Monthly Archives: January 2004

Happy songs make me sad.

Seriously, isn’t ‘Hushabye’ by the Beach Boys a strangely depressing song? The words all about loving someone and looking after them, and the music is this reassuringly familiar chord sequence. The vocals are stunningly beautiful (particularly on the vocal mix found on the Good Vibrations box set), and the final result is somehow… depressing. Not in a bad way, just in a way that slightly chokes me up.

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And here’s some more of my favorite album covers.

Esquivel: 'Outros Mundos Outros Sons' (LP; RCA; 1959)
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I was delighted to pick up this classic LP in Brazil with a translated title on the cover. Sadly, this Brazilian pressing doesn't seem to have stood up to 40 years of wear and tear very well, in contrast to the US RCA pressings of the era, which are on the whole astonishingly durable.

It really is an amazing cover. It has become so familiar to me now that I forget how incredible the glamorous girl on the lunar landscape really is. I now own this album in three different formats. I understand that I'm an interesting guy. RCA in the UK reissued this album back in 1996, and it was through that CD that I first heard it. I think the whole thing is a masterpiece, but I was always particularly fond of 'Granada' and 'Night and Day'. Later that year I picked up the US pressing, and then last summer I found this one. One of the great things about this kind of music going out of style is that one can finally pick up Esquivel records quite cheaply.

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That ‘Knef’ LP cover was so beautiful that it made me do a bit of digging around to pick out my favorite covers. Here’s a few. More will follow in the next few days. Higher resolution scans are available if you click on the LP cover.

Enrique Lynch y su Conjunto: 'Como Canon' (LP; Sono Radio; 1970)
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I found this LP and a few others a few years ago in a market in Lima, Peru. Apparently Enrique Lynch has made some interesting Afro rock-style records. This is not one of them, but since I bought it mainly for its cover, I don't mind. It's quite pleasant cumbia style music with vocals. I have to admit that after seeing the cover I had dreams of this being some kind of go-go masterpiece.

Juancho Vargas: 'Deliciosa vol IV' (LP; Discos Fuentes; 1970)
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Another Peruvian find, I was unable to resist this cover. And since I have only the cover and not the record with me, that's all I can tell you right now. Shall I rename my site 'Deliciosa'? Maybe I'll just start calling my self 'juancho'.

Zdzislawa Sosnicka: 'Zdzislawa Sosnicka' (LP; Polskie Nagrania; 1974)
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For three years I lived in Greenpoint, which is the Polish neighbourhood of Brooklyn, NY. When I moved there I had dreams of finding boxes of Polish jazz and scat vocal records (Novi Singers and the like). It didn't happen. But I did find a few very interesting 60s and 70s pop records with female vocals.

I gather that Zdzislawa Sosnicka is quite a star in Poland. The arrangements are fantastic at times, but the compositions aren't really to my taste in the main. For example, the first track has an unmistakable Eurovision feel, with a cheesy vocal chorus.

Thus while there are some incredible moments (soaring strings with nice basslines and breakbeats), there aren't many tracks here that I really enjoy listening to the whole way through. 'Loneliness, my cradle' is a spooky slow pop song, and 'Good Night, Darling,' (similar but more hip sounding) are the best tracks to my ears.

The arrangements are by five different people. I had been excited to hear the track arranged by Jerzy Milian, since I've heard work by him that was excellent. But the best arrangements turned out to be those by Marian Siejka, and in particular, the opening to 'Good Night, Darling' is outstanding.

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Things are slowly filtering in.

Hildegard Knef: 'Knef' (MP; Decca/Stern; 1970)
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Although it might seem as if I am a huge record geek, I'm really not. So long as I can hear the music, I don't care what format it's in, or even really that I have the original. But there are exceptions. Normally, I have a rule that I don't buy records or CDs when I already have all of the songs in one format or other. But I made an exception for this record, just because I love it so much, and because I remembered that the cover was beautiful.

So, it felt like an extravagance to have this shipped from Germany, but when I opened up the package, it really was probably the most beautiful record I had ever seen. The picture here really doesn't do it justice. Eleven of the twelve tracks appear on the Knef box set; the extra track, 'Elvira O', is an entertaining cabaret style number with a strange vocal effect on Hildegard's voice. The other tracks include the astounding 'Wieviel menschen waren glucklich', 'Im 80 Stockwerk', and 'Die herren dieser welt,' all of which have irresistably smokey pop arrangements by Hans Hammerschmid. Other highlights include 'Friedenskampf und schadenfreude' and the lighter 'Tapetenwechsel.'

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I’ve actually bought a few things in the last couple of days. Not all of them have arrived yet.

Astrud Gilberto: 'Gilberto Golden Japanese Album' (CD; UMG Japan; 1969)
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So here it is, Astrud's Golden Japanese album, recorded in Japan in the late 1960s with Japanese musicians. At first glance, the track listing seems to be packed with familiar tunes, but in fact, the first half consists entirely of Japanese-composed tracks in the bossa nova style, some of which were composed by Sadao Watanabe, the most famous of the musicians involved.

The style of the arrangements is very pleasant, and not unlike Astrud's classic mid-60s recordings, although slightly more jazzy (with some nice vibrophone playing audible) and less heavy on the strings. Astrud seems to take to the Japanese language quite well. Certainly, to a non-Japanese speaker it sounds quite pleasant. I remember that when I first heard Claudette Soares's recordings from around this time, I thought she sounded Japanese, so perhaps the languages just sound similar when set against this kind of musical backing. Or is that ridiculous?

The first track is a happy samba, almost in the vein of Chico Buarque's 'A Banda' (although much better than Astrud's version of that song from Beach Samba!). The next few are slower and have a melancholic air. The only track on this album that I find hard to listen to is track 6, 'Cupid's Song', which sounds rather off-key to my ears.

Not surprisingly, the second half of the record, with its Brazilian songs sung in Japanese, is much more immediately accessible. Astrud singing 'The Girl from Ipanema', such a familiar song, is delightful, while her version of 'Mas Que Nada', the most upbeat and percussive track on the album, is great, with some stabbing brass hits adding to the mood as Astrud sings the verse in Japanese. I remember the shock I felt when I heard Nancy Ames sing this one in English (on her Spiced with Brasil album), but this one is actually a really cool recording as well. 'A man and a woman' sounds slightly ridiculous, but is great fun. Although lots of people think it's a schmaltzy theme, I really like Francis Lai's theme for 'Live for life,' and this version is nicely arranged and well performed. The album closes with 'The Shadow of your smile,' which Astrud recorded so well on her 1965 album of the same name. This arrangement is quite different to Don Sebesky's, but builds up very effectively with strings.

The album is over too quickly really, but I enjoyed it a lot.

Track Listing:

1. Street Samba
2. I Love Old Love
3. You, I and Love
4. White Waves
5. Love and Grief
6. Cupid's Song
7. The Girl From Ipanema
8. Mas Que Nada
9. La Chanson D'Orphee
10. A Man and a Woman
11. Live For Life
12. The Shadow of Your Smile

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Well, happy new year!

It has been a year of many musical discoveries and acquisitions for me so far. The latest has been Ed Motta’s incredible archived radio show, available at his official site. I don’t know much about Motta’s music, and I’m not completely sure it’s my thing. But this guy’s taste is INCREDIBLE! Well, to me it is, anyway, since he likes a lot of the same stuff as I do. To date, there are 108 archived radio shows, each between 20 and 30 minutes long. Ed describes the music (pretty much all of which is culled from vinyl) in an enthusiastic Brazilian Portuguese baritone. Each show is themed, and I was astonished at how many of my favorite topics were covered (for example, scat vocals, Italian film composers, as well as a huge quantity of soul and Brazilian vocal/jazz groups). A high quality stream is available (windows media format). I’ve only listened to three shows so far, but they were both excellent. Obviously it’s mainly for the music that I listen, but I have to confess to being entertained by Ed saying ‘Novi Singers’ and ‘Ennio Morricone’ in the middle of sentences spoken in Brazilian Portuguese. Anyway, I’m sure these archived shows will be a source of many new discoveries for me; I will probably have to go back to Brazil to find the records though. What a shame!

I have pretty much restricted my record consumption to a) things I already own; b) downloads; c) charity/thrift shop vinyl purchases and d) the occasional special item that I can’t resist. The most recent ‘special’ item was this. Yes, Astrud Gilberto actually recorded an album sung in Japanese (and recorded in Japan) in 1969. How this had escaped my attention before, I don’t know, but I am very grateful to my pal eftimihn for pointing this out to me. Anyway, it has recently come out on CD in Japan, and a copy is on its way to me as I type.

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