Monday, October 29, 2012
Most Halloween records, truth be told, aren't scary. Funny? Yes. But it's pretty hard to make a truly scary record. But if there was one guy who was equal to the task, it was Screamin' Jay Hawkins.
Screamin' Jay (b. Jalacy Hawkins, July 18, 1929, d. Feb. 12, 2000) is well-known, of course, for his 1956 record "I Put A Spell On You", which also used to get play on the radio around Halloween. But besides the truly frightening power of Screamin' Jay's voice (he originally studied to be an opera singer), the record's not really all that scary (though it did scare a lot of radio programmers; the record was banned for "suggestiveness" because of the ending, where Jay simulated - depending on who you ask - either orgasm, buggery, cannibalism, or just plain madness).
This record, however, doesn't play around. It's just plain FREAKY. It starts with a piano and guitar that sound like they're being played in a dark basement, followed by an eerie chorus wordlessly humming an evil chord Then Jay comes in, screaming like a madman as usual, but this time he seems tortured by something, even scared. He sings some weird lyrics, such as "Most lovers are blind/the rest just lose their minds" and "I long so much to be/the way I was before I was me." Even better is the fact that, when Screamin' Jay sings the title, he follows it with this noise that sounds like "affaffaffaffaffafffaaaafafaa". Meanwhile, these strange sounds come out of nowhere from all angles, and at unexpected times. Even the recording engineer gets in on the act, making very weird edits in the record at about 1:39 and 2:27. The record ends with Jay screaming his head off as the weird backing voices take over.
Happy Halloween - and DO NOT listen to this record by yourself in the dark. I can't be responsible for what happens next.
Screamin' Jay Hawkins - I Hear Voices (Enrica 1010) - 1962
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Yeah, I'm posting a Freddie and The Dreamers 45, because it's GOOD.
Freddie and The Dreamers were one of the more annoying products of the British Invasion. Annoying, at least, in the visual sense. Their lead singer (former milkman Freddie Garrity, 1936-2006) looked like Buddy Holly after a starvation diet. They did this dance called "the Freddie" in which you would wave your arms and legs around, sort of resembling an intermittently-working windmill. If that wasn't annoying enough, Freddie would jump around like a crazy little speed freak and let out an insane cackle at inopportune moments. Even when he sang ballads, Freddie would use very exaggerated dramatic movements (complete with Al Jolson-"Mammy"-style knee-drops) that looked like your neighbor's weird kid serenading your teenage daughter outside your window.
However, that being said, Freddie pulled it off with such aplomb that you couldn't help but like the guy. Plus, it must be said, that the man could REALLY sing. He proves it on this single, released on these shores in June of 1965. While a lot of Freddie and The Dreamers' singles are lightweight and some are downright silly, this one sticks out like a sore thumb, mainly because of the heavier instrumentation (and a good, trebly guitar riff played by the recently deceased Brit sessionman Big Jim Sullivan) and the more adult tone the record takes, instead of the comedic bent of most of their other singles.
The song was written by Tom Jones' (and, later, Engelbert Humperdinck's) manager Gordon Mills, and it fits in with Jones' more "mature" market (indeed, Tom recorded his own version of this in 1966). However, the "mature" market was a little out of reach for Freddie and the boys, and so the record only climbed to #48 nationally, and was the last chart item for the group in America.
Too bad, because "A Little You" is a great pop song - nothing more, nothing less - but unfortunately, Freddie's name on the record makes a lot of folks dismiss it. I was very tempted to just post the sound file and have you guess who it was. I'm sure if The Hollies or The Ivy League or Ian and The Zodiacs did this song, all the music critics and hipsters (aka useless leeches) would praise this as a minor masterpiece, in league with the work The Beatles did on the A Hard Day's Night soundtrack. But it was Freddie, lovable, laughable Freddie who put this out, and the record paid the price for having his name on it. Freddie Garrity was an oddball talent, but a talent nonetheless, and his tenure in the spotlight deserves a closer look, because there was a lot more substance there than met the eye.
Freddie and The Dreamers - A Little You (Mercury 72462) - 1965
Monday, October 15, 2012
Problem is, when you're a 7-year-old kid, you don't know WHAT an A-side or a B-side is.
I have several record fiends in my family, and strangely enough they're all women. My aunt Virginia has a pretty large collection of 45s from the 50s and 60s, my aunt Susan bought more records in the 1970s than anyone, and then there was my Uncle Jerry's first wife, aunt Julia, who came from a FAMILY of record collectors; they ALL had tons of 45s just lying around the house (unsleeved, of course).
Anyway, one day at a family function, aunt Julia told me that her brother Alan wanted to get rid of some of his 45s, and would I want them? After picking myself up off the floor (I was a very dramatic 7-year-old), I said yes. I waited for 2 weeks, then my aunt delivered - there were at least 150 singles (unsleeved, of course) and I just grabbed my little record player and went to town (looking back, I must have been an easy kid to babysit).
One of the records in the stack was on a label I'd never seen before - Par Lo Records. I had no idea who Aaron Neville was, much less the fact that his family is royalty in the New Orleans music kingdom. All I knew was I stuck "Tell It Like It Is" on the turntable - and hated it. I didn't like "slowies" back in those days.
Then I turned it over and played "Why Worry" - and was blown away; so much so that for YEARS I thought this was the A-side of the record. That "blown-away" feeling persists to this day. Over the years I've come to love and appreciate "Tell It Like It Is" as one of the great soul ballads of all time. But I guarantee you, every time I pull my copy out of the files, it's this B-side that the needle hits first.
That 7-year-old kid had pretty good taste.....
....and thank you, aunt Julia.
Aaron Neville - Why Worry (Par Lo 101) - 1966
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Here's one you never hear about - mainly because it was released as a B-side to a country tune by Link Wray and his brothers on the tiny Infinity label in 1963. "Ninety Nine Years To Go" is a murder ballad with the sound of a chain-gang song. In fact, the record starts with the sound of a pick-axe hitting rocks. From there, one of the Wray Brothers (it's probably not Link, it's more likely Vernon Wray on lead) sings his tale of woe; he's serving 99 years for shooting his girl because he caught her with his best friend. No big deal here, but what brings this record over the top is the boyish earnestness of the vocal; he might as well be singing about bagging groceries at the Piggly Wiggly.
The best part (besides the ragged backing vocals) is when the singer's girlfriend, after being shot, says with her last breath, "Jimmy, I'm not mad at you!" Hmmmm. I see, she cheated on HIM, with his BEST FRIEND, but she decides to take the high road AFTER he shoots her, saying she's not mad at him. I think the point, honey, is that he's MAD at YOU.....
By the way, if you want to hear the other side of this record (a sprightly number called "You're Sweeter Than Sugar"), check it out here.
The Wray Brothers - Ninety Nine Years To Go (Infinity 033) - 1963