Car Boot Vinyl Diaries

Car Boot Vinyl Diaries

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The good, the bad and the ugly

In the previous post on a Terence Trent D'Arby album I mentioned a hot August day last year when I returned home from a boot sale with quite a large haul of records, including several 78rpm singles.  Due to their age these are often the most interesting kind of car boot record, not only giving us an idea of the musical trends of their time, but also social mores and popular attitudes.  I bought ten in all on that sunny Sunday, and they cost 50p each.  Let's have a look at a few.

The oldest of the lot is a slightly strange-looking disc with a raised edge at the outer rim and a rather non-shellac feel to it.  It's also heavier than other 78s I've previously encountered.

Spot the odd one out.

The disc was produced by Zonophone Records in 1911 and is a double-sided reissue of two single-sided records originally released in 1905 and 1906, hence "The Twin" label.  At this time the recordings would have been made acoustically (i.e. into a horn), since electrical recording wasn't developed until the 1920s.

The Minster Singers - My Old Kentucky Home b/w De Ring Tailed Coon (1911)

Performed by a British quartet named The Minster Singers , Side 1 is a version of My Old Kentucky Home; an anti-slavery ballad written in the mid-1800s by American songwriter Stephen Foster.  Whereas My Old Kentucky Home is a song sympathetic to the abolitionist cause and has evolved into an important part of American culture, Side 2, De Ring Tailed Coon, is a different kettle of fish.

From around 1880 to 1920 the in US, and to a lesser extent the UK, there was a craze for what were known as "Coon songs".  Yikes.  These songs incorporated elements of ragtime and combined them with 'comedic' lyrics portraying very cartoonish stereotypes of African American people, often depicting them as lustful, lazy, dishonest and stupid with vices such as gambling and alcohol.  In the UK, white "coon imitators" would perform them at music halls, and when I say there was a craze, I mean that the songs were enormously popular with the public at large, with sheet music selling in the millions in the English-speaking world, and the language and imagery filtering into art, film, commerce and even nursery rhymes, before eventually (and thankfully) falling out of favour.  De Ring Tailed Coon is from the repertoire of Yorkshireman Alfred Scott-Gatty, who when he wasn't busy being an officer of arms spent his time as an amateur composer.  He wrote a couple of dozen of these "Plantation Songs" as he called them, and they were to become his most popular works.

Both sides of the Minster Singers record are sung in a terrible accent meant to imitate that of enslaved African Americans, although to my ears sound more like dodgy attempts at a Scots accent.  Here's a Youtube video I found of Side 2 playing on a gramophone. I'd like to think it was actually just a song about a racoon, but.... well, listen for yourself.

No less interesting but much more enjoyable to listen to are a pair of singles by Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark.

Dinah Shore and Buddy Clarke - Let's Do It b/w 'S Wonderful (1948)

Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark - My One And Only Highland Fling b/w
Baby It's Cold Outside (1949)

Dinah Shore
Tennessee native Dinah, born Frances Rose Shore, was a singer, actress and radio and television presenter whose recording career boasted 80 hits, mainly during the 1940s.

Her long career on the small screen included a 1970s daytime show that amongst the usual light entertainment and lifestyle guest stars also numbered the likes of Iggy Pop and David Bowie.

Here's slightly fuzzy clip of them both on her couch:

Buddy Clark
Born in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1912, Buddy Clark rose to fame as a popular singer, beginning like most stars of his era on the radio before moving on to a career shifting shellac. His biggest hit came in 1946 with Linda, a song written by Jack Lawrence at the request of showbiz lawyer Jack Eastman for his six year-old daughter, future Beatle-botherer and veggie sausage saleswoman.

The first disc I bought by this wholesome duo is a perky Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love) from the pen of Cole Porter, backed by a breezy rendition of the Gershwin standard 'S Wonderful.  The other is My One And Only Highland Fling, originally from the 1949 movie The Barkleys of Broadway.  Dinah and Buddy's version features a ropey Scots lilt from both, but not as toe-curlingly bad as those of Fred and Ginger in the film.  The flip is a charming rendition of Baby It's Cold Outside complete with sound effects of a chilly wind and slamming door.

The same year as this latter single was released, Clark was killed in a plane crash.  He was just 37.  During his very last radio broadcast he'd performed a comic rendition of Baby Face with the Andrews Sisters, entertaining them and the studio audience with his impersonation of Al Jolson.  Funnily enough, among this particular clutch of 78s bought last August were discs featuring both.

Al Jolson
Vaudeville singer and actor Al Jolson is perhaps best remembered for sometimes performing in blackface, a branch of minstrelsy with a complex history that played its part in the cementing of racial stereotypes as well as the popularisation of black culture.

He was born Asa Yoelson in 1886 in a small Jewish village in Lithuania, and after his mother died young he and his family emigrated to the USA where Al became a megastar of stage and screen.  In addition to his musical legacy he did tremendous work during WWII with the USO (of which he was a founder member), and despite his conservative leanings was a key player in the fight against racial discrimination via the promotion of black playwrights and actors on Broadway and in Hollywood.

The record of his I picked up features songs from the follow-up to his 1927 film The Jazz Singer; The Singing Fool.

Al Jolson - Sonny Boy b/w There's A Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder (1928)

Sonny Boy is a song of cloying sentimentality, which obviously had great appeal, since it sold a million copies and remained at the top of the US charts for twelve weeks.  My favourite use of the song is in the "Tuppy and the Terrier" episode of the Jeeves and Wooster TV series, where it's used to excruciating effect.

Here's the more chirpy flip side There's a Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder:

Like Jolson, The Andrews Sisters were of recent immigrant stock, their Greek father Anglicising the family name of Andreas upon his arrival in the USA.  The close harmony trio of LaVerne, Patty and Maxine sold countless millions of records in their time, and became forces sweethearts of WWII during which they entertained Allied forces on three continents with the USO.

The sisters recorded a total of 47 songs with Bing Crosby, including the pair on this car boot 78:

Bing  Crosby and The Andrews Sisters - Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?
b/w Quicksilver (1949)

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You? (not the Van Morrison single) was released in late 1949 and charted in January 1950, peaking at no. 24.  It was written by country artist Scotty Wiseman and later covered by the likes of Elvis, Eddie Cochran and Ringo Starr among dozens of others.  Its b-side Quicksilver is a lighthearted number about a fickle lover, and fared better, climbing to no. 6.  Doris Day also released a version the same year.

Here are Bing and the gals to see us out:

I hope you've enjoyed this peep into the past.  To keep up with my car boot and chazza finds in real time you can follow me on Twitter by clicking the button at the top of the page.  If you'd like to hear me giving some of them a spin go to the Car Boot Vinyl Diaries page on Mixcloud.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Neither Fish Nor Flesh

On one hot Sunday in the middle of August last year the first car boot sale I arrived at was heaving from beginning to end with vinyl and shellac to dig through.  I bought so many 45s, 78s, 12"s and LPs that I ran out of time, pennies and inclination to go on to the next port of call, and so returned home with a record bag bursting with 26 discs in all, plus a multi CD set in a faux LP sleeve.

Phew. 78s weigh a lot.

Amongst this heavy haul was Terence Trent D'Arby's 1989 album Neither Fish Nor Flesh, bought in excellent condition with the original booklet intact for £2.

Terence Trent D'Arby - Neither Fish Nor Flesh (1989)
Inside booklet, with rice paper pages.
Definitely looks like fish to me, Terence.

From rear of booklet.

Subtitled "A Soundtrack of Love, Faith, Hope and Destruction", this 2nd album from the Manhattan-born singer, songwriter and musician (now releasing music under the name Sananda Maitreya) followed 1987's multi-platinum "Introducing The Hardline According To...".  Unlike Hardline, NFNF tanked, peaking at no.12 on the UK album chart before dropping out entirely after just five weeks.  Lead single This Side of Love fared even worse, scraping into the Top 100 at just no.83.

It seems that a combination of ego and ambition scuppered the project, with D'Arby making wild proclamations both about himself and his latest work, with the latter sounding very different from the chart-friendly pop smashes that characterised his debut. Even today on his website Sananda makes outlandish claims, such as that NFNF was a "formative influence on both what subsequently became marketed as 'Hip Hop', as well as what was sold as 'Grunge'".

Maybe he truly believes this, but it's a huge shame that such posturing probably put a lot of fans off from buying what turns out to be a phenomenally good record; one that's perhaps borne of overindulgence and ego-led ambition, but succeeds in melding funk and R&B to catchy, psychedelic pop.  There's a huge cast of musicians, with D'Arby himself on a variety of instruments including Fender Rhodes, sitar, timpani, "scratching" and er, kazoo.  He's also credited with things like "Aural Manipulations" and "Sound Manifestations", not to mention the highly intriguing and un-Googlable "Other Phaqueries".  Hmm.

It starts quietly, the spoken-word Declaration: Neither Fish Nor Flesh giving way to the sparse but melodic I Have Faith In These Desolate Times, whose harp accompaniment by "The Lovely Helen Davies" (sleeve notes) in the first half is joined by Terence on bongos in the second, before an abrupt end.  After the eerie and equally sparse It Feels So Good To Love Someone Like You it's not until the middle of Side 1 that things really get going, with the sexy pop-soul of To Know Someone Deeply Is To Know Someone Softly when That Voice is finally unleashed; those sweet, silken tones hitting all the right buttons and delivering the most romantic and least pretentious lyrics on an album that has its fair share of cringeworthy couplets.

From here the tempo increases and the song titles become snappier, highlights being AIDS story Billy Don't Fall, its punchy percussion and whistling keyboard riff reminiscent of hit Wishing Well; the staccato funk of You Will Pay Tomorrow; and minor soul belter I'll Be Alright, with lyrical nods to Prince and the Beach Boys.

Towards the end of the album song titles stretch out again with a corresponding lowering of pace, firstly with powerful deep soul ballad I Don't Want To Bring Your Gods Down. Stax-y horns and D'Arby's full-throated wail contrast with an intermittent minor-key violin part; an unsettling but typical and effective TTD touch.  Closer ...And I Need To Be With Someone Tonight is a solo a cappella with layers of TTD harmony, engaging for the way in which he's clearly enjoying playing around with his voice, but spoiled somewhat by lyrics like the clunky, "Though apartheid's a greater issue, I long to hear "I miss you" ". Erk!

It's a damn shame that this album didn't sell well, and although D'Arby's posturing may have deterred potential buyers, the bigger factor may have been a lack of marketing push behind it due to the eccentric and ambitious nature of both the artist and his creation.  I only say this because after loving the debut, Neither Fish Nor Flesh seemed to entirely pass me by at the time, even though I eagerly bought the follow-up Symphony Or Damn. Perhaps if NFNF had contained a sure-fire 'hit' to promote as a single it would have done better.  Whatever the reasons, if you've not heard it I urge you to give it a whirl, in case like me it means you've been missing out on a massively enjoyable record all these years.