Thomas Edison was awarded US Patent # 200,521 for his Phonograph 142 years ago last month. Although Edison’s original Phonograph bears little resemblance to the turntables and record players we use today, this singular invention forever changed the way we listened to music at home. The original Edison Phonograph used delicate tin foil-wrapped cylinders to record on and playback from. These later changed to more durable wax cylinders, with celluloid cylinders being the final iteration before their demise. This article is about records, but if you are interested in listening to some of those cylinder recordings, you can hear many for free through the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Audio Archive.
Eventually, 78 RPM shellac-based discs were introduced for playback on “gramophone” machines. Jump ahead to 1948 when Columbia Records introduced the 33 1/3 RPM monophonic “long play” vinyl record, followed by RCA’s 45 RPM format nine months later. Stereo records did not start to take hold in the consumer market until the mid-1960’s.
Over the last several years, records have enjoyed a resurgence. According to the latest Neilson report, record sales grew from $16.5 million in 2018 to $18.8 million last year, a 14.5% increase. This has spawned some interesting products and services. Have you wanted to put your music files on vinyl records? Or, if you’re a musician, did you ever want to make your own records? A Swiss-based company, Phonocut is developing a consumer record-cutting machine projected to debut at the end of this year. The machine is compatible with Phonocut’s proprietary ten-inch diameter blank discs. Or, you can go to a company like Vinyl Pressing that will lovingly press your music onto a custom record just for you, for a price of course:
This brings to mind the amazing Voice-O-Graph (“like talking on the phone…but a thousand times more thrilling!”). The Voice-O-Graph was a little larger than a phone booth and was basically a coin-operated recording booth. There was just enough room for you and a friend, or you and a guitar. For thirty-five cents you had 65 seconds to sing or speak your peace, and whatever came out of your mouth was etched directly onto a 45 RPM record for you to take home and do with as you please. The record came with an envelope in case you wanted to mail it to a friend, family member, or your sweetheart (or ex-sweetheart). The machines were popular from the 1920’s through the 1960’s. The most famous Voice-O-Graph was the one at the top of the Empire State Building. Very few of these machines survived, and the ones that remain today are typically found in recording studios, record stores, and held by private collectors. However, you can find records made by the Voice-O-Graph on eBay.
Trivia: What do artists like Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Weird Al Yankovic, and Weezer all have in common? They each recorded songs in a vintage Voice-O-Graph booth.
Things have come a long way since those tin foil cylinder days. Regardless of whether you own an older turntable (not an Edison version) or a newer model like the Como Audio Bluetooth Turntable, you can connect it to your Como Audio music system. Some music enthusiasts believe connecting via an audio cable provides better sound than Bluetooth. Bluetooth may not be perfect, but it sounds quite good to the average ear, and if you do not have the option to locate your Como Audio Turntable close enough to your music system to use a cable, Bluetooth is a very reasonable alternative. If you need more information about connecting a turntable you can refer to my Viva La Vinyl article.
Feed Your Turntable
Here are ten “new” records, or at least new to me, I would like to share with you that I have enjoyed on my Como Audio Turntable. Most were discovered in an indirect way, and at least one by mistake. Even if some of the music is not to your liking, the backstories should make for interesting reading. I will start with the newer releases and transition to some really old stuff.
Trivia: What’s the highest price ever paid for a commercially-released record? Ringo Starr’s personal copy of “The Beatles” (# 0000001) sold for $790,000 at auction in 2015.
1. James Taylor: American Standard; Fantasy FAN000675
Willie Nelson has done it. Rod Stewart, too. Heck, even Tony Danza did it. I am referring to pop artists who recorded American Songbook-type albums. So, why not James Taylor? Actually, the question is not why not James Taylor, but why did James Taylor wait so long? With American Standard, Taylor covers 14 classic songs one would not normally associate with the famous folk singer with the warm, lullaby voice. In a promotional video shot in his recording studio in Washington, MA, where he also makes his home, Taylor said of the songs, “I’ve always had songs that I grew up with, that I remember really well, that were part of the family record collection. I know most of these songs from the original cast recordings of the famous Rogers and Hammerstein Broadway musicals that a lot of them came from. In terms of how they were performed before, no, we’re interested in doing something new and in bringing something new to it; we’ve reinterpreted the songs. That’s what makes it worth doing.” I, for one, am glad he did it.
My first exposure to James Taylor was his 1968 self-titled debut album on The Beatles’ Apple Records label which I bought used about fifteen years after it came out. The album included Carolina in My Mind with Paul McCartney on bass and George Harrison on backing vocals. It was produced by Peter Asher of Peter & Gordon fame, who went on to manage Taylor and produce records for Diana Ross, Cher, 10,000 Maniacs, Neil Diamond, and Linda Ronstadt among others. The record did not sell well despite generally favorable reviews. Taylor never recorded for Apple Records again, and I never bought another James Taylor record again. Until now.
American Standard is Taylor’s 20th studio album and was literally released less than two weeks ago. I pre-ordered my copy from his website in order to get the special 180-gram black and gold marbled vinyl edition not available elsewhere. American Standard is also available as a two-record set that plays back at 45 RPM speed, theoretically yielding better sound quality, but requiring more record side flips.
Whenever an artist deviates from the norm, be it music or whatever, it makes many people uncomfortable. On American Standard, Taylor does not stray so far with his arrangements to make this listener nervous. He seems quite at home tackling these storied songs, and you will feel the same listening to them. He is accompanied by a capable band of ten, but keeps the spotlight firmly on himself and fellow master guitarist John Pizzarelli. All the tracks are very enjoyable, but You’ve Got to Be Taught Carefully, Pennies From Heaven, and It’s Only A Paper Moon, all from Side 2, are the standouts for me.
As Taylor did in his promotional video, toss another log in the wood stove, sit back, and consume these classics. They will go down as smooth as a glass of warm milk on a chilly night, and feel just as good.
Trivia: It took Taylor 47 years and 17 studio albums until he had a record that reached number one on the US charts, 2015’s Before This World, recorded in the same barn in Western MA as American Standard. Also- Boston-born Taylor turns 72 on March 12. Happy Birthday sweet baby James.
2. Pulsallama: Pulsallama; Modern Harmonic MH8216
My vinyl copies of Pulsallama including a “confetti” vinyl version limited to 200 pressings and signed by drummer Jean Caffeine. Photo by Peter Skiera.
When I write articles recommending music or Internet radio stations, I try to make selections you are probably not aware of, but ones I think you would appreciate reading about, if not listening to. This serves as a good introduction to Pulsallama. For the uninitiated, Pulsallama was an early 1980’s post-punk/New Wave band comprised of thirteen (eventually dwindling down to seven by the time this recording was made) beautiful women in their twenties from New York donning cocktail dresses and big wigs. I think if John Waters had started a rock band, Pulsallama would have been it. The group essentially started as a gag for a party, but the joke was on them because they gained a large enough following to where they started getting paid bookings at notable venues, recorded songs, toured the UK, and even opened for The Clash. The group featured no guitars (other than occasional foam mock-ups), two bass players, cowbells (and just about anything else they could bang on for music), and healthy doses of camp and kitsch.
Kudos to Modern Harmonic for bringing out this, Pulsallma’s first full-length album, containing unheard versions of their songs almost 40 years after the fact. The album is scheduled for release this May on pink-colored vinyl with a foil jacket, exactly the kind of flashy treatment the band deserves. Rough Trade released an extremely limited “confetti” colored vinyl version. The label describes the music on the record as ”jungle-style rhythms, dual basses, and an all-out assault of percussive perfection” with “infectious melodies, driving rhythms, and a pulsating beat.” With such an enticing description, how on earth could anyone resist listening to it?!”
I do not know whether or not it comes through, but I actually put a lot of time and effort into these articles. I do a lot of research and try to weave in stories, interviews, and photos. Pulsallama created a challenge for me because there was not a lot of information on this short-lived group. I decided to go straight to the source and reach out to some of the band members directly. This recording featured seven members: April Palmieri, Lori Montana, Staceyjoy Elkin, Kimberly Davis, Jean Caffeine, Min Thometz, and Wendy Wild. Tragically, Wild passed away in 1996 at the age of 40 from breast cancer. I was fortunate enough to connect via email with members Jean Caffeine and Staceyjoy Elkin.
Regarding the new album, Elkin wrote me, “I was astonished that we found a recording of the set. I forgot it existed. We’re really, really, happy with the whole thing.” Elkin handmade some of the dresses she and some of the girls wore and has remained involved in textile design and knit development. You can see some of her designs here.
I asked Jean Caffeine to sift through the cobwebs and recount some of her memories for me:
JC: “Pulsallama shows were always fun probably because the band wasn’t like a regular rock band…we were much more theatrical. The shows were like a party and our songs had silly and in-jokey themes. Our first shows were more like ‘happenings”. At Pulsallama’s inception, thirteen women dressed in togas banged and chanted. The venue, Club 57, was decorated with meat hanging from the ceiling. The band was one aspect of a Rite’s of Spring Bacchanal and I remember there was some faux male sacrifice.
“The band consisted of drums, percussion, and bass and vocals, no guitars and there was steel drum, later replaced by glockenspiel (featured on the forthcoming record). All the folks in the band had big unique personalities which were highlighted in various songs. Wendy Wild (R.I.P.), one of our front women, had a huge voice and giant onstage persona which contrasted with her tiny frame. Several visual artists were in the band so there was a big visual component. We would dress up to a theme, sometimes in cocktail-wear, other times to another theme. Our bass player/percussionist Stacey [Elkin] designed dresses. She wore her own creations and sometimes she made dresses for us. (If you’ve seen the cover shot for the album, she made at least three of the dresses we are wearing.) We made and decorated guitars out of foam core that got destroyed during our song, “Rock Fest in the Meadowlands”. Stacey screen printed our logo onto shirts and occasionally on walls, keeping company with the Graffiti artists of the day.
“Probably the highlight for all of us, certainly for me, was opening for the Clash for three nights at Asbury Park in NJ. On the first night the very bridge and tunnel audience threw stuff at us; the singers got pelted. The second night the audience threw less stuff. The third night the audience sang along. After the third night, the Clash threw a party in the indoor part of the amusement park and we all rode around in bumper cars. That was a blast.
“Playing in London at the Venue was also a blast. I remember the guys from Funboy Three, enthusiastically shaking my hand after the show.“
“…the Clash threw a party in the indoor part of the amusement park and we all rode around in bumper cars. That was a blast.“
I was very curious what happened to the group in the end, as I was unable to uncover any information about that. Perhaps anticipating my question, Caffeine wrote:
“We had done a studio recording in the 80’s for a full album. It was sounding really good, but the guy from the label with the money said he’d run out of money and we didn’t get to finish it and it kind of killed the band. It was a big disappointment that we didn’t bounce back from.”
PS: Do you recall anything funny or interesting during the shooting of The Devil Lives in My Husband’s Body video?
JC: I just remember the video shoot for “Devil” being a hoot! Lots of fun. I’m a very small part of the video but I was trying to style myself after Andrea Martin’s character, Edith Prickley, on SCTV.
PS: Do you remember what inspired the writing of that song? I read the video actually got some brief airplay on MTV.
JC: I think Dany or Kim had seen an article in a pulp magazine with that title “Devil Lives in My Husband’s Body”…As the drummer, my contributions to the songs were more on the arrangement side of things. I rarely brought in lyrics…. maybe a bit towards the end. The single had some momentum on LIR and KROQ stations that had started to play more new waves stuff. The line in the song about Tourette’s syndrome (which we didn’t have a lot of personal experience with) brought some blowback that killed the momentum.
PS: What do you think Wendy Wild would have thought of the new record?
JC: Hard to speak about someone that isn’t myself. Wendy loved the limelight and loved playing in bands so I think she would have been happy. I could imagine Wendy still playing in bands if she was still alive.
Caffeine is still involved in the music scene. You can check out her website or Facebook. Her latest offering, an EP called Love. What is it?, is available from Bandcamp. She also wrote a fun song about being in various all-girl bands, the video of which includes some Pulsallama pictures.
Still thirsting for information, I contacted Jay Millar, project co-producer at Modern Harmonic/Sundazed Records, to ask him a few questions about this new release.
PS: How did the idea originate to release this Pulsallama record?
JM: We’ve long been fans of the band’s two singles and initially approached them about reissuing them and inquired if they had any unissued material that could round things out to an LP. Eventually they presented us with this live studio recording and we were floored by the quality, the fun variations on the known songs, and the awe of unheard cuts like “Rhythm Method.”
PS: Where did you obtain the master tapes and whom is doing/did the remastering?
JM: We hate the term remastering, as everything should be mastered, and in this case, Joe Lizzi was the first/only person to master this tape. The lacquer was cut by the fine folks at Third Man. It’s such a loaded term, as some mastering is great and some is awful. But like all things in music, it’s subjective. The tape was in the band’s possession.
PS: The music on the record has remained unheard outside of a French radio broadcast?
JM: Correct. It was recorded in a NY studio at the request of a French radio station for broadcast in 1983.
PS: Were any of the original Pulsallama band members involved in this release?
JM: Yes, we worked closely with all the band members or estates of the band members who were on this recording.
PS: Any other comments?
JM: We’re just really excited to be making this available. It’s rare that something this good just sits on a shelf for almost 40 years. And it sounds like the indie rock of today; we think it’s a special record and we can’t stop spinning it in the office.
The Devil Lives in My Husband’s Body is probably the group’s best-known song on the record, but all seven tracks make for an instant party to which your ears are invited. I never thought a 12” record could hold so much fun. Unfortunately, my favorite Pulsallama songs, Gross Me Out and Foghorn, are not included. I can only hope another tape (live concert?) will be discovered and there will be a volume two.
At any rate, if you only have space for one more record in your wooden record crate, make it this one. You can thank me later, or throw your spare change at me, as the case may be.
A super-huge thank you to Jean Caffeine, Stacey Elkin, and Jay Millar for their time with me on this article.
Trivia: Pulsallama’s song, “The Devil Lives in My Husband’s Body” included a politically incorrect mention of Tourette’s Syndrome which led it to be pulled from many radio stations’ play lists.
3. Macy Gray: Stripped; Chesky Records LP389
One article I read described Macy Gray’s voice as a mix of Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin. It is a raspy type of voice, the kind you either like or not. There is not much gray area when it comes to Gray’s unique voice. Count me in the former category, and I am an especially big fan of her jazzy Stripped album. Russell Malone (guitar), Daryl Johns (bass), Wallace Roney (trumpet), and Ari Hoenig (drums) back Gray on eight songs (ten on the CD and digital download) that are a mix of originals and remakes of her own songs including her big hit I Try. That song, along with Annabelle, Slowly, First Time, and Redemption Song are my favs. Lucy is another standout track, but it is not included on the vinyl version.
“One article I read described Macy Gray’s voice as a mix of Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin. It is a raspy type of voice, the kind you either like or not.“
Although the album’s title presumably refers to the stripped-down sound, Gray’s hushed, flirtatious voice, paired with her tight jazz quartet, create an atmosphere so intimate it gives “Stripped” a bluer meaning. When I listen, I cannot help but hear a Viagra commercial play in my mind: “Ask your Doctor if your heart is healthy enough to listen to this record…” It is ironic this sexy album was recorded inside a former Brooklyn church.
Stripped was recorded using a single microphone for Chesky Records’ Binaural + Series, which the label describes as capturing “…even more spatial realism for the home audiophile market, bringing you one step closer to the actual event. You will hear some of the most natural and pure cool music ever recorded.” How did Chesky achieve “spatial realism” and “natural and pure cool music” from just one microphone? The answer: They employed Princeton University Physics Professor Edgar Choueiri’s 3D Audio process. To quote from Princeton’s website: “An avid audiophile, acoustician and classical music recordist, [Choueiri’s] decades-long passion for perfecting the realism of music reproduction has led him to work on the difficult fundamental problem of designing advanced digital filters that allow the natural 3D audio to be extracted from stereo sound played through two loudspeakers, without adding any spectral coloration to the sound (i.e. without changing its tonal character). He was able to solve this problem mathematically by applying analytical and mathematical tools he uses in his plasma physics research.” That said, you do not need to be a Physics major to enjoy the sound, nor does it require any special equipment to decode it. Do not confuse 3D Audio with surround sound, as it was designed specifically for two-channel stereo. Further contributing to the sound quality was Senior Mastering Engineer Ryan Smith of Sterling Sound, who’s other mastering masterpieces include albums by Adele, Coldplay, AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne, and Beyonce.
I had the rare and wonderful opportunity to meet Gray in person a few days ago following her fantastic performance at the City Winery Boston. She was so friendly, for a moment I almost forgot she was a star. In fact, at one point she invited one of the members of the audience (no, not me) on stage who was celebrating his Birthday and got the audience to sing “Happy Birthday”. Now that is a Birthday to remember. She was on stage for almost two hours and I could have stayed for two more. She had the audience on their feet clapping and dancing. She ended with a few nice surprises, like Thank You for Being a Friend, California Dreamin’, and a reggae-flavored Somewhere Over the Rainbow. If you have the chance to see Gray live, do not pass it up. And if your heart is healthy enough and your stylus can handle it, get Stripped.
Trivia: Gray tried to convince her record company not to release her song “I Try” as a single, believing it would not be a hit. Epic Records released it as a single over her protests and the song ended up reaching to number five in the US charts.
4.Neil Young: Storytone; Reprise; 546I05-I
Neil Young is a rocker. A hard rocker. Even at age 74 he can still rock with the best of them. Yet he has never shown any hesitation to deviate from his hard rocking reputation to tackle different genres like he did with his Trans, Everybody’s Rockin, Old Ways, and This Note’s for You albums. In 2014, the same year he announced he was divorcing his wife of 36 years, Young pulled another musical 180 with Storytone. For this release, he was backed by a full 92-piece orchestra. Yes, you read right- Neil Young performing with an orchestra (the first LP contains the same songs but with Young solo). He also fronts three big band performances. I bet nobody saw that one coming.
At first blush, this paradoxical relationship might strike you as a musical train wreck, but Young keeps the train gliding smoothly down the track. His ten original songs focus on the three subjects dearest to Young’s heart…love, the environment, and his electric hybrid-converted 1959 Lincoln Continental (not necessarily in that order). From a romantic standpoint, When I Watch You Sleeping and I’m Glad I Found You and are on par with Harvest Moon, and were presumably written with then-girlfriend Daryl Hannah in mind (whom he went on to marry).
“…this paradoxical relationship might strike you as a musical train wreck, but Young keeps the train gliding smoothly down the track.“
The front and rear album covers as well as the inside gatefold feature paintings by Young. The cover itself has a kind of rough, canvas-like feel, as if you had bought a painting with records inside. The soft pastel water colors hint at what acoustically awaits within. The gatefold holds one more pleasant surprise: a large, twenty-five-page color lyric book with pictures and details of the musicians performing on each track. It is a tangible reminder of what is lost with digital downloads and CDs. Between the music spread across the two records, the paintings, and the book, Storytone tells a beautiful story both musically and visually.
FYI-If you are interested in learning about Young’s efforts to save high-quality audio, check out his new book “To Feel the Music” (Ben Bella Books), co-written with his long-time technical collaborator, Phil Baker.
Trivia: What was Neil Young’s first musical instrument? He was given a plastic ukulele as a Christmas gift when he was thirteen.
5. Prince: Xpectation and Madhouse; Paisley Park
I was listening to Slow Jams Radio, a smooth R&B/Soul Internet radio station I recommended in last month’s blog article. I caught the tail end of a song that the meta data identified as “Prince”. I did not know it at the time, but the artist was really Prince Djae, yet the meta data only showed “Prince” for some reason. Although it did not sound like The Purple One singing, I was intrigued and began searching on the web for Prince/Jazz. I am a casual Prince fan at best and profess to know little about his music, so I was very surprised to discover he recorded several Jazz-related albums. Considering his mother was a jazz singer and his father a jazz pianist and song writer (his father’s stage name was Prince Rogers), it makes sense Prince would eventually experiment with jazz since it was in his DNA.
Prince’s last jazz album was Xpectation: New Directions in Music (NPR Records, 2003), an instrumental-only recording. It is available as a digital download only and was never released to the public at large in any physical format. I include it here as part of the backstory to a couple of other Prince albums I will discuss presently. Xpectation featured Prince on keyboards and electric guitar, Dutch saxophonist Candy Dulfer, Canadian Rhonda Smith on bass guitar, Thai violinist (and Olympic skier) Vanessa Mae, and John Blackwell on drums. Having always regarded Prince as a mega pop star, I was pleasantly surprised with his jazz fusion compositions. Xhalation is a beautiful, dream-like song, while Xotica made me think I was listening to a top contemporary jazz saxophonist’s album.
Xpectation may have been his last jazz fusion album, but it was not Prince’s only foray into the genre. A full sixteen years before Xpectation, he recorded two jazz-fusion records simply titled “8” (Paisley Park, 9 25545-1) and “16” (Paisley Park, 9 25658-1) under the pseudonym “Madhouse” (nowhere on either record is Prince identified by name despite playing most of the instruments himself). Both albums can be purchased on the Internet, but not inexpensively. I sourced my “8” LP from a seller in The Netherlands and my “16” album on eBay. Prince recorded a third album in the trilogy titled, you guessed it, “24”, but it was never released and is presumably collecting purple dust in the purple music vaults at Paisley Park. To illustrate how much these album’s fly under the radar, cable channel AXS TV profiled Prince on one of its hour-long “Rock Legends” episodes and never once mentioned Madhouse or Xpectation.
My unplanned investigation into Prince’s music left me with a much deeper respect and appreciation for his work. I found hidden jazzy gems in several of his albums, like the song Strollin’ off of 1991’s Diamonds And Pearls, which would fit in nicely on any contemporary jazz record today.
Next month will mark the fourth anniversary of Prince’s death at the age of 57. On April 17, almost four years to the day he died, his estate will re-issue four legacy albums from 2001-2002 on vinyl for the very first time: The Rainbow Children, One Night Alone…, One Night Alone…Live!, and One Night Alone: The After Show…It Ain’t Over! All four releases will be issued on colored vinyl.
Trivia: Who did Prince originally ask to write the lyrics to Purple Rain? Stevie Nicks. She refused, declaring the song too “overwhelming”.
6. Sideways; Silva Screen Records SILLP1174
My version of Sideways is pressed on “red wine-colored vinyl” (the film is set in Santa Barbara wine country), limited to 500 copies.
Rolfe Kent has quite a long resume when it comes to film soundtracks. I first became familiar with his music from About Schmidt, starring Jack Nicholson. Some of Kent’s other soundtrack work include Legally Blonde, Slums of Beverly Hills, Kate & Leopold, Freaky Friday, and the theme to Showtime’s Dexter. However, I am recommending his instrumental jazz score for 2004’s Academy Award-winning Sideways, which earned the composer a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score.
Honestly speaking, I have never seen this critically-acclaimed film, but that does not preclude one from enjoying the soundtrack. In fact, I think not seeing the film makes the soundtrack all that more enjoyable since you will not be prompted to re-play segments of the film in your mind as you listen. And with fifteen tracks, there is plenty to enjoy here. In the liner notes for Sideways, Director Alexander Payne said of Kent: “It is from the Italians, and from Rolfe, that I find what I most value in film music- unusual arrangements, the constant presence of melody, the expression of emotion without sentimentality, and a great deal of wit.” I especially like Drive and Wine Safari; the latter sounding like it came straight out of the 1960’s.
Trivia: Sonoma State University conducted a study in 2009 concluding the movie Sideways caused a spike in Pinot Noir sales and prices, while slowing Merlot sales and reducing its prices.
7. Maniac; WaxWork Records / Uncut Gems; Warp Records
Continuing with the soundtrack theme, if you like New Age/minimalist type music, be sure to look into the soundtracks for Maniac and Uncut Gems. Maniac was a limited Netflix Series starring Emma Stone and Jonah Hill with music by Dan Romer. A soundtrack was recently issued as a limited edition, two record, neon yellow and pink colored vinyl set by Waxwork Records. The music is described as “cerebral, emotionally provoking, and hypnotic.”
Uncut Gems stars Adam Sandler and has received almost universal rave reviews. The synth-heavy soundtrack is by Daniel Lopatin, an experimental musician who deliberately aimed for a laid-back sound to contrast the film’s non-stop, high-stress atmosphere. If you are into meditation, yoga, or just have a need to de-stress on occasion (who does not?), either of these records should fit the bill nicely.
Trivia: The F word is used a total of 408 times throughout the Uncut Gems film, which averages out to about one F bomb every three minutes.
8.Henry Mancini: More Music from Peter Gun; RCA Victor LPM-2040
I am a dedicated viewer and fan of the Peter Gunn black and white TV series which ran from 1958-1961. Thank goodness for the DVR because the MeTV Network airs back-to-back episodes starting at 4am. Half of me watches for the story while the other half tunes in for the cool jazz soundtrack by Henry Mancini. Murder and jazz make a delicious combination. The Peter Gunn Theme was a number one hit and has been covered by several bands, so it is probably burned into your brain even if you are not acquainted with the TV show. In 1959, Mancini released two different Peter Gunn TV soundtracks on the RCA Victor label: The first was the Grammy Award-winning The Music from Peter Gunn (LSP-1956), followed by More Music from Peter Gunn (LSP-2040). Both albums featured top-notch jazz musicians including John Williams on piano (yes, that John Williams). Mancini would go on to record other very successful soundtracks like The Pink Panther and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
“Murder and jazz make a delicious combination.“
In 1967, almost six years after the TV series ended, Peter Gunn creator Blake Edwards tried to revive the franchise with a full-length feature film titled “Gunn…Number One!” directed and co-written by Edwards and starring the original TV Peter Gunn, Craig Stevens. The rest of the TV series regulars were re-cast for the movie, like Edward Asner as Lt. Jacoby and Helen Traubel as “Mother”, the nightclub owner. I have an “unofficial” DVD of the movie which was never commercially released to the public in any format. A sequel was intended but never materialized, perhaps because five James Bond films had been made by that point, and as great as Peter Gunn he was no competition for 007.
I also have the Gunn movie soundtrack which was released to the public on vinyl (RCA Victor, LSP-3840), and thirty-two years later on CD (RCA, 74321 66499 2). This soundtrack features a more “mod” version of the Peter Gunn Theme along with a curious version featuring lyrics sung by a chorus which closed the film. John Williams does not perform, but other big guns (no pun intended) are featured such as Ray Brown on bass, Shelly Manne on drums, and Plas Johnson and Bud Shank on saxophone.
Incidentally, Lola Albright, the beautiful blonde who played Edie Hart, the smoky nightclub singer and Peter Gunn’s love interest in the TV series, released two solo albums of her own: 1957’s Lola Wants You (Kem Records, 101), and 1959’s Dreamsville (Columbia, CS 8133). For the latter, like the two Peter Gunn instrumental records released the same year, she was backed by Henry Mancini. Musically, Dreamsville is the better of the two in my opinion, but Lola Wants You has a far superior (and seductive) album cover. A word of warning- “Wants You” will set you back a couple of hundred dollars for the original red vinyl pressing.
Trivia: In 1982, Henry Mancini wrote the theme song to Bob Newhart’s “Newhart” TV show on CBS.
A couple of months ago I happened upon Dead Ringer on Turner Classic Movies, a classic black and white murder mystery from 1964 starring Bette Davis in both lead roles (she played twin sisters). One sister operates a little cocktail bar below her modest apartment. In one scene in the club, an organist and drummer play a really hip jazz tune. Using the vernacular of the day, I dug the crazy music and was determined to find out who the duo was. Turning to the Internet, I discovered the organist was Perri (sometimes spelled “Perry”) Lee Blackwell. The Dead Ringer soundtrack includes that hip jazz song played in the cocktail bar, Figueroa (named after the street where the fictional cocktail bar was located), written by Andre Previn. The rest of the album contains dark murder mystery music, so I bought the lone track as a single music download rather than the entire record.
Blackwell was a classically trained pianist and self-taught organist. Five years before Dead Ringer, Blackwell performed a few songs in the Rock Hudson/Doris Day film Pillow Talk, including a duet with Day. She released three jazz albums of her own, all of which are hard to come by. I sourced my copy of one of her records, Miss Perri Lee at the Parisian Room (Dot, LPM 3221), from a seller in Australia.
Trivia: The script for Dead Ringer was written in 1944, but was not green-lighted for production by Warner Brothers until nineteen years later.Trivia: The script for Dead Ringer was written in 1944, but was not green-lighted for production by Warner Brothers until nineteen years later.
10. Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66; A&M SP-4116
While much of the music world was preoccupied experimenting with psychedelic sounds in 1966, Sergio Mendes came out of nowhere and singlehandedly blew everyone’s mind with his English/Portuguese hybrid album, Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 (Herb Alpert does not actually perform on the record). As for how Alpert came into the picture, he noted on the record’s back cover: “One afternoon recently, a friend of mine called to ask if I wanted to hear a new group. From the first note I was grinning like a kid who’d just found a new toy. The group is headed by an amazingly talented piano-playing arranger…Sergio Mendes.”
The album’s liner notes were penned by famous rock publicist Derek Taylor who promoted The Bryds, the Beach Boys, and the Mamas & the Papas, but was most famously known as the Press Officer for The Beatles. Taylor described the music as “a delicately-mixed blend of pianistic jazz, subtle Latin nuances, Lennon-McCartney-isms, some Mancini, here and there a touch of Bacharach, cool, minor chords, danceable up-beat, gentle laughter and a little sex.” As a card-carrying bachelor, I am not averse to a little sex in my music. Remember, you cannot spell “Brasil” without “bra”.
“…Sergio Mendes came out of nowhere and single-handedly blew everyone’s mind with his English/Portuguese hybrid album…“
One-part jazz and three parts Bossa nova, Mendes applied his musical magic to ten songs ranging from his hit cover of Mas Que Nada (you would recognize the tune even if you do not recognize the title), to The Beatles’ Day Tripper, to Henry Mancini’s Slow Hot Wind. Brasil ’66 ranked number two on Billboard’s Best Jazz Albums and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2011.
For me, the female vocals combined with the Bossa nova rhythm conjures up visions of skimpy bikinis on Brazil’s sun-drenched beaches. Brasil ’66 is indeed a mind trip without the drugs. If you would like to see Mendes live, he is currently on tour in the US with stops in PA, NJ, NY, and right here in MA.
Trivia: In 2006 Mendes recorded a second cover of Mas Que Nada with The Black Eyed Peas.
Basic Record Care
That concludes my record recommendations this time around. Before signing off, I should like to pass on some basic record care tips to get the most out of your vinyl.
Rock, Paper, Scissors: One of the easiest and relatively inexpensive upgrades is to throw away those rough paper inner sleeves that scratch the surface of your records each time you pull them out or slide them back in, almost like very fine sandpaper. The paper sleeves with the big hole in the middle revealing the record label are worse because the large opening allows debris to get inside the sleeve and scratch the record even more. A pack of polypropylene inner sleeves will allow you to praise you records like you should. Get the type with the paper on the outside since it adds a little stiffness, making it easier to slide records in and out.
Keeping your albums in 3 mil thick, heavy weight, clear poly outer sleeves will further help prevent debris from getting at records and protect album covers at the same time.
I have been hiding a deep, dark secret for decades. I am about to admit something that will make serious record collectors everywhere projectile vomit: I use warm tap water and a soft sponge with a dab of Dawn dish soap to clean my records. There, I said it. I will be on Jerry Springer next week. This method is cheap, quick, and does a decent job of cleaning records, though not as thoroughly as some commercial record cleaning fluids might. GrooveWasher G2 enjoys a good reputation for cleaning records. If you have a large record collection or very expensive records, you might consider going the “professional” route and investing in a record cleaning machine. Many models run into the hundreds of dollars or more, so be sure your collection justifies the expense.
Other record etiquette you might know about but is worth repeating…do not leave your records lying around naked and afraid outside of their covers, dust your records as necessary with a soft cloth or soft record brush (I use a can of compressed air), do not keep records close to anything warm enough to make them warp, handle them by the edges, keep the dust cover closed on your turntable when playing a record, be sure your turntable is not in a place where it is subject to enough vibration to cause the stylus to jump and scratch the record, and perhaps most important of all, if your turntable’s stylus has seen more holidays than the calendar, consider replacing it. Unlike a CD, every time you play a record you degrade it, and a well-worn stylus aids and abets this enemy.
“I have been hiding a deep, dark secret for decades. I am about to admit something that will make record collectors everywhere projectile vomit…“
Trivia: According to a booklet from 1954 on the subject, a 33 1/3 RPM record has about 225 grooves per inch, with each groove measuring approximately one-half the width of a human hair. The grooves on a 12 inch, 33 1/3 RPM record, if stretched out in a straight line, would extend over one-half mile in length.
Discovering new music is very gratifying. On the other hand, it is overwhelming to think of the amount of music out there, old and new, we have yet to and might never discover. Keep your records clean and your Como Audio Turntable spinning, and I will keep exploring and will let you know when I make interesting discoveries so you can continue to enjoy the music.
General Manger Peter Skiera lives in southern MA, worked in radio broadcasting throughout New England, and also worked for Cambridge SoundWorks, B&W Loudspeakers, and Tivoli Audio for 15 years before joining Como Audio in 2016 as Vice President of Product Development. In addition to Tech Rap, Peter also writes for his won blog, www.RecommendedStations.com. He can be reached directly at email@example.com