Desert Tracks

By Michael J. Legeros


"If it sounds good, it is good"
                  - Duke Ellington

Record collectors often speak of "desert island discs"-- those five or ten or fifteen albums that they absolutely, positively have to have, no matter the circumstances that may separate them from the rest of their babies. (Fire, flood, the election of George W. Bush, etc.) Such lists may pick from a particular artist, genre, label, or era. The game can also be played with "sides," recalling those pre-laser disc days when albums were judged as halves as well as wholes. [ Insert scratchy sound of turntable noise. ] For my, multi-hundred album-owning self, several platters spread across several styles-- rock, bluegrass, eighties metal, old country, etc.-- receive regular rotation on WMJL. Broadcasting daily from the Brentwood area of North Raleigh, via 100-watt loudspeakers.) For this exercise, tho, I chose to choose individual songs instead of entire albums. The perfect pieces, if you will; ten tracks (only ten?) that I can't go too long without listening to.

In no particular order, they are...

  • "Orange Blossom Special," Stanley Brothers, 1960
     
    Fiddlin' fury from Chubby Anthony, backed by guitar times two, bass, and banjo, as recorded at radio station WNER in Live Oak, Florida. Other versions by other artists (like Charlie Daniels) are often more technically precise, but they rarely threaten to set your speakers on fire. A snippet of studio dialogue at the end says it all: "Friends, I wish you could see that fat boy get started." From the excellent 1995 Rhino Records compilation "Appalachian Stomp."
  • "Can't Help Falling in Love," Elvis Presley, January 14, 1973

    The King in concert, circa white jumpsuit, live from Hawaii (via satellite!), and closing the show in his customary big, bellowing style, with the band, the backing singers, and the orchestra rising higher and higher and higher for one final, flamboyant crescendo. Sends chills down your spine, thankyouverymuch. The preceding track, "Big Hunk O' Love" is awfully fun, too... From RCA Records' 1998 re-mastered version of "Aloha From Hawaii."
  • "Springtime for Hitler," Mel Brooks & John Morris, 1967

    Brooks wrote the words and longtime collaborating composer Morris made the music to the Deutscheland ditty that would be verboten were it recorded today. (Though I hear that "The Producers," the movie that starred the song, is being turned into a stage musical!) The lyrics are a howl, the arrangements impeccable; all that's missing is the sight of showgirls dressed as beer and pretzels. But that's what memories of the movie are for... From Razor and Tie's 1997 re-issue of the soundtrack album.
  • "Me Ol' Bam-Boo," Dick Van Dyke and Company, 1968

    The Sherman Brothers, Richard and Robert of "Mary Poppins" fame, wrote the tunes for the film about the flying car based on the book about the flying car written by the author of the James Bond novels, Ian Fleming. Though the entire score is unabashedly infectious, none of the other numbers cause as severe a case of compulsive toe-tapping. Do not attempt to listen while driving... Trivia: That's "Goldfinger" villain Gert Forbe (!) singing on "Chu-Chi Face," a later track. From Rykodisc's 1997 ressue of the soundtrack album.
  • "Play That Funky Music (Medley)," The Boogie Knights, 1997

    Did you know that heavy-metal screamer Jeff Scott Soto fronts a disco tribute band? Their sole, half-live album includes a male (!) recording of "I Will Survive," a cover of "Grease," and 96 bonus tracks. (Most are silence.) Best of the bunch is this thirteen-minute live medley of a dozen-or-so songs, including "Macho Man," "Kung Fu Fighting," and "Shake Your Booty." There's even a snippet of "Ice Ice Baby," to which a band members adds "I don't think so!" The album is titled "Welcome to the Jungle Boogie" and is available at www.boogieknights.com.
  • "Given the Dog a Bone," AC/DC, 1980
     
    Bon Scott dies, Brian Johnson is born, and the band records both their best album ("Back in Back") and one of the best songs of their triple-decade career. (Says me and whaddya gonna do about it, pal?) Three minutes and thirty seconds of hard-driving, hard-rocking innuendo with lots of growl, extra stomp, and the crystal-crisp crashes of Phil Rudd's skins set. Shania Twain's future husband Robert John "Mutt" Lange produces. From the 1980 Atlantic Records release.
  • "Don't Waste Your Time," Motorhead, 1995

    Even shorter 'n' sweeter than the aforementioned boner ballad, Lemmy and the boys (this time as a quartet!) take a stylistic left turn, blending Chuck Berry-era boogie with not-so-speedy speed metal. The Kilmister's did-I-gargle-with-glass-for-this? vocals suggest something thrashy, but it ain't. Just loudly played rock. Very loudly played. And, yup, that's a saxophone in there along with the piano. Don't be staring at the walls. From the hard-to-find 1995 release "Sacrifice."
  • "Desert Chase," John Williams, 1981

    This eight minute-and-change cue from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was trimmed for the original album release. The track as restored in 1995 and, oh, what a brassy feast it is! Memories of Harrison Ford on horseback (and later under a truck) are not necessary to enjoy this busy, relentlessly driving piece. When those fat, staccato bass notes start stomping at the 4:59 mark, I'm gone. I daresay it's a moment even more breathtaking than the entirety of Williams' "Imperial March." From DCC Compact Classics.
  • "Presto Vivace," Yngwie Malmsteen, 1998

    The second to last movement of the guitar god's neo-classical, all-instrumental "Concerto Suite For Electric Guitar and Orchestra in E flat minor, Op. 1." AKA the Millennium Suite. The mix is perfect, blending the Swede's fiery fret work with the Czech Philharmonic (conducted by Yoel Levi) and occasional choral accompaniment. Earlier movements are more massive; this pre-finale, however, is all glorious dexterity. He speeds; he soars; he stops on a dime. And when he starts brake-tapping at the 2:31 mark, you'll be stopped dead in your tracks. On Pony Canyon and, so far, only available as a European import.
  • "Living with a Hernia," Weird Al Yankovic, 1986

    Parody of James Brown's "Living in America," yeow!, with a dead-on arrangement (as expected), several hilariously blood curdling screams, and almost as much "dancibility" as the original! (I wonder if the nightclubs played it?) Yup, you get your funk and a funky chuckle. (Funky chickens cost extra, though.) Classic call-and-answer section, too, listing the "common types of hernias that you can get." Admit it, second grade is much more fun as an adult... From the Scotti Brothers album "Polka Party" and also available on the excellent four-disc (!) "Al in the Box."

Copyright 2000 Michael J. Legeros


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