Friday, February 27, 2015

Coon Songs: The Most Offensive Music EVER?!

While it's still Black History Month, let's explore the outrageously offensive genre of minstrel show/black stereotype musics known as 'coon songs.'  Hugely popular during the early decades of sound recording and then wiped from the culture like they never existed, coon songs nevertheless produced not only the recording industry's first black stars, but some of the first hit singles ever. Minstrel shows in general led to vaudeville, the root of modern American show biz. And yet Al Jolson's blackface performance of "Mammy" in the ground-breaking film "The Jazz Singer" is probably the only experience most people have had with this genre.

I have enough recordings (songs and comedy skits) to fill up 2 or 3 disks, but that would make even a Grand Kleagle of the KKK's head explode. I've whittled it down to this representative selection of the history of the genre - from the pre-master disk era of he late 1800s when, incredibly, a mass of recording cylinders had to be set up to record each performance individually (so the poor singer had to sing the damn song over and over) up to the genre's apparent demise in the 1920s, the era of the "Great Migration."  Black Americans started moving from the rural South, transforming the culture of Northern cities like New York (hence, the "Harlem Renaissance") and Chicago. With the Jazz Age in full swing in the Twenties, the old stereotypes of country bumpkins pining for them good ol' plantation days were no longer too convincing (not that they ever were.)

You'll notice a subtle transformation as time progresses, from the mocking humor of "All Coons Look Alike To Me" to sympathetic songs about children, or "pickaninnies." Coon songs were becoming uncool, and believe it or not, these sentimental ballads were considered to be positive coon songs, written to counteract the cruelty of earlier songs. Hey, they meant well.... 

How popular were these songs? I can't find a single book specifically dedicated to the subject, but "From Edison to Marconi: The First 30 years of Recorded Music" has a whopping 6 page index

They're not all that awful. Some songs, like "Pullman Porters' Parade" salute America's black railroad workers, and "Nigger Blues" really is an early blues tune. Some certainly have musical value. George W. Johnson's records were fun and funny, and that's apart from their massive historical value - he was the first black singing star, thus paving the way for everyone from Robert Johnson to Nat King Cole to Michael Jackson.  (You can't condemn him for these songs. It was the 1800s, what choice did he have?!) And "Bake Dat Chicken Pie" is, once you get past the reprehensible lyrics, a great tune, especially the way the intertwined vocals suggest Dixieland jazz. I felt weird about liking this song 'til I heard that Lenny Bruce was also a fan, and would play and sing along with the record in his act. I am vindicated! Er, maybe...honestly, snickering really is the most appropriate response to the amazing ridiculousness of these songs. Here's a party game: try to listen to "Ma Pickaninny Babe" without laughing.

And let's contemplate this truly bizarre fact: black minstrel performers wore blackface. 

A Treasury of Beloved Coon Songs

01 George W Johnson -The Laughing Coon (1898)
02 George W Johnson - The Whistling Coon (1896)
03 Dan W. Quinn - At A Georgia Camp Meeting (1898)
04 Arthur Collins with Vess L Ossman-All Coons Look Alike to Me (1902)
05 Billy Golden - An evening with the minstrels (aka I'm a Nigger That's Living High) (1903)
06 Ada Jones - If the Man in the Moon Were a Coon (1907)
07 Arthur Collins & Byron G. Harlan - Bake Dat Chicken Pie
08 Arthur Collins - dixie dan (1908)
09 Polk Miller the Old South Quartet-Watermelon Party (1909)
10 Ada Jones - You'se just a little nigger, still youse mine, all mine (1910)
11 Golden and Hughes - Darktown Poets (1911)
12 Elsie Baker - Pickaninny's lullaby (1912)
13 Walter Van Brunt - Hear the pickaninny band (1913)
14 Al Jolson - Pullman Porters' Parade (1913)
15 Golden and Hughes - Darktown Eccentricities (1913)
16 Will Oakland  - Ma Pickaninny Babe (1914)
17 Olive Kline/ Elsie Baker /Margaret Dunlap - Go to Sleep My Dusky Baby  (to the tune of 'Humoresque') (1916)
18 American Quartet - Darktown Strutters Ball (1918) (the one song that survived the coon song era, this became an oft-covered standard, sung by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald on down)
19 Al Bernard - Nigger blues (1919)
20 Crescent Trio - Pickaninny blues (1920)
21 Margaret A. Freer - Pickaninny Rose (1921)

Thanks to the Archeophone label, and the UCSB Cylinder Digitization Project for some of these; there's more HERE and HERE. And then there's THIS album. But I leave all those to the truly dedicated scholars.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Will Work For Experimental Instruments

By request, two albums of experimental musical instruments have been re-posted. Get yer

gravikords, whirlies and pyrophones here, and yer

orbitones, spoon-harps, and bellowphones here.

News flash: I am unemployed! Anyone in Los Angeles want to hire me? I can do anything, from astronaut to zoo-keeper. Remember: the more money I make, the more I can spend on rockin' rare ridiculous rekkids that I post here. 

And throw a few bones James Carrol's way, too. One of this blog's prized contributors, the man who gave us the likes of the "Brain In A Box" and "National Lampoon Radio Hour" sets, is selling his artwork. Dig it HERE.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Brigitte Bardot Show

An extremely rare example of a celebrity who made actual good records, French sex kitten Brigitte Bardot used her alluring personality, and the genius of collaborator Serge Gainsbourgh, to make a series of super swell Sixties sides. Like one of Serge's other gals, Jane Birkin, Ms BB isn't a great singer. But rather than try to fit into a standard pop singer mold - the downfall of so many singing-actor records - Bardot sings cute and sexy over music that is tailored for her. There's a psych-rock edge to many of the songs here.

This 1968 tv special soundtrack features a couple of familiar classics ("Harley Davidson," and "Contact"), some great songs I wasn't familiar with (the rocker "Ce N'est Pas Vrai", the kooky tablas-a-go-go "Oh Qu'il Est Vilain"), and the instrumental interludes of Francis "Theme From A Man and A Woman" Lai. His "Saint-Tropez" is one of the best tracks on this album.  If I had a radio show this would be my opening theme.

The Brigitte Bardot Show


A1 Harley Davidson 2:30
A2 Marseillaise Générique 2:10
A3 Mister Sun 3:12
A4 Ay Que Viva La Sangria 2:30
A5 Ce N'est Pas Vrai 1:38
A6 Gang Gang 2:00
A7 Saint-Tropez 1:10
A8 Port Grimaud 0:30
B1 Oh Qu'il Est Vilain 2:25
B2 Paris 1:35
B3 Je Reviendrai Toujours Vers Toi 2:23
B4 On Déménage 2:03
B5 Le Diable Est Anglais 2:40
B6 David B... 1:10
B7 Contact

Thanks again to that international master of musical mystery, Count Otto Black!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

HANK HILL TEACHES YOU HOW TO PLAY LATIN PERCUSSION

Let's play bongos! On this instructional album, not just bongos, but all kinds of zesty Latin percussion get artfully pounded upon by studio pro Jack Burger. Narrated by someone who sounds like Hank Hill. The combination of the two elements had me both tappin' my toes and laffin'. Apparently came with a booklet that my copy, alas, does not have. 

Let's Play Bongos!

"I play bongos and bongo accessories for the people of this community."
Muchas gracias, Senor Windbag!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

HELLavision

I could give some background on these videos...but why bother? They won't make any more sense if I did. So I'm just gonna hit you with three of the greatest, most incredibly WTF-iest things I've seen/heard lately. Prepare to question your sanity! 

#1: 



#2 (thanks to maniac Francis C for passing this one on to us): 

 

and, perhaps most disturbingly, #3: 

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

HIT SONGS OF TOMORROW

The Manor Boys are back on-line, by request.


Warning! This here's a whole album of song-poems - lyrics that suckers regular folks have paid to have set to music - that might have you questioning your sanity if you attempt to listen to it all in one go.  Like I did. 

Unlike the song-shark racket's most famous exemplars Rodd Keith and the slickly professional MSR Studios posse, Royal Master Recordings from Tennessee are at least as inept as the amateurs who sent in their hapless lyrics. The singers, one male and one female, can't find the rhythm, stop (give up?) singing thus leaving long awkward instrumental passages, and once even keep going after the music has stopped!  They also give every song the exact same reading no matter what its' content. The music tracks are generic country, and sometimes are repeated. Yep, you pay good money to have your heartfelt poems set to "original" music, and you get the same backing track as several other poor souls.

And what poems they are. Side 1 sports at least two real gems amidst all the love songs, the self-explanatory "Monkey Disco," and the hysterical Luddite plea "Progress." Side 2 is nuts, kicking off with several baffling songs. "Let Me Try Again" actually resembles good music, but the following track "These Hands" sends things back into the twilight zone. 

As with another Royal Master album I've posted, the all dead-Elvis themed "Gone But Not Forgotten," we get the added bonus of actual photos of the lyricists. And remember - these aren't hit songs yet. But they will be...tomorrow. I can't wait!

Hit Songs of Tomorrow