Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Luise Rainer [1910-2014]

[ Luise Rainer ]

I was distraught to receive an email yesterday morning from my good friend Ryan with only this in the subject line: Luise Rainer. I knew what that meant. The beautiful and spirited actress who won back-to-back Best Actress Oscars in the 1930s had died. It's not that I was surprised, since she was 104 years old, but it just seems that if a person is going to live to be 104, then they might as well just go on living to 150. Ms. Rainer, who I became somewhat obsessed with back in 2009, was one of very few movie stars from Hollywood's Golden Era of the 1930s who was still living here on Earth. If you haven't seen Rainer's Oscar-winning performances in THE GREAT ZIEGFELD (1936) or THE GOOD EARTH (1937), I suggest you check them out. THE GREAT WALTZ (1938) is also pretty good.

While you've gotta' admire Luise Rainer for having the strength of character to stand up to MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer, walking away from Hollywood stardom instead of letting MGM control her life, it's a shame that Meyer was such a dick. Why not just give this talented young lady some more meaty roles to play and keep her around for another 40 or 50 pictures? It sure would be a treat to have at least a few more Luise Rainer movies available to watch today. You can find Rainer's obituary in the NY Times here, read more about her life and career here, and go here to listen to a piece about the actress on NPR.

Luise Rainer
[ January 12, 1910 — December 30, 2014 ]
We will miss you, Luise.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Eartha Kitt

Artist: Eartha Kitt
LP: 7" single
Song: "This Year's Santa Baby" 
[ listen ]

Here's the holiday record that I'm most excited about finding this year, picked up for $5 at Holy Cow Records in the Pike Place Market. I didn't know Eartha Kitt recorded a sequel to "Santa Baby," did you? Merry Christmas!!

[ Eartha Kit: January 17, 1927 — December 25, 2008 ]

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Gladys Knight and The Pips

Artist: Gladys Knight and The Pips
LP: Bless This House
Song: "The Night Before Christmas" 
[ listen ]

'Twas Gladys Knight before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring...not even a mouse. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that Jimmy Smith soon would be there.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dinah Shore

Artist: Dinah Shore
7" EP: Season's Best
Song: "You Meet the Nicest People" 
[ listen ]
Song: "Jingle Bells" 
[ listen ]

Dinah Shore has been popping up all over the place this holiday season. It all started with the White Elephant Gift Exchange at my work, an annual holiday tradition. With no white elephant gift ideas in mind, I stopped by the Ballard Goodwill thrift store on my way home from work last week to see what I could find. I ended up leaving with a vintage '80s board game (incredibly, all the pieces were still there!), a lobster jello mold (everyone keeps saying it looks like a penis) and a Dinah Shore Greatest Hits CD (there were two copies, but one had a broken case). I wrapped them all up, added some bows and included a nice hand-made Christmas card designed by the sweet fellow I've been dating.

Things turned out a lot better this year at the White Elephant Gift Exchange than in years past. (Last year my gift was so boring I can't even remember now what it was; the year before that I brought some vintage Japanese early-'80s kimono catalogs that I found at a local thrift store, but the gal that chose my gift thought they were mail-order-bride catalogs and was offended.) This year my white elephant gift was first selected by Susan, who was especially thrilled with the Dinah Shore CD (and the wrapping paper). She wasn't as excited about the board game as I'd hoped and she didn't know what to make of the lobster jello mold, except maybe jello. Before long though, my colleague Thad's number came up in the gift exchange. He marched across the room and stole the gifts from Susan! He's not really into Dinah Shore, but he figured he could get lots of mileage out of the phallic-looking jello mold.

I was still apprehensive though that the vintage Parker Brothers board game (Go For It!™ — The Game Where You Can Have It All) hadn't landed in appreciative hands.

But after Thad got the game back to his desk, he soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread. A group of my co-workers are in the midst of an ongoing game of Go For It! right behind me this very instant! 

Still, I felt bad that the Dinah Shore CD had been unceremoniously ripped out of Susan's happy holiday hands. Remembering about the second copy at Goodwill with a broken case, I went back to see if it was still there. It was, so I picked it up along with an awful-looking Shania Twain CD in a pristine case that I could use for swapping them out. Now the white elephant has made everyone happy! 

I was happy too when I came across this Dinah Shore 4-track Chevrolet promo EP at Holy Cow Records in the Pike Place Market on Sunday while doing some last-minute holiday shopping. This truly has been a Dinah Shore Christmas! You can read all about this lovely lady here and go here to find out what someone's talking about when they ask if you're going to the Dinah Shore Weekend in Palm Springs this year. 

 [ Dinah Shore: February 29, 1916 — February 24, 1994 ]

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Moog Machine

Artist: The Moog Machine
LP: Christmas Becomes Electric
Song: "O Holy Night" 
[ listen ]

If this 1969 "Christmas Becomes Electric" LP doesn't put you in the holiday moog, then nothing will. You can read more about the moog synthesizer on Wikipedia here and go here to read more about the man behind the keys.

 [ Moogmaster Kenny Ascher ]

Friday, December 19, 2014

Nat King Cole

Artist: Nat King Cole
LP: The Magic of Christmas With Children
Song: "The Happiest Christmas Tree" 
[ listen ]

There are several voices I've simply got to hear crooning at Christmas time in order for the holidays to seem complete. They give me that special holiday tingle. Doris Day's is one (of course); Johnny Mathis' is another. A third voice that fills my head with visions of dancing sugarplums is the one belonging to Nat King Cole. At Goodwill a few days ago I found this terrific 1970 compilation of holiday tunes by the velvety-voiced Mr. Cole. It's evidently a limited edition release assembled especially for the Safeway supermarket stores. Of course I'd rather have found the original 1959 "Happiest Christmas Tree" single, but for .60¢ it's hardly fair to complain. I'd never heard this particular carol before; it's awfully catchy and has been stuck in my head ever since I got home from Goodwill and gave it a listen. You can read all about Nat King Cole here.

[ Nat King Cole: March 17, 1919 — February 15, 1965 ]

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dueto Estrella

Artist: Dueto Estrella
LP: A-Go-Go En El Norte
Song: "Estas Llorando" 
[ listen ]

Not "A-Go-Go" exactly, the music on this various-artists LP from Mexico is filled with what we might instead call "Rancher-Ro-Ro." There's not much info about Dueto Estrella on the web, but we know these fellows' first names are Abel and Bernardo and that they recorded on the Eco label, a subsidiary of Falcon Records, which was founded by Arnaldo Ramírez in McAllen, Texas in 1948, according to what I just read here. "A-Go-Go En El Norte" was released in 1967 and features 40 minutes of the most popular music from the Eco label. I found my copy for $2.50 at Easy Street Records and Cafe last Saturday after a delicious breakfast.

[ Dueto Estrella: Abel y Bernardo ]

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" 
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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 ]