1962, 1963, 2000

Two Classic Albums from Gordon Jenkins (2000)

In my quest to hear the sources of nearly everything, sometimes I stumble upon stuff that I really shouldn’t have, music that is just not for me. This twofer is one of those things; it’s a compilation that pairs a compilation (seriously) with what appears to be a release for orchestra.

Who was Gordon Jenkins? Well, he was a pop arranger and pianist. Listening to this music gives you a great idea of his influence. But, unfortunately, his deserving title for that influence might by the King of Schmaltz. The music from these two albums is the kind of music that only could have been popular in the suburban US in the 1950s and early 1960s. The arrangements are lush to the point of ridiculousness – many of them sound like they could have been made for bad Hollywood films – and the jazzy tracks are the whitest jazz you can imagine, orchestrated to shit and all the syncopation taken out, so as not to scare the listener (I assume).

The Magic World of Gordon Jenkins is a compilation from 1962 of a bunch of pop singles he wrote and arranged, some “jazz” pop instrumentals and some TV music. (Doesn’t that sound awesome?) The lyrics, when there are lyrics, are the kind of lyrics that must have just delighted suburban white people in their late 30s or early 40s – lots of nostalgia for the first romance, for the hometown. Lots of “witty” lyrics, where the beat and the emphasis of the singers is on the quip, so that you, the dumb listener, can’t possibly miss the joke. There’s no real method to the madness in terms of the sequencing as far as I can tell, and we jump between the three genres and I wonder why anyone would like this, unless they had no interests in anything. (I feel like the word schmaltz was invented for this music. Also, for the sad ballads, maudlin may have been invented to describe them. Jesus christ.) It’s a portrait into the world that Mad Men satirized when it focused on domesticity, only this is completely, totally sincere.

In a Tender Mood is one of Jenkin’s LPs, released a year after the above compilation. It at least has a bit of a musical unity that the compilation was lacking; this music was all written to the same purpose. This is “jazzy” pop orchestration. The horns sound like Big Band jazz, albeit robbed of swing and there are no solos (because, you know, it’s not actually jazz). The horns sound like what would happen if someone who didn’t know jazz tried to write the idea of jazz. There are vocals too, of the kind that might have delighted my grandma, had she been a little more hip. (That is to say, they are nearly the furthest thing from hip.) They remind me of those country backing vocalists on early rock and roll records, who can’t sing with the music, because they don’t understand it. In this case, though, the music was written for their safe, simple, catchy, suburban couple-pleasing schmaltz… This is the kind of record you put on when your intolerant boss is coming over to dinner and its 1958.

This guy has been hugely influential. But is that something that should be celebrated? This is basically artier muzak. There’s a lot of it here, too, so that’s particularly oppressive.

4/10 because it’s competent, I guess.

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