The complaint this time has to do with lists, specifically ones that use the word Best or Greatest in their names. The Best Songs of the Eighties. The Best American Cities to Live in (I guess In Which to Live is too confusing to Americans). Rolling Stone’s The 100 Greatest Albums of All Time. TV Guide’s The 100 Best Television Shows of All Time (“All Time” is nauseating in its pomposity, since all records and accounts of albums and television shows produced before the twentieth century have mysteriously vanished, giving those of and after that period an unfair advantage.)
That sociopathic idiot in the White House becomes tiring in his eternal use of superlatives when characterizing himself. No one cares more about women than I do. No one cares more about the LGTB community than I do. Face it: if we try to compare ourselves to President Von Clownstick, we all come up short, and that’s the way he intends to keep it. At least in his own delusional, dangerously inept head. Disagree with him to his pompous face and he’ll cut you down on Twitter or he’ll get rid of you or maybe nuke you to oblivion. Fire and Fury indeed. We must never forget his proclamation that no one can be more “presidential” than he, “with the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln.” Obviously he missed Charlton Heston as Andrew Jackson in The Buccaneer.
The Best and Greatest lists have several things up their sleeves as well. They are primarily an ego trip for their authors. They are meant to provoke and aggravate. And as journalistic assignments go, their degree of difficulty is akin to a walk in the park.
It is that last quality, primarily, that compels me today to compile a list of my own. No Best or Greatest here, though. And I guess ego is involved a bit, too, since I’m presenting my own personal tastes to an audience that I somehow believe might actually give a crap. If you don’t, I ask that you forgive me. If you do, then bless your heart.
After four years of “Straight-Edge” living, I’ve finally begun to appreciate my vinyl record album collection, which I had pretty much avoided since the advent of CDs. There are plenty of titles that haven’t been released on CD and likely never will be, and from whatever era the albums come, they are a joy to listen to once again. No, more than once.
My list has to do with Favorites. (You want a difficult challenge? Make a list of your five Favorite Beatles Songs.) I’m going back to the first records I ever acquired and attempting to cherry-pick the real gems, albums that brought immense happiness to me in my childhood and youth, and which I would find difficult to live without in my winter years. Here then are my Favorite Non-Pop-Music Albums of the Sixties and a Bit Earlier, in no particular order:
Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Not the soundtrack album or the Mary Martin-narrated pictures-and-stories edition, but a six-track dynamo that features “I Wonder” and “Once Upon a Dream” sung by Mousketeer Darlene (hubba hubba) Gillespie. Her versions of these two exquisite songs have never been bettered, not even in the film itself.
Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. A gem from 1963, it features great tracks from Annette, Fess Parker, Haley Mills, Jiminy Cricket, and the Wellingtons, whose theme for “The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh” appears here a few months before that three-part adventure made its debut (opposite the Beatles’ three appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show.)
Walt Disney Presents Four Adventures of Zorro. A deluxe pictures-and-stories affair featuring Guy Williams that is nearly as good as the four television episodes it lovingly recreates. The cover painting is absolutely gorgeous. There is a miscue in one portion of Williams’ narration that they surprisingly leave in… all masterpieces must be flawed, as the Chinese say.
Jack the Ripper with Narration by Cedric Hardwicke. Yes, even as a tender child, I was able to tear myself away from the magnetic sway of Walt Disney. This 1960 release features dialogue and Stanley Black’s original soundtrack music from the British edition of one of the best thriller movies ever made. I had the entire album memorized before I ever saw the film. This album is from RCA Camden, and I’ve only seen three copies of it in my entire life; two were mine (I broke my first one in l962 and was gifted with another back in Maryland in l969. Thank you, Debby Bias.)
If the Bomb Falls. This is a delightfully disturbing artifact from 1962, shortly before we found ourselves on the brink of nuclear war. “If the bomb falls–and you are near it–nothing will save you,” reassures the text on the front cover. This “Recorded Guide to Survival” is somewhat bittersweet today in light of a couple of insane demagogues infecting our planet. Included is a 32-page Government Survival Pamphlet for those of us who choose to build bomb shelters in our back yards (blueprints are included for several models. As if!)
Themes From Horror Movies. A 1960 fun fest on Coral Records by Dick Jacobs and his Orchestra. Revolutionary in that it was perhaps the earliest attempt to treat horror film scoring with a certain amount of respect, despite the comic narration by Bob McFadden (who does a mean Ewen Solan impersonation). The cover’s to die for.
Music From One Step Beyond. A Decca masterpiece by composer Harry Lubin, who conducts a symphony orchestra in 11 tracks from the great television series. Two of the tracks are brilliantly creepy, and the remaining nine go from tender to majestic, all with an emotional sweep that has never been matched by the music from any television series before or since. Only Bernard Herrmann’s score for the Twilight Zone episode “Walking Distance” comes close. Harry Lubin is an unsung hero and this record is glorious.
Canadian Music in the Twentieth Century. CBS label. Seiji Ozawa conducts the Toronto Symphony. I heard Sir Ernest MacMillian’s “Notre Seigneur en pauvre” and Harry Freedman’s “Images” on a D.C. classical station in l969 and had to have them! Hurried out to Korvette’s record department and scored! “Seigneur” is given the full symphonic treatment that smaller ensembles cannot match insofar as properly revealing the piece’s dignified pathos. Here it becomes transcendent. And “Images” goes effortlessly from placidity to passion and gripping excitement. God, it’s wonderful.
Lack of space keeps me from explaining at all these equally worthy members of my list: Mike Nichols and Elaine May Improvisations to Music (Mercury), Boston Soul (Senator Bobby and Friends, Parkway), Swan Lake (Boston Pops/Fiedler, RCA Victor), and Music From the Great Movie Thrillers (Bernard Herrmann, London Phase Four).
Yes, there was more to music than the Beatles in the sixties, a fact that I thank you for allowing me to remind myself. But… can you name your Five Favorite Beatles Songs?