Viva Las Vegas 45 Elvis Presley

June 30, 2011

Elvis Presley acted in alot of bad films, which produced alot of no so good music. Every once in awhile, however, there was a good film and some excellent music.

VIVA LAS VEGAS was an Elvis movie that worked. His pairing with Ann Margaret was probably the best of his career.

The title song was released as a single, May 9, 1964. If ever a song deserved to be a big hit for Elvis, this was the one. It was up-tempo pop/rock at its best.

It was not to be, however, as it stalled at number 29 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart. Any of the material from the movie, and especially the movie itself, is still a good way to spend an hour or two.

I Didn’t Wanna Be A Loser/It’s Gotta Be You 45 by Lesley Gore

June 30, 2011

The first seven singles of of Lesley Gore’s career all made the top 40. Songs such as “Judy’s Turn To Cry,” “It’s My Party,” “She’s A Fool,” and “You Don’t Own Me,” all reached the top five and were the commercial highlights of her career.

The lowest charting of her first group of singles was “I Don’t Wanna Be A Loser/It’s Gotta Be You.” Released May 23, 1964, it topped out at number 37 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

While not one of her memorable performances, they remain a fine listen 45 years after their release.

Greenfields 45 by The Brothers Four

June 29, 2011

The Brothers Four were a four man folk group assembled at the University of Washington during the late 1950’s. They caught the folk revival movement during the early to mid-1960s and rode it to success.

Dick Foley, Bob Flick, John Paine, and Mike Kirkland would find commercial success by selling million albums during their career. While they would have eight singles reach the charts, only one would enter the top 30.

“Greenfields” was released February 22, 1960 and came very close to reaching number one. It spent four weeks in the nuber two position of the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

The commercial success and the chart albums stopped at the end of the 1960s but the group continued on. Now over 50 years into their career they are still on the road.

Don’t Smoke by Isaac Allen

June 29, 2011

Looks can sometimes be deceiving. Isaac Allen is a clean-cut young man in his mid-twenties. Promo pictures show him sitting casually at his piano strumming the keys. When he opens in mouth, however, he becomes a gritty singer/songwriter of the blues in the Tom Waits tradition.

Despite his young age, Allen can honestly say he has lived the blues. He spent his early childhood in northern Pennsylvania and Dryden, New York. At the age of six, his doctor father moved the family halfway around the world to Borneo. It was in the city of Balikpapan, Indonesia that he spent his formative years. It was then on to Malaysia and Singapore. After extended bouts with alcohol, Allen has settled in New Haven, Connecticut.

Like many of the classic bluesmen of the past, he has drawn upon his life’s experiences to paint his songs. His compositions travel on the dark side of life, exploring such themes as drugs, women of the night, the Devil, prison, suicide and death. If you are looking for an uplifting experience, this is not an album for you. If you are looking for an album of passionate and well-produced blues, though, then this is an album that needs to grace your music collection.

Don’t Smoke is Allen’s first album and he wrote all of the tracks. While his piano remains the central instrument, he is adept at incorporating brass and particularly a saxophone sound into the mix.

There are a number of highlights to be explored. “The Devil“ is a slow blues tune with a horn section and dobro supporting his piano, as the music goes through a number of tempo changes. I have never been exposed to the sax playing of Kris Jensen but his work on “Get Right” is exceptional as his tone precisely combines with Allen’s voice. The best track is “The Mouse In My Head.” Its music is chaotic with a number of tempo changes, yet there is an underlying melodic nature that is alluring.

Don’t Smoke introduces a fine young musician who not only plays the blues but has also lived them. Hopefully he will continue to draw on his life’s journey for more releases in the future.

Article first published as Music Review: Mr. Isaac Allen – Don’t Smoke on Blogcritics.

Easy Living by Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass

June 29, 2011

Easy Livingby Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass is one of six new reissues by The Concord Music Group in their ongoing Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series.

Ella Fitzgerald was considered an American icon by the time she passed away in 1996, after a nearly six decade career. She was considered one of the unique and innovative vocalists in jazz history and she sold tens of millions of albums during her the course of her career.

Joe Pass, 1929-1994, is sometimes a forgotten musician, but his innovative use of chord changes and phrasing would influence a generation of jazz guitarists. Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass came together during 1973 and over the next 13 years would record four studio albums together, and their label would release a number of live recordings. Pass and Fitzgerald would also form a relationship on stage as he would augment her basic trio upon occasion, plus they would perform as just a duo from time to time.

Fitzgerald recorded a number of albums with the piano as the primary melodic instrument, but it was her time as the foil for Pass’ guitar virtuosity that would push her into new vocal territory and challenge her to explore different styles and sounds.

Easy Living was released during 1986 and was their final studio album together. By this time they had settled into an easy going musical relationship. Pass would follow Fitzgerald’s vocal leads effortlessly. Her ability to change tone and even lyrics and Pass’ ability to not only follow her but to provide instrumental backing and balance speaks well for the quality of their relationship. The songs have a jam like feel at its most basic.

The 15 tracks from the original release are presented with a new clarity due to 24-bit remastering. New liner notes give a history of the album’s recording process. Also presented are the original liner notes by Benny Green. Two alternative takes are included as bonus tracks.

The material consists of pop classics from the Great American Songbook and some light jazz tunes, which were similar to most Ella Fitzgerald albums. Many of the songs are reinterpretations of numbers she had previously recorded in different settings.

This was the only time she recorded “My Ship,” written by Gershwin and Weill. It was a good song to lead off the album as it allowed Pass room to experiment with sounds, yet not interfere with Fitzgerald’s vocal. “My Man” was a signature Billie Holiday song although it was written during the early 1920s. Their take is more inventive as she bends the lyrics and phrasing to fit her style and Pass follows right behind.

She recorded “Moonlight In Vermont” a number of times but this sparse and simple rendition is unique and more satisfying. She first recorded “I’m Making Believe” with The Ink Spots in 1944 in a group setting. Now the song is stripped to basics. “On Green Dolphin Street” was originally recorded with strings but here it is just voice and guitar. And so it goes. All the tracks have a cohesive feel due to the Fitzgerald/Pass interaction.

It’s nice to have Easy Living back in a remastered form, as it is one of the unique combinations of not only their careers, but of jazz music as well.

Article first published as Music Review: Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass – Easy Living on Blogcritics.

Tom Dooley 45 by The Kingston Trio

June 29, 2011

While The Kingston Trio had a number of chart single hits, it was their album sales that made them superstars of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Five of their first six album releases reached number one and combined, occupied the top spot on the charts for 46 weeks. They were a folk group consisting of banjo player Dave Guard, and guitarists Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds.

Their first single was released September 29, 1958. “Tom Dooley” was based on an American folk song written during the late 1860s. It would become their biggest hit reaching the number one spot on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Chart for one week.

They were one the leading leading artists in the ressurrection of folk music during the pre-Beatles era.

Amapola 78 by Jimmy Dorsey

June 28, 2011

1941 was an outstanding year for Jimmy Dorsey, if not for the world. He had five number one hits which totalled 19 weeks at the top of the charts.

His biggest hit was “Amapola (Pretty Little Poppy)” which ascended to the number one position on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Singles Chart on March 29, 1941. It would spend ten weeks on top of the charts.

He would have 11 number one hits during his career. He almost made it 12, as “So Rare” reached number two and stayed there for four weeks during 1957, shortly before his death from cancer.

Teen Age Idol 45 by Ricky Nelson

June 28, 2011

Ricky Nelson was at the height of his popularity when he released “Teen Age Idol,” August 11, 1962. It was an autobiographical song about one of the true teen idols of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The song would resonant with his large fan base, which would propel it to the number five position on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

The single’s B side was “I’ve Got My Eyes On You.” it looked back to his early rockabilly days and is a forgotten gem in his vast catalogue of material.

Hanky Panky 45 by Tommy James & The Shondells

June 28, 2011

If at first you don’t succeed, then hopefully you get lucky.

During 1963, the Shondells released “Hanky Panky” on the small Snap Label. The song received no chart action and quickly disappeared.

Three yers later, lead singer Tommy James had relocated to Pittsburgh. A local Dee Jay began playing the three year old “Hanky Panky.” The larger Roulette Label bought the rights and released it as a single June 4, 1966. It would become the number one song in The United States.

Tommy James was suddenly a lead singer with a hit song but no band. He recruited a local band, The Raconteurs, to become The Shondells.

“Hanky Panky,” with its repetitive lyrics, may not have been the best or most creative song to ever reach number one but there is no denying its popularity or catchiness.

Suspicious Minds 45 by Elvis Presley

June 27, 2011

Songwriter Mark James wrote an obscure song titled “Suspicious Minds” and decided to release it himself. Unfortunately it was not a commercial success.

Elvis Presley would release a version of the tune on September 13, 1969. It would become his 17th and last number one song in The United States. ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE would place it at number 91 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time.

It is the song that solidified his comeback and made him a relevant superstar again.