Tag Archives: Ray’s Corner

A little variety from Ray’s Corner

There was a crisis at Ray’s Corner the other day.

My dad, who is 87, dropped his TV remote. It shattered. Without it, he can’t watch TV. Watching TV has been my dad’s main source of entertainment for as long as I can remember. You can see where this might be a problem. So we got him a new remote and managed to fix the old one.

However, there still are no variety shows for him to watch.

In the ’60s and ’70s, we frequently heard the sophisticated pop songs of Hal David and Burt Bacharach on those shows. At the time, they worked most often with singer Dionne Warwick, of whom David once said: “She always interprets my lyrics in a way that sounds as though she had written them herself.”

Four years ago, I took Dad to see Dionne Warwick.  I was certain Dad would remember her from those long-ago variety shows. He didn’t. But once his hearing aid was adjusted, and he heard the songs, he recognized them. That night, Warwick performed two Bacharach-David tunes — “I Say A Little Prayer” and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” — with new, Latin-flavored arrangements and new phrasing. They sounded just fine.

That’s what makes them classics, and why the songs of Hal David — who died earlier today at 91 — are timeless. No matter who interprets them, they usually sound just fine. (Well, those Isaac Hayes covers might be an acquired taste.)

David and Bacharach worked together from 1957 to 1973, an arc that matches the first 16 years of my life, a time often spent watching TV with my dad. Enjoy, as we did, a little variety, some of the most familiar versions of Hal David’s songs, and some covers.

“What The World Needs Now Is Love,” Jackie DeShannon, 1965, from “The Very Best Of Jackie DeShannon,” 1975. The original version. David and Bacharach didn’t think this was such a good song after they wrote it. “We put it away in our desk drawer and kept it hidden there for 10 months,” David once said. “A flop, we thought.”

“This Guy’s In Love With You,” Al Wilson, from “Searching For The Dolphins,” 1968. Herb Alpert did the original version earlier that year.

“(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me,” R.B. Greaves, from “R.B. Greaves,” 1969. Warwick did the original version as a demo in 1963. Lou Johnson had the first hit with it in 1964. It’s such a great song that it became a hit all over again in 1983 for the British synth-pop duo Naked Eyes.

“One Less Bell to Answer,” the 5th Dimension, from “Portrait,” 1970. Out of print, but available digitally. The original version, with Marilyn McCoo’s tremendous vocals.

Finally, a little glimpse of one of those old variety shows.

That’s Tom Jones, of course, doing “What’s New Pussycat.” In 1965, he did the original, for which David and Bacharach were nominated for an Oscar for best original song.

Please visit our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under September 2012, Sounds

On the patio at Ray’s Corner

We haven’t been to Ray’s Corner for a while, and tonight is an especially good time to go. My dad turned 86 today. (He’s good, thanks.)

Four years ago, he gave me his record collection. I sorted through it, picked out a few things I wanted and shipped the rest to the senior citizens center my brother was running at the time.

This might have been the first record I set aside. The Baja Marimba Band were peers and label mates of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in the mid- to late ’60s, cranking out a slightly more irreverent bunch of “south of the border” easy-listening instrumentals. Not quite lounge. More like patio.

This record is from 1965. I’ve written about it before. My brothers and I listened to this endlessly as kids. The pops and ticks and skips on Dad’s copy are testament to that. That I have two or three better copies of this record is testament to how deeply it is seared into my head.

While record digging, I often come across other records by the Baja Marimba Band. I look them over. Then I put them back, figuring there is no way they are going to be as good as than my dad’s record.

Until recently, that is. I came across a Baja Marimba Band record I’d never seen.

This record, from 1968, seemed promising.

As with most Baja Marimba Band records, it has a bunch of instrumental covers of contemporary pop and show tunes along with a couple of original compositions. Among the covers: Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Always Something There To Remind Me,” the Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere” and the Turtles’ “Elenore.”

So I picked it up for 50 cents.

Then I put it on the turntable … and .. well … we won’t be sharing this record. Though I’d hoped otherwise, my hunch was right. It wasn’t as good as my dad’s record. Not even close.

But now I wonder … did I grow up with an exceptionally good record from 1965 or is my perception skewed, rendering it simply a guilty pleasure? Whatever. It’s part of the soundtrack of my life.

So, from Ray’s Corner, the apartment with the loud music, where the martinis are made of gin with the vermouth bottle held about a foot away, enjoy a couple of cuts from the only Baja Marimba Band record my dad owned and the only one I need.

“Juarez” and “Hecho En Mexico,” the Baja Marimba Band, from “Baja Marimba Band Rides Again,” 1965. It’s out of print, as is this 2001 best-of CD with “Juarez” on it.

Though Ray is hoisting a gin martini here, margaritas may better accompany these tunes. As always, you be the judge.

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Filed under June 2011, Sounds

The time of a life

We’ve not visited Ray’s Corner for a while — nor done much of anything else here on the blog — largely because we’ve been visiting the real Ray’s Corner quite a bit lately.

My dad, who is 85, has had some health problems in the six months since a minor accident ended his driving career. He increasingly grew short of breath over the summer.

Long story short, a few doctor visits, a few tests. Heart trouble. Last month, Dad had three stents put in to clear blocked arteries. He’s feeling better, but I do the driving and grocery shopping. Some of that used to be time for blogging, or for working out. So it goes.

Today, though, I was reminded of a time that might have been the best of my father’s 85 years.

In the summer of 1964, my parents were in their late 30s, with three young boys. I was 7. My brothers were 5 and 1. Dad and Mom felt confident enough about their lives that they bought their first house.

This house, in a quiet, leafy older neighborhood in Columbia, Missouri. They paid $18,000 for it (about $127,000 in today’s money).

Things were so good in the summer of 1964 that my parents also bought a new car, a 1964 Pontiac Catalina, midnight blue. They paid $2,500 for it (about $18,000 in today’s money).

Mom loved living in Missouri, just far enough away from her family in Wisconsin. She loved that house, too. I saw today that it’s for sale.

Save for the two large decks and some necessary updating, it sounds largely unchanged from when we lived there. “The 3 bedrooms are clustered,” the description reads, “perfect for a young family.”

That it was, for exactly one year.

Dad worked for Railway Express Agency, something like today’s UPS. The gig in Columbia, a college town always shipping or receiving packages, must have seemed such a sure thing in 1964.

But business depended heavily on passenger trains, which were dying out. As business dried up, REA cut jobs. It allowed workers with more seniority to take the jobs of those with less seniority.

In 1965, just a year after buying his dream home and his dream car, Dad was bumped from his job. That summer, they sold the house and moved back to Wisconsin, where Dad bumped someone else.

That house in Columbia was the only house my parents ever owned. Thereafter, they always rented.

That year, 1965, was when Dad stopped buying records. His collection, part of which is mine now, ends that abruptly. You see why.

This was one of Dad’s records. I still have it, but it’s in rough shape. We listened to it with him over and over.

Now, 45 years later, one of its songs seems to summon the hope and dreams, the loss and wistfulness of that time.

“Walk On By,” the Baja Marimba Band, from “Baja Marimba Band Rides Again,” 1965. It’s out of print (but I have four copies). The song, an instrumental cover of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David tune, is available on this greatest-hits compilation CD from 2001.

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Filed under November 2010, Sounds

A matter of convenience

The phone rang a few minutes after noon.

It was my dad, calling from the convenience store, where he’d stopped after going out for lunch.

Come to find out, stopping at the convenience store was the problem.

As Dad pulled up, his foot slipped from the brake to the gas pedal.

(You know where this is going, don’t you?)

Hurtling forward at low speed, Dad took out one of the glass doors, upended a stack of windshield wiper fluid bottles and knocked a concrete trash barrel a few feet west.

Dad wasn’t hurt. Nor was anyone else, thankfully. If you’re 84, as Dad is, and you have an accident, that’s the one to have.

Dad has been driving for 70 years, but he might be done now. His car, a rusty ’92 Ford Taurus bequeathed to him when his older sister died six years ago, likely is totaled. We aren’t going to encourage him to get a different car. We’ll just make do.

Just like that, you gotta deal with …

“Them Changes,” Lionel Hampton and the Inner Circle, from “Them Changes,” 1972. It’s out of print. Our friend Larry over at Funky 16 Corners shared this in his “Vol. 7: Funky Shing-A-Ling” mix and again earlier this year in his “Vol. 79: Positive Vibrations” mix. A longer take is available digitally, but I don’t know when it was recorded.

Dad digs Hamp’s vibes. They’re heard over at Ray’s Corner, the apartment with the loud music, and the place where the martinis are made of gin with the vermouth bottle held about a foot away. The vibes in this cut might have sounded a little like that shattered glass falling to the ground at the convenience store.

Speaking of which …

Once everyone had checked on Dad, making sure he was OK, and once the deputy called for a tow truck, Dad headed into the store and bought his lottery tickets.

Wouldn’t it be a great story if today was the day he won?

Nah, that kind of thing only happens in the movies. Or in a song …

“The Lottery Song,” Harry Nilsson, from “Son of Schmilsson,” 1972. The buy link is to a remastered CD with five extra tracks.

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Filed under April 2010, Sounds

A fave from Ray’s Corner

Reading the news this morning, I see the following from the Los Angeles Times: “Al Martino, actor in ‘The Godfather,’ dies at 82.”

Which is accurate. That’s how a couple of generations have come to know Al Martino.

But over at Ray’s Corner, the apartment with the loud music, and the place where the martinis are made of gin with the vermouth bottle held about a foot away, memories of the singer Al Martino bring back a more vibrant, more sophisticated time.

Ray is my dad. He’s 84, and he enjoyed listening to Martino on the TV variety shows of the ’50s and ’60s. Those shows were fading from popularity when Martino appeared as the singer Johnny Fontane in “The Godfather” in 1972, introducing him to a new audience in a new way. I doubt Dad has ever seen “The Godfather.”

Martino, born Alfred Cini in Philadelphia, once was one of America’s most popular singers. His hometown paper mentioned that more prominently than “The Godfather.” In a 16-year run from 1952 to 1967, Martino had more than 30 songs in Billboard’s Hot 100 and reached No. 1 on the easy listening charts four times.

Here are two, borrowed from Dad’s collection:

almartinoessential

“Spanish Eyes” and “Mary In The Morning,” Al Martino, from “The Essential Al Martino,” 2004, a greatest-hits CD that’s out of print. Both tunes are available on “Al Martino: The Capitol Collectors Series,” a digitally remastered greatest-hits CD released in 1992.

“Spanish Eyes,” which hit No. 1 in 1966, is widely regarded as Martino’s signature song. Written in 1965, by German songwriter and orchestra leader Bert Kaempfert, it started out as an instrumental called “Moon Over Naples.” They added lyrics, changed the name and the rest is easy listening history.

“Mary in the Morning,” which hit No. 1 in 1967, was written by Johnny Cymbal, the guy who had a big hit with “Mr. Bass Man” in 1963. Though this made the easy listening charts, it has a bit of a folk vibe.

Here’s Al, doing “Mary in the Morning” during the ’70s.

That’s oh, so smoooooooooooth. Peace, Al.

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Filed under October 2009, Sounds

Ladies night at Ray’s Corner

The music was blasting from Ray’s Corner as usual this afternoon.

Ray’s Corner, as our longtime readers know, is the apartment with the loud music, and the place where the martinis are made of gin with the vermouth bottle held about a foot away. Ray is my dad. He is 84.

When I opened the door, Dad popped up from behind the counter. He’d been digging around in his CDs.

“TV’s terrible tonight,” he said. “Just the coach’s show at 6:30, and then nothing until the news comes on.”

Dad was lining up some more tunes to fill the evening that followed watching the Packers’ coach discuss the latest preseason game.

First, though, Dad had to turn it down the music, then turn it off, so we could talk. That was Billie Holiday blasting away. Dad likes the ladies.

Dad likes his TV, too. But he misses the variety shows of the ’60s and the ’70s, the ones that featured up-and-coming singers like Shirley Bassey, the lovely Welsh sensation.

In the late ’60s, Dad was in his mid-40s. He never would have listened to anything from the musical “Hair,” nor anything by Three Dog Night.

But he might have listened to something from “Hair” or something done by Three Dog Night if sung by Shirley Bassey. Something like this:

shirleybasseysomethinglp

“Easy To Be Hard,” Shirley Bassey, from “Shirley Bassey Is Really Something,” 1970. (The album link is to a remastered, expanded import CD released in 1999.)

That, of course, was the long way around the barn to get to this tune. It’s a companion piece to another Shirley Bassey tune — a fine cover of “Light My Fire” — posted the other day by our friend Larry over at Funky 16 Corners.

I found this record last fall in the dollar bins in my friend Jim’s back yard. There are at least two more solid covers — the Beatles’ “Something” and Blood, Sweat and Tears’ “Spinning Wheel” on it.

By the way, Dame Shirley Bassey is still going strong. She has a new album due out this fall. I know an older gent — also still going strong — who might like it.

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Filed under August 2009, Sounds

A birthday at Ray’s Corner

Ray turned 84 today.

You know Ray. He’s my dad, the guy who lives at Ray’s Corner, the apartment with the loud music, and the place where the martinis are made of gin with the vermouth bottle held about a foot away.

When my dad gave away his record collection a couple of years ago, I got first dibs. One of the records I kept was this one:

davebrubeckquartettakefivelp

“Time Out,” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, from 1959. Dad played it often when we were kids.

Turns out this record is celebrating a birthday, too. It was recorded 50 years ago this summer. NPR’s “All Things Considered” had a nice piece about it last week.

Though this album came out in 1959, its biggest splash came two years later, when “Take Five” became the first million-selling jazz single on the Billboard charts.

They must have played it on the radio at the time, because I couldn’t otherwise begin to imagine where Dad, then in his mid-30s, might have heard “Take Five” and dug it enough to buy the album. At the time, we were living in Ironwood, Michigan, an all-but-played-out iron mining town not far from Lake Superior in the most distant corner of the Upper Peninsula.

“Time Out” was, and is, notable for experimenting with time signatures other than 4/4. Here’s what the liner notes say about “Take Five,” which was composed by sax player Paul Desmond, one of Brubeck’s longtime collaborators:

“‘Take Five’ is a Desmond composition in 5/4, one of the most defiant signatures in all music, for performer and listener alike. Conscious of how easily the listener can lose his way in a quintuple rhythm, Dave plays a constant vamp figure throughout, maintaining it even under Joe Morello’s drum solo. It is interesting to notice how Morello gradually releases himself from the rigidity of the 5/4 pulse, creating intricate and often startling counter-patterns over the piano figure. And contrary to any normal expectations — perhaps even the composer’s! — ‘Take Five’ really swings.”

OK, class dismissed. Time to dig it.

davebrubeckquartettakefivelp

“Take Five,” the Dave Brubeck Quartet, from “Time Out,” 1959.

Here’s a cover, one that uses the Brubeck original as a jumping-off point for a stone funk arrangement full of horns and wah-wah guitar. Probably not Dad’s thing, but I like it.

kashmerestagebandtexasthundersoulcd

“Take Five, the Kashmere Stage Band, from “Texas Thunder Soul, 1968-1974,” 2006. Remembering the sizzling high school band that came straight outta Houston.

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Filed under June 2009, Sounds