'Rare' tracks on Kerouac centenary set
Double CD compilation includes material by the writer himself but also little-heard musical works capturing the spirit of that mid-century Beat moment
THERE HAVE been Jack Kerouac compilations before on CD, not to mention a number of collections celebrating the Beat Generation more generally, but a new gathering of recordings from multiple sources appears to provide a creditable snapshot of the soundtrack that surrounded those writers and their writing during that creative hotbed of the 1950s.
Jack Kerouac: 100 Years of Beatitude, pulled together by a lively Germany-based operation called Bear Family Records, commemorates the author’s centenary year and promises not just the familiar fare – the writer performing with the jazz pianist Steve Allen, for instance, pieces that have been frequently anthologised – but some more rare, related works of the time that might tempt Beat completists or musical or cultural historians of the period to add this set to their shelves.
As the pre-publicity explains: ‘The beatniks, as representatives of pop literature, listened to a wide range of specific styles of music. We have compiled 52 songs and historical audio documents from 1946 to 1963, from the core of the beatnik era.’
The compilation promises ‘a lot of rare recordings, some for the first time on CD, including both sides of an MGM single, which was released for the movie High School Confidential, in which Jerry Lee Lewis, among others, participated. The title song of the film The Beat Generation by Louis Armstrong is here, as is the version by Mamie Van Doren not used in the film.’
‘Contemporary pop music and rock'n'roll around the beatnik subject are also represented, including satirical novelty numbers,’ we are told, and, of course, the classic rendition ‘The Beat Generation’ by Bob McFadden and Dor, with its tongue firmly in its cheek, is predictably present.
Bebop jazz as ‘the favourite music of the Beat Generation’ is well featured with Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and others incorporated, as well as 'word jazz’, that ‘combination of jazz and beatnik poetry’ by such as by Oscar Brown, Jr, Don Morrow and Jack Kerouac himself. Even Ginsberg’s performance of ‘America’, adding some genuine Beat content to the menu, takes its place in the extensive programme.
In short, a very substantial 150-minutes of recordings are collected, supported by ‘a colourful 36-page booklet’ containing rare photos and memorabilia as well as the history of the Beat Generation and its music, written by ‘a connoisseur of the beatnik scene’, Roland Heinrich Rumtreiber.
Although this kind of collection might be accused of a form of Beatsploitation (the overuse of the term beatnik in the promotional package is something of a warning light), it does nonetheless, over its impressive length, give a decent flavour of the kind of sonic world in which Kerouac and his friends were emerging.
And, by interlacing some authentic Beat examples with a strong cavalcade of contemporary tracks, this vivacious and eclectic set is a more than useful introduction to these overlapping creative scenes and should also still entertain those who have already been caught by this literary bug.
Jack Kerouac 100 Years of Beatitude (Bear Family Records) is released on February 4th, 2022 and comes in affordably at just under $20. Please beware, however, possibly hefty international postal charges.