Bob Stanley’s Croydon Municipal label has carved out a niche as part of Cherry Red’s label roster with its eclectic compilations and album reissues from the 1950s and early 1960s focusing on dusty corners of classic American pop ripe for reevaluation. Three of Stanley’s latest projects continue that mission with the compiler’s usual flair for the unexpected. The anthology Mid Century Minx focuses on many of the lesser-known ladies of vocal jazz along with some still-beloved (if underrated) performers like Jo Stafford, Anita O’Day and Broadway’s Dolores Gray. Soho Blondes and Peeping Toms lives up to its subtitle of “Saucy Vocals and Piquant Pop from the ‘50s and ‘60s,” while Croydon’s reissue of Corky Hale reintroduces listeners to the titular harpist and the jazz sextet she led for one “lost” album.
Stanley, whose wonderfully ambitious Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop surely contains enough opinions to delight and anger most readers of this site, begins his notes for Mid Century Minx with a truthful admission: “Some days, it isn’t hard to see why rock ‘n’ roll pissed off so many people. Here is a collection from an era of urbane, sophisticated music, taken from a bunch of captivating albums by female jazz singers made in the 1950s and the early ’60s, after which time this luscious American art form was swept aside by self-sufficient guitar bands.” Indeed, rock and roll gave a shot of adrenaline to popular music and empowered the burgeoning youth culture – but at what cost? Mid Century Minx answers that question with 20 well-chosen tracks from an eclectic array of the ladies of vocal jazz. The likes of Jeri Southern, Stafford, O’Day and Gray are still known to many, but most of the women here are ripe for rediscovery.
There are collaborations with other famed musicians such as Miles Davis’ great orchestral collaborator Gil Evans on Lucy Reed’s “No Moon at All” and Marcy Lutes’ “Travelin’ Light,” Oscar Peterson on Toni Harper’s “Can’t We Be Friends” and “Mack the Knife” arranger Richard Wess on Sallie Blair’s “Better Luck Next Time.” These cool, smoky tracks bring to mind the urbane soundtrack to a cocktail party for the swells; the only major liability here is the complete lack of songwriter, producer and arranger credits along with any kind of discographical annotation. (Stanley does provide biographical details in his entertaining essay.) Alas, the lack of credits extends to our next title, as well.
Soho Blondes and Peeping Toms! takes listeners back to the Soho described by Stanley as “the bohemian epicenter of London,” the place which writer Colin Wilson once boasted had “the futile fascination of forbidden fruit, the heady intoxication of a bogus Baudelairean romantic evil.” Today, Soho is rather less seedy, though some licensed sex shops still flourish among the trendy restaurants and clubs, fashionable retail, record shops, West End theatres, LGBT-friendly venues, and the like. This 25-track compilation follows up Stanley’s It’s a Scandal! Songs for Soho Blondes, released on the Fantastic Voyage label. Whereas that release “explored the songs and saucy instrumentals built to accompany strip shows in clubs where the champagne tasted like cherry cola,” this sequel focuses instead on pop songs that conjure up the patrons of such establishments.
Personnel here are expectedly eclectic. A few American artists have made their way into this mixture including Peggy Lee and her onetime husband Dave Barbour on “Sweetheart” and “Bu Bam,” respectively, as well as Kay Starr (“Bossa Nova Casanova”). Famed Brit arranger Johnnie Spence (Matt Monro, Tom Jones) is represented with “Sugar Beat.” Johnnie Scott, who played saxophone for Goldfinger and flute on The Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” appears here on the George Martin-produced “Hi Flutin’ Boogie.” Welsh singer Ricky Valance’s “Lipstick on Your Lips” was written by Sherman Edwards (1776, “See You in September”) and Hal David, while Bob Hilliard – another Burt Bacharach collaborator – co-wrote The Friday Knights’ “Don’t Open That Door” with future Tonight Show and Gong Show bandleader Milton DeLugg. Campy, jazzy, and brassy, the music of Soho Blondes and Peeping Toms might leave you asking the question performed by Kenny Day on a 1960 Top Rank single included here, “Why Don’t We Do This More Often?”
After the jump: the scoop on Corky Hale, plus track listings and order links for all three titles!
Last but not least in this group from Croydon Municipal is a reissue of the 1957 record by harpist Corky Hale. The winsome artist and wife since 1970 of legendary songwriter Mike Stoller wouldn’t record another solo album for nearly thirty years after the release of the LP originally titled Corky Hale – Modern Harp, Vol. 17 for Gene Norman’s GNP label. Listening to this low-key, classy set of standards rendered in impeccable cocktail jazz style, you’ll wonder why. Hale didn’t rest on her laurels; when not working as a political advocate or a restaurateur, she’s played alongside Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Liberace, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, and even James Brown (!) and Bjork (!!) in a long career that’s still thriving today.
Corky Hale features 12 cuts that amount to a mini-travelogue, with all songs coming from either the team of George and Ira Gershwin or composer Vernon Duke, working with a variety of lyricists including Ira Gershwin. The journey makes such stops as “A Foggy Day (In London Town),” “April in Paris,” “Autumn in New York,” “[There’s] An Island in the West Indies,” and even a “Cabin in the Sky.” Hale is primarily supported on this early solo outing by Buddy Colette on flute and tenor saxophone, Larry Bunker on vibes, Howard Roberts on guitar, Red Mitchell on bass and Chico Hamilton on drums; a few tracks feature a smaller ensemble of Hale and Roberts with Bob Enevoldsen on bass and Don Heath on drums. Bob Stanley, of course, supplies the liner notes, and original art elements from the LP have been retained.
All three of these titles from Croydon Municipal, released in accordance with current public domain laws in the E.U., are available now and can be ordered at the links below! We’ve provided partial discography for Corky Hale and Soho Blondes, as well!
- Lazy Afternoon – Irene Kral
- Better Luck Next Time – Sallie Blair
- Off Shore – Ethel Ennis
- There’s a Lull in My Life – Anita O’Day
- I Don’t Know Where to Turn – Jeri Southern
- For Heaven’s Sake – Anne Phillips
- Beyond the Next Hill – Beverley Kenney
- Sand in My Shoes – Marge Dodson
- Blue City – Shirley Horn
- You Don’t Know What Love Is – Mavis Rivers
- A Stranger in Town – Lurlean Hunter
- Shangri-La – Dolores Gray
- Baltimore Oriole – Barbara Lea
- Can’t We Be Friends – Toni Harper
- Along with Me – Jane Fielding
- No Moon at All – Lucy Reed
- I Only Have Eyes for You – Doris Drew
- Travelin’ Light – Marcy Lutes
- Alone Together – Peggy Connelly
- As You Desire Me – Jo Stafford
- Gentlemen, Please – Jacqui Chan (Pye 7N 15273, 1960)
- Don’t Open That Door – The Friday Knights (Oriole CB 1579, 1960)
- Sugar Beat – Johnnie Spence (Parlophone R 4960, 1962)
- Way Past Midnight – Richard Bond
- Lipstick on Your Lips – Ricky Valance (Columbia DB 4543, 1960)
- Farrago – The Ted Taylor Four (Oriole CB 1464, 1958)
- Like Love – Lyn Cornell
- Kookie Talk – Scott Peters (Pye 7N 15343, 1961)
- The Merry Men – Don Robertson (Capitol CL 15088, 1959)
- The Devil’s Workshop – Peter Elliott (Fontana H 325, 1961)
- Thief in the Night – Johnny Towers (Philips 326551 BF, 1962)
- Whoop Up – The Z Men (Piccadilly 7N 35113, 1963)
- Just Rollin’ – Ken Jones (Parlophone R 4788, 1961)
- Bossa Nova Casanova – Kay Starr (Capitol CL 15293, 1963)
- Don’t Stop – Alan Swain (Orion OS 1043)
- Three Swingin’ Chicks – Don Fox (Honey Hit TB 125, 1961)
- Hi Flutin’ Boogie – Johnnie Scott
- Bu Bam – Dave Barbour (Oriole CB 1507, 1959)
- Scatter Brain – Alan Fielding (Decca F 11404, 1961)
- A Little Waltzin’ – Johnny Keating (Piccadilly 7N 35125, 1963)
- Gargantua – The Piltdown Men (Capitol CL 15211, 1961)
- Sweetheart – Peggy Lee (Capitol CL 14955, 1958)
- The Swivel – Ken Mackintosh (HMV POP 506, 1958)
- Why Don’t We Do This More Often – Kenny Day (Top Rank JAR 400, 1960)
- Safety Sue – Stirling Moss, Donald Campbell and The Dukes of Bedford
- A Foggy Day
- What is There to Say
- There’s an Island in the West Indies
- I Can’t Get Started
- Autumn in New York
- Somebody Loves Me
- But Not For Me
- Taking a Chance on Love
- April in Paris
- Cabin in the Sky
- London in July