Another of the best albums of 1959 arrived this week, the wittily titled ‘London By Night’ by Julie London. While compiling the best of list for 1959 I listened to a load of albums on Spotify through noise cancelling headphones but playing the actual record is a much better listening experience. Having the sound vibrate the air molecules in the room, filling it up, bouncing off walls and filling my ears from multiple directions just feels so much better. Added to this the fact that I wasn’t doing something else while listening, just siting and listening, also helps to create a better listening experience.
My copy is a 1963 repress so not really very long after it was originally released and the entire process of recording, mixing and pressing would still have been analogue. Though my ears are not as good as they used to be, I,m pretty confident I can hear the difference. The sound is rich and full and it feels like it has a warmth about it which is often lacking when digital came along. This is not a scientific thing, I can’t really prove it one way or the other, it just feels like that to me.
On listening more closely to the songs they are a piece of social history and at times indicative of the place of women in the late 50’s. while sitting and listening to the lyrics rather than letting them wash over me I was struck by these words from “Just the way I am”:
If perhaps I’d been a little distant If I tried to play a little hard to get Do you think you might have fallen in love?If I’d been a trifle, inconsistent If I hadn’t let you light each cigarette Do you think you might have fallen in love?And if I’d wonder the way you like, him Would I’ve been more appealing? Had my chin been stronger Had my kisses lasted longer Would I’ve inspired that I adore her feeling If I’d been little more, attractive Had my power had not been so, overactive Would you have not held that nose Like some meek, sweet adolescent lad? What a fool I was to ever believe That someday you could love me, Just, the way, I am
Written by a man, Bobby Troup, and sung by a woman. It is possible to read different things into the lyrics but it gives me the sense of things being entirely the woman’s fault. I decided to check if Bobby Troup was actually a man, and he was, he was also the writer of “Route 66”. When I looked up his songwriting credits I discovered this song was not originally sung by Julie London (although some of his songs were), but by June Christy 4 years prior, who I’ve never heard of but she has a nice voice.
Much of the above is just rambling, sorry, also I discovered Bobby Troup was the husband of Julie London.
Let me give you a special prize for staying with me this far. When I buy a used record I always hope for an inner sleeve that advertises other records as this was a sort of old timey music discovery route. Unfortunately this album had a plain white sleeve, however, I just discovered something inside the cover!
I don’t remember seeing an insert like this before, and it has the Peggy Lee/George Shearing album that is also in the top 30. I knew you’d be excited. I listened to tracks form some of the other albums by people I’d never heard of, like The Dinning Sisters, Glen Gray, Peters Sisters, Ray Anthony, didn’t like it. Harry James was ok, Sinatra, Garland, Cole and Kitt I already know, which just left Nelson Riddle, who I knew was often Sinatras band, so I gave that a listen, the band is great but I couldn’t listen to a whole album of songs that normally have vocals but are played as instrumentals.
I really should say a little more about who Julie London was, so here is the start of her wiki entry:
Julie London (born Nancy GaylePeck; September 26, 1926 – October 18, 2000) was an American singer and actress, whose career spanned more than 40 years. Born in Santa Rosa, California to vaudevillian parents, London was discovered while working as an elevator operator in downtown Los Angeles, and began her career as an actress. London’s 35-year acting career began in film in 1944, and included roles as the female lead in numerous Westerns, co-starring with Rock Hudson in The Fat Man (1951), with Robert Taylor and John Cassavetes in Saddle the Wind (1958), and opposite Robert Mitchum in The Wonderful Country (1959).
In the mid-1950s, she signed a recording contract with the newly established Liberty Records, and released a total of 32 albums of pop and jazz standards during the 1950s and 1960s, with her signature song being “Cry Me a River”, which she introduced in 1955. London was noted by critics for her husky, smoky voice and languid vocal style. She released her final studio album in 1969, but achieved continuing success playing the female starring role of Nurse Dixie McCall, in the television series Emergency! (1972–1979), in which she appeared opposite her real-life husband, Bobby Troup. The show was produced by her ex-husband, Jack Webb.
A shy and introverted woman, London rarely granted interviews, and spent the remainder of her life out of the public sphere. In 1995, she suffered a stroke, which left her with permanent health problems, and died five years later of a heart attack.
Bobby Troup, John Lehmann
That’s for Me
Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II
Mad About the Boy
In the Middle of a Kiss
Just the Way I Am
My Man’s Gone Now
George and Ira Gershwin, DuBose Heyward
Something I Dreamed Last Night
Sammy Fain, Jack Yellen, Herbert Magidson
Nigel Mullaney, J. P. Jowett, Chris Foster
Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart
The Exciting Life
Earl Hagen, Hubert Spencer
That Old Feeling
Sammy Fain, Lew Brown
Marvin Fisher, Joseph McCarthy
And now for your listening and viewing pleasure, The Julie London Show from 1964:
So my quest to find copies of every album in my Best Albums of 1959 continues with a copy of My Eyes Have Seen by Odetta. I had thought this one was going to be more difficult to find than it eventually was, all the copies seemed to be in the U.S but one popped up for £4 last week and I jumped on it, so now it is in my possession and another ticked off the list. I currently have 19 of the 30 in the list, so well on the way to finding them all.
So, Odetta, this was her fourth album release and, as far as I can see, it has only been re-released once since 1959 on vinyl, back in 1973 in Italy for some reason. As far as I can tell my copy is from 1959, it’s in OK shape but far from perfect, as long as it plays OK that’s fine though.
Odetta Holmes (December 31, 1930 – December 2, 2008), known as Odetta, was an American singer, actress, guitarist, lyricist, and a civil and human rights activist, often referred to as “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement”. Her musical repertoire consisted largely of American folk music, blues, jazz, and spirituals. An important figure in the American folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s, she influenced many of the key figures of the folk-revival of that time, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Mavis Staples, and Janis Joplin. Time magazine included her recording of “Take This Hammer” on its list of the 100 Greatest Popular Songs, stating that “Rosa Parks was her No. 1 fan, and Martin Luther King Jr. called her the queen of American folk music.
The rear of the cover contains a paragraph explaining each song, in the language of the time, which I’ll share with you now:
Poor Little Jesus – One of the most powerful Negro Christmas spirituals, Poor Little Jesus draws its strength from the contrast between its exulting melody and its lamenting text. It is far removed from the traditional, “sweet” carol as a plantation is from the meadows of the English countryside. Odetta ironically adds a modern reference which is deeply moving in its underlining of the seemingly endless tide of suffering.
Bald Headed Woman – In this Negro prison song, a boasting air becomes both a comic mask to cloak the tragedies of prison life, and assertion of defiant strength. Songs of this kind, created under conditions whereby they must be carried by the human voice alone, attain a stark, classic line, and it is thus that Odetta sings it, unaccompanied, the silences as potent as the sung phrases, and with punctuation provided by her own hand claps.
Motherless Children – This song is a variation of the better known spiritual, This Train. For the listener, Odetta’s version is a deeper one, since it juxtaposes the jubilation of the gospel train with the tragedies of life.
I Know Where I’m Going – A tender and beautiful love song, which has become a favourite in the repertoires of ballad singers on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Foggy Dew – An old Irish ballad that has been collected in various form. This haunting version celebrates the Easter rebellion against the British rule in 1916, which ended in defeat of the citizen army by the “long-range guns” of the British troops. The extraordinary accompaniment, with its mood of foreboding at the opening, and of the mournful defiance at its close, is a tour de force by Odetta’s guitar and the bass of Bill Lee, her accompanist.
I’ve been Driving On Bald Mountain and Water Boy – Odetta’s linking of these work songs results in a sum greater than the parts. Here is a rhapsody on Negro labor which overwhelms the listener by its alternation of moods and the richness of its characterizations. Opening with the depiction of the proud, John Henry-like steel-driver, Odetta introduces his “buddy” who got hi “learnin’ ” on the Big Bend Tunnel, and shows the mutual respect of these masters of the sledge and spike. The tempo accelerates to a climax at which the mood of freedom suddenly breaks and we find the worker on the chain gang calling for the “water boy”. A mood of bitterness and anguish pervades the first verse, where the dull repetition of rock-breaking is reflected in the hardness of the voice. Then the prisoner’s memory awakes and a rich sense of the loss of freedom is unleashed in the “Jack of Diamonds” verse. Memory is erased in the tempo of labor which engulfs both singer and audience in a dramatic close.
Ox Driver Song – This is a song of the American Southwest frontier, of the pioneers emigration by covered wagon or prairie chooner west from the Mississippi. The drive through mud and over steep hills required a granite-like fortitude and it is this quality which Odetta’s perfromance captures, with its unstoppable momentum and cumilative intensity.
Down On me – Oddetta first heard this song in a Library of Congress recording by Vera Hall, as collected by Alan Lomax. The lyrics, with the outcry “Looks like everybody in the whole wide world is down on me” are secular, but the influence of the spirituals is not hard to perceive. A rich body of folk song, created by wandering singers, embodies such a bridge between the spirituals and the blues.
Saro Jane – This is a song of a Negro rouster, a stevedore, who served on a U.S. gunboat that harassed the Confederate supply lines during the Civil War. It was collected by Dave Macon in 1887 from Negro singers in Nashville, Tennessee, and is considered the first example of the “roustabout” songs which arose on the great rivers of the centrsl United States. Filled with good humour, its finest irony is its claim that the stevodores have “nothing to do but sit down and sing”.
Three Pigs – With the inflections that Odetta gives to this children’s song, it becomes a fable for grown ups.
No More Cane On The Brazos
Jumpin’ Judy – Tqo Negro prison songs, which express quite different emotions, No More Cane speaks openly and literally of suffering and degradation, expressing personal sorrow and mood of resignation. It is poetically the more profound lyric, especially in its ironic opening statement. Jumpin Judy, which shares some verses in common with Leadbelly’s Midnight Special, is a comic fantasy, in which ribald ellements effectivly mask the resentments and bitter sarcasm.
Battle Hymn Of The Republic – The melody is of folk origin, despite authorship claims of several 19th-century composers. The words are by Julai Ward Howe who wrote them in December 1861 after hearing Union soldiers singing John Browns Body as they went to battle near Washngton D.C. The Battle Hymn was first published in the Atlantic Monthly of February 1862 and became the anthem of the Union forces.
Upon listening to this album twice as I wrote out the above I am genuinely suprised that it isn’t more well known, revered even. Perhaps it is but I’m just not aware of it. Though it may not be your normal listening choice I do urge you to put half an hour aside and just listen to it from start to finish, it is a wonderful collection of songs beautifully performed.
So I find myself let loose in London, which means record shops. I’ll write about some of them another time when I’m on my laptop and not my phone. I’m currently listening to John Lee Hooker ‘House Of Blues’ that I just bought, a very reasonably priced re-issue.
I rarely have time to sit and do nothing while watching the world go by, but right now I do, on a bench in Leicester Square.
I picked up a few more records as well, but that’s also for another time as the phone isn’t great for updating. One of them was also from ’59 so I am well on my way to getting all of them. This is, of course, an entirely unnecessary venture but I find that going into record shops with a purpose can often be better than wandering in with no idea what you are looking for, although I do that as well.
Some of the 1959 albums will have to be bought online as you just cant get them here, or, there’s no likelihood of a re-issue. I’ve been looking for ‘Odetta’ but I dont think it was even released in Europe, so it’s not cheap or readily available, I’ll find one though.
I watched a brilliant live broadcast by the BBC from the Cheltenham Jazz Festival celebrating the now defunct TV show Jazz 625 called Jazz 625 Live: For One Night Only. It was broadcast in black and white and, though the show was originally broadcast in the 1960’s it inspired me to randomly take a look at 1959.
My number 1 album from this year is pretty obvious when you get to it but there are some really interesting albums along the way, and there are literally hundreds more that could have made it in quite easily, but what I found interesting, looking back on this year from 60 years in the future, is the albums that were dominating the charts when held up against what is now considered the best of that year. Below are the top 10 albums from the middle of this year, and it’s reflective of the whole year:
South Pacific dominated the album charts (these are for the UK) for the whole year and there are so many soundtracks, well, without giving anything much away, none of these appear in my top 30. Speaking of which, I have actually done some research and listened to all of these and more to end up with the chart below, I know I’ve missed some great albums out but this is my considered best guess! Oh, and finally, some are marked with an *, which means I have a copy already, more on this at the end.
30 – Marty Robbins – Ballads And Trail Songs by Marty Robbins
To be absolutely honest I find the voice of Marty Robbins a little too polished for these songs, but they are good songs of their type and opening track Big Iron has been covered by Johnny Cash, and it sounds better to me when Cash sings it. Interesting fact is that the song was used in the console game Fallout: New Vegas and is known by a lot of the younger generation as a result.
29 – Shirley Bassey – The Bewitching Miss Bassey
I have an incredible amount of respect for Shirley Bassey having watched a documentary on Tiger Bay, the area of Cardiff where she grew up. To survive that and do everything she went on to do really is quite remarkable. This is an album of standards which includes what, to my ears, is a quite bizarre version of the Banana Boat song!
28 – Peggy Lee with George Shearing – Beauty & the Beat! *
I picked up a copy of this album for £0.50p from a charity shop I think. As far as I can see this is about the correct price, which is extraordinary for such a fine album.
27 – Leonard Bernstein / Columbia Symphony Orchestra / New York Philharmonic – Rhapsody In Blue / An American In Paris
Rightly or wrongly I’m just going to assume that everybody knows this.
26 – Blossom Deary – My Gentleman Friend
Until very recently I had absolutely no idea who this woman was, and I probabaly would never have known if I hadn’t stumbled accross her absolutely stunning version of Someone to Watch Over Me.
25 – Chet Baker – Chet
Baker specialised in ballads, mostly straight-ahead renditions of evergreen tunes by the likes of Tin Pan Alley writers Rodgers/Hart and Cole Porter. His renditions were somewhat linear, without any improvisational flourish but he was, of course a very capable trumpet player, on this set accompanied by Pepper Adams on baritone saxophone, Herbie Mann on flute and Bill Evans on piano.
Baker was a heavy drugs user and by this point his voice couldn’t be trusted to deliver and so the album doesn’t feature his singing at all.
24 – Jimmy Smith – The Sermon *
The Hammond organ, is, in my view a shitty instrument that makes a shitty sound and they should all be collected in a big pile and burned. One notable exception is the one played by Jimmy Smith who somehow makes it sound so damn cool.
23 – Frank Sinatra – Come Dance With Me
Despite the extremely creepy cover the songs within are not.
22 – Gene Vincent – Sounds Like Gene Vincent
The mighty Gene Vincent with an album I never listened to until now, and it is incredibly good. As far as Rock and Roll is concerned it’s grittier, perhaps darker than many of the other albums in the same genre, at least to my ears.
21 – Miles Davis – Porgy and Bess
In case you didn’t know, Porgy and Bess is an opera by the American composer George Gershwin, with a libretto written by author DuBose Heyward and lyricist Ira Gershwin. It was adapted from Dorothy Heyward and DuBose Heyward’s play Porgy, itself an adaptation of DuBose Heyward’s 1925 novel of the same name. There are loads of versions of it on record and this one by Miles Davis has no words of course but it is a wonderful album and has been on my wanted list for some time, I’ll get it eventually.
20 – Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Song Book
More Gershwin, they were quite the thing back then, this time with Ella Fitzgerald singing some of their best known numbers. I’m somewhat confused by which album is the right one as there seem to be lots of versions with different covers, so as long as it is with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, then it is the right one.
19 – João Gilberto – Chega de saudade
This really was a groundbreaking 12 track bossa-nova album, half of which was originally released on three 10″ 78rpm shellac discs. It is just a lovely sound, cool, laid back and it makes me want a tall gin and tonic over ice in the sunshine, which is always a good thing.
18 – Billie Holiday – Billie Holiday with Ray Ellis and His Orchestra *
I bought a copy of this at a record fair a few years ago, it was £5, quite possibly the best £5 I’ve spent on a record. The songs are great, the performance is great and the sound quality is wonderful. It is probably my favourite album of hers even though it doesn’t really contain any of the songs she is most well known for. If I remember correctly, these are the last songs she ever recorded.
17 – Odetta – My Eyes Have Seen
I listened to this for the first time this week, although I have heard the odd track here and there over the years. It’s brilliant. I’ve started looking for a copy to buy but it is proving quite difficult as it may well have not been released over here in the UK with most of the available copies being in the US.
16 – Bill Evans Trio – Everybody Digs Bill Evans
There was some old footage of Bill Evans on the BBC from Cheltenham show, man can he play piano. The backing band, well it’s drums and bass, are amazing as well.
15 – Julie London – London By Night
Let’s never forget Julie, she doesn’t seem to get enough mentions in music documentaries and books etc. but Julie London had a beautiful, smokey, voice, and really knew how to present a song. Discount here later TV appearances and concentrate on the 50’s albums and they are full of quality.
14 – Duke Ellington – Anatomy of a Murder *
I bought a re-issue of this several years ago. This was one of the first films to extensively feature jazz in the musical score with the entire musical soundtrack composed by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn and played by Ellington’s orchestra. Ellington and members of the orchestra pop up here and there in the film.
13 – Thelonius Monk Quintet – 5 by Monk 5
This album was recorded over three sessions in June 1959. In addition to Monk on piano, the musicians were Thad Jones (cornet), Charlie Rouse (tenor saxophone), Sam Jones (bass), and Art Taylor (drums). The title of the album comes from the quintet playing five of Monk’s compositions. These included the new “Jackie-Ing”, which Monk hummed to the others to help them learn it.
12 – Ray Charles – What’d I Say *
I’ve had this album since I started buying vinyl again a few years ago and I love the title track, which was essentially a studio jam, more and more every time I play it.
11 – Nina Simone – The Amazing Nina Simone
In just a couple of entries I make a startling confession! Until then, it’s Nina Simone, she was utterly brilliant and I still find myself listening to this today.
10 – Ornette Coleman – The Shape of Jazz to Come
Coleman’s 1959 Atlantic recording, The Shape Of Jazz To Come, brought his unique vision into focus for a wide audience. Most of them hated it at first. He ignored so much of what had gone before and forged his own path across different keys and chord progressions, but his vision from childhood, as he expressed it to Jez Nelson on Jazz on 3, was that “music was just something human beings done naturally, like eating”.
His influence is still felt as he was the template for so much of what was to come.
9 – Nina Simone – Little Girl Blue *
Well I can honestly state that I had never heard of Nina Simone until 2003, when she died and My Baby Just Cares for Me was released as a single and made the charts, resulting in hearing it on the radio. Quite how somebody so brilliant had failed to shine their light in my direction is a mystery to me, and entirely my own doing, but I’ve tried to make up for that gap in the intervening years starting with this album, a work of genius for which, if my understanding is correct, she never received a penny for.
8 – John Lee Hooker – House of the Blues
This album sounds as though it really was recorded in the building on the cover, it has atmosphere and authenticity by the lorry load and the vocal has that worn, knowing tone that tells you that this guy has lived. It has, for me, everything many people claim Clapton has, but really doesn’t, there’s no comparison.
7 – Howlin Woolf – Moanin’ in the Moonlight
Moanin’ in the Moonlight was the debut album by Howlin’ Wolf. The album was a compilation of previously issued singles by Chess Records and it is a stone cold classic. Smokestack Lightin’ is just about as close to a perfect blues song that it is possible to get.
6 – Chuck Berry – Chuck Berry is on Top
This is the third studio album from Chuck Berry and the appalling cover is not a fair indication of what’s included inside. There are so many great tracks included that it’s difficult now to understand the impact this would have had upon its release. They are so well known now but back in 1959 they were all new and influenced so many musicians that there are too many to list.
5 – Ray Charles – The Genius of Ray Charles
Ray again, and the album title says it all. Again, it is hard to see now, all these years later, but this was a groundbreaking release at the time and caused a stir, particularly in the English music press with one reviewer writing “the mixture of gospel-style vocal phrasing with banal blues lyrics is most unsatisfactory, if not positively objectionable.” What a fool.
4 – Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers *
If you press play on any video here, go for this one every time, not just for the great quote of “We sincerely hope you buy our record. God knows we need the money” but for the performance, the sheer joy of it written all over Art Blakey’s face (he’ the drummer in case you weren’t aware). They made an amazing record, one of the most loved Jazz albums ever pressed to vinyl.
3 – The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out *
I feel like everybody knows this one, I seem to have seen it popping up all over the place for a large part of my life, usually the track ‘Take Five”. The album was an experiment in unusual time signatures, particulalry those not usually heard in western music at the time, such as 9/8, heard by Brubeck on a trip to Turkey. The album received negative reviews upon its release, and the reviewers where all wrong.
2 – Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um
I’ve only ever had this on CD, which is a situation I really must rectify. Mingus’s musical forebears figure largely throughout this album, “Better Git It In Your Soul” is inspired by gospel singing and preaching of his childhood, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” is a reference (by way of his favoured headgear) to saxophonist Lester Young (who had died shortly before the album was recorded). “Open Letter to Duke” is a tribute to Duke Ellington, and draws on three of Mingus’s earlier pieces (“Nouroog”, “Duke’s Choice”, and “Slippers”). “Jelly Roll” is a reference to jazz pioneer and pianist Jelly Roll Morton and features a quote of Sonny Rollins’ “Sonnymoon for Two” during Horace Parlan’s piano solo. “Fables of Faubus” is named after Orval E. Faubus (1910–1994), the Governor of Arkansas infamous for his 1957 stand against integration of Little Rock, Arkansas schools in defiance of U.S. Supreme Court rulings (forcing President Eisenhower to send in the National Guard).
1 – Miles Davis – Kind of Blue *
Kind of Blue has been regarded by many critics as the greatest jazz record, Davis’s masterpiece, and one of the best albums of all time. Its influence on music, including jazz, rock, and classical genres, has led writers to also deem it one of the most influential albums ever recorded. Those writers got it right for once, and it could be nowhere else but number 1.
So you may have noticed that I have 9 of these 30 albums already, which is coincidence, I just happened to have them and didn’t check when they were released when I decided on 1959, however, having listened to all 30 of these and more to compile this list I now feel like I’d like to collect them all, which won’t be easy but I think it’s a nice little project.