Here are some helpful instructions on how to perform everyday tasks in a cultured manner, courtesy comic book master Basil Wolverton. This feature ran in Whiz Comics from 1945 to 1952, and I believe they have never been reprinted.
Too much of Wolverton’s work has yet to be reprinted, including many of his Powerhouse Pepper stories and his classic sci-fi series Spacehawk. Fantagraphics Books is reprinting his illustrated bible this year, though, so that’s a good start.
You can view each strip separately, or scroll to the bottom for the combined strips in Comic Book Archive or PDF format.
Although this is the bulk of the “Culture Corner strips”, there are a few I’ve not been able to find, so unfortunately you’ll have to wait to learn how to cut your own hair, how to mat your hair down flat, and how to open a sticky window in the cultured fashion.
Trojan Records was founded in 1967 by Jamaican-English producer Lee Gopthal as something of a sister label to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records. It became one of the best-known and successful reggae labels, but it also bought out several independent Jamaican labels and ended up with a pretty good ska and rock-steady back catalog. In 1972, it went through these archives and put out a fantastic (if somewhat inaccurately-named) compilation, The Trojan Story.
Although the liner notes were somewhat sparse and the sound rough, you couldn’t want a better overview of 1960s Jamaican music. The first tracks, from 1961, are embryonic ska in which you can hear the R & B influence; it takes us through the height of ska to its migration to rock-steady, and then winding up with early reggae (it even includes what could be called the “original” rock-steady and reggae songs: Alton Ellis’s “Rock Steady” and The Maytals’ “Do the Reggay”, respectively).
The three-disk box was only in print for a short time, and was reissued briefly in 1980 (in 1976, Trojan released a different compilation and also called it The Trojan Story, ensuring eternal confusion). In 1988, it was released on a 2-CD set, which also quickly went out of print; copies today sell for $50–75.
I’ve had the LP set for some time, but I was trying to track down a copy of the CD for the last few years. I finally found a reasonably priced copy, and the sound was awful. It’s one of the worst mastering jobs I’ve ever heard. They didn’t go back to the original masters, but clearly just copied the LP, and didn’t even do a very good job of that. The copy I made off my LP sounded much better. So that’s what we have here. Be sure to at least check out “Housewives’ Choice” and “The Great Wuga Wuga”. Also Jimmy Cliff when he was just 14!
We have definitely taken note of the interest from both you and the people commenting on your site, and will be discussing it internally. I will keep you in the loop if any decisions are made regarding the re-release of this material.
Thanks for your quick cooperation on this.
Manager, Digital Sales and Editorial
CMG Digital Group / SonyBMG Masterworks
550 Madison Avenue #1622, NYC 10022
Merry Christmas, everybody. I’m in Detroit eating lamb, but I needed to take some time out to commemorate a very important date. Were Cab Calloway still alive, he would be 100 today. So here are some Christmas presents for you all: a series of Cab videos, spanning 1932–1990.
Carl Stalling was a silent-movie organist in Kansas in the 1910s and early 1920s who later went to work for his friend Walt Disney, composing soundtracks for his new cartoons. His involvement in one of the most important cartoons of all time, Skeleton Dance, was crucial; it was entirely set to Stalling’s music.
But he is best known, of course, for his work with Warner Brothers, with whom he started in 1936. Every WB cartoon for the next 22 years featured Stalling’s music, making him one the most-recognized composers in history (though certainly not the best-known). With Warner Brothers, Stalling could pull any composition from their massive music publishing subsidiary, and mash it up for his own needs. His rapidly-changing tempos and instrumentations along with his proto–sound collage would make him an unknowing avant-garde pioneer.
Stalling’s work wasn’t generally appreciated until 1990, when producer Hal Wilner put together the CD The Carl Stalling Project. After searching for a long time through Warner Brothers’ archives, Wilner managed to find the original music tapes of most of the cartoons, without the overdubbed voices. The CD he put together was a fantastic overview of Stalling’s career, with a combination of entire cartoon soundtracks in addition to collected cues from various decades.
The Carl Stalling Project has additional significance for me; it was the first CD I ever bought. I went to my favorite record store in 1990 to pick it up: “What do you mean, it’s only available on CD?”, I still remember asking the clerk. I couldn’t believe they would issue something on CD but not on LP. I bought it anyway, although I wouldn’t have a player for it for another year; any time I went to a friend’s house with a CD player, I would bring it along.
As it happens, it wasn’t only available on CD; it was also sold on cassette. And the cassette had a bonus track, oddly enough: the music from the 1956 cartoon Stupor Duck. Cassettes have a slightly longer running time than CDs but this is still the only time I know of this happening.
While the CD is still available, record companies haven’t sold pre-recorded cassettes in years. So this long out-of-print track is presented below. If you like it, be sure to buy a copy of the CD. And if you already have MP3s of the CD on your hard drive, go ahead and add this; you’ll have to renumber the tracks to make room. This is the new track #11, and it goes between “Medley: Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals” and “Carl Stalling with Milt Franklyn in Session”.
Probably the posting request I’ve gotten the most is for Detroit ska band Gangster Fun’s second release, Time Flies When You’re Gangster Fun (I posted their first album last year). This seems to be the most popular of their albums among their too-small fanbase; I prefer their third album, Pure Sound, Pure Hogwash, Pure Amphetamines, but all their albums were great. Like their first album, this was produced by slightly famous producer Mike E. Clark.
It’s arguable (or at least has been argued by one person, to me) that this is the last true Gangster Fun album, and that the second two were really more solo albums by chief songwriter/guitarist David Minnick (by the way, “Minnimal Stress” below is a pun on Minnick’s name, not a misspelling). I suppose that would make Pure Sound… their Pet Sounds, and this their Sunflower. Well, whatever.
I’m a sucker for ska covers of popular songs, so my favorite tracks on here are “I Wanna Be Like You” from The Jungle Book and a version of the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination”. Of the original compositions, “I’d Buy a Gun” is the best, and quite catchy; I often hear my girlfriend singing “Life would be so groovy/If I owned an Uzi” around the apartment. Not totally sure how to take that.
When I last wrote about Stoopnagle & Budd, I mentioned that a Fleischer cartoon they appeared in, Stoopnocracy, had disappeared. I’m pleased to report that this is not the case. A kind benefactor (who would like to remain anonymous), after reading the post, sent me a copy of it. Most of it is typical Fleischer of the time (which is to say, brilliant as always), with humor reminiscent of the Talkartoon Crazy Town. Stoopnagle & Budd are towards the end in an inserted live-action scene; I had hoped they’d be rotoscoped like Fleischer’s guest stars usually were, but no dice. The scene is great, though. Stoopnagle shows off various labor-saving inventions and gives Budd a cigar which makes the smoker sing like Bing Crosby. Budd sings the Leo Robin/Ralph Rainger composition “Please”, which was featured in Paramount’s The Big Broadcast the previous year (and had also been used in the Fleischers’ Snow-White). We also get to sing along with “Minnie the Moocher” (which also was in The Big Broadcast, incidentally); funny to see the little bouncing ball on lyrics about cocaine and heroin abuse.
But that’s not all! My correspondent has also provided me with three other Stoopnagle films, which I’m happy to share here. The earliest is a scene from the first installment of Rambling ’Round Radio Row, a series that showed popular radio starts in their native habitat. The team performs what looks to be an actual radio show; if not, it almost certainly is the same material.
Next we have The Inventors, which actually has something of a plot. Stoopnagle & Budd get invited to a girls’ school and give a lecture on the Bulgarian Upquirp, and end up building a Stoopenstein Monster.
Finally there is Cavalcade of Stuff #1, which was Stoopnagle’s first film work after splitting up with Budd. This was supposed to be the first in a series of 12, although I don’t know if the others were ever made (IMDB has nothing about any of them). This might also be parts #1 & #2 combined, judging from this description on the Stoopnagle fan site.
Between this and the International House scene in the last post, we’re pretty close to having all of their film work available. IMDB lists one other film from 1947, Aren’t We All, and the Stoopnagle site has screenshots from a Chrysler training film called Second Guessers Incorporated, which is also not on IMDB. If anyone knows where to track these down, please let us know.
Below are links to the four films, as before in DivX AVI format. Please note that the quality on all of these (except Radio Row) is extremely poor: Stoopnocracy is a 16mm bootleg, Cavalcade is a several-generation down VHS copy, and The Inventors is an amateur kinescope. If anyone finds better copies of these, again, drop me a note or comment here.
Maureen “Moe” Tucker, the Velvet Underground’s drummer, was notable in that even people who don’t pay a lot of attention to drummer styles can immediately pick her out. Her style — mallets, not sticks; no snares on the drums; very few cymbals; all to a Bo Diddley–influenced beat — was even more vital to the VU’s sound than John Cale’s viola, and it’s no coincidence that the only VU album she wasn’t on, 1970’s Loaded, was also by far their worst.
After the Velvets broke up, she moved to Texas and got a job at Wal-Mart, and concentrated on raising her large family. She finally went back to music in 1981, when she recorded her first album, Playin’ Possum. She recorded it in her living room (“between diaper changes”, she says) over a period of six months, overdubbing every instrument, and the result was quite odd; it doesn’t really sound like anything else. It’s one of my favorite albums (although I think her more conventional I Spent a Week There the Other Night is even better).
This is a difficult LP to find, and unlike the rest of her catalog it hasn’t been issued on CD. It was released on “Trash Records”, which I think was just Tucker’s own label. I managed to find a copy at a used-record store back in the late 1980s; I put it in storage with all my other records in a rural farmhouse I won in a bet and left it there for years. I went back a couple years ago and the roof had sprung a leak. Just one. In a giant house. And where else but directly above the one box that had most of my hard-to-find records like this one and a mono copy of the Velvet Underground’s first album with an unpeeled banana and Eric Emerson on the back (basically the equivalent of the Beatles’ “Butcher Cover”). The covers were destroyed by the water and mold was growing in the grooves. Sigh.
I managed to find another copy, finally, and it’s pretty clean, so here it is. Unfortunately, the cover has stickers all over it, so I can’t get a scan of it. I’m using the only image I can find on Google, which is much lower resolution than I would normally use. Sorry about that. I’m pretty happy with how the MP3s came out, though, so I guess that’s the important thing.
The obscure doo-wop group The Poets were five teenagers from Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, arguably the birthplace of doo-wop music (its alumni included Richard Berry of The Pharaohs and The Robins, Cornell Gunter of The Platters and The Coasters, and Curtis Williams of The Penguins). They recorded one single for Flash Records in 1958, “Dead” b/w “Vowels of Love”.
Although “Vowels” ended up being better-known after the 1960s doo-wop revival (and is a perfectly fun little song), “Dead” is the real gem. A proto-rap Halloween-themed piece, where the kids make monster noises over spooky, heavily echoed minimal piano accompaniment. Some great lyrics, too.
The single went nowhere, and four of the five Poets went on to normal lives. The fifth, however, was Roy Ayers, soon to become the most famous jazz vibraphonist since Lionel Hampton.
Here are the released versions and early takes of both songs. The piano solo on the early take of “Dead” is a bit… dull. I imagine the engineer saying, “Uh, guys? Can you do something over the solo? Like laugh maniacally?”
Most people today know “Misirlou” (often spelled “Miserlou”) as Dick Dale‘s signature piece, extremely popular back when issued in 1961 and then again when used to great effect in Pulp Fiction in 1994. (Whippersnappers might know it better from The Black Eyed Peas sampling Dale’s version in a song last year.) But “Misirlou” is an old folk song, its origins obscure.
We can guess where it came from by the range of people who know it today: it can be heard at celebrations of Greeks, Turks, Arabs, or Jews. The logical explanation for this wide range is that it originated in Asia Minor, in what is now the borderlands of modern Turkey and Greece, i.e., between Salonica and Constantinople (the title means “Egyptian girl” in both Greek and Turkish). The song, surely one of the catchiest melodies ever, spread throughout Greece and the Ottoman Empire, and was also presumably picked up by the local Jewish community and spread from there. Who originally wrote it, of course, is lost to history; this, of course, doesn’t stop the Turks and Greeks from both claiming it, adding yet another dispute to their endless list of grudge matches (see the discussion page of the English Wikipedia article for amusing examples). We also don’t really know when it was written, although a reasonable guess would be late–19th-century.
Most sources state that the earliest known recording (spelled “Mousourlou”) was made in New York around 1930 by Michalis Patrinos, a Greek bandleader who had recently arrived in the United States. As of this writing, Wikipedia baldly states that Patrinos or his band wrote it; this is almost certainly baloney. It may not even be the earliest recording, despite claims to the contrary; Richard Spotwood’s Ethnic Music on Records, Volume 3: Eastern Europe lists a recording by Tetos Demetriades for Victor in 1927.
One thing everyone agrees on: the song was not written by Nick Roubanis, the credited songwriter. Like with many folk songs in the United States, the credit (and the royalties) went to the first person obnoxious enough to register a copyright. In this case, Greek-American bandleader Roubanis recorded a big band version in 1941 and listed himself as the songwriter, and that was that (c.f. “Love in Vain”, credited to Woody Payne on the original printings of the Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed, or “Goodnight Irene”, absurdly credited to John Lomax to this day).
After Roubanis’s version, the song became a minor big band standard, performed by Harry James, Freddy Martin, Woody Herman, and Jan August (who had a hit with it in 1947). It was Xavier Cugat‘s version, however, that pushed it into exotica territory; versions would follow by nearly every notable exotica artist, including Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, Esquivel, Dick Hyman, Enoch Light, and our old friendKorla Pandit (on his 1958 LP Music of the Exotic East).
In a parallel development, the “King of Yiddish Radio”, Seymour Rexite, and his wife, popular Yiddish theatre actress Miriam Kressyn, recorded a version in the late 1940s, with lyrics by Kressyn. It’s probable that Rexite and Kressyn had known the song from their youth, but they were also known for Yiddish versions of popular American songs (including, most entertaingly, songs from Oklahoma).
An indisputably traditional Jewish version was recorded in the early 1950s, however. Ethnomusicologist/filmmaker/magician Harry Smith spent two years recording elderly cantor Rabbi Nuftali Zvi Margolies Abulafia, capturing hundreds of hours of traditional music and stories. One of the Rabbi’s songs was clearly Misirlou. A 15-LP limited edition of the highlights was released in the 1950s; only a handful of copies survive. Abulafia’s grandson, 81-year-old Lionel Ziprin (a former amphetamine-addicted beatnik whacko who has since gone back to his roots and hangs out with chasidim in his Lower East Side apartment), has been trying to get the recordings reissued; John Zorn has expressed interest in releasing them on his label, Tzadik Records.
In 1960, a ten-year-old boy walked up to Dick Dale at a local show and asked him if he could play an entire song on one guitar string. He said sure kid, come back tomorrow, and then wracked his brain that night trying to figure out a composition that would work. Lebanese-American Dale (his birth name was Richard Mansour) thought back to the weddings of his childhood and remembered the traditional number “Misirlou”, which fit the bill; he resolved to play it insanely fast. It would become Dale’s signature song.
It’s difficult to imagine a musical genre that was as shaped by one man as surf rock was by Dale. The vaguely Middle Eastern sound of all surf music is directly attributable to Dale’s Arabic ancestry; and Dale’s brilliant rendition of “Misirlou” ensured that it would become the surf anthem. Nearly every notable surf band would perform a version, undoubtedly unaware of its pre-Dale history: The Surfaris, The Trashmen, The Beach Boys (early in their career, when they were still a surf band), and The Astronauts all had versions, with varying results.
Below I’ve tried to post a representative overview of the song’s history. In addition to some of the versions mentioned above, we have a recording in the early style recorded in Greece in the late 1940s by “Danai”. Also, an oddity: while there weren’t too many R&B/African-American recordings of Misirlou, one of the few was a 1955 recording by doo-wop “bird group” The Cardinals, best known for “Come Back My Love”, recorded the same year.
Finally we have a version by Dale that’s (slightly) more traditional than his famous rendition, retitled “Tribal Thunder”, probably because he was sick of paying Roubanis’s estate undeserved royalties.