Friday, December 27, 2013

Music for Lovers Only: Sherriff Bufford T. Justice Does Music

Jackie Gleason was a very versatile entertainer.  I first became acquainted with Jackie Gleason not through Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners, but through Sherriff Buford T. Justice from the Cannonball Run movies.  It wasn't until I was a teenager when I first watched The Honeymooners and was blown away by the comic timing of the entire cast.  I remember thinking, "They sure don't make shows like this anymore."

Now, in my forties, I have become acquainted with another side of Jackie Gleason:  musical conductor and composer.

In the early 1950s, Jackie Gleason put together a popular series of instrumental albums that catered to mood.  The first was Music for Lovers Only, which was originally released in 1952.  A longer, stereo version came out in 1954.  I just happened to pick up a decent copy of that album at Half Price Books for fifty cents.

The cover features a close up of a table, two empty wine glasses in the background.  A purse, a pair of gloves and a key sit on the table as two cigarettes burn in an ashtray; one cigarette marked by pink lipstick.   The description of the album on the back is hysterical:
"A wisp of cigarette smoke in the soft lamplight, the tinkle of a glass, a hushed whisper…and music for lovers only. This is love’s entrancing setting. For music, in a thousand ways, describes each glowing facet of romance.  In this album Jackie Gleason has chosen a group of love's most appealing melodies...tender ballads that have special significance for all of us.  Here is tuneful, sentimental music for your most relaxed listening moments."
This album was very popular.  In fact, it remains one of the most popular albums of all time. Yes, you heard me right.  Music for Lovers Only still holds the record for number of weeks in the top ten on the Billboard Charts: 153 weeks.   Michael Jackson's Thriller was there for only 78 weeks.

Jackie Gleason followed up the success of Music for Lovers Only with a series of emotion-categorized music: Music to Make You Misty, Music to Remember Her, and Music to Change Her Mind, to name just a few.  In total, Jackie Gleason produced close to 60 albums throughout his career.

Jackie Gleason was not a musician, however.  In fact, he couldn't read a note of music.  How much music did he create himself?  That depends on who you talk to.  Some claim that Jackie Gleason hummed melodies to assistants and those assistants then put it to music.  Indeed, he is given writing and conducting credits for music on The Honeymooners. Others claim that the only thing Gleason did was cash checks.

He didn't use traditional music terms when explaining the music that he wanted played. Sometimes, he used descriptions such as "pissing off a high bridge into a teacup" in  order to get the sound he wanted from the musicians.

Nevertheless, Music for Lovers Only is a good album.  Nostalgic, really.  Not anything that you would hear today, but probably very common in the Fifties as the bins at Goodwill and other thrift shops are filled with such remnants.

Soon, you'll be able to hear tracks from Music for Lovers Only as we bring back the Vinyl Brunch on weekends here at Vinyl Voyage Radio.  The Vinyl Brunch will feature music not in regular rotation at the station: classical, instrumental, jazz and much, much more.

Stay tuned for more information.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Christmas is Coming, the Vinyl's Being Spun

Yep.  It's getting to be that time of year.  Terrestrial radio started playing Christmas music on November 13 here in Chicago.  Way too early, in my opinion.  Especially when they play the same 10 songs every hour.

Last year, Vinyl Voyage went all Christmas for a week in what we called "Christmas Music that Doesn't Suck."   Get ready, the "2nd Annual Christmas Music that Doesn't Suck" is just around the corner.

Over the last several weeks, I've been scouring the local thrift stores for Christmas vinyl goodies. This year, we are adding a few more to the rotation that now exceeds 450 songs.  That's a lot of Christmas music.  I read last year that the local terrestrial radio station that plays Christmas music has only 150 songs or so on their playlist.  And it is painfully apparent.

New this year:

I can't believe I didn't have this album:  The Carpenters:  A Christmas Portrait. This album came out in 1978 and features the oft-heard, "Merry Christmas Darling."  But it has some other great tunes as well, including several instrumentals.  Nothing beats the voice of Karen Carpenter, in my opinion.

John Denver and the Muppets:  A Christmas Together.  This is a fun album, with some silly renditions of Christmas favorites, plus some serious tunes as well.  I love the Muppet take on "Christmas is Coming."

Ray Conniff and the Ray Conniff Singers: We Wish You a Merry Christmas.  Nothing says early 60s like Ray Conniff.  This was one of the best selling albums of 1962.

Narada: The Christmas Collection, from 1988.  This I just picked up the other day.  Narada, of course, was the New Age label founded in 1983.  The popularity of this album spawned other volumes of Christmas music in later years, all of which were released on CD.  This is the only Christmas album that was released on both vinyl and cd.  This is mostly synthesized music and the instrumentation is very 1980s.  In what was cutting edge at the time, one song boasts of being played on a "Macintosh computer with Mark of the Unicorn Performer 2.0 software." Another song is played on a Commodore 64.  Hey, I had one of those computers in the 80s, too!

Plus, I have many, many more.  Mostly compilation albums.  Back in the 60s and 70s, department stores sold Christmas albums.  Firestone was one of the first.  True Value was another.  I Found a Montgomery Ward Christmas album the other day.

More to come.  I am hoping to get that playlist over 500 songs. We will go all Christmas music for a week starting Friday, December 20, 2013.