matthew

DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?

For as long as I remember my parents had a record of the original Broadway cast recording of Guy and Dolls on Decca Records. It was as thick as a dinner plate and twice as heavy. My parents did not get their first turntable until 1964. Before that the album would have been played on record players.

What is the difference between a turntable and a record player? Well, a turntable is a delicate piece of equipment, A record player takes a girder, attaches a railroad spike to it, and drags the spike through a record. Record players are not healthy to records or other living things.

Needless to say that Guy and Dolls album was pretty worn out. By the early ‘70’s, my mother thought it was about time to replace it. Decca Records, at least in the US, had been absorbed by MCA. Since it was the 1970’s, the record company felt that the album just had to be in stereo. To achieve this, the left channel was the straight recording. The right channel was an horrendous reverb. “What’s what’s what’s play play play ing ing ing at at at the the the Rox Rox Rox y y y.”

Other record companies made “simulated” stereo by shifting the phase a little bit between channels.

The problem with both of these methods was that if you combined the channels, you would not have the original mono mix. In 1972, Robert Orban patented a new process by which a pseudo-stereo signal could be obtain from a mono source. In essence, the signal was put through a “comb”, spreading different information out over the two channels. Orban’s goal was to be able to recombine the two resulting signals together and obtain the original mono signal. He was successful.

Robert Orban (Photo courtesy AES.COM)

But it still was not stereo. The ability to make something that sounded like true stereo would take until the digital age. DES, or “Digitally Extracted Stereo,” achieves some very amazing results.

Chuck Berry had the DES treatment with the recording from 1958:

DES can even be done on recordings from the 1940’s, such as this one by Peggy Lee:

…and even the 1930’s, as shown by Billie Holiday:

Some applications of DES are better than others, and some seem to have some digital artifacts, although it is hard to say if those artifacts are from the DES or from the encoding for YouTube.

I know that some people do not like stereo on early recordings, even if there was originally a stereo mix. I can understand that. I like stereo because it allows me to hear different things in the recording that get lost in mono. I have found that there are many subtle things that add to a recording, and I enjoy being able to pick them out.

While you can search for DES examples on You Tube, this site has quite a few without having to search for them. Listen to them, and remember that these were derived from mono recordings. I hope you enjoy them.

The Legacy of the Mitchell trio

Like many American families in the early 1960s my family enjoyed the folk music craze. We were weekly watchers of Hootenanny. One group that appeared on that show and several others was the Chad Mitchell Trio.

In their early days they were accompanied by a guitar and banjo virtuoso by the name of James Joseph McGuinn.

You may know him better as Roger McGuinn.

In the 1940s there was an Air Corp/Air Force pilot named Henry “Dutch” Deutschendorf. He and his wife had a son in 1943. That son became a musician. In or about 1965, the younger Deutschendorf replaced Chad Mitchell in what became the Mitchell Trio. Some of the group’s albums show the name Deutschendorf as composing some of the songs.

One of the albums had one of the best recordings I ever heard. The young Deutshendorf sang the song and played on it. That song was a Pete Seeger Composition called “Bells of Rhymney.” I could not find the Mitchell Trio version of the song on YouTube, but I did find a later video by Detschendorf.

By the way, young Deutschendorf had adopted the stage name of John Denver, which is how he was billed on the Mitchell Trio albums. I think you have heard of him. But have you ever heard him play like this? If you like good folk music, and you like a good song, and you like good guitar playing, then you will like this recording.

You can’t help but admire the musicianship of McGuinn and Denver.

What you know and what you don’t know

Years ago I had an opportunity to fill in at a Big-Band radio station in San Francisco. I was excited about being on a high-powered radio station in the big city. The problem was that I really did not know the music. At one point I played something by the Glen Miller Orchestra. Before the song ended I practised how to say the name of Miller’s vocalist/saxophone player, Tex Beneke. I said to myself several times, BEN-eck-key, BEN-eck-key, BEN-eck-key. I turned the microphone on and said Ben-ECK-key. A listener called up. “You’re a young kid, ain’t ya.”

A few years later I was listening to an oldies station in Seattle. The song “Dirty Water” played. The announcer came on and said it was by the STAND-dills. I was incredulous. How could anybody working at a large market station not know the that the song was by the Stand-DELLS? Then I remembered that Sunday evening in San Francisco thirteen years before.

Sometimes when you are young and just starting out, you are not going to be as smooth as you would like. You need to be easy on yourself — and just as easy on others.

I love music trivia quizzes, especially about music from the ’60’s. However, many times it is clear that the people who make some of those quizzes do not really know what they are talking about. I would think, though, that someone who takes the time to make such a quiz and post it on line would research to make sure their answers are correct. There are two quiz questions from over the years that really got my hackles up.

One question went something like this:

In what City does Bobby Bare want to sleep tonight?

A. Detroit City

B. Abilene

C. (A third city)

D. (Some other city)

I could eliminate two of the choices right away. Of the other two, I knew that George Hamilton IV had a version of Abilene and was not aware that Bobby Bare had a version.

That left Detroit City, but anyone who had ever heard the song knew that Bobby Bare wanted to be almost anywhere but Detroit City. Any song that starts out with “I wanna go home. I wanna go home. Lord how I wanna go home” tells you the person singing the song is someone the Chamber of Commerce wants to keep out of sight.

So unless the question really meant “Where is Bobby Bare stuck but is hoping he does not have insomnia tonight?” then Detroit City was not a good answer to the question. I chose Abilene hoping that Bobby Bare did have a version that I was not aware of.

I was wrong. I guess the person who wrote the quiz had never really heard the song, or it had been so long that he forgot what it was about.

Another question that bothered me was this one:

Which of these is the official (emphasis mine) name of a Beatles album?

A. Red Album

B. Blue Album

C. Green Album

D. White Album

E. None of the above.

In 1968, the Beatles released a two record album. It had an all-white cover on the outside (except for maybe some small black print here and there) with the name of the album embossed on the front cover. While the album is commonly referred to as The White Album, the name embossed on the front simply said The Beatles. I choose E, None of the above.

They said I was wrong and that the answer was D. They made an incorrect assumption.

I am sure I will make some mistakes from time to time here. I try and verify what I write, but sometimes I go by memory if I am unable to verify. Feel free to let me know if I get something wrong.

The Original That Became a Hit Because of a Remake.

Photo courtesy Allmusic.com

Tony Orlando was a singer best know for his time with the group Dawn in the early 1970’s. He had a long career before that, having started with a doo-wop group when he was 15. He was hired by Don Kirshner to be one of the writers in the famous Brill Building. Orlando had two top 40 hits in 1961. By the late 1960’s, he was Vice President of a music publishing company.

In 1969, Orlando recorded a song called Make Believe as part of a studio group called Wind.

This is what they used as the B side.

What are they saying?

Lyrics can be a troublesome thing.

Sometimes, you just cannot understand the words at all. A classic example of this is the Kingsmen classic, Louie, Louie. First of all, Jack Ely was far from the microphone with his neck stretched which added a roughness to his voice making it hard to understand what are pretty innocuous lyrics that led the FBI into a two-year investigation of trying to figure them out. Second, the lyrics to the song are in something of a pidgin English making it hard for a listener to “logically” follow the words.

Other times, the words may be slurred to the extent that a listener may hear something other than what is sung. Jimi Henrix’ “‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy” falls in to that category.

There are times that you do hear, phonetically, what is being sung, but the music phrasing makes it hard to understand what the lyrics mean, such as in Dorothy Moore’s fantastic 1976 hit Misty Blue. To move some words around to make the point, I could never figure out if Ms. Moore meant “Good baby, listen to me” or “Baby, listen to me good.” An extremely minor point in a great record, but it always tripped something in my mind whenever I heard it .

Then there are times when there are words that sound the same but the timing of the song suggests the incorrect one. The opening theme of the 1960’s animated TV show, Top Cat, is one such case. Right after the beginning it sounds as though the lyrics are “Whose (belonging to TC) intellectual close friends get to call him TC.” If you have ever seen the show, you know that none of TC’s friends are intellectual. TC is the only one of the bunch. What they are really singing is this:

Who’s (who is) intellectual. (Period. Full stop.)

Close friends get to call him TC.

No big deal, but it does make things confusing.

And don’t get me started on those angelic choirs such as used in Disney movies in the ’50’s that are totally unintelligible.

A Song In Many Forms

A good piece of music can be done in many forms. Some may sound better than others, but a good song has enough that performers of different styles have something to work with. One particular song started when Hoagy Carmichael, the song’s composer, was walking along and started to whistle. He was so pleased with the melody that he wanted to write it down. He called the song Star Dust and worked on it for several months, polishing it and perfecting it as he went along.

Carmichael originally thought of the song as a somewhat mid-tempo little number. The first recording of the song was made on Halloween, 1927, by “Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals,” a group that included, among others, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.

Somewhere along the line, the two words in the title were combined into one, making it Stardust. Carmichael recorded a somewhat slowed down version of the tune in 1928, but the lyrics, added by Mitchel Parish in 1929, made the slower tempo de rigueur. In 1931, Isham Jones made a recording of the song as a sentimental ballad.

In the early 1940’s, RCA records wanted to use two versions of Stardust on one record, something of a battle of the bands. They wanted to use Tommy Dorsey’s version on one side. and Artie Shaw’s version on the other. The story goes that they first presented the idea first to Dorsey. When he heard Shaw’s version, he begged them not to go through with the idea as Dorsey felt that his version of the song paled in comparison to Shaw’s, arguably the best instrument version of the song.

Walter Winchell was was a crusty old journalist. If you have ever seen an episode of the old TV show The Untouchables, Winchell is the narrator. He was hard as nails and nothing got to him — except Nat King Cole’s version in 1957, considered the best vocal version of the song. This version bought Winchell to tears.

There have been over 1500 recordings of Stardust. It was considered the most recorded song in History until Paul McCartney’s Yesterday took the top spot. What ever version in whatever style you like, the song is a classic that will be played hundreds of years from now.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Only Forgotten Son

Big Band had it’s Spike Jones. Top 40 music has it’s Weird Al Yankovic. Classical music has it’s PDQ Bach. PDQ Bach is the alter ego of composer Peter Schickele.

Schickele is a music expert. Listening to his many compositions of PDQ Bach allow you to study models of classical music and it’s structure. He uses classical elements in a more modern context. On the liner notes of one of his albums, he explains how many classical composers used folk songs of the time and expanded them into orchestral piece. An example of that can be heard from the very beginning of this video as Bach, er, Schickele began with a theme from Yankee Doodle — a motif heard throughout the piece.

There is no telling what you are likely to hear in a PDQ piece, but they are certainly worth a listen. You can have fun and expand your musical horizons. The orchestra also joins in on the fun here as well. Listen, and perhaps you, too will want to enroll in the music program at the University of Southern North Dakota At Hoople.

The Beginning and the end

Sometimes it is hard to catch the story told in the lyrics of a song. If it is about a relationship, the natural tendency is to assume that the song is about a love affair. That is not always the case.

The Blues Magoos formed in 1964, originally calling themselves The Trenchcoats. By 1966 they were one of the mainstays of the Greenwich Village scene in New York. After a couple of flops on minor labels, the group signed with Mercury Records. They recorded their first album, Psychedelic Lollipop. That album included a song celebrating the band’s first step to the big time. That song was released as a single in February, 1967, reaching number 5. That song was We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet.

Ace Flash and the Dynamos formed in 1972, made up of musicians who had been in other bands in the UK. By the time they recorded their first album, the band’s name had been shortened to just Ace. That album, Five a Side, included a song calling out one of the band members for wanting to leave, possibly causing the breakup of the band. That song, How Long, was a top 20 hit in the UK and hit number 3 in the US.

The absolute first

Thomas Edison is well known for a number of inventions, one of them being how to record and playback sound in 1877. He used a foil cylinder and a stylus attached to a horn. Once the cylinder was recorded, Edison could then play it back.

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville 1817-1879

However, it would not be correct to say that Edison was the first person to record sound. That honor goes to Frenchman Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville whose earliest recording from 1860 was of someone singing Au Clair de la Lune. He used a soot covered paper in which he traced the audio wave. The problem, though, was that he did not have any means of playing back the audio. Unlike earlier attempts, some going back to 1857, this recording had a 250 hertz tuning fork as part of the recording which allowed modern scientists the ability to calibrate the speed to a certain extent, although the recording device was hand cranked.

It was not until 2008 that scientists were able to play back this recording from 1860. In this clip, the original recording is first, followed by attempts to “clean them up” to make them more intelligible.

Truly a voice from the past.

A career begun in war

World War II was a very hard time for the people of Britain. German air raids, destruction, food shortages, and many other factors went towards making life hard. British entertainers helped keep spirits up, with veteran performers such as Vera Lynn and George Formby becoming early favorites. Sometimes a star is born, almost out of necessity.

In the early 1870’s, a new hotel was built near what was to become Piccadilly Circus. There was to be a concert hall in the basement, but the managers of the hotel petitioned to change the proposed concert hall into a theatre. Permission was granted, and the underground Criterion Theatre was born.

Because of the theatre’s unique location, the BBC made use of it for many of its broadcasts during World War II. On October 17, 1942, The Beeb was preparing to broadcast one its programs, “It’s All Yours.” A man went to the program, hoping to record a message for an uncle who was stationed in North Africa. The man’s daughter accompanied her father to the theater, but before the program began, air raid sirens sounded and the audience became nervous. To ease the tension, the BBC producer asked if anyone in the audience would like to sing, or tell a joke or story, to help the audience calm down. The daughter, who had wanted to be an entertainer since a young age, volunteered. She sang a song from the turn of the century called “Mighty Lak a Rose.” The orchestra began to play behind her, and the audience was enchanted. When the song was over, the orchestra gave her a standing ovation. The girl was asked to sing on the program, and her performance drew hundreds of letters. Her singing career was born. Two years later she added film to her resume.

By the early 1960’s, the girl was a popular singer and actress across Europe, but she did not become known in the US until 1964 at the ripe old age of…32 with her hit, Downtown. I was not able to find a recording of her 1942 broadcast, but here is a video exploring the life of a young Petula Clark.