From the Vaults

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Bertie Higgins: Key Largo (1982)

10 Mar 2011  |  1 min read

Bertie Higgins -- born in Florida despite his London East End-sounding name -- didn't make much long-term impression on the charts, except for this ballad about the romantic Golden Age of the Silver Screen which topped Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart in '82. Higgins, who had been a drummer in Tommy Roe's backing band in the Sixties, neatly captured a couple of generations' nostalgia for... > Read more

Pine Top Smith: Pine Top Boogie (1928)

9 Mar 2011  |  <1 min read

Aside from this being considered one of the first, if not the first, reference to "boogie woogie", there are a number of other interesting things about this recording by the pianist Clarence Smith. It was recorded in Chicago on December 29, 1928 and just three months later he was accidentally killed when hit by a stray bullet in Chicago's Masonic Hall -- which tells you that they... > Read more

The Maytals: Disco Reggae (1977)

2 Mar 2011  |  <1 min read

You could almost understand Kay Starr singing Rock and Roll Waltz as the waters around her rose in the Fifties. Her style was being swamped by the likes of rockabilly and rock'n'roll, so she was probably just trying to keep her head above water. But quite why the Maytals would have wanted to lean towards disco for this single when reggae was under no threat at all is another matter. At... > Read more

The Mississippi Sheiks: Bed Spring Poker (1931)

1 Mar 2011  |  <1 min read

The blues is often blunt and to the point when it comes to sexual imagery, at other times it is coded -- although no one should be in any doubt that when Lonnie Johnson says he is the best jockey in town he isn't boasting about his horse riding skills. This song by the Mississippi Sheiks -- Walter Vincson on guitar and vocals, Lonnie Chapman on violin and vocals -- manages to be subtle and... > Read more

Sir Douglas Quintet: Lawd I'm Just a Country Boy in This Great Big Freaky City (1968)

28 Feb 2011  |  <1 min read

When this song was written, Doug Sahm -- singer, writer and frontman for the Sir Douglas Quintet -- was feeling somewhat jaded about the hippie paradise that had been San Francisco. He and the band were from Texas and in the mid-Sixties had, like so many, moved to the Bay Area to enjoy whatever was happening there. But increasingly the hippie movement became a freak circus and runaways... > Read more

Reverend J.M. Gates: Hitler and Hell (1941)

26 Feb 2011  |  <1 min read

The Rev Gates (b 1884) was preacher-cum-gospel singer whose style was often call-and-response in the manner of Baptist churches. He worked out of Atlanta and aside from sermonising he was a prolific recording artist, some estimates say he recorded around 200 songs and sermons from around 1926 when he scored big with Death's Black Train is Coming (see clip below). He was pretty big on hell... > Read more

Tiny Tim: We Love It/When I Walk With You (1968)

23 Feb 2011  |  1 min read

If you were there at the time, Tiny Tim was novelty act: the long-haired eccentric with a ukulele singing Tiptoe Through the Tulips in an impossibly high falsetto. But that was the late Sixties for you, a time when the retro sound of Winchester Cathedral by the New Vaudeville Band and I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman by Whistling Jack Smith could be hits alongside Hendrix, the Who and Procol... > Read more

Bob Dylan: Copper Kettle (1970)

22 Feb 2011  |  2 min read  |  2

When Bob Dylan's 10th album -- the double vinyl Self Portrait -- was released in 1970 it was received with bewlidered or damning reviews, the most notable being Greil Marcus in Rolling Stone who began his abrasive review with "What is this shit?" Fair call perhaps, because this mish-mash of odd covers (a ragged treatment of Paul Simon's The Boxer), instrumentals, standards (Let It... > Read more

Missing Persons: Words (1983)

19 Feb 2011  |  <1 min read

Anyone who stumbled onto this LA New Wave band on You Tube can't help note what others are saying: Lady Gaga has ripped off the style (and some of the sound) of frontwoman Dale Bozzio's sense of big-hair and glammed-up look. Perhaps more corrrectly Lady Gaga has simply taken it as a starting point, just as scantily-clad former Playboy bunny Bozzio took a little from Lena Lovich, Blondie and... > Read more

Cronkite, Chamberlain and King George VI: The king's speech

19 Feb 2011  |  <1 min read

The critical and popular success of the film The King's Speech -- hardly what one might have thought would have made a persuasive pitch to any production company -- has raised interest in that period of British and world history. Here then, from a scratchy old album Blitzkrieg! -- "a dramatic countdown of events leading up to and including the early days of World War II (1933 to... > Read more

Galaxie 500: Cheese and Onions (1991)

18 Feb 2011  |  1 min read  |  1

When Frank Zappa asked "does humour belong in music?" you knew he was being rhetorical. He certainly poked fun, ridiculed and parodied -- all long before Spinal Tap and the Rutles. The Rutles -- the brainchild of Monty Python's Eric Idle and with music by Neil Innes -- were a brilliant Beatles parody: the casting was excellent and the songs sailed just close enough to Beatles... > Read more

The Woofers and Tweeters Ensemble: Daytripper (1983)

15 Feb 2011  |  <1 min read

And you thought YouTube threw up fly-by-night stars and oddities? This one puts the surfing cat and dancing pig into perspective. In the early Eighties a couple of Australians -- over a few wines -- fiddled with computer technology to simulate the sound of dogs barking and used it to have the "dogs" "sing" a Beatles song. And lo! An album of barked-out Beatles songs... > Read more

Kyu Sakamoto: Sukiyaki (1963)

11 Feb 2011  |  1 min read

It wasn't really the name of the song that Sakamoto recorded, but that hardly mattered. When this catchy piece of MOR pop from Japan made it to the West it enjoyed enormous success. Sakamoto, who was 22, was the first and last Japanese artist to top the Billboard charts. It was also his first and last international success. Back home of course he wasn't a one-hit wonder, he was a national... > Read more

Kyu Sakamoto: Sukiyaki (1963)

Gil Scott Heron: Winter in America (1974)

9 Feb 2011  |  <1 min read  |  1

The great pre-rap, spoken word-cum-jazz-poet Gil Scott Heron is perhaps best known for his angry The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (see clip below) in which he assailed those uncommitted or comfortable blacks who seemed to be standing on the sideline while the streets ran red and Black Panthers had their fists raised. For him it was never "if" but "when" the people's... > Read more

Ashokan Farewell/Sullivan Ballou Letter (from 1861)

8 Feb 2011  |  1 min read

Among the many remarkable documentaries which American filmmaker Ken Burns has helmed (Jazz, Baseball, those on various architects) the most outstanding and compelling is perhaps his series The Civil War. To keep your attention over so many episodes was a feat in itself, but to do so with no moving footage -- just period stills -- was extraordinary. Of course the story being told --... > Read more

Laibach: Get Back (1988)

7 Feb 2011  |  1 min read  |  1

The Beatles might have been about "peace and bloody love" as a droll Ringo noted at the end of the Anthology DVD series. But in the hands of Laibach out of what we used to call Yugoslavia of the late Eighties, their music sounded like it was ready to invade Poland. Laibach -- in a thoroughly post-modern and ironic manner (and don't those words sound like cliches of that... > Read more

Mr Flotsam and Mr Jetsam: Is 'e an Aussie, is 'e Lizzy (the Thirties?)

3 Feb 2011  |  2 min read  |  1

This is one of those songs which, once heard, is never forgotten: how can you ever erase lines like "seems this digger likes my figure" or "he being well-born, lived in Melbourne". Mr Flotsam and Mr Jetsam (not to be confused with the metal band of similar name, of course) were a UK-based comedy duo of the Twenties and Thirties. Flotsam was Bentley Collingwood Hilliam... > Read more

Chris Thompson: Hamilton (1990)

1 Feb 2011  |  <1 min read  |  3

The reissue of some early Seventies recordings by New Zealand folk-blues singer-songwriter Thompson allowed us to hear again one of the great lost musicians of that era. Thompson's broad spectrum folk style in that period incorporated Indian music influences and black rural blues -- but later on he also delivered a fairly droll line in Kiwiana . . . as with this song, written in that... > Read more

No Way Sis: I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (1996)

26 Jan 2011  |  <1 min read

For the Oasis tribute band No Way Sis their work was done for them: Oasis were notorious for borrowing/plagiarising/thieving melodies which songwriter Noel Gallagher cheeerfully admitted -- and their song Shakermaker owed more than a nod to the Greenaway-Cook song I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (a hit for the New Seekers and also used as the ad I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke). The... > Read more

Mel Brooks: To Be Or Not To Be; The Hitler Rap (1984)

21 Jan 2011  |  3 min read  |  1

Very few people -- and arguably only Jewish comedians? -- can get away with making fun of Hitler and the Nazis. Mel Brooks has been relentless in his ridicule which some find tasteless and others say is a necessary corrective. Whichever way you cut it, it is dark humour which Brooks makes seem genuinely funny. By way of comparison, is this as funny? (Actually, in a different way it is.)... > Read more