I’d never heard this record before last week when I found it for the princely sum of one New Zealand dollar in a local charity shop. I must have seen the cover a million times though – it’s one of those country records like Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood’s Nancy & Lee, or the Louvin Brothers’ Satan Is Real, that belongs to another era but has more than enjoyed a 21st century revival and reissue.
In any other world, these might be forgotten albums, and it makes you wonder about all the hundreds (and thousands) of forgotten albums that will remain truly forgotten. Light In The Attic records were responsible for the Lee & Nancy and Satan Is Real reissues, but they’re just one company and, to the best of my knowledge, seem to be alone in that kind of pursuit.
Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs’ revival comes from its appearance in the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die books, and while I’m not a country nut I still find it a very nice listen. It’s real music before music was spoiled by all those teenagers and hippies in the 1960s. My copy is a New Zealand first press from 1959, which makes it almost sixty years old. Something must have been lost in translation over the Pacific when they sent the artwork though, as my cover is a garish pink instead of the usual red.
Of course, that’s only my opinion, but that’s what the internet is all about, isn’t it?
Saul Bass’ titles of Hitchock’s films throughout the late ‘50s are peerless – and his work here on Otto Preminger’s 1959 film Anatomy Of A Murder is probably my favourite if I had to choose a single image.
A couple of years ago, this album cover was quite rightly included in a touring exhibition, Degas To Dali, which was showing at the Auckland Art Gallery. I wonder how long it will take until art galleries are showing album covers as exhibitions in their own right. We can’t be that far away, if it hasn’t happened already. The world of album cover design is as strong as any other medium, and contains as many surprises as you can find turkeys. I’ve just glanced at Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Album Covers – I’d question a lot of them, but isn’t that what art’s all about, to provoke discussion and to continually question what has come before?
As far as debut records go, this has to be one of the most unlike the same artist’s future output. Compared to the deep funk of the late ‘60s into the ‘70s, this sounds very tame. But compared to contemporary records, it sounds anything but.
The instrumentation on this record doesn’t sound a million miles from the band at the dance scene in Back To The Future – the basic line-up of guitar, upright bass, drums and piano, augmented by the occasional blast of saxophone. The choice of material is also very similar – Night Train, heard in the film as George McFly dances by himself, was recorded by Brown’s band in 1961, later appearing on the seminal Live At The Apollo album.
The sawdust is already in Brown’s voice, as is the raw, burning sound of integrity like he’s singing about the end of the world. He’s just not singing about hot pants yet. If he had at this point in his career, he would have been viewed in retrospect as some weird Nostradamus figure – hot pants hadn’t been invented yet. And young ladies were far from being objectified as sex machines.