Four Freshmen – Hurdy Gurdy Man (Liberty)
Enoch Light – Sunshine Superman (Project 3)
Paul Horn – Eight Miles High (RCA)
David McCallum – Turn Turn Turn (Capitol)
Brooklyn Bridge – Nights In White Satin (Buddah)
Ronnie Aldrich – Ride My See Saw (London)
Bud Shank – Cocoanut Grove (World Pacific)
Artie Schroeck Implosion – Six O’Clock (Verve)
Duane Eddy – Monday Monday (Reprise)
Tony Hatch – Black Is Black (Warner Brothers)
Roger Coulam – Dizzy (Contour)
Enoch Light – Marrakesh Express (Project 3)
My vacation (from work, not from the interwebs) has come to an end and I come to you today with a sequel (tangential) of sorts to Iron Leg Digital Trip #5, The Party.
Where ‘The Party’ was focused on a very specific aesthetic, in which common ground was touched upon from a number of different musical perspectives, this version of the podcast focuses almost exclusively on kitsch. What we have here is 60’s pop and rock as viewed through the lens of (almost exclusively) non-rock musicians, many coming from the “easy” side of the tracks.
Like many Iron Leg and Funky16Corners mixes, this one was the result of inspirado, i.e. it fell together pretty spontaneously after I bagged a couple of unusual easy 45s during a recent dig. I took them home, started prowling through the crates and before long the playlist began to take shape.
When you’re dealing with this kind of stuff, there is definitely a thread of exploitation running through the mix, with the vast majority of these “interpretations” based in an often feeble grab at the pop market from someone operating on the outside.
The mix opens with a track by German violinist Helmut Zacharias. Almost completely unknown here in the states, he was an easy listening star on the Continent, recording countless albums filled with all kinds of pop and classical material. His version of Donovan’s ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’, at first seems like a tragically ill-advised dip into psychedelic waters.
That is until the next track in which the very same tune is given a vocal interpretation by the Four Freshman.
You heard me right.
A few months back I was picking through a box of extremely unpromising LPs when I pulled out the Four Freshmen disc, flipped it over to see if there were any unusual covers and saw the track that you’re hearing now. I was working without a portable that day, but there was no way in hell that I wasn’t going to invest fifty cents to hear for myself how a staid, middle aged, brylcreemed gang like the Four Freshmen was going to attack ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’. It’s every bit as weird and uncomfortable as you’d imagine, with a sort of Five Neat Guys (see SCTV) feel to it.
Next up with the Donovan is none other than Easy-Auteur Enoch Light. Light’s albums from the 60s and early 70s are a gold mine of really interesting versions of pop, rock and soul material, all arranged for maximum quadraphonic, HI FI headphone action and often actually worth listening to. His take on ‘Sunshine Superman’ has a Vic Mizzy-esque feel and wouldn’t have been out of place on the soundtrack to ‘The Love God’.
Paul Horn was a jazz flautist who would go on a few years later to be (like Tony Scott) one of the early proponents of the new age sound with his ‘Inside’ LP. In the mid-60s he was still a fairly mainstream jazz artist recording covers of rock material. His version of the Byrds ‘Eight Miles High’ brings with it a kind of intriguing squareness with it, including a far out clarinet solo.
David McCallum was of course Ilya Kuryakin on the hugely popular ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E.’. Why he felt he needed to release albums of easy listening orchestrations of pop material is a mystery. However, he did so with the assistance of both H.B. Barnum and beat diggers fave David Axelrod, and the LPs are sought after today by both devotees of easy/kitsch sounds and 60-year-old women reliving their teen crushes.
The next cut is from the folks that brought you ‘The Worst That Could Happen’. That’s right, Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge. Their, ummm, ‘overwrought’ take on the Moody Blues ‘Nights In White Satin’ comes from their third LP, 1970s ‘Brooklyn Bridge’, which appears in retrospect to be a grab for relevance with the rock market, with a heavier sound and covers of Neil Young and the Buffalo Springfield.
That their efforts were for naught is put into sharp focus by the quality of the cover of ‘Ride My See Saw’ by British pianist Ronnie Aldrich. Aldrich was for a time the musical director of the BBC, and recorded a number of “easy” LPs with arrangements of pop material. His version of ‘Ride My See Saw’ is actually pretty cool in an ‘Avengers Theme’ kid of way.
Bud Shank was a serious jazz musician and proponent of the West Coast cool school who, like many of his contemporaries recorded albums of pop material to keep the money coming in. His 1967 LP ‘A Spoonful of Jazz’ was composed entirely of Lovin’ Spoonful covers and featured a who’s who of West Coast jazz and studio bigshots. His take on ‘Cocoanut Grove’ – which was fairly jazzy in its original version – is very cool.
Coming from yet another all-Spoonful-covers LP is ‘Six O’Clock’ by the Artie Schroeck Implosion (one of the first tunes featured on this blog). Schroeck was another one of the easy cats who took an imaginative approach to his arrangements, adding little psychedelic touches here and there.
Duane Eddy had a number of guitar instrumental hits, but by the middle of the 60s was hopelessly out of his depth in a sea of flower power. His 1967 LP ‘The Biggest Twang In Town’ (destined to be defaced by a generation of teenage wise guys) contained a number of pop and rock covers, with his take on the Mamas and Papas ‘Monday Monday’ being the most interesting.
Tony Hatch was a very successful pop songwriter (‘Downtown’) who recorded a couple of albums worth of instrumental arrangements of pop material, mostly covers, including a groovy version of Los Bravos ‘Black Is Black’.
Roger Coulam was a studio organist in the UK and Europe (playing on many Serge Gainsbourg LPs) who recorded a number of his own LPs of instrumentals. His version of Tommy Roe’s ‘Dizzy’ comes from the LP ‘Hammond Stereo Sounds To Spoil You’.
This edition of the Iron Leg Digital Trip closes out with yet another cut from Enoch Light. His version of Crosby Stills & Nash’s ‘Marrakesh Express’ is heavy on the moog and the horns and the background singers, and a fitting conclusion for our little foray into the swinging sounds of squaresville.