I think we might be about five cosmic minutes away from the national media discovering that Antifa and Black Lives Matter are secretly funded by the Trump campaign. Meanwhile, no matter what happens, I plan to gas up my BB pistol (yep, it’s one of those) and dance in my underwear where the neighbors can see me.
That oughta keep ’em at bay when they come to burn my record collection. I hope so, because I’d hate for any hooligans to find out one of these things can still take your eye out at twenty paces, just like mama said.
Okay, time for my (almost) monthly column for Rick’s place at Sixties’ Music Secrets. The subject this time is the art of Rock and Roll arranging in the first half of the sixties with another on the second half to follow shortly. Listening to records with a specific ear for arrangements is an old habit of mine–probably gifted to me by my choir-arranging, vocal-coaching mother–and it’s the one quality, more than any other, that first drew me to the decade’s music. It was no accident that I was pulled in by the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys...who get their due here, along with many others!
Just to whet your appetite, here’s the one that didn’t make the cut when we finally cut the selection to ten:
A concept LP about the joys, perils, and traps of rock stardom from a man who had seen more sides of the story than anybody but Elvis and, like Elvis, would find the road ending in the trap of an early death. I suppose it was possible in 1972, with E and Chuck Berry also back at the top of the charts, to think there would be more hit singles like the title track and ho-hum. But there weren’t and Rick doesn’t sound like someone who took his “comeback” for granted, but suspected it was only a temporary bit of well-earned good fortune. One of the first LPs I bought, because I knew I loved the hit from the radio and because it was cheap in a cutout bin: When I found out, a few years later, that Christgau had given it a B- , it was the first sign that he and I were not exactly going to get along. And it’s greater now, when it’s no longer seemly or excusable to take it for granted, than it was then.
9) Various ArtistsShagger’s Delight (1981)
A fabulous collection of “beach music,” a subset of 50’s R&B and light 60’s soul that Carolina college kids turned into their own little genre in the 70’s. This is heavy on the R&B, though the real keeper is the Kingpins’ “It Won’t Be This Way Always” from the early 60’s and a bridge to the future of a lot more than beach music.
8) Sam CookeLive at the Harlem Square Club (1985)
Released 20 years after Cooke’s tawdry, untimely death, this is the LP that shocked everyone who hadn’t heard his gospel music. I’d heard his gospel. I wasn’t shocked. That’s probably why, although I bought it right away, it took me a long time to hear it for what it was: A sizzling live performance in front of a sympathetic black audience by one of soul’s greatest singers and master showmen. You want to know how and why his loss was felt so deeply by so many, this is the place to start.
7) Sam CookeThe Man and His Music (1986)
Which makes this the place to finish. If I just want to sing along to some Sam Cooke, I still pull 1962’s RCA Best of. But if I want to hear as much of the whole story as I can absorb in one sitting, this double-LP is better than similar length CD-only comps. His box set doesn’t have “A Change Is Gonna Come.” I know it was a rights issue at the time…but any journey that long has to end there. This one does….without leaving off anything from “Touch the Hem of His Garment” to “Everybody Loves to Cha, Cha, Cha,” along the way.
6) Various Artists A History of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues: Volume 1, 1950-1958 (1987)
Ya’ll know I like the democracy of the title–“a” not “the.” And this is the cream of that very large crop even it doesn’t have Fats Domino. The sound of his piano is all over this, even if he didn’t play a lick here (and it’s possible he played any number). What more do you need than that? Heck, the way Shirley and Lee start things off, you’d be halfway through a record of crickets chirping before you noticed anyway.
5) Cyndi LauperTrue Colors (1986)
The version of “Iko, Iko” from the prior LP put me in mind of Cyndi’s brilliant use of it here so I listened to the whole thing….and was again reminded that it’s fine from beginning to end. There was a weird backlash at the time because it only had three hit singles instead of the five spun off She’s So Unusual. Because she had let the Rock side down by not becoming as popular as the Dance/Hip-Hop side’s Madonna at the last minute where those sides were anything like equal. And because it wasn’t the Greatest Album of the Decade! Funny, I thought there could only be one of those. Anyway, the singles were great, including her searing version of “What’s Going On,” (best heard here) which she fashioned as an answer record to Marvin Gaye’s where anyone else with her chops would have insisted on competing…and not even the Greatest Album of the Decade had a moment to match it segueing into an “Iko, Iko” to kill and die for.
4) Jackie WilsonThe Jackie Wilson Story (1983)
My God he was great…”Reet Petite” and the rest of the early Berry Gordy-penned hits, which the Boss used to start Motown, right on through to the early 70’s. This beautifully chosen 2-LP set doesn’t miss a trick or slow down. It’s all great but my favorite is Side Two which kicks off with “Baby Workout” and then turns to his fabulous straight blues singing. The teenage Al Green got kicked out of his house because he couldn’t stop listening to this and Elvis and he redeemed himself by being the only man who could live up to either.
3) Tanya TuckerHere’s Some Love (1976)
Tanya used to keep me up nights–and I mean until the sun came up–trying to figure her out. This was the LP that proved she didn’t need either Billy Sherill or Snuff Garrett to cut monster hits, her first really adult outing. Her wild child image has been so enduring it’s easy to forget how much she contributed to the new style of Countrypolitan. This one contains a lot of hidden gems and, like many of her LPs from this period, is not on CD. Hey Bear Family, get with it. I wanna stay up all night again!
2) Gary “U.S.” BondsFrank Guida Presents U.S. Bonds Greatest Hits (1981…I think)
If this wild ride through the swamp had been produced in New Orleans or Memphis or some other pre-qualified place it’s hard to imagine Guida, Bonds and Gene Barge not having higher profiles maybe even Hall of Fame profiles. Because it came from Norfolk, Virginia, no such luck. Too bad because it can make your day.
1) RaspberriesRaspberries’ Best: Featuring Eric Carmen (1976)
I swear I didn’t plan it this way, but this set ends where it began: with a 70’s-era concept LP about rock stardom. Only this time, it’s all about the dream of getting there, with “Overnight Sensation,” the consummate lyrical and emotional expression of the ideal, resting in the middle. It’s brilliantly programmed and every time I put it on the turntable and remember how close they came without quite making it, I have to laugh to keep from crying. Other people in my generation had “punk.” I had them. It was just enough. And this stops just short of Eric Carmen going solo and sending me into a black hole of depression!
If you want to know what it was like to live through the 70’s listen to War’s great albums If you want to know what the lost possibilities of the 70’s felt like, listen to this.
It only takes one.
(Orson Welles…on being remembered)
They did other good things, but when 60’s stalwarts James Drury and Honor Blackman passed away within a few days of each other last week, it was for The Virginian and Goldfinger they were principally, almost exclusively, remembered. That might have been a little unfair to their steady, consistent careers, but there you have it.
I think each deserves a slightly bigger context: Blackman wasn’t just a Bond girl, she was the Bond girl. Goldfinger was the third release in the Bond franchise. It had fabulous villains, a pulsing score, great, memorable set-pieces and Sean Connery. But the first two films had all of that…and better plots. There was a reason Goldfinger became the never-matched standard for a franchise now approaching its 60th anniversary. Blackman was the first credible actress to play opposite Connery as a love interest (Ursula Andress, the original Bond girl, had her lines dubbed because she spoke little English…the best that could be said of the rest was that they were, to a woman, no Ursula Andress).
Combining the necessary hot-to-trot factor (which Blackman had more of at 38 than ninety-five percent of beautiful women have at 22) with a knack for sardonic by-play and credible fight scenes was not as easy to pull off as she made it look. In the long decades since, only Diana Rigg, who had taken Blackman’s place in the iconic British spy series, The Avengers, managed it as well, and, while she had a better story, she didn’t have Connery. And she didn’t do it first.
The idea for an improbably gorgeous, ass-kicking femme may have sprung from the fertile imagination of Ian Fleming, but it was Honor Blackman who first embodied it for all to see. They gave her the most ridiculous of Fleming’s ridiculous names (“I’m Pussy Galore,” “But of course you are”), the furthest fetched of his far-fetched plots, and the hoary old frigid-lesbian-who-really-only-needs-to-meet-the-right-man for a character. She didn’t bat an eye. She just owned it. If you watch the first three Bond films in order you can still feel the shock when she shows up. It’s the first–and last–moment in a Bond film that lets you understand how the Brits came to rule the world for the three centuries preceding Blackman’s birth. Their failure to reproduce her in adequate numbers goes as far as anything to explain why she died in a world where her native land has become a footnote.
If James Drury were only remembered as the paragon of small town virtue and frontier decency and competence he represented so ably in Pollyanna and The Virginian it would be a fine legacy. But his “one”–the one that ensures he’ll be remembered as long as anyone cares about film–is, ironically, his nasty villain in Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country.
For all of that film’s other great qualities, it’s Drury, as the leader (but not, crucially, the oldest or meanest) of a band of ornery brothers, who gives the film its edge. Had he come along a little earlier and played bad apples in the crime noirs of the 40’s and 50’s he might have a cult following to match Dan Duryea’s or even Lee Marvin’s. As it was, he settled for making a living on television. In those perilous times, no man could be blamed for that–and few had the chops to make such a transition look as natural as riding a horse.
Honorable careers, honorable lives, one indelible moment. There has never been an age when people who matched those descriptions were in abundance. Sad to lose two of our age’s best in such short order.
The Count of the Old Town (1935); Walpurgis Night (1935); Intermezzo (1936); Dollar (1938); A Woman’s Face (1938); June Night (1940)
This collection of six early Ingrid Bergman films is part of Criterion’s Eclipse series and a dandy.
Of all the English-not-their-first-language stars who made their way to Hollywood in the Golden Age, none, not even Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich, had quite the impact of Ingrid Bergman.
She won three Oscars and probably deserved more…there are a few performances here that might have at least got nominations had they been made in America or even England. Be that as it may her legend is secure for as long as anyone cares about film and the greatest thing about this collection is that you can see it all coming. If by some chance she had never become a huge star, people who discovered these films would have wondered why.
There are other great things, especially Gustav Molander’s direction of the films that launched her on the international stage: Intermezzo, Dollar and A Woman’s Face. Molander evidently had no small impact on the other Bergman, Ingmar, and one can see why. The films are all potboilers of one kind or another. Intermezzo, later remade with Leslie Howard as Ingrid’s first Hollywood film, is a pure melodrama; Dollar and A Woman’s Face are noir-ish thrillers, though all have elements that blend with other genres, especially the great women’s pictures being made in America at the time.
But Molander and Bergman herself give them more than a touch of class. They make them move, physically and emotionally. Even being distracted by the necessity of reading subtitles you can catch enough to see these are world class talents on display. For intensity, excitement and even intimacy, the chase scene in A Woman’s Face equals anything in Hitchcock, Ford, Kurosawa. It would be worth the price of admission even if the film didn’t contain Bergman’s greatest early performance and one of her greatest ever.
Still, it’s a testament to Bergman’s undeniable star power (David Selznick started wooing her to Hollywood about four seconds after he finished watching Intermezzo–he’d have probably given her Gone With the Wind if she had asked for it–a Swedish Scarlett? Never mind just get her on the lot!), and her already considerable skill that she shines through because these films, especially the last four, have much else to recommend them and I’m sure will reward repeat viewings.
I was especially impressed, even moved, by the social backgrounds so skillfully drawn in Intermezzo. With dark shadows already looming over Europe, never mentioned but rumbling in the film’s subconscious like distant thunder, it’s apparent that bourgeois life went on, even thrived in places like Sweden, where the hope of avoiding disaster was real. The Great War and world wide depression had not killed it. It would take Hitler, Stalin, the Pax Americana and the soft style of bureaucratic thuggery assembled in Brussels after the war to accomplish that. Add to that the striking, inventive camera work and deep shadings of both plot and cinematography in Dollar and A Woman’s Face, and these films would hold plenty of interest if Ingrid Bergman had never been born.
They wouldn’t have been as good though.
Bergman has a claim on being the greatest actress to ever set foot in front of a camera. The touch of madness that set Vivien Leigh apart can be glimpsed here, and the trouper who could give Barbara Stanwyck a run for her money is on full display.
Give or take Saratoga Trunk, though, a fascinating misfire if ever there was one (it’s a lot easier to imagine the Mighty Ingrid, slightly imperious and all the more lovable for it, as a tail-swishing gold digger chasing a rich husband after you’ve seen the films here than after watching Gaslight and Casablanca yet again), she never got much chance to display her full range, perhaps show us what Leigh would have been like if she had held the madness in check.
It was Intermezzo that brought her international fame. The Germans wanted her as badly as Selznick, badly enough that she actually signed a contract with them–one visit to Hitler’s Germany was all she needed to break it. That film also set her basic style and image. But the strongest film here is A Woman’s Face, which doesn’t skimp on the social drama, sharpens it if anything, despite being a crime film that features Bergman herself as an all too convincing femme fatale who manages a transformation from horribly scarred blackmailer, willing to commit murder for profit without a second thought, to a woman who has her conscience revived by the miraculous restoration of her beauty (all the more striking because she also has a claim on being the most beautiful woman to set foot in front of a camera) with a startling, naturalistic ease. It’s in watching that take place that you realize there’s nothing this woman can’t do–by which I mean both the character and the actress.
I don’t mean to slight the other films here, especially Per Lindstrom’s June Night, another crime/social drama, which has a beautiful, poignant ending I didn’t see coming and strikes a deeper chord for having been made in a world where Sweden was on notice that it would not be allowed to stand idly by as it had done in 1914. They’re all good and they add up to a portrait of Europe between the wars that, collectively, go as far as The Rules of the Game to remind us of what was irretrievably lost in the raging conflagration.
I think they used to call it Civilization. The journey here, from the breezy comedy of The Count of the Old Town to the bleak romanticism of June Night, is a melancholy reminder of how quickly it can be lost.
Who better to take such a journey with than the Mighty Ingrid?
Glad to have my site operating again after the glitches of the last two weeks! I’ll welcome everybody back with a link to my latest column for Rick at Sixties’ Music Secrets, “The 60’s: One Record to Bind Them All?” attempting to answer the question of whether such a tumultuous decade can be represented by a single record.