THE LAST TEN ALBUMS I LISTENED TO (Fall 2019, Countdown–All Vinyl Edition)

10) Elvis Presley The Sun Sessions (1976)

Still the best way to hear the revolution happening in real time. What’s remarkable at this distance is how quiet the music is at its core, something one would never say about E’s R&B predecessors though it might apply to some of his pop and bluegrass influences. The leap from “Blue Moon of Kentucky”–incendiary in context–to “Good Rockin’ Tonight” (which wastes fine versions by Roy Brown and Wynonie Harris–along with all of human history to that moment, including “That’s Alright Mama”) is still shocking. A miracle in other words and as inexplicable as ever.

9) The Firesign Theatre Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers (1970)

I had to pull this to be sure it was the source of The Department of Redundancy Department so of course I listened to the whole thing. I always found them hit and miss (I sort of thought that was the point–that nobody would get all of it, especially the people who swore they did.)

I laughed. Nervously. Like always. Still not sure if they were geniuses or complete frauds.

Which might also be the point.

8) The Beatles Second Album (1964)

If you accept the Beatles as a garage band before they were anything else, this is the greatest garage band album ever. It was, of course, put out by their American record company, Capitol, with any eye to maximum commercial exploitation of their magic, maximally commercial, moment.

But that doesn’t keep it from being their strongest LP, start to finish. “Roll Over Beethoven” (with George delivering a rabid lead vocal) and “Money” are the strongest of their many strong covers and you can smell their naked ambition in every groove. Capitalism 101 all the way around. If you substitute greed for ambition, you can understand why John Lennon spent the rest of his life trying to make it up to everyone…including the tragic pretense he could walk around the streets of the meanest city in the world like any other citizen without paying a price.

7) Nancy Sinatra Nancy (1969)

The greatest torch album recorded by any member of the Sinatra family and that’s no shame on the rest because, at least thematically, it might be the greatest torch album by any member of anybody’s family.

I scored it for three bucks at a record show in the early nineties and, after my first listen, immediately set out on a quest to track down the rest of her LPs, which were not easy to find in the Florida Panhandle in those days. (Later, I bought them all on CD, only to see them go in the Great CD Selloff of 2002. This is the only one I’ve replaced. Hey, I still got the vinyl versions of the rest.) It turned out this was her magnum opus, the album she had in her all along. Absent Lee Hazlewood, she eschewed any pretense of being hip or groovy and slowed everything to a crawl. “Light My Fire,” “Son of a Preacher Man” “For Once in My Life” even “Memories,” which was slow to begin with, are drawn into her space so thoroughly and intimately the question of whether her versions are “better” is left for fools. The killer was “Big Boss Man,” which she not only slowed down, but turned inside out. She got scant credit for any of this, of course. I wonder if it would have made a difference if they’d included “Home,” her tribute to the body bags coming home from Viet Nam (now available as a bonus track on the CD edition). Probably not. Returning soldiers weren’t very popular then. Dead or alive.

6) Charlie Rich The Fabulous Charlie Rich (1969)

One of the greatest vocal albums ever recorded, stellar even by the standards of ’69, which was the greatest vocal year in the history of American music.

Rich was one of the few singers who could immerse himself in Beautiful Loser mythos and get away with it, probably because he didn’t sound like he was imagining being beaten. He sounded like he was beaten. That he was barely hanging on.

This is the best place to hear the timless “Life Has It’s Little Ups and Downs,” but the whole thing shines and “July 12, 1939,” his prequel/sequel to “Ode to Billie Joe” hasn’t aged a day either.

5) Linda Ronstadt Mad Love (1980)

An exchange in Greil Marcus’s mailbag had me pulling this one off the shelf for the first time in forever. I confess I missed it. She went New Wave (fake punk in Marcus’s words) and nailed it solid….like she usually did, except this is more consistent than anything I can remember except Heart Like a Whell and Prisoner in Disguise, the one-two punch that made her a superstar who could take these kind of chances in the first place.

This is also the one where she responded to Elvis Costello’s attack on her version of “Alison” by recording three more of his songs and beating him two falls out of three. That was after she called him a brat. It took brass to do all that in the brief period where he was a genius, but the real highlights, the title tune and “How Do I Make You,” don’t owe EC a thing. This one may go into heavy rotation.

4) James Brown Can Your Heart Stand It!! (1981)

This was actually my proper introduction to JB. What with all the box sets and CD reissues and what not, I’d forgotten how perfect it was

It only took one listen to remember. Understandably, people focus on the four-square funk bottom. But it was his singing that was the real miracle, the vocal equivalent of watching Elvis on television in the 50’s, or James himself on The T.A.M.I. Show.

You keep thinking, What will he do next?

Decades of listening don’t really yield any answers. The next move, whenever it comes, is still a surprise.

(And God bless the late, lamented Solid Smoke label, on which this and the next entry appeared.)

3) The Sheppards 18 Dusty Diamonds (1980)

This came out in the early 80’s, when record companies were just starting to pick up the pace when it came to discovering, or rediscovering, rock and roll’s bottomless nature.

The Sheppards were some kind of cross between doo wop and soul, a bit like The Jive Five. But, where the Five were always defined by Eugene Pitt’s dark, moody leads, the Sheppards were more flexible. That could lead them to the occasional silly novelty, but when they locked in, which was often, they were as great as anybody.

2) Ivory Joe Hunter The Man and His Music: Classics I & II (1983)

Well, as you can see this one is pretty obscure. I couldn’t find an image online for this particular collection, proving you still can’t find everything on the internet! (Well, proving I can’t anyway).

It’s a double-LP collection of Ivory Joe’s music from his late 40’s R&B heyday to his late 60’s forays into country. He was such a master of nuance that you could switch the production styles from one era to another and nobody would be the wiser. Intriguing discovery (and one more reason you should pay attention to your record collection) is a 1961 side “May the Best Man Win,” where he sounds so much like Charlie Rich you can’t help wondering who influenced who.

1) Dizzy Gillespie New Wave (1963)

My favorite bop album. One of these days I’m going to replace my scratchy vinyl with a clean-sounding CD. Since the vinyl came used (from my Dad’s flea market stash many moons ago), I’ve never heard it the way it’s supposed to be heard. I think the reason I haven’t upgraded is because I’m afraid it will lose something in the process.

Being the first form of American music made principally for dilettantes (or at least being principally exploited by them), bop’s not really my thing. It’s a pure mystery why I warmed to this one. But then, music is supposed to be a mystery isn’t it?

I hope they remember that in heaven.

….til next time.

BLUE COLLAR BLUES…MY LATEST FOR SIXTIES’ MUSIC SECRETS

My latest for Sixties’ Music Secrets, “Blue Collar Blues: Music and Class in the 60’s” is now online. You can access it here and find out which road through the sixties leads from Jimmy Reed to Nancy Sinatra!

Just to demonstrate what a great list of music you are going to find, here’s one that didn’t make the cut, Bob Gaudio’s ode to a street urchin who wiped his windshield at a New York stoplight:

 

IF FIRST WE DANCE, THE REST WILL SURELY FOLLOW. (David Winters, R.I.P.)

David Winters with Joey Heatherton, sometime in the ’60s! Better then.

Nothing was more important to the ethos of Rock and Roll America than the idea we might dance together. No one was more important to that idea’s broad acceptance than David Winters, who passed away this week at the age of 80.

He choreographed The T.A.M.I. Show, Elvis and Ann-Margret in Viva Las Vegas (among several Elvis movies), and Nancy Sinatra’s killer TV special Movin’ With Nancy. His dance troupe, the David Winters Dancers, was deep in the iconic DNA of Shindig! and Hullabaloo.

Before and after he did other things as actor, producer, director, memoirist, matchmaker for Alice Cooper and his wife of forty-three years.

Before and after, he managed to win a hall full of awards and force the television academy to invent a new Emmy category for choreographers.

Along the way, he worked with practically everybody and if anyone ever had a bad word to say, I’ve never seen it.

It is not hard to see him as the soul of generosity. It’s almost impossible to convey how liberating his vision was even when a born wallflower like me first encountered it two decades later on scrappy, crappy bootleg videotapes scrounged from the pages of Goldmine magazine at the onset of the Frozen Silence that was specifically designed to squash the freedom his whirling dervish, multi-racial dancers once promised.

We may or may not ever emerge from that Silence, and God only knows what will replace it if we do.

But we’ll never fly closer to the sun than when his way was the way.

THE BEST (Hal Blaine, R.I.P.)

You don’t have to take my word for it.

Q: You must have a real rewarding sense of accomplishment.

A: I was very lucky to find my niche in life–being an accompanist. I remember singers coming up to me and saying, “I love the way you play for me; you never seem to step on my lines.” Well, I was never a solo artist. I wasn’t a Buddy Rich. I’ll tell you a story. Milt Holland, the percussionist, and I were working years ago at World Pacific Jazz Records. I got a call for a Kathy Rich session, Buddy Rich’s daughter. I said, “Wow!” Buddy produced it and he was real sweet. I was getting into my car after the last session when Milt Holland comes running up to me and says, “Listen, Hal, Buddy would never say this to you, but I want you to know what he said.” Milt went up to Buddy before that and said, “Hey, Buddy, how come you’re not playing drums on your kid’s album?” Buddy turned around and said, “I wanted the best.”

(The Big Beat: Conversations with Rock’s Great Drummers, Max Weinberg w/Robert Santelli, 1984)

Master of the thunder…

the lightning…

and the rain.

To say more would be gilding the lily. Which, on more recordings than will ever be counted in this life, he never did.

DIAMONDS IN THE SHADE (Connie Francis Up)

“Fallin’”
Connie Francis (1958)
#30 Billboard
#39 Cashbox
Recommended source: Souvenirs

Connie Francis was a brilliant pop singer who, because she was the right age for it in the late fifties, got marketed to the rock and roll audience–and pulled it off. Not many waked that path with any real success. Bobby Darin for sure. Pat Boone sort of (his success was undeniable–for all kinds of musical and social reasons, his relationship to rock and roll was far more dubious than Darin’s or even Connie’s, but that’s a story for another time).

If you accept her as rock and roll–which is not much more a stretch than accepting Italo-American women who came in her wake, from Nancy Sinatra to Madonna Ciccone (lots don’t, I sometimes do, though Connie remains an enigma)–then she was the music’s first female superstar, beating Brenda Lee to the Top Ten by two years.

Yet, if Brenda is obscured now, Connie is all but forgotten. Listening to the first disc of her box set Souvenirs, which I just reacquired, more than fifteen years after the Great CD Selloff of 2002 (aka, The Second Worst Mistake of My Life–the first involved a girl), one can almost hear why.

Despite her remarkable talent, it didn’t seem the industry knew quite what to do with her. Records that would have fit right in–and possibly been big hits a few years earlier–sounded staid and old-fashioned in 1955 and ’56, even though she was still in her teens.

After ten straight stiffs (somebody must have believed in her), “Who’s Sorry Now” finally put her in the big time, reaching #4 on both the Pop and R&B charts in 1957. There was another stiff and a modest hit before she followed up with 1958’s “Stupid Cupid,” a novelty that sold entirely on her voice and didn’t necessarily point to any discernible future.

A few months later, in early 1959, “My Happiness”–an early and excellent example of vocal double-tracking (mostly available to singers who were really on-pitch in those days)–went to #2, established her basic persona for good, and cemented her position as a major star, a position she would hold until the arrival of the Beatles. (From “Stupid Cupid” onward, twenty-seven of her next twenty-eight singles went Top 40, with thirteen going Top 10 and three to #1.)

You don’t exactly need a calculator to count the vocal stars who could match that success between 1956 and 1963 and to count the women you only need to count Connie and Brenda.

But the record released between “Stupid Cupid” and “My Happiness” is one of history’s intriguing near misses. “Fallin'” was a bluesy, adult vocal married to a Tin Pan Alley-style lyric (not as good as top level Tin Pan Alley but not bad). It stalled in the lower half of the Top 40 and was promptly forgotten. If it had broken as big as “My Happiness” did with the very next release–if the lyric had been as good as “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” or “Blue Moon,”–who knows what possibilities producers would have sensed in Francis’ voice? Hits do clarify things!

It’s a fine record in its own right. And the more pop-sounding records were plenty good.

But boy would I love to hear her on an album’s worth of this stuff:

MERCY ON A POOR BOY (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #138)

It’s funny how the people you like so often end up being responsible for the things you like….often in ways you never suspected. Here’s the story of how Joe South, Nancy Sinatra and Freddy Weller formed the foundation underneath Mac Davis’s creation of “in the Ghetto”…and what Elvis did with it. Be sure to stay for the part about the new car and the color TV:

WORKING MAN (Kenny O’Dell, R.I.P.)

Kenny O’Dell started in Duane Eddy’s band and had some modest success as a recording artist. But he made his lasting mark as a Hall of Fame country songwriter who had a knack for scoring signature hits for era-defining country acts.

His best known song, “Behind Closed Doors,” made Charlie Rich a huge crossover star after Sam Phillips and a string of Nashville’s crack producers had been trying to put him over since the fifties. Released in 1973, the record probably did more than any other to open Nashville up to modern crossover and while that might have been a mixed blessing for those who liked to keep their country pure (it was only a year or two later that Rich himself, after reading John Denver’s name off a card that read Entertainer of the Year, proceeded to pull out his cigarette lighter and set the card on fire), it established an art and business model the town adhered to for the rest of the decade.

The New Nashville that emerged in the eighties was defined by the Judds if it was defined by anyone and O’Dell wrote their breakout hit “Mama He’s Crazy” as well.

Before, during and after all that he wrote a few dozen other hits and the several hundred other songs that won him every accolade a Nashville songwriter could hope for, from the Grammy on down.

One of those did something that meant as much to me personally as any record could. It was the first single Tanya Tucker released after she left Billy Sherrill (one of the aforementioned crack producers who had, incidentally, helmed “Behind Closed Doors”), Columbia Records and (for the time) Nashville.

Those were considered three very big mistakes at the time. Tucker was still a teenager and was supposed to know her place. The experience was not, in the end, entirely a happy one for her, either personally or professionally.

But the first single she released on her new label went #1 country, #7 on the Adult Contemporary chart and became her only single to reach Billboard’s Top 40. It laid to rest any question of whether she needed Billy Sherrill or Columbia or Nashville.

I missed all that. But a few years later the record was in constant rotation on the same weird little station that played the only Pop or Oldies format in my North Florida county and introduced me to Lulu’s “Oh Me, Oh My,” Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Mak”er” and “Black Dog,” Nancy Sinatra’s “Sugartown” and more than a few timeless others.

Nothing ever opened my ears more than waiting for that one song to come back around.

And out of all that, Tanya Tucker ended up being the only singer besides Elvis and Patty Loveless who ever kept me up all night.

Kenny O’dell passed away last week at 73. He outlived the wife he married long enough ago to leave five great grandchildren behind by less than a year.

God speed brother. I ain’t forgot.

MY FAVORITE ODE TO A FLOWER CHILD (Not Quite Random Favorites….In No Particular Order)

I posted something a little while back which contained a fleeting, somewhat sardonic reference to flower children.

Shortly thereafter, Neal Umphred and I had a brief but interesting exchange on the definition of “flower children,”  which amounted to his associating the term with its original meaning in the sixties, when it had a generally positive connotation of early hippies pursuing admirable dreams of peace, love and harmony.

I, on the other hand, grew up in the seventies, by which time “flower child” was mostly associated with impossible, easily exploited naivete…if not something worse (for which I refer you to Pattie Boyd’s autobiography, where she recounts the less-than-idyllic experiences she had with George Harrison in Haight-Asbury).

Ever since, that split has mostly remained in place, with mileage varying depending on which vibe your experience has channeled you to prefer.

Neal was right that my reference was a bit careless and too easily misunderstood, though. It was actually a specific reference to something I had just read on Nancy Sinatra’s twitter feed that day (where she linked favorably to one of the Never Trump neocons–it doesn’t matter which one) which was representative of dozens of other twitter links I’ve seen in the past year between Hollywood liberals (all of whom, like Nancy, now profess flower children ideals even if they don’t live by them and even if, like Nancy, they once represented the antithesis of the concept, a fact Neal also pointed out). I mostly didn’t make the reference specific in the post because I like Nancy, both as a persona and as an artist, and we all tend to make allowances for those we like, even if they start channeling Max Boot** and company.

Not a Flower Child!

The exchange was interesting mainly because it forced me to think on the use of terms that morph into different usage over time for one person while retaining their original usage for those who first encountered such terms in their original, unblemished state.

Which brings up the question of authenticity.

I’m not sure how “authentic” my favorite Ode to a Flower Child is. It’s a master class in disciplined Popcraft, provided by people who probably regarded hippiedom (and its music) with, at best, a bemused smile.

The singer was no ways cool, though that was a serious misunderstanding on the part of the tastemakers, whether in print or on the street, because he was one of Rock and Roll America’s greatest singers…and purest self-made products.

The writer, Kenny Young, became a big-time environmentalist, which was interesting because his mastery of craft–what gave him the bones to be big-time anything–was capitalism at its finest.

The band was the Wrecking Crew.

So it was like that.

I’m sure the Grateful Dead, or somebody, must have recorded a more authentic, real life Ode to a Flower Child. And someone must have delivered a more straightforward lyric than one that begins by questioning everything the Flower Child stands for before giving way to her charms before starting to act like her dad again!

But that’s what makes it poignant. Its placement–both in time (1970) and cosmic space (between the sixties’ definition of a flower child and the interpretation that would become standard in the cynical decades to come)–between two world views that could never hope to be reconciled and which, in their subsequent pursuit of dominance, could only become mutually and hopelessly corrupted.

This is one record that does what music does better than anything else…let’s you feel one with a moment in time that won’t come again…

…still wish I’d never looked up the lyric, though, and been forced to hear the scrupulous craft of “cut off your Indian braids” where the pure poetry of “come off your Indian ways” used to be.

But at least the dread lyric sheet couldn’t take “get off your eight-ball blues” away….not that I would have let it!

[NOTE: **I don’t know if it was Boot who Nancy linked that day and I’m too lazy to look it up. I know it was someone of his ilk. I use him as a euphemism for “war-mongering neocon”–i.e., someone no Hollywood liberal would go anywhere near except in the throes of Trump Hatred–because, in a hyper-competitive field, he is my  pick for the most shamelessly vile. Previously relegated to think tank publications and the like, either the Post or the Times just hired him. Does it matter which?]

NOT HAVING A TV….GOOD THING? BAD THING? (CD Review)

The Vietnam War–A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick: The Soundtrack (2017)

I haven’t seen Ken Burns’ latest on The Vietnam War (which I notice sustains the implicit arrogance of so many of his other titles–The Civil War, Jazz, Baseball, etc.–the persistent implication that he has rendered the last word on each subject in turn, and one need look no further).

But the two-disc soundtrack (thirty-seven tracks in all) looked promising, maybe because I didn’t read too carefully past the head-spinning, conceptually heart-stopping triple-header near the top of the first disc: “It’s My Life,” “Eve of Destruction,” “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

Now that I’ve had the soundtrack experience, I can make the following observations.

First: It’s never a good sign when “flimmakers” insist on putting their names in the title of their film. It’s really not a good sign when they insist on putting their names on the title of the soundtrack.

Second: The cover’s as pedestrian, and perversely revealing, as the title. Wonder how the big shots at PBS would have reacted if Burns and company had insisted on an image that reversed the positions of the American fighting man and the Vietnamese peasant above? Wonder how they would have reacted if they had reversed the positions and then replaced the image of the Vietnamese peasant with an image of a North Vietnamese fighting man? Wouldn’t that have been a least a little unsettling?

Third: And shouldn’t we want a thirty-seven track soundtrack of The Vietnam War to be at least a little unsettling?

I’m not saying nothing good happens. That triple-header is all it promised to be, even coming out of a pedestrian country number (Johnny Wright’s Country #1, “Hello, Vietnam,” which, along with Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee,” is supposed the represent the Pro-War, or at least Pro-American Fighting Man position, which, if you’re gonna go there, why not pick a blood-and-guts number like “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” which is also a better record). Ray Charles’ take on “America the Beautiful” is a great setup for “What’s Going On.” And having Janis Joplin bleed out of Bob Dylan’s folk-phase version of his own “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” provides one of those recontextualizing jolts that make such comps worth our attention in the first place.

But, my God, what a missed opportunity.

Not having seen it, I can’t speak for the way the music is used in the series (the more accurate description for the “film” in question), but there were a few good ways to go with the soundtrack and whoever did the choosing, chose “none of the above.”

One good way, would have been just a straight run of the “iconic music of the Vietnam era” promised by the cover.

That would have meant including “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and both the Dylan and Hendrix versions of “All Along the Watchtower.” That would have meant more than one Creedence number (and if there was only one, it should have been “Fortunate Son” or “Run Through the Jungle” not “Bad Moon Rising,” great and appropo as it is). That would have meant the Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” over the Temptations’ relatively pedestrian “Psychedelic Shack,” and their “We Can Be Together” over the Beatles’ “Let It Be” as an album closer, with the Fabs represented instead by “Hey Jude,” or “Revolution” or something from The White Album. That would have meant the Band’s “The Weight.” That would have meant including Edwin Starr’s “War” and the Chambers’ Brothers “Time Has Come Today” and the Supremes’ “Reflections.”  That would have meant a track or two from the Doors and adding the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” to their “Gimme Shelter.” That would have meant the Four Tops’ “Reach Out, I’ll Be There.” That would have meant Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” or “500 Miles” as a side-opener (instead of Dylan’s blustering and not nearly as convincing “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”)

Well, none of that happened.

Which would be fine if, instead, those choosing had come up with inspired numbers from the Secret Sixties and used this high-profile opportunity to introduce new audiences to not-so-well-known numbers which caught–and still catch–the tenor of the times as well as anything even if they were never big hits. Think the Mamas and the Papas of “Straight Shooter” (or, as I never fail to mention “Safe in my Garden”). Think the Peter, Paul and Mary of “Too Much of Nothing.” (Dylan, incidentally, is the only artist who gets three cuts here. There should be less of Dylan the singer and more of Dylan the writer. Standing this close to Janis Joplin or Eric Burdon, forget the Howlin’ Wolf or Wilson Pickett or “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” he does not come off well absent his rock and roll voice.)

Anyway back to thinking: Think the Supremes of “Forever Came Today.” Think the Shangri-Las of “Never Again” or “I’ll Never Learn.” Think the Fairport Convention of “Nottamun Town” or “Meet on the Ledge” or even “I’ll Keep it With Mine” instead of “The Lord is in This Place” (fine and haunting, but too much of a mood piece to stand between “Whiter Shade of Pale” and “For What It’s Worth” without being diminished and diminishing them in turn, something a well made comp should never do).

And still thinking: Think the Byrds of “Goin’ Back” or “Draft Morning,” or even “The Ballad of Easy Rider.” Think the Waylon Jennings of “Six White Horses.” Think the Nancy Sinatra of “Home.”

Think all the beach soul numbers that carried a hint of warning behind even the most positive dance-happy messages (Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs on “May I” or the Tams on “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy”–think what that must have felt like if you heard it in Saigon while you were waiting for the next chopper out.

One could go on. One could on so far as to have used these numbers to fill an entire soundtrack by themselves.

Or one could have gone yet another, third, direction and used them as stitching between the more obvious anthems and constructed a soundtrack that wouldn’t quit and wouldn’t die.

Of course, for that, you would have needed less taste and more guts.

Nothing Ken Burns or PBS would ever be accused of, I’m sure.

Absent all that, unless you really need Pete Seeger’s “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” in a context where you don’t have to listen to him sing for a whole album without the Weavers, I say give this one a pass.

Me, I always liked Dave Marsh’s idea that if “Leader of the Pack” had come out a year later, it would have been heard as a much better metaphor for the unfolding quagmire from which we have never emerged.

And, for the record, I wouldn’t really have closed with “We Can Be Together.” I’d of let that be penultimate (replacing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and closed with this, from the truly “closing” year of 1972.

Take it Mavis:

 

 

RIDING AROUND AT MIDNIGHT WITH KEELY SMITH (CD Review)

keelysmith1

Bob Merlis and Real Gone Music were kind enough to provide me with a review copy of the re-release of 1965’s The Intimate Keely Smith. It’s been my driving around music for the past week and it’s a killer.

Back in my vinyl-diving days, I always kept an eye out for female pop singers from the fifties and sixties. Their albums tended to have jaw-dropping covers and mind-stretching versions of the pop standards that had been shoved to the margins by the rock and roll revolutions then rolling in one behind the other.

I found lots of good music that way, and, inside those gorgeous record sleeves, uncovered the three artists who changed how I thought about “Pop”: Julie London, Doris Day and the torch side of Nancy Sinatra.

Sad to say, I never came across any Keely Smith. Like a lot of people, I knew her almost exclusively as Louis Prima’s straight man. Great as she was in that role, it was my loss, because, if this album is any indication, she conceded nothing to any other genius of the Midnight Blues, including Frank Sinatra himself, for whose label she was recording by the mid-sixties (and with whom she has a rather desultory duet included as a bonus track here).

Intimate was released in 1965, which meant at least three quake-sized shocks to the Show Biz system she was raised in (and rose to the top of), had occurred in the previous decade: mid-fifties rock and roll; the much under-appreciated ballad revolution of the early sixties, which nearly wiped out traditional pop singing; and the British Invasion. In that context The Intimate Keely Smith must have sounded like the profound expression of an almost religious faith, because Smith actually sings as if none of those earth-shattering events had ever taken place much less left a mark.

Listening now, half a roiling century later, Keely’s “intimacy” sounds more like a dare. She goes so far inside at least half of these songs that it amounts to an assertion of the individual’s primacy over not only whatever “times” are passing by the window of her mind but any times that might have come and gone or will later come and go. In other words, it’s as personal as personal gets.

That couldn’t have been a small thing in 1965, even if such music was all but automatically excluded from contemporary radio play. It’s certainly not a small thing now, when the world outside is simmering like a brush fire and we’re all holding a breath waiting to see whether the fire dies or leaps whatever tiny ditch is left between Civilization and its opposite.

I won’t say encountering such an album in such a time is a shock. I never quite forgot those Julie London lessons. But having it for riding around music was instructive. I couldn’t help noticing that, in Keely’s Intimate world, it was always midnight now matter how bright the sun was shining. And that makes this a reassertion of the midnight pop singer’s oldest, truest promise: that what happens in the song is happening to them and that no one within the sound of their voice will be immune, in 1965 or 2016 or, if Civilization somehow manages to hang on, a hundred years from now.

A highly recommended Christmas gift if anyone on your list is even remotely susceptible to such as this!