Friday, 10 August 2018

How Low Can You Go?


Now here’s an odd one for you. Roz Croney, the so-called Queen of the Limbo, issued How Low Can You Go in 1963. It’s dreadful, but of massive importance to jazz collectors as it features Sun Ra, the composer, bandleader, keyboard player, and poet known for his experimental music, his prolific output, and his wildly theatrical performances.

Roz was a native of Grenada. She began to limbo after visiting Barbados, with her mother, in 1955. Two years later she was instructing actor Dorothy Dandridge how to limbo for the film Island In The Sun, and she went on to tour America as a featured performer in Larry Steele’s revue Smart Affairs of 1961. Steele was the head of the largest black entertainment touring troupe in the United States at the time. According to reports, the limber Ms. Croney could limbo beneath a bar just seven and a half inches off the floor.

In an article in Ebony magazine, Roz revealed that “she considers herself a more than passable singer, but cannot use this talent because her voice is kept hoarse by the shouts which accompany her limbo routine.” Shame she seemed to forget that when Tom Wilson, the record producer best known for his work with Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, Simon & Garfunkel and The Velvet Underground, dragged her in to New York’s Mastertone Studio to record this nonsense. One assumed that Wilson was inspired by seeing Roz perform, or perhaps by the success of Chubby Checker’s 1962 single Limbo Rock, or the earlier, instrumental version of the tune by the Champs.

Sun Ra, or Herman Poole Blount to give him his given name, got the gig because for a number of years he had been working as a session musician for Edward Bland, the arranger of this travesty. For much of his career, Sun Ra led an ensemble he dubbed "The Arkestra", and he brought along several of his long-time collaborators, including Marshall Allen (alto sax), John Gilmore (bass clarinet), Ronnie Boykins (bass), and Pat Patrick (baritone sax and flute) for this album. perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no How Low Can You Go Volume Two.

Here’s a handful of cuts from How Low You Can Go, Doggie In The Window Limbo, The Limbo Queen and the truly awful Whole Lot Of Shaking Going On (apparently the correct title, Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin’ On was too vulgar!)

Enjoy!

Download Doggie HERE



Download Queen HERE



Download Shaking HERE

Friday, 3 August 2018

The Teenage Rage


Leonard Davis was working in EMI’s Hayes factory when he as spotted by producer and songwriter Norman Newell, the man who had also given Russ Conway and Shirley Bassey their big breaks at Columbia... and who produced the awful Songs for Swinging Children.

Born in South Wales in 1938, at the tender age of 19 Len was launched on to an unsuspecting public as “Larry Page, the Teenage Rage” but, despite issuing three singles for Columbia in 1957 and 58, he would never score a chart hit for the company. 

It’s not hard to understand why: he can’t sing! The poor boy was pushed in to the EMI studios in Abbey Road and given dreadful, anodyne arrangements of recent US hits to perform, and the results are dreadful. He explained the process in the in the book The Restless Generation: "The label saw no future in rock ‘n’ roll. They had to make all the great American records sound like Worker's Playtime; they Didn't have a clue. Consequently, I made a Mickey Mouse version of That'll Be The Day [issued as his second A-side]. I was treated as a junior employee and for my first record they gave me a copy of Start Movin' by Sal Mineo and told me to go away and learn it - which I did - every vocal inflection, every swish of the rhythm. Then you get to the studio and find they're like a marching band… I had no input, they even picked the key for me." Start Movin' was issued as the flip side to his cover of the Del Vikings' Cool Shake.

After he was dropped by Columbia he went to Saga, the same company that was soon to launch Joe Meek’s Triumph label. Page’s singles (and one EP) for Saga also flopped, and he gave up any pretence of being a singer to concentrate on orchestrations, arrangements and, later, group management. 

Larry Page would hit the big time a few years later as the manager of the Kinks and the Troggs, and as the leader of the Larry Page Orchestra, probably best known for their albums of Kinks and Beatles covers: Page’s Kinky Music album was arranged by Ray Davies and featured future Led Zep member Jimmy Page. Larry was also the founder of both Page One and Penny Farthing records, which hit the big time with Venus by Shocking Blue, Daniel Boone’s Beautiful Sunday, and Chelsea F.C.’s Blue is the Colour.

Page now lives in happy retirement in Australia.

Here are both sides of his debut 45, and - courtesy of YouTube - the appalling That'll Be The Day.

Enjoy!

Download Start Movin' HERE



Download Cool Shake HERE



Friday, 27 July 2018

ChangesTwoBowie


Well, last week’s blog post seems to have gone down well. It’s already one of this year’s most popular posts, and the feedback I’ve received so far leads me to believe that you like that sort of nonsense.

So, here’s some more.

Yes: today I present, for your enjoyment, even more ludicrous David Bowie covers. But instead of the obvious, we’re going to look at foreign-language covers of a couple of David’s early hits, namely Space Oddity and The Laughing Gnome.

First up is Spanish duo Hermanos Calatrava with their dreadful version of Bowie’s breakthrough hit, which I believe would translate as Curiosidad Del Espacio, but they kept the original title anyway. Hermanos Calatrava consist of brother brothers Manuel García Lozano (Manolo) and Francisco García Lozano (Paco), and are a pair of ‘comedians, parodists and singers’, according to their Wikipedia page. With their take on Space Oddity they’ve attempted to turn the song into some sort of satirical sketch, but it backfires spectacularly. Issued as the B-side to their 1974 single Gigi L’Amoroso, It’s just horrendous. The pair have been hamming it up since 1955: it’s about time they stopped.

Next is Italian band I Giganti with Corri Uomo Corri, a reasonable ‘straight’ version of Space Oddity that was issued in 1970, just a year after the original. It’s nothing like as bad as the Hermanos Calatrava version, although the member of the quartet who handles the introductory vocal (who, I believe, is drummer Enrico Papes) sounds to me like he needs surgery: no one should sound that much like a bullfrog naturally. The psychedelic keyboard solo is a nice touch. Popular in their native land between from the mid-60s until the early 70s, they split around 1972 but a new version of the band, featuring some original members, resurfaced in 2008, releasing an album of re-recordings of their early hits. 

Incidentally, another Italian group, Computers, issued their own, vastly superior, version of the song, as Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola, a year earlier. That translates as Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl, and is the same title Bowie used for his own Italian-language version, which he recorded in London shortly before Christmas 1969: I have found a press cutting where his then-manager, ken Pitt, states that he recorded the vocals at the beginning of January 1970, but I believe he actually did the deed on December 20. Wikipedia claims that our old friends Equipe 84 recorded a version that same year, but that does not appear to be listed at Discogs, so this may be a mistake.

Finally, I’ll leave you with the utterly charming French yéyé singer Caroline, and her single Mister A Gogo, a fun but nutso version of The Laughing Gnome, issued in 1967 and now super-rare, commanding silly prices for the original single. I love this: I hope you will too!

Enjoy!  

Download Hermanos HERE




Download I Giganti HERE


Download Caroline HERE

Thursday, 19 July 2018

I Ought To Report You To The Gnome Office


A balladeer from the 50s, Ronnie Hilton earned a place in the hearts of every Brit of a certain age for his 1965 hit A Windmill In Old Amsterdam. Hilton had a long career, first charting (with his debut release) in 1954 but issuing his last single in 1982.

Born Adrian Hill in Hull, Ronnie started singing professionally under his adopted name in 1954. Signed to HMV, he amassed 18 Top 40 hits on the UK Singles Chart, hitting the coveted Number One spot in 1956 with his cover of the Rogers and Hammerstein song No Other Love, a US hit three years earlier for Perry Como. The following year he took part in the inaugural A Song For Europe contest, although he was beaten by another singer from Hull, Patricia Bredin. In 1959 he scored a hit with The Wonder of You, the same song that Elvis Presley topped the UK chart with in 1970.

In 1967, two years after his last chart entry (with the aforementioned A Windmill In Old Amsterdam) he released the single that I wish to bring your attention to today, a cover of If I Were a Rich Man from the hit musical Fiddler of the Roof. It’s not a great version, and the utterly ridiculous inclusion of an impression of Quacker, the little yellow duckling from the Tom and Jerry cartoons in the middle takes it in to the realm of ridiculous. In fact, it’s good enough (or bad enough) to merit an inclusion here for that reason alone, but it’s the single’s flip side that’s the peach – a stupendously awful (and incredibly early) cover of David Bowie’s The Laughing Gnome.

Yes: The Laughing Gnome. It, like Bowie’s original, did not chart, although Bowie would eventually have a hit with the song when his single was reissued in 1973. At this point in his career Bowie’s manager, Kenneth Pitt, was trying to market him as a songwriter; despite beginning his recording career in 1964 he would not have a hit under his own name until 1969, and it would take another three years after that until he enjoyed his second. Ronnie Hilton was not the first artists to cover Bowie though: in January 1967 Over the Wall We Go had been covered by stage star Paul Nicholas under the name Oscar. The following year Billy Fury would issue his cover of Bowie’s Silly Boy Blue. But the honour of having the first ever cover of a Bowie song goes to actor Kenny Miller (I Was A Teenage Werewolf, Touch of Evil, Attack of the Puppet People etc.) and his 1965 recording of Bowie’s Take My Tip (credited to Davie Jones), produced by Shel Talmy of Kinks/ Who fame.

Hilton suffered a stroke in 1976. Following his recovery, he turned to radio presenting, fronting Sounds of the Fifties, a nostalgic radio series for BBC Radio 2. He died in Hailsham, East Sussex from another stroke, aged 75.

Here’s Ronnie’s preposterous version of The Laughing Gnome and, for good measure, If I Were a Rich Man. Enjoy!

Download Rich Man HERE



Download Gnome HERE

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Outer Space Elvis


Recommended by our dear friend The Squire, this is one of the weirdest, wildest Elvis covers I’ve ever heard. It puts Eilert Pilarm, Elvis Pummel and the Legendary Stardust Cowboy to shame.

Dean Carter’s brilliantly insane version of Jailhouse Rock was issued in 1967. An insane mix of garage and psychobilly, Dean’s unhinged performance is a thing of wonder. The flip side, Rebel Woman, is pretty crazy stuff too.

Dean Carter was born Arlie Neaville. He began playing rockabilly in the late '50s in Champaign, Illinois, and recorded for the Ping label in 1961 under his real name, before moving on to the more established Fraternity label in 1962 as Arlie Nevil (issuing the self-composed Alone On A Star/The Skip). After that he went to Limelight, where he first recorded under the name of Dean Carter. Neaville and guitarist Arlie Miller invested in their own recording studio, Milky Way, and the pair (as Arlie and Arlie) launched their own label of the same name to issue Carter’s Jailhouse Rock single, now a highly collectable and very expensive 45. Luckily both sides, and many of the other tracks he’s recorded over his varied career, were collected on the 2002 CD release Call of the Wild.

In the early 70s he reappeared under his real name, Arlie Neaville, issuing a crazed cover of Breathless on Shout ‘n’ Shine Records. Since then he’s kept his original name, and has moved in to the gospel music field. You can find clips of his more recent work on YouTube, as well as plenty of examples of his wilder material.

Enjoy!

Download Jailhouse HERE



Download Rebel HERE

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Swingeing Swindle


One of my more peculiar recent finds was this album, Songs for Swinging Children by the Groovy Gang.

I know…

A dozen covers of popular hits, all with a kid-friendly bent. Don’t let the Sinatra-esque title or cover image fool you though, the only swinging these kids get up to is in the play park. No nelson Riddle arrangements or orchestrations, the twelve tracks included here are po-faced and perfunctory, knocked out in a spare hour in the studio (the notes on the back of the cover tell us that this recording session took place on June 10) by a bunch of tired moonlighting musos who would have probably been paid around £50 each for their trouble. It’s fairly safe to assume this was recorded in 1971: the album was issued that year and the most recent track, the Kinks song Apeman, was not issued until November 1970.

What interests me is that the album was produced by Norman Newell, whose career was closely associated with Columbia records, and artists including Russ Conway, Shirley Bassey, and Cliff and the Shadows. Newell, a songwriter as well as a producer, also acted as an A&R man for other EMI labels, and was responsible for taking acts to Parlophone (Vince Eager) and recording soundtrack albums for HMV.

Musical Rendezvous/Contour was a British company that specialised in cheap reissues of old Polydor stable recordings: the Beatles Hamburg sessions with Tony Sheridan were put out (in two different covers, both featuring the iconic Mersey Beat newspaper) around the same time, and in turn would become one of (if not the) first albums I ever purchased with my own money.

A side note: the album includes a cover of the Pipkins hit Gimme Dat Ding. When researching this I was surprised to discover that the song had originally been recorded Freddie and the Dreamers. Gimme Dat Ding was composed for a musical, Oliver in the Overworld, that formed part of the kid’s TV show Little Big Time, hosted by Freddie Garrity. Freddie and the Dreamers released a soundtrack album of Oliver in the Overworld in 1970, but it was novelty act Pipkins who scored the international hit. Songwriter Roger Greenaway performed, as a member of the Dreamers, on the first recording, and Greenaway was one half of Pipkins. Small world, eh?

Anyway, here’s a taster. The aforementioned Gimme Dat Ding and the Groovy Gang’s dull version of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.

Enjoy!

Download Ding HERE




Download Submarine HERE 

Friday, 29 June 2018

A Little Nightair Music


A recent charity shop find, Nightair were just one of the hundreds of local showbands who decided to fund the recording and pressing of their own album, a collection of live favourites to sell out of the back of their Bedford Chevanne.

The trio consisted of married couple Lynda and Kevin Airey, and Lynda's brother Dave Knight. All three members sang, with Dave handling guitar duties, Kevin on drums and Lynda plying the rather oddly-named ‘bass machine’. Issued in 1976, it’s not a dreadful album by any measure, but it is rather insipid. This was the year punk exploded, yet the material – and their approach to it – sounds incredibly dated. And those clothes! These three seem to have bought their stage gear in a store that specialised in curtains for clowns.

Hailing from the North East, Nightair clearly fancied themselves as some sort of Carpenters/Beatles hybrid, as you can tell from the material they chose to record: the note-by-note cover of the Carpenters arrangement of Please Mister Postman, which segues awkwardly in to She Loves You, is a perfect example. Their rather avant garde (as in avant garde a clue) take on the Lennon-McCartney composition It’s For You (a hit for Cilla Black) at least shows some originality, but it’s let down by the stilted production. Other covers include Jambalaya (the Carpenters again), Without You (Badfinger/Nilsson), and songs by Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Paul Simon. The sleeve notes were written by Ray Fell, a reasonably well-known comedian working the circuit (and making many TV appearances) in the 60s and 70s. He later moved to the US and appeared for many years in cabaret in Las Vegas. Ray passed away in 2016.

I can’t tell you much else about Nightair. They had originally been a four piece, augmented by Liz Kinght (Dave’s wife), and played a 20-week season at Butlin’s in Minehead in 1973. Liz left after the birth of their son, Leigh. Their recording of Jambalaya was included on a 20-track compilation, The Entertainers, issued in December 1977. They were still gigging in 1978, playing such salubrious spots as the Old Benwell Village Club, and were being advertised as ‘New Faces Winners’: I cannot find anything to confirm this (perhaps one of you can help?) but they did appear on Opportunity Knocks in March 1977. After another hoiliday camp residency in the summer of 1978 they seem to drop off the face of the earth.

There are currently at least two other acts knocking around using the Nightair moniker; one a young US indie trio from Orange County, the other a pair of Belgian producers who released a rather anodyne version of the Eagles One of These Nights in 2014. One half of the Belgian ‘band’ is Fabrice Morvan, better known to all as one half of infamous pop puppets Milli Vanilli.

Enjoy!

Download Postman HERE



Download For You HERE

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