1962 in Music

My list of reviews of music released in 1962.

1. Wes Montgomery: Full House (10/10)

1. Ahmed Abdul-Malik: Sounds of Africa (10/10)

3. Ray Charles: Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (10/10)

Though this is definitely a pop soul version of the soul Ray Charles helped create, and though the backing vocals and syrupy strings date the record horribly, this album transformed two genres so drastically it’s probably hard to imagine either without it.

On the one hand, it showed soul artists (and other rhythm and blues-based genre artists) that one could mine other traditions than the blues for songs, leading to numerous soul and R&B covers of songs that never would have been covered Charles never did this.

Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, it showed country musicians that they could use contemporary arrangements and record production on country songs, leading to both good things (country rock, alternative country) and bad things (the gradual transformation of country from a distinct American genre of music to pop and rock songs with accents, fiddles and steel guitars).

Neither of these things would have happened without this record.

Also, Charles is in fine form as a singer, even if the arrangements around him feel written for white audiences.

4. John Coltrane: Ole Coltrane (9/10)

This is a major step forward into non-Western musical ideas, which would come to be even more important for his sound very soon.

5. Hans Werner Henze: Symphony No. 5 (9/10)

I had read that Henze calmed down once he moved to Italy in 1953, but it’s hard to hear that in the 5th symphony, which is as cacophonous as the third, at least in its initial movement. There’s a boldness here that I thought was lacking in the fourth symphony.

The second movement is the most sedate thing of Henze’s I have heard to date, which is a drastic contrast from the spastic first. It is, I suppose, a more traditional approach, but almost more effective.

The third movement is probably the most “symphonic” of anything I’ve heard of Henze’s so far, in that, at least in parts, it has most of the orchestra playing as one, which seems rare for Henze (at least at this stage of his career). That doesn’t make it any less modern sounding.

Another excellent work.

6. Bill Evans and Jim Hall: Undercurrent (9/10)

This is an excellent duo outing which shows off both Evans’ sort of left field brilliance and Hall’s kind of safe, kind of conservative, but still very pleasant and exceptionally played lines. (I feel like I’m a little hard on Hall and I really shouldn’t be.)

It’s a perfect example of how greatness can be subtle – it doesn’t always have to hit you over the head. And it’s a perfect example of how the right pairings can bring out the best in players. This is sort of a match made in heaven in my mind. They are ideally suited for each other.


7. Bob Dylan (8/10)

Dylan’s debut barely gives a hint of the songwriter he would become (though there are a couple hints). Rather, it shows off an energetic singer whose reach exceeds his grasp in terms of his singing ability. But this is pretty admirable and the album actually holds up really well over the years, with the performances feeling raw rather than amateurish. It shows off a different side of the man, had he not become The Greatest Songwriter of All Time.

Only for fans of folk, but much better than you’d expect given how few of these songs he wrote. (Those songs, though, are clear indications that something was coming.)

8. Ray Charles: Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Volume 2 (8/10)

Well, the novelty has warn off. This is good stuff, but it is dated. Read the review.

9. Maurice Durufle: Fugue sur le thème du Carillon des Heures de la Cathédrale de Soissons op. 12 (8/10)

A brief but very cathedral-sounding piece that does indeed conjure up images of someone playing in a beautiful church (though I’ve never seen this particular cathedral). Durufle just fills the room with sound; very impressive.

10. The Beach Boys: Surfin’ Safari (7/10)

Better than its reputation, that’s for sure. Read the review.

11. John Coltrane: Coltrane Plays the Blues (6/10)

Divorced from the circumstances these performances were recorded in, they do not sound quite the same. Given how drastically they contrast with the music recorded around the same time, they should point to Trane’s incredible versatility.

But collecting it all together like this – thematically as it were – dilutes the effect somewhat.

12. The Red Garland Quintet with John Coltrane: Dig it! (5/10)

This is a 1962 rarities album posing as a genuine session, essentially. The recordings were cobbled together from three separate dates in the late ’50s, and those dates were led by different people. (Not always Garland, as the attribution claims.)

And it’s hard to get excited about 1957-8 Trane on a 1962 album. He had moved so far forwards by ’62 that he barely sounded like the same person, if he did at all. Hell, Coltrane doesn’t even appear on every track.

The music is pretty straight ahead hard bop / bop and it’s more interesting as a historical record, for those people into that sort of thing, of Garland, Art Taylor, Coltrane or the other players who appear.

13. The Magic World of Gordon Jenkins (3/10)

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.


1. Wanda Jackson: “The Greatest Actor” / “You Bug Me Bad” (8/10)

The A-side is another traditional country ballad, one of her better ones, I’d say: a strong melody and a good lyric for the day. The B-side is better rockabilly for this late in her career. There’s still completely bizarre traditional country backing vocals, but the rest of the song is solid rockabilly.

2. Ray Charles: “I Can’t Stop Loving You” (8/10)

Charles’ iconic cover of this country song has dated somewhat poorly, due to the traditional, completely non-soulful backing vocals. However, it was Charles’ willingness to tackle country music that helped establish a certain type of soul and this single is a pretty important step in that process. I hate those backing vocals though.

2. Ray Charles: “You Don’t Know Me” (8/10)

I don’t know which song was released first, but this song as nearly as iconic as “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and is dated by the same backing vocals, with a really syrupy string section this time. Still, important.

4. Ray Charles: “Hide nor Hair” (8/10)

Though hardly as important as his country covers (far as I know) this is a far more enjoyable Charles track that continues his Latin style R and B thing that he did when he wasn’t recording country ballads. Good stuff.

5. B.B. King: “Beautician Blues” (8/10)

This is a pretty solid up-tempo blues with a strong solo from BB in the middle.

6. Ray Charles: “You Are My Sunshine” (6/10)

I guess it’s a credit to Charles that what has become a kids’ song is listenable but I still generally detest this song and trying to make it better doesn’t actually fully work.

James Brown: “Night Train” (??/10)

Bo Diddley: “I Can Tell”(??/10)

Bo Diddley: “You Can’t Just a Book by its Cover” (??/10)

Not ranked: Woody Guthrie Sings Folk Songs (8/10)

This is an impressive compilation of Guthrie (and friends) performing some Guthrie songs but mostly traditional songs, recorded (I believe) in the late ’40s.

Because it’s not all Guthrie songs, it’s certainly not the best portrait of him as a songwriter – not that this matters all that much – and it’s more Guthrie as a performer, or how he was as a performer in the ’40s. (Again, I think it was the ’40s.) The performances are all great and the selection is strong. It’s an arbitrary collection, but it’s a good one.

It’s still nothing definitive, and for someone like me, well I’m much more interested in his earlier recordings, but this is still great stuff.

Not ranked: Melos Ensemble: Franck: Sonata for Violin and Piano / Debussy: Sonata for Violin and Piano; Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp / Ravel: Introduction and Allegro (6/10)

I have a hard time reviewing stuff like this without listening to it an absolute ton. But I feel like the inclusion of the Franck piece puts things off a little bit. It isn’t really of a kind with the Debussy works or even with the Ravel. It’s an odd selection.

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