Songs

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Looking back at 2017, things really slowed down for our in-house label, which released just one 45rpm single this year. That single was good enough to make up for the otherwise quiet year — after a hectic year in 2016, which saw the release of three LPs, a DVD and a 45, it was nice to focus on one favorite project.

Fletcher Magellan, who released that single back in February, was just here with his band last weekend. He also posted a live recording from a “farewell” show here at Hymie’s 2014. Of course, nobody ever really leaves Minnesota, but it was, as he wrote in the notes on his Bandcamp page last week, the beginning of a journey.

We recently read Carole King’s memoirs, and as with many recollections of the golden age of rock and roll, she recounts her early experience discovering music through 45rpm singles. People often describe hearing these songs as tiny little symphonies.

In the liner notes to REM’s b-side compilation, Dead Letter Office, Peter Buck describes writes about why he preferred 45s to albums, concluding that “the things I like best about singles is their ultimate shoddiness. No matter how lavish that package, no matter what attention to detail, a 45 is still essentially a piece of crap usually purchased by teenagers.”

Some five year’s later Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan offered a warmer view of the single. “What can you do in three and a half minutes that will make us get up and put the needle in the grove time and again?” he asked. “The single must be a distillation of one’s powers, the most exciting slice of noise a person an cram between the lip of the disc and the edge of the label.”

We’ve mused about these different views of the 45rpm single before. Dead Letter Office turned thirty this year, but it collection of oddities is still evidence of the treasures to be found on the flip side of forgotten 45s, and Superchunk’s Tossing Seeds, presents the sea change due to overturn rock and roll a few years after its release in 1991. Both bands were exception purveyors of the magic potential of the sounds to be found in the inch or so of grooves on those seven-inch discs.

Here is a single from 1964 which has so many of these qualities — the tiny symphony grandeur and the shoddiness, and ultimately three and a half minutes (nearly) of magic. The label, Tuff Records, was commandeered by Abner Spector, a songwriter who had been earlier recorded by the likes of Peggy Lee, Billy Eckstine and Sammy Davis Jr. After briefly working at Chess Records in Chicago, Spector — who is of no relation to famed producer turned murderer Phil Spector — moved to New York to launch is own label, landing a hit with “Sally Go ‘Round the Roses” recorded by the Jaynetts.

Vernell Hill was a member of the Jaynetts, who are remembered as a one-hit-wonder for the song, although they did record a couple additional singles as well as some songs to fill out an LP in the hodgepodge fashion of the day. Hill was credited on that LP as Ethel Davis and appeared on the cover, but the additional Jaynetts recordings were sung by a revolving lineup.

 

Hill’s only single, “Long Haired Daddy,” was released in 1964. It was reissued by Roulette Records, and remains largely a lesser-known relic of the era ready to be rediscovered.

 

Depending who you ask, the American Recording Society was the first non-profit record label. Discogs considers it to be so, but sussing out the truth of such a claim lands a listener into the murky territory of Obi Wan Kenobi’s “certain point of view” pretty quickly. What is certain is that the ARS was historically significant to music lovers, even if the sort of record collectors who are only looking for things to sell on Discogs are unimpressed by the albums.

The label was launched in 1951 under the ‘book club’ model and with a specific goal of supporting American composers (think Copland, Ives and company). Its subscription service added a jazz series in 1956 under an arrangement with Norman Granz, familiar to collectors as the founder of Verve, Clef, Norgran and Pablo Records — all pretty essential jazz labels. ARS gave him the opportunity to move some of his stock of unissued recordings as well as promote artists under his umbrella.

When you’re digging through a box of albums, they don’t look like much — especially since they’re in these plastic sleeves. Audiophiles have discovered that the engineering of these records was of the highest quality. They came in soft plastic sleeves with fairly extensive liner notes included on an insert. The jazz highlighted in the short-lived series (about fifty records produced over a two year period) trends towards what you’d expect given Granz’s economic interests: there are sessions by Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz and Count Basie for instance. All were prominent artists recording for Verve Records at the time. One of the catalog’s standout releases was a “Modern Jazz” record with the Cecil Taylor Quartet on one side and the Gigi Gryce/Donald Byrd Jazz Laboratory on the other. Both sets were recorded at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival.

This was one of Taylor’s first appearances on LP, and almost certainly a surprising listen for the subscription label’s customers, who received the album in the mail in 1958. Taylor’s incredible approach was just forming at the time of this performance.

Our copy is not in especially great shape so we apologize for the so-so sound quality of these recordings. Somebody must have loved this album and played it a lot! Here, for those interested in early free jazz, is the Cecil Taylor side of the album:

 

This classic compilation of late 40s jazz singles contains several gems. The album’s liner notes remark that “the most important big band of the period … was that of Dizzy Gillespie,” and the record includes five tracks from the truly amazing large group led by Diz. Few records so successfully straddled the line between swing and bop, and Gillespie’s big band earned its place in jazz history.

The reason we love this compilation is that it is the only LP (that we know of) which contains “Rat Race,” a 1950 small group single by Count Basie. The tune is a tenor battle between Georgie Auld and Gene Ammons, and it also features guitarist Freddie Green — none of these jazz musicians are prominent figures in bop or modern jazz but each were enormously influential on the performers who were. “Rat Race” is a quintessentially swinging Basie side on the cusp of modern jazz.

An adapted version of the tune was arranged by Quincy Jones on the album One More Time in 1958.

We sold out of the Record Store Day™ Black Friday releases quickly yesterday and returned to the normal business of albums that people actually want to hear, rather than re-sell online. We thankfully don’t have to hear from the Record Store Day™ mafia again until April.

This year’s list of un-necessary reissues contained a rare interesting release — a 7″ record featuring both sides of the 1946 single by Wynonie Harris that has gone down in history as the first appearance of Sun Ra. “Dig This Boogie” was distinguished by the son of Saturn’s boogie woogie style, but the single has been out of print for more nearly eighty years.

Hearing the earliest recorded document of Sun Ra’s time on our Earth inspired us to look into other pre-Arkestra recordings. One of the things we learned from the Wikipedia page about Sun Ra was that he performed in an un-recorded trio with Coleman Hawkins and Stuff Smith in 1948. The same page says that a home recording of Ra and Smith appears on Sun Sound Pleasure, and we went digging through our disorganized record collection for that album.

Sun Sound Pleasure is a unique Sun Ra record owing to its selection of standards instead of Ra originals, but sadly our copy does not include their recording of the 30s ballad, “Deep Purple,” recorded on an early paper-tape machine. The album is one of many albums originally issued on El Saturn, the label run by Ra and Alton Abraham, which is now in print after decades in obscurity. As Sun Ra’s recordings have become more widely available, his audience has grown.

The violinist known as Stuff Smith was born Hezekiah Smith in 1909, making him about five years the senior of Sun Ra, if we are to believe the biographical data regarding the self-proclaimed “Sun One.” Smith was a successful swing-era soloist and songwriter, and he hardly embraced bebop although he performed with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Though lesser known than Stéphane Grapelli or Jean-Luc Ponty, Smith was a pioneering jazz violinist. He was the first to explore amplified effects and his style was more in line with the solos of swing artists who transitioned to the modern era such as Coleman Hawkins. We think of him as second only to Joe Venut as a contemporary, and second only to Billy Bang as the greatest jazz performer on the violin.

On the 1965 session reissued on this budget-label album, Smith is joined by Grapelli who is a more conventional soloist. Smith is featured as a vocalist on “Blues in the Dungeon,” a tune which we believe Sun Ra must have enjoyed.

Rejoice!

rejoice pharaohIt’s a holiday week! Many of us will enjoy some time off with our families this week, and we’re looking forward to one of the very few days of the year that we close up your friendly neighborhood record shop.

We’ll be open normal hours this week except for Thursday, and on Friday we’ll have Record Store Day’s official Black Friday releases for those on the lookout! Until then, hope you all have a great week here in the most wonderful city in the world!

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