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Stan Cornyn--King of Liner Notes
Like pulp fiction, liner notes may one day come to be appreciated as works of literature. And when they do, it's certain that Stan Cornyn will be viewed as the Jim Thompson of liner notes. He's already scored at least one scholarly article ("The Composition of Celebrity: Sinatra as Text in the Liner Notes of Stan Cornyn," Gilbert L. Gigliotti, in Frank Sinatra & Popular Culture: Essays on an American Icon, Len Mustazza, Ed., Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998).
While working for Warner Brothers and Reprise in the 1960s, Cornyn penned notes to a number of albums. To call them liner notes is stretching the concept--these are more like fantastical riffs played out by a cat so far out there he's in a galaxy by himself. Cornyn actually won back-to-back Grammys in 1965 and 1966 for two Sinatra albums, September of My Years and Sinatra at the Sands. Cornyn was director of Creative Services at Warner as the 70s came in, and masterminded a number of ground-breaking marketing and packaging ventures, such as the Schlagers series of low-cost label samplers. He helped launch Randy Newman's career with the equivocal marketing line, "Once You Get Used to It, His Voice Really is Something." Cornyn went on to become a major player in the biz as the president of Warner New Media in the early 1990s, then ran Mediavision Multimedia Publishing, Inc. He now enjoys the good life in retirement in Santa Barbara and recently published a one-of-a-kind memoir of his time with Warner Brothers: Exploding: The Highs, Hits, Hype, Heroes, and Hustlers of the Warner Music Group.
And so, on to Epic Sloth: The Stan Cornyn Reader
- from The Mexicali Singers
- Anita Kerr, one of America's foremost singers and vocal leaders in her own right, discovered The Mexicali Singers almost by accident. Had it not been for a fortuitous wrong turn three miles outside Prescott, Arizona, The Mexicali Singers might still today be cutting sugar cane, not records.
Miss Kerr first heard The Mexicali Singers in the picaresque village square of Mexicali, where they were making fiesta with their unusual voices. Anita Kerr was enchanted. She heard the group as they strolled about the square, entertaining the fellow Mexicalians with their own arrangements of instrumental favorites by the Tijuana Brass, Al Hirt, Bert Kaempfert, yes, even the Beatles.
Miss Kerr asked the group if they would care to stroll with her to Hollywood, where she would arrange a recording career for them. "Si!" came the answer from the beaming faces.
And so this album comes to pass. From the standpoint of vocal technique alone, The Mexicali Singers should win the triple-tonguing jaw-aching Award of the Year. They move so quickly through so many harmonies and varieties of sound at such a wild pace they sound like ace graduates of the Juilliard School of Doo-Wah.
- from The Further Adventures of the Mexicali Singers
- Baritone Erasmus Gonsalvez Munez, the unspoiled Rubirosa of West Mexicali, has begun to enchant women's clubs in each town The Mexicali Singers visit, by moonlighting tea-time lectures on a subject he is a part master at: bull-breeding. Obviously a favorite with his audiences, if one can measure such things by the delighted titters which waft from the club houses, Erasmus is fast on his way to becoming a legend with housewives from pampas to pampas.
- from Nancy Sinatra, These Boots Are Made for Walking
- "How should I sing this?"
"Like a 16 year old girl who's been dating a 40 year old man, but it's all over now."
She looks good, dresses good, lives good, eats, drinks, loves, breathes, dances, sings, cries good. Five foot three and tiger eyes. A mouth made for lollipops or kisses, Stingers or melting smiles. Ninety-five pounds of affection.
She's been there already. Barely in her twenties, she looks younger. That look, like Lolita Humbert, like Daisy Clover. The power to exalt, or to destroy, wanting only the former, but unafraid to invoke the latter if the time comes.
The eyes that see through, know more, look longer.
Unafraid to pull on the boots again, toss off a burnt out thing with a casual "So long, babe," and get.
A young fragile living thing, on it's own in a wondrous-wicked-woundup-wasted-wild-worried-wisedup-warmbodied world. On her own. Earning her daily crepes and Cokes by singing the facts of love. Her voice tells as much as her songs. No faked up grandure, her voice is like it is: a little tired, little put down, a lot loving.
No one is born sophisticated. It's a place you have to crawl to, crawling out of hayseed country, over miles of unsanded pavement, past Trouble, past corners and forks with no auto club signs to point you, till you get there and you wake up wiser.
She's arrived. She sings you about the long crawl. And makes you have to listen.
- from Harper's Bizarre:
- Dick Yount chuckles a lot about his brother, Gale. Gale likes to travel with the group when Dick's on the road. Then the Groupies that get worked up at the show attack Gale, thinking he's part of the show. So Gale's losing buttons and hair. He runs, yelling, "I'm nobody! I'm nobody!" Dick alas, is nervier. He searches for life's luxuries, like a credit card with somebody else's name on it.
- from Petula Clark, The Other Man's Grass is Always Greener
- Used to be, girl singers rode on busses, undressed with the door ajar, drank liquid gin, swore good. Were equal parts pretty paint, agressive, swinger, porter, promoter, and hooker. Most had bad arches. Plus six teal blue ball gowns with ripped hems. No more.
- from Dean Martin Hits Again
- THE ORCHESTRA: Always looking bored, as if they'd really rather be home watching "Mister Ed" re-runs. The arranger asks the trumpets if they can blow into their stands to get more of an organ sound on "Chapel." The third trumpet replies, in a tone like you'd hear from Wrigley if you'd asked him if he could spare a stick of gum, "I think so." Like a convention of movie extras, they seem to be practicing some sort of East Indian unbugability.
- from Frank Sinatra, Strangers in the Night
- He leans into the front end of "Strangers" and starts singing all the way to "The End." And there's no chop-choppy phrasing along the way. No dit-dit-dit. It comes out mmmmmmmmm all the way. If he runs our of gas on a phrase, which is a very rare bird for the man, then he runs out of gas two-and-a-half miles after anybody else would. He sings like he's got an extra tank of Texaco in his tummy.
- from Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim
- It had begun like the World Soft Championships. The songs, mostly by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Tender melodies. Tender like a two-day, lobster-red Rio sunburn, so tender they'd scream agony if handled rough. Slap one of his fragile songs on the back with a couple of trumpets? Like washing crystal in a cement mixer.
... You feel for anybody who will blow it on the next take. It begins. The long, long. About a minute and a half in, then the trombonist braacks a note. Braack. That obvious. He can't look over at some other trombonist; he's the only trombonist. So he sites there, a blutch-colored felt hat sagged across the bell of his horn, hung there to keep it Soft. Poor Trombone Player knows: his music said B and it came out F and Jesus was it wrong.
- from Anita Kerr, Slightly Baroque
- A lot of people are born slightly cross-eyed. Or slightly red-faced. Or slightly ugly. Anita Kerr wasn't one of these. Anita Kerr was born Slightly Baroque.
"Baroque" does note rhyme with "barbeque." If you think it does, or even might, you are seriously ineligible to touch the album.
... Anita Kerr, who flourishes and curlicues at the epicenter of today's pop scene, is herself Slightly Baroque, as was said above. But, to be dead honest about it, not a hell of a lot baroque. Slightly so. Prematurely grey, but still a lass who, given a pair of persimmon stretch pants, can cut a meaningful Frug. A lady who started out in the decidedly unBaroque world of Nashville, Tennessee, arranging and singing pop music that normally goes Thump in the night.
- And Cornyn's masterpiece, "Epic Sloth," from Happiness is Dean Martin
- Nothing is more Dean Martin than Dean Martin.
"Of course, doing a really preposterously good job of being Dean Martin depends a lot on knowing the rules about what makes the best Dean Martin. Knowing the archetypal definition of Martinism: How is he different? Why is he individual? What is he driving at?
What Dean Martin is driving at seems to be to lead a Life Of Sloth. A Life of EPIC Sloth. Not just your common little ol' Sunday afternoon lazy Sloth, like you get with minor Erskine Caldwell Georgia darlins.
No, Martin now epitomizes EPIC SLOTH. Sloth like Joseph E. Levine would come up with. In big, 3-D letters, like in those Ben Hur movie ads, with all forms of EPIC EXHAUSTION draped over the letters. "Epic Sloth," starring Dean Martin, and then running around the bottom, instead of Mongol hordes and Jack Palance you find other things, for this is "Epic Sloth." Things like deflated innertubes. Like the ears of sleeping Spaniels. Like Kleenex ashes. Like all of Life's Most Unresilient Stuff.
And there, leaned up in Herculean-Scope against those giant letters, our Pop Star slumps. Dean Martin. Kind of half-eyed looking out at you, grinning "Hi ya, pally," like he hopes you haven't got anything heavy on your mind. "Dean Martin has been working at becoming an Epic Pop Art Object. He's been getting in a good deal of pop art hypnotizing. Avis knows, you don't get to be Number One by just sitting round. Some detractors have published this about Martin: that he sits round, trying to make spaghetti look tense.
"Pish tosh," we say, and "Yellow journalism."
You have to publicize to get to be Our National Epic Sloth. Martin has. His medium: the most popular art object of Our Times, meaning . . . your television set. (Breathes there a soul with fingers so dull he can't find his Vertical Knob blindfolded?)
The mind-boggling task which DM has accomplished in his upwards surge to Number One Epic Sloth in this: he has put other would- be number one lazy slobs into limbo. "Amos 'N Andy's" Lightnin, for instance, now is largely forgot. Shiftless and No-Account has moved to Beverly Hills, where dey got no deltas, chile. The other competition--those slothy Southern belles once played by Lee Remick and Joanne Woodward--are now minor league stuff.
Martin (few people have known this until this very minute; it has been a closely kept secret) was actually only Number Two until quite recently. The spot of Number One Epic Sloth was recently held by another performer. Not a human being, but a small dog. His name: Red Dust. He is (or was, for he has largely disappeared from our scene) part of a Vaudeville turn. His master would bark out commands: "Red Dust, Roll Over! Up, Red Dust!" But Red Dust was an utterly and irrevocably sag-boned hound. Red Dust never voluntarily moved anything, least of all a paw. The pooch looked permanently pickled. It was pretty funny stuff.
Dean Martin finally won out over Red Dust. Much of his triumph has been ascribed by some scribes to his ability to project an alcoholic aura from coast-to-coast, into millions of Puritan homes. Good, Puritan, beer-drinking homes. Martin has almost by himself established Booze-o-Vision as America's new Art Populaire. It's difficult to imagine any other object that would currently be more welcome in our historic nation's thousands of beer bars and juke joints. Nothing more popular than DM, slumped there, looking for his cue card, all brung to you in NBC's surrealist color. Martin and his--dare we say it?-- goopy baritone. Martin: the biggest sex symbol to hit neighborhood taverns since the heyday of The Rheingold Girl, may she in our secret imaginations requiescat in flagrante delicto.
Nothing should slow up his reign as our beloved epic boozer short of a sudden attack of dysphagia.
S p a c e A g e P o p M u s i c
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