Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Vinyl Analysis





If you are, like me, on the wrong side of 40 . . .  you remember when music was analog . . . not digital.


Music came on records . .  vinyl platters that spun at 78, 45, or 33.3 RPM under the weight of an honest-to-god needle . . . not a beam of coherent light.


During the 1950s and 1960s, LP albums took over from the 78 platters of my parent’s generation. And stereophonic sound was the rage.


If you wanted to copy music, you had to record it to tape.  And many audiophiles did just that . . . knowing that after a few dozen plays . . . records began to lose their clarity.


So they would record to cassette (or before that . . .reel-to-reel) tape the first play of a new album, and put the album back into its cover and listen to the tape instead.


Of course, a lot of us had such crappy record players back in the 1960s, you wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between the first playing, and the 500th.


So the point was pretty much moot.


`Adult’ music of the vinyl years was overshadowed by rock & roll, and today is largely forgotten.  A pity since so many terrific performances were pressed into those concentric grooves of vinyl.


Oh, people remember (and play) Sinatra, Dean Martin, Doris Day, Tony Bennett and a dozen or so of the big names of the era . . .  but when was the last time you heard something by Julie London, the Mary Kaye Trio, or  Martin Denny? 


Music was often referred to as swingin’  or cool, big bands were out, and the Vegas lounge style was `in’. But it would be wrong to pigeonhole the music into one genre.


There are ballads, torch songs, exotica, Latin beats, small combos, bigger orchestras, and an abundance of talent.


There are `music of your life’ stations that play the same couple of hundred `standards’ from that era, songs that consultants have picked as having the right nostalgic appeal for their target audience.


But after awhile, the playlist grows familiar. And you just know there were a lot more great recordings than that.


If you are looking for some fresh sounds of yesteryear that deviate from the standard repertoire, I would direct your attention to broadcast series from the mid-1990s called Soundsational!


There are more than two dozen episodes (they vary in length from 22 to 40 minutes) on the Internet Archive, each with an eclectic collection of rarely heard recordings from the vinyl era.


You can access the entire listing on The Internet Archive  by following THIS LINK.


I’ve listed a handful of selected episodes (but follow the link to get them all) include:


SOUNDSATIONAL! 1143 - Jacksondouglas
from the celebrated 1996 broadcast series featuring the music of Doris Day, Sammy Davis, Ray McKinley, David Rose, Anthony Newley, Nelson Riddle, Steve Allen, the Mary Kaye Trio, the Harmonicats, Don Costa, Dick Haymes, Jose Melis, Kai Winding, Kay Starr and Buddy Cole. (42 min.)


SOUNDSATIONAL! 1158 - Jacksondouglas
from the celebrated 1996 broadcast series featuring the music of Rosemary Clooney, Billy Eckstine, David Rose, David Carroll, Johnny Desmond, Les Paul, Billy May, Peggy Lee, Art Van Damme, Jackie Gleason, the Four Freshmen, Ralph Marterie, Percy Faith, Ray McKinley and Herbie Fields. (42 min. 35 sec.)


SOUNDSATIONAL! 1014 - Jacksondouglas
program 1014. the sounds of american popular music from the mid century on vinyl from Lena Horne, Bing Crosby, The Dukes Of Dixieland, Peggy Lee, Frankie Laine, Robert Maxwell, Jerry Vale and the Clebanoff Orchestra. 22 min 59 sec.


You can learn more about these shows, and about the history of radio broadcasting, from the originator’s website:

You’ll also find a 250 picture slideshow of 1950s and 1960s graphics pertaining to the music and radio industry.

Check it out.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Christmas Companion To The Cinnamon Bear





Each year, around Thanksgiving, I highlight what has become a 73 year-old radio tradition – the 26-episode children's Christmas program called The Cinnamon Bear.

You can read the full Cinnamon Bear blog here.


But in brief, Its 26 15-minute episodes (with commercials) were designed to be aired six nights a week from November 29th to the grand finale on Christmas Eve.


Geared for the 3 to 8 year old crowd (not that adults couldn't enjoy it!), the plot involves the adventures of Judy and Jimmy Barton as they go to the enchanted world of Maybeland in search of their missing silver star that belonged on the top of their Christmas Tree.


Along the way they meet the Cinnamon Bear, a miniature stuffed bear with shoe-button eyes who would serve as their guide, and other characters like the Wintergreen Witch and Fe Fo the Giant.


The cast of Cinnamon Bear reads like practically a Who’s Who of OTR actors, including:

  • Joseph Kearns (as the Crazyquilt Dragon) is best remembered for his role as Mr. Wilson in the TV series Dennis The Menace.
  • Howard McNear (as the Cowboy, and Sammy the Seal) created the role of Doc Adams on radio's Gunsmoke, but the baby boomer generation knows him as Floyd the barber on the Andy Griffith Show
  • Gale Gordon (Weary Willie the Stork and Oliver Ostrich) was an accomplished radio actor as well, but is best known for playing Theodore J. Mooney on The Lucy Show.
  • Frank Nelson (Captain Tintop) was Jack Benny's long time foil, appearing as a variety of rude salesclerks.  His signature lines "Ye-e-e-e-s?"  and "Oo-oo-oo-ooh, DO they!"  are imitated to this day on shows like The Simpsons.

The shows are available for free download from a variety of sites, including: 

and are rebroadcast each year by a great many radio stations around the world.


This year, we’ve another children's Christmas series which was launched a year after the Cinnamon Bear, in 1938.


While not as famous (or well regarded, for that matter) as the Cinnamon Bear, youngsters who have already enjoyed the bear might appreciate a different Christmas adventure this year.


Jonathan Thomas and His Christmas on The Moon is also told in 26 12-minute adventures that were broadcast by stations in direct competition with the Cinnamon Bear show.


Unlike CB, I’ve been unable to find any reliable cast and production details for Jonathon Thomas.  Perhaps by next year . . .


The Internet Archive has the entire Jonathon Thomas series available either as a single zip’ed file, or as individual episodes.


Jonathan Thomas and His Christmas on the Moon (Full series)

Jonathan Thomas and His Christmas on the Moon - Single Episodes


In any event, either of these Christmas shows are sure to please the imaginative youngster, and are an ideal introduction for kids to the wonderful world of Old Time Radio.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Quatermass Returns





One of the most influential, and enduring British fictional characters of the 1950s was Professor Bernard Quatermass, who was first imagined in 1953 by TV writer Nigel Kneale for a 6 part mini-series called The Quatermass Experiment.


In this early, live production, Quatermass must prevent disaster when an astronaut returns from orbit infected with an alien virus that threatens to destroy the world.

Sadly, only 2 of those 6 episodes survive, but fate has been kinder to the numerous sequels.


Before the decade was out, there would bet two more highly successful mini-series produced;  Quatermass II, and perhaps the best of the lot, Quatermass and the Pit.


The Quatermass Experiment would be remade as a Sci-Fi movie by Hammer Films, called The Quatermass Xperiment (released in the US with the more generic title The Creeping Unknown) starring American actor Brian Donlevy.


Although Nigel Kneale was unhappy with the performance by Donlevy, and displeased with plot changes – including a different ending – the film proved to be a success in the UK, and in the US as well.


The Quatermass Xperiment was to become Hammer Film’s first horror success story, and the first Hammer film to be widely distributed in the United States.

I blogged about the third BBC mini-series, Quatermass And The Pit just over two years ago, when episodes were available on GUBA.    Those shows no longer appear to be available, but may now be downloaded fromthe Internet Archive.


Quatermass and the Pit - Episode One

Quatermass and the Pit - Episode Two

Quatermass and the Pit - Episode Three

Quatermass and the Pit - Episode Four

Quatermass and the Pit - Episode Five

Quatermass and the Pit - Episode Six

Quatermass and the Pit would be made into a successful Hammer film in 1967, released in the US under the name Five Million Years To Earth.


In 1955, two years after the successful debut of the first Quatermass series, Kneale wrote a sequel that traded on cold war fears in the guise of an alien infiltration of the highest ranks of the British government.


While a ratings hit, this first surviving example of a British science fiction TV series is viewed as the weakest of the three mini-series. Partly because the actor who played Quatermass in the original series – Reginald Tate – collapsed and died shortly before filming was to begin.

A new actor was chosen – John Robinson – but his performance was deemed stilted and awkward by some critics.




The budget for this second series was double that of the first, allowing the live studio performances to be augmented with pre-filmed outside shots – giving it less of a stage bound feel.


This series has been compared to the US Classic film (and terrific book by Jack Finney)   Invasion of the Body Snatchers.


While few would put this production in the same league, this series is not without its merits.  It is an important part of early TV history, and provides us with a fascinating glimpse of British sensibilities and fears during the height of the cold war.



Quatermass II Episode 1 of 6

Quatermass II Episode 2 of 6 

Quatermass II Episode 3 of 6 

Quatermass II Episode 4 of 6 

Quatermass II Episode 5 of 6 

Quatermass II Episode 6 of 6 


A fourth Quatermass series would be produced for British Television in 1979, albeit not this time for the BBC.  Instead it would be a 4-part series starring John Mills produced for Thames TV called simply Quatermass.

An edited down version was released as movie, but it saw only limited distribution.

In 2005, Jason Flemyng recreated the eponymous role in a live retooling of The Quatermass Experiment  on BBC Four.


Additionally, the Quatermass character has appeared in serialized stories, books, three movies, BBC radio plays, and even theatrical productions.


And the longest running British Science fiction program of all time – Doctor Who – has lifted (or recycled) many of the themes first aired in the Quatermass stories.


Homages and `inside’ references  to  Quatermass have appeared in numerous TV shows, books, short stories, and even as the name of a progressive rock band in the 1970s.


Professor Bernard Quatermass – strong, moral, intelligent and resolute – has rightfully been called Britain’s first Television `hero’.


A pity we haven’t the entire first mini-series to watch, but for those willing to settle for just the first two parts, you can view them here.


Although not in the public domain, you are likely to find the Hammer Quatermass films showing on cable movie stations from time to time.


They are well worth watching as well.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

How To Get To Carnegie Hall







If you’ve already seen the UOGB (The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain), then you already know.  

If you haven’t . . . well, you are in for quite a surprise.


The UOGB was formed in 1985, and while its members have changed over the years, its mission – to reinterpret all manner of musical genres for the ukulele – hasn’t.


Lest you think the Ukulele is only suitable for strumming Hawaiian music, or playing 1920s ditties while wearing a raccoon coat (popular among the college crowd in the roaring twenties) then listen up.


The UOGB has changed the game.


Ukulele music has not only become popular in some eclectic circles, it has become respectable enough for Carnegie Hall as their November 2nd, 2010 sold out performance illustrates (see the NYT’s review here).


Trading on the British love of the absurd, and an abundance of musical talent, the UOGB octet takes the stage in formal orchestra attire, a serious demeanor, and a variety of ukuleles in hand.  

Current members include Dave Suich, Peter Brooke Turner, Hester Goodman, George Hinchliffe, Richie Williams, Kitty Lux, Will Grove-White and Jonty Bankes.


They then embark on an evening of puns, physical humor (watching them is half the fun!), obscure references, and hard driving – and often quite amazing – music (vocals and instrumental).


Their website can be accessed here, and you can order CDs, follow the latest news, watch videos of some of their performances, or see if they will be performing near you.



Fair warning, songs don’t always end the way you expect them to.  What may start off seeming like a rather pedestrian performance have a habit of morphing into something quite extraordinary before they are done.


To fully appreciate this talented group, you really have to see them in action.  And so today, I present a few of my favorite clips of the UOGB from their YouTube  Channel and captured from other appearances.

While not `public domain’, these videos are freely available for download.


First a short little introduction by the BBC of the the UOAB’s performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 2009.  It was standing room only and more than 1,000 people showed up with ukuleles of their own.




Next a hard driving rendition of the theme from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly . . . performed like you’ve never heard it before.


And The Orange Blossom Special has never been performed quite like this – the comedy bits are inspired, as is the playing.

And now for something completely different – David Bowie’s Life on Mars . . .  but this won’t end like you expect it to . . . so stay to the amazing finish.



A little Isaac Hayes (can you dig it?).  The theme from Shaft!


And here, I’ve saved my personal favorite for last.   Fly Me to the Handel.  With a finale that has to be heard to be believed.





You’ll find dozens of more clips available on Youtube.   Just search on UOGB  . . . and in no time at all, you’ll be as big a fan of this multi-talented group as I am.

Monday, November 8, 2010

NBC Celebrates Its First Fabulous Fifty





I’ve been out of town for most of the last week, so apologies for this late first-entry for November.  But today I’ve something very special.


Thirty-four years ago, the NBC network celebrated it’s 50th anniversary of radio broadcasting.  From humble beginnings in 1926, the fledgling broadcast network would ultimately become the most successful of all of the networks during the golden age of radio.


In 1976 NBC radio aired 5 1-hour (well, 40 minutes after news breaks and commercials are excised) remembrances of that network’s first 50 years of radio.


Chock full of audio clips, nostalgia and history, each deals with roughly one decade of NBC’s five decades, and each is presented by a different host.

Plus, as a bonus, we’ve a special hour-long remembrance of early show business by George Jessel as well.

But first, NBC’s First Fabulous Fifty.


The first hour is narrated by legendary NBC announcer Ben Grauer, who perhaps most famously was selected by  Arturo Toscanini to become the voice of the NBC Symphony Orchestra.


Grauer became that show’s announcer in 1940 and remained until the show ended in 1954.


There were numerous other jobs, both on NBC radio and Television over the years, including live political convention coverage, the first live broadcast from NBC TV (1939 Worlds Fair Opening), and an assortment of game and quiz shows and news broadcasts.

Grauer would die within a year of this broadcast, at the age of 68, from a heart attack.

Host - Ben Grauer - Part 1  46.8 MB


The second hour is hosted by Bob “NBC” Hope, and takes us from 1936 through the war years to 1946.   During the recording session, Hope went off script, with some personal remembrances of the day the war broke out.


His ad libbed narration was so good, they kept kept it in.


Host - Bob Hope - Part 2 46.7 MB

As sure as spring follows winter, so naturally does Crosby follow Hope.    And Bing handles the post-war years up to 1956 including the radio extravaganza launched in 1950 to try to beat back the inroads of television; The Big Show.

For more on The Big Show see  A Really Big Show

Sadly, as with Ben Gauer, Crosby would pass away roughly a year later.


Host - Bing Crosby - Part 3 46.6 MB

Arlene Francis covers the decline of what we think of as Old-Time-Radio, and focuses on the rise of the last big innovation in NBC radio’s history; The weekend radio show Monitor.

Other topics include radio’s coverage of the JFK assassination and its move into a more news and informational format. 

Francis had a career that spanned Broadway, film, radio and Television and was a long time contributor to the Monitor Show.


Host - Arlene Francis - Part 4 46.8 MB

The final segment is hosted by NBC newsman/anchor John Chancellor,  and deals with radio’s coverage of America’s turbulent years, that included Vietnam and Watergate.  

But this segment also features a softer interview with Ed McMahon and Johnny Carson.


Host - John Chancellor - Part 5 46.6 MB



Lastly, as promised, a bonus.  Included with the above on the Internet Archive.


In 1951, Abel Green – who was the long time editor of Variety – along with Joe Laurie Jr., published a history of 20th century Show business called  SHOWBIZ: From Vaude To Video.


Shortly thereafter, George Jessel put together a companion LP to the book, with audio clips from some of the best remembered performers of the first half of the 20th century.


In this you’ll hear early sound clips from such notables as Eddie Cantor, Maurice Chevalier , George M Cohan, Will Rogers, Kate Smith, Sophie Tucker, and Rudy Vallee .


Showbiz - George Jessel  50.6 MB



Although a vaudeville performer, songwriter, movie producer, comic, and appearing in a few movies and and guesting on TV shows in the 1950s and 1960s, George Jessel was more famous as a personality and a raconteur than as a performer.


He was frequently to be found as the master of ceremonies at many high profile occasions, and gained the nickname `Toastmaster General of the United States’.

Jessel died in 1981, at the age of 83.