Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Man, I couldn't wait for this hiatus, this dawn and twilight, this home sweet hell, when I had no theatre commitments, and I could just come home from work, and do as I please for the foreseeable future. And now that I've had such freedom for a few weeks, I have to admit I'm a little bored. It sort of sucks to drive 60 miles to and from Buffalo after work, as I do when I'm with a show, but I'm reminded, in my freedom, the joy and sorrow in debating whether to watch THE AMAZING RACE, or THE APPRENTICE, on a given Sunday night. Truth be told, I've never seen either of those programs. My family was discussing the merits of both at Mother's Day dinner on Sunday. But you get the idea. I can work on my epic poem for just so long.

For readers of this blog, both of you, it may be newsworthy to know I've had to backtrack in my alphabetized listening of music. Right between SOUNDGARDEN, and The Soundtrack to SPIDERMAN, I came across some records I bought and stashed in a closet, and promptly forgot about. So I've spent the last few months going through them listening to letters M, through letter S. It's an alphabet fetish. The music is secondary.

It's a fine line between worthwhile listening and pure junk in the world of old records. This weekend was decidedly easy listening. First up was "101 Strings, The Soul of Spain". If you know old vinyl records, you know 101 Strings. They were, and still are, a European based orchestra, that produces luscious arrangements of current pop hits, movie scores, and other thematic music. These records were bountiful in the 1960s, owing much to the fact they were always considerably cheaper than any other record albums in the record store. If albums were $1.89 in 1969, the 101 Strings albums were 59 cents. They are now a staple in Salvation Army store record bins. I remember being about 10 years old and my friend up the street came home with a brand new Beatles album, which shouted from the cover, THE BEATLES! THE BEATLES! THE BEATLES! We put it on the record player, and to our horror, out the speakers came beautiful, beatle-less schlock. And if you looked carefully again at the record cover, at the top in fine print it said, '101 Strings Play', and then boldly, THE BEATLES! THE BEATLES! THE BEATLES!. What a chump.
101 STRINGS, THE SOUL OF SPAIN, is very conquistador-like, a lot of marimbas, castanets and strings. Picture European conquerors and dancing senoritas. Speaking of strings, I also listened to SINATRA & STRINGS, (1961 Reprise - 1004). This pre-Beatles era recording features Frank Sinatra crooning standards like Misty, Night and Day, and Stardust. It seemed to me Sinatra without strings would have been a better listen, as the swarming violins do little for the stark, soulful, and blues based arrangements of songs. But it's Frank Sinatra, so who cares? Bagpipes and a kazoo wouldn't dampen that voice. Another glass of sherry, my funky friend?

Speaking of knock-off record labels, I listened to ARTIE SHAW, MR. CLARINET, on Tops Records (9755). Tops Records were infamous for confusing the record buying public with versions of current top hits, by session vocalists. So if you were looking for "Splish-Splash", by Bobby
Darin, you may have purchased Splish-Splash by Joe the plumber. But any lover of vintage vinyl will tip a hat to Tops Records. Any recording company that started off selling used jukebox singles out of crates in grocery stores, and hiring a then unknown Lou Reed as a session vocalist, certainly has something to offer. They can also boast releasing early records by then unknowns, Lena Horne, The Ink Spots, and several others, under there soon to be famous names. ARTIE SHAW, MR. CLARINET, is a typical Tops record with ridiculous statements on the cover like, "DUO-RANGE STEREO", and "TOPS STAR SERIES". Generally 'Tops Star Series', meant music by once established popular musicians, whose work had fallen into public domain, or were an easy purchase, and Duo-Ranged Stereo, meant not mono. It is interesting to hear the Artie Shaw of the Big-Band era, with jazzy and improvisational arrangements, evolving into a Lawrence Welk-like platitude, edging along the shifting preferences of the record buying public. There is a smashing female vocal of MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY here, but like one can expect from a slapdash Tops record, the singer is uncredited. Shaw was considered the finest clarinetist of his day, and while fronting his popular orchestra in the 1930s, he was the first Caucasian Big Band leader to hire a featured black female vocalist, none other than Billie Holiday, who eventually excused herself from the position after pressure from record company executives, and southern audiences.

And in the mail yesterday came the book, TOP POP SINGLES, 1955-2002, by Joel Whitburn, which contains a listing for every record single which broke into Billboard's Top 100, in the rock and roll era, between the years 1955 and 2002. I'm drooling.

And I'm poking my blog with a stick with another inane entry. It's time to watch the whole page light up with my spell check.

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