Monday, December 8, 2014

Polyteknikkojen Kuoro

Artist: Polyteknikkojen Kuoro
LP: Joulupukki
Song: "Tonttuparaati" 
[ listen ]
Song: "Talven Ihmemaa" 
[ listen ]

This 1972 record from Finland sat on my shelf for over a year before I realized it was actually a Christmas album. Then it took me at least another year to figure out that that's an abstract depiction of Santa Claus on the cover, with a black tassel hanging from the point of his cap. The music on the LP was recorded by the 1971 version of the Polytech Choir, which had just been taken over by conductor Heikki Saari, who went on to lead the choir for the next 13 years. You can read all about Polyteknikkojen Kuoro here and go here to see the 2011 version of the choir with opera singer Placido Domingo (the Polytech "Nikkojen" Choir has been around since 1900). Photos of the 1971 choir members and conductor Saari are included below, along with mysterious Finnish notes that I've been unable to decipher.

[ Heikki Saari: Conductor of Polyteknikkojen Kuoro, 1971-1984 ]

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Maddox Brothers and Rose

Artist: The Maddox Brothers and Rose
LP: Christmas Time
Song: "Silent Night" 
[ listen ]

I was excited to stumble upon this old collection of country Christmas tunes at Golden Oldies a few years ago, especially since it features The Maddox Brothers and Rose doing a rendition of "Silent Night." But when I got home, I discovered that I'd accidentally left this record in the bins! I immediately drove back to the store to snatch it up, and it's been a favorite for holiday listening ever since. Originally from Boaz, Alabama, the Maddox family rode the rails and hitchhiked westward in 1933 to find work in California during the Great Depression. They picked fruit and worked in vegetable fields for several years while working on their music, which was called "hillbilly music" then, since country music hadn't yet been invented. The family performed on a radio show sponsored by a furniture store in 1937, then won wider acclaim when they performed "Sally Let Your Bangs Hang Down" in a hillbilly band competition at the centennial Sacramento State Fair in 1939. You can read more about The Maddox Brothers and Rose here and here. The bass that belonged to Fred Maddox is currently part of the museum collection at the Experience Music Project here in Seattle, since some folks believe Fred may have used it to play the very first note of rock 'n roll. Don Maddox is the only surviving member of the original family group. He lives in Ashland, Oregon and, currently enjoying a career resurgence, he's been performing pretty regularly around the country (in October Don was at Rockabilly Rockout at the Gold Coast Casino in Las Vegas). Coincidentally, Don turns 92 years old today. Happy Birthday, Don!

[ The Maddox Brothers and Rose ]

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Raffaella Carrà

Artist: Raffaella Carrà
LP: Fiesta
Song: "Me Siento Bella" 
[ listen ]
Song: "En El Amor Todo Es Empezar" 
[ listen ]

Christmas got off to an auspicious start last weekend when I found this terrific Uruguayan LP from Italian superstar Raffaella Carrà in the bargain bin at Easy Street Records in West Seattle. Popular throughout the world (except in the USA, of course, and maybe Sierra Leone) for singing, dancing, appearing on TV and in the movies, Raffaella parties with songs in both Italian and Spanish at this 1978 "Fiesta"; I've included a sample of each. Her music is practically impossible not to dance to.

 [ Raffaella Carrà in 2013 ]

Monday, December 1, 2014

John Oates & Daryl Hall

Artist: John Oates & Daryl Hall
LP: 7" single
Song: "Jingle Bell Rock from John" 
[ listen ]
Song: "Jingle Bell Rock from Daryl" 
[ listen ]

Time for Christmas music! Here's a bit of holiday cheer (7 inches, to be exact) that I picked up in Arab, Alabama during my road trip through the South earlier this year. Yes, yes, I know you're "supposed" to say Hall & Oates, but I don't think it's fair that John Oates has always has to play second fiddle to Daryl Hall—and his hair. I mean what about the moustache! Honestly, if I had to pick just one member of Oates & Hall to spend the rest of eternity with on a deserted island, it would be John Oates for sure. It's an added bonus to discover that the very vinyl this promotional recording was pressed onto is the color of fake Christmas holly! It was also reportedly available in the color of berries.

[ Oates & Hall ]

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Bill Cosby

Artist: Bill Cosby
LP: Wonderfulness
Song: "Niagara Falls" 
[ listen ]

"Wonderfulness." Hmm. I can't say for certain whether or not Bill Cosby is a serial rapist, but if he isn't, then he's the victim of one of the most elaborate and bizarre smear campaigns in the history of popular entertainment. Poor Bill Cosby! But if he is a serial rapist and sexual assaulter who's been drugging, then raping and molesting women for nearly 50 years, then gross. Bill Cosby, through his work on the "Fat Albert" children's show, is the guy who showed millions of kids each week how to treat others with dignity and respect. He made kids want to eat pudding! He was the epitome of fatherhood perfected on "The Cosby Show," on TV from 1984 to 1992. It seems inconceivable that this icon of good, wholesome American entertainment could actually be a monster—which is likely what's kept Cosby relatively unscathed by the accusations of sexual misconduct that began bubbling up in the early-to-mid 2000s. But in the past ten years we've had to wrap our minds around numerous political sex scandals, as well as things like this and this and this, so now we have to admit that anything is possible. Over the past few weeks, the allegations against Bill Cosby have been pouring in like...Niagara Falls. My heart goes out to all who've been sexually preyed upon by those they trust, particularly to the women who've been preyed upon by Bill Cosby—you know, if he's guilty, since I can't say for certain. 

I do feel a civic responsibility, however, to make public a series of photos that have come into my possession from an anonymous but reliable source. The four photographs included below capture Bill Cosby's facial expressions in the very moments that he first heard radio news reports of sexual misconduct allegations leveled against him. Guilty? Not guilty? A picture is worth a thousand words.

 [ "...has come forward with some startling allegations 
against comedian Bill Cosby." ]

 [ "...claims the entertainer slipped drugs into her drink, 
and only when she awakened did she..." ]

 [ "...hold on! More details are just coming in..." ]

[ "...similar reports against Cosby by 19 women, 
with incidents dating back to 1965." ]

Friday, November 28, 2014

Cuban Dance Orchestra

Artist: Cuban Dance Orchestra
LP: Cha Cha
Song: "Negrita" 
[ listen ]

Happy Black Friday! I don't usually go shopping on Black Friday, but the Goodwill near my place was having a 40%-off sale on everything in the store (except yellow tag items) so I stopped by to rummage through their records. This scratchy Cuban jazz LP is one of the things I found. There aren't any liner notes on the back of the sleeve (Plymouth stuck their entire catalog listing there instead), and it's impossible to find info online for a group called simply "Cuban Dance Orchestra." What we do know is that a talented bunch of musicians got together about 60 years ago (this album was probably released in 1956) and made some terrific Cuban dance music! Someone recorded it, Plymouth released it, someone bought it, then they died (probably) and it was my good fortune to find it at Goodwill (for .60¢; regularly $1!). Plus we know that this record was also available in red.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Danny Guglielmi w/ Dena

Artist: Danny Guglielmi w/ vocals by Dena
LP: Adventure In Sound
Song: "Out of Nowhere" 
[ listen ]
Song: "Mosquito Festival" 
[ listen ]

Here's something colorful, spacey and exotic from a grey and rainy November morning in Seattle. Danny Guglielmi and his pipe-smoking wife Dena worked primarily behind the scenes in the music and film industry, but Danny briefly held the spotlight when he used early multi-track recording techniques to create this spectacular collection of atmospheric and slightly experimental tunes that showcase his remarkable musical talents. (This record is reportedly particularly soothing to US presidents recovering from heart trouble.) "Adventure In Sound" was released in 1956 on the budget Tops label and unfortunately failed to make either of the Guglielmis a household name. Their songs do hold up remarkably well nowadays though, and Danny and Dena have become household names in my apartment ever since I first listened to their spellbinding record. You can read more about the Guglielmis on the Space Age Pop Music website here and go here to visit the Ambient Exotica blog where you'll find more album details and reviews. Notes from the back of the LP are included below.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Joan Rivers [1933-2014]

Artist: Joan Rivers
LP: Presents Mr. Phyllis & Other Funny Stories
Song: "Gift Coming" 
[ listen ]

While rummaging around to find my Mike Nichols/Elaine May LP this weekend, I discovered that I actually did still have this 1965 Joan Rivers comedy album. (I remember now that it was a lackluster Erma Bombeck record I got rid of several years ago, not my Joan Rivers LP. How could I have gotten these two women mixed up?) Though I've never really followed her career, I enjoyed getting to know Joan through the film Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, in theaters a few years back. Also, I recall being delighted to see her pop onto the screen in the bizarre 1968 film THE SWIMMER, starring Burt Lancaster as a man who decides to swim his way home through his neighborhood's backyard swimming pools. I just learned today that Ms. Rivers starred in a short-running Broadway play in the late 1950s called "Driftwood," in which she played a lesbian with a crush on Barbra Stereisand! I realize I'm a few months late with this tribute, since Joan died in early September from complications during throat surgery, but better late than never! (My tribute, I mean, not Rivers' demise.) You can read more about Joan Rivers' life and career here, go here to find her obituary in the New York Times and there's a piece here about the dreadful errors the clinic made during Joan's surgery that likely caused her death.

Joan Rivers
[ June 8, 1933 — September 4, 2014 ]
We will miss you, Joan.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mike Nichols [1931-2014]

Artist: Mike Nichols & Elaine May
LP: Improvisations To Music
Song: "Mysterioso" 
[ listen ]

I was bummed to hear that Mike Nichols died suddenly from a heart-attack earlier this week. Awarded a closet-full of Tonys for directing Broadway shows like "Barefoot In the Park," "Luv," "The Odd Couple" and "The Prisoner of Second Avenue," Nichols made a huge splash in Hollywood with his very first film, the controversial WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? in 1966. He made another splash in 1967 with his next film, THE GRADUATE, which ultimately defined a generation. He went on to make a bunch more terrific (and some just okay) films over the following four decades, including this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, this one and this one. And don't forget this one, this one and this one. And, of course, there's this one and this one too. But what about this one, you ask? Yes, I suppose he made that too.

But before any of those movies there was improv comedy duo Mike Nichols & Elaine May. They met at school in Chicago and were arch enemies until Mike saw Elaine sitting in a train station one day. He assumed an odd accent from another land and asked if he could sit down. She, also adopting a foreign accent, said okay and the two played out an impromptu spy routine that both could tell was the seed of something good. (The duo employed this same scenario for "Mysterioso," the track posted above from their debut 1959 LP.) Their rocky relationship eventually caused the partnership to split in 1961, but they joined forces again for several film projects in the 1990s (she as writer, he directed) and the two remained lifelong friends. You can read all about Mike Nichols' life and his influential career in both Tinsel and Tony towns on Wikipedia here; there's more about Elaine May here and go here to read about the work Mike and Elaine did together. There's a moving obituary for Mike Nichols in the New York Times that you can find right here.

Mike Nichols
[ November 6, 1931 — November 19, 2014 ]
We will miss you, Mike.