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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

"The discovery of the good taste of bad taste can be very liberating. The man who insists on high and serious pleasures is depriving himself of pleasure; he continually restricts what he can enjoy; in the constant exercise of his good taste he will eventually price himself out of the market, so to speak. Here Camp taste supervenes upon good taste as a daring and witty hedonism. It makes the man of good taste cheerful, where before he ran the risk of being chronically frustrated. It is good for the digestion."
Susan Sontag
Against Interpretation "Notes on 'Camp'," Note 54 (1964; repr. 1966).

Within the last few months, discriminating consumers have been hit by a deluge of re-issue compilations from various record companies celebrating "Lounge" music in all of its glory. After hearing an estimated 25 hours of these re-issues, we have nothing short of a hangover. It's a very mixed blessing. At last some of our favorite obscure tracks are available on compact disc and we've discovered some new choice cuts, but we're also confused by some of the programming choices.

Just what Lounge is is hard to put into words. It's apparently even harder to program. In addition to Space Age Bachelor Pad, Space Age Pop, Easy Listening, Exotica and Mood Music we have to add two new distinctions: Jet Set Discotheque and Arthur Murray's Music for Dancing. It's all related but it's not the same and we're not sure everyone understands this. Like the distinction between camp and kitsch, it's hard to explain but there's definitely a difference.

The best songs in these collections work on many levels. To our heart, the most enduring aspect is that the artists were 100 percent sincere in their goals to provide you with hours of listening pleasure. There are some hack versions and occasionally a reference to the lowest common denominator, but on the whole you can hear that the musicians really loved what they were doing, often while yelling "Hey look! No hands!" While all of the discs succeed on some level, there needs to be a moratorium on lame liner notes. The clichés run rampant while information on the featured artists is almost non-existent or glossed over. These collections need to be judged on several different levels. Is it a decent well-rounded collection that can be enjoyed as a whole without skipping a lot of tracks? Are the recordings new to CD or available on other CDs? Is there a theme to the collection and does the playlist stick to that theme or are the words "cocktail" or "lounge" just put on the cover as a marketing tool? Do we feel like drinking and having a swell time while listening? With this criteria, we have to credit the previously reviewed History of Space Age Pop series on RCA as being one of the best. From the notes to the graphics to the distinct focus of the selections, it's top notch.

 


Cocktail Mix
The Cocktail Mix collection of three discs on the generally excellent Rhino labels starts out with a bang and ends in a whimper. Donning some of the worst graphics on any of the collections reviewed here, the covers feature contemporary young people frolicking around in their Salvation Army finest with "hair-don'ts", cigarettes and restaurant-supply cocktail glasses. The liner notes, however, are the best of show with solid information on each track. The actual music ranges from some choice hard-to-find nuggets to overly exposed pop music.

Various Artists
Cocktail Mix, Vol.1:
Bachelor's Guide to the Galaxy

Rhino R2 72239This is an absolutely great collection of off-beat, nutty and swinging Lounge, mostly Space Age Pop but the well-balanced presentation runs the gamut. There are lots of previously unissued on CD tracks and the inclusion of Bob Thompson's exciting orchestra pieces, Star Fire and Early-Bird Whirly Bird provides welcome relief from the rest of the antics. A lot of care was taken in the programming. Just when things start getting silly, compiler Irwin Chausid throws in something more musical, making this disc essential to your collection.

 

Various Artists
Cocktail Mix, Vol.2: Martini Madness
Rhino R2 72238

The title of the disc is Martini Madness but the cover features a green drink, a red drink and something in a brandy snifter. Where's the martini? The disc is like the cover: something Latin, something go-go and something silly but no martini. That's about the only thing wrong with the disc. It doesn't really belong in the Lounge genre but it's great fun and exposes lots of tracks that haven't been released before on compact disc. Highlights are Quincy Jones' Soul Bossa Nova, Connie Francis' surprisingly good Bossa Nova Hand Dance and Cal Tjader's Hot Sauce. All of the tracks make sense. This would make a great party platter.

 

Various Artists
Cocktail Mix, Vol. 3: Swingin' Singles
Rhino R2 72239

This is probably the weakest and easily the most confusing of all the compilations. We found most of the really great cuts already available elsewhere and most of the unfamiliar ones pretty weak. A fun instrumental version of Fascinating Rhythm by Don Ralke & His Orchestra and Mel Tormé's beatnik version of 42nd Street are both tops, as is Diana Dors' Come by Sunday. There's a lot of pedestrian 1950s vocalist material that might please new listeners but we were left cold.

 

The Ultra-Lounge Series
When we show the covers and play these discs for our friends, they often say, "Did you make these?" The Ultra-Lounge series in Capitol Records is about as close to nirvana as one gets. We should state that our web site ran a contest in conjunction with Capitol Records to promote the series, but even if we hadn't, we'd eagerly recommend the entire series. The Capitol sound is distinct and rather upscale in the Lounge world, so if you were stuck with these six discs, you wouldn't get the big picture, but you'd have several hours of great music.

Various Artists
Ultra-Lounge, Vol. 1: Mondo Exotica
Capitol CDP 7248 8 32563 2 7

Let us say here and now: Les Baxter was a genius. Our first exposure to him was on our parents' ten-inch version of Ritual of the Savage. By the time we had discovered this disc in their collection of mostly Lps, we were true believers in the Partridge Family, Janis Joplin and Melanie (we admit we were a bit of a mess). Hearing Busy Port for the first time on our trusty console stereo was a revelation. It was so exciting and we could really see the bustling port with ships unloading bananas. Our Mater thought us nuts and insisted we put Carole King's Tapestry back on the turntable but deep within our soul a little bell went off and we've spent the better part of our reasonably young life trying to hear that bell again.
Mondo Exotica is like a chorus of bells. It's a first-class collection of suburban exotica that travels from Polynesia to Latin America and back. In our mind, we've choreographed countless floor shows, even the costumes. All the greats are represented and you just can't go wrong with this CD.
Personally we would have left off Yma Sumac's mood-jarring version of Wimoweh.

 

Various Artists
Ultra-Lounge, Vol.2 Mambo Fever
Capitol CDP 7243 8 32564 2 6

With the huge Capitol catalogue available, it would be hard to whittle down the best of the Latin genre to a single disc. On its own merit, Mambo Fever is a winner but we can't help but think of all the great Lps we own that need to be reissued on CD. Nevertheless, tracks like the Peter Gunn Mambo by Jack "Mr. Bongo" Constanzo, Chihuahua by Luis Olivera and Don Swan's fiery Tico Tico are sure to get you dancing. The percussion is always tight and rather authentic while the arrangements are strictly 1950s Americana. It's a great marriage.
One of the best tracks is Glow Worm Cha Cha Cha by Jackie Davis. Glow Worm is hardly a number you think of to ignite your Latin fire and the organ's role in the Mambo movement was non-existent but you can't help but smile as Davis "rocks out" with the help of a great steady beat. Serious students of Afro-Cuban and Brazilian music will not be amused, but the rest of us will be dancing.

 

Various Artists
Ultra-Lounge, Vol. 3: Space Capades
Capitol CDP 7243 8 35176 2 6

This is the closest the Ultra-Lounge series gets to Space Age Bachelor Pad music and in comparison to the other collections, its focus is the least specific, but there are many great tracks, starting with the opener, Gay Spirits. It has the power to put one in a grand mood, no matter what other circumstances stand in the way. We actually considered buying a CD/Alarm clock for our boudoir in order to wake up to this anthem!
The song Calcutta may not sound familiar but once you hear the chorus go "la-la", you're bound to be sent back on a nostalgic trip. What's really fun about Calcutta is that it's a samba with no Indian feeling at all. About three-quarters of the way through the song, there's a break with hand claps and a folk/rock mood and then the orchestra comes on bigger than ever. It's very infectious and we found ourselves shaking our head, wondering "What were they thinking?" Probably not much and that's just fine.
Other highlights include a vocal version of David Rose's Holiday for Strings (now you can sing along!), Les Baxter's Saturday Night on Saturn and an epic version of Istanbul (Not Constantinople) by Joe "Fingers" Carr.

 

Various Artists
Ultra-Lounge Vol. 4: Bachelor Pad Royale
Capitol CDP 7243 8 35177 2 5

We wish we could be more discriminating but you really have to have this disc as well. The title suggests you might play this one at your home but we find it works best in a car, preferably a convertible. The music goes from Big Band to quasi-James Bond to sexy jazz. There are no duds here and we like more than a little Cy Coleman's cool and manic Playboy's Theme.

 

Various Artists
Ultra-Lounge Vol. 5: Wild Cool & Swingin'
Capitol CDP 7243 8 35972 2 2

This collection of 1950s and 60s vocals is the least interesting bunch of the Capitol series. Like Rhino's Swingin' Singles, most of the really great tracks are available elsewhere, but at least here the guests all sound as if they had been invited to the same party. New to our ears is Bobby Darin singing More and Sunday in New York, both excellent. We would never have purchased a Wayne Newton collection so we're thrilled at the inclusion of his Danke Schoen because he swings like his mentor Darin and because the lyrics are so weird.
If your collection of classic vocalists is weak, you probably will enjoy this mix. The rest of us probably already have most of these tracks.

 

Various Artists
Ultra-Lounge, Vol.6: Rhapsodesia
Capitol CDP 7243 8 36128 2 6

MrLucky once made a mixed tape called MrLucky's Make Out Session. We'd almost swear that the programmers at Capitol got a hold of a copy and proceeded with Rhapsodesia. If tasteful romance is in your heart, this is the disc to play. Crisp martinis, slow dancing and gentle ear nibbling are all in order. Hopefully, the George Shearing track with its gentle rumba beat and perfect arrangement will spark some interest in re-releasing more of his catalogue, Latin Affair and Latin Escapade in particular.
One of our favorite film memories is of Kim Novak and William Holden in Picnic, dancing alone on a river float. It's a hot summer's evening and they are surrounded by the glow of paper lanterns as they dance to Moonglow and the Theme from Picnic. You can recreate this moment yourself with Rhapsodesia.

 

Music for a Bachelors Den
This is the granddaddy series of Lounge and is in our view the most authentic for an overview of the entire category. The well-balanced programs feature rare treats and familiar standards. Best of all is the balancing act of featuring "show off" cuts that really were designed to maximize the new stereo sound and just plain great music. The notes are concise and not too cute, which is a real plus. Volumes two through six feature "enhanced CD" files that can be viewed on a computer's CD-ROM drive while hearing the music but we found this very buggy on our system and what we could find were only ads for more DCC releases. This isn't so bad except the programming somehow interferes with the CD player in our car so the Bachelor's Den series has to be an "at home" experience for us.
We are reviewing the first four volumes in this series. Also available are two excellent Arthur Lyman retrospectives that we'll review at a later date.

Various Artists
Music for a Bachelor's Den
DCC Compact Disc DZS 079

While some of the music on this disc is pretty nutty, it's all solid. It's worth it alone for the extended version of Moonglow/Theme from Picnic from the films soundtrack and exotica fans will want the long version of Martin Denny's seminal Quiet Village.
After one listening, we couldn't get Arthur Lyman's Yellow Bird out of our head. In fact, just typing the title is starting it up again. We could have worse problems.
George Shearing's As Long as I Live and Jackie Gleason's Theme from the Honeymooners are brilliant.

 

Various Artists
Music for a Bachelor's Den, Vol. 2: Exotica
DCC Compact Disc DZS 092

The exotica featured on this disc is generally more low key than on Capitol's Mondo Exotica, making it a better all around disc to play while enjoying your exotic drinks and poo poo platters. In fact, this version of exotica is almost all from the islands. The Cuban standard, Taboo (Tabu), is adopted by the South Sea Seranaders (and elsewhere by Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman) probably because praying to a powerful icon translates into any language. Les Baxter's Simba is actually gorgeous, even with the camp chorus. A nice touch is using a non-Billy May arranged cut by Yma Sumac. Much of her recorded output was done with hubby Moises Vivanco as arranger and composer and this is the only example of their collaborations on any of these discs.

 

Various Artists
Music for a Bachelor's Den, Vol.3: Latin Rhythms in Hi-Fi
DCC Compact Disc DZA 093

This confusing but enjoyable collection is all over the map, featuring rumbas, authentic Afro-Cuban music and Lounge camp.
Many listeners will be surprised to hear Miguelito Valdés' superior version of Babalu. Desi Arnaz took the credit, but Valdés was singing the song back in the 1930s with his Orchesta Casino de la Playa back in Cuba, then when he was a vocalist with Xavier Cugat's band and here with mambo great Machito's Afro Cubans. The Arnaz version is more of a true "Afro" beat but the slower pace of the Valdés version shows off his vocal chops.
Great for dancing are Hugo Montenegro's Guaglione, John Buzon's Mambo Rock and in a sexier vein is Absinthe by Duke Ellington. Space Age Pop is represented by a whacked-out Richard Hyman version of The Peanut Vendor.

 

Various Artists
Music for a Bachelor's Den, Vol.4:
Easy Rhythms for Your Cocktail Hour

DCC Compact Disc DZS 094
The title of this disc would leave you to believe it belongs in the same vein as Rhapsodesia, but the rhythms are anything but easy. Easy Rhythms is really a collection of mostly goofy novelty numbers that are fine on their own but would probably give you an edge if played during your cocktail hour. Many of the cuts are great for testing the separation of your stereo system and all of them are fun. It's just not very sophisticated and perhaps easier in small doses.

 

Not part of any series but relevant to our needs is:
Various Artists
Shaken Not Stirred
HiFi/Rykodisc RCD 50337

Right off the bat we found this disc off due to its silly title: any fool knows a martini is stirred not shaken, except James Bond, who's a fictional English character and what do the English know about cocktails anyway?. Have you ever tried to get ice in an English pub or cocktail lounge? Then there was the music- what's the connection here? We have jazz in two minute snippets, Big Band themes, exotica , Latin and folk. It turns out that the numbers were pulled from the collection of audiophile label HiFi. Like Campari, which tastes bitter and medicinal at first, Shaken Not Stirred, has become one of our favorites. True, the jazz pieces could be expanded and the silly version of If I Had a Hammer could have been omitted, but we wouldn't miss Arthur Lyman's cool version of Sunny or the energetic musings of Jack "Bongo" Burger for anything. The mood is somewhere between Lounge and easy listening and in the end we think it's very clever.

Don't rush to take out your CD when the last track, Orchids in the Moonlight, ends. There's a secret bonus track that's possibly the best thing on the disc.


(Review originally appeared in the Spring 96 Number of MrLucky)


 



The Martini rating System

© Coconut Grove Media


Scientific, Accurate
& Easy To Understand!
5 Martinis = Classic
4 Martinis = Great
3 Martinis = Good
2 Martinis = Fair
1 Martini = Poor

 

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