8-Tracks of 69: Porno 8-tracks, Part 2

This is part 2 of 6; you might also enjoy part 1.

“The name of this recording, Suck and Screw Orgy, by Allen Karminsky. This is an educational recording!”

And so begins this 8-track tape of a southern belle visiting a verile dentist. And it continues into the absurd as the writer reaches — and reaches far — for synonyms to keep from repeating the usual “parts of the body” nouns, and the actions that one conducts with them.

“Ah, thank you Miss Firth. You can rinse now.”

Comic relief is achieved with a bad Abbot & Costello ripoff, giving way to a three [way] with the receptionist.

“Oh, excuse me — am I interrupting something?”
“Well, I was just about to begin some oral surgery, nurse, it’s quite a delicate operation…”

NSFW, mainly because of the moaning rather than much of the language, which is not so much prurient as awkward, since any and all lurid actions must be explicitly described. The cover is also NSFW, and seems to be a generic stock photo that was also used on the 8-track “Dr. Kaufman Examines Crystal”, the next part of this series.

JAMES BROWN!

[photo of James Brown bobblehead]While it was jarring to wake up Christmas morning to learn of James Brown’s death, it was far from sad. Though the tireless workload he took on in the sixties and seventies that earned him his “hardest working man in show business” title eased up in subsequent decades, his long, difficult life had become especially challenging in recent years. Few septuagenarians could painlessly endure a steady schedule of grueling, physical performances, but Brown’s activities were complicated by debilitating diabetes, a rushed recovery from colon cancer, money troubles, legal woes, traitorous relatives, and a strained, strange marriage. The sad fact is that James Brown’s death is not merely occasion for the standard “rest in peace” well-wishings, but is likely the first time in decades that he has been able to genuinely rest, period.

Full disclosure: my James Brown fandom borders on fanaticism. Always fascinated by prolificity, I fell under the Godfather’s spell in my pre-school, where the sturdy classroom record player was turreted by towering stacks of Brown’s Polydor, King and People singles, many with his striking portrait on the label. For the last twenty years I have tried to see Brown live as many times as possible. Though he is perceived by many as an oldies act, mechanically (if enthusiastically) executing the same signature gimmicks for half a century, fans who kept close dibs appreciated both the potency he still possessed, and the absurdity of some of his would-be-innovations, including James Brown cookies, the James Brown Macarena, and the surprisingly funky, though absurdly didactic, 2001 single, “(Killing is Out) School is In.” Of course, Brown’s live shows are the source of his legend (my personal favorite was a fiery 1996 Grant Park concert in which the photo pit became a private V.I.P. section for legendary pimp/evangelist Bishop Don Magic Juan). But as a child weaned on the boob tube, for my money Brown achieved immortality on the television screen.

As a burgeoning music fan in the late seventies and early eighties his TV appearances became an obsession of mine, and in the days of independent video stores I was lucky that our local shop stocked well-worn copies of The Best of Ed Sullivan and The T.A.M.I. Show. In my book TV-A-Go-Go: Rock on TV from American Bandstand to American Idol I hold up Brown as perhaps the greatest icon of televised pop. His 1965 appearance on Shindig may be the best argument ever for the validity of lip-synching as an art form. Liberated from a microphone cord, his scrambling, shuffling, hypnotizing performance was a clinic on the magic of movement. Conversely, when his full band took over the Soul Train set, they unleashed one of the best live performances in TV history, culminating with Brown engulfed in a sea of vibrant, beautiful black teenagers pumping their fists and chanting, “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!” Brown is famed for staving off a race riot in Boston by performing a live televised concert in the wake of Dr. King’s 1967 assassination, but his influence over his people extended well into the 21st century. In 2003, like a faith healer, Brown’s touch redeemed a man who had spent a fortune denying his race. When Michael Jackson joined his idol in performance at the inaugural BET Awards the Godfather offered the pale pop star his famed cape. In the wake of this exhilarating moment the show’s host declared, “Michael Jackson – you’re still black! You’re still one of us!” Such is the power of Brown.

I spent my Christmas holidays, and the ensuing weeks, glued to the television, and buried in newspapers and magazines, surveying the news coverage and tributes. Nearly every story led with, or quickly segued into, the idea that rap music owed its existence to James Brown. These statements are, of course, accurate, and it would be irresponsible journalism to omit them, but it still seems a bit distasteful to validate such a extraordinary artist by cataloguing what he spawned rather than with his own work. In the only Christmas night prime time programming change, BET replaced a rerun of In Living Color with a special called Timeless which told Brown’s story in a montage of archival BET coverage, with Donnie Simpson, Tavis Smiley and Jacque Reid converging for a parade of praise. But with nearly every segment focusing with laser precision on what rap records sampled, quoted, or ripped off Brown, the show in many ways insulted a quarter century of teenagers. While a kid could conceivably dismiss a chestnut like “Try Me” as a crusty dusty, I profoundly believe that any adolescent hip hop fan can fully appreciate Brown’s funk compositions from the early seventies without an iota of contextualization. At his peak Brown made music that was so powerful, so timeless, and so singular that despite decades of building upon, stealing from, and remixing his work, not only has it not been improved upon, it also has not become old. While newly produced specials on BET, unearthed Brown tributes from the vaults of VH1 and PBS, and countless network news segments all made statement after statement about Brown’s influence, each of these programs peaked when they let the music make its own case.

The other thing that seemed a little off was that, appropriately I suppose, none of the press seemed to be telling the James Brown stories that are inevitably told when people tell James Brown stories. Brown’s genius was not unrelated to madness, and anyone who ever had personal, artistic, or business dealings with the performer, or even met him in passing, usually heard him say something outrageous, do something strange, or make a baffling demand.

If he told you it was OK to take a photo with him, he might rage if you took a second. His most infamous incident, an interstate car chase that helped land Brown in prison in 1988, was set off by a perceived violation of the sacred space of his private bathroom. Each interview or conversation likely contained dynamically orated musings on politics, spirituality, and race that often contradicted whatever he said in the previous sentence. But the eccentric portrait these anecdotes paint was absent in most coverage immediately following his death. Other than an unintentionally horrific political cartoon in the Chicago Defender that showed the Grim Reaper in sunglasses draping a cape over Brown, the only non-lionizing portrayal I saw in the local press was Dave Hoekstra’s account of his bizarre, three-hour-late, confrontational interview with a hot dog-gobbling Brown.

[cartoon of James Brown from the Chicago Defender]

By far the most positive, and the most important, post-mortem James Brown TV show was his elaborate Augusta, Georgia funeral. Airing in its entirety on CNN, and then re-airing in an edited version on BET, the ceremony featured moving tributes by legendary African American orators, tense drama via his wife’s tenuous presence (the family and estate had launched a publicity campaign against disputing the marriage, though Brown clearly considered her his wife and partner — making her an integral part of his revue, as thousands of confused fans who attended his 2001 Washington Park concert can attest), and the surprise of Michael Jackson’s return to the States from post-trial exile. Jackson, who essentially launched his career as a James Brown impersonator (a film of Jackson mimicking Brown led to the Jackson 5ive’s Motown contract) delivered a heartfelt farewell.

But despite the memorial service being the most prominent television moment, the most powerful footage came days earlier, when CNN cablecast the footage of throngs of Harlemites lining up to view Brown’s remains in the Apollo Theater. Far from somber, the excited crowd chanted, “James Brown! James Brown! James Brown!” in a seemingly endless loop as they waited to see the legend lie in state. Of course, CNN used that phrase “lie in repose,” as Brown was not a dignitary, a royal, or a federal officeholder, but to his cheering subjects that wasn’t the case. Perhaps many of Brown’s seeming eccentricities — his sense of entitlement, his lashing out at errors in protocol, his propensity to hold court whether his ideas were fully formed or not — stem from his knowledge that he was in fact a monarch with divine rights. If the entire world recognized what his chanting subjects in that queue understood then perhaps a lot of the conflicts that plagued his later years could have been avoided.

Though I did not find Brown’s death a tragedy, one thought did make me very sad. At that same concert where I saw Bishop Juan tip his pimp hat to the Godfather I witnessed something that I consider the greatest moment in all of my concert-going experiences. Early in the set a young father, after having obviously pleaded his worthy case to the security guards, walked up to the front row and held his infant son aloft so that the baby could gaze, with his own newborn eyes, upon the world’s greatest living showman. He then calmly walked back to his distant seat, satisfied that his child was a witness to history. At that moment I vowed to give my then-theoretical child the same gift. Since my daughter Maiya’s birth my family has prepared her for that moment with a steady diet of scratchy 45s and dance parties. Maiya became a Brown devotee, and her third birthday party (at her request) was a James Brown–themed soirée (actually a James Brown/Dora the Explorer party, as we couldn’t secure James Brown party napkins and paper plates).

[photo of James Brown/Dora the Explorer party decorations] Anxious to fulfill the prophecy, I was prepared to take her to an announced James Brown festival in South Carolina last year, but it never came to fruition. I was fairly confident I could get her into his 2006 House of Blues show, but after negotiating with a sympathetic publicity director (I pitched a magazine article about my daughter’s fandom), it was concluded that legally a three-year-old was not allowed to attend the concert. I was subsequently put in touch with Brown’s people about possibly attending a sound check, but an odd Swedish woman, ostensibly part of Brown’s management team, apologized, explaining that a fatigued Mr. Brown would not be performing at the sound check, though she promised to send my daughter a package of souvenirs (which she did not do).

Of course I didn’t realize that was Maiya’s last chance to see him. I certainly feel worse about my fatherly failures in not affording her the opportunity to lay eyes upon the great one than she does about his passing. While I’m proud of how easily she’s handling the concept of death, it’s a little jarring, on two fronts, to hear my four-year-old bluntly tell people, “James Brown died,” when his music comes on the radio. Luckily she very easily grasped the concept that an artist lives on beyond his lifetime. Perhaps in this my child has, for the first time, actually benefited from growing up in a home in which every wall is lined with videos and records.

It seemed that the official end of the televised James Brown lovefest would be his loony wife’s appearance on the January 3rd Larry King Live to cry crocodile tears over the injustices she claimed the Brown estate was heaping upon her. But even that crazy-eyed, ex–Janis Joplin impersonator showed restraint, declaring she would not badmouth Brown’s children in their time of grief, and attempting to keep the tawdriest anecdotes about her ex under wraps (deftly explaining away everything from domestic abuse to Brown taking out an ad in Variety denouncing her). In a week uglier coverage would surface on the tabloid shows, as family disputes left his body unburied, and his youngest son’s paternity questioned, but for that night, a surprising amount of dignity was maintained. Dignity so dull and lifeless that, like most of the media coverage, it seemed unrelated to James Brown’s grunting, spinning, yearning energy. But, in a wise move, for major portions of Tomi Rae Brown’s interview, her talking head shrank considerably as archival footage of Brown, soundlessly performing, dominated the screen. As she monotonously rationalized her rehab stint, viewers were entranced by a bare-chested, sweat-covered genius freeing the souls of the Riker’s Island prisoners lucky enough to see him perform in 1972. Moving like a funky teenager, a martial arts master, a futuristic robot, a gravity defying superhero, and ultimately, like nobody but himself, that brief clip reiterated that the magic he possessed could not be summarized with the generic accolades being heaped upon him, and that his greatness placed him above the earthly pains and woes that burdened his life and looked to plague his estate long after his death. Finally, at peace, papa didn’t have to deal with no mess.

8-Tracks of 69: Porno 8-tracks, Part 1

The phrase just doesn’t make sense to people when I first say it: Porno 8-track tapes. No, not videos — 8-track tapes, like from the 70’s. Audio only. No, not recordings of porno movie soundtracks. It’s like porno for the blind, or X-rated radio theater: improbable scenarios, occasional sound effects, awkward play-by-play of all the action. Arousing? Stilted? Downright hilarious? You decide.

Like many of the real gems in my audio holdings, I acquired this from Goldmine Records, Columbus Ohio. I need to take a few moments here to briefly canonize Goldmine and especially Goldmine’s owner, Joe (both RIP). Goldmine for me was… well… a goldmine: it was nearby, it was cheap, and good stuff came through regularly. Joe was just right for it. Half rock casualty, half Simpsons comic book guy, Joe was a Zappa-worshipping music lover who ran this store for MEN. And not just all men: the list of people who had been kicked out of the store and banned for life was not short. The infraction could be anything from questioning Zappa’s genius (the signed show poster behind the counter should’ve warned you) or “using the lord’s name in vain” as a hand-written notice near the Zappa poster warned. Joe’s appreciation for Zappa wasn’t just in life — he died the same way as Zappa, too (prostate cancer).

Although I was never big Zappa fan or even for most of Joe’s likes, he took a shining to me. I think he simply understood that even though I appreciated confusing things like inappropriate religious records and other shitty sounds, I liked what I liked, and I liked it hard and by the dozen. And he gave me quantity discounts on those dozens, for which I am so grateful that I’ll spend paragraphs canonizing him on a blog. (Record stores, take note…)

These six 8-tracks, which will be posted in six parts over the next few weeks, were no exception. Joe held these for me at the store and left one of his characteristically gruff messages on my answering machine to get over there. Mouth agape, I inspected these 8-track treasures while he went on about how amazing they were, how rare they were, how he’d never seen anything like them before. I was bracing myself for the worst…

“Alright Joe… how much?”
“Eh — dollar each.”

I miss Joe.

The Lustful Sexlife of a Perverted Nympho Housewife spine artwork

Wild sex crammed story – The greatest stag album ever! You actually hear crystal clear everything that goes on….THE LUSTFUL SEXLIFE OF A PERVERTED NYMPHO HOUSEWIFE

The first and last tapes of this series are my favorites for many reasons, mainly the voice actresses/actors, the 8-track artwork, and also the production quality. The artwork is the first thing to hit you — it’s dense, way too busy for a small 8-track. This is because of that bad habit labels had of just shrinking the 12″ album artwork down for 8-track releases, but get out your magnifying glass because it’s worth the look for liner notes like: (enjoy the inappropriate caps)

The first to stick you in the ear with what you want to hear! YOU’LL BE AMAZED listening to this sexciting audio stage recording, it is many times more stimulating than reading a book, each participant in this sensuously exciting story is alive, you hear real MEN and WOMEN actually SPEAKING with EACH OTHER saying the real words real people say, DRAMATIZING the REAL ACTS that real people do. There is no doubt about it, you will enjoy being SEDUCED by these tantilizing-tittillating characters. Get ready for many thrilling nights of listening pleasure, you will be delighted by the drama and stimulating power of this new wave of audio stag recordings.

“Actually speaking to each other”…! Ain’t that a toe-curler? But “dramatizing” is a key word here: this audio porn, meaning that all the action must be verbally described. If you thought fumbling with a difficult bra hook is an awkward moment in bed, try play-by-play narrative about every relevant action, excretion, and orifice.

But… writing about audio porn is like dancing about architecture. Just go listen. The full MP3 transfer is below. Apologies for the lousy sound quality — blame the lousy 8-track tape player I used, after failing to find a better one at five thrift stores. But bad recordings are better than no recordings, right? Send me a better 8-track deck and I’ll send you the resulting improved transfers.

Free gift inside! (worth $2.00) A genuine French tickler novelty

This release is catalog number A8T-1002 from Audio Stag Records, “A product of Unique Ideas, Inc. / 1674 Broadway, N.Y.C., N.Y. 10019”.

  1. The Lustful Sexlife of a Perverted Nympho Housewife

The Lustful Sexlife of a Perverted Nympho Housewife cover art.

The Lustful Sexlife of a Perverted Nympho Housewife rear art.

Dedicated to Joe (RIP) and Goldmine Records (Columbus, Ohio) for providing this gold, and so many more treasures.

Don’t Miss The Great Snatch

Happy birthday, Art!

For those that aren’t familiar with my band, The Evolution Control Committee has been doing sample-heavy, cut-n-paste music for a long, long time (in our 20th year!). It’s somewhere between pop and experimental; funkier than Negativland, but smarter than Coldcut. So in collecting sample material for The ECC (and a little similar to Coldcut’s label name, Ninja Tune) I am a black belt crate digger.

To gather samples and raw materials to mash into The ECC’s music, I have frequented dusty record shops, thrift stores, and flea markets worldwide, scouring the endless bins of vinyl… sweet vinyl. And you, the discerning reader and listener of Dinosaur Gardens, are now the beneficiaries of some of the best nuggets of this black gold. In fact, there’s a category in my record collection which holds the best of the best. It is appropriately labelled “Cream of the Crap.”

This is one of those records. Cover Artwork (small)

The story begins in Columbus Ohio, where I used to live. The thrifting was grand, and I had the thrift paths well-beaten. One particular fave destination was a thrift store very far out, a bit of a drive but often well worth it. I remember this was near the tail end of the thrift era; even in Ohio — especially in Ohio — the thrifts were quickly depleted of joyous booty as eBay blew up.

In Ohio, as in much of the bible belt and truly in thrift stores in general, religious records are almost literally a dime a dozen. There are so many albums of sermons, of gospel singers, of televangelists, and of Christian kids’ records (in my collection, that category is “Opiates for the Lasses”). Many are forgettable. Some are just good for the cover. Some are kinda fun and/or funny. Some are a scream. And some are all of the above.

I can visualize the moment — flipping through the awkwardly-shelved records, the usual cruft of Herb Alpert, Frampton Comes Alive, Ray Coniff… and then, this headline pops up: DON’T MISS THE GREAT SNATCH. I froze, stunned. In the crate-digging mindset, one gets a lot of practice summing up records quickly, initially based off the cover artwork and title. But this didn’t match: “Snatch” in the title? Adult comedy, probably. But the primitive, amateur artwork didn’t match. Flipping the record over deepened the mystery: There was the Elder Marshall Taylor, bible in one hand looking skyward. er… huh?

I’ll skip right to the punchline: “Snatch”, in this case, is the rapture. Still, I had to wonder if anyone told Elder Taylor “snatch” has some, er, other meanings. Needless to say, I snatched (sorry) the record up immediately, along with another album of Taylor’s that I found nearby: “Don’t Let The Devil Blow Your Mind.”

When I got home it was the first of the day’s thrift scores to go on the turntable. It didn’t disappoint. For out-of-context soundbites, this was aural caviar:

“Two would be in the bed, and one snatch!”
“Many pleasures of life are used… but I happen to prefer The Snatch.”
“There is one thing that all of us should be aiming for… and that is The Snatch!”

Even the non-snatch samples were great:

“…and let me go on to the disco, and get the Saturday Night Fever, Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye, and I’ll just have me a TIME!”

The Elder Marshall Taylor is a soul preacher. black and proud. The shaky press-type liner notes on the back proclaims “DETROIT, MICHIGAN” in large type, and the sermon sounds it. It’s great, actually. The gospel music that opens it gives way to Elder Taylor, timid and almost apologetic at first. But he builds — boy, does he build — becoming bolder, louder, more animated. The “amens” appear more and more, and before long, he gets rhythm: the sermon is morphing from speech into song. The audience is into it too: yelling and screaming, they’re getting sucked into the raw energy of it. By the end, it’s at fever pitch — the reverend, the congregation, the band, the din, the chaos. Now THAT’S religion.

It took a few years, but I finally coaxed the samples into a pretty worthwhile song, also called “Don’t miss the great snatch”, which appeared on our album Plagiarhythm Nation, v2. As for the Elder Marshall, some web sleuthing leads me to suspect that he (or perhaps his son) is still preaching the gospel up in Detroit. But as for his albums, I can find nothing anywhere mentioning them.

Here are my ten favorite samples from the album:

  1. Don’t miss the great snatch
  2. Don’t go to hell second class
  3. I appreciate the word Snatch
  4. I happen to prefer the snatch
  5. One thing all of us should be aiming for
  6. So don’t miss that snatch
  7. Two in the bed and one snatch
  8. Sisters make the snatch
  9. Brothers make the snatch
  10. The snatch could come any day now

Here’s the main snatch-related parts of the sermon. Part 1 sets up the groundwork for what the snatch is. Part 2 has elder Taylor riffing on his own personal low points before he got wise to the snatch. Part 3 continues with snatches in the bible.

Cover Artwork

Back Artwork

And finally, the song that The Evolution Control Committee made out of it:

Haruomi Hosono: Paraiso

Basically, the ideal music for me is early ’80s exotic Japanese synth-pop with fretless bass and steel drums. Patrick South

Haruomi HosonoHaruomi Hosono is best known as the bassist in the Yellow Magic Orchestra, but his solo career is just as interesting. Before joining founding YMO with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi, he played with psychedelic bands Apryl Fool, the folk-rock outfit Happy End, and the lounge-pop group Tin Pan Alley before starting on what ended up being called his “Exotica Trilogy” in the seventies.

hula.jpg

America dreamt of a magical neverland with cloudless climes and starry skies (not to mention nubile natives) in the fifties — Martin Denny, Esquivel, Arthur Lyman, and Les Baxter made countless LPs with bird calls, marimbas, and steel drums setting the stage for the post-war peace. The beaches weren’t something you had to storm any more, you could just lie there and soak up the sun. Hosono asks that the exotic dream continue, but with himself as both spectator and participant. He sees the exotica phenomenon for what it is — silly and patronizing — but adores it and revels in it, singing a cover of “Fujiyama Mama” knowing full well he sounds ridiculous: “and when you start elupting ain’t nobody gonna make you stop.” In the three Exotica LPs you find pastiches within parodies; “Roochoo Gumbo” is at once Okinawan pop song and New Orleans shuffle. If you think too much about how the parody is eating its own tail, that this is “the Japanese way of exoticising American exoticism,” it’s dizzying.

Haruomi Hosono's ParaisoThe music of Tropical Dandy and Bon Voyage Co. roams over both East and West mashing genres as it goes: Polynesian chants, resort-lounge steel-band music, Buddhist ritual, boogie-woogie and rockabilly, all with a Van Dyke Parks nostalgic sheen. The third record in the series, Paraiso, is different in that it feels less like a series of takeoffs and starts becoming something else. The new element is the synthesizer, the varied texture of which is used extensively throughout the record. Hosono at this point had met Sakamoto and Takahashi, as well as Hideki Matsutake, who would become YMO’s invaluable programmer in the days before MIDI. The combination of exotica and electronics would be the template for YMO’s initial success with their first single in 1978: Martin Denny’s “Firecracker.”

  1. Tokio Rush
  2. Shimendoka
  3. Japanese Rhumba
  4. Asatoya Yunta
  5. Fujiyama Mama
  6. Femme Fatale
  7. Shambhala Signal
  8. Worry Beads
  9. Paraiso

1960’s John Deere sales soundtrack: “Manure Handling Equipment”

Manure Handling Equipment record label

I just don’t even need to say anything about this, do I?

Well, I will say a few things. As the opening stock-music fanfare gives way to the manly announcer proclaiming, “When it comes to handling manure, you need dependable equipment!” you know you’re in for a good thing. Plenty of fun quotes, such as “Teeth are arranged to pull manure inward,” though for some reason I just love the brief statement, “Adjust suck.”

Incidentally, the reason I have it is that my grandfather and my uncle ran the John Deere store in Plain City, Ohio (yes, “Plain City”… you can’t make that stuff up) for many years. Although my family was far from rural or white trash, this meant we had John Deere everything: John Deere calendars, John Deere bicycles, John Deere wall thermometers. When they closed up shop, my parents managed to hold onto a couple dozen of these records, all 45 RPM soundtracks to sales presentations. This is easily my fave.

The Mysteries of “Misirlou”

[photo of Dick Dale] 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 friend Korla Pandit (on his 1958 LP Music of the Exotic East).

[photo of Seymour Rexite] 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.

[photo of The Cardinals] 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.

Leopold Stokowski: Danse Macabre

[Photo of Leopold Stokowski] One day when I was in 6th grade, I found a box somebody had left on the curb, filled with various treasures. One was a giant catalog of odd stuff: it listed where to buy things like church steeples, prison doors, and phone booths — stuff you couldn’t imagine where to get or even how to find out where to get in the days before the internet.

But the best thing in the box was an album of 12" 78s, including a recording of Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre by the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Leopold Stokowski. My “Show’N Tell” (anyone remember those?) played 78s, so I listened to it right away and loved it.

[Photo of a Stroh violin] I’ve heard many versions of the piece since then, but none I’ve heard match the essential spookiness of the 1925 Stokowski recording. This is largely due to the unusual recording technique. It was one of the first classical recordings to use electric microphones, but the intrumentation was still set up as orchestras were for acoustic recordings: there was a bass saxophone in place of a double-bass, and — most importantly — a Stroh violin.

My well-loved copy broke after years of play, and I was very unhappy. Then, about ten years ago, I found another copy at a Salvation Army, which I again played often. Then that one broke. 78s are annoying that way. Finally I found an obscure CD reissue, unavailable in America, that had it, so here it is.

Stoopnagle & Budd

[publicity photo of Col. Stoopnagle & Budd] The story goes that the comedy team of Colonel Stoopnagle & Budd started in 1932, when a thunderstorm knocked out the NBC network feed to their Buffalo affiliate. Faced with dead air, the station grabbed two of their staff writers, F. Chase Taylor and Wilbur Hulick, threw them in front of a microphone, and told them to improvise. The duo instantly made up the characters of “Colonel Lemuel Q. Stoopnagle”, an eccentric ex-Navy inventor famous for his invention of upside-down lighthouses for submarines, and his bemused interviewer/straight man, “Budd”, and ad-libbed for the next two hours. They were an instant local hit, and soon moved on to national prominence.

Like many too-cute tales from the days of classic radio, that story’s probably not true, but it’s “too good to check”, as the old newspaper saying goes. However they started, Stoopnagle & Budd soon became immensely popular, at one point being the second-highest paid comedy team in radio (the first was Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, “Amos ‘n’ Andy”). Despite their popularity, their offbeat humor made sponsors nervous and they had difficulty keeping them on their various NBC and CBS shows (which they turned into a running joke). They broke up due to personal differences in 1938. Stoopnagle went on to be a frequent radio guest star and author of humorous articles for magazines like The Saturday Evening Post. He became especially known for rewritten fairy tales using printed malapropisms known as “Spoonerisms” (e.g., Beeping Sleauty and Prinderella and the Cince). Budd returned to Buffalo and obscurity.

['How to Draw a Circle', by Col. Stoopnagle] Despite the team’s popularity back in the day, they are forgotten today, largely because very little of their work survives. Of their many radio shows, I only know of four that still exist: a 1935 episode of their unsponsored CBS show, a brief snippet of another show which I’m guessing is also from 1935, and two episodes of Town Hall Tonight from a period in 1936 when Stoopnagle & Budd substituted for the show’s regular host, Fred Allen.

[poster for 'Stoopnocracy'] They also appeared in four films: an installment of the short subject series Rambling ‘Round Radio Row, which I’m not sure survives; International House, a classic Paramount all-star comedy; The Inventors, a Paramount short which is on VHS, but only as part of this expensive six-tape set (if somebody wants to buy it for me, I’ll gladly post the Stoopnagle bit here); and, most intriguingly, Stoopnocracy, a Fleischer cartoon which tragically seems to have disappeared.

I’ve posted here a DivX AVI of their appearance in International House, and MP3s of the aforementioned 1935 show and show segment as well as one of their Town Hall Tonight appearances. Be sure to at least check out the first two links.

Unsurprisingly, there’s not too much online about them; this site has ambitions of being the definitive Stoopnagle site, but it’s far from being finished. Some good images and text, though. Also, here are some of Stoopnagle’s Spoonerisms.

(Update April 4, 2007: Stoopnocracy found! See here for details.)

Americans Speaking

The liner notes of this 1967 album explain it pretty comprehensively, so I’ll just paste them here:

Americans Speaking is a recording prepared by the National Council of Teachers of English to provide teachers and students with large-scale samples of some of the major varieties of American English, as naturally used by educated speakers. It is the first record to provide samplings of this scale since the inauguration of the Linguistic Atlas project in 1930; thanks to the evidence of the various regional atlases, it has been possible to select speakers whose pronunciation is characteristic of wide and identifiable dialect areas. All speakers recorded represent the cultivated speech of their areas: each had had some college education at the time the recordings were made, and some were postgraduates; no speaker exhibited pronunciation features widely regarded as substandard in his own area.

To permit larger samples than most records of this type provide, only six specimens are given, three from the North, two from the Midland, one from the South, following the regional designations first used by Hans Kurath in his Word Geography of the Eastern United States (Ann Arbor, 1949).

Northern

  • Eastern New England (Topsfield, Massachusetts)
  • Brooklyn, New York
  • Inland Northern (Madison, Wisconsin)

Midland

  • The Delaware Valley (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
  • South Midland (London, Kentucky)

Southern

  • Prattville, Alabama

It is noted that three of the speakers are from the area of the original settlement where local divisions are discussed in the Word Geography. The other three—Inland Northern, South Midland, Southern—come from areas of secondary settlement for which there is as yet no detailed analysis like that in the World Geography or in Kurath and McDavid’s Pronunciation of English in the Atlantic States (Ann Arbor, 1961); nevertheless, the evidence suggests that the three principal dialect regions extend west of the Alleghenies and even beyond the Mississippi, with clearly marked subareas.

The fact that these six specimens appear on this record must not suggest any judgment that these are the only models for good American pronunciation. Many others exist-from the older areas, for example, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Charleston; from newer ones, Chicago, Cincinnati, St. Louis, New Orleans, San Antonio, San Francisco, Portland, Salt Lake City, and Denver. It is to be hoped that this record will be but the first of a series which will provide teachers and students with an understanding of the many varieties of cultivated American English.

The selection for each speaker is in two parts: (1) a set text read aloud and (2) a sample of free discourse.

The set text, composed by Mrs. Celia M. Millward of Boston University, was designed to give examples of three types of pronunciation features:

  1. Differences in the pronunciation system. Does fought have the same vowel as lot, or a different one? Does morning have the same vowel as car or as ford, or are they different? Does Tuesday have a (y) glide following the (t)? Does whetstone have an (h) at the beginning?
  2. Differences in the phonetic quality of the vowels and consonants. Do you notice differences from your own speech in the pronunciation of (ai) in five, (au) in out, and the stressed vowels of rode, paper, week, murder?
  3. Differences in the occurrence of particular vowels and consonants. Does greasy have an (s) or a (z) sound? Does creek have the vowel of seek or that of sick? Does sister have the vowel of sick or something else? Does laugh have the vowel of grand or that of father?

In addition to the set passage, each speaker talked informally about some topics of interest to him, and from each of these unrehearsed recordings a selection was made. The topics are diverse: small town life in Kentucky and New England, childhood on an Alabama plantation, a philosophy of teaching, developing the craftsmanship of the professional writer, the duties of a specialized National Guard unit. What all the passages have in common is the fact that the subjects were of such interest that the speakers were unconcerned about how they were talking. From these passages one can observe several aspects of oral communication: (1) possible differences from the pronunciation of words as read; (2) the reduced contextual pronunciations of auxiliary verbs (have, will, are), prepositions (to, of), conjunctions (and, or); (3) the conversational patterns of intonations, stress, and word transitions—and the ways these may differ from the patterns found in reading aloud; (4) some evidence on the complex orchestration of speech that scholars now call paralanguage

  1. Inland Northern: “My Eccentric Grandfather”
  2. Inland Northern: conversation
  3. South Midland: “My Eccentric Grandfather”
  4. South Midland: conversation
  5. Eastern New England: “My Eccentric Grandfather”
  6. Eastern New England: conversation
  7. Alabama: “My Eccentric Grandfather”
  8. Alabama: conversation
  9. Brooklyn: “My Eccentric Grandfather”
  10. Brooklyn: conversation
  11. Delaware Valley: “My Eccentric Grandfather”
  12. Delaware Valley: conversation

Linguistics fans out there should also check out the International Dialects of English Archive.