12 November 2011

I Want Your Love

(Listen to 'I Want Your Love' by Grace Chang released in 1957 Hong Kong on Pathé label)

Haven't purchased records from eBay for a while and thus haven't share with my readers great music transferred from 78 rpm records.

There you go—'I Want Your Love (我要你的愛)' by Grace Chang (or Ge Lan 葛蘭 known to most Chinese speakers ).

This is a 1957 Chinese cover version of Georgia Gibbs's 'I Want You To Be My Baby', which is indeed a 1955 cover as well of Louis Jordan's original recording made in 1953.

The instrumental arrangement of Grace Chang's version is quite similar to that in Georgia Gibbs's, and a huge part of the original English lyrics are kept to make this song a Mandarin/English combo. However, Grace not only articulates each English word with precision, but also creates her own interpretation, even with more of playful allure in a commanding tone.

Below are the English lyrics in Grace Chang's combo version. See if you can follow.

Listen to your mama and you never will regret it
And if anybody wonders you can tell them that I said it
The only thing I know is that I never can forget ya
I've been longin' for ya baby ever since the day I metcha
I gotcha where I want'cha and I'm never gonna let'cha
Get away from me

Hear what I tell ya
I'm the gal for you and so you'd better start to face it
If you ever lose my love you know you can't replace it
I think it's time for you to start to give me some lovin'
Carryin' a torch for you that's hotter than an oven
It's time for you to give me a little bit of lovin'
Baby, hold me tight and do what I tell you

I can, with my eye, but cannot with my tongue.

Enjoy Georgia Gibbs's to make a comparison with Grace Chang's.

29 October 2011

A Rubik's Cube that never makes us frustrated

Ever got frustrated with a Rubik's Cube? Now there is an alternative version that never lets us down.

From time to time I see news clips on TV showing how some people can
solve Rubik's Cubes in an amazing way. How can some nerds solve this mechanical puzzle in one minute, even solve it with their feet or while blindfolded?

These video clips always leave me totally flabbergasted, for I can't even solve this bloody puzzle with my eyes wide open in one hour.

Fortunately, there is a self-solving Rubik's Cube which requires no effort to solve. It has been solved in the beginning.

Well, actually it's a 3D logo of the Second Northern Taiwan Teaching Resource Centre.
The idea behind this logo comes from the well-field system, a and distribution method existing roughly between the 9th to 2nd century BC.

A square area of land was divided equally into nine sections, with the outer eight cultivated by eight individual peasant families and the centre jointly cultivated for the landowning aristocrat.

Whatever idea there is behind the design, the 3D version is absolutely great consolation for people like me who cannot solve a six-coloured cube.

12 October 2011

Ronne drumming on his milk tin

Fanne is running a promotion for her products, which invites parents to enter a competition by uploading videos of toddlers or young children dancing, rocking or taking any form of exercise to the official promotional song.

This promo song is a cover version of an advert tune from years ago with lyrics rewritten. I was requested to take on the task to produce a newly arranged backing track, coach the singer (actually a staff member of Fanne) and make the recording.

Fanne decided to let Ronne do whatever he liked in front of the milk tin, a sample of her products under promotion, and shoot a video as well. Crikey, nobody gave Ronne any instruction; he just started drumming on the milk tin.

However, his father, as a musicologist, couldn't figure out any rhythmic patter or relationship between his beating and the soundtrack.

11 October 2011

What can you make with a handkerchief?

Last Monday was the national day in Taiwan, which commemorate the Wuchang Uprising on 10 October 1911, which led to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China.

As this Chinese Republic nowadays has only its sovereignty over Taiwan and is not recognised as a country by the UN, it's alawys under debate whether Taiwan is still part of China and whether ROC still exists.

I don't bother to bother join the debate any more; those issues will be settled after I die, I strongly believe. Therefore, I celebrated this day with my son by playing a with handkerchief.

A cocoon.

Now a wrapped sweet.

Now a carrot.

And finally back to a handkerchief, and it can also become a cap.

28 September 2011

Duck family for Ronne

Haven't got interesting records recently worth writing a blog entry here, but bought some interesting toys (including the previous two: handbell set and magic mirror carousel) for my son.

Here comes another selection. I bought Ronne a big mother duck with three little lovely ducklings, produced by Ambi Toys, an Italian company. The three wee ones can hide inside their mother. The happy family can swim together to allow endless water play at bath time and can, of course, play out of water on the ground as well.

Certainly it's unnatrual— a duck is not a kangaroo and has no pouch. However, so what, I would ask. It's a creative design. It doesn't matter; kids will learn more about animals later at school.

Unlike the previous two I bought earlier this month which are reserved for Ronne's coming birthdays, the duck family were given to him immediately. He has had some good time with them for a couple of days.

21 September 2011

Red Raven magic mirror movies

Lucky boy! Dad bought Ronne another toy—well, not to be played with at the moment but to be reserved as another gift on your fourth birthday.

I bought an interesting item, Red Reven Magic Mirror, from eBay a couple of weeks ago. It's made in the late 1950s by Morgan Development Laboratories in New Canaan, Connecticut (a strange company which also made a multi-functional Lucite letter opener, which is plastic but extremely sharp and thus can be carried onto the plane without sounding the alarm at the security point).

This device is a modern version of the Zoetrope and its successor, the praxinoscope.

This 16-sided mirrored carousel is to be operated with special 'movie records', on which a 16 image cycle is printed on the outer two inches of a large paper label. Placed atop a 'movie record', the 16 mirrors are aligned at an angle to the surface of the record. When the record spins on the turntable of a record player, the quick succession of reflected static images produces a looped animation.

What's more surprising, that the animation comes with music, because a Red Raven movie record is really a vinyl music record. While the magic mirror brings out the animation, the music is delivered through the stylus on the phonograph.

Although once designed as a toy, Red Raven Magic Mirror is now a collectable item, a novel gadget. Lucky Ronne! Dad has prepared you another birthday gift and something to show you future classmates.

As I haven't got time to shoot a video about how it actually operates, refer to the YouTube clip to see how magic the Magic Mirror is.

Toy handbells for pleasure or campanology?

Campanology (formed by Latin 'bell' campana and English suffix -ology) is a word which designate the knowledge and study of manufacturing, tuning and ringing bells. Somehow, I was told when I lived in Britain that campanology is a pretentious term to and thus loathed by serious bell-ringers, particularly those who consider ringing primarily a service to the church.

I don't expect my son to become a professional ringer or campanologist; he can decide later by himself. Nevertheless, I think it's good fun and musical exercise, especially in this day and age when most young children spend too much time on playing video game and surfing the internet, to play handbells so I bought a vintage toy handbell set made in 1954 from TimeWarp Vintage Toys (not very pleasant experience —they charged me 35 US dollars for postage while the actual cost was only 20) for my son.

There are eight plastic bells, each of which comes in a different colour with a real metal bell inside to produce different pitches, which encompass an octave . This toy set was approved by educators and endorsed by Ding Dong School, an daily educational TV programme produced for pre-school children in the 1950s. An illustration of a bell with DING DONG SCHOOL on it is placed at the right side of the outer box.

(Watch streaming video of several complete broadcasts on the contribute website of this old-time children's TV show to have an idea what sort of programme it is, if you fancy.)

As I suppose an 18-month-old toddler is obviously too young to ring bells in an organised manner to produce a 'tune' (don't ask me if a music prodigy, such as Mozart, can do it; I don't know either), I would reserve them as a gift for his second, or probably third, birthday.

09 September 2011

A Mystery Record

Side 1
Side 2
(Listen to the sides of this Mystery Record and see how many artists you can recognise)

The 2011 autumn semester is commencing. I shall write down something special to mark the arrival of the new semester from which my full-time job terminated. As life indeed has so many turns and is full of mysteries, I deem a 'Mystery Record', which I've just received yesterday, to be appropriate for this occasion.

Daily Mail, a British national daily tabloid established in 1896, once organised a 'voice recognising' competition in late 1932. In collaboration with EMI, which had just been formed in 1931 by the merger of two big companies–the Columbia Graphophone Company and the Gramophone Company–Daily Mail issued a 'Mystery Record'.

This record was actually a compilation of recordings released previously on labels of HMV, Columbia, Parlophone, Regal and Zonophone, all of which were then owned by EMI. Daily Mail offered a prize of 1,950 Pound Sterling for any reader who could correctly guess the identity of the more than two dozen artists on this record. The winner would be awarded in January 1933.

Under Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act 1924, the average minimum wage paid to ordinary agricultural labours 51 basic hours (roughly weekly pay) in late 1932 is £1. 10s. 9d. Therefore, £1,950 is undoubtedly a big fortune.

Apart from the super-mega prize provided by the tabloid newspaper, what really amazes me is how the producer/engineer pieced together all the audio clips. There was no tape editing, no digital audio workstation, but how they managed to compile such a record?

I couldn't even name a single person on this record. How many can you?

26 August 2011

Duck calling lesson on a gramophone record

(Listen to the instruction on this interesting record and learn duck calling)

Gramophone machines and records used to be good aural aids in teaching and studying foreign languages before the introduction of cassette tapes, CDs or even digital formats. However, much to my surprise, though conceivable, 78 rpm records could also serve as a medium for learning bird language.

An interesting record I bought last week arrived yesterday. It's Duck Calling for Mallards and All Ducks of the Puddler Class, published by Philip S. Olt Company. (not in business anymore but restructured into P. S. Olt LLC now), a manufacturer of hard rubber game and bird calls from Pekin, Illinois.

It's a lesson, if I grasp the content correctly, which teaches you how to communicate with ducks, beguiled them to get within range of the rifle and then shoot them.

The lesson was given by Philip Olt, the eldest son of the founder of the original company. According to the company's website, Philip had made five instructional records to demonstrate duck calling, goose calling, diver duck calling, squirrel calling and crow calling.

Well, while we learn foreign languages to facilitate communication with people from distant lands, with good intentions I suppose, hunter study bird languages to coax them into termination.

Have you manage to speak some duck language after listening to the recording?

18 August 2011

Chiense Version 'Polly Wolly Doodle'

(Zhou Xuan at her late teens, image from this site)

Zhou Xuan (周璇), one of the greatest and most popular Chinese singer and actress in modern times, whose life accounts need not be reiterated here but can be read on Wiki, IMDb or many other websites through Google, once made a recording of 'Polly Wolly Doodle' with Chinese lyrics in 1935—'Roses blooming everywhere' (Qiangwei chuchu kai 薔薇處處開).

The Chinese lyrics were newly written and had nothing to do with the original lyrics published in 1880 nor the lyrics Shirley Temple sang in the 1935 film The Littlest Rebel.

Although there had been several recordings of 'Polly Wolly Doodle' made in and before the 1930s, such as Vernon Dalhart's 1929 version (Victor V-40132A), I believe Shirley's performance in the film would be an interesting one to be compared with the Chinese version.

While the Chinese singer-actress recorded 'Roses blooming everywhere' at her 17, Shirley starred in the film at 7 years old. I can't find a recording made by Shirley and don't even know if there was an original soundtrack ever released, but fortunately an enthusiastic YouTube user has made a video clip with the song against a photo.

Which version do you prefer, the late teenager Zhou Xuan's innocent voice in her 78 rpm single or the cherub Shirley Temple's naive interpretation in the film?

10 August 2011

Somewhere At Sea

Although this recording may sound like an ordinary piece by a 1930s British dance band, a typical jolly cheerful one, there is indeed something special.

The recording was made in London in May 1936 by the BBC Dance Orchestra directed by Henry Hall, with vocal by Dan Donovan. It is the official signature tune of RMS Queen Mary and Henry Hall is the director of the dance orchestra aboard this ocean liner.

Comparing to other ordinary Columbia records pressed in Britain, this one bears a special label designed to commemorate the ship's maiden voyage on 27th May 1936, sailing from Southampton to New York.

Queen Mary was retired from service in 1967 and is now a tourist attraction with restaurants, a museum and a hotel, mooring permanently at the port of Long Beach in California.

I have yet to convert the 78s record to the digital format. Therefore, watch the YouTube clip below to listen to a fantastically remixed version this piece while screening some images onboard.

08 August 2011

As Time Goes By

(Listen to 'As Time Goes By', a recording made more than ten years before Casablanca, reissued on Victor following the success of the film)

As time goes by, my postdoctoral contract has ended. I am now only an adjunct assistant professor, teaching part-time at two universities, and freelance composer and radio host, or broadly speaking, unemployed.


When I decided to write this weblog entry beginning with ‘as time goes by’, the melody of ‘As Time Goes By’ struck my mind. I came to know this song, just like most people I believe, through the all-time classic 1942 romantic drama film Casablanca, in which this song was sung by Sam, the singer-pianist who performed in the bar in the film played by Dooley Wilson, and the tune was used throughout the film as a leitmotif.

However, this song was not written particularly for the film but was a piece originally from the 1931 Broadway musical Everybody's Welcome. The song was recorded later in the same year by several singers after the debut of the musical, but didn't draw much public attention until it was employed in the film.

Interestingly, despite his hauntingly beautiful interpretation of this piece, the actor Dooley Wilson couldn't manage to make a recording for it because of session musicians' strike. As an alternative, the film company reissued a recording made by Rudy Vallée, one of the several who recorded the song in 1931 (Victor 22773), which made Rudy's version a massive No.1 hit in 1942.

Most people are familiar to the tune with the words
You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss
A sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by
Nevertheless, few people are aware that this is actually the chorus and there is a verse before it. As the verse was utterly left out in Sam's performance in the film, most people don't even know its existence.

Follow the lyrics below and enjoy the 1931 recording (reissued in 1942) by Rudy Vallée, with the verse which is normally omitted in all the cover versions recorded after 1942.

This day and age we're living in
Gives cause for apprehension
With speed and new invention
And things like fourth dimension.

Yet we get a trifle weary
With Mr. Einstein's theory.
So we must get down to earth at times
Relax relieve the tension.

And no matter what the progress
Or what may yet be proved
The simple facts of life are such
They cannot be removed.

You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.

And when two lovers woo
They still say, 'I love you.'
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by.

Moonlight and love songs
Never out of date.
Hearts full of passion
Jealousy and hate.
Woman needs man
And man must have his mate
That no one can deny.

It's still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die.
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by.

Oh yes, the world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by.

20 July 2011

A Bollywood cover of Paul Anka's 'Diana'

(Listen to 'Hai ho dilruba meri neeta', the Indian version of 'Diana', from the 1959 Indian film Dil Deke Dekho)

There are always surprises in the world of gramophone records, particularly when one makes a purchase in a lucky-dip fashion.

I grabbed one more Indian film music record at a half-price sale on eBay, just because the label design caught my eyes. Actually, I happen to know that this romantic comedy Dil Deke Dekho was a smash hit in 1959 although I haven't watched it and hence have no idea how the music would sound like.

I was thrilled and absolutely amused to the core when I heard side A. Blimey, it's the Indian cover of Paul Anka's 1957 chart-buster 'Diana', the song which brought him instant stardom.

However, I'm a bit confused as well. Although the tune of 'Hai ho dilruba meri neeta' was definitely adapted from 'Diana', which had been written by Paul Anka himself less than two years ago, on the paper label of this Indian record, the composition was incredibly credited to an Indian music director Usha Khanna.

How could it happen?

Whereas Paul Anka's 1957 recording was released by ABC Records, a label owned by ABC-Paramount (the present-day American Broadcasting Company), this Indian film song was issued in 1959 on The Twin label, owned by the England-based Gramophone Co (EMI).

'Diana' has reportedly sold over 9 million copies, hitting No.1 on U.S. Billboard R&B Singles Chart and reaching No.1 on UK Singles Chart, but I wonder whether this song has ever reached the company building of EMI, whether any A&R staff member, factory technician, sales manager, or cleaning lady, whatever, in EMI had ever heard this UK No.1 hit.

How Usha Khanna was accredited with being the composer of the tune? I suppose ABC Records, as a company which was both physically and mentally too far from South Asia, had absolutely no interest in Hindi Cinema and therefore has never been aware of the situation to claim its copyright over this song.

Despite the historical trivia, I really got a kick out of listening to this Indian version 'Diana'.

18 July 2011

A sonic watercolour of Brazilian scenery

(Listen to the first recording of 'Aquarela do Brasil' performed by Francisco Alves to the accompaniment of Radamés Gnattali & His Orchestra, on Odeon, 1939)

'Aquarela do Brasil' ('watercolour of Brazil' in English) is probably the popular song that is representative of and associated with Brazil the most.

I have heard plenty of recordings of this all-time classic piece since my childhood, including Frank Sinatra's English cover, Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova-ish interpretation, Geoff Muldaur's and Kate Bush's renditions in the 1985 black comedy filmBrazil, and, lastly my favourite fantastic a cappella version by Trio Esperança.

However, not until yesterday when I purchased this record had I come to know that 'Aquarela do Brasil' was first recorded in 1939, the same year it was written by Ary Barroso and some time after its unsuccessful first public performance in a musical.

Although once criticised as compliments to the dictatorship of Getúlio Vargas, probably because of its nationalistic lyrics, this song does show the songwriter's admiration for the beauty and musical culture of the country.

Refer to this page for the Portugese lyrics and English translation, and enjoy the 70-year-old recording.

07 July 2011

Goodbye, Pepe

In the end, I thoroughly understand why some people who treat their pets as close family members cannot deal with the shock and trauma of losing their beloved pets. Because I can't, either.

Our beloved Pepe (or 蓓蓓 Peipei in Mandarin) passed away peacefully in her bed at age of 18 years yesterday evening when I was working in the radio station. I couldn't manage to say goodbye to her as she took her last breath .

However, I managed to see her off. She was cremated at noon today.

Goodbye, Pepe. May you rest in peace.

27 June 2011

Two exemplars of French songs

(Listen to 'La Vie En Rose' by Édith Piaf from a 78s pressed in England in 1950, four years after its initial release in France in 1946.)

Excluding the so-called 'Western classical' works such as the famous habañera ‘L'amour est un oiseau rebelle’ from Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen or Gabriel Fauré’s famous choral piece ‘Cantique de Jean Racine’, I cannot name more than two French songs with full and correct titles. The only two are the national anthem ‘La Marseillaise’ and Édith Piaf’s signature song ‘La Vie En Rose’.

I've been asking students and friends to give me two French song titles that they are familiar with and so far these two have been the unanimous responses.

I came to know ‘La Marseillaise’ through the all-time classic black-and-white Casablanca on TV on a Sunday afternoon in my childhood, in the 1980s.

There was a scene in which the house band of a nightclub played the French national anthem with the crowd singing along in response to a group of German officers' German patriotic hymn. My father told me that was 'Masai qu' (馬賽曲 'the song of Marseille' in Mandarin).

I came across 'La Vie En Rose' much later. Although the tune is not obscure and, despite its ranking as an foreign oldie, never obsolete in Taiwan, I only learnt that the original singer is Édith Piaf during my undergraduate period in the mid 1990s.

I had for thousands of times heard but always dismissed the tune, whether sung by Piaf herself or played as an instrumental piece, until one day when I found myself bombarded with it relentlessly at a record shop for half an hour. Finally I enquired who was singing what. Hence, 'La Vie En Rose' became the second French song I have seriously known.

I've just won an auction for a 78s record of 'La Vie En Rose' but have yet to find out 'La Marseillaise'. For now, while enjoying the former with surface noise from the record, could you, dear readers, name two French songs for me?

24 June 2011

MetLife's advert song from the 1920s

(An advert song of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, with lyrics written by the vice-president, sung by the Peerless Quartet, c.1920s)

Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, or MetLife for short, is 'a leading global provider of insurance, annuities and employee benefit programs, serving 90 million customers in over 60 countries' as claimed on the official website.

I acquired a record some time ago, captioned with 'Persoanl Record Specially Made for The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company', on one side of which is 'The Metropolitan' sung by the Peerless Quartette.

This male quartet is regarded as the most commercially successful vocal group of the acoustic recording era, the time before the introduction of the microphone when musicians had to play into a giant cone.

As this group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003, it's not too difficult to find out some biographical information. However, I was really foiled when trying to explore when the record was issued, to what extent MetLife was involved in the production, as well as what the song is about.

I visited MetLife's official website and contact them at various email addresses, but was only dismissed. I suppose they might be interested in it for this song is part of MetLife's corporation history. The lyrics were written by Dr. Lee K Frankel, the vice-president of MetLife.

However, this leading global provider of insurance and blah, blah, blah didn't even have the courtesy to informed me that the enquiry had been received.

Well, fine, as I am not a client nor was I asking for a quote, I deserve it, but the song isn't bad at all.

18 June 2011

'Zara' reads 'Thara', you lazy news presenters.

(Image cited from The Internationalist)

Zara, a Spanish clothing brand owned by the Inditex group, has confirmed that it will start its first Taiwanese store in November 2011. Taiwan's first Zara will be located in Taipei 101 Mall.

Good news. As this Spanish high street brand offers a range of affordable and fashionable clothing for both men and women, and kids as well, Fanne and I are very much looking forward to its launch day.

However, I'm peeved off and fed up with the endless wrong pronunciataion made by those news presenters on TV. Zara is a Spanish brand and its initial consonant sounds 'TH' as in 'THink' rather than 'Z' as in 'Zero'. It reads THara ([ˈθaɾa] in IPA).

In my opinion, jounralists and presenters should make sure names of foreign origins are uttered correctly becuase they bear the responsibility to educate the general public. While a man on the street may read a foreign name wrongly, I don't think a news presenter is allowed to do so.

Can you news reporters or anchors do some homework before going on air? Would you think it's proper to prononce 'J' in the Spanish name José the same way you do in 'Joke'?

11 June 2011

One more attempt at dance music with Ronne's voice

(Listen to this new track I made, mixed with my son's voice )

The only thing I know to appreciate electronic dance music (EDM) is still nodding my head and shaking my body to the beat of head-bangking music. I suppose I manage to do it quite well. However, I would rather stay at home to undertake this head-torso-limbs-quaking activity than go to a night club where I have to shout and squeak when making conversations with others.

Having not made any bid on eBay for quite a while, I have no more antique sounds from 78s records to share with the readers of my weblog. Therefore, I had scarcely decided to make one more tentative dance track this afternoon when I found some audio clips in the laptop, recorded half a year ago when my son started learning to speak.

It took me the whole afternoon to input note by note to create the framework first and then to prepare midi files, to edit audio samplings and to mix down the track. It all paid off when I saw Ronne shaking his body to the pulsating beat of the track.

PS. The female voice at the beginning of the track is singing the catchphrase from 'The evening bell at Mt. Nangping' (南屏晚鐘 Nangping wanzhong), a Mandarin oldie I often sing to lull my son to sleep.

29 May 2011

Cooked breakfast on a Sunday morning

Tourists from the Continent or East Asian countries may complain that British cuisine lacks refined and heavenly specialities, but they have to admit that breakfast is absolutely an exception.

The full British breakfast features a range of cooked food such as bacon, sausages, eggs, mushrooms, baked beans, and fried tomatoes, to name a few. And the list may go on.

No wonder William Somerset Maugham, an English playwright and novelist active in the 1910s to 1930s, claimed English breakfast to be the best meal of the day and recommended serving it three times a day.

Believe it or not, I I used to prepare full cooked British breakfast from scratch for myself everyday, except those days when I had hangovers. Yes, for five years. Apart from those basic ingredients, especially the most important baked beans, I usually had one more extra dish—an omelette filled with cheese, mushrooms and finely chopped spring onions.

However, although I still cook breakfast after returning to Taiwan, I seldom have so much in the morning. Most of the time the only cooked bit is just a fried egg.

Today, waken up by the radiant sunshine and bloody chirruping birds at five on a Sunday morning, I decided to go to the food market at seven, much earlier than usual, and then have a quick, compact version of cooked breakfast—grilled tomatoes, fried sausages, sautéed mushrooms and fried eggs, served with some toasted baguette slices.

Though not as extravagant as what I had when studying in Britain, it's really a surprise for my wife Fanne. It's not too bad to have a long lie-in and then wake up to a meal ready to eat on a Sunday morning, isn't it?

15 May 2011

A tango at a tango bar

(Listen to 'Por una cabeza' by Carlos Gardel from Tango Bar, 1935)

There are several definitions of the word bar to be used as a noun. Looking it up in a dictionary, you would probably find the first several to be 'a long rod or evenly shaped piece of solid substance', 'a regular narrow block of sold material' and 'a band of colour or light'.

One or two items further, there comes something like 'a counter or place across which beverages are served'. Right, that's where you intoxicate yourself and get tipsy, tight or, in the end, blotto.

However, there are some other types of bars where alcohol is not the main option. For example, whereas a juice bar serves prepared juice beverages, an oyster bar features fresh oysters, which are usually shucked on site within sight of the customers.

There is also a kind of bar which I've never come across so far—a tango bar. I can't imaging what else people can do in a tango bar besides tangoing.

Well, it's actually a Spanish-language film shot in 1935, with Carlos Gardel, the legendary tango singer-songwriter, playing the protagonist. It's where 'Por una cabeza', the second-most recognisable tango tune, after 'La Cumparsita', is from.

Tango Bar was acclaimed in newspapers as 'Un drama de pasion y aventuras, realzado por la música y canciones sin par' (something like 'A drama of passion and adventure, heightened by music and songs without the parallel', I suppose). It's definitely worth watching; I shall grab a DVD.

This 78s record arrived two weeks ago. Let's enjoy the original song delivered by Gardel himself, after having been bombarded with the instrumental versions in so many Hollywood films such as Scent of a Woman, True Lies and Schindler's List and so on.

For lyrics and English translation, please refer to The Tango Lyrics Page.

03 May 2011

Fast-growing Ronne

While women change their mind in a way more capriciously than we can imagine, just like a feather in the wind (not my personal opinion but based on 'La donna è mobile', a song from Verdi's opera Rigoletto), babies grow up at a speed much faster than we expect.

Well,today I'm not going to tell another story about another gramophone record. Thus, there is no audio player embedded, nor any old-time recording added.

I just want to share this photo with the dear readers of my weblog.

Roone will be 14 months old on the 5th of May, but at the moment he simply doesn't look like what a 14-month-old one should. One of the colleagues said he though this was a three-year-old boy.

It might be exaggeration, but Ronne does increase in size as well as change in appearance so fast that sometimes in the morning I would doubt if I took someone else's child home, when I had too much booze the night before.

Fortunately, it's always him, my good boy.

(2-day-old Ronne: what a difference!)

30 April 2011

Mama... I want a boyfriend

(Listen to the ‘Mama... yo quiero un novio’ by FUJISAWA Ranko, 1954)

In my opinion, the Japanese people are a very diligent and fussy people in the world. Once they start working on something that originates from another country, they work really hard so much so that they become the second best, if not the authority, in the world.

Listen to the audio clip. Would you observe that the singer is actually Japanese if I didn't tell you so?

I found this record on eBay when searching for some Carlos Gardel's tango records. The song title 'Mama... yo quiero un novio' (Mama... I want a boyfriend) caught my attention first. After I saw the fourth line on the paper label, I clicked the 'Buy It Now' button straightaway without any hesitation.

Wow, a Japanese vocalist's performance of tango produced by a Argentine record company! I just feel compulsory to own this record.

FUJISAWA Ranko (藤沢嵐子) is a Japanese singer who started her career at an American club in Tokyo after the War singing Western classical works, jazz tunes and Japanese popular songs.

Enchanted by 'La Cumparsita' played by an Argentine tango orchestra, she found Argentine tango the music she really wanted to sing and therefore turned to tangos from other genres.

In 1950, Fujisawa made her debut at the Ciro Club in Ginza with the Orquesta Típica Tokyo, conducted by her husband HATAKAWA Shinpei (早川真平). She then made her first recording in the ensuing year for Japanese Victor.

In 1953, she performed at a theatre in Buenos Aires, where the president Perón was among the audience. She was actually on holiday and only planned to stay there for a couple of days, but was requested to sing for the audience in Buenos Aires at a theatre by the director of a radio station, who had heard her on Japanese radio before.

The performance was so successful that several local radio stations strove to engage her to sing in the air. She finally stayed there for two more months.

Fujisawa performed again in Argentina in 1954 and for the third time in 1956.

Truly awesome. A Japanese singer conquered the Argentinians with Argentine tangos. If I didn't see the Japanese name on the paper label of the record, I would never know that the singer is actually Japanese-born Japanese.

(Portrait image from MySpace)

16 April 2011

Clink, Clink, Another Drink

(Listen to the ‘Clink, Clink, Another Drink’ by Spike Jones and His City Slickers, 1942)

The famous British comedian Spike Jones, together with His City Slickers, produced a drinking song titled ‘Clink, Clink, Another Drink’ in 1942, with a ‘soundie’, an early version of the music video to be played in a special film jukeboxe, which is now available on YouTube.

The record of ‘Clink, Clink, Another Drink’ I purchased from eBay arrived last week. It reminds me of the round drinking culture in Britain. Although it seems to be more efficient to buy a round, as only one from a group has to leave to get some drinks rather than all of the group members queuing up in front of the bar, it makes people consume more. For example, if five chaps buy you drinks, you absolutely have to buy a round for all of them to successfully organise a piss-up.

This is why it’s so common to see a person come in for a pint but end up having probably five. Therefore, I believe that, having lived in the UK for five years, British people out-drink their European counterparts. While toddlers in the Continent are given wine with meals as soon as they are weaned, as the rumour goes, British children grow up eager to emulate the round drinking habits of their elders.

At the very end of ‘Clink, Clink, Another Drink’, it goes ‘From now on I'll stick to milk/ Nothing else to drink for me.’ To me, it doesn’t imply going teetotal; it simply means there is no more wine/spirits/beer left. Pubs close at 11 o'clock in England and Wales, or 12 o'clock in Scotland, on weekdays, so the last round has to be ordered in time or otherwise nothing left to drink.

Enjoy this short hilarious piece.

Clink, clink, another drink
Plenty in the cellar when it's gone.
Drink, drink, the glasses clink
Making tinkly music till the dawn is breaking.

Clang, clang, who cares a dang?
What's the difference when you're on a spree?
Over the teeth, behind the gums,
Look out stomach here she comes
Hi! Have another drink on me.

Gurgle, gurgle, gurgle, gurgle.
Gurgle, gurgle, gurgle, gurgle.
Trinkle, trinkle, trinkle, trinkle.
Slice of cheese and bite of pickle
Doesn't even cost a nickel
Now to wash it down.

Clink, clink, no more to drink
I had a cellar full, but now it’s gone.
Drink, drink, the glasses clink
Like the anvil chorus and my head is splitting,
uh, brinking, uh, busting. Oh brother!

Oh, ow, what'll I do now
Pink elephants running after me.
Oh, that stuff is smooth as silk
From now on I'll stick to milk.
Nothing else to drink for me.

11 April 2011

Birthday celebration with my son

It's been the fourth year of rabbit since I was born. There are 12 zodiac sings and therefore I am 36 years old now.

Although so insecure I feel about what's going on next year and the year after next year, I have managed to survive so far. It's absolutely awful to be on tenterhooks, but I am gratified to have a one-year-old son celebrating the date of my birth with me.

04 April 2011

Smoke gets in your eyes

(Listen to the British version 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes' by Elsie Carlisle, 1934)

Of course we don't see clearly when we fall in love. However, I suppose when smoke gets in my eyes, wow, it's painful. Not only will it cause temporary vision loss, but also trigger coughs and bring tears trickling down the cheeks.

Before I bought this record, the only thing I knew about 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes' was that it is an oldie, probably similar to something like 'Moon River'. Never had I realised that it is a 1930s jazz standard, as old as the celebrated 'Over The Rainbow' and 'Summer time', nor had I been aware of this British version recorded only one year after its composition.

According to Stanley Green's famous Broadway reference book Broadway Musicals: Show by Show, which I purchased about twenty years ago at a secondhand bookshop, it is originally a song written for the 1933 Broadway musical Roberta by the composer Jerome Kern and the lyricist Otto Harbach.

Just like many other evergreen pieces, 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes' has been covered by several dozens of artists, of which the household name would probably be the doo wop group The Platters. The cover version they made in 1958, the very one I would think of when this tune rings out, reached number one on Billboard Hot 100.

Enjoy the British interpretation of this classic piece by Elsie Carlisle, the most popular radio performer in England in the 1930s. It's slightly faster than the covered one performed by The Platters.

Here come the lyrics for your reference.

They asked me how I knew
My true love was true
Oh, I of course replied
Something here inside
Cannot be denied

They said someday you'll find
All who love are blind
Oh, when your heart's on fire
You must realize
Smoke gets in your eyes

So I chaffed them and I gaily laughed
To think they could doubt my love
Yet today my love has flown away
I am without my love

Now laughing friends deride
Tears I can not hide
Oh, so I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies
Smoke gets in your eyes

30 March 2011

A patchwork of profile portraits

Since the introduction of online activities or services such as instant messaging, blogging or microblogging, social networking websites and so on, there has been a need to create profile pictures or display photos. People would usually either take a snapshot with the built-in camera on a laptop or carefully select a spiffy one from a pile of existing photos.

It seems to me that savvy internet surfers, or those who are au courant with the cyber scene, are obliged to change profile pictures, so much so that I would produce interesting personal portrait from time to time in order to have a wee change and keep up with the trends.

I cannot remember how many portraits I have made so far and for which sites or applications those images were prepared. However, I am able to assemble some of them into a patchwork. No matter how each individual segment look like, the whole canvas is not bad at all, isn’t it?

21 March 2011

Chinese Laundry Blues

(Listen to 'Chinese Blues' by George Formby, to the accompaniment of the Jack Hylton Band, 1932)

It's common to see, especially in old films, the stereotype of East Asian immigrants in the States as owners of specific small business such as restaurants, groceries and laundries. These figures are usually part of backdrops but never part of main story lines. I don't really remember any film about, say, a Chinese grocer, a Korean laundress or a Japanese sushi chef produced in Hollywood.

However, there is a record of an interesting song, 'Chinese Blues', written by a British singer-songwriter and comedian Geroge Formby, in which a fictitious laundry owner, Mr Wu, lost his heart to a Chinese girl and his laundry has all gone wrong. Here Mr Wu is the leading role, rather than an extra.

George Formby was most remembered for playing the banjolele, a kind of instrument with an American round banjo body and a Hawaiian fretted ukulele neck, and for singing his original comical songs. (See the photo, quoted from Slap & Tickle)

On a website dedicated to him, George is praised as a great person who "could hold a live audience in the palm of his hand as he sang and played the ukulele in his own inimitable style."

Composed in 1932, 'Chinese Blues' was his first successful record and later adopted by himself as the signature tune, with the renamed title 'Chinese Laundry Blues'.

Stereotypical figure as Mr Wu may be and perhaps some early-twentieth-century racism, prejudice and inappropriateness as there may be, I won't take it too seriously. Never mind. Replacing 'Mr Wu' with 'Uncle Sam', 'Chinese girl' with 'Scottish lass', 'Chinese Laundry Blues' with 'New York Laundry Blues', or whatever, I still see the Laurel-and-Hardy- or Chaplin-style hilarity.

Please refer to the lyrics below to see the whole picture of this song.

Now Mr. Wu was a laundry man in a shop with an old green door.
He'll iron all day your linen away, he really makes me sore.
He's lost his heart to a Chinese girl and his laundry's all gone wrong.
All day he'll flirt and scorch your shirt, that's why I'm singing this song.
Oh Mr. Wu, what shall I do, I'm feeling kind of Limehouse Chinese Laundry Blues.

This funny feeling keeps round me stealing
Oh won’t you throw your sweetheart over do.
My vest's so short that it won't fit my little brother.
And my new Sunday shirt has got a perforated rudder.
Mr. Wu, what shall I do, I'm feeling kind of Limehouse Chinese Laundry Blues.

Now Mr. Wu, he's got a naughty eye that flickers.
You ought to see it wobble when he's ironing ladies blouses.
Mr. Wu, what shall I do, I'm feeling kind of Limehouse Chinese Laundry Blues.

Now Mr. Wu, he's got a laundry kind of tricky,
He'll starch my shirts and collars but he'll never touch my waistcoat.
Mr. Wu, what shall I do, I'm feeling kind of Limehouse Chinese Laundry Blues.

18 March 2011

Compiling my family genealogy chart

For about two weeks, since Ronne's birthday, I have been collecting names and dates about the Chen family and finally traced its history back to the 1660s.

My [great]8 grandfather was born in 1669, and his third son, i.e. my [great]7 grandfather, born in 1790, immigrated to Taiwan from Quanzhou (泉州), Fujian around the mid-18th century.

With all the relevant information, I have managed to draw a genealogical chart, spanning from myself, the 28th generation, to [great]8 grandfather, the 18th generation of the Chens.

It's a pity that names and dates before the 17th generation are still unknown. I have yet to consult more genealogy books compiled by other clan members in early years.

It is the Chinese tradition to record male members and their spouses in a genealogy book. The one kept by my father was compiled in 1983 to supersede the old one which had been produced in 1923.

Nevertheless, fortunately, I haven't got more than the names on this chart, otherwise I wouldn't be able to arrange them neatly within an A3 sheet. Ronne can collect more in the future.

07 March 2011

Ronne's first birthday

(Wow, there is a cake for me with a lit '1' candle)

My son Ronne was born on 5 March 2010 in the Gregorian calendar and therefore we should have celebrated his first birthday last weekend. However, we didn't, because we had had.

My mum argues (she ‘argues’) that we ought to abide by the lunar calendar when it comes to life-cycle celebrations or anniversaries, just like how we have Chinese New Year and other traditional festivals. As a result, instead, we held Ronne’s birthday celebration two weeks ago instead, on the 20th day of the first lunar month, which fell on 22 February this year.

Yes, Grannie. You're the Grannie and thus whatever you wish counts.

(Hey cakie cake, I'm coming!)

(I'm behaving. I'm just trying to count 'one' with my finger.)


21 February 2011

A laughing song for the smiling father and son

(Top: Ronne in my arm, 2010/ bottom: Wei in Grandpa's arm, 1975)

Fanne nags at me all the time for keeping a stiff upper lip too often but seldom wearing a smile, so much so that I almost believe I had been born with an attitude of determined endurance in the face of adversity, and was therefore unemotional.

Of course not true. I was able to smile, or even laugh, although I don't smile a lot today.

When searching for old photos, I also found one taken in 1975 when I was about four months old. I was smiling, with a plastic film canister in my mouth, in Grandpa's arm. The image brings to mind a picture I took for my son when he was about four months old as well. The father and son were both smiling, weren't they?

However, I have to say that Ronne smiles and laughs much more often than I did and do. He does, and therefore at the end of this blog entry, let me play a record of laughing song.

(Listen to 'The Laughing Policeman' by Charles Penrose, 1926)

This song was performed by Charles Penrose, a British music hall singer and radio comedian, who was probably best known and is still remembered today for this laughing song. In addition to the one we are listening to here, Charles had also made several recordings for this piece, of which the first was released in 1922 under Regal (G7816) and two more were Regal (G9391) in 1929 and Columbia (FB1184) in 1934.

Although, on the paper label as shown above, the song was written by Billie Grey, the pseudonym of Charles's wife, it was actually adapted from 'The Laughing Song' by George W. Johnson, who had also recorded the song for many times, of which one can be heard on this YouTube clip. George's tune inspired Charles to compose the new lyrics about the funny policeman.

Below is what Charles sings:

I know a fat old policeman
He's always on our street.
A fat and jolly red-faced man
He really is a treat.
He's too kind for a policeman
He's never known to frown.
And everybody says
He is the happiest man in town!.
(Ha ha ha ha ha ha)

He laughs upon point duty
He laughs upon his beat.
He laughs at everybody
When he's walking in the street.
He never can stop laughing
He says he's never tried.
But once he did arrest a man
And laughed until he cried!
(Ha ha ha ha ha ha)

His jolly face is wrinkled
And then he shut his eyes.
He opened his great big mouth
It was a wonderous size!
He said "I must arrest you!"
He didn't know what for.
And then he started laughing
Until he cracked his fat old jaw.
(Ha ha ha ha ha ha)

So if you chance to meet him
While walking 'round the town.
Shake him by his fat old hand
And give him half a crown.
His eyes will beam and sparkle
He'll gurgle with delight.
And then you'll start him laughing
With all his blessed might!
(Ha ha ha ha ha ha)

18 February 2011

Digging out old family photos on the lantern festival

(The Chens, Taichung 1979 and Taipei 2001)

(Listen to 'Home! Sweet Home!' by Deanna Durbin for First Love on Brunswick, 1939, especially played for these two photos. May time fly and our faces change with age, the familial ties remain steadfast.)

Yesterday was the lantern festival, which is generally regarded as the last day of the Chinese New Year and after which all lunar new year celebrations conclude. Therefore, Fanne and I, together with my son Ronne, went to dine with my parents.

I spent some time delving into an iron cabinet in my parents bedroom in search for some old photos taken in my primary school days. Tonnes of photos turned up, including those taken on my parents wedding day.

I didn't start the quest for the past out of nowhere. It all began with a primary school reunion event organised through FaceBook, which took place when I was in the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka working with other colleagues on a discography of historical recordings made in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period.

After the event, which unfortunately I missed out, some classmates managed to locate most members of the class through FB and Google (what an era of cyber manhunt!) and are uploading old photos to our facebook group page. Therefore, I started looking for some photos taken at primary school and happened to find some more taken when I was even younger.

When a photo (above left) shot in my grandparents' garden in 1979 appeared, another one (above right) shot in 2002 came to my mind, together with melody of 'Home! Sweet Home!' composed by the Englishman Sir Henry Bishop.

08 February 2011

Armstrong's smile at an unhurried pace

(Listen to 'When You're Smiling' by Louis Armstrong on Okeh, 1929)

I heard Louis Armstrong's rich and sonorous voice in an iPhone 4 advert launched on the 7th of June last year—'When you're smiling, when you're smiling...' Somehow, I became besotted with the tune and it has lingered in my mind since.

During the Chinese new year, I stumbled upon a 78s record of 'When You're Smiling' made by Armstrong and his orchestra in 1929 on eBay. I won the bid with an unflinching determination to procure it at all costs. Interestingly, it is faster than what I heard in the advert; it's a different version.

As I'm sure the record is played correctly at 78 rpm and the 1929 version is the first one he had recorded for this piece, apparently, he slows down when recording again at a later stage.

Well, the elderly slow down both mentally and physically, partly because of the accumulation of biological changes over time and partly, I believe, owing to the way in which they view the world. The latter may apply to the interpretation of a musical work by a musician in the later stage of life.

Here is another example.

In 1955 the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould launched his career, as well as made his everlasting name over the classical world, by recording his debut album of J S Bach's Goldberg Variations (BWV 988). In 1981, the year before closed his piano lid permanently, he made another recording of this keyboard work.

Whereas in the debut album Gould plays at an unbelievable extreme tempo, in the valedictory recording he slows down, a lot.

Just like Gould, Armstrong slows down as well in the later version. I suppose both the pianist and the trumpeter held back to see a different world in music.

As I don't have the later version of Armstrong's 'When You Smile', watch the video clip of the iPhone 4 advert, where you can hear how the celebrated jazz maestro smiled at an unhurried pace.

Which one do you prefer?

03 February 2011

Paris, Stay The Same

(Listen to 'Paris, Stay The Same' from The Love Parade, by Maurice Chevalier on HMV, 1930)

I would say it's an utmost pleasure to receive an item won on eBay just in time before the new year holiday, during which the post service is not available.

I won one more bid on eBay several days ago for a gramophone record of a French actor, singer and popular vaudeville entertainer, Maurice Chevalier, singing 'Paris, Stay The Same' from the film The Love Parade. It arrived the day before the Chinese New Year's Eve.

Maurice was captivated in the front during national service as a POW for two years in the prison camp in Germany, where he studied English. With his enormous charm and charisma, Maurice made himself a star with American audiences after he arrived in Hollywood.

It's our impression that the French can't be asked to speak English (no offence to French readers, but it's true); however, there was once a great French stage artist who developed a successful career in Hollywood and even was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, for his roles in the film The Love Parade.

I once lived in Scotland for five years, where I sang in the Church of the Holy Rude Choir, Stirling City Choira and Stirling and Bridge of Allan Operatic Society, and therefore I understand, as a non-native speaker, it is quite a back-breaking and mind-grinding task to elbow one’s way on the crowded stage in a foreign land.

I truly adore Maurice Chevalier.

This bilingual song was one of the most captivating and enduring tunes from The Love Parade. Below are the lyrics for those who would like to know what the song is about.

You'll never miss me when I'm gone, Paris
But I know that I'll miss you.
You took a lot of pains in teaching me,
Why must we say "Adieu"?

I've seen your mild days,
And some of your wild days,
Down where the Seine flows,
And where the Champagne flows,
You taught me all that a kiss could be
Paris, your ladies were good enough for me,

I've met brunettes, here,
And little brisettes, here
I've lost my station,
And my reputation,
If I've been happy then you're to blame...
Oh, Paris--please stay the same!

Paris je t'aime,
je t'aime, je t'aime
Avec ivresse,
Comme une maîtresse !
Tu m'oublieras bien vite et pourtant
Mon cœur est tout chaviré en te quittant !

Je peux te dire
qu'avec ton sourire
Tu m'as pris l'âme
Ainsi qu'une femme
Tout en moi est à toi pour toujours
Paris, je t'aime et comment ! - d'amour !