Two Old Cats Like Ray Charles & Hank Williams, Jr.

I took a chance on a 45 – a duet from 1984 by Ray Charles and Hank Williams, Jr. – and I begrudgingly admit it charmed me:

“Two Old Cats Like Us” is the lead-off song from Ray’s Friendship album of collaborations with famous friends, such as Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson & Chet Atkins.

Two Old CatsTroy Sales, who wrote the song, was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame four years later in 1988 – click here to check out his 20-year career highlights.

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

Musical Roll Call pt. 2: “You Can’t Wynn Stewart”

People readily associate Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and Red Simpson with the legendary Bakersfield Sound, but not enough people associate the great Wynn Stewart,  as well.  Wynn’s musical roll call – “You Can’t Wynn Stewart” – playfully uses the names of country music notables (e.g., “She’ll hurt your Pride, Charley … Johnny, she’ll spend all your Cash”) to scare away potential rivals for the affection of his sweetheart.

Someone on YouTube put together a great accompanying video for this song:

That’s the late great Ralph Mooney playing pedal steel on a song that was recorded in 1969 and released on Wynn’s You Don’t Care What Happens to Me LP from 1970 on the Capitol label – home of the Bakersfield Sound.  Amazingly, this surefire winner of a song never enjoyed single release, not even as a B-side:

Wynn Stewart

Musician and recording credits for the album:

Tommy Collins, Russ Hansen, John Wakely, Bobby George, Dale Noe, 
Glenn Keener, Al Bruneau & Clarence White - guitar
Ralph Mooney - steel guitar
Bobby Austin, Red Wooten, Stanley Puls & Chuck Berghofer - bass
Helen Price, Archie Francis & Sam Goldstein - drums
Larry Muhoberac & Bob Pierce - piano
Earl Ball - piano/percussion
Recorded:
1968 & 1969 - Capitol Recording Studio - Hollywood

Musical Roll Call pt. 1: “Soul Train”

Little Royal‘s musical roll call of soul music luminaries – “Soul Train” from 1972 – is connected to the post-Syd Nathan era of the King Records story after Starday Records had purchased King and henceforth became known as Starday-King:

“Soul Train”     Little Royal      1972

Interesting to see which artists were chosen for the various work assignments aboard the train – i.e., Wilson Pickett as engineer, Ike & Tina as faretakers, Staples Singers as cooks, Isaac Hayes as bandleader, and Elvis (oddly) as banker.  Most surprising of all is the inclusion of The Osmonds (as conductors) — I can only assume this is in response to the their funky hit of the year prior, 1971’s “Crazy Horses.”  Click here to check out a live clip of the overly-rocking Osmond Brothers stomping their way through this American Indian-inspired piece of hard-charging funky rock – with suitable stage attire that must be seen to be believed.

Tri-Us was a groovy little label that was not long for this world, alas.

Soul Train - Little RoyalClick on this link to view the label’s releases, most of them Huey P. Meaux productions devoted to Little Royal.   According to Little Royal’s bio on the website, Last.fm:  “Little Royal’s Tri-Us recordings are worth checking out, as they are fine pieces of Southern soul in its final hour.”

Battle of the “Spaceship Races”

How interesting that Carole King – the musical part of the Goffin-King songwriting partnership – had been writing hits since the very beginning of the 1960s and yet had not released her first solo album until 1970 – an album somewhat pointedly entitled, Writer.

Carole King

The album’s kick-off track is, for Carole, a bit of a rocker – “Spaceship Races” – and a determined one at that.  Who knew from Carole’s fairly straight-ahead reading that a joyous power pop of a colt could come thundering out of the same gates albeit when jockeyed by Tom Northcott?

Spaceship Races – Carole King
Spaceship Races – Tom Northcott

[Pssst:  Click on the triangles above to play “Spaceship Races” – the first as originally conceived by Carole King and the second as imaginatively interpreted by Tom Northcott.]

Tom Northcott’s more elaborate pop production was likewise the album-opening track on his 1971 album, Upside Downside, on Uni (imprint of MCA) – although a B-side of the single, “Suzanne” (the oft-covered Leonard Cohen classic).  What gives?

Tom Northcott

Northcott (popular in his native Vancouver) recorded 20 sides for Warner Brothers in the mid-to-late 60s and then jumped to MCA’s Uni label for exactly one album – and then nothing more for a long time.

Paul Tanner: Musician-of-All-Trades & Oddball Instrumentalist

Paul Tanner, who just recently passed, lived to the ripe old age of 95.  I was delighted to learn that this one-time trombonist for the Glenn Miller Orchestra went on to play the pivotal theremin part on the Beach Boys’ worldwide 1966 hit, “Good Vibrations” – as well as on “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” from 1965’s Pet Sounds plus the title track from 1967’s Wild Honey.

According to Bruce Weber, Tanner went to California in the early 1950s to do film soundtracks, as well as live musical performances on ABC TV, and it was during this period in which he “became something of a musician-of-all-trades, taking up a variety of oddball instruments and performing on them when a quirky score called for them.”

Tanner became interested in the theremin – Leon Theremin’s self-named futuristic 1920s electronic musical instrument – as a result of having witnessed its effective implementation in the soundtracks of such 1950s science fiction films as The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Thing (From Another World) click here to hear a theremin recording session for The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Tanner, after noticing theremin performers struggling with the instrument to obtain correct intonation and dynamics, contracted with a TV repair shop owner and friend, Bob Whitsell, to construct for him an instrument that would replicate the sound of a theremin but include manual levers that would allow the player to have greater control over volume and pitch.  Thus was born the “electro-theremin” (also known as the Tannerin) and first employed on Tanner’s 1958 “ambient” album, Music for Heavenly Bodies.

Heavenly Bodies - Paul Tanner

Here is an early work-up of “Good Vibrations” that features Paul Tanner’s electro-theremin part more prominently in the mix than the 45 version released in October 1966:

Alternate Vibrations – The Beach Boys

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to hear Paul Tanner’s electro-theremin featured in an early mix of “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys.]

Incredibly, Tanner donated/sold his one-and-only prototype of the electro-theremin in the late 60s “to a hospital to use for audiology work, because he believed that newer keyboard synthesizers made it obsolete.”

Extra Credit:  memorize the chart listings for “Good Vibrations” for various countries outside the United States.

National Chart (1966–67)            Peak Position
Australian Singles Chart                  2
Belgian Singles Chart                     6
Canadian Singles Chart                    2
Dutch Singles Chart                       4
German Singles Chart                      8
Italian Singles Chart                    12
Malaysian Singles Chart                   1
New Zealand Singles Chart                 1
Norwegian Singles Chart                   2
Rhodesian Singles Chart                   1
UK Singles Chart                          1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100                    1

Jimmy Cliff: Bongo Man II

In 1970 Jamaican music legend, Jimmy Cliff, released a recording that used powerful Nyabinghi drumming as the song’s primary percussion track, “Bongo Man”:

A couple years ago I picked up one of those Warner Brothers artist samplers at a local flea market, this one a double album from the late 70s, Pumping Vinyl:

Pumping Vinyl

One of the standout tracks on this 2-LP compilation is a newly-arranged version of  “Bongo Man” taken from Cliff’s then-current Warner Brothers album, 1978’s Give Thankz:

This version of “Bongo Man” was released as the B-side of the “Love I Need” 45.  Backing vocals are provided by The Meditations with Nyabinghi percussion by Ras Michael & The Sons of Negus.  If you check out Jimmy Cliff’s MySpace page, you will find this track there, as well.

Francoise Hardy is All Alone

The “folk” label on the top of the album cover combined with the Reprise Records promotional sticker at the bottom make me think that some radio station staffer liquidated part of the radio station’s library for some cold hard cash.  I feel bad for the listeners, since this is a good album, and I am not a radio broadcaster who serves their metro area:

Hardy

The third track on side two – “Times Passing By” – is my pick for the A-side of the first single from this strong collection of songs recorded in Paris and released in 1970.

This album would appear to be the fourth in a quick succession of albums for Reprise beginning in 1968 with the release of her US self-titled debut, which contains some classic tracks, such as “Voilà” & “Qui Peut Dire” (A & B sides, respectively, of a European single released September 1967) among others.  Click here to consult an extensive discography of recordings by Françoise Hardy – from 1962-2007.

Below is a TV appearance by Hardy, where she sings another track from Alone – “Song of Winter” – accompanied by striking visual imagery:

Hold Onto Your Hat:  “Song of Winter” was co-written by (pre-) Foreigner’s Mick Jones.

“Song of Winter” would also serve as the B-side for Hardy’s take on Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” – but only for the New Zealand market, it would appear.

Music that Bridge Nations: “Dixie Doodle”

One of my favorite Link Wray tunes is one that humorously fuses our two American national anthems – “Dixie” and “Yankee Doodle”:

Interesting to learn that, on the strength of his hugely influential top 40 hit, “Rumble” – a menacing instrumental that was actually banned from radio in several markets including, surprisingly, New York City – Link was able to get signed to Epic, an imprint of the almighty Columbia label, who released “Dixie Doodle” in 1959.  Thanks to Cub Koda’s liner notes in Rhino’s Link Wray anthology, I also learned that “Dixie Doodle” was an attempt by Link to emulate the “Rebel” sound of Duane Eddy, who was hot in the late 1950s (and, some 50 years later, royally received at Glastonbury in 2011).  Fascinating to find out, too, that “Dixie Doodle” ended up on the flip side, even though it was originally pushed to be the A-side, with Confederate money printed as a novelty promotion.

“Dixie Doodle” was released as the B-side to “Rawhide,” which went top 40 in January 1959 (#23) – both songs written by Link, along with the very able assistance of TV teen dance show host, Milt Grant.

Not to be confused, by the way, with the 8-verse parody of “Yankee Doodle” that was popular in the South during the Civil War.