We're in love with this 1970s era recording of the Dicken Elementary School in Ann Arbor doing "Brandy."
It is courtesy of our friend Dustin Krcatovich, a longtime resident of the Ann Arbor/ Ypsi area who currently wallows in the wastelands of Portland, Oregon, and it really is an immediately engaging cover of Looking Glass' sole hit. Your immediate comparison might be to the Langley Schools Project, but what that record had is a series of really strong arrangements, plus a carefully selected set list.
This one does not — it thuds, and thunks, and the kids are almost shouting at the start. As it's only a minute and a half, and the song itself is undeniably great, and the disconnect with hearing elementary school kids sing about the intricacies of loving an honest sailor man who basically says to the tune's protagonist, 'Hey you're awesome but I love the sea not you, lady,' as Brandy "pours the whiskey down" — this conceit here is charming as heck; we're not complaining about it at all. The clunkiness here is part of the charm! I also like that the guitarist thinks it's a ska song.
There are thousands of records like this one, as anyone who has ever hunted for records in thrift shops and dollar bins knows. Most are glee club and marching band affairs, and a few are of high school choirs singing a mixture of hits of the day and the "Hallelujah" chorus. Very few are of elementary school groups, and very very few approach this level of quality.
Many kudos to Dustin, who had this to say about the song when he first uploaded it a few years ago:
The first time I heard tracks from The Langley Schools Music Project (I believe this was in 2002 or so), it made me burst out crying. There were outside circumstances that day that had put me in a decidedly fragile emotional state (I had left the masters for a zine on top of my car and drove off, thus setting me back nearly eight months of labor), but it’s nonetheless a fact: I LOVE THE SOUND OF CHILDREN SINGING. Not like kid professionals, mind you… fuck that. Isolated exceptions notwithstanding, kids singing competently and pseudo-confidently are usually just evidence of a long history of parental abuse. I love the sound of real kids singing like real kids.
You can imagine, then, the rare and infinite joy that came to me when I found The Beat Goes On, an LP of unknown vintage recorded by the elementary school music program at Dicken Elementary School in my very own adopted hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Undiscovered (to my knowledge) by “outsider music” buffs, this is a great record of regular kids singing the songs of their day (or at least, I think it’s their day… like I said, unknown vintage), recorded and arranged in much the same fashion as the Langley Schools recordings. My copy doesn’t have cover art, so I can’t say for sure as to whether it looks as great as it sounds (thanks to my friends/former employers at Encore Records, who likely wouldn’t have bought this slightly beat-up, coverless record for the store if they didn’t know that I would definitely buy it).
I’ve never heard the original Langley Schools records, but I’ll concede that The Beat Goes On isn’t as consistent as the Innocence And Despair comp put out by Bar/None in 2001. However, I will also say this: the version of the Looking Glass hit “Brandy” included herein trumps every single track on that compilation, and if said track doesn’t make you smile, you’re a coldhearted, flinty-eyed asshole who’s definitively off my Christmas card list.
Just kidding. I don’t have a Christmas card list.