Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
It was fifty-one years ago today, give or take a few days. In the week of 4 April 1964, The Beatles were solidly encamped at the top of the US Billboard Hot 100. They occupied slots #1 – #5 with a further seven songs scattered lower down the chart. Can’t Buy Me Love was their third consecutive US No. 1, a feat which remains unique in the history of the chart. The following week, two more Beatles singles entered the list.
On April 5th Billboard ran a story “Chart crawls with Beatles”. Written by Jack Maher and Tom Noonan (who had launched the Hot 100 six years earlier) its opening words were “Just about everyone. is tired of the Beatles.”
“Disk jockeys are tired of playing the hit group. The writers of trade and consumer publication articles are tired of writing about them and the manufacturers of product other than the Beatles are tired of hearing about them. Everyone’s tired of the Beatles – except the listening and buying public.”
I remember that time very well. Like many another Beatle-inspired teenager I’d been given a guitar for my fourteenth birthday and was learning to play it. It was an old acoustic finished in shiny red lacquer. Its metal strings cut my fingertips to pieces, but the pain was nothing compared to the pleasure of being able, after laborious practice, to shape chords, change from one to another without long pauses in between and hold each in turn down long enough to strum a semblance of a Beatles song.
Here are the songs that so delighted us half a century ago. Click the labels to hear them.
In my piece about Paper Sun, Traffic’s debut single from May 1967, I noted that the song might have climbed higher than #5 had it not been for Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale, which hogged the top spot for several weeks and could not be budged.
As part of my Paper Sun research I looked for Procol Harum’s original performance on Top of the Pops.
Watching this old black and white footage, a faint and disturbing memory stirred: another group of the era, late sixties or early seventies (despite Sergeant Pepper, this was before groups started being called ‘bands’). Probably, like Procol Harum, they had been pushed into the limelight by an unexpected success, because I only remember seeing them on TOTP once or twice.
I couldn’t name the group, nor the song. What I remembered about them was not their standard shaggy haircuts and pop star flamboyance, but their keyboard player: a gaunt man with a strange little toothbrush moustache and slicked back hair. He wore trousers hitched well above the waist, a white shirt and tie, and apart for his hands on the keys never moved at all. He stared straight ahead, oblivious to the beat and the capering of his band mates. Whenever the cameras found him he would give the TV audience a creepy leer.
Who was he and what was the group? I asked my wife if she remembered anything like that. It rang a bell, she said: someone who looked as if he had stepped out of a Monty Python sketch. Why didn’t I look on the internet. Yes, but where to begin?
This note takes its title from the search terms I typed into Google – 60s pop group squinty man with toothbrush moustache.
This brought up a great many references to Hitler, Charlie Chaplin and moustaches. I tried an image search. Bingo!
My man was in five of the first fifteen images! His name is Ron Mael. He and his brother Russell founded the band Sparks. The song was This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both of Us, written by Ron and sung by Russell. It was #2 on the UK singles chart on 5th May 1974. Here they are as I remember them off the telly.
Coming soon: THE STRANGE GENIUS OF RON MAEL
The Missa Luba is a Latin Mass from the Congo sung by a boys choir, Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin, trained by Father Guido Haazen, a Franciscan Friar. The original performance was recorded in 1958 in Kamina, Congo. It was released as an LP in 1963. When we were living in India in the mid sixties my family had a copy and we listened over and over to its rhythms, harmonies and birdlike vocal calls.
The Sanctus from Missa Luba featured in Lindsey Anderson’s film If, and some of the music was recorded by other performers, but the original has never been surpassed, nor reissued in its original form.
Philips Records released a ten-inch LP of the Missa Luba by Les Troubadours du Roi Baudoin in the Netherlands and other European markets in 1958. The track list was:
Side A: Congolese songs
Dibwe Diambula Kabanda (Marriage Song) – 3:02
Lutuku y a Bene Kanyoka (Emergence from Grief) – 2:48
Ebu Bwale Kemai (Marriage Ballad) – 2:22
Katumbo (Dance) – 1:42
Seya Wa Mama Ndalamba (Marital Celebration) – 2:21
Banana (Soldiers’ Song) – 2:01
Twai Tshinaminai (Work Song) – 1:01
Side B: Missa Luba
Kyrie – 2:03
Gloria – 2:39
Credo – 4:06
Sanctus – 1:36
Benedictus – 0:52
Agnus Dei – 1:52
I’ve found several of the songs from Missa Luba, and you can listen to them here.