Category Archives: Easy Listening

VARIOUS: Impact: The Breakthrough To The Exciting World Of Stereo Sound (LP, Columbia STWO 2, 1968)

Various - Impact The Breakthrough To The Exciting World Of Stereo Sound

I have quite a number of these ‘demonstration’-type records, no end of them were released through the 1960s and 1970s to show off the worlds/galaxies/spectra/etc of new stereophonic (or, in some cases quadraphonic) capabilities of, at the time, modern music-playing equipment. Most of the ones that I own were bought in the 1990s, during a time when I – like many others – influenced by a strange combination of Britpop, kitsch and Stereolab, scoured charity shops for records that might include a glimmer or two of easy listening excitement. The hit rate is generally pretty low with these records, but what they do offer is a tiny glimpse into what may have been spinning on the stereograms of shagpile-carpeted, wooden-panelled ‘dens’ or listening rooms during a very decadent time in history.

Here’s the track listing for Impact: The Breakthrough To The Exciting World Of Stereo Sound. Your call on whether any or all of the below represent a breakthrough, or indeed something exciting:

Side One

  1. David Rose And His Orchestra: ‘The Stripper’
  2. Norrie Paramor And His Strings: ‘Soul Coaxing’
  3. Mr. Acker Bilk And The Stan Tracey Big Brass: ‘Stranger On The Shore’
  4. Pepe Jaramillo And His Latin-American Rhythm: ‘Sucu Sucu’
  5. Franck Pourcel And His Orchestra: ‘Love Is Blue’
  6. Ron Goodwin And His Orchestra: ‘Legend Of The Glass Mountain’

Side Two

  1. Joe Loss And His Orchestra: ‘Wheels’
  2. The Norman Newell Orchestra: ‘Live For Life’
  3. Basil Henriques And The Waikiki Islanders: ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’
  4. Ralph Dollimore And His Orchestra: ‘The Fool On The Hill’
  5. Manuel And The Music Of The Mountains: ‘A Man And A Woman’
  6. Jack Emblow (Accordion): ‘Ritual Fire Dance’

It seems that every Joe, Ron and Norman had their own orchestra back in the day. The tracks of note here are Mr. Acker Bilk’s swingin’, sexy and ever-so-slightly-sleazy ‘Stranger On The Shore’, the rhumbas and cha-chas of Pepe Jaramillo’s ‘Sucu Sucu’ and Joe Loss’ ‘Wheels’ respectively, and the marvellous Hawaiian gliding melodies of Basil Henrique’s reading of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’.

The cover artwork bears the familiar, strident logo of Columbia sub-label Studio 2 Stereo, with the dynamic Impact text offset by the bizarrely staid and serious-looking typesetting of ‘The Breakthough To The Exciting World Of Stereo Sound’. No design credit is given on the sleeve, but the photograph used – which shows ‘glass fracture by shot gun pellets’, apparently, although it’s quite hard to tell – is courtesy of the Royal Aircraft Establishment, a ‘British research establishment’ that in time was subsumed into the Ministry of Defence. Friends in high places, these easy listening types!

VARIOUS: The In-Kraut Vol. 2 (2LP, Marina MA 67, 2006)

Various - The In-Kraut Vol. 2

After many months of living with a jumbled record collection, I finally organised everything into alphabetical order over the past couple of days. (LPs, 12″s and 10″s, at least – the 7″s can wait until another time…)

Part of this process inevitably meant reminding myself of records that I forgot I owned, or that I had no previous recollection of owning. This double album is an example of the latter – I’ve got no idea when I bought it, or from where. Not that that means much, as I’ve a Swiss cheese-like memory; but the record’s date of issue (2006) means, I guess, that it entered my life at some point during the past seven-or-so years.

Compilation albums – which are, of course, in a separate section to the main A–Z stream of my newly-alphabetised collection – are interesting things. The way I listen to them tends to mean I gloss over the individual artists and musicians involved, and instead lump the whole thing together and attach a broad-brush ‘feeling’ to the record. The feeling attached to The In-Kraut Vol. 2 (at least now that I’ve given it a couple of listens to refresh my memory) is one of nostalgia for heady Easy Listening-drenched days in the mid-to-late 1990s. Obviously this record came out later, but it’s still packed full of (mainly instrumental) fuzz guitar/organ freakout/funky/library music/soundtrack/comedic/’jolly and optimistic 60s/70s attitude’ in its twenty songs.

The rather questionable compilation title at least does the trick of summing up its subtitle, ‘Hip Shaking Grooves Made In Germany 1967–1974’. To be honest, the source of the recordings is pretty moot, as this type of music sounds the same regardless, except for in the case of a couple of songs here with German-language lyrics which have, at least, a kind of bizarro charm.

For those that might be interested, the artists featured are:

  • Paul Nero
  • Hugo Strasser
  • Christer Bladin
  • Ambros Seelos
  • Tommy Haggard Orchestra
  • Hazy Osterwald Jet Set
  • Charly Antolini’s Power Dozen
  • James Last
  • Mary Roos
  • Klaus Weiss Orchestra
  • Hildegard Knef
  • The Dometown Gang
  • Rolf Wilhelm
  • Joy & The Hit Kids
  • Dieter Reith
  • Carlos Fendeira
  • Kai Rautenberg & Orchester Jürgen Ehlers
  • The Inner Space
  • Uli Roever
  • Hase Cäsar

Not too many well-known names in that list – for me, anyway – except for James Last, who is in fact German, despite his records routinely popping up in UK charity shops for the past couple of decades.

The artwork for the record, by Stefan Kassel, is pretty standard Easy-Listening-Compilation-Sleeve stuff, but a nice example of it – well-chosen, happy-looking female fashion photographs on a simple block colour background, plain and simple typography, and a splash of excitement in the front cover’s bottom left German flag-referencing concentric circles. It’s a gatefold sleeve, and opening it reveals an aspect of this compilation that’s rare in the field – detailed liner notes on each of the tracks it contains. Good work! The records are also pressed on white vinyl, which affords them a stylish mod sensibility.

Links: Marina

VARIOUS: Easy Listening (2LP, Polydor 2675 002, ?)

Easy ListeningI love the photographs on this sleeve – a happy female music listener on the front, and a happy male music listener on the back. The gatefold sleeve opens up to reveal nothing more than an overview of other Polydor releases that the keen easy listening fan could purchase: “Polydor and easy listening go together”, it says. So, that means a variety of releases from easy listening heavy hitters like James Last – including All Aboard! With Cap’n James, whose cover shows James Last in naval gear sporting a cheeky, knowing glance, and Bert Kaempfert, Roberto Delgado and Norrie Paramor.

This double album, then, would seem to serve as a taster for the rich world of easy listening that Polydor had to offer – it’s a compilation featuring all of those heavy hitters and more, listed in a gloriously tasteless selection of typefaces on the front cover. It’s a great album, too: I purchased it second hand at some point in the early 1990s, when a wave of easy listening nostalgia was sweeping the UK, most obviously in the form of Top 40 hits by Mike Flowers Pops, but also in a huge number of club nights like Smashing, Blow Up and Disques Vogues that were taking place. For a time, everybody seemed to be wearing charity shop clothing and dancing badly to whatever cheesy-yet-brilliant, richly orchestrated records the DJ could find that week. Maximum enjoyment was reserved for those songs that cranked up the Hammond organ swirl, whipping up the crowd into a frenzy of retro excitement.

There’s no release date mentioned on this record, but I’d imagine it came out in around 1970 or so. The cover states that this double LP set originally sold for 19’10d. According to this handy ‘old money to new money’ currency converter, that equates to around £10, if it were being sold today. That’s kind of a bargain – over twenty tracks over four sides of vinyl! For a time, this compilation was worth a little bit, as it includes ‘Daydream’ by The Gunter Kallmann Choir, which was heavily used as the basis for 2004’s ‘Daydream In Blue’ by I, Robot, which was all over the place that year, as memory serves.

JACK HAWKINS & THE SOUNDS OF THE 70’S: Psychedelic 70’s (LP, Plexium PXMS 1012, ?)

Jack Hawkins And The Sounds Of The 70's - Psychedelic 70's

I can’t get enough of these easy listening albums that purport to capture the whacked-out psychedelic mayhem/’Swinging London’-vibe/disco excitement of the 1960s and 1970s. That’s lucky, as there were seemingly thousands upon thousands of them released through that time, and they’re the staple happy find of many a charity shop search. Pretty much every time the most psychedelic part of the album is the cover, as in this beautiful example, with a foxy/terrifying hippy chick as seen through the filter of either heavy LSD dosage or a jobbing middle-aged art director’s take on synaesthesia. There’s also a psyched-up saxophone floating around by her head, for some reason. Bad trip, or something, I guess.

Of course, these albums are very rarely a lost slice of psych madness. Instead, they tend to be – this example included – a collection of covers and ‘original compositions’ played super-competently by a group of session musicians. Interestingly, this is a live album, recorded (according to the rear sleeve) at the Locarno Ballroom, Blackpool, by ‘one of the most popular bands in the British Ballroom’. Happy times! Even more interestingly, Jack Hawkins and his band are in the Michael Caine movie Get Carter, playing ’30-60-90′, which is happily included on this album along with thirteen further tracks that blend in to one another, each transition augmented by ecstatic crowd sounds. A right old barnstormer of a show it sounds, too! It’s not far off sounding like a Spencer Davis Group show, at times…

ISAAC HAYES: Shaft – Music From The Soundtrack (2LP, Stax 2659-007, 1971)

Isaac Hayes - Shaft - Music From The Soundtrack

Isn’t Isaac Hayes cool? Look at him up there in the top right hand corner, he’s all untouchable hipster, shades, slaphead and all. Was it him that did the album called (I think) Hot Buttered Soul or something like that, with a cover depicting nothing but an extreme close up of his bald bonce? If you’ve got it, flaunt it, I guess…

I’ve still never seen Shaft in full, or indeed any other of the famed ‘blaxploitation’ pictures of the ’70s. Are they actually any good, and worth seeing? You’d think that I was some kind of major fan though, as I own not only this official soundtrack, but also the eponymous theme tune on a 7″, as well as an album consisting of a complete cover version of the soundtrack by the gloriously-named Soul Mann and the Brothers. This is what happens when you scour charity shops for music over years and years and years. Owning multiple copies of essentially the same thing seems perfectly rational when they’re just 50p or a quid a pop.

Opening up the gatefold sleeve I’ve actually just answered my question above re: Hot Buttered Soul. Yes, it was Isaac Hayes, and that artwork is pictured here alongside that of some of his other works including the marvellously-named Black Moses. What a time for empowerment, for confidence, for rights and for music!

HERB ALPERT AND THE TIJUANA BRASS: Going Places (LP, Pye NPL 28065, 1965)

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass - Going Places

Good old Herb Alpert. This is one of a number of his Tijuana Brass albums that I own, and sports what I think is a marvellous cover. What better when you’re out for a flight in your shoddily-personalised plane, flying scarf fluttering behind you (despite not actually moving), than to have a 1960s lovely perched on your wing (metaphorical and literal, I’ll warrant) serving you a drink so mysterious that the photographer has had to block it out with some aeroplane architecture?

‘Spanish Flea’ is on this album; the quintessential Alpert number. When I bought this record, along with other Alpert releases, it was in the midst of a widespread mid-1990s reawakening of interest in Easy Listening. This was caused, in part, by a weird Britpop side effect that happened at the time. I’m not sure how it came about, but Pulp’s music (and Denim, perhaps, in a smaller way) begat a whole mini-scene involving clubs like Smashing and Blow Up, contributed to a charity clothing fashion boom summed up by any night in Camden’s Good Mixer on the star-spot, and finally broke into the mainstream with Mike Flowers Pops’ cover of ‘Wonderwall’, if you remember that. Odd times.

Strange to think that this album is over forty years old. I often think such things these days with 1960s records that still sound fresh, invigorating and inventive. In fact I often think two things: (1) Cor, the people involved with this are over 40 years older than they were when they created it, and (2) if nowadays I cast my mind back to ten years ago, the music of that era seems very recent. Was that the same in 1975-1980, with the excesses of psychedelia and beat/garage music a very clear memory for what, to me, seems like a completely separate generation?