“New York’s My Home”: Gordon Jenkins ♥ NYC

Gordon Jenkin’s paean to The Big Apple, 1946’s Manhattan Tower — which combines narration, dialogue, sound effects & mood music, along with the songs themselves — was a bold step forward, artistically speaking, for the phonographic medium.  Could this be one of vinyl’s first “concept albums”?  [Wikipedia cites Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads of 1940 as perhaps the earliest.]

Manhattan Tower IJenkins’ original 4-song Decca EP was later expanded into a 12-song suite and released on Capitol in 1956 as The Complete Manhattan Tower.

Manhattan Tower IIOn “New York’s My Home,” the album’s closing song (and B-side of single, “The Party”), the singer [Beverly Mahr] attempts to prove that all of America’s other great cities pale in comparison to Manhattan, though the shameful mispronunciation of a Chicago landmark – as “Soldier’s [sic] Field” – one might argue, reveals a certain provincial mindset on the part of the songwriter, ultimately:

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “New York’s My Home” by Gordon Jenkins.]

Sammy Davis, Jr. would release “New York’s My Home” as a Decca single in 1956 and see it climb to #59 on the U.S. pop chart.

Sammy Davis 45More recently, New York City native, Buster Poindexter, and his band would be spotted at The Cutting Room in NYC, where they would give the song a sly kick in the pants.

Gordon Jenkins:  “Crescent City Blues” Gives Birth to “Folsom Prison Blues”

From Robert Hilburn’s recent biography of The Man in Black, I learned that Johnny Cash was rather taken with Gordon Jenkins’ 1953 musical fantasy concept LP, Seven Dreams, while serving a stint with the Air Force in Germany as a radio operator.  So taken, in fact, that Cash would later adapt much of the lyrical imagery in Jenkins’ “Crescent City Blues” when crafting his signature song, “Folsom Prison Blues.”  In the 1970s, Cash would reach an out-of-court settlement with Jenkins over his unauthorized use of “Crescent City Blues.”

“The Return”: Folk Opus – No Joke*

For their one and only recording on Elektra Records, The Ship would seamlessly link their group’s name with the album’s title and concept:  A Contemporary Folk Music Journey.

The Ship LPThe provocative quote on the album’s back cover – “I’m a sailor of the waters & the sun —  I can fight the rains but have no weapons for the calm” – gamely informs us that the most difficult storms can be the ones that rage within.

How curious to find in the producer’s chair, Gary Usher, who will be forever associated with songs about burning rubber and navigating those gnarly waves.  As with Spanky & Our Gang’s Without Rhyme or Reason, this song cycle finds the songs all interlinked for continuous sound from start to finish – which would explain why this recording of “The Return” sounds, at the very beginning of the song, as if it had jumped from a moving train:

The Return – The Ship

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “The Return” by The Ship.]

Recorded in 1971 during the peak of the Album Age for a label that was never really known for its singles, that Elektra issued no 45s from this concept album should surprise no one.

The concept itself was authored by Steve Melshenker & Steve Cowan, with the music performed by the following personnel:

Steve Melshenker:   6-string & 2nd lead guitar/vocals

Steve Cowan:           12-string guitar/vocals

Steve Reinwand:       lead guitar/dobro/harmonica/vocals

Mark Hamby:              piano/flute/vocals

Todd Bradshaw:        4- & 8-string bass

Tim Scott:                 cello

* Hats off to (Roy) Harper

“Leopard Skin Phones”: Stereo Demonstration Pop Art

With the aid of producer, Bob Dorough (“Schoolhouse Rock”), Spanky & Our Gang put together an ambitious song cycle – 1969’s Without Rhyme or Reason – where all the songs are interlinked for continuous sound from start to finish. Spanky & Our Gang LP

Album opener, “Leopard Skin Phones,” also ended up as the B-side of “And She’s Mine” (#97), the group’s final charting single:

Sonically speaking, this song would seem to be poking fun at stereo demonstration albums, as National Lampoon would go on to do to hilarious effect five years later.

Leopard Skin Phones b-side

“Surfer Dan”: Vintage Surf’s Last Gasp?

Zero to 180 has been working tirelessly to determine who recorded the final surf song of the original era and when.  Two previous posts (A and B) featured a pair of surf tunes from 1967 that seemed to spell the end of surf’s first wave.   But then I was recently startled to recall a 45 by The Turtles I had acquired a couple years ago – “Surfer Dan,” B-side of “Eleanor” from their concept album, The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands:

This is undoubtedly the first surf song whose lyrics include the word “Maharishi.”Surfer Dan 45 picture sleeve

Is it possible that, in “Surfer Dan,” The Turtles have to come to bury surf music, not praise it?

Jan & Dean: Avant-Pop Pioneers?

I picked up a double album anthology of Jan & Dean’s best work and found myself rather bemused by one particular track – and outright befuddled by an entire album side:

Jan & Dean

First, the song – 1964’s “The Anaheim, Azusa & Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review and Timing Association,” one of the odder pop refrains and my entry for Most Ungainly Song Title Award:

Anaheim, Azusa & Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review & Timing Association

[Pssst: Click on the triangle above to hear “The Anaheim, Azusa & Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review & Timing Association” by Jan & Dean.]

I love the muscular opening, as well as the song’s sheer goofiness, while the satiric edge of the lyrics challenge conventional notions of the group as mere musical lightweights.  This one song would seem to anticipate “the cutting-edge comedy concepts” (Wikipedia) of the next two years, 1965-1966, which saw the release of Jan & Dean Meet Batman and Filet of Soul.

Which brings us to side 4 of the Jan & Dean Anthology Album.  All it takes is one listen.  This stuff is, shall we say, pretty out there. There are some telling clues on the back cover, however, that I only now notice in retrospect.  For one thing, the first 3 sides are grouped together as a unit at the top of the back cover, while side 4 is all by its lonesome on the bottom.  But a more subtle touch – none of the tracks on side 4 list the recording dates as is done for each of the songs on the other 3 sides.

And then you look at the song titles themselves:  “Pigeon Joke”; “Brass Section Intro”; “Beatle Part of Our Portion”; “Thank You Dean,” and the like.  As it turns out, side 4 is a 20-minute selection from the never-released Filet of Soul album.  As Mark A. Moore            – preeminent Jan & Dean scholar – so aptly puts it, Filet of Soul can only be described as “Jan & Dean as a nightclub act … in the Twilight Zone.”   The mixed-media splicing techniques on display on side 4, which I determined later to have been recorded in the months straddling 1965-66, seem to be somewhat unprecedented in pop music.  And very much along the lines of the innovative audio engineering – and caustic social commentary – made famous on Freak Out by Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, their debut (and one of rock’s first double LPs), but more importantly, a hugely influential album that got the lion’s share of the credit for the use of music as cutting-edge social satire (that, at times, also delights in the sophomoric), even though Filet of Soul predates the release of Freak Out by at least several months.

But given that the original Filet of Soul:  A “Live” One was rejected by Liberty (possibly as many as 3 times) and never released in its day, it is very easy to see why Zappa & the Mothers got all the glory as innovators in this particular realm of pop music.  Perhaps it is inaccurate to call this music “pop,” since its very prickliness limits its appeal to a fairly narrow segment of the popular market.

Even though the selections on side 4 seemed to skewer (in no particular order) their fans, the record industry, the South, and the Beatles, most of all Jan & Dean seem intent on violently deconstructing their own squeaky-clean popular image.   I can only assume that this aspect of the Jan & Dean story inspired the Monkees to do something somewhat similar a couple years later with the release of their icon-busting, surrealist anti-Monkee cinematic misadventure, Head.

Caution:  These two excerpts from side 4 are for the musically adventurous only – not advised for those who have little to no patience for juvenility or humor in their music.

Jan & Dean-1
Jan & Dean-2

What’s nice about both of these clips is that you get to hear Jan & Dean announce each of the musicians in the band – since the album is a “live” one – and these are all top L.A. studio musicians that have played, often uncredited, on countless pop hits.

Final note – Liberty did release something in 1966 called Filet of Soul, but alas, it is nearly devoid of any strangeness and bears little to no resemblance to the selections mysteriously included on side 4 of the anthology.  Mark A. Moore lists the running order of one bootleg acetate of the Filet of Soul album – this is the “long” version:

Honolulu Lulu
Boys Down at the Plant
Cathy’s Clown (short version)
Pigeon Joke / Rhino Joke
Brass Section Intro
Dead Man’s Curve (short version)
Beatle Part of Our Portion
Rhythm Section Intro
Michelle
Whistling Dixie
Thank You Dean
Norwegian Wood
1-2-3
Lightning Strikes
Hide Your Love Away
And Now Back to the Show
Let’s Hang On Intro
Hang On Sloopy