Monday, 14 September 2015

Flat Champagne: The Last Albums of the Rat Pack

I wrote this for Triple R's The Trip, a subscriber only magazine issued in August.

The Final Albums of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr

Between 1982-84, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr, the core members of the Rat Pack, all released their final solo studio albums. Strange, patchy affairs, with two recorded in Nashville and the other adding electronics, they are incongruous blots at the end of generally esteemed careers. By 1982, they were hardly in their prime (Sinatra 67, Martin 65 and Davis Jr 57), and their boozy crooning and misogynist humour was not in vogue. Even the lounge revival, itself a disrespectful satire of their Vegas showbiz style, was a decade away.

Lured by money, contractual obligations, curiosity or boredom, all three returned to the studio, perhaps regrettably, for a last hurrah. For all their faults, each reflects – in a rather warped way - the history and personality of their star, and collectively they reveal a picture of the entertainment industry’s perception and treatment of faded glory. Let’s revisit these long forgotten (if ever considered) products and see if anything still sparkles.

Frank Sinatra: LA Is My Lady (Qwest, 1984)
Sinatra’s final solo album (not counting Duets of 1993, or indeed 94’s Duets II) is the most respectable of the three, with by far the biggest budget, and corresponding effort, and is consequently the least interesting. Hardly surprising as his career had fewer outright lowlights than Dean or Sammy, and Sinatra, the consummate professional, seemed unable to do anything half hearted, or use irony (his appearance in The Canonball Run 2 excepted – note his body double in scenes with Burt Reynolds). It’s telling too that, of the three, only Sinatra strives to remain relevant and update his sound for the eighties: recruiting Quincy Jones, at his peak in 1984, and a huge cast of crack players, from George Benson to the Brecker Brothers. He also adds synthesizers, and on the title track, disco rhythms. These kitsch moments are amusing, but for the most part it’s just a bigger big band and a tired Frank. This is especially so on “How to Keep the Music Playing”, another disco number, which asks the wrong question and truly drags. The joy of LA Is My Lady however is in watching money and talent squandered, producing something dazzling but flat, smoke and mirrors, more coal than diamond. It was also released on video and featured Frank’s latest pallies, Eddie Van Halen, Donna Summer and David Lee Roth, broadcast on the fledgling MTV Network. As a final insult, LA is my Lady was recorded in New York .

Dean Martin: The Nashville Sessions (Warner Brothers, 1983)
By 1983 Dino hadn’t released an album since 1978’s Once In A While, which was cobbled together from recordings from back in 1974. Like all of his seventies output, Once in a While was an ugly melange of 1930s Tin Pan Alley standards rendered in country-tinged pop-brass, with Dean swanning in at the last moment to overdub his vocal parts. The ultimate menefreghista, as biographer Nick Tosches dubbed him: he didn’t care then and he certainly doesn’t on Nashville . Dino had dabbled in country on a number of albums (Dino “Tex” Martin Rides Again, Country Style, Gentle On My Mind), not to mention dixieland (Way Out Yonder, Dino Goes Dixie, Southern Style); indeed, there was little he didn’t touch (French Style, Cha-Cha-Cha D’Amour, Sings Italian Love Songs, Dino Latino, countless Christmas albums). With The Nashville Sessions however, Dino dips more than a toe in the country pool: Merle Haggard joins him on “Everybody’s Had The Blues”, and Conway Twitty on “My First Country Song”.

At 65, and with a lifetime of booze, fags and indifference behind him, Dean’s voice has a weathered purr comparable to late Johnny Cash (Dino always, bafflingly, had a Southern drawl, despite being an Italian from Ohio), and few seem as comfortable fronting such studio froth (his TV career was sodden with canned laughter). Opener “Old Bones” is a highlight, a loping self-pitying ballad about ageing featuring the line “I love life I’d like to do it again”. This rings particularly hollow given Dino’s addiction to painkillers, suicide attempts and almost violent misanthropy. “Drinking Champagne ” is more accurate: “I’m drinking champagne, and feeling no pain, ‘til early morning”. The pace never quickens from slurred ballad crawl, with “Shoulder to Shoulder” and “In Love Up To My Heart” both particularly narcoleptic, cloaked in anodyne female backing (a Dino trademark). The Nashville Sessions also features Dean’s only music video, produced by his son Ricci, “Since I Met You Baby”: tuxedoed Dino, glassy eyed and lost amidst sequences of swimsuited eighties ladies, palm trees and cheap video effects. Prime fodder for sampling chill wave hypnagogues but, alas, The Nashville Sessions has so far eluded the modern hipster’s retro grasp.

Sammy Davis Jr: The Closest of Friends (Applause, 1982)
Recorded in Nashville, hardly the logical musical resting place of Sammy Davis Jr, The Closest of Friends (also known as Sings Country Classics) is among the most strangely poignant of final albums. With material penned by the city’s country finest (Don Gibson, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Travis), yet cheaply recorded with plastic keyboards and hokey arrangements, it pits Sammy’s still impressive croon (he was the youngest of the three) against cold industry indifference and musical mediocrity. This was a context Dino seemed drawn to, even thrive in, but Sammy comes off second best. “Smoke Smoke Smoke That Cigarette” is pleasingly macabre, opening to Sammy’s wheeze before he boasts “I’ve smoked all my life and I ‘aint dead yet” (he would be, by throat cancer, in 1990). Sammy is on decent form throughout, but it’s a struggle: through ill-fitting flange guitar gospel (“Come Sundown”), wayward Casio runs (“Mention a Mansion) and awkward lyrics ("Hey, Won't You Play (Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song)". The standout however goes to “(We Could Have Been) The Closest of Friends”, which reads like a heartfelt plea to his more famous and accepted white Rat Packers, his musical colleagues in Nashville, and even his audience. As with Martin’s late work, there is something perversely endearing in the loveless product that is The Closest of Friends, but this scrapes a barrel lower than Dean ever did, with Sammy reluctantly forced to eat what he’s served. As testament to the industry’s enduring disrespect for Sammy Davis Jr, The Closest of Friends is among his most frequently reissued albums, generally with misleading album title and artwork.

Sammy was the first to go, aged 64 (damned cigarettes!), with Dean following in 1995 (fittingly on Christmas Day, aged 78) and Frank making it to 82 in 1998. All joined forces, briefly, in 1988 for a railroad-stadium reunion tour, but Martin bailed early, to be replaced by Liza Minelli. Aside from Frank’s stocking filler Duets albums they recorded nothing more. Out with a whimper, like flat champagne, but one with a strange, lingering aftertaste that may just grow on you. 

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Abul Mogard: Circular Forms

Beguiling - if slightly untrustworthy - back story to Abul Mogard: apparently he's a retired Serbian metal worker who now makes industrial tinged electronic music. Nonetheless Circular Forms on Ecstatic Recordings is excellent. Touches of Deathprod and Thomas Koner in the 16 minute final piece 'House on the River', and in the hissing undercurrents of all four works here. Beautiful with hints of dread but never overpowering, remaining more alluring than threatening.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Dean Martin - The Later Years, on Max Headroom

More belated and perfunctory posting. I recently presented a special on the later years of Dean Martin for 3RRR FM's Max Headroom, which can be streamed here. There I celebrated what I find to be Dino's most interesting period, a strange world of almost intentionally lacklustre recordings, a melange of stale Tin Pan Alley standards, big band, country and sixties bubblegum pop that, in the late 1970s, sounded particularly incongruous. Ironically such product could also only come from the 1970s.

Here is the blurb for the show:
Over his long and varied career, Dean Martin, "The King of Cool", was a heart throb, crooner, film star and leading member of the rat pack.
He was also known as "The Laziest Man In Showbiz", churning out countless albums of stale standards and hosting formulaic, TV specials for over 40 years.
On Max Headroom this week, Joshua Meggitt explores this lacklustre Dino, playing choice filler from his later albums, with excerpts from such cinematic highlights as The Cannonball Run 2
By focusing on the later years, I intentionally avoided his younger, more well known material, the stuff of nostalgia shows and Scorsese films, and went straight to the end: his lazy, resolutely uncool, critically condemned, and now long forgotten (if ever paid attention to) final years. It's a world of strange, almost studied mediocrity, so mindlessly middle-of-the-road that hearing it now, its quite unlike all other music. Exemplary is "Old Bones", the opening song from his final album, 1983's The Nashville Sessions:

Today, Dean Martin is largely remembered as a lazy, lackadasical Frank Sinatra, a Las Vegas self-parody, his reputation resting on a few comedies he made with Jerry Lewis, and some charming pieces of pop fluff that once topped the Hit Parade with retro “lounge” revivals and appearances in mafia films. Even by the later years of his own career, his early days as a global, charismatic romantic icon are long forgotten… and yet I can’t look away! This song is so stupid, but I love it: "Love Thy Neighbour" from 1978's penultimate Once in a While:

The main appeal with Dean Martin was his carelessness, a quality I've even managed to get my four year old to appreciate. He was, as biographer Nick Tosches dubbed him, the ultimate menefreghista - one who just doesn't give a fuck.Or, going further, what contrarian commentator and Oxbow singer Eugene Robinson describes as outright violent misanthropy. 
Dean Martin’s vocals say one thing to my ears: FUCK YOU!
The more I listen, the more I agree. Hostility and scorn for both his material and his audience is clearly expressed in his reading of "It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin'", from the wonderfully titled, My Woman My Woman My Wife of 1970. Essentially a ballad about the pain of breaking up, listen to Dean laugh as he delivers the line, "I cry myself to sleep each night", as though the very concept of him feeling heartbreak is absurd:

The ilovedinomartin Dean Martin fansite blog got wind of the program and promoted it heavily. Check out their kind words here but here's an excerpt:

Hey pallies likes are we in for the hugest of huge Dino-treats as today, as promised we share our newest pallie, down under dude Mr. Joshua Meggitt's  coolest of cool "celebration" of our hour long radio programme that is a marvelous  mix of  '70's and '80's Dino-croons and choice audio recordin's from our Dino's later work on both the small and big screens...
We gotta 'fess up that we  grooved on each and ever moment of this purely potent programme of passionate appreciato for our King of Cool.  We particularly loved listenin' to a number of croons from our Dino's last al-b-um, "The Nashville Sessions."  And, we couldn't 'gree more with Josh that these particular croons really are remarkably revelatory of our Dino's life and times at that point...truly these croons form a stellar set of Dino-teachin's!!!!!

We coulda goes on and on, 'bout the wonderful mixin' of Mr. Meggitt's Dino-reflections with our Dino's singin', but likes we wants  youse all to enjoy this amazin' programme lovin'ly presented by in-the-know Dino-holic Mr. Joshua Meggitt.
We salute Josh for this tremendous tribute to our main man and for encouragin' his audience to develop a deeper understandin' and relationship with of our Dino by readin' Nick Tosche's Dino-bio, "DINO: Living High In The Dirty Business Of Dream.  And thanks ever so much to pallie Josh for even givin' a nice shout out to our humble little Dino-blog, ilovedinomartin. for doin' our part to promote his Dino-special.
I suspect there'll be more Dean Martin posts...

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Monday, 23 February 2015

Pattern Repeat - Summer 2015

Now that summer is almost over I'll get around to cataloguing Pattern Repeat's summer programming, guesting for O'Tomorrow. I had fun, did you?

Playlist only for Midnight 30 December 2014. Listen here, hear this:
JLM & Eva - Pattern Repeat
Cry Tomorrow - Night Waves
The Advisory Circle - The Walk Home
Actress - Xoul Particles
Visionist - Something Old, Somthing New
King Tubby - Iyatha
Untold - Sing A Love Song
Cry Tomorrow - Rock Pools, Night
Pan Sonic - Johdin
Maurizio - M5
Rhythm And Sound - King In My Empire
Jake Mandell - The Story Teller
Sueno Latino - Sueno Latina (Bushwacka! Mix)
LFO - Tied Up Latino
Janez Maticic - Hypnos
Norman Nodge - BBI.O
Robert Hood - Minus (Edit)
Samuli Kempi - Water lake
Samuli Kempi - Passage
Terence Dixon - Minimalism
MESH - Scythians (Logos Remix)
Rocket In Dub - Rocket Number 3
Eric Cloutier - Anaphalantiasis
Objekt - First Witness
TCF - 54C6051C
Lorenzo Senni - Pontillisti C
Anya Kutz - Pop Track 1
Bing And Ruth - Warble
Edward Artemiev - Listen To Bach

Artemiev's take on Bach's Cantata BWV 106 for Solaris is a fitting end to the season:

Strange Holiday

Catching up on detailing old shows for the public record, this a fill for the excellent Strange Holiday program from way back on 7 December 2014. Listen here and hear this:

Andras and Oscar - Friendship Theme
Pharoahs - Sunblitzed
Frank Schroeder - Ohne Title
Claudette et Ti Pierre - Zamme Camarade (Tropical Treats Edit)
JLM - Birds, Plane
West African Swing Stars - Omo Africa
Stranger and Gladdy - Pretty Cottage
Blood Sisters - My Love Don't Come Easy
Paul McCartney - Frozen Jap
DJ Sotofelt and Fran Benitez - La Grimas Negras
Harmonia - Kekse
Yoshio Machida - Alhambra
Rei Harakami - Poof
Shirley Ross - If You Leave Me Now
The Blow - The Love That I Grave (Strategy's Strata Clay Mix)
JLM - Dawn
Legowelt - Cruise Til The Sun Shines
Prince Jammy - Crosstalk
Pepe Bradock - Attaque de Boulangerie
Mamman Sani - Ci Da By
DJ Marshmallow Man - Electric Generation
Nascar Car - Blood Type Blue
Peaking Lights - New Grrls
Panabrite - Lullaby of the Abyss
Daniela La Luz - Your Mother Told Me

Track of the show was this, a doozy:

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Thomas Mann - The DJ in 1924

Just finished Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain and was surprised by an early reference to record playing, and the manner in which it posits the record player (the person, not the instrument) as an active performer, i.e. a DJ.

In it the protagonist, Hans Castorp, is recovering in a tuberculosis sanitorium in the Alps, which seems more like a restful snowy resort than a hospital, and the establishment acquires a gramophone and a collection of records. Hans Castorp is most taken with the device and takes it upon himself to learn its workings and discover its joys:
He made himself acquainted with the new possession, and worked in undisturbed enjoyment through the contents of the heavy albums. There were twelve, in two sizes, with twelve records each; many of the flat, round, black disks were inscribed on both sides, not only with the continuation of a piece of music, but also because many of the plates held two distinct records. Here was a world to conquer, large enough that even to survey it was a difficult task at first, and bewildering; yet a world full of beautiful possibilities. He played some twenty or thirty records; using a kind of needle that moved softly over the plate and lessened the sound, in order that his activity might not offend the silence of the night. But twenty or thirty were scarcely the eighth part of the riches that lay asking to be enjoyed. He must be content tonight with looking over the titles, only choosing one now and again to set upon the disk and give it voice. To the eye one was like another, except for the
coloured label in the centre of each hardrubber plate; each and all were covered to the centre or nearly so with concentric circles; but it was these fine lines that held all imaginable music, the happiest inspirations from every region of the art, in choicest reproduction.

Later Mann describes Hans Castorp's active role as player of records, classifying Castorp as a 'performer', and defined against that of the 'audience':

Later in the day, after the noon and evening meals, he had a changing audience for his performance—unless one must reckon him in with the audience, instead of as the dispenser of the entertainment. Personally he inclined to the latter view. And the Berghof population agreed with him, to the extent that from the very first night they silently acquiesced in his self-appointed guardianship of the instrument. They did not care, these people. Aside from their ephemeral idolatry of the tenor, luxuriating in the melting brilliance of his own voice, letting this boon to the human race stream from him in cantilenas and high feats of virtuosity, notwithstanding their loudly proclaimed enthusiasm, they were without real love for the instrument, and content that anyone should operate it who was willing to take the trouble. It was Hans Castorp who kept the records in order, wrote the contents of each album on the inside of the cover, so that each piece might be found at once when it was wanted, and “ran” the instrument. Soon he did it with ease and dexterity.

Here Mann captures many of the features of the modern DJ - 'guardian of the instrument', 'keeping the records in order' - essentially the selecta! - and running the instrument 'with ease and dexterity'. This in 1924!

Here's the marvellous Paul Scofield, of Patrick Keillor renown, reading the text:

Monday, 1 December 2014

Leisure Link, 25 November 2014

Listen again to Leisure Link broadcast 10pm, Tuesday 25 November 2014 on RRR 102.7FM, Playlist below:


I'm back 10pm tonight, 2 December, playing more of the same, including this: