A battle has suddenly erupted between two formidable foes who share a common sound — the analog synthesizer. Not just any analog synthesizer sound, mind you, but a deep burbling one: pulsating and insistent.
In this corner, wearing a strangely intricate electronic eyepiece, we have Ronnie Montrose with “Mandolinia” from 1978’s Open Fire album:
In the opposite corner, wearing an ill-advised sleeveless t-shirt, we have the menacing and flatulent opening theme of the children’s dramatic short story, “The Remarkable, Riderless Runaway Tricycle” – also from 1978 (and in the key of D):
Note: after the first 15 seconds of the video, you can move the cursor down to the 8:00 mark for a longer disco version of the synthesizer theme from this opening sequence.
And the winner is…
Ronnie Montrose — in a first-round knockout while blind-folded.
Before The Barclay Stars and their lone 1966 breakthrough album, Billy Mure was the first and last name in military guitar ensembles. The title track from Billy’s 1959 RCA album, Supersonics in Flight, demonstrates the glorious sound of multiple guitars playing stereophonically in tandem.
Supersonics in Flight – Billy Mure
[Pssst: Click the triangle above to play “Supersonics in Flight” by Billy Mure.]
It is startling and sad the degree to which Jimmie Rivers is not represented in the history of recorded music. Says AllMusic:
“Despite his obscurity, Jimmie Rivers is one of the great western swing/bop guitarists. His legacy is miniscule, consisting of a disc’s worth of live tracks with his group, the Cherokees, recorded between 1961-64, but these low-fidelity documents show a guitarist with a near-unparalleled ability to construct exciting, melodic solos in the vein of Charlie Christian.”
As Rich Kienzle points out in his liner notes to the lone Jimmie Rivers CD anthology, Vance Terry was a former teenaged steel guitar wonder who originally was “absorbed” into the Texas Playboys when his group – a western swing outfit under the direction of Billy Jack Wills, brother of Bob – disbanded. Vance quit the music biz in 1955 to attend Chico State College, not playing for two-and-a-half years until a three-week engagement with former sparring partner, Jimmie Rivers, ended up stretching to four-and-a-half years.
“On the Alamo” – a jazz standard composed and published in 1911 but not recorded until 1922 by bandleader, Isham Jones, with Gus Kahn – is beautifully interpreted by Jimmie Rivers and Vance Terry with their twin guitars:
Rich Kienzle also notes that Jimmie Rivers’ version of “On the Alamo” was clearly inspired by Speedy West’s 1956 Capitol recording of the song – here is rare TV footage of Speedy West playing “On the Alamo” from the Lawrence Welk show, back when it was a local show based out of Los Angeles:
How ironic that the last track of the second and final album from American Flyer would be titled “Keep on Tryin’.” I hate to think the group was burying this song, since it was the closing track on the album — such a radio-friendly tune, it could easily have enjoyed single release:
American Flyer was a supergroup of sorts that featured Craig Fuller (Pure Prairie League), Eric Kaz (Blues Magoos), Steve Katz (Blood, Sweat & Tears), and Doug Yule (Velvet Underground).
“Musical Fight” by The Crashers is, literally, a fight set to music:
Produced by Sonia Pottinger and released in early 1970, this A-side was initially titled “Target,” with the artist name listed as The Gaytones. For the first few seconds of the song, you can hear the engineer hold down the tape reel, slowing down the song’s intro – a manual technique known as flanging (and related to the studio trick known as phasing).
Syrupy strings would seem to undermine the menacing broken-bottle sound effects in this special mix of “Musical Fight” with spoken intro — a naked bid, perhaps, to use strings as a way to lighten the sound and help pave the way commercially?
A YouTube commenter helpfully points out that The Crashers (a.k.a., Gaytones) were the house band for Sonia Pottinger’s recording studio.
When I first became enchanted with “The Ash Grove” from Harpo Marx’s Harpo in Hi-Fi album, I initially suspected Harpo to have written the piece:
The Ash Grove – Harpo Marx
[Pssst: Click the triangle above to play “The Ash Grove” by Harpo Marx.]
But alas, “The Ash Grove” is a traditional Welsh folk song. Harpo’s version from 1957, coincidentally or not, predates the opening of The Ash Grove folk music club on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles by one year.
As noted in the update to my original posting, it would appear that Neil Diamond has been supplanted by Tommy James & the Shondells as the new reigning champions in the pioneering use of toy piano in musical recordings with their 1967 pop hit, “Out of the Blue.” The details – unfortunately – are a bit convoluted.
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!
Out of the Blue – Tommy James & the Shondells
[Pssst: Click the triangle to play “Out of the Blue” by Tommy James & the Shondells.]
Note: This mix from the 1968 Columbia Records compilation LP –Super Stars, Super Hits #2 – features groovy outer space sound effects on the intro and outro.
Steel guitar prodigy, Vance Terry, gets co-songwriting credit on “Hoopaw Rag,” an adaptation of a fiddle tune – “Bob Wills Stomp” – that was recorded January 25, 1955 in Los Angeles at the beginning of a three-year association with the Decca label for Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys:
Note: In the 5 seconds preceding the start of the song, Bob Wills whispers instructions to his band.
Oddly, this song appears to have been kept in the can. PragueFrank’s most excellent Country Music Discographies points out that “Hoopaw Rag” remained unissued on LP for another 16 years until included on 1971 Vocalion album, San Antonio Rose.
Vocalion VL-73922 San Antonio Rose:
San Antonio Rose; Black And Blue Rag*; My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You**; Four Or Five Times; Roll Your Own; New Dream Eyed Waltz**; Don’t Let The Deal Go Down; I’ll Allways Be In Love With You; Hoopaw Rag**, Carnations For The Memory** – 71
(*previously unissued, **previously unissued on album, reissued on Coral CB-20109).
The authoritative discography in Charles Townsend’s biography of Bob Wills – likewise titled, San Antonio Rose – confirms that “Hoopaw Rag” was only ever issued on LP, never on 78 or 45. Until two decades later in 1992, that is, when MCA issued a CD anthology of mid-50s Decca recordings entitled, Bob Wills – Country Music Hall of Fame Series.
From what I can tell, Norman Mapp only released one album as a vocalist – 1961’s Jazz Ain’t Nothin’ But Soul on the Epic label, an imprint of almighty Columbia Records. As a songwriter, however, Norman Mapp saw his songs recorded by a number of artists, such as “Rock and Stroll Room” for Mickey & Sylvia (1958), “By the River” for Wilt ‘The Stilt’ Chamberlain (1960), “Mr. Ugly” for Aretha Franklin (1963), and “I Worry About You” for Marvin Gaye (1966).
The title track from Mapp’s lone album has been famously covered by Betty Carter and more recently by Esperanza Spalding, but right here you can enjoy the original version:
Answer Songs: Validators of Cultural Currency
As a musical artist, you know you’ve penetrated popular consciousness when a fellow artist answers you in song – as when Pat Lundy recorded “Soul Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues” as the title track to her 1968 Columbia album, no doubt in response to Norman Mapp.