The fads surge like contagious diseases in a grade school. They all play “swingin’” tunes and five years later those same tunes are “rockin’.”
Yes, I’ve been pushing through the pop instrumental records again, and gazing in amazement at what a variety of wonders is available in what we think of as a bland whitebread world. For a while technology was the big selling point. Everybody had a company brand of high fidelity (hifi, the grandfather of WiFi). There was DynaGroove and f:35d and who knows what-all else. There are actually albums with gatefold openings so two extra surfaces of the jacket can be used to explain why the grooves in THIS hunk of vinyl are so much better than the grooves in Brand X.
There was a period when everybody was dancing Latin, so every bandleader had a Latin-themed album. Some of these, I have been informed, have nothing more Hispanic to them than the titles of the songs. I haven’t gotten through all of these records yet, but I think my favorite is going to be the Latin album by Ruth Welcome and Her Romantic Zither. It’s kind of like the Thai pizza taco I saw on a menu once; I could say nothing but “Only in America”.
Which is also what I said when I noticed that at least four of these Latin-themed dance albums included the song “Never On a Sunday”. Greek it might be, but it was also considered an excellent cha-cha number.
After doing a Latin album, most of these bandleaders and guitar players and pianists brought out a cowboy country/western album. I wondered about this, but then I looked at the list of songs on one and understood. There is nothing pop culture feeds off of like pop culture. The LP was a collection of theme songs. At this point, if you switched on your television in prime time, you could see Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Have Gun Will Travel, Maverick, Bat Masterson, Black Saddle, Buckskin, The Deputy, Wyatt Earp, Cheyenne, and Wagon Train. Naturally, everybody had to do a cowboy album. (In fact, where are The Rifleman, Rawhide, F Troop…not that I’m old enough to remember any of this, of course.)
There was a period when covers leaned toward text. For a while they veered in the direction of painted covers, on which the ladies could wear gauzier gowns than they could in photographs. (No ladies involved, but some sort of peak must have been established when Jackie Gleason had Salvador Dali do the jacket art for his Lonesome Echo album.) There was apparently a competition among small record companies to see which could present an instrumental soloist in the blandest and cheapest picture. There was a Pacific Island phase, not unrelated to the Exotica phase (jungle scenery, deep cleavage).
A label called Audio Fidelity was in a class by itself, presenting what is now known as World Music in album covers exceedingly heavy on models in fishnet stockings. (They stole their own greatest jacket art, beating other labels to the punch. A lady photographed at such an angle that you could basically see nothing except her fishnet-clad legs on an album called “Cha Cha Cha” was such a hit that they repeated it almost exactly for an album by another artist, called “Cha Cha Cha Cha Cha”.)
I can only marvel at the vast variety that was once available in what we now dismiss as mere “Easy Listening”. As my final exhibit, I offer the Lesley Gore angry-girl hit song “You Don’t Own Me”, which was also recorded by Dusty Springfield, Joan Jett, Bette Midler, and….
Lawrence Welk. I rest my case.