Thursday, June 19, 2014

Midcentury Music Motherlode: Ultra Lounge Compilation cds on Spotify (1996-1997)

Good afternoon!

Getting a late start on the blog today, but you know I wouldn't leave you hanging...and boy-oh-boy did I find something worth telling you folks about this morning. :)

I spend a lot of time at work in my cubicle listening to headphones while working on book repairs and sorting not-on-shelf slips. Ah, the life of a reference associate. Things can get mondo repetitive, so I usually try to switch up what I'm listening to (music to silently pantomime "I can't hear you" at my coworkers when they address me). Favorites right now are the excellent What's the T podcast with RuPaul and Michelle Visage, Dave Van Ronk's Inside Dave Van Ronk, and episodes of 48 Hours Mystery (that's about what you'd guess I'd be listening to, isn't it?). Sometimes, though, if I'm reading during my lunch hour, I like to completely zone out with instrumentals. Arthur Lyman more than came in handy at this before, but I thought to branch out this morning into other mid century party music. "What was the name of those cds I used to get from here..." I thought, knowing that the physical copies here at NPL had long since been absconded with, but that there was a particular series of lounge music and exotica that was top notch. It was then that I discovered OH MY SWEET AND DEAR LORD EVERY CD OF THE ULTRA LOUNGE COMPILATION SERIES IS UP ON SPOTIFY. Hallelu!

From a 1958 ad for the Magnificent Magnavox console radio...I have the same one except in mahogany!

Ultra Lounge was a series of 18 cds released by Capitol Records in the late nineties', specializing in "genres such as exotica, space age pop, mambo, television theme songs, and lounge" (as per the Wikipedia entry on the set). SIGN ME UP, right?!

From the (now defunct, but accessible via Internet Archive's Way Back Machine) website in 1997:
The neon above the door reads Ultra-Lounge. By walking through the door you step back in time. Not too far back. Just a few decades. Back to a time when "revolution" meant watering down your scotch with ice. Back to an era when "evolution" meant taking out the olive and putting in an onion. When Generation X was a secret atomic weapon aimed at the White House by double agents and long-legged Russian girls whose names only Matt Helm could pronounce. 
This is a place clothed in the skins of leopards and sharks. An era bathed in high-octane hi-balls and swimming in elixirs made more potent by garish garni and dangerously curved glassware. Time here is viewed through the seductive haze of slow-burning gazes. Lipstick-kissed cigarettes ashtray-dance with cigar stubs and cherry stems. The atmosphere mambos to a soundtrack of cool. Rumbling saxophones, jazzy vibes, over-heated Hammonds, and the sexy chill of a brush across a cymbal. 
Polyester is new in this age, but not so dominant that it is cliché. In fact, these acrylics are very easy to care for-- even the ties are wash-and-wear. Think: Kramer-In-Fashion-Wonderland. This is THE spot. This is the Ultra-Lounge. Hey, isn't that Rod Serling lurking behind the cash register? 
Welcome to the Ultra-Lounge. Make yourself comfortable. Shake or stir yourself a cocktail, slip off your shoes and relax!
I mean, I'm ready to party after hearing a pep talk like that. Give me my skins of leopard and shark! Where's my hi-ball? Do you remember how many HORRIBLE Walmart and Target cds with titles like "Sounds of the Swingin' Sixties!" you would come across back in the day, where they just slapped whatever out-of-copyright wackadoodle songs they could on one cd, with maybe a single song you've heard of? This is like THE OPPOSITE OF THAT. The collection feels carefully curated and right on target for setting up an evening of Rat Pack like revelry.

Remember when websites looked like this? A vintage website about vintage music!!
To the left of the page, you can see the cheeky little subtitles of each installation of the series--Cha-Cha De Amor carries the subtitle From Mamboland to Bossa Novaville.  Saxophobia is not just Saxophobia, but Saxophobia: A Horn-A-Copia of Sax-ual Delights (you know someone was cracking UP when they came up with that). Did I mention Yma Sumac is on this compilation? Well, I have now. If that doesn't speak for the awesome kitsch and canny song selection choices of this compilation, I don't know what does.

What's really cool about the series is how you can become familiar with artists a little off the beaten path from your every day vintage cocktail compilation. While there are well known smoky-lounge favorites like sultry Julie London or snazzy Louis Prima, you also have Alvino Rey, a bandleader who got his start in big band and ended up in exotica, and  sax virtuouso King Curtis (not to be confused with my life's role model, the Wife Swap star of the same name). I know I sound like one of those old Time-Life informercials, but besides combing through old record bins, print discographies and movie soundtrack listings, I'm not sure how you could come up with such a comprehensive overview of the lounge and cocktail genre. 

I kind of got a kick out of looking at how the website for this series changed over the years-- it makes me a little nostalgic for about ten to twenty years ago! See this one, a little more updated (with flash animation!) for 2004, but not much:

And here it is in 2012:

Adorable, right? But what am I talking your ear off about, it's time to get to the business of listening to the music itself! I'm sure there was already a playlist of this somewhere on Spotify, but since I wasn't able to find it, I threw together my own of everything from the series. You all: SIX HUNDRED AND FORTY EIGHT SONGS. That's 34 hours and seven minutes of Kennedy era realness. And I intend to listen to all of it, haha!


How about you? Made any marvelous musical discoveries on Spotify or the internet lately? What's your summer jam right now? Which mid century artist do you think is sorely underappreciated? Tell me all!

I gotta get gone, but will see you back here tomorrow for Photo Friday! Have a great Thursday; til then.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not a Spotify person, but I do love me some Ultra Lounge. I remember thinking how cool I was listening to their CDs when I was in middle school! And still dig them to this day!




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