Anyone who thinks the vinyl revival is some hipster fad that’s going to fade as quickly as a cloud of Beaujolais-flavored gas from a ten dollar vape pipe is not paying attention. With 1000s of new titles being released every month and instantly selling out, crate diggers who run indie record labels are plunging further down the vinyl mine shaft and coming up with freshly discovered gems that were obscure even in the years they were released. The thrift store and garage sale flotsam and jetsam, the goofy records we used to chuckle at as we ransacked cardboard boxes looking for first pressings of Pink Floyd or 13th Floor Elevators albums, are now the new drug for vinyl junkies. Lunatic lounge singers, hippie dippy regional folk albums, high school band recordings from the astral plane and scores of vanity projects slapped on wax by the delusional, demented and visionary have always had a fan base among a certain kind of hardcore collector, but the audience for outré coolness on vinyl is expanding as music lovers are demanding more than the umpteenth re-issue of Hendrix and Floyd on 180 gram virgin vinyl. We’re all looking for the next vinyl high, the record that drops our jaws as soon as the needle drops into the groove.
The future of vinyl is as endless as its own past. And man I love it. Among the very best labels resurrecting lost titles from the vinyl crypt is Sundazed Music and their new off-shoot Modern Harmonic. With a focus on loungey exotica, Sun Ra’s interplanetary space jazz, experiments from John Cage and soft-pop chanteuse Margo Guryan, Modern Harmonic’s taste in the offbeat and wonderful is impeccable. That’s particularly true of their latest release Love Is A Drag, a five-decade old lounge record that shatters taboos with its low-key subversion.
Love Is A Drag (“for adult listeners only”) has been veiled in mystery since it was first released in 1962. On the surface it sounds like dozens of similar jazz records of the era fronted by a male vocalist with a seductive style of crooning. What makes Love Is A Drag unique and groundbreaking is that all of the tunes on the album are love songs from one man to another. Titles like “The Boy Next Door” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” are Sinatra-like amorous ballads but from a gay perspective. There’s not a hint of camp or irony in the vocals and the backing band, composed of jazz pros, is playing with heartfelt conviction. The subject matter might be gay, but the artists are playing it straight. That’s what makes Love Is A Drag so unusual. It’s not a novelty record played for laughs. It’s as sincere as anything recorded by any A-list lounge singer celebrating heterosexual romance.
Up until a few years ago no one knew who the singer on Love Is A Drag was. From a professional standpoint singing gay-themed love songs was probably not a great career move in 1962. Though the record sold well in certain circles and had admirers like Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope (!), anonymity was essential for the guy doing the vocals, particularly if he was heterosexual and married. Finally, the mystery was solved when the identity of the man behind the songs surfaced when J.D Doyle of the Queer Music Heritage project was contacted by a friend of the singer and shared what he knew. Vocalist Gene Howard who fronted Stan Kenton’s big band was the voice that sang so convincingly of the love that dare not speak its name. Gene died in 1993 so sadly doesn’t know that his legacy lives on thanks to Sundazed.
Love Is A Drag is being released on November 25 as part of Record Store Day’s Black Friday event. Even though I own a record store, I avoid Record Store Day for reasons I won’t go into. But this record may be worth fighting the crowds to get your hands on. Or you can wait for it to pop up on eBay and buy it for some inflated amount. Or maybe Sundazed will re-release it for those of us who buy records when and how we want. As a vinyl guy, I can’t imagine owning Love Is A Drag in any other form. Another example of the vinyl revival continuing to surprise and please.