Posts Tagged ‘Nat King Cole’

‘Orange’

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

When we sort the mp3s on the shelves looking for titles with the word “orange” – the second of nine stops on our tour of Floyd’s Prism – we don’t have a lot of irrelevancies to discard. The search brings up fifty-three mp3s, a good share of which will be useful.

We do have to discard the eleven tracks from the 1970 self-titled album of the group Orange Bicycle (a group whose “Jelly on the Bread” showed up on a recent Saturday), and we set aside as well the 1970 album by Paul Siebel titled Woodsmoke and Oranges. We also have to drop tracks from two similarly titled bands: “Your Golden Touch” by the Clockwork Orange, which I believe was a garage rock band from Paducah, Kentucky; and both sides of a single on the Liberty label, “After Tonight” and “Ready Steady,” by the Clockwork Oranges. The latter group was evidently from England, based on the note at the Lost Jukebox discography that calls the single an “Ember Records Production [f]rom London.”

We also lose a few tracks from Johnny Cash’s 1965 album Orange Blossom Special, both sides of a 1966 single by the Palace Guard on the Orange Empire label, both sides of a 1969 single by the group Orange Colored Sky, and an odd piece of leftist theater titled “Operation Godylorange” by a Danish ensemble called Totalpetroleum.

But we do have enough to work with, which is a relief, as I was worried about “orange” when I began to look at Floyd’s Prism. (I have my concerns about “indigo,” but we’ll deal with that when we get there.) We’ll start with the oldest of our six recordings and more forward from there.

A couple CDs’ worth of Nat King Cole’s music came my way a few years ago, and on one of them, I found our first record for this morning: “Orange Colored Sky” by the King Cole Trio. Recorded in August 1950, the track comes from a time when Cole’s recordings were sometimes credited to the trio and sometimes to Cole as a solo artist. The record, which was recorded with Stan Kenton and his orchestra (according to the notes of the 1994 CD Nat King Cole: The Greatest Hits) did not show up in the R&B Top 40. Given that, I’m not sure why “Orange Colored Sky” shows up in that hits package. It’s not like there was a dearth of material to choose from; between 1942 and 1964, Cole had forty-six records reach the R&B Top 40, and starting in 1954 and going into 1964, he placed sixty-six records in or the Billboard Hot 100. (In 1991, both charts – as well as the Adult Contemporary chart – hosted “Unforgettable,” the creepy hit that paired the long-dead Cole’s 1961 vocals with those of his daughter Natalie.)

I noted above that today’s winnowing took away a few tracks from Johnny Cash’s 1965 album, Orange Blossom Special. One track that survived, of course, is the title track. Recorded in December 1964 and released as a single, Cash’s take on “Orange Blossom Special” went to No. 3 on the country chart and to No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song, long a country and bluegrass standard, was written in 1938 by fiddler Ervin T. Rouse and first recorded by Ervin and Gordon Rouse in 1939. Their version is no doubt widely available; I found it on East Virginia Blues, one of the eleven CDs in the remarkable series of roots music titled When the Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock & Roll. Cash recorded the tune at least one more time: The live album recorded in 1968 at California’s Folsom Prison includes a pretty good version of the song.

One of the stranger tracks I came upon this morning – not quite as strange as the Danish “Operation Godylorange” but still odd – was “Orange Air” from the 5th Dimension’s second album, the 1967 release The Magic Garden. Written by Jimmy Webb, the song notes in its chorus: “And then the night Jasmine came clinging to her hair and lingered there, and there was orange air.” At All Music Guide, Matthew Greenwald says the song is “another one of Jimmy Webb’s emotionally intense, slightly depressing lyrics that make up this brilliant concept album. The downcast message of being let down by the disintegration of a love affair is nicely juxtaposed by a buoyant arrangement and vocal performance.” I’m glad he got it, because I sure didn’t, but it’s still a nice track.

Staying in 1967 for another moment, we land on an outtake from the sessions that provided us with Music From Big Pink, the first album by The Band. “Orange Juice Blues (Blues For Breakfast)” first showed up as a track on The Basement Tapes, a 1975 release of some of the music The Band and Bob Dylan recorded in the months after Dylan’s July 1966 motorcycle accident and before the releases in 1967 of his John Wesley Harding and in 1968 of The Band’s Big Pink. The version of the Richard Manuel tune linked here is, I believe, the one included on the expanded edition of Music From Big Pink released in 2000 and labeled there as a demo.

And it’s off to San Francisco in 1971 and an album that reflected as it was being recorded the changing membership of the group It’s A Beautiful Day. The album Choice Quality Stuff/Anytime, notes Lindsay Planer of AMG, was recorded as “lineup number two was replaced by lineup number three – netting a separate band for the Choice Quality Stuff side and the Anytime side.” The sprightly instrumental “Oranges & Apples” shows up on the Anytime side of the LP, and it turns out to be an offering that sounds more like something from a middle-of-the road ensemble than a track from one of the great hippie bands of its time. David LaFlamme’s famous violin is hardly there at all, which is just weird. But then, the track is titled “Oranges & Apples,” which probably means something about comparisons.

And we close this edition of Floyd’s Prism with a stop in 1989 and a track from one of my favorite Van Morrison albums. “Orangefield” was tucked on the second side of Avalon Sunset, and I’m of two minds about it. It’s repetitious, both lyrically and musically, which should make the track a little tedious. But there’s something thrilling about it, too, with the string and percussion accents and the backing vocals of Katie Kissoon and Carol Kenyon pulling me in and drawing me briefly into another Morrison-inspired trance.

‘The Giant Pickle Says . . .’

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Sometime during the spring of 1967, I made my way to the office at South Junior High and wrote down my name as a candidate for vice-president of our class. If elected, I’d serve during our ninth-grade school year beginning the next September.

I had no experience. Oh, I’d been class president for one week each during third and sixth grades, but everybody got a chance to be class president in elementary school. Once a student had served a week as president, he or she was ineligible to serve again until everyone else had done so. So the weekly elections were actually eliminations in a nine-month unpopularity contest. I don’t think I was the last to be elected either year, but I was a later president, more Jimmy Carter than Thomas Jefferson.

I don’t recall my term in sixth grade, and only one moment sticks out from my week-long administration in third grade. It was a rainy day, which meant that we gathered in our classroom after lunch instead of going outdoors. After a brief time, the murmur of conversation in Miss Kelly’s room turned into a racket of shouts and laughter. Trying to quell the roar, I hollered “Shut up!” as loudly as I could. None of my classmates paid me any attention. I did catch the ear, however, of Miss Rodeman, a first-grade teacher who was at that moment in the hallway near our classroom door. She insisted I accompany her to the principal’s office, where I remained until the end of lunch hour. After I explained myself, the principal acknowledged the value of my goals, but she indicated that my leadership skills needed work.

So as I signed up to run for vice-president of South Junior High’s ninth grade, I had precious little experience in governing. And I knew, given the realities of eighth-grade politics, that I had no chance of winning. So what in the name of Levi P. Morton* impelled me to put my name on the ballot? I don’t know. I didn’t know then, and nearly forty-five years later, I don’t know now.

Our campaigns were simple in junior high. Candidates got their friends together and made posters to hang around the school. That and basic assumptions of friendships and desired friendships were pretty much it. Not having a campaign committee of friends, I sat down one evening at home with a stack of construction paper and some colored markers and began to create small posters to put in the hallways and classrooms. Not only was I lacking a committee of friends, I also lacked artistic skill. My posters were pretty bad. I knew that, but I drew on.

My sister, then a junior in high school, stopped by the kitchen and checked out my work. She didn’t tell me my posters were awful. But she altered the direction of the campaign. She pulled out from the pile of construction paper the lighter-colored sheets, grabbed the drawing compass from the desk in the hallway and set me to drawing and cutting out three-inch circles. As I created a pile of blank circles, she took up the markers and set her whimsical sense of humor to work on a series of campaign buttons.

Sadly, I can recall only one of the thirty or so buttons she created for me that evening. I remember giggling as she drew and printed on the paper, but just that one button remains in my memory. It showed a large cucumber with a friendly grin, accompanied by the legend: The giant pickle says “Vote for Greg!”

The next day, as I offered campaign buttons to a couple of friends before school, their laughter drew others, and my stock of absurd buttons was gone rapidly. As popular as they were, the buttons didn’t help, of course. Election Day came around, and I got maybe 5.5 percent of the vote, finishing last in what was, I think, a four-person field. But that was okay. It hurt, but only for a little while.

If I’d known about the tune at the time, I suppose I could have taken some consolation in at least the title of the only No. 1 hit ever written by a vice-president of the United States. In 1912, Charles G. Dawes – who was elected vice president in 1924 and served one four-year term – wrote “Melody in A Major,” a tune that Wikipedia notes was played as his signature song at many political events. In 1951, Carl Sigman added lyrics, and the tune became a love song: “It’s All In The Game,” which Tommy Edwards took to No. 1 in 1958.

Edwards’ version is pretty familiar, so here’s one that’s a little less obvious: Nat King Cole’s 1957 take on “It’s All In The Game.”

*Levi P. Morton was the twenty-second vice-president of the United States (1889-1893).

Jerry’s Tiny Record Collection

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

I found him in my stocking on Christmas morning in 1961, if I recall correctly. He was one of those little plastic trolls that became a major fad a couple of times in the years since, those little Scandinavian trolls that are so ugly they’re cute. I actually think the troll I found at the bottom of my Christmas stocking was one of the first on the market because he was different from the ones that came later: Jerry – and I have no idea why I called him that; it was an eight-year-old’s decision – was made of smooth shiny plastic, not with the matte finish that I’ve seen on every plastic troll since, and his eyes were colored black on the plastic surface, not made from glass beads.

Jerry came from Denmark. He even came with a passport that said so. Jerry’s passport said he was manufactured by the company founded in northern Jutland by Thomas Dam and carried the legend “Another Dam thing from Denmark.” I giggled at the faux profanity.

I imagine that I had some idea of where Denmark was when I was eight. I’m sure I knew it was one of the Scandinavian countries, as my half-Swedish heritage and things Swedish were important in our home. I probably recognized the design of the cover of Jerry’s passport: a white cross on a red field, modeled after the Danish flag just as the Swedish flag is a yellow cross on a blue field.

Anyway, I had a Danish troll. During the early times, he was pulled into the games my sister and I played. He became the very much larger brother in our family of small dolls and figures, whose adventures occupied us for hundreds of rainy and chilly days. (One of that tiny family’s favorite pastimes, I recall, was watching the fictional show Sea Urchin on a television screen drawn crudely on a small piece of wood.) And the rest of the time, when he was not cavorting with Elfy, Billy and the rest of his plastic family, Jerry sat on my desk through my childhood, my adolescence and onward.

When I went to Denmark for my junior year of college, he went with me. How could he not? It was his homeland. Most of the time there, he sat on my desks at my Danish family’s house and in my room at the youth hostel. But when I traveled, he did too, nestled inside my shaving kit. (Though I didn’t shave for most of that time, that’s what I called the little case anyway.) And for at least a moment or two at every place I stopped or stayed, from London to Moscow, from Rome to Narvik, I pulled Jerry out of the kit and let him look around.

As I write, he’s standing on the turntable cover to my left, positioned between the earpieces of my headphones, with the same impish grin and huge ears he’s always had, spreading his plastic arms wide to embrace the world, as he’s always done. (I wish I had a picture to share, but the only slide I ever took of Jerry was plagued by an eight-year-old’s photographic inexperience, and the digital camera is not available as I write. Additionally, every on-line picture I find is of later trolls with matte skin and glass eyes; I think Jerry may be the last of his kind.)

So what makes Jerry matter in this venue? Beyond the fact that he’s been my tiny companion for nearly fifty years, there’s also the fact that in the 1960s, Jerry had one hell of a record collection. Soon after I got him, I made a small house for him out of a cardboard box and set about furnishing it. A small weaving I did in school became his carpet. I found boxes that could work as cabinets, and he kept his valuables in Dad’s discarded metal canisters that had held Kodak film. And I – excuse me – jerry-rigged other things to provide him a good home.

Along the way, I found a magazine ad for one of the record clubs. Older readers will remember the ads: They were on heavy paper and showed the front covers – in graphics that were about a half-inch square – of maybe two hundred LPs. Those covers were partially die-cut so they could be punched out and glued to one’s membership application to indicate which records you wanted as your first gleanings from the record club.

And when I found one of those ads during the time I was furnishing Jerry’s home, I punched out a bunch of those little album covers and placed them in Jerry’s shoebox. He had a record collection! So what did he listen to? I don’t recall all of it, but I know there were a couple of Frank Sinatra albums, one or two records by Stan Getz, a few soundtracks – the red cover to West Side Story sticks in my mind here – and probably some other light jazz and vocal pop. This would have been around 1962, remember, when Peter, Paul & Mary and Ray Charles’ country albums would have been the edgiest things to top the charts.

So, using for the most part the list of Top Five albums from October 20, 1962, here is a six-pack of records that Jerry might have listened to in his shoebox in the autumn of that year:

“500 Miles” by Peter, Paul & Mary. This was a track on the trio’s self-titled debut album, which was No. 1 in the October 20, 1962, chart and stayed there for seven weeks. The album provided the trio with two Top 40 singles: “Lemon Tree” went to No. 35 in early June of 1962, and “If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song)” went to No. 10 that autumn.

“Desafinado” by Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd from Jazz Samba. This album wasn’t in the Top Five as of October 20, 1962, but it could not have been far away. (With a little bit more digging and a little luck, I learned that the album was at No. 9 that week.) By the time the No. 1 album changed on December 1 (with Peter, Paul & Mary yielding to Allan Sherman and his My Son, The Folksinger), the Getz/Byrd album was No. 5. It spent forty-four weeks in the Top 40 and was No. 1 for one week in March of 1963. As for “Desafinado,” the single spent ten weeks in the Top 40, beginning at the end of October 1962, and peaked at No. 15.

“You Don’t Know Me” by Ray Charles. Pulled from Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, “You Don’t Know Me” was at No. 2 for one week in September 1962 and spent three weeks atop the Adult Contemporary chart. The Modern Sounds album – the first of two such albums Charles would record – was No. 1 for fourteen weeks during the summer and autumn of 1962 and was at No. 3 in the October 20, 1962, chart I’m using. It had been the source in the spring of 1962 for “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” which went to No. 1 in the Top 40 (five weeks), the R&B chart (ten weeks) and the Adult Contemporary chart (five weeks).

“Tonight” from the soundtrack to the film West Side Story. Probably the most famous song from the musical created by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, “Tonight” is most likely my favorite song from a Broadway musical or resulting film (and by extension, Jerry’s favorite as well). I don’t see any singles in the Top 40 from the film, but the soundtrack went to No. 1 in May of 1962 and was No. 1 for an incredible fifty-four non-consecutive weeks. On October 20, 1962, it was at No. 2.

“Ramblin’ Rose” by Nat King Cole. Taken from the album of the same name, “Ramblin’ Rose” spent thirteen weeks in the Top 40 and peaked at No. 2 in September of 1962. The album – at No. 5 on October 20, 1962 – spent fifty-three weeks in the Top 40 beginning in late September 1962 and peaked at No. 3.

“Ya Got Trouble” from the soundtrack to the film The Music Man. While “Ya Got Trouble” wasn’t a hit single – The Music Man threw off no Top 40 hits – it was nevertheless a brilliant performance, with Robert Preston’s savvy traveling con man creating a problem where none existed. And lots of folks heard it at home, as the soundtrack album was in the Top 40 for thirty-five weeks beginning in August 1962 and peaked at No. 2, staying there for six weeks. It was at No. 4 on the chart of October 20, 1962.

I made a reference to Klezmer music when I wrote about last week’s Saturday Single. I’ll be doing so again two days from now.