16 September 2006


Look, some of these might not be oboes at all. I could be swooning over an oboe when I'm really hearing a clarinet or a cor anglais or... I don't know what else: a penny whistle? I believe we're at least talking woodwinds, but an electronic keyboard could be leading me astray. Maybe I should go back to The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.

With that caveat, these are some songs that show how an oboe (or something that sounds like an oboe), tastefully arranged and sparingly introduced, can be the making of a pop record:

The Chiffons - Sweet Talkin' Guy (1965)
This shuffling piece of girl-group pop has a joyful groove that makes you smile, but lyrics that are about heartbreak and deception, one of those contradictory songs mentioned in an earlier post. Still, the tasteful oboe line in the instrumental break does have a plaintiveness about it. (Sweet Talkin' Guy's writer credits are to Eliot Greenberg and Robert Schwartz, co-founders of Laurie Records, with Barbara Baer and Douglas Morris.)

Harpers Bizarre - Cotton Candy Sandman (1968)
Written by Kenny Rankin (mentioned earlier in connection with Nick Lampe) who had released it himself in 1967 on Mind Dusters. The lyrics are sentimental, but if that's not your bag just focus on the light, sunshiny melody, arranged in a perfect mix of orchestral instruments (strings, oboe and harp) driven along by a tight pop rhythm section.

Honeybus - I Can't Let Maggie Go (1968)
British band Honeybus gave us at least two classic songs: (Do I) Figure In Your Life (1967) - famously recorded by Joe Cocker - and I Can't Let Maggie Go, both written by Honeybus's Pete Dello (Peter Blumson). He used two oboes, a cor anglais and a bassoon in the arrangement, inspired by a work by Mozart for woodwinds (Welch & Soar, One Hit Wonders, 2003).

Rod Stewart - Handbags And Gladrags (1970)
Rod at his peak, with oboe intro, on a Mike D'Abo song that later grew legs of its own, thanks in part to its airing as the theme for The Office. See my page on its history, over at the website.

Dream Academy - Life In A Northern Town (1985)
I can't resist this: a band whose onstage line-up includes an exceedingly cool oboe player who also sings back-up vocals. The oboist is Kate St John, whose discography includes sessions with Van Morrison, Kirsty McColl and Nigel Kennedy, as well as albums in her own right. More at KateStJohn.co.uk. Meantime, press Play:
Image of oboist courtesy of the Special Collections Department, University of Iowa Libraries.

13 September 2006

Comics from The Argus

Another comics page: this is from the Melbourne daily The Argus, 7 February 1952, the edition that announced the death of King George VI.

The Argus was a well-established morning paper that was closed in 1957 after it had been bought out by The Herald and Weekly Times, publishers of the rival Sun.

Our family took The Argus, and when it folded my main concern as a 6- or 7-year-old was the comics page. I remember being pleased to see that some of the Argus strips had migrated to our new paper, The Sun.

One of those was Carl Grubert's family sitcom strip The Berrys, which ended up running for years in The Sun. (At ComicStripFan.com there is a large page of Grubert's original artwork.)

Apart from the animated cartoon spin-off Tom and Jerry, some of the others on the Argus page are lesser known, at least to me:

was a short-lived British fantasy strip for children that ran in the Daily Mirror from 1946 and folded in 1952. Maurice Horn (World Encyclopedia of Comics) believes it may have been a victim of opinion polls which consistently gave Jimpy a low rating but failed to ask children, its target audience. Jimpy's creator was Hugh McClelland.

is King of the Royal Mounted, a US adventure strip created in the 30s by Western writer Zane Grey. At this time it was being drawn by Jim Gary. Bill Hillman has a fabulous page of King of the Royal Mounted covers from the 30s to the 50s at his Zane Grey Tribute Site.

Wizzer was an Australian comic strip about a public schoolboy inventor, Hermon Wizzer of Merryville College, surely one of the most obscure comic strips in the universe.

As far as I can see, Hermon Wizzer of Merryville College is mentioned only once on the searchable Internet (apart from some eBay listings which misspell it as Herman Wizzer), in spite of the numerous comprehensive comic strip sites to be found. It is only a mention, too, in a Michigan State University library catalogue, but it usefully points to John Ryan's Panel By Panel, which has a paragraph about it and reprints a daily strip from 1950.

Hermon Wizzer's home was The Argus, and it ran from 1949 till 1957, created by A. D. Renton and W. J. Evans, about whom, John Ryan says, little is known.

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12 September 2006

Slow versions

Sometimes you hear the original of a slow-burning song and find that it started out as something altogether peppier. The obvious example is Joe Cocker's revelatory version of With A Little Help From My Friends, which sounds just as convincing as a dramatic soul ballad as it does as the rhythmic kick-off to The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper.

Nothing prepared me, though, for Marvin Gaye's downright bouncy 1963 original of Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home). I'd already become attached to Paul Young's slow, haunting version from his 1983 album No Parlez.

In the same way, I'd got to know the 1924 Isham Jones-Gus Kahn song It Had To Be You through a slow version. It was on 'S Awful Nice (1958), an album by Ray Conniff, whose wordless-chorus-plus-brass arrangements were a big part of the soundtrack of our household when I was a kid in the late 50s and early 60s.

I heard enough slow arrangements of It Had To Be You to make me admire it in the same way as I admired Ray Noble's The Very Thought Of You, another slow, sweet and romantic song from songwriting's golden age.

I didn't hear Isham Jones's own recording of It Had To Be You until recently, and it turns out to be an upbeat Roaring 20s dance number in the vein of Tea For Two. For me it doesn't have the same allure as it does as a slow song.

It might depend on how you first hear a song, and I might need to soften my harsh opinion of jazzing it down.

04 September 2006

Little Sport and Pop plus The Potts at the Coronation

Here's a comics section I scanned from the Melbourne (Australia) morning daily The Sun, June 3, 1953.

I believe Little Sport was usually a back sports page strip, but this was a special edition for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, so Little Sport was bumped to the main comics section. There's a note on the back page directing readers to Little Sport inside the paper.

Allan Hogg, over at his excellent comic strips blog Stripper's Guide has a Sunday Little Sport in colour. It was an American strip, drawn by John Henry Rouson from 1948 till 1976. Rouson died in 2000 , aged 91. Like Presto, over at the evening Herald, it was an institution in the comics pages when I was a kid.

The other strips include Pop, a British strip, 1921-1960, created by John Millar Watt (J.M.) and taken over later by Gordon Hogg (Gog).

Jim Russell's The Potts, who on this day are in London for the Coronation, was a mainstay of the Australian comics pages for decades. It was created by Stan Cross, and first appeared in Smith's Weekly in 1919 as You and Me, later Mr & Mrs Potts. Jim Russell took it over in 1939 and it became a syndicated daily newspaper strip in 1950 as The Potts.

Suzy was another Australian strip, by Ian Clark. It ran in Murdoch newspapers from the late 40s until 1966.

Hopalong Cassidy was by Dan Spiegle, hired by Hopalong Cassidy actor William Boyd to create the strip in 1949. The strip ran until 1955.

One quaint feature of the comic strip in those days, along the top, was the little chapter heading, or teaser or... what was it called?

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Maurice Horn (ed.),
World Encyclopedia of Comics (1976)
John Ryan,
Panel by Panel (1979)

Dylan and the Sound

Earlier, I wrote that I don't always take in lyrics but I like the words to sound right. So I was shaken, even stirred, to read this in the New Yorker review of Dylan Talks :
It is always the sound that interests Dylan about a song, and one of the reasons that he is only semi-articulate in interviews is that you can’t really describe a sound. It was [Woody] Guthrie’s sound that attracted him, not Guthrie’s lyrics.
Take Blonde On Blonde: you don't need to understand the lyrics in a literal sense, but they sound great.