There weren’t really revelations in records 81 through 90, but there were a few uncatalogued diversions into a couple of Harry Belafonte records, one Tower of Power, and one Gentle Giant, all of which are bands or musicians so popular that I can’t really add anything to the experience. Belafonte is strangely plaintive and bleak if you only know him from the Beetlejuice soundtrack. If that’s your speed, Belafonte’s Calypso is upbeat and delightful. I’ve always been a little put off by the cover of Gentle Giant’s Three Friends, but it was really rewarding to get past the cover; even the first moments of the album get weird enough to suck you in with shades of Hocus Pocus and Yes.
A couple of these records came from recent crate digging at a Goodwill, during a brief lull in local Covid cases, while some unmasked boomer was standing a foot away breathing heavily and tapping his foot. While I entertained fantasies of kicking his knees out from under him, I was reminded of just how contentious and persnickety the vintage record collecting subculture can be. For many, it’s a competition; getting there first, standing in long lines on Record Store Day, making fun of people who call records ‘vinyls’ or who try to sell the wrong edition of a record at the wrong price. It’s a tough world to get into. It’s unkind, but with moments of kindness too. A few summers ago, someone had put a large pile of weird LPs at the curb for free; they were so interesting we insisted on paying him a few bucks for a stack. At later a flea market, a seller sent me home with five New Wave records just because I said I really loved New Wave. So, boomers be damned; collecting should never be a competition. It should be whatever comes to you and is meant to be.
The George Shearing Quintet
Shearing on Stage!
I was going to listen to this George Shearing Quintet album, but there was only terrible disappointment inside. At some point in the distant past, some confused dingus switched out this record with The Barber of Seville. Listening to Shearing on Stage! digitally now reveals some really enjoyable Space Age coolness. They have a dedicated xylophone player! I’ll pick up any and all jazz I see. But this one, unfortunately, doesn’t count.
Keep or toss? I never had this one to begin with. But seeing as how it’s pretty common, I’ll probably end up getting it once I settle into the house I plan on dying in.
Julius La Rosa
Love Songs a la Rosa
The historical controversy surrounding Julius La Rosa is probably more interesting than his adept crooning of the standards of the era. He seems to be one of those artists who just didn’t carry over to younger audiences or attain the household recognizability of Frank Sinatra, but even as his name fades, he was once one of the biggest things in the world.
Notably, he was fired from his recurring, contracted gig on Arthur Godfrey’s variety show in 1953 when Godfrey found out that La Rosa had hired an agent that wasn’t Godfrey himself. After La Rosa performed his usual number, Godfrey unexpectedly announced that it was La Rosa’s final performance, and that was that. However, La Rosa was so popular that it didn’t harm his career at all, and the whole situation only made Godfrey look bad, and more or less marked the beginning of the downfall of his career.
The record? It’s crooning. It’s croonery at its level finest. To these untrained ears, it kind of all sounds the same. How do you do it better than Sinatra? You can try, and you can maybe rise to that level, but there’s a certain level of doing what’s expected with these. Great for what it is!
Keep or toss? Donate.
Ruth Welcome recorded almost 20 all-zither albums, and during her lifetime, held the tile of America’s only pro zitherist. The demand for zitherers wasn’t ever all that high, but she definitely cornered the market. There are enough pro hotdog eaters in the US to count on two hands, but only one zitherist.
This album is the soundtrack of going very gently insane. It’s objectively chill, but it also sounds like the music that might be playing at an asylum during a Spongebob episode. It’s actually really enjoyable and surreal. And because this found me on a particularly miserable day of stressful work, it fell into place. It’s easy to dismiss records that focus on interpretations of standards using slightly unusual instruments, like organ and zither, but they have a place. It’s a weird place, but I’ll always give them a chance.
Keep or toss? I’d rather keep this, but there’s such a deep gouge on the B side that it obliterates all traces of music. Someone must have really hated this album.
The Electrifying Eddie Harris
Not to be confused with The Real Electrifying Eddie Harris released 14 years later, there’s nothing really electric about this album, despite the title and font – but it is an incredible album. It has a slow start, almost distractingly so. If I hadn’t made a promise to myself to listen to entire alums no matter what, I may not have given the first song, “Theme in Search of a Movie”, the credit it deserves. It’s deceptively gentle, and given the proliferation of easy listening and elevator jazz that’s appeared in this collection, I didn’t have a lot of hope for it. But it picks up very well, and contextualizes the softer moments with the upbeat moments.
The guy has released over 60 albums, so there’s probably something for everyone. And something just feels really right about listening to jazz on vinyl. More than most albums, a full album of jazz is so intentionally constructed and organized, so the consciously linear, physical nature of this, carrying you through the story of a moment in art, really comes through.
Keep or toss? This isn’t a rare album in any way, and it’s easy to find online, but keeping this in a nice little jazz collection feels right.
Merlin & His Trio
The Swinging Hi-Fi Organ
Soundtrack to the coolest grocery store in the universe. If there was a supermarket on the outer reaches of known space that served 500 alien races and their diverse dietary needs and di-gravitational matrices, this would be playing there.
It’s really hard to tell what might be classics and what might be covers on here. “Number 33 Wickpick Lane” seems like a definite reference to 33RPM and Pickwick Records, which released this (even though there’s a ‘HURRAH’ sticker on the cover). Nobody is credited; this is a throwaway album. It’s not even certain who “Merlin” actually was, but Discogs thinks it was John Duffy, recording for at least three different labels under a different name to avoid any contract complications. Meanwhile, the John Duffy Trio only released two comedy singles, while Duffy himself released a handful of albums and an instructional record on, what else, how to play the organ. One of many trash albums, but this one is worth enjoying at least once.
Keep or toss? I would like to once in a while feel like I am shopping for space bananas, so this is a keeper.
Super-Sound Sound Effects Volume 4
The last time I listened to a sound effects album, I unleashed a mental hellscape that I am still trapped in. This one isn’t as objectively bad, but I can’t really imagine a sound scenario where you’d need a boxing coach giving direction to one very specific, named person. Okay, so you may be putting on a radio production where the sound of a car horn would be necessary, but unless you’re really focusing on a specific collection of sound effects records, which are not especially collectible, or just get off to the sound of a 1932 Invicta, this is a weirdo that I can’t even find a use for.
Keep or toss? Pass it on.
Zubin Mehta & The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
Star Wars and Close Encounters
It’s not the authentic Star Wars soundtrack, but there’s something about the opening strains of Star Wars that always gives me goosebumps. The differences between this version and the original become pretty clear once you hit “Cantina Band”, which is probably hard to replicate using orchestral instruments instead of like, PVC piping, steel drums and plastic drink straws. The Star Wars soundtrack is one of the best soundtracks out there, and it’s not just because I really like the movies. It’s a perfect synthesis of narrative and music.
But the real LPs are out there, and there are tons of them. This is an abbreviated sampler of Star Wars music, included here only to hit a popular trend, not unlike Also Sprach Zarathustra. And then it just hops into another popular movie, ’cause why not? It’s a collage of trying to sell records. And it worked on someone in 1978. Not even the nondescript space vessel on the cover really hits any super cool buttons. I guess it kinda looks like Darth Vader if he was a frog.
Keep or toss? Pass. I’ll keep looking for the real thing.
The Romantic Lure of Hawaii
Unlike the trash version of Hawaiian music found on Heart of Hawaii, this is enjoyable – even though the musicians here also have recorded anonymously, under the direction of “D.L. Miller”, who Discogs defines as a “US budget records entrepreneur” – so, in other words, throwaway records. This guy is probably to blame for 87% of the trash that fills every garbage record bin you’ve ever seen. But they sold, because they were cheap. Remember dollar store DVDs? The plague didn’t end in the 70s.
But this is real luau stuff… or maybe it’s just the mainland impression of luau stuff, but it’s stripped back, simple, ukelele and slide guitar music, just the way it should be. You’ll probably never want more than one of these in your collection, unless you have a dedicated ‘trash Hawaii records’ or ‘bikini babes’ collection, but if you want something genuinely exotic, go for Yma Sumac. That’s the real stuff.
Keep or toss? It’s kind of fun to have a trash record or two, and this one isn’t terrible. Until I find a better one.
A vocal trio specializing in musical comedy, and a great example of how comedy styles change a whole lot. I haven’t found a 1950s comedy record that didn’t rely, at least in part, on stereotypical Jewish accents, with the occasional Asian or Italian accent thrown in. Any mild offensiveness in this was completely normalized at the time this was released, so it’s pretty clean humor that might not feel quite as great today. A track called “Women Drivers” is just kinda low-effort in terms of general concept, but they get a bit more high-concept with “Modern Science” which is almost sci-fi in its narrative of pills to replace the troublesome emotion of love. By the end of Side Two, it’s just a miasma of trying to fit as many words as they can into a line for multiple songs. “Bag of Sand” is a long joke, and the intro, “Let’s Have A Party” serves as an intro to whatever good times lie ahead.
It’s creative and original stuff when so many vocal groups relied on rehashing standards for the thousandth time, but I’m glad we eventually got Weird Al.
Keep or toss? This isn’t for me.
Art Ensemble of Chicago
Message to Our Folks
A group that dresses in costumes and plays untraditional instruments on stage? It’s not death metal or glam rock, but really intense freeform jazz by a group who once brought 500 instruments on tour.
Rhythmic noise takes a lot of patience to get into. It’s not something to put on to listen to passively. It requires more active listening than most forms of music, and even then, you still might hate it, and that’s okay. Improvisational music that can never be played the same way twice is a really interesting concept; it captures a moment and an action in a document, rather than a composition. It’s the Jackson Pollock of music. If you want to meditate and focus on the act of creation, this is a really aggressive example of that; much more so than Medeski Martin and Wood.
I can’t tell if this is beautiful or bizarre. I don’t dislike it, but it’s absolutely not something to put on when you want to be in a good mood. I know it wasn’t made for me, but I appreciate it.
Keep or toss? Undecided! It’s worth about $25 bucks and I’d like to buy a house someday. Do I really need to keep noise jazz?
Recently found at the aforementioned Goodwill, this isn’t really a legitimate album in the truest sense, since it’s a compilation of the first two UK albums (with the same cover as Unsuitable), and I’m much more into the album as an experience. Various sources call this New Wave, but it’s more like ’70s pop rock or light punk, so that’s a double disappointment. Songs about rock stars feel so self-referential and unrelatable, and that’s where we start here. Even though “Mirror Star” has a pretty great chorus, it’s hard to stay interested. I was on the fence until “Roll Your Own“, which is such a standard blues rock song that it’s barely distinguishable from the thousand other songs that use the same structure, and maybe even the same melody.
While lyrically pretty interesting, this just isn’t musically strange enough to separate itself from a collection of pretty standard stuff. John Peel loved these guys. I feel like a rock philistine.
Keep or toss? I want to like it, but I can’t find a place for it. If only everything could be more like Icehouse.
C. David is a writer and artist living in the Hudson Valley, NY. He loves pinball, Wazmo Nariz, Rem Lezar, MODOK, pogs, Ultra Monsters, 80s horror, and is secretly very enthusiastic about everything else not listed here.