Parade PRC 5052 Italy 10 Jan 1968
For many years I’ve been a huge fan of those dark Italian cinematic soundtracks from the 60’s and 70’s, but If I had to specify a period in my life where it all started, I have to honestly say it was way back in my childhood. Growing up in the 70’s, occasionally those great spaghetti westerns were screened on the TV, if very late, on a Saturday night. And while I was most of the time permitted to sit alongside and experience these great films with my papa, I somehow doubt I would have lasted the distance at that time of night. However the dramatic opening titles definitely pulled me in, and they stuck and still are quite memorable for me today. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly was one of those films, and it so happened that my papa also owned the picture sleeve 45 (the Hugo Montenegro version) which I would play over and over.
But it wasn’t until many years later, as I was growing up and started to dig deeper into the heart and soul of music, did I start realising the great names and achievements of these composers. Nino Rota, Armando Trovajoli, Piero Umiliani, Piero Piccioni…these and many more were true masters of the genre. But there is no argument that it is Ennio Morricone who is the ruler of the castle, who stands tallest without a doubt, on that high cinematic mountain.
One of Morricone’s strongest elements of his work has to be depth and atmosphere, and in the 60’s, there was a plenty of it. Many of his compositions and film scores were immersed with very deep, haunting and many times sensual flavours. Moody female vocals would be key, and were often used as background instruments rather than lyrically. Now while this Morricone sound is famous today, and those vocals are such an important and recognisable ingredient, it’s still difficult to find out a real lot about these incredible singers, as is the case with Christy (and also Edda Dell’Orso from previous post). Luckily I have a few friends who are big fans (such as Brendan Young aka dj Diabolik) who have been able to give me a few leads to follow.
Maria Cristina Brancucci was born in Rome on April 20, 1940. In 1966 Morricone took her into the recording studio to lay down some vocal tracks for Sergio Sollima’s feature La Resa Dei Conti. It was a big spaghetti western that deserved a big opening title track, which she provided so appropriately with Run Man Run. The film falls under the subgenre called Zapata Westerns (spaghetti westerns with some political context usually concerning the Mexican revolution) and was co-written by long time Sergio Leone collaborator Sergio Donati. With Tomás Milián who plays Cuchillo and bounty hunter Jonathan Corbett, who is played by Lee Van Cleef, it is today considered as one of the best Italian Westerns ever made due to its tightly directed staged scenes and genius score. The English release, The Big Gundown, would also provide an alternate English version of “Run”, but I definitely lean more towards the more pure Italian version.
In 1967, Christy calibrated with Morricone for the spy spoof OK Connery (re-titled Operation Kid Brother for the US). The plot involves an evil criminal named Thanato, who is bent on taking over the world, using a magnetic wave generator that will cause all metal-based machinery to grind to a halt. However, the secret agent normally assigned to such tasks isn’t available, so they engage his civilian brother, Neil, who is a world class plastic surgeon, hypnotist, and lip reader, which turn out to be precisely the skills required for thwarting Thanatos. Sean Connery’s brother Neil, actually plays the role of the surgeon, and the film includes a bunch of familiar bond faces including Bernard Lee, the original M from the Bond series, and the original Moneypenny, Lois Maxwell. Former Miss Rome and Miss World 1960 runner up Daniela Bianchi, is also starring in the wild romp and she sizzles just as you would hope and expect from an Italian beauty queen!
In 1968 Christy would be called upon again for another western, Tepepa (also known as Long Live the Revolution and Blood and Guns), this time directed by Giulio Petroni. The film stars Tomas Milian as the Mexican revolutionary leader, Jesus Maria Moran a.k.a. Tepepa, and in opposing roles, Orson Welles as Colonel Cascorro, and John Steiner as Doctor Henry Price, who saves Tepepa from the firing squad in order to exact personal revenge for the death of his fiancée. Christy provides the fitting dramatic Al Messico Che Vorrei, again with Morricone at the wheel.
In the late sixties, Christy’s 7″ release Deep Down was recorded for Mario Bava’s diabolical Danger: Diabolik masterpiece. If you happen to be a fan of pop mod spy action films, then this is your movie! It’s bizarre Italian cult cinema at it’s best, and needless to say, it’s legendary with Italian genre film buffs. But even before the 1968 cinematic hero existed, the myth was well and truly alive in the form of a long running controversial pocket sized publication entitled Diabolik. It was created by former secretary, editor and model Angela Giussani, who founded the Astorina publishing house, a company that was limited to board and Western card games. Angela really studied the market and concluded that many commuters liked to read mystery novels. She imagined a magazine commuters could read during their trips, that was entertaining yet intriguing, with breathtaking action.
Inspired by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre’s Fantomas, Angela and her younger sister Luciana, who had now started working with her, came up with the handsome masked criminal, who would be seen really as an anti-hero for grown-ups of both sexes. The first issue had a dark yet vibrant cover of a masked man in the background and a woman screaming in the foreground, with the subtitle “Il fumetto del brivido” (The comic book of terror). This really highlighted that the publication was aimed at an audience of grown-ups, who likely preferred noir novels, something rather unique for those times when comics were considered as light entertainment for kids. Luciana collaborated with her on the series’ stories starting from issue #13, and the exciting adventures evolved. Diabolik was soon a successful working man’s super hero which has sold more than 150 million copies since he made his first appearance.
In the Dino De Laurentiis produced feature film, John Phillip Law plays the “master sports car racer, master skin diver, master lover”, Diabolik, and the stunning Austrian Marisa Mell plays his girlfriend Eva Kant. The movie is a real trip. It’s got that great 60’s vibrant Technicolour palette, over the top action and charismatic characters, and like its De Laurentiis companion Barbarella, it’s damn sexy! (1*)
So the plot in a nut shell is. After an armored car leaves the bank with ten-million dollars, Diabolik manages to attack and steal the money, escaping with his partner. He heads back to his secret underground electronic hideout where he decides to steal the famous Aksand emerald necklace for Eva’s birthday from the Saint Just Castle. He out smarts the law, as he has done so many times before, and succeeds, but gangster Ralph Valmont finds a way to kidnap Eva and holds her up for ransom. With the ten million dollars and emerald necklace for trade, Diabolik sets off to the rescue. Eva makes her escape and Diabolik kills Valmont, but this time he is trapped and faces a shiny gold plated death. The police find Diabolik and proclaim him dead, but soon it is revealed that he has in fact faked his death through a technique taught to him by Tibetan lamas. He returns to life, however if he does not get the antidote within 12 hours, he will die. I think I’ll leave it there and keep you all hanging, so you can go out and find a copy to see how it all unfolds for the anti hero.
The film is typical of a De Laurentiis production, and while some just can’t see the beauty in this genre, tagging it as camp and cheese, I seriously love this kind of film making. For me everything works as it only could have, in that late sixties era of cinema history. And when the psychedelic spiraling open titles kick in, again we have the great Christy-Morricone collaboration with Deep Down. This time, as opposed to her previous more expressive soundtrack recordings, Christy is far more subtle with her approach. It’s actually very sensual and her vocals riding nicely up alongside the distorted whaling guitar that brands the composition. Don’t get me wrong, she stills sings with her gusto and passion, but this time it’s the whispery voice that really draws you in here. The genius of Morricone shines in this perfect collaboration. Some may find this surprising, but this Parade 1968 single featured, is the only vinyl to be officially released from this infamous underground cult film. The word on the street is that all masters and recordings of Morricone’s work for the film were destroyed in a studio fire. An “unofficial” soundtrack on Sycodelic in 2001 was released but it is believed that these recordings may have been ripped from a laser disc edition of the film, as some sound effects and dialogue are evident throughout. What you will find on this release are 3 alternate versions of Deep Down performed by Edda Dell’Orso (featured on my last post) and the incredible psychedelic Valmont’s Go Go Pad and Underwater Wah-Wa. Crazy fabulous stuff! This featured isolated Diabolik single is flipped with the unconnected Amore Amore Amore, which was produced by Piero Piccioni for Alberto Sordi’s 1967 film Un italiano in America.
Deep Down is such a great little 7″ and a bit of a shining gem in my collection, obviously because it’s an important piece of Diabolik history, but also because I just love this song so, so, so very much. It’s not too difficult to find and it plays nicely for those early cocktail sets. Deep Down was recently covered by Mike Patton on his Mondo Cane Lp, and there’s some great clips online, in particularly the live footage at the Holland Festival in Amsterdam, you may want to search. Whether fans agree if Patton gives the song it’s deserved justice or not, I don’t know, But I have to say, once those horns kick in on that live version, the hairs do rise!
In the late 60s Christy recorded more pop songs (including a great version of Quando Quando Quando) and ended up a popular Italian TV variety artist for a number of years. Today she’s now a well known voice actor, who dubbed Barbara Streisand’s voice for the Italian version of Funny Girl, and has worked on countless animated films including The Princess and the Frog, Anastasia, Bambi, Beauty and the Beast, The Three Musketeers and The Lion King 3.
(1*) The release of Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik lead to a minor trend of adaptations of comic strips that emphasized mild sado-masochism and late 1960s fetish gear. These films were followed up with Piero Vivarelli’s Satanik (1968), Bruno Corbucci’s Isabella, duchessa dei diavoli (1969) and Corrado Farina’s Baba Yaga (1973) which had a Piero Umiliani soundtrack.
Black and white photo. Angela and Luciana Giussani, the creators of the comic book Diabolik, in their studio, 27th September 1966 (photo credit unknown).
Danger: Diabolik! Trailer
Recommended reading… Anna Battista’s irenebrination
Slave Girl (Side 2 Track 2)
While this is a far lesser known track from the Farina brothers, this exotic sultry instro has to be my fav from this talented duo! And to find it on a 45, means I can now take it with me everywhere I go.
Farina brothers, Santo Anthony & John Steven, were born in Brooklyn, New York, just 4 years apart. Santo, the elder, was born October 24, 1937 and then Johnny followed, April 30, 1941. The boys were young when their Dad was drafted into the army and stationed in Oklahoma. One evening on the radio, he heard this beautiful accent while listening to country and western…it was the sound of the steel guitar. He wrote home to his wife and said “I’d like the boys to learn to play this instrument”. When he returned from the war they searched out for a man who could get them started with the steel. The boys, I imagine, probably jumped for the opportunity. What kid doesn’t want to play a guitar of sorts?
But although their dad was super keen to have the boys learn that very particular style that carried those unyielding memories, and although he was successful in finding a lap steel guitar somewhere in a music store in Brooklyn, there was no certainty that the right teacher who had the specific skills would materialize. After a few failed attempts from baffled music school tutors, who just lacked the know-how to master the “sound”, their frustrated dad searched himself and eventually found an authentic Hawaiian musician with the skills. The brothers finally had a teacher with the expertise, and thanks to some Italian food coaxing, he would tutor the boys at their own home. After about 5 months, the teacher headed back to Hawaii, and the brothers never saw him again, but he had left behind enough of his teachings for Santo and Johnny to now take flight…and spread their wings they did.
When Johnny reached the age of twelve, he began to play accompaniment to Santo on a standard electric guitar (his big brother helped him learn to play). Their supportive father had bought them a Webcor tape recorder, and encourage them to write their own material and record everything. The brothers eventually formed a duo and became rather popular in school, soon started performing at church dances, weddings, clubs and other events in the New York boroughs. The Farina brothers began to gather fans from Brooklyn to Long Island.
In 1958, Mike Dee & The Mello Tones (Santo Farina on steel guitar; Johnny Farina on electric guitar and with their uncle Mike Dee on drums) recorded a self-penned instrumental which they called Deep Sleep. Loosely inspired by the song Softly, As In The Morning Sunrise (Sigmund Romberg, 1929), it had the same chord progression but a simpler melody line. Deep Sleep would in time become Sleep Walk.
The determined younger brother, Johnny, made the rounds of the New York record companies searching for a publishing deal, with a couple of their recorded demos in hand. His persistence and determination paid off and they got lucky with Canadian American Records, who signed them to a song writer’s contract. Although grateful I’m sure, it was a recording deal which is what they were really chasing, and soon enough the opportunity was granted to them. Their first release in 1959 was consummated, and it was called Sleep Walk. And did it do well? Umm…yes it did! It was recorded at Trinity Records in Manhattan and entered Billboard’s ‘Top 40’ on August 17, 1959. The moody eerie composition rose to the No.1 position on the American charts, for two weeks in September, and remained in the ‘Top 40’ list until November 9. There’s a great live version from ’59 on the Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show, on youtube I recommend you looking for.
Santo and Johnny actually wrote lyrics to Sleepwalk, and after the instrumental was a hit song, Betsy Brye (real name is Bette Anne Steele) released a beautiful “lynchesque” vocal version as a single in 1959 (Canadian American Records 106), which did not chart on the Hot 100, but damn I like it! At first it was believed that the composition was written at 2.am early one morning, when one brother woke the other with an idea. But a recent interview with Johnny reveals that it was a long and constant progression of revisited ideas that finally got them the hit.
The follow-up song “Tear Drop” was also a hit, though their self titled LP released that same year, was less successful in the United States. But that takes nothing away from the lp, which was arranged and conducted by Bob Davie, who had been the guiding hand to all of Santo and Johnny’s musical activities. It included some fabulous interpretations of well known ditties such as Caravan, Raunchy, Dream, and there’s even a take on Chuck Berry’s School Days. And you have to hear the wildly hypnotic version of Summertime. But the standout for me at least, has to be the self penned Slave Girl, and it wasn’t that long ago that I made the discovery of it in the form of a mono UK 7″ EP. There’s just something so exciting about this wonderful piece of exotica. It’s slinky (yeah I know I like using that term), sensual, so rhythmic, and it’s quite transporting, but unfortunately it’s also just too short! It’s a fine early night spinner, to get the right kinda’ cool in the air. This ep also includes a gorgeous version of Blue Moon which makes it even more desirable. Also funnily enough, I recently found an Aussie copy with an alternate picture sleeve, in a local record shop bargain bin.
With their unmistakable sound, they appeared on all the top music shows, “The Alan Freed Show”, “Dick Clarks’ American Bandstand”, “The Perry Como Show” etc. etc. Their fame spread to other countries and they got booked on tours in Australia, Mexico and Europe. After the less successful debut album, they issued five more albums for Canadian-American, before the company dissolved in 1965. But Santo & Johnny continued to record and release a great amount of Lp’s and 45’s with other various labels including Imperial, Ricordi and Produttori Associati, the Italian label founded in 1969 by Antonio Casetta. The albums were ethereal, relaxed, sometimes swinging, and variously themed (James Bond, Hawaiian songs, country music, rock and roll hits, etc.), but were more popular internationally than at home.
In 1964, they released an album of Beatles covers including And I Love Her, which hit #1 in Mexico and held the spot for 21 weeks (they received The Golden Kangaroo Award for it). In 1973, Santo & Johnny recorded Nino Rota’s The Godfather theme which went to #1 in Italy and stayed at that spot for 26 weeks which broke all records in Italy (there certainly feels like some Jean-Jacques Perrey channeling going on in that one). They received a “Gold Record” in Italy and were inducted into the Italian Music Hall of Fame.
Santo and Johnny’s distinctive sound influenced a generation of not just guitarists, but all kinds of musicians. “Sleep Walk’s in everybody’s DNA,” says Farina. “John Lennon said he was inspired by Sleep Walk, and that’s why he wrote Free As A Bird. George Harrison released a song called Marwa Blues inspired by Santo and Johnny”.
1999 was a great year for Sleep Walk, it earned BMI’s Millionaires Award symbolizing 2 million airplays on the radio. Also that year, Brian Setzer’s version earned him a Grammy Award for best instrumental of 1999. Because of constant radio airplay and numerous TV show and commercial plays, Sleep Walk continues to be one of the most popular and quickly recognized instrumentals of the 20th century. It was also used throughout the 1992 Stephen King movie, Sleepwalkers.
In 2002 Santo & Johnny were inducted into the International Steel Guitar Hall of Fame. Hanging proudly on his wall, Johnny has 2 Gold Records, one for Sleep Walk and on for The Godfather.
Santo retired from music in the early 70s, but Johnny continues to perform, now taking on the lap-steel role, and still finds time to record new material with his own band. He is also the president of Aniraf, Inc., an international record company based in New York, and currently operates the official Santo And Johnny website.
Jean-Jacques Perrey, was born in a little village in northern France, on January 20 1929, and received his first musical instrument, an accordion, when he was just 4, as a Christmas present. He would go on to teach himself to play the piano by ear, although he did once attempt to study music at the Amiens Conservatory, but was kicked out for violating school rules by performing in public.
Perrey must have had some sort of epiphany in Paris in 1952, after meeting inventor Georges Jenny. In 1941, the Frenchman had come up with the Ondioline, a very unique vacuum-tube powered electronic keyboard, suspended on special springs which made it possible to introduce a natural vibrato if the player moved the keyboard from side to side with their playing hand. The result was a beautiful, almost human-like expressive vibrato.
Perrey, who at the time was a student of medicine, must have realised that it was actually the science of electronic sound, that was really giving him a buzz, as opposed to the science of medicine. Upon that first meeting, Jenny must have enjoyed Perrey’s excitement towards this new instrument and actually gave him one to take home for six months, to see what someone with Perrey’s mind and talent could do with it. On the return, Jenny was quite impressed, and probably never heard anyone play it like he did. Perrey ditched his medical studies and Jenny hired him as a salesman and demonstrator of the new instrument. Out of these demonstrations grew a cabaret act in which Perrey played piano and Ondioline, at times simultaneously. Titled Around the World in 80 Ways, the show was quite popular and Perrey took it on tour throughout western Europe. Working the nightclub circuit, Perrey became acquainted with singer/songwriter Charles Trenet and also legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhart, who he ended up recording several songs with, one of which, The Soul of a Poet, became a major hit in Europe.
One night after a presentation of the show, Perrey received the notice that someone wanted to talk to him at the bar. To his surprise this person was Jean Cocteau (and by the way, myself having a huge adoration for that artist, when this fact was revealed, my brain exploded a just a little bit). The influential poet gave Perrey the advice to go to the U.S. to follow his music career there. “He said there would be more possibilities and an audience for my approach to music. He asked for my phone number and told me he would hand it to somebody that he knew who could help me find the sponsor in New York I needed. He gave my contact to Édith Piaf!”
Piaf was already really interested in the sounds of the Ondioline, and took Perrey under her wings. They would bond, perform and record together, and she would pay for studio time that enabled Perrey to record his own compositions. But Piaf’s biggest contribution was to send one of these tapes to Carroll Bratman, a music contractor in New York City. Bratman responded immediately, sending plane tickets to Perrey with one word marked on the envelope: “Come!” He moved to the U.S. in March 1960 and stayed there for 10 great years.
Now be sure to watch the online footage of Perrey demonstrating his incredible musical vocabulary on the Ondioline, which was televised on the American I’ve Got A Secret show in 1960 and also in ’66. Quite remarkable to see the reactions for what must have been for the majority of the audience, their first steps into the new world of electronic music.
Also, before Perrey moved to the U.S. he did release two EP’s under the adopted persona of Mr. Ondioline around 59-60 for Pacific Records. The result may have been whimsical commercial pop bent into kooky novel shapes, but it’s probably that bizarre mysterious cover that makes this 7″ EP so sort! Crazy for it’s day!
Bratman built Perrey an experimental laboratory and recording studio, where he would he invent “a new process for generating rhythms with sequences and loops”, utilising the environmental sounds of musique concrète. Like a mad scientist, he’d spend endless hours, even weeks, splicing tape, and tape recorders with scissors, piecing and “looping” together a unique fantastical take on the future.
In 1965 Perrey met Gershon Kingsley, who you could say was a like minded contemporary German American composer, and a former colleague of *John Cage, and at the time was a staff arranger at Vanguard Records. There must have been a strong and obvious connection from the get go. They both shared each others way of musically thinking, way out side and far beyond any square. And it wasn’t long before they found themselves recording together in the Vanguard studios, which normally specialized in folk, and not in avant-garde. The end result of their first collaborative effort was The In Sound from Way Out! released in 66.
With Perrey’s tape loops, and his inventive melodies twinning together with Kingsley’s complementary arrangements and instrumentation, the album created, was filled with tunes that sounded like some kind of surreal animated cartoon from out-of-space gone berserk. And since this was decades before the advent of widespread digital technology, each tune took weeks of painstaking editing and splicing to produce. Their second and final collaborative effort came in 1967 with the release of Kaleidoscopic Vibrations: Electronic Pop Music From Way Out!, and although sounding similar in style, this release was particularly different in two ways. Firstly, most of he compositions were versions of popular songs of the day. And secondly, Perrey’s tape loops and effects were added in post-production after Kingsley’s orchestrations were recorded, a technique now commonly used by electronic artists to this day. Also the album was one of the first to use the new Moog modular synthesizer, a massive, complicated electronic instrument resembling an old-style telephone switchboard.
Kingsley continued to do his own work with the Moog, while Perrey joined with producer John Mack and arranger Dave Mullaney and their company, Laurie Productions, to compose and record, mostly for radio and television advertisements. Perrey recorded two more albums for Vanguard, The Amazing New Electronic Pop Sounds of Jean Jacques Perrey and the legendary sort after Moog Indigo in 1970.
The back cover liner notes to this far out LP read…”Without a ship Columbus could not have traversed the Atlantic, without a telescope Galileo could not have charted the solar system, and what the MOOG SYNTHESIZER opens up for the future of music is beyond dreams”. The enthusiastic proclamation would continue with…”The most amazing instrument is nothing without a mind behind it, and Jean Jacques Perrey’s mind is that of a combined musician and scientist, with a special love for what is happy and vital tin popular music. The way Paganini thought musically in terms of the violin, Perrey thinks musically in terms of the Moog”.
As you’ve probably guessed, there were some pretty great spaced out tracks laid down on this 12″ slab, and as expected from Perrey, cosmically twisted, fun and swinging. There’s the great opener Soul City that every space mod must have played on their Weltron 2007 while preparing a Martini, and also the dark and slinky Cat In The Night. But the real track here, that took Perrey to a new level of greatness, is of course E.V.A.!
Now I know this infamous track is nowadays quite well known, and not just amongst the vintage space pop fanatics, but it’s hard to believe that is was never to be officially released by Vanguard as a 7″ in the US. In fact even the UK had to wait two years for the first Moog Indigo single, and that wasn’t even EVA, but instead the loopy Gossipo Perpetuo with the title track on the flip! THANKFULLY the vanguard people over in Brazil had the sense to release it 3 years after it was recorded as a single and as featured here, a gorgeous EP picture sleeve, that actually runs at 33rpm.
This track is pretty special to me for a number of reasons. It played on the dance floor at Sounds of Seduction when I meet my wife many years ago, and it also played at our wedding and is featured on our Super 8 wedding video. It’s so smooth, it has beats, it has fuzz and Wah wah, and it even has bells…but most importantly, it has so much integrity! And while so many other Perrey recordings happily and contently sit back in that other time from the past, this unstoppable track is still soaring far ahead, smashing through electronic genres, only leaving a traces of space glitter on the occasional hip dance floor.
And so what does E.V.A. stand for? Well to tell you the truth, I don’t know, but it is a space term for extra-vehicular activity, so maybe that was a reference point?
Perrey returned to France in 1970 and became the musical director of a ballet company. He wrote and recorded music for a television commercials and a number of French cartoons, and released several albums of this music on the Montparnasse label. He also continued to work on music for therapeutic purposes, including one project that involved recording with dolphins in the waters near Vancouver, Canada. “It was remarkable,” Perrey says. “If you played sounds of a certain frequency, the dolphins began to swim in perfect circles.”
Perrey’s influence would reverberate for years – The In Sound from Way Out! inspired a tribute from the Beastie Boys, who borrowed both the album’s title and cover art for their own album 30 years later. But sadly, none of this translated into personal fortune. Perrey did not own the publishing rights to his music when it was licensed to Disney, while Stanley Kubrick was able to incorporate some of Perrey’s sound effects into 2001: A Space Odyssey for next to nothing. Perrey says: “Jean Cocteau told me, ‘Thirty years after I die, you will retire a rich man.’ Well, Cocteau died in 1963 and I haven’t been able to retire yet.”
I highly recommend this video interview by Richard Lawson from 2004!
Also great Perrey references here…
*John Cage, who was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde, and is perhaps best known for his 1952 composition 4′33″, which is performed in the absence of deliberate sound. Musicians who present the work do nothing aside from being present for the duration specified by the title. The content of the composition is not “four minutes and 33 seconds of silence,” as is sometimes assumed, but rather the sounds of the environment heard by the audience during the performance.
*Photo credit to Marco Zanoni