Cool & Strange reader Tom Nielson with his very cool daughter
“Rogers! Get in here!" Yelled the chief editor-dude as he stuffed the soggy wet-rag remains of his Dutch Masters cigar into his mouth. "You forgot to meet the deadline for the March edition of Cool & Strange Music. What’s your excuse this time?” He glared straight at me. I knew I couldn’t lie my way out of this one, so I didn’t even try.
"Yes. You did, and you know it. Don’t lie to me."
Actually, I wasn’t really lying. Is it my fault that I rarely know the date? Heck, I usually don’t even know whether it’s a Monday or a Friday… And what difference does it make when you are living the life of a continental playboy-type man of adventure in this topsy-turvy world of hit tunes? But let’s face it, I forgot. I blew it. I shook my head, brushing my Farrah Faucett-esque bangs back and smirked, “Hey Big L, it’s only Rock’n'Roll, eh?”
His mouth gaped open as wide as the Lincoln Tunnel. He scrunched his brows up and, as the cigar dropped from his lips, he slowly replied, “What did you say!?"
I messed up again! I thought, Never, but never mention the "R" word to the big L! "Er," I followed up with, "it’s only Cool & Strange Music, boss!" I put in a quick glance at the clock. "Zounds, chief! I’d better get onto my next fantabulous review right now!" I jumped from the chair and I was out the door. "I promise you that this will be the best music review ever written! The best Cool & Strange Music review in the history of man-kind!" I shouted back as I rushed out the office.
I couldn’t hear him yelling at me just as I escaped into the elevator. "It had better be the best, Rogers, or you’re fired! You hear me? I said, did you hear me?" I didn’t hear him. I could only read his lips. I had my Walk-man earphones on…
Where had I been for the past 4 weeks? One could only wonder. But I knew that if this Cool & Strange Music review wasn’t at least in the top ten of the all-time greatest CD reviews in history, that I was as washed up as a head-cleaning cassette for an 8-track tape deck.
The pressure was on. I had no idea as to what I should review and I was mentally exhausted. I figured I could finally finish that review of that Survivor album from that Rocky II movie that I had been putting off for these last few decades. But no. How could anyone listen to such torture? I certainly couldn’t. I didn’t even want to think about it. Then it dawned on me. The new TV show! That’s it! You see, starting May, a new TV show I am working on, "Hi-Fi Zone," will air here in Japan. The show will be on Tuesday through Friday nights starting at 11 PM until midnight. The program is kind of like a Conan O’Brien meets Jon Stewart meets MTV variety show and I’m in charge of the background music and the artificial coffee sweeteners. I figure that I should introduce you cats to those swinging sounds! Is that a great idea or what? Where else can you find the actual music listed for my favorite TV show?
This show is late-night, supposedly intelligent, and it’s a talk and music show. So you can bet that we want to play music that fits a suave and sophisticated atmosphere. Kind of like the cool notes you’d hear if you walked into a really fashionable New York or Paris nightclub filled with simply fabulous people and other weirdoes. And what other kind of music could do that more than music that features the sweet, sultry voice of the saxophone?
Saxophobia: Ultra Lounge 12 — Saxophobia: Ultra Lounge (series)
List Price: $11.98 Sale Price: $10.99
Okay, this is it! For you really hard-core dyed-in-the-wool sax-only fans this may not be the album that makes the kitten purrrr… But for most of us regular folks, this is a true keeper. The sax is there in every track. But it is used wisely, and like good seasoning in a deliriously delicious sauce, is mixed in with other instruments to make an album that’s easy to listen to from track one to the end and all over again. This is the album that you will want to play when special people come over to visit or when you are just relaxing by yourself and lovingly nursing that well-needed cocktail at home.
Now I remember! This is the album that made me forget where I was these last 4 weeks! Last I recollect was I was driving a red 1964 Ferrari that had a Union Jack on the hood with several Charlie’s Angels type of girls running their fingers through my hair as I threw in this very CD for my next groovy musical review. We were driving back after digging the scene at the party after the after-party, after the party. After that, I don’t recall what had happened. So if you want to go into another realm of Lounge and sultry, sexy sounds, then this is the CD for you.
This album features some of the best and most memorable versions of classics that I can recall. They’re all there. “Harlem Nocturne,” “Street Scene,” or “One Mint Julep.” Great stuff by great artists like Les Baxter, King Curtis, Nelson Riddle, Count Basie & His Orchestra, Nelson Riddle, and Louis Prima & Sam Butera. This might become one of the best CDs you own. Don’t believe me! Go to the link above and listen to the free sound clips on every winning track!
And there is a surprise in store for those of you tasteful folks who decide to get ahold of this album. Look for a mystery song after the final track listed on the CD jacket. Could there be a romantic message for the both of you?
Organs in Orbit: Ultra Lounge 11
List Price: $11.98 Sale Price: $10.99
This album is one of my absolute favorites of the entire Lounge Series and it is HOT! I would suppose that only people with extensive experience in Lounge Music should lay their mitts on this slab of wax as it is not recommended for children without adult supervision! Even so, this album is extremely fun for everyone. It’s great for background music while having several friends over or for tunes that everyone in the car can agree with while on those long drives. Even though there are no Swing versions of songs in this record — Sorry Gramps — Everyone will enjoy this great collection. And, when you stop and think about it, hot hoppin’ Hammond Organ doesn’t really fit in with some Bee-boppin’ Benny Goodman anyway.
I wouldn’t recommend this album for those of you who wish to have a romantic interlude that evening — although putting this album on for a first date could cause her to think that you are just one sweet, fun-loving guy — you scheming little devil, because this is not music for seduction. This is just music for lots of fun and tons of toe tappin’!
Some songs on this compilation are very hard, almost impossible, to find outside of this album. You can pick up a Billy May album just about anywhere, but unless you are a music geek, like me, you’ll have a very tough time finding anything by John Buzon, Jackie Davis and Denny McClain. You’ll be surprised by how this album exceeds your wildest expectations. It will be one of those albums that you play and all of your friends and family will say, "Where did you ever get this?" Watch out though! It might go suddenly missing soon after that!
Switched-On Boxed Set — Wendy Carlos [Box Set] [Enhanced]
List Price: $47.98 Sale Price: $42.99
In 1968, when General Motors was still king (ahem), Wendy Carlos turned the music world on its ear when Switched-On-Bach first went on sale. The album was entirely performed on the Moog synthesizer and with this one record, Wendy Carlos changed our musical world forever. Oh, if only today’s electronic musical geeks had one-one thousandth the imagination that Wendy Carlos did.
At first Wendy Carlos wanted to let people know about the wonderful sounds that were being made with the Moog synthesizer by other electronic artists of her day like Karlheinz Stockhausen, but after this record, and a couple of follow-ups, Carlos sold more records than Stockhausen has ever seen! Carlos then became well-known, not only for the Switched On Bach albums, and the soundtrack to the Stanley Kubrick movie, A Clockwork Orange, but she remains one of the golden points in 60′s music.
I’ve added this box set to this month’s review because this gem is on sale! 80 songs for $42.99!? And you can get free shipping? Are you kidding me? That works out to $7.44 for what will be a record that you pass onto your children. Don’t believe me! Look at what Amazon has to say:
All four of Carlos’s baroque-gone-space-age LPs from the ’70s are included here — Switched-On Bach, The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, Switched-On Bach II, and Switched-On Brandenburgs — completely remastered in all their stereophonic glory and containing bonus tracks (the fourth CD is even enhanced for use on your computer). The liner notes weigh in at around 150 pages, filled with photos and background information even on the evolution of Carlos’s studio (you get the original LP notes in their entirety, too). The music? It’s hilarious, absolutely riveting, and — whether Scarlatti, Bach, Handel, or Monteverdi — played successfully by Carlos and her battery of special effects. For the lover of the eclectic or the classical fan who knows how to let loose, this is a box set to get.
Need I say more?
Zydeco Sont Pas Sale — Clifton Chenier
Hold da printing presses! Look what just came across my desk. Clifton Chernier doing the Zydeco thing in Cajun French. If you’ve ever wondered what all the fuss was about concerning Cajun music and Zydeco, then this is the CD for you. I love Clifton Chernier! And even though I rarely recommend music that has lyrics in it (because I find lyrics disturbing when I’m listening to music and trying to get something done) I can whole-heartedly recommend this robust and rhythmic CD to have you in that New Orleans mood all day and all night.
The other thing that makes this such a fascinating trip into another world of music for me is that Clifton Chernier is singing in French… Er, I think. I guess it’s a mix of Cajun and French, so I don’t understand a word. But that makes it all the more fun.
The second track on the CD, “Blues De Ma Negress,” is my absolute favorite Zydeco song of all time. One listen and you’ll agree. It’s pure Cajun Blues. If you want to hear a down-home, Bayou version of one of the only truly indigenous brands of American Jazz left anywhere on the world, buy this recording. Everyone in the family will enjoy this. And at only $10.98, you can’t miss.
Okay, now that I have delved into the murky depths of music that does have vocals, I reckon that this is as good a chance as any to introduce a CD that I have wanted to play for you folks for a very long time. It’s called 66 Easy Listening Favorites. Now for you youngsters who want to show your friends all of your cool knowledge about real music, or if you want to start a radio station that actually gets some decent ratings, then you need this CD. For you already worldly types (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) then you will already know that this is a must have CD simply by looking at the track selections by clicking on the link above. Either way, one listen to this and you’ll see why I place this as my #1 album for Easy Listening vocals.
There are 3 discs in this box set so don’t let the $27.49 price tag put you off. It’s a great deal as each CD has 22 tracks each on them. Here are some of the fabulous faves you get:
"I Get a Kick Out of You" by Felix Slatkin (Sorry Frank Sinatra fans, but this is the real deal!) "Mission: Impossible" by Billy May, "Gold Finger" by John Barry, "Hello, Dolly!" by Bobby Darin, "Wimoweh" by Yma Sumac, "Black Coffee" by Julie London, "Peter Gunn Suite" by Ray Anthony, "Ebb Tide" by The Out-Islanders, "Girl from Ipanema" by Denny McLain, and my all-time favorite Diva song, "Teach Me Tiger" by April Stevens (Remember that one? "Teach me Tiger, how to love you…. Wah, wah, wah, woah, woah." Grrr! Great stuff, eh?)
The sound quality is tops and the song selection is a slice of Americana that is long since gone and shall never return. Younger folks may not know the song titles, but everyone knows these songs; they have been covered more than ten-thousand times each by more than ten-thousand different artists, but these were the originals that caught the imagination of the American public, and in turn, caught the eye of the fashionable people the world over.
Everything about this package just shines with quality packaging and pride in the product. And it strikes me as a little bit funny that such a snapshot of American greatness was all put together by…. A Dutch record company. Buy this CD now and you’ll hear… the rest of the story!
Hang on Little Tomato — Pink Martini
List Price: $19.98 Sale Price: $14.99
This is the second release of one of the more unusual, yet extremely stylish and accessible, young new artists in the last ten years. Their name is Pink Martini and they are simply a rare gem in the rough of today’s radio noise. I first came across them on their 1997 debut album called, "Sympathique." That album met with met with rave reviews and critical acclaim the world over. In fact, even without any major label backing or any radio airplay to speak of, Pink Martini sold well over a half million copies of their debut, and all by word of mouth. From that, Pink Martini had several very high-profile symphony dates and had their tunes placed in many films and fashionable TV shows from New York to Paris to Tokyo. Not to mention widespread use as background music for the cat-walk for some very well-known fashion designers’ shows.
Sympathique — Pink Martini
List Price: $18.98 Sale Price: $13.49
"Hang On Little Tomato" is full of lush string arrangements, amazing vocals, and very international rhythms. It is every bit as beautiful and brilliant as their debut work. It does vary slightly from the debut as it features all original pieces
Here’s what the press release says about Pink Martini: Somewhere between a 1930s Cuban dance orchestra, a classical chamber music ensemble, a Brazilian marching street band and Japanese film noir is the 12-piece Pink Martini. Part language lesson, part Hollywood musical, the Portland, Oregon-based “little orchestra” was originally created in 1994 by Harvard-graduate Thomas M. Lauderdale to play at political fundraisers for progressive causes such as public broadcasting, clean water, libraries, civil rights and affordable housing. In the years following, Pink Martini has gone on to perform its multilingual repertoire on concert stages, in smoky clubs and with symphony orchestras throughout Europe, Greece, Turkey, Taiwan, Lebanon and the U.S.
Hang On Little Tomato, Pink Martini’s much-anticipated second album, features a collection of original songs written by the band and its extended family as well as a few undiscovered gems reinterpreted in high style. Drawing on themes that made Sympathique such a success, Hang On Little Tomato is the result of the group’s diverse collaborations and inspirations. From an advertisement for Hunt’s Ketchup in a 1964 issue of Life magazine to a dance sequence in the 1950 Italian film Anna, Hang On Little Tomato includes songs in French, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and English. “Una Notte a Napoli,” for example, was written with Alba Clemente — an Italian stage and television star in the 1970s — and DJ Johnny Dynell of the legendary New York-based nightclub Jackie 60. There’s also the Pink martini version of the Japanese song “Kikuchiyo To Mohshimasu” (the very polite Japanese way to say, "My name is Kikuchiyo") that was originally recorded and released 40 years ago.
Both Pink Martini albums are incredibly well made and performed. They will satisfy both the thirst for something new as well as the ear for the discerning in performance, talent, and style. A truly remarkable recording in this day and age.
Sur Le Meme Accord/Violin Concerto 2/Violin Concerto — Anne-Sophie Mutter
List Price: $16.98 Sale Price: $13.99
This is for you lovers of Classical music as well as those of you who are just looking for something new and outstanding by a relative new-comer. People who really know their Classical music need no introduction to Anne-Sophie Mutter as she is considered in Europe as "one of the great violinists of our time." Born in Germany, she has been performing internationally since she was 13 years old. At her solo debut she was called, “the greatest young musical talent since the young Menuhin” by the world-renowned German director Herbert von Karajan.
Anne-Sophie Mutter plays mainly 20th-century violin music. Witold Lutoslawski, Norbert Moret, Krzysztof Penderecki, Wolfgang Rihm and Sebastian Currier have all dedicated new works to her. In January 1998, Anne-Sophie Mutter won two “Grammy Awards” as “Best Instrumental Soloist Performance With Orchestra” and as “Best Classical Contemporary Composition”.
For those who are looking for some very refreshing, beautiful sounds and are in love with the violin, this CD is for you.
Lower Lurum — Hans Reichel
List Price: $15.98
This album is billed as a "Guitar and Daxophone Operetta." What’s a Daxophone? Good question. Well, I suppose a Daxophone is a home-made wooden instrument that you or I might mistakenly use to toss our salads with. But I’m sure the musician of the house would have a heart attack if we did. I hear that the Daxophone is a wooden box instrument that has all these hand-made "forks" placed in it to make all sorts of unbelievable sounds.
Hans Reichel has made all the instruments on this album by himself, including the acoustic double-neck guitar. The guitar is used on this album to give melody to an impressive array of musical rhythms that are created using our salad forks, er, I mean, Daxophone. The soft sounds and sometimes almost indiscernible differences in tones that the various Daxophone instruments make is incredibly beautiful and relaxing at the same time. Sometimes the Daxophone hums like the voices of angels and sometimes it’s downright flatulent. But it is very easy to listen to and enjoy. This album is almost one that I could imagine putting the baby to sleep with or as using as "earthy atmosphere" in a work-place setting. Even though this CD is Cool & Strange, file it under: Jazz.
Of course, you read about it first here in Cool & Strange Music!
Well, since we are already on the strange side of the cool music, might as well throw this one in the deck for you. Because this is an exceptionally cool CD too! Here’s what the music magazines have to say about this terrifically excellent collection of recordings:
A rollicking pool party of a book and CD package! … entertainment at its finest — adventurous, warm, honest and thought-provoking. — Tower Records Pulse!
Superbly done … a head-stretcher for the eyes and ears … ~ Stereophile Magazine
And Amazon toots this album’s horn better than I ever could!:
Gravikords, Whirlies and Pyrophones is a book-and-CD package devoted to new and unheard-of musical instruments. The book, written by Bart Hopkin with an introduction by Tom Waits, is full of irresistible photographs and informative text; the CD is full of great music; every page and every track overflow with ideas and originality. Nineteen of the world’s most interesting and inventive musical instrument makers appear.
This is a fantastically fun and interesting journey into the human imagination and the musical gems that the geniuses before us have borne. So what are you waiting for? This CD won’t last long!
Thai Beat a Go-Go, Vol. 2 — Various Artists
List Price: $17.98 Sale Price: $14.99
Well, let me practice my Thai. Sawadi ka! Hello! (I think.) Ever been to Thailand? Well, if you haven’t you definitely must go at least once in your life. Thailand is the kind of place that you go on vacation to and never want to leave. And I’m not making this up! I go there every year — sometimes staying for 4 or 5 weeks at a time — and I never want to leave. All my friends are the same way too. Now, most places might bore me to death within 4 days (my home of California for example) or they might make me want to leave after two days (like when I get my butt beat at Las Vegas), but Thailand is pure heaven! It’s cheap, safe, and the food is fantastic!
Oh, and did I mention about the music too? No? Well, if you have an ear for kitsch and groovy beats, then you must buy this CD. Modern Thai Pop music cracks me up! And if you have a sense of humor, then this CD will crack you up too. But that doesn’t mean that this is a comedy album. No siree! This is a great and quite enjoyable album for everyone.
In this day and age when ninety-nine percent of Big Label Rock music has become completely boring and unbelievably unoriginal, it’s always a very refreshing blast to hear that there are still a lot of different ways to approach this Pop Music stuff. Sometimes, the people who know the least about the roots of Rock, do the best job.
This is the Siam Sizzler! Every big 1960′s Thai tune is here. And they are all featured on this collection that is the second in a series. Who could forget these Thai classics: Tee Makhuea Pok (Your Cheatin’ Heart), Kotmorn Yoop Yap (All Shook Up), Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop (Don’t know how to translate this one into English), and finally the totally fab Thai version of The Beatles’ Lady Madonna! They’re all here. And not only that, the sound quality is great!
So, Kap pun ka! (Thank you!)… I wanted to say something like, "Buy it" but that’s about the extent of my Thai language abilities! So get Kotmorn Yoop Yap (All Shook Up) with this killer CD! Chuckle. You’ll love it too!
And while we’re here, you might as well pick up this next one too!
Cambodian Rocks Volume 1 — Various Artists
In the 1970′s Cambodians, who were wealthy enough to afford a good musical instrument, traveled to and from France, and became very influenced by the western music. Imagine Cambodian music with bits of the Beatles, The Monkees, Bee Gees, Santana, Van Morrison, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Carpenters, and much more in Cambodian versions with Cambodian lyrics?!
These late-60′s/early 70′s era songs have a sound that’s completely inexplicable despite the use of standard rock instrumentation and song structures. The blossoming night club scene in the urban areas and loads of bar bands during the ’70s brought true music groups together, combining a fascinating and primal version of rock n roll, surf, r ‘n’ b — sometimes all in one song. I recommend this Cambodian Rocks CD to everyone!
Spook Along With Zacherley — Zacherley
List Price: $15.98
Okay, it’s not Halloween, but I’m doing a variety show and this next record will be gone soon if you get your hands on one now! And heck, everyone knows that if you wait for Halloween to find good music for the occasion, every good one will be sold out by the time you go to the store, so why wait? Get one of these today!
For you oldsters this will be a frightfully fun record and a wonderful memory! Do you remember Zacherley? Way back in the days of black & white TV, Zacherley hosted a kids’ show on Saturday mornings and he was the original cool TV ghoul. Of course I just loved Elvira too! She had her, er, good points. But Zacherley was the first.
Even though this is considered a "Halloween record", it is not — even though it is great fun for that too. It is definitely just a hilarious record full of early 1960′s Hollywood kitsch and bad puns. The songs are all great and I think that "Coolest Little Monster" was by far and away a better song than Bobby "Boris" Pickett’s "Monster Mash." File Zacherley under definitely "Cool & Strange."
And finally, here’s a few great CD’s that I have just got to tell you about!
Cirque Du Soleil: Tapis Rouge Solarium — Cirque Du Soleil
List Price: $16.98 Sale Price: $14.99
Speaking of Las Vegas, if you’ve ever been to Vegas then you have heard the name Cirque Du Soleil. Made famous in the Viva city and in Europe as well, Cirque Du Soliel, is the lush and exciting orchestral backing for many well-known, long-running shows such as "O."
This is by far, in my opinion, their best CD ever. I mention this because they came out with a new one recently called, "Zumanity" and it is, well, crap. Don’t buy Zumanity. It will ruin you on the fabulous dream-world sounds of Cirque Du Soleil. Tapis Rouge Solarium is the one you want and will always keep.
Apply Some Pressure — Maximo Park [Import]
List Price: $9.49
I don’t usually even talk about Rock bands at all. But I must mention Maximo Park. You fans of Rock music probably haven’t heard about these guys yet, but Maximo Park is the best, and most exciting, new Rock band to come along in years. America’s big three record labels are now in a wild feeding frenzy over signing this artist for release in the United States. And after seeing their show, I understand why. This is the best British Pop to come out since the British Invasion of the 1960′s.
Buy this record and be the first in your town to know why — and to agree with me. Maximo Park are going to be HUGE! And don’t forget, you read about them in Cool & Strange Music first!
Well, that’s it for this time. Trust me, if you love good music, then you and yours will enjoy every CD I’ve listed today. If you do check some of these out, please write to me to tell me how much you enjoyed these sounds! Keep on a grooving and I’ll see you back here next month for more Cool & Strange Music! Shazam!
Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He has worked as an independent writer, producer, and personality in the mass media for nearly 30 years.