Saturday, 22 February 2014

LA Woman by the Doors

If there's one thing that must be obvious about my musical tastes from this blog, it's that I'm a jazz nut. But I'm not exclusively a jazz nut. And there are still rock albums that get me excited. Including the Doors’ masterpiece LA Woman.

The nice people at Rhino have reissued the Doors’ albums on vinyl and I couldn't resist snapping up a copy of LA Woman to replace — supplement actually — my worn original LP.

Rhino are to be congratulated on their painstaking attempt to replicate the elaborate original packaging of LA Woman — the rounded corners, the acetate window, the yellow inner sleeve with the telephone pole-crucifixion artwork on the reverse.

So it seems churlish to moan, yet moan I must. For a start the yellow inner sleeve in the Rhino reissue isn't really a sleeve. It's slashed along both sides and is in fact a yellow piece of paper that is folded (hinging at the bottom) around a conventional paper inner sleeve.

Now, if this replicates the original release, I will stand corrected. But I don't think it does. I think the original inner sleeve was just that, not some weird wrap-around. In fact, I've got one around here somewhere...

But much worse than that, despite boasting of its 180 gram vinyl, this is a bit of a sonic dog. The music sounds okay but there is constant surface noise, hissing and sizzling, throughout the gaps between the tracks, across the run-in grooves, and muttering away in the background throughout the quiet passages.

This is a very poor pressing indeed. Incompetent and unacceptable. In any sane world it would have been routinely rejected by quality control.

There's no point doing vinyl reissues unless you do them properly. And it’s easy enough. You just listen to samples from the pressing plant, and if they aren't noise free you send them back and tell the factory to junk them and press again, and do it right... That is their job. It's that simple.

(Image credits: front and back cover of the reissue are from Amazon. The inner sleeve is from The Celebrity Pix. The image of the inner sleeve half in and half out of the cover is from Collectors Frenzy and shows an original pressing.)

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Seconds & IQ by Jerry Goldsmith

I have long been a fan of the American film maker John Frankenheimer. One of his most eerie and disturbing films was Seconds, with a great early score by Jerry Goldsmith. When, nearly a century after the movie appeared, the music was finally released I jumped at the chance to get it.

The fact that the CD also featured another obscure Goldsmith score, for a romantic comedy called IQ, was at best a distraction, at worst a nuisance. But when I listened to the CD I was delighted to discover that IQ is actually one of Goldsmith's finest. It's an utterly uncharacteristic score for Goldsmith. It features a lot of classical and jazz sounds (and even doo-wop — check out 'Campus Morning'), and none of the neo-Copeland Americana I associate with the composer. And it is utterly beautiful.

What of Seconds?It is thunderously brooding, electronic-edged and modernist, with a satanic sounding violin and even a good old horror-movie organ which segues into a more modern, angular kind of unease ('Main Title'). The haunting solo piano on 'Isolation' is also a highlight.

This music reminds me that Goldsmith wrote for The Twilight Zone, both in its original 1960 incarnation and later remakes.

There were some issues with the surviving tapes of the music for Seconds, including "print through" which is when sounds migrate through layers of magnetic tape from one track to another. So we have some, very faint, dialogue on a few of the musical cues.

But these ghostly voices bleeding through actually add to the eerie atmosphere of the music.

(Image credits: The front cover of the CD is from Soundtrack Central. The back cover image is from FF Shrine. The alternative covers, featuring just one movie each, are from Willard's Wormholes (Seconds) and FF Shrine again (IQ). All these sites have interesting information about the movies, and the scores.)

Friday, 7 February 2014

Russ Garcia & Sounds in the Night (& Dennis Farnon!)

There is so much to say about Russ Garcia that it's hard to know where to start. Obviously I'm going to have write an in-depth post about this brilliant man. He was swindled out of an Oscar, literally wrote the book on arranging and has provided me with some of my favourite music.

But all that will have to wait for another time. For now just allow me to recommend Mark Myer's splendid blog JazzWax and his fine article on Garcia. And then pass along quickly to Sounds in the Night.

This eerie tapestry of vocals featuring singer Marni Nixon is one of Garcia's rarest records and I was lucky enough to track down a couple of copies of vinyl. (The true vinyl nut needs at least two copies because it was released on two different labels, Bethlehem and, originally, Aamco.) 

Recently it was reissued on CD by the enterprising Él label. And it is that CD which prompted this post. Last night I was listening to the irreplaceable Late Junction on Radio 3. And I heard an extraordinary track (actually, I heard several. But stay focused, Andrew). It featured Marni Nixon and was arranged by Dennis Farnon, talented brother of the more famous Robert. (The otherwise informative booklet notes for the Él CD are hopelessly confused about which Farnon brother did what. But we'll come to that CD in a minute...)

The track was called Very Contrary Mary based on the nursery rhyme. And it was, believe it or not, originally written for the Mr Magoo cartoon series. It was rediscovered by the legendary Jonny Trunk and reissued on a collection called Mr Magoo in Hi-Fi

This was once an LP from RCA. Now, unfortunately it is a download-only entity. So I dropped Jonny a line and asked if he might be prevailed upon to  release it in a physical format (even a CD would do). Jonny tantalisingly hinted that there might be a vinyl sampler featuring the track sometime in the future.

But then I realised something. The Él CD I had of Sounds in the Night... Didn't that have some bonus tracks at the end of the disc? Not by Russ Garcia but featuring Marni Nixon? I scrambled around in my CD collection and... sure enough. There it was. Track 14: Very Contrary Mary. 

Plus six other tracks featuring Dennis Farnon and Marni Nixon. They are all based on nursery rhymes and originally featured in Mr Magoo. Hence the umbrella title, The Mother Magoo Suite.

I'd never paid much attention to them, foolishly curtailing my listening after the Russ Garcia tracks ended. Well I'm playing the CD now, and after the last of Russ's music, baby I'm going to go on playing.
And here's a heads-up for you. You can still pick up this CD at a bargain price. 

Or, if you're impatient and don't want to shop around, buy it straight from the nice people at Él right here. In any case, I urge you to grab a copy.

(Image credits: The cover of the Él CD is from Last FM because Él's own image is not very good. Pull yourselves together, guys! The Aamco cover is from Space Age Pop, an old favourite and a great site. The Bethelehem cover is from the Spanish La Red Chair blog, a new discovery and also very cool. The original Mr Magoo LP cover is from Technology Tell, an intriguing blog about vinyl hunting.)