Al de Lory Plays “Midnight Cowboy” and other highlights from the 2007 WFMU Record Fair

What do you get when you cross the aimless pleasures of vinyl browsing with the ecclectic sensibilities of the biggest, baddest, most ragtag freeform music station on earth?

You get over 200 vendors peddling everything from Beatles 7″ singles to bins and bins full of super cheap albums, which to a more discriminating listener might seem like crap, but to folks who both love music and will listen to just about anything at all presents an annual treasure hunt of almost unimaginable proportions.

You get, that is, to stumble upon a session musician who both worked on Pet Sounds and produced Glen Campbell’s crossover career — and who sports a seriously hefty toupe — doing elevator versions of themes from Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider, and the Bacharach-composed theme from The April Fools. (Of course I knew none of these things when I bought the disc for a quarter.) The key words for de Lory are “current” and “today,” as in “Today’s Most Exciting Piano & Orchestra” (the album’s subtitle), or this, from the personalized track notes on the back sleeve:

“Easy Rider” is quite a picture. It’s really current, in that it not only shows how a lot of people are living today, but it’s honest in the way it depicts a certain hypocrisy on both sides of the social scene. Naturally, the music is current too, and I’ve tried to stay with the feeling of “today” in my interpretation.

Maybe that’s just the kind of anxiety someone putting out an elevator collection labors under, but if I were a cultural historian of the late twentieth century I’d have a heyday with lines like that.

When you’re confronted with a room full of 200 vendors and $40 or so to spend, how do you determine which records to add to your stack? I’m neither a completist nor a serious general collector; I’m in it simply for good tunes or for kitsch. To start with, I rifled through the records being sold by WFMU themselves — all sales to benefit the station. These were pricier picks, four or five bucks apiece, most of them from bins labeled “The History of Rock”: Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life and Innervisions, a couple Rolling Stones LPs (including one minor hits retrospective called Sucking in the 70s), serious music I already own in some other format but wouldn’t mind popping on the turntable now and again.

Other choices were simply sentimental:


This was, perhaps, my favorite record as an eight-year-old. I played it at home (where my other favorite records were greatest hits compilations by Neil Sedaka and the Bee Gees) but even better, I listened to it at school, in the back of my second grade classroom, whenever I earned enough points to get to go to the “listening booth.” I’d put on those mammoth studio headphones and set the needle down on side 1, track 2, the best song ever: “Top of the World.” Of course now I recognize that “Superstar” is the superior song, but there was something about the fantasy of being on top of creation that I never could quite shake. I had a fantastic teacher in second grade; they fired him because he was gay. Of course they let teachers paddle kids in the classrooms, but gay teachers? Run ’em out of town on a rail!

I found a benefit LP for the Clearwater, one of the boats my friend Don had captained.

For professional, eighteenth-century lit reasons I took home The Ballad of Fanny Hill: An Original Musical Monodrama Based Upon The Book Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland. This is something like the soundtrack to the original porn bestseller, with song titles like “Truth, Naked Truth,” “Alive, Alive, Oh,” and “Laden with Maiden.” I bought this record for $1 but find it selling on eBay for $40. Not that I could ever part with it. It has a lyrics sheet!

The kitsch factor climaxed, for me, with Good Housekeeping’s Plan for Reducing the Sporting Way, an exercise LP that encourages its “reducing” listeners to imitate backstrokes, golf swings, and bowling ball flings as part of its “fourteen slimming exercises.” It also comes with a calorie guide.

Then there are just musical finds too sweet to pass up: Sarah Vaughan: Songs of the Beatles, for instance, a 1981 collection that falls somewhere between R&B, jazz, and high disco.

And maybe my favorite find, again from the 4/$1 bins: The 1969 Warner-Reprise Record Show, a label showcase for that year’s new releases.

record show

How could you go wrong with a 2-record set that kicks off with “Cinnamon Girl” and also features songs by the Dead, Arlo Guthrie, Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, The Kinks, Van Dyke Parks, Jimi Hendrix, and Randy Newman? You couldn’t. But the real pleasers here are the less familiar ones, the songs that provide unexpected contextualizations for the now-canonized standards: Bert Jansch, the folk guitarist who’s only just enjoying a revival; Geoff and Maria Muldar (“the most celebrated husband-wife duo in all of jug-band music”); and other leftovers from the Village folk scene. Mephistopheles, one of Warner-Reprise’s “newer boss rock and roll outfits.” Or unexpected gems like Fats Domino singing “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.” I didn’t notice it when I added it to my pile, but the compilation even includes one of my favorite soul singles ever: Lorraine Ellison’s heartrending rendition of “Stay With Me.”

In short: the best 1969 mix-tape ever, but it’s on vinyl! I’ll close with its blurb on the Fugs, a band I’m contemplating writing about at length in my history of New York, and whose “Yodellin’ Yippie” is collected here. I can’t figure out why the copy-writer was so snide about a lot of the acts represented on these records, but the tone here is fairly typical. Was it cool and ironic to put down your bands in 1969? Did it prove you weren’t yet co-opted by the Man, part of a big commercial rock and roll machine? Or did the bands write their own copy?

THE FUGS are a disgusting collection of perverts, anarchists, and general no-goodniks from New York’s hotbed of hippie depravity, the Lower East Side. Individually they are Ed Sanders, the bathless head perpetrator of the troupe’s smut, a notorious poet, and the owner of the Peace Eye Book Store, a favorite gathering place of the pruriently interested; Tuli Kupferberg, who was immortalized in Allen Ginsberg’s Howl as the creep who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge; and Ken Weaver, whose shocking irreverence for our dearest political institutions is evident in his crumby poetry and in his forthcoming comedy album.

Exactly the kind of stuff, in other words, that I want playing in the background while the kids get ready for school this morning.

23 responses to “Al de Lory Plays “Midnight Cowboy” and other highlights from the 2007 WFMU Record Fair”

  1. Ruben Mancillas says:

    Bryan, what are the “worst” liner notes you’ve ever seen?

    I remember a touchingly unsure one comparing the Beatles to Schubert but I read an excerpt from a Stranglers release that, if they were in the least bit serious, is my choice for # 1.

  2. The acknowledgements on the back of Whitney Houston s/t are pretty awful — but they’re so bad they’re half the reason I bought the record (on the street for a dollar).

  3. I can’t believe I forgot to mention that I also found one of my Dylan birth year albums, New Morning. I’ve never gone out of my way to find it, but it felt so right to run across it and add it to my pile, like a piece of me that had been missing without me knowing it. He looks great on that cover.

  4. Tim Wager says:

    Okay, I’m jealous! We had quite the weekend out here on the West Coast, though . . . at John and Lisa T’s wedding! Such fun!

    I think that copy about The Fugs was composed by the band themselves as a ploy to ramp up their reputation for scandal. Gee, I wonder why “Boobsalot” wasn’t the tune chosen for the compilation?

    Also, Bryan, there’s a documentary coming out soon about The Holy Modal Rounders, who were The Fugs backup band for a few years. You may be interested. Plus, the HMR’s first two records (available on cd as HMR 1 & 2) are some of the best early psych-folk you could hope to find.

  5. Rachel says:

    Bryan, I’ve often thought that there’s a great book to be written about 70s kids’ complicated relationship to the Carpenters, and you’ve only confirmed that suspicion here. I have a very deep-rooted memory of watching Karen Carpenter singing “Close To You” on The Muppet Show and being completely riveted.

    Happy nuptials, John and Lisa T!

    OT: Anyone got the skinny on the TV writers’ strike (cough*Wendy*cough)?

  6. Jeremy says:

    That should be our collective TGW bio: “a disgusting collection of perverts, anarchists, and general no-goodniks…”

  7. cynthia says:

    Very good and funny comment Jeremy

  8. LP says:

    #5: “Complicated” relationship? What’s complicated? They’re, like, awesome. Every time I hear that smoky alto and those waaaaaa backup vocals, I’m transported.

  9. Kate the Great says:

    Strangely enough, I actually know what you’re talking about. My lonely teenage years were full of the Carpenters. My mom bought the CD; she spent her teenage years on Marie and remembers crying when Marie died. I have every song on that collection memorized. Even the notes I can’t reach because they’re too low.

    I agree with you, Jeremy. You certainly don’t LOOk like a bunch of perverts.

  10. Kate the Great says:

    Oop. Freudian slip. Karen, not Marie. I wanted to be called Marie when I was a little girl.

  11. well, i think it’s perfectly understandable why someone would conflate donny and marie and the carpenters. at least it makes sense to me.

  12. Miller says:

    I thought you were slipping into Osmond territory there, Kate. One should never ever confuse the Carpenters with the Osmonds. Apparently, it’s not just the kids of the 70’s who have a complicated relationship with the Carpenters.

    And I wanted to be called Cheetara when I was a little girl; I wanted to be Cheetara. But I digress…

  13. Miller says:

    Hmm, I obviously didn’t see Bryan’s comment before I posted.

  14. who or what is cheetara? i realize i could google but i’d love to hear it right from my source.

  15. Jeremy says:

    9: We don’t look like a bunch of perverts? Have you seen the collection of photos on the bio page?

  16. Miller says:

    she’s from thundercats. in my opinion, she’s the single greatest female cartoon character. she has lightening speed, can leap over anything with her magical staff (read into that what you will), and can sense when someone needs help or when a villian is approaching. she both fits within and defies conventional gender constructions.

    this is so incredibly nerdy.

  17. and how we got here from marie osmond and karen carpenter is a complete mystery. but in a good way.

  18. and how did i go all day with no one telling me i had spelled “hendrix” as “hendricks”?

  19. Miller says:

    i nominate myself for most digressive comment of the year. and most embarrasing.

    i’ll bring it back around: Bryan, you sound like the ultimate record shopping companion. Oh, and some of my favorite records have come from the $1 bins, or the records in the back room of the salvation army. But 4/$1 bins? I’ve never heard of such a thing! I must be shopping in the wrong places.

  20. i have to admit: i still haven’t listened to the records i bought that were more expensive, but the 4/$1 ones? they have brought me loads of pleasure in the last 24 hours.

  21. Tim Wager says:

    The best quarter I ever spent (or ever will, I’m convinced) was on Parliament’s Mothership Connection at a thrift store in Chicago. The untold joy I have had from that record! The year? 1984. Strange to think that it has been 23 years since then, but it was only 9 years after the record was released. At the time it seemed so much like it was from a distant era.

  22. one thing i love about the week after record fair is that the DJs are all playing fun stuff they bought over the weekend. my favorite show this week, along those lines, has been tony coulter’s from yesterday. it’s worth checking out if you’re looking for something to listen to during the next three hours of work. and even if you only have a few minutes, you seriously need to listen to the opening track.

  23. Marie says:

    Well, Cheetara, looks like you and me can go beat up Bryan now. He doesn’t have a name he wanted to be called. But if we ever turned on each other, you would totally beat me. I have no superpowers.

    Yes, I feel geeky too.

    Jeremy, I meant that your blog doesn’t look like it’s written by a big bunch of perverts. Except when we read about your childhood. Then my clittie is jiggled all the way.