Monday, July 23, 2012
To be honest, we shouldn't judge at all. We've been dealing with re-recorded versions of oldies for YEARS, thanks to companies like Gusto and Big Seven Music, who drag old geezers out of retirement to go through their old hits one more time (with awful "karaoke"-style backing music) for an oldies compilation LP. Usually it's pretty easy to tell the original from the "new" version, especially if the guy recorded the original when he was 16 and made the re-recorded version at 63.
Once in a blue moon, however, we get tricked, especially when the supposed "original" isn't the original at all!
One of the weirdest records of 1963 was made by an Australian singer/comedian (by way of the UK) named Rolf Harris. It was called "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport". Released on these shores by Epic, the record introduced a lot of Aussie terms to the US, not to mention the "wobble board" effect (actually a piece of MDF). The record was a sensation, hitting the Top Ten in the US and inspiring a cover version by Pat Boone (which has to be heard to be believed - I'll post it someday). Rolf Harris became an international star, and that was that.
But it wasn't that simple. The hit record that Epic put out was a re-recorded version. It wasn't even the first time that "Tie Me Kangaroo Down" was released in the US.
Rolf Harris (b. March 30, 1930, Wembley Park, Perth, Australia) is something of a Renaissance man. A champion swimmer in his teens, he also displayed a knack for art and music. He moved to England in his early 20s for art school, and from there went into TV work as a cartoonist (appearing live on TV drawing characters with a puppet named "Fuzz"). He later got into acting, appearing on several British TV programs and films. He also appeared at a club in London called The Down Under, which catered to Australians and New Zealanders who missed their homeland. It was at this club where Rolf first sang "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport".
In 1960, Perth, Australia formed its first TV station, and they called Rolf to come back and do a children's TV show and a variety show at night. Rolf accepted, and one night, after a taping, Rolf sat down with four local musicians in the empty TV studio and recorded "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport". The recording was released by EMI in Australia in the summer of 1960 and became a #1 hit there. It also became a #1 hit in the UK when released there. The record was also released in the United States on the 20th-Fox label, but didn't sell.
One possible reason for the single's failure in the States was the quality of the recording. It was crude, to put it mildly - it made Gary (US) Bonds' records sound state-of-the-art. Another reason was the Aussie terms used in the song (like "abo" - short for aborigine - and "didgeridoo") - no one knew what Rolf was talking about, especially in 1960.
After a residency in Vancouver, Canada for most of 1961, Rolf returned to the UK, where producer George Martin had Rolf re-record all his songs for a greatest-hits LP, and also produced his new single, "Sun Arise", which became a huge hit in the UK, and also got some chart action when released in the US on Epic in early 1963. Epic released the George Martin-produced LP shortly afterwards (as "Sun Arise"), and DJs began playing "Tie Me Kangaroo Down" off of the LP. The cut became so popular on US radio that Epic pressed a single, and THAT one became the big hit that we all remember.
It just wasn't the original.....
Rolf Harris - Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport (20th-Fox 207) - 1960
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Both sides of this 45 are fantastic: the A-side, "That's What I Like", is fine mid-tempo soul with an eerie echo on the vocal, but it's the flip that everybody goes crazy for. "You Can't Hold On To Love" is HUGE on the Northern and Brooklyn scenes, but it doesn't annoy me like most Northern 45s - the vocals here are top-notch, and the tempo, while faster than "That's What I Like", doesn't even come close to the breakneck speed preferred by some of those amp-heads who scream "KEEP THE FAITH" while grinding their teeth to a nub.
Of course, the Northerners also love it because it's rare as hen's teeth - expect to pay anywhere from 150 to 300 bucks from a dealer.
I'll never forget the day I found this - I was hanging out with Jack, the owner of my all-time favorite record store (the late, lamented Yesterday's Books & Records in Montclair, NJ) when two skinny black dudes (one wearing sunglasses) walked in with a GIGANTIC box LOADED with unsleeved soul 45s. There must have been 500-600 45s in that box. Some of them were in decent shape; a lot of them were trashed. The sunglasses dude wanted some ridiculous amount of cash from Jack for the 45s (like $1000). When I remarked on the condition of some of the records, Mr. Sunglasses told me that he knew of a cleaner that magically took scratches off of records. Of course, I called bullshit on that and me 'n' Sunglasses went at it for about 10 minutes. Finally Jack offered the guy 100 bucks for the 45s, and since it was a hot day and they didn't want to carry the box back out to try and peddle it to someone else, they took it. I immediately dove into the 45s and pulled out a number of things (for a buck each) - Big Maybelle on Rojac, The Soul Stirrers on Sar, The Meters on Josie, and this one, among others. The bummer was, I didn't have a lot of cash with me that day, so I couldn't buy more - so I left the OTHER THREE COPIES of this 45 (two stock, one promo) in the box. When I came back a week later, the box was gone. I often wonder what else I left in there, since there were a LOT of records I didn't recognize AT ALL.
The Determinations - You Can't Hold On To Love (Important 1010) - 1967
Monday, July 9, 2012
Released in November, 1967, a full year after the group's last LP (which, back then, was a LIFETIME between LPs),"Forever Changes" perfectly crystallizes the other side of the Summer Of Love - the seeds of what came next in that horrible year of 1968.
This song from that LP covers a lot of the alienation people were feeling, as if something really, really bad was coming over the horizon. "In my house I've got no shackles/you can come and look if you want to", this song's first line, suggests freedom, but Arthur Lee sees it differently; YOU can come and look, he says, but I'm staying put, here on my own turf. And as much as you call his name, he's STILL not coming out. Kind of a nice allegory for Love's career, actually - they were HUGE in Los Angeles, but never made it nationally because Arthur refused to tour outside of the LA area.
Arthur also predicts the America of the 21st century with the line "The news today will be the movies for tomorrow" - hell, Oliver Stone and half the crap on the Lifetime Network should be paying royalties to Arthur Lee's estate! But the scariest imagery comes through at the end, when Arthur sings: "And the water's turned to blood/and if you don't think so/go turn on your tub/and if it's mixed with mud/you'll see it turn to gray". These lines come from a conversation that Arthur Lee had with a soldier who had just come back from his tour of duty in Vietnam. The soldier told him that the one thing he'd always remember was that human blood, once a crimson red, turned gray when it flowed into the mud.
"Forever Changes" did not sell well upon initial release (it only hit #154 on Billboard's LP chart, and that was probably based on massive sales in LA and almost nowhere else). In February, 1968, the group finally released a single from the LP - "Alone Again Or"/"A House Is Not A Motel". "Alone Again Or" charted high in LA (of course) and failed everywhere else. By this point, the group itself was in tatters, with several members addicted to heroin and money problems were rampant. After releasing the non-LP single "Your Mind And We Belong Together" in June, 1968, the group splintered, with Arthur retaining the group name for future projects.
If you've never heard "Forever Changes", do yourself a favor and get a copy. It really is scary how good it is. It could have been released this morning and would still sound fresh.
By the way, this is the first music link I uploaded in STEREO. Best part is, it's TRUE stereo. So listen on earphones if you can!
Love - A House Is Not A Motel (Elektra 45629) - 1968