Thursday, March 30, 2006


Little Richard, Tutti Frutti.
Bobby Charles, See You Later Alligator.
Bo Diddley, Pretty Thing.
The Drifters, What'cha Gonna Do.
Little Willie John, All Around the World.
Chuck Berry, Thirty Days.

Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!--Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!

Wordsworth, The Prelude.

Gonna reel, gonna roll, gonna dance, drink, have a ball,
What you gonna do--
About nine o'clock?
Have you heard the news?
Yeah! We're gonna rock.

The Drifters, "What'cha Gonna Do."

Rock & roll avalanche!

The legendary "Tutti Frutti"--what more can be said about it? One of the quandaries of rock & roll is that right upon its birth it achieved perfection, and in a way, had nowhere else to go. You can get louder, heavier, more vulgar, nastier, dumber, more ridiculous, more complex, more "meaningful" than "Tutti Frutti", but "Tutti Frutti" resists all attempts to better it--it can't be mastered. You could say the history of the past 50 years in rock music is that of generations of musicians trying and usually failing to do so.

Released in October 1955 as Specialty 561. On 18 Greatest Hits.

Bobby Charles' "See You Later Alligator" and Bo Diddley's "Pretty Thing" are altars to the all-mighty beat--in Charles' case, it's an irresistable New Orleans shuffle (courtesy of Paul Gayten); for Bo, it's a hypnotic dance carried by maracas, drums, harmonica and scratchy guitar (love the long fade-out, in which the beat slowly ebbs away).

"Later Alligator" (as the first pressings called it) was recorded in October 1955 and released a month later as Chess 1609; Bill Haley quickly covered it. Diddley's "Pretty Thing" was recorded on July 14, 2955 and released in November as Checker 827. Find both here.

"What'cha Gonna Do" is the apex of the Clyde McPhatter-era Drifters for me--it swings, it rocks, it's as sleek as a Porsche. Released as Atlantic 1055 in February 1955; find on Rockin' and Driftin'.

For teenagers just discovering this music, rock & roll songs seemed to communicate in secret alphabets, with a collection of lyrics that consisted of non sequiturs, shibboleths and joyful nonsense. Case in point, the chorus of "All Around the World"--"Grits ain't groceries/eggs ain't poultries/and Mona Lisa was a man." Little Willie John's first major hit, "All Around the World" (with Champion Jack Dupree on piano and Willis Jackson on a killer tenor sax break) was recorded on June 27, 1955 in New York and released as King 4818. Find here.

Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" was the single that broke him in the summer of '55, but I like the follow-up, "Thirty Days", slightly more. Even more than "Maybellene," "Thirty Days" shows its country roots--it's almost a lost Bob Wills track. Rich in future predictions, like a sonic Planchette, it provided lyrical cues for the Rolling Stones and Eddie Cochran and who knows else. Chuck offers a wild, spidery guitar solo and whoever is on drums, Jasper Thomas or Ebby Hardy, pounds the holy hell out of them.

Recorded in September 1955, with Willie Dixon on bass, Johnnie Johnson (p) and Jerome Green (of "Bring it to Jerome" fame) on maracas; released as Chess 1610, possibly later the same month. Chess had a quick turnaround time. On Gold (which appears to be the Chuck Berry Anthology under a new name).

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Billy Boy Arnold, I Wish You Would.
Big Joe Turner, The Chicken and the Hawk.

"Mentally, I found her to be a disgustingly conventional little girl. Sweet hot jazz, square dancing, gooey fudge sundaes...these were the obvious items in her list of beloved things. The Lord knows how many nickels I fed to the gorgeous music boxes that came with every meal we had! I still hear the nasal voices of those invisibles serenading her, people with names like Sammy and Jo and Eddy and Tony and Peggy and Guy and Patty and Rex, and sentimental song hits, all of them as similar to my ear as her various candies were to my palette."

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita, published 1955.

Two for Humbert Humbert and poor Dolores Haze:

Billy Boy Arnold started out playing blues on the streets of Chicago with his friends Ellis McDaniel and Jody Williams, and all three wound up recording for local label Chess, performing the song "Bo Diddley", from which McDaniel got his stage name. Arnold never got along well with Chess, so he left for rival label Vee-Jay--Vee-Jay naturally was hot for more "Bo Diddley"-style songs, so Arnold went home and wrote "I Wish You Would."

"So then I'd made me get a label for the rest of my life with a Bo Diddley type of song. Which I had no intention of ever doing. I was a straight blues guy. I didn't want to be capitalizing on no Bo Diddley type of thing. But once you do something, you're stuck."

Recorded on May 5, 1955 with Jody Reynolds on guitar, Henry Gray (p), Milton Rector on electric bass and Earl Phillips (d); it was released as Vee-Jay 146 a month later. Find here.

And Big Joe Turner gets away with yet another lyric that ought to have had parents rioting in the streets. Recorded on November 3, 1955, with Connie Kay on drums (a founding member of the Modern Jazz Quartet, he would later play on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks). Released at year's end as Atlantic 1080. Find here.

To learn more of the strange publishing history of Nabokov's Lolita (first edition shown above, a pair of verdigris-colored paperbacks published in France in September '55--the book would not be allowed in the U.S. for three more years), look here. Also, Nabokov's angry rebuttals to claims made by the French publisher, Maurice Girodias ("He wanted Lolita not only because it was well written but because 'he thought that it might lead to a change in social attitudes toward the kind of love described in it.' It was a pious although obviously ridiculous thought but high-minded platitudes are often mouthed by enthusiastic businessmen and nobody bothers to disenchant them.")

Monday, March 27, 2006


The Jazz Messengers, Prince Albert.

Jazz is supposed to be pure democracy in music--at least, that's how it's described whenever Wynton Marsalis gets in front of a camera--but it rarely works out that way. There are arrangements to write, and songwriting credits to haggle over, and the hapless task of organizing musicians, who are no strangers to ego and sloth, generally requires someone to crack the whip. No one did the latter better than Miles Davis, who, even in 1949, was known as the guy who called the shots and signed the checks--but you would never think of a Davis group as a pure "cooperative" either.

The Jazz Messengers, Art Blakey's dream of a jazz cooperative, evolved into a similar type of vehicle by the late 1950s--a band with a rotating cast dominated by the genial Blakey as bandleader. But in the Messengers' first years, the band was very much a contest of equals--Horace Silver on piano, the trumpeter Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley on tenor sax, Doug Watkins on bass and Blakey on drums.

So hear democracy in action--Dorham's "Prince Albert" is his variation on the chords of Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are" (known by music students as "All the Changes There Are"). Dorham begins the solos, all air and confidence (he even throws in a bar or two of "Camptown Races"); Mobley follows with a mixture of power and finesse. Blakey adjudicates throughout, challenging the players by shaking up the time.

Recorded on November 23, 1955, at the Cafe Bohemia in New York, a short-lived but legendary jazz club in Greenwich Village. Find "Prince Albert" here. You can visit the site of the former Cafe Bohemia at 15 Barrow St., in New York, but be warned--it has been reincarnated as the Barrow Street Alehouse, a bar often frequented by drunk, unpleasant college kids.

Buck Owens 1929-2006

It's been a tough year already, eh? We were going to meet Buck in a couple months as part of this survey, but sadly, it's time for a brief tribute to one of country's music's last legends.

Buck Owens, Waitin' in Your Welfare Line.
Buck Owens, It Takes People Like You (To Make People Like Me).

The first, from 1966, has one of Buck's funniest lyrics, though there's a tenderness to his voice that takes the song beyond its limits. The second, from 1967, is a sweet, straightforward thank-you note to his fans.

More at Big Rock and There's Always Someone Cooler.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Peggy Lee, I Don't Want to Play in Your Yard.
Peggy Lee, A Brown Bird Singing.
Frank Sinatra, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.
Frank Sinatra, I'll Be Around.

How distant the war years had become: the gulf between the hot, sparkling summer of 1955 and the grim one of 1942, the summer of Guadalcanal and Stalingrad, must have seemed colossal, as though the entire world had undergone such a sea change that you were surprised, upon finding a wartime newspaper, that the people alive then had spoken the same language as you. Figures from that time who still held the stage--a Churchill or DeGaulle--seemed as fantastics, waxworks breathed into frail life.

In 1955, Frank Sinatra turned 40, and Peggy Lee was 35. Could they even recall those days--the long nights on the bandstand (Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey, Lee with Benny Goodman) waiting for their cues? The overcrowded, stifling USO dances; the smell of Vitalis and Lucky Strikes; the girls clinging to boyfriends or husbands about to be shipped off to die in Anzio or Normandy; the buses hauling the musicians across the night, to Dubuque and Cheyenne and Sioux City; grabbing meals at the automat, washing clothes in a hotel sink. Sinatra causing girls to scream in waves when he sang; Lee terrified in the spotlight, feeling like a hayseed from North Dakota, being forced to wear the same gowns as Helen Forrest, the singer she was replacing.

But the world had turned, and Sinatra, in particular, had had a hard time of it. By the late '40s, his singles were flopping; it seemed he couldn't find good material if he paid for it, and once on stage at the Copacabana his voice simply died. He grew a moustache that made him look like a car salesman and hosted an ill-fated television show. Most of all, his romance with Ava Gardner, likely the love of his life, withered and died, all in front of the eager public, who voraciously followed the marriage's collapse via gossip columns and magazines.

Lee tumbled as well. She had married her guitarist, David Barbour, and for a while carried off a life tailored for the celebrity press--the happy Lee/Barbour family, raising a daughter, composing songs, vacationing in Mexico. But Barbour was an alcoholic who at one point allegedly sold off the rights to one of their compositions, "Manana", for two tickets to the Rose Bowl.

Lee recovered first. She divorced Barbour in '51, and, with a child to support, began to reinvent herself for the new decade. She signed with Decca after Capitol had rejected her and Gordon Jenkins' interpretation of "Lover," which turned the Rodgers and Hart number into a wild, almost surreal whirlwind of sound. At Decca, she crafted far more sultry, jazz-infused and intelligent music than she had during her early Capitol years--songs like "Black Coffee", "My Heart Belongs to Daddy", "There's a Small Hotel."

Sinatra caught some breaks too--he landed the role he craved in '53's From Here to Eternity (a process referred to not-so-obliquely in The Godfather, though I don't think Buddy Adler got a horse's head in his bed), which made him legitimate again, and helped him land a new contract with Capitol.

And Sinatra was one of the first of the swing-era musicians to grasp the realities of the new world--people were living in the suburbs, they had kids, and the domestic sphere had begun to encompass all. Why haul the family to the movies when you had TV? Why go downtown, to increasingly shady nightclubs and decaying parking lots, when you could just go to the store and buy a new 12" LP? So Sinatra and his arrangers began crafting concept records--song suites meant to serve as a sonic backdrop to home life, to a dinner party, for a drunken, lonely evening.

In the Wee Small Hours was Sinatra's first full-length LP to follow this formula, and the mood conveyed was melancholy, loss and regret. Sinatra created the persona--one depicted on the LP's cover: a stoic, wistful Frank, standing alone in a blue mist, with just a cigarette for company. It's a musical take on film noir, with Sinatra playing Philip Marlowe, and Nelson Riddle's arrangements for the LP follow the same cue: many of them could have easily served as scores for Force of Evil or The Postman Always Rings Twice (the sudden swings of the orchestra in "Last Night When We Were Young," the ominous introduction to "Deep in a Dream").

Here are two tracks from the album--the classic title song, written by David Mann and Bob Hilliard (one of the few newly-composed songs on the LP), was recorded on February 17, 1955, while Alec Wilder's "I'll Be Around", recorded on Feb. 8, has one of Sinatra's most compelling vocals--completely humble, supplicating his estranged lover with words infused with desperate hope.

Wee Small Hours is one of those essential records that seemingly everyone recommends, but really, it's that good.

Lee followed a similar path (Black Coffee is another early "concept" LP, and Lee found success in films as well) but she took an interesting turn in 1955. She had found a book of Chinese poems that captivated her, and intrigued, she set about adapting poems like Tu Fu's "Going Rowing" and Li Po's "The Fisherman" to song, using just harpsichord and harp as accompaniment.

Unlike Wee Small Hours, Sea Shells reached no one, because Decca put the LP on ice, finding the whole concept indulgent and bizarre (this seems in retrospect a bone-headed move, as Decca was ignoring the growing popularity of "Far East" sounds, like Martin Denny's records--you'd have thought South Pacific's massive success would have rung a bell somewhere). Finally, they released it in 1958 to massive indifference.

It's a shame, as Sea Shells is a rare thing of quiet beauty. I wouldn't call it Lee's best work--it's just too odd in places, and Lee is pushing so hard for something outside her usual sphere that at times she strains. But much of the record is astonishing: "I Don't to Play in Your Yard" and "Brown Bird Singing" are among the most exquisite songs Lee ever performed--her vocal on each is crystalline, expertly sung and phrased.

"I Don't Want to Play in Your Yard" is the refrain of an 1894 ballad by Phillip Wingate and H.W. Petrie. It was a popular song throughout the early 20th Century, (sometimes rewritten as "Playmate") sung in school plays, and memorized by generations of kids (including Peggy, most likely). "Brown Bird Singing," by Royden Barrie (a pseudonym for Rodney Richard Bennett, father of Richard Rodney Bennett) and Haydn Wood, hails from 1922.

Both were recorded on February 7, 1955, and released three years later on Sea Shells, Decca DL 8591. Lee sings, and Stella Castellucci is on harp (Castellucci wound up getting co-credit on the original Decca LP). The best place to find it is either on a Japanese import or on a 2-fer CD with Black Coffee (a fine record in its own right).

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Little Walter, My Babe.
Shirley and Lee, Feel So Good.

There is some music that is so fine, so perfect, that writing about it seems utterly pointless. But here I go regardless, though you're better off just playing these tracks loudly.

Little Walter
was born Marion Walter Jacobs in 1930 in Marksville, Louisiana, and died at age 38 after getting bludgeoned during a fight. Of all the postwar Chicago blues masters, he might have been the most brilliant.

Pete Welding: "From the very start Walter was a modernist, and a musical innovator who had little overt respect for any tradition save that of his own making. In vain does one search his recordings for any evidence of traditional influences or for traces, however fugitive, of his sources or borrowings. They are simply not there. What is there, on the other hand is pure Walter. If there had been any appreciable influences on the development of his music, his own burning genius had long since blurred, absorbed and transformed them by the time he had begun to record..."

"My Babe" was written by the great, prolific blues composer Willie Dixon--it's one of the most infectious things ever recorded. Walter sings and plays the harmonica as if it were a tenor saxophone, Dixon is on bass, Robert Lockwood and Leonard Caston provide the unstoppable guitar lines, Fred Below is on drums. Recorded January 25, 1955, and released as Checker 811 (and after getting an overdub, as Checker 955). Find on His Best.

Shirley and Lee's "Feel So Good" is 2:50 of joy compressed onto disc. Shirley Goodman and Leonard Lee, whose voices seemed designed to test a loudspeaker's woofer and tweeter, came out of New Orleans in the early '50s and were billed as "The Sweethearts of the Blues."

The two, who were born only days and streets apart from each other in 1936, hardly ever sang in harmony, and the wild contrast of their vocals was a major influence on Jamaican ska recordings of the late '50s and early '60s (Derrick and Patsy's "Housewives Choice", for example, is Shirley and Lee on vacation in Kingston).

While never a couple, the duo (who were in their mid-teens when they began recording) created a mythology on disc of Shirley and Lee, the ever-quarreling, ever-reuniting lovers. Each single they waxed for Aladdin Records advanced the story: "I'm Gone", "Shirley Come Back to Me", "Shirley's Back", "The Proposal," "Lee Goofed."

The schtick began growing old by 1955, however, so Aladdin's head Leo Messner had the pair record some groovier R&B. "Feel So Good", while not a major hit, is my favorite recording of theirs--is it Lee's goofy, ecstatic vocal? The swinging doo-wop backup vocals (by the Spiders)? The basic meat-and-potatoes sax solo? The whole thing just works for me.

"Let the Good Times Roll," recorded the next year, was the hit that made them immortal, but not much else followed and the duo parted by the early '60s (though Shirley went on to record the disco masterpiece "Shame Shame Shame" in 1975 and provided backing vocals on Exile on Main Street). Lee died in 1976, and Shirley passed last year. "Feel So Good," issued as Aladdin 3289, can be found on Let the Good Times Roll.

Top photo: Sabato (Simon) Rodia completes the Watts Towers in 1955, which he began building in the early 1920s, and moves out of town. Los Angeles intends to knock down the structures, regarded by many in the city government as a horrific eyesore; today, the towers are part of the California Parks System.

Sylvia Hart Wright: "One man's artistic fantasy is here given substance: fanciful spires pieced together over a period of thirty-three years from steel reinforcing rods and wire mesh, colorfully decorated with seashells and fragments of broken dishes and bottles."

Simon Rodia: "I had in mind to do something big and I did it."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Hawkshaw Hawkins, Car Hoppin' Mama.
Carl Smith with the Tunesmiths, Baby I'm Ready.
Webb Pierce and Red Sovine, Why Baby Why.

For a brief moment in the mid-1950s, country music was up for grabs. The past success of harder-edged honky-tonk records and the growing, inescapable presence of Elvis Presley meant that for many country musicians, the way forward was to stomp out even wilder music. But that proved to be an illusion, because in the next few years Nashville execs and producers realized there was a lot more money to be found in crafting ornate, heavily-produced pop/country ballads; thus the rock & rollers were hived off from country "purists", with only the likes of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard left in the next decade to keep things a little frayed.

So enjoy some remnants of a time when "rock & roll" and "hillbilly bop" and even "country/western" were almost interchangeable categories.

First, Hawkshaw Hawkins' take on Hank Thompson's "Car Hoppin' Mama" (maybe it's my sordid mind, but doesn't this sound like an ode to a prostitute? (a rock & roll tradition, if so). The lyrics are weirdly vague about what exactly the singer's girl is up to, besides having a smile that "gets her tips", but hell, he plans to marry her and get her off the beat in any case). While the track is fairly traditional in tone-- dominated by fiddle and steel guitar--Hawkins' smooth delivery gives it a more modern feel.

Harold "Hawkshaw" Hawkins was born in Huntington, West Va., in 1921 and began recording for King Records in the late 1940s. After a dry spell, he signed with RCA, where he served as a utility player--applying his rich voice to whatever they threw at him, ranging from ballads to honky-tonk tunes to R&B covers. Sadly, just as he was enjoying the biggest hit in his career, "Lonesome 7-7203", he was killed in 1963 in the same plane crash that took the lives of Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas.

"Car Hoppin' Mama" was recorded in Nashville on May 27, 1955, with Chet Atkins on guitar, Walter Haynes on steel and Tommy Jackson and Grady Martin on fiddle. It was released in August as RCA 6211. You used to be able to find it on the now out-of-print Legends of Honky Tonk; now Hawkins, like a lot of 1940s and 1950s country stars, is represented on CD either by massively expensive boxed sets or inferior cut-rate compliations. In any case, "Car Hoppin' Mama" appears to be available nowhere legitimately, so enjoy.

We've already met Carl Smith, the not-quite-heir apparent to Hank Williams, back in the 1953 survey. Smith had movie star looks and a deep, full-throated voice (at this time, he was married to June Carter) but his popularity ebbed with the decade. Still, here's a rocking track, recorded with the Tunesmiths (who included Sammy Pruett, Johnny Sibert and Jimmy Smith on guitars, Dale Potter on fiddle, Bill Simmons on piano and Buddy Harman on drums).

This is the rarer first take of "Baby I'm Ready", recorded in Dallas on Feb. 2, 1955, and released as Columbia 21411 in July. A remade version became a hit a year later. The only place this track is on CD currently is on the colossal Satisfaction Guaranteed set.

And here's Webb Pierce, who's a little cornier than the other singers but still delivers the goods. "Why Baby Why" was written by George Jones and his friend Darrell Edwards; weirdly, the track is basically a Red Sovine recording, as Webb comes in only on harmony vocals on the chorus, yet Webb received top credit and the song is generally remembered as a Pierce hit. In any case, it's a fine song--recorded on October 27, 1955 and released as Decca 29480. On King of the Honky Tonk. Sovine has a bunch of CDs available here.

This post is dedicated to the Rev. Frost, who's been enduring a string of bad luck so far this year. Hang in there, Rev.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


George Lewis and His New Orleans Stompers, Mahogany Hall Stomp.

I've been guilty, in recounting postwar jazz history in this blog, of acting as if bebop was the only game in town. That's because in part, this is far from a comprehensive history of anything, and because bebop, for me, is some of the finest jazz ever recorded.

That said, it's time to make amends to the moldy figs.

A substantial "traditional" jazz revival also occurred in the 1940s and 1950s, acting as a counterweight to bop and other modern forms ("Dixieland" emphasized tight ensemble playing over extended soloing, etc.), and one of the happy by-products of Dixieland redux was the rehabilitation of the great George Lewis.

Lewis, who, while younger than his rival on clarinet Sidney Bechet, had a style that seemed to hail from a more distant time, was barely known outside of New Orleans until 1942, when Bunk Johnson worked with him, first on recording sessions and later on tour. When Johnson retired, Lewis took over as bandleader.

Spencer Williams' "Mahogany Hall Stomp" is just one of many hot tracks Lewis recorded in the final two decades of his life. Recorded on April 11, 1955, with Lewis (clarinet), Avery "Kid" Howard on trumpet (who basically recreates, note for note, his solo from a 1929 recording of the same song), Jim Robinson (trombone), Alton Purnell (p), George Guesnon (banjo), Alcide "Slow Drag" Pavageau (b) and Joe Watkins (d).

Unfortunately, most Lewis recordings are currently out of print--you can find "Mahogany Hall" on George Lewis and His New Orleans Stompers or on Gary Giddins' compilation Visions of Jazz.

(update) thanks to an anonymous commentor, it turns out lots of Lewis is available on CD after all, on the Jazzology label.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Buddy Holly and Bob Montgomery, Gotta Get You Near Me Blues.
Buddy Holly and Bob Montgomery, You and I Are Through.
Buddy Holly and Bob Montgomery, Down the Line.
Buddy Holly and Bob Montgomery, Baby It's Love.

They were the best of friends, as far back as junior high school, in 1949. Charles "Buddy" Holley had been playing guitar since he was a child, but it was meeting Bob Montgomery, who loved Hank Williams, that provided Buddy with his first true style, as well as the impetus for Buddy to begin performing professionally.

By the first years of the new decade, the two had formed a "Western and Bop" band, playing at youth clubs and dances throughout Texas. Bob mainly sang lead--he had a fine voice, albeit one enthralled by Hank Williams' stylings--and they mainly played straight country. But occasionally Buddy would sing, with the resulting oddness that, in the midst of a fairly standard country weeper, we can hear the familiar, loopy voice of "Peggy Sue" and "That'll Be the Day" breaking in.

The two (along with friends like Larry Welborn and Sonny Curtis) began recording demos whenever they could, in tiny studios, like Nesman Recording Studio, in Wichita Falls, Texas. Most were slow ballads, often with interchangeable titles ("Flower of My Heart", "Door to My Heart," "Soft Place in My Heart", "I Gambled My Heart"), but occasionally they would wax a gem, like Montgomery's swinging "Gotta Get You Near Me Blues."

Buddy (L) and Bob (R) flank Larry Welborn

In early 1955, Buddy and Bob opened for Elvis Presley. To say this changed everything is an understatement--Buddy became consumed by Elvis, singing like him (Holly's version of "Baby Let's Play House" from late '55 is almost a note-by-note Presley imitation). By August '55, Buddy and Bob were recording their first true rock & roll songs--here are the stomping "Baby's It's Love" and Montgomery's "You and I Are Through". (The kick-ass "Down the Line" is from this period as well.) Later that year, when Bill Haley came to Lubbock, he left with the demos and passed them on to Decca.

In January 1956, Buddy received a recording contract from Decca, but made out only to him. By all accounts, Bob was magnanimous, urging Buddy to sign and even attending his first recording session in Nashville, where Bob didn't play a note.

We'll be hearing a great deal more of Buddy Holly for the rest of the 1950s. As for Bob Montgomery, he became a professional songwriter, for Buddy ("Heartbeat") and others.

A note: these tracks were recorded under primitive conditions, maintained poorly and then overdubbed (sometimes with way too much drums) a decade later by Holly's producer Norman Petty--so the sound is pretty rough.

Once upon a time, when the fairly good movie The Buddy Holly Story came out in the late 1970s, MCA UK got it together and released a 6-LP boxed set that included nearly everything Holly had recorded. Naturally, the set soon went out of print, and two decades have passed without anything equivalent being issued on CD. The result is that Holly's work is only available piecemeal on disc (you have to buy one for greatest hits, another for early stuff, another for demos, etc.)--for example, most of the Montgomery stuff is on Holly in the Hills/Giant. But if you can find The Complete Buddy Holly (it turns up on eBay fairly regularly) it's greatly worth the investment. MCA is rumored to be sitting on much more unreleased Holly material from this period (including the Grail--the undubbed Holly/Montgomery sessions), but seems to be waiting for perhaps the centennial of Holly's birth to release them...

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Address to the Chicago Irish Fellowship Club (excerpt).
Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Work With Me Annie.
Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Annie Had a Baby.
Sons of the Pioneers, Sierra Nevada.
Moon Mullican, What's the Matter With the Mill.
Shirley Gunter & the Queens, Oop Shoop.
Margie Day, Take Out Your False Teeth Daddy.
Lowell Fulson, Reconsider Baby.
The Robins, Riot in Cell Block No. 9.
The Cadillacs, Gloria.
John Lee Hooker, Gotta Boogie.
Sarah Vaughan w/Clifford Brown, September Song.
The Spaniels, Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight.

To wind down 1954, take a spin around the radio dial again.

On St. Patrick's Day, Senator Joseph McCarthy gave a speech in Chicago in which the usual slurs and allegations about hidden Communists had curdled into something far stranger--there is a bloodlust, almost a wish for death, in his words. Listen, in this excerpt, to the relentless way he keeps tasting the word "Communist," building up to where, almost ecstatically, he describes how Communists "ordered American BOYS to have their HANDS wired behind their BACKS." The next month saw the beginning of the Army-McCarthy hearings, his Waterloo.

Hank Ballard and the Midnighters' "Work With Me Annie" and "Annie Had a Baby"(a made-to-order sequel inspired by a DJ's joke, after playing "Work With Me", that Annie was going to have a baby) sparked a virtue panic among parents, who were horrified to find out their children were listening to blunt odes to sex (and its consequences). Each generation, the farce happens again (cf. "Darling Nikki"). Hank Ballard, who grew up singing in church, is just one of many rock & roll prodigal sons. On Sexy Ways.

The old West, or at least the happy simulacrum of it created in the 1930s and 1940s, was beginning to fade--the Sons of the Pioneers' "Sierra Nevada" is among their last recordings, a pleasant wish for reconciliation, or maybe oblivion. On Hall of Fame Series.

Moon Mullican took the remnants of Western swing and stomped on them--he was laying the trail for Jerry Lee to follow. "Mill," originally by Memphis Minnie, is on Moonshine Jamboree.

"Oop Shoop," by Shirley Gunter, is early girl group bliss, while Margie Day's "Take Out Your False Teeth Daddy," one of the odder and more grotesque double-entendres ever recorded, was a minor R&B hit. Find both here.

Lowell Fulson's electric blues "Reconsider Baby," his first hit for Chess, has such a swagger that you wonder just how hurt Fulson because his girl is leaving him--his eyes are already elsewhere. Find here.

The Robins' "Riot in Cell Block No. 9," was one of the first major Lieber/Stoller hits and one remade a few years later by the Coasters. The Robins' bass singer Bobby Nunn hated the lyrics, so they got Richard Berry, who was hanging around the studio, to sing the lead. The result was a track astonishing in its viciousness--"Pass the dynamite, 'cause the fuse is lit", with drum fills that sound like fists pounding on cell bars.

The Cadillacs' doo-wop hymn "Gloria", released in the summer of 1954, is on the essential Doo Wop Ballads.

"I hear papa tell mama/let him boogie." So John Lee Hooker does, with eight bars of the rawest guitar work possibly ever recorded. On Legendary Modern Recordings.

Sarah Vaughan's masterful take on "September Song" is aided by Clifford Brown on trumpet, Herbie Mann (flute) and Paul Quinichette (tenor sax). On Sarah Vaughan/Clifford Brown.

And say good night with the Spaniels.

Films of '54

A pretty weak year, esp. for Hollywood (Three Coins in the Fountain, The Silver Chalice, blecch, etc., blecch), but a few masterpieces got made, so who's to complain.

Rear Window.
Hitchcock made more perverse films, scarier ones, stranger ones, but this is likely his most perfect. Plus Grace Kelly at her most overwhelmingly gorgeous.
Seven Samurai.
Johnny Guitar. "You all think she's some fine lady and that doing nothing makes you fine gentlemen. Well she ain't! And you're not!"
Sansh├┤ day├╗ (Sansho the Bailiff).
Track of the Cat. If Eugene O'Neill's Tyrone family had found themselves trapped in a Western.
La Strada.
The Far Country.
Garden of Evil.
Time Out of War.
Yama no oto (Sound of the Mountain).

Yeah, I know, I didn't list On the Waterfront. I really just don't like it. Make your case for it in the comments, if so inclined.

That's it. Next up: 1955, one of the greatest years for pop music in the 20th Century, so any overview is only going to scrape the skin of the surface. Still, we'll give it a shot.