Friday, September 17, 2010
When is half an hour 20 minutes? When it's half of An Hour of Stardust.
I rescued half the tracks from this slightly battered LP, and their combined timing is 20 minutes. Since there's no way the other six would have brought the time up to 60 minutes, we are forced to conclude that the Royale label, of all outfits, wasn't telling the truth. At this point, can we safely believe anything they claimed? For instance, was their music really "world famous"?
In terms of unwanted surface sounds, my copy is about a 7 out of 10. However, laying on the declicking filter got rid of most of the many pops, and then I spliced out a number of them. The before-and-after contrast is pretty amazing. Not amazing is the fidelity, crummy even by Royale standards. It's near the point where "low" meets "no." But--I say, but--the selections are beautifully arranged and performed by the "Royale Concert Orchestra" (a group of anonymous European musicians who forwent royalties) and, therefore, worth hearing, crappy sound and all. In a way, the low fidelity helps the performances sound dreamier and more out-in-space than they would have. Like a forgotten, reduced-treble broadcast from the Hall of Lost Concerts.
Click here to hear: 20 Minutes of Stardust--Royale Concert Orch.
KITTEN ON THE KEYS
Royale Concert Orch. (From An Hour of Star Dust, Royale 1274)
Thursday, September 16, 2010
At this blog, when I talk about "cover versions," I usually mean knock-offs of current hits--cheapie versions designed to exploit the sales of a hit while it's still current. This trend is associated with the 1950s and early 1960s, and labels like Prom, Royale, Tops, Hi-Tone, Parade, and Bell. The practice had its roots in radio broadcasts and live performances, and, with the shifts in those areas following WWII, the hit knock-off tradition found its way onto discs. Such is my theory, at least.
Helping the cheap labels considerably was the recording-speed confusion of the time, with singles vs. "long-playing" discs and 78s vs. 45s. By selling their 10- and 12-inch LPs at very low prices, the cheapo labels were exploiting the budgets of customers who couldn't figure out why, for instance, they should pay more for a 10-inch LP than a 10-inch 78 single. They couldn't quite grasp the new science of smaller grooves and greater amounts of music in the same width. In case you find this hard to believe, check out your local thrift stores, where you will observe that, even to this day, the size of a record STILL determines the price. Often, the distinction is between "big" (long-playing) and "little" (45 rpm) discs. (78s need not apply.) This is not a post-vinyl thing--it's always been so. I remember, as a kid, trying in vain to explain to thrift clerks why a 12" 78 logically shouldn't cost as much as a vinyl LP. Never once did I win the debate. The "little" records were one price, the "big" discs another. If, by the way, you find this not to be the case, then you have one progressive thrift store in your neighborhood.
Anyway, I've discovered (in the process of buying way too many 78s) that the cheap-label cover trend of the Fifties started about 1948. One of the original culprits was the justly infamous Varsity label, which we'll be hearing five examples from. Varsity's covers were cheap but fun--their pressings were even cheaper, and not so fun to restore. We'll be hearing covers of Pee Wee Hunt (Twelfth Street Rag) and Merv Griffin (I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Cocoanuts ((sic))). Other labels in our list: Your Hits, about which I know zilch, and Music Masters, which basically seems to have been the Ace-Hi label under another name. For some reason, the label info for the latter failed to "take" when I downloaded the tracks, so both come up as "Unknown album" in that regard.
Our token Tops selection consists of Bud Roman singing Rags to Riches in a performance that, budget limitations considered, does an excellent job mimicking the original. By contrast, the Honeydreamers' Oh Happy Day (from a 1952 Your Hits 78) departs from the sound and feel of the original, which cheap-label covers often did. Which is why the term "copy-cat" doesn't always work in describing these things.
To the fake hits: Early cheap-label cover versions
12TH STREET RAG--Varsity Ragtime Band (Varsity 106; 1948)
CONFESS--Barbara Brown and Jimmie Valentine (Varsity 106; 1948)
I'VE GOT A LOVELY BUNCH OF COCOANUTS--Jimmy Livingston Orch. (Varsity 233; 1949)
RAGS TO RICHES--Bud Roman w. Lew Raymond O. (Tops 380)
OH HAPPY DAY--The Honeydreamers (Your Hits 7015)
TRYING--Snooky Lanson (Your Hits 7014)
"A"--YOU'RE ADORABLE--Barbara Brown and Johnny Frank (Varsity 137 ; 1948)
FOREVER AND EVER--Barbara Brown (Varsity 135; 1948, vice 1949)
THEME FROM MOULIN ROUGE--Kathryne Steele (Music Masters 2007)
SAY YOU'RE MINE AGAIN--Kathryne Steel and Larry Roberts (Same)
Sunday, September 12, 2010
This slightly convex photo shot went with my 2007 posting of this LP, which was actually a partial posting. Today, we get the entire 1962 release (it was on-line Billboard to the rescue on the release year), and it's brilliantly done. And the cover is classic Word--ordinary people in an ordinary setting, looking ordinary. Carefully posed, yes, but otherwise unpretentious. Of course, in today's post-rock pop culture, ordinary is bad--evil, even. You've got to Watch Out or the Ordinary People Will Get'cha. And make you drab and blah. Which, of course, none of us already are.
Anyway, whoever decided to apply the Mitch Miller formula to a group of campmeeting hymns was an utter genius, as the approach works superbly and without a dull second from start to finish. In a just universe, there would have been ten volumes, at least, in this series. There are even Mitch-style song sheets included. (No "follow the bouncing Bible" jokes, please.) Meanwhile, I've fixed a few scuffs on the jacket and even filled in part of the missing "l" on "Sing-Along." So, what more can you ask for?
Possibly the best track line-up in gospel-LP history, and the Kaiser singers give their usual perfect performance. Typical A-plus Word production. To the sing-along: Hymntime Sing-Along (1962).
MEDLEY: Lily of the Valley; Trust and Obey
MEDLEY: Shall We Gather at the River? Come, Thou Fount; I Will Sing the Wondrous Story
MEDLEY: More About Jesus; Wonderful Words of Life
MEDLEY: The Great Physician; Faith Is the Victory
MEDLEY: My Savior's Love (Gabriel); Jesus Loves Even Me
NEAR THE CROSS (Crosby-Doane)
MEDLEY: Glory to His Name; When We All Get to Heaven; No, Not One! (Oatman-Hugg)
MEDLEY: He Hideth My Soul; Blessed Assurance; Hiding in Thee (refrain)
Hymntime Sing-Along--Jerry Barnes and the Kurt Kaiser Singers (Word W-3176; 1962)