Friday, February 6, 2009

Someone Somewhere Is Having A Good Time: Winifred Atwell: "Let's Have a Party" and Frankie Vaughan: "The Green Door"

And now, some more housekeeping. In the rush to get through 1953 I omitted an important number two, perhaps knowing somehow it would happily sip its figurative drink until I got to it years later.

We are now entering the Age of Meek; the boy from the Forest of Dean has been puzzling over recorded and transmitted sounds for 24 years now - and is an engineer, by occupation, though his energy is so strong that he is, in fact, a producer for both these songs. (This is certainly a good case for the number two songs being more representative of what was going on than the number ones.) Meek innovated, he obsessed, and with these records he did what he could to enchant and bend the ear of the listener.

Atwell's medley (side one: "If You Knew Suzie/The More We Are Together/That's My Weakness Now/Knees Up Mother Brown" side two: "Daisy Bell/Boomps a Daisy/She Was One of the Early Birds/Three O'Clock in the Morning") is a deliberate and giddy throwback to the saloons of old, her piano treated and thus altered as much as John Cage's were across the ocean. It sounds as if there is a drummer on the song but he just keeps time; the rest is Atwell's loose player-piano style, providing bass and guitar, in effect, if not voice. However a guitar does come in on the second side, sounding sor all the world not like a guitar at all but the bleeping bloops of a machine - a very primitive synth. If you ever wondered what the precedent was for the cantina scene in Star Wars, this is it. Atwell would have fit in fine there, just as she did in post-war UK.

Three years later and another party is being held: one, I suspect, even more avant-garde or off-limits than Atwell's come-one come-all shindig. With "The Green Door" we have a party we are not allowed to join, one maddeningly interesting (to the point that our hapless and excited narrator can't sleep) but mysteriously forbidding. There's a "hot piano" behind the door, and laughter, but there is a sense that these are just the start of the intrigue, and not the point. That "Joe" sent him is met with derision (a nice coincidence there and yes, ironic as can be, too) points to the fact that our narrator may not be as pitiable as you might think. He seems to enjoy the whole frustrating ordeal (whenever he sings "door" it's as "doo-orr-AAAH!" as if some vital part of his anatomy was being, um, squeezed). The song is quiet and swinging at first, then big band brassy, then quiet again as he is once more sleepless (does he live nearby? The green door in question seems to become more and more figurative as the song goes on). Then it ends abruptly with the cry "Green door!" in longing and happy frustration. There are no proto-synth moments in the song, but Meek - a gay man in a resolutely straight world, which in 1956 meant that he was, in effect, illegal (or to be more accurate, he could be who he was as long as The Man was ignorant of the fact) gave this version of the song an extra dose of oomph that goes beyond the va-va-voom recording itself. I am not a Meekologist, but I cannot help but see this as the first in many songs produced by him that are full of longing and anger; joyous here, but increasingly darker and deeper, far from the aroused insomnia of Vaughan.

No comments: