Jun 14, 2013

Sabu Flies With Miklos, Kay Sings 'Em All, Joel Goes Live, Plus A Canuck Secret Song!

So let's talk about the picture above. The boy is wearing a leather leash and his "daddy's" got the biggest benwa ball you've ever seen - but I swear, they're not stars from a porn flick, though even if they were, would your opinion of them change? Who knows? I mean, as far as porn stars go, people seem to have all kinds of opinions about them these days.

So no, it's not porn, it's actually a still from "The Thief Of Bagdad," an okay 1940 remake of the eye-popping 1924 original. Many people think the remake is a classic, probably because the Technicolor is all kinds of trippy, and because one of its star's - the kid, to be exact - is named Sabu (just Sabu) (which is one of my all-time favorite movie star names) (along with Zasu Pitts and Blanche Sweet). As a film, it just can't compare with the silent original, which, after all, had this...

...along with special effects that are still delightful. But, like I said, it's okay. So why am I bringing up the 1940 movie? Because what really struck me when I first saw it was the Oscar-nominated score by Miklos Rozsa. This was one of his earliest scores, and it was so striking that it brought him to Hollywood. If you can ignore a few early tracks that have some dated-sounded vocalizing, this is the quintessential fantasy score - full of grand, sweeping orchestral movements designed to knock your socks off. And they do.

There's lots of soundtrack releases for this score, but my favorite is conducted by Elmer Bernstein, which brings together all of the score's short snippets into longer suites. If only this score could be wedded to the 1924 original. Then we'd have perfection.

Speaking of perfection, down-home flawlessness is here today in the form of Miss Kay Starr:

Like a lot of "girl singers" of her time, Kay started as a celebrated jazz singer, but when the bottom began to fall out of the market in the early 1950's, she quickly retrenched, then re-emerged as a hit-making pop singer. So there's two Kay's, really. Her first incantation as a jazz singer shines through in "Kay Star: Best Of The Standard Transcriptions," a pokey-sounding title which is basically saying that the tracks were captured during her stints on the radio (with jazz greats like Les Paul, Buzz Adlam and more).

Listen to her kick around "Honeysuckle Rose" or Ain't Misbehavin'" - and I say "kick around" deliberately. Part of Kay's charm is that she makes it sound so-o-o casual and easy - as if she weren't really singing, exactly, but just sitting back on her porch, sipping tea and telling you a story.

"The Ultimate Kay Starr" highlights her pop side, including her biggest hit, "Wheel Of Fortune," but also her takes on "When A Man Loves A Woman" (she delivers it with uncomplicated, heartbreaking directness) and a wonderfully jazzy rendition of "Get Me To the Church On Time." Both collections are, I think, essential.

And now for some hot-cha! jazz hands! And I ain't talkin' about you-know-who.

No Liza this time around. Sorry. This time it's Joel Grey's turn, her co-star from "Cabaret." After that movie hit, Joel was the "it boy" of the moment, and his 1973 LP "Joel Grey Live!" - a hot-cha Cheerful Exclusive! - is culled from his nationwide touring stints in the early '70's.

Get ready, because when Joel sells a song, he sells!sells!sells! That's a lot of fun when he's singing songs you might like, including "The Cabaret Melody" (of course) (or even ballads, such as "Lean On Me"). Yet things can get slightly grating when he's singing things you might not have a special fondness for, like the "George M. Cohan Medley" (I never need to hear "It's a Grand Old Flag" again) (ever).

Still, this is a wonderful time capsule. It's probably the last time in music history in which a movie with Broadway tunes was popular enough to support a nationwide tour with just one of its performers. Oh, on a technical note, the first two tracks are a teensy bit jittery sounding because the LP was unbelievably warped. But it's still very listenable, so don't you fret.

"Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now? Yes, I'd like a massage. That's right. And I'd like a male masseuse. One with a really big - um, big hands. Strong hands. What? No, this isn't John Travolta! Oh my God! What-what? Hahahaha! Oh, you're so funny. What makes you say that? Is it my masculine-sounding voice? Hello? Hello?"

The Secret Song File feels supersad for peeps on the down low, or anyone living in somebody else's shadow. Kind of like Canada, that "nice country" with the big ol' nasty U.S. beneath it sucking up all the air. But at least Canada has plenty of wonderful artists, like this electronica duo whose spanking new CD is mesmerizing. Oh, wait. I'm so sorry. They aren't actually Canadian, they're Scottish! Sigh. Heavy sigh. Poor Canada.

But remember, Canada has given us Howie Mandel, so they're not perfect. 

Dance a little jig in the comments, why dont'cha? It doesn't have to be Scottish.


KH said...

Apple Lossless — You're soaking in it!


The Cheerful Earfull! said...

I know, right? Except for one, but that couldn't be helped. :D

KH said...

Good stuff. I generally encode straight to 224k AAC in iTunes. A good value with reasonable space use...

John Mahan said...

Hello, I am unable to download anything that is hosted on 2shared (the download button gives a 404 error or the like), such as the first Kay Starr disc here...what is the secret to getting those to work? Or do they need a re-up? Thanks

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Voila! First Kay CD is back.