The Great (Musical) Experiment

Even less seems to be written about Allen Toussaint‘s final A-side for Bell, 1969‘s populist anthem, “We the People“:

“We the People”      Allen Toussaint     1969

Imagine the magnitude of our collective output if we all directed our energies toward constructive ends instead of squabbling amongst ourselves.  Help me understand exactly how squaring off against each other will create a better future.

Unfortunately, it takes grown-ups to keep a democratic-style government from being overrun by career politicians and well-funded special interests, and too many people have bought into the “confrontational approach” to governance and public policy that passes for “civic discourse” in this country (e.g., boxing match sound effects employed by Fox News that allow you to keep score at home).  And thus, as Wall Street Journal reports, while 95% of post-recession gains (2009-2012) have gone to the wealthiest 1%, we the people fight over the crumbs, instead, and demonize each other.  Is this really the best we can do – or expect?

  Released in the US in 1969 on Bell           Released in the UK in 1969 on Soul City

Allen Toussaint 45-bbAllen Toussaint 45-b

On a technical (and much less philosophical) note, AllMusic alerts us to a cogent point about What Is Success – the 2007 CD reissue mentioned in yesterday’s piece:

“Perhaps owing to their very scarcity, the Bell Records singles ‘Get Out of My Life Woman’ b/w ‘Gotta Travel On’; ‘Got That Feelin’ Now’ b/w ‘Hands Christianderson’; and ‘We the People’ b/w ‘Tequila’ have actually been mastered from vinyl (rather than tape) sources.  While surface noise is audible throughout, each of the selections is thoroughly listenable, thanks to Rob Shread’s effective audio restorations.”

Six years prior, Toussaint (as “Al Tousan”) had issued a B-side entitled “Real Churchy,” which is exactly how I’d described the piano chording that Toussaint employs throughout — would it be wrong to tag “We the People” as “gospel“?

Toussaint’s Danish-Flavoured Pop

Do not understand why so very little has been written about Allen Toussaint‘s 1968 composition “Hands Christianderson,” the instrumental B-side released 47 years ago this very month:

“Hands Christianderson”     Allen Toussaint     1968

I hear a bit of Burt Bacharach-style melodicism in the trumpets and backing vocals, though the final product is unmistakably Toussaint-ian.  Tip of the hat to Home of the Groove for breaking it down:

“With a title as quirky as the composition itself, this unusual and complex production appeared on the second of three Toussaint singles released by Bell in 1968, featuring him on piano, and in a few cases, vocals.  I wonder if he designed ‘Hands’ to play pop counterpoint to the lush but more straight ahead instrumental hit song of the same year, ‘Love Is Blue,’ by Paul Mauriat.  It has the same kind of over the top, multi-instrument arrangement, including strings, but with quite a rhythmic twist – kind of like ‘Hand Jive’ meets Riverdance.  If anyone ever asks you if a song can be poly-rhythmic and syncopated and NOT be funky, play this!

As far as I can tell, that would be Zig and George of the Meters pumping the kick drum pedal and plucking the bass strings respectively; and you can probably see why the temperamental and highly funkifried Mr. Modeliste chafed at being put to rather mechanical tasks such as this and eventually stopped playing on many of Toussaint’s productions.

Maybe Allen was hoping this might be picked up as another TV theme song (as had his earlier “Whipped Cream”, when covered by Herb Alpert), or for a movie soundtrack.  I don’t know, but it seems he enjoyed and saw commercial potential in such pop instrumentals, as he had been doing them since the late 1950s, though not on this scale.  ‘Hands’ was cleverly done, maybe too much so, as it quickly patty-caked off into the sunset; taking with it the other side of the 45, ‘I’ve Got That Feelin Now,’ which went in another musical direction entirely, call it soul easy-listening.”

Allen Toussaint 45-aYou can find “Hands Christianderson” on a 2007 CD release entitled What Is Success:  The Bell & Scepter Recordings — essentially, a reissue of Toussaint’s acclaimed 1970 LP From a Whisper to a Scream, (originally released as Toussaint) plus the A & B sides of three Bell 45s from 1968-69.

Hans Christian Andersen:  poet, playwright, novelist & fairy tailor

Hans Christian Andersen

Rx: Love (Lot’s of Lovin’)

So, have you figured out the pattern yet?  It’s still early, I know, but congratulations to those who correctly deduced that Zero to 180 is paying tribute to Allen Toussaint (who left us exactly one week ago) by taking a little “time walk” – one that began last Friday with 1965‘s teaching tool for antonyms, “The Word Game” (preschool parents take note).   Yesterday’s piece shone the spotlight on 1966‘s literary-themed “Omar Khayyam,” a song whose mysterious allure worked quietly in the background until, decades later, it was discovered that the song had seized the imagination of dance fans worldwide.

Which brings us to 1967, pop’s peak year, and the one and only duet by Lee Dorsey and Betty Harris — “Love Lots of Lovin'” — which features some percussion that really pops:

“Love Lots of Lovin'”     Lee Dorsey & Betty Harris     1967

This  “regional breakout” – written, arranged & produced by Allen Toussaint – alas, just bubbled under (#110) nationally in December, 1967 and did not receive the wider recognition it deserved.  Billboard, who predicted the song would reach the Top 60, had this review in its November 25, 1967 edition:

“Teamed for the first [and, sadly, last] time, this duet will fast become a hot seller, right up there high on the Hot 100.  Pulsating blues rocker penned by Allen Toussaint serves as strong material for them, and they wail all the way through.”

      Lee Dorsey                                      Betty Harris

Lee Dorsey-bbbBetty Harris-aaa

“Love Lots of Lovin'” – released domestically in 1967 – would not be issued in the UK for another two years.

1967 US release                                           1969 UK release

Lee Dorsey-Betty Harris-aLee Dorsey-Betty Harris-b

Billboard’s biography of Betty Harris states that “Harris planned to support [“Love Lots of Lovin'”] on tour with Otis Redding, but on December 10 [1967], the soul giant lost his life in a plane crash.”

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.”