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The Unhip Hype

The Sound Gallery

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The Sound Gallery
(Scamp)

Mood music is in everywhere these days--from the dully dulcet tones of acid jazz to the rediscovered soundscapes of Esquivel. But when it comes to dull music I've been distinctly ahead of the gentle curve. You see, years ago--long before Esquivel had his second coming--I first discovered the joys of Enoch Light.

Light (with his band the Light Brigade) first popularized the cha-cha in the 1950s with his legendary "I Want to Be Happy Cha Cha" and many others, ranging from the not-entirely-legendary "Lolita Cha Cha" to the not-even-close-to-legendary "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby Cha Cha."

But it's Mr. Light's work in the 1960s of which I am most enamored: his crusade to popularize what the liner notes to his Discotheque--Dance...Dance...Dance (Command Records, 1964) call "the Dynamic NEW Sound and Beat of Discotheque." No, this is not the disco of Saturday Night Fever; this is, rather, the discotheque of countless 1960s movies--the music of dance clubs given over to the jet set in all their glamour and mystery. With the able assistance of, among other things, Phil Bodner's flute and Dick Hyman's organ, Light made the record a small masterpiece of jet-set civilization.

The liner notes are themselves a small joy. They are, of course, informative; this is a record intended not only to provide pleasure but instruction. "The disquaire [DJ] must be extremely discriminating in his choice of records," the notes explain. "The beat and the sound of every selection must be so precisely right for doing the Hully Gully, the Watusi, the Monkey, the Swim, the Surf and other variations of the basic contemporary dances that the dancers become a captive of the music, so mesmerized by the sound and the beat that they dance on and on and on."

Luckily, as the liner notes go on to explain, this one record makes a home discotheque possible for Mr. and Mrs. Contemporary Consumer--without the hassle of building up an enormous record library. Enoch Light, with the help of disquaire and dance-instructor extraordinaire Killer Joe Piro (whose students have included "Eva Gabor, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Ray Bolger"), has assembled "a record which contains on its two sides the perfection of sound and beat combined with a variety of styles that a professional disquaire could only find by poring through dozens of discs." Indeed, if I may offer a personal testimonial: it is all I have ever needed to fulfill my Hully Gully needs.

These discs and countless others like them now being anthologized and reissued by the truckload offer not so much music as the imitation of music. The disco on, say, Disc-O-Tech: The Magic Disco Machine (Motown, 1975) is not quite disco; the rock on Teen Beat Discotheque (RCA Camden, 1965) is not quite rock; nothing is quite as it's intended to be--in part because none of the musicians and arrangers involved, all attempting to cash in on the latest hot trends, understand exactly what gives the styles they're copying their appeal in the first place.

Now, thanks to the careful archival work of one Jerry Cornelius, I have a sound track for my boring life. These days the CD in close-to-perpetual rotation in my apartment is a strange little collection titled The Sound Gallery, an assortment of two dozen "mood" pieces from the late 60s and early 70s--ranging from the allegedly ethereal "Half Forgotten Daydreams" to the astonishingly peppy "Shout About Pepsi," by a (possibly imaginary) group calling itself Denny Wright and the Hustlers.

This music--culled primarily from the archives of EMI's Studio Two--isn't in any identifiable style: the songs present rough approximations of musical genres from acid rock to funk, as filtered through the less-than-fine sensibilities of various studio hacks and presented with all the artificial energy they were able to muster. This is music straight off the production line, designed and arranged by professional composers and cranked out by session men paid by the hour. There are no rough edges, or indeed, any edges at all; listening to it is like reading a book made up entirely of cliches.

To describe this music as inauthentic is not quite fair, though; it's authentically inauthentic. These are records designed by the hip-impaired for the entirely hipless (hence the often instructional nature of their liner notes).

Part of the charm of such music, of course, is that it recalls a world in which it was, indeed, possible to be square. Today the commodification of hip has progressed too far to allow such a thing--like some ravenous imperialistic force, hipness has invaded every nook and cranny of modern life, and then some.

Even the square are hip--indeed, some go so far as to suggest that the only ones who are truly hip are the square: "The only way to be fashionable," Gene Simmons of the distinctly unfashionable but recently revived Kiss has explained, "is to be totally out of fashion." Not exactly: these days both the fashionable and the unfashionable are hip--to the detriment, alas, of all. Enoch Light and his Light Brigade, Denny Wright and the Hustlers--all help us to remember those bracing days when it was merely square to be square.

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