Three 45's from the '40's and '50's, with nothing much in common except that each is fairly obscure and that each is also fairly irresistible, at least to my ears.
First, here's a record that landed in my collection along with hundreds of others, when a friend of mine bought the remains of what was called the "Dime Bin" from a store in Evanston, Illinois. The store had a plastic garbage can filled to the top with records that the owner felt wouldn't sell for more than a dime. After the current set of dime bin records had been picked over for five or six months, the store owner would sell us the remaining thousand or so records - the ones which didn't even sell for a dime - for perhaps $40 or $50.
We bought his leftovers this way about four or five times over the course of a few years, and the number of gems that I found in my collection via this method is hard to calculate. Of course, most of the stuff was either dull as dirt or in such poor condition as to make it worthless, but there were always a few dozen records that made the purchase more than worthwhile.
Such was the case with today's selection. George Wright was an extremely popular organist in the 1950's, although when we were sorting through dime-bin records in 1985 or so, I'd certainly never heard of him. Oddly, although he released many albums, he doesn't appear to have released an album on this label. I've since found out that the song offered today was one which was recorded many times, by various bands. I've heard some of them, and they don't come close to approaching this version.
From the insanity of the opening bars (and no, it's not at the wrong speed) to the variety of tones and settings Mr. Wright used on his pipe organ, to the perfectly arranged final moments, I consider this to be a perfect record - everything in place, and far weirder than a pipe organ instrumental record has any right to be. And for those of us who don't mind a good pre-rock era pop melody, this is great from that standpoint, too. I adore the record label, too.
There also exists an improvised video, shot by your humble blogger back around 1986 or so, and featuring my two best friends dancing in a way that suggests seizure activity, to the haunting strains of this 45.
The next record is another one which I believe came out of the dime bin. It's called "The Norway Reinlander" by "Harmony Orchestra USA (a group so named, one surmises, apparently to distinguish its august members from those in the similarly named "Harmony Orchestra Sierra Leone" and "Harmony Orchestra Tasmania").
The record is dated 1948, around the dawn of time for 45's, but I've been told by a collector of this label that it came out on 78 first, and that records on this label, particularly 45's, are exceptionally rare. The leader of the group is named Alfred Almestad, perhaps the least surprising thing about a record that sounds like this.
What a glorious noise it is, and played with much more gusto than a lot of albums managed over the course of 45 minutes! I love the interplay of the various instruments here, and the way they variously complement each other - at one moment, the piano has the melody, at another run through of the same section, the violins or the accordion may be the primary instrument. There is a point near the end (about the 2:40 point) where the piano cuts through all the other instruments and can be heard playing the most basic of parts, far less of a part than it had been playing earlier, yet for that moment it is the key sound on the record. Guess I'm just strange, but I live for moments like that.
The vibrato on the violins, in particular, when they play the sustained harmonies, gives them a wonderful, emotional feeling, and the interplay of the accordion and the piano throughout reminds me of the wonderful sound of the organ/piano duets heard on the earliest Bob and Ray shows, from around the same time as this record.
But pulling this record apart doesn't do it any favors. This is celebratory, passionate music, surely reminiscent of the homeland in the title, one which causes me to think of the rural lands of the northern midwest that so many Nordic folks found similar to their homeland. It's got a melody I can whistle or hum to myself for days on end, with not a dead moment. Although the record seems like it's going to keep going and going, with yet another performance of one of its themes, when it's over, I wish it was still going and going.
Just about the last place in the USA which I'd expect this record to be from is the San Francisco Bay area, yet right there on the label is says "Oakland".
Finally, a vocal group 45 from a few years after the above track, a bubbly b-side obscurity from 1954 by the trio of Don, Dick and Jimmy, called "You Can't Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too".
There's a lot to like in this goofy little number. The close, perfectly executed harmonies, and the swingin' backing, especially as it really kicks in at the start of the second verse.
But I actually get the biggest kick, as is often the case, out of one of the smallest moments. Each time the three part harmony returns, during a verse, with the word "listen", there is something irresistible about the voice of the guy with the top harmony. He doesn't sound quite like this anywhere else in the song, either in vocal tone or the way he says the words, and it really catches my ear every time.
Quite a fun little record!