Essential 45rpm Records to Slot Into a Pub Jukebox
I prefer no music in pubs but just for a bit of fun I'm going to have a virtual pub jukebox to which I'll add a track from time-to-time. Listening to the audiobile in some of the boozers on the Isle of Wight whilst on holiday in 2012 convinced me that music in pubs is generally a bad thing because, more often than not, the selections can be infuriating. The Isle of Wight seemed to have a 70s and 80s fixation. I never thought I'd hear Sweet Sensation's "Sad Sweet Dreamer" ever again but, to my horror, it cropped up twice on the island in different pubs. I wanted to find the cables to the loudspeakers so I could snip them in half. The trouble with mainstream popular music is that there is just a hideous amount of pap, proving that 'People Like What They Know' rather than 'Know What They Like.' So, as publican and the person who inserts the records into this jukebox, I get to put on the tracks I like. All selections are from my personal music collection that has taken a lifetime to compile. I have wildly eclectic taste in music so there is a bit of everything - just as it should be in the pub where patrons can all select a favourite. From indie to country, and soul to bluegrass, I love every one of these tracks. Hopefully, at some point you'll be entertained, intrigued, amused or bemused. Do NOT e-mail me suggesting I add a track by some boy band or a winner of 'they ain't got talent' - it simply isn't going to happen.
Footnote : that aforementioned "Sad Sweet Dreamer" was arguably the forerunner of the trend for talent shows - you just have to delete Simon Cowell and Pop Idol and insert Tony Hatch and New Faces. However, the group did spawn the classic "Reach for Love" when youngest member, the late Marcel King, hooked up with Factory Records and produced a Hacienda club hit in the mid-80s.
With some sort of reference to how the records fit into the pub's weekly schedule, I will try to write a few words on some of the jukebox selections over time. I will kick-off with a classic from 1934.....
This is a perfect soundtrack for that quiet session during Sunday afternoon when the lunchtime crowd have gone home and it will be a while before the early doors drinkers venture through the pub's doors. "The Very Thought of You" remains one of the great songs of the 20th century and has been recorded zillions of times by many major artists. However, this 1934 recording is THE version to treasure. On this record Al Bowlly, crooning sensation of the inter-war years, provides the pitch perfect standard along with the orchestra with whom he performed for a number of years - and it was Ray Noble who composed this benchmark recording. The video here however features a different take from Pathé Studios, and here it is simply performed with the Russian-born pianist Monia Liter. Older listeners may be more familiar with the version featured in the 1978 BBC musical drama "Pennies From Heaven."
Al Bowlly, the Mozambican-born vocalist, had good reason to sing "I see your face in every flower, your eyes in stars above" as he married Marjie Fairless in the same year. This proved to be a more successful marriage - he found his first wife in bed with another man on their wedding day. Now, that could have been the basis for some interesting lyrics and vocal delivery! Arguably the first pop star, Al Bowlly was one of the early crooners who successfully made the transition from 1920s jazz to the early swing movement. He recorded several hundred songs in the 1930s, and tried his luck in Hollywood before returning to London prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. It was in April 1941 that he was killed by a German parachute mine that exploded outside his flat in Duke Street, St. James.
With Al Bowlly being played on a wind-up, the jukebox has just been delivered to the pub so it is that exciting moment of trying out the equipment. The first record I am putting in the jukebox, with an accompanying video [below], is for those who, in this digital age, perhaps do not know what a record player looks like... try this killer 1958 record by Link Wray with details of equipment used. It's still a fantastic 45rpm packed with an undercurrent of malevolence. The record was actually banned in New York and Boston as it was feared that it would incite teenage gang violence! The track perhaps conjures up an image of 1950s bikers with blue jeans and leather jackets - or maybe down the drag for a hot-rod burnout. But, if you intend to listen with four wheels, please note that this should only be played in a car if you actually happen to own something like a '57 Chevy!
"The Drifter" is a mid-60s big beat number with an incredible soulful delivery by Ray Pollard. It has something of a wall-of-sound orchestral arrangement akin to that used to support the Walker Brothers on records such as "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore." This is partly down to the production of Arnold Goland, a composer and arranger who worked with Phil Spector. However, the genius of this terrific recording is that, through just a few lines, it is a mini road movie, thus proving that songs lyrics can often work best when less is more, leaving the listener to fill in the spaces. An essential disc for the pub jukebox to end the evening.
A great record for the pub when some of the punters sat in the snug are hatching a plan to pull off a good old-fashioned robbery, the likes of which disappeared with The Sweeney. This 1961 British neo-noir crime thriller filmed in the north-east has plenty of flaws but could have been a classic. However, it has some fine vintage moments, not least this theme music by Reg Owen. Mind you, if Maurice Ravel had lived to hear some of these notes he may have been on the telephone to his solicitors. However, scribbling away in Brussels, the Hackney-born composer blazed a trail here for the likes of the car chase music in Bullitt credited to Lalo Schifrin.
2012 got off to a great start with the release of "The Lion's Roar," the second album by First Aid Kit, an outfit featuring the close harmony delights of sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg. They originate from Enskede, a southern suburb of Stockholm, but you'd never be able to detect this from their output - they sound like some kooky chicks from somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the deepest Midwest of America. Following the release of their debut, they were quickly compared to the Fleet Foxes so it was a canny move to cover "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" and plonk it on You Tube. It went viral and has notched up over 3 million views. They have since played alongside the Fleet Foxes, recorded for Jack White and collaborated with Bright Eyes. Consequently, they have become genuine cool cats on the alt.folk circuit - and beyond. Their voices are flawless - indeed, ethereal to the point of pure perfection. Blimey, Sweden's gone and done it again - they win my Eurovision Song Contest year after year.
This b-side transcended its original obscurity to become an important song of social commentary during the revolutionary 1960s. Many a protest singer incorporated this song within their live set, most notably Richie Havens at Woodstock. Essentially, "High Flying Bird" is a folk song that was first recorded by top-drawer jazz musicians with a soulful vocal delivery by a woman dubbed "Queen of the Beatniks." "High Flying Bird" was composed by the folk and country singer-songwriter Billy Edd Wheeler, and Judy Henske was the first to record the song in 1963 but it was issued as the reverse side to "Charlotte Town." However, it was the title track of her second album recorded for Jac Holzman's Elektra label. Check out the footage below and you will see how Janis Joplin was influenced by Judy Henske's style of delivery. The theme, of course, is looking up to the freedom of a bird whilst living a life of drudge on land, dreaming of a better life. One for the struggling publican to play whilst cleaning the beer lines or scrubbing the cellar. Noel Gallagher borrowed the song title for the name of his band but this was after listening to the version by Jefferson Airplane so we can brush over this bit of trivia.
Brit-Pop did not, as many assume, start with Blur and Oasis. In 1960 records such as this flew the flag and blazed a trail across the globe. Long forgotten now, this record was written by the legendary Tony Hatch, under the pseudonym Mark Anthony, and was originally intended for Norman Wisdom for the film "Follow A Star." However, it wound up being used in the British horror film "Circus of Horrors" and sung by Garry Mills, the Kent-born nephew of jazz band leader Nat Gonella. A pin-up of the coffee bar scene of the late-1950s, he covered a number of American hit singles before landing this, the biggest hit of his career. With its plinky-plonky instrumentation, "Look For A Star" is a lovely period piece. It was produced by Dick Rowe, the man who famously did not sign the Beatles when he worked at Decca. I love the understated organ bursts and the fine brass interlude. This is a jukebox selection for the pop historians in the pub.
It's Saturday night and there's a party in the pub so this choice is a no-brainer. A mid-60s scorching mix of latin, soul and jazz. The banality of the lyrics is more than outweighed by the outrageously infectious rhythm that will have everyone on their feet dancing, arms flailing whilst singing ""At The Party!" If this record fails to move you then you're already on your way to the pearly gates. A hot, sweaty slice of boogaloo, "At The Party" is frenetic in all departments with several trumpet players interlinking with frenzied drumming. This single is the most famous recording of New York-born Hector Rivera and topped the American R&B charts in 1967. It is the title track of a 1966 album by the keyboardist, arranger and composer. He started out in the previous decade with the band of Elmo Garcia. Although he released his own records as a bandleader, his bread-and-butter was playing with the likes of Joe Cuba and Pacheco, plus vocalist Vincento Valdez.
I don't think we can have a pub jukebox without a record by Dame Shirley Bassey, or Saucy Shirl from Tiger Bay. Heck, I may even load an additional Bond record later. First performed in the musical "Sweet Charity," this disc followed Peggy Lee's recording of the number. And whilst that was a fine record, Shirley Bassey's version elevated the song to new levels. Her brassy voice was complemented by bold orchestration so that she totally owned the song. Penned by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, "Big Spender" would become a signature tune for Shirley Bassey - check her out in the marvellous video clip below.
Billed as Aussie Dream Pop, in "He's 31" Geowulf have managed to blend Kylie with Lana Del Rey, perhaps no coincidence as they have collaborated with Justin Parker, the Lincolnshire producer who has worked with the latter. "My Resignation," the 2019 album from which this track is taken, is perhaps too pop confection to consume in one sitting but the melody and Phil Spector wall-of-sound drum rolls in this song is 4:28 of loveliness.
One of the odd things about this record is that Rudy Martinez could never have envisaged that his pseudonym would create a headache for html editors and file labellers in the 21st century computer world. He is thought to have composed "96 Tears" four years prior to it becoming a hit single. Although it is a great recording, it is a little overstated in some circles where it is credited as the first punk record. I would look a little earlier than this .... say, "Louie Louie" by The Kingsmen. ? and The Mysterians are also widely regarded as a garage band but, after listening to other material, I would say they were at the pop edge of the garage-rock spectrum - and by some way. I would probably describe them as a beat group rather than a garage band. In my opinion most of their output was mediocre. Consequently, "96 Tears" confirms my belief that most artists have one great song within their body of work - there are innumerable bands that have largely recorded a pile of rubbish but have somehow produced three minutes of pure genius. This Michigan combo certainly pulled off some majestic moments when the tape rolled in the studio for this recording, a wonderful juncture in the history of popular music. I love the ridiculous quote of Rudy Martinez who once stated that "his soul had originated from Mars and that he once walked on Earth with the dinosaurs." His abduction of the keyboard player from another local group, The Trespassers, was however inspired genius ... those organ riffs still sound groovy sixty years on.
Back in the day it was harder to find certain records. There was no online searching in those days. Consequently, it could take you years to track down a particular record. This was one that had me flicking through record boxes for years. It's not that I am mad about the recording but it simply became a quest to find a copy. Actually it is not that easy to find these days and has sold between £60 and £150 a time when emerging on the Internet [bootlegs are available for much less]. I first heard this polished soul track in the late 1970s and it was 14 years before I stumbled across a copy at a record fair held in Birmingham's Central Hall. I was flicking through the S section and couldn't believe my eyes. I picked out the mint condition single and, feigning only slight interest, nonchalantly enquired for a price. I was told £4 by the dealer. £4! I would have given him £40 just to end the mission to find the blinkin' thing. I casually handed over the money and headed for the tea stand before holding the record aloft like it was the F.A. Cup that I had just won. Incidentally, the album from which this single has a few more funky tracks and "It's a New Day" has been sampled to death by hip-hop artists. Another footnote : I tend to agree with one of the comments on You Tube in that it is playing a little fast.
This record has to go in the pub jukebox simply because the disc was probably inserted into every British jukebox at some stage of its life. Recorded in 1956 and originally destined to be a b-side, "Be-Bop-A-Lula" made Vincent Eugene Craddock a household name after his discharge from the U.S. Navy following a terrible motorcycle accident. He also survived the car accident in which Eddie Cochran died. An early rockabilly recording, it was picked up by Capitol Records who were looking to rival the success of Elvis Presley. Despite selling more than two million records, the song never reached the dizzy heights of No.1. However, the seminal recording inspired thousands of wannabee rock stars for a generation.
A record to open up the pub for those with the Monday morning blues. Riley B. King had been around the block for some years before he entered the studio with some ace New York musicians to cut this track in October 1969. However, this was the record that helped him on his way to being an international star. The original version of "The Thrill Is gone" was an earthier blues number penned by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell in 1951. On this version the production of Bill Szymczyk brought a glossy style to the song, particularly with the string arrangement of Bert DeCoteaux. The single is an edited version of the track recorded for the "Completely Well" album. ABC, the American record label spotted the song's potential as a single for which B.B. King scooped a Grammy Award.
For those of us who went into mourning following the break-up of Galaxie 500, salvation came with the formation of Luna fronted by Dean Wareham. Nobody thought he could reach the heights achieved over a four-year period with Galaxie 500. The doubters were proved wrong as the New York adopted son of New Zealand rolled out audio gold like a 60s Brill Building pen-pusher. The line-up changed often and the sound evolved over the years but the magic pen of Wareham kept delivering the goods. Taken from the 2002 album "Romantica," "Mermaid Eyes," a bittersweet song with hook-laden melodies is a duet with Britta Phillips who had not long joined the band. The former band member of Ultra Baby Fat and The Belltower had a quite a music pedigree - her father was once the music teacher of Paul Simon. She would eventually marry Wareham and release a couple of albums under the banner Dean & Britta.
Check out the image above to see the catalogue number begins with B - incredible to think that this 1973 recording was issued as a b-side. It might have vanished without trace but UK music lovers picked up on the record and it became a collectable item - to the point that bootleg copies surfaced at soul all-nighters. The A-side "Tell Me What's Wrong With The Men" is a funkier song and probably thought to have more chances of airplay and success. The singer with a powerful voice co-wrote "Wash And Wear Love" under her real name of Allean Varnado. After her 1970s recordings she turned to gospel music through her work as a minister and bible instructor. Here however, she brilliantly uses laundry metaphors such as "my washing machine is too tender and the soap powder costs too much" as as a message to her lover who is reluctant to commit to a long-relationship, and all to funky guitar riffs and resounding brass.
The pub's Wednesday evening eclectic mix is enriched by the late Issa Bagayogo with "Sayé Mogo Bana," a gorgeous mix of African and Electronica sounds. Featuring a thudding rhythm, this track is lifted from the excellent 2002 album "Timbuktu," one of four albums he released before his early death in 2016. Here he delivers a great vocal and superb licks from his kamele n'goni. He may not be as well-known as fellow countrymen Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté, but if you have been impressed by the likes of Tinariwen on the festival circuit you need to explore Issa Bagayogo's rich back catalogue.
The 2005 album "In The Clear" is not the greatest of Ivy's albums but it does feature a few really good tracks like "Tess Don't Tell," a hook-laden, guitar-driven indie-pop number that many of the post-C86 girl bands would have died for. If you think that Dominique Durand sounds a bit ooh-la-la, it will come as no surprise to learn that she hails from Paris but met fellow band members Adam Schlesinger and Andy Chase when she moved to New York to study English. They cited The Go-Betweens, Burt Bacharach, The Smiths, Velvet Underground and The Beatles as influences so you will know the sort of indie-pop they strived to deliver. Not all of their output was majestic but they often came up trumps.
World Circuit, the record label known for the legendary Buena Vista Social Club sessions with Ry Cooder, released a compilation album in 1999 which collected together the best recordings of Los Zafiros. Despite this, the group would still have flown under the radar of most, apart from a select bunch of music aficionados who had gathered together fragments of their recorded output. Influenced by American Doo-Wop and Rock'n'Roll played on pre-Castro Cuban radio, Los Zafiros fused the close-harmony of such music with the bolero and bossa-flavoured calypso of their native island. In Havana they became superstars but it went to their heads and they developed something of a hedonistic lifestyle. But during the early-mid 1960s they were audio gold. What brought them to an international audience in a big way was the inclusion of this track in "Breaking Bad," arguably the best TV show of all time. After this played during the crushing of the camper van, people were rushing to Shazam the track, or freezing the screen during the credits. And when pub customers drop their coins into the jukebox and select "He Venido" the whole pub stops, grown men start to cry, and the uninitiated ask the publican for the title of this utterly beautiful record.
A typically Big Apple sound of the mid-1960s, this record has amazingly notched up one million sales. However, the blue-eyed soul boy from Little Italy saw little earnings after it flopped at the time of release in 1967. Dean Parrish later hung up his microphone, reverted to his birth name of Phil Anastasi, and enjoyed a modest acting career, supplementing his income as a session guitarist. The song was co-written by Doug Morris who earned substantially more in his career as a record label big wig, one of the biggest in the industry. He started out as a songwriter and boosted his early salary by penning "Sweet Talkin' Guy" for The Chiffons. The disc jockey Russ Winstanley was the person responsible for the huge sales of this record in later years. "I'm On My Way" was famously the last record to be played at Wigan Casino before the shutters came down, sealing this song's revered status with fans of the genre.
A classic 1970s record for the jukebox that the more erudite patrons will select when feeding the machine with silver. However, after a few notes even the most unenlightened will recognise a song that was championed by Gilles Peterson in 2005 and subsequently appeared in the soundtracks of several films. William Daron Pulliam, a.k.a. Darondo, hailed from the San Francisco Bay Area and enjoyed a brief period of success but got messed up with cocaine. He left for Europe before spending some time playing guitar on a cruise ship. His unusual career path then saw him becoming a physical therapist and speech pathologist. Some of his other recordings from the early 1970s are really good but I guess the dude will always be remembered for this song. However, it is one heck of a legacy.