When I was a kid, commercials advertising records were one of my favorite things to tape-record off the TV. (The others included the Carl Stalling credits music for Warner Brothers Cartoons and announcements for upcoming movies on local stations. Hmmm). K-TEL was usually the record company hawking the records but there were others too numerous to mention. Alas, I can't think of their names or I'd mention them. Anyway, above is a Nat King Cole tribute set that I remember buying without telling my parents when I was about 10. Did I use their credit card? Can't really remember that detail either. And below, dig the Goofy Greats KTEL set (I love that they offered a cassette tape instead of the album for a modest one dollar extra). I just found these ads on Youtube and I've been transported to the mid-seventies, watching TV after school, washing down a box of powdered doughnuts with a half-gallon of milk and eagerly awaiting my mail-order records which I would then play on our funeral-casket sized Magnavox home stereo/FM radio/record-storage living room 'console'.

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Harry Richman was nightclub glory incarnate in the mad twenties and, if he's remembered at all today, it's for being the tuxed-out gent who introduced Irving Berlin's 'Putting On The Ritz' in the 1930 movie of the same name. Above I've posted the song as performed in the movie. It's as catastrophic a bit of early-talkie musical staging as you'll ever see--apparently in the 20's it wasn't really expected that dancers would perform the same steps as each other, much less stand in anything resembling an organized formation. The set is nightmarish, the costumes surreal and the entire thing a massive acid-tripish misconception. The song is repeated some eight times without so much as a key change or a modestly different orchestration. Richman, like Texas Guinan (see earlier posts this week) is, from this distance, an un-rehabilitatable cultural relic. He was also something of a dreadful fellow. According to "Nightclub City",  the scholarly but entertaining book about New York night life of the 20s and 30s that I've been reading this past week (which has provoked this spate of club-centric posts), Richman was a violent, serial sexual predator who was sued on several occasions by women for inflicting physical harm on them. Even he admits as much in his autobiography. If the above clip of the disastrous production number doesn't make you sick, the below quote from his autobiography will:

"My anger at women was always beyond love, beyond everything else". (After a woman struck him in the face with flowers he'd sent her, and during ensuing sexual relations he)..."kept at her until her nose was bleeding and her face was brilliant red...My arm was so tired from beating her I was ready to give up." Jesus! The woman may have been the dancer Ellen Franks, who sued Richman in 1929 for inflicting injury. I like the bit about the arm being tired--that's what the take-away apparently was for Richman, not the assault and battery, sexual self-disgust, psychopathic sadism etc. On that charming note...

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Continuing this journey through old 1920s/early30's nightclub-land, above I've posted a song from the first all-talking feature, Warner Brothers 'Lights Of New York'. The picture quality is poor but you get to see a genuine nightclub performer of the era doing his shtick, giving you some idea of what the vibe in a 20s-era club was like. The performers name is Harry Downing. And for once the internet has completely failed to come to my aid, remaining peevishly silent on the life and career of the singer who, though short in stature, has proven to have longevity career-wise due to his appearence in this film.

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Here's a weirdie. This appears to be a not-staged-for-camera capturing of a live event in 1931 in which Texas Guinan (who I posted about at the end of last week) introduces a genuine 'fan dancer'. The young lady (who may be the legendary Sally Rand) goes into her act--and quite successfully although from the rather high angle that the camera is positioned at you do wind up seeing some skin. While the fan dance is enjoyable and the Guinan intro fascinatingly shrill as always (why was she so famous in her day?), it's the music that really makes this one for me. The band members--who sit on the stage behind the dancer--are all clearly drunk, providing some of the worst accompaniment you will ever hear. A cat can wash dishes with more finesse then these guys can play music. But it's clear from the general sloppiness of the entire occasion that nobody watching particularly cared. The smell of bootleg hooch will seep through your computer screen as you watch this curiously haunting little piece of vaudeville excavation. By the way, for a longish but wildly engrossing essay I wrote awhile back about Guinan and the movie 'Broadway Through A Keyhole' (based on events in her life) click here.

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Welcome to New York City in 1903. My new favorite Youtube artist (yes, I said artist), Guy Jones, is the person responsible for most of what I posted last week, which largely consisted of the rediscovered and remastered Fox Movietone sound-on-film documentary footage of the city in the late 20s/early 30s. I've now become fascinated by another of the intrepid Mr. Jones' archeological experiments, in which he takes old found footage of the city, speed-corrects it (thus making it appear much more life-like then its original under-cranked/over-speedy look), adds subtle and interesting background sound effects...and believe it or not, you really do start to feel the life and atmosphere of the past unwind in front of you.

The above-posted reel consists of four plus minutes of street footage divided into five separate camera set-ups. We begin on the water, the camera clearly on deck of a moving ship, as we pass various strange pirate-looking vessels. Soon enough we're dumped onto the ever-popular Lower East Side/turn of the century/vendors/horses/vegetables/immigrants scene. This shot runs awhile and contains a young teen who happily demonstrates his talent for throwing a piece of fruit high in the air for the camera as well as a fat cop who, toward the end, clearly decides to ham it up for the camera and pretends to beat a pedestrian. I guess there'll always be an NYPD.

Next we move to a fish market (Fulton?), with a high-angle view of lots of poor people haggling over fish that clearly has been sitting outside for too long. This shot ends with the slightly ominous arrival of three men in suits who the general populus are quick to back away from. Who are they? The inspectors? The locals who control the trade? That guy in 'Godfather 2' who De Niro kills in order to take over the neighborhood?

Finally we wind up on the corner of Broadway and Vesey and get a quite wonderful education in history of public transportation in the city. For on view here are no less than three modes of transportation--and not one of them is an automobile. We get the horse and carriage trade (we've seen them in earlier shots) but we also get the new Electric Street cars--by 1903 they'd supplanted the Cable Cars so that's what I'm assuming we're seeing. But at the very end of this entrancing trip into the early part of the last century we get a view Horse-Line carriage--horses pulling passenger cars that were quite large and were attached to the ground tracks, thus enabling the horse to stay on course. Believe it or not, these things stayed in existence well into the early 1920s...

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