When Margo Guryan released her first album Take A Picture in 1968, it seemed all but certain that this was just the beginning. Though it sold well, Guryan was uninterested in the hustle and bustle of touring and Bell Records subsequently stopped promoting the album. Between Guryan’s witty lyrics and the baroque production, it’s like a burst of sunshine that was heavily influenced by Pet Sounds, which was released just a couple years earlier. While that album is great, I’ve really been enjoying this compilations of demos appropriately titled 25 Demos, which was released in 2001 by the reissue label Oglio.
Take a Picture might have been the beginning and end of Guryan’s music were it not for a renewed interested in 1960s sunshine pop in Japan around the turn of the millennium. Maybe that’s why when I first heard Guryan it reminded me of the Pizzicato Five’s Baby Love Child. Based on that uptick of interest, Oglio issued the demo compilation that features The Hum along with many other great tracks. It was also released on cassette by Burger Records in 2014 under the title 27 Demos, which I mention because one of the songs added on the Burger release is Under My Umbrella, which was one of the finalists when picking a track to feature. The many resonances with contemporary events finally tipped the scales for The Hum, but it wasn’t an easy call.
Guryan released two new compositions in 2007 under the title 16 Words, which comments more directly on political events. She also released a set of variations for the popular tune Chopsticks titled The Chopsticks Variations in 2009 which have also been published as sheet music by Hal Leonard.
This track comes off of a concept album called Le Monde Fabuleux Des Yamasuki developed by composers Daniel Vangarde and Jean Kluger. While both had been active songwriters and producers before then and since, this album has been a cult classic since its release thanks to the idiosyncratic combination of a children’s chorus singing in Japanese over fuzzed-out guitar and drums. It’s definitely worth listening to the whole album, as what seems like a bit of a gimmicky setup produces undeniably catchy songs, provided you can get past the Orientalist overtones of the whole project. Some other fun trivia: Another song from the album, Aieoa, was covered by Bananarama on their first album Deep Sea Skiving under the name Aie-A-Mwana. The song Kono Samurai from this album was sampled by Erykah Badu on her track The Healer. While the name Daniel Vangarde probably doesn’t mean much to most people, his son Thomas Bangalter is probably a bit more well-known at least by reputation, as he is one half of Daft Punk.
Though this sounds like it was commissioned by an advertising agency on behalf of Big Kite, it is actually the title track from the debut of a 1960s family band. The work of the Dedrick siblings went largely unnoticed until it found a cult following decades later thanks to attention from artists like Cornelius and Pizzicato Five and others in Japan’s Shibuya-kei scene. The Free Design released eight albums with Project 3 before disbanding in 1972, with Kites Are Fun remaining their only appearance on pop charts. In the mid-70s they formed the core of the Star-Scape Singers, a vocal ensemble assembled by New Age Renaissance man Kenneth G. Mills. Mills is a fascinating character at the heart of the New Age movements of the mid-20th century. After a transcendental experience that convinced him he had a duty to speak “the Word” again, he agreed to speak to his inner experiences and spiritual feelings but only if others sought him out to do so. He described his speaking as
an impromptu performance under the impelling of divine ideas. It is a projection from another dimension or plane of consciousness, causing those prepared to hear to awaken to the higher or greater possibilities of living beyond the limits of three dimensions and translating what seems to be the ordinary into another level of consideration
You can hear/see the Star-Scape singers perform one of Mills’ original compositions here, which he composed in the hopes of being a song that the whole world could sing together to unify all people. Kites Are Fun was reissued by Corenlius’ label Trattoria in 1994 and then by Light in the Attic.
If this doesn’t appear in a Wes Anderson movie at some point I’ll be shocked.