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Just The Tracks, Ma’am: Ace Collects “Criminal Records” On New Compilation

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Long before CSI, there was Dragnet.  The granddaddy of the television procedural drama, Dragnet actually began on radio in 1949, moving to television in 1951, where it has remained a staple ever since in both repeats and revivals.  So it’s appropriate that the ominous theme to Dragnet both opens and closes Ace’s rip-roaring new compilation, Criminal Records, subtitled “Law, Disorder and the Pursuit of Vinyl Justice.”  Between Ray Anthony’s treatment of that famous theme and Stan Freberg’s delicious parody of the program, you’ll find 22 other wild vignettes of cops, robbers, private dicks and prisoners.  Along the way you’ll meet “Dick Tracy,” “Sgt. Preston of the Yukon” and “Bad Dan McGoon” and travel all the way from Folsom Prison to Birmingham Jail.  And be careful when you approach that riot in Cell Block No. 9!

Avoiding such staples as The Bobby Fuller Four’s “I Fought the Law,” Criminal Records instead concentrates on lesser-known songs, or familiar songs in rare versions.  Most tracks date from the 1950s and early sixties, but make no mistake: this is raucous music, not well-scrubbed pop from handsome guys named Bobby!  Among those lesser-known interpretations of classic tunes, you’ll find a hyper-charged, distorted “Jailhouse Rock” from Dean Carter.  So aggressive is this 1967 track that you might classify it as proto-punk!  In a similar vein, it’s Jumpin’ Gene Simmons, not Johnny Cash, heard with “Folsom Prison Blues.”   Though Gene doesn’t jump quite as much as Dean Carter, his “Folsom” also ups the tempo from the familiar original.

Famous fictional characters appear throughout Criminal Records, too.  The Chants immortalized Chester Gould’s famed detective in the 1961 “Dick Tracy,” and the detective would doubtless agree with the group that “crime doesn’t never pay!”  Even more oddball is Bob Luman’s catchy “Private Eye,” a 1961 curio from the Warner Bros. label.  Luman, a Rockabilly Hall of Famer, name-checks Edd “Kookie” Byrnes of Warner Bros.’ television show 77 Sunset Strip and TV detective Peter Gunn in his wacky song written by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant (“All I Have to Do is Dream”).  Of the real-life characters heard here, one would certainly be Scatman Crothers.  The actor and voiceover artist perhaps best known for his role in Chico and the Man actually had an accomplished musical career, and offers this collection’s earliest track, asking the musical question behind 1949’s “Have You Got the Gumption?”

There’s more gumption and woe after the jump, plus the full track listing with discography and an order link!

Wynonie Harris offers the memorable “Good Morning, Judge,” but the judge couldn’t be too happy to have made his acquaintance: “The other night I took a ride with little old Lucy Brown/We went to all the honky tonks/We really got around/She’s 5 foot 2 with eyes of blue/And pretty as a queen/I didn’t know her pop was a city cop and she was just 15!”  Richard (“Louie, Louie”) Berry’s “Next Time” is cut from the same cloth with its honking saxophone and pounding piano, and Cliff “King” Solomon delivers another protest, “But Officer,” a sinuous instrumental with spoken pleadings that likely fell on deaf ears from the officer in question!  Philadelphia’s Chubby Checker, in a 1960 pre-“Twist” recording, finds that “Those Private Eyes (Are Watching Me).”  Did the same city’s Daryl Hall and John Oates take inspiration?

Of course, the annals of country music alone could fill numerous compilations such as this!  George Jones’ perfectly maudlin “sad, sad story” in “Life to Go” (“I had a home and family/And they locked me in this cell/I’ve been in here eighteen years/That’s a long time, I know/But time don’t mean a thing to me/’Cause I’ve got life to go!”) is one particularly delicious example.

Three songs come from the team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, themselves no strangers to New York’s criminal element and music business underbelly.  The Robins’ “Framed” is the criminally follow-up to that group’s original “Riot in Cell Block No. 9.”  “Riot” is heard here in a version by Vicki Young.  The Robins recorded for Leiber and Stoller’s early Spark Records label, itself the subject of a fine anthology from Age.  The group later morphed into The Coasters, and they appear with Kenny Lewis’ “Bad Detective” from 1964, itself in the Leiber and Stoller style and a tribute to the exploits of Charlie Chan!

Ray Anthony’s “Dragnet” opens Criminal Records, and the set comes full circle with “St. George and the Dragonet,” its closing track.  Stan Freberg, a favorite at this wing of Second Disc HQ, turns in this spoof of Dragnet that’s both loopy and entirely spot-on: “On September the 5th, the dragon was tried and convicted.  His fire was put out, and his maiden-devouring license was revoked…”  Freberg is aided and abetted by Daws Butler and June Foray on this bit of inspired lunacy.

Tony Rounce, the compilation’s co-producer with Tony Watson, provides the detailed track-by-track notes in the fully illustrated, eighteen-page booklet.  Ace’s collection is in stores now.  It might just be Criminal to pass up these Records.

Various Artists, Criminal Records: Law, Disorder and the Pursuit of Vinyl Justice (Ace CDCHD 1319, 2012)

  1. Dragnet – Ray Anthony and His Orchestra (Capitol 2562, 1953)
  2. Cops and Robbers – Boogaloo and His Gallant Crew (Crest 1030, 1956)
  3. Good Morning Judge – Wynonie Harris (King 4378, 1950)
  4. Jailhouse Rock – Dean Carter (Milky Way 011, 1967)
  5. Private Eye – Bob Luman (Warner Bros. 5233, 1961)
  6. But Officer – Cliff “King” Solomon and His Orchestra/Gigi Gryce , vocal (OKeh 7010, 1953)
  7. Dick Tracy – The Chants (Verve 10244, 1961)
  8. Riot in Cell Block No. 9 – Vicki Young with Big Dave and His Orchestra (Capitol 2865, 1954)
  9. Folsom Prison Blues – Jumpin’ Gene Simmons (Hi 2092, 1965)
  10. Bad Detective – The Coasters (Atco 6300, 1964)
  11. Life to Go – George Jones (Mercury 72293, 1964)
  12. Mr. Dillon – The Delacardos (United Artists 310, 1961)
  13. 21 Days in Jail – Magic Sam (Cobra 5029, 1958)
  14. The Prisoner’s Song – Hylo Brown (Capitol 3554, 1956)
  15. Those Private Eyes (Are Watching Me) – Chubby Checker (Parkway 810, 1960)
  16. Prisoner’s Plea – Billy Boy (Vee-Jay 260, 1955)
  17. Next Time (Take 1) – Richard Berry (previously unreleased alternate take of Flair 1071, 2012)
  18. Sgt. Preston of the Yukon – Ray Stevens (NRC 057, 1960)
  19. Jail Bird – Sonny Knight (Vita 137, 1956)
  20. Bad Dan McGoon – The Cadillacs (Josie 870, 1959)
  21. Framed – The Robins (Spark 107, 1954)
  22. Birmingham Jail – Warren Storm (Nasco 6031, 1960)
  23. Have You Got the Gumption – Scatman Crothers (Capitol 15431, 1949)
  24. St. George and the Dragonet – Stan Freberg (Capitol 2596, 1953)

Written by Joe Marchese

April 6, 2012 at 10:49

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