Sunday, April 11, 2010

Another crazy record from my past

Last night there was a record fair, of sorts, at Belvedere's in Lawrenceville. It reminded me of the record fairs that I attended in the '80s, except this one was held in a bar, and it was free to set up tables and hawk your wares. Plus, if you wanted to smoke or have a beer while wandering around the tables of vinyl, that was okay too.

I picked up a small handful of albums, but the one that got me really geeked was not the original RCA copy of Charlie Mingus' Tijuana Moods but the copy of Ted Heath's The Big Ones.

This was an album that my family had on 8-track as a kid and it eventually met its demise after I played it one too many times. The album features the British Heath leading his big band through classic pop hits from the late '60s/early '70s like "Spinning Wheel," "Light My Fire" and "Good Morning Starshine," among others. Back when I heard it, I always had a naive trust in musicians. As far as I was concerned they knew what they were doing and there was no such thing as a really bad idea, musically speaking. Playing "Satisfaction" on a trombone with a plunger mute? Surrrrrrrrrrrrrrre, why not? Follow that chorus with a modulation and give the melody over to the oboe? Why not? Sometimes you come to your senses and think, what the Sam Hill is going on here? That happened Friday night when I got home and slapped this critter on the turntable. But not necessarily in a bad way.

The Big Ones contains a good number of arrangements from Squaresville like that. But it has a lot of great drum breaks that rescue such tunes like the stiffest reading of "Spinning Wheel" ever. As the record proceeds, through "Light My Fire" and its amusing acoustic guitar and bongos intro, through "Woman Woman" and "Nights in White Satin," Side One closes with "Get Back" which starts off a bit like a marching band and switches to a swinging 2/2 riff that opens up room for solos. Maybe this album will work, you think.
Side Two comes out fighting - which is surprising considering that it begins with "In the Year 2525." When I finally heard Zager and Evans' original version of the song, it was a huge letdown. Not only where the lyrics idiotic in a way that tries to convey a deep message about the Future and the Man without having any of the tools to pull of such a feat, but it had none of the firepower of this version. With each new verse, the band gets fuller and louder, like when the trombones who come in during the second phrase, evoking the feeling of the secret police that are marching down your street to stop any free thinking. (Hey - music evokes images. ) And not only does this song have multiple drum breaks, it has two drummers! In different channels! Two-bar break in the right channel. Two-bar break in the left channel. Add in some key changes, and a rubato guitar intro, and you've got a kick-ass big band. My only hope is that several high school marching bands got ahold of this chart during the '70s and wailed away on this.

Where do you go from there? Well, Ted and the gang proceeds to the 5th Dimension's "Don'cha Hear Me Calling To Ya" which turns out like Gerald Wilson's big band version of "Viva Torado" in the way that it riffs, shifts up a half-step and then comes back down. "Good Morning Starshine" has a Tonight Show-style arrangement, meaning a little square. But without those idiotic "gloop gloopy" lyrics and with the addition of some killer press rolls and drum fills during the fade-out, it succeeds. The album closes with a Tom Jones' "Love Me Tonight" that has the dynamics worthy of the singer himself. And a killer vibes solo. And some tympani breaks.

Finding The Big Ones was definitely one of those purchases that takes me back to my younger, carefree days. I have a feeling a lot of musical things on this album have shaped my listening a lot more than I realize. I'll enjoy all the goofiness as much as the well-executed moments. So while $8 was a little steep for such an album, it was worth it because I've already gotten at least $5 of pleasure out of it. Besides, it's in excellent shape.

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