Saturday, June 20, 2009
K - the Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus - "Original Cast Recording"
You know, I go on and on and on about rock and roll, and how serious it should or shouldn't be. I admit that I have, at times, taken music WAY too seriously: perhaps because of the overwhelming influence music (particularly rock and roll) has had in my life, or perhaps because I don't often have a whole lot of other things going on. Whatever the case, there have been many times where I have been grossly unfair to music that doesn't strive to be more than simple pop fun. Bubblegum music. Music with no ulterior motive than to make the kids happy (and make disgusting amounts of money by knocking out assembly line material that has a couple great hooks and a spirited (if anonymous) performance.) Who cares if it ain't nothin' but a good time? (Poison was one of THE great bubblegum bands of all time, by the way.) There are times I don't want to think or sink into the intricacies of "art". I really really really just wanna zig-a-zig-AHHHH!
The heyday of bubblegum music was arguably in the late 60's, amid the backdrop of psychedelia, protest, and pot. The 60's changed not just pop music, but the BUSINESS of pop music: musicians and songwriters were taking their own reigns rather than letting the producers have all the fun. The Beatles, another of the great bubblegum acts, led the way. I put down Paul McCartney a lot (justifiably so), but MAN could he write a perfect pop song. The fact that they also had artistic integrity and talent made their career, even in the early stages, still more impressive. The youth market was booming, and the producers & record companies were pulling in huge amounts of dough. As the Beatles and others like them grew, their music became much more sophisticated (is it really possible that there was only 2 years between "She Loves You" & "Tomorrow Never Knows"? THAT is growth), but there were younger kids who were just now coming of age to buy the records, magazines, & paraphernalia of their siblings who didn't GET the new directions. No problem: record execs like Neil Bogart & Don Kirshner simply made up or took over bands to cater specifically to the kids. A lot of these songs are so sugary your teeth rot, but it's a good pain - like an ice cream headache; it HURTS, but you don't stop eating it, do you?
A few years ago, I began collecting some of these old bubblegum records as part of my "simplify" philosophy (inspired by "Walden" - yes, Thoreau motivated me to listen to the Archies.) I was already well familiar with the Monkees (my first concert), and some of the better-known gummy classics ("Sugar, Sugar", "Yummy Yummy Yummy", "Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'"), but didn't know anything about the bands that performed them. For good reason, it turns out. Generally, they didn't exist - or if they did, they would do shows and appearances to promote records that they mostly didn't write or play on. The house producers and songwriters were kings, and few were hotter than Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz of Buddah records. Cranking out faceless hit after faceless hit, they specialized in simple, almost childish, singalongs filled with hooks (and, often, double entendres: I still feel a little queasy hearing "I got love in my tummy", but it's GREAT).
In 1968, Buddah decided to have a big bubblegum show at Carnegie Hall featuring their "superstar groups" like the 1910 Fruitgum Company, the Ohio Players, and the Music Explosion, along with other less known (ie non-existent) bands like the 1989 Musical Marching Zoo & J.C.W. Rat Finks, under the title "the Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus". This record is purported to be the "original cast recording" of the event - like it's the soundtrack to a play or something. Unfortunately, it's a sham: a pure studio creation labeled to mislead its underage audience. I absolutely do not understand the purpose of this record other than to make a fast buck. Even more confusing is that much of the record isn't even K-K material: there are unbelievably bland versions of "You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling", "We Can Work it Out", "A Place in the Sun", "Yesterday", and "Hey Joe" - none of which comes anywhere close to being even a fraction as enjoyable as the originals. There are a couple of insultingly fake "live" introductions, purportedly by members of the aforementioned bands, but more likely to be the recording engineer or the guy who happened to deliver lunch to the recording studio that day. Side Two features "live" versions of previous K-K hits "Little Bit of Soul", "Simon Says", and "Latin Shake"; over pre-recorded audience screaming, some guy exhorts the crowd to sing along, so they do: the "audience" clap and sing over the ORIGINAL songs - like if you were in your car and singing along to the radio. It's pathetic. (That said, I'd never heard "Latin Shake" before (originally by Lt. Garcia's Magic Music Box - uh huh), and I'd like to hear it without these phony overdubs.) K-K add a couple slower, Kinks-style story songs which aren't very good, and the only other original "Down in Tennessee" is more of an excuse to name drop the bands again rather than to get your heart a-pumpin’ and your feet a-jumpin’.
VERDICT: ever get the feeling you've been cheated?
VIDEO: this is FANTASTIC in so many ways: the phenomenally nerdy group, the stoned guitar player who clearly hated the camera being in his face, the silhouettes of I’m guessing one of the band member’s parents in the “audience”. I LOVE it.