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Listen to "Bottled in Bond"

Theme from the Motion Picture Casino Royale, by the George Mann Orchestra
Custom Records Custom CS 1074, 196?

This track comes from an anonymous album. OK, so it says "The George Mann Orchestra" on the cover, but it's unlikely there was a George Mann or an orchestra. It's probable that even the people at Custom Records who released this James Bond rip-off album had no idea who was playing on the master tape.

Custom, which had the dubious distinction of being a budget label's budget label, may not have had even the money to pay for its own recording sessions. Instead, it relied on shady characters from foreign lands and other addresses unknown bearing chests of tapes made by non-union ensembles in places with low rents and plenty of skilled musicians. The label paid a flat fee for the tape, assigned names to the various unlicensed numbers, slapped on some picture a small library of stock photos (or even cheaper imitation stock photos), and pushed it out to record racks in grocery stores, dime stores, and other outlets with undiscriminating customers.

The shot on this cover is particularly bad. The blonde is pretty long in the tooth, and the guy looks more like a sleazy carpet salesman than a secret agent. His smoke-tinted sunglasses say hangover, not jet lag. The car is borrowed. The owner didn't bother to take off his auto club medallion. You'd have to be blind, stoned, or stupid to confuse these folks with Sean Connery and Honor Blackman.

Face it, this album has enough strikes against it before the vinyl's even left the sleeve. So you don't apply quite the same standard you would with a, um, decent record. A fair number of these ultra-low-budget albums are so poorly pressed they don't even belong on a turntable. To play them is a crime against your needle, let alone your ears. And forget about fidelity. They're often the audio equivalent of the MPEG movies you find on Kazaa that someone made by smuggling a camcorder into a screening. Finally, because their material is often unlicensed by virtue of being in the public domain, you eliminate an awful lot of listening if you exclude faint-hearted renditions of "El Relicario" or "Turkey in the Straw." If you find a couple of half-decent tracks, you've done well.

So I was pleased to give this dog a stroll and find the opening cut, "Bottled in Bond," a more than passable instrumental rocker, a bit of "Peter Gunn" meets Booker T. and the M. G.s, if you will. Who knows? Maybe this is Booker T. backed by the Bar-Kays.

Or not.

It may be that the relative merit of a track like this appears much greater than its absolute value simply due to the poverty of its setting. It might have been rightly forgotten two months after release if it had come out on a Willie Mitchell or Ventures album. Coming from an album that didn't even need to stop at a stereo on its way to the garbage can, it just seems like a dance floor killer. In reality, it may just be an above-average vamp, filler for the band to play while Wilson Pickett or Tom Jones is taking his sweet time to get his butt on stage.

If so, I still argue it's an above average vamp, with the potential for "I Can't Help Myself" greatness if it had been played and recorded a little bit better. The sudden volume increases, for example, have to go. Halfway into the second chorus is not the appropriate time to abruptly crank the knob up a couple of clicks. But close your eyes and imagine a solid soul band pumping this out, the horn players swinging back and forth in time to the beat, the drummer keeping the pressure on, the bassist setting down a rock-steady rhythm while doing his best to look as if he were waiting for a bus. I think you'd be happy to rock out and let Wilson or Tom cool their heels for a few minutes.

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