Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Quote of the week

Well, last week.

"Doris Day is my heritage. What am I supposed to listen to, field hollers?"

Now THAT'S comedy!

This was uttered by Dave Gurney last Tuesday at Club Deville. I had burned one volume of Rhino's Sentimental Journey series - pop vocal classics 1942-1950 - on his computer since mine rejected it. Guess it too had trouble stomaching the marshmallow peep choirs and subliminal rhythms. But Dave loved it which surprised me. I seriously thought he would just junk it and when I told him that at Club Deville, he responded with the above. We were also talking about grotesquely over-orchestrated pop (or whatever) like Scott Walker (and Vera Lynn who really does sound like a female Scott Walker). So I suppose you can substitute Doris Day with Scott Walker (if you have an iron stomach, that is).

I won't explain why Dave's comment is so silly because I believe he made it in jest (or half-jest). Still, it bugged me that I wasn't getting Sentimental Journey. Maybe it was my unnatural beat madness that preventing me from hearing it. Did I say the rhythms are subliminal? Damn near non-existent is more like it. It's REALLY difficult to tell who the funk is keeping the beat on Dick Haymes' "Little White Lies" (Rhino should've used THAT for their series title!), Doris Day's "It's Magic," or Der Bingle's "Far Away Places" (answer: usually a deep recessed bass). Some of these orchestras just would not countenance a trap set. Yeesh - no wonder why concerned parents of 1950s America thought Little Richard was a right devilchild (although didn't Louis Armstrong on "Cake Walking Babies (from Home)" already sound like hell on earth to white folks at the top of 1925? It still jams like a hot DAWG 81 years later!).

Yes, yes, I know that bottom instruments aren't the only elements that keep a beat. But I'm searching for reasons why this series leaves me cold because I'm a capital P Pop boy. This shouldn't feel like being force fed bags of powdered sugar, at least not to me. Comparisons with the two-disc Pop Music: The Early Years 1890-1950 soon sorted me out, though.

First of all, 1890-1950 simply covers more ground than 1942-1950. But second, even within those latter years, Pop Music is not hemmed in by Sentimental Journey's "pop vocal classics" concept even though every song is pop, almost all have vocals, and classics are plenty. The Raymond Scott Quintet's "The Toy Trumpet," Artie Shaw & His New Music's "Nightmare," Slim & Slam's "The Flat Foot Floogie," Eddy Duchin & His Orchestra's scandalous "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" with a climactic couplet that would make Humbert Humbert blush ("He treats it and treats it and then he repeats it/My daddy, he treats it so well") and sung by Mary Martin who was the original Maria in The Sound of Music (tsk-tsk, Mary!). Oh! And she tells her gentlemen callers to go to hell, I mean Hades.

You might be noticing something here even if you've never heard these songs. These are novelty numbers in perceived weight if not in actual market profile or (yawn) intent. As such, they seize your ear with one hand while they reach for your wallet with the other. Most of the cuts on Sentimental Journey, by contrast, blend into one another in the background of your dinner party or makeout session, splitting the difference between romance and ambience. The lyrics aspire to a blissed-out blandness recallable only to those who lost their virginity to them. It's a mode that's still very popular today and won't die until Celine Dion does. I'm not saying there's no greatness within this mode. Heck, I bet every single cut on the first two volumes of Sentimental Journey is a bonafide great song in various settings. But one after another after another is not the way to figure that out.

Worse still, Sentimental Journey does a terrific job of whiting out the novelty that's already inherent in some of these acts/tracks. There's punkier fare than "Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief" from Betty Hutton (check out the noise-polluted "Rumble, Rumble, Rumble" or the Classics Illustrated "Hamlet" or the proto-feminist "Love is the Darndest Thing" or the proto-feminist "The Sewing Machine"). On Pop Music, the Mills Brothers do "Diga Diga Doo" with Duke Ellington; on Sentimental Journey, they softly caress the overexposed "Paper Doll." On Pop Music, "Laura" and "Linda" come after one another to heighten their essential trendiness; on Sentimental Journey, they're piss-elegantly separated on two different volumes.

Lest you riposte that it's only yuks I'm after, Pop Music can get as serious as cancer. The Golden Gate Quartet check in with some quiet gospel (albeit after Kay Kyser's campy "Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition!"). Ruth Etting makes Sadie Thompson sing on the devastating "Ten Cents a Dance." And there's not a melody on Sentimental Journey as gut-wrenching as "September Song" sung here by Walter Huston (had no clue that Reverend Davidson could carry a tune).

And I've barely mentioned disc one of Pop Music which contains Gene Greene's sublime "King of the Bungaloos" (a premonition of both Popeye and "Double Dutch Bus"), Nora Bayes' hilarious "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm?" ("And who the heck can 'Parlez-vous' a cow?"), Bert Williams, Al Jolson, Cliff Edwards, Eddie Cantor, and more slanguage courtesy of the Boswell Sisters.

And if you think it unfair of me to compare these two comps, I could've placed Sentimental Journey up against my all-time favorite box set to really sort shit out!