Singing in the shower with Les Baxter (& his orchestra)

Firstly, I’d like to admit that I sing in the shower. In fact, I make a point of singing in the shower regularly–especially if I have a gig or will be tracking vocals that day. Not only is it healthy from an emotional perspective, but it is uninterrupted time to write and flex those muscles. Work it out! Plus, the heat and moisture is heaven on your vocal cords (a hot, steamy shower really is when you sound the best.) But I don’t really want to talk about my daily hygiene schedule; far more interesting (I would hope) is today’s shower music of choice: The Les Baxter Orchestra. Les Baxter wrote a lot of music that ended up in films in the 50s and 60s, some of which even became American standards. Though it was popular some time before I existed, his music still conjures a sense of nostalgia for me when listening–which is half of the appeal. Baxter’s songs were the kind that helped define a part of our cultural history. His songs are so embedded in our cinematic past that I would wager that most of the melodies on ‘Baxter’s Best’ would be recognizable to listeners of my generation. They were even nostalgic when they were first released, as Baxter’s style feels more contemporary to the big bands of the 30s and 40s–which, of course, was the setting for many of the films released in the immediately subsequent decades. He captures the same “essence of era” that Woody Allen, I believe, aimed to capture in his film ‘Radio Days’ (not so coincidentally, one of my favorite Woody Allen films.)

Aside from the multi-tiered, warm and delicious nostalgia factor, I really love the way Baxter conducted vocal harmonies. Although The Succulents never try to sound like anyone else in particular, we would be remiss to think that Baxter’s place in at least my personal sphere of influence isn’t represented in some small way when when writing our own vocal harmonies. “Wake The Town And Tell The People”, for me, is such a pinnacle example of harmonies done right.

 

Baxter also made a name for himself along with the likes of Martin Denny in the “exotica” genre. There’s apparently a bit of controversy (in the form of proclaimed ghost writers for Baxter) regarding his exotica catalogue, but I feel his film score work is his strongest–and certainly had the larger, more lasting impact evident in what is still played and listened to today.

Key takeaways:

1. sing in the shower and you’ll be a happier, healthier person

2. we all stand upon the shoulders of giants and everything we’ve ever heard is reflected in what we produce

3. give a listen to ‘Baxter’s Best‘, just for kicks, to see how much of it you recognize

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