Pop Music | Newberry

Pop Music

I must say that I was worried. I looked at the four copies of the ten-inch disc of “Come Back to Sorrento”, and thought “Can it be that this is the ONLY record ever made by this singing group? And why have I never heard of the song “Moonlight Madonna”, which is on the flip side?

My worries were put to rest, as I can now put yours to rest. No, they DID record at least one other record. And the reason I have not heard of “Moonlight Madonna” is that it isn’t all that interesting a song. (Although there are dozens of recordings of it by other artists: I think it was written by a visionary who knew that one day thousands of elevators would need music.)

I am still reaping benefits from this massive collection of music we received from a collector whose system I have still not figured out. If it had not been for his wonderful accumulation of discs I might never have heard Strawberry Snow. That alone would have been enough, but he has greatly enhanced our collection of records involving the sounds of trains, which includes one disc solely of train sounds recorded during thunderstorms. I expect I have every recording of Scheherazade known to western civilization, and I have multiple copies of Jane Fonda’s Workout not only in its original form but in its revised version. (If you’ve never seen the revised version, there’s a reason. She did NOT wear that stripey workout outfit on the cover of the second version. I DO hope that red and black striped outfit is in the Smithsonian now, because if they really plan to preserve American icons….)

I have a number of albums made for radio play only, including a two LP set of an interview with John Cougar Mellencamp, complete with the original Budweiser ads, and a disc of health information tidbits which includes an early work by John S. Marr, who would, twenty years later, write a bestselling health warning called The Eleventh Plague, which you can find in the Health section at the Book Fair come July. (Given the material on infectious diseases in that book, it is fitting that he did the health tidbit on Immunization.)

Thanks to his collection, we have hard-to-find albums like this one, in which Bess Myerson tells you how to use the new Singer sewing machine, and what is probably one of the rarest recordings ever made of The Pirates of Penzance, This is the double record set of a performance around 1966 of that Gilbert and Sullivan classic by the North Shore Country Day School. These are not records to be found just everywhere.

But nothing ranks up there with this recording of Come Back to Sorrento. Where does it rank? I have now listened to this recording and put it squarely at the top of my list of Most Annoying Records…Ever. And I have four copies of it.

These were released on the Hartz Mountain label. If you are unfamiliar with this record label, you did not walk into a pet store during the right decades, because Hartz Mountain was famous for bird seed, catnip mice, and other pet accessories. They also released records on how to teach your parakeet to talk. What, exactly, led them to the world of pop music I don’t know. But their Radio Master Canaries are famous, and rightly so.

The record says the Radio Master Canaries perform “with organ”. I do not feel this is truth in packaging. What you will hear, if you play this record, is an organ playing “Come Back to Sorrento” while a chorus of canaries keep up a constant chirping background. I am unable to tell the difference between what they are singing on this track from what they sing on “Mexicali Rose”. Perhaps my ear is not developed. (“Mexicali Rose” is backed with “Aloha Oe”, and they don’t sound much different to me on that one. Oddly, no one on YouTube has posted Moonlight Madonna.)

I have been unable to find the Radio Master Canaries in any reference book on the Billboard Top 100, but this may be a technicality. Apparently, they later recorded as the Hartz Mountain Master Canaries, and perhaps their hits were all listed under that name, kind of like Tony Sheridan and the Beat Boys becoming The Beatles. They recorded Mexican Hat Dance (the canaries, not the beetles) as Hartz Mountain: was it just something about exotic foreign climes that suggested canary accompaniment? Maybe, if I keep looking, I’ll find that they did a series of tunes from Scheherazade.

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