Dad’s Vinyl: #3 MacArthur Park

They did things differently back in the 60’s, things no sane person would even attempt these days. A six-minute four-section orchestral song sung by a man who can’t sing, with a central metaphor comparing a lost love to a cake? Yeah, why not.

Dad would have been about 20 when this came out, and it’s hard to imagine a 20-year-old buying something like this today. I’ve no idea what today’s equivalent would even sound like.

 

MacArthur Park by Richard Harris, 7" single

MacArthur Park by Richard Harris

The song was written by Jimmy Webb, probably better known for ‘Wichita Lineman’, another song with an unlikely metaphor at the centre. Although the cake references seem a bit odd, he claims it all represents actual things – “Those lyrics were all very real to me: there was nothing psychedelic about it.”  he told the Los Angeles Times.

I’ll be honest with you, Richard Harris wouldn’t have been my first choice of singer. He sings like the worst kind of hammy singing actor*  You could argue that at least you can understand everything he sings, he carefully enunciates every syllable, although the notes waver as if sung by a timid lamb perched on a tumble drier. But he gives it his all, even if he can’t quite get the high notes.

It was a massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and was a big hit when Donna summer covered it a decade later, with a disco version that was even longer.

Yet, it’s frequently cited as one of the worst songs ever written. I think that’s a bit harsh. It’s a bit overblown, and to my jaded cynical 21st century ears, a bit silly. But it is all tackled sincerely by all involved, and it beautifully arranged (although the ‘groovy’ uptempo section I could live without)  and the melody is great. You just can’t help but be impressed.

 

 

* Although not nearly as bonkers as some of the performances William Shatner has given us.

 

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Dad’s Vinyl: #2 Never Let Her Slip Away

There was a rather dubious idea going around a few years back: ‘Guilty pleasures’, those records that you like but don’t feel you could admit to in polite (or cool) company. This is one: ‘Never let her slip away’ by Andrew Gold, and I think it’s bloody marvelous. So there.

'Never Let Her Slip Away' by Andrew Gold

‘Never Let Her Slip Away’ by Andrew Gold

I’m not sure if there is something wrong about having a proper tune, or merely that the pop music of the 70’s is somehow embarrassing. Fair enough, there was some absolute dross released in that decade, but there is dross in every decade. I lived through the 80’s, and I’m still in therapy for that accidental slap-bass overdose I suffered in 1983.

I don’t remember Dad playing this at the time (I would have just turned 7) but then I don’t recall Mum singing ‘Summertime’ to me as a baby, and I grew up to love that song. Who knows what lies buried in the subconscious for that day in your mid-forties, when Dad drops off three large boxes of vinyl?

This has a tune, a proper melody, like proper songwriters write: it snakes about, it gently soars, it changes key (slightly*), and importantly it is a love song with lyrics that don’t make you want to be sick.

I think one of the reasons it works is that it’s not addressed to the object of his affection, which is usually a recipe for disaster (and nausea) – “I talked to my baby on the telephone long-distance, I never would have guessed I could miss someone so bad” – he sings, wistfully, over major-seventh chords. And I’m a big fan of wistful, and major-seventh chords. He continues – “I’m a little bit dizzy, I’m a little bit scared, I never felt this much aware, that I love her..” – and I’m reliably informed that love is in fact a bit like that.

When I first put this single on my nearly-new record deck, my memory told me to expect some electric piano. I thought there was a law that all singer-songwriters had to play electric piano in the 70’s, but it seems I was wrong.

This starts with a lovely crunchy drum machine shuffle rhythm – ahead of its time in a way – and then instead of the Fender Rhodes I was expecting, I get warm polyphonic synthesizers (an Oberheim or a Prophet 5, maybe?) playing the chords and the bass line. The record is warm and open sounding**. Lovely. He’s not trying to be cool, or edgy or any of that crap.

This is a feel-good record.

What better reason to listen to music, ’cause it’s good for you, and it would really make you happy?

 

 

 

 

*Ok, technically a modulation but you didn’t come here for lessons in music theory , did you?

**We get some great backing vocals as the song develops – fantastic doo-wop style falsetto on the second chorus – which are alleged to be by Freddie Mercury, although other sites contradict Wikipedia by claiming it is Timothy Schmidt and JD Souther.***

***Queen were one of the first bands I got into, I know some of the early stuff inside-out, and I know Freddie would have easily sung these complex multi-part harmonies, and he was a friend of Andrew Gold, but the voices just don’t sound like him. Unless he was deliberately trying to not sound like himself. Oh, I don’t know.

Dad’s Vinyl: #1 Ticket To Ride

Dad recently had a long-overdue clear out of his double garage, which isn’t where he keeps the car, as there is no room. He had threatened for years to offload his vinyl collection on my and my brother, and this year he finally did it.

It’s not a huge collection of records, but there’s some good stuff in there. There’s also some terrible stuff in there, which I’m going to leave in the box.

There have been some disagreements with my brother about who gets what, but mostly our tastes differ enough that things haven’t got nasty. He was adamant that he was having  the ‘Strawberry fields/Penny lane’ single, and ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ EP.  This leaves me with all the rest of the Beatles stuff. Including this one:

'Ticket to Ride' by The Beatles 7" single

‘Ticket to Ride’ by The Beatles 7″ single

I don’t own much Beatles stuff (White album, Revolver. That’s it.) so I’ve not really heard much of their stuff, not since my 70’s childhood when they were on the radio all the time, or so it seemed. I’ve certainly not really listened to the songs, not properly.

This one comes bursting out of the speakers, sounding not unlike a less weird ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ with a better melody, and some great harmonies.

Someone once said that the secret of The Beatles’ best songs was that something happens every 5 seconds or so, either a harmony, a guitar hook, a drum fill, a standout lyric or even another section to the song*. It goes something like this:

Rickenbacker jangle – burst of drums – singing starts almost straight away – harmonies come on second line – harmonies move up a notch on 3rd line – chorus comes in – last line of chorus harmonies move up a notch – etc etc**  . The ideas never stop, and your ears aren’t given any time to get bored as there’s a new thing along in a few seconds. Ok, it helps that the melodies were pretty good.

 

Copyright reasons (I’m guessing) mean that the YouTube videos are blocked or taken down, so this is the best I could find. But you know how this goes anyway, don’t you?

* In this case the “I don’t know why she’s riding so high..” bit, that’s not only different from the verse and the chorus, but has a wildly different drum  rhythm. I’d say it was the middle eight, except they play it twice.

**I was going to go through the track and list everything – with timings – but that would be almost as tedious to read as it would be for me to do, and turntables don’t have pause buttons… so I didn’t.

1st Belair Photos

I’ve been putting off shooting with the Belair, as I’m missing a couple of pieces. The viewfinder I have is for the wide-angle lens (this camera would originally have had two lenses, each with matching finder). I’m also missing the attachment to shoot 12×6 negatives*, I’m stuck with 9×6 and 6×6, which is disappointing; I like a good panoramic photograph. This means that the framing is a bit hit and miss, as I’m not sure how a 90mm lens and 58mm finder work together…

Lomography help desk are working on finding me replacements for these pieces, which is decent of them as I’m not even the original owner of the camera. I thought it would be a bit cheeky to ask for the wide-angle lens too, although I’d have liked to shoot with one, if only to see if they are as ‘soft’ as everyone says. (I’ve shot a bit with Lomography’s Sprocket Rocket camera, and that’s a bit soft, but in a good way.)

Since the Belair is auto exposure, I can shoot slide film with the expectation of it coming out ok. Slide doesn’t really have any latitude, not compared to negative film which you can under or over expose a fair bit before ruining your photographs. Although, some shots have come out with very white skies, so it’s not a perfect system.

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There’s a bit of lens flare on a couple of them, but I’ve located a lens hood for it for next time.

 

 

 

*The Belair takes medium format (‘120’) film, which is quite a bit larger than 35mm, with a corresponding increase in resolution. Although nowhere near as large as some large format film, where sometimes the negatives are 10″x 8″ or bigger.

APS Fun!

During her recent house move, my friend found some unused films in a drawer, and since she no longer has any film cameras, offered them to me. Except, these weren’t 35mm, they were APS.

As far as I can tell, it has been  almost a decade since anyone has manufactured APS, it is a dead format. Because of this, APS cameras are generally quite cheap, so I bought one just to shoot these three films. And the camera came with 2 films.

The advantages of APS: the cameras are generally quite small, as the film cartridges are small. Disadvantages? The films are small, so not much better than 110 film from a quality point of view. And it’s not easy getting the film developed, as not all labs have the facilities any more. I’m not sure why I’m bothering with this APS film, even. Each negative is only 56% of the size of a 35mm frame.  I think I just liked the look of some of the tiny cameras…

Anyway, here is my first film:

APS Film

My first APS Film

As you can see, there are no photos on the film. I’m assuming that the camera is at fault, since it loads the film automatically (not user error!). Trying it without film, it seems to be that the shutter doesn’t even open, so that’ll be it, then. At least the lab refunded part of the cost, which was nice of them.

 

Random Camera Bits

Random Camera Bits

Random Camera Bits

I saw some random camera bits on eBay the other week, bidding starting at £10.  It wasn’t completely obvious what some of the things were, but some of them looked useful – the small lens hoods looked like they’d fit my Voigtlander Vito B cameras.  There were a few filters in there too, and a rangefinder, surely some of these would be useful. So I put a bid in.

 

No-one else bid, so I won the lot.  Some of the stuff is useful, some not…

  • Small lens hoods: both 30mm and I need 32mm! No use to me at all!
  • White shutter release cable: not bad at all, that’ll get used
  • Black shutter release cable: broken, not repairable
  • Monocular: Seems to work fine. Do I need one? Not really.
  • Rangefinder: Numbers are almost too faint to read, but it works.
  • Light Meter: Works ok I think, although it’s designed for old, slow film types
  • Leather-covered box: Catch works, no key, but great condition (except strap has perished)
  • Filter Glass 31mm: I can use these with filter holder
  • 42mm Filter: Or is it a lens? Not sure what it does, fits 3 of my cameras
  • Close-up Filter: Can use with 2 cameras (or anything accepting Series VI)
  • Small film Spool tin: No use for film, but tin could be handy
  • Filter Pouch: Ok, I could use this. Probably won’t.
  • Small Metal Thing: It has small thread and large thread, no idea what this is!
  • Filter Box: A disappointingly empty filter box. Am using it to store a filter.
  • Drawstring bag for telephoto lens: If I ever buy a tele lens…

The weird thing with the numbers on it and an eye piece is a kind of exposure meter, which as it has almost no moving parts, is still in working order. The numbers on the rangefinder are almost too faint to read, but it works.

The small black lens hood unscrews to fit the filter glass, I’d never seen one like that before. So I bought one that fit my cameras and now I can use the filters, and there is less to mess about with when taking photos as filter and hood are one piece.

It was a bit risky buying a collection like this, which is obviously the seller having a bit of a clear out…

 

A walk on the Long Mynd

Yesterday I went for a walk up the Longmynd with a friend (and a dog).  We started in Cardingmill Valley in Church Stretton and walked a long loop up which took us to the end of the valley, up on the moor on the top of the hill, to the highest point at Pole Bank – 516 m (1,693 ft) – and then down again via a parallel valley. Then we had jacket potatoes in the Cardingmill Valley café, which I felt we had earned (It was a very late lunch – nearly 4pm!).  We had missed the nice weather, and it was cold and grey, but warm enough once you got moving.

I didn’t measure the route beforehand, guessing about 5 miles, but it turned out to be nearly 9 miles. It would have been 7 miles, but for an unplanned detour – ie, took the wrong turning.  We took a planned detour on the return leg of the walk, through the old rectory wood. The walk took us almost exactly 4 hours.

This was, of course, a fine opportunity for photography. After long deliberation – a couple of hours, at least – I decided which of my 20-odd cameras to bring.  I took my Fuji XF1 and my new camera, a Voigtlander Bessa (1946 version, loaded with Fuji Neopan Acros 100 B&W). I won’t get the Bessa negatives back for a week, which is one reason I took the Fuji.