Stay Tuned By Stan Cornyn: Liners Galore, Part 1

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013
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Stay Tuned By Stan Cornyn: Liners Galore, Part 1

Every Tuesday and Thursday, former Warner Bros. Records executive and industry insider Stan Cornyn ruminates on the past, present, and future of the music business.

With the invention of multi-song collections (back c. 1910 or so), the term “album” came to be used in the record business. Albums would have a front and back cover, and sleeves to hold individual discs inside those covers. For longer-concept music (like half an hour of ...) on disc, albums came to be the thing.

Those inside-front cover, inside-rear cover, and rear cover albums – all had room for printed stuff. The inside of a cover was known as a “liner,” undoubtedly because it was like a jacket, inside or “liner” there, too. In fact, record albums themselves soon became known as “jackets.” Whether the record industry owed anything to the clothing industry is doubtful, but I just thought that, if you’ve read this far, you should have learned something.

Thank you.

LP Covers, with Space for Notes

So writers often behaved like they were selling new jackets, and used the clothing business vocabulary: how this music was “stunning,” for instance. Other words come to mind: silky smooth and, oh well, let’s not get into that list.

But “liner notes,” the writing of something to fill the inside or back of the album were needed, and albums became a major piece of the record business.

LPs had back-sides, where liner notes filled the space, along with a list of songs and credits and whatever. But liners were generally as important as the fine print on the back of a candy bar’s wrapper. (They might have been called “wrapper notes,” but there I go again.)

Thank you, I will continue.

The LP era (which grew after WW2) became the hot time for liner notes (and the cold time came 35 years later, when liner notes got put into CD booklets, inside CD cases that were not to be opened inside the store).

So LPs, mono and stereo, 1950s to 1980s, featured liner notes, but that’s the background for what’s next.

Warner-Reprise Liners

Starting with the merger of Reprise Records and Warner Bros. Records in the early ‘60s, liners became more fun. Record sessions for Sinatra and his gang, and the Warner Bros. roster of admirable performers, gave those two labels something to write about.

The recording sessions got show-bizzy, with fun stars like Dean Martin and Petula Clark and dozens more. And their albums often appealed to people who were old enough to read, unlike the audiences for, say, The Beach Boys and Dick Clark teen ho-hums.

Warner management encouraged freedom of liner speech, and the results became Grammy-recognized.

In the mid-1960s, 1966 and 1967 to specify, liner notes clearly peaked within Warner-Reprise. Which we’re about to demonstrate.

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What follow are excerpts for 19 liner notes that were published by Warner/Reprise, mostly from 1965 through 1968. The originals.

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Anita Kerr Singers

1966 - from The Mexicali Singers

Anita Kerr, one of America's foremost singers and vocal leaders in her own right, discovered The Mexicali Singers almost by accident.

Had it not been for a fortuitous wrong turn three miles outside Prescott, Arizona, The Mexicali Singers might still today be cutting sugar cane, not records.

Miss Kerr first heard The Mexicali Singers in the picaresque village square of Mexicali, where they were making fiesta with their unusual voices. Anita Kerr was enchanted. She heard the group as they strolled about the square, entertaining the fellow Mexicalians with their own arrangements of instrumental favorites by the Tijuana Brass, Al Hirt, Bert Kaempfert, yes, even the Beatles.

Miss Kerr asked the group if they would care to stroll with her to Hollywood, where she would arrange a recording career for them.

"Si!" came the answer from the beaming faces.

And so this album comes to pass. From the standpoint of vocal technique alone, The Mexicali Singers should win the triple-tonguing jaw-aching Award of the Year. They move so quickly through so many harmonies and varieties of sound at such a wild pace they sound like ace graduates of the Juilliard School of Doo-Wah.

1966 - from The Further Adventures of the Mexicali Singers

Baritone Erasmus Gonsalvez Munez, the unspoiled Rubirosa of West Mexicali, has begun to enchant women's clubs in each town The Mexicali Singers visit, by moonlighting tea-time lectures on a subject he is a part master at: bull-breeding.

Obviously a favorite with his audiences, if one can measure such things by the delighted titters which waft from the club houses, Erasmus is fast on his way to becoming a legend with housewives from pampas to pampas.

1966 -from Anita Kerr, Slightly Baroque

A lot of people are born slightly cross-eyed. Or slightly red-faced. Or slightly ugly. Anita Kerr wasn't one of these. Anita Kerr was born Slightly Baroque.

"Baroque" does not rhyme with "barbeque." If you think it does, or even might, you are seriously ineligible to touch the album.

Anita Kerr, who flourishes and curlicues at the epicenter of today's [1966’s] pop scene, is herself Slightly Baroque, as was said above. But, to be dead honest about it, not a hell of a lot baroque. Slightly so.

Prematurely grey, but still a lass who, given a pair of persimmon stretch pants, can cut a meaningful Frug. A lady who started out in the decidedly unBaroque world of Nashville, Tennessee, arranging and singing pop music that normally goes Thump in the night.

1966 – The Anita Kerr Orchestra!

Anita Kerr is a tiny little lass. Nice, like tiny littles are supposed to be nice. Young and maybe a little shy. She has a soft little voice. And if a drummer asks her what he’s supposed to play from bar ten to fourteen, this tiny little cuddly thing will bend over his score for a moment, smelling of lilac you can bet. And then, in her soft little voice, like pretty Miss Amy Jensen who taught you finger-painting, she’ll say “Why not…” and then she’ll pause, as if she’s afraid to hurt anyone’s feelings … and they say very, very slow … “Why don’t we try triplets there.”

And the odd thing is, nobody giggles when she says it.

Because she’s Anita Kerr, the Indira Ghandi of the music world.

This is her first “Orchestra” album. Before this, Anita’d been a singing type-lady. Good enough to win gold Grammys. Good enough to tickle inner ears by the millions. Good enough to be the best.

So now she’s working with instrumental voices, and she writes kinda wild really. On top of a rhythm section that’d rather shuffle than stomp, Anita musically places more surprising colors than you’ll find at an annual convention of the United Peacocks of America. Giggly brass, rumphy brass, revival piano, spaghetti-string guitars, and an encyclopedia more come a-tumble from her charts.

She changes orchestral colors faster than a Yamaha changes gears.

Holding it all together is the most unique signature since John Hancock’s: an organ figure (Anita plays Hammond all the way here) that’s in every number, a little lick that if you wrote lyrics to it would go, “Oh, Anita, you’re writin’ so fine!”

The tunes Anita’s chosen to make her orchestral debut on is one scary list. There’s no insurance in it. Usually, instrumental albums come out offering “all the latest hits, gang.” But in this honest LP there’s not one “latest boop bop bang chart-topping monster thing” there. All there is is Inventiveness, Imagination, Loveliness, Humor, Excitement.

That’s all.

All from a soft little lady who wouldn’t harm a drummer.

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Nancy Sinatra

1966 - Nancy Sinatra, These Boots Are Made for Walking

"How should I sing this?"

"Like a 16 year old girl who's been dating a 40 year old man, but it's all over now."

She looks good, dresses good, lives good, eats, drinks, loves, breathes, dances, sings, cries good. Five foot three and tiger eyes. A mouth made for lollipops or kisses, Stingers or melting smiles. Ninety-five pounds of affection.

She's been there already. Barely in her twenties, she looks younger. That look, like Lolita Humbert, like Daisy Clover. The power to exalt, or to destroy, wanting only the former, but unafraid to invoke the latter if the time comes.

The eyes that see through, know more, look longer.

Unafraid to pull on the boots again, toss off a burnt out thing with a casual "So long, babe," and get.

A young fragile living thing, on its own in a wondrous-wicked-woundup-wasted-wild-worried-wisedup-warmbodied world. On her own. Earning her daily crepes and Cokes by singing the facts of love. Her voice tells as much as her songs. No faked up grandeur, her voice is like it is: a little tired, little put down, a lot loving.

No one is born sophisticated. It's a place you have to crawl to, crawling out of hayseed country, over miles of unsanded pavement, past Trouble, past corners and forks with no auto club signs to point you, till you get there and you wake up wiser.

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Petula Clark

1968 - Petula Clark, The Other Man's Grass is Always Greener

Used to be, girl singers rode on buses, undressed with the door ajar, drank liquid gin, swore good. Were equal parts pretty paint, aggressive, swinger, porter, promoter, and hooker. Most had bad arches. Plus six teal blue ball gowns with ripped hems. No more...

1967 - Petula Clark, These Are My Songs

There are those who celebrate the better events: meaning birth and love, even fame and gross rewards. There are those who, wrapped in bunting, celebrate anniversaries from saints’ bornings to ground hogs’ blinking. There are those who celebrate fire crackers, estrangements, hirings, refunds, dentures, solstices, elections, launchings, and the end of gastric acidity.

And there is one who is Celebration in and of herself.

As are the recording sessions for this album.

The Celebration pivots on a four foot stool, out of range of flying trombones, to one side, half hid behind a music stand big as the back door of a ’57 sedan. Looking tousled and fourteen as ever.

But, singing like something fully grown. Singing "Lover Man" in the first person. Loosing her tinker tiny hands over her hips, waist, thighs in fitful caresses. Loosing an erotic psalm through a bent black microphone. Celebrating love through thirty-two bars of verse, and changing verse into poetry, and poetry into honesty.

Behind a wrap of dark glasses, though this is late night, with nothing to hide from save too clear vision.

She’s been alive and sipping life since five that morning. Up before the gardeners of Beverly Hills. Up and zipping in a white Mercedes convertible, leaving behind the gardeners, over foggy Coldwater Canyon, and dipping down to her movie studio. A day then of nerve-ends tenseness, filming “Finian’s Rainbow” with Fred Astaire and Tommy Steele.

And, after a day of nerve-ends, still celebrating, now in Studio One, with song.

The nerves, if any, wearing cosmetic smiles, dissolving in genial hug, suffocating under bi-cheek kisses. Petula’s husband, looking like a shaggy, French Cary Grant, unstoppers Cordon Bleu Napoleon brandy, to be poured from Styrofoam cups to the hearts of fellow men. Behind a control board with 432 meaningful dials, buttons, and twistable baubles, engineer Lowell Frank, celebrating the joys of an electronic age.

Paternally, producer Sonny Burke unearths nagging copying errors deep in the heart of cellos, smiling gently, knowing the world is well in joint. Arranger Ernie Freeman, conducting the joys of a catalyst between a Petula (strawberries and lady finger smiles) and seventeen scribbled up yards of quarter notes, triplets, and health rests.

But every ear hears the sounds of celebration. From particularly Petula, lithely moving in paisley silk bell-bottom pants to hear back what the recording tape has intaken. Hearing back the trumpets blowing golden notes. Voices singing.

And hearing back a succession of once inert songs, now traveling past playback heads at full romp.

A succession of songs, then silence.

Much hugging. The brandy bottle but one-third full. A time of celebration, for a person of Celebration. Ernie Freeman leans back, thoughtfully massaging the callus on his pencil-holder. An audience of thirty-people-who-know-somebody looks around, wondering if there’s about to be a secret Hollywood party they could lie down in front of the wheels of.

But the party is Petula. She hugs the youngest there: eight-year-old Brian Tochihara. A celebration. Drummer Hal Blain presents Brian with the session drum sticks. And that’s six times better than Napoleon brandy, secret Hollywood parties, or anything besides a Celebration of the lady Petula.

1967 - Petula Clark Color My World/Who Am I

Petula Clark, who is not much taller than a hyper-thyroid fire plug, should look more Brunnhilde-ish. All that voice coming from that cuddly little thing. But the voice . . . she sounds like Lawrence Tibbett was her little brother.

Petula complains some about that. About how people never believe that she – this 5’2” English teenybopper type – can really belt like a big, big grown up broad. People seem to think of it like Atilla blowing piccolo. Or Hayley Mills being your Drill Sergeant.

Right’s right, Petula complains, while all the time she’s blowing the whole “image” thing.

Look at it another way. Look at it in Hollywood. Inside an enormous recording studio, Petula Clark looks even smaller. Like she could walk clean under the Steinway without ruffling her head feathers. Small, so people are always looking around asking, “Where’d she get to now?” Only she’s just over there, leaning up against a coffee cup.

Deceptive wench. As anyone knows who’s heard Petula turn fragile little tunes into booming rallying choruses for hungry masses. With her tank-size voice, Petula could make “Frosty the Snow Man” sound like a marching song worthy of The Third Army. The Everett Dirksen of the TopTen. A mountain mover in ingenue’s clothing.

She’s done it again and again, from “Downtown” on. And what on’s! “I Know a Place,” “You’d Better Come Home,” “Round Every Corner,” “My Love,” “A Sign of the Times,” “I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love.” Plus the opera herein.

As of this writing, since “Downtown,” darling Petula has recorded eight singles. Each one has become, in the moving terminology of the record business, a monster. “Monsters” from a puny little lass who makes Julie Andrews look like a Dead End Kid.

Eight in a row, fans!

In an age when The Dodgers’ Willie Davis can make three errors in one World Series inning, such a stat should not be scoffed lightly at.

The present album, recorded in Hollywood, California, is singular proof that the heart part of the world remains nifty.

Baskin-Robbins may shove at us Peanut Butter and Jelly Ice Cream. Television may start leading us to believe that the right mouthwash is nigh to The Eleventh Commandment. Aye, the whole world may seem at times like it’s racing the Hell in a handcar.

Except, look around, and there’s tiny Petula . . .

. . . singing about flowers and mist and thoughtful men and gentle ladies and who can fault her for it.

Short she may be. But long may she wave.

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Dean Martin

1965 - from Dean Martin Hits Again

The Orchestra: Always looking bored, as if they'd really rather be home watching "Mister Ed" re-runs. The arranger asks the trumpets if they can blow into their stands to get more of an organ sound on "Chapel." The third trumpet replies, in a tone like you'd hear from Wrigley if you'd asked him if he could spare a stick of gum, "I think so."

Like a convention of movie extras, they seem to be practicing some sort of East Indian unbugability.

1966 – The Hit Sound of Dean Martin

There is, as most of you students know, the purple martin. This is a small perching bird of the swallow family.

The plumage of the male is deep violet with black wings and rump, and a black forked tail.(The female is browner with a light belly.)

The purple martin’s voice is a sonorous whistled “tu-tu,” varied sometimes by a warbled “tu-tu-tu tut u-weedle.”

It is a gregarious creature that rests in colonies in hole-billed trees, or in many-roomed bird houses. The purple martin is indigenous to the Eastern United States (southward to Florida), where it breeds. It winters chiefly in Brazil.

There is another breed of martin, a rara avis, with only one specimen in captivity.

This is the dean martin.

It is a largish bird which, like the purple martin, is given to frequent perching and swallowing. Its dark crest is going just a shade gray at the temples.

The rest of its plumage it frequently sheds in favor of all new feathers from Sy Devore’s.

Specifications on the dean martin rump have not been established, this bird not having yet appeared in European art films. Its tail is believed not to be forked, except on formal dinner occasions.

The dean martin is a gregarious creature which nets in a many-roomed dwelling in Beverly Hills with mate Jeanne (blonde-crested), seven fledglings, and nine TV sets. Indigenous to California, it may winter in Miami, Las Vegas, Tahoe, or Palm Springs.

Its voice is a sonorous, warbled cry of astonishing versatility. Recently it has been heard to emit such calls as “Houston,” “Everybody Loves Somebody,” “Door Is Still Open to My Heart,’” and like that.

Legions of bird listeners as well as bird watchers enthusiastically pursue it to its native habitats.

Samples of its newest calls are preserved on this longplay recording, for the benefit of those who may wish to undertake a more scientific examination of them.

Students who have compared the two martins agree that the purple martin is okay, but the dean martin is really some songbird.

1967 -- Happiness Is Dean Martin

Nothing is more Dean Martin than Dean Martin.

"Of course, doing a really preposterously good job of being Dean Martin depends a lot on knowing the rules about what makes the best Dean Martin. Knowing the archetypal definition of Martinism: How is he different? Why is he individual? What is he driving at?

What Dean Martin is driving at seems to be to lead a Life Of Sloth. A Life of EPIC Sloth. Not just your common little ol' Sunday afternoon lazy Sloth, like you get with minor Erskine Caldwell Georgia darlins.

No, Martin now epitomizes EPIC SLOTH. Sloth like Joseph E. Levine would come up with. In big, 3-D letters, like in those Ben Hur movie ads, with all forms of EPIC EXHAUSTION draped over the letters. "Epic Sloth," starring Dean Martin, and then running around the bottom, instead of Mongol hordes and Jack Palance you find other things, for this is "Epic Sloth." Things like deflated innertubes. Like the ears of sleeping Spaniels. Like Kleenex ashes. Like all of Life's Most Unresilient Stuff.

And there, leaned up in Herculean-Scope against those giant letters, our Pop Star slumps. Dean Martin. Kind of half-eyed looking out at you, grinning "Hi ya, pally," like he hopes you haven't got anything heavy on your mind.

Dean Martin has been working at becoming an Epic Pop Art Object. He's been getting in a good deal of pop art hypnotizing. Avis knows, you don't get to be Number One by just sitting round. Some detractors have published this about Martin: that he sits round, trying to make spaghetti look tense.

"Pish tosh," we say, and "Yellow journalism."

You have to publicize to get to be Our National Epic Sloth. Martin has. His medium: the most popular art object of Our Times, meaning . . . your television set. (Breathes there a soul with fingers so dull he can't find his Vertical Knob blindfolded?)

The mind-boggling task which DM has accomplished in his upwards surge to Number One Epic Sloth in this: he has put other would-be number one lazy slobs into limbo. "Amos 'N Andy's" Lightnin, for instance, now is largely forgot. Shiftless and No-Account has moved to Beverly Hills, where dey got no deltas, chile.

The other competition -- those slothy Southern belles once played by Lee Remick and Joanne Woodward -- are now minor league stuff.

Martin (few people have known this until this very minute; it has been a closely kept secret) was actually only Number Two until quite recently. The spot of Number One Epic Sloth was recently held by another performer. Not a human being, but a small dog. His name: Red Dust. He is (or was, for he has largely disappeared from our scene) part of a Vaudeville turn. His master would bark out commands: "Red Dust, Roll Over! Up, Red Dust!" But Red Dust was an utterly and irrevocably sag-boned hound. Red Dust never voluntarily moved anything, least of all a paw. The pooch looked permanently pickled. It was pretty funny stuff.

Dean Martin finally won out over Red Dust. Much of his triumph has been ascribed by some scribes to his ability to project an alcoholic aura from coast-to-coast, into millions of Puritan homes. Good, Puritan, beer-drinking homes. Martin has almost by himself established Booze-o-Vision as America's new Art Populaire.

It's difficult to imagine any other object that would currently be more welcome in our historic nation's thousands of beer bars and juke joints. Nothing more popular than DM, slumped there, looking for his cue card, all brought to you in NBC's surrealist color. Martin and his--dare we say it?-- goopy baritone.

Martin: the biggest sex symbol to hit neighborhood taverns since the heyday of The Rheingold Girl, may she in our secret imaginations requiescat in flagrante delicto.

Nothing should slow up his reign as our beloved epic boozer short of a sudden attack of dysphagia.

-- Stay Tuned For Liners Galore, Part 2