Retro stacks of wax for cool cats and kittens!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

1962: Doin' The Twist At the Peppermint Lounge

Today the RetroGuy time machine is set for 1962, and a popular little club on West 45th Street in New York City called the Peppermint Lounge. The center of the Twist dance craze, the club boasts a rockin' house band called Joey Dee and the Starlighters, who have the #1 record in the country with their "Peppermint Twist" on the Roulette label. Dee and company chose the Roulette label specifically because they were willing to record the band live in the club--which they do for "Doin' The Twist Live At The Peppermint Lounge." Recording live in a small, jam-packed club obviously presented certain limitations to Roulette (the mix seems a little wonky at times) and musically, the band is hardly perfect. And that's kind of where the magic of this recording is: in its imperfection. What the band lacks in musicality, they more than make up for in sheer enthusiasm. With the sounds of the crowd in the background, the album gives us a real "you are there" feel. Cover art is included in the zip file.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Carol & Martha: Together Again for the First Time

A great thrift store find: Carol Burnett (one of RetroGuy's favorites since childhood) and Martha Raye's "Together Again For The First Time" album from 1969. Unlike Burnett's other pop music albums, never released on CD. Which is too bad because it's a fun little recording. Carol--being the more popular at the time--has the lion's share of the solos, and those who have never heard any of her Broadway material may be surprised that she's quite a decent singer. Martha Raye doesn't come off terribly well standing next to a major talent like Burnett, but who could? Actually, RetroGuy sort of doubts that they stood next to each other at all for this project--listening closely to their duets, it seems clear that each woman recorded her part seperately. Definitely worth a download. The zip file includes cover scans.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Bunch Of Bongos: Everybody mambo!

For all you Space Age pop fans, a real treat: "A Bunch of Bongos," featuring Willie Rodriguez and the International Stars. Produced in 1960 by Enoch Light on the Grand Award label, the album features lounge music with a distinctly latin flavor, lots of unusual percussion instruments not normally heard in this genre of music and a great deal of brass. Maybe a little bit too much for my taste, but your mileage may vary. Also of note: listen for the ways they show off the album's stereo sound, which was fairly new back then. You'll hear lots of examples of "dueling channels," where a musical phrase is played first in, say, the left channel and then the right. The zip file includes front and back cover scans.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Just A-Fannin' the Flames: Big Bruce

In 1961, Jimmy Dean (who would later found a successful sausage-making enterprise) had a Grammy-winning hit with "Big Bad John," a story song about a mysterious coal miner who heroically gives up his life saving his fellow miners during a cave-in. The song spawned a fair amount of parodies over the years, but perhaps none as popular as "Big Bruce," comedian Steve Greenberg's 1969 hit about a flouncy hairdresser who saves his fellow salon workers from certain disaster because of a "fire in the Number 5 dryer." Ignoring the song's obvious homophobia--RetroGuy wonders if this was responsible for sparking the Stonewall Rebellion that same year--it's interesting to note that "Big Bruce" appears to have been penned by none other than Mack Vickery (pictured), the late songwriter and Rockabilly Hall of Fame Member who wrote tunes for Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and countless others. Further note of interest: BMI now lists the sole writer of the song as Jimmy Dean, even though no less than 4 people are credited on the single's label and the song is somewhat different than Dean's original. Hmmm. You can hear 12 (count 'em...12!) other gay-oriented parodies of "Big Bad John" at Queer Music Heritage.

Friday, June 02, 2006

You Meet 'Em Wherever You Go

With the state of the world being what it is today, RetroGuy has been starting to feel that he's living in the Vietnam era. Just last weekend, he saw a college student carrying around an SDS sign. While lots of Vietnam-era culture has experienced a rebirth, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that we haven't seen a new Up With People surface. Many people are familar with Up With People's far-too-perky views from their ill-advised Super Bowl halftime appearances (not to mention late night TV parodies by the bushel), but what many don't know is that Up With People started out as part of a conservative religious movement called "Moral Re-Armament." Sound like something Pat Robertson might dream up nowadays, doesn't it? While many of the youth of America were chanting "Down With The Administration," here were these squeaky-clean types who basically served as establishment-boosters. This 1965 album from Up With People's first television special features glowing quotes from conservatives like John Wayne and Pat Boone, as well as performances by a very young Glenn Close. You can read the album's liner notes here. Get three tracks from the long out-of-print album here.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Sing Boy Sing!

In 1957, Kraft Television Theatre was all set to produce "The Singin' Idol," the story of a Southern country boy who rockets to fame because of his rock and roll singing. Remind you of anybody? Unfortunately for Kraft, Elvis Presley turned down the project. So Presley's manager sent along his other client: Tommy Sands, a 20 year old who bore a certain resemblance to Presley. "The Singin' Idol" turned out to be a huge hit and Sands suddenly became a hot commodity. 20th Century Fox, not being a studio to turn down a good thing, cast Sands in Sing Boy Sing, a feature-length retelling of "The Singin' Idol." Was Sands actually Elvis material? Probably not. He certainly had the look, but lacked the sexual charisma or the voice of Presley. Nontheless, he clearly knew his way around a song. Here's the long out-of-print soundtrack recording from Sing Boy Sing.