28 December 2007

Ah, that Robinson Crusoe theme!

Some lovely genius has posted to YouTube the opening 20 seconds of Les aventures de Robinson Crusoe (1964), a European series that was shown in Australia on ABC-TV. If you were there, you'll recognise the theme music, a stirring melody that I've never forgotten.

Internet Movie database lists three series composers, Robert Mellin, Gian Piero Reverberi and Georges Van Parys. A reviewer, Rob Neal, writes:
It is also worth noting that the haunting score is also now available in an expanded CD from Silva Screen. The original soundtrack was in mono, but it seems there was such a demand for this piece, that the composers recently recreated a medley with a full orchestra in stereo.
This was another of those series that the ABC used to show in the afternoons during school holidays. Sir Francis Drake was another: I wrote about it (and its equally haunting theme) last year.

[YouTube link]
[Soundtrack and series DVD at Amazon.co.uk]

19 December 2007

Close 'N Play!

After my post about Ol' Fatso by Augie Rios a commenter wrote: Don't know how, but I had the 45 of this in my "Close & Play" when I was a child.

I didn't know how, either, mainly because I'd never heard of a Close & Play, which turns out to be a record player for kids: CLOSE 'N PLAY AUTOMATIC PHONOGRAPH - CLOSE LID... RECORD PLAYS.

That would've been an exceptionally groovy present for a kid in the 60s or 70s.

07 December 2007

You study 'em hard and hopin' to pass...

CNN.com shows how to make James Brown sound tedious:

CNN Special Investigations Unit Classroom Edition: James Brown: Say it Proud ...

Teachers: Please preview this program, as its content may not be appropriate for all students.

Grade Level: 9-12, College

Subject Areas: Fine Arts, Social Studies


The CNN Special Investigations Unit Classroom Edition: James Brown: Say it Proud and its corresponding discussion questions and activity challenge students to:

1. Examine the legacy of James Brown;
2. Identify the historical context of key events in Brown's life;
3. Design an exhibit for a memorial to James Brown.

Discussion Questions...


01 December 2007

Is 128kbps good enough for an mp3?

A handful of years ago when I first started ripping mp3s it was commonly held that 128kpbs was as high as you needed to go, because after that the improvement in sound quality was unnoticeable.

I've stuck to that, and a recent online experiment at Cognitive Daily supports it. Read the full story here, and as usual the comments are worth reading too.

Cognitive Daily home: http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily
Cognitive Daily feed:

29 November 2007

Yesterday's Cake, Eddie White's autobiography

As I was saying at the weekend: I have a feeling there is an interesting biography to be told about Eddie White. Maybe someone will email...

Sure enough, John Sprung emailed again to tell me about Yesterday's Cake, Eddie's autobiography that was published by Vantage Press in 1985.

The AbeBooks website lists a number of used copies. One of the booksellers quotes Joseph Heller:
Eddie White's book reads like a Bronx Arabian Nights!

The title refers Eddie's time in an orphanage where the kids were given day-old cakes from the bakeries. A synopsis at AbeBooks says Yesterday's Cake is the story of a boy raised in various orphanages who became a songwriter and met the rich and famous even though his father was a small time hood.

Think I'll have to order a copy. More later...

One more thing: John Sprung, my informant on these matters, is a folk singer and music writer with an interesting resumé himself.

24 November 2007

Eddie White, songwriter and actor

In September I mentioned Edward R. (Eddie) White, the prolific New York songwriter (1919-1996) who collaborated at some stage with each of the three writers of Acker Bilk's The Harem, particularly with Mack Wolfson.

I wondered whether he was the same Eddie White (aka Edward R. or Eddie R. White) whose filmography at Internet Movie Database includes a role in Robert Duvall's Angelo My Love (1983).

These days it seems I just have to ask, and somebody who was there emails with an answer. (Like this: Question. Answer. Neat, huh?)

John Sprung emailed to confirm that the songwriter and bit-part actor were indeed the same Eddie White. In fact, John was at the premiere of Angelo My Love with Eddie, who knew John's father, a counselor at an orphanage where Eddie was a ward.

I have a feeling there is an interesting biography to be told about Eddie White. Maybe someone will email...

[Somebody did email: see my follow-up post.]

21 October 2007

Are you a hippy?

Barry McKay, who compiled the online Go-Set charts (1966-1974), has cleverly adapted this magazine quiz from 1967 so that you can answer it online.

Some of the choices were a bit obscure to me after all this time, but it told me I'm "half way to San Francisco", even if I am running 40 years late.

Come on, answer honestly: would you rather go to
a love-in or a drive-in? A nice bit of retro-fun. [Link]

20 October 2007

The small print: Ed Goldman, writer of Billy You're My Friend

Last month I wondered about the writer of Billy You're My Friend, Gene Pitney's minor hit from 1968. It's one of those unique songs that you never forget, the one-off that comes out of nowhere and leaves you with few clues about its background story.

A couple of days ago Ed Goldman emailed me, after he'd read my post.

Ed tells me he wrote Billy You're My Friend when he was a piano major at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. He’d worked in music publishing as a staff songwriter, usually working with a regular lyricist partner, but when producer Bob Schwartz was looking for a song for Gene Pitney, “a single that would bring him more into what was then the current style”, Ed ended up writing both words and music himself.

This is how it came about, as Ed tells it:
My partner at the time and I had interested a producer at Musicor Records in a kind of poetic, Sergeant Pepper's type tune called Poor Richard, which I demonstrated on the piano, improvising a fugue-like break.

The producer, Bob Schwartz, loved it, but it was already published by another company. He said Gene Pitney was going into the studio in a few days… and he wanted something in the style I had demonstrated on the piano.

The next day I sat down with my lyricist, but we couldn't see eye to eye (or ear to ear) on anything that day. I already had most of the tune and the first verse of the lyric, but he didn't relate to it, and he wasn't coming up with anything either, so I finished it on my own and brought it to Bob the next day.

Bob said, “That's it!” and went on to bring in an arranger... Joe Scott to soup up the break and arrangement into this big orchestral sound. He billed it as 'symphonic rock' and the record was made about a week later.

Although he was quite excited about the finished product, Ed comments on the interpretation and arrangement:
I felt to a degree that the song was made too grandiose for what it was, and who Gene was as a song stylist. My feeling about the song was that it was a kind of chamber piece that first expressed the innocence and trust a young man had for his best friend, then the anger he felt when he discovered that both his friend and girlfriend had betrayed him.
Ed Goldman’s heart was in jazz and the classics, and for many years he played piano around the New York area before returning to Juilliard in the 90s to study composition and orchestration. He has written music for TV soap operas and advertising jingles, but he now concentrates on writing and recording in his home studio, putting down all the parts himself - and he still writes his own lyrics. Ed’s current projects include a Broadway show, a CD of his own songs, and recordings of classical piano pieces including his own compositions.

On the uniqueness of Billy You’re My Friend, Ed comments:
My approach to that song, and most of those I wrote, was to be true to what the song itself seemed to want to say, even if I sometimes had to transcend pop songwriting conventions to do so. This is what I believe gave the song its individualistic flavour.
As a compulsive reader of the small print on record labels, I can't tell you how satisfying it is to have heard from (E. Goldman) and to be able to write about him here.


This is a good article + discussion at Cognitive Daily that focuses in large part on Wikipedia's strengths and weaknesses: Is there really wisdom in crowds?

It helps explain why some Wikipedia articles are excellent while others are hopeless.

I can hardly bring myself to read many music articles at Wikipedia these days: I grab the trivia and run with it, check it somewhere else, but too many music entries are written by The Fan who has no idea about writing a reference article. The riposte to that is, "Why don't you edit it?" but I don't have the time or energy to be constantly cleaning up this stuff, especially when The Fan is likely to go back and mess it up again anyway.

Some excerpts from Cognitive Daily's discussion:

I think Wikipedia works pretty well when it is only discussing the dry technical details of some theory, such as the lambda calculus, because only those who actually know something about it will tend to contribute. It works less well when the subject is controversial.

The key is this: if only experts are interested in a topic, then they will be the only ones to contribute. But if the topic is of interest to those who know nothing about it, that's a situation ripe for bad Wikipedia articles.

They say that while Wikipedia is fine for basic factual information you might find in a newspaper, when you get to the level of serious academic research, the information quality breaks down. ...

This is very true. It's particularly true in scientific areas where there are large, vocal, pseudoscientific activists. Autism is one area. Vaccination is another. Evolution, too. This results in "edit" wars, with activists trying to push their pseudoscience. In fact, this "selection" in Wikipedia actually can work against accuracy, because the "selective forces" (I.e., editors altering or correcting what they think to be incorrect or poorly stated information) tend to favor the cranks (creationists, quacks, Holocaust deniers, 9/11 conspiracy theorists, etc.), who tend to have a lot more time and passion to edit and create Wikipedia articles than those who would remove their dubious information have to correct them. An inherent admission of this problem comes in the form of how many Wikipedia articles tend to have moratoriums on new edits in these topics.


The worst part of Wikipedia's physics coverage, in my experience, has been the introductory stuff. The really knowledgeable people aren't interested in writing material at the high-school level, and it's easier to write about some facet of advanced mathematics than it is to organize a useful presentation of a topic like "force" or "energy".

I suspect that this may be contributing to the woes of your "physicist friend" and his misinformed students.

I'd be interested to know what kinds of physics errors the students are getting from Wikipedia, and as for the historian, does he know he can correct the errors?

These are busy people, with grants and book contracts. Why would they waste their time correcting something that will likely be "corrected" back by someone with fewer qualifications but more time than them?

That's my point about music articles, though I can't say it's "grants and book contracts" holding me back.

Obscure topics can also be a problem: for some little known musicians the Wikipedia article - and its writer - might be the only source on the planet, which makes peer review almost redundant, but any little clues are valuable when you're researching a difficult topic, and if I find them at Wikipedia I'm grateful, however much I have to proceed with caution.

In spite of misgivings and annoyances, Wikipedia is still often my first stop for basic information, and if I'm lucky I'll find some decent links to use as a springboard.


People who rail against the unreliability of Internet sources can make it sound as if before the Net we lived in a golden age when texts had been checked and rechecked before publication, all footnoted and referenced, and could be relied upon for their authority. (Books! With a capital "B"!)

In fact, amongst the millions (billions?) of books and journals and pamphlets printed before and since the Net there are plenty of dodgy sources, and we've always had writers and publishers who are sloppy or ignorant or just barking mad. We've always had to question our sources, whether it's in a Book or at a website. As my History lecturer said in our first tutorial, over thirty years ago (and it wouldn't have been an original thought), "When you pick up a book, the first thing you ask is, 'Who wrote it?' "

One positive thing about the Net is that a glaring mistake at a website won't stay there for long, provided the site is responsive to feedback, is frequently updated and has a reasonable amount of traffic. At my website (which satisfies those criteria), if I make even a small typographical error in someone's name I'll often get an email within days of posting the page and it can be fixed within minutes. (I'll still check that the correction is valid. Even in the case of spelling a name it's not always straightforward.)

By contrast, I have music reference books on my shelves that having glaring mistakes, but they'll stay there until the next edition of the book is published. That's if the book goes to another edition, and if someone has contacted the writer. In the past, that meant writing a letter, with a stamp, to the publisher. At least now you might be able to track down an email address and contact the author quickly, but it's still a more complicated and drawn-out process than clicking the Contact button at a website.

18 October 2007

Only in Melbourne (1) Susan Christie - I Love Onions (1966)

Only in Melbournetracks that didn't chart Top 40 in their countries of origin but did better in the capital of my home state, Victoria. See also: Only in Oz.

1. Susan Christie - I Love Onions
(Donald Cochrane - John Hill)
USA 1966
Columbia single (USA)
CBS single (Australia) #BA-221298
Australian charts: #24 Melbourne (#46 Australia)

This is one of those songs that is remembered as a hit, and it might have been in some neighbourhoods, but it was never a "hit" in the sense of making the Top 40 in the States, for example. I remember it because I was listening to Top 40 radio from Melbourne, the only major Australian city where it charted. Even then, it looms larger in my memory than #24.

Perhaps its reputation has something to do with its later appearance on collections of novelty songs, and it really is a novelty, with cute, screwy lyrics delivered in a breathy flapper's voice (or do I hear Marilyn Monroe?), backed by kazoo and tent show band. In the States, I Love Onions also became better known through the children's TV show Captain Kangaroo, which apparently gave it a good run.

In New Zealand the song became known through a popular local version by Sandy Edmonds (1967): see my feature on Sandy's version over at my website.

There was a fair bit of this droll retro stuff around in the 60s. For some reason the jazz era was seen as a source of hilarity by some of the post-war generation, and there was a familiar line of ironic approximations of trad jazz, jugbands, Tin Pan Alley crooners and dancehall spruikers, a line that stretched at least from the Temperance Seven (You're Driving me Crazy, #1 UK 1961) to the New Vaudeville Band (Winchester Cathedral, #4 UK 1966) and beyond. Oh look: there was The Eggplant That Ate Chicago by Dr West's Medicine Show (1966), and Hello Hello by Sopwith Camel (#26 USA 1967).

You know the sort of thing I mean: slightly old fashioned music with its tongue in its cheek, and I usually adored it.

I don't know that there was ever a satisfying name for this tendency, but it was pervasive enough to be found in the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper - visually as much as musically - and in the op shop side of Swinging London fashions. The Beatles had quite a line of their own in retro schtick: the spoken intros to Honey Pie ("Now she's hit the bigtime...") and Magical Mystery Tour ("Roll up, roll up, step right this way.."), and whole songs like Your Mother Should Know and When I'm 64.

The 60s throwbacks were really a selective parody of the past, as if Rudy Vallee with a megaphone were the only singer from the old days. Anyone who actually explored the music of the pre-war years would have found a rich popular culture that easily matched the 60s for its innovation and influence. In the 60s we were entertained by a comic book version of the real 20s and 30s, lots of fun but a bit sloppy with its references.

About Susan Christie not a lot seems to be known.*  (Some sources repeat the theory that she is the sister of Lou Christie, but I'm pretty sure that's not true. Their biographies don't seem to overlap, apart from both being from Pittsburgh. Lou's real surname is Sacco, in case that's a clue.) She recorded a then-unreleased album around 1960-70, Paint A Lady, produced by John Hill who back in '66 had produced and co-written I Love Onions. Although Paint A Lady has now been released, Susan Christie has retained a low profile, as in no profile.

You can listen to I Love Onions at YouTube and someone has posted Yesterday Where's My Mind? a 9-minute track from Paint A Lady.

- - -

UPDATE 2021 By now, much more information about Susan Christie can be found online. See, for example, Bruce Eder's biography of Susan Christie at AllMusic. There is a good Wikipedia page about her, and Spotify has her 1969/70 album Paint A Lady (unreleased at the time) as well as a 2018 collection of her singles. Bruce Eder tells us that Christie is from Philadelphia, she had been in a folk ensemble called The Highlanders, and she attended Boston's Berklee College of Music. He also concedes that "she has been something of a mystery, as to her fate and career". The lyrics are easily found online.

Chart positions from Gavin Ryan's Australian chart books.

17 October 2007

Only in Oz (7) Joe & Eddie - There's A Meetin' Here Tonite (1963)

Another in my series of posts about tracks that were more popular in Australia than in their countries of origin. See also: Only in Melbourne.

7. Joe & Eddie - There's a Meetin' Here Tonite
(Bob Gibson)
USA 1963
GNP Crescendo single (USA)
#195GNP Crescendo album There's A Meetin' Here Tonite: Joe & Eddie In Concert
Vocalion single (EMI Australia) #V-1001
Australian charts: #4 Melbourne #1 Adelaide

I'd have sworn that this foot-stomper, this stirring rally to worship, was a genuine piece of meetinghouse gospel.

Then I followed the songwriter credit to the influential folk popularizer Bob Gibson. His 1958 original version turns out to be more in the hootenanny neighbourhood, a mainstream folk song with banjo accompaniment. Still, all credit to Gibson as writer, and to whoever saw that it could be reworked for Joe & Eddie in this way.

Joe & Eddie were Joe Gilbert and Eddie Brown. They recorded for Capitol and then for GNP Crescendo, where they issued several LPs before Joe's accidental death in 1966. Eddie Brown is still around, as a performer and producer, and he has a website at Joe&Eddie.com.

I'm surprised that There's a Meetin' Here Tonite wasn't a hit in the USA. At least where it did chart in Australia it was quite a hit. It charted in Melbourne (my neck of the woods) in May 1964, at the height of Beatle craziness. I remember the folkies at my school championing its cause over the likes of the Beatles ("This is real music!"), but even to a Brit Invasion fanatic like myself it was a fine record indeed.

A sidelight: In the early 70s, when two ex-Turtles emerged as Flo & Eddie, I assumed the name was a take on Joe & Eddie, something I can't now confirm. Perhaps it was just a nice coincidence: it had initially been The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie.

Someone has posted a nice clear video of There's a Meetin' Here Tonite at YouTube, where these days it seems you can find just about any song you search for.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Chart positions from Gavin Ryan's Australian chart books.

13 October 2007

More lifted tributes

Lachie's Lifted Tribute site, where he spotlights musical soundalikes, has a bunch of updates, including a possible musical echo of The Angels' Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again.

A highlight is his list of silent pieces that came before and after John Cage's 4' 33" (1952). I'd heard about (but didn't entirely believe in) the suit against Mike Batt for copying Cage's silence, and I'd recently seen a silent piece being staged on TV, a tired and unoriginal musical joke that the studio audience nevertheless found hilarious. I didn't realise, though, that it can be traced back to 1884 and Alphonse Allais's Funeral March for an Illustrious Deaf Man, and there was a further pre-Cage example in 1919 by dadaist Erwin Schulhoff.

Lachie's main source is A Better Silence, a great article at Tux Deluxe that goes into the history of the silent work, including details of Mike Batt's (real) trouble with Cage's people.

21 September 2007

Only in Oz (6) Gene Pitney - Billy You're My Friend (1968)

Another in my series of posts about tracks that were more popular in Australia than in their countries of origin. See also: Only in Melbourne.

6. Gene Pitney - Billy You're My Friend
(Edward Louis Goldman)
USA 1968 
Musicor single #51331.
CBS (Australia) single #BA-152275.

Australian charts: #13 Melbourne, #24 Brisbane,
#13 Adelaide.

Gene Pitney's lesser known song Billy You're My Friend (1968) is like a slice of opera, with mood swings from lightheartedness to anguish, pumped up by ersatz classical orchestration and pointed tempo changes.

I've sneaked it into Only in Oz, my random list of songs that were hits in Australia but not in their home countries. True, it wasn't a national hit in the USA or Britain, but it was hardly a hit down here either: #13 in Melbourne, #24 in Brisbane, #13 in Adelaide, and #32 on Go-Set Magazine's national chart.

In fact, we can see five examples of Billy You're My Friend charting modestly in US cities, on charts posted at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive: Bakersfield CA (#43), Allentown PA (#36), Saint Charles MO (#13), Springfield MA (#51), Wilkes-Barre PA (#39) and New Haven CT (#15).

No doubt there were other cities, not enough to turn it into a national hit but enough to get it to #92 on both Billboard and Cash Box. Not enough, either, to get it onto your average Gene Pitney Best of collection.

The writer is listed at BMI as Edward Louis Goldman, about whom I can find nothing. (Eddy Goldman? Ted Goldman?) His modest repertoire at BMI includes some cues for Another World, which I take to be the TV soap opera. [I've since heard from Ed Goldman: see my update of 20 October about the writing of Billy You're My Friend.]

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Australian chart positions from Gavin Ryan's Australian chart books and Barry McKay's Go-Set chart collection.
US charts: Charts at Airheads Radio Survey Archive from October-December 1968 for KAFY Bakersfield CA, WAEB Allentown PA, KIRL St Charles Missouri, WHYN Springfield MA, WARM Wilkes-Barre PA, and WAVZ New Haven CT. Billboard chart positions at AMG; Randy Price's Cash Box charts site.

18 September 2007

Only in Oz (4) Cliff Richard - Just Another Guy, and (5) Cliff Richard - Angel (1964)

Another in my series of posts about tracks that were more popular in Australia than in their countries of origin. See also: Only in Melbourne.

4. Cliff Richard - Just Another Guy

(Neil Diamond)
UK 1965 (recorded in USA 1964)

Columbia single #DB 7496.
Australian charts: #5 Melbourne, #2 Brisbane,
#4 Perth (all with the A-side The Minute You're Gone)

5. Cliff Richard - Angel

(Sid Tepper-Roy Bennett)
UK 1965
(recorded in USA 1964)
Columbia album Cliff Richard, #SX 1709;
Columbia single #DC 762.
Australian charts: #6 Melbourne, #9 Sydney, #4 Brisbane,
#8 Adelaide #3 Perth.

On the British Top 40 charts you won't find either of these among the dozens of Cliff Richard hits.

In March 1965 you'll find the #1 hit The Minute You're Gone, but not its B-side, Just Another Guy. In Australia both sides charted.

In Britain Cliff's next charting single was On My Word in June, but on the Australian charts Angel is squeezed in before On My Word.

The name Neil Diamond might jump out at you here, as the writer of Just Another Guy. Cliff recorded this a couple of years before Neil Diamond charted with his own Cherry Cherry (#6 US, his first Top 40 hit) and with his composition I'm A Believer by The Monkees (#1 US), both in 1966.

was written by Sid Tepper and Roy Bennett, veteran American songwriters who had written earlier hits for Cliff, including the #1s Travellin' Light and Please Don't Tease. They also wrote a lot of songs for Elvis Presley movies, including Angel: Elvis's was the original version, in Follow That Dream (1962).

Cliff recorded both Just Another Guy and Angel in Nashville in 1964, produced by Bob Morgan & Billy Sherrill, with backing by The Jordanaires of Elvis fame. Co-producer Billy Sherrill is a notable Country producer, A&R man and songwriter best known for his career-building work at Epic in Nashville with Tammy Wynette and Charlie Rich . His co-writer credits include Wynette's Stand By Your Man (1968) and Rich's The Most Beautiful Girl (1973).

Just Another Guy and Angel are two of my favourite Cliff Richard songs, well-written pop songs with crisp, rhythmic arrangements and high quality production.

This was during a period in the mid-60s when Cliff showed that he was no relic from the pre-Fab era by recording some up-to-date pop records that are among his finest. Also from this period are I Could Easily Fall (written by The Shadows, December 1964, #6 UK), The Time in Between (August 1965, #22 UK) and Blue Turns to Grey, a Mick Jagger-Keith Richards composition (March 1966, #15 UK), all of which move forward from Cliff's sound of the late-50s and early 60s.

An Australian footnote: Western Australian band The Times released a rearranged, guitar-based version of Just Another Guy in November 1965.

Chart positions from Gavin Ryan's Australian chart books.

References: For details of these songs and their sessions, see the excellent Cliff Richard Song Database, which tells us that Angel as a single was intended for foreign distribution. Searching for the song titles at PopMusicInfo.com also throws up some useful release histories and other data.

11 September 2007

Only in Oz (3) P.J. Proby - Mission Bell (1965)

Another in my series of posts about tracks that were more popular in Australia than in their countries of origin. See also: Only in Melbourne.

3. P.J. Proby - Mission Bell
(William Michael-Jesse Hodges et al)
UK 1965
Liberty album (UK) P.J.Proby, #LBY 1264;

Liberty single (USA, Australia) #55791.
Australian charts: #3 Melbourne, #7 Sydney, #4 Brisbane,
#2 Adelaide #3 Perth.

This 1965 rearrangement of a #7 US hit from 1960 is a jawdropper, especially if you're familiar with the pleasant but unremarkable original by Donnie Brooks. This is the quintessential example of a remake transforming the original and overshadowing it.

An expansive, dramatic recording, with soaring strings and brass orchestration, and an urgent, soulful female chorus, Mission Bell was produced in London by Ron Richards during P.J. Proby's mid-60s sojourn in the UK.

Born James Marcus Smith in Houston in 1938, P.J. Proby was more popular in the UK and Australia than he was back home in the US. In the UK he had ten Top 40 hits 1964-68 (including three in the Top 10), but in the USA Niki Hoeky was his only Billboard Top 40 record, at #23 (1967).

Mission Bell was one of Proby's biggest hits in Australia, but it remained an album track in the UK and the single didn't chart nationally in the US.

P.J. Proby's career was plagued by poor judgment and overexcited media attention of the worst kind: in Australia he became a figure of fun, sent up in Oz Magazine ("Probe me, P.J., probe me!").

Nevertheless, he often had the benefit of top notch producers, arrangers and songwriters, and his rich, idiosyncratically delivered baritone could rise to the occasion and produce the odd pop gem.

As well as Mission Bell, Ron Richards produced some of Proby's better-known records:

  • his mannered hit versions of Maria and Somewhere from West Side Story;
  • That Means A Lot, a Song The Beatles Gave Away, arranged & conducted by George Martin;
and such overlooked delights as:
  • Just Like Him, an exquisite Jacki DeShannon song to be discovered on the B-side of Somewhere; and
  • To Make A Big Man Cry, written by Pete Callander and Les Reed and delivered relatively straight by Proby in the style of the big-production ballad of the day (no surprise that it was also recorded by Tom Jones).
An EMI producer and A&R man, Ron Richards is best known for having signed The Hollies and for producing their biggest hits. He was also in on the earliest Beatles sessions at Abbey Road.

The unsung hero of Proby's Mission Bell is the arranger, who is uncredited on the record. Of all the unsung heroes of pop music, arrangers are even more overlooked than producers and songwriters (at least some of them have become famous names) and yet many a great pop record owes its greatness to its arrangement.

[Update: Having read a bit more about the career of producer Ron Richards, I'm guessing he was also the arranger.]

Naming the writers of Mission Bell isn't straightforward. William Michael is often credited alone as the writer (on the original Donnie Brooks label and on the US copyright), but Jesse Hodges also appears in some places (at BMI, for example) and there were contributions by others along the way.

William Michael
had a day job in stockbroking. He submitted his original version of Mission Bell - then called Wishing Well - to Jesse Hodges, whose speciality was to quickly and economically work up and record songs by semi-professional or amateur writers. (In fact, we're just about into song-poem territory with Mission Bell.)

was a songwriter, producer, arranger and singer, an associate of Donnie Brooks since their days at the Fable label in the late 50s when Donnie was still known as as Johnny Faire.

Quoting Brooks, Greg Adams writes that Mission Bell was an example of how Hodges "would take songs, horrible songs by these amateur writers and rewrite them into something recordable."1

Gary Myers, who interviewed Donnie Brooks in the late 70s, mentions contributions to the rewrite by Dorsey Burnette (whose Tall Oak Tree is alluded to in the final version), guitarist Scotty Turnbull, and probably the songwriter John Marascalco.2 Howard Thomason, at Rockabilly Hall of Fame, has Donnie Brooks and Herb Newman of Era Records also contributing.

William Michael, the stockbroking songwriter, has 24 compositions listed at BMI. Wishing Well was extensively rewritten on its way to becoming Mission Bell but he was keen to have his name on the song, no matter what rewrites and percentages were involved. Can't blame him, really.

One more thing: there was a connection between P.J. Proby and the original version of Mission Bell. Before he was brought to the UK by pop TV producer Jack Good, Proby had worked around Hollywood for years, acting a little, writing songs, recording demos for Elvis, and making records under other names (Jett Powers, Orville Woods). Spencer Leigh, in The Independent's 2007 obituary of Donnie Brooks, writes:
In 1960, Brooks scored with Mission Bell, which included a jokey reference to Dorsey Burnette's hit Tall Oak Tree.
P.J. Proby had first met Brooks two years earlier, on a radio show in Hollywood. "We hung around with the same gang," Proby recalls, "the Hollywood Brat Pack of its day, which included Ricky Nelson, Johnny Burnette, Eddie Cochran and Sharon Sheeley. I liked Mission Bell very much and, when I did it myself, my version got to No 1 in Australia. Donnie said to me, 'How can you do this to me, Jim?' "
Let's not be picky: maybe it wasn't quite a #1 in all of those collections of radio playlists we like to call the Aussie charts, but for some of us down here it's still #1 in our hearts.

Recommended reading:

Nik Cohn devoted a chapter to
P.J. Proby in Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom (1969):
He was intuitive, fast, hysterical, paranoid, generous, very funny, hugely imaginative, original, self-obsessed, self-destructive, often impossible, just about irresistible and much more besides. Truly, he was complicated. (p.196)
Michael Lane Heath has a Proby appreciation and history at Perfect Sound Forever, Get Hip to My Conflagration:
...take the most outrageous, profligate, American loud-hearted-unto-operatic attitude, pour it into the hip-swing shing-a-ling of a Presley-shaped vessel, dress it up in Errol Flynn/Captain Blood pony-tailed pirate drag, multiply it by a thousand... and you still don't approach the maximum velocity of P.J. Proby.

Chart positions from Gavin Ryan's Australian chart books.

1 Liner notes to Hard To Find 45s on CD, Vol. 10 (Eric, 2007), cited by S.J. Dibai, post to Spectropop Group #40745, 12 September 2007.
2 Gary Myers, post to Spectropop Group #40742, 12 September 2007.
See also post #40773, 14 September 2007 Re: quasi-legit song publishers by Phil Milstein, who has also given me further background on Mission Bell.

08 September 2007

Only in Oz (2) Acker Bilk - The Harem (1963)

Another in my series of posts about tracks that were more popular in Australia than in their countries of origin. See also: Only in Melbourne.

2. Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band - The Harem
(Dorothy Hodas-Mack Wolfson-Eddie Cooper)
UK 1963 

Columbia single (UK) #DB7129.
Columbia single (Australia)  #DO4447

Australian charts: #2 Melbourne, #4 Sydney, #3 Adelaide (#7 Australia)

I wrote about The Harem earlier, in connection with Time-out Instrumentals. Then, I said it was a standout amongst Acker Bilk's recordings, a stirring, whirling, percussive instro that builds to a climax.

This track is a bit of a mystery, not least because it is an outstanding instrumental by a popular artist that unaccountably failed to make the same splash on the British charts as it did in Australia.

Acker Bilk had ten Top 40 hits in the UK between 1960 and 1963, but this wasn't one of them. His Stranger On The Shore was a big hit everywhere (#2 UK, #1 USA) and he was popular in the MOR instrumental market. The odd thing is, Acker Bilk's countless albums and reissues have never been hard to find in the bargain bins, but I've never found The Harem on any of them.

A 1963 single of The Harem by Don Costa and his Orchestra on US Columbia #42705 is the same work, and appears to be the original version.

The authoritative 45cat.com has Don Costa's US release at April 1963, Acker Bilk's UK release at October 1963. It is an American composition, copyrighted in the US in March 1963. [Updated 20 Dec 2016]

We do know something about the writers' other works, thanks in part to ASCAP's database:
Mack Wolfson (aka Maxwell A. Wolfson) built up a fair repertoire in the 50s and 60s. He often wrote with the prolific Tin Pan Alley composer Eddie White (Edward R. White)*, for example on Happiness Street (Corner Sunshine Square), recorded by Georgia Gibbs and Tony Bennett (both versions charted in 1956); C'est La Vie, a much-recorded song that was a #11 hit for Sarah Vaughan in 1955; Crazy Otto Rag by Johnnie 'Crazy Otto' Maddox, a co-write with the famous Hugo & Luigi that was heard in the film Reds; and Smarty Pants, on disco group First Choice's 1973 debut album.

Eddie Cooper, not so prolific, also wrote with Eddie White: of his 13 compositions at ASCAP, 6 were co-writes with White. (There are 4 additional Eddie Cooper songs listed at BMI.)

Dorothy Hodas
(full name Dorothy Gertrude Hodas) has only one other song in her ASCAP repertoire, Love Of My Life, and that was written with Mack Wolfson and, yes, Eddie White.
The Harem could be a faux-Eastern genre piece, but it sounds as if it could be based on a folk tune. I believe I hear something reminiscent of Hava Nagila.

(UPDATE: See the comment below from Anonymous who suggests the Turkish song Usku Dara as a source. Listen to Eartha Kitt's famous version at Youtube.)

ASCAP shows an alternative title, The Harem: Schoene Geschic, which may or may not be a clue. Could Geschic be a database or dialectic truncation of Geschichte? Schoene Geschichte means Beautiful Story.

There are at least two 1960s guitar versions of The Harem, by Rotterdam instrumental group The Explosions (1964), and by New Zealand guitarist Graeme Bartlett, better known as Gray Bartlett (1963 or 64).

Acker Bilk & His Paramount Jazz Band - The Harem.mp3

Chart positions from Gavin Ryan's Australian chart books.
Could this be the same Edward R. (Eddie) White (1919-1996), a New Yorker listed at IMDb in some bit parts?

Dutch sleeveshot from plaatzegel.nl.

01 September 2007

Buffalo Tom - Dry Land

Dry Land is on Big Red Letter Day, the 1993 album by Boston band Buffalo Tom. I've listened to it too many times today so I'm gonna quit before I spoil it forever.

Like some other great pop songs, it manages to convey both joy and regret, with lyrics that seem to be about someone's real life without spelling it all out. There are chiming guitars and a full-ahead beat that remind me of a couple of other bands of the day, but I won't say which because I hate doing that to musicians.

Dry Land is the kind of song that makes me want to quit my job, pick up a guitar, and play in a rock'n'roll band.

Okay, I'm listening one more time tonight, and that's it.

Music in the lab

Music Matters is a blog by Henkjan Honing about music cognition. It looks at music from a scientific point of view, something that instinctively sounds off-putting to me, but this is so interesting, so full of variety, that I couldn't resist reading on. Also, this guy is clearly a music enthusiast, not just a clinical analyst, and his writing is accessible. (I found it via the excellent Cognitive Daily.)

Some recent posts:

Why do people sing so shamelessly out of tune?

When somebody sings out of tune, we might infer that he or she has no talent for music. That is of course a misunderstanding...

A 2006 recording of Glenn Gould?

The recording was made using measurements of the old recordings and then regenerating the performance on a computer-controlled grand piano, a modern pianola.

Why does it sound slow?

We know that it is not simply the number of notes (or event-rate) that defines a listeners impression of tempo. There are quite a few musical examples that have a lot of notes but that are generally judged to have a slow tempo (e.g, Javanese gamelan music).

Is it a male or female performer?

This week an interesting new web-based experiment... Can listeners determine the gender of the performer on the basis of a recording? Do the experiment by clicking...

Associate Professor Honing is head of the University of Amsterdam's Music Cognition Group. As his CV explains: He conducts research in music cognition, with a special focus on the temporal aspects of music (such as rhythm, timing, and tempo), using theoretical, empirical and computational methods.

Anyone who writes (and, like me, neglects) a blog can sympathise with this post from 30 July last year:

Yet Another blog?
Still wondering —on a Sunday afternoon at home— whether yet another blog is of any use.

Henkjan, my answer in your case is a loud Yes.

15 May 2007

The Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers

You never know what will pop up on that overlooked miscellany ABC2, the ABC's digital TV channel.

Last night they showed Festival, Murray Lerner's 1967 documentary about the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1966. It's a bit like a black-and-white Jazz on a Summer's Day. (In one sense especially: the crowd shots stay in the mind as much as the music.)

Every minute of it is full of interest, and everybody seems to be there: Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Odetta, Buffy Sainte-Marie. Peter Paul & Mary. Howlin' Wolf, and Son House, Dylan going electric. Bluegrass bands, jugbands, kids in the parking lot with home-made instruments. A marvellous old-time gospel choir called the Sacred Harp Singers.

But I wasn't prepared for this joyous slice of Americana. It's perfect: no commentary needed, just press Play... The Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers at YouTube

06 May 2007

Beyond the Yarra: John E. Broome & the Handels

I had an email from Michael who wondered why there is no mention at the website of mid-60s Adelaide band John E. Broome & The Handels, also known as The Handel

It's a good question, and I had no ready answers except that I don't set out to mention every one of the 4,003,221 bands in the history of Australian pop music, and that the site is really about songs and not bands. I could've mentioned the demands of the day job, but I didn't want to sound pathetic.

Michael's real point, though, was that browsing Aussie websites might give the impression that, as he put it, "Australia stops at the Yarra".

On reflection, the history of Aussie pop music does seem to be East Coast-centric. (And Mainland-centric: a Tasmanian once asked me why I had omitted some key Hobart bands. I ended up writing about The Kravats, but in the end I couldn't find out much about the 60s scene in Hobart.)

The South Australian artists mentioned at the site - Bev Harrell, The Vibrants, Drummond - are there because they moved east and had hits outside of South Australia.

In a way, that answers the question: the pull of bigger markets worked on the artists themselves and that's how they wrote themselves into the broader histories of Aussie pop music. The same would be true of such Western Australians as Johnny Young and Robbie Snowden who - even when they recorded at home for Clarion - had an eye on the Eastern states and ended up moving there.

On the other hand, it's easy to see why somebody from Adelaide could be dismayed that a seminal local band had been overlooked, especially (as Michael says) a very progressive band that was one of the best live shows around and finally went to the UK off their own bat before the Twilights.

Not only that, but the band's line-up was a distinguished one. The Handels' bassist Alan Tarney was later in the James Taylor Move and the Tarney-Spencer Band. After that, he was with The Shadows for a while, and he wrote and produced for Cliff Richard and wrote and played for Olivia Newton-John. Laurie Pryor, the drummer, famously joined The Twilights, and later played with Healing Force, Genesis (Oz) and Chain. Guitarist Kevin Peek had been in the original Twilights line-up and later joined James Taylor Move, but he is best known for being in the pop-classical fusion group Sky with John Williams.

As for John E. Broome, his name was actually Dave Parsons and he went on to produce The Vibrants, among others.

As it turned out, I had an airtight excuse for omitting The Handels, because I discovered that both sides of their only single, Didn't Know Her Name Dos and Don'ts (1964 on W&G as The Handels Featuring John Broome) were originals, written by Tarney, and the main focus of my site is on non-original songs and their sources.

Never mind: in a second email Michael listed several Adelaide bands whose songs might lend themselves to song histories at PopArchives: Buffalo Drive, The Hergs, The Midnights, The Mystics, The In-sect and The Why Four. (By now I was starting to think that Michael might actually be from Adelaide himself.)

So, then: one point of this post is to give me an excuse to mention John E. Broome and The Handels. The band name alone is a classic, and so is the title of The In-Sect's album: In-Sect-A-Sides.

28 April 2007


In 1995, the year the Rolling Stones' Voodoo Lounge Tour came to Australia, I had leukaemia, an exquisitely rare but treatable variety known inelegantly as 'hairy cell'.

It's been nearly twelve years, I'm doing fine, and I hardly ever think about it, but I came home at the end of last week, poured a glass of fine Australian semillon-sauvignon blanc, pumped up Exile On Main Street on the stereo, and there I was thinking about the Rolling Stones in concert and John the Haematologist, who always had the latest edition of a journal called Blood on his desk.

In April 1995, four months or so before I knew there was anything wrong with my blood, I sat in a bus shelter opposite our local supermarket in Toowoomba, and waited for the bus to the Stones' Brisbane concert, a couple of hours away in our state capital.

I'd missed the Stones in the 60s, and again in the 70s, who knows why, so this was like a piece of unfinished business for me. The press was full of stories about how old the Stones were, how they were surely on their last legs (little did they know!), and I had this feeling that it might be my last chance to see them. I kept thinking of Del Shannon, who'd come to our town and I'd passed, thought I couldn't afford it, and then he'd died a few months later. (Sorry, Mick, but you know what the Aussie press can be like.)

Okay, if I'd skipped school in '65 to see them, I would've also seen Brian Jones, as well as Bill Wyman, who had quit by '95, but Keef was still there, and Mick and Charlie Watts, so three out of five ain't bad and Woodie was a legend in his own right anyway...

At first, I wasn't going: the price of the ticket plus the bus fare was too much. Then the Stones were on in Sydney, and then Perth, and they were on the TV news every night.

The media were falling over themselves to point out how OLD these guys were, and why didn't they give up and grow old gracefully instead of making spectacles of themselves? Clearly, they'd never heard of Howlin' Wolf, on Shindig with the Stones in his fifties and in the studios with Clapton at sixty.

With every TV news story I was looking sadder, and in the end my wife said, "Go! Put it on a credit card! Anything!" and I rang up at the last minute and I was in.

So I got onto the bus, and the bus driver said he was sorry, but there'd been a stuff-up (probably because I'd booked late) and they didn't actually have a concert ticket for me, but when we got there he'd do his best to get me one. I sat on the bus for nearly two hours, not knowing whether or not I'd get to see the Stones after all.

The concert was at the ANZ sports stadium in Brisbane. After the bus was parked, I followed the bus driver down towards the ticket boxes. They were all shut, with signs saying SOLD OUT, and all around them were huge angry looking European guys in black suits, professional scalpers, shouting outrageous prices for tickets.

The bus driver was an old guy, with slicked back short grey hair, tailored shorts and long dress socks. "I'll see what I can do," he said, but I wasn't convinced.

“Wait here,” he said, and I waited while he wandered down the slope to the ticket boxes. I decided that if he didn’t get me a ticket there was no way I was going to sit outside in the car park and just listen to the wash-up from the Stones until midnight. I would walk back to the freeway and hitch a ride home.

The bus driver wandered up to a ticket box – I was gonna say waddled, but that would be unfair – and knocked on the window. When it finally opened, he seemed to be having a bit of a chat with the woman behind the grille: he was leaning on the little counter, just catching up, it seemed to me, probably sharing wry observations on the scene.

Around me, the scalpers were shouting louder, people were giving up and going home, and my fellow passengers had long disappeared through the turnstiles with their lovely tickets. Down the slope, the bus driver and the ticket box woman continued shooting the breeze.

I will be hitching home, I told myself.

Then the ticket box woman and the bus driver had stopped chatting, she’d shut up shop again, and he was ambling up the slope with my ticket to the Stones.

Did I embrace him in gratitude? You don’t embrace sixtysomething bus drivers in tailored shorts and long dress socks, you just thank them in a gentlemanly but heartfelt way and head for the turnstiles.

The Stones started their set with that Bo Diddley shave-and-a-haircut - two-bits rhythm, the drum beat from Not Fade Away. At first I thought it was part of the recorded music they’d been piping through the speakers in the intermission, but all of a sudden there was Charlie Watts, in motion, cruising onto the stage as if his drum kit were some kind of drummobile, a motorized drum buggy, and I realised the drumming was all Charlie’s work. That moment of realisation was pure joy: I was grinning and laughing and jumping about like a kid on Guy Fawkes night.

It turned out that my seat was pretty good, on about the same level as one of the stage’s side ramps, so that when Mick or Keef came along it they ended up only a few metres away. Mick, who was clearly fitter and more agile than most men his age, ran and leapt and danced and hardly stood still throughout the long set, making nonsense of the media’s digs at his age.

The audience was typical of the cross-section you see at oldies concerts these days: all ages from eight to eighty, from ageing baby boomers like me to curious teenagers, two of whom eventually ended up having sex in the row in front of me, just what you'd expect at a Stones concert.

The audience also included Wayne Goss, the State Premier of Queensland (think State Governor in the US). This would’ve struck as bizarre anyone who’d lived under his predecessors, ageing gents of my father’s generation who’d been in power for longer than they deserved. But there he was the next evening, our Premier, telling the TV news cameras how much he’d enjoyed Brown Sugar and Tumbling Dice.

Also in the audience, apart from the Premier and me and the rutting teenagers, was John, the haematologist I would meet four months later when I started chemotherapy.

One day in August, at the clinic in Brisbane, I mentioned the Stones concert to a nurse and she said, “Oh yeah, John went to that. He’s a big Stones fan.” There was a moment when I did a double-take, as if it didn’t add up. The guy who had my life in his hands, who was daily perusing my blood counts, and making judgments about my prognosis and medication and whether my spleen had to go or stay… this guy had also bought a ticket to Voodoo Lounge, he’d been somewhere in the audience.

In theory, John the Haematologist could have been the guy in the audience who yelled out at the top of his lungs, “KEEF, YOU LEGEND!” when the great man ventured out onto the catwalk near my hard-won seat… Or maybe that was the Premier of Queensland: nothing made sense any more…

Now, it seems like no big deal: now my GP looks a few years younger than me, and some of my colleagues are about the same age as my eldest son. At that time, though, this was a generational shift for me. Up until then, I'd thought of people like Premiers and medical specialists as being part of my parents' generation.

Maybe my double-take was an irrational moment of panic, as if I were putting my life in the hands of an ageing adolescent in a Stones audience, someone like myself. Maybe I wanted the haematologist to be somebody older. When you have an irrational illness with unpredictable outcomes you can find yourself given over to irrational thinking now and then.

It didn't last, though, and it gave us something else to chat about during the daily consultations that make up a course of chemotherapy.

Once, I brought up the subject of the Stones while I was under a light anaesthetic, a drug-induced haze that is supposed to eliminate your memory of what goes on, but it didn't stop me remembering next day that I’d asked John the Haematologist to name his favourite Stones album.

Back home, when I was over all that, I went out and bought my own copy. It was Exile On Main Street, the album I now associate with John the Haematologist and the Stones in Brisbane, not to mention blood, and Blood.
Image: Blood, Vol. 86 (4), August 15 1995.