Toussaint’s Pop Persian Poetry

Browsing 45Cat’s database for 1966 singles associated with Allen Toussaint, my eyes were immediately drawn to an A-side entitled “Omar Khayyam” by The Rubaiyats, issued on Toussaint’s own Sansu label.  As it turns out, the band’s name is inspired by the term for “a collection of Ruba’i”  (as in the Persian poetry form), with the best known example likely being the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

“Omar Khayyam”     The Rubaiyats     1966

The Rubaiyats are, in actual fact, Allen Toussaint and Willie Harper — Toussaint would write both sides of their only single.  “Omar Khayyam” would be a B-side upon initial release in the US in September, 1966 although the two sides would flip (so says 45Cat) with the single’s 1968 release in the UK.

Houghton Mifflin & Company- First edition, 1884 – thanks to Book Graphics!

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam-aaNews Flash!  “Omar Khayyam” made Offbeat’s “Ten Buried Allen Toussaint Treasures” list.

As further proof of the song’s viability:  Vintage Vinyl is offering a special 7-inch release, “Omar Khayyam” b/w “Do Me Like You Do Me” by John Williams & the Tick Tocks – $13.99 (“two collectible Sansu sides back-to-back for the first time … of huge interest to Northern Soul collectors, Mod and R&B fans worldwide.”)  Vintage Vinyl provides the UK history related to this song:

“First played at Manchester’s Twisted Wheel on the UK Action label but originally recorded for US label Sansu in 1966.  This hard-to-find original became a Mod and rare soul classic and has, in recent times, enjoyed a revival on the Northern Soul circuit.”

Rubaiyats 45£45 paid for this 45 in 2010.

Check out this art nouveau-inspired 3rd edition published by Bernard Quaritch in London in 1872 – bound by Sangorski and Sutcliffe of London (tip of the hat to Dartmouth).

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam-bbDid you know of the cursed special “Sangorski Edition” of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam — on Business Pundits‘ list of 15 Weird and Mysterious Books?

“Is it possible for a book to be as cursed as the Hope Diamond?  If so, the Sangorski special edition of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is.  This book is a work of art in and of itself:  the cover is bound in leather, features a jewel-encrusted peacock on the front, and is emblazoned with gold leaf.  Its designer, Francis Sangorski, spent months designing it, and two years to finish its creation.  It’s a legendary book, both because of the elevated artistry of the book, and the tragedies that seemed to follow it.

Sangorski’s original copy sank with the Titanic.  Before he could recreate it, Francis Sangorski drowned, six weeks after the ship — with the book — foundered in the Atlantic.  Stanley Bray, Sangorski’s partner, spent six years recreating the second copy of the book from Sangorski’s original drawings.  The book was then destroyed in the London Blitz.  It took Bray another 40 years to finish the next copy, which was donated to the British Library after his death.”

The cursed Sangorski special edition

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam-cc“Omar Khayyam” is part of the 2011 compilation:  Allen Toussaint:  The Lost Sessions.

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is an enormously influential literary work (650 different editions, translated into over 70 languages, illustrations by 150 artists) whose reach extends into literature, cinema, music. computer games, and television (e.g., 6-episode story arc in The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show about the “Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayyam“).

Important to keep in mind, though, that Edward Fitzgerald (as the UK’s Telegraph points out) is, in his English translations, “deliberately altering, combining and developing the verses of Omar Khayyam, a 12th-century poet who is remembered as a talented astronomer-mathematician, but not as a great Persian poet like Sadi or Hafiz.  Many of the quatrains attributed to him have been falsely ascribed.”

Music Trivia:  Edmund J. Sullivan’s 1913 illustration to verse 26 of Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam would be famously appropriated by Alton Kelley & Stanley Mouse for a poster advertising a 1966 Grateful Dead concert at the Avalon that, from that point forward, would be known as (though not strictly) “Skull & Roses.”

Nino & April’s Pop Steel Drums

In 1966 brother and sister duo, Nino Tempo & April Stevens, left Atco for White Whale, a label then enjoying commercial success with The Turtles.  White White demonstrated their eagerness to do business with Nino and April by allowing them complete artistic freedom in the recording studio. The first single – “All Strung Out” – served as the title track of their debut album, which ended up hitting the #26 spot on the pop chart.

All Strung Out - Nino & April

This song – which was originally offered to the Righteous Brothers as the follow-up single to their huge hit, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” – was recorded at Hollywood’s Gold Star studios by legendary recording engineers, Larry Levine and Stan Ross, along with the usual top-notch support from some of LA’s finest session musicians.  Hear the final mix yourself in this (mimed) performance on TV’s Lloyd Thaxton Show in the summer of 1966.  Interesting to note that Vinnie Barbarino enjoyed a hit cover version in 1977 under the title, “All Strung Out on You.”

How surprising to learn that one of the album’s tracks, “Alone Alone” – a song brimming with obvious hit potential – was never released as a single:

“Alone Alone”     Nino Tempo & April Stevens     1966

Very effective use of steel drums on the instrumental riff that opens and closes the song.   Tune was written by John Dalton & Gary Montgomery – produced by Nino Tempo.

Six Degrees of Syd Nathan

Sometimes it seems as if just about everyone has passed through Syd Nathan’s King Records at some point in their career, even if just for one or two singles.  April Stevens,  as it turns out, released two singles on King in 1953 that were also issued in the UK on Parlophone (future home of The Beatles):  [1] “C’est Si Bon” b/w “Soft Warm Lips”; and  [2] “How Could Red Riding Hood (Have Been So Very Good)” b/w “You Said You’d Do It (Are You Gonna).”  Those two singles, however, were preceded by April’s King debut – “Hot Tamale” b/w “Treat Me Nice.”  Fascinating to discover that one of two unissued tracks in King’s vaults is “Wanting You,” a fantastic dance track that April later recorded for MGM in 1967 and that was originally (now, hold onto your hats) an Oscar Hammerstein song from the 1928 operetta, The New Moon!  Sadly, “Wanting You” didn’t burn up the charts, although it was later vindicated as a classic track of the UK Northern Soul music scene.

April Stevens - 1953 King EP