Archive for the '1960s' Category

20
Dec
19

Hampton Hawes Trio “The Green Leaves of Summer”

I picked up this 1964 record knowing nothing about Hampton Hawes—sadly never had heard of him—and I wasn’t expecting much, certainly not that it would be so good, and instrumental jazz—piano jazz trio. I suppose I was guessing by the cover that it was going to be kind of mild crooner pop—only because of the bold yellow font on a blurry, bright green background, and bigger than life-size photo of a very handsome man, presumably Hawes, himself. And because he kind of resembles a young Harry Belafonte, naturally I just thought he was going to be a singer. Of course, that’s dumb of me. By chance, those two were born a year of so apart, and a few years before my dad. Though Hawes died pretty young, in 1977. I see that he wrote a memoir, so I’m going to check that out. (Found the book at the library, haven’t read any of it yet.) Apparently this record came out after he was in prison for five years for heroin possession. This is a fine jazz trio recording; Hampton Hawes on piano, Monk Montgomery on bass, and Steve Ellington drums. Great names—if you throw all six of those names in a hat, with the exception of “Steve,” it just oozes jazz. The liner notes, on back, by Lester Koenig is practically book length—I’m not going to read it now, but intend to later, like maybe when I listen to the record again. It’s one I’m going to leave out for awhile, for listening. It’s good, but subtle. Nothing jumped out at me on first listening, except maybe the first song, a Miles Davis composition called “Vierd Blues.” But often, subtle is a very good thing, calm and simple at first visit, like the Blue Hole, this little duck pond in Ohio that doesn’t look like much, but turns out to be bottomless and legendary.

07
Dec
19

Skeeter Davis “The Best of Skeeter Davis”

There is a “Best of Skeeter Davis” record from 1983, and 1980, and 1973, and 1978, and 1965. There may be more, but I got tired of looking in the internet. For the most part, they are the same songs—I mean, the first one kept getting reissued—though I noticed some variations. Anyway, this one that I’m listening to right now is a fine vinyl copy from 1965, RCA Victor, mono, 12 songs, it sounds great. On the front cover there’s nice picture of Skeeter, kind of Olan Mills style, that’s in a squarish rectangle with rounded corners that resembles the screen of 1960s television. It says “The Best of Skeeter Davis” and lists the songs. The letters in her name is each a different color. People could get color TV in the early 60s, but 1965 is considered the year the damn burst. It was often advertised by making each letter a different color, such as with the “Color TV” signs at motels. There are brief, very introductory, uncredited liner notes on back, referring to her as a “vivacious blonde Kentuckian.” She was both young and old at this time (around 34) and was, of course, already a star, with half a dozen LPs, lots of singles, and some hit songs. A “best of” record already made sense.

Every song on this record is good, and I could write an article about each one, but I’m not going to even mention them, I mean, individually, at this point, since they’re all on other records that I’ve written about, or am going to write about. No… maybe should… I’m listening to this again. It’s such a great record… every song is good. It’s like the classic county record of all time. Twelve songs by 12 different people or songwriting teams (including one by Skeeter Davis and Carolyn Penick), but somehow, it’s like every song is a Skeeter Davis song, once she’s singing it. She’s like Sinatra in that way. I wonder if those two ever met. This record would be a great birthday or Christmas present for someone—someone who maybe isn’t already a big Skeeter Davis fan, and you want to introduce her to. If I ever see other copies of this for a reasonable price (or the reissued versions), I’m going to buy them and then give them away as presents. Instead of the guy who gives you books you don’t want to read, I’ll be the guy who gives Skeeter Davis records to people who don’t like country music and don’t have record players!

22
Nov
19

Gene & Debbe “Hear & Now”

I spotted this record used, a beat up but playable copy, and it was the first I heard of Gene & Debbe. It’s a great cover, with the words in a slightly psychedelic font, each a different color: ghost green, hot pink, acid orange, and boring blue. Mostly, though, it’s this big b&w photo of Gene & Debbe—Gene staring at the camera like you’ve got exactly four minutes to get this photo, and Debbe just in front of him in profile (she’s quite beautiful) with her hair up in a beehive that won’t quite behave. You know there’s an empty can of Aqua Net very nearby. Liner notes on back (as well as two songs, the saddest ones) are by my man, Mickey Newbury, short, but concrete dense. Not one for the light touch. Though he does slip a little—perhaps unnerved by Debbe’s luminance—and says, of her: “Like the cream in a morning’s first cup of coffee.” I, for one, forgive him. Gene Thomas and Debbe Nevills were a Nashville pop/folk/country duo who had a hit song (“Playboy,” on this record), a handful of other singles, and one album, this one, from 1968.

Odd LPs with great covers are often bummers musically, but I’m liking this one a lot. I’m guessing the hot playing by some uncredited Nashville pros doesn’t hurt. The eleven songs are all catchy, and six are by Gene Thomas. The cover song of greatest note is “Let It Be Me”—which happens to be one of my favorite songs of all time—recorded by everyone and their mother. Gene sounds more than a bit like Sonny Bono. Debbe doesn’t sound like Cher, that would be weird, but her voice is similarly striking—her voice is great. It makes this record, really. It’s kind of like the morning’s first cup of black coffee. You know, my life has been so much better since I got used to drinking coffee black. It wasn’t easy (kind of like quitting smoking), but now I prefer it. Truthfully, this record, as pleasant and listenable as it is, really comes to life every time Debbe sings. Gene’s a tad whole milk, or even 2%. I guess I’ve kind of developed a crush on Debbe, as I listen to this again. “Go With Me” sounds really familiar, I wonder if someone else did it? Debbe takes these kind of simple words (“take my hand”) and just twists them, so they just pierce your heart—and I don’t even think she knows. I guess they were a couple, for awhile, then broke up. I suppose it wasn’t easy, being either a duo or couple, with people like me trying to steal Debbe away from him—but who can blame us?

08
Nov
19

Frank Sinatra “A Man Alone”

I never heard this record until recently—though, of course, I’ve heard some of the songs—but I bought a vinyl copy—attracted to the cover—a giant, blown up, close-up of Sinatra, looking sad, his head the size of a watermelon, and just this ring he has on is nearly as big as a CD. The subtitle is “& Other Songs of Rod McKuen.” I guess it’s all written by Rod McKuen—is that true? It’s a great record—this was a real discovery here in 2019. There is one thing that I feel confident about, and that’s that my life will end before all the discoveries dry up—and that’s a comforting thought. Anyway, I liked this record so much I bought a second copy (believe me, I didn’t pay much for either of them) because the cover was slightly different, and it opens up and there are some photos inside and liner notes by Rod McKuen. Actually, in light of that, I think there might be too much here for me to write about at once—maybe I’ll write a second review sometime later. Because the thing I’m going to focus on first is the one song on this record that I don’t like, called “Love’s Been Good To Me.” I don’t hate this song (though I’m not remotely crazy about the harpsichord), but it’s just that it stuck in my head one day, and I realized that it was bugging the shit out of me, and I had to ask my self why.

It’s a catchy tune, and I have nothing against that, but I think what bugged me is the first line of the chorus—“I have been a rover”—which, there’s nothing wrong with that, so why does it bug me? I mean, there’s plenty on this record that’s kind of corny, and I like that stuff—I generally like corny, kitschy, overblown shit. But the word “rover” just irritates me for some reason, so I have to examine that. Maybe it’s the concept, of a man who travels around, never settling down. I mean, not necessarily a womanizer, or a cad—it can be an honorable thing, a restless person, who never wants to settle. I don’t know why that would bother me. Except for maybe because it’s a concept that’s pretty much always associated with men, with the underlying backwards traditional belief that a woman shouldn’t live her life that way. Of course, anyone you talk to now—I mean, whose head isn’t up their ass—isn’t going to think that way. But knowing that certain sectors of society, even now, and more so in the past, believed that, I guess maybe that’s part of what rubs me the wrong way.

But still, there’s something else. Maybe it’s just the word, “rover,” that bugs me (as words sometimes do, for no good reason). I mean, it just means “wanderer,” but still. Maybe it’s just one of those words whose core is rotted by negative association—in this case, sexism. Or maybe because it’s similar to “pirate,” in that there’s an inherent double-standard, because of its long tradition of being romanticized, but if you really examine it… not so great. What else. There’s that Led Zeppelin song called “The Rover”—what’s that about? I looked at the lyrics, and I’m reminded of a warning—if you’re going to look at Led Zeppelin lyrics, make sure you’re accompanied by either marijuana or the music, and preferably both. Rover was a traditional name for a dog, like Fido, but what kind of twisted bastard would name their dog Fido or Rover these days? Oh, and one more—Rover is the name of that huge fuckin’ white ball that rises out of the sea in The Prisoner (TV show). I love that thing, it’s weird—but Rover is a dumb name for it—sorry. What would I call it? “Huge fuckin’ white ball that rises out of the sea”—I guess. Well, this is a lot of analyzing just to figure out why this song bugs me so much. Maybe it’s just that damn harpsichord.

31
Oct
19

Skeeter Davis “My Heart’s in the Country”

This record has the best cover of all the Skeeter Davis records I own (which is a lot, but not nearly enough of them). It’s a full cover color photograph of Skeeter sitting in a barnyard wearing a red and white gingham dress, holding a baby pig. As cute as she is, the pig’s even cuter. The photo is weirdly cropped, as in it doesn’t look cropped—I’m guessing they took a few, but there weren’t a lot to chose from that had sufficient focus when blown up that large, because, I’m no expert, but I believe those little pigs are kind of squirmy. It’s a great cover. There’s also substantial liner notes on the back, by Skeeter Davis, which I’ll read in a bit. I was going to say this isn’t my favorite of her records, which it isn’t, but now that I’m listing to it a few times, while writing this, it’s growing on me. Skeeter Davis records will do that. The title song (by Larry Kingston and Felton Jarvis) is about a singer who has big city success, but nevertheless, she sings, “My heart’s in the country, on a farm in O-hi-o.” Which, of course, strikes a chord with me, as an Ohioan. She is from Kentucky, so this song is a character, but also her, and southern Ohio and Kentucky do have a border, but it’s not necessarily the one drawn up by The Man. Now that I think about it, maybe it’s the Ohioan in her (as well as the Kentuckian in me) that draws me to her so intensely. This song also has one of those spoken parts, which I’m sure some people find corny, but I love that, especially when Skeeter Davis does it.

One thing that’s interesting about Skeeter Davis is that she had success with both pop and country audiences, which is something she talks about in the liner notes, maintaining that her roots are in the country (and this country music). I’m personally not partial to either the pop music or the country music she’s recorded—I must say, I like both equally—and sometimes you can’t really hear a line between them (but sometimes you can). As I’ve said before, above all, I’m song oriented, so it matters little, the genre or style—I’ll like a song, or not so much. The biggest generalization I make when I’m categorizing music I like or don’t like is the degree of jauntiness—and I’m sure people are tired of me using that word, but it best expresses the thing that often turns me off. (Of course, I’m sure there’s a jaunty song out there that I do like, but I can’t think of one right now.) Naturally, both country and pop songs can be jaunty. On this record, which is all hardcore country songs, we have the jaunty and the not jaunty. The not jaunty ones tend to be sad and melancholy—those are my favorites. A few of my favorites here are “Put It Off Until Tomorrow” (by Dolly Parton and Bill Owens), “I’m Living in Two Worlds” (J. Crutchfield) (not about the two worlds of pop and country—it’s a relationship song—and a sad one). And “Before I’m Over You” by Betty Sue Perry, another in the tradition of losing one’s mind (going crazy, insane, etc.) over a love gone wrong. Of course, there are songs that are kind of in between sad and jaunty, the clever country songs—one here I like a lot is “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart,” by Liz Anderson (I always liked that expression, about eating, and there’s nothing I like better than the tradition of inserting “heart” in every expression imaginable).

These liner notes are Skeeter answering the question, “What’s the country like?” She goes on and on with nostalgic descriptions of the things she remembers and loves about country life—sure, it’s sugary and sweet, but really kind of touching, too—at least to me. My favorite part of it is where she’s talking about mothers and fathers, now gone, their particular smells, and she says, “And they were smells you’d like to smell again, but can’t.” I guess that reminds me of what I like about Skeeter Davis—there is this simplicity, clarity, a kind of innocence, but never without an underlying melancholy and world weariness. It also reminds me that I have this autobiography she wrote, called Bus Fare to Kentucky, which I still haven’t read—I’ve got to read it sometime.

10
Oct
19

Thelonious Monk “Underground”

I got ahold of a nice copy of this record somewhere and it makes me happy to own it and to listen to it. I am not a collector, nor do I spend much money on records. As big of a superstar as Thelonious Monk was and is, you don’t see a lot of his records, and when you do, you have to pay for them. It’s kind of crazy he was so well-known because I don’t hear his music as at all mainstream, and I don’t personally know that many huge fans of his. A lot of his music is too challenging for the average person, even the jazz fan. I’m not a big jazz fan, generally—well maybe I am, but I can’t talk about it with too much knowledge. But there is something about all of this music—all Thelonious Monk recordings—that just connects with me on an almost subconscious level—or unconscious, or preconscious level—like from before my birth, if that holds any water for you. I have said, and publicly, that Thelonious Monk is not only my favorite musician and recording artist, but my favorite artist, period. That might sound like hyperbole, but then, who else would it be? I am writing this brief mention, of this 1968 record, Underground, one of his later ones, on the eve of his birthday, October 10, which for me is the major holiday of the year. They always play Thelonious Monk all day on his birthday, on WKCR in New York, and I can’t think of a better day to call in sick, stay home, play the internet radio, and draw or something.

There are seven songs on this record, none of them near my favorites by or recorded by him, but I like them all. I have never really heard a Thelonious Monk recording I didn’t like, I don’t think, which makes me feel like maybe I’m not a very sophisticated listener, which maybe I’m not—or maybe he just never made a bad recording. Of course, I haven’t heard them all, so I guess in that way I am somewhat unsophisticated. “Ugly Beauty” is on this record, which is actually one of my favorite Monk compositions, and this is a fine recording of it. That song could be the theme song to pretty much anything—in fact, just start with that song and build a world around it. I guess all the songs here are Monk compositions, except for “Easy Street,” which is a song I love and have heard a billion versions of. It’s funny, it really doesn’t matter if he plays standards or his own compositions—they all end up sounding like his songs. The band here includes Larry Gales on bass and Ben Riley on drums, as well as Charlie Rouse—sax on about half the songs. I’ve mostly only heard Charlie Rouse with Monk, but he’s one of my favorite horn players ever—there are some recordings on which he almost makes me forget to listen to Monk’s piano. An odd thing here, for a Thelonious Monk record, the last song, “In Walked Bud,” has vocals by Jon Hendricks. It’s a great song, and though I can’t say I like it better than some earlier versions without vocals, I love ending the record with this song, and I love Jon Hendricks.

I imagine people made a big deal out of this album cover, and even the goofball liner notes on back are mostly about the cover. It’s a photo shoot somewhere that’s dressed up to look like a French Resistance hide-out, with a piano, lots of weapons, bombs, and wine, and Monk and a woman in a beret with machine guns, a Nazi tied to a chair, a cow, and quite a lot more. The cow might be a live cow. This was some art director person’s dream day at work. It makes me think about how the album cover size is the absolute perfect format for certain art, it really is. Thelonious Monk had some great album covers, I mean a lot of them, and this one is right up there, and it’s right up there with all album covers ever, really. He always looks great, too, which seems to be effortless to him, but was it? I mean, his playing sounds effortless, too, and I’m sure it was not. I’ve lived in New York a couple of times, and like most people, it’s kind of exciting for me to see a celebrity, but imagine running into Thelonious Monk walking down the street—back when he was walking down the street—that would have been like the thrill of a lifetime.

27
Sep
19

Arthur Prysock “I Must Be Doing Something Right”

I’m pretty sure I had this 1968 record back before I lost all my records—and I have it now—but I’m pretty sure I didn’t move it around with me—in fact I know I didn’t—so this is the second copy I’ve owned—and I’m also pretty sure I never listened to it before right now. Well, maybe I did, way back, but I don’t remember it. It’s actually quite a striking record. Arthur Prysock has an extreme voice—it’s deep and resonant—I can’t think of anyone quite this deep and smooth at the same time. I’m really liking this record—I wish I’d listened to it before. He was pretty popular, I guess, and put out a lot of records. Maybe I’ll pick up some more if I see them. The strange thing here is that because the songs are mostly recognizable, some standards I know, some new to me—there’s a lot of emotional heft with each one, and his approach is so big, it’s like each song sounds like it could be the opening number, or closing number, or credit sequence to a movie. I kind of wanted to take the approach (I’ve done in the past) of writing down what each song made me see, as in a movie scene, or even a scene from life, but they are so all over the place, I’m not seeing a narrative line, so I’m not going to do that. I think I’ll just remember to put this record on again sometime to cheer myself up. The cover is pretty great—it’s Arthur Prysock in what looks like a private roulette room of a casino (or maybe it’s an illegal one) with a fairly international crowd—one guy is wearing a turban. Most of the chips are stacked in front of Prysock. The croupier looks a lot like Jeff Goldblum. Everyone looks a bit concerned, except for Prysock and an attractive woman with some gaudy jewelry and thin cigar who is giving him the eye. The cover is meant to illustrate the idea of “I Must Be Doing Something Right” which, besides being the title of this album, is also the last song. This gave me an idea for a song, called “I Must Be Doing Something Wrong”—has anyone written that song?




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