Various Artists, I Was A Teenage Brain Surgeon

Just in time for my favorite holiday, here's a compilation of monster-themed rockabilly, early rock'n'roll and otherwise knucklehead-ed novelty tunes. This album is a ghost in its own right, as it first appeared in the late '80s. At the time - and I believe that the late Tower Records led the charge in this regard - vinyl had been declared dead. All conventional retail sources for recorded music had switched exclusively to aluminum product.

Then, small renegade enterprises devoted to selling a new crop of 33 1/3 releases began to surface in bad neighborhoods. I frequented Finyl Vinyl, on 2nd Avenue in Manhattan's as-yet-to-be-gentrified East Village. There, one was introduced to multiple volumes of: the Savage Kick/Black Rock'n'Roll series; the Stompin' lp's (nearly 30 - ! - volumes whose sleeves were adorned inexplicably with beautiful photos of black jazz players, despite their containing roadhouse R&B tunes); Sin Alley; Desperate Rock'n'Roll; Dangerous Doo Wop; Frolic Diner and Surfer's Mood, among others. Additionally, and generated by the same obsessive collectors of greasy, unmannered music, there were one-off collections curated around specific themes: Fat! Fat! Fat! (rock'n'roll and rhythm and blues from the '50s and early '60s depicting fat gals and massive guys); Concussion!!! 18 Gougin' Instrumentals 1958-1965; Ho-Dad Hootenanny!; Swing For A Crime (slightly jazzier fare, with drop-in dialog lifted from director Stanley Kubrick's The Killing providing between-song segueways) and today's offering, this last being an appropriate soundtrack for Halloween, should you be the type who will answer the door wearing rockabilly drag that appears to be a costume... but, in fact, is your daily wear.
In the day I wrote an article for Michael Weldon's Psychotronic Video magazine about this phenomenon. Needless to add, music begins where language leaves off and no amount of my own wordbending could do justice to the visceral delight afforded by collections such as I Was A Teenage Brain Surgeon. So, pull it down, load it into your player, dim the lights and get ready for those teenagers with paper bags over their heads who show up slightly too late in the evening. Advice: Hand individual cigarettes to those stragglers with attitude...and keep the stereo cranked.


P.S. No Condition Is Permanent is now a weekly radio show, streaming live from luxuriamusic.com each and every Saturday from 9pm to 11pm PST. (viz. the graphic in the left margin, placed at random thanks to Blogger's latter day devolution as a blog writing tool.) My show, as with the balance of Luxuria's program roster, may also be heard via the TuneIn app for smartphones. Archives of the show will appear on the following day at the Luxuria site - just click the Podcast tab. Also, the inevitable Facebook group. Those familiar with the contents of this journal will find companionable sounds seasoned with the usual jaundiced take on life.




The Pasadena Roof Orchestra

It is a curious thing that one of this writer's fondest mementos of the early seventies, a time when a forward-thinking young man's fashion sense might encompass eyeshadow and satin trousers and snakeskin stack-heeled shoes, is this collection of dance band tunes predating the Great Depression, recreated by then-contemporary musicians bedecked in vintage formal wear. Point of fact it is worth puzzling over, how a document of such pure-hearted intention and sincerity should have emerged from a period noteworthy for behavior resembling that of the Weimar Republic's demimonde

The Pasadena Roof Orchestra was signed to Transatlantic in the U.K., the label that released the band's initial forays in what would grow over time to become a voluminous catalog. But it was Chris Blackwell's Island imprint that proved adventurous enough to release the band's premier effort via Warner Brothers in the U.S. circa 1974. This would prove to be their only American release. (Today's lp was reissued briefly on CD a decade ago by a Japanese label, with copies of the disc now fetching outlandish prices online, invariably underscored by 'Not Currently Available' advisories.)

As to the band's relevance in that curious era, after the hippie years and before dreadful boogie bands achieved hegemony in the American market – to the latter, praise Jah for the eventual appearance of punk, a movement rooted in this time – it is worth noting that the PSO played at the launch of Biba's, the Art Deco-styled department store that aimed to supply the legal needs of the decadent set. (The band's cover portrait was shot in Biba's Rainbow Room.) The PSO played atop Biba's roof, commemorating the release of their debut album. This event represented an early high water mark in customer friendliness for the store. I suspect Biba's unofficial motto ran something along the lines of "Where the counter girls are otherwise occupied and the customer is...who did you say you were again?" I once waited in vain for a pair of said employees to acknowledge my presence as they perfected the edges of their black lipstick, prior to my giving up and moving along. Those were different times.

By way of defining the Pasadena Roof Orchestra's sound, I can do no better than to reproduce the sleeve notes. The UK historian, surrealist and saloon singer George Melly was tapped to author the liners, a stroke of singular appropriateness. Mr. Melly, during his lifetime a member in longstanding of the Chelsea Arts Club, author of the essential pop history volume Revolt Into Style (a quote from which - at the bottom of this page - has footnoted every NCIP entry) and a mischief-maker of unparalleled ingenuity, described exactly why the moment was nigh for the PRO to materialize:

In the swinging sixties 'yesterday' was a very dirty word and people became invisible on their thirtieth birthday. In that heady immediate decade they made it new each day and it didn't matter too much if you were a genius (which some were) or a hyped-up imposter because each week, each month, what you played or sang or designed was swept up and thrown into fashion's waste-disposal unit, and sometimes you with it. In the swinging sixties to be young was meant to be very heaven and sometimes was, and there was lots of bread for making revolutionary noises and no-one found it incongruous if afterwards you were driven off in your big limo to your hotel suite which you could mess up as much as you liked with your cheque book at the ready. The discos and boutiques opened and closed like flowers and there were pretty toys in all the shops and nobody who was anybody got up before 3pm. In the swinging sixties...

In the seventies though, as the newspapers and television promise escalating disaster and a tin of dog food costs last week what would have bought a tin of best stewing steak, the boutiques and discos wilt and die, like-minded young and old cling to each other, and the past no longer seems such a drag, more a haven of confident innocence. Things were bad then, too, but people managed, had a good time, survived on optimism, on a charming and naive silliness, danced away their cares, crawled out of the bleak streets of the depression into the warm picture palaces where dreams of better times flickered across the screens, rolled back the rugs in their lounges and danced to the wireless or the wind-up gramophone. In the seventies 'yesterday' has become a beautiful word because we are able to say it, and that means a chance of believing in tomorrow. In the seventies...

This LP by the Pasadena Roof Orchestra would have been unthinkable in the sixties. Thirteen gentlemen dressed in tailsuits and wing collars playing, note for note, the band parts of arrangements of the dance music of the twenties and thirties, not mockingly, in no way aiming at high camp, but with loving musicianly respect. Is it healthy, this yearning for old certainties? If it isn't, it's the times which are out of joint, the music which, temporarily at any rate,  sets young feet tapping and lips smiling. Nostalgia? For my generation certainly, but the young can scarcely feel nostalgic about what they never knew. How can the music of Jack Hylton, Whiteman, the Savoy Orpheans, mean anything to them? But it does. 'Teach us,' they cry to their sclerotic mums and dads, 'how to Charleston.'

The Pasadena Roof Orchestra was formed in advance of its time in 1969 by Mr. John Arthy. Most of its members had been involved in traditional jazz, a mode then entirely banished to the outer darkness. All had to be able to read and to possess a frock coat. A library of material was acquired and mastered. Playing at first for peanuts in pubs, the band soon acquired a reputation and now, at exactly the right moment, their first LP is ready to help lighten the gloom of the most unpromising Christmas since 1931.

October 1974