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Music

Various Artists: Loma - A Soul Music Love Affair Volumes 1 - 4

Future Days Recordings gives us four wax platters that uncover a soul label that time has essentially buried.


Various Artists

Loma: A Soul Music Love Affair, Volume One: Something's Burning 1964-68

Label: Future Days Recording
US Release Date: 2016-03-25
UK Release Date: 2016-03-25
Amazon
iTunes

Various Artists

Loma: A Soul Music Love Affair, Volume Two: Get in the Groove 1965-68

Label: Future Days Recording
US Release Date: 2016-03-25
UK Release Date: 2016-03-25
Amazon
iTunes

Various Artists

Loma: A Soul Music Love Affair, Volume Three: Sad, Sad Feeling 1964-68

Label: Future Days Recording
US Release Date: 2016-03-25
UK Release Date: 2016-03-25
Amazon
iTunes

Loma: A Soul Music Love Affair, Volume Four: Sweeter Than Sweet Things 1964-68

Label: Future Days Recording
US Release Date: 2016-03-25
UK Release Date: 2016-03-25

Although the Warner Bros. record division had almost collapsed in the early 1960s it showed signs of recovery in the year the Beatles first took to American shores. To capitalize on the soul and R&B market, the future home of Black Sabbath and Van Halen launched a subsidiary focused on 45s intended to reach the African American market. Low overhead meant greater potential for profits. Bob Krasnow, a veteran of several smaller R&B imprints oversaw the launch of this new home called Loma.

Between its formation in 1964 and its 1968 demise, Loma issued more than 100 singles and fewer than 10 LPs. There were no hits and so its folding was seemingly inconsequential. Less than a decade later England's Northern Soul boom became a haven for music Americans had cast aside and Loma was its crown jewel. UK Warner Bros. ordered up a couple compilations and watched as they sank without a trace. Four decades on, Loma lives again thanks to this four-volume collection. Each of the four discs is arranged thematically, providing the listener with a heightened sense of adventure.

The first volume brings together the best-known and best-loved sides the label had to offer. Ike and Tina Turner's 1965 rendition of the Frank Wilson and Frank Gordon tune "Somebody (Somewhere) Needs You" lacks the Acid Queen fire of the couple's later hits and rave-ups, but it's still better than most. Tina sounds powerful and the rhythm section finds a quick and insistent groove that propels the track. All that's aided by an irresistible hook and some gospel-inspired lyrics. But the final judgement comes that it is restrained, just a half step off from breaking down the door and demanding to be Number One. In fact, a terminal politeness pervades many of the early sides, relegating them to would-be contenders.

Charles Thomas' "The Man with the Golden Touch" could have been a hit a decade later, even with its cornball production or perhaps even because of it. The Apollas' "Pretty Red Balloons" is danceable and sweet and completely married to its time. Bob & Earl's "Everybody Jerk" is a dance craze cash-in that never saw release here and only came to light in the UK after the duo struck gold with "Harlem Shuffle".

Vocal group the Olympics' smashing rendition of the Rudy Clark/Artie Resnick song "Good Lovin'" almost makes the 1966 version from the Young Rascals sound like unapologetic bubblegum. That is until a weird, Latin-ish interlude before the final chorus that sounds more like Tijuana Brass than a band with brass balls. Linda Jones, though, doesn't lack those on the closing number, "My Heart Needs a Break". Her delivery leaves little doubt as to how she became one of Aretha Franklin's favorite singers. She crops up a few time across this sprawling compilation and each time is a delight. Jones was afforded a full-length album, one of the few from Loma who crossed that line. Her career was cut short when she died in 1972 from diabetes-related compilations.

Jones' exiting number leads the way for the best Loma sides to come into focus. The second collection is rife with rough and tumble numbers such as "Get in the Groove" (the Mighty Hannibal), Roy Redmond's "Ain't That Terrible" and Carl Hall's "The Dam Busted". Jones' "Hypnotized" (from 1967) opens the third collection and really sends us reeling. It's not just a move toward more serious and sometimes sadder material, it's also indicative of life with a new A&R director.

Jerry Ragovoy, an accomplished writer, producer and arranger, oversaw this shift from shoe-gazing apologists to unapologetic stars in the making. Weighty numbers such as Carl Hall's "He'll Never Love You", indicate a new maturity and clarity of vision. At just three minutes the song's over way too soon and knows it. If you're a good listener, an attentive listener, you drag the needle back to the start and take the ride one more time.

That material might have more gravity to it but it's not all sturm und drang. Bobby Reed's "I Wanna Love You So Bad" has a buoyancy that makes it hard to believe this isn't a better-known piece. "I'm Your Lover Man" from Little Jerry Williams has all the makings of a classic, its verses and choruses rising and falling in all the essential places. Bob & Earl's "Just One Look in Your Eyes" gives us a lost make-out classic. Ragovoy's "If I Told You Once (I Told You a Million Times)", performed by Ben Aiken, is meticulously written and executed. In the few minutes of our lives that it occupies we're exposed to more truths about matters of the heart than we would likely hear elsewhere in the space of a lifetime.

The fourth collection also smacks of this confidence, especially on Artie Lewis' "Ain't No Good" and Carl Hall's "Like I Told You". There's schlock there too, namely the Teen Turbans with "We Need to Be Loved" and Bill Storm's psychedelic overdose, "I Never Wanna Dream Again (There Is a Garden)". The Romeos, on the other hand, offer the just-weird-enough "Mon Petite Chow" which is two minutes and change of seductive Afro-laced power, reminiscent of Roland Kirk's forays into demolishing Top 40 music. A few familiar names appear there too: Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson co-wrote "Just Can't Get Enough" with Jo Armstrong, which the Apollas recorded and Mac Rebennack's name's attached to Dick Jensen & The Imports' "Back in Circulation".

Taken as a whole this compilation provides fun for curiosity seekers who want to know more about these rich characters and the music they made. Luckily, there are detailed liner notes and contemporary press clippings to light the way. It's a must for the soul enthusiast and the seeker of lesser-known artefacts from one of American music's most fertile times.

8

Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Woodstock each did their stint as a lonely Mexican cowboy, it seems. These and other things you didn't know about A Charlie Brown Christmas.

How Would You Like to Be the Director of Our Christmas Play?

It's really a beautiful little movie and has affected my life in numerous ways. For years, especially when we were poor, we always tried to find the littlest saddest Christmas tree possible. In fact, my son Eli has a Christmas tree set up right now that is just one single branch propped up in a juice bottle. And just a couple weeks ago we were at a wedding, everyone was dancing, and me and my wife Amy and my friend Garth started dancing like the Peanuts characters do in the Christmas special.

-- Comic artist James Kochalka.

Bill Melendez answers questions with the sort of vigor that men a third his age invest thousands in herbal supplements to achieve. He punctuates his speech with belly chuckles and comic strip taglines like "Oh, boy!" and "I tell 'ya!" With the reckless abandon that Melendez tosses out words like pleasure, it's clear that 41 years after its premiere, A Charlie Brown Christmas remains one of his favorite topics of conversation. "It changed my life," he states simply, "being involved with this silly little project."

Melendez celebrated his 90th birthday in November. "When I think of my last 40 or 50 years, I can't believe it," he says, capping off his comment with that inevitable one-man laugh track. The curly-mustachioed animator was born José Cuauhtemoc Melendez in Hermosillo, Mexico, in 1916. "I was literally a cowboy," he says. "From there, I crossed the border and started growing up. Just recently I went back, and when I got there I realized where my home was: across the border. When I was a little kid, I would have killed myself had I known such a thing was going to happen. I'm one of you. Whether you like it or not, I'm one of you."

Melendez recalls his blind leap into the world of animation as though the story's end still managed to catch him by surprise. "I was working in a lumberyard, and one of my mates said, 'Hey, I read in the paper that some guy up on Hyperion Avenue is hiring young guys like you who can draw.' So I went to this stranger and said, 'Hey, I understand someone here is hiring young artists.' The man asked me for my samples and I said I'd show them to him tomorrow. I went home that night and made the samples. I brought them in the next day, and he asked me what art school I went to. I'd never been to an art school. He said, 'Well, you have talent,' and he hired me to work in a place called Walt Disney."

Four years later, after lending his hand to Disney canon fodder like Bambi and Fantasia, and after fighting for his new country in World War II, he spent the next decade or so hunched over the drawing board, producing animated commercials and industrials by the thousands, including a number of spots featuring syndicated comic strip characters. Among them were the Peanuts characters.

Of all the Charlie Browns in the World, You're the Charlie Browniest.

I was around 10 when it first premiered, and seeing A Charlie Brown Christmas for the first time was enough to prove even to a young child that a well-written thing is superior to most of what is out there. I'll probably be watching it again tonight or tomorrow, because I have a copy of it and a six-year-old daughter. She loves it.

-- Comic artist Gilbert Hernandez.

By 1959 Charles "Sparky" Schulz's Peanuts kids found themselves at the center of their first print advertising campaign, pushing Ford's new Falcon make of cars. As the story goes, the idea of using Schulz's characters came from a daughter of one of Ford's advertising people.

"I think Sparky was flattered when they wanted to use his characters, says Schulz's widow, Jean, who now is one of the driving forces behind the Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California. "It was a new way of extending his creativity. From the get-go Sparky always said a comic strip is a commercial venture. Newspapers put the comic strip in to sell newspapers. He would then bitterly say, 'No one considered comic strips art in the first place, so why would you get on your high horse about that?'"

When the time came for the characters to make their animated debut in a Ford commercial, Melendez was brought into the fold, and he brought along a cast of unknown child actors to voice the parts. The team reunited five years later, when Lee Mendelson, a filmmaker from San Francisco, requested two minutes worth of animation for a film he was shooting based on a Peanuts story line.

"I had done a Willie Mays documentary in 1963, A Man Named Mays, which had done really well," Mendelson says. "Then I was reading a Charlie Brown baseball strip, and the idea came to me: I've just done the world's greatest baseball player; now I'll do the world's worst." It's an old joke -- the same he used to open his 2000 coffee-table retrospective, A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition -- but it's one for the ages. "Two years later Coca-Cola called, and I thought they were calling to do the documentary," Mendelson explains, "but they said, 'Have you guys ever thought about doing A Charlie Brown Christmas?' I said absolutely. And that's how I got in the animation business." His executive producer role on that film was the birth of a career now well into its fourth decade.

"So Lee called Sparky and said, 'Well, I just sold our Christmas show," explains Jean. "Sparky asked, 'What Christmas show?' and Lee said, 'The one we're going to write tomorrow." Sparky said, 'If we're going to do it, we need to have Bill.'"

Melendez was brought into direct, and as with the Ford commercial, he gave the parts of the Peanuts kids entirely to children, many of whom had never acted. Getting them to learn their roles was a trying task, given that Schulz's script had his characters regularly waxing philosophical and tossing off words like ailurophobia (a fear of felines, for the record). Melendez had to teach the young actors long portions of the script phonetically. "Sometimes they didn't understand a word," he remembers. "They'd say, 'Just tell me how you want it said.' Then they'd say it, and I'd turn to the engineer and ask if he recorded it. The kids were all startled when they got screen credit and happily startled when they started getting royalty checks."

Melendez's also tried to coach a voice actor for the part of Snoopy, whose lines were limited to a handful of non-words. "I recited Snoopy's lines for the actor, and the actor turned to the engineer and said, 'Did you record that? Just use what Bill has done. I don't want to repeat your words.' " This happy accident left Melendez playing the role of Snoopy and, later, his yellow bird companion Woodstock for the next 40 years.

For the film's soundtrack, Mendelson and Melendez embraced Schulz's love of jazz. "Driving back from Sparky's over the Golden Gate Bridge I heard a song called 'Cast Your Fate to the Wind,'" Mendelson writes in The Making of a Tradition. The song was written by Vince Guaraldi, a jazz pianist from the beatnik-dense San Francisco neighborhood of North Beach. It had won the musician a Grammy Award for best original jazz composition in 1962. Guaraldi enjoyed Schulz's script and happily accepted his invitation into the Charlie Brown Christmas fold.

This Doesn't Seem to Fit the Modern Spirit.

The one thing that has always bothered me about the Charlie Brown Christmas special is that the other kids never admit to Charlie Brown that he was right about the little tree. They ultimately accept the tree, but no one ever says, 'Well, Charlie Brown, I guess you were right all along. We were idiots.' However, it's still cool to see a mainstream children's program show that is so stridently nonsecular, which could never be done in this day and age. Linus gets some good face time with all that shepherd talk.

-- Pop culture critic Chuck Klosterman.

Beyond the inclusion of Schulz's cast of wildly popular characters, 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas seemed a production earmarked for failure. The special's small crew was given a mere six months between the film's conception and its maiden broadcast. At his own insistence, Schulz signed up to pen the script, his first attempt at a screenplay. "He said that if he was going to get screen credit for something, he wanted to be doing something," says Melendez. "He was very proud and curious and didn't want credit where he didn't deserve it."

Despite the Ford commercials that gave birth to the collaboration, and Coca-Cola's strong sponsorship presence in the special, Schulz's script centered around a pensive Charlie Brown attempting to find the true meaning of Christmas. "The 1960s were when Christmas first began to start the day after Thanksgiving," says Mendelson. "There was an irony to this, given the commercialization of the comics. That wasn't really his doing. He said, 'If people want to buy stuff, that's up to them. I'm not in the business of making stuff and selling it. I'm in the business of making a comic strip, and if people want products, then so be it.' "

"We're all a little schizophrenic in that way," adds Jean Schulz. "You live in this world, and you despair. If you think at all, you're always wrestling with this. I think that's exactly what Sparky was expressing." The special opens with a characteristically distraught Charlie Brown, speaking to the perpetually blanket-wielding Linus on a snow-covered version of the brick wall, the bald third-grader's preferred location for vocalizing his ever-present inner despair. "I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus," he begins. "Christmas is coming, but I don't feel happy."

In case that wasn't enough to threatren the film's commercial potential, the producers added one final nail to the prime time coffin: Schulz's script called for Linus to deliver a subdued monologue at the film's climax, a word-for-word recitation of Jesus's birth, taken from the Gospel of Luke. "Bill said, 'You can't have the Bible on television!' Sparky said, 'If we don't do it, who will?' By the time that Coca-Cola and CBS saw it, they had no choice but to play it. They had nothing else to put in there."

What the roomful of executives saw upon the first screening was a shock -- a slow and quiet semireligious, jazz-filled 25 minutes, voiced by a cast of inexperienced children, and, perhaps most unforgivably, without a laugh track. "They said, 'We'll play it once and that will be all. Good try,' " remembers Mendelson. "Bill and I thought we had ruined Charlie Brown forever when it was done. We kind of agreed with the network. One of the animators stood up in the back of the room -- he had had a couple of drinks -- and he said, 'It's going to run for a hundred years,' and then fell down. We all thought he was crazy, but he was more right than we were."

I Never Thought It Was Such a Bad Little Tree

That show is probably the closest I've ever come to having any interest in religion. That part where Linus quotes from the bible is extremely touching and very deftly handled. I was raised in a nonreligious household, and that was a moment that actually had some religious significance to it just because Schulz expressed it so well.

-- Comic artist Seth.

Upon its airing, the special received a 50 share. The network immediately ordered four more films from the team. "We watch it every year to make sure that it actually happened. We thought it would be on one time and be gone," Mendelson says. "The message is simple. Schulz wanted to do a show on the true meaning of Christmas. Any good writer like Schulz deals in truisms and things that are timeless. There are themes about unrequited love and bullies. They work as well now as they did in the 1960s, and they'll probably work for another 50 or 100 years as well."

"I think it touches something in the viewer. We didn't do it on purpose, but there's something ethnic about it," Melendez adds. Schulz expressed his own surprise that the film found its way into the canon of holiday classics. "He would say things like, 'I never thought it would be around 25 years later,'" Jean remembers. "One of the reasons that Christmas is so great is that back in 1965 there were no VCRs or DVDs, so you saw that show once, and you had to wait a whole year to see it again. And when it came on, it still held up. It was still charming."

Forty-one years after its premiere, A Charlie Brown Christmas remains a towering if unassuming presence in holiday TV. It's an oasis of sincerity, managing never to be drowned out by its overzealous neighbors' rush to cross-promote themselves. It's a quiet testament to what children's programming could be: introspective, unpretentious and, above all, respectful of the intelligence of its target audience. "Children's programs were held in low regard by everybody -- including me," says Melendez. "But I realized that it wasn't just for kids. I was dealing with adults. They were giving me suggestions and criticism."

For a film with an anticommercial message, A Charlie Brown Christmas produced its own market bonanza. But it still suggests the spirit of its writer, who sensed the real magic of Christmas was not in the spectacle of lights, commerce and big aluminum Christmas trees, but in those fleeting moments of silence, which seem to become rarer with each passing day. "They weren't afraid to have quiet," Jean says. "Most of the time when the kids are walking, it's very quiet. We came out of a new animated movie one day, and Sparky said, 'I missed the quiet places.'"

Over the years, the Schulz-Mendelson-Melendez team created more than 75 half-hour television specials and four feature films, and five Peanuts films have been made since Schulz's death, in 2000, at the age of 77. Outside of the films, Peanuts continues to be an incredibly lucrative license for its owners, United Features Syndicate. "If Sparky had the volume of stuff crossing through the office that we have today, it would have driven him nuts," laughs Jean. "He probably would have walked through the office and said, 'We're cutting all of the licensing off. I don't want to do it anymore.'"

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