Friday, February 11, 2011

Reginald Johnson - Godfather Of Turntablism!

In the summer of 1927 the manager of the Theatre De Luxe cinema in Leeds replaced his orchestra with one man and a Brunswick Panatrope - a dual turntable record player. Rather than just playing records over the films like other Panatrope operators, Reginald Johnson, a skilled musician, recognised the full potential of the machine to develop an entirely new technique of musical presentation.

By October Johnson had a library of 250 records, and was combining sections of 25-40 discs per film, marking the segments with chalk, working from a complex cue sheet, and changing the needle on each deck for every record played. I don’t think he did any intentional scratching, but I think there’s reasonable grounds to name him the Godfather of Turntablism.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

In Defence of Trash

Bubblegum music evolved from the more commercial singles-driven teen side of rock, and the more cynical side of the music business. Bands like Tommy James and the Shondells, Paul Revere and The Raiders, and the Strangeloves - an imaginary band dreamed up by the Feldman, Goldstein + Gottehrer production team, and obviously the Monkees. These pioneers rubbed shoulders with novelty acts like The Royal Guardsmen and in 1967-8 bubblegum was born, through capitalist osmosis. It's key elements were crass commerciality, dumbness and superficiality, with a strong element of producer-manager-record company control, quickly reaching the point where the 'bands' didn't exist at all, and it didn't matter. Arguably it's the beginning of pop as we know it.

At the end of his influential rock'n'roll history book The Sound of the City, Charlie Gillett spares a few moments to sanctimoniously castigate the producers of this new low in rock music as he saw it, describing it as "the blight of the late sixties… music planned entirely as product, not as anybody's art." If he could see and hear what was on the manufactured pop horizon in the '70s and beyond, maybe he wouldn't have been so dismissive.

Sure - bubblegum records were not performed by 'proper' bands or written by serious social commentators or sensitive artists, but they knew what they were doing and they did it right - they had tunes , killer choruses and a good beat - what's the problem? There's good and bad in any genre, but the best bubblegum came out of the Kazenatz-Katz circle - Super K Productions, on Buddha and many other labels, big and small. You might object to the nasal vocal stylings of the ubiquitous Joey Levine, lead singer on hits like Yummy Yummy, Quick Joey Small and many others, but that's a minor issue you just have to come to terms with. If you really can't take it, there's always the super-smooth Archies lead singer Ron Dante to groove to. The Archies were already a successful comic book franchise when Don Kirshner (the man who brought us the Monkees) made them into an animated tv series and pop hit machine, with the help of Brill building king Jeff Barry. They are more bland than the Kasenatz-Katz outfits, but still had some excellent tunes. Plus they aren't even pretending to be real, they are fictional, two dimensional! The Banana Splits had some good songs too - the fact that you had to collect coupons from cereal boxes to get them doesn't detract from this.

Bubblegum was churned out on rockin' poppin' production lines - inane but catchy songs by manufactured groups with silly names. Nobody condemned Berry Gordy for this kind of approach in Detroit 10 years before, so why doesn't bubblegum get any respect? Because rock had apparently 'grown up' during the '60s. Singles were out and albums were in, "real music" was either going down the blind alley of blues rock in the search for authenticity, or disappearing up it's own arse looking for the lost chord, thanks to Sergeant Pepper. The best bubblegum records, on the other hand, were 3 minute pop blasts following to the golden rules of Mark E Smith's three Rs - rock and roll and repetition - dig it! Who would you rather listen to - Eric Clapton or the 1910 Fruitgum Company?

I dream of forming a bubblegum covers band that everyone will love - we would have a wide repertoire of little known gems like Pinch Me and Sweeter Than Sugar and it would be super fun to play! Will my dream ever come true?

While writing this I discovered that Don Kirshner died a few weeks ago in Florida. He prettty much started it all, for better or worse. And after I'd finished it I also found another piece on bubblegum by my old pal Bob Stanley (him again - mentioned in the last post too) from a couple of months ago - never mind, eh?