It’s 1978 and the Miles Laboratory, creators of Alka-Seltzer, have signed on international superstar Sammy Davis Jr. as the perfect spokesman for their “Party hard? Live fast? Get relief FAST!” promotional campaign aimed at the fast growing demographic of late 70’s swingers and drug addicted socialites. It is a time before AIDS and cocaine will cast their deadly shadows and Sammy Davis Jr. is considered a strong icon not only for this new middle class phenomena but also for the previous generation who had still longed for the Rat Pack days of Sammy, Dean, and Frank.
This campaign produced several television ads featuring Sammy singing new, hip takes on the clasic “Plop Plop Fizz Fizz” jingle (written by Tom Dawes, published by Twin Star Music) and was a success on all counts — hitting their target audience of hungover party-goers. One version which was termed the “Big Band Version” was geared towards the older generations while “Rock Version” was aimed at the excessive lifestyle generation.
However it all ended for Sammy in 1979 when the Bayer Corporation purchased Miles Laboratories and overhauled the brand and marketing strategy of Alka-Seltzer, signing on actor Bernie Kopell (Doc from ABC series The Love Boat) as their official spokesperson. The new campaign was geared away from the party and hangover crowd and more towards women ages 30–60 with severe digestive problems. Bayer Corp. is currently promoting a hangover remedy called Alka-Seltzer Morning Relief with rock vocalist Courtney Love as official spokesperson who will record the famous jingle yet again in both a Grunge Rock Version and Techno Version.
Jerry McCain is an inexplicably obscure harmonica player who was most active in the 1950s. His first recordings were on Trumpet Records for Lillian McMurray (who also discovered Elmore James) in 1953; they were decent but unremarkable blues sides. In 1955, however, he put together a band with his brother and went uptempo, recording eleven raucous rock and roll demos in his living room, all original compositions. On the strength of these recordings he got a contract with Excello and issued several tracks, all great rockers but not up to the level of the insane, crude demos.
He’s been active on-and-off since then; his biggest hit was a 1970 cover of Guy Drake’s right-wing anthem “Welfare Cadillac”. He retired from his day job — private investigator — in the 1980s and later opened a nightclub, where he still performs occasionally.
The living room recordings have been reissued a few times, originally on a European bootleg called “Choo Choo Rock”, then later on another boot and then finally on a legit-looking reissue that also included his complete Excello sides. All are long out of print.
These tracks are all great, but be sure to check out “My Next Door Neighbor”, which is in my Top 5 Best Song Lyrics of All Time list (he would record a tamer version for Excello a year later, with the the line about the Devil removed), and “Bell in My Heart”, where McCain is accompanied by an alarm clock that is starting to wind down by the third verse.
Nanonuts is a rather odd comic I found several years ago at Quimby’s book/zine store in Chicago. It was all very mysterious, with no credits or contact information (there were a couple URLs, but they were for straightforward sites about nanotechnology and apparently had nothing to do with the book’s creators). And it was bound with yarn. Of course I had to have it – it combined two of my greatest loves, nightmarish surrealist deformities and Peanuts.
Luckily for me, I loved it so much that not only did I buy a copy, but I made at least two friends also buy copies. So when I lost my copy, I told Colin and he sent me a scan of his copy and saved me. And now I can post it here.
It took a long time for me to appreciate Masaru Satoh‘s soundtrack for Yojimbo. I’d seen the film, directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1961, many times but never paid attention to the music — I was watching Toshiro Mifune be the badass, or thinking about Yojimboremakes like A Fistful of Dollars or Last Man Standing.
What impressed me about the music was that I could see that Ennio Morricone had borrowed a little of Satoh’s power and playfulness when it came time for him to score Sergio Leone‘s Westerns — as Philip Brophy says, “electric guitar, bongoes and harpsichord jostle against brooding Gothic intonations … Just as Marco Polo imported noodles from the Chinese to make Italian pasta, Morricone fused this postwar Japanese eclecticism with an equally unique Italian tradition of excessive ornamentation.” The constant whistling of Mifune’s revenge-obsessed character in The Bad Sleep Well reminds me of Charles Bronson’s harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West.
Satoh scored many more Kurosawa classics, beginning with Throne of Blood in 1957, to Red Beard in 1965, coincidentally Toshiro Mifune’s last film with Kurosawa as well. Satoh also scored less-well-known but fantastic Kihachi Okamoto samurai films like Sword of Doom and Kill!, starring the incredibly underrated (in the West) Tatsuya Nakadai.
Another thing he was known for was his music for the Godzilla films — his Godzilla career began with the second Godzilla film (the first was memorably scored by Akira Ifukube, who would do the music for Zatoichi vs. Yojimbo in 1970) and ended in 1974 with Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.
Sometimes you do feel like there’s a rough karmic justice in the world, like when you consider the fates of the twin geniuses of 1960’s record production. The good twin, Brian Wilson, seems to have conquered most of his demons, is happily married, has a band that actually respects him, and finally finished Smile, which was far better than anyone dared hope.
And the evil twin, Phil Spector, is finally where he probably deserves, too; like Lex Luthor at the end of a Superman comic, he’s locked up to face justice.
Wilson, touchingly, swears there’s no way Spector is guilty; his logic seems to be how could the creator of the greatest album of all time be guilty of murder? Well, there were always signs.
My favorite is this one. Spector drove his partner, Lester Sill, out of the label they had formed for a pittance — Sill was entitled to far more money but he took Spector’s lowball offer just so he wouldn’t have to deal with him ever again. But Spector wasn’t satisfied with just victory; he had to twist the knife for that extra thrill. He found a session piano player and dragged the Crystals into the studio on a Saturday to cut this minimalist gem; “Ha ha, fuck you” set to music. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something rather creepy and haunting about this, even aside from the context; like a nightmare about sounds coming from a cave.
I haven’t been able to find “Part II”, but you probably will get the idea from this.
For our inaugural post, I’ve put up Christopher Recordings on Sex Instruction, an early-1950’s album for good Christian parents on how to properly teach their children about the mysteries of sex. Highlights include some of the worst adults-pretending-to-be-children acting of all time, and the stern warning against masturbation in track 3.
There’s a semi-interesting story behind these files. I originally made them in 1997 from my copy of the album, a collection of four 78 RPM 10-inches (it was also issued on LP). I then posted them to the newsgroup alt.binaries.sounds.mp3, the best way to trade MP3s in those pre-Napster days. Not long after that, I moved and put most of my records in storage (this will be a recurring theme, I’m afraid). A couple years ago, I wanted to play some of these on my radio show, but the records were packed away and I couldn’t find the MP3s on any of my backups. I did a search, without much hope, on WinMX, and to my surprise I found them all. After downloading them and looking at the tags, I realized these were the exact ones I had encoded and posted years earlier — they had been bouncing around the various P2P networks all these years.