Wednesday, March 29, 2017
United Artists Records UAL 3492
I bought this at the Pasadena Flea Market last year shortly after Duke died. "The Patty Duke Show" is one of the first TV shows that I remember liking as a child. I must have watched it in syndication, I would have been too young to appreciate it when it first aired. I don't remember why I liked it so much, I was probably attracted to the theme of identical twins not to mention obtaining a glimpse into the minds of teenagers. Anyway since then I've always liked her as an actress and feeling sentimental following her passing, I took a chance on this record which I suspected wouldn't be very good. If nothing else I'd have another cover of the Beatles' "Yesterday." I was pleasantly surprised however, I mostly enjoyed it. The record opens with "The World is Watching Us" by Wally Gold and Joe Brooks (Gold also co-wrote "It's My Party" for Lesley Gore.) It was the second single off the album but it flopped. It is not particularly memorable, but I like the dramatic shift in tone and tempo between the chorus and the verses. The song is over-produced but Duke manages to hold her own with a strong vocal. "Yesterday" does not stray far from the Beatles' version. Duke sings with enough yearning and angst to turn the song into a teen melodrama. "All Through the Day" was written by Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern for the 1946 film "Centennial Summer." The song gets a contemporary arrangement that disguises its age. I particularly like the Latin-style horn arrangement that gives the song some oomph. "Whenever She Holds You" was written by Bobby Goldsboro and released by him as a single in 1964 with modest success. It was the first single released off this album but it did not crack the top 40. The song is too lethargic and sappy to stand out on the radio, but it is one of the better songs on the album. "Little Things Mean a Lot" by Edith Lindeman and Carl Stutz is another oldie having been a big hit for Kitty Kallen in 1954. This song sounds very romantic with Duke's breathy warm vocal. Side two opens with "One Kiss Away" which has a classic mid-60's pop sound. It is a bit over-produced but Duke's vocal is full of charm and charisma. Barry Mann and Larry Kolber's "I Love How You Love Me" had been a massive hit for the Paris Sisters in 1961, one of Phil Spector's first hits as a producer. Duke was not nearly as good a singer as Priscilla Paris but the song suits her girlish voice extremely well. Bobby Russell's "Sure Gonna Miss Him" was a hit for Gary Lewis & the Playboys the same year that this album came out. This is not as punchy as the Lewis version, but I prefer it anyway because I like her voice a lot more than I like his. Next she covers the Everly Brothers' classic "All I Have to Do Is Dream." This is the track where Duke's limitations as a vocalist are most evident. It is also poorly arranged and is the weakest track on the album. The side concludes with "Nothing But You" which is a histrionic ballad that Duke sings very effectively giving the album an emotional finish. This album is obviously a crass commercial effort attempting to cash in on Duke's fame as a teen television star. It is incredibly skimpy, not even thirty minutes long. It is full of pedestrian music and cover songs. Duke's vocals are loaded with reverb and fussy arrangements to disguise her vocal limitations. Despite all this I like the record. Duke's voice is pleasing to me and expressive. The songs are mostly slight but combined together they flow and complement each other making for a consistently engaging album. This is a marginal record that probably will mostly appeal to Patty Duke fans, but if you have a taste for mainstream pop in the early 1960s, you will find stuff to enjoy here. Recommended to fans of Little Peggy March and Shelley Fabares.
Saturday, March 25, 2017
Liberty LST 7034
My parents had no exotica records nor do I remember any of their friends playing this stuff at their parties. I suppose they were a little too young for it, by the time I came around this stuff was probably already considered passé. Bossa nova, samba or crooners were more their style. If my father wanted to hear something exotic, he put on Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. I grew up unaware of Martin Denny and probably would have gone to my grave without ever hearing him were it not for the lounge revival of the 1990s. What were once thrift store nuisances, suddenly became collector's items to hipsters. Exotica and lounge bins appeared in record stores stocked with over-priced Les Baxter albums. I didn't bite but when the fad eventually diminished, I ended up with a bunch of Capitol's "Ultra-Lounge" series of CD compilations when a friend who did bite, decided to pare down her CD collection and gave them to me. To my surprise, I actually liked much of the stuff on the comps which is how I ended up with this album, my first Martin Denny record which I picked up for a buck in a thrift store. Exotica collectors generally prefer the mono version of this album which was recorded in 1956 and released in 1957. The stereo album was re-recorded later to cater to the growing hi-fi market and cash in on the success of the single release of "Quiet Village." I'm happy enough with this version which sounds great. The album consists entirely of Asian and Polynesian flavored instrumentals driven by Denny on piano and Julius Wechter on vibes. The best song is "Quiet Village" which was originally recorded by exotica pioneer Les Baxter. The band adds exotic bird calls to the song and with its languid bongo rhythm track, it is a tiki classic. "Return to Paradise" is a cover of a Dimitri Tiomkin tune for the film of the same name. It is too sedate and stodgy for my taste. "Hong Kong Blues" is a cover of a Hoagy Carmichael song. It is incredibly corny and stereotypical, but I appreciate its energy. The Denny group returns to Les Baxter for a lively version of "Busy Port" that is one of the most exciting tracks on the album. Cyril Scott's "Lotus Land" gets a light jazz adaptation that is mostly successful. Side one ends with "Similau" by Arden Clar and Harry Coleman which gets the full tiki treatment, bongos, bird cries and bamboo sticks. It is one of my favorite tracks on the record. Side two opens with another robust Les Baxter cover, "Stone God." August Colon's strong percussion playing propels it forcefully and Denny and Wechter offer dynamic performances on top. Another winner. The group slows the pace for an atmospheric performance of Baxter's "Jungle Flower," which like all of the other Baxter songs on the record, was taken from Baxter's classic 1951 album "Ritual of the Savage." Asian musical cliches return for "China Nights" by Nobuyuki Takeoka and "Ami Wa Furi" by Gil Baumgart. They are followed by the dreamy and romantic "Waipio" by Francis Brown. The group tackles Baxter once more for the album closer, "Love Dance" which rehashes "Quiet Village" to give the record a strong finish. I enjoy this record, but I'm hesitant to fully recommend it. If I'm not in the right mood, it sounds like vulgar kitsch to me or even worse it puts me to sleep. Neither Wechter nor Denny had the musical ability to transcend the stereotypes inherent in this musical approach. Nonetheless when I'm feeling romantic or nostalgic, this record can push a lot of my buttons. Plus the cover photo is fabulous. Recommended as a soundtrack record next time you are drinking a Mai Tai on a warm summer evening.