06 April 2020
About a year ago, I bought a sweet record cabinet from an elderly lady off Kijiji. Along with it came a whole whack of records, all of which I kept. I filed the good ones into my general collection (and there were many of these, this lady had some real gems). But this left a big stack of stuff that I had no idea what it was, or had a pretty good idea I wouldn’t want to keep it. So, during this self-isolation period, I played every single one of these records, deciding what to keep and what to cull. The only rule: I had to play the entire album. There were about 40 in the pile. The stack sometimes revealed to me some hidden gems and sometimes took me to some very weird places. Read on to find out.
1. Mighty Sparrow – Calypso Carnival – For the first record I went with one I figured I’d like. This is a great album. From 1968, it’s all calypso sung by the Trinidadian artist Mighty Sparrow backed by a full band of brass, guitars, percussion and an organ. Every track is good. Apparently, this record starts at about 30$ online. Considering I only paid 100$ for the cabinet with all the records, this only reinforces how much I really lucked into a great deal.
2. Freddy Fender – Are You Ready for Freddy – For the second record, I picked one I had serious doubts about, a 1975 outing from Tex-Mex singer Freddy Fender. The front cover boasts that it features the hit single “Secret Love” and it’s the very first track. It’s not a good song, and the record doesn’t improve much from there. Track 2 “Loving Cajun Style” and “What I’d Say”, the opener on the B-side, are probably the best of the lot. Most of the others follow the same formula where he sings a song once, then sings it again, but in Spanish. This is one of those records that retails online for under 5$, in other words: worth nothing. I’ll be getting rid of this one, because I can’t see myself spinning it again. I mean it has the song “How Much is that Doggie in the Window” including a Spanish version. Enough said…
3. Charles Aznavour – Reste – Apparently this 1965 Record is Volume 6 in some sort of series of 12 volumes? I don’t know. I’d never heard of Aznavour, but, apparently, I should have. Born in 1924 and living until 2018, Aznavour was a French-Armenian singer, songwriter and activist, sometimes known as France’s Frank Sinatra. He wrote or co-wrote over 1000 songs, sold 180 million records in his career, helped shelter Jews in France during the Second World War, appeared in 80 films and was even voted Time Magazine’s Top Entertainer of the 20th Century (beating Bob Dylan and Elvis). Clearly, I should know his name. This record is entirely in French, and it’s doing its thing quite well. It’s part Rat Pack crooner, part Jacques Brel, and part entirely its own (particularly on the strange but intriguing side-A track “Isabelle”). It’s not a very valuable record but I’m gonna keep it because it adds nice variety to the collection, and it swings with the best of ‘em.
4. Boney M – Christmas Album – I’d only heard of Boney M. because of their Euro-disco hit song “Rasputin”. This is their 1981 Christmas Album. Yes, their 1981 Christmas Album, not to be confused with their 1984 Christmas Album. It starts off pretty awful with “Little Drummer Boy” (a repetitive dirge of a carol), but quickly picks up with pretty upbeat versions of “White Christmas” and “Feliz Navidad”. Overall, it’s a middling effort, with just as many misses as successes. But is it worth keeping a record I’d only really play one month out of the year? In this case, for the sake of its bizarre uniqueness, the answer is yes, but just barely.
5. Zamfir – The Lonely Shepherd – This album features everyone’s favourite instrument: the pan flute. Wait, what? Yes, this 1980 album is from the world’s foremost pan flutist: Gheorghe Zamfir. Every song is instrumental and every song features the pan flute. It starts out with the title track, which is actually pretty good and was even featured in the movie Kill Bill Vol. 1. Overall the album is a somewhat haunting and easy listen. A nice background play, if a little heavy on the side of sounding like the soundtrack to some melodramatic feature film. So, for what it’s trying to do, the record is pretty good. But would I spin it again? In this case, probably not often enough. Sorry Zamfir, but this Lonely Shepherd is being put out to pasture.
6. Morris Albert – Feelings – This 1975 soft rock album by Brazilian artist Morris Albert has a bit of controversy attached. Morris was successfully sued by the French artist Louis “Loulou” Gasté for stealing the melody on the title track. I expected to dislike this album based on the cheesy cover design (Albert looking pensive with his guitar and a shirt covered in sparkly jewels). But actually, while I don’t love it, I can’t say I dislike it. The first track “Woman” has some good guitar and harmonica, the second track “Sweet Loving Man” kind of sounds like a thinly-veiled gay anthem (though I actually don’t think it was intended that way). And the controversial title track is not bad either. I’ll keep this album for now, though I don’t think I’ll play it very often.
7. Nana Mouskouri – Roses & Sunshine – This 1979 album by the Greek Singer Mouskouri is middle of the road, mediocre and, sadly, kind of forgettable. Every song pretty much sounds the same, and she has this treble-like style that is just not to my taste. She’s like the Greek Joni Mitchell if you took away everything that makes Joni Mitchell so wonderful. This is not one to keep.
8. Hagood Hardy – The Homecoming – When I first put on this Canadian, mostly-instrumental, Jazz album I thought to myself that it sounded like music from a commercial for fabric softener or toilet paper. Well, it turns out I wasn’t far off. Hagood Hardy did a lot of composing for commercials and television, and the opening title track on this album started out as a jingle for Salada tea. This album is like vanilla ice cream covered in vanilla sprinkles, topped with vanilla sauce. Is Jazz best played by a white guy from Indiana who lived most of his life in Ontario? Probably not, and certainly not in this case. Though Hardy may get bonus points for his great uncle (Arthur Sturgis Hardy) being Ontario’s fourth premier in the 1890s, this album is not one I will keep.
9. Duke Ellington – Such Sweet Thunder – Okay, full disclosure: this record is not from the random stack. I bought it at a record store a while ago, and it’s part of my regular collection. But I’m including it here as a tribute to all the theatre artists who’ve lost work recently, including those at the Stratford Festival. This 1957 Duke Ellington album is inspired by Shakespeare and dedicated to “the Shakespearean Festival, Stratford, Ontario and to Duke’s many Canadian friends”. In 1956, Ellington and his orchestra were playing in Stratford and he became intrigued by Shakespeare and the festival. He decided his next album would be a conceptual tribute to the bard’s plays. Each track is inspired by a play or character(s), with the closing “Circle of Fourths” being for the playwright himself. They all have great titles, with the cleverest being “Sonnet for Hank Cinq”. How can you not love this album? It is a 10/10 recommend, and I played it in tribute to all my friends and colleagues going through a tough time. Lastly, the Folger Library put out a podcast episode in which they discuss this album in depth. Give it a listen here.
10. Louise Tucker and Charlie Skarbek – Midnight Blue – This is described as “A project of Louise Tucker and Charlie Skarbek”. Not sure what they mean by that, but it clearly involves a lot of synthesizers and a fair amount of jazzy Saxophone. This album is like Vangelis meets Kenny G. It’s generic, takes itself way too seriously, and, like a lot of music from the 1980s, is pretty overproduced. Get it out of my life.
11. You Light Up My Life – Original Soundtrack – This is the soundtrack from the 1977 coming-of-age film You Light Up My Life written and directed by Joseph Brooks. According to Wikipedia: “The plot concerns a young woman named Laurie (Didi Conn) with dreams of becoming a singer who soon finds herself pressed by young friends to sing and her father, who wants her to be a comic.” Didi Conn made this movie the year before she was Frenchie in Grease which is probably her most famous role (though, for me, she will always by Aunt Stacy from Shining Time Station). The movie doesn’t sound great and has a rating of 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, so I won’t be watching it anytime soon. I do have some film soundtracks in my collection, but this does not need to be one of them. It’s not very memorable, and three out of the ten tracks are just versions of the title song. But the B-side track “Do You Have a Piano” is not bad and kind of catchy. It’s available for a whopping $0.65 online so grab yourself a copy today, I guess?
12. Olivia Newton-John – Olivia’s Greatest Hits Vol. 2 – Speaking of Grease, this next record is from its star Olivia Newton-John. It even has a couple songs from that very movie (the decent ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You” and the putrid “You’re the One that I Want”). This album turns out to actually be one that I do want, despite totally acknowledging it’s pretty cheesy, and not some sort of classic. Not every album you own has to be high art. This collection of songs from Newton-John’s albums and her movies has some legitimately good cuts. Two songs “Heart Attack” and “Tied Up” were recorded specifically for this album, and the former is especially good (it deserved its 1983 Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance). Olivia, we’re devoted to you enough to keep you around, if not necessarily hopelessly so.
13. The Righteous Brothers – Greatest Hits – This is a 1967 compilation release of the best hits of the Righteous Brothers, who were neither brothers nor named Righteous. Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield embarked on a duo singing career after splitting off from a five-member group, The Paramours. This is a decent record with some good tracks. The opener “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin” was their first big hit, and it’s a good catchy song, and their cover of Georgia on my Mind is pretty good too. I’ll keep this album.
14. Dr. Hook – Greatest Hits – I thought I wasn’t going to like this one. I mean the cover is a giant yellow heart in the sky behind some palm trees. I was fully expecting a saccharine offering of cheesy love songs. I put on the album and found I wasn’t entirely wrong. And then… it won me over. This 1980 Greatest Hits Compilation from Dr. Hook (known as Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show until 1975) is actually pretty decent. I’m sure I’d heard their hit song “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” before, and it’s not a bad track. The music is a bit country, a bit 1970s rock and kind of reminds me of James Taylor, who I happen to like. Though it’s not as good as JT himself, Dr. Hook managed to hook me enough to put this album in the keep pile.
15. The Mantovani Orchestra – Christmas Magic – This is another Christmas Album. It’s all orchestral version of Christmas songs, and it’s all pretty good at what’s it’s set out to do. It’s unobtrusive instrumental holiday music. I could see myself putting this on in the background on a snowy December evening. I won’t until then, but I’ll keep it for when that day comes.
16. Patti Jannetta – Patti Jannetta aka Yours in Love – For reasons I don’t understand, there are two copies of this album in the stack. One of them is still sealed in shrink wrap, so it’s never been played. This is the 1981 debut from Toronto artist Patti Jannetta who was apparently discovered as a teenager and landed a role in the Canadian production of Jesus Christ Superstar. According to Facebook, she still lives in Mississauga. I wish I liked this record, but I just don’t. The opening track “Deja Vu” is pretty typical of the album and contains these lyrics (which I had to type while re-listening to the song like it was 1999 because I didn’t realize it was a cover, so couldn’t initially find them online): “Déjà Vu. Could you be the dream that I once knew? Is it you? Déjà vu. Could you be that dream that might come true? Shining through? Déjà vu.” To recap, this song rhymes Vu with knew with You with Vu with True with Through with Vu. I think I’m getting some déjà vu now too. And it’s not good. So now I’m left with a quandary: this album seems to be worth slightly more than nothing. Online, it’s for sale for about 20$ and I have two copies, one of which is sealed. Maybe I should try to sell these to a record store once this whole pandemic passes? Whatever I do with them, I won’t be keeping them to play again. Sorry, Patti.
17. Loggins & Messina – Full Sail – Ladies and Gentleman it’s Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina in all their long-haired shirtless glory. The pair are literally gracing the back of the album shirtless, steering some sort of ship. It’s like they’re pirates but make it 70s hippy. The record starts out straight up bizarre with “Lahaina” in which a traveler goes to an exotic tropical location called Lahaina only to be relentlessly pursued by a centipede. But the album improves a bit from there, and picks up steam as it goes. The final track “Sailin’ the Wind” is pretty nice. Loggins and Messina have pretty good voices, and they sound good together too. And it’s just good enough for me to keep them around.
18. Various Artists – Heartbreakers Love Songs – This is a 1984 compilation album of songs from various well-known artists all centering around heartbreak. There are some good artists on this (like Dionne Warwick) but there are also some real turkeys like Barry Manilow singing “Memory” from Cats. Good lord, I do not need a recording of Manilow singing anything from Cats. Yes, there is the iconic Eric Carmen breakup hit “All by Myself” but it’s just not enough. And oh god, the song Deja Vu that I couldn’t stand two albums ago is ironically back in its original Dionne Warwick version. I’ll try to let these heartbreakers down easy, but they’re getting dumped.
19-22. Various artists who appeared on CHFI 98.1 Radio – 98.1 Of a Kind, Candlelight & Wine 1982, Candlelight & Wine 1983, 680 CFTR presents Sounds Familiar – I’m doing these as a cluster, because they are all cut from the same cloth. These are four compilation albums all connected to the Toronto music station 98.1 FM CHFI (and its sister AM station CFTR which is now an all-news station). Two are from a show called Candlelight & Wine which was an evening music program. According to Wikipedia: “The program, hosted by Don Parrish, mixed soothing instrumentals, soft vocals and occasional light classical pieces in ‘pop’ arrangements. The program spun off a series of best-selling record albums, many of which are now highly prized collectors’ items.” I don’t think any of the ones I have are worth much (though the 1983 one is for sale online for 20$). The real question is, why would I want these albums that are basically just a mix of hits from the radio? Well, I’m on board for the 1983 Candlelight and Wine instrumentals (it even has Lonely Shepherd by Gheorghe Zamfir, but performed by someone named Alexandros… Okay.) And I will keep “98.1 Of a Kind” because of its ridiculous punny title and the fact that with two LPs it has a nice variety of some things I like. (The Beach Boys, Diana Ross, Billy Preston, etc.). So, 98.1 seems to have a 50 per cent success rate. Two kept, two culled.
23. Perry Como – Perry – This was Perry Como’s 22nd album released by RCA Records. Why it took 22 albums to come up with just the name “Perry” I’ll never know. This album is a snoozer. It’s from 1974, it’s got a few covers (none of which come close to the originals) and I honestly just found it pretty boring. On to the next, this one doesn’t make the cut.
24. Gene Pitney – Greatest Hits of All Times – This album should have been called “Gene Pitney’s Braggadocious Compendium”. I mean this album is really trying to hype him up. From the liner notes: “Gene Pitney, right now, draws more fan mail and gets more mail response from readers of the top fan magazines, than any other solo artist around today.” I mean this album isn’t greatest hits, it’s greatest hits of ALL TIMES. I dunno about that, but the album itself is actually not bad, though not as good as it’s trying to appear. Pitney has a unique style, a little 50s-sounding perhaps, but the guy has chops. And speaking of which there are some heavy chops behind the scenes on this album in terms of song-writing teams: Burt Bacharach & Hal David; Jerry Goffin & Carole King; Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil. This is some good pedigree in terms of pop music. One of the highlights is the track “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, which bizarrely wasn’t included in the movie of the same name. Gene may not be the greatest of all times, but he’s pretty good, and it’s enough for me to keep this record. But if I ever need to do another cull of my collection this one will certainly be on the chopping block.
25. Glenn Miller and His Orchestra – A Memorial 1944-1969 – Honestly, this is just the kind of record I like to own. It’s classic, it’s two LPs, there are liner notes on the back from Benny Goodman talking about being roommates with Glenn Miller during the height of the depression. It’s great stuff, exactly what you imagine when you think of the big band era. We’ve all heard this music before, like the iconic In the Mood which is track 6 on the A-side of the first disc. I never knew this, but Glenn Miller’s death is surrounded in mystery. In December of 1944, at the height of his success, he was flying from the UK to Paris to prepare for a concert for U.S troops in France. His plane disappeared without a trace somewhere over the English Channel. The weather was bad, and there’s a theory the plane had a type of carburetor that would seize up in cold weather. Some conspiracy theories have been kicked around over the years, none of which seem credible. He left behind him an impressive body of work, a slice of which I’ll be keeping with this album.
26. Barbra Streisand – Guilty – I’m gonna be honest, I was ready to dismiss this album and get rid of it. I’ve never been that into the music careers of Broadway stars. But here’s the thing, within seconds of the first track, I was given a stark reminder of why Streisand is so popular. She’s one of those entertainers from that very upper echelon, with such an immense talent, that in many ways the material becomes secondary. Whitney Houston, Prince, Aretha Franklin, Freddie Mercury, these are the types of artists that just had something about them that made them spectacular. The songs on this album are not really anything to write home about, but Streisand just has such skill and soul in her voice and performance that she manages to make every song fly. This is her 1980 album “Guilty”. It includes the hit single “Woman in Love” which is considered her single biggest international hit song. Okay, Babs, you got me, you get to stay.
27. Harry Belafonte – Homeward Bound – Harry Belafonte is a great man. He was a major force in popularizing calypso music in the 1950s (his breakout album called “Calypso” was the first LP to sell over a million copies), he was an early and outspoken activist for civil rights and close friends with Martin Luther King Jr., he has been a lifelong humanitarian, he even appeared in the 2018 movie BlacKkKlansman. He’s still around at 93 years old. As great as he is, this album is just not that good. I wish it was. I wish I could own a cool Belafonte record, like 1956’s “Calypso”, but alas this is 1969’s “Homeward Bound” which is mostly (if not entirely) Belafonte singing covers. Songs that were much better as sung by Leonard Cohen, and Simon & Garfunkle, and Johnny Cash. If I see a copy of “Calypso” floating around I’ll consider picking it up, but this one is not one I will be keeping.
28. Placido Domingo with John Denver – Perhaps Love – Ah yes, classic musical duos: Sonny & Cher, Simon & Gafunkle, Ike & Tina Turner, Placido Domingo and John Denver…. wait, what was that last one? Yes, apparently Placido Domingo and John Denver teamed up in 1981 to release a collection of “contemporary love ballads”. It’s mostly Domingo singing. He’s one of the greatest opera tenors of the 20th century, an amazing voice, amazing technique. But the problem here, is that he’s not singing opera. He’s singing soft rock; except he still sounds like an opera singer. It’s brutal. He warbles through a version of Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” which is just laughable. Imagine “Yesterday”, but if it was in an opera. Yeah… So, while he can soar through those high notes, this is some sort of musical crossover that I just don’t need, nor want. Adios, Placido.
29. Placido Domingo with Maureen McGovern – Save Your Nights for Me – This is the part where having the rule of playing the whole album gets difficult. I threw on the one other Placido Domingo record immediately following the last one, just to get it out of the way. The issues are the same this time around in this 1985 effort with Maureen McGovern. Domingo has a good voice but it sounds silly singing contemporary love songs, and even his version of the rather operatic “Maria” from West Side Story is just not great. How I wish this was an album of arias, but it’s not. Going into the dump pile. Moving on.
30. Paul Anka – Anka – Ottawa-born Paul Anka has had a very prolific career, particularly as a songwriter. He wrote the theme for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and the English lyrics set to Claude François and Jacques Revaux’s music for “My Way”, Frank Sinatra’s signature song. This is his 1974 album “Anka”. It is one of those albums with a fair helping of cheesiness. But some of it is actually pretty good while being cheesy. I enjoyed the opening song “Bring the Wine” and the final track “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” is great too. Yes, Buddy Holly’s version is a bit better, but Paul Anka actually wrote this song, so I give this later version its due praise. And it’s that bit of praise that slid this album into the keep pile.
31. Johnny Mathis – Those Were the Days – This album isn’t necessarily terrible, or even bad, but for me it’s kind of useless to own. If I want to hear “Light My Fire”, I’ll put on The Doors; if I want to hear “59th Street Bridge”, I’ll put on Simon & Garfunkle. All but two of the ten tracks on this 1968 album are covers, and while I did very much enjoy the rhyming of “Little green apples” with “Indianapolis” on the second track “Little Green Apples”, I feel like this is mostly material that has been done better elsewhere. So, for that reason, it’s gotta go.
32. Tom Jones – It’s Not Unusual – The title track from this album is very, very famous. We’ve all heard it a zillion times, and credit where credit is due: it’s a catchy song. But the question then becomes if the rest of the album beyond that first mega-hit has much merit. This 1965 offering is actually a strange release: it’s an abridged version of the Welsh-born Jones’ debut album “Along Came Jones”. We’ve gone from 16 tracks to 12 and the order of the songs has been shuffled around. I don’t know if any of the four cut songs were good, but I was pleasantly surprised by what remains here. Jones has a soulful quality to his voice that isn’t that apparent on the famous title track that we’re all familiar with. There’s a slight gritty edge to his performances that works for me. And so, while it is strange to be into a Welshman singing about Memphis, I will hang on to this record.
33. Freddy Fender – The Story of an “Overnight Sensation” – I tried to go into playing this album with an open mind. I loathed the last Fender album I played earlier, but this one is much better. The first two track “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” and “Money” are pretty catchy, but I much prefer the Beatles version of the latter. “Donna” gets a bit a nasally for my taste and then Side-A ends with a cover of “Jamaica Farewell” which originated on Harry Belafonte’s aforementioned “Calypso” album. So, like some of the other LPs on this list, this one seems to be circling around something great, but never actually getting there. The back of the album has an excerpt of a feature about Fender from “The Music Gig” by Jerry Flowers. It contains such Fender wisdom as “Everything I learned, like keeping my mouth shut,” says Freddy, “I learned from guys hitting me in the mouth in a fight.” Yes, this album is more interesting than the other one, but nothing about it grabbed me enough to convince me to keep it.
34. Engelbert Humperdinck – A Man Without Love – Engelbert Humperdinck, one of the most unique monikers in entertainment history (He was born “Arnold George Dorsey”). This is one of his early albums, and, yeah, the guy has got some good pipes. His voice is silky smooth, but his song choices are very, very cheesy. Teardrops kissing lips, shadows of smiles, wistful everything. And the song “Quando, Quando, Quando” is a song I just really, really loathe. So, this album is gone. I’d never play it.
35. Engelbert Humperdinck – 20 Greatest Hits – This is like the previous album, but there’s more of it. And “Quando, Quando, Quando” is back. F*ck me. Some tracks are fine, but mostly I just let this whole record wash over me in a stupor until I could finally take it off my turntable… forever.
36. Anne Murray – The Hottest Night of the Year – According to many, Anne Murray is a certified Canadian treasure. I dunno if I necessarily agree, but I was pretty distracted while I played this album so I didn’t give it much attention and I think my judgement was a bit clouded. But I definitely didn’t mind having this music on in the background. This is a country album from 1982, and I think there’s nothing that wrong with having a little bit of country in my collection. Even better that it’s Canadian. I like the album cover too. And it’s the only Anne Murray non-holiday album in the stack (spoilers). A lot of these judgements are pretty surface-level, but I’m putting a positive spin on them. Anne Murray stays in the collection for now.
37. Bimbo Jet – La Balanga, El Bimbo – I don’t even know what this 1975 album is really called. Is it called Bimbo Jet? La Balanga? El Bimbo? Bimbo Jet is one of the groups featured on it, but not on all the tracks??? “El Bimbo” and “La Balanga” are also songs that are each on the album twice… Either way this is a weird record. It’s labeled as electronic, funk/soul but also Latin and disco. Bimbo Jet is a French Euro Disco group, a group called Magic Merry Band has one track called “Tico Tico” and when I google the name of the band the only information I can find is about that one song. It’s as if this Merry Band came together to record one song and disappeared forever. The B-side opens with “Soleado”, the tune of which was later used for the Christmas song “When a Child is Born”. But this original song has no lyrics, just a choir going “Aaaaaah-aaah-aahhh” to the now-familiar melody. The result is that part of this record now (unintentionally) sounds like a Christmas album. That song and the next two are attributed to Sam Clayton Band, and they’re all without lyrics. Then there’s an instrumental called “Diabolic Man” by Diabolic Man, who like the Merry Band seems to begin and end with this one song. The album is for sale online for $1.99. I have no clue what’s going on here. It’s baffling. I’m getting rid of this one, I just… I can’t deal with it.
38. Neil Sedaka – The Hungry Years – Neil Sedaka has a very high male voice. If you’d played me a track of his blind, I’d have thought it was a woman singing. This is not a criticism, simply the thought I had when I put on this 1975 pop album. The biggest hit of Sedaka’s career is on this record: “Bad Blood” and it’s a duet with Elton John. That’s kind of what Sedaka feels like to me though, he feels like a much lesser Elton John. He’s similar in style with less pizzazz. I don’t even have any Elton John records, so I struggle with the idea of hanging on to this one. It’s gone.
39. Neil Sedaka – Sedaka’s Back – This is a 1974 compilation of songs from three previous Sedaka albums: “Solitaire,” “The Tra-La Days Are Over,” and “Laughter in the Rain”. Yeah, Sedaka’s back and I’m gonna keep this short and sweet. I have the same issues with this album as the last. It didn’t really grab me. though it does contain the original version of “Love Will Keep Us Together” which was co-written by Sedaka and later made famous in a cover-version recorded by Captain & Tennille. It may be familiar to the ear, but it’s not enough to make me want to keep this LP.
40. Nana Mouskouri – Christmas with Nana Mouskouri – My bar is pretty low for Christmas albums. They’re holiday records you can play in December, and having a few on hand means you can combine playing vinyl with being festive. But I don’t think this album even meets the low bar. It has two versions of the Ave Maria, which is fine, I suppose, but a little religion-heavy for my taste in Christmas albums. You can give me firesides and sleigh bells forever, but this album is mostly a lot of Jesus. “Go Tell it on the Mountain” is not a fave, and I’ve already mentioned my lukewarm feelings about “Little Drummer Boy”. The album is not all bad, and I admit I’m probably biased since I really disliked the other Mouskouri LP, but I’m still getting rid of this one.
41. Charles Aznavour – A Tapestry of Dreams – This is the second Aznavour album on this list, and it’s from 1974, making it almost a decade later into his career. I’m glad I played this one second, because I worry if I’d played it first, the first few tracks on this one might have immediately turned me off. Not because they’re necessarily so bad, but because all the songs on this album are… in English??? I find Aznavour’s style so much more suited to lyrics in French, kind of like I’d only want to listen to Pavarotti sing in Italian. Charles just exudes the feeling of a smoky Paris bar to such an extent, that hearing the songs in English makes something feel off somehow. He’s clearly trying to appeal to a bigger market by singing in a language an American and UK audience can understand, but I feel like he’s losing a part of himself by doing it. The final track on side-A “You’ve Got to Learn” did still perk me up and pull my attention back to the music when I’d been drifting away a bit (a sign of a good track). So, while nowhere near as good as the earlier effort, this album is still good enough.
42. Anne Murray – Christmas Wishes – As far as Christmas albums go (and granted that’s a big qualifier), this one is pretty close to a home run of a record. She even made me somewhat appreciate “Little Drummer Boy”. This was spinning and it was no longer a pandemic in March, it was Christmas Eve, 1981. This was Murray’s first Christmas album, and her most popular (in fact one of the most popular of her albums in general). This thing went double platinum. Anne Murray, the pride of Springhill, Nova Scotia, brings a country twang to some holiday classics, and it almost always works. Add that twang to “Go Tell it on the Mountain” and it goes from sounding like an annoying hymn to a rousing spiritual (which is how it’s intended to be sung, that’s the song’s origins). The B-side closing version of “Silent Night” may not be the best note to end on, but overall this album’s a keeper.
43. Bermuda Strollers – At Elbow Beach Bermuda – This is the penultimate album in the stack. It’s a calypso record by the Bermuda Strollers. This band was apparently popular in the 1960s and 1970s in the club scene in Bermuda, but they seem to have disbanded at some point and there’s almost nothing about them to be found online. No Wikipedia entry, no website, Discogs doesn’t even have a year listed for this album, and it’s nowhere on the LP or sleeve. On a Tripadvisor message board user “cptsoco” writes: “Yes–the Strollers were a fun band when I ran college spring break trips from 1967-1974. Ted Ming the leader along with Johnny Johnston sang all the fun calypso songs […] they were at the 40 thieves every nite (sic) […] Where are they now ???” Another user writes that he thinks that Ted Ming now drives a taxi cab in Bermuda. On another thread there’s talk of him being unwell and having gotten into a bad car accident and starting to suffer from dementia. There’s a story here, but I’m not sure exactly what it is. As for the album itself, it’s pretty fun. “Jump Calypso” and “Senora” are both pretty catchy. It’s exactly the sound you imagine for a beach party in the late 60s or early 70s. And there’s even a pretty funky version of “Sloop John B”, arranged by Ming. Good stuff all around, I’ll happily keep this album.
44. Walt Disney Productions – Mousercise – And here we come to the end of the line. I saved this record for last because well… I knew, I just knew it was going to be an experience. This is a Disney exercise record; a Jane Fonda workout video meets Mickey Mouse. What fresh hell is this??? I don’t think words can fully describe the experience of listening to this album. I put on some headphones to spare my roommate (who’s been very patient with me playing lots of mediocre records the past few days), and I cranked up the volume to get the full mousercise experience. The album comes with a booklet that boasts “over 40 fun illustrations of specially designed exercises”. There’s a written introduction by Howard F. Hunt, chairman of the physical education department at the UC San Diego (because obviously…). Now onto the record itself. The first track is a “Mousercise Medley” that includes snippets of versions of about 18 Disney songs, that sometimes go by and disappear after half a line, all underscored with lots of synth and lyrics encouraging you to mousercise. It’s a bizarre cluster-f*ck of a track that is completely disorienting and over top of it all are the voices of Mickey and Goofy telling you to do different exercises like reach for the sky or “shake everything, just like Pluto!”. The second track is called “Bug-A-Boo” and I guess being about bugs makes it Disney. The third track is an adaptation of the Jungle Book song “I Wan’na be Like You” with new lyrics about exercising by swinging or marching or slithering like a snake. None of the voices sound even close to the characters from the film. The closing track on the A-side is a song called “Get the Money (Uncle Scrooge’s Money)” sung by the Beagle Boys which is apparently about encouraging fitness through burglary. One of the exercises is to “pretend to creep down a hallway, then quickly flatten against the wall and look left and right.” What body part is this supposed to exercise? I’m at a loss. If there’s a track with anything redeeming to be found it’s the side-B opening “Duck’s Dance, Too.” Two singers rhapsodize that just like the bunny hop and funky chicken, ducks also like to dance. Donald is there for the ride providing affirming commentary in the background, and he’s the one character voice on the whole record that sounds like the genuine article. (And that’s because it is the genuine article Clarence Nash providing the voice). This is followed by a Three Little Pigs song called “Pig Out” which is an exercise song about eating???? At one point the singer mentions bacon strips and the pigs (who sound more like the chipmunks for some reason) wonder “What’s that?” It’s a strange moment to say the least. Exercises here include pretending to reach for food and bringing it to your mouth and slapping your tummy. What the f*ck is happening? The record forges on with a forgettable adaptation of “Step in Time”, and an electro-funk Tweedledee and Tweedledum song. According to the lyrics of the latter their “life is one big party” and they live in “the closest thing to heaven: Alice’s Wonderland” and “They’re big and fat and like it like that.” This sounds creepy as f*ck. Get me out of here. Mercifully the end arrives with “Keep on Tryin’” which sounds a bit like a rip-off of the YMCA. Making someone listen to this record should be considered a human rights violation. Get it as far away from as possible.
So, there you have it. 43 (+1 Bonus Duke Ellington) albums that I’d never listened to before this pandemic. I honestly don’t know if anybody is still reading at this point, but if you are, thanks for lasting this long.
In all, I wanted to get rid of at least half the stack. I’ve done that with a final tally of keeping 20 LPs and culling 24. If I learned anything from forcing myself to play all these albums in their entirety, it’s that there’s a lot of art out there to consume. Some good, some bad, but, at some point, someone really poured a lot of time and energy into making something thy hoped would be good. And when you find that something, sometimes decades later, and you connect with it and enjoy it, that’s a pretty special thing to be a part of. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to go put on some Miles Davis, or some Rolling Stones, or some Radiohead. I need a serious palate cleanse.