Classical music has long been a source of inspiration for pop. Just ask Barry Manilow ("Could It Be Magic"), Eric Carmen ("All By Myself," "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again"), Billy Joel ("This Night"), or Walter Murphy ("A Fifth of Beethoven"). Ace Records has recently collected 24 of these classical "crossovers" on the aptly-titled Classical Gassers: Pop Gems Inspired by the Great Composers. These tracks date between 1960 and 1971 and feature such hitmaking artists as Lesley Gore, Jay and the Americans, and Roy Orbison...and such unexpected composers as Rimsky-Korsakov, Grieg, Bach, Tchaikovsky, and Mozart!
A couple of tracks here were bona fide smashes. One such track is The Toys' 1965 "A Lover's Concerto." The Bob Crewe production of a Sandy Linzer/Denny Randell song based on Bach's "Minuet in G Major" (never mind that most historians today agree that Christian Petzold, not Johann Sebastian Bach, was the actual composer) was not only a near-perfect Supremes sound-alike record, but remains one of the most effervescent girl group records of the decade. Classical Gassers also features the group's sound-alike follow-up, the Tchaikovsky-based "Attack!" which reached the Pop Top 20. Another smash on hand here is Allan Sherman's novelty "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah! (A Letter From Camp)." Sherman's tale of Camp Granada based his tune on Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours." It went to No. 2 in the U.S. in 1963, and was included on the musical satirist's chart-topping LP My Son the Nut.
The Brill Building had plenty of fun with classical melodies. Gloria Shayne's circus-evoking "Goodbye Cruel World," based on Fucik's "March of the Gladiators," was a hit for James Darren in 1961. Leiber and Stoller helmed two classically-themed tracks for Jay and the Americans included here: the Grieg-based "Dawning" and Debussy-inspired "My Clair de Lune." Mark Barkan, co-author of "Dawning," also authored Lesley Gore's "Just Let Me Cry," taking his cue from Rimsky-Korsakov. Another Lesley - Miller - is heard on "Mountain of Our Love," the familiar Grieg melody of which was also used for Sounds Incorporated's "Hall of the Mountain King."
Carole Bayer (later Sager) and Toni Wine penned "A Groovy Kind of Love" with a melodic crib from Clementi's Rondo from Sonatina in G, leading to a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic for the U.K.'s Mindbenders. The one Motown selection here came by way of Procol Harum: Shorty Long's Detroit makeover of the band's Bach-drawn "A Whiter Shade of Pale." Rock and roll legends weren't immune, either, as evidenced by Roy Orbison's expectedly dramatic "She Wears My Ring," a Boudleaux and Felice Bryant adaptation of Serradell.
Plenty of instrumentals grace Classical Gassers, too, including Kokomo, a.k.a. Jimmy Wisner's "Asia Minor" (Grieg again), The Piltdown Men's "Piltdown Rides Again" (Rossini), and B. Bumble and the Stingers' "Nut Rocker" (Tchaikovsky). Robert Wright and George Forrest made a name for themselves on Broadway with their musicals inspired by the classical repertoire; here, Ace includes The Galens' 1964 update of their Kismet showtune "Stranger in Paradise" based on the music of Borodin.
Classical Gassers will doubtless provide many exclamations of "I know that melody!" This set features a typically lavish 20-page color booklet featuring liner notes by compiler Sam Szczepanski. Duncan Cowell has remastered. You can order this fun collection at the links below!
Various Artists, Classical Gassers: Pop Gems Inspired by the Great Composers (Ace CDTOP 1479, 2016) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada)
- Piltdown Rides Again - The Piltdown Men (Capitol 4460, 1960) (*)
- Goodbye Cruel World - James Darren (Colpix 609, 1961) (*)
- Dawning - Jay and the Americans (United Artists 415, 1962)
- Just Let Me Cry - Lesley Gore (Mercury 72143, 1963)
- Nut Rocker - B. Bumble and The Stingers (Rendezvous 166, 1962) (*)
- A Lover's Concerto - The Toys (DynoVoice 209, 1965) (*)
- Mountain of Our Love - Lesley Miller (RCA 47-8815, 1966) (*)
- Asia Minor - Kokomo (Future 1023, 1961)
- She Wears My Ring - Roy Orbison (Monument LP M 4007, 1962)
- The Wedding - Julie Rogers (Mercury MF 820, 1964)
- Tchaikovsky One - The Second City Sound (Decca F 12310, 1965)
- Swan Lake - The Cats (Baf BAF 1, 1968) (*)
- My Clair De Lune - Jay and the Americans (United Artists 626, 1963)
- Stranger in Paradise - The Galens (Challenge 59253, 1964)
- Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah - Allan Sherman (Warner Bros. 5378, 1963)
- Hall of the Mountain King - Sounds Incorporated (Columbia DB 7545, 1965)
- My Hero - Renee St. Clair (Jubilee 5600, 1967)
- Can Can Girl - The Pulse (Atco 6530, 1967) (*)
- Peter and the Wolf - Harpers Bizarre (Warner Bros. LP WS 1693, 1967)
- Mozart Symphony No. 40 in G Minor - Waldo de Los Rios (Alvarado N-22-20, 1971)
- Attack - The Toys (DynoVoice 214, 1965) (*)
- A Whiter Shade of Pale - Shorty Long (Soul 35064, 1969)
- A Groovy Kind of Love - The Mindbenders (Fontana TF 644, 1965)
- Sabre Dance - Love Sculpture (Parlophone R 5744, 1968) (*)
Stereo except (*) denotes mono
I seem to be overlooking the meaning of the asterisks in the track list.
Joe Marchese says
Sorry, Ed! The last line of the piece got chopped off but has been reinstated. The asterisk denotes tracks in mono.
Donald Crouch says
So, it's named Classical Gassers, but the obvious/seminal track, Mason Williams' Classical Gas, is excluded? Licensing rights are that spendy, eh?
Donald Crouch says
So, the story behind the lack of inclusion for Mason William's Classical Gas must be interesting.....
Despite the clever title for this collection, Mason William's signature song doesn't fit the criteria for "Classical Gassers." His song is an original composition and not based on an established classical piece.