Jun 10, 2017

Exclusive Gypsy, Plus The Wind Is Coming, The French Lieutenant's Whore, Electrifying Rheta, Plus A Pop 'n' Strings Secret Song!

It's times like these that call for Gypsy, don't you think?

No, not that Gypsy (she was surprisingly mediocre) (I can only be honest!). I'm talking about the real one. Yes, it's true, there really was a burlesque queen named Gypsy. I know, right? It's like finding out the tooth-fairy is real. And yes, she and her audience frequently had to make a mad dash for the streets whenever police raided her burlesque houses. Which was often.

Did you know? She wrote her biography, titled "Gypsy," about her early years with her sister and their tyrannically controlling stage-mother, know as Mama Rose, which became the basis for the landmark Styne/Sondheim musical "Gypsy" starring Ethel Merman. Merman's gone, and the movie version is "meh," but don't worry. If you want to see a version of "Gypsy" that fires on all cylinders, go here and watch Imelda Staunton, who gives a towering performance as Mama Rose you won't soon forget.

Which leads us here, to an Exclusive Cheerful Bump-And Grinder! just for you. In 1958, Gypsy recorded her very own LP, and it's as bawdy and giggly as you could hope for. She doesn't sing, exactly, but chants and coos and rawrs her way through several musical tracks in which she shares her tricks of the trade. And trust me, she knew a whole lot of them.

Sex sells, and so does, apparently, sexual neurosis. If a woman in a movie dreams of gale force winds and a charging horse, you can be pretty certain what she's really dreaming about. 

In 1928, Lillian Gish starred in one of her best movies, "The Wind," and I won't say anything to ruin it, except that there's wind, that big ol' horse above, and Miss Lillian very much on edge.

Directed by Victor Sjostrom, it's a masterpiece of nail-biting derangement - and it's probably the one silent movie that even people who say they "don't like silent movies" will cop to loving.

What does all this have to do with modern-day movie composer Carl Davis? I'm largely indifferent to his work - except when he writes music for sexual neurotics. Something about heightened female sexuality brings out the best in him. I'm not sure what this says about him, but I hope it's good and naughty.

Case in point is his soundtrack for "The Wind," which he composed for a revival screening in the late 1970s. Even if you haven't seen the movie, it's a luscious, moody treat. As a side note, there are no tracks names for this soundtrack, since it mostly accompanied the movie from beginning to end, but again, it's highly compulsive listening.

Now on to Carl's next sexual neurotic, and here again, he excels far beyond expectations. Yes, I'm talking about "The French Lieutenant's Woman," or as one character ignobly hollers, "The french lieutenant's whore." As if there's something wrong with that!

Again, I won't ruin the movie if you haven't seen it (it's way better than you may recall if you have; I saw it again recently, having seen it only once in theatres in 1981, and was surprised by how well it held up). In this instance, Carl's soundtrack blooms from sexual neurosis to sexual hysteria - and it's gorgeously florid, with striking use of the orchestra's strong section, a stand-in for the heroine's lustful, lonely, splintering soul.

Speaking of soul (smooth segue, huh?) (okay, maybe not) (I try, I try), Rheta Hughes, sometimes known as Rhetta, is a singer you may know from her version of The Doors' "Light My Fire." It was her first and only R&B Top 40 hit, and thereafter, critics wrote her off as just another average soul singer. They were, and are, wrong, so fuck them. Though she found most of her success on the nightclub circuit, on stage, where she garnered a Best Actress Tony nomination, and on screen in TV and movies, her few LPs reveal her as a mature, highly skilled, performer.

In 1965, her first LP was released, and listening to it today, it's a wonder she's not more celebrated. But then she never employed extraneous vocal flourishes or "tricks" that lesser singers employed to distinguish themselves (thank goodness). The best way to put it is that she's a "pure singer," and by that I mean that there's little separating her vocals from the emotional intent of the song, and nothing superfluous to give it more oomph. Just listen to her brief, simple and joyous version of "When Sunny Gets Blue." It's perfect.

The Secret Song File likes pop, and she likes orchestral music, too, and when the two meet, it's usually disaster. But in this spanking new CD - from an American-Australian singer who's more popular across the pond than on these shores - orchestra and pop mix and mingle with surprisingly fine results.

But then this singer did make her first recording at age five with Don Ho. So there's that...? However you choose to explain it, it works wonderfully. Which is more than I can say for this, or God forbid, this.

Don't we live in strange times?

Tickle and giggle in the comments if you like, but no pushing!


Faze said...

Your movie recommendations are usually on the mark, so I'm going to check out "The Wind". I'm already a silent movie lover, and find that contemporary composers' custom accompaniments are a mixed bag over the years. Hoping for the best here!

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Agreed. Some of the new accompaniments, even by Davis, are "meh."
Hopefully, the version of "The Wind" you find will have both the Davis score and the Gish introduction. She was alive at the time of its release and very informative about the production.