever did to Elvis Costello. But I'm glad my Costello fixation led me to a completely unexpected place thanks to the review in this issue.


This might be my final scan of a Trouser Press magazine. About a year ago, the mag's founder wrote to me and thanked me for doing my earlier scans, but he also mentioned they were in the process of scanning all the issues. Since none ever appeared on their Web site, I assumed this project never came to pass. But when I was researching this issue, I noticed there was a scan of it is out on the Trouser Press Facebook page --- along with lots of others. So that kind of makes my work here redundant.

I will say that the my scans are bigger and therefore of higher quality. But for all I know they reduced their scans for Facebook and will put them out at some point in high-quality on their Web site. Either way, re-reading all these old issues has been an enjoyable journey back into the past -- both theirs and mine.

Other scanned issues of Trouser Press:
Trouser Press - Issue #09 (June-Aug. 1975)
Trouser Press - Issue #42 (Sept. 1979)
Trouser Press - Issue #44 (Nov. 1979)
Trouser Press - Issue #59 (Feb. 1981) 
Trouser Press - Issue #63 (July 1981)
Trouser Press - Issue #67 (Nov. 1981)
Trouser Press - Issue #70 (Feb. 1982)
Trouser Press - Issue #71 (March 1982)
Trouser Press - Issue #79 (Nov. 1982)
Trouser Press - Issue #72 (April 1982)
Trouser Press - Issue #84 (April 1983)
Trouser Press - Issue #85 (May 1983)
Trouser Press - Issue #92-93 (Dec. 1983-Jan. 1984)
Trouser Press - Issue #95 (March 1984)

1. Marshall Crenshaw
2. Laurie Anderson
3. Stray Cats
4. A Flock Of Seagulls
5. Kim Wilde
6. The Who
7. Jethro Tull
8. German Rock

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

June Christy - Something Cool (1954; 1991 Edition)

Things could get pretty weird back in the days when record companies first started reissuing CDs of older music. We got the first four Beatles albums in mono only. We got Fleetwood Mac's double-disc Tusk crammed onto one CD with an edited version of "Sara" and some alternate mixes. And we got this first reissue of "cool jazz" singer June Christy's first-ever release, Something Cool, in a form that was unrecognizable from the original EP.

Unlike those first three examples, this one had its positive elements, the main one being that it included a whopping seventeen bonus tracks in addition to that seven-song EP. But it had its drawbacks as well. 

For starters, they used the wrong cover art. The original 1954 EP and the expanded 1956 LP version (which had four additional songs) had a black-and-white image of Christy laughing with her eyes closed, which is shaded in blue (see right). Four years later, in 1960, Christy and arranger Pete Rugolo recut the album in stereo, and this edition used the color image of Christy smiling and looking at the camera (above) that adorns the CD cover. So, the CD's image is from the stereo album but the songs are actually a different and earlier set of mono recordings.

More importantly, to create this CD they took the songs from the original seven-track EP and splayed them totally out of sequence among all the bonus tracks. It was great to get these extra tracks since all of 'em made their CD debut on this release, but why the juggling of the song order?

The original EP sequence was:
1. Something Cool
2. It Could Happen To You
3. Lonely House
4. Midnight Sun
5. I'll Take Romance
6. A Stranger Call The Blues
7. I Should Care

Compare this with the CD's track list below. This reissue places the above songs at #5, #10, #8, #7, #13, #12, and #9. What is the point in that? Why not just put the EP songs first, followed by the additional tracks? When the EP was expanded into an LP in '56 they followed the song order pretty closely, so it would have made sense to do the same on the CD.

Needless to say, this original Something Cool CD went out of print when CD reissues began to reflect the contents of original LPs more accurately. It was soon superseded by a more organized edition that had had the full 1956 mono LP followed by the full 1960 stereo remake. But what listeners gained in continuity they lost in bonus songs, since the second edition of this CD had none.

Christy died the year before the 1991 reissue, and you wonder if she had been alive and well if she'd have wanted some say in the matter. Something Cool, after all, was her best known work and it definitely holds up after all these decades. Rugolo's orchestration is gorgeous in an understated way, and Christy's vocals never fail to hypnotize.

When she made her debut with this EP, Christy seemed bound for glory. But she was brushed aside when rock'n'roll hit the music scene around the same time. She was also said to have developed a problem with alcohol early on, and this further put her career on the slow track. Christy also wasn't the most "vocal" of vocal singers. What I mean by that is that she didn't really wail or shout, so she wasn't about to compete with the Elvises of the world -- or the Rosemary Clooneys, for that matter.

But what Christy did, she did really, really well. Specifically, she sang in a mellow, reflective, and often wistful style with lots of subtlety and nuance. Her voice could be so cleverly subtle, in fact, that you can listen to her version of "Whee Baby" (co-written and originally done by Peggy Lee) and hear sadness in it one day but get bemused sarcasm from it on another day.

It's things like that which make this early CD edition of Something Cool so, er, cool. Some of the bonus cuts are as good as anything on the EP. First among these is the fantastic yet little-known Mel Tormé song called "The First Thing You Know You're in Love," which Christy released as a single in 1954. Two other first-rate cuts are "You're Makin' Me Crazy" and "Why Do You Have To Go Home," which made up both sides of a 1953 single. This CD also has a pair of songs that went unreleased in their day: The gorgeously melodic "Out Of Somewhere" and the jazzy "Love Doesn't Live Here Anymore."

And then there are the four tracks that were added to the seven-song EP to create the eleven-song LP. They are: "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise," "I'm Thrilled," "This Time the Dream's on Me," and "The Night We Called It A Day." None of these strike me as particularly inspired (especially the last, which Sinatra made his own on Where Are You?), but it's still worth hearing Christy sing them.

If all of these extra tracks seem confusing, check the MP3 tags, where I included release dates and info on where each song was originally from. Most of the bonus tracks are non-LP 45 sides, but it turns out a bunch are from Christy's 1958 album This Is June Christy! And speaking of confusion, some places on the Web list the original EP as being from 1955. It's not. It's from '54 and I dug up a Billboard album chart from Oct. 2, 1954 (above) to prove it.

So, in all, the original Something Cool CD had an interesting blend of songs, even if the way they were placed now seems strange. Like the Rosemary Clooney album I recently posted, I bought this one on tape at the time and re-bought it on CD when I found it used, which means I liked it enough to buy it twice. So maybe those unpredictable Wild West days of CD reissues weren't all so bad. We might have had to put up with early Fab Four in mono and such, but we got all these bonus tracks instead of having to track down the super-rare old 45s. Whee baby.

Track list:
1. Not I
2. Whee Baby
3. Why Do You Have To Go Home
4. You're Makin' Me Crazy
5. Something Cool
6. Magazines
7. Midnight Sun
8. Lonely House
9. I Should Care
10. It Could Happen To You
11. The First Thing You Know You're in Love
12. A Stranger Called The Blues
13. I'll Take Romance
14. Look Out Up There
15. Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise
16. Out Of Somewhere
17. Love Doesn't Live Here Anymore
18. I'm Thrilled
19. This Time The Dream's On Me
20. The Night We Called It A Day
21. Thrilled
22. Pete Kelly's Blues
23. Until The Real Thing Comes Along
24 I Never Wanna Look into Those Eyes Again

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Trouser Press - Issue #79 (Nov. 1982)

It's been almost a year since I posted an issue of my favorite rock magazine ever, Trouser Press. So here's a new scan of one that I think is a classic. It's from late 1982 and has features on the Go-Go's, Richard Hell, X, Paul Carrack, Thomas Dolby, and the Motels among others.

As interesting as these features are, they're not the reason I decided to post about Trouser Press again all this time later. What inspired me to dig out this extra-large issue is that it contains a review of an obscure album called (get this) Whichever Way You Are Going, You Are Going Wrong by the experimental cult group Woo.

Something put that title in my head recently. Maybe seeing "Wrong Way" signs on roads? Whatever it was, I finally decided to search out this record. Yes, I know it's been 35 years since the record came out. I do things at my own pace, people.

Reading the review again, it turned out that the writer, Alec Ross, was completely on the mark. The album is interesting but the ideas could have been executed better. The title track is fantastic, and I wish the whole album had been on that level. Ross' advice was for people to limit their listening to a single track at a time, and that still stands. (As an aside, I'll add that Woo's followup album from 1990, Into the Heart of Love, is a first-rate effort with much better melodies and atmospherics and is now considered a classic.)

Beyond the Woo review, this issue is noteworthy because it contains some new features like a question and answer column and record and video charts, both of which are mentioned at the magazine's Web site. Also, the articles on X, the Motels, and the Richard Hell were a harbinger of things to come. In its final years, Trouser Press would move away from covering British rock and become the top national source of information for American indie acts (which were then called "alternative" artists, a designation that connotes something different than the "alternative rock" genre that became popular in the 1990s).

This issue also has one of artist Pete Frame's "rock family trees." This one explores the roots of The Police. Since the artist's rendering was divided horizontally across two pages (34 and 35), it would not have worked to include an individual scan of each page, because the parts of the page where the magazine was stapled together would have been unreadable. What I did instead was to take the scans of pages 34 and 35 and edit them together into a single scan that can be easily read. Unfortunately, that left page 35 blank. So, to ensure the continuity of the page count, I put that scan in both pages 34 and 35, vertically and horizontally.

It's funny how time changes your perspective on things. When I first read this issue, the Go-Go's and the Motels were tearing up the record charts and I remember being excited to find in-depth articles about them. But all these years later, I'm more impressed with the fact that TP was covering Richard Hell and X when few others were giving these underground acts the time of day. The review section is also definitely worth reading, with coverage of albums by Joe Jackson, Bill Nelson, Steve Winwood, and Lords of the New Church. And the opening line of Jon Young's lead review of remix albums by The League Unlimited Orchestra and Soft Cell is classic. It still pops into my head whenever I come across any remix collection.

My only question is: What was the commercial music magazine Hit Parader thinking when they bought an ad in this issue? "Hey kids! If all this weird Trouser Press music like Woo is too much for you to handle, come on over to our side, where we have good old REO Speedwagon!" At the time, teens who liked alternative music like X defined themselves against bands like REO (who are pictured in the ad, at right), so this advertisement was unlikely to spark the interest of TP readers in either the mag or the artists it covered. That said, I'm glad Hit Parader bought the ad, because in doing so they helped keep Trouser Press alive. Had more businesses advertised, perhaps TP wouldn't have shuttered in mid-1984. As for Hit Parader, I will say that in the 35 years that have gone by, I've come to appreciate some of the mainstream music they covered in the 1980s. But not REO...except for maybe for that big hit they had in early 1985.

Other scanned issues of Trouser Press:
Trouser Press - Issue #09 (June-Aug. 1975)
Trouser Press - Issue #42 (Sept. 1979)
Trouser Press - Issue #44 (Nov. 1979)
Trouser Press - Issue #59 (Feb. 1981) 
Trouser Press - Issue #63 (July 1981)
Trouser Press - Issue #67 (Nov. 1981)
Trouser Press - Issue #70 (Feb. 1982)
Trouser Press - Issue #71 (March 1982)
Trouser Press - Issue #72 (April 1982)
Trouser Press - Issue #84 (April 1983)
Trouser Press - Issue #85 (May 1983)
Trouser Press - Issue #92-93 (Dec. 1983-Jan. 1984)
Trouser Press - Issue #95 (March 1984)

1. Paul Carrack
2. Billy Idol
3. Richard Hell
4. Thomas Dolby
5. Motels
6. Go-Go's
7. Sparks
8. X
9. Police Tree
10. Rock On TV

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Becker and Fagen - Early Demos and More (1969-81)

This is, as far as I know, the complete set of circulating demos by Steely Dan members Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker. Notice I said "circulating." I don't have ones like "Oh, Mr. Lyle" or "Be Tender," which have never seen the light of day.

What I did was take the Sun Mountain bootleg (pictured) and use that as the basis for a set of thirty-four rarities. I went with Sun Mountain because it arranges the songs in a roughly chronological order. After that, I added in other demos and a few rarities, some of which are by other artists. Bitrates vary, but it all cases they represent the best sounding versions of these tracks that I could find. There is no point in listening to something @320 if it sound like mud.

Speaking of sound, the tracks you'll find here are the original recordings without any tampering. At some point, someone overdubbed modern-day synthesizers on some of these tracks. Those recordings were put on YouTube and are now being taken for the real thing. They're not. When these recordings were made, synthesized strings were not the norm. Neither were drum machine sounds. None of those sounds are heard on these recordings. These are the unadorned demos.

I also tried to figure out when they were recorded, because I get fanatical about chronology. I couldn't find exact dates, so some of the MP3 tags are not dated. The info I did use was taken from various Steely Dan books like Brian Sweet's "Steely Dan: Reelin' In The Years." But while I was doing research, I came across something completely unexpected: Records of Becker and Fagen's copyright registrations for these songs (see right). Because of this, I was able to make the titles on this set accurate as to what the composers intended them to be. So, for example, "Come Back, Baby" gets a comma (nice to know they cared about grammar) and "Oh Wow It's You" is actually titled "Oh Wow, It's You Again." "Barry Town" is two words. Who knew?

Anyway, it turns out that these songs weren't submitted for copyright until early 1973, so it's impossible to get exact recording dates from the Catalog of Copyright Entries. But at least I was able to get accurate song tile info. So there's that.

What we do know is that there are 28 songs in circulation with two additional alternate versions, making for a grand total of 30 unreleased recordings. Most of 'em are not only good, but great. I read an article once where Becker said his son wasn't much of a Steely Dan fan, but after he came across a bootleg heard "Android Warehouse," he finally thought his dad's music was pretty cool. My own story isn't so different.

Growing up, I was never a Steely Dan fan beyond the popular tunes like "Deacon Blues" and "My Old School." I came of age in the new wave era and had a thing for old '60s music, so Steely Dan's music was always too "glossy" to reach me emotionally. I heard a sound, not a feeling.

But my ex-wife was really into them and one day she stumbled upon a bootleg that had an early version of "Brooklyn." This sounded much better to me than the released version and I heard a Bob Dylan influence (specifically a connection with "Queen Jane Approximately") that I liked. Then she found the Sun Mountain bootleg that started with "You Go Where I Go," a rough demo in the style of Laura Nyro and Carole King that had only electric piano and Donald Fagen's voice. Of all things, this was the song that hooked me. I finally "got" Steely Dan. This song, and others like it, drew me in on a deeper level. I heard a feeling, not a sound.

Listening to these demos the first time, it occurred to me Steely Dan weren't a classic rock band in the standard sense. They might have used guitars a lot, but they weren't a guitar rock group. Instead, they were a group built upon keyboard-styled songs that cleverly covered up that conceit with scads of virtuoso instrumentation. After I realized this, I was able to hear tracks like "Bad Sneakers" and "Pearl of the Quarter" with new ears. It was then I became such a fanatic that when Walter Becker died last week, I was the first one my ex-wife called because she associated me so strongly with the group.

I've probably listened to these demos more than I listened to Steely Dan itself -- which is saying something because I've listened to the group a lot. Despite the rough performances, I think there are scads of great songs here that still come through loud and clear. The ones marked "demo" made it onto the official albums. Several are sung by an outside singer named Keith Thomas, and those are connoted in the tags. One, "Don't Let Me In," became a minor hit for the group Sneaker in 1981 (exact chart info is in the tag). This version was produced by Steely Dan album Skunk Baxter. I included it as part of the "And More" category.

Speaking of which, one song, "I Mean To Shine," has never surfaced in demo form but was covered by Barbra Streisand. Streisand apparently got it after it was done first by another singer whose album never came out. "Sail The Waterway" and "Dallas" are the sides of the first Steely Dan single which was recalled and not put on the box set because Becker and Fagen were unhappy with it.

With Walter Becker's death, it's doubtful these demos and obscurities will ever surface since his remarks about his son seem to be the closest any band member has come to praising this material. Whatever the case, there is no denying the catchiness of songs like "Old Regime" and "Soul Ram" (which contains the phrase "steely dan") nor the emotional draw of ballads like "You Go Where I Go"or "This Seat's Been Taken."

Which leads me to my final point. Steely Dan were perfectionists in the realm of sonics, and it's said that the unprofessional sound of these recordings is the reason they'll never get an official release. But is it? I wonder if it's the naked emotions of some of these songs that made the composers think twice about them. Ironic and wry observations were what Steely Dan was about. A lot of the tension in the group's music came from what they didn't reveal.

In that light, the most un-Steely Dan song here is "A Little With Sugar," which has a lyric in which a grown man ruefully recounts his mother leaving the family when he was a boy. That's actually what happened in Becker's life. That's also the kind of autobiographical detail you'd never get in an official Steely Dan song. Which is why a lot of these demos make for such compelling listening.

Track list:
1. You Go Where I Go
2. A Little With Sugar
3. The Roaring Of The Lamb
4. Charlie Freak [demo]
5. Sun Mountain
6. Oh Wow, It's You Again
7. Undecided
8. The Caves Of Altamira [demo]
9. Any World (That I'm Welcome To) [demo]
10. More To Come
11. Parker's Band [demo]
12. Barry Town [demo]
13. The Braintap Shuffle
14. Brooklyn [demo]
15. The Mock Turtle's Song
16. The Yellow Peril
17. Android Warehouse
18. A Horse In Town
19. Ida Lee
20. Stone Piano
21. Take It Out On Me
22. This Seat's Been Taken
23. Come Back, Baby
24. Don't Let Me In
25. The Old Regime
26. Soul Ram
27. I Can't Function
28. Let George Do It
29. Sun Mountain [alternate version]
30. Stone Piano [alternate version]
31. Steely Dan - Sail The Waterway
32. Steely Dan - Dallas
33. Barbra Streisand - I Mean To Shine
34. Sneaker - Don't Let Me In

Monday, September 4, 2017

Rosemary Clooney - Girl Singer (1992)

As with Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney released a surprisingly great album just when everyone thought the best definitely was not yet to come (to paraphrase a song covered here). For Old Blue Eyes, his unexpected flash of brilliance was the 1981 effort She Shot Me Down, which turned out to be his last great effort. But in Clooney's case, this album, Girl Singer, helped kick of a late-career renaissance.

If you were tuned into jazz-oriented radio stations in 1992, as I was, you definitely heard parts of this record. But unlike other recent Clooney efforts of the time, this one didn't just feature the standards she was so good at interpreting. It had a new-ish song in David Frishberg gorgeous ballad "Sweet Kentucky Ham," and this was the song that got the most radio play.

Despite its eccentric title, "Sweet Kentucky Ham" is a ballad about loneliness, specifically feeling isolated while on the road. But that description doesn't really do it justice. The tune is a marriage of words and music that evokes a realistic feeling of wistfulness. I remember the first time I heard this on a long-defunct "music of your life" station and it stopped me in my tracks. This is what inspired me to buy this album (which now looks to be out-of-print).

I wasn't disappointed. At this point in her career, Clooney's style was so well-honed that she could bring even the most familiar old songs to life again. In fact, I prefer the way she sang at this late stage in her career over her vocals in the 1950s and 1960s. If all you've heard of her are records like "Come On-A My House" and "Mambo Italiano," you really ought to give this a listen. You be surprised at the way she evolved musically..

Even though a lot of the titles here will be familiar to anyone who owns a Sinatra or Bennett record or two, they're given treatments that make them worth hearing again. I like her rendition of "Autumn In New York" better that Sinatra's, and I'm saying that as a longtime Sinatra fanatic. The arrangements are mostly by John Oddo (who has worked with Linda Eder, among others) and deftly move between big band, bossa nova, and easy listening.

When I first bought this album 25 years ago, I bought it on cassette, since I liked to listen to music in my car and that only had cassette deck. I eventually re-bought it on CD and when I looked over both editions, I noticed that the cassette is missing one of the songs, "Of Course It's Crazy." So if you also bought the cassette, you get a bonus here.

The album, obviously, sounds a whole lot better on CD. It also looks better, with full credits for the musicians and succinct but heartfelt liner notes by Linda Ronstadt, who is a Clooney fan herself.

Related posts:
Frank Sinatra - In the Wee Small Hours (1955; 1998 UK Remaster)
Astrud Gilberto - Rarities (1966-72)
Astrud Gilberto - Astrud Gilberto Now (1972)
Joyce - Language and Love (1991)

Track list:
1. Nice 'N' Easy
2. Sweet Kentucky Ham
3. Autumn In New York
4. Miss Otis Regrets
5. Let There Be Love
6. Lovers After All
7. From This Moment On
8. More Than You Know
9. Wave
10. We Fell In Love Anyway
11. Ellington Medley
      a). It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)
      b). I'm Checking Out (Goombye)
12. Of Course It's Crazy
13. Straighten Up And Fly Right
14. The Best Is Yet To Come

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Peggy March - Alle Frauen Wollen Nur Das Eine... (1993)

There's a new collection of vintage Peggy March music that came out in July, If You Loved Me - RCA Recordings From Around the World (1963-1969), so I thought I share an out-of-print rarity of hers along with some of my thoughts on her music.

If you only know March from her chart-topping 1963 song "I Will Follow Him" or her second biggest hit, "I Wish I Were A Princess," you might think she's one of those early '60s singers whose big draw was her novelty appeal. After all, these records have silly, eccentric qualities and she cut them at a young age (March still holds the record of being the youngest artist ever to score a #1 hit). Heck, she even went by the moniker Little Peggy March back then.

For years I paid no mind to her music because I'd burned out on "I Will Follow Him" by hearing it too many times on oldies radio. But then one day out of curiosity I decided to look into her music. I figured that I'd already dug deep into the work of Shelley Fabares, Dodie Stevens, Marcie Blane, Janie Grant, Diane Ray, Donna Lynn, and even Noreen Corcoran, so why not Little Peggy March? To my surprise, I discovered that March was no novelty act but a truly great singer. Her vocal chops far exceed what's heard on her best-known tracks. Had any of her post-1965 singles managed to find favor with U.S. audiences, she might have been considered among the best American pop vocalists by the dawn of the 1970s.

My evidence for this? Exhibit A is the soulful, soaring vocal on her 1965 single "Losin' My Touch." Let's make Exhibit B her smooth, sultry take on the complicated Burt Bacharach-Hal David ballad "Try To See It My Way" from '66. Exhibit C is her raucous take on the vocal version of Raymond Lefèvre's instrumental hit "Ame Caline (Soul Coaxing)" (#37 in 1968), which she cut under the title "If You Loved Me."

All of these recordings can be heard on the aforementioned new CD. Unfortunately, none of them charted in the U.S. and March's failure to connect with domestic audiences is what led her and her manager/husband to relocate to Germany, where she became a big star in the '60s and '70s. Which brings us to this CD.

Alle Frauen Wollen Nur Das Eine... translates into English as "Women Just Want One Thing," at least according to what comes up in Windows Media Player. It's a dance music album and the style is sort of European electro-pop. It was cut long after March's heyday in Germany so it doesn't sound much like the music from her classic period. The sound is actually more a continuation of the disco records she made in the late '70s like Electrifying.

There are, however, a few remakes of her older songs, like 1965's "Mit 17 Hat Man Noch Träume" (cut under the title "Heaven For Lovers" in the States), and "Memories Of Heidelberg" from 1967. She also redoes her 1969 single "In Der Carnaby Street" as "Carnaby Street." The first of these can be found on the 1994 CD Best Selection, but the others haven't come out in the U.S. as far as I know.

That leads to another issue. As good as it is to hear rare cuts like March's cover of the Beach Boys' "Aren't You Glad" on If You Loved Me - RCA Recordings From Around the World (1963-1969), someone really needs to put out a CD containing her rare non-LP B-sides and essential German hits. This would be a good home for those aforementioned tracks that never got a U.S. release.

As for Alle Frauen Wollen Nur Das Eine..., it's not the best Peggy March album you'll ever hear, but if you like her singing, you'll find something to enjoy. Plus, it provides an excellent gateway into getting into her foreign-language records, which were often better than her English ones. Her voice was so strong that she was equally as good singing in German or Japanese as she was in English. Heck, I prefer her Japanese rendition of "Losin' My Touch" to the English version.

Before I sign off, I want to make one small point that's going to be way out of character for this blog, since I tend to focus on music and avoid the, er, personal side of things. My point is: Has anyone seen photos of what Peggy March grew up to look like after she dropped the "Little" from her name? She left behind her old-fashioned schoolgirl look (see left) and blossomed into perhaps the most out-and-out sexy female singer of the time (see photos below). And by sexy I don't mean merely "she looked good for her era." I mean she was Playboy magazine-type hot. Her photos from the late '60s and '70s have an overt eroticism that's still head-turning today. Even on the cover of this CD she looks super-fine and she was in her mid-forties by then. (By the way, when I speak of Playboy, I mean the magazine back when it featured photos of natural wonders like Jill Taylor, not those angry-looking silicon fembots pictured in there today.)

Why America chose to not make a star out of a woman who was both a great singer and total babe is anyone's guess. For whatever reasons, the public instead preferred Nancy Sinatra, Mama Cass, Cher, or that woman in Spanky and Our Gang who sounded more like your mom singing along with the car radio than an actual singer. In my opinion, March could out-sing them all. That even includes Cass, because March was a more versatile vocalist, plus the tone of March's voice was more pleasant. But whatever. At least all the old music is there if you still want to listen to it. And the old pics are there if you want to look at them. To that end, I did something out of character again and included a photo gallery of Peggy March in her prime years to go along with the music on this album. You're welcome.

Related posts:
Vinnie Monte - Just One Of The Guys (1958-64)
Donna Lynn Meets Robin Clark (1961-65)
Janie Grant Meets Diane Ray - 32 Classic Cuts (1961-64)

Track list:
1. Alle Frauen Wollen Nur Das Eine
2. Zieh Meine Schuhe Aus
3. Küssen Ist Nicht Erlaubt
4. Ich Fall Aus Allen Wolken
5. Mit 17 Hat Man Noch Träume
6. Liebling Träum
7. Das War Noch Nicht Alles
8. Wenn Die Augen Lachen
9. Memories of Heidelberg
10. Verliebter, Verliebter
11. Flieg Mit Mir Zum Regenbogen
12. Carnaby Street