|Bob Thompson Music|
Original albums released by RCA Records, 1958-1959
Bachelor Pad Music (also known as Space Age Pop or Space Age Bachelor Pad Music) is a multi-faceted collection of genres that represents, to quote the Music For a Bachelor’s Den (1995) compilation’s liner notes, “the type of easy listening music bachelors listened to, and entertained with, during the golden age of hi-fi and the dawn of stereo.” This umbrella title includes some of the most sensual as well as the and exciting and progressive music of the 1950’s and early 1960’s. Bachelor Pad Music often positions itself in those magical moments of initial interaction between the genders, and in an atmosphere of down-to-earth sophistication that has plenty of room for imagination and, most importantly, fun. This is the place where Bob Thompson’s classic albums Just For Kicks (1958), Mmm, Nice! (1959), and On the Rocks (1959) take us.
With its subtle balance of sophisticated party music (think Henry Mancini), bouncy hi-fi stereo tester music (think Enoch Light), and Vintage television and movie music (think the Bewitched theme), with a dash of Exotica thrown in (think Martin Denny and Les Baxter), Just for Kicks, Mmm, Nice!, and On the Rocks work as some of the better examples of a “ground zero” Bachelor Pad Music sound and therefore are a good place to start exploring Bachelor Pad Music.
W-NEW Theme in the Style of Bob Thompson
About Bob Thompson
Bob Thompson is a Hollywood composer who was in demand in the 1950’s and 1960’s for his abilities as a TV and commercial music producer. Born in San Jose, California in 1924, Thompson discovered an old piano when he was a child and started trying to play it. This blossomed into his taking music lessons, which he continued to do through high school.
In his college years at the University of California at Berkeley, Thompson became a fan of the radio. He interned at a radio station in San Francisco upon his graduation, and eventually was promoted to being a composer and arranger for the station’s on-staff band. He then went through a “wilderness period” working in Paris, going on the road, and finally settling in Los Angeles, initially working on demo tracks for songs that were pitched to major labels. The independent startup label Zephyr Records released two Bob Thompson 45’s, which then led to a record deal from RCA, who signed Thompson for a five-record deal.
RCA intended Thompson to be their in-house competitor to Columbia’s Ray Conniff. Although Thompson did not care for Conniff’s music, he rose to meet the opportunity with what RCA liner notes aptly call “a jazz-influenced choral-orchestral sound he could justifiably call his own.”
About the Bob Thompson Sound
From the liner notes of an RCA release, "Bob Thompson had a firm belief that the unexpected is exciting. If music is going to be fun—he reasoned—it ought to have surprises.” Thompson accomplishes this on these albums with an impeccable sense of balance and an over-the-top sense of fun that embodies the vibrant excitement that we tend to think of when the 1950’s comes to mind.
From Bob Thompson's Just for Kicks (1958), here's
the rollicking, bursting with joy,
and fun "On the Street Where You Live"
When we in the 21st century think of an “orchestra”, we usually think of a classical symphony orchestra. Likewise, when we think of a “chorus”, we tend to think of something along the lines of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Because of this, the artist name of “Bob Thompson, His Orchestra and Chorus” unfortunately paints a misleading picture for modern day listeners. Thompson's “orchestra” is more like an extremely lively big band—so largely devoid of strings but heavy on the brass instruments. His "orchestra" is further augmented with flutes, vibraphone, and percussion, and holds down a solid rhythm section consisting of string bass and drums. (Some of the drum work on these albums comes courtesy of the great jazz drummer Shelley Manne.)
The voices that make up the “chorus” sound like the down-to-earth vocals from 1950’s TV commercials, with purring and cooing from the gals added for spice and extra lady presence. The voices work partially as instrumental textures, and partially to ghost the lyrics of the songs that they are interpreting. Because current audiences already knew many the popular songs on these albums (e.g. “Makin’ Whoopee”, “Do It Again”, and “There’s a Small Hotel”), all the vocalists needed to do was provide points of melody so the listener’s mind could connect the dots. The chorus vocals usually start out sparingly, and then fill in the blanks more as the arrangement develops, until they eventually become the backing vocalists for a lead melody that is actually playing in the listener’s mind.
Thompson also managed to negotiate the use of some of his own compositions for the albums. The Thompson originals are even more minimalist lyrically, and tend to evoke the sense that a curvy, flirtatious woman or two are on the premises. This trend of a few Thompson originals on the album, with one of them serving as the title track, would hold for the duration of the series.
RCA seemed to think that they had a hit on their hands with Mmm, Nice! and did a large pressing of the album to meet the expected demand, only for the album to fail expectations and end up becoming a bargain bin filler. A disappointed RCA decided to scale back the budget for the third album, On The Rocks, by having Thompson and Co. record it in-house at RCA Victor Studios, also in Hollywood, in October and November of 1959.
Although On the Rocks sounds like it’s lost a little of the wind in its sails, it still continues the joyous, bouncy sound of the first two albums. The album feels a little more reminiscent of the radio and TV advertisements of the time than does the first two (likely due in part to the sound quality), and has more of a tendency to play it safe and stay close to the previously-established formula. Regardless, On the Rocks grows on the listener when allowed to speak on its own terms and apart from the albums that preceded it. “Happy Talk,” “Breezin’ Along With the Breeze”, and “Just You, Just Me” are examples of songs that are a load of fun and grab the listener with repeated listens.
Bob Thompson’s albums started to be rediscovered in the 1980’s, and were then critically reassessed in the 1990’s when Bachelor Pad Music had a full-on revival of interest. Thompson’s son Spenser Thompson launched a Bob Thompson website in the late 1990’s that has been an Internet staple for those researching Bachelor Pad Music; it is filled in many otherwise unavailable details on Thompson’s life story and the music he created. Thompson’s son’s devotion to retelling his father's story, plus the accidental abundance of LP copies of Mmm, Nice! left over from its initial overpressing, are two happy accidents that have made Thompson one of the better-remembered Bachelor Pad Music artists in a genre that he contributed to relatively sparingly.
Spenser Thompson shares anecdotes, music, and videos from Bob Thompson's music career plus thoughts on artists from Duke to Devo.