04 February 2023

The greatest song in the universe?

This is the greatest song in the universe, our youngest son recently said to me in a dream, and I awoke with the song still playing in my head. 

You can allow some hyperbole in a dream, but it was Bryan Ferry's Don't Stop The Dance, and there are days when I do believe it is the greatest song in the universe. 

In the late 1980s when I was almost 40 and teaching Year 1, a student teacher I'm calling Lisa arrived one Monday morning for two weeks in my classroom. (This was officially in-schools experience but everyone called it prac. teaching.)

She wasn’t the talkative, eager-to-impress type, and five- and six-year-olds keep you busy anyway, so for the first long morning session our exchanges were brief and businesslike. 

I was thinking, this is not going to be a chatty couple of weeks, but that was fine. I knew some terrific primary teachers who were quiet and reserved in the staffroom.

Later into the break, though, when we were finally leaving the room for coffee, I noticed that her bag was decorated with Beatles logos. 

This was more than decoration: Lisa was a true, well-informed Beatles fan. I hadn't expected that, at a time when a student was more likely to be a fan of… what? Michael Bolton? Bros?

After that there was plenty to chat about. 

Later we discovered that Lisa's boyfriend Sam, another student, was boarding with a neighbour of ours, and the two of them ended up being our go-to babysitters. 

One winter vacation they asked us to babysit their children (as they said). They lugged over a few crates of their most cherished vinyl LPs. They were worried that burglars might make off with them while they were away. Big responsibility, but I was welcome to play them.

I sampled Lisa's albums more than Sam's (I can't remember exactly why: the words experimental and avant garde spring to mind but I'm only guessing). Her Beatles albums were familiar to me, and I can't remember much about the rest of them (maybe Heaven 17, maybe not).

But the Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music albums were a revelation. I mainly knew them through hits like Love Is The Drug (Roxy, 1975), and Ferry's retro-remakes Let's Stick Together and The Price of Love (1976), but I'd never explored them properly. 

Lisa had a solid collection, but the stand-outs for me were Roxy's Flesh And Blood (1980) and Ferry's Boys and Girls (1985). Tracks like Slave To Love, Don't Stop The Dance, and Flesh And Blood, with their layers of instruments and inventive arrangements, felt close to a multi-sensory experience.

When we say we love a song, we often mean we love a recording, whether it's an original version or an inspired remake. That's been true ever since a hit song stopped being measured in sheet music sales.  When I say I love Be My Baby I mean that extraordinary artefact from 1963, the recording by The Ronettes, not the unadorned melody and lyrics. 

The great pop producers of the 50s and 60s, people like Bob Crewe, Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, understood that it was the recording, that unique one-off artefact, that was important. Spector had a genius for his arranger, Jack Nitzsche, who is usually overlooked by the average listener, but in a way Spector's name was shorthand for a collaborative enterprise that included songwriters, arrangers, musicians, producers, engineers as well as the upfront talent. 

So although Don't Stop The Dance appeared in a dream as the greatest song in the universe, track or recording might be more accurate. 

Lisa became a successful teacher, and it's hard to imagine that those five- and six-year olds in my classroom would have turned 40 themselves last year. It's extraordinary that I still listen to Don't Stop The Dance at least once a week 35 years later. And I often make it repeat.



01 February 2023

Disappearing acts

The other day some bloke tweeted, "Anyone remember Dionne Warwick?"

Dionne Warwick answered, "Doesn't ring a bell."

When I wrote about a Top 20 hit by Sydney singer Jennifer Ryall I said that she was "lost to history". I hadn't been able to find out much about her, and there was nothing after the mid-1970s. 

Jennifer Ryall
Jennifer Ryall finally emailed to tell me she wasn't lost, and her own history turned out to be rich and varied. In the following days she gave me a lot of information, full of interest, which I used to write up a decent account of her career. 

I now avoid suggesting that people are lost, or that they disappeared or vanished, just because they haven't released any music for a while. 

It's a trap that fans can easily fall into. When a performer we know only through their media persona stops performing, there is a sense that they have literally disappeared. 

We might even sympathise with them for their downfall, even if we have no idea what they are doing these days. However fulfilling their life away from the music (or film or TV) business might be, their absence suggests that they no longer do anything. They exist for us on the public stage and when they've gone it's as if they don't exist. 

The jazz trumpeter, composer and bandleader Red Perksey migrated to Sydney via France in 1951. He soon established himself on radio and records, and in live gigs, and he became Musical Director for a Sydney record company. 

Red and his orchestra had a hit with (A Little Boy Called) Smiley from the film Smiley Gets A Gun (1958), and they backed Vic Sabrino on his version of Rock Around The Clock (1955), a record some call as the first Australian rock'n'roll record. He was clearly a bright and likeable personality who pops up here and there in the newspaper archives. 

Red Perksey 1950s
In 1958 he was photographed joshing around poolside at a deejays' convention, and he was giving lunchtime concerts at a Sydney music store. 

Then there is nothing. No more listings in the radio guides, no more gigs advertised, no more affectionate write-ups. He disappeared?

I had written what I believed was the definitive biographical sketch of Red Perksey. He was born Siegbert Perlstein in Berlin in 1921, of Jewish German-Polish background. I traced his progress from Berlin in the 30s, to Palestine in the mid-40s and Paris in the late 40s. He and his wife Zizi came to Australia by refugee ship in the early 50s, and were later naturalised here. The only later date I had was his death, in 1995, but from 1958 until then, nothing. 

Eventually, someone emails. A niece, his closest living relative, emailed from Paris with some answers. 

To Australian audiences, to the Sydney newspapers, and (retrospectively) to this archival forager, Red Perksey had disappeared. 

Meanwhile, a couple known as Bert and Anne were living in a remote French village where Bert painted, sculpted and made furniture. They grew vegetables and spoke to their dog Lassie only in English. Bert was also a musician, and sometimes he joined in with local groups.

To us, they had disappeared; in France, Red Perksey and his wife were in plain view to their fellow villagers. 

I guess my point is, there are more places in this world than the public stage. 

---

See also my series Obscure Originators, collected pieces about artists who went quiet after they recorded a song that was later covered in Australia.

Dionne Warwick's tweet 30 January 2023

Full stories at my website:

• Jennifer Ryall - Everything’s Alright (1972)

• Red Perksey & His Orchestra - (A Little Boy Called) Smiley (1956)

Images: Jennifer Thomson, Mia Cahen





22 December 2022

When did that record come out?

Or, When did my canary get circles under his eyes?


Billboard singles reviews: useful for locating a record in time

1. Why

Knowing the absolute original version of a song is probably not important to many music fans. Blue Suede Shoes is an Elvis Presley song, and the fact that it was first recorded by Carl Perkins is of limited interest.

Similarly, unless they are pub trivia enthusiasts it is also enough for most listeners to know roughly which year a record was released. Give or take a year or two is probably good enough for historic or nostalgic context. Even, say, late 60s or mid-70s will do.

Some of us, though, cannot rest until we know who first performed or recorded a song. The sport of tracking down original versions often demands more than the year a record came out. We might need the month, or the week, or (surely not!) the day a record was released. 

Part of the urge is worthy, to give credit where it's due, credit to the original composers, arrangers and artists. I can't deny there is also the satisfaction of being the smart alec who has knowledge that everyone else has missed. 

At the back of the mind, too, is the hope that the undiscovered original version will turn out to be the best, an authentic gem that reveals the raw vision of the creator, unspoilt by the tinkering of the cover versions. That happens, but it often turns out to be the opposite, when the cover version has added something to the original work, even revealed something about it. 

As with fanatics of any sport, though, it is hard to explain to an outsider why we are so caught up in it. We keep looking, digging around the archives until we find even a tiny clue. Because the data is limited, though, you might still be left with an approximation or just circumstantial evidence.

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2. For example? 

Sheet music (clip)
My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes became known in Australia through the 1973 version by Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band which charted moderately around the country. 

It first appeared in 1931. Most sources will tell you that British bandleader Debroy Somers released the original version, but I believe the British release by American singer Marion Harris has a good claim to being the original. 

I can't prove it, and the evidence is limited and partly circumstantial, but the case for Marion Harris is enough to avoid calling either as the original release.

Both records came out in the period April-May 1931, so my aim was to narrow it down:

• In the limited number of British newspaper mentions of the records, only Marion Harris appears in April, and there are no mentions of Debroy Somers until May. (The flaw: I don't have access to the archives of every newspaper in the universe.) 

Jack Golden
• Composer Jack Golden had previously been accompanist to Harris, which may explain her early access to the song. It might even have been exclusive to her for a while before any records came out. (The flaw: circumstantial, not proof.)

• Harris appears on the cover of the sheet music. (The flaw: it's common but not necessary that the sheet music carries the song's originator.)

In the meantime, I did find evidence of Marion Harris performing Canary on stage and radio in the US in January 1931. After that there are no other mentions of the song in the news archives until April 1931 when Harris's record is mentioned. For the rest of 1931 the song title often pops up in various contexts. This was enough for me to call Harris as having the Original version: live performance, at least until contradictory evidence comes up. 

As I always say about the website, Eventually, someone emails. The page will stand until then. Or until someone comments here, I guess. It does happen.

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3. Where do I find out? 

My go-to source for release dates of singles and EPs is 45cat.com. It often cites the date when a record was reviewed in Billboard, Cash Box and other music magazines. These are a pretty good indicator of date of release, and the aficionados at 45cat will quickly jump in and correct a glaring error (I know this from personal experience).

If you want to do it yourself, you can easily read back issues of the major music magazines online. World Radio History, for example, has issues of Billboard going back to 1894. Treasure!

For albums, Discogs.com is especially good. Albums are also listed at 45worlds.com, 45cat’s arm that covers media other than 45s and EPs.

Steven C. Barr dates the 78s
If I doubt what I see, or if the record is old or obscure, I look at other sources:

• Archived newspaper and magazine articles at Trove (Australia), Gale (mainly British), and Newspapers.com and NewspaperArchives.com (mainly USA, paid subscriptions).

• Archived books and magazines at Internet Archive: an extraordinary treasure trove.

• Books or articles by reliable discographers such as Steven C. Barr (The Almost Complete 78 rpm Record Dating Guide), Martin C. Strong (The Essential Rock Discography), or Brian Rust (many, including The complete entertainment discography, from the mid-1890s to 1942). Many such books can be read in digitised versions at the Internet Archive.

The Originals book in English (link)
If I’m lucky, one of the big original version sites will have done the leg work. The most reliable and extensive are The Originals (originally a book in Dutch, now in English), Cover.info, and Secondhand Songs

The big sites can be wrong, and they don’t usually cite their sources (Cover.info does), but the best of them are open to user input. For example, Arnold Rypens at The Originals invites emails with errors or suggestions, and I know he acts on them within the guidelines of his site. Secondhand Songs is a well-moderated site where registered users can submit content.

For 78s, The Online Discographical Project (78discography.com) will give you recording dates. They are not the same thing, even if they can give you useful clues, and they can be a trap for the uninitiated.

Sometimes naming a release date is down to speculation, or even an informed hunch. You might have to declare it a draw and let it rest. Disappointing, but we are working with imperfect data.

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Some of this appears in a different form at the About page of my site Where did they get that song? and at my page about My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes.  

29 June 2022

Just Out of Reach: The Stewart Family on KLCN Blytheville

"Just Out Of Reach (Of My Two Open Arms)" by The Stewart Family was the original version of the song. Written by V.F. 'Pappy' Stewart, it was released in 1951 on Bill McCall’s Los Angeles label Gilt-Edge. The group also had records issued on affiliated label 4 Star.

Dozens of other versions of the song, many by major artists, have been released since early cover versions by Faron Young (1952, B-side on Capitol) and by Bonnie Lou (1953, B-side on King). The Originals website lists a selection of 15 versions, and Cover.info lists 55.

Bunny Walters charted #21 in New Zealand with his version in 1970, hence my interest in it.

Pappy Stewart in 1976 (local news story).




















The Stewart Family
was a real family, a country and gospel group led by Virgil F. “Pappy” Stewart (1907-1988), a Blytheville, Arkansas soybean grower and the composer of Just Out Of Reach, .

The Stewarts were one of several family musical groups in the area at this time. They were part of a thriving country, hillbilly and gospel music scene nurtured in the 1930s and 40s by local radio stations like KLCN in Blytheville and KOSE in nearby Osceola. 

In 1970, Blytheville journalist Jim Branum noted that KLCN has done as much for country artists than any other station its size in the nation, and acknowledged the prevalence of family groups amongst hillbilly artists.

The Stewart family worked a farm, but they were also musicians, and they married musicians, and they had neighbours who were musicians. The names of Stewart family and friends appear in the line-ups of multiple groups on local radio, and at local events like the National Cotton Picking Contest. 

Some of these artists cut some records on minor labels, but Pappy Stewart’s extraordinary success with Just Out Of Reach, and his connection with the music stars who recorded it, is an outlier in a mainly localised industry.

Pappy, his two daughters, and his sister appeared regularly on KLCN Blytheville from 1934 after they convinced the station to give them a regular 15-minute segment. They toured extensively around the region until 1953. The band broke up as the daughters began raising families of their own.

The family was billed at local events as Pappy Stewart’s Family or Pappy Stewart And His Famous Family. For a gig in Charleston, Missouri in October 1945 they were advertised as “Pap Stewart And His Arkansas Cowgirls of Radio Station KLCN, Blytheville.

In 1951 the line-up was Pappy Stewart (guitar), his daughters Bethyl (fiddle and vocals) and Janet (bass violin), his multi-instrumental sister Baba Howard (mainly accordion) and Bethyl’s husband Buddy Brown.

Baba had also been heard on KLCN in Don & Baba Howard & Their Smiling Hillbillies (clearly along similar lines to Don Howard and His Smiling Hillbilly Gang and Donald Howard and His Smiling Hillbillies, also spotted in the archives).

Also touring with the Stewarts during this period were Wilma Scott and Don Whitney.

Wilma Scott was from Blytheville too, and had been in the Burdette Girls Quartet with Bethyl, Janet and Baba Stewart in the early 1940s. Don Whitney (1926-1985), from nearby Osceola, also worked solo (billed as Arkansas’ Biggest Hillbilly), on radio and on several discs on the 4 Star label. He was a disc jockey at KLCN Blythedale and at KOSE Osceola where he became general manager.

Apart from Just Out Of Reach, Pappy Stewart was a prolific songwriter who had a number of other songs recorded by other artists including Patsy Cline. Many of the songs in the family’s repertoire were written by Pappy or his sister Baba.

When interviewed in 1976 for a profile in Blytheville’s Courier-News, Pappy Stewart was 68 years old and had been married to Gladys for 50 years. He was long retired from professional music and happily living and working on his farm. His sister Baba, who was much younger than Pappy, died in Blythedale in 2013, aged 87.

I’m just a country boy. I’d rather farm as do anything. I’m doing what I want to do.

Pappy Stewart to Jack Weatherly, The Courier-News, 1976

National Cotton Picking Contest 1949

This content was first published at my website in my history of Just Out Of Reach. See there for selected sources.

25 July 2021

Those D.J. Shows: country radio in late 60s Victoria

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That joyous early Supremes song Those D.J. Shows strikes a chord with me. It's about getting out of school and racing home to listen to a Top 40 record show. YouTube Spotify

Even in country Victoria, where I grew up, it wasn't unusual to find a late afternoon radio show aimed at teenage pop fans. Maryborough station 3CV even had one called DJ Show.  

Further north, in Swan Hill, it was the 1330 Show on 3SH (1330 kHz) which held phone-in polls that seem quaint from this distance: Are you a rocker or a jazzer? or Mods versus surfies! Remarkable, considering that this was around late 1963, when the afternoon and evening highlights on 3SH included 4pm Back to the Bible, 6:45 Dad and Dave, and 8:30pm Old-time Dance.

The 1966 ad for 3CV (above) is from the teenage pop magazine Go-Set, showcasing 3CV disc jockeys Rod Batchelder, John McPhee and Graham Lever. It reflects how I remember some country radio from the late 1960s. The graphics are groovy, and the music format is Top 40. 

Like some other commercial country stations in the late 1960s, 3CV was following the big city trend of programming Top 40 music hosted by disc jockeys. I was a teenager who was picky about both music and radio, but I never hesitated to listen to 3CV Maryborough or 3SH Swan Hill as alternatives to the capital city Top 40 stations. (One or the other was always nearby, depending on whether I was away at school or back home at my parents' place.) A bonus was that you could hear some great songs that weren't being played on the big city stations.

My memory of a golden era of country pop radio might be a little selective, though, as I saw when I looked up some of the Country Radio guides in Melbourne's Age newspaper. 

At that time, in 1966, traditional content still dominated across the 13 commercial stations* in regional Victoria. Listings like these hardly suggest wall-to-wall Top 40: 11:40am Friendship Club (3SR), 10:15am Singalong (3SR), 3:15pm Variety Fair (3BO), and 8:30pm Bible Speaks To You (3HA).

Several serials were still on air across the state, including Dr Paul (3BO, 3CV, 3HA, 3NE, 3SH, 3TR). The serials were disappearing from Australian radio, and in the capital city Melbourne by this time only 3DB was still airing them. The networked radio quiz shows - Quiz Kids, Winner Take All, Pick-a-Box  and all - had already folded or migrated to TV which came to Australia in 1956.

When I looked at 3CV's schedule in the Country Radio guide around the time of the  Go-Set ad, I was surprised to see that it doesn't mention deejays Batchelder, McPhee and Lever, nor does it name the programs from the ad. 

Batchelder's Big Breakfast Show is easy to spot - 6am Breakfast Show - and you can guess that McPhee's Big 100, or Lever's Go Go Show fitted in somewhere to 2pm Hits, 4pm Teen Beat, and 7pm Music. Not as exciting as the THE GREATEST SHOW IN VICTORIA the Go Go Show, though. (3CV's DJ Show came later.)

In the capital city radio guide in the same paper, top-rating Top 40 station 3UZ had for some time listed most of its programs as deejay shows - DON LUNN - Breakfast session, STAN ROFE SHOW, KEN SPARKES SHOWso I had expected something similar.
 
In fact the only on-air name to appear in the 3CV schedule is 11:30am Binnie Lum, the notable women's broadcaster who had been dropped by Melbourne station 3XY in 1964 but survived on the regional Victorian Broadcasting Network (VBN).

Certainly, there's nothing much in the Guide to suggest that 3CV was THE STATION THAT'S GETTING THE COUNTRY GO-GOING From Victoria's Swingin' Centre. Perhaps it was a lack of space, or perhaps the writer of the Go-Set ad didn't coordinate with whoever typed up the schedule for The Age. Even so, I do remember listening to deejay shows on 3CV, but I suppose I would have twiddled the dial when anything else came on.

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Up on the Murray River at 3SH Swan Hill in 1966, some of the station's on-air personalities were starting to appear in the printed schedule. The ubiquitous 10am Dr Paul serial is still there, and so is 11:30am Binnie Lum (VBN again) along with networked cooking celebrity 11:15am Graham Kerr. But there are also some local names: 9am Alan Kidd Ladies' Show, 12pm Mal Sutton and 4pm Bob Taylor. Still hanging on were early evening serials 6:45pm Dad and Dave and 7:15pm Three Brothers, and that country radio fixture from the USA, 9:30pm Back to the Bible

By 1968, though, it was wall-to-wall disc jockeys at 3SH. (The 3SH ad above is from Go-Set in June 1967). No serials, no specified "ladies" show, and no American evangelism (not in the program guide, anyway); just 5am Denis O'Kane Show, 9am Mal Sutton Show, 12pm Barry Bissell Show, 4pm Bob Taylor, 7 pm John Browne, with news at least hourly. This looks a lot like the DJ oriented schedule of 3UZ. The entry for 3SH in the Australian Radio Almanac (1967) uses the phrase strictly top 40 format.

3SH's Barry Bissell became a legend of Australian radio, best known through his years at FOX-FM in Melbourne and as founding host of the national Take 40 Australia

In a 2019 Swan Hill Guardian interview, Barry recalls the change from “very old school” programming to a "hits format" soon after he joined 3SH in 1967 when he was still a teenager. He says, “There was a box of 45s (records) in the studio, and an A, B and C list, but I cheated all the time and played my favourites; which everybody did.” This sort of personal input might help to explain my impression that the records on a country station could depart from what was heard in the big city. 

In 1968, 3TR Traralgan was also listing deejays' names as program titles: 5am Laurie Miller, 9:30am Sam Gales, 2:30pm Keith Wells, and 5pm George Danes.  

Other stations list only one or two on-air names, but to be fair there are programs scattered throughout the Country Radio schedules that were probably filled with Top 40 music. Apart from the generic 2pm Music (3NE but common across the board), they include the aforementioned  5pm DJ Show, plus 7 pm Top 40 Hits in DJ Show to Midnight (3CV), 6pm Teentime (3HA), and 5:45pm Latest Hits from the Charts (3UL). There could even be some pop hits behind the neutral 7:30pm Evening Show (3HA), and although 4pm Music for Moderns (3CS) is an ungroovy name, the timeslot is right for an after-school deejay show.

Other examples don't really scream "Top 40": 10:30pm Jazz Club (3YB), 10:40pm Armchair Melodies (3BA), 7:15pm Light and Lovely (3GL), and 8:30pm Serenade (3SR), so the trend wasn't unanimously followed. 

Although I remember the music, country radio was full of other content. Country stations served their local communities in the way that the local newspapers did. As Barry Bissell says, it was "market reports, funeral announcements, dedications to those in hospital". They aired networked content and syndicated shows distributed on records, but they had a full roster of local announcers from opening to closing.

There were shows for children such as 4:35pm Children (3NE) and (I'm guessing) 4pm Sunshiners' Club (3MA); and women's shows 2pm Women's Corner (3BA), 9am Women's Mag (3GL). In their heyday, some women's shows had active clubs with an off-air presence, as the 3SH Women's Club had with its own club-rooms. A surprising number of religious programs were aired, especially but not necessarily on Sundays: 3:45pm Christian Science (3BO), 5:30pm Religion (3BA), 9pm Salvation Army (3NE).

These days, it's sad to see multiple stations carrying identical lineups from a distant hub, sometimes with only one or two local announcers. Increasingly, this happens in a town where the local paper is struggling or has closed down. On the bright side, many country towns now have a thriving community radio station, including 99.1 SmartFM in Swan Hill and Goldfields FM in Maryborough Vic.

Back in the day, regional commercial radio could even do proper local news coverage. One night in Swan Hill in 1963, when it seemed half the town turned out to see a fire that had broken out in a timber yard, we were joined by 3SH's Ken Guy with a portable recorder, covering the story for the next day's News. 

I shared that with Ken on a Facebook thread not long ago. He said he didn't remember it, but it sounded right. It's good to know that not all my memories of country radio are faulty.

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Those D.J. Shows
Right now, I'm in school
But as soon as the homebell rings
I'm gonna run to my locker
And gather up all my things
Then out the door
Running home I'll go
Faster than a new jet plane
And then turn on my radio
I'm gonna listen to those D.J. shows
I'm gonna be diggin' that rock 'n' roll
If I don't I'll go insane

This was an early Supremes track written and produced by William "Smokey" Robinson. It didn't make their first album Meet The Supremes and remained unreleased until an expanded edition of the album in 2010. [Also on Spotify]

Patrice Holloway also recorded a version, also unreleased until years later. YouTube

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3SH was clearly serious about promoting its on-air personalities, as seen in the Go-Set ad for 3SH (above, in text). Of all the Victorian country stations listed in the 1967 Australian Radio Almanac [view here], it has the biggest entry. Note the phrase strictly top 40 format. .

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Click here for all posts at this blog about 3SH (or mentioning it).

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VBN: the Victorian Broadcasting Network, 1965 trade ad.

 

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The Victorian commercial country stations listed in the Country Radio guide in The Age in the 1960s, with their call-signs and frequencies at that time:

3BA Ballarat 1320 kcs (kHz)
3BO Bendigo 960
3CS Colac 1130
3CV Maryborough 1440
3GL Geelong 1350
3HA Hamilton 1000
3MA Mildura 1470
3NE Wangaratta 1600
3SH Swan Hill 1330
3SR Shepparton 1260
3TR Sale 1240
3UL Warragul 530
3YB Warrnambool 1210

*3LK Lubeck 1090, near Horsham (now 3WM), was mainly a relay station for 3DB Melbourne and wasn't listed in the Country Radio guides.


13 July 2021

Australian Radio Almanac (c.1967): Victoria


I have a copy of the Australian Radio Almanac that I bought when it was published by The Age and Keith Winslet Publications. Trove estimates 1967, although it could be 1968. It was probably a one-off publication. 

It is a small, slim booklet with a national map of station locations, lists of radio stations, and other features of interest to radio fans. 

The highlight, though, is Voices of Australian Radio, 30 pages of thumbnail photos and brief written notes about Australian announcers on commercial radio and the ABC.

The coverage of stations is uneven. Melbourne's high-rating  3UZ has 0 notes and 3 photos, while 2GB Sydney covers 4 pages, with some quite detailed notes. Even regional station 3SH Swan Hill has 6 notes and 6 photos each.

Perhaps it depended on material supplied by the stations and some were more interested than others, or perhaps there was a subscription plan.

Physical copies of the book are held by five Australian libraries: go to Trove and click on Borrow (5).

As a sample, here are the cover and the pages for Victoria.

Click on image for larger view.

 

22 March 2021

The Zazous, from recklessness to the Resistance.

Philippe Edouard, PopArchives correspondent in France, looks into an unlikely youth movement in Occupied France. This is almost a prequel to his post on 1960s yé-yé.

In January 1964, The Beatles set out to conquer the world, beginning their journey at L’Olympia in Paris. The day after the first concert, the newspaper France-Soir took the group down with the headline: “The Beatles: old zazous made over by yé-yé, their yé-yé is the worst we have heard in four years."

We know what yéyé is, but what did the journalist mean when he called the Fab Four zazous?

From the end of the First World War, Europe succumbed to jazz. At the start of the 1930s, Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grapelli invented a purely French style, jazz manouche (gypsy jazz), which combined jazz, gypsy music and musette, but without percussion or brass. This genre was all the rage with youth, even as everything was still being influenced by the USA and the arrival of the more universal "swing" jazz. 

Swing! The word is out. Far beyond jazz, swing refers to a state of mind.

In 1938 Johnny Hess (who sang in duet with Charles Trenet from 1933 to 1937) achieved a huge success with Je suis swing with the refrain  Je suis swing, je suis swing, zazou, zazou, zazou, zazou dé , inspired by Cab Calloway's piece Zaz Zuh Zaz which he had admired in concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris in 1934.

Some amateur musicologists argue convincingly that the father of the zazous is the American musician Freddy Taylor (also as Freddie). A pillar of New York's Cotton Club, he arrived in Europe in 1933 with his combo and his impressive dandy wardrobe that included the famous zoot suit. His repertoire mesmerised the audience with the outrageous onomatopoeia of scat singing. He moved to Paris where he ran a club in Montmartre and worked with the stars of jazz. This did not prevent him from continuing to tour, and he was a remarkable success in Rotterdam. By chance or not, the Netherlands saw a movement similar to the zazous.

In June 1940, France was about to live out four years under German occupation and its tragedies and deprivations.

Despite the fury of the people, Johnny Hess’s song continued to cheer up those who decided to live free, at least in spirit, especially young people from generally wealthy families. These lovers of swing were called zazous, in homage to Hess's hit. They invented a counter-culture, displaying a strong taste for America and England, and an incredible dress style in that time of scarcity.

Wide pants with rolled up bottoms, long fitted jackets and big showy shoes, shoulder-length hair slicked back. The zazou walked with a closed umbrella whatever the weather, and wore sunglasses at all times.

The girls wore excessive make-up, and raised their hair above the forehead in a “crow's nest”. They wore tight-fitting sweaters that sometimes stopped above the navel, frilled shirts with tailored suits, quite short pleated skirts, and platform shoes or stiletto heels.

Sure of his phenomenal success, Johnny Hess did it again with Ils sont zazous.

Some French jazzmen benefited from the prohibition of Anglo-Saxon records by taking the opportunity to record these standards, give them a French title, and take the credits. A real plunder!

The dance venues were closed, and it was difficult to move around because of the curfew, even more so for the orchestras and their instruments. This did not prevent the zazous from continuing their carefree life at night, in the furnished cellars, dancing clandestinely to this forbidden music.

Meneurs de jeux (DJs) innovated by switching the 78s onto amplified record players. Thus in 1941 La discothèque opened, arguably the first modern dance-club in the world. One thing is certain, its name has stuck for all eternity.

In 1942 the film Mademoiselle swing was released, in which Irène de Trébert sang the song of the same name which had already been a big success over two years [YouTube]. In this feature film, we also hear the steadfast Johnny Hess and his eternal Je suis swing. Four years already!

In the field of war, the Allies gained the advantage, and the Nazis needed even more materials and men to make it. The prisoners were no longer enough, so they called for volunteers from the occupied countries who did not rush despite the promise of a salary. The Slavs were forcibly sent.

Faced with this fact, Germany imposed the STO1 on the Vichy government, and the early facade of politeness gave way to ferocity. The Germans and the collaborating militia took the zazous for degenerates. The régime de Vichy (Vichy regime) saw them as a dangerous influence on young people because the zazous refused the indoctrination of youth. They were sometimes discredited by the population and the Resistance who saw them as futile, selfish and anti-patriotic.

Yet some zazous defied the occupier. With the anti-semitic laws that obliged the Jews to wear the yellow star, the zazou, in solidarity, attached the star to their coats with a mention of swing or zazou. Most of them were arrested and interned before being released.

Like many young people who refused forced labor in Germany, the zazous went underground to take up arms.

In the summer of 1944 came liberation, swing was still alive, and it was Andrex who hit the mark with Y’a des zazous.

Popular until 1946, this style was being replaced by bebop. The underground cellars had become clubs like the Tabou or the Caveau des Lorientais where the Existentialistes in checkered lumberjack shirts, claiming to be zazous, danced the lindy hop whose baby would be called rock 'n' roll.

Occasionally, the zazous or swing were celebrated in song. In 1963, the duo Roger Pierre and Jean-Marc Thibault devoted an EP to it, Le temps des zazous, in the middle of the yéyé period.

In 1985, Pet Shop Boys sang In the night [YouTube]. Its composer Neil Tennant recounts the possible ambiguity of the zazou vis-à-vis the occupier [Lyrics]. It was David Pryce-Jones's book Paris in the Third Reich that gave him inspiration.

Let us leave the conclusion to Gérard de Cortanze2 in his novel Zazous. “Hunted down by the Germans, hunted down by collaborators, rejected by the Resistance, the Zazous did not want to change life, simply take advantage of their fifteen years. Of age by the end of the war, they had passed from childhood to adulthood and life was about to change them."

Philippe


1. Service du Travail Obligatoire (Compulsory Labor Service). In addition to the 600,000 French workers sent to Germany, there were prisoners of war. About 1,500,000 French people are said to have worked for the Nazis between 1942 and 1945. France was the third largest supplier of forced labor after the USSR and Poland. 

2. Also author of ‘Laisse tomber les filles', a history devoted to yéyé. The link is obvious with regard to the zazou phenomenon.

Johnny Hess - Je Suis Swing (1938)

Johnny Hess - Ils sont zazous (1942)

Andrex - Y'a des zazous (1944)

Cab Calloway - Zaz Zuh Zaz (1933)Django Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France, with Stéphane Grappelli (violin), Freddy Taylor (vocals) - I'se A Muggin' (1936)