Sunday, February 09, 2014


Would you buy an album of two harpists and a lounge orchestra playing such war-horses as "Me and My Shadow," "I Got Rhythm" and "Lady of Spain?" Of course not. But stick a picture of "little person" Billy Barty struggling with a harp….and call it "HAVE HARP…CAN'T TRAVEL…" and you've got an eye-catching oddity. That's why, at the very least, the album can still sell for $10 or $20 in a record store.

A catchy album cover: that was the game back in the late 50's and early 60's. Record stores were choked-full of middle of the road albums for white-bred people who couldn't take classical or jazz…and wanted "easy listening" instead. The trouble was, it was too easy for outfits like the 101 Strings to churn out hundreds of mood music collections at a buck each. To get people to pay higher, record labels needed an attractive girl on the cover, or a famous name, or...both (in the case of Capitol's Jackie Gleason collection). Offbeat humor to grab the eye? That could work, too! By the time some goofus checked the back to see if Billy Barty was actually playing harp and doing some comedy as he did with Spike Jones, it didn't matter. "Oh what the hell, this does seem kinda interesting…"

The Stanley-Johnson Orchestra (note the hyphen, which is absent on the album cover) was owned and operated by Ray Stanley and Hal Johnson. Their main attraction, at least for this album, was the dual harp combo of Dorothy Remsen and Catherine Johnk. So there's the second flaw of the album cover...the gag makes it seem there's only one harp when there's two. A third flaw is that dopey "Spectra-Sonic Sound" note, with the color trick people into thinking they're getting stereo. A fourth flaw is the idea anyone can find or catch a bus in Los Angeles.

Behind the two harpists the small orchestra consists of Mike Ruben and Clifford Hills on bass, Jeff Lewis and Paul Smith on piano, Haakon Bergh on flute, and a percussion team of Jerry Williams, Gene Estes and Frank Flynn.

This album is posted as a public service. While every lp-cover-lover would buy it for Barty, some might hold off and ask, "But how's the music?" You've got samples below. One sampler has the always sprightly (for some reason they added choo-choo train noises) "Holiday for Strings." It's the only remotely humorous track, if you consider train noises amusing. It was written by David Rose, who played it constantly when he was conducting the band for Red Skelton's TV series. It's followed by "Greensleeves," which gets a fairly anemic reading here.

The other download has another two tracks: "En Kelohenu" and "Beyond the Sea." Typical of lounge albums of the day, the idea was often to appeal to every ethnic group possible…and to try and sell a whole album because of one track. Customer: "Do you have "Beyond the Sea" in a nice, instrumental version, without some horrible French guy singing it, or Bobby Darin whooping it up?" "Why let me check the catalog…hmm…it's on THIS soft music album…you might like some of the other tracks, too…"

"En Kelohenu" is not Hawaiian, it's Hebrew, and an attempt to lure Jewish buyers. The spelling for the song isn't that close to the original Hebrew, but there's a variety of ways to start off, including "Ein" or "Ain" and the last word can be Kelohanu or Keloheinu. The song is mostly restricted (pardon the expression) to Friday night and Saturday morning services in synagogue. Everybody joins in (unlike this rather gentle and elegant music-box version).

Translation: "There is none like our God." Most any kid who ever sat through a service waiting to get his hands on some sponge cake and grape juice, at least knows the next three couplets: "Ein kadoneinu, ein kemalkeinu, ein kemosheinu." It's just more of the same: "None like our Lord. None like our King. None like our Savior." Which is fine as long as the next lines aren't the Muslim-esque, "And OUR king is the best and we'll kill you infidels if you don't agree."



No comments: