Wednesday, November 30, 2005

(radio silence)

So this morning i wake up and someone has switched off my internal radio. How very disappointing. No tune for today.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Henry Mancini - Baby Elephant Walk

ORIGINATION the Best of Henry Mancini CD

It was only a matter of time before some proper cheese made it's way out and 'Baby Elephant Walk' pushes the cheesometer needle into the red. It's one of those pieces of instrumental easy listening, along with 'Spanish Flea' and 'Wheels Cha Cha' that we all know, usually without any clear idea as to why. It seems to have permeated society quite thoroughly and this is clearly a credit to Mancini, it's composer.

Henry Mancini was one of Hollywood's most successful composers. His career spanned 40 years, over 400 films and touched on almost every genre that passed through Hollywood. He is probably best known for his theme from the film "The Pink Panther' and justly so.

'Baby Elephant Walk' is certainly of a similar calibre, although not quite as well known. He produced it for the 1962 film 'Hatari' and it went on to become an international hit. The scene where the song plays is, unsurprisingly, one where a baby elephant is taken for a walk. The music fits this perfectly. It is light and jokey, suggesting childhood, it's tempo is walking-perfect and the horns give a certain elephanty feeling. No wonder that many others have chosen to re-recorded it.

I need to also note that there is a particularly fine moment in the 'Dancing Homer' episode of the Simpsons, where Homer uses this music as his theme when he dances as mascot for the local baseball team. Yet another perfect use of the music.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Drifters - Under The Boardwalk

ORIGINATION a battered Atlantic rhythm & blues box set
LAST LISTENED TO i have no idea

'Under The Boardwalk' was a hit in 1964. It has since been covered many, many times but none have ever been as good as the original. Some were, in fact, down right terrible (j'accuse Mr. Willis). As a nice song as the original is however, it is one that i don't find it particularly interesting. And i've got too much to do today to waste any more time writing about it.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Doc Severinsen And His Sweetheart Band - Ode To Billy Joe

ORIGINATION found on LP in Feb 2001
LAST LISTENED TO no idea, over a year ago at least

Trumpeter Doc Severinsen was bandleader for The Late Show with Johnny Carson. In this cut from the 1974 LP 'Here's Johnny! Magic Moments From The Tonight Show', Johnny lets the band have a moment in the spotlight. They really go for it, with a huge-sounding funk tune in a cop show/spy thriller mould. The brass blows hard, the wah-wah guitar just runs and runs and runs, the bass is funky as hell and there's even a great drum break. Over it all, Severinsen's trumpet squeals higher and higher. It is a classic of the genre and probably about as hard to find as you'll get. The track is so good, in fact, that i bought this double LP solely for it.

Hey! The first wah-wah in my blog. Now that is an occasion worth noting.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Doors - Waiting For The Sun

LAST LISTENED TO not for over a year

Well here's a band to argue over. Most people, let's face it, think of one person when they think of The Doors: he was over-fed, over-watered, literally over-drugged and a 'poet'. Ha. Poet.

As you can tell, Jim Morrison is someone i have little time for. There are many reasons for this that are clearly evident even in the most flattering of portraits of the man. However, the music he collaborated in making has stood the test of time.

The Doors were Ray Manzerak, Jim Densmore, Robby Kreiger and Morrison and for most of their career they worked as a democratic unit. Their music was fairly different from that of their contemporaries. Not only were the themes often darker, but musically they were different too. They were a very tight band that drew on influences and training that were quite diverse - jazz, classical, Spanish guitar amongst others.

I do like there music, not all of it, but much of it. There are overly indulgent moments, no surprise considering the times, that are most definitely of that time. Most noticeable when Jimbo was being particularly poetic.

'Waiting For The Sun', is from their second last LP 'Morrison Hotel' released in 1970. It's a pretty good song. As ever, the music is tight and interesting and here has some fine, understated drama. Kreiger's fluid guitar floats over a rolling rhythm provided by Densmore and Manzerak, whose organ has a slight harpsichord feel. It's one of their more mature moments and came not a moment too soon after the flop of their previous LP, 'Soft Parade'.

Give The Doors a little re-think. There is a lot more to them that a drunken, dead man in leather breeks with his old man out.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Tom Waits - Earth Died Screaming


The song fades in with what sounds suspiciously like bones being played. It's an unusual sound. But then unusual sound was something that Tom Waits had become well known for when he recorded this in 1992. His career had taken a turn for the strange back in '83 when, with encouragement of his new wife Kathleen, he had recorded 'Swordfishtrombones', an album quite different from it's predecessors. This is where he began singing in what has now become his trademark style (a kind of melodic croak) and moved away from conventional pop/rock instrumentation, incorporating some twisted Carny sounds amongst other oddities.

From the album 'Bone Machine' (which could be a clue), this song like much of Waits' material, follows a fairly conventional western structure. In this case it's a blues-sounding form. Of course it's how the song is played (and sung) that makes all the difference. Here it fades in with the curious-sounding rhythm played by 'The Boners' (Waits + wife + one), which may or may not be another clue.

Lyrically, Waits is in apocalyptic mood. Or more precisely, he is in Waits-apocalyptic mood as, with the rest of his work, it's all seen through the Waits-filter. This makes songs rich with unusual imagery that at times are quite dark. For example the second verse/chorus:

"Well hell doesn't want you
And Heaven is full
Bring me some water
Put it in this skull
I walk through the raindrops
Wait in bug house square
Army ants leave nothing but the bones
And the earth died screaming
While I lay dreaming"

It's quite dark (the apocalyptic stuff is more in the third verse) and a little odd too. It also is hard to follow what he is on about, which is all typical of Waits.

The mention of dreaming, is quite appropriate because it fits well with the imagery and feel of Waits work. Everything it slightly unreal, it's all a little scewed, but not so that you can't see were it comes from. And at times it's dark, but it never feels like a real threat, because it's a dream.

So: 'Earth Died Screaming' as a summary for Tow Waits' career since 1983. That's all a bit much for having just gotten out of bed. I fear i may have to go back there now.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Marlena Shaw - Woman Of The Ghetto

ORIGINATION found on LP in April 2000

This morning's song is a little bit of a cheat. What i woke up to this morning was not, strictly speaking, the song above. I in fact woke up with a tiny portion of a mash-up in my head. To the uninitiated, this is music for those afflicted by attention deficit disorder. Almost the logical extension of sampling, it is the name given to the jamming together of whole chunks of song. So, rather than just using a small piece of a song as sampling does, here whole songs are placed on top of each other, chopped around and generally messed with. These pieces of music stretch from the shortest single track effort, through to entire cd-length kaleidoscopic pieces. There's a whole messy sub-culture based around this practice. It's even encroached on mass consciousness through the likes of 2ManyDJs.

What, you may wonder, am i doing having this sort of bastardised music in my head? Well, let's just say that i've been known to have the odd spell of short attention and that i will try new things of a time. I'll blame the internet and Limewire and leave it at that.

So, this morning i woke with a fragment of a song in my head, essentially just two lines of lyrics, followed by the intro to 'Woman Of The Ghetto'. The former lyrics i have been completely unable to trace, so let's just forget those and deal with the latter.

Marlena Shaw has been singing soul jazz since the 60s, but has never really achieved as much fame as some of her contemporaries. She has recorded for some of the biggest names in field, including Blue Note, Cadet and Verve. This song is probably her most famous.

Recorded in 1968 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, this song is a powerful message of consciousness:

"How do you raise you kids in the ghetto?
Feed one child and starve another"

Musically, the song has a fantastic groove, that all springs from the bass that kicks off the track. There's some nice, restrained organ, a guitar briefly pretending to be a sitar and Marlena even scats through part of the track, without causing irritation. but chiefly it is the superb lyrics that stay with you. Have a listen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Jimmy Smith - One Mint Julep

ORIGINATION a Soho record shop in late 2000
LAST LISTENED TO i've been listening to lots of Jimmy Smith recently

Sometimes when i wake with a song in my head that has no vocals in it, it can be harder to work out what it is. Not always, but enough times to comment on. However, with 'One Mint Julep' it wasn't that bad.

For starters, it has a melody that is very recognisable. If you know any version of the song you'll know what i mean. Then there's the version of it. Currently i have at least four, including The Clovers 1951 hit, which was the first version and has lyrics. This morning it was not this version i woke to, but one by the Incredible Jimmy Smith, the late star of jazz organ and a very groovy man. It's was recorded during his big bang period, which is my favourite part of his career, and can be found on his 1966 LP Hoochie Coochie Man.

The track starts with a big blast from the band before they begin playing the melody (the 'one mint julep' chant from the lyrics). Jimmy swings along with them, knocking out call and response refrains for a few minutes. Then the band drop back and give Jimmy some space and off he solos in his usual style. This runs for a few minutes uninterupted and is rather nice. Near the end of the song, the band reprise the melody and it over.

What a lovely way to start the day. I feel a lot of Jimmy Smith will be played today.

Hoochie Coochie Man

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Kiss - Crazy Nights

ORIGINATION tv, the other night
LAST LISTENED TO for a millisecond on tv the other night

Argh! What a crap start.

Whether you remember this 80s hit by Kiss is anyone's guess. I certainly would rather not. Sadly, a few nights ago i was attempting to watch tv and one of the freeview channels was doing a 'top twenty classic rock' tunes or something. Clearly it can't have been that classic, as this song is pure pish. It was enough to make me turn the tv off right there. As usual.

The video, which was quite rubbish too, shows Kiss on a sound stage somewhere with their adoring fans looking on, the poor sods. Kiss, sadly, had by this point chosen to lose their make-up which does prompt one to question why they continued to bother.

Enough cringing. I'm off to listen to something good.