Tag Archives: Tin Pan Alley

Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer: Two of a Kind

Swinging 1961 session reissued in 2017 with bonuses

From “Splish Splash” to “Mack the Knife” to “Simple Song of Freedom,” Bobby Darin showed off a restless artistic soul. In 1961 Darin teamed with songwriter (and Capitol Records co-founder) Johnny Mercer for a swinging set of Tin Pan Alley standards, arranged and executed with brassy sizzle by Billy May. The album’s joie de vivre is undeniable, sparked both by the principals’ chemistry and the band’s relentless push. Darin and Mercer seem to be unreeling these classics extemporaneously, with each inserting playful ad libs as the other sings. Imagine if Martin and Lewis, or Hope and Crosby, had both been vocalists first, rather than vocalist-comedian pairs, and you’ll get a sense of this duo’s playful power. Their 27-year age difference evaporates as they express their shared love of these songs, including a few of Mercer’s own titles.

The recordings, engineered by Bill Putnam, are crisp, fanning the orchestra out in stereo and leaving center stage for the vocalists. Omnivore’s reissue augments the album’s original thirteen tracks with seven bonuses, including five alternate takes and two songs that didn’t make the cut. The newly released songs are Dreyer and Herman’s mid-1920s “Cecilla” and Leslie Stuart’s late nineteenth-century British music hall tune “Lily of Laguna.” The latter had been shorn of its racial lyrics in the early-1940s, and it’s this swinging rewrite that Darin and Mercer tackle here. The CD release includes an eight-page booklet that features original cover art, Stanley Green’s original liners, and new notes by Cheryl Pawelski. Originally issued by ATCO, and reissued in 1990, this title’s been a hard-to-find gem in Darin’s catalog. Now, with bonuses, it has even more sparkle. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Doris Day: The Love Album

DorisDay_TheLoveAlbumReissue of terrific 1967 album of standards

Doris Day’s success as an actress in the 1960s has often eclipsed her earlier renown as a vocalist, but it was with the big bands of the 1940s that she first became a star. Though her films fell out of step with the social changes of the late 60s, she found renewed success on television, and it was amid this transition that she returned to the studio to record a set of standards, newly orchestrated by Sid Feller. Having just parted ways with her longtime label, Columbia, the independently produced album was shopped around without success, and shelved until the UK Vision label dug it out of the vault in 1994. A 2006 reissued added three bonus tracks recorded in 1970 for a 1971 television special, and it’s that fourteen-track lineup that’s reproduced here.

Even with rock and pop having been pushed Tin Pan Alley off the radio, it’s hard to imagine there wasn’t a market for these superb performances. Day takes the songs at pensive tempos that highlight her superb control and the sweet tone of her voice. Feller’s use of a rhythm section, string quartet and woodwind player may have been motivated by economics, but it also created a perfect pocket for the vocals. The sound is full, but doesn’t require Day to compete with the arrangements. Day’s selections drew heavily from the songs she heard as a child, and the bonus tracks rework two of her catalog icons “It’s Magic” and “Sentimental Journey.” Liner notes by Will Friedwald round out a great package. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Doris Day’s Home Page

Jerry Lee Lewis: Rockin’ My Life Away

JerryLeeLewis_RockinMyLifeAwayJerry Lee’s late-70s/early-80s country hits on Elektra

There’s some sort of twisted justice in Jerry Lee Lewis’ having survived his own hard living to produce both personal and professional longevity. Rejected by Nashville, he built foundational rock ‘n’ roll pillars at Sun, faded at Smash, rebuilt himself as a country star in the late ‘60s, rode a wave of nostalgia in the ‘70s, faded from the country charts, and regained critical acclaim with late-70s and early-80s records for Elektra. It’s these latter recordings that are the subject of this fourteen track collection, highlighted by his eight charting singles (including the double A-side “Rockin’ My Life Away” b/w “I Wish I Was Eighteen Again”), and select album tracks.

His eighteen months on Elektra produced three studio albums and a greatest hits collection, and though the production has the clean sound of the era, nothing Lewis recorded ever really sounded clean. In addition to songs by Sonny Throckmorton, Charlie Rich, Bill Mize, Johnny Cash and Roger Miller, Lewis also picked songs from Arthur Alexander, Bob Dylan, and even tackled “Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goodbye” and “Over the Rainbow.” It’s a mark of Lewis’ stylistic strength that even the most outside of these songs succumbed to his country and rock charms. Reissues of the original Elektra albums [1 2 3] provide a deeper helping, but this sampler is a great place to get an earful of highlights. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Jerry Lee Lewis’ Home Page

King Curtis: The Complete Atco Singles

KingCurtis_TheCompleteAtcoSinglesSuper collection of King Curtis’ Atco singles – A’s and B’s

King Curtis’ saxophone may have been better known to record buyers than King Curtis himself. In an extensive career as a session musician, his horn provided iconic hooks and solos on singles by the Coasters (“Yakety Yak” “Charlie Brown”), Buddy Holly (“Reminiscing”) and LaVern Baker (“I Cried a Tear”). Curtis’ “Hot Potato,” originally released by the Rinkydinks in 1963, reissued as “Soul Train” by the Ramrods in 1972, and re-recorded by the Rimshots, was used as the original opening theme of Soul Train. But Curtis was also a songwriter and bandleader who produced dozens of singles under his own name, most notably “Soul Twist,” which he waxed for Enjoy, “Soul Serenade” for Capitol, and a number of hits for Atco, including “Memphis Soul Stew” and covers of “Ode to Billy Joe” and “Spanish Harlem.”

While at Atco from 1958 to 1959, and again from 1966 to 1971, Curtis released a broad range of singles that crossed the pop, R&B and adult contemporary charts. His sax could be tough, tender, muscular, smooth, lyrical and humorous, and his material included originals, covers of R&B and soul tunes, contemporaneous pop and country hits, film themes and even Tin Pan Alley classics. He recorded with various lineup of his own Kingpins (though perhaps never a better one than with Jerry Jemmott, Bernard Purdie and Cornell Dupree), but also with the players of the Fame and American Sound studio. He teamed with Duane Allman for the Instant Groove album, kicking out a Grammy-winning cover of Joe South’s “Games People Play,” and recorded “Teasin’” with Eric Clapton.

King Curtis’ singles catalog was filled with interesting selections, including superb covers of Big Jay McNeely’s “Something on Your Mind,” Rufus Thomas’ “Jump Back,” Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes” and a warm take on Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” that was lifted from Atco’s Soul Christmas. Curtis’ originals were just as good, including the twangy “Restless Guitar,” the go-go “Pots and Pans,” the manifesto “This is Soul,” the funky “Makin Hey,” and the frantic “Pop Corn Willy.” Of particular interest to collectors are the many singles that didn’t appear on original King Curtis albums, including eight of the first ten tracks on this set. Other non-LP singles include the guitar-centered “Blue Nocturne,” an early rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “Valdez in the Country” titled “Patty Cake,” and the yakety-sax oldies medley “Rocky Roll.” Of paramount interest is Curtis’ previously unreleased final Atco single, “Ridin’ Thumb,” which closes disc three and includes a rare King Curtis vocal.

With more than a third of these tracks having been originally released only as singles, this set will fill a lot of gaps, even for fans who’ve collected Curtis’ albums. The quad-panel digipack includes a 16-page booklet with liner notes by Randy Poe, photos, label reproductions and discographical detail. It would been great to get detailed session data, particularly on the bands and session players (and particularly the excellent guitarists), but such note taking wasn’t always on a producer’s mind in the 1960s. Curtis’ sides for Enjoy and Capitol are essential elements of his catalog, as are his early dates as a sideman; those new to his catalog might start with a multi-label best-of, but once you’re hooked, this collection of Atco singles (in pristine mono!) is a must-have. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Various Artists: Canine Classics, Volume 1

Various_CanineClassicsVolume1Clever dog-themed remakes of pop hits

Bay Area music legends Dick Bright (Bammies, SRO, Dick Bright Orchestra) and Tommy Dunbar (Rubinoos, Vox Pop) have teamed up to produce an album of dog-themed treats. Each track re-imagines a popular song – including tin-pan alley classics, ’50s rock and doo-wop, ’60s pop, ’70s soul and ’80s new wave – as it should have been, written in the voice of, or about, a dog. There are a few Singing Dogs-styled barks, but mostly Bright and Dunbar draw upon their talented human friends for the vocals. For the most part, these songs retain their original mood, but with the subject shifted a dog’s perspective. The Irish ballad “Danny Boy” retains its sense of loss, longing and renewal as “Chewy Toy,” and the Vapors’ bouncy “Turning Japanese” is transformed into the equally catchy “Turning Pekingese.” The collection’s most clever trick is Maurice Williams & The Zodiac’s doo-wop “Stay,” a song whose title clearly anticipated this collection. Shirley Ellis’ “The Name Game” is just as dance-worthy when riffing on classic dog names  and the Champs’ “Tequila” stays South of the border as “Chihuahua.” Dunbar has previously dabbled in both covers and childen’s music with the Rubinoos, and Dick Bright etched his name in the mash-up cover song hall of fame with “Gilligan’s Island (Stairway).” Their combined humor and musicianship makes this collection fun for kids without wearing out its welcome with the elders. The CD is delivered in a Hugh Brown-designed, hard-bound 30-page book that features lyrics, photos and even a dog advice column. All in all, it’s a howl. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Various Artists: The Beautiful Old – Turn-of-the-Century Songs

Various_TheBeautifulOldTurn of the twentieth century songs revisited

The turn of the twentieth century was a tumultuous time for the music industry. The sheet music boom of the 1890s was giving way to the sale of phonograph records, and records would in turn be challenged by radio. But through these transitions, one thing remained constant: hit songs. But hit songs were becoming increasingly transitory idols, one replacing the next in a procession of quickly forgotten multi-platinum (that is, multi-million selling) favorites. A select few managed to stick in the public’s long-term memory, but many more remained extant only in printed form, waiting to be rediscovered by musical explorers. Such explorers are producers Paul Marsteller and Gabriel Rhodes, who have reanimated nineteen turn-of-the-century songs – both familiar and obscure – with a hand-picked crew of singers and instrumentalists.

Unlike a tribute that reconsiders a songwriter, performer, label or scene, this collection aims at framing an era of music making. It’s not a slavish reproduction – the vocals occasionally shade to phrasings that didn’t exist at the time these songs were written – but by limiting themselves to instruments in use at the time, the producers have created a general impression of the times in which these songs were originally heard. And by cherry-picking their vocalists, Marsteller and Rhodes have nicely matched voices to song. Richard Thompson and Christine Collister open with one of the collection’s most easily remembered tunes, “The Band Played On.” Listeners will quickly discover that while the title line flows easily from their memories, the lyrics seem brand new to their ears. Thompson’s theatrical vocal is a perfect fit for the circus-style melody, and Garth Hudson adds terrific accordion flourishes.

Other familiar songs, “The Flying Trapeze,” “Come Josephine in My Flying Machine,” “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” “Home Sweet Home” and “I Love You Truly,” will tickle your memory with their melodies and titles, and “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life” will be especially familiar to fans of Young Frankenstein. Kimmie Rhodes adds a whispery fragility to three numbers, Jimmy LaFave draws deeply upon the wistfulness of “Long Time Ago,” and Kim Richey sings the original, nostalgic lyrics to “Beautiful Ohio.” The themes are genteel and timeless, with love discovered, courted and lost, risky adventures, faddish technology, and the longing of those far from home. The set’s 20-page booklet includes lyrics, and the accompanying website provides song histories, original sheet music covers and more. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

The Beautiful Old’s Home Page

Various Artists: Black Sabbath- The Secret Musical History of Black-Jewish Relations

African-American performers sing Jewish songs

It’s not exactly a surprise that American musical history is filled with the combined efforts of African-American performers and Jewish songwriters. But this fifteen track collection shows that these collaborations often intertwined the two communities’ stories and struggles. Drawing together material across several decades, one hears tin pan alley, Jewish theater, and the borscht belt. Cab Calloway mixes Yiddish into his scat singing on “Utt-Da-Zy,” and the blues of “Baby Baby” prove a natural fit for Libby Holman and Josh White. The arrangements range from spare folk to fully-orchestrated productions like Eartha Kitt’s “Sholem,” the funky soul of Marlena Shaw’s “Where Can I Go” and the strut of Aretha Franklin’s “Swanee.” The set’s highlight is a nearly ten-minute live medley by the Temptations in which they work through the songs of Fiddler on the Roof (check here for video!). [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Black Sabbath Home Page

Ray Charles: Sings for Lovers

Brother Ray sings the highs and lows of love

Concord’s “For Lovers” series features catalog selections from vocalists and instrumentalists exploring the joys and heartaches of love. Singer-pianist Ray Charles is a natural fit for this series, with his soulful vocal delivery, emotional playing, sophisticated arrangements and broad appetite for material. These sixteen tracks are drawn from his post-Atlantic pop recordings, with nearly half dating back to his first few years on ABC. The rest are drawn from the late-60s through the mid-70s, and skipping over his late-70s return to Atlantic there’s a 1993 cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” and a 2006 re-orchestration of his 1970s cover of the Gershwins’ “How Long Has This Been Going On.”

Producer Nick Phillips mixes iconic hit singles “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “Ruby,” and “Here We Go Again” with lower charting entries, the seasonal favorite “Baby, It’s Cold Outside (sung in duet with Betty Carter) and intelligently selected album tracks. It’s the latter – the lesser-known picks – that make this collection unique. Highlights include a version of Meredith Wilson’s “Till There Was You” that’s so soulful, it’s hard to match it with Paul McCartney’s sugar sweet rendition on With the Beatles, and his intimate reading of the Gershwin’s “Love is Here to Stay” features a terrific piano solo within Sid Feller’s restrained arrangement.

The broad range of Charles’ musicality is represented in selections from jazz player Don Redman, country artists Don Gibson, Red Steagall, and Eddy Arnold, tin-pan alley scribes Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Mitchell Parish, and George and Ira Gershwin, pop writers Leon Russell, George Harrison, and Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, and theater and film composers Meredith Wilson, Victor Young, Ned Washington and Heinz Roemheld. The latter’s “Ruby,” which riginally appeared in the 1952 film Ruby Gentry, was recorded by Coleman Hawkins and Oscar Peterson, and brought to its greatest prominence with this yearning, hopeful-yet-wary 1961 recording. Across these selections, Charles is variously backed by orchestra and chorus, strings, horns, and piano and organ-led jazz combos.

With more of Charles’ catalog appearing on download services, you might opt to put together your own collection of his love-related songs. But unless you’re deeply familiar with his catalog you’d miss some of the selections Phillips includes here. Charles won a Grammy® for his cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song For You,” but sixteen-years later you might have forgotten how poignant it sounds in Charles experienced, 63-year-old hands, and the album track “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” shows a delicate jazz chemistry between Charles and Betty Carter that’s buried by the annual revival of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” This is finely programmed set that’s a nice spin for those who want to hear a side of Ray Charles beyond the hits. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Tiny Tim: I’ve Never Seen a Straight Banana

TinyTim_IveNeverSeenAStraightBananaAstonishing collection of early 20th century song

This is an astounding collection on a number of levels. First and foremost, it’s a brilliant anthology of early American song, sung with love and introduced with learned background by Tiny Tim. The set’s liner notes provide additional information on the songs and details of how they fit into Tiny Tim’s career. These recordings capture Tiny Tim singing songs of his own choice, with no record label breathing down his neck for a novelty release that would reignite memories of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” Instead, Tiny Tim picked tunes that range from the dawn of the Edison cylinder (1878’s “Mr. Phonograph”), early twentieth century tunes in their original style, 1960s Tiny Tim originals, and a medley that sandwiches Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” between a pair of songs from the late 1920s. The latter includes an imitation of Rudy Vallee singing Dylan, and Dylan singing Vallee.

Equally incredible is the genesis of these tapes in 1976 sessions, recorded by a 16-year-old Richard Barone (of Bongos fame) in a Florida hotel room and a ramshackle studio. Having discovered Tiny Tim playing a gig at a local hotel, Barone made his acquaintance and was treated to a personal after-show performance. He quickly parlayed this into an opportunity to record Tiny Tim in his room, and then more formally in a local studio. The tapes sat on Barone’s self for 33 years awaiting release. There are a few artifacts of the informal recording circumstances (e.g., a bumped microphone here and there), but the sound quality is generally superb. More importantly, the performances are casual and heartfelt, without the artifice of a clock ticking away a label’s dollars.

Tiny Tim sang solo to the accompaniment of his ukulele, but for the title track Barone post-produced a magnificent backing arrangement that includes additional ukuleles, accordion, percussion, bass and a happy chorus of backing singers. Tim’s performance is so effervescent as to feel like it was feeding off the energy of the backing musicians and vocalists. What’s revealed in all of these performances is that while Tiny Tim and the songs he loved may have been novel, they were a lot deeper than novelties. His comedic persona often obscured the seriousness and deep respect with which he approached early American music and its performers, and though his falsetto vocals were played to the public as a gimmick, they were of a piece with the music. Tiny Tim was a greater musician than the public typically saw, and it took a wide-eyed 16-year-old to get it down on tape. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Tiny Tim Memorial Site