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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Percy Faith?

Last night, I dreamed of Percy Faith. See, this is what happens when I don't drink.

Percy Faith was one of the leading lights (like Enoch Light) of orchestral easy-listening music. This stuff--which earned the dismissive sobriquet "elevator music"-- was ubiquitous when I was growing up in the '60s and '70s. It wasn't heard only in elevators and dentists' offices; it was everywhere. Easy-listening radio stations thrived, meeting the needs of a mostly older clientele, repelled by the loud twangin' and thumpin' heard on Top 40 and rock 'n' roll radio.

Easy listening has never been cool, although I guess it's acquired some kind of vague retro-cool cachet over the years. I don't think it ever bothered me all that much; it wasn't The Beatles or The Isley Brothers, but it was still music, and pop music at that. Mind you, I would protest whenever circumstances (i.e., parents) meant I had to listen to WEZG (one of Syracuse's wallpaper-music radio stations in the '70s),  but I protested anything I had to do. I haven't exactly mellowed over the years, but I do recognize the appeal.

And Percy Faith? When I was little--maybe five or six years old--I often rifled through Mom and Dad's LP collection and played all sortsa things--Broadway cast albums, movie soundtracks, maybe even some swing and Chet Atkins--for my own proto-Boppin' amusement. That array o' LPs certainly included some easy-listening options; I remember the cover image of Castles In Spain by Michel Lagrande, and I remember Passport To Romance by Percy Faith And His Orchestra.

I remember the album cover, but not the music. Pretty sure the guy on the left was in The Three Stooges.

Even as a kid, circa '65 or '66, I loved records, and I loved to play records. West Side Story. "No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)" by The T-Bones. Carnival. "The Night They Invented Champagne." And Percy Faith.

There was just one Percy Faith song for me, really: "Little Bells And Big Bells," which (I think) opened Side Two of Passport To Romance. I used to play that one with great frequency, prompting a Faith-based process of a-dancin' and a-struttin' around our living room with dedicated glee, long before I discovered punk or power pop. It may be incongruous, and it may border on the periphery of WTF; but that's a cherished memory, and it's worth holding as dear.

I don't listen to this music much now, hardly at all. But I recognize its occasional merit. An outfit called The Nutley Brass released a brilliant collection of Ramones songs done elevator-style, and it's freaking brilliant, empirical evidence that The Ramones wrote great pop songs that can withstand interpretation in different, unexpected styles (coincidentally, I just heard Shebang's '90s girl-pop cover of "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" playing on my iPod during this morning's commute). My friend Mike Adams plays some of this genre on his radio show, The Night Owl Lounge, Sundays nights at 10:00 on Syracuse's WVOA-FM. And I bought the mp3 of Percy Faith's "Little Bells And Big Bells" from iTunes several years ago. I am large; I contain multitudes.

Furthermore, I still have Mom and Dad's original, well-weathered LP of Passport To Romance. I only remember "Little Bells And Big Bells." Maybe I should play the album some time; for all I know, it's the easy-listening equivalent of Pet Sounds, Rocket To Russia, and Drop Out With The Barracudas, all rolled into one elevator-safe package. But the question remains: why did I dream about Percy Faith? And why was The Patti Smith Group there, too? Clearly, I'm not drinking enough.

Because the night belongs to "Little Bells."