Saturday, 15 April 2017

Ten obscure but splendid '50s rock and roll, R&B and soul recordings - and a mystery "popcorn" classic

Can anyone help? First, please listen to this classic piece of what is now apparently known as "popcorn" from 1959...
In 1959, two 18-year olds, Alan Christian and Joe Zellers, wrote a minor key song called "Lonely Moon" and hawked it around... 

...New York's Brill Building in search of a record company to record and release it. After a series of scuzzy shenanigans, Astor Records did eventually released a recording of the song... but by "a 30 year old guy named Johnny Wells", according to co-writer Alan Christian in his brief history of the number to be found beneath this video of him performing "Lonely Moon" in 2009. He and Joe Zellers kicked up a fuss, but, discovering that the record was already recorded and ready for shipment (along with all the payola cheques for the disc jockeys), accepted $1000 and 50% of the (non-existent) royalties to go away. Johnny Wells's version was released in the UK by Columbia (as you can see from the above video), but I can find absolutely nothing about the performer on the internet - apart from the original B-side, which is a truly awful ballad. I have a feeling I must have heard the record at some stage, because I sort of recognised it when I found it on YouTube two days ago - and it turned into an ear-worm in the middle of the night: hence its appearance here.

The next number is "(Every Time I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone" - a very different proposition - by the American R&B guitarist, Roy Montrell, which I only bothered listening to because The Stray Cats did a great cover version on an LP in the '80s. Glad I did.

I've been compiling a Pinterest board of original rock 'n' roll, R&B, rockabilly etc. labels from the '50s and early '60s - i.e. the information roundel in the centre of vinyl discs. It helps provide me with a spurious sense of accomplishing something when my brain is fogbound, which it has been quite a bit recently. Anyway, in the unlikely event you should wish to view the results of this singularly pointless endeavour, you can find the board here: there are currently 931 labels to see, but, as there are quite a few duplicates of American and US versions of the same number, that probably represents about 800 separate titles. One of the unwonted benefits of hunting down these sonic shreds of post-war popular music history is that I've listened to a lot of music to find out whether it merits inclusion. In amongst the dross, I've discovered some real gems - like Annisteen Allen's terrific original 1955 R&B version of the splendidly tasteless "Fujiyama Mama", later covered by Wanda Jackson:

I also came across Jerry McCain's well-hard 1960 recording of "She' s Tough", which I'd formerly only known as a 1980s Fabulous Thunderbirds album track:

Saxophonist Bill Justis recorded what many see as the first ever rock and roll instrumental hit - "Raunchy" - for Sun (or, rather, Sam Phillips's offshoot label, Phillips International) in 1957. Here's his version of pianist Floyd Cramer's 1961 hit, "Flip, Flop and Bop". (Despite the label featured in the video, the Justis version was not released by Sun - or any other company - as a single):

"Baby Please Don't Go" is one of the most-recorded songs in Blues history: Rose Mitchell's Cuban-tinged 1954 version is mesmerising:

I've been an admirer of R&B singer Eddie Taylor's "Stroll Out West" and "Big Town Playboy" for decades. I must have heard his 1955 (or 1956 - take your pick) hit, "Ride 'em On Down" at some stage, but, for some reason, it didn't make an impression. Now it has:

Remember elephantine '70s luuurve machine, Barry White? Seems that, before turning into an unlikely sex god, he cut some pretty decent Northern Soul stompers, such as 1964's "Tracy (All I Have Is You)":

The Madison became a dance fad in 1959 or thereabouts, and its name seems to have been used willy-nilly on a variety of musically unrelated releases - just like the Twist a year or two later (e.g. Bo Diddley's "Bo's Twist"!) One of the best Madisonian numbers was Buster Brown's 1960 instrumental, "The Madison Shuffle":

Long time since I heard The Ikettes' 1962 release, "I'm Blue (The Gong-Gong Song") - terrific!:

The almost legendary status of Link Wray's 1958 hit "Rumble" means his other splendidly menacing instrumentals from that era tend to disappear in its mighty shadow. Not in this house. Here's the original 1960 version of "Ace of Spades":

Oops! That's eleven, not ten. Got carried away.

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