Monthly Archives: June 2007

Win, Lose, or Spy

The James Bond character is one of the 20th Century’s great fictional heroes. Ian Fleming’s literary conception of the character (Casino Royale, 1953) and, later, its cinematic adaptation (starting with Dr. No in 1962) galvanized the whole spy genre and captured the imagination of a modern, post-War demographic.

I’m not here to restate the Bond phenomenon’s cultural impact or argue its continued relevance, though. Written by British composer Monty Norman, and performed and arranged by his countryman John Barry, the “James Bond Theme” did as much to invent a whole new musical genre as Dr. No did to invent a silver screen archetype. Heavy on the brass, strings and high drama, Barry’s ‘60s Bond themes were agile and stylish, their moments of deadly surf guitar and churning organ suggesting motion, danger, and international hijinx.

A wave of Bond-inspired soundtracks albums logically followed, with unlikely artists from Count Basie (Basie Meets Bond) to Ray Barretto (Señor 007) all channeling their inner 007s and investing themes like “Thunderball” and “From Russia With Love” with their particular musical pedigrees. From R&B novelties and surf music to easy-listening instrumentals, Bond-inspired themes were everywhere in ‘60s pop. Office Naps dives into the great backwash of imitators this work.

1. Sounds Incorporated, Bullets (Columbia)
Sounds Incorporated formed in Kent, England, around 1960. Theirs from the start was an unenviable lot. An instrumental combo with a twin, saxophone-led sound, Sounds Incorporated were neither gritty enough to be absorbed into London’s R&B scene nor really modern enough for the British Invasion. They could claim a few minor hits in the UK, but it’s usually the group’s association with the Beatles (they shared manager Brian Epstein, opened for the Beatles on some mid-‘60s tour dates, and assisted the group on “Good Morning Good Morning”) and their backing work for touring Americans like Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis or Sam Cooke for which they’re best remembered.

In 1964, though, Sounds Incorporated stepped briefly from their role as arbiter of all things brassy, brash, and British, and into the spy netherworld of “Bullets.” “Bullets,” with its hipster aesthetic and Roland Kirk-style over-blown flute is exactly what you hear descending into that grotto nightclub at SPECTRE headquarters.

If they’d persisted a few more years, they might have been Britain’s answer to Chicago or Blood, Sweat and Tears, but, after several years of residency in Sydney, Australia, Sounds Incorporated called it quits in 1971.

2. Stan Kenton and His Orchestra, 007 (Capitol)
Kansas-born jazz bandleader, arranger, composer and pianist Stan Kenton formed his first big band in Los Angeles in the early ‘40s. Many of West Coast jazz’s young lions would come to pass through the Kenton Orchestra almost as a rite-of-passage, especially during its experimental and creative peak of the late ‘40s and ‘50s. Heavyweight soloists like Art Pepper, Bud Shank, and Shelly Manne and hip jazz arrangers/players like Bob Cooper, Gerry Mulligan and Bill Holman all cut their teeth on Kenton’s incongruous “progressive jazz” concept, which put across the harmonic innovations of bebop with a surprising measure of swing – and commercial success.

Changes in size and configuration notwithstanding, the Kenton Orchestra became less an innovative force over the following decades and more, somehow, like a transatlantic ocean liner: needlessly extravagant and decreasingly relevant. In the mid-‘60s, the orchestra still had at least one thing going for it, though: size. It was gigantic, almost ridiculously so, and still very much capable of the dizzying drama and bombast that it was renowned for.

It was an orchestra in search of the James Bond theme. Though I’m afraid this selection is as close as we’ll ever get. A few years later Kenton would be recording “Colored Spade” and “Walking in Space” for his 1967 version of the Hair soundtrack, but this is my favorite from what was turning into Kenton’s most crassly commercial years. Incidentally, 1965’s “007” is partly the handiwork of producer David Axelrod, the trademark psychedelic guitar and clear drum sound of his ’60s Capitol residency in full effect here.

3. The John Schroeder Orchestra, Agent 00-Soul (Cameo)
History, despite recent attempts to recast him as a sort of icon of mod cool, will mostly invoke John Schroeder’s name as part of the younger generation of producers and composers who reinvigorated British easy listening music for the Swingin’ ‘60s. Like other British producers, Schroeder had hipper tastes in American music than most Americans, and it was Schroeder’s good fortune as a popular producer to release numerous albums under his own name (as well as under the Sounds Orchestral and City Of Westminster String Band monikers) well into the 1970s. They had their odd and groovy exceptions, but these albums were generally comprised of pallid instrumental fare like Schroeder’s best-known hit, a cover of Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” and polite covers of some American soul numbers like “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “Rescue Me.”

Schroeder’s 1965 version of Edwin Starr’s “Agent 00-Soul” is one of his better moments. Here he transforms – with an arranging assist from fellow British studio maestro Johnny Harris – this Detroit soul chestnut into a cheeky nightclub caper. If half the game in ‘60s instrumental pop was production, then Schroeder, clearly besotted with the possibilities of bottomless studio echo, was the right man for this job.

Posted in Now Sound | 10 Comments

Song of the Jungle

Vocal exotica never quite carved out the niche that its popular instrumental sister did in the ‘50s and ‘60s. A popular singer might toss the occasional “Bali Hai,” “Moon of Manakoora” or “Caravan” into the mix, but rarely did exotica a singer make.

Not so for instrumental orchestra and band leaders like Les Baxter, Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman, of course: their jungle fantasia sold by the million, with dozens of album-length variations on the same eternal themes.

America’s post-War popular singers conjured mood and place, too. But they interpreted themes and emotions as well, relating stories, relating, in the process, to an audience. A Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee or Sarah Vaughan demanded a broader songbook than just grass shack paeans and meditations on tropical love. Torch singers like Julie London or Jeri Southern were all perfume-and-cigarette-smoke atmosphere, but even their songbooks were based around love. Rarely did they sing about the tropics.

Still, plenty of vocalists did have their exotic moments, even if they were worn chestnuts like “Jungle Drums.” Vic Damone (Strange Enchantment), Bing Crosby (Return to Paradise Islands) and Frank Sinatra (Come Fly With Me) made travelogue-style albums with some nominally exotic themes, while, with assistance from Martin Denny, obscure singers like Sondi Sodsai and Ethel Azama made full-fledged exotica albums.

Such records might transport you to a South Seas paradise, too. Just not in quite the same way that a jazzy instrumental tone poem and your living room Barcalounger could. Rather, these transport you to a nightclub that looked a lot like that South Seas paradise.

That said, I can’t promise that this week’s selections will get you even that far. They’re showing Paradise, Hawaiian Style later tonight on TV. That might be a better place to start.

1. Don Sargent and the Buddies, Voodoo Kiss (Catalina)
A teen-oriented rock ‘n’ roll singer from California, we know Don Sargent from a handful of obscure 45s from the late ‘50s, but, other than that, there’s very little to work with. It’s easy to imagine Sargent as a sort of a Ricky Nelson-type, though, a good-looking guy with a perfect white smile, a pleasant voice, and a dad who worked in the film industry. You know, the guy who always played the older brother’s best friend on television. The senior class treasurer, maybe.

And, somewhere in that chasm between white bred American wholesomeness and sadomasochistic energy throbs the irrepressible, kinky heart of “Voodoo Kiss.” That’s the beauty of this selection: it’s pure American product.

“Voodoo Kiss” was recorded in 1959 for the tiny Catalina label based in Los Angeles.

2. Darla Hood and the Fabulous Modesto Orchestra, My “Quiet Village” (Ray Note)
Darla Hood was a cast member on The Little Rascals, director Hal Roach’s wildly successful series of comedy shorts about America’s favorite plucky pipsqueaks. The show began in the early ‘20s as Our Gang and soldiered on into the mid-‘40s under various auspices (and with ever renewed supplies of rascals). The original series was syndicated for television finally in the ‘50s under its better-known moniker The Little Rascals.

From mid-‘30s onwards, Darla Hood was one of the show’s featured characters, playing herself, basically, from age four to age ten. After Our Gang, she continued to make singing and acting appearances, sustaining a show business career with better luck, if nothing else, than most of her former colleagues.

Hood’s 1959 vocal version of Les Baxter’s exotica standard “Quiet Village” was recorded at the seasoned Hollywood age of twenty-eight. It’s pretty much what you’d expect any Little Rascal to sound like after a few decades at the margins of the spotlight: bigger, brassier, the original Mel Leven lyric drained of its subtle obsessiveness and replaced with searing vibrato.

3. Paul Leader and H.B. Barnum’s Circats, Devils Pad (Tropical Isle)
Hope springs eternal, and so does misery. Women are perpetually the death of a guy like Paul Leader, and so, alas, are booze, horse racing, and cheap cologne.

Released around 1963, this seems to have been Leader’s only record, with a Latin combo assembled for the occasion by the rising West Coast studio man H.B. Barnum.  Leader’s whereabouts and identity remain completely unknown, unfortunately.  Both parties were obviously at critical stages in their lives here, though, with Barnum continuing on to a successful career in Los Angeles as a freelance jazz, pop, and soul producer and arranger, and, later, television composer, and our man Leader, I’d like to think, moving on to his third divorce.

Posted in Exotica/Space-Age | 6 Comments

Office Naps to return at some vague point next week

For anyone interested in a description of the fifteen-year-old me, I have a post over at Soul Sides as part of O-Dub’s ongoing summer series. Not included are visuals of me trying to get muscles, also that same summer.

Apologies for the ongoing delays; two weekends of travel + internet not working at house make Danny a dull boy. Have a great weekend!

Posted in Miscellaneous Flotsam | 4 Comments

Their hearts filled with love

No lofty cultural themes or sub-sub-sub-genre exhumations this week on Office Naps, just a survey of 1969, that transitional year when funky drums collided with a vestigial girl-group aesthetic. Heartache, sequined jumpsuits to ensue.

1. Betty Everett, 1900 Yesterday (Uni)
“Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss)” remains both Betty Everett’s greatest-selling record and the greatest disservice to the memory of her talents. Blessed as she was with a wistful, tart voice, Betty Everett was far more capable than what the bright girl-group pop of “Shoop Shoop” might have suggested.

Betty Everett, born in 1939, grew up singing gospel in Mississippi. Barely out of her teens, she relocated to Chicago, there working her way from one small independent blues label (Cobra) to the next (CJ) without much chart success. A move from gritty R&B; material into more sophisticated territory accorded Everett some attention, and the regional chart success of the slow-burning soulful blues “Your Love Is Important to Me” brought her to Vee-Jay Records, one of Chicago’s best-known indie labels. Everett would again dent the charts with a fine version of Dee Dee Warwick’s “You’re No Good,” but it was 1964’s “Shoop Shoop Song” (which Everett recorded with great reluctance) that incontrovertibly landed her in the spotlight and, later, oldies radio rotation hell.

Other hits followed for Everett at Vee-Jay (including duets with Chicago soul legend Jerry Butler), but nothing, alas, on the scale of “Shoop Shoop.” Following Vee-Jay’s collapse in 1966, Everett recorded for other Chicago record labels with mixed success. An on-and-off relationship with Leo Austell – Chicago businessman, producer, and Everett’s long-time manager – lead Everett finally to the Los Angeles-based Uni Records in the late ’60s.

Which brings us to this selection. On Uni Records, Everett enjoyed probably the most successful of her comeback hits, “There’ll Come A Time,” the title track from an excellent album of big, sophisticated soul. “1900 Yesterday,” written by Chicago producer and songwriter Johnny Cameron, would be the third single released from that album in 1969.

For every Diana Ross or Aretha Franklin there will always be a hundred Betty Everetts, genuine talents who, like so many soul and R&B; singers in the history of the vocation, struggled to sustain – if not simply attain – their transitory moment of fame. The pop spirit was there on “1900 Yesterday.” So too were the strings, the sweeping production, the melodic grandeur and the emotional pathos. Everett had the presence, talent, and depth to transition smoothly into soul/pop diva territory at the dawn of the ‘70s, but for better or for worse it just never came to pass. Everett notched a few more minor R&B; hits in the early ‘70s, but her Uni recordings would be her swan song.

Hawaiian lounge-pop group Liz Damon’s Orient Express would release a very popular version of “1900 Yesterday” in 1971.

2. Inell Young, The Next Ball Game (Big-9)
No one seems to recall much detail of Inell Young, a New Orleans vocalist whose legacy rests on a handful of late ‘60s 45s and the undying obsession of soul collectors. Even the irrepressible Edwin Bocage (aka Eddie Bo), the New Orleans institution who arranged and composed two of Young’s three records, seems to have been somewhat nonplussed by Young, remembering her in Wax Poetics (2004, issue no. eight) as a troubled creature, and suggesting she succumbed to a drug overdose.

The chaos of Inell Young’s lifestyle was belied, though, by the exceptionally finessed vocal on 1969’s “The Next Ball Game,” the one and only release on the Big-9 record label. Like all of this week’s selections, there’s also a bit of Motown-style emotional pathos around the edges of Young’s voice, even when you can’t quite understand her. Was this Eddie Bo’s bid for a pop record? The sensibility is there, sure, but whatever Bo’s aspirations, there’s no getting around where this record was made: the sun rises in the east, the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico, and so, too, for every New Orleans record will there be syncopated horns and colossal rhythm.

These particular colossal rhythms were in fact the handiwork of James Black, a versatile drummer who played on many of Eddie Bo’s house releases. “Next Ball Game” exemplifies the way Black could dominate a song; he took the blank spaces normally found between other drummer’s beats and filled them with skittering wallop and his own boundless enthusiasm.

No surfeit of praise is too much for Eddie Bo, either, the composer and creative soul behind “The Next Ball Game” and countless New Orleans gems. Eddie Bo is a true hero of the city’s recorded music, his groundbreaking recordings, production and arranging credits, and compositions (not to mention his talents on the keyboard) read like a condensed version of several decades (1950s-‘70s) of post-War New Orleans R&B;, soul and funk.

3. Eula Cooper, Heavenly Father (Atlantic)
This was one of only a handful of 45 releases from Georgia’s Eula Cooper, a soul singer whose scant body of work lies in inverse proportion to its exceptional quality. 1969’s “Heavenly Father” was originally released on the Atlanta-based Tragar, and picked up for wider distribution by soul heavyweight Atlantic Records. This would be Cooper’s only release to see proper distribution.

“Heavenly Father” is an odd one. Musically speaking, Cooper’s hypnotic vocals and her backing group – which may or may not be the legendary Muscle Shoals rhythm and horn section – seem to be going in slightly different directions at times. Still, though, they seem to wind up in the same place. Lyrically speaking, “Heavenly Father” is an appeal to a higher power, leading me to wonder: why waste such an appeal on your reprobate boyfriend? I save my appeals for more important things, like getting out of speeding tickets.

“Tragar Production,” seen here on the label, refers again to Tragar Records. As a label, it was one of Georgia’s finest R&B and soul indies, its roster of long-forgotten names today reading like a who’s who of disillusionment and abandoned musical dreams.

Credit for the information on Eula Cooper must go entirely to Brian Poust, creator of the Georgia Soul Blog and the Georgia Soul website, one of the internet’s best regional soul surveys. Here you can listen to another Cooper 45, the sublime “Try.”

Posted in Soul | 10 Comments