Tag Archives: Novelty

Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen: Live From Ebbets Field

Live from the Denver ozone in 1973

For many rock listeners, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen’s 1971 debut, Lost in the Ozone, was a taste-expanding experience. The group’s catalog of country, western swing, boogie-woogie, jump blues and rockabilly was broader than the country excursions of 1960s rock bands like the Byrds, and though others – notably NRBQ – blended multiple genres, the Airmen’s cover of “Hot Rod Lincoln” turned commercial attention into a following. The band hit the road in 1973 in support of their third album, Country Casanova, with a new-used tour bus and ace steel player Bobby Black in tow. The tour schedule was apparently quite grueling, but produced superb shows, including this stop in Denver, Colorado.

The group’s core lineup – George “Commander Cody” Frayne, Billy C. Farlow, Bill Kirchen, John Tichy, Lance Dickerson, Andy Stein and Bruce Barlow – had been steady since their debut, and the chemistry they’d developed in San Francisco Bay Area clubs is evident in this set. They weave together a handful of originals with a wealth of brilliantly selected covers, including sad truckin’ songs, rockin’ rave-ups, Cajun and swing dance numbers, novelty tunes and a cowboy closer. The stereo recording is well preserved, though there are major dropouts on “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me)” and “Diggy Liggy Lo,” and the live mix lets some of the instruments and vocals peak in the red.

The set features three tracks from Country Casanova, including the original “Rock That Boogie,” but skips the earlier hit “Hot Rod Lincoln.” The Commander gets a spotlight on Merle Travis’ “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette),” and the crowd seems quite pleased with the set and six song encore. The 1973 tour has now produced several albums, including the classic Live From Deep In The Heart Of Texas and the more recent Tour From Hell. There are a few overlaps in the set lists, but the group’s huge repertoire provides eleven songs here that don’t appear on the other two. There’s a bit of stage banter to give you a feel for the 68-minute show; all that’s missing is the evening’s second set! [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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Various Artists: Big City Christmas

various_bigcitychristmasBear Family’s Christmas present to the label’s fans

There are few reissue labels with Bear Family’s long, consistent history of knowledge, taste and quality, and all three are part of the package for this 2016 Christmas collection. The 30 tracks, totalling more than 70 minutes of music, mostly sidestep the oldies chestnuts, though Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run” and Dean Martin’s “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” will be very familiar to American holiday shoppers. More surprising are the lesser-known recordings from well-known artists, including Frankie Valli and the Four Lovers’ hopped up “White Christmas” (an alternate take to the commercial single, no less!), Brenda Lee’s Cajun-influenced B-side “Papa Noel” and Dean Martin’s 1953 single “The Christmas Blues.”

Chestnuts are also spruced up, as Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock” is sung by a very jolly Teresa Brewer, and “Jingle Bells” is given a jazzy read by Ricky Nelson and turned jivey by Pat Boone. The former also provides a warm version of “The Christmas Song” and the latter returns to MOR form with “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” The Cadillacs lay some R&B on “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Eartha Kitt gives a year-later update to “Santa Baby,” and Irving Berlin’s “Snow,” featured as a group number in 1954’s White Christmas, is sung solo by Rosemary Clooney. Chuck Berry’s B-side cover of “Merry Christmas Baby” is backed by Johnnie Johnson’s inimitable piano stylings and Berry’s riff on “White Christmas.”

But what really animates Bear Family releases, aside from the encyclopedic length of their box sets and booklets, are the obscure singles and unreleased vault finds they bring back to life. By digging through the label’s catalog of compilations and box sets, the producers have assembled a wealth of Christmas-themed pop, rock, rockabilly, blues and R&B rarities. Highlights include Charlie Starr’s homage to Chubby Checker, “Christmas Twist,” Cathy Sharpe’s rockabilly “North Pole Rock,” the Moods’ original B-side “Rockin’ Santa Claus,” and novelties from the Holly Twins (“I Want Elvis for Christmas”), Patty Surbey (“I Want a Beatle for Christmas”) and Sheb Wooley (“Santa Claus Meets the Purple Eater”).

Doris Day is delightful as she sings “Ol’ Saint Nicholas,” Frankie Lymon’s beautiful soprano is both bold and solemn on “Silent Night,” and the collection closes with Jo-Ann Campbell’s year-end “Happy New Year, Baby.” Reissue producers Nico Feuerbach and Marc Mittelacher (the latter of whom also provides short song notes) have beautifully sequenced recordings from the ‘40, ‘50s and ‘60s into an incredibly compelling program, and Tom Meyer’s mastering blends it together aurally. All mono, except 4, 15, 16 and 23, but you’ll hardly notice, as the fidelity is crisp throughout. In the annual avalanche of recycled holiday oldies, Bear Family’s terrific collection tops the tree. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

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Paul Evans: The Fabulous Teens… And Beyond

PaulEvans_TheFabulousTeensAndBeyondNovelty hitmaker’s early rock ‘n’ roll secret

Paul Evans is a lesser-known transitional figure from the waning days of rock ‘n’ roll’s first pass. His best remembered (and most anthologized) hit single is the 1959 novelty “(Seven Little Girls) Sitting in the Back Seat,” which was followed by a cover of “Midnite Special” that’s equal parts Johnny Rivers and Pat Boone. His last top-40 hit was the 1960 banjo-driven pop novelty “Happy-Go-Lucky-Me,” a tune that’s turned up in recent years in both film and on television. He worked as a songwriter, writing Bobby Vinton’s chart topping “Roses are Red (My Love),” and returned to the charts with a couple of middling country entries in 1978 (“Hello, This is Joannie (The Telephone Answering Machine Song”) and 1979 (“Disneyland Daddy”).

Ace’s 28-track anthology focuses primarily on his work from 1959 and 1960, adding his two later country hits and his previously unissued original of “Roses Are Red (My Love).” The latter is a surprisingly close template to Vinton’s later hit, though without a few of the finishing touches that converted the song into chart gold. Evans’ original has a twangy guitar in place of the hit’s Floyd Cramer-styled piano, the backing chorus is more pop than Nashville Sound, and though Evans’ vocal is heartbroken, it’s not as dramatically so as Vinton’s. The bulk of Evans’ earlier recordings include easy swinging rockabilly and toned down R&B covers, produced with guitar, bass, drums, piano and sax.

None of the covers measure up to the readily available originals, but unlike the neutered works of Pat Boone, Evans seems to understand what he’s singing, even if he can’t muster the sort of verve these songs deserve. The backing musicians do a good job, though on tracks like “60 Minute Man” the stinging guitar and soulful background singers give way to a lead vocal whose growl is unconvincing. Evans is better off singing songs of lost love, such as the rolling “After the Hurricane,” and excels on his clever novelty tracks, which include the march time “The Brigade of Broken Hearts” and the country lampoon, “Willie’s Sung With Everyone (But Me).”

Evans’ cover versions provide a novel view of how artists scrambled to cope with the musical changes wrought by rock ‘n’ roll, but a rocker Evans was not. Neither his voice nor attitude have the grit or abandon of a rock ‘n’ roll singer and though his covers are well intended, they’re more cute than convincing. His original work, particularly his pop songs and novelties ring truer to his artistic character. Ace’s compilation gives you the chance to hear it all, including his original hit singles from 1959 and 1960, and his later re-emergence on the country chart in the late ‘70s. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]