My Mindjack Film review of the new 6 DVD set The Busby Berkely Collection is up. Cool, cool set. I’ve said it here before, but these DVDs also include period shorts and cartoons which capitalized on the music in these movies. Love how those early Merrie Melodies have a different feel from the later, more familiar Looney Tunes — they open with jazzy music and close with one of the characters shouting “So long, folks!” I especially enjoyed I’ve Got To Sing a Torch Song, with caricatures of such distinctly ’30s personalities as George Bernard Shaw and The Boswell Sisters. And the “So long, folks” line is delivered by Greta Garbo!
Wow: a 1979 “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” PSA set in the Star Wars cantina. YouTube is turning out to be a goldmine for old music videos and TV commercials I’ve never heard of, much less saw in the first place.
Recently I revisitied the Jim Flora gallery and was reminded again of what a brilliant artist he was. Mostly he’s known for a series of eye-popping album covers drawn for RCA and Columbia Records in the ’50s, but he did amazing magazine and book illustration as well (I actually saw a Flora children’s book at an antique mall a few years back, but the dealer wanted, like, sixty bucks for it). I love the way he utilized the limitations of printing from that time, and how much energy he could convey with line and shape. His work has the kind of uninhibitedness that you’d find in the drawings of mental institution patients, but surprisingly Flora led a normal life of a family man with a wife and five kids.
Flora’s art has been showcased in one book already — Irwin Chusid’s The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora. Now comes news that Chusid and collaborator Barbara Economon are working on a follow-up, The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora, set to be published by Fantagraphics in early 2007. While Mischievous focused on Flora’s commercial works, Sinister will delve into Flora’s even more “out there” personal art. Check the AIGA’s interview with Chusid and you can see samples of this jaw-dropping stuff.
Oh, and this is a gas. Mr. Chusid was kind enough to share a piece of art from the Sinister book with yer humble weblogger. Behold — Flora, doggie-style:
Francis Lai: “The Bobo”
LP: The Bobo Soundtrack, 1967
Neal Hefti: “Waltz for Jeannie”
LP: Harlow Soundtrack, 1965
Today’s selections spotlight that ’60s soundtrack staple, the Generic Perky Chorus. Many soundtrack albums of that era substitute a film’s actual soundtrack music with more palatable fare — and that includes vocal numbers sporting the inevitable Generic Perky Chorus. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! As a matter of fact, Lai’s swingy Bossa and Hefti’s lilting waltz add up to a delectably chichi duo. Thanks to Jonny for the Lai.
Several months ago, I went on a crazy quest to locate every recording of “We’ve Only Just Begun” I could find. Now I’ve collected 20 of them onto a mix CD with the artists listed below. Why “We’ve Only Just Begun”, of all things? In the Carpenters songbook, it tends to be unfairly overlooked in favor of Bacharach-David’s considerably more mawkish “Close To You”. I’m also attracted to the fact that Roger Nichols and Paul Williams originally wrote it as a jingle for a bank commercial. You can detect a bit of hucksterism in the song’s beautiful lyrics (think of the product as “young love”), but the better interpreters also uncover a fear and sadness in those lovey-dovey stanzas about white lace and promises. It is that dichotomy which has made the song both a cheeseball wedding staple and an enduring classic.
1. The Carpenters I read a good observation about this song somewhere which basically said that Karen Carpenter here sounds like a nervous bride ready to bolt. So true, but don’t discount Richard’s magnificent arrangement which turns from reflective to optimistic on a dime.
2. Freddie Allen The first pop recording of the song predated The Carpenters by several months, and it’s interesting to contrast the two. Allen’s rough voiced take is an appealingly unpretentious countryish ballad with not as many contrast as the Carpenters’ arrangement.
3. George Shearing A groovy small jazz combo rendition with Shearing’s piano creating an intimate supper club mood.
4. Andy Williams This is actually my favorite version, other than The Carpenters. Williams dispenses with any dark undertones, but he sings with such winning sincerity that one can’t help but be carried along in his romantic bliss. I also like the peppy arrangement which in comparison makes Karen and Richard look like a pair of Goth twins.
5. Grant Lee Buffalo Dirgey, slowed-down rendition appeared on the 1994 tribute effort If I Were A Carpenter. I remember liking this when it was new, but I’ve outgrown my flannel shirts and now Mr. Buffalo comes across like an overly sensitive guy from whom any smart girl would flee in an instant.
6. Mark Lindsay The Paul Revere & The Raiders frontman recorded an early version which came after Freddie Allen, but before The Carpenters. The arrangement is still somewhat rudementary but with the added bonus of slick, TV variety show-style horns present in his hits “Arizona” and “Silver Bird”.
7. Paul Williams After seeing his own song become a huge success, Paul Williams dashed off a cover for his 1972 album Just An Old Fashioned Love Song. He approaches it like an archetypal wimpy folksinger, an artiste trying to recover his own child from elevator music oblivion.
8. Bobby Womack One of the better “WOJB” covers; Womack and an unidentified female singer transform the song into a soulful ode to togetherness, baby.
9. Arthur Fiedler Fiedler and The Boston Pops sold bucketloads of albums with lushly arranged orchestral versions of pop hits — like this one. His version starts out quietly intense, giving off an Ice Storm vibe of tony suburban angst. Then it turns into an ungainly march. Odd contrasts here.
10. The Singers Unlimited Nice version jazzily arranged for a vocal quartet, complete with “doo doo doo” voices. Wouldn’t sound out of place on a hip Japanese compilation. A winner!
11. Dionne Warwick It doesn’t take a psychic to know that Warwick is one of the finest voices in pop music, but this blandly arranged and sung cover is a big letdown. She’s pleasant enough, but the vocal lacks tension and she might as well be singing about anything with her blasé approach.
12. Acker Bilk Bilk’s soothing clarinet tones have an embalming effect on this ’80s rendition, one that could nicely lend itself to a denture cream commercial.
13. Wing I was hoping to find an “outsider” cover of the song — and I found it in the form of Wing, a wobbly-voiced Asian singer recently featured on a South Park episode. She sings in a high-off key only certain species of animals would enjoy, but I found her rendition utterly charming (and I love the karaoke-style cheesiness of her backing musicians).
14. Claudine Longet Her husband Andy Williams recorded this, so it figures that Claudine Longet would do so as well. The breathy hesitancy in Longet’s voice is perfectly suited to this song; she shines even when her bland arrangement does not.
15. Perry Como Como’s timidly arranged, impossibly laid-back cover is about as hip as a pastel yellow cardigan — proving that Eugene Levy’s SCTV impersonations were no exaggeration.
16. Nancy Finberg Folksy version recorded for a recent Carpenters tribute CD. Ms. Finberg’s unnecessary pseudo-soulful touches give this one the feel an ultra-earnest American Idol audition.
17. Ferrante & Teicher Two men with two grand pianos contribute to an over-the-top rendition that fits squarely in the “beautiful music” genre (although the arrangement also contains some odd, funky touches). When those cascading ivories kick in, I’m transported back to being six years old and in the dentist office waiting room — reading Highlights magazine.
18. Curtis Mayfield A live recording where Mayfield strips away the kitschy artifice and delivers a raw, stripped down performance. Quite heartfelt and beautiful recording probably gets to the meaning of Nichols/Williams’ intent more than any other cover.
19. The Frank Cunimondo Trio Another jazzy rendition by a small combo, nice but somewhat long and noodly near the end. Jazz musicians can riff on anything, can’t they?
20. Bing Crosby Der Bingle recorded this in the mid-’70s, in his 70s, at one of his last sessions. Interesting that he found something to relate to in this ode to young love at such an advanced age, and with a such dignified performance.
This news could be good or bad: CBS is ordering an American version of the animated Brit import Creature Comforts to air midway through the 2006-07 season. ‘Round here we are still enjoying the UK Season One DVD, hoping that Season Two will get an American release. Don’t let us down, Sony!