Sunday, November 20, 2011

"It's Everly Time," by The Everly Brothers (April, 1960)

Dad's Take:

The Everlys' country-flavored harmony pop is one of the signature sounds of the period. By the time this album came out, many of their biggest hits were behind them, but they put together a solid record. The Everlys helped to fill the void in rock and roll music in the time after Buddy Holly died and Elvis went into the Army, and the onslaught of the Brits. They were a huge influence on later harmony groups like Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, the Bee Gees, and the Hollies.

The best-known song in this set is the opener, "So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)." Other songs sound familiar, though, because the Everlys never stray far from what you expect of them. I would have liked to see them welcome the sixties by trying something new on a song or two, but I can't complain about an album that is everything I expect from Phil and Don: some light rock and roll, country, easy ballads, and even a touch of country blues.

Not every song is a hit, but every song is a quality recording. It's a good, strong album.

Brad's Take:

I've listened to The Everly Brothers many times growing up, but never have listened to a full Everly Brothers album. At least not knowingly. But after listening to this one, I want to get all of their stuff and check them out.

I love the super catchy country pop sound they have on "So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)," I love the slow songs like "Sleepless Nights" and I love the blues influenced style they had on "What Kind Of Girl Are You?" Each song sounds like The Everly Brothers, but the album has a nice variety of styles so it isn't monotonous at all.

It's just a great and solid fun record. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

"50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong - Golden Records Vol 2," by Elvis Presley (December, 1959)

Dad's Take:

You might think that only a year and a half after Elvis's first Golden Records collection, there wouldn't be enough hits for a second.

You'd be wrong.

Sure, this album with a long, funny title contains mostly second-tier hits, but this is Elvis Presley. His second-tier hits include great songs like "I Got Stung," "One Night," "Big Hunk O' Love," "Don't," and plenty more. Even though it doesn't have most of Elvis's biggest hits, this is in some ways more satisfying, because it contains great songs that you don't hear quite as often.

Elvis is at his peak here. He is confident and a little crazy. He doesn't hold back like he did on some of his earlier records. He's on top of the world, and he sounds like he's loving it. This album might not have "Hound Dog" or "Jailhouse Rock," but it has an energy that surpasses even that of those earlier hits.

Great stuff!

Brad's Take:

Since we listened to the first Elvis record, I get excited every time I see another Elvis album come up on our list. I'm really starting to become a fan.

This album has some awesome songs on it. "One Night" and "Big Hunk O' Love" were early favorites.

One thing that kind of bothers me a little bit on this album is that on some songs there's someone singing bass backup vocals... Normally, it would be cool. Like if it was a Frankie Valli song or something, but the mix of this guy's vocal track is just too loud, and sometimes even a bit delayed. Meaning, sometimes his vocals don't match up with Elvis' when they're singing the line. The bass guy's vocals start a little too early or a little too late. It's a little bit irritating to me, especially since it's so loud. It makes it even more noticeable. Oh well, just a small technical recording problem. Let's get back to what really matters...

Elvis sounds great on this album. You can tell he had a blast singing these songs. One thing that I especially love about this particular Elvis album is the fact that it's almost all fast-paced and energetic. That's the version of Elvis I like the most. But of course, like every Elvis album, there are some ballads, such as "My Wish Came True" and "Don't." They aren't bad, by any means, they're just not as fun as the fast songs. During his slow songs, I just wait for them to be over so I can enjoy the faster songs that will for sure follow. I bet if oldschool Elvis fans read this, they're thinking, "Oh great... Brad's one of these kids... Ugh!" But really, I can appreciate the slow songs, but if I had the choice, I'd tell Elvis to stick with the upbeat songs so I can dance with my girlfriend, rather than watch my girlfriend drool all over his shoes.

All in all, I really like this album. These are great songs that many casual listeners most likely don't know, but should know. 

"Kind of Blue," by Miles Davis (August, 1959)

Dad's Take:

I'm about to write something I very rarely say because I know how widely musical tastes can vary: no music lover's collection is complete unless they have this album. Even if you're not a jazz-head. Usually when I hear about a "must-have" album, I'm skeptical. Nothing is for everybody. But this one time, I'm going to say it myself, for all but the most ardent haters of jazz.

This is one of those precious few records that is beyond description. Created not only by Miles Davis but also by his super group combo (Jimmy Cobb on drums, Paul Chambers on bass, Bill Evans on piano except for one number where he is replaced by Wynton Kelly, John Coltrane on tenor sax, and Cannonball Adderley on alto sax). Putting the best together doesn't always create the best results, but this time it did.

Mostly improvised in the studio, Kind of Blue is the ultimate jazz album. It's moody, beautiful, and never stale. This is midnight music. It doesn't have to be one of your desert island discs (but I wouldn't be surprised to find it on anybody's list), but you have to have it, and you have to pull it out once in a while, when the mood strikes you, turn down the lights, turn up the volume, and surround yourself in beautiful noise.

Brad's Take:

Everyone knows the name Miles Davis. My earliest memory of hearing his name was in the scene from Billy Madison when an old lady states, "If peeing your pants is cool, consider me Miles Davis." When I first heard that, I didn't actually know who Miles Davis was, but I knew that that joke was really funny.

Before I started listening to Kind Of Blue, I read my dad's review to see what his initial thoughts were. Seeing how much he loved this album got me really excited, mainly because I have never heard it before. Lately, I've been getting really into more jazz music so I was pumped to crank this up and just sit back for the ride.

The first track on the record ("So What") is one that I think every person would recognize, right off the bat. When I hit the play button and heard the opening piano riff, I knew I'd heard it before, and I knew I was going to love this album. The entire album is so relaxing even at it's faster tempoed moments. The combination of upright bass, delicate piano melodies, brush drumming, and an occasional horn instrument will get me every time. I love this classy jazz sound.

After reading a little bit about this album, especially the making of it, only makes my infatuation grow more. It's crazy to think that the other musicians that Miles brought into the studio to record this knew little to nothing about what they were actually going to be recording. I had a couple random notes and sketches of scales and melody lines to improvise, but other than that, they really had no idea. Either they accidentally recorded a classic record that got #12 in Rolling Stones' 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, or Miles Davis knew exactly what he was doing by hiring those specific musicians to accompany him in the studio. I have a feeling it was the latter.

This is indeed worthy of the title "Classic Album."

"Exotica Volume II" by Martin Denny (July, 1959)

Dad's Take:

I can't think of a lot more to say about exotica. This album is very similar to volume 1, except that some songs are a little softer and moodier, more romantic. Denny's version of "Ebb Tide" fits well with elevator music, while songs like "Rush Hour in Hong Kong" are fast and playful. Other songs are romantic background music.

It's no wonder that exotica became known as "bachelor pad music." In the late fifties, thanks partly to Hugh Hefner and partly to a budding sexual culture, single men began decorating their apartments for seduction. Like this:

Music was a big part of the atmosphere, and exotica was apparently a popular form of music in the perfect bachelor pad. And I can see why, especially with this album. It's just the right set of sounds for a private tiki party.

And that's just about all I have to say about that.

Brad's Take:

When I saw this on our list, I muttered to myself, "Oh no... Volume TWO??" Martin Denny's Exotica Volume 1 wasn't bad necessarily, but I didn't want an encore...

It's kind of like when you're in high school or whatever and there's a kid that you don't like, but you feel sorry for him because he's a loner and everyone just teases him so you kind of pretend to be nice so he feels like he has a friend. So every day you sit through one of his lame stories or something, and then when it's finally over and you go to walk away, he stops you and says, "Wait! I have one more story to tell you!" and then you have to stay to humor him... This album was kind of like that for me.

Like my dad, I'm not really into this genre of music. I like to be open-minded when it comes to all styles of music, but it's hard for me to sit through Exotica style records, I'm discovering. To me, it's just too weird and sometimes barely musical. Maybe it's too busy and noisy for my liking. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but I can tell you that the vibraphones don't help me like it more.

I hope there's not a third volume by Martin on our list. If there is, I don't know if I will have it in me to humor him again... Again.

"Have 'Twangy' Guitar Will Travel," by Duane Eddy (June, 1959)

Dad's Take:

As a surf guitar fan, I can't ignore Duane Eddy's influence on one of my favorite genres. The reverb-drenched twangy instrumental tunes of Duane Eddy helped give birth to that genre a year or so after this album came out. Duane Eddy's combo, featuring Eddy on guitar, a sax, bass, and drum, became the model for surf bands.

But one thing should be made clear: this is not surf music. Eddy created a kind of fusion of rock and roll, jazz, country, and even a touch of exotica (without the sound effects). "Rebel Rouser" is one of the true classics of instrumental rock and roll. It's probably the best known song on this collection, but it is definitely not the only one worth listening to. "The Lonely One" is also well-known, "Ramrod" is as energetic as any future surf tune, and even the lesser-known songs are good. I didn't find a single clunker on this record. This is what the Chet Atkins album we listened to earlier could have been if Atkins used a band and had a little more energy.

This is good stuff. Duane Eddy is too often overlooked in the lists of musical pioneers of the 1950s and early 1960s. Go out and pick this up, or some other Duane Eddy collection, You won't hear the pyrotechnics of a Jimi Hendrix or the speed of a Dick Dale, but neither of them would have been what they were without Duane Eddy being there first.

Brad's Take:

Strangely, I'd never heard of Duane Eddy until now. Doing a quick Wikipedia search on the guy, I learned a couple of pretty interesting things:

1. He was the first rock n' roll musician to have his own signature guitar model. So many musicians still do this today so it's pretty cool to me that he was actually the first.

2. Four of the songs from this album were on the Top 100 Billboard chart. This is interesting to me because you don't see any instrumental tracks getting their way onto the Top 100 anymore, let alone one ("Rebel-Rouser") getting into the Top 10.

2. Duane Eddy's song "Moovin' N' Groovin" has a guitar riff that The Beach Boys "borrowed" for their song "Surfin' USA." Those of you who know my dad probably know that he's borderline obsessed with The Beach Boys so I have grown to know "Surfin' USA" pretty damn well. I was quite surprised to learn that the song's opening riff was indeed pretty similar to Duane Eddy's song.... I can't believe my own father would subject his children to such blatant plagiarism! ...That was actually internet sarcasm. E-sarcasm, if you will. The songs' riffs really don't sound that alike, but you can tell that Brian Wilson and the gang were tipping their hats to Mr. Eddy.

Duane's guitar playing is tasteful. He doesn't show off with crazy fast guitar solos. He stays true to the mood of the song and doesn't always overshadow the other instruments involved. But with that said, you can tell that Duane Eddy has some true talent and skill on the guitar.

I liked this album. It is a cool combination of 50's blues-inspired rock n' roll instrumentals with echo-ey surf guitar thrown into the mix. There's even some country tinged tunes on this album. 

"The Buddy Holly Story," by Buddy Holly (May, 1959)

Dad's Take:

Three months after Buddy Holly's death, Coral Records released this album as a memorial (and, no doubt, to capitalize a bit). The album is lovingly sequenced, begining movingly with "Raining In My Heart," followed by Early In The Morning," which is about missing somebody who is gone. Then it moves into "Peggy Sue" and more of his biggest hits, before ending with another sad song, "It Doesn't Matter Anymore." It was unusual to begin and end with sad songs, but in this case, it seems like the right thing to do.

Buddy Holly's career was so short, but he accomplished so much. Not only by recording so many hit records, but by writing and even producing, something that wasn't done. You can't talk Buddy Holly without wondering what could have been had he been around longer. His influence on so much that followed after in both rock and roll and country was enormous. Would he have remained influential and moved into new territory? Would he have faded away? No one will ever know.

His music was so energetic. And, if you pay attention, you'll discover that his lyrics were among some of t he best of the period, full of humor, irony, and tenderness. The guy could write. he could play. He sang well, and in a variety of styles. It's easy to see why only Elvis was more popular, even though Buddy didn't have the sex appeal, maybe, of so many of the singers of the day. Buddy was the real thing, and is one of my all-time favorite artists, not because of the tragic story but because he was genuinely good. Few artists accomplish what he did, if their careers are much longer.

This album provides a great overview of his career. Everything that was great about Buddy Holly can be found here. I'm going to stop writing now and sit back and enjoy.

Brad's Take:

My dad pretty much summed it up. Buddy Holly's life ended way too soon, to say the least, but he accomplished so much in the short 4 years he was a professional musician. He opened for Elvis, had a #1 hit ("That'll Be The Day"), performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, and finally, toured with the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens.

I grew up listening to Buddy Holly, courtesy of my dad's CD collection, and I've always been a fan. I love his diversity in styles and that stutter thing he would do when he sang. I always thought he looked cool too. In fact, I'm just now realizing that his look is kind of the trendy look now.

Greatest hits collections are hard to really review because all the songs were recorded at different times and everything, but this is a great compilation of most of Buddy's...uhh...greatest hits.

I really like the sequencing and flow of this compilation. I like how it starts and ends with sad songs, but then in the middle of the delicious sandwich is his happy and upbeat tunes.

If you're not very familiar with Buddy Holly and his legacy, this is a perfect start for you.  

"Exotica Volume 1," by Martin Denny (April, 1959)

Dad's Take:

This is a slightly more jazzy entry into the exotica genre we first saw with Les Baxter's Tamboo. Loaded with sound effects like screeching monkeys and with exotic instruments from around the world, Martin Denny transports the listener to a mysterious tropical island, or the jungle, or China. Or at least a Hollywood lounge version of those places.

This album got rave reviews that mentioned "the most exciting musicians" and claimed that it was the perfect record to push rock and roll stars out of kid's minds. I don't know about that last claim, but it's an enjoyable enough record, for what it is.

Next time you have a tropical-themed party (and who doesn't have those all the time?), put this record on and enjoy the monkeys and frogs and birds and the jazzy percussion-oriented music. Before you know it, you'll be dancing like the cartoon version of Barbara Eden during the opening credits of "I Dream Of Jeanie."

One little side note. This album was actually recorded twice, once in mono in 1956, and then again a couple years later in stereo. The stereo version features Julius Wechter on vibes (the mono version had Arthur Lyman). People who, like me, know more than is healthy about the Beach Boys, will recognize Wechter's name as part of Brian Wilson's stable of studio musicians. He also worked with Phil Spector and others.

Brad's Take:

This album is all over the place. There's songs that remind you of China, South American jungles, and so on. I enjoyed the jazzy piano bits of the songs, but everything else was just a little too weird for my taste. Some of the experimentation is interesting on the album, but a lot of it (mostly the crazy human-made animal sounds) was just laughable. I couldn't take it seriously.

The experimental sounds and instruments used on this album remind me a lot of the Pet Sounds and SMiLE era Beach Boys recordings, but it's of course missing the poppy vocals and melodies that I like most about those albums.

For what it is (a super weird experimental jazz record) I guess it's as good as you can get. I can't say I'm much of a fan of the exotica genre, but it's not that much of a struggle to get through.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Film Encores Volume 1" by Mantovani (April, 1959 in the UK and in our book, but actually 1957)

Dad's Take:

It's probably not Mantovani's fault that his style of music became the elevator music of my generation, and so we react to it with fear and loathing and aching teeth. But regardless of where the blame belongs, the facts remain.

The music is lovely enough. But those slow, slow rhythms and ultra-high-pitched strings found a place in my soul when I was young that stood for everything unpopular about "old fogey" music and everything we hated about waiting rooms at places like doctors' and dentists' offices. When I hear this style of music, I smell hot enamel being drilled off of teeth.

This is exactly the kind of music that turned my generation off, unfortunately, to classical music, because these little studio orchestras with their dentist-drill strings were wrongly referred to as "classical," just because they used classical-style instruments and arrangements. It took years to overcome that and to discover that real classical music is much more interesting and far better than classical-styled renderings of popular songs and show tunes that strip them of all life.

So, that said, I'm afraid I have a natural bias that keeps me, maybe, from giving this record a fair listen. I hear the associations of my youth and the misleading "classical" label that kept me from discovering the sublime delights of Mozart and Beethoven and Strauss and Hayden and Tchaikovsky and Strauss and Strauss (or how ever many Strausses there were) for far too long. That's all I hear. I don't know whether this is good or not. It brings be aural pain as well as oral pain. Seriously, my teeth literally ache listening to this. Yeah, OK, it's pretty, I guess, but ow.

This is one of those cases where "prettiness" and "beauty" are not the same thing. Not to me. This is the kind of "pretty" you'd find in Pleasantville before the colors came.

Maybe Brad won't have those associations. Maybe Brad can give this record a fair review. But I'm five songs in and I'm having a hard time keeping to our rules. I want to bail. I don't want to hear the rest of this. But I'll keep it on as background music while I do something else. I'm done with the active listening.

Brad's Take:

After reading my dad's less than praising review of this album, I was a bit nervous to dive into this 40 minute orchestral instrumental album. During the first song, "My Foolish Heart," I began to understand that high pitched violin sound my dad mentioned. But after I turned my speakers down a hair, my headache subsided, and I began to listen a little more. It became quite tolerable.

The first song that I recognized was the second track, "Unchained Melody," (originally by The Righteous Brothers.) I love The Righteous Brothers' version of the song so much already that it's hard for me to forgive Mantovani (let's call him Manny.) Manny also arranged his own version of "Over The Rainbow."

"Summertime In Venice" sounds like you're actually in Italy. The accordions and staccato guitar playing set the mood. I want some spaghetti now, Manny!

My dad might be traumatized by this style of music, but I didn't experience the dental office nightmares that he did. I didn't even really listen to this kind of music growing up... probably because of the memories it made my dad think of. So really, this is borderline new to me, and I kind of dig it. I preferred the first half over the second, and I prefer the original versions of the songs that I was already familiar with, but the overall mood of the album was relaxing. In fact, it almost made me want to fall asleep in a dentist's chair and get some teeth pulled.

Things Are Swingin', by Peggy Lee (October, 1958)

Dad's Take:

(Note: We're reviewing the original version, not the later edition that included "You Don't Know" and "Fever," so those songs are not included in this review.)

Before I listened to this record, if you would have asked me if I liked Peggy Lee, I probably would have answered, "Not very much." I always saw her as a bit too old fashioned, and a bit too white bread, as somebody who is to rock and roll what Air Supply was to eighties hair bands. In fact, I went into this album with a let's-get-this-over-with attitude, especially following an Elvis greatest hits record.

The opening song, "It's A Wonderful World," truly swings, when I expected the title of the album to be a misnomer. The next song, "Things Are Swingin'," swings even more. After two songs, I'm totally sucked in to this record.

Song after song has clever lyrics and a swinging big band sound. Jack Marshall's arrangements are impeccable, and Peggy Lee's voice fits the music like a soft white glove. I've apparently heard the wrong Peggy Lee songs all my life. When she sings "It's Been A Long Long Time," I even kind of developed a crush on her. This really isn't what I expected.

To say I like this album would be an understatement. This is an album I was dreading? That'll teach me. This is why Brad and I are doing this, to listen to stuff we would normally miss and broaden our musical tastes. Peggy Lee has won my heart. I want to hear more. So much for pre-judging. It just doesn't get much better than this.

Brad's Take:

I'd never heard of Peggy Lee before this came up on our list. If someone asked me what I know about Peggy Lee, I'd probably say, "She has two first names?" But right when Peggy Lee's singing began on the first song, "It's A Wonderful World," I immediately knew I was going to love this album.

Peggy Lee's voice is warm and welcoming. The whole time listening to this album, I felt like I was being serenaded in a tiny smoke-filled bar. It sounds like a very stripped down version of your typical big band jazz music. Without the horn section, you could say this sounds like Vince Guaraldi featuring Peggy Lee.

It's fun, it's classy, and it makes you want to get up and dance. It's also an album that I can see myself listening to on a night drive. This is definitely one of my favorite records we've reviewed so far.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Elvis' Golden Records, by Elvis Presley (April, 1958)

Brad's Take:

This is thought to be the first rock 'n roll greatest hits album. It includes eight Elvis #1 hits and five B-sides from 1956 to 1957. It includes "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," "All Shook Up," and many more recognizable Elvis jukebox tunes. As of 1999, the album has gone 6x Platinum, which means 6,000,000 units have been sold from its original release date.

One thing that bugged me about this release is something that also bothered me with Elvis' second album Elvis; they kick both of these albums off with an upbeat song and then follow it up with a super slow song. I wish they did these albums like this... A side: Upbeat songs. B side: Slow songs. That way, depending on the mood of the listener, they could choose which version they wanted at that time, rather than having to flip the record over and over and over to get to certain songs. But that's the sequencer's problem, not Elvis' necessarily. Aside from the roller coaster sequencing, this is a great compilation of Elvis songs. It's got everything that any fan of The King would want; the fast upbeat songs and the slow-dancing ballads.

This is just another reminder that I need to make my own Elvis mix CD to listen to in my car

Dad's Take:

Brad has discovered one of the problems vinyl had compared to CDs, if you want to see it that way. We were at the mercy of the people who sequenced the songs. There was no programming the songs in the order you like, and skipping songs was only worth the effort if you really disliked a song. That said, the order of the songs on this record isn't that unusual. A fast song, followed by a ballad, then two or three fast songs, another ballad, and a fast song to end the side. The fast-to-slow-song ratio on this record wouldn't support the breakdown Brad suggests. If he wants a fast side and a slow side, he should check out the excellent Beach Boys Today! album which, somehow, did not make our list.

While I still think it's a little unfair to include a greatest hits package in a list of classic albums, unless the record became a phenomenon on its own (like, say, The Eagles Greatest Hits album that stayed on the charts for, like, forever), there's no denying the greatness of this record. And 40 weeks on the charts in its initial run, plus another 23 weeks after Elvis died in 1977, would qualify it as phenomenal record, I suppose.

Golden Records has most of the songs most people know, and a surprise or two for the casual listener. It's hard to listen to this record without breaking out the old Elvis imitation Mrs. Barbara Williams used to have me do in her Music As Media class back in my old Newark High School days, especially when I hear "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You," which was one of my favorites to do. Only now I'd be the fat old Elvis and I'd have to rest my knees for a few days afterward.

That all of these songs were hits in a two-year period demonstrates Elvis's reign better than anything we can write about the songs. And he had enough hits in the next year and a half for another greatest hits album, which comes later on our list. But if you only wanted one Elvis record, this was the one to get before Elv1s 30 #1 Hits came out in 2002.

South Pacific Soundtrack, by Various Artists (March, 1958)

Brad's Take:

Once again, we have a soundtrack to review. I have never seen the actual Broadway show or film South Pacific so it's kind of hard to get really into this.

The film stars Rossano Brazzi and Mitzi Gaynor, but apparently for the soundtrack, Brazzi's vocals were overdubbed by Giorgio Tozzi. I'm actually interested in watching the movie because I would love to compare Brazzi's voice to Tozzi's. Giorgio Tozzi sounds way too much like Dracula. I can't take his vocals seriously at all. I just imagine Dracula trying to re-invent himself by starring in a romance movie to show the world that he actually does have a sensitive side that wants love... not just blood.

The orchestration is good, and Mitzi Gaynor's voice is great, but the vocals by Dracula Tozzi are "bloody" distracting (in a bad way, if I haven't made that clear yet.) There are some good songs though. I like "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair." I can imagine that was every teenage girl's anthem when their boyfriend's were jerks.

I didn't really get into this album much at all. I feel like there are probably far better soundtracks that could have taken the place of this one in 1958, but for what it is, it's better than "okay" but I wouldn't call it a "classic."

Dad's Take:

Great. Now I'm going to hear Dracula, whether I want to or not. Thanks, Brad.

I've seen "South Pacific," of course, but I can't claim to know it very well. We used to listen to the Hi-Lo's version of "Bali Ha'i" before a play I was in in high school, so that's the song I know best, in a much different version.

And, yeah, I hear Dracula. Thanks again, Brad. Bela Lugosi singing "Some Enchanted Evening." Wow.

South Pacific is a great musical. It even became the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Like most musicals, the songs make the most sense in the context of the play. Although there are some great songs here that stand on their own, most are best when watching the show or if you know the show well enough that the songs conjure up visions of the play.

"Bali Ha'i" is a great song (although I prefer the Hi-Lo's version, but then I'm a sucker for harmony vocals), as is "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair" (which Brad is too young to associate with a certain TV commercial) and "Some Enchanted Evening." "There Is Nothing Like a Dame" sounds like Stan Freberg to me, but that's because Freberg is great at capturing the feel of a musical in some of his production numbers. "Honey Bun" is also a fun song.

"You've Got To Be Carefully Taught" is interesting now in light of its controversial nature when the musical came out, with it's justification of interracial marriage, which at the time was deemed indecent and "pro-communist" and a threat to the American way of life. The song inspired a bill in Georgia that outlawed entertainment that contained "an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow" when the musical toured the southern United States. The writers of the musical refused to remove the song because it reflected the whole reason they wanted to do the play in the first place.

On its own, as an album, with only a weak mental context for the songs, and now with that vision of Dracula stuck in my head, it doesn't stand up as well on its own. But it's mostly an enjoyable listen anyway. I think Brad would like it more if he watched it instead of just listening. The songs are meant to be acted and danced, not merely listened to.

Sam Cooke, by Sam Cooke (March, 1958)

Brad's Take:

Sam Cooke's self titled solo debut was originally released in the US in 1957, but our book lists the UK release date of 1958.

Sam Cooke started out singing lead vocals in the gospel group The Soul Stirrers. It wasn't until 1956 that he wanted to try crossing over to pop music. In those days, it was frowned upon for nice gospel boys to sing pop music. In order to not be chastised, he released his first pop single "Lovable" under the alias Dale Cook, but his voice was too recognizable and it didn't actually trick anyone.

This album is definitely worthy of the "classic" title. His voice really makes these songs amazing. I love his voice's tone and powerful it sounds at times. He sounds young and excited to be doing something different than gospel music.

The orchestration from Bumps Blackwell is near perfect as well. It doesn't sound much different than the other blues influenced pop albums at the time, but Bumps pulled it off very well. I'm sure that working with Little Richard a lot in his early days helped perfect his skills too.

Most of the songs on this album are slow to mid-tempo, but it's a really nice laid back record. I'll definitely give this more than one spins.

Dad's Take:

This album sends me. OK, cheap joke, but I couldn't resist. Plus it's true.

There's a lot here I've never heard, or at least that I haven't heard from Sam Cooke. Most of the songs are pop standards, but the Sam Cooke treatment works well. The R&B fusion with jazz and gospel works for me, and Cooke's voice is always flawless, even when matched with the wrong song. Cooke himself was reportedly unhappy with the song selection, which he deemed inappropriate, but he recorded them well anyway. He makes it sound so easy. There are a couple songs I could live without ever hearing again, but overall, it's a solid record.

Several of these fifties records make me look forward to music becoming more album-oriented a few years down our list. Sometimes the filler is a little too obvious. This album feels more complete than, say, the Jerry Lee Lewis record we reviewed recently, but it's definitely a collection of songs rather than a unified album.

But you can't really knock an album for being put together the way it was done back in those days. The important thing here is that Sam Cooke could sing, and the instrumental arrangements are good, even if nothing breaks new ground here. The song selection is satisfying, for the most part. The oddest choices are probably "Danny Boy" (Sam Cooke just doesn't sound all that Irish, and the R&B treatment is unintentionally funny) and "Tammy," which is just kind of a dorky song, written for a teen girl singer.

This is one of those records a kid could listen to when his parents were home, without freaking them out. But then, it has a number of songs that the parents would have known. Fortunately, they are done well.

Good record. Mostly.

Johnny's Greatest Hits, by Johnny Mathis (March, 1958)

Dad's Take:

It's kind of cheating to include greatest hits records in a list of classic albums, but there are several on our list, so there you go. But I suppose when the greatest hits album not only topped the charts but stayed on the charts for two and half months short of 500 weeks, a Billboard record until it was bested by Pink Floyd's 1973 Dark Side Of The Moon, the album definitely qualifies as a classic.

The performances on this album are as sweet as honey. Whether the classic Mathis anthem, "Chances Are," or standards like "When Sunny Gets Blue" or the gorgeous "Wonderful! Wonderful!," Mathis is as close to perfect as you're going to get. He was perhaps the best old-school balladeer of the rock and roll age. Not bad for a Texas kid who grew up in San Francisco and very nearly made the Olympic track team.

Song after song, this album is full of slow dancing favorites. If 1958 was anything like 1978 (and I suspect it wasn't all that different), then this album was put on late at night, instantly turning teen dance parties into teen make-out parties.

Nearly every song that came on made me think, "Oh yeah! I know that one." I don't always recognize the titles, but I know most of the songs. I'd forgotten about great tunes like "It's Not For Me To Say." So, I might ding this one a bit for being a Greatest Hits record instead of showcasing what Mathis could do on a complete album, but that doesn't change the fact that this is a great record of mellow love songs, sung by one of the classic voices of popular music. Mathis occasionally tips over the line into sappiness, but most of the time he's just plain romantic.

One can only wonder how much this record contributed to the last few years of the baby boom.

Brad's Take:

Before listening to this, I'd heart the name Johnny Mathis here and there, but I don't know if I ever knowingly listened to any of his music.

After listening to the whole album, I re-discovered a couple songs that I have heard once or twice before, such as "Wonderful! Wonderful!"

If Frank Sinatra's In The Wee Small Hours was a post-break up album, Johnny Mathis' Johnny's Greatest Hits could have been the pre-break up album. All the songs are corny, but every song is sung with all of Johnny's full love stricken heart. (That was pretty corny too.) The lyrics aren't that corny though. They are love songs, but they're not overly cheesy. It's a grilled cheese sandwich, but the cheese doesn't melt over the edges. You know what I mean...

I'm excited to finally start a Johnny Mathis collection. I really like this greatest hits record and I'm very interested in hearing more from Johnny Mathis' ginormous back catalog.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

One Dozen Berrys, by Chuck Berry (March, 1958)

Dad's Take:

We've heard Bill Haley. Elvis. Fats. We've listened to Little Richard and Jerry Lee. But one key part of the foundation of rock and roll is missing, until now.

It's impossible to overestimate Chuck Berry's impact on rock and roll. When you hear a guitar solo by one of today's rockers, you're hearing Chuck Berry. When a lyricist tells a story and plays with the meter of his lines, you're hearing Chuck Berry.

On the excellent rockumentary about Berry, "Hail Hail Rock And Roll," Chuck talks about the blues music he heard in his neighborhood. But then then he'd go with his father to work in the white neighborhoods, and he'd hear country songs. So he figured out that he could make more more money from his music if he combined the two. He wasn't the first musician to mix blues and country, but he was perhaps the first to mix them so seamlessly. Then he played the horn solos from the swing combos on his guitar, and created a sound unlike anything that came before and that has not left us since.

"One Dozen Berrys" is Chuck Berry's second album. Significantly, it was the first to be released in England, where it had a tremendous impact on the up-and-coming British rock and roll scene.

This album contains several hits: "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Oh, Baby Doll," "Reeling & Rocking," and "Rock & Roll Music." But it also shows Berry has a serious musician with blues tunes like the instrumental "Blue Feeling" (and "Low Feeling," the same recording slowed down), the bilingual love song, "La Juanda," and the R&B love song, "How You've Changed." Chuck Berry had ambitions beyond teen dance music, but he also knew what he needed to do to make his money. The result is an album that wears its influences on its sleeves, but also shows how those influences were combined into that unique Chuck Berry sound. "Oh, Baby Doll" is a great example. It has a traditional country rhythm, sped up a bit, with R&B instrumentation behind a story song.

Chuck Berry changed everything.

In addition to being the king of rock and roll guitar, Chuck Berry is one of the great lyricists of all time, moving beyond the usual popular love songs with a kind of folk poetry that is on par with Cole Porter and the Gershwins, but with a straight-from-the-streets twist that makes it so amazingly easy to relate to. It's not just the words that he chose, but also the way he plays with the meter of his lines. I miss that on the many instrumentals on this record (maybe a couple too many), but those instrumentals also show the great musicianship from Chuck Berry and his band, especially his other musical half, pianist Johnnie Johnson, who deserves a bigger share of the credit for Chuck Berry's sound than he is usually given.

One thing that amazes me about Chuck Berry is that, unlike many of the rock and roll pioneers, his best music does not sound dated. A good Chuck Berry song from 1958 is still a good song today. Chuck Berry's music often lacks the trendy, novelty-song feel of so much of early rock and roll.

Brad's Take:

The first time I remember really listening to Chuck Berry was in 7th grade. We had to do a small report on a famous person, and my dad suggested I do it on Chuck Berry so I did. I played a clip of Chuck Berry performing and then read my report to the class. I didn't really listen to Chuck Berry much after that, at least not on my own.

This guy was an amazing performer, which helped him become a classic artist. Like Elvis, Chuck Berry had his own stage moves that people loved to see. On top of just being a great performer in general, he was an amazing guitarist. His guitar playing style stepped up the rock 'n roll game.

One Dozen Berrys has a couple of Chuck's well known songs, including "Sweet Sixteen" and "Rock & Roll Music," as well as some other awesome jams that I have never heard before, like "La Juanda." The lyrics to that song cracked me up for some reason:

I speak only the language of English
I don't understand Espanol

This album is a great record for people wanting to get into Chuck Berry. It's got some hits, some slower songs, and not much filler. If only "My Ding A Ling" was on this one...

Jerry Lee Lewis, by Jerry Lee Lewis (December, 1957)

Dad's Take:

It's telling that this album by one of rock and roll's original bad boys begins with an Elvis cover, turning "Don't Be Cruel" into a honky-tonk rollicker. And that the next song is a cover of Leadbelly's "Irene Goodnight." Jerry Lee Lewis was an exciting rocker with deep country roots. A hyperactive hillbilly, Lewis was always looking for trouble and had no difficulty finding it.

This classic Jerry Lee Lewis album has one big hit, "High School Confidential," but other songs like "Put Me Down" have the sound most people associate with Jerry Lee Lewis. But this album also has a ton of filler. At his best, Jerry Lee is one of my favorites. Unfortunately his output is a little bit inconsistent. Or maybe you prefer "versatile." On any Jerry Lee Lewis record, other than some greatest hits collections, you're going to get rock and roll as manic as Little Richard, Hank Williams style country, Dixieland spirituals, and bar room honky tonk. That's not a bad thing, as long as you don't go in expecting every song to be "Great Balls Of Fire." The Killer was far too ADHD to be pinned down to one musical style.

Lewis rose quickly and burned out just as fast, thanks to all that trouble he was looking for. Marrying his 13-year-old cousin was, in retrospect, maybe not such a very good idea, and it brought his career to a crashing halt after only about a year and a half. He has stuck around since then, but his prime was cut short by his actions. 1950s rock and roll liked its bad boys, but not when they really went Bad.

With all the great music he gave us in that short period, Jerry Lee Lewis leaves us with a "what if" almost as big as the ones we were left with on February 3, 1959. Fortunately, not for the same reason, but it still left Jerry Lee Lewis as one of the first tragic figures of rock and roll, brought down by his own hubris and poor judgment. Jerry Lee stuck around to have a few more hits even as late as the 1970s (especially on the country charts), and to electrify live audience all the way to now. I don't think the music world ever really forgave him, but they didn't forget him either.

Brad's Take: 

When I think of Jerry Lee Lewis, I instantly think of "Great Balls Of Fire." That's the only song that I really associate with Jerry, despite how unfair that probably is. I'm just only really familiar with his fast blues rock music. It wasn't until track 9 ("High School Confidential") when I heard the Jerry Lee Lewis sound that I was already familiar with.

I was a bit bored with all of the mid-tempo filler songs in the first half of this album. Maybe it's just today, but it wasn't holding my attention until "High School Confidential." And when the next track started ("When The Saints Go Marching In") I chuckled to myself. What a random song to throw on a rock 'n roll album. But either way, it was a fun version of the tune.

Needless to say, this album was mostly underwhelming. Especially with the Little Richard album we reviewed before this still fresh in my head. This album's energy and excitement just doesn't compare to Lil Rich.

This album isn't necessarily bad or anything. I just know that Jerry Lee Lewis has better music than what was put on this album.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Here's Little Richard, by Little Richard (July, 1957)

Dad's Take:

It's hard to imagine a greater contrast between two records than between the last one we reviewed, the soundtrack from "Around The World In 80 Days," and this one by the "architect of rock and roll," but the juxtaposition of these two records shows how schizophrenic the popular music charts were in 1957, as rock and roll started to dominate but still shared chart space with more traditional musical forms.

Victor Young's classical film score, heavy on the strings as it is, just can't match the excitement Little Richard's manic piano-driven rock and roll. It's clear which one is better music by traditional definitions, but the kids who were buying the records didn't care about traditional definitions. They wanted fun and excitement and enjoyed shocking their parents. Reviewing these two records back to back is about as detailed a definition of the 1950s generation gap as you're likely to find anywhere.

Few of the fifties icons shocked like Little Richard, this noticeably effeminate screaming black man. My mom tells stories of how her parents reacted to her Little Richard records, stories that include a certain very impolite N word that's hard to imagine coming from my grandparents, but apparently did.

This record starts with the iconic "womp bomp aloombomp a womp bam boom" and never lets go. There's screaming, sex, "jungle beats," and everything the aging white post-war culture feared, but that the kids absorbed and emulated in a way that never happened again until the hip-hop revolution 30 years later. Here's Little Richard is almost a greatest hits record, with great songs like "Tutti Frutti," "Ready Teddy," "Slippin' and Slidin'," "Rip It Up," "Jenny Jenny," and "Long Tall Sally." Those well-known songs are padded with R&B ballads and other fun stuff.

The mixed quality of the recordings makes it clear that this is a collection of music that was recorded over time in different studios. It also makes it obvious that the copy of this album we found online was actually cobbled together from different sources, rather than from the original record. A couple songs were the wrong versions. As a result, there's no uniform production value, and sometimes that can be a little distracting. But it doesn't change the fact that this is a kick-ass record (or a re-creation of a kick-ass record). I'm going to have to find the real thing.

It's easy to find what attracted the kids to this music. "Ready Teddy, for example," starts with a traditional swing sound and kicks out the jams. It's fast, fun, dirty, rebellious dance music that pissed off the parents. What's not to like?

Very few people influenced the future of popular music like Little Richard did, but nobody knew that when this record came out. Listen to it in the context of its time and it's exciting, scary, and more than a little naughty and dangerous. In 1957, this was about as edgy as anything could be. When Aunt Mary almost catches Uncle John with bald-headed Sally and they duck back in the alley, everything decent is turned on its head. That's the stuff of greatness. That's the stuff that changes the world.

Brad's Take:

After listening to the The Girl Can't Help It soundtrack, it made me excited that we'd eventually get to Little Richard's debut album Here's Little Richard. This is the first time I recall listening to a full official Little Richard album, and I am far than disappointed.

The energy this man has is just out of control. You can hear how much fun he must have been having in the studio recording his first album's set of songs. Whether it's a fast song like "Tutti Frutti" or a slower song like "Can't Believe You Wanna Leave", he puts 120% of himself into the songs and gives them maximum energy. The energy is totally contagious too. I found myself air-drumming to a lot of the songs.

This might as well be a greatest hits record because it includes so many Little Richard favorites, such as "Tutti Frutti", "Ready Teddy", "Long Tall Sally", and many others.

Besides the Frank Sinatra album that we reviewed, Here's Little Richard is my favorite album that we've reviewed so far. It's just straight up fun and energetic. It's an amazing debut album from an artist that is a couple years shy of 80 years old and still rocking these songs like it was 1957 again.

Around The World in 80 Days Soundtrack (April, 1957)

Dad's Take:

This soundtrack has the distinction of being number one on the charts twice, and being knocked off both times by Elvis albums. Apparently, this album was a big deal. Rock and roll wasn't dominating the charts yet, leaving room for an album of catchy instrumental movie music to do well.

Most soundtracks are easier to enjoy if you know the movie really well, giving the music more context. But Victor Young's music is interesting, ranging from traditional Viennese-style waltzes like "Sky Symphony" to music flavored by Hollywood's vision of other exotic locales, like Spain, India, and Paris. In a sense, this soundtrack is a cousin to the Exotica genre we've already seen (and will see again). It transports the listener to places around the world, as you'd expect from a movie about traveling around the world. Usually with a waltz flavoring.

Overall, the music is enjoyable, if not always especially exciting. Most film scores work better inside the film than out, and this is no exception. There are moments of beauty, humor, and tension in the music. It's not hard to hear why Victor Young received 22 Academy Award nominations for his film music, including his only Oscar, posthumously awarded for Around The World In 80 Days, after Young died unexpectedly of a cerebral hemorrhage in November, 1956, at the young age of 56.

If you enjoy film scores, there's a lot to like here. It's not my usual cup of tea, but it held my interest throughout, and I'll probably come back to it at times when string-based instrumental music is needed in my background.

Brad's Take:

I haven't seen this movie so the soundtrack doesn't make much sense to me. Because like my dad, soundtracks usually digest better when you know the movie, when you can recognize the song and which part of the movie it's from, etc. So this was a little hard for me to really get into.

Judging by the music, it was an action adventure movie with cheesy moments and comedy here and there. I could be totally off, but that's just what the music sounds like to me.

One thing I love about this soundtrack though (and many other film scores) is how the music's arrangements are done. I love when the arrangement matches the mood or tone of the movie, or even helps act out some scenes.  I especially love how one song can bounce all over the place. It can start off slow, and then get really epic and huge, and then bounce to a little funny silly part, and then go somewhere else. It makes it fun to listen to, but it also makes it hard to tell one song from another.

When I was in high school, I had a mutli-media class, and in the class, we'd film and produce our own movies and things, and I remember my teacher drilling this one thing into our heads every time: "Audio is half the visual." That always stuck with me because it's totally true (in most cases.) If your movie has a crappy soundtrack, it throws everything off.

Maybe one day I will watch this movie and then go back and listen to its soundtrack so I can fully understand.

The Girl Can't Help It, by Various Artists (December 1956)

Dad's Take:

This is a strange album to include in the book about classic albums that we're using as our list, because it wasn't an album at all. The Girl Can't Help It was the first major rock'n'roll movie. All previous movies had been black and white cheapies. For the first time, audiences could see rock'n'roll stars, as well as unknowns who were never heard from again, on the screen in color, in a funny, innuendo-charged movie starring Jayne Mansfield. Other than a four-song EP by big band star Ray Anthony, no soundtrack was released until recently. It's that recent release that we're reviewing here.

I have this movie, and enjoy it immensely. The movie is good and the performances are excellent. Little Richard is featured in the title song and two others. Other big names include Fats Domino, Julie London, Gene Vincent, the Platters, and Eddie Cochrane. (The great Eddie Cochrane is amazingly presented in the movie as an Elvis imitator and as "proof" that you don't need talent to be a rock'n'roll star. This film has the only known color footage of Gene Vincent performing "Be-Bop-A-Lula." Ray Anthony is also featured as both a musician and an actor.

The influence of this movie cannot be over-estimated. Besides introducing millions to rock'n'roll stars in full living color, it had a major impact on the history of rock and roll. For example, John Lennon claimed that, when the movie was shown in Liverpool in 1957, showing him his musical idols for the first time, it helped inspire him to follow his rock'n'roll dreams.

The soundtrack is excellent, containing several songs in versions only available in the movie (and mastered from the film for CD), as well as the original Ray Anthony EP and several other songs not available elsewhere (and some that were probably never available anywhere else).

The best way to experience this soundtrack is by watching the film, but the music is also very much worth having by itself.

Brad's Take:

It's kind of weird reviewing single artist albums and then reviewing one with a bunch of artists compiled into one album. Instead of judging the album's vocals, lyrics, overall recording quality, etc., we're having to review each song one-by-one and then the entire thing as a whole.

Needless to say, there are some amazing artists on the soundtrack for The Girl Can't Help It. You've got Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, The Platters, and a handful of others that are a little less known (at least to me.)

Little Richard starts the soundtrack off with a two and a half minute bang with the title track "The Girl Can't Help It." It starts off at full speed and never slows down. It sets the mood up perfectly for the rest of the soundtrack. It rarely ever slows down. This soundtrack is full of up-beat finger-snapping classic rock 'n roll jams. With 24 tracks, the album clocks in at just under an hour. No song is over three minutes long. Each song gets straight to the point within the first couple seconds.

I haven't seen the movie, but I can only imagine how great it actually is. Seeing the actual musicians in the movie "performing" these songs would be awesome to see. I'll have to steal my dad's copy next time I'm over there.

I understand why this soundtrack is in the book. It's a perfect mix of the great 50's rock 'n roll vibes. If you want to listen to up-beat fun 50's music, but you don't know where to start, I'd definitely recommend this.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

'S Wonderful, by Ray Conniff (December 1956)

Dad's Take:

Ray Conniff had an excellent resume by the time the fifties rolled around, having worked for people like Mitch Miller and Artie Shaw. He had a very successful career as a big band and popular music arranger before he struck on the formula that would make him the king of easy listening for at least a decade and a half. He took his big band experience and added a touch he'd discovered with Mitch Miller, adding a small choir to a big band arrangement and having them sing wordless arrangements, doubling the women's voices with trumpets and the men with trombones. Using this formula, he had 28 albums in the American Top 40 between 1957 and 1968, an amazing number. Obviously, people liked his work a lot, mostly people who liked to swing but didn't like all these rock and roll kinds of songs and singers, people who were once cool and then, as they aged, found themselves to be suddenly square. 'S Wonderful takes a selection of classic songs and removes all the soul from them, watering them down into the kind of elevator music people played if they wanted people to think their elevators were almost hip once upon a time.

My biggest problem with Ray Conniff is that he reminds me of my dentist growing up, who played this kind of music in his practice. So now it makes my teeth hurt. And this was in the days before nitrous oxide. I imagine a good dose of gas might make all these doo doo doo ba bops funny, at least.

I recognize Conniff's talents as an arranger and his musical pedigree, and applaud his effort to keep the swinging big band sound alive, even if he toned it down for his aging audience who by now had to worry about breaking their hip if they tried to dance like they did when they were young. I enjoy the big band sound as much as the next guy, but I cannot get into Conniff's easy listening version of it. I made it all the way through the album, but this one is clearly not for me.

Brad's Take:

First off, the lyrics on this album are incredible! ...Oops, I already made that joke. 

The music is definitely well-arranged, and it's easy to listen to, but the vocals made me laugh a little bit. It was hard to take the non-lyrical vocals seriously because the whole time I was just reminded of this video. And like my dad said above, it's very much like the music you'd hear in an elevator, but besides that, I kind of liked this album.

I imagine this is what young adults were listening to when they wanted to feel cool for listening to older styled music, but their parents shook their heads and said, "This isn't real big band music..."

I definitely prefer the older big band sound that came before this 50's style that Ray Conniff did, but this album is just a lot of fun. I would love to have been in their choir and only sing doo doo's and ba da da's. But seriously, this is good for what it is, and I would like to listen to some of his later albums to see how he progresses from this. This album 'S Kinda Wonderful.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ellington At Newport, by Duke Ellington (November, 1956)

Dad's Take:

By 1956, Duke Ellington's career appeared to be on the downside. He had financial issues, and the The Duke had been deposed by The King after sinking in popularity with the rise of bebop. According to the reports I've read, by the time Ellington took the Newport Jazz Festival stage at midnight on July 7th, the crowd had diminished, and it was expected to drop off some more. But Ellington rocked the joint, in the original sense of the word. The crowd went wild, and Ellington and his orchestra had to play four encores before they could get off the stage.

The original release contained only three tracks (a more complete concert recording was released later), dominated by the Newport Jazz Festival Suite. At nearly 24 minutes in length, this is a masterpiece for any genre. And, in fact, of many genres, moving from big band swing to smoky bar room jazz and mood-drenched blues and everywhere in between. The suite was reportedly played without some of the band members, who were nowhere to be found when Ellington took the stage.

I'm not familiar enough with the vocabulary of jazz to do this one justice, but let's just say that this recording blows me away. I'm somewhat familiar with some of Ellington's earlier work, but I'd never heard this performance. This thing swings. It moves. By the time we get to the final track, Diminduendo and Crescendo (which, by the way, might have just become one of my favorite recordings ever), it even rocks. The solos are flat-out amazing, and when the whole combo is playing, it's impossible not to move with it. I'm glad nobody else can see me dig this jazz. They're likely to think I'm having a mild seizure.

At a time when the kids were taking over music, a 56-year-old big band leader regained his position at the top of the world and revitalized his sagging career with a single performance, and the record captured that early morning performance perfectly.

Or so it was thought.

As was common at the time for live records, much of Ellington at Newport is a studio re-creation recording, mixed with live performance and often supplemented by phony applause. An estimated 40% is actually live. Ellington hadn't thought the original live recordings of the under-rehearsed performance were good enough to release. This was common practice at a time when recording techniques and equipment often had trouble capturing the sound of a live performance. It's not the last time a live album in our classic album list will have been doctored in the studio. That does not change the quality of the music, though. This is a great recording, live or not.

Now that the complete concert performance is available in one set, along with the studio recordings, I'm going to have to go out and get it. I want to hear both the real live recordings and the undoctored studio recordings.

Brad's Take:

First off, the lyrics on this album are incredible! ...Dumb joke.

For real though, I've recently gotten into some of Duke Ellington's work. In fact, just a couple weeks ago, I bought "Duke Ellington Meets Leonard Feather" on vinyl at an antique store for only 2 dollars. I've been listening to and collecting a lot of jazz music lately, and it's fun seeing my dad get so into a jazz album. He and I might have to do some jazz music swapping sometime soon. I've got a nice collection going on lately.

Back to the topic, Duke Ellington rules! It's really awesome to hear the crowd go so wild for Duke (hopefully it's the real audience screaming for most of it.) It's pretty unheard of for a musician to make their diminishing career turn around and be on the top again with just one single performance. It must have been one hell of a show! YouTube and even the internet obviously weren't around so videos couldn't have been passed around all over the world or anything. It was generally all word of mouth, and that makes this even more incredible to me. If it wasn't for this historic performance, the man wouldn't have graced the August 1956 cover of Time magazine.

Like my dad said, everything on this record is top notch. The musicianship is amazing and I love hearing Duke hollering in the background during some of his bandmates' solos. Whether some parts are live or are re-done in the studio, the recordings are perfect. Even though it was after midnight when they began their second set of the night, you can feel the energy Duke and his band had, thanks to the reaction from the adoring crowd.

Elvis, by Elvis Presley (October, 1956)

Dad's Take:

By the time Elvis Presley released his second RCA album in October 1956, he was able to release it under his first name only. He had had the smash hit of the summer with both sides of the "Don't Be Cruel"/"Hound Dog" single. Riding on the success of that single, went back into the studio for three days in September, and the result topped the charts for four weeks, despite containing only one hit, "Love Me," which hit #2 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart (as well as #7 on the Black Singles chart and #10 on the Country Singles chart). The other two singles, "Old Shep" and "Paralyzed" failed to reach the top 40.

Elvis was now a bona fide star, and this album shows him performing with much more confidence and energy than he had on Elvis Presley earlier in the year. "Rip It Up" is an energetic opener, one of three Little Richard covers on the record. Elvis's "Ready Teddy," on the other hand, is just plain kick-but rock and roll, thanks in no small part to a killer instrumental break. Add the three Little Richard covers to the one on his first album and you add significant fuel to Little Richard's claim to be the "architect of rock and roll." "Rip It Up" falls a little short of Little Richard's maniacal energy and you can understand the words (which takes some of the fun out of it), but it's a strong opener and sets the mood that permeates this album.

I've heard a lot of Elvis over the years, but most of these songs are new to me, because they weren't hits. That they weren't is a surprise. For the first time, we get an album full of songs with the signature Elvis sound. By 1957 almost every song on this album would probably have made an assault on the top of the charts, but now they can almost be considered obscure to anybody but big Elvis Fans.

A favorite that I don't remember hearing before, but that I'll be listening to again (and again, and again) is "So Glad You're Mine." This song is as Elvisy as "Heartbreak Hotel," but not nearly as well known, with a rocking bar room beat and some heavy guitar and piano, and fun lyrics that stick in my head, like:

My baby's long and tall
Shaped like a cannon ball

Say every time she loves me

Lord you can hear me squall

She cried "ooo weee"

I believe I changed my mind

She said, "I'm so glad I'm livin'
I cried, "I'm so glad you're mine"

I had to listen three times before I could move on, something that hasn't happened yet while listening to the records for this review. Even unadulterated cheese like "Old Shep," an old-style country weeper that won Elvis 2nd place at a fair in Tupelo when he was ten, can't spoil the fun of this record. If Elvis Presley is Elvis before he was The King, Elvis is his coronation party.

Brad's Take:

This album kicks off with quite the punch. "Rip It Up" truly rips it up right from the start. I wish the whole album was like that song. It's just a tease though because the second song is as slow as Elvis gets. I wish they had moved "Love Me" down in the tracklist, but oh well.

This album is a lot like Elvis' debut. It's a roller coaster. Fast paced classics with ballads randomly thrown in here and there. He, of course, has the voice to pull off everything he did, but I prefer fast rockin Elvis to slow-dancing Elvis. I was loving the fast paced songs and getting impatient with the slow ones, in hopes that the next song was another rockin' jam. "Rip It Up", "Long Tall Sally" were early favorites, but that guitar work in "So Glad You're Mine" is a lot of fun.

Another thing that I loved right from the moment it happened was the way that "When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again" flowed into "Long Tall Sally." It's almost seamless. I love when tracks flow so smoothly with each other.

Whether it was a fast song or a slow song, The King nailed it. They got some golden takes in just the 3 days that it took to record this record. Without all the fancy technology we have these days, it's clear that Elvis, his band, and the producer had great talent.

I think it's time for me to make an Elvis mix CD with all of the up-tempo songs from his first two albums...