Connect Sonny James’s Dots

To the best of my knowledge, there are only three “connect-the-dots” album cover designs:  (1) John Entwistle‘s brilliant cartoon rendering of the four band members for The Who By Numbers released in 1975;

Who connect-the-dots LP

(2)  Neil Diamond‘s aforementioned Shilo cover from 1970 — one that ABC Arts of Australia, you might recall, would utilize as a vehicle for an art contest in 2009;

Neil Diamond's connect the dots Shilo LP

(3) Sonny James‘s refreshingly unformidable connect-the-dots cover for 1972’s Traces LP.

Sonny James connect the dots LP

James would pantomime his rousing version of “A World of Our Own” – originally recorded by The Seekers – for this 1960s televised performance:

forget the song:  check out the gargantuan bass guitar wielded by the guy on the porch

Zero to 180 finds it hard to believe there have only been three connect-the-dots covers — and all of them released in the 1970s, curiously enough.  Are there others?

While it is true that, three decades later, hip hop artist, J.J. Brown, would take the baton with the release of his 2009 album, Connect the Dots, Brown – regrettably – would deprive his fans the joy of completing the puzzle themselves.

Honorable mention, of course, goes to Jethro Tull for Thick as a Brick‘s elaborate fictional newspaper concept that also included a clever, though puerile, connect-the-dots feature for the kiddies.

Jethro Tull connect the dots

“The Singer Sang His Song”: Leave Them Wanting More

In 1969 Columbia Special Products teamed up with the United Nations in order to help save the world’s refugee population using the proceeds from sales of star-studded hits collection, World Star Festival.  Interestingly, this musical arts venture in humanitarianism predates by nearly two years George Harrison’s groundbreaking benefit concert for the refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in August 1971.

World Star FestivalAnd whereas most of the money from Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh was tied up for years in litigation, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, however, optimistically projected in his January 1970 report to the UN General Assembly:

“Although the final results of the sales of the new long-playing record World Star Festival were not yet available since sales were still continuing, it was already clear that this record would yield substantial profits for refugee assistance.  In this connexion, the High Commissioner emphasized the importance of Governments waiving taxes and duties on the record.  A full report on the subject would be submitted to the Committee at its next session.”

One of the top tunes on World Star Festival, “The Singer Sang His Song,” is a Bee Gees contribution that was part of a ‘double A-side’ – paired with “Jumbo” – that was originally released March 1968 (and available only on vinyl until 1990):

The Singer Sang His Song – Bee Gees

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “The Singer Sang His Song” by The Bee Gees.]

Only in the UK,curiously, was this song listed as the A-side — otherwise, in the US, Canada, Netherlands, France, Germany, Austria, Singapore & Japan, “Jumbo” was the A-side.

Bee Gees - Jumbo EP

Each artist’s recording on World Star Festival (it later became clear to me) was shortened or altered in some way – presumably as a precondition for release in order to help facilitate participation among these top pop artists.  This realization really hit home once I had become intimately familiar with the World Star Festival version of “The Singer Sang His Song” – and then happened to hear the song’s original full-length mix on YouTube:

Lo and behold, the song’s tunesmith is Neil Diamond – not the Brothers Gibb (who, lest we not forget, laid down some of the earliest melodica sounds on a popular recording).

Moral of the story:

World Star Festival‘s short version brilliantly leaves the listener wanting more, while the full-length version with the additional minute of extended coda overstays its welcome, one could argue.

Afterword – from the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme

The Executive Committee,

(1) Noted with satisfaction that considerable progress had been made in the sale of the new long-playing record World Star Festival and that representatives of other United Nations agencies and of non-governmental organizations had contributed to these results;

(2) Expressed appreciation for the fact that a number of Governments had seen fit to waive taxes and import duties on the new record, or had agreed to the remission of such impositions, as recommended by the Committee in its earlier decision on the subject;

(3) Urged Governments which had not yet done so, to consider favourably the remission or refund of duties and taxes collected on the dale of World Star Festival.

“Shilo”: First Pop Use of Toy Piano?

Two songs were recorded in 1971 that featured toy piano lines:  “Butterfly” by Danyel Gerard – a big international hit – and “Only You” by NRBQ, a song from their Scraps album that was released as the B-side to “Ain’t It All Right.”Only You - NRBQ 45

For the longest time I thought 1971 might have possibly been the year in which toy piano made its first appearance on a pop record.  But then I happened to hear Neil Diamond’s “Shilo” – written and recorded in 1967 – which features a toy piano in the song’s instrumental bridge:

Can anyone point to a popular musical recording prior to 1967 that includes toy piano?

Toy Piano Update (Nov. 2013):

Wow – the story has suddenly gotten really complicated.  On the one hand, we know Neil Diamond recorded “Shilo” in 1967, and there even is(was) a video on the web purporting to be an early live performance of “Shilo” at The Bitter End in New York City from August 1967.  However, Tommy James and the Shondells released a string of five singles in 1967 – the final one of the year being “Out of the Blue,” which (I recently discovered) features some toy piano accompaniment.  So, two songs from 1967 – Neil would still seem to be, given the chronology noted above, the likely winner of the toy-piano-in-pop-music-contest, right?

Not so fast.  As it turns out, Bert Berns, the owner of Neil’s record label, Bang, adamantly refused to release “Shilo” as a single despite Neil’s protestations.  This was a deal-breaker for Neil, so he left the label and signed with MCA imprint, Uni.  Bang would eventually release “Shilo” as a 45 – but not until 1970 (which then prompted Neil to re-issue his 1968 debut album for Uni but then add a brand-new arrangement of “Shilo”).  Complicating matters is chart information on Wikipedia saying that “Shilo” was released as an A-side in September 1968, even though by then Neil had already signed to Uni, who had released his first album – which did not include “Shilo” (told you it was complicated).  Even if “Shilo” had been issued as a 45 in the summer of 1968, it is now clear that “Out of the Blue” by Tommy James was first on the radio airwaves – we have a new winner!

Toy Piano as “Serious” Instrument: On Philip Glass’ website the accompanying notes to 1997’s, The Art of the Toy Piano, provide some fascinating historical background:

In Philadelphia, 1872, the German immigrant Albert Schoenhut began manufacturing toy pianos according to his own newly-invented design. Wooden mallets struck sounding bars made of metal, replacing the fragile glass sounding-pieces used in toy pianos at that time. His new instrument could better withstand a child’s rough handling and its gamelan-like timbre is the sound of the toy piano as we know it today. By 1935, the A. Schoenhut Company had produced over forty styles and sizes of the toy instrument with prices ranging from fifty cents to twenty-five dollars –“a piano for every purse and taste”, boasted its 1903 catalogue…

The toy piano was intended as an educational tool. The more expensive models stood nineteen to twenty-four inches tall, had raised black notes instead of imitation painted ones, full-width wooden keys and a range of two to three octaves. An instruction manual taught a child such American favorites as Home Sweet Home and Yankee Doodle.

In 1948, John Cage composed his whimsical Suite for Toy Piano.   Using nine consecutive white notes, this became the first “serious” piece ever written for a toy piano.

Connect Neil Diamond’s Dots

I am still stunned that I somehow picked up a connect-the-dots album cover secondhand that had not already been filled in by one of the previous owner’s younger family members:Shilo

Neil Diamond, I have to admit, is pretty easy to find on the Goodwill circuit.  Like many others of my age, I dismissed Neil as a youngster only to discover later in life that his track record as a pop songwriter is undeniable.

Shilo, it turns out, is a compilation of hits Neil recorded for Bang in his fertile 1966-67 period and includes some of his biggies:  “Cherry Cherry”; “Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon”; “Red Red Wine”; “Kentucky Woman”; “You Got to Me”; and the title track.  My copy of the Shilo album happens to be on the original Bang label, which features a quaintly violent logo:

Bang Records

Bang Records, by the way, was originally a partnership among Bert Berns (B); Ahmet Ertegun (A); Nesuhi Ertegun (N); and Gerald Wexler (G).

One of my favorite Neil Diamond songs is a nice country pop number that is not on the Shilo album but rather 1974’s Serenade – “Rosemary’s Wine” – a track that was released as the B-side of his “Longfellow Serenade” single:

Math Pays:  Perhaps it’s not too late to join the ShiloConnect-the-Dots Contest” sponsored by the fine folks at ABC Arts in Australia – here’s one of the top entries:

Shilo Contest Winner