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From Hoagy To Popcorn: Croydon Municipal Mines Carmichael Tunes, Vintage Pop, R&B and Film Music

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Buttermilk SkiesSt. Etienne co-founder Bob Stanley’s Croydon Municipal imprint from the Cherry Red Group continues to have some of the most eclectic releases out there, emphasizing classic fifties and early sixties pop, R&B and beyond. The label’s latest offerings include a tribute to the pride of Bloomington, Indiana – Mr. Hoagy Carmichael – as well as a return to the realm of Popcorn, and a collection of cool, swinging film themes!

Any songwriter would likely sell his soul to compose a song with the endurance of “Stardust,” the 1931 standard written by Hoagy Carmichael with lyrics later added by Mitchell Parish. But “Stardust” was just one of the many eternal songs penned by Carmichael (1899-1981); others include “Heart and Soul,” “I Get Along Without You Very Well” and “Georgia on My Mind.”  So Carmichael is a fitting selection for Croydon’s first songwriter anthology. Buttermilk Skies: The Hoagy Carmichael Songbook has, among its 24 tracks, all of the songs mentioned above and many others.

Hoagy himself was a singer-songwriter long before the term was in vogue, so Buttermilk Skies includes his own versions of the nominal title track “Ole Buttermilk Sky” and “My Resistance is Low.”   But compiler Stanley has also showcased the breadth of Carmichael’s songwriting talent with performances from across the musical spectrum.  Some of the performers here come from the classic pop vocal tradition, such as Matt Monro with his rich rendition of “Skylark,” Bobby Darin with his brash “Up a Lazy River” and Mel Torme with the lightly swinging “One Morning in May.”  Torme was a jazz vocalist par excellence, and other jazz singers and instrumentalists also get the spotlight – trumpeter Chet Baker with his hushed vocal performance of “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” Billie Holiday with “April in My Heart,” Nina Simone with “Memphis in June,” Carmen McRae with a smoky “Baltimore Oriole” and Louis Armstrong with a vocal version of “Ev’ntide.”  Big band legends are represented (Glenn Miller with “We’re the Couple in the Castle,” Tommy Dorsey with “Walk It Off”) and R&B giants such as “The Genius” Ray Charles with his never-bettered “Georgia on My Mind” from 1960, and Billy Ward and the Dominoes with their hit 1957 revival of “Stardust.”  Bob Hope and Shirley Ross are heard on “Two Sleepy People,” co-written with Frank Loesser, which they performed in the 1939 film Thanks for the Memory.  Another film star, the brassy Betty Hutton, sings “Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief,” her Billboard No. 1 from 1945.

There are some surprising omissions here (no “The Nearness of You” or “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” for which Carmichael won an Academy Award), but Buttermilk Skies is a thoroughly enjoyable primer on the innovative songwriter who brought jazz influences into American popular song.  The compilation includes an essay on Carmichael’s life and legacy by Matthew Lees, although we must question Lees’ assertion that “the other great songwriters of the era” represented “the more treacly world of stage and film musicals.”  (Cole Porter and George Gershwin?  Treacly?)  Alas, the booklet contains no discographical annotation and no credits for Carmichael’s many collaborators, among them Loesser, Parish, Paul Francis Webster, and Johnny Mercer.

After the jump: the scoop on more Popcorn and a selection of Troxy Music: Fifties and Sixties Film Themes!

Troxy MusicButtermilk Skies is joined by Troxy Music: Fifties and Sixties Film Themes.  Carmichael was no stranger to writing music for Hollywood, and this 22-track anthology draws on other famous artists plying their trade for the cinema.  As Bob Stanley writes in his entertaining liner notes, enclosed within the Saul Bass-inspired booklet, “this collection of film themes covers the mid-fifties to the early sixties, an era when cinemas were in rude health but the growth of television was starting to bite.”  Both American and British films are represented, along with a number of famous names.  Henry Mancini gets two selections from his score to Blake Edwards’ dark Experiment in Terror, and John Barry, later to become indelibly associated with the music of James Bond, is heard with “The Lolly Theme” from 1962’s The Amorous Prawn.  A fun vocal selection here is Dean Martin’s “Ten Thousand Bedrooms,” from the 1957 film which introduced him as a solo star following the breakup of his partnership with Jerry Lewis.  Also on the pop side is Garry Mills’ “Look for a Star,” one of the earliest songs by future superstar producer and songwriter Tony Hatch (Petula Clark, The Searchers).  Jazz artists from Britain (Johnny Dankworth) and America (Louis Armstrong) are heard on other selections.  Stanley describes many of the films and songs in his notes, but annotation for each track as to its originating film and its composer(s) would have been a helpful touch.

Popcorn GirlsThis round of Croydon releases completes with Popcorn Girls, a follow-up to the label’s delightful Sweet ‘n’ Salty Popcorn from earlier this year.  How to describe the “Popcorn” sound?  Stanley explained in the liner notes to that release: “Its narrative was formed by Belgians in the seventies from records made in the fifties and sixties – there was no such thing as a Popcorn artist because no one had set out to make a Popcorn record in the first place.  It was all in the rhythm, which had to suit the unusual ‘slow swing’ dance, and it could be Latin boogaloo, an orchestrated Italian ballad or an early Tamla Motown single.”  So Popcorn Girls is another eclectic compilation, this time with 20 tracks from all female artists.

The Popcorn Girls are a varied lot. Margaret Whiting was best-known as a protégé of Johnny Mercer and one of the finest interpreters of the Great American songbook.  Here, she’s heard on the irresistible Bacharach/David “exploitation song” “Hot Spell,” written to tie into the 1958 movie starring Anthony Quinn and Shirley MacLaine.  Evie Sands’ powerful voice incorporates pop, R&B and rock influences; here’s early Evie introducing the dance “The Roll.”  Dee Dee Sharp was a dance queen with her odes to the mashed potato, but Popcorn Girls has her with another Philly-bred production: Kal Mann and Dave Appell’s “The Night.”  Another great R&B voice, Baby Washington, is represented with the uptown soul sound of “Hey Lonely One.”  Popcorn can even take in country-and-western sounds, as evidenced by Ann Williams’ offbeat country-meets-soul crossroads of “Ocean of Tears.”  Among the other rarities is H.B. Barnum’s arrangement of “Are You the Boy” by film star Tuesday Weld, and Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Walk on the Wild Side” by Marilyn Brown.  The latter seems to have been written to tie in with the 1962 movie of the same name, which had its own Brook Benton-sung title song by the movie’s composer, Elmer Bernstein, and lyricist Mack David.

All three of these diverse Croydon Municipal titles are made possible via current U.K. public domain laws covering pre-1962 recordings. You can peruse the track listings and order below; all three titles are available now!

Various Artists, Buttermilk Skies: The Hoagy Carmichael Songbook (Croydon Municipal CR9006, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Skylark – Matt Monro
  2. My Resistance is Low – Hoagy Carmichael
  3. Georgia on My Mind – Ray Charles
  4. Lazy River – Bobby Darin
  5. I Get Along Without You Very Well – Chet Baker
  6. Walk It Off – Tommy Dorsey with Gordon Polk
  7. We’re the Couple in the Castle – Glenn Miller
  8. That’s Right, I’m Wrong – Jack Teagarden
  9. Baltimore Oriole – Carmen McRae
  10. Small Fry – Al Bowlly with Geraldo and His Orchestra
  11. How Little We Know – Anita Boyer
  12. Stardust – Billy Ward and the Dominoes
  13. Ole Buttermilk Sky – Hoagy Carmichael
  14. April in My Heart – Billie Holiday
  15. Lazy Bones – Jeri Southern
  16. Two Sleepy People – Bob Hope and Shirley Ross
  17. Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief – Betty Hutton
  18. Sing It Way Down Low – Louis Prima
  19. Moon Country – Dinah Shore
  20. Memphis in June – Nina Simone
  21. Ivy – Jo Stafford
  22. Ev’ntide – Louis Armstrong
  23. One Morning in May – Mel Torme
  24. Heart and Soul – Hank Jones

Various Artists, Troxy Music: Fifties and Sixties Film Themes (Croydon Municipal CR9009, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Blind Date – Pinewood Strings (Blind Date)
  2. No Love for Johnnie – Gerry Beckles (No Love for Johnnie)
  3. A Kind of Loving – Ron Grainer (A Kind of Loving)
  4. Live Now, Pay Later – Doug Sheldon (Live Now, Pay Later)
  5. Passport to Shame – Ray Anthony (Passport to Shame)
  6. Fluter’s Ball – Henry Mancini (Experiment in Terror)
  7. Ten Thousand Bedrooms – Dean Martin (Ten Thousand Bedrooms)
  8. A Taste of Honey – The Victor Feldman Quartet (A Taste of Honey)
  9. Duet from 16 – Johnny Dankworth (We Are the Lambeth Boys)
  10. Beat Generation – Louis Armstrong (The Beat Generation)
  11. Backfire – Judd Proctor (Backfire)
  12. Payroll – Reg Owen (Payroll)
  13. I’m All Right, Jack – Al Saxon (I’m All Right, Jack)
  14. Tooty Twist – Henry Mancini (Experiment in Terror)
  15. Look for a Star – Garry Mills (Circus of Horrors)
  16. The Boys – The Shadows (The Boys)
  17. Whistle Down the Wind – The Wayfarers (Whistle Down the Wind)
  18. The Lolly Theme – John Barry (The Amorous Prawn)
  19. Mild and Bitter Blues – Ron Grainer (A Kind of Loving)
  20. Take a Giant Step – Ernest Maxin (Take a Giant Step)
  21. It’s a Woman’s World – Ray Anthony (It’s a Woman’s World)
  22. I’m a Lonely Man – Hardy Kruger (Blind Date)

Various Artists, Popcorn Girls (Croydon Municipal CR9008, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Now I Lay Me Down to Weep – Simone Dina
  2. I Don’t Know – Lorne Lesley
  3. Are You the Boy – Tuesday Weld
  4. Ocean of Tears – Ann Williams
  5. Walk on the Wild Side – Marilyn Brown
  6. Hey Lonely One – Baby Washington
  7. What He Used to Tell Me – Delores Hill
  8. The Night – Dee Dee Sharp
  9. Handsome Man – Barbara Pittman
  10. Up, Up, Up – Peggy King
  11. Hot Spell – Margaret Whiting
  12. I Feel the Pain – Linda Queen
  13. Love Charms – Diane Maxwell
  14. He’s the One That Rings My Bell – Sherri Taylor
  15. Haunted Lover – Carole Bennett
  16. The Roll – Evie Sands
  17. Palm of Your Hand – Dolly Lyon
  18. She’ll Be Gone – Betty O’Brien
  19. Not Much (Do You Baby?) – Rosemary
  20. Nobody’s Gonna Hurt You – Donna Dee

Written by Joe Marchese

November 5, 2014 at 13:59

One Response

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  1. Would have been nice to have included the rendition of The Nearness of You by Keith Richards. Talk about the breadth of artists who appreciated Carmichael.

    ed silverman

    November 5, 2014 at 14:09

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