Sunday Single: The Tornados — Telstar b/w Jungle Fever (1962)

Image result for Telstar singleThere’s something adorable about this little instrumental, one of those instrumentals you’d see in the surf-rock era, a little composition that goes on exactly as long as the melody can sustain it and then stops. It’s named after the first commercial comms satellite, and it’s got a rockets-and-rayguns kind of feel to it.

This is a significant piece of music in a number of regards. It’s got an early use of an electronic instrument (the clavioline that would later feature on “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” by the Beatles and probably “Icky Thump” by the White Stripes), it’s probably the first song we could call space-rock in good conscience, and so it’s an important precursor to the earlier acid-rock/prog-rock complex that would develop later in the decade, and finally, it’s the first US number-one hit by a British band. (Individual artists had had chart-toppers in the US before, but not many of them.) In a way, we can see this song as prefiguring the British invasion(s), although this might be a bit of an overstatement.

It’s got a troubled history, too. The producer, Meeks, later shot his landlady and himself with a band member’s shotgun, apparently driven to the breaking point by fear that his homosexuality would be discovered in a legal climate where he might conceivably be forced to undergo hormone treatment or else spend a long time in prison. (Alan Turing killed himself with a poison apple not too many years before under exactly those circumstances.)

The guitarist, by the way, was George Bellamy, father of the famous Muse guitarist Matt Bellamy. What I think of as their most famous song (though I’m probably wrong about that,) “Knights of Cydonia” is a bit of a Telstar tribute, with an intro section that copies part of the melody on a similar-sounding instrument, and a chorus that uses the melody as well. Still, given the choice, I prefer Telstar. Muse… well, they’re Muse.

The B-side is not particularly spectacular. It’s called “Jungle Fever,” and it’s about what you would expect to hear in a period British movie about brave white adventurers hacking their way into a savage jungle somewhere in Africa or East Asia. It has vocal effects at the very beginning and throughout that I want to imagine are supposed to be gorillas or other dangerous jungle animals, but I have this uncomfortable sensation that they’re the snarling sounds of the indigenous. Eesh.

So the A-side definitely wins.

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Sunday Singles: The Left Banke — Pretty Ballerina b/w Lazy Day (1966)

Image result for pretty ballerina coverOne of the few Sunday Singles I’ve written so far that I don’t have on vinyl, this is a cute little number about going out with a pretty ballerina. Only the narrator leaves it ambiguous as to whether he’s just dreaming or not. It has that baroque chamber-pop sound that could get you on the charts in the mid-60’s, a sweet sentiment and a good melody. Supposedly it’s in “Apocalypse Now,” but hell if I remember that. I mostly remember the bald guy ranting about how the napalm threw off his surf, to be honest.

(Google turns up a bunch of results that all repeat the Wikipedia statement about the song being in the movie word-for-word, but give no details.)

The interesting thing is that, as much of a first-wave British Invasion song as this is, the band is actually American. I had them pegged for the kind of act that would have formed in Liverpool in the wake of the Beatles’ success.

The B-side is less familiar to me. It’s more of a psych-rock deal, and unknown 60’s psych-rock is always a treat to me. It’s about being a disaffected slacker, I guess. The fuzzy, right-panned lead guitar is a nice touch, such a crystalline moment of the character of the 60’s.

Which one wins? I tend to think the A-side, but you tell me!

All images found online and claimed under fair use, all content reviewed property of its respective owners, all views and opinions mine. Cobb never makes it out of the dream.


Sunday Singles: The Paupers — Cairo Hotel

Image result for paupers ellis islandIn the desire to update this more regularly, I’ve decided to revive a feature that I’d considered early on: every Sunday, I’ll recommend and briefly review both sides of an old seven-inch (or its modern equivalent.) One of my criteria will be that you can find them on YouTube and give them a virtual spin… I think it might be a great way to introduce people to new bands.

Today, I’d like to recommend a rather gonzo disc, from a failed Canadian psych-rock band from whom I’ve only ever heard these two songs.

From the album “Ellis Island,” their last, comes “Cairo Hotel,” a chamber-pop ballad about a man dying alone at Christmas-time. It’s a dark song, but I like it a lot. It has an existential sadness to it: “All his friends sat down to dinner/they agreed it was a shame… that the price of milk was going up again./They mentioned him in sympathy, then threw away his name/and they haven’t thought to mention it since then.” The refrain is nice, as is the baroque-style orchestral break.

“Pick us up, blow us round,” the singer asks the city wind, “but lead us to our rooms again.”

The B-side is a rather biting parody of 50’s and 60’s U.S. country music, “Another Man’s Hair on my Razor.” It’s pretty nicely constructed, a murder ballad where the narrator, a truck driver, gets home to find that someone else has been shaving with his razor… and he’s still there. “But the last stroke of the razor fell to me,” the refrain goes, which works in multiple ways, I think.

So which one wins? You tell me.

All images found online and claimed under fair use, all content reviewed property of its respective owners, all views and opinions mine. Ceterum censeo Charlie Puth esse delendam.